Medicine Lodge, Kansas's Locally Owned And Operated Newspaper


By David Fasgold - March 19, 2007
   


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From February 26, 2007

I was thinking a lot about the 80s this week. A lot of memories were triggered when we were moving recently. I ran across some of those "collectors" drink glasses from Burger King. You know, the glasses that you could buy at Burger King with scenes from Star Wars printed on them. I also ran across a glass from Showbiz Pizza. If you donít remember Showbiz Pizza, then you are truly deprived. It was the original place to eat crummy pizza, play video games, drink root beer and listen to a band of mechanized animals sing bad cover versions of moldy oldies. Showbiz Pizza was the best place in town to have your birthday party. Heck, Iíd still love to go back there and have my own birthday party.

So as a tribute to the 80sóperhaps the greatest decade everóhere is a little gem of a column from January 16, 2006:

It was very, very late. I couldnít sleep, so I was lying in bed watching the television that I had mounted on the wall especially for nights like these. I had watched several back-to-back episodes of "I Love the 80s" on VH-1, and I just couldnít stop.

The entire decade seemed to flash before my eyes, and I could remember clear details and things I had forgotten. Suddenly all these repressed memories became clear.

The 1980s were a happy and carefree time. There was nothing to worry about except nuclear war with the Soviets, the state of California falling into the ocean, and the remote possibility of catching AIDS from a toilet seat. It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times.

I can remember exactly where I was when John Lennon was shot, when Reagan was shot, and when we had our first space shuttle tragedy.

But I remember the good things the most. Letís take a trip down memory lane.

In 1980 I was nine years old. The best things in my life were the Atari 2600, Atari 2600 and the Atari 2600. I can remember that everyone I know had an Atari. But there would always be one or two kids who owned an Intellivision, which they said was vastly superior. Those kids grew up to become Macintosh users.

I also enjoyed eating at Showbiz Pizza, because they had lots of games and a stage full of mechanical animals that would sing to you on your birthday. I remember that on one occasion, my parents ordered some kind of nasty vegetarian pizza that was covered in corn and bell peppers. I still havenít forgiven them for ruining my Friday night at Showbiz.

When I was a child, I thought that my reason for existence was to watch Star Wars. In fact, I got swats once because I decided to draw pictures of Star Wars characters instead of doing my spelling test. In the 80s, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi both came out in theaters, and this was a good thing. The former film had a pretty dismal ending, when Han Solo was frozen in a block of carbonite. I wish I had access to that kind of technology. Wouldnít it be cool, if we caught Bin Laden and froze him in a block of carbonite?

In the fifth grade, one of my classes got a computeróa Radio Shack TRS-80. The future had arrived. I spent that year writing computer programs in BASIC. The code for my programs went something like this:

10 PRINT "So-and-so is a goober"

20 GOTO 10

Yes, I was a real geek.

Later, there was Rubikís Cube. I donít think I ever solved that stupid thing. But I became very good at taking it apart.

Then there was the music. Some of it was good. Some of it was dreadful. I remember that I secretly liked Duran Duran, though I was terrified to admit it. My older cousin caught me with a Duran Duran tape once, and I was very ashamed.

The 80s were also a time when you could get away with carrying wallets made of nylon with Velcro closures. You could buy these wallets at the state fair for $2 each, complete with a screened-on image of your favorite 80s metal band. My favorite was the band Ratt. While Iím spilling the beans, Iíll also admit that I attended a Bon Jovi concert, and I saw Dokken in concert three times. Oh, the humanity!

Speaking of music, I think that every high school had a guy who would sit in the parking lot with his car doors open and play his music really loud for everyone to hear. An 80s model Camaro was perfect for this Neanderthal activity, because you could install large speakers in the hatch. The guys who engaged in this activity usually hung around town for a few years after graduation, hitting on the high school girls and supplying beer for parties.

After all these years Iím still haunted by the image of my senior portraitóI was wearing a sweater with a gold chain hanging on the outside, and I was sporting a sweet mullet. I used to make fun of the senior pictures from the 60s and 70s that were displayed in the hall at school. Now Iím tortured by the thought of being the butt of someone elseís joke. If anyone from my hometown reads this, could you please go to the high school and remove my photo from any public display? There will be a handsome reward.

One final thought for the week: I would like to bring back the 80s phrase, "rad to the neoshad." Whenever you see something interesting or cool, just say that it is "rad to the neoshad." Letís see if we can spread this phrase around and make it popular again, okay?

 

From February 19, 2007

I often wonder if the designers of products actually use the products themselves. Some things are so poorly designed, that Iím amazed nobody actually stood up and said, "Hey, this isnít working. We should fix it before we sell it."

Case in point: Modern vehicles have all sorts of bells and whistles, such as power windows, power seats and anti-lock brakes. Some even have wipers on the headlights and GPS navigation. Then why do so many vehicles have such crummy cup holders?

The worst offender Iíve owned was a 1997 Toyota RAV-4. That vehicle didnít have any visible cup holders at all. If I remember correctly, there was some sort of lame cup holder that could be used when the center console was opened. But it was really awkward to use while driving, because the driver and passenger actually had to reach behind themselves to pick up their drinks.

When I owned that vehicle, I ended up cramming my drink between the seat and the emergency brake handle. But that was risky, because a large Styrofoam cup could easily break or spill during a quick stop or turn. I even tried one of those awful cup holders from the days of old. You know, the cheap plastic cup holder that hangs over the door. Those cup holders work okay for small drinks, but they do not possess the structural strength to handle a 44 ounce soft drink. Whatís worse is the fact that they look so tacky in a modern vehicle.

And how about the cup holders in pickups? I donít believe I ever seen one of these devices that makes sense.

Most modern trucks have a cup holder that is hidden in the dash next to the radio. First, you have to find the stupid thing, then pull it out from the dash to use it. The worst part about this design is that the mechanism is never designed to pull out far enough from the dash for adequate clearance.

Maybe this design works okay for holding a canned soft drink, but it absolutely stinks for holding anything larger. A typical cup has to be tipped slightly sideways in order to fit against the dash. Even worse is the fact that there is never enough clearance between the two drink slots to actually hold two drinks. So when two people are in the truck, both of their drinks will be crammed together. If one of the people has brought along a large cup, then the other person may not be able to fit their drink in the cup holder at all.

Some cup holders on trucks also have little flaps inside of them that are supposed to help support your drink, but they donít seem to be very effective.

I think that worst cup holders are the ones that pull out from the dash, and allow the drinks to just sort of hang there, supported by another piece underneath.

The solution is to either buy a cheap accessory cup holder like I mentioned earlier, or buy one of those "clutter catchers" that sits on the floor between the seats. These devices work okay as long as you donít put in a large drink and then make an emergency stopóotherwise you might get wet feet.

Another problem with the clutter catcher is that it really does end up filled with clutter. Since this device is usually purchased by people who drive old cars and pickups, it usually gets filled up with all sorts of junkópens, receipts, extra fuses, screws, a tire pressure gauge, a spare quart of oil, and maybe even something that broke off the vehicle. The clutter catcher will often have a sticky spot left from a spill, and there are often a few pennies or loose hairs that have become stuck in this area.

I have owned numerous clutter catchers over the years, and I know first-hand that the design has changed very little. It contains two cup holders, which are nicely sized, properly spaced, and provide excellent support for large drinks. On the right side, there are three coin slots. This feature poses another problemóit would make better sense to have four coin slots. If that feature were added, then I wouldnít have to decide which coin denomination was going to be left out. I typically fill the three slots with just "silver" coins, and throw the pennies in the ash tray. But inevitably, all the coins end up in the ash tray. The center section of the clutter catcher is made to hold either CDs or cassettes. But in reality, neither CDs nor cassettes end up in this area. This is because any vehicle with a clutter catcher installed is also not likely to have a working CD or cassette player.

In an odd way, I find it somewhat comforting that the clutter catcher never changes. Itís always available in the same four colorsóblack, dark blue, dark red and nasty brown. Of course, the blue and the red are never an exact match for your interior, so black is a good choice. You can never have enough black shoes or black clutter catchers.

The Ford Explorerís designers got the cup holder design rightóalmost. The cup holders are placed in easy reach of the driver and passenger in the center console area. Though they are not placed side-by-side, they are logically staggered so that there is no question as to which drink belongs to which person. This is great for avoiding those really awkward gross-out moments, when you realize that you just drank after your buddy.

The only problem with the Explorerís cup holders is that each one has a different diameter. If two people have the same size drink, one of them is not going to fit well. Ford also provided a couple of rubber inserts. I guess that these were provided for the sake of cleanliness. When you need to clean the cup holder, just take out the insert and wash it. The only problem here is that the sleeve sometimes sticks to the bottom of the cup. Since I suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Iím paranoid that someone will accidentally walk off with my cup holder insert, or that it may end up getting thrown away after getting stuck on bottom of a Styrofoam cup. What drives me crazy is when my wife removes the insert and allows it to get lost inside the vehicle. Rather than finding and replacing the insert, she continues to use the cup holder, inevitably spilling somethingówhich makes for a difficult clean up.

My point to all of this rambling is this: If mankind is capable of designing such complex vehiclesólike a car that parallel parks itselfóthen why canít we design a perfect cup holder? The world may never know.

 

From February 12, 2007

Years ago, I remember someone at church making a prayer request because they were buying a car. I remember thinking at the time that the act of purchasing a car didnít seem important enough to make a prayer request in church. I filed that memory away and didnít think about it again, until last week.

Due to my miserly ways, my wife and I have been sharing one "good" vehicle for over three years. When I say "good" vehicle, Iím referring to a vehicle that has several characteristics. "Good" is a relative term here. Our "good" vehicle is a 2000 model, has no mechanical problems and is loaded with every option.

Our other vehicle is a 1965 model. I personally like this car better than the "good" one. Iíve had it for years; itís reliable, runs great, and I enjoy tinkering with it when the weather is nice.

But last week, my wife went somewhere in our "good" vehicle when the weather got unexpectedly bad. I had no choice but to drive the old car to work. This would have been okay, except that the car has no heater. To be more specific, the heater takes in heat directly from the engine compartmentówhere there happens to be a nasty exhaust leak. So when using the heater, I have to leave a window down to avoid asphyxiation. To make matters worse, the fan that blows the heat doesnít work, so there is not enough air flow to defrost the windshield.

So there I was, driving to work while trying to wipe the fog from the inside of the windshield, and having to stop every couple of miles to scrape the outside of the windshield. It was during this drive that I realized it was time to buy another "good" car.

This would be the first time that I made a conscious decision to go out and search for a practical car. In the past, I had always bought cars on a whim just because I happened across a good deal, or something that interested me.

So I decided to look for a car about 10 years old that I could buy for about $3,000-$4,000 cash. With so many used cars out there, it should be a piece of cake, I thought.

First off, I spent a few days doing research on the Internetótrying to get an idea of what I should look for. I picked out a few models that would suit my needs, researched prices and began my search. My wife gave me a few parametersódonít buy anything blue or bright red; donít buy anything older than mid-1990s; donít buy anything with a V6 or V8; donít buy a two-door; donít buy anything with a stick; and most important, donít buy anything that smells like a dog or has cigarette burns on the interior.

I remember as a kid that my dad would always find good used cars in the classifieds. I didnít have any such luck. There just werenít too many of the cars I was interested in, and when I called they were usually sold already. A lot of the ads I saw were from dealers, so I braced myself for the fact that I was going to have to brave the used car lots. Oh, the horror.

Even worse, I realized that I was going to have to test drive lots of cars and shake hands with lots of people. In other words, I was going to be exposing myself to lots of germs.

I reasoned that since there were so many used cars on the market, and since it has become so easy to trade in an old car and finance a new one, that big dealerships might have a bunch of trade-ins that they might sell cheap. So I tried that strategy first.

I basically met two types of salesmen. First, there was the good salesman, who would tell me that basically everything that got traded in recently turned out to be junk. The good salesman understood that I wasnít going to go over my budget, and would offer to take my name and number in case they "ran across something."

The bad salesman would try a different approach. First, they would start off by showing me cars with no prices marked on them. When I would ask about the price, I would find out that they were showing me cars that were out of my budget. Then they would ask, "Are you sure you donít want to finance?"

One dealer had advertised a 2000 Ford Focus under "managerís specials" for $3,998. It was described as very clean, with only 70k miles. I called to see if they still had the caróand also to make sure it wasnít blue or bright red. For some reason, the sales manager couldnít remember exactly what color it was, but assured me it "wasnít one of those ugly colors." He also told me it had an automatic transmission.

When I arrived at the lot, they had to look for the car. The "clean" car they had advertised turned out to be filthy. The interior stank and there was dog hair stuck to the seats. There were a few cigarette burns, lots of trash and other sticky substances that I didnít care to identify. The engine compartment was dirtyóeverything under the hood was either rusty or covered in oil. There were scratches on the body, as well as multiple door dings and some hail damage. The windshield was cracked. It also turned out that the car had a five-speed manual transmission. Reluctantly, I agreed to drive it, since I had driven across town to see it. The car wouldnít stay running long enough to put it in gear.

My dad made the comment that even though the car had only 70k miles, it seemed as though the previous owner had put all of those miles on the car driving from their house to 7-11.

After I got out of the vehicle, it occurred to me that I had forgotten to bring my container of hand sanitizer. I was beginning to panic, not knowing what kind of germs were now lurking on my hands. I tried to make a polite exit, but the salesmanóobviously an inexperienced kid who had his name written on a generic business cardóinsisted on showing me a couple of other cars on the lot.

The car he proceeded to show me was blue, had a V6, and had cigarette burns all over the seats. Before I could say no, he had run off to get the keys. I stood there for a moment, then chased after him to tell him not to bother.

"My wife will never go for this car," I told him.

"If itís a good car and the price is right, what can she say about it?" was his reply.

This guy had obviously never been married. I didnít know whether to feel sorry for him or to envy his ignorance. Regardless, it was time to move on.

The rest of the day was filled with disappointment. It seemed like every car lot was identicalóthe same selection of sad, tired, overpriced cars that had come through an auto auction. If a car was really nice, it turned out to be sitting on one of those "bad credit" car lotsówhere they prey on people who really canít afford what they are selling. If a car was priced really low, closer inspection would usually reveal a lot of body filler and new paintóa sure sign of a rebuilt wreck.

Finally, I found a lot with decent looking cars that were reasonably pricedónot too high, not too low. The salesman didnít try and steer me toward any particular car. In fact, he advised to me avoid several higher priced cars on the lot because of problems he was aware of. In fact, he really didnít seem to care if I bought a car from him or not.

I found a car I liked and started looking for faults that I couldnít live with. I went home and looked up the value on the Internet. One resource indicated that the car was priced too high; another indicated it was priced too low. I took this as a sign that it was priced just about right. I looked up all sorts of information about the caróreviews, specifications and typical problems. I felt pretty wise at this point, so I went back the next day and drove it more. I drove the car to a large parking lot away from the car lot so I could look it over really well. Then I drove to Starbuckís, just to make sure that a grande coffee would fit in the cup holder. I even asked the dealer for a CARFAX report, just to be safe.

I was very happy that my search was over. It was getting dark outside, and I was tired. I got in the car to drive home. The dash lights didnít work. Neither did the turn signals. For some reason, I thought back years ago, to the woman who made the prayer request before going car shopping, and I wondered how she did.

 

From January 29, 2007

Iím afraid that, at the tender age of 22 months, my son is displaying the traits of a common criminal. I donít know where I went wrongóhe was such a good kid, from the time he began sleeping through the night until recently, when he began engaging in delinquent behavior.

There was a time when he was content to just lay in one spot, kicking and waving his arms, sometimes laughing (when he wasnít screaming). Then, gradually, things began to change.

Looking back, I can now trace the roots of his behavior to the time when he first learned to roll over. Soon, rolling over turned into an army crawl. Eventually, the child took the next step in his plan of Household Dominationóhe learned to crawl on all fours. At first, it was cute. Then terror set in, because we soon realized that nothing in the house was safe.

Up to this time, our house was typical of a childless coupleólots of expensive, breakable things lying around. We soon realized that nothing was safe, and paranoia set in. Everything around the house suddenly became a life-threatening hazard. First, it was the cats. Though they once held the status of children in the house, they were now treated as lepers, and their household rights became increasingly cut back. The litter box and cat food was quarantined to a section of the house that required access via several gates and a pet door. They were also shut out of the bedrooms.

During the day, our son was a prisoner in the living room, held captive by two gates. It seemed cruel, but it was for his own good. Next, we began the process of eliminating every possible hazard from that area. Our furniture, which we didnít give much thought to before, now looked ominous. Anything that could cause choking, falling, crushing or electrical shock had to be removed immediately. By the time we were finished, there was little more than a sofa, a chair and a televisionóand we were reluctant to leave those in the room. Of course, all the pathways to the area behind the television were strategically blocked. (see footnote)

Everything was fine for a while. But the first deviant act was about to take placeóunplugging electrical cords. Few things will make a parent blow a gasket faster than the sight of a baby near an electrical device. Iím surprised my wife didnít ask me to cut the power to all the unnecessary outlets, remove them and fill in the holes.

Things only got worse after the little guy started walking. Now he was completely mobile, and soon learned to climb. I guess he was just bored, and trying to explore his new ability. He started climbing on the couch, which was terrifying because of the prospect that he might fall off. Then he started plotting his escape from the living room. He would climb halfway up the gate, and just stand there, taunting me. We knew the gates were obsolete when he successfully climbed over one. Now the whole house had to be baby-proofed. Everything had to be moved or put away. The bottom shelves of bookcases were emptied, everything breakable was put away (if it wasnít already broken), and anything that a child might perceive as "fun" was taken out. As a concession, we gave him an old cell phone to play with. It occupied him for awhile, but somehow he knew that it didnít work.

Then he began torturing me. Somehow, a child is born with the ability to understand which button on the remote turns the television off. The kid knows that it drives the parents crazy, so he exploits this weakness.

I could bore you all day with examples of my sonís methods torture, but you get the idea. But now, he has started swiping things from me, and when I ask for it back, he just runs away at a very high speed, until he finds a place to ditch the evidence.

Letís just hope that he grows out of his deviant ways, for the sake of the whole town.

Footnote: I remember as child, for some reason the area "behind the television" was presented to me as an area of certain death. I remember getting yelled at for even thinking of going behind the TV. Looking back, I donít know what the big deal was, since I had enough sense to avoid the electrical outlets. Itís not like I was going to sneak back there with tools, remove back cover and stick my hand inside. I guess itís just one of those paranoid quirks of parents, to come up with the logic that death lies behind the television. But, I also remember that televisions in the 1970s looked a lot more treacherous from behind than todayís models.

 

From January 22, 2007

There is something that has been eating away at me for awhile now. Why are there no "rules of the road" for pedestrian traffic? When you are driving your car, you stay on the right side of the road. So why donít we have the same rule when we are on foot?

For example, when Iím walking through a crowded mall, and someone is approaching me in the opposite direction, my instinct is to move over to the right. But for some reason, the person approaching doesnít always think as clearly and logically as me. That person will often dart over to their left, which would be my right, which would throw them right in my path.

What that person should do instead is move over to their right, which would be my left, which would avoid a collision. But perhaps that is asking too much of the common man.

Since the person usually ends up in my path, Iím forced to take evasive action and step left, which puts the other person on my right. But since the other person is not as quick-thinking as me, he or she steps back into my path instead of staying the course until we pass.

With all of this confusion, we act out a sort of lane-changing ballet in the course of a couple of seconds. If the evasive action goes smoothly, both parties are able to pass without too many lane changes. If itís a close call, and the mall is crowded, I might end up brushing up against the other person. Yuck. Few things are as icky as the experience of brushing up against a stranger in a crowded place. Personal space must be respected at all costs, in my opinion.

So, in conclusion, is it too much to ask for people to stay in their own lane? Can we also develop some additional guidelines for foot traffic?

I would personally like to see some guidelines for opening doors. Since the 1960s, we men have been taught to stop holding doors open for women. But, since Iím so old-fashioned and noble, I will still hold a door open for a woman, even if she looks like a man. Actually, Iíll hold the door open for men as well, but donít get the wrong idea. I digress. Iím talking about rules. If we are supposed to hold the door open for others, then what are the guidelines?

If Iím going through a door, and there is someone right behind me, itís obvious that I should hold it open. If a person is 10 feet behind me, Iíll hold it open. But what if that person is still 20 or 30 feet from the doorway? We start to get into some gray area here. Is it rude to close the door, or is it more rude to hold it open and force that person to walk faster? And if I hold the door open for this person who is still 20 feet away, am I being rude to the building owner for disrupting the climate control?

At any rate, I hope to at least get a "thank you" from the person for whom Iím holding the door. Speaking of this, what should be the guideline for thanking a person when there is more than one door? Many buildings have multiple doors that are in close proximity to each other. If Iím following someone into a building, do I have to thank them for each door that they open, or just the first one? If Iím the door holder, and the person following doesnít thank me for opening the first door, do I have to hold any more doors open for them?

And what about the proper response to "thank you"? Everyone knows that the proper response is "youíre welcome." So why do some people respond with "uh-huh" or "mmm-hmmm"? To me, those responses are pretty lame, and donít mean the same as "youíre welcome." When you say "youíre welcome," you are saying that you appreciate the other personís courtesy. When you just say "uh-huh," you are saying "yes, I heard you say thank you, and I sort of acknowledge it, but I donít really care."

There is also the phrase "excuse me." This is a phrase that most polite people use when they get in someoneís way. In the case of my earlier example, where two people nearly collide into each other, the proper etiquette for the person who caused the near collision would be to say "excuse me." In turn, the person who was not at fault (that would be me, of course) would say "excuse me," with an added emphasis on the "me." This response basically says "hey, you nearly ran over me, but you acknowledged it, so itís okay."

But the phrase "excuse me" can easily be abused. In my younger and wilder days, if someone said "excuse me," I would say "thatís okay, I didnít smell anything." But now, Iím above such childish and crude humor.

The phrase can also be abused in other ways. Some people use it as an offensive mechanism. If someone is unknowingly getting in the way, a rude person might say "EXCUSE ME" in a very annoyed tone. Thatís the equivalent of honking rudely at a driver who accidentally got in your way. Thatís just not nice. And maybeóthough Iím taking the risk of sounding too moralisticówhat we should really concentrate on is just being nice to each other.

So thatís what Iím going to focus onójust being nice. And If Iíve offended anyone by anything written in paragraph 12, then EXCUSE ME!

 

From January 15, 2007

Do you ever wonder about those fancy titles after peopleís names?

I never paid much attention to fancy titlesóuntil recently.

My wife and I were driving along in the car one day, having a conversation about random things.

"What does it mean when someone puts the word Ďesquireí after their name?" she asked.

That was an interesting question, I thought, even though it was out of the blue. It was something I had wondered myself, though not in depth. Whenever I saw the word "esquire," I briefly wondered about its meaning, decided it was a fancy title that only rich people understand, and quickly forgot about it. But for some reason my wife was really bent on discovering what it meant.

"Iím going to start putting that after my name," she said.

I laughed, since she was always making jokes. But what I didnít realize at the time is that she was serious. I figured it out later when I watched her writing a check at the mall. At the bottom, she signed it "Tonya Fasgold, Esq."

Embarrassed, I whispered to her, begging to have the mysterious word scratched out before the cashier saw it. But I ended up starting a minor clash.

"I donít know why you always have to make such a big deal out of everything," she snapped.

Fine. You can be "esquire," I thought ... whatever that means.

I still thought she was crazy. You canít just give yourself a title, especially if you donít know what it means.

I was obviously too uncultured to understand the meaning of the word. I knew that there was a magazine titled Esquire, which I had never read. I knew that there was a Fender guitar called an Esquire, which I could never afford.

But I did see the movie Bill and Tedís Excellent Adventure, where one of the protagonists liked to refer to himself as "Bill S. Preston, Esq." Maybe I wasnít so uncultured after all.

I decided to look the word up in the dictionary, but by the time I got home, I completely forgot about it. Not that it matteredóI didnít have a dictionary anyway.

Months went by, and I never thought about the word, except for the embarrassing moments when my wife would spontaneously decide to add the title to her signature. It usually happened when I went to the bank to deposit checks. I would always make her mad because I would get on to her for forgetting to endorse the checks. So, to pay me back for reminding her, she would send me to the bank with checks that were endorsed by "Tonya Fasgold, Esq."

Finally, after all of this torment, we happened to run across a dictionary, and Tonya remembered to look up the title that she had bestowed up herself. According to the dictionary, "esquire" means:

1. A man or boy who is a member of the gentry in England ranking directly below a knight.

2. Abbr. Esq. Used as an honorific usually in its abbreviated form, especially after the name of an attorney or a consular officer: Jane Doe, Esq.; John Doe, Esq.

3. In medieval times, a candidate for knighthood who served a knight as an attendant and a shield bearer.

4. Archaic An English country gentleman; a squire.

That definition didnít really help much, other than explain why our attorney had the title on his business card. But a quick Internet search turned up a good definition from infoplease.com:

"an unofficial title of respect, having no precise significance, sometimes placed, esq. in its abbreviated form, after a manís surname in formal written address: in the U.S., usually applied to lawyers, women as well as men; in Britain, applied to a commoner considered to have gained the social position of a gentleman."

So, I guess my wife was right. If the title has "no precise significance" and can be applied to commoners, then we can all be esquires. Heck, I might even start to use the title myself. Maybe people will start to give me the respect that goes with the title, never knowing that I gave it to myself.

I wonder, do I have to be knighted by the queen to become "Sir"?

 

From January 8 ,2007

Mission: Christmas Shopping

Primary Objectives:

-Infiltrate the mall parking lot with minimum casualties

-Purchase gifts

-Reach extraction point

Secondary Objectives:

-Do not exceed budget

-Resist temptation to look at pictures of models in store windows

-Avoid germs

Opportunity Objectives:

-Sneak away from family and infiltrate GameStop

-Find clean restroom

-Reach Starbucks

Bonus Objectives:

-Be first in line at Starbucks, beating the lady who would order several complicated coffee drinks.

After Action Report:

D-Day minus 1: During the Christmas campaign, my squad was assigned to infiltrate shopping mall located in the northwest quadrant of OKC, near the intersection of N.W. Expressway and Pennsylvania.

Our unit had been split into three teamsóAlpha, Bravo and Charlie. As usual, Alpha teamówhich consisted of my parentsóhad secured most of their objectives weeks in advance. At this point, Alpha team was simply acting on its own, conducting mop-up operations. Alpha team was lead by my mother, 1st Lt. Joyce, a strict commander whose Machiavellian style of leadership was never questioned by her subordinates. She was not only a master of shopping tactics, she also made efficient use of the weekly intelligence that was gathered in newspaper. Few commanders understood pricing and grand shopping strategy more than her. Technically, my father outranked her, but it was clear who was giving the orders in that squad.

Bravo team was a rag-tag duo with my wife, Sgt. Tonya, acting as NCO in my absence. Though she was a veteran shopper, at times she had difficulty controlling the men under her command. More specifically, she sometimes had trouble controlling the lone soldier in her unitóour son, Pvt. Benjamin, who obviously lied about his age by 16 years in order to enlist. Though I took no action to remove Benjamin from the mission roster, I questioned the logic behind including him. Benjamin lacked proper training, and was prone to impulsive and irrational behavior. I was afraid that Benjaminís actions would compromise Bravo teamís ability to accomplish its mission.

For the purposes of the mission, I had voluntarily suspended my leadership of Bravo team, opting instead to act on my own as the lone member of Charlie team. My job was to drive Bravo team to the insertion point atop the parking garage. On most days, it would have been a simple milk run, but during the Christmas campaign, the parking lot was a hot zone of enemy SUVs and compact car escorts. Fortunately, we achieved surprise and went unnoticed as the rent-a-cop MPs directed us straight to the insertion point. Along the way, our vehicle was continually cut-off or nearly rammed by enemy vehicles. It took every bit of restraint I had to keep from opening fire.

At the insertion point, I left all my equipment in the trunk except for my wallet and field jacket. I was planning to scout out the area and mark the locations of all the restrooms. However, I had a disagreement with the commander of Bravo team over this arrangement. For some reason, she felt that I should remain attached to Bravo, regardless of the fact that I would have been more effective on my own. Attached to Bravo, I would be nothing but a pack mule, and I would have the unpleasant duty of standing ready to hold Sgt. Tonyaís bag whenever she asked.

For some reason, the sergeant seemed to actually be enjoying the mission, while I couldnít wait to be done. It was unsettling to be among such a large crowd, and I feared that I was becoming a victim of germ warfare. I tucked my hands inside my field jacket in order to avoid touching anything. I held my breath as people passed too close, hoping to avoid any airborne germs that might be floating in their personal space.

At one checkpoint, there were some vendors who were assaulting people with hand lotion samples. I avoided them on several passes by circling wide and hugging the store frontsóthis camouflaged my presence and allowed me to move about at will.

We managed to infiltrate the mess hall, which was crowded and overpriced. I believe the food may have been poisoned. Afterwards, I took up position in Starbucks, where I was forced to wait in line behind an enemy soccer mom who ordered several double lattes. It took all of my willpower and training to avoid calling in an air strike on the position.

Finally, all the primary objectives were secured, and Bravo team was ready for extraction.

Somehow my squad made it back, though our debit card was not so lucky. It was shot up pretty bad, but I managed to carry it all the way through the hot zone and to the extraction point. We are still counting the casualties though, and it will likely take several weeks to record their names in the check book register.

 

From December 18, 2006

Hereís a column from the Daveís Waves archive. Itís about when I put on some extra pounds:

I would like to dedicate this weekís column to anyone who no longer fits into his or her clothes. If youíve ever made five trips through a buffet line, slipped into a Long John Silverís-induced coma, or thought it was a good idea to eat that burrito named "The Bomb," then this oneís for you:

One thing in life is certain, besides death, taxes and standing in line. It is certain that as you age, your waistline will increase.

Most of us are in denial of this inevitable fact, so we try to squeeze ourselves into our old clothes to the point that we become miserable.

When my wife was pregnant, she had to eat more because she was "eating for two." Following that logic, I also started eating moreómy excuse was that I was eating for three.

For years, I wore pants with a 32-inch waist. Thirty-two seemed like a good compromise when the 30-inch waistband became too uncomfortable.

Itís unfair, really. Iíve worn size 9 1/2 in shoes since I was around 14 years old. So why canít I still wear jeans with a 30-inch waist?

At some point, everyone has to make a choice: lose weight or buy bigger clothes.

When I was in my teens and early twenties, I could eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and in any quantity I wanted.

Those were the good old days. There was nothing wrong with eating a huge breakfast at Dennyís at 3:00 a.m., then going straight to bed until noon. There was nothing wrong with pizza for breakfast, an entire batch of chocolate oatmeal cookies for lunch, or a steak before bedtime. Indeed, those were the good old days.

I first realized that age was catching up to my eating habits a few summers ago. I was living in Colorado, and I had purchased several cases of Flavor Ice at Costco.

Some people are alcoholics; some are chain smokers. I, on the other hand, canít say "just say no" to Flavor Ice. Itís not unusual for me to eat 3-4 in a rowósometimes more.

So anyway, several summers ago, the Flavor Ice fetish magically turned my pants from 32 inches to 34 inches around the waist. There was nothing I could do to stop it.

One day my wife pointed out that I was getting too fat, and would have to cut back on Flavor Ice. Though she was right, her observation did cause a blip on my hypocrisy radar. If I had said the same thing to her, I would have been in very, very bad trouble.

Fast forward to the present time. The 34-inch pants had been getting tighter, and tighter, and tighter.

I tried to get by for a while by leaving them unbuttoned, but soon it was clear that I would have to jump up to the next size.

So, like any fashion-conscious 30-something geek, I headed for Super Target to buy some new pants. (Side note: You see kids, there comes a time in your life when you will no longer pay shopping mall pricesóand purchasing your wardrobe at Wal-Mart or Target becomes a viable option.)

But a new problem emerged: It was obvious that I was too fat for size 34, but too skinny for size 36.

Apparently, the people making the pants can only count by twoís. Why are there no pants on the rack with a 35-inch waist?

I was tired of being miserable in the 34-inch waist. Those pants were so tight that I felt like the fat Elvis, the fat Jim Morrison, Jaba the Hut, Patrick from Spongebob, and Andy Milonakis all rolled into one.

In the end, I opted not to lose the weightóat least not right away. Instead, I bought pants with a 36-inch waist.

Now Iím walking around with pants that are too big. They keep sliding down and theyíre making me look like a really big dork. One day my jean shorts came down a couple of inches, and my boxer shorts were showing. If I had been wearing a sideways ball cap and a few chains, I would have looked like a white rapper.

So Iím faced with a new dilemma. I can either buy a belt, or try and eat more so that I can eventually fit into my new pants. Hopefully, Iíll get back into those 34ís someday. But if not, thereís still a bright side:

There are usually plenty of pants size 38 and up on the sale rack.

 

From December 11, 2006

Some weeks are easy, and some are just nuts. The past few have been crazy, and I knew that Iíd reached my limit when I came home one evening, took off my socks, and threw them in the trash. It took about 30 seconds to realize what I had done, and then I went through the trash to make sure I hadnít thrown anything else important in there.

Recently, after a long weekend of workóburning the candle at both endsóI stopped at Wal-Mart to grab a few things I needed before heading home. I paid for my stuff and walked out of the storeówithout my stuff. Of course, I didnít realize that Iíd left my sack at the register until hours later. I felt like a real doofus when I called the store to ask about my stuff. Call it Murphyís Law.

Speaking of Murphyís Law, Iíve discovered that there are several apparently universal truths and laws of physics that are always standing in the way of progress. Some things never fail to happen:

-If you have extra money coming in on a particular month, then an unforeseen expense will also occur in the same month. The expense will always be slightly higher than the extra money.

-Old men complain about having plenty of hair growing out of their nose and ears, but not enough on their head. Along those lines, grass will grow up through every little crack in the driveway, but will not grow to fill in a bare spot of ground in your backyard.

-Babies are either hungry, gassy, dirty, wet or sleepy. They are rarely content to just lie there and let you get something done.

-Some people say that death "comes in threeís." The same is true for retailócustomers come in threeís. You will either have no customers at all, or too many to handle.

-A cat will lie on top of anything new that you bring into your house. It doesnít matter what it is, as long as the cat has never seen it before.

-I have taught guitar lessons since 1988. In that time, Iíve found that people will suddenly quit showing up for their lesson. After a few weeks, I write them off. As soon as I fill their time slot, they will show back up expecting a lesson.

-If you are in business for yourself, there are a small percentage of your customers who are actually going to cost you money, rather than make you money. Learn to recognize them and get rid of them ASAP.

-A squirrel sitting along the side of the road will remain motionless until your vehicle gets close. At that very moment, the squirrel will suddenly decide to cross the road. Splat!

-Automatic transmission fluid will always find a way out of the transmission and on to the driveway.

-A female cell phone user will always use up her free minutes, regardless of the number of minutes included on her plan. This same rule also applies to all teenagers, both male and female

-Water leaks and plumbing disasters always happen on Sundays, holidays, or in the middle of the night. If you own a rent house, chances are high that the tenant will let the pipes freeze up. If this happens, you probably wonít find out until several days lateróor after the tenant moves out in the middle of night.

-Tires go flat only when you are in a hurry to get somewhere.

-If youíre over 30, that group of teenagers standing over there is laughing at you.

-Speaking of teenagers, their music is always garbage, while the music you listened to as a teenager is great.

-And one final truth: If you leave your car windows down, it is guaranteed to rain.

 

From December 4, 2006

Donít you just love standing in line? I donít. I know itís necessary, and nobody likes to do it, but itís just one of those things you have to do.

Okay, so I have to stand in line. Thatís fine. But hereís a typical scenario that drives me absolutely crazy:

I walk into a convenience store to pay for my gas purchase. Thereís somebody at the register serving a customer, but where the line begins is unclear.

In addition to the customer already being served, there may be somebody standing at the sandwich counter. I ask myself, "Is this person next in line, or are they just waiting on their sandwich to be heated up?"

There may also be a couple of guys standing around with their coffeeóhaving a conversation about wheat, cattle or deer seasonóand itís not really clear if theyíre in line or just standing in close proximity to the line.

There is also another person dangerously close to the register holding a newspaper. Is this person buying a paper, or just skimming the headlines? Are they or arenít they in line? I also sneak a quick glance to see if they are buying my paper, or the competition.

So I kind of just stand back, keeping an eye on these people in case one of them gives me the "go ahead, Iím just waiting on so-and-so nod." I also keep my money or my checkbook out, so everyone knows my intentions.

For emphasis, I sometimes use the money as a prop, straightening it all out, putting it in order from the largest bill to the smallest, and making sure it all faces the same direction. If I have a checkbook, I repeatedly slap it into the palm of one hand. Any of these acts can be used as a subtle way of saying, "Iím here, I have money, and I need to pay as quickly as possible so I can get the heck out of here."

Another technique is to continually look over the cashierís head, scanning whatever menu or signage might be behind the counter. This reinforces the fact that I am there for the sole purpose of conducting businessónot standing around.

But hereís what usually happens to me. Iím standing there, money in hand, waiting a polite distance from everyone else. While Iím waiting for the "go ahead, Iím just waiting on so-and-so nod" from the people standing around, somebody else walks in and gets in line right behind the customer being served.

For some reason, this person automatically knows that the guy at the sandwich counter is just waiting on his ham-egg-sausage-bacon-cheese heart attack biscuit to get out of the microwave. For now, the biscuit is paid for, though he may pay for it again a few years down the road.

The guy who has just cut in front of me also knows that the two guys talking about wheat, cattle and deer season have already paid for their coffee, and they spend half of every morning shooting the breeze with half the town.

To make things really bad, the line-cutter is usually friends with the person who is reading the paper, and asks them, "Whatís in the paper this week." This is the moment of truth, where I find out whether it was good or bad if they were reading my paper. If the answer is, "Not much," I sure hope theyíre not reading mine.

After the whole awkward "newspaper" conversation is over, the line-cutter finally tells the cashier which pump they were on, buys cigarettes, orders lunch and purchases several lottery tickets (which they proceed to scratch off right there at the counter). Then I wait patiently as the line-cutter writes a check, fumbles while tearing it out of the checkbook, writes it down in the check register and asks for a receipt.

When the line-cutter finishes up and turns to leave, they notice me, and say, "Iím sorry, I didnít know you were in line."

No problem.

 

From November 27, 2006

Yes, I love technology.

Iíve about had my fill of these computer-operated customer service phone systems.

But I still love technology.

I hear a lot of people gripe about how complex everything has become. Iím not afraid of that. I like the fact that I can do most of my banking and bill paying online. I like the fact that almost any information I need is right at my fingertips, and I appreciate having it instantly.

But it is getting harder and harder to actually talk to a person. Most of the time, I enjoy not having to talk to a person when I call customer service. I like to just punch in the account number, do my business and hang up. For one thing, I never have to wait for "the next available" computer due to a high call volume. Also, since I donít have to wait on hold, I donít have to listen to any "music" (see footnote #1) while Iím waiting. The icing on the cake is that the computer doesnít try to sell me any extra products or services. And if the computer did try to sell me something extra that I didnít want, I could just press 2 for "no" and the computer wouldnít try to second guess my judgment.

But the other day, I actually wanted to talk to a person.

I had to contact one of my credit card companies because a merchant had double-charged my card, and when they did, they caused my account to go over the limit. Of course, you all know what that means: cha-ching! $$$

In fact, the term "over limit" actually has a numeric representation, as is shown by the following mathematical statement:

Given: X=credit limit; Y=purchases; Z=previous balance; O=$29.99; F=final balance

Statement: if X < Y, then Z + Y + O = F

In the event that the previous statement becomes true, then other variables come into play, such as I (interest rate) and BS (credit score). The previous statement can have a serious negative impact on both of these variables, whether the effect is instant or cumulative.

So to make a short story long, I ended up with a charge of $29.99 that I did not deserve. After all, Iíve played by their rules. Iíve suffered through all of their commercials. I pay my bill online five minutes before the close of business on the date itís due. It was time for them to make things right.

So I logged in to my account to see if there was an online form to dispute the charge. These credit card websites are pretty easy to navigate, for the most part. When I want to pay my bill, there is a giant "pay now" icon for me to click on. When I want to sign up for an extra service, there is a giant "sign up now" icon. When I need to update my personal information, so that they may track me down if I donít pay, there is a huge "update personal information" link in several prominent locations. When I want to read over the terms of my account, there is a tiny link buried at the bottom of the page that allows me to read those terms.

But if you want to dispute a charge, good luck. After surfing around their site for a while, I found the form to file a dispute. Of course, there was reminder that it is not their policy to remove charges, and that they are only reversed under special circumstances. I filled out the form, clicked "send" and waited. Nothing happened. No confirmation number, no email notice that someone had filled out a dispute form, no letter in the mail. Nothing. After a few weeks, I decided to call the company.

When I called the 800 number for customer service, I heard the typical greetingóplease listen carefully "because our menu options have changed." Iíve been hearing that same greeting for years, regardless of who Iím calling. Do you ever wonder when their menu options havenít changed?

I listened impatiently to the options. For English, press 1. Para EspaŮol presionar 2. For account information, including payment option, press 3...blah, blah, blah, blah, blah...

...To hear these options again, press 7. I kept waiting for the option to press zero and talk to the next available account representative (see footnote #2), but that option never came up. I tried several different numbers that I found on their website and their paper bill, but every number sent me into the same phone menu.

Then the light bulb came on in my head. One option seemed promising:

"To close your account, press 4."

I knew that I would actually get through if I pressed 4, because there was no way they were going to simply let me use their automated system to stop doing business with them. So I pressed 4.

After listening to bad music while sitting on hold for a few minutes, there was a pause followed by a click and a quick ring. It worked. A man answered the phone. Just by the sound of his voice, I knew I had reached somebody higher upósomebody in a real office, somebody wearing a tie, somebody who was holding a real phone and not wearing a headset. This was somebody with a direct extension number, who probably had a picture of his wife and kids on his desk. More importantly, I could tell that this guy was somewhere in the United States. I like to pretend that he lived in Texas.

I quickly explained the situation, that I had no intention of closing my account, and that I just needed to talk to a person who could fix the problem. "All right Mr. Fasgold," he said. "Iíve credited your account."

Done. It was that simple. To top it off, he even pronounced my name correctly, and didnít try to sell me anything. After the close of business that day, I logged on to my account from home, and sure enough, there was a credit for $29.99. Yes, I love technology.

So, whatís in your wallet?

Footnote #1: I use the term "music" very lightly in this case. The stuff you are forced to listen to while youíre on hold sounds like it was pulled straight from the Kenny G reject pile. Somewhere, there is a studio where someone is writing and recording mindless smooth jazz tunes that can be played in an endless loop.

Footnote #2: The term "account representative" is actually just a euphemism for the poor underpaid people who spend 40 hours of their lives each week stuck in a cubicle farm and answering calls from angry customers.

 

From November 20, 2006

The process of moving is one of the worst things in life that Iíve encountered. Itís a terrible experience for several reasons.

First, you always have much more stuff than you think you have. For example, my wife has all kinds of boxes and drawers and piles of junk that needs to just be thrown away. Sometimes I look at it and say, "Why are you keeping this?"

And to be fair, Iím not much better about getting rid of stuffóif Iím any better at all.

No matter how many garage sales we have, no matter how much stuff we throw away, or regardless of how many things we convince somebody else to take off our hands, there is still too much stuff.

There was a classic line in the movie Fight Club that I try to remember and live by: "Things you own end up owning you."

Of course, Iím not very good at living up to this creed. Therefore, I always get stuck moving and storing the same old junk year after year.

For some reason, I find it very difficult to throw things away if they are not broken. Iíve heard one of my friends say that he would throw away anything he hasnít used in over a year. That must be wonderful.

The other thing bad about moving is having to actually pick up all this stuff and take it from point A to point B. The big things arenít too bad, as long as you donít have to take them apart or remove any doors from the house. The part that bothers me is moving all of the little junk from all the drawers. You put all this junk into boxes, thinking youíll be able to go through it soon and remember where everything is. But that never happens. It usually takes months or even years to find everything.

But the thing that is miserable about moving is dealing with pets. When I moved from Kansas to Oklahoma earlier this month, I had to move a 50 gallon aquarium and four cats. Try doing that with a regular cab, short bed pickup. I had the truck bed filled with stuff from the house, and I had all the fish and cats in the cab with me. The fish were in three containersóone with a lid that sat on top of the transmission, another with a lid that rested on the floor behind my feet, and an open bowl that was covered with plastic wrap on top of one the pet carriers. Each time I turned a corner, I had to hold on to the fish bowls.

Anyone who has ever traveled with a cat can appreciate this. I planned ahead, and took away the catsí food and water the night before. I kept them locked in a room with a litter box, and told them that they should go to the bathroom at that time. Iíd been on the road for about 30 minutes, and had just crossed the border into Oklahoma, when I began to notice a very pungent aroma floating over to me. Luckily, I had brought a roll of paper towels and a bottle of bathroom cleaner. I pulled over, and resolved the current crisis to the best of my ability under the circumstances.

I went down the road a little further without any more incidents. I went through the town of Cherokee and was approaching the town of Jet when I began to notice another odor, only this time it smelled much stronger and more sinister. It made my eyes water, and I could have sworn that I was a victim of a mustard gas attack. I pulled over in Jet and began cleaning up mess number two. This time is was harder, because there were two cats in the same pet carrier, and I had to restrain them with one hand and clean with the other.

Letís just say that when I finally found a truck stop, I really enjoyed washing my hands. I called my wife and told her that I hope she enjoys her new home, because the only way we are moving again is in a couple of pine boxes.

From November 14, 2006

November 10, 2006

Today I am finishing up my last day at The Gyp Hill Premiere, where I started May of 2004. Itís been a fun ride, with a lot of interesting stuff packed into a short time. Here are some of my favorite memories of my time spent in Medicine Lodge, Kansas, and my job here at the paper.

I first came to Medicine Lodge in October of 2003. My wife and I were living in Alva, Oklahoma, at the time, and I was giving guitar lessons. A guy from Medicine Lodge called one day and asked if I would consider driving there once a week if he could round up enough students. I agreed to come up and meet with him, and look for a place to teach. By chance, he brought me to the newspaper office to meet the publisher, Kevin Noland. He was thinking that Kevin might be interested in lessons. Kevin and I hit it off immediately. Not only did he offer me a place to teach, but also he gave me a key on the spot. He also ran ads to help me find students. That was my first experience with the people in Medicine Lodge.

The following spring, a position opened at the paper and Kevin offered it to me. So we packed up and moved to Kansas. I never thought I would live in KansasóI always thought it was too flat. But the town of Medicine Lodge interested meóthe history, the scenery and most of all, the people I met here.

I remember pulling into town and starting to move the heavy stuff into our new home. Within a couple of minutes, one of my new neighbors came outside and started helping. It wasnít long before another neighbor had brought us a plate of cookies. This was a lot different from some of the past places Iíd lived, where I seldom even met my neighbors.

In March of 2005, our son was born. For an entire week, our neighbors and people from a local church sent us meals every night. Some of them we had never met before. One lady even sent some money to start a savings account for the baby.

Thatís the thing about living in a small communityópeople look out for you. I will really miss my neighbor from across the street. Heís an 80-year-old rancher, and he can fix just about anything. Whenever I was working on something, he would always come by to help. We spent a many hours in the driveway and garage working on cars, motorcycles and lawnmowers.

Hereís another example of what I liked about living in a small townówhenever I needed to work on my house, I could just run down to the hardware store, take home whatever I might need, and bring back what I didnít need. We always would settle up later.

One morning, on trash day, I slept in and forgot to put the trash out. I was running around trying to get it to the curb, but I was too late. Even though the trash truck was already down the street and turning the corner, the driver must have seen me in his mirror. He kicked the truck in reverse and came back to help me with the trash.

 

From November 6, 2006

As our community is gearing up for Veterans Day program on November 10, this yearís holiday has a more personal connection to me, and it coincides with a monumental change.

Though I never served in the military, I have always been kind of history fanaticóespecially the history of World War II. Last year, I was approached by a local veteran who informed me that the Kansas Legislature had set aside funds for an "oral history project," in order to hurry up and record video interviews of WWII vets before they are all gone. Several people in the community asked meóalong with my boss, Kevin Nolandóto apply for the grant money and interview as many WWII veterans as we could find in the area. To be honest, the idea was terrifying. It would be a huge project.

But one particular veteran kept pushing us to do it. He came by my office quite a bit, and kept the pressure on. Iím glad he did, because we ended up getting the grant, and have nearly 50 videos to include in our archives. We put a lot of hours into the project, but there were others behind the scenes who really helped pull it together. I wonít list names here, because they know who they are, but without their help this project would never have materialized.

On Friday, November 10, the community will once again honor these veterans. It will probably be the last time I see many of them again, because after the program I will be leaving to return to my hometown of Newcastle, Oklahoma.

However, I will be returning a few times to conduct veteransí interviews until the project is complete.

The first time I drove through Barber County, Kansas, I was struck by the scenery of the Gyp Hills. As I drove up Highway 281 from Alva, I saw a rancher riding his horse. He waved to me. It was a nice greeting for what was to come. Now, three years later, I was walking down Main Street. A lady passed me on the sidewalk, and as she walked by she grabbed my arm and said, "Weíll miss you." Then she moved on.

I wonít be the only one returning home in time for the holidays this year. One of my best friends is also returning to Oklahomaóbut instead of returning from Kansas, he will be returning from Iraq.

My friend is of the same caliber as these old WWII guys Iíve been interviewing. Right after 9/11, he volunteered to serve in the Army. He entered boot camp just two weeks shy of turning 35ówhich was the cutoff age at that time. Ironically, his birthday is on Veterans Day.

You have to admire these guys who serve in the Armed Forcesówhether they serve during war or peace; whether they serve in combat or not; or whether they volunteered or were drafted. They all made sacrifices to some degree.

I would encourage all veterans to tell their storiesówhether they served in WWII, Korea, Vietnam or any number of more recent conflicts. Tell your storyówrite it down, or roll the camera, because once itís gone, itís gone for good.

Happy Veterans Day, and please Support Our Troops!

 

From October 30, 2006

I have a confession to make.

For the past few months, every time I go home to eat lunch with my wife, I end up staying too long to watch her stupid soap opera. Disgusting isnít it?

I donít want to watch it, but when it comes on, I end up watching it anyway. Maybe I watch it because I canít believe itís so bad.

In fact, Iím amazed that soap operas are still being made in this day and age. Donít people have a million other things to do that are more interesting? Arenít housewives too busy to watch that garbage?

In trying to understand why my wife watches this stupid show, I ended up watching it myself. Here are a few observations:

For one, the acting is horribleóabsolutely rotten. I think that I could actually do a better job, and Iím terrible as well. Who is auditioning these people? Surely they could find somebody who can act. If they find someone who can act, do they turn them down for being too good?

The writing is also terrible. Iím amazed at the horrible dialogue that goes on. I guess the writers are targeting the lowest common denominator in their audience. (Kind of like writing the news, I guess...)

And what about the charactersí looks? In the soap opera world, is there nobody who is unattractive? Not only is there nobody who is downright ugly, there is also nobody who is just average in looks.

I guess these people live in a vacuum; they are exposed to nobody outside their own little circle of beautiful, backstabbing friends. That explains a lot about the typical plot. The plot usually involves a secret relationship (possibly a marriage) between people who have no business even being in the gene pool. The relationship is completely sabotaged by a number of ex-spouses, hateful siblings or messed up parents.

The soap opera usually takes place in four settingsófancy houses, bedrooms, police stations and hospitals.

My favorite is the hospital. Does anyone ever stop to ask, "Why are all these young, healthy looking people always in the hospital?" None of them look sick. In fact, they still look wonderful, even if they are about to croak.

And what about the hospital staff? They are always at least partially made up of some of the same dysfunctional characters I mentioned earlier. How do these people keep from getting fired, sued or losing their license? And again, there are no ugly people working at the hospital. I went to the emergency room when I was 13 to get a fish hook removedóthe doctor looked like Dr. Frankenstein and the nurse looked like Igor (only not as pretty).

I have no good reason why Iíve been watching this stupid show. Maybe Iím driven by the same compulsion that makes me listen to a bad song on the radio, or the same compulsion that makes stop and look when I see an accident. Every character on every show is completely messed up, and none of them have any real social skills. They may be beautiful on the outside, but they are trying desperately to hide the putrid cesspool lurking on the inside.

Are there really people like this in real life? You bet. They either become politicians or celebrities.

 

From October 23, 2006

Several weeks ago I shared the story of my 19-month-old son, Ben, and his obsession with the word "no."

In case you didnít read that column, Iíll summarize: The boy really mastered the word. He mastered it so well that he could have been in one of those Capital One commercials (the answerís always no!). He knows the word "no" so well that he could probably sing Tell Her No by The Zombies (I think the word "no" is sung like 100 times or more in that song).

The problem is, I have never been able to get him to listen to the word "no" when I say it. He gets into something he shouldnít, and I say, "Ben...NO!"

No reaction. He doesnít even seem to hear me. He just keeps on doing it.

But I recently discovered a word that he will listen to, and itís been quite effective. That word is "Eeeeewww!"

It started out when he started to become interested in the toilet. He tried touching it a few times, and when he did, his mother and I would say "Eeeeewww!" and immediately grab something to clean off his hands.

It must have made a lasting impression, because now he points at the toilet and says, "Eeeeewww!"

He also points at the litter box and says "Eeeeewww!"

And while we change his diaper, he keeps repeating "Eeeeewww!" Itís become sort of a game to him.

There was a time when he would pick up things off the floor and immediately eat them. Now, I have him trained to pick something off the floor, say "Eeeeewww!" and hand it to me to throw away. Itís great to know that he is no longer eating carpet fibers or small balls of cat hair.

"Eeeeewww!" has become such a powerful word, that Iíve actually used it to replace the outdated "no." Hereís how I discovered the wordís power:

One day, Ben was playing with the knobs on the stove, trying to fill the house with poisonous gas and kill us all. Without thinking, I yelled "Eeeeewww!" and he stopped immediately. He backed away, pointed at the stove and kept repeating "Eeeeewww!"

Ever since that day, "Eeeeewww!" not only means "gross," but it also means "stay away from that or else."

Though I say "Eeeeewww!" when Ben is doing something he shouldnít, I think he actually believes Iím doing him a favor by warning him about something that is gross.

Recently, the "baby gates" that we have using to corral the little squirt have become outdated. Now, Ben just climbs over them. I was able to keep him from climbing for a while though by pointing at the gates and saying "Eeeeewww!" But the other night, I slipped, and said "no." Instead of backing away from the gate and saying "Eeeeewww!" he started crying like I had really said something terrible to him. In an effort to stop the madness, I immediately said, "Itís okayóI meant to say ĎEeeeewww!í"

I figure that I can get a few more weeks of good use out of this new word, until he catches on. I just hope that the word doesnít have a negative influenceóby turning him into a germophobe or compulsive hand-washer.

 

From Ottober 16, 2006

Finally, someone has figured out a way to determine who has the most friends.

A long time agoóalmost two years, which is like forever in todayís fast paced cultureóone of my friends emailed me an invitation to join a relatively obscure website called "MySpace." He said I could send him messages if I signed up. Since he was one of my best friends, and was away from home in the army, I thought Iíd check it out.

In case you have been living under a rock (or just hate technology), MySpace was originally started up as a way for unknown bands to share their music. At least thatís what Iíve heard.

MySpace users create an online profile to send messages, share blogs, pictures, music and just about anything else they can think of. Of course, it didnít take long for people to start using it as a place to hook up with members of the opposite (and sometimes same) sex.

But there is another dimension to MySpaceóthrough something called "friend requests," users can add friends to their profile. Each userís profile displays their total number of friends, and allows the user to rank their top friends. It is a fantastic way to find old classmates and spy on old girlfriends.

At first I thought the whole idea of social networking was pretty dumb. Iím married, have a kid, and Iím old enough to run for president. I hate the thought of wasting time chatting online. I have no interest in making new friendsóafter all, I already have more friends that I can keep up with. Years ago, I was having a conversation with the same friend who invited me to join MySpace. We came up with a theory that a person could have no more than 75 friends at one time. At least that seemed like a realistic number at the time. We theorized that once a person had 75 friends, no new friends could be added without first deleting a few existing friends.

Now that Iím older, I realize that this theory was completely out of whack. Iíd guess that a normal adult male only has time for 3-5 close friends (subtract one friend for each dependent in your household). There is also room for about a dozen casual acquaintances. The "casual acquaintance" slots can also be filled by "limited presence" friends. These are friends that can only be tolerated in small doses.

If you happen to be female, these numbers have to be modified somewhat. There is only room for about 3 close friends, each of whom will take turns occupying the number 1 slotóotherwise known as the "best friend" slot. You will spend 80 percent of your time with the best friend until some petty disagreement causes the friend slots to rotate. If any one of your friends stays in first chair for more than a year, a miracle has occurredóyou and your friend should get a prize.

So now, my wife and I have both been sucked into this whole "MySpace" thing. We sit around updating our profilesóadding pictures, graphics, music and trying to accumulate friends. At last count, I was winning. Hereís the score:

Meó70 friends

Wifeó54 friends

As you can see, Iíve nearly reached my limit of 75 friends, so act now to reserve your spot. But hurry, because after this column hits the presses, I may be kicked out of the house and denied computer access.

 

From October 9, 2006

Last week I wrote about my crazy dream--the one where my body was taken over by puppets. I would like to thank everyone who responded; thank you all for your offers, but with all due respect, I donít believe it is time to "seek help."

My dreams arenít always dark and disturbing. Though I sometimes play videogames too much, and I have dreams that Iím actually inside the game. But donít worry; I can easily see the difference between reality and fantasy.

Sometimes, my dreams are a creative outlet. A while back, I wrote about a song that came to me in a dream, titled Weíre All Lovely Lads. In the dream, it was just about the most awesome rock ballad ever, and the audience went nuts when I played it. I was onstage with the band, dressed in white spandex with lot of fringes. I also had long flowing hair that would make Fabio envious. I was standing in front of a wall of guitar amplifiers, playing a Gibson "Flying-V" that was painted to match my outfit. The rest of the guys in the band looked almost as cool, but not quite as cool as me, since I was also the singer.

I introduced the song as one that was coming out on our latest album, and I hit the first chord of the song. It went exactly like this:

Verse 1

Weíre all lovely lads

Weíre all lovely lads, and we know it

Weíre all lovely lads

Weíre all lovely lads, and donít we really show it?

Verse 2

Take a piece of me

Carry a piece of me in your pocket

Take a piece of me

And donít you ever drop it

Then there was a really, really long guitar solo. Then the song modulated into the key of E and repeated both verses. Then there was another really, really long guitar solo. I imagine that on the album, the song would have been at the end of side 2, and just faded out--kind of like Hey Jude.

If anyone wants to play the song, the chords are: D-Dmaj7-D7-G-Gm-D-Em-A. But hear this: I will sue if you perform it publicly without my permission. Consider yourself warned!

From October 2, 2006

And if your right hand causes you to sin...

I am one of those people who remembers dreams very vividly. In fact, I can remember dreams from years ago, and I like to tell them to people occasionally.

My son and I were playing with a puppet the other day. You know, when you really think about it, puppets in general are kind of disturbing. But the puppet at my house is very disturbing, at least to me. It is a puppet of Lambchopóthe character from the childrenís television show that was made several years ago.

I donít know exactly how we ended up with a puppet of Lambchop. But playing "puppet" with my son reminded me of a very demented dream I had about 10 years ago. The dream actually revolved around the Lambchop puppet.

I remember my nephews watching Lambchop when they were little, so that probably sparked the dream.

Hereís what happened in the dream:

It started off like a movie, with a shot of me waking up in the morning. The camera was up in the ceiling looking down. The sunlight was just breaking through the window, making cheap mini blind shadows across the room.

As the camera zoomed in, and I started to wake up, it became apparent that something sinister had happened during the night.

My left hand had been replaced by a Lambchop puppet. I had no control over the puppetóit had a mind of its own.

To make matters worse, the puppet made me do very bad things. I was on a rampage, running around the town stealing and beating people up. That was the mild part of the dreamóI did a lot worse than that.

In order to keep my secret and continue to function during the day, I kept the puppet hidden by wearing a large coat with extra long sleeves. Sometimes I kept a little hood on the puppet, like those hoods that people put on falcons or other birds of prey. No one had a clue that I was the puppet guy. At night, the coat or the hood would come off, and bad things would happen.

After several days of committing evil deeds, I hatched a plan to take back control from the puppet. I began fighting it, but it was too strong. I tried slamming it in the door, but that wouldnít kill it. I finally decided that I would chop it off the next morning before it woke up.

But something terrible happened. In the next scene, I woke up to find that my right hand had also turned into a Lambchop puppet. So there I was, a shell of a man with two evil puppets for hands. I have no idea how many people I killed in the next part of the dream, but it was a lot.

With two puppet hands, I could no longer hide who I was or go out in public. I had to hide until dark. I went into the garage and turned on the table saw with my feet. I was going to cut off those awful puppets, but they fought back. While I could hold my own for a while fighting one puppet, two was more than I could handle. I fought the puppets, and the puppets won.

The dream ended on a really ominous note. It was morning, and the camera zoomed in on me like earlier. Only this time, I also had a puppet for a head. The end.

I hope that I never commit a crime, get caught, and end up on national television. If that ever happens, this little story I wrote will be all over the news, and Nancy Grace will have a field day. After this story is published, I should probably avoid seeking public office.

Now that Iíve told you this story, Iíd like to remind the readers that I have no idea where the Lambchop puppet at my house came from, and if you think you see someone roaming the streets at night with such a puppet, it must be someone else.

 

From September 26, 2006

Recently, I heard the word that every new parent dreads. Itís a simple wordóone that a young child often hears from the moment they learn to crawl. Consequently, itís one of the first words that a young child learns to masteróand they even know exactly what context in which to use the word.

That word is "no."

It all started out innocent enough. Someone gave my son, Benjamin, a book titled Whereís Spot. The book is a simple book about a missing puppy.

The story begins with a mother dog looking for her puppy, Spot. Through the next several pages, the reader is asked if Spot is in various places. The book is a kind of pop-up book, and allows the child to fold back a piece of the page to check the places where Spot may be hiding.

Of course, Spot is missing until the last page, and there is a different animal hiding in each of the places seen throughout the book.

For example, the book asks if spot is under the rug. The child can then "lift" the rug and check. The turtle under the rug says "no."

My kid loves that book. Several times each day, we would sit in the big chair and read it:

"Is he in under the stairs?"

No.

"Is he in the clock?"

No.

"Is he in the piano?"

No.

After a few times through the book, Benjamin was "reading" through it by himselfósimply flipping through the pages looking for Spot, and saying "no" every time he didnít find him.

Then Benjamin started looking around the house. He would open the bathroom cabinets, and say "no." He would open the closet, and say "no." Eventually, he would open anything he could find and say "no."

But we made a mistake. At first, it was so cute to hear him flipping through the book and saying "no" in his little one-year-old voice, that we laughed and encouraged the behavior. Heck, it was funny to us.

But pretty quickly, he started to figure out the real meaning of the word. Now, after only a few short weeks, we have created a monster.

"Are you a good boy," I ask him.

"No," he says.

"Do you want your diaper changed," I ask.

"No," he says.

Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Now, everything we do with him makes him say no. He refuses to take a bath. He refuses to sit in the high chair. He refuses to get in the car seat. He refuses to eat. He refuses to get in the stroller. When I am busy, he refuses to go to his mother. When his mother is busy, he refuses to go to me. I say potato, he says...no!

I had never thought of it before, but why do small children never learn the word "yes." In Benjaminís case, we started off so well. He was saying "uh-oh" and "thank you." He learned to bark and the neighborhood dogs and even learned to "give me five."

But there is a bright sideóhe has mastered the use of the word "no" so well, that Iím considering having him audition for a Capital One commercial: The answerís always no!

 

From September 18, 2006

It was in the last place I looked.

My coffee cup, that is. I spent half an hour on Friday morning trying to locate it after it turned up AWOL when I was trying to leave the house.

I was half asleep, and it was deadline day at the newspaperóthe beginnings of a typical Friday in Daveland.

My morning ritual involves getting on the computer first thing when I wake up. The computer takes place over teeth brushing and showering; I must find out immediately if I received any important emails, eBay notifications or myspace friend requests in the middle of the night.

I usually turn the computer on, and then head to the kitchen to make coffee while the computer boots up. The computerís hourglass icon spins around mid-screen, while itís little Pentium brain goes through the waking up process.

By the time I return from the kitchen, the computer is ready for me to log on. I check the email on my Yahoo account; then I check my email from the office; then I log into my bank and check my balance; then I log into each credit card account to make sure nobody stole my identity during the night; then I read the news; then I read the weather; then log back into Yahoo to see if any more email came in.

Then I log back into my office and send a couple of emails to my boss so he thinks Iím already at work.

Then itís time to pour the coffee, which has been sending its intoxicating aroma through the house, as if to say, "Hello. Iím the morning coffee, and Iím freely available to you any time."

On Friday morning, I poured a nice steaming cup of Folgers Coffeehouse Series dark roast into my favorite plastic truck stop mug.

But sometime during the few minutes, she disappeared. My delicious mug of streaming delight had apparently vanished into thin air. I decided that the only way to find her was to retrace my steps.

No coffee turned up, so I retraced them again, and again.

Now I was getting desperateónot because I was in any big hurry to get to work, but because I needed coffee to function. It was that movie Catch 22: I wasnít functioning because I couldnít find my coffee, but I couldnít find my coffee unless I could function, and if I did find my coffee, that would mean that I was functioning, and then I wouldnít need the coffee anymore.

After making several rounds through the house and looking in the obvious places, I began looking in the most ridiculous placesóthe freezer, the trash, inside drawers and boxes. Finally, I began to imagine the most unthinkable, illogical and irrational thoughtóthat the coffee had simply vanished into thin air.

A comedian once remarked that a person who has just found something they were looking for will often say, "it was in the last place I looked." The comedian then went on to say that if itís not in the "last place you looked," then you are an idiot.

I remembered that, somewhere in my morning stupor, I had walked outside to put my things in the car. I went out to check the car, but the coffee was still not there. I ran back in, and by this point, I was re-checking places I had checked earlier, like the coffee was going to move around or something.

When I finally gave up hope, on a whim, I decided to look inside our other car. Oops, I must have really not paid attention to what I was doing. There it was, still warm, sitting in the console.

"Hello, beautiful," I said.

"Hello, handsome," said the coffee. "Where have you been all my life?"

"Looking for you," I said back. She was in the last place I looked. But I still felt like an idiot.

 

From September 11, 2006

Heís back, but is he still Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs?

It looks like Tom Cruise is trying to clean up his image. After his approval ratings dropped low enough to make George W. Bush cringe, the actor is trying his best at damage control.

While the rest of the media is busy going gaga over the pictures of baby Suri, I am smart enough to see his plan. Is it any coincidence that, after finally being dropped by Paramount, that news suddenly breaks about his apology to Brooke Shields?

I was flipping through the channels last week, and happened to catch Rosie OíDonnellís first day on The View. There was a gigantic bouquet of flowers sitting right in front of the camera. Who were the flowers from? Why, none other than Tom Cruise. Of course, Rosie made it very clear who the flowers were from. I guess Rosie didnít want to make her girlfriend jealous. Speaking of which...

Brad Pitt says he wonít marry Angelina Jolie until marriage restrictions are dropped. "Angie and I will consider tying the knot when everyone else in the country who wants to be married is legally able," Pitt told Esquire magazine.

In other absolutely meaningless Hollywood news, British police announced they had recovered Lindsay Lohanís handbag that went missing from her luggage cart at Heathrow Airport. Apparently, Lohan was upset because the bag contained a quantity of expensive jewelry and her asthma medicine. Wait as second...asthma medicine? I thought Lindsay Lohan was supposed to be perfect.

In other handbag news, there is actually a company that rents overpriced handbags to people stupid enough to rent them. Thatís rightósome people are stupid enough with their money to actually rent a handbag. If you are so inclined, you may visit the website for Bag Borrow or Steal (www.bagborroworsteal.com) and rent a Gucci ĎBrittí medium shoulder bag for a mere $90 per week or $275 a month.

If you are even more challenged in the area of financial responsibility, the Faraone Mennella bi-color quartz necklace is a stealóyou may rent it for only $265 a week, or $795 per month.

To add insult to injury, anyone wanting to use this service has to pay a $9.95 per month membership fee.

I donít know whoís dumberóthe people who actually rent this overpriced junk, or me, for not coming up with the idea.

In other dumb and overpriced news, spoiled-brat-turned-pop-star Paris Hilton made the news for her recent DUI arrest. Hiltonís representative insisted that she only had one drink before she got arrested. Of course, they did not define the quantity or strength of that one drink. From my observation, Paris just kind of acts drunk to begin with. Itís also obvious that she never eats, so one drink is probably all she needs.

Oh well, Iíll cut her some slack this timeóat least she didnít go on an anti-Semitic rampage. But will I cut Tom Cruise any slack? The juryís still out on that one.

 

From September 5, 2006

This week, Iím doing the journalist equivalent to pressing the "easy" button. Instead of attempting to write an original, and hopefully, thought-provoking column, Iím simply re-printing something I received in an e-mail. For the most part, I hate "forwards," but I found this one funny, and it summed up my cynical attitude over the past few weeks. I do not know the name of the author, and I deleted a few references that might be found offensive. (Disclaimer: the following is a work of fictionóno such Congressional act exists.):

The Americans With No Abilities Act

Congress is considering sweeping legislation, which provides new benefits for many Americans. The Americans With No Abilities Act (AWNAA) is being hailed as a major legislation by advocates of the millions of Americans who lack any skills or ambition.

"Roughly 50 percent of Americans do not possess the competence and drive necessary to carve out a meaningful role for themselves in society," said Barbara Boxer. "We can no longer stand by and allow People of Inability to be ridiculed and passed over. With this legislation, employers will no longer be able to grant special favors to a small group of workers, simply because they do a better job, or have some idea of what they are doing."

Private sector industries with good records of nondiscrimination against the Inept include retail sales (72%), the airline industry (68%), and home improvement "warehouse" stores (65%). The DMV also has a great record of hiring Persons of Inability (63%).

Under the Americans With No Abilities Act, more than 25 million "middle man" positions will be created, with important-sounding titles but little real responsibility, thus providing an illusory sense of purpose and performance.

Mandatory non-performance-based raises and promotions will be given, to guarantee upward mobility for even the most unremarkable employees. The legislation provides substantial tax breaks to corporations that maintain a significant level of Persons of Inability in middle positions, and gives a tax credit to small and medium businesses that agree to hire one clueless worker for every two talented hires

Finally, the AWNA ACT contains tough new measures to make it more difficult to discriminate against the Nonabled, banning discriminatory interview questions such as "Do you have any goals for the future?" or "Do you have any skills or experience which relate to this job?"

"As a Nonabled person, I canít be expected to keep up with people who have something going for them," said Mary Lou Gertz, who lost her position as a lug-nut twister at the GM plant in Flint, MI due to her lack of notable job skills. "This new law should really help people like me." With the passage of this bill, Gertz and millions of other untalented citizens can finally see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Said Senator Ted Kennedy, "It is our duty as lawmakers to provide each and every American citizen, regardless of his or her adequacy, with some sort of space to take up in this great nation."

 

From August 28, 2006

What where they thinking?

After pressure from Israel, Germany and Indiaís small Jewish community, a restaurant in Mumbai agreed to change its name. The restaurant, named "Hitlerís Cross" opened several weeks ago, and used posters of Hitler and swastikas for publicity.

When I first read the news story, I couldnít believe it.

"Is this a joke," I asked myself.

"Apparently not," I replied to myself when I saw the picture of the restaurant.

On the sign out front, just below the name, a slogan read "From small bites to MEGA joys." Sounds appetizing, doesnít it?

Though the restaurant initially refused to change its name, the owners gave in and covered up the offensive signs on the front of the building.

If India is anything like America, Iím guessing that somebody in marketing will get fired.

One of the owners, Satish Sabhlok, apologized for the name, calling it "inappropriate."

"Our intention vas not to glorify Der Fuehrer or his atrocities or ideology in any vay und ve regret ze anguish caused by ze use of zis name," he said in a statement.

Perhaps it was ignorance of the past, or maybe it really was an attempt to glorify Hitler. Or maybe, just maybe, the owners were trying to get a tax break by opening a business that was destined to fail. There is precedent for this scenario.

If youíve ever seen the movie or Broadway production of The Producers, this scenario makes sense. In The Producers, a sleazy playwright and his accountant search for a play that is guaranteed to flop. The two accidentally run across a play titled Springtime for Hitler, written by a delusional former Nazi living in the U.S. After securing the rights to the play, the pair set out to hire the worst director they can find.

Of course, the plan fails miserably. When the actor who plays Hitler breaks his leg on opening night, the directorówho is very, uh, feminine, to say the leastóputs on the famous mustache and prances all over the stage like a giddy schoolgirl, singing "heil myself." The audience erupts into laughter, and Springtime for Hitler is a huge success.

Back in India, the owners of "Hitlerís Cross" are still trying to decide on a new name. Hopefully, they have enough sense to stay away from using the names of ruthless dictators or other controversial historical figures.

But I canít deny that the names of the biggest jerks in history could make catchy restaurant names. For example, "El Duce" would make a great name for an Italian restaurant. A restaurant called "Stalinís Place" could use the slogan Eat at Joeís. "Saddamís Palace" could serve the finest in Middle Eastern cuisine, and I would definitely eat at "Genghis Kahnís House of Mongolian Barbecue."

Personally, I was hoping that some busy body like Jesse Jackson would pay the restaurant owners a visit. At least it would get him out of our country for a few days. Or better yet, the ACLU could decide that India needs their "help" worse than the U.S. Then the whole organization could pack up and move there.

But I digress, and I would like to leave the readers with a bit of constructive advice: Under no circumstances can you grow a Charlie Chaplin style mustache. This unwritten policy has been in effect in this country since 1941, and will probably always remain in effect. This applies to all males, and some females.

Have a nice day, and please, use a bit of common sense when naming your business.

 

From August 21, 2006

Like most of you, Iíve been thinking a lot about fuel economy. I guess itís human nature to not worry too much about an issue until it can no longer be ignored. If oil was cheap and unlimited, and the effects on the environment were not an issue, I would drive the largest, most powerful vehicle I could afford. The sad thing is, this vehicle would probably be 10 years old with 200,000 miles on the odometer. But I digress.

Frustrated by the 14-20 mpg fuel inefficiency of my current ride, I looked up some fuel saving tips from the Department of Energy (fueleconomy.gov). Though my vehicleís mileage rating ranges from 14-20 mpg, I like to round up and imagine that Iím getting 19 or 20 mpg most of the time. After all, my friends say I drive like a senior citizen.

So, since Iím getting a whopping 20 mpg, how can I improve that even further? Hereís what the Department of Energy recommends:

-Aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration and braking) can lower your gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds, and by five percent around town. By my calculations, 33 percent of 20 mpg is 6.6, lower than the 14mpg low range of my vehicleís fuel economy. Because of my driving habits, I must be getting a consistent 20.6 mpg.

-Gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph. As a rule of thumb, you can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.20 per gallon for gas. I rarely drive over 60 or 65 mph, even in school zones, so this really isnít an issue for me.

-Avoid keeping unnecessary items in your vehicle, especially heavy ones. An extra 100 pounds in your vehicle could reduce your miles per gallon by up to two percent. This is a great idea. I donít like to haul around a bunch of extra junk, and also I donít like riding with extra people. For every 100 pounds that your spouse or children weigh, they are costing you about 25 cents for every 20 miles you driveóanother good reason to cut out the sweets and get off the couch.

-A tune-up can improve its gas mileage by an average of four percent, though results vary based on the kind of repair and how well it is done. In my case, that new set of spark plugs can increase my miles per gallon by .8óbringing my total up to 21.4 mpg!

-Replacing a clogged air filter can improve your carís gas mileage by as much as 10 percent. For me, thatís a 2 mpg increase. Now I should be able to 23.4 mpg out of that V-8.

-You can improve your gas mileage by around 3.3 percent by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure. For a long highway drive, I like to inflate my tires to the point where they are about to explode. This makes me the only guy on the road getting 24.06 mpg out of an Explorer.

-By using the manufacturerís recommended grade of motor oil, you can improve your gas mileage by 1-2 percent. Thatís another .4 mpg that Iíve gained. Since I always follow instructions, I should be getting 24.46 mpg out of a vehicle normally only capable of 20 mpg.

So I guess I donít have to worry too much about my gas guzzler for the time being. But Iíd still be curious to see how many miles per gallon I could squeeze out of a hybridóprobably at least 100. I should note, however, that I barely passed my math classes in school.

 

From August 14, 2006

One down, eight lives to go.

We had a bit of a freak accident at our house recently. My wife and I have this cat, who we named "Velcro," and he has been our pet since we got married. Heís not exactly the sharpest pencil in the box, but heís a good cat (if there is such a thing) and he makes good company.

But Velcro had a little mishap a couple of weeks ago.

Velcro is pretty typical of an indoor/outdoor catóhe goes out, wants right back in, then wants back out, etc. Pretty much anytime a door opens, he thinks he must run through that door, regardless of where it leads. Getting through the door is something that Velcro is reasonably competent at doingóexcept for the night of August 1. One of our babysitters was leaving the house, and Velcro tried to run past her. She didnít see him, and the door was accidentally shut on his tail.

It wasnít the first time Velcro got his tail shut in the door. I heard a commotion, so it went to check it out. When I saw Velcro running away in terror, I knew what had happened. I didnít get too close of a look at him, because he was moving so fast. He headed for the bedroom, the place he always goes when something scares him. I opened up the front door, and to my surprise, lying in the doorway was the top three inches of Velcroís tail.

I stood there stunned for a few seconds, because I was trying to process the information. I didnít know what to do, so I just yelled at my wife, who was getting into the car, "Velcroís tail just got chopped off!"

Iíve seen plenty of disgusting things in my lifetime, so a small length of severed tail lying in the doorway was pretty tame. But since the piece had been, until a few seconds before, attached to our family pet of eight years, the sight was very disturbing.

I instantly imagined the worst: Velcro running in our bedroom with blood spraying all over the walls. But when I coaxed him out from under the bed, I was surprised to find that there was not near as much blood as I imagined. I took him out to the laundry room, so I could contain the mess and assess the damage. In the meantime, my wife put Velcroís tail in a Wal-Mart sack and laid it next to the sink. She really didnít know what else to do with it.

To my surprise, Velcro went straight to the litter box, did his business, and then went to the food bowl and started chowing down. At this point, I figured out that he was probably going to be just fine.

Still, the whole episode kind of freaked me out a bit, so I turned on the TV to take my mind off things. But it didnít help; everything on TV reminded me of what just happened. I turned on one of those car shows, just in time to see someone running a piece of exhaust pipe through a band saw. I changed the channel to TLC, and right away I saw one of their "life lessons" commercials, where a guy is carelessly using a saw. I flipped the channel again, and saw a guy splitting logs with an axe. I gave up on TV, and went to check on the cat. He looked a little sore, and what had just become the end of his tail resembled the end of a red magic markeróit was like he was "writing his name" in blood every place where he touched his tail. Gross.

The next morning I remembered the tail was still in the sack on the kitchen counter. It really didnít seem right to throw it in the trash, so I buried it in the back yard. For just a second, I actually thought about preserving it just for funómaybe I could hang it from the rearview mirror and call it a "lucky" cat tail. But that would have been just a little sick.

I was afraid that Velcro would look like some kind of freaky alley cat with a crooked, hairless, shriveled up stub for a tail. So I took him to a friend of ours, who is a veterinarian, and the tail didnít even need stitches.

Fortunately, Velcro was born with an unusually long tail. So now, with a few inches missing, he looks like a normal cat. I just hope the hair grows back.

 

From August 7, 2006

If thereís one thing you can say about those guys over in the Middle East, they sure have a way with words when it comes to rhetoric and propoganda against the West.

For years, there have been stereotypical caricatures in movies, who say things like "I kill you, my friend" or "may the fleas of a thousand camels infest your armpits." These stereotypes are simultaneously oversimplified and exaggerated, and Iím sure they are offensive to middle-eastern people in the same way Iím offended by stereotypes of white men who have no rhythm.

But political figures in the Middle East are fair game. Some sixty years ago, the nation laughed at ridiculous portrayals of Adolf Hitler and Admiral Tojo. Today, when weíre not taking jabs at our own leaders, we can laugh at the leaders in the Middle East.

I really miss the daily briefing of the former Iraqi Information Minister. That guy was a riot. I would like to see a reality show where this guy would write speeches, and George W. Bush would recite them.

I get a big laugh at the cute little phrases that Middle East leaders come up with to describe the Westís perceived alliance with Satan.

Recently, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying something to the effect of "America has to get off Satanís donkey."

I can imagine a group of speechwriters, sitting around thinking of clever ways for their leaders to equate the United States to Satan in their speeches. Iím sure that the phrases carry more meaning in that region, but to American viewers, they just sound silly.

Before settling on the phrase "America has to get off Satanís donkey," I wonder what other ideas they had?

In some trashcan in some office in Iran is probably a crumpled piece of paper with several phrases scribbled down and scratched off. Before they settled on "donkey" what else did they think of? How about getting off of his bus, staying off his porch swing, stop mowing his lawn, or stop picking him for dodge ball?

Hours ticked by, and finally the speechwriter had an epiphany...

"Iíve got it," said the guy writing the speech.

"What?" said the guy sitting around watching him. "Did you think up a catchy phrase for our great leaderís latest hate-filled speech against the American roaches and Zionist earwigs who should be given wedgies, wiped off future maps?"

"Yes, Iíve got it, my friend," said the first guy. "America has to get off Satanís donkey."

"Ah. Brilliant!" said the second guy. "I guess you told them! Now, what do you want to do for the rest of the day?"

"That is a tough one," said the first guy. "Wait, I know, letís go out into the street, find a crowd of people who are packed tightly together, and jumping up and down shouting nasty things about America."

"That sounds like fun," said the second guy. "But wait, didnít we do that yesterday? ...And the day before that...and the day before that...and the day before that..."

"Sure we did," said the first guy. "Unlike the Americans, we know how to have fun. But first, let me check my e-mail and grab my black velvet portrait of the Ayatollah."

 

From July 31, 2006

Divorces of the Caribbean

Further proof that our society has deteriorated into moral decay came in the form of a press release that ended up on my desk last week.

The press release, titled Divorce Caribbean Style, was from a Massachusetts-based travel agency and began as follows:

"For a growing number of people whose marriages have turned sour the cure is a trip to the Caribbean...not for a romantic honeymoon, but for a 24-hour Caribbean divorce.

"Haiti and Dominican Republic, independent nations sharing the island of Hispaniola, grant immediate divorce to foreign nationals. Many clients, especially those already with a Ďsignificant other,í prefer to actually make the trip to the Caribbean instead of divorcing in their local courts, so they can share a romantic vacation..."

The same company also sent me a press release promoting the State of Montana, because that state allows proxy marriages. They made sure to point out that a proxy marriage, a marriage in which neither party has to appear, is recognized as legal by immigration authorities. Gee, I wonder how this law could be abused...

Annoying commercials, apply directly to your memory

Hereís a television commercial that absolutely makes me crazy. It advertises a headache relief product called Head On, and the commercial goes like this:

"Head On, apply directly to the forehead. Head On, apply directly to the forehead. Head On, apply directly to the forehead."

Apparently, Iím not the only one who is annoyed. On the Yahoo! Answers website, someone posted a topic about the commercial, to find out how many people are sick of it.

One person called it "a perfect example of good diabolical advertising, though. You just repeat something over and over and eventually it worms its way into deep memory no matter how much a person tries to block it out."

One woman replied, "Every time that commercial comes on I laugh, and then after itís over, my boyfriend asks me, "Wait, where do you apply it?"

But this personís reply best sums up my sentiment: "That kind of advertising should be illegal. Iíd like to apply my foot directly to their ***."

I heard that the distributor of Head On is now advertising a hemorrhoid relief product. I can think up a really good slogan for that one, but good taste prevents me from printing it.

A penny saved...is still just a penny

Thereís been a lot of talk about getting rid of the penny, because it now costs the government 1.23 cents each to produce them. Iíll admit it; Iíll stop and pick up a penny.

A bill introduced to get rid of the penny would require rounding all cash transactions to the nearest 5 cents. The bill proposes that cash transactions ending in 1, 2, 6 or 7 cents be rounded down, and those ending in 3, 4, 8 or 9 cents be rounded up, while credit and debit card transactions would still be valued to the nearest cent. Imagine the nightmare this would cause when you start balancing your checkbook.

If you think no one cares about the penny, try this stunt: next time you see one of those "take a penny/leave a penny" dishes at a gas station, just grab up all the pennies and walk away.

 

From July 24, 2006

You know, children are a lot smarter than you thinkóeven when they are pretty young.

The other day I was sitting around in the house with nothing to do, because it was so hot outside. For me, being stuck indoors during the daytime is absolute torture. In fact, I would be perfectly happy just living in a giant garage.

But since our son was born, itís not so bad to just hang out in the house. When my wife is gone, my son and I have a pretty good arrangement. I put up a couple of gates, turning the living room into sort of a fenced-in baby area. Then I park myself in my recliner and let him play while I watch TV.

We really enjoy our TV time, which usually consists of Headline News, Anderson Cooper 360, Mythbusters, Overhauliní, American Chopper (or any other bike/car show), the History Channel and back-to-back episodes of Spongebob Squarepants.

This arrangement was working out pretty well. I would sit in the chair and relax while little Ben would run around the room shouting gibberish, terrorizing the cats, and making piles of toys on top of me.

Lately heís been spending less time running around the room, and more time sitting in the chair with me. When we play Halo, Ben sits in the chair with his own Xbox controller. The only problem is that he has figured out that his controller is not plugged in, so he tries to steal mine. If you want to see how well you can multi-task, trying playing Halo online while a toddler tries to take away your controller.

Ben has also picked up some other undesirable habits that have ended my days of peacefully watching TV. He has learned that if he stands on top of something (i.e. plastic lawnmower, plastic ATV or Fisher Price garage), he can actually reach the buttons on the TV. This is bad, very bad. Now he controls the volume and channel, and he turns the TV off whenever he feels like it.

Yes, my son is pretty smart, even if some of the things he does drive me crazy.

I used to sit in my chair and play the guitar. In the days before Ben could stand up, this was an easy thing to do. But now, he grabs all of the knobs and switches on the guitar, and tries to pry the pick out of my fingers. He also plays with the tuning keys and grabs the strings. To make matters worse, he now climbs in the chair and tries to take the guitar away.

Hopefully, this is just a sign that he is musically inclined, and will someday become famous and make lots of money. But the reality is that he probably just sees the guitar as something to mess with.

Ben just picked up something else this week. He now steals my chair when I get up, and to make matters worse, he wonít give it back.

Yep, kids are pretty smart.

 

From July 17, 2006

I was thinking the other day about how quickly time passes. Yes, I know how clichť that sounds. Here it is, 2006, and Iím nearly old enough to run for president.

A news story last week made me think about my high school days: the passing of rock musician Syd Barrett, who founded Pink Floyd in the 1960s. Pink Floyd was my favorite band in high school, and I discovered them around the time I started my first band.

Though music has always been one of my favorite things, my wife and I were talking the other day about how funny and ridiculous rock bands are.

In my opinion, one of the silliest things associated with a rock band is the obligatory "band photo." It is one of the necessary evils for any group wanting to get a gig. In my day, you had to have a good song list, a demo tape and a photo.

Fifty or 60 years ago, a band would put on matching suits, grab their instruments and stand on the stage for a group photoómuch like a class photo in a school yearbook. If the star was a singer, that individual would have an 8x10 glossy black and white photo that attempted to portray the individual as "the dreamiest" singer ever.

But with The Beatles, the band photo as we know it today came into being. Initially they had matching suits, but a lot of the famous photos actually showed them playing their instruments. This was a breakthrough.

At some point, maybe when The Beatles quit playing live, they had to take photos in other situationsólike working in the studio. Nothing says "serious musician" quite like a photo of someone wearing headphones and making a great face while singing into a mic. If youíre a real artist and creative genius, itís always a good idea to have someone take your picture in the control room. (Tip: Look serious, and pretend you are adjusting the controls on the mixing console.) This type of photo suggests that you are in charge, and pushing everyone else up to your standards of genius.

But somewhere along the way, bands ran out of ideas. No one knows for sure when it happened, but one day, a band got the idea to just stand against a brick wall. In that moment, the art of the band photo had come to a screeching halt.

I remember the first band photo I tried to take. We all just stood in my parentsí back yard, and had someone take a picture with a cheap camera. To say that it was lame would be too complimentary.

How do I know so much about lame band photos you ask? Itís because of this: at one time or another Iíve committed every known "sin" of bad band photos. Iíve done the worstóthe brick wall; standing on railroad tracks; standing on a high spot and looking down at the camera; looking up at the photographer who is standing on a ladder; setting up a fake recording session; standing in an open field with each member standing at intervals behind the singer with the drummer way in the back.

Yes, Iíve done all of those things and their variationsólooking at the camera; not looking at the camera; smiling; not smiling; with and without instruments; wearing all black; wearing matching outfits; etc.

My personal favorite is to take a photo in an abandoned industrial area. This kind of photo makes you wonder, "Why are four guys who are dressed like that hanging around in such a bad part of town?" Itís just asking for trouble, isnít it?

If there is anyone out there who understands the meaning of "lame," itís me. With so many bands out there, all in need of a photo, itís only a matter of time before we see a headline that reads, "Rock band killed while standing on railroad tracks."

This photo says one thing: Please give us a beating.

From July 10, 2006

Excuse me while I rant. Iíve said it before, but Iíll say it again. I must be a glutton for punishment.

Several months ago, my rock bandóDorfus CrackTractorówas asked by KPAK 97.5 to be judges in their battle of the bands. The contest, which was called Rock Fest, would be held in Kiowa. Since we like the people at the radio station, we were happy to help them out. We didnít want to enter the contest because we knew people at the station, and didnít think it would be fair. So acting as judges allowed us to take part without competing.

Because of the rural location, I really didnít expect too many bands to enter. Needless to say, I was surprised when I heard that 20 bands had signed up. I thought it would be a fun way to spend a day. Little did I know that we were on our way to becoming the most hated band on MySpace. (If you are not familiar with MySpace, it is the Internet equivalent to high school.)

Most of the time, a "battle of the bands" is not really a fair competition based on talent. It is usually an exercise in ballot box stuffing, i.e. the band that brings the most friends takes home the prize.

We came up with a scoring method that allowed each band a possible score of 300 pointsó10 categories, 10 points each, and combining the scores from all three judges. The categories were: group musicianship; individual musicianship; vocal performance; stage presence; appearance; song selection; transitions; originality; professionalism; and overall performance. We figured that this scoring system would avoid a tie and ensure that the best overall band would win.

I wanted to be fair, but didnít want to make any enemies, so I decided that I would consider a score of seven to be average. I was following the logic from school grading scales, considering 70 percent as a grade of "C." If a band did what they were expected to do in a given category, they received a seven. Points were then deducted or added, depending on the how they performed. I know that musicians in general have very big, fragile egos, so I figured this grading system would preserve a few of them.

But I was wrong. At the beginning of the day, the bands were friendly. Several of them came to the judgesí stand to ask questions, and many of them were blatantly "sucking up" to us. Some of these bands were obvious amateurs, which is okay, just not when they take themselves so seriously. One band showed up without drumsticks, and several bands brought equipment that didnít function properlyóyet they still expected to be crowned the winner. There were also bands that came from big cities, and assumed that they would win because of that. It was easy to detect some snobbish attitudes towards small towns.

After spending 12 straight hours in 100-degree heat listening to different bands, I was relieved that it was over. We could total up the points, announce the winner and leave.

The winner was a band named Imminent Domain from Brookville, Kansas. They were all brothers, had good songs, good looks, and put on a great show. Though they werenít perfect, we felt that they had the best chance of "making it." And the scores reflected that. These guys had not expected to win, and they were gracious winners. I felt good to see them get the $1,000 prize.

Of course, there were some bands that disagreed, and sadly, they booed the winners. It made me sick to see such poor sportsmanship among fellow musicians. My one-year-old son has displayed more maturity than some of those clowns.

Some of the contestants who had praised us earlier in the day now turned on us. Earlier in the day, they praised the contest for being judged by "real musicians." After the results were announced, we were no longer "real musicians," just idiots who knew nothing about music. Yes, we donít take ourselves too seriously, and we do have a stupid band name, but we do know a thing or two about music.

Some of the bands also turned against the radio station, claiming the contest was rigged because one of their DJs was a member of the band that came in second place. I think that, if the contest were rigged, then the DJís band would have won first place.

After the event, we received hate mail, and nasty things were posted about us on the Internet. Now I know how the judges on American Idol must feel. If people didnít agree with our decisions, thatís fine. But Iím really offended by some of the accusations that the contest wasnít fair. Before my job here at the paper, I worked for the station owner, and I know that he wouldnít stand for a dishonest contest. His business is a great asset to Kiowa and Barber County. The radio station should be commended for taking the gamble to sponsor such a large event. The bands that behaved professionally should also be commended.

Well, thereís my soapbox. I hope everyone enjoyed Rock Fest. My prediction about the sore losers? They will probably be broken up by next year.

 

From June 26th

What is the oddest behavior you have ever displayed in public? Was it pure accident, or were you acting strange on purpose?

That was the thought that occurred to me last week when I did something that other people may have perceived as odd.

It was late afternoon. I was really hungry. My wife was also really hungry. We had not been to the store in a while, so there was hardly anything to eat. Additionally, neither of us was willing to cook anything.

"Iíve kind of been craving a burrito," I said.

So I jumped in the car and drove quickly down to the grocery store. I had $4 in my pocket, and no checkbook. I went straight to the frozen food section and found the burrito I wanted. I decided that I would probably want to eat two of them, and my wife would possibly eat two. The baby would probably eat half of one before smashing into a paste and slinging it all over the floor.

So, to be safe, I grabbed six burritos. Two for me, two for the wife, one for the baby, and one extra in case something went wrong with the first five. Six burritos at 45 cents each--I would have enough left to go back and get two more later, if necessary.

When I got to the cash register, the lady sacking the groceries asked something like, "so, you really like burritos?"

"Yeah, I was really craving one," I answered.

How embarrassing. I must have looked like a real goofball, making a special trip to the store and only purchasing burritios. They donít even taste that great in the first place.

When they see me coming in the store, they probably say something like, "here comes burrito man." But I canít say I blame them. I worked at a record store once upon a time, and there was a customer that I called "The Michael Bolton Lady." You can guess why. Later I worked at a music store, and two of my favorite customers were "The Crazy Clarinet Woman" and "The Man who looks like he is Dead."

So I can only imagine that I have inadvertently become "Burrito Man," "Captain Burrito" or maybe even "The Flying Burrito Boy." Oh well, Iíve done crazy things that could earn me worse nicknames. For example, check this one out:

A couple of months ago, there was an auction that I wanted to attend, because there was an old German rifle I wanted to buy and hang on the wall.

The day of the auction, my wife went out of town. I soon realized that I had been left with the baby, but no car seat. The only solution was to put the baby in the stroller and walk clear across town to the auction.

I must have really wanted that stupid gun.

It took me about 30 minutes to get to the auction house, and I still had to wait a while for the rifle to end up on the auction block. Luckily, my son was feeling very patient that day, and sat happily in the stroller while I waited.

I won the auction, and decided to head home. At that moment it dawned on me that I really would have liked to have a vehicle with me. So, I layed the rifle across the top of the baby stroller and started the walk back home.

I had a couple of blocks to walk along Highway 160, then all the way down Main Street, through downtown.

I got bored of just walking, pushing the stroller with the rifle on top, so I got out my cell phone and called some people. I must have looked like a real crazy person, walking down the street with a baby and a gun, talking on a cell phone.

A lady came out of one of the shops, and said "oh my gosh, are you really carrying a gun while pushing the baby?"

That could explain why Iíve had very few visitors to my office recently. Maybe the whole town thinks Iím nuts!

 

From June 19, 2006

Summer is here early, and like an idiot, Iíve already had my first sunburn.

The thing about sunburn that is so frustrating is that it is completely avoidable. The same thing happens every year. I go outside and start working on a project. My wife reminds me to put on sunscreen. I say "okay," but Iím too lazy to go in the house and put it on.

I work for a while, thinking that the weather isnít too hot. Iím also partly in the shade, so Iím not too worried.

Then at some point during the afternoon, my wife comes outside. Iím kind of a grouch at this point because Iíve been working all day, Iím in the middle of a project, and Iím afraid sheís going to interrupt my work to make me come inside and eat. What an inconvenience!

Then comes the dreaded phrase: "Youíre red."

No Iím not. I feel fine. I look at my arms and they look fine, just slightly pink.

Pretty soon reality sets in. Iím forced to go inside, and when I look in the mirror I see what my wife was talking about.

My nose and forehead are red. My scalp is so red that it actually looks like someone gave me highlights. My ears feel like pieces of bacon that were left in the skillet too long. And my back can only be described as "well done." To make matters worse, I must have had a case of "plumberís butt" while I was outside, so the burn extends under my waistline. Ouch!

Of course, I get absolutely no sympathy from my wife, who says, "I told you so."

Let the suffering begin.

Itís pretty obviously that my Saturday afternoon of working outside is over. Even as they sun gets lower in the sky, any amount of sunlight on my sunburned skin will be uncomfortable and only make things worse.

So I decide to "clean up" and spend the rest of the day inside. I think that people have a natural instinct to jump in the shower after realizing they have sunburn.

I turn on the shower and get inside, only to realize quickly that my normal shower is suddenly too hot. After turning the heat down, I notice that the water initially hurts when it hits sunburned skin. At times like this, I wish the house had lousy water pressure. Under normal conditions, I like my showers to have water pressure equivalent to a fire hose, but not now. When the shower is over, drying off is also miserable.

The next step is to find some comfortable shorts with a soft waistband, and spend the rest of the day shirtless. This works pretty well, except I canít relax in my leather recliner because my back sticks to the leather.

A few days of misery follow, culminating in horrendous fits of itching and scratching as the dead skin starts to separate. When I was a kid, I thought it was fun to peel off the old skin. Now I think itís disgusting.

To make it worse, I then try to fool everyone into thinking that I didnít get burned by putting a ton of lotion on my nose and forehead to hide the peeling skin.

For this year Iíve learned my lesson, just the same as learned my lesson last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, and the year before that, and the year before that...

 

From June 12, 2006

As Iím leaving the house every day, I first have to gather up everything I need for the day.

First, I need my wallet, my cell phone, and then I need to find my keys. I may also need the checkbook, because I open most of my mail and pay my bills from my desk at the office. There is also a notebook I carry for, you guessed it, taking notes. A lot of times I carry a camera. Depending on the day, I might need to carry a piece of music equipment or some other miscellaneous item. I also need the following items: coffee mug, dental floss, eyeglasses, contact lens case and saline solution.

The problem is that I canít ever decide on a good way to carry around all the junk I need on any given day. Iíve tried just about everythingóplastic sacks from the store, a backpack, even a briefcase. Sometimes Iíve carried a combination of the above.

So what is the solution? Maybe what I really need is a really huge purse. Thatís right, I need a purse. I believe the politically correct way to say it is "man-bag."

Who decided that a purse was only for a woman to carry? When was that unwritten law established?

When you think about it logically, a man has just as much of a need for a purse. For example, if the man goes out and works while the woman stays home, who has the greater need for a purse?

Iím not suggesting that men should carry expensive designer bags or frilly, handmade sissy bags. Iím also not suggesting that a man should have a closet full of a gazillion purses, like my wife. (There is no reason for her to have so many purses, and the only reason she does is because I allow it simply for amusement.)

What Iím suggesting is thisóeach man gets one man-bag. It will be adequately sized, contain many compartments, and constructed of nylon or canvas. The color of the bag must be black, olive drab, camouflage or some other neutral manly color. The bag must include provisions for carrying with a small handle or on the back. The bag must never be carried over the shoulder in the manner that a woman carries a purse; therefore a long single strap must never be attached. The bag must also be constructed so that it is easily attached to a motorcycle.

I believe that the man-bag makes perfect sense, and is not a reflection of masculinity. There is even a certain person I know in my office who already carries one, but I canít say who it is or Iíll get fired.

My intention is to promote the man-bag as a practical solution for everyday living. I may even write to my legislators and encourage them to pass a law defining a purse and something carried by a man and a woman.

Who knows, maybe the man-bag will catch on. Maybe us men can turn the tables, making our wives hold our purses while we are in the dressing room.

Say it loudóCarry a purse and be proud!

 

From June 5, 2006

There is a two-word phrase that strikes fear into wives and neighbors, and makes men feel like giddy school children: "project car."

Those words had not been spoken in my household for quite awhile. Itís a typical story, and one that is very sad.

The story goes something like this: boy likes cars, boy has unlimited amount of time, boy gets a project car, boy spends all of his time working on the car, which produces hours of fun and fond memories.

But the story does not always have a happy ending. As in every good story, there must be conflict. So the Force of Darkness must enter the picture at some point. The Force of Darkness can be several thingsólack of money, a demanding job, nasty neighbors, or a cruel and unusual city ordinance.

But in most cases the Force of Darkness turns out to be a girl. This simple fact is one of the cruel ironies of life.

So, a few weeks ago, I was remembering the good oleí days when I had unlimited time to work on project cars. I think it was because I had been watching too many episodes of Overhauliní. I was tired of watching all of these shows about fixing up old carsóI was ready get in there and do it myself again. But there was one obstacle to overcome: The Force of Darkness.

I had recently gone to my monthly Corvair club meeting (stop laughing!) and had heard of some cheap project cars for sale. One evening, I was sitting around the house with my wife, and I just sort of casually started talking about the Corvair meeting. I told her about some of the cars for sale, all the while scheming about how to get permission to buy one. Then to my surprise, she said, "you can get another Corvair, but it has to be a Ď63 convertible."

Wow! That was easy.

Within minutes I had grabbed the phone and started dialing. It wasnít long before I found the car and made arrangements to pick it up. Sometimes I amaze myself at what I can accomplish when Iím motivated.

But it wouldnít be easy. The car was near Guthrie, Oklahoma, nearly 200 miles awayóand I didnít even have a trailer. Just getting the darn thing back to Kansas would be an accomplishment in itself.

I became obsessed. I could hardly sleep, and when I did sleep, I dreamed about the car. I read Corvair parts catalogs, cleaned out the garage and warned the neighbors about what was coming.

The day of retrieval finally came. I borrowed a tow-bar to drag the car home. The car had been sitting outside for several years. The top was completely gone. The interior was completely gone. The entire passenger compartment was full of leaves, sticks and dirt. There was moss growing all over the outside of the car. There was a bird nest in the trunk, one in the engine compartment, and several more that I would find later in other hiding spots.

I tried to remove the wheels in order to replace the tires and service the wheel bearings, but most of the lug nuts were rusted on. Several of the wheel lugs were stripped, bent or twisted off.

After an intense weekend of cleaning and preparing the car for towing, I headed back to Kansas. When I stopped for gas in Enid, Oklahoma, I caught a glimpse of some grungy old hippie laughing at me. But Iíll show him. Someday, when the car is done, Iíll drive to Enid and find him. Then Iíll laugh at him. In fact, I will have the last laugh on everyone who has doubts about my project.

But first, I have to completely redo the engine, brakes, suspension, wiring, interior, paint and top. I just canít understand why wives hate project cars so much.

 

From May 30, 2006

This weekís observations:

A lot of folks in Washington are upset about the FBI raid at the office of Louisiana Democrat William Jefferson. Even some Republicans are upset. This leaves me with one burning questionówhat are these guys trying to hide? I donít think that anyone should be above the law, especially politicians.

Last weekís poster child for poor taste is pop star Madonna. The 47-year-old singer kicked off her "Confessions" tour in Los Angeles on May 21. During a performance of her song Live to Tell, Madonna was hung from a mirrored cross and suspended above the stage. Of course, her performance is protected as free speech. While it was tacky and tasteless, most people who are offended by it will say "yuck" and simply move on. But if she were mocking Islam or some other religion, there would probably be a price on her head.

Ken Lay and Jeffery Skilling finally got convicted in the Enron scandal. Both men could spend the rest of their lives in prison. While these guys ruined the financial lives of a lot of people, isnít life in prison a little extreme, considering that they didnít kill anybody?

I love stories about positive benefits of video games. A new research study revealed that surgeons who warmed up by playing video games for 20 minutes prior to performing surgical drills were faster and made fewer errors than those who did not. The research involved 303 surgeons and was focused on laparoscopic surgical procedures.

My views on immigration: Everyone who is here nowóunless they are Native Americanóis descended from immigrants. If someone from Mexico wants to live here, work hard, learn English and become an American citizen and become a productive member of society, then there should be a channel to accomplish those goals. If they are already here illegally, and have American children or an American spouse, put them on a strict pathway to citizenship. Otherwise, send them home. We need to hurry up and build that border fence, and while weíre at it, letís build a fence around Hollywood, too.

Have a great week!

 

From May 15, 2006

Another year, another graduating class. Because I have come to know several seniorsóboth high school and collegeówho are graduating, Iíd like to give all of them a bit of advice. They can take it or leave, as it may only be worth what they paid for itónothing.

When you get out of high school, you will quickly find that all of that petty stuff like being popular doesnít mean squat. If you are used to being popular, I hope you enjoyed it while it lasted. If you were a geek like me, then good news, it doesnít matter.

1) Donít be stupid

There is more to your teenage years than waiting around for your 21st birthday. Itís most importantónot just to you, but to your family and friendsóto stay alive, and live to a ripe old age. In the meantime, please donít get into a vehicle with someone who is impaired. And Iím not just talking about carsóthis goes for boats, jet skis, motorcycles and ATVs. "Why?" you ask. This may come as a newsflash, but you are not invincible, and it only takes a split second to die. Besides, it doesnít take much to get a DUI and get your name in the newspaper for everyone to see.

2) Donít be stupid

The money your parents give is not "income." Income is money you earned yourself. Furthermore, a line of credit is not the same as money in the bank. In fact, it is the exact opposite of money in the bank. With the cost of everything rising, the odds are already stacked against you. Donít sabotage your future just to make a few quick purchases of things you want or might think you need right now. The decisions you make in the next few years regarding income and credit will affect you for years. These decisions will affect your ability to get an apartment, buy a house, buy a car, get married, start a family or get through an emergency. Your personal finance is a mirror, and it reflects how you manage life.

3) Donít be stupid

There is no timeline telling you when to get married. Donít waste your time settling for someone who is not right, just because they are there at the "right" time. Furthermore, there is plenty of time to have kids. But if they come along sooner than you wanted, itís time to grow up and take care of them. And donít be a jerk to your spouse or kids either.

4) Donít be stupid

While people who are too blunt can be very annoying, it is always best to be honest. Donít sugarcoat the truth; donít dance around the issue; donít withhold the truth. It will come back to bite you.

5) Donít be stupid

Donít sit around waiting for things to happen. Take actionódo something to make those things happen.

6) Donít be stupid

You donít have to have a lot of money to be successful or secure. Recognize that now. You donít have to have money or status to have class. Some of the tackiest people Iíve met have been rich. Some of the poorest Iíve met have had dignity. Some of the most miserable people Iíve met have been wealthy (note the connection between the words "miserable" and "miser").

7) Donít be stupid

Just because someone has a nice suit, important title, expensive car or goes to church doesnít mean that they are telling you the truth.

8) Donít be stupid

Making a profit motivates anyone who wants to sell you something. Or maybe they just want to get rid of something they donít want. In many cases, they are not looking out for your best interest. For example, just because it is easy to buy a car doesnít mean that you should buy a car.

9) Donít be stupid

Itís not the governmentís responsibility to take care of you when you are old. Save your money now. And take of yourself now to avoid getting ill later. Unless a miracle happens with Social Security and health care, donít expect any help from Uncle Sam. Again, save your money and take care of yourself right now.

10) Donít be stupid

Use a little bit of common sense when deciding on tattoos and piercing. There are better things to spend your money on anyway.

Okay, so there it isóten things to keep you on track. Now have a nice life, and donít be stupid.

 

From May 8, 2006

Here are some fun facts, news bits and other info to think about for the week:

Happy Motherís Day...Now get to work!

Last week Reuters reported that a full-time stay-at-home mother would earn $134,121 a year if she were paid for all her work. This amount of money is similar to a top U.S. ad executive, a marketing director or a judge, according to a recent study by compensation experts Salary.com.

The story further reported that a mother working outside the home would earn an extra $85,876 annually, on top of her actual wages for the work she does at home. Employed mothers also reported spending an average of 44 hours each week at their outside job, and 49.8 hours at their home job. Stay-at-home mothers work 91.6 hours a week.

I wish those hours could be turned into real moneyóI could quit my job. Way to go, moms!

To the Max!

The headline read: "Moussaoui Sentenced to Life at Supermax." The name of the prison makes it sound like he was sentenced to life at Wal-Mart...Today, at Supermax, we are rolling back prices. Perhaps it is a punishment worse than death. Maybe they should have sentenced him to life in a dead-end job instead.

Fumbling Around

Another headline last week read: "Video Shows al-Zarqawi Fumbling With Rifle." Another story, which was suppressed by the Republicans, carried the headline "Video Shows Bush Fumbling With Words."

Honey, weíre killing the kids.

A deal was announced on Wednesday to keep soft drinks out of school vending machines. It is hoped that this will be a major health breakthrough for todayís youth. Now, we just need to find a solution to take away the kidsí cigarettes and beer.

Things I donít understand about cartoons

I was watching Spongebob Squarepants the other day, and in one scene, the characters were all at the beach. But all of the action on the show is supposed to already be taking place underwater. Is it just me, or does it not make any sense to have a beach underwater?

Life is so unfair

Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, a sixty-two year old who looks like the poster child for walking death, survived a fall out of a palm tree. But in the past six months, one of my thirty-something friends had a heart attack and another had to have his gall bladder removed. In fact, almost everyone I know in my age group is always complaining about some ailment most of the time. Maybe we should all try and be more like Keith Richards.

Quote of the week

In Washington, President Bush pushed for immigration legislation on the eve of the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo.

"You may have noticed this celebration is not on the Cinco de Mayo," Bush told the crowd. "Itís on the Cuatro de Mayo. Itís such an important holiday we thought we would start early."

Bush reportedly told several aides that he hopes to get the Hispanic vote in 2008. Okay, I made that last part up, but it sounds like something he would say.

 

From May 1, 2006

Raise your hand if you properly maintain your vehicle. Iím willing to bet that about 90 percent of you do not.

Iím usually pretty diligent about maintaining my vehicles, for several reasons: 1) obsessive compulsive disorder; 2) pride in my automobiles; 3) lack of funds to have them repaired by someone else; and 4) a terrible fear of being at the mercy of someone else who may or may not be telling me the truth about what is wrong with my car.

I drive like an old man anywayóhands at 10 and two oíclock on the steering wheel, and never driving more than five mph over the speed limit.

But lately Iíve been busy and let things slip a little. The other day, I fired up my air compressor to air up my motorcycle tires. Since I had the compressor out, and my cars were there in driveway, I decided to check the tire pressure. The tires on the Explorer had only about 25 psi (pounds per square inch) of air, when they are rated for 40 psi.

I felt pretty bad for neglecting such a minor thing like checking the tire pressure, especially since gas is so high right now. So, to make myself feel betteróand to help anyone else who may not realize the impact of tire pressure on fuel economyóIím reprinting some excerpts from a press release from Yokohama Tires that I received last week:

Tires influence the braking, steering, comfort, handling, fuel efficiency and overall safety of every vehicle, but are often ignored or misunderstood by many consumers. Tires pound over potholes, careen off curbs and screech to a halt, but the prevailing public sentiment is, "theyíre round, black and have tread. Beyond that, who cares?"

With gas prices blowing by $3 a gallon, smart drivers care. Savvy consumers are seeking to increase fuel economy and the life of their tires by paying more attention to those rubber objects that are attached to their vehicle. As Dylan meant to say, "The tires, they are a changiní."

Most people arenít aware that todayís tires are scientific marvels, holding up under extreme heat and freezing conditions, cruising over pavement, rocks, dirt, water, snow, mud, gravel and all sorts of road hazards. Tires boast advanced tread designs, sidewalls, belts and compounds, and they work so well, theyíve practically become an afterthought in most households. That is, until now.

According to Mark Chung, director of strategic marketing for Yokohama Tire Corporation, "Tires that are under-inflated by just four to 12 psi can reduce gas mileage by five percent or moreÖand tire life by as much as 40 percent.

"When a tire is under-inflated, the carís weight rests more on the tireís shoulders than its center, causing poor fuel economy, uneven wear and a less-than-firm ride, which can significantly reduce driver control."

The tireís proper inflation level, which is usually between 20 and 36 psi, can be found on a placard in the glove box or on the car door. And while there are about 3,500 sizes and types of tires on the market, Chung suggests some simple procedures to aid proper tire wear:

-Once a month, when the tires are cold, or at least three to four hours after the vehicle has been driven, check tire pressure with a reliable tire gauge. (Normal driving causes tires to heat, raising air pressure. Releasing air when tires are hot may dangerously under-inflate the tires.) And be sure that the valve stems have a plastic or metal cap to keep out dirt and seal against leakage.

-Tires should be rotated at least every 5,000 miles and the alignment should be checked once a year. Misaligned tires can cause the car to drag, which lowers mileage and causes unnecessary tire wear.

-An over-inflated tire puts less tread on the road and increases wear on the center of the tread. A tire is designed to run with the vehicleís weight spread evenly across the width of the tire.

 

From April 24, 2006

Iíve been feeling a little cranky this week--must be that time of the month. This weekís rant--things that I would like to see declared as crimes.

Last night the phone rang. It was an "out of area" 800 number.

"Is Mr. Fasgold available?" asked the female caller, who sounded like some sort of a lifeless public relations robot.

"No, but can I take a message?" I replied.

"No message, but weíll try back later," said the caller.

If she calls back, and again asks, "Is Mr. Fasgold available?," Iím going to answer, "that depends on what youíre selling."

I can never think of anything witty to say until after I get off the phone with a telemarketer.

So, back to my original topic. I would like to see telemarketing made into a criminal offense.

I would also like for it to be illegal for someone to add the suffix "ish" to the time of day. Example: "Weíll meet around seven-ish." I just hate that. Canít we just pick an exact time and meet up?

It should also be illegal to crunch your chips too loudly at a Mexican restaurant. One time my wife and I were eating at Playa Azul, and this lady sitting right behind me kept crunching so loudly that I couldnít think straight. I think she ate several bowls of chips, and she must have had her mouth open the entire time.

It should be against the law to use the word "anywho" in place of "anyhow."

Furthermore, it should also be illegal to call a computer a "puter."

If I could be in charge of things, Iíd also get rid of the Video Professor commercials. I especially donít like the one where they interview the lady who brags that her three-year old is smarter on the computer than she is. Thatís not something I would brag about on television. So, I would like to make it a crime to brag about being computer-illiterate.

It should be a crime to make up song titles such as "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" or "Itís hard out here for a pimp."

It should be a crime to produce television shows such as "Wonder Showzen" on MTV. It should also be a crime to watch such trash.

It should be illegal for a slow moving vehicle to pull out in front of a faster moving vehicle on a two-lane highway.

It should be illegal to charge more than 10 percent interest on anything.

It should also be against the law to use a toothpick in public--especially if you pick your teeth, then take a look at the toothpick. Gross!

Of course, these would all be petty crimes and none of them would carry serious punishment--maybe the perpetrators could be locked in a closet and forced to listen to music by Kenny G and Yanni for a few hours. That would be enough to deter me from committing any crime.

Okay, I feel much better after getting all of that out. Soapbox mode has now been turned off. See you next week...maybe I wonít be such an old crank then!

 

From April 17, 2006

I received a request to write something about Earth Day, and to share my recent discovery of recycling.

I never really took recycling seriouslyóit seemed like too much hassle, and besides, what difference can one person make anyway? Pretty lousy attitude, huh?

But over the years, Iíve warmed up to the idea, partly due to the advice of a friend, a local recycling advocate, whom I shall only refer to as "the hippie."

I used to think that recycling was only for people who rode bicycles everywhere, wore sandals year-round, listened to the Indigo Girls and smelled like a pot farm.

But the hippie showed me that recycling could even be accomplished by semi-normal people like myself.

Even if you voted for Bush, you can still recycle. Even if you drive a new Dodge with a Hemi V-8, you can still learn to recycle. Even if you spend your summers hunting with Ted Nugent, there is still hope that you can learn to recycle.

First the hippie advised me to slowly change my light bulbs from evil traditional light bulbs to long-lasting energy saver bulbs. Every time an old bulb burns out, it gets replaced by one of the new "green" bulbs. Iím not sure if it has made a difference in my energy bill though, because I like to sit around in the dark most of the time anyway.

Next, I started recycling cardboard by dumping my old boxes in the designated bin behind the old armory. Previously, I thought that old boxes were only good for use as extra trash cansóIíd fill them up and set them out on the curb every Tuesday.

I used to never read the newspaper. I simply used it as something to place under the litter box to protect the floor, or as something to reduce the mess when using spray paint. Now I recycle them. Heck, I even read them occasionally.

Iíve also come up with a few recycling habits on my own. For instance, old guitar strings can be cut apart and used for various duties, such as clearing out small openings when cleaning a carburetor. Iíve even used them as toothpicks.

Old underwear and socks make great polishing rags, but it is still a little embarrassing to stand out in the driveway and wax the car with your wifeís old bra or your own moldy old pair of briefs.

When you buy something, save the packing material to reuse when you sell your old junk on Ebay. Styrofoam packing peanuts also make good cat toys.

The little packets that read "silica gel, do not eat" help absorb moisture. Throw a few in your guitar case or under the seat of your old car to prevent rust.

Meat that is slightly brown may still be safely consumed in many cases. Iím living proof of that. Milk may also be extended well past its expiration date with a good sloshing aroundójust be sure to give it a quick sniff test.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for any readersí health problems resulting from consuming bad meat or dairy products.

I hope you enjoyed my recycling testimony. Happy Earth Day! ...And remember:

Recycling: Itís not just for hippies anymore.

 

"Does it make it easier on you now, youíve got someone to blame?" -Bono, from the U2 song "One"

Do you ever wish you could go back in time, to your childhood, so you would automatically have someone else to blame when you mess up?

Before you were old enough to blame the government, the church, bosses, coworkers, banks and other ethnic groups for your problems, you could always play the blame game with every kidís favorite targetóyour parents.

It was easy back then. There were no complex issues or big moral questions to ponder. If anyone was standing in the way of something you wanted to do, it was usually your parents.

Iíve been working with kids for about 15 years through teaching guitar lessons. Now, letís be honestóthe vast majority of kids enrolled in any type of music lessons arenít serious about their instrument.

As far as guitar lessons are concerned, I believe that most kids really enjoy the idea of playing the guitar, and enjoy that status symbol of owning an electric guitar. Learning to play that guitar with any skill is a different story entirely. It takes several hours each week and many years to master the instrument.

But unfortunately, most kids arenít willing to put out that kind of effort. Forget about teaching them music theory, classical or jazz. Most kids are happy just to learn the introduction to a few easy rock songs.

Itís quite entertaining to listen to these youngsters make excuses when they forget something or "donít have time" to practice. Who do they like to blame? They blame the same people who pay the bills and bring them to lessons each week.

Here are some typical examples of things Iíve heard every week over the past 15 years:

1) "I donít have my book because my mom didnít put it in my case."

2) "I had a bunch of guitar picks, but my mom lost them."

3) "I didnít practice this week because my mom made me do my homework."

4) "I didnít practice because my little brother broke one of the strings, and my mom wouldnít buy me a new one."

5) "Sorry I missed my lesson last week. My dad forgot to bring me."

But my favorite of all time is this:

"I didnít get to practice because my mom threw away my music."

Believe it or not, Iíve actually heard that excuse a lot.

Reading over this list of excuses makes me wonder, who are these cruel parents, and what are they trying to do to their children?

I often want to ask the kids questions along the following lines:

1) "If your mom forgets to tell you to play video games, will you remember to play them?"

2) "Did you have enough time in your busy schedule to talk on the phone, watch television and hang out with your friends last week?"

3) "If your mom forgot to feed you, would you starve to death?"

As we get older, we canít blame our parents anymore. But someone else is always to blame. For example, we get stressed out when weíre late to an appointment (when we should have left earlier); turn in our taxes at the last minute (when we had over three months to do them); and get upset at politicians (whom we may have voted for).

Then we have kids, and they make great excuses in themselves. Such as, because of the baby, we: 1) canít go out with friends; 2) canít make it to church; 3) canít get anything done; 4) canít save any money, etc.

I would go home and play my guitar now, but my wife probably wonít let me.

 

From April 3, 2006

Last weekend, we took our monthly trip to visit family in Oklahoma. Since I was going to be in a big city for a change, I began planning my usual shopping tripsóGuitar Center, GameStop, Borders and, of course, Starbucks.

Iím pretty stuck in my ways, so I donít vary my routine too often. Then I heard my dad mention that there was going to be a gun show. My ears perked up at that news.

"A gun show?" I asked. "When?"

It was going to be all weekend long. That was great news. I had taken an interest in guns over the past yearóspecifically, I wanted to collect a few rifles from WWI and WWII.

So far, my collection contains one gun and two books about guns. I also have a ragged copy of Shotgun News from six months ago that I have yet to throw away.

So what is it about a gun that appeals to me? Iím not a violent person. I donít hunt. I donít need any protection, at least not at the moment.

Additionally, as the main character in the movie Slingblade said, "I reckon I got no reason to kill nobody."

My wife had no idea why I was so exited about going to a stupid gun show. She was about as exited about the gun show as I would be about one of her makeup parties.

We had to go to Wal-Mart to pick up some diapers and other things, and all I could think about was the next dayís gun show. So I stopped at the newsstand.

"What are you doing?" my wife asked.

"Just trying to get worked up for tomorrow," I said, grabbing a copy of the Shotgun News from the rack. I was looking for one of those ads for cheap military rifles from WWII.

She looked at me as if my cheese had slid off my cracker. There were several ads in the magazine that featured scantily clad women carrying assault rifles. My wife looked over my shoulder in disgust.

"Thatís a turn on," she said sarcastically.

If there was ever a time that I felt like my wife was turned off by me, it was that moment, standing in Wal-Mart reading the Shotgun News. I looked down at the other magazines on the rack, and noticed that one of them was proudly displaying a camouflage sofa that was now on the market.

I wondered to myself, "am I on the road to purchasing a camouflage sofa someday?"

Oh, the humanity. I could almost hear the opening notes of Dueling Banjos. I pictured myself in the future, sitting on my camouflage sofa in a room full of dark wood paneling, sporting a "cop mustache," a white tank top and a pair of aviator sunglasses. It was time to put down the magazine and leave as soon as possible.

The next day, I walked all through that gun show and never found a vintage rifle that I could afford. Finally, I bought a plastic air gun for keeping stray animals off my porch. I guess Iíll never be much of a tough guy.

 

From March 27, 2006

One manís trash...

It was late, I couldnít sleep, and as usual, I started thinking weird thoughts. I was thinking about my most prized possessionómy 1965 Corvair.

It may seem an odd choiceóItís not valuable, itís not fast, itís totally weird by most standards. I guess thatís why I like it. In fact, I like Corvairs so much that at one time I had four of them running, tagged and insured.

I know for a fact that my grades in college suffered because I was too busy daydreaming about things I was going to do to my Corvair when I got home. If only I had the money, I could have built one sweet Corvair.

I guess that one could say that I have a Corvair fetish. It may be weird to everyone else, but itís normal to me.

The real weirdo, if you want my opinion, is my good friend Kevin. You see, Kevin decided one day that he really wanted to own an AMC Gremlin.

While I was a little offended that he didnít want a Corvair, I was glad that he had taken an interest in old cars. (And, in a way, I was a little glad that he didnít get a Corvairóbecause then I would have become his mechanic by default. I guess I never actually wanted him to buy a Corvair. I just wanted him to want a Corvair, and then settle for something else.)

When Kevin mentioned that he had spotted a Gremlin in a nearby town, I knew it was only a matter of time before he would own it. I also had little doubt that my presence would be requestedórequired, actuallyówhen it came time to retrieve the car.

I wouldnít say that "old car retrieval" is my forte, but it is an art that I learned from my father at a young age. He always had a knack for finding a completely unroadworthy vehicle, buying it cheap, and somehow actually driving it home. Consequently, Iíve learned how to drive a Ď57 Chevrolet through a metropolitan area with no brakes (parking brake only); how to drive a car with no windshield wipers through a rainstorm (use lots of RainX, and donít be afraid to stick your head out the window); and how to survive the Colorado winter without defrosters.

But Kevinís 1974 Gremlin scared me. On the outside, the car looked pretty goodófor a 32 year old Gremlin.

It had a faded orange-red paint job, with patches of darker red concealing the fiberglass rust repair around all of the fenders. The tires looked like they would crumble under the weight of the car. And despite the fact that the car had a stock 6-cylinder with automatic transmission, someone had installed a tachometer on the steering column.

The kid who owned the car had yanked out the stereo before we arrived, leaving a gaping hole that exposed the wiring from every stereo installation since 1974. The seats looked like they came from a 1980s Cavalier or Chevette, and there was part of a Mustang console lying between the seats. The Mustang console was merely being used to house gauges that were haphazardly wired all over the place.

I was certain that the ratís nest of electrical wiring was going to cause the car to burn into flames at any moment. To make matters worse, the brakes pulled so hard that the car could make a left turn without touching the steering wheel. As we made the test drive, I was certain that we were going to die a horrible fiery death in this Gremlin. How embarrassing would that have been?

Somehow, with the help of a 5-gallon gas can and a tank of compressed air, we made it home. And despite having no tag or taillights, there were no run-ins with the law. Itís a miracle that Iím alive to write this. The journey in the Gremlin reminded me of the famous book title: God Is My Co-Pilot.

On that day, we were truly "Unsafe at any speed!"

 

From March 20, 2006

I received an interesting list in my email this week. Several of us in the community have recently been working on obtaining a grant to record the histories of our living WWII vets, so we sort of have "WWII on the brain."

You may have seen an email titled "Real Hollywood Heroes." It is a political/patriotic email comparing Hollywood of today to the Hollywood of the 1940s. All politics aside, I found the email pretty interesting. I wonder just how many famous people of today would be willing to risk their lives in a global conflict.

So, for you trivia and military buffs, here is a list of actors who served in WWII:

-Alec Guinness (Star Wars, Bridge on the River Kwai) operated a British Royal Navy landing craft on D-Day.

-James Doohan ("Scotty" on Star Trek) landed in Normandy with the U. S. Army on D-Day.

-Donald Pleasance (The Great Escape) really was an R. A. F. pilot who was shot down, held prisoner and tortured by the Germans.

-David Niven was a Sandhurst graduate and Lt. Colonel of the British Commandos in Normandy.

-James Stewart Entered the Army Air Force as a private and worked his way to the rank of Colonel. During World War II, Stewart served as a bomber pilot, his service record crediting him with leading more than 20 missions over Germany, and taking part in hundreds of air strikes during his tour of duty. Stewart earned the Air Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, Franceís Croix de Guerre, and 7 Battle Stars during World War II. In peace time, Stewart continued to be an active member of the Air Force as a reservist, reaching the rank of Brigadier General before retiring in the late 1950s.

-Charlton Heston was an Army Air Corps Sergeant in Kodiak.

-Earnest Borgnine was a U. S. Navy Gunners Mate 1935-1945.

-Charles Durning was a U. S. Army Ranger at Normandy earning a Silver Star and awarded the Purple Heart.

-Charles Bronson was a tail gunner in the Army Air Corps, more specifically on B-29s in the 20th Air Force out of Guam, Tinian, and Saipan

-George C. Scott was a decorated U. S. Marine.

-Eddie Albert (Green Acres TV) was awarded a Bronze Star for his heroic action as a U. S. Naval officer aiding Marines at the horrific battle on the island of Tarawa in the Pacific Nov. 1943.

-Brian Keith served as a U.S. Marine rear gunner in several actions against the Japanese on Rabal in the Pacific.

-Lee Marvin was a U.S. Marine on Saipan during the Marianas campaign when he was wounded earning the Purple Heart.

-John Russell: In 1942, he enlisted in the Marine Corps where he received a battlefield commission and was wounded and highly decorated for valor at Guadalcanal.

-Robert Ryan was a U.. S. Marine who served with the O. S. S. in Yugoslavia.

-Tyrone Power (an established movie star when Pearl Harbor was bombed) joined the U.S. Marines, was a pilot flying supplies into, and wounded Marines out of, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

-Audie Murphy, little 5í5" tall 110 pound guy from Texas who played cowboy parts? Most Decorated serviceman of WWII and earned: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, 2 Silver Star Medals, Legion of Merit, 2 Bronze Star Medals with "V", 2 Purple Hearts, U.S. Army Outstanding Civilian Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, 2 Distinguished Unit Emblems, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with One Silver Star, Four Bronze Service Stars (representing nine campaigns) and one Bronze Arrowhead (representing assault landing at Sicily and Southern France) World War II Victory Medal Army of Occupation Medal with Germany Clasp, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, Marksman Badge with Rifle Bar, Expert Badge with Bayonet Bar, French Fourragere in Colors of the Croix de Guerre, French Legion of Honor, Grade of Chevalier, French Croix de Guerre With Silver Star, French! Croix de Guerre with Palm, Medal of Liberated France, Belgian Croix de Guerre 1940 Palm.

From March 13, 2006

The other day I was standing in my driveway working on my car. It was a beautiful dayóno responsibility, no worries, just me and my car. Itís a guy thing.

Everything was perfect until I saw the "meat truck" coming down the street.

For those of you who donít know, the meat truck drives around town, looking for people to sell meat to.

I thought I was safe, since my hands were dirty and I looked busy. But after getting no answer from knocking at my neighborís door, the meat truck men made their way over to my yard.

The meat men, who had invaded our small village from the big city, approached me with the usual technique of salesmen who catch me out in the driveway.

Seeing my Ď65 Corvair, they ask what year it is. Then they mention how they havenít seen one in "forever."

Itís at that pointóafter theyíve complimented my car and engaged me in friendly small talkówhen the hard sell of meat begins. Iím really confused as to why the meat men are in my village anyway. A huge number of people in this area are ranchers or hunters, and there are meat lockers that provide quality meat at a reasonable price. Not to mention the fact that we also have a grocery store in town.

My problem is that Iím too nice to just say no up front. Instead, I let them go through their whole sales pitchówasting my time and theirs. On this particular day, however, I told them up front that I didnít want anyóbut Iíd take a look anyway, just in case I changed my mind in the future.

But I knew darn well that I would never buy any. I usually buy meat that is on sale because the expiration date is creeping up on it. You know, the kind of meat that you must go home and cook immediately, because itís already starting to turn brown and develop a questionable odor.

So the meat guys came into my living room. I sat there with greasy hands, sort of half-listening to their sales pitch about how meat that you buy in the store is lousy, while their meat is premium, vacuum-sealed and guaranteed to keep its freshness through a nuclear holocaust. Then they try to get you to agree that an average cut of meat will cost you $5 in the store, and using that average, their pretty box of meat is a bargain at only $300. And since Iím so special and they want me to have the meat so bad, theyíll give me a box free if I buy today.

No, Iím not interested. Thanks anyway. The attempted sale should have ended there. But they tried to sell me one box for only $150.

Still not interested? How much would you pay? Funny how the price drops so much when youíre not interested. Thatís when I pulled out the patronizing little lie that says, "It looks like a great product and a good deal, but I just canít afford it." I instantly felt somewhat stupid for saying that. The meat men could tell that I wasnít destitute.

If they would just take no for an answer, then they wouldnít have to turn me into a liar. If salesmen would just learn to back off a bit, they might be surprised at how much better their sales would be.

Looking back, I should have just taken them into the kitchen and shown them the size of our tiny freezer. But they probably had a back-up sales pitch for that scenario as well.

The meat men finally left, saying they would check back in a few months. Iím sure that they made a note to remind them. But next time, Iíll be ready. When I see the truck or hear the knock at the door, Iíll suddenly remember that our household has recently become vegetarians.

 

From March 6, 2006

Sunday, March 5, was a milestone in our household. Our son, Benjamin, turned 1 on that day, and we still canít believe how fast that first year flew by.

Since we had waited to have any childrenóI was 33 and my wife, Tonya, was 30óparenthood was quite an awakening. Gone were those carefree days of simply hopping in the car and going somewhere. Gone were the days of sleeping late. In fact, sleep was the first casualty of becoming a parent.

We donít remember much of those first weeks and months. Iíve heard some people say that their baby slept through the night after a few weeks. In our case, little Benjamin never had any intentions of getting on a convenient sleep schedule.

Eventually things smoothed out, and like millions of parents before us, we got by.

What amazes me is that, once you become a parent, you instantly start making up ridiculous nicknames for your kid. Without even thinking about it, nicknames just seem to roll off of your tongue.

For example, Benjamin gets a new nickname (or two) every week. At first the names were pretty simple. It was pretty easy for Tonya to come up with "Benny Bear," which was eventually shortened to "Bear."

Then somewhere along the way, Tonya started calling him "Benny Bear Burrito Pants." Iím not sure, but I think that this name was made up using the existing nickname (Benny Bear) and adding "Burrito" to reflect the Mexican heritage on his motherís side. Iím guessing that the final part of the name, "Pants," was added to complete the name in a humorous fashionósort of like "Spongebob Squarepants."

I have my own set of nicknames for the little tyke. One of them is "Our Little Tax Deduction," but I admit that it is a little on the cold and shallow side. Then there was "Mr. Milk" and "The Captain." There were also many others that have been forgotten.

One night when he was about three weeks old, he was throwing a fit at bedtime. He was talking gibberish, just like any other baby of that age, but then he started saying something that sounded like "Haboobah, haboobah, haboobah." So I started calling him "Ha-Boobah." Sounds Arabic doesnít it?

The name stuck, and I think he likes it. I can imagine him carrying the nickname into adulthoodómaybe using it for a band name or getting it tattooed on his arm. Maybe heíll play sports, and his fans will shout "Ha-Boobah" from the stands.

But whatever names he goes by, a couple of things are certainó1) there is never a dull moment at our house, and 2) we have no way of knowing just how many carpet fibers he has eaten. It was quite an interesting first year!

 

From February 27, 2006 -

Today seemed like a good day to throw in my two cents on everything thatís going on in the world. Here are my observations/opinions for the week:

-First off, I donít really understand everything that is going on with this "port deal" that Bush worked out with the United Arab Emirates. But, I donít think that non-American companies should control U.S. ports. Period. It doesnít matter who they areóif they are not an American-owned company, they should go home and control their own ports.

-Iraq could easily erupt in civil war at this point. Itís time to get our people out of there and let them battle their own demons.

In the beginning, I believed that we were doing the right thing by getting rid of Saddam and giving these people a chance at democracy. Now Iím convinced that a large majority of these people only understand violence. While there are good Iraqis and bad Iraqis, the whole bunch of them are not worth wasting one more American life on.

Some people say that the military is not "stretched too thin." I think itís easy to see that it is stretched too thin, especially when we have a bunch of soldiers in their 30s and 40s who keep getting deployed. At any rate, we should have finished off Saddam during the 1991 Gulf Scrimmage.

-Iran. Iíll admit that I learned to passionately dislike Iran at a young ageóback in 1979. But the prospect of fighting them is simply terrifying. Not because our soldiers arenít up to the taskóbut because I believe that a very large number of Iranians are fanatical and cruel. The Japanese in WWII were fanatical and cruel, and so were the Vietcong during the Vietnam War. We donít need to fight anybody else like that.

As far as allowing Russia to oversee Iranís uranium enrichment: I donít trust the Russians either.

-Israel. All I can say is that I think the Hamas is about to hit the fan.

-Bird flu. When this stuff finally hits, itís going to be badóvery bad. We had better get ready.

-Mohammed cartoons. Itís stupid to get so worked up over a cartoon that you decide to start killing people and destroying property. To the protesters: get over it. To the cartoonists: donít pour any more gas on the fire. Speaking of gas...

-Gasoline. We need to get out of bed with the Saudis and everyone else in the Middle East. Letís drill for oil right here at home. Thereís plenty to go around for several hundred years.

Iím no scientist, but Iíve heard that E85 is just a waste of corn. Itís more expensive than regular gas, less efficient and is supposed to be hard on the rubber components of your fuel system. Maybe E85 is the answer, and maybe it isnít. While gas emissions are very bad, Iíve read that many alternative fuels create even nastier by-products. Like it or not, good oleí unleaded is still going to be around for quite some time.

Carmakers should focus on hybrids. But until they are affordable, we should drive the wheels off our existing cars. Except in extreme cases, isnít it always more cost effective to drive a paid-for "gas guzzler" than to finance $30-40 grand for a new hybrid? Consider driving your old car a form of recycling.

I will continue to drive my V8-powered vehicles until Big Brother (or sister) comes along to pry them from my cold dead fingers. But we need to use common senseóchange our driving habits, keep our vehicles tuned-up and make the most of the fuel we have.

Final thought for the week: Letís have the world leaders duke it out in a mud-wrestling extravaganza. Our congressmen and senators can hang around to clean up afterwards, and they wonít get paid for this service. After itís all over, letís put an end to immigration and build a wall across the border from California to Texas. Then, we should make healthcare a free service to everyone who is an American citizen. Who should pay the bill you ask? My vote is to send the bill to the crooks running the credit card companies.

 

From February 13, 2006

At the newspaper office, I receive hundreds of press releases each week in my e-mail. Few of them have any relevance to our local area, and most of them go straight to the trash folder.

However, I do read quite a few of them, even if they have no local relevance.

There is one category of press release that I have read quite a bit--the releases covering the debate over Darwinism. Regardless of oneís personal opinions on the matter, this ongoing story certainly makes for an interesting read.

I receive quite a bit of material on the issue from Discovery Institute, the self-described "leading think tank dealing with scientific challenges to Darwinian evolution."

You might recognize the name Discovery Institute, due to the media coverage received by contributor Michael Behe, outspoken critic of Darwinsm and author of the book "Darwinís Black Box."

But contrary to popular belief, Discovery Institute is not a religious group. In fact, Discovery Senior Fellow David Berlinski is an agnostic Jew.

The group is actually against mandating the teaching of intelligent design. Instead, Discovery Institute claims that it "supports the right of teachers to voluntarily discuss the scientific debate over intelligent design free from persecution or intimidation. Rather than trying to mandate an idea or restrict the flow of information, our position defends the right of students to hear different scientific views about evolution."

Iím reprinting a press release I received from Discovery Institute on February 9. It was an interesting story, but only appropriate to publish on the opinion page. Here is the story:

On Evolution Sunday Itís Give Me That Old Time Darwinist Religion

Seattle Ė "Evolution Sunday is the height of hypocrisy," says Bruce Chapman, president of Discovery Institute the nationís leading think tank researching scientific challenges to Darwinian evolution. "Why do Darwinists think it is not okay for people to criticize Darwin on religious grounds, but it is just fine to defend him on religious grounds?"

Sunday marks the 197th birthday of Charles Darwin and to celebrate 400 ministers have announced they will deliver pro-evolution sermons in conjunction with "Evolution Sunday."

"Our view is not that pastors should speak out against evolution, but that the Darwinists are hypocrites for claimingófalselyóthat opposition to Darwinism is merely faith based, and then turning around and trying to make the case that Darwinism itself is faith based," added Chapman.

Chapman pointed out that the only time religion is brought up in the debate over how to teach evolution is when Darwinists bring it up and falsely charge that anyone criticizing Darwinís theory is religiously motivated.

"We maintain a list of hundreds of scientists who are skeptical of Darwinian evolution because of the unresolved scientific problems with the theory, not because of any so-called religious motivation," said Chapman. The Scientific Dissent From Darwinism is available on the Instituteís website at www.discovery.org.

"This isnít science versus religion, itís science versus science," added Chapman. "Itís a standard part of science to raise evidence critical of an existing scientific theory or paradigm. Thatís what good science is aboutóanalyzing evidence and asking tough questions. Scientists have a duty to raise critical questions about existing scientific theories."

 

From February 6, 2006

There is no shortage of disturbing news stories each week. But here is one that is disturbing on a whole new level.

Have you ever heard of the Freegans? No, the Freegans arenít an up-and-coming rock groupóthey are a group of well-meaning individuals who have taken their passion for recycling a little too far.

An AFP story out of New York that appeared on Yahoo! News on January 27 follows a group of "freegans" as they hunt through the trash in upscale neighborhoods.

But what exactly were the freegans looking for in the rubbish bins outside of a Manhattan supermarket?

When one member of the group shouted out that he had found some yogurt, the other members stopped rummaging to investigate this find.

Thatís right, the freegansí specialty is digging through the trash for food.

While this practice has long been associated with homeless people, the ranks of the freegans are filled with people such as teachers, social workers and students,

The story describes the freegans as "a new faction on the fringes of the environmental movement."

While the freegans can afford to purchase food, they are motivated by what they regard as a global trend of over-consumption. The group hopes to counter this trend by demonstrating how people can eat for free on discarded food.

According to the groupís website, "The word freegan is derived from "free" and Ďvegan.í Vegans are people who avoid products from animal sources or products tested on animals in an effort to avoid harming animals. Freegans take this a step further by recognizing that in a complex, industrial, mass-production economy driven by profit, abuses of humans, animals, and the earth abound at all levels of production and in just about every product we buy."

Freeganism further describes itself as "a total boycott of an economic system where the profit motive has eclipsed ethical considerations and where massively complex systems of productions ensure that all the products we buy will have detrimental impacts most of which we may never even consider. Thus, instead of avoiding the purchase of products from one bad company only to support another, we avoid buying anything to the greatest degree we are able."

So, by eating food from dumpsters, the freegans are "sticking it to the man."

So how does a freegan decide what to discard and what to keep? According to the story, "You look at it. You smell it. You feel it. If it seems okay, you take it."

According to one of the freegans interviewed by the AFP, her meals have become "more diversified" because of the surprises she findsólike endives, avocado and other items she probably would not buy in the store.

Well, as the old clichť goes, "one manís trash is another manís treasure."

But the freegans have a good point. I really hate wasting foodójust ask my wife. She has witnessed my miserly ways firsthand. For example, milk that expired last week can be often freshened up if you slosh it around a bit. You can also eat six-month old lunchmeat if the package hasnít been opened before (donít ask how I know this).

My friend Nate says that itís okay to eat expired foodóclaiming that the only reason companies put expiration dates on food products is "to cover their own [expletive deleted]." Iíll trust Nate on this issue. After all, he ate road kill once during army survival training, so he should know what is safe to eat.

If you are interested in eating discarded food, please visit the freegan.info on the web.

 

From January 30, 2006

If you have junk lying around that you canít even give away, you can always sell it on Ebay. Or at least you can try.

While I donít have much time to browse Ebayís website, my dad seems to spend every waking hour engaged in this activity. He keeps me updated on the unusual stuff he finds.

Iím amazed at some of the stuff that people actually try to sell. Last week, my dad emailed a picture of a pair of boots someone was selling. The photo showed a very worn pair of brown cowboy boots that werenít even nice enough for shoveling manure. Whatís even worse is that the seller didnít even bother to clean them up a bit. To top it all off, the seller modeled the boots in the photoóbut didnít even bother to put on any socks or pants.

Would you buy somebodyís moldy old boots that were presented in this fashion? I sure wouldnít. In fact, if those were my boots, I would fill them with concrete and throw them into a very deep pond.

One of my favorite areas on Ebay is "Ebay Motors." Here, you can find a great deal on a used vehicle. You can also find classic cars and parts.

In the previous century, if you lived out in the country, you didnít get rid of your old cars. When a car stopped running, you just left it right there until it rusted into the ground. If you bought a new car, you simply parked your old car somewhere on your propertyóbehind the barn, by the creek, in the woods or in an unused field. The old car would then be used as a sort of mini storage shed as long as all the windows were intact. Over the years, the car would be joined by other cars, as well as old tractors, farm implements, and maybe even an old refrigerator.

In those days, you only sold your old junky cars to people who randomly stopped by and offered to buy them. Today, there are two options: haul your piece of junk to a swap meet where the local crowd can laugh at the outrageous price you are asking, or list the old rust bucket on Ebay where the entire world can laugh.

Such is the case with Ebay item number 4604769493. A man in Texas listed a rusted-out Volkswagen with a starting bid of $2,000. The item description read as follows (spelling and grammar have not been edited):

"January 1955 Volkswagen Beetle. The car;has no seats or upholstery, no engine, no W;decklid, no headlights, taillight housings and no badges. It does have itís original front bumper and the;heart-taillight bulb holders are present as well as the original semaphores, and all;of the original glass, including the Sekurit windshield. It has a nice, complete dash and;three out of the original four fenders. It still has itís original split-case transaxle and original king and link front suspension. The wiring is still present and relatively intact. The pan;is rusted through;where the battery tray was and the heater channels and door sills;are solid except for the rear of each heater channel, which will need some minor rust repair on;both sides. Otherwise, the rest of the rust is mainly;surface oxidation.;The left side of the car has been hit and will need;a replacement door and;rear quarter panel repair or replacement. The right front fender has been replaced and the right front quarter has been repaired, but not properly."

The description also stated that the car would be a "great candidate for restoration." Furthermore, the seller specified that the car was being sold "as is" with no title. What a bargain!

But what really made this auction stand out were the questions and answers that were posted with the item. Some guy named Douglas asked the seller if he could consider selling the car for less. Here are some excerpts from that conversation:

Douglas: $1700.00 for this car! that is way too much!!would you consider less? $500.00 or $600.00 max.what makes this car worth $1700.00?

Seller: No, but you are now on my block bidders list because you are like the rest of the cheap folks out there; always wanting something for nothing without having to lift a finger to work for it, dictating to others what you think their stuff is worth. Your opinion means nothing to me and the sad part for you is, that I have over 60 early buses that will be coming up for sale soon, and you will never have a chance to buy anything from me, at anytime, ever, with your [expletive deleted] attitude.

Douglas: I guess the truth hurts!! [If] you are wanting $1700.00 for this piece of scrap, there is no telling what you will want for your buses!! You are just one of those people trying to knock someones headoff!! There is no way that that car will bring what you are asking, unless you find some [expletive deleted] that does not know what he is looking at.

Seller: Iíll start the bidding on my items at whatever prices I choose. Why? Because itís mine and not yours...You asked for it now you have been reported to ebay for harrasment. Again, Douglas, have a fine day and donít let your panties get all in a bunch over my old Beetle. It is very unbecoming of you.

From that point, the conversation really went downhill. Chalk it up to human natureówe all like to buy low and sell high. We also like to think that our old junk is made out of gold.

There is really no lesson or point that Iím trying to make here. But, to sum up my story, itís a good idea to learn to recognize when you should throw something away. Now, if youíll excuse me, I have a bunch of junk in the garage that I need to sell.

From January 23, 2006

 

If you can remember a couple of weeks ago, I told the story of the "pink" sweater that my wife bought for me. I also gave the readers a chance to vote on what I should do with the "pink" sweater (which is actually "salmon," according to my wife).

I received many nice emails regarding the subject. Here are a couple of excerpts from those messages:

From a reader in Medicine Lodge:

"At least youíve learned your lesson about taking fashion advice from your wife. What looks good to a responsible, conservative married woman such as your wife, my wife, etc., does not mean that a guy can pull it over on his buddies...pink is pink, and salmon is pink. I would go so far as to say that a light orange is even borderline."

This next one is from a reader in my hometown:

"Take back the pink sweater. Here you are, every week, giving us your assertive, aggressive viewpoint on everything, to all of which I add emphatically ĎAmení, and I read that my Ďheroí that tells it like it is is wearing pink. Alas. What next? Am I going to see you starring in a sequel of ĎBrokeback Mountainí?"

Iím proud to say that my online poll has produced higher participation than any poll in the history of The Gyp Hill Premiere, with 225 votes as of Friday, January 20.

I think that Big Boss Publisher Kevin was a little ticked off that my poll got more votes than his serious poll that appears on the front page each week. So to Kevin I say this: Wake up and smell the salmon! People donít care about voting on issuesóthey care about fashion.

The "pink" sweater poll results are as follows:

-37 people (16 percent of voters) say, "Keep it, Daveóit flatters you."

-36 people (16 percent of voters) say, "Lose it, Daveóit makes you look gay."

-10 people (4 percent of voters) say, "Burn it."

-142 people (63 percent of voters) say "Give it to Justin."

All of this reminds me of the lyrics to "The Sweater Song," a 1994 hit by the rock group Weezer:

"If you want to destroy my sweater, pull this string as I walk away."

The sweater would look great on Justin, with his blonde hair and cop mustache. Maybe we could convince him to grow a mullet and buy a gold necklace as well.

But then again, maybe weíve been too hard on the sweater. Maybe weíre all just too narrow-minded. After all, itís only a color. Isnít it a little irrational to hate a color?

Just take a look at all the white people you know. Generally speaking, white people are closer in color to "salmon" than "white." So maybe the issue we have isnít with the sweateróItís with ourselves. I probably donít have any idea what Iím talking about though.

We were eating salmon for dinner the other night when I noticed that the color of the fish is actually the same color as the sweater! So maybe I could get away with wearing the sweater. Then I wouldnít have to tell my wife that Iím rejecting her choice of clothing.

So hereís my idea, if you people really want me to get rid of the sweaterócall my house and tell Tonya yourself!

 

From January 16, 2003

It was very, very late. I couldnít sleep, so I was lying in bed watching the television that I had mounted on the wall especially for nights like these. I had watched several back-to-back episodes of "I Love the 80s" on VH-1, and I just couldnít stop.

The entire decade seemed to flash before my eyes, and I could remember clear details and things I had forgotten. Suddenly all these repressed memories became clear.

The 1980s were a happy and carefree time. There was nothing to worry about except nuclear war with the Soviets, the state of California falling into the ocean, and the remote possibility of catching AIDS from a toilet seat. It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times.

I can remember exactly where I was when John Lennon was shot, when Reagan was shot, and when we had our first space shuttle tragedy.

But I remember the good things the most. Letís take a trip down memory lane.

In 1980 I was nine years old. The best things in my life were the Atari 2600, Atari 2600 and the Atari 2600. I can remember that everyone I know had an Atari. But there would always be one or two kids who owned an Intellivision, which they said was vastly superior. Those kids grew up to become Macintosh users.

I also enjoyed eating at Showbiz Pizza, because they had lots of games and a stage full of mechanical animals that would sing to you on your birthday. I remember that on one occasion, my parents ordered some kind of nasty vegetarian pizza that was covered in corn and bell peppers. I still havenít forgiven them for ruining my Friday night at Showbiz.

When I was a child, I thought that my reason for existence was to watch Star Wars. In fact, I got swats once because I decided to draw pictures of Star Wars characters instead of doing my spelling test. In the 80s, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi both came out in theatres, and this was a good thing. The former film had a pretty dismal ending, when Han Solo was frozen in a block of carbonite. I wish I had access to that kind of technology. Wouldnít it be cool, if we caught Bin Laden and froze him in a block of carbonite?

In the fifth grade, one of my classes got a computeróa Radio Shack TRS-80. The future had arrived. I spent that year writing computer programs in BASIC. The code for my programs went something like this:

10 PRINT "So-and-so is a goober"

20 GOTO 10

Yes, I was a real geek.

Later, there was Rubikís Cube. I donít think I ever solved that stupid thing. But I became very good at taking it apart.

Then there was the music. Some of it was good. Some of it was dreadful. I remember that I secretly liked Duran Duran, though I was terrified to admit it. My older cousin caught me with a tape once, and I was very ashamed.

The 80s were also a time when you could get away with carrying wallets made of nylon with Velcro closures. You could buy these wallets at the state fair for $2 each, complete with a screened-on image of your favorite 80s metal band. My favorite was the band Ratt. While Iím spilling the beans, Iíll also admit that I attended a Bon Jovi concert, and I saw Dokken in concert three times. Oh, the humanity!

Speaking of music, I think that every high school had a guy who would sit in the parking lot with his car doors open and play his music really loud for everyone to hear. An 80s model Camaro was perfect for this Neanderthal activity, because you could install large speakers in the hatch. The guys who engaged in this activity usually hung around town for a few years after graduation, hitting on the high school girls and supplying beer for parties.

After all these years Iím still haunted by the image of my senior portraitóI was wearing a sweater with a gold chain hanging on the outside, and I was sporting a sweet mullet. I used to make fun of the senior pictures from the 60s and 70s that were displayed in the hall at school. Now Iím tortured by the thought of being the butt of someone elseís joke. If anyone from my hometown reads this, could you please go to the high school and remove my photo from any public display? There will be a handsome reward.

One final thought for the week: I would like to bring back the 80s phrase, "rad to the neoshad." Whenever you see something interesting or cool, just say that it is "rad to the neoshad." Letís see if we can spread this phrase around and make it popular again, okay?

From January, 9, 2006

 

It all started one afternoon while we were in Target. We were supposed to be Christmas shopping, but somehow we had shifted into the mode of shopping for ourselves.

We made a detour through the menís department. And when I say "menís department," I am using that term lightly. The menís department at Target is geared more toward "boys under 25."

I was busy looking at the "Vote for Pedro" t-shirts when my wife, Tonya, walked up to me and held up a sweater over my shirt.

She said something to the effect of "this would make you look HOT!"

Ordinarily, that would have really got my attention. But the sweater itself distracted me. It was a sort of pale pastel color, and depending on which way you looked at it, it kind of looked pink.

"Itís pink. I canít wear something thatís pink."

"It looks good with your skin tone."

"Kevin and Justin will totally make fun of me if I wear that."

"Itís not pinkóItís salmon."

Good point. The color was exactly the same as a big juicy filet of salmon. I liked salmon. Salmon is meat, and meat is good.

And if you held the sweater up in the right light, it had a hint of orange. It wasnít the shade of orange you would see on a Ď69 GTO, but it was just enough orange to keep the sweater from looking pink.

It was a nice looking sweater, and it did bring out the healthy glow in my skin. And besides, I thought, who cares what Kevin and Justin think? Kevin thinks that camouflage matches everything, and Justin owns a Rick Springfield CD.

Even if the sweater was pink (and it isnít, itís salmon), why shouldnít I wear it? My wife picked it out, and there are worse things in the world than the color pink. Some of my favorite things are pinkóPink Floyd, cotton candy, noses on kittens, the inside of a watermelon, The Pink Panther, pink push-ups. The list goes on and on.

So I shelled out the $14.99 for the sweater. A week later I wore it to work. I sat down in Kevinís office so we could go over the weekís news stories. A few minutes into the conversation, Kevin made a wisecrack about the "pink" sweater.

"Itís not pinkóItís salmon."

"Itís pink. Iím a man. Men donít know colors like Ďsalmoní or Ďmauve.í Thereís only Ďpink,í and itís the color of that sweater."

He said the word "mauve," and it about made me sick. I got flashbacks to 1987, when people decorated with lots of mauve and shiny brass.

So I made my defense: "Tonya picked it out. She said I looked good in it."

I began to see red. I wanted to smash Kevin for what he said. I went home and changed. I tried to experiment with color, and all I got was darkness. I drove home, changed into something else, and dug the tags from the sweater out of the trash. I told Tonya that she basically ruined my life for dressing me in a pink sweater, and we were going to take it back to the store.

A few days later, Tonya told the story to some friends. They said that the only reason Kevin made fun of the sweater was because he doesnít have enough confidence in his own masculinity.

That made perfect sense.

So now, Iíve decided to give the sweater a second chance. Iím going to let the readers decide if I should keep the sweater. You can vote online at www.gyphillpremiere.com/david

From January 3, 2005

The year 2005 has come and gone. We are all a little older, but are we any wiser? Unfortunately, I donít have the answer to that question. But here is what I think Iíve learned:

Lesson 1óTV makes you dumber

For example, I was flipping through the channels on television the other morning, and for some reason I watched a few minutes of "The View." In my opinion, watching this show has no redeeming social value whatsoever. But sometimes Iíll watch for a few minutes just because Iím amazed at how weird Star Jones looks since she lost all the weight. At least she looked healthy when she was overweight. But I digress.

Anyway, I was watching The View because they were debating the teaching of Intelligent Design in schools. This ought to be interesting, I thought to myself.

But I was completely wrong. The arguments on both sides were pretty lame. In fact, I felt that I had suddenly become dumber from just listening.

I actually felt sorry for Star and the blonde girl. They were on my side of the issue, but neither one could back up their position in support of ID. Of course, Meredith and the dirty-minded loudmouth redhead did their best to make the Star and the blonde girl look stupid.

I guess I was expecting too much if I was hoping to hear an intelligent argument on The View. I dumb for thinking this was possible, and even dumber after it was over.

Lesson 2óHollywood wants everyone to turn gay

Two words: Brokeback Mountain. Iím glad that John Wayne, Roy Rogers and all those other western stars arenít around to see this movie. Who would have ever thought there would be a gay cowboy movie?

Whatís next, a gay WWII movie? A gay Star Wars movie? A gay Cool Hand Luke? A gay version of Rent? ...Oh wait, that oneís already gay.

Lesson 3óChildren have lousy hygiene

I became a father in March, and have since learned that children put literally everything into their mouthócarpet fibers, paint chips, cat hair, toilet paper, etc. A child will even suck on a washcloth that has soaked in bath water.

Yep, my threshold for the "yuck factor" definitely increased in 2005. There was a time when I would have freaked out if someone wiped boogers or puked on me. Now, I just wipe it off and continue what I was doing.

Lesson 4óCarpe Diem

Whenever everyone leaves the house and you are finally alone for a few hours, donít waste the opportunityóhurry up and enjoy it. Donít take a shower. Donít shave. Donít clean anything. Eat lots of junk food. Sit in front of the TV and have an Xbox marathon.

So there it isófour valuable lessons I learned the hard way this past year. I donít plan on making any resolutions for 2006, because I donít wanted to be disappointed for breaking them.

So far my only plan for 2006 is to get a restraining order against Oprah. She has been using eye gestures and other subliminal signs to harass me. I think she also wants to train me to be her co-host and give me all her money.

From December 19, 2005

Sweet dreams are made of this...

Thereís something about a full moon that has a major effect on me. It never failsówhen the moon is full, I wake up in the middle of the night and cannot get back to sleep until the sun comes up. And when I finally do get to sleep, itís like being in a coma for several hours until lunchtime.

An interesting side effect is that I will have the weirdest dreams during this time. And when I say weird, I mean really, really weird.

Itís always fun to tell my wife and my friends about these dreams. They usually think that I am really strange, or that I must be on drugs or something. But thatís just meóI have weird dreams.

Like this dream I remember from years ago:

My mom was driving me to visit the dentist. We drove through our town, and had to pass through a wasteland that resembled the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust.

Suddenly we were ambushed by a bunch of tribesmen standing on top of a mesa. They threw large rocks down on the car. There were also streams of liquid pouring down on the caróI wonít spell out what it was, but letís just say that it wasnít water.

I got out of the car and began climbing the mesa, dodging falling rocks and fluid. At the top was a building. It was the type of building that appears in lots of my dreamsókind of like a cross between a school and shopping mall. I went inside and asked the tribesmenís permission to cross the wasteland. They said I had to ask their leader, who was named "Ernst." It turned out that Ernst was a water fountain, and the only way to talk to him was to communicate telepathically by drinking the water.

Pretty weird, huh?

I also had a dream in which my band was on stage giving a huge concert, and we were performing our newest song, which was titled "Weíre all Lovely Lads." I was watching myself play the song on the guitar, and I saw the chords were D, D major 7, D7, G, etc. When I woke up I tried playing the song, and the chords were all correct. I even remembered all the words. So I called up the band and sang the song over the phone. Kevin asked if I had been smoking marijuana or something.

My most recent dream was last week. We were on our way to visit my oldest nephew, who was going away for a long, long time. He was having a party at his apartment.

It turned out that he was living in the restroom at a Starbucks. It was a really huge concrete room, and I remember being impressed with what he had done with the place.

But, being the germophobe that I am, I was too paranoid to touch anything in the apartment. After all it was still a public restroom. To make matters worse, all of the doorways were so narrow that I couldnít avoid touching them when I passed through them.

The highlight of the dream was that my nephew introduced me to the three people who invented the words "they," "you" and "I." But they werenít people; they were metal trashcans. And they had pieces of paper glued to their lids, on which they had played tic-tac-toe with spray paint.

It all made perfect sense at the time, and I remember that we were all really impressed that my nephew was friends with these trashcans.

The rest of the dream was really funny, but isnít appropriate to print in the paper. If anyone is interested, call me and Iíll tell you about it.

 

From December 12, 2005

Iím glad to see that the nationwide trend of silliness...I mean political correctness...hasnít completely hijacked my town. How do I know that?

Because our town still has a "Community Christmas Tree," as opposed to a "holiday" tree.

Local businesses also participate each year in the "Christmas Open House." They donít call it the "holiday" open house.

And the loudspeakers on Main Street still play Christmas musicónot "holiday" music.

The debate over the Christmas tree came to a head December 1st in Boston, where the Parks and Recreation Department was conducting a "holiday" tree lighting ceremony.

"Itís like calling a menorah a candlestick," Liberty Counsel president Mathew Staver told USA Today. "Itís wrong. Itís offensive. And it disenfranchises a large segment of the community."

Well, Mr. Staver, I agree. And Iíll also add that itís intolerant.

Oh, but wait a minute, I almost forgot that "being tolerant" has become regarded as one of the highest virtues in our society. At the end of the day, according to this society, it doesnít matter what you believe or what actions you take. The only thing that really matters is how tolerant you are.

But there are exceptions to that rule, and one of them goes something like this:

Exception to Tolerance Rule #1óYou must be tolerant and sensitive towards the religious holidays of everyoneóexcept in the case of Christmas.

That rule isnít really written down anywhere. Itís just a rule that is understood in our society. But there is something I donít understand about the rule. If Christmas falls on a workday, then just about everybody gets the day off (unless you are a public servant, work in an emergency room, TV news station, toll booth, gas station or Wal-Mart, etc.).

Whether or not you are off work to celebrate Christmas depends upon your profession, not your religious faith. So, by following that same logic, should everyone get time off for Hanukkah or Ramadan?

I can remember several years ago, when I was working a technical support job at a company in Oklahoma City. In the call center where I worked, a majority of workers were African American. On the morning of Martin Luther King Day, I arrived at work and immediately noticed that the parking lot was nearly empty. I was hoping that they decided to just send everybody home, since I never feel like working anyway. It turned out that the company let most of the workers off to celebrate the holiday. I was stuck at work, but it was no big deal. The company simply allowed a group of its workers off to celebrate a holiday that held a major significance to them. I had no problem with this arrangement, except for my usual objections to time clocks and schedules. On the other hand, it would have been offensive to let everyone off work and rename the holiday something like "I Have a Dream Day."

My point is this: why does a non-Christian get to enjoy the day off on Christmas? I donít get the privilege of taking the day off on other religious holidays...unless, that is, I just donít show up for work.

 

From December 5, 2005

Every week it seems that there is a new scam aimed at stealing our money. My email is flooded with attempts to obtain my personal information, so Iíve accustomed to recognized attempted scams. But last week I received my first scam letter in the mail. I decided to share it in my column, so that everyone can be aware of this type of scam.

The letter is received was in the form of a collection notice. Apparently, this type of fraud has been around for some time.

The idea behind the scam is this: The victim receives the letter, becomes worried that there has been a mistake and calls the company to clear up the matter. The scammer verifies the victimís identity with a social security number and also attempts to get bank account information. Another possibility is that the victim will believe that the debt is from years ago, and is valid. The victim sends in a check to pay the amount, and the scammer then has access to the bank account by using the numbers printed on the check.

In my case, the amount "owed" was only $53.51. The "company" was listed as Golden Eagle Credit Corporation from New York on the letterhead, but the "remit payment" address was for Golden Eagle Leasing, LLC, located in South Dakota.

I performed a few Internet searches, and found out that the New York address was for a company called Northern Leasingóapparently a legitimate company that sells credit card transaction equipment. (Note: other info I turned up on Northern Leasing seemed to indicate that they conduct some pretty shady business practices.)

Apparently, Northern Leasing supplies credit card machines to businesses. The only reason that I was concerned was that I was a partner in a small business years ago, and we had a credit card machine. I wanted to make sure that there wasnít some sort of clerical error that resulted this bill.

I called the number, and was treated to a typical phone menuóexcept that the company was never identified. After punching in the account number, I was instructed to hold for the next available representative. When a woman "customer representative" answered, she simply said "hello."

I explained that I had received a bill and had never even heard of their company. She asked my name and address. I gave it to her, since the information was already on the letter they sent me. But she said that the address didnít match, and needed some other way to verify my identityóa previous address or my social security number. When I refused to give it out, she became very rude, adding that she would go no further unless I gave her that information.

I am going to turn the letter in to the Attorney Generalís office, and check my credit report to make sure nothing weird shows up on it.

I hope that these people get caught, and rot away in prison for a very long time. Of course, they will probably never get caughtóand would likely get a slap on the wrist.

So Iím taking justice into my own hands. Iím going to prank call their 800 number every week. I might also send them a bill for wasting my time.

From November 28, 2005

Did you ever read something that really made you mad, only to find out you got all worked up for no reason? Or something that was really uplifting, or that you totally agreed with--and later realized it was false?

Itís a real bummer, isnít it? Like when you find out that Santa Claus isnít real. Sure, the presents kept coming, but it just wasnít the same.

In the digital age, sharing and passing along information is a snap. Most of the time, this is a good thing. But in a way, it can also make society more divided.

For example, there is a lot of email forwarded around that is intended to inspire patriotism. Much of it makes for an interesting read, but you really have to take it all with a grain of salt. Here are some examples:

There is an essay on terrorism titled "This war is for real" supposedly by Major General Vernon Chong, USAF, ret. Chong is a real person, but he was not the author. He simply came across the essay and forwarded it to a friend. Future recipients saw Chongís name in the forwarded message and assumed that he was the author.

The essay actually began circulating in 2004, and was titled "The world situationóa letter to my sons." A retired attorney supposedly wrote it, though the true author is unknown. At some point, the first few paragraphs were rewritten and the entire work was attributed to Chong.

You may have read a story about actor Denzel Washington visiting the Fisher House Foundation at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. The center provides temporary housing for families wounded troops recovering at BAMC.

The story claims that Washington inquired about the cost of the housing units (about $1.5 million), then took out his checkbook and wrote a check for the full amount on the spot.

Indeed, Washington made a large donation, but the whole "checkbook" story is a myth, according to Fisher House President David Coker. The confusion started when the commander of the BAMC simultaneously announced plans for a new Fisher House facility and the news of Washingtonís donation.

-Iíve occasionally seen an email that was supposedly written by 60 minutes commentator Andy Rooney. The essay is comprised of a bunch of "I believe this, I believe that" statements. If youíve read it, you may recognize some of the following:

"Guns do not make you a killer. I think killing makes you a killer. You can kill someone with a baseball bat or a car, but no one is trying to ban you from driving to the ball game...I believe they are called the Boy Scouts for a reason, that is why there are no girls allowed. Girls belong in the Girl Scouts!...I think that if you feel homosexuality is wrong, it is not a phobia, it is an opinion...I donít think being a minority makes you a victim of anything except numbers."

Rooney has publicly denied that he was the author. In fact, some of the essay was taken from an earlier piece titled "Yes, I guess Iím a BAD American."

I guess that the lesson Iíve learned is to take everything with a grain of salt, no matter how much I may agree with the message.

So when you receive an interesting email, take a minute to check the facts before you click on the "forward" button.

 

From November 21, 2005

The holiday season is officially upon us. We can now look forward to rude people in the stores, maxing out the credit cards, arguing over whose relatives to visit, and overeating. The season will finally end with a bizarre tradition called New Yearís, where a bunch of people get drunk, act like fools, and make promises they canít keep.

During this time of year, we often hear the Louis Armstrong song "What a Wonderful World."

But with everything going on today, a more appropriate song might be "Itís the End of the World as we Know it" by REM.

Letís have a look at some of the strange and disturbing things that happened last week:

The town formerly known as Clark

A Texas town changed its name to DISH in exchange for 10 years of free satellite television service.

All 125 residents of the town formerly known as Clark will get basic service and a free digital video recorder satellite TV receiver, a move that has some people joking that the Fort-Worth suburb will become a town of couch potatoes.

The town made the change for more than just a 50 dollar monthly savings per household, according to the townís mayor. The hope is that publicity and a budget-neutral giveaway will lure new residents. The new town signs, designed and paid for by DISH Network, were a bonus.

I wonder if this will start a trend. Is it possible to have towns named after Microsoft, Capital One or Viagra? Iím personally hoping that my town will become Starbucks, KS.

This should make you appreciate our healthcare system...

A woman receiving treatment for diabetes at a state-run hospital in eastern India lost one of her eyes after ants nibbled away at it, officials said.

The patient recovering from a post-surgery infection shrieked for help as the ants attacked her, but nurses told her it was normal to feel pain from the infection. The next day, the patient's family saw a gaping hole with swarming ants in it when they lifted the bandage on her left eye.

Rats, stray cats and dogs sharing bed space with patients are not uncommon sights at India's overcrowded state-run hospitals.

Best Friends Forever!

As a token of friendship, President George W. Bush gave Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi a surprise gift of a Segway electric scooter. Bush gave Koizumi the scooter ahead of a summit at which they reaffirmed their close diplomatic ties. Bush was riding the vehicle when he met Koizumi outside the Kyoto State Guest House.

Bush told the prime minister that heíd given his parents Segways for their birthdays, adding he felt Koizumi was almost one of the family.

Next for Bush: learning to pronounce "Segway" and "Koizumi."

Evidence that turtles donít smoke

In Australia, one of the world's oldest living animals, Harriet the tortoise, celebrated her 175th birthday with a pink hibiscus flower cake.

Australia Zoo, where Harriet has spent the past 17 years, says the Giant Galapagos Land Tortoise was collected by scientist Charles Darwin in 1835, although some historians have disputed this. (Editorís note: This is because after 175 years, she is still a tortoise.)

For more than a century, Harriet was thought to be a male, and named Harry. This must have led to a mid-life gender identity crisis. Harriet is recognized by Guinness World Records as the world's oldest living chelonian, or reptile with a shell of bony plates.

If this happens to you, then you might be a redneck...

A pregnant 37-year-old Georgia woman who eloped with a 15-year-old boy spent her honeymoon in jail on charges of child molestation, according to authorities.

Lisa Lynnette Clark was arrested a day after a judge married her and the unidentified teenager. Clark and the teen had a sexual relationship, perhaps for as long as two years, according to police. But Clark's marriage to the boy does not protect her from prosecution.

Under Georgia law, teenagers may marry as long as they are at least 16 and have the permission of a parent or guardian. Those restrictions are waived when a female applicant is pregnant. (...or when both parties have no common sense.)

Tuning in Tokyo

In Tokyo, a Japanese hair salon was ordered to pay 240,000 yen in compensation this week after a customer sued the hairdresser for cutting her hair too short and dying it the wrong color.

We will defeat you by standing in line, my friend!

Iran's volunteer Islamic militiamen are vowing to form a human chain along the length of the country's borders as a show of force against international pressure on Tehran's atomic program.

As we have seen since the 1970s, protesting the west is the favorite national pasttime in Iran. But the concept of a "human chain" is new to the middle east--where people prefer to be packed into large crowds while they jump and shout. This could get interesting.

Until next week, auf Wiedersehen!

 

From November 14, 2005

This past Friday, our small town of Medicine Lodge, Kansas, held our annual Veterans Day ceremonies. Though we are small in size, this community never fails to honor its veterans on a grand scale.

This yearís ceremonies were scaled back from last year, when we dedicated the newly completed Barber County Veterans Memorial. But the spirit of the day was the same.

The day started off with "museum" in the fellowship hall of the Christian Church. The junior class did a fine job of collecting artifacts and memorabilia to put on display. There was a little bit of everythingóphotos, uniforms, letters, rifles, helmets, etc. Some items dated back as far as the Civil War.

Shortly after 11 a.m., a group of small airplanesóone painted with Normandy invasion stripesóbuzzed Main Street, circled and performed aerobatics before disappearing into the clear blue sky.

The day ended with a program at the high school, with State Rep. Dennis McKinney as the featured speaker. Scattered throughout the audience were a few silver-haired men in military capsótheir numbers fewer every year.

For a few hours on Friday, history came to life and took center stage.

But across from Main Street, on Second Avenue, sits the local VFW Post. Iím sure that every small town has one similar to thisóthe paint has faded, the lawn needs attention, and the building remains empty most of the time.

Every year, the ladies of the VFW Auxiliary sell poppies for Veterans Day, and decorate the lampposts on Main Street. But their numbers are also thinning, and itís getting harder each year for them to gather enough women to do the job. Who will take their place when they are all gone?

Will a new generation of veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan, Desert Storm and other conflicts keep the local VFW alive? I suppose time will tell.

A few years ago, I was asked to sit-in and play guitar with a big band that was performing at a VFW in Oklahoma City. Though they were "getting up there" in years, those vets and their wives sure knew how to have a good time.

No sooner than I had walked through the door, a woman stopped me in my tracksóalmost as if she were a sentry asking for ID. Instead, she pinned a flower to my lapel. To that generation, getting dressed up for the dance was important, and so was looking your best.

Soon after, I stood at the bathroom mirror trying to figure out how to tie a necktie. It wasnít long before a vet came along and tied it for me. He did it quickly, efficiently, and it felt like he was going to rip my head off. Putting on a tie was easy for him.

While most of the people were out there dancing to the music of their youth, I couldnít stop watching the bartender. His cap indicated that he served in WWII, and he continuously wiped down the copper bar with a towel. No matter how many people were coming at him, he was determined to keep that bar clean. I said hello as I passed by on a break, and he returned a friendly nod as if to say, "you look a little young to be here." Without missing a beat, he went back to serving his customers and laughing with his buddies at the bar.

Those people just didnít stop. Even when the bandís drummer had a bad spell and fell over into the drum set. When the paramedics took him away, I thought the night was over. But I was wrong. Instead of calling it quits, the bandleader said, "Who else can play drums?"

And the band played on.

From November 7, 2005

What a week! With Kevin in the hospital, I fully expected the office to erupt into total chaos. It was like going into battle and losing your commanding officer right from the start. Iím not implying that I actually take orders from Kevin thoughóonly suggestions.

Of course, in Kevinís absence, I had to do his job. That means I was wearing two hats: 1) my editor hat, which I envision as a really awesome medieval helmet; and 2) the Kevin hat, which I like to think of as a rather ridiculous looking "fruit hat" ala Carmen Miranda.

By themselves, our jobs arenít that hard. The hours can be a little weird, and we never really know whatís happening until crunch time, but we kind of enjoy flying by the seats of our collective pants.

There were several people who stepped up to the plate to help me out this week. I am very lucky to work in the same office with our "secretary," Doris Sorg. I use the term "secretary" lightly, because Doris plays so many roles in the office. Bottom line: when the entrails hit the fan, I want someone like Doris watching my back.

Additionally, our friend Deb Kolb came in to help us out with the proofing and a few other things. Deb has always been generous with her time, and has helped cover stories when I havenít been able to.

Another great thing happened this week. Several teachers and parents sent pictures and articles, so I had no problem filling the paperówhich was my biggest concern, since I had little time to write or get out of the office. In fact, the paper began to fill up so fast that we had to hold much of the material until next week. But that is a good thing, as Kevin will still be out of the office and I will need news.

The important thing is that Kevin will be all right, and he hasnít lost his sense of humor. In fact, when I talked to him on Friday, he demanded that I make fun of him in my column. So here it goes:

Iím really glad that Kevin didnít meet an untimely demise on Monday. I feel really bad now about all of the mean things Iíve done to him, but how was I to know that the guy was a walking time bomb?

On Tuesday, Justin and I went to visit Kevin, and we spent the whole afternoon thinking up cruel jokes to play on him. Though we had a lot of ideas, in the end we bought him a book titled "The Complete Idiotís Guide to Music Theory." When we gave it to him, he laughed so hard that it nearly killed him.

On my computer, I have a Microsoft Word document titled "Bad_Kevin." It is simply a list of bad things that Kevin has done. I really donít know why I started it, but I thought it would be an amusing exercise in morality...and I thought that I might someday get an opportunity to blackmail him. Tempting as it is, I will refrain from printing the contents of that document here. I assure you that it is an interesting list.

You see, the world is a more interesting and fun place with Kevin in it.

One of our favorite games to play at the office is called "Wait until somebody goes into the bathroom, and then stack up things against the door so that they fall onto the person when they come out."

We stack all sorts of things against the bathroom dooróchairs, lumber, really heavy tables...if itís lying around, weíll stack it against the bathroom door. Iím sure glad that Kevin will still be around to play that game. Maybe when he gets back to work, Iíll do something really over the topólike seal up the bathroom door with bricks, just like they did in that Edgar Allen Poe story. (Note: Kevin spends enough time in the bathroom that this scenario is entirely possible.)

Now that Iíve made fun of Kevin as he requested, Iíll go home now. I hope that my poor management of the newspaper doesnít send him back to the hospital...or worse!

From October 31

The following is an open letter that I am sending to the FCC regarding those stupid "male enhancement" commercials that saturate our televisions:

Chairman Kevin J. Martin

Federal Communications Commission

Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau

Consumer Complaints

445 12th Street, SW

Washington, D.C. 20554

Dear Chairman Martin,

I am writing in regards to a series of commercials that I seen on television over the past couple of years. At first I tried to ignore them, but have now decided to contact your office to file a complaint.

The commercials I am referring to are for a product called Enzyte, which claims to be for "male enhancement."

I am a little confused by what is meant by "male enhancement." Is this some sort of a self-help drug, that will increase confidence or something along those lines? Will Enzyte "enhance" my bank account or my social skills? If so, Iíll order a case of it.

The main character in the commercial is a guy named Bob, who has a ridiculous smile on his face. I absolutely hate looking at that guy! Why is he so happy? And why does everybody in the commercial share that same stupid grin? Every time I see Bobís fake plastic grin, it makes me want to punch his lights out. But I digress.

What I want to know is this: is taking Enzyte the key to success and happiness? Is Enzyte the secret behind successful men like Bill Gates and Donald Trump?

Did you become chairman of the FCC by taking Enzyte?

Iím just messing with, Mr. Martin. I wasnít born yesterday--I know exactly what Enzyte is used for, and it has no place being advertised on television.

Frankly, the commercials are just plain embarrasing. How would you feel if you were watching TV with your grandma in the room when an Enzyte commercial came on?

And how do you feel about kids being exposed to such commercials? How would you answer a five-year-old boy when he asks, "Daddy, whatís Enzyte? And why are those people so happy?" Do you want that kid to grow up feeling overly self-conscious in the locker room?

By allowing television advertising of Enzyte and similar products, arenít you promoting unrealistic body-image expectations for young men?

I fully expect that this letter will do no good, and products like Enzyte will be marketed on television long after Iím gone. Nevertheless, I feel better for making my opinion known. After all, as someone once said, itís not the size of your pencil that counts--itís how you write your name.

Your friend,

David Fasgold

Medicine Lodge, KS

 

From October 24, 2005

A couple of months ago, while shopping in Wichita, I saw something that really irked me. My wife and I were walking into a Wal-Mart when I noticed a small group of people peddling books at a table near the storeís entrance.

The book was Dianetics by the late L. Ron Hubbard, and the people were from the ĎChurchí of Scientology.

Though Scientologists have worked hard to appear as a normal religion, Iíve always considered them a cult.

Weíve seen a lot in the news about Scientology, due to the celebrities who adhere to its belief systemóTom Cruise, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley to name a few.

In fact, Alley is responsible for the establishment of a Ďchurchí mission in Wichita.

I was a little curious about exactly what the Scientology belief system is, so I did some research. The organizationís official website is extremely vague, telling few specifics.

For some solid information, I had to visit a website called www.stopscientology.com. The website includes information from several sources, including a reprint of a 1991 Time magazine article exposing the seedy underbelly of Scientology.

Science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard created scientology in the 1950s. Hubbard also created fake businesses that could be used as fronts for The Church of Scientology to gain new members and also avoid taxes.

There was an amusing summary of Scientology on the website:

"The belief system of this religion is based around a ĎSpace Operaí that happened millions of years ago. An evil galactic overlord, Xenu, collected all the billions of people from 76 planets and brought them to earth. Xenu then stacked them around volcanoes and blew them up with H-bombs. He then implanted their souls with false memories. According to Scientologists, there are a few thousand clusters of these confused souls now in all of our heads. The Church of Scientology has cleverly figured out a way to get rid of these souls. You can pay them a lot of money. ... People who do not devote their lives to Scientology are considered to be bad, and Scientology members are told that they should stay far away from them. Thus, Scientologists become isolated from their friends and their families. This is a brainwashing, isolating cult. ... According to Scientology, you must give them all of your money, get rid of all your friends and family who are not also in Scientology and you must work to recruit other humans to become Scientology members. The more humans you recruit to this cult, the more auditing sessions you can receive for free. Auditing sessions produce a drug like feeling from the equipment and vitamins that are used. You can also purchase auditing sessions for around $1,500 an hour. Auditing sessions get you to higher levels in the cult. Tom Cruise is an OT 7. This level gives you the ability to fly and move stuff with your mind. ... It is rumored that the highest level in Scientology, OT level 8, informs you that L. Ron Hubbard is your god. The most interesting part of OT8 is that it gives you the ability to kill people with your mind. There is an OT level 15, but Scientologists believe that none of us will ever see it in our lifetime. According to them, OT 15 doesnít happen until sometime in the distant future. Scientology is just like Dungeons and Dragons or any other role-playing game, except it is a religion. Because of this they donít have to pay taxes either."

If you would like to see Scientologyís tax-free status removed, and learn how to boycott their celebrities and companies, visit http://www.stopscientology.com/stop_scientology.php.

 

From October 17, 2005

How many of you e-mail users out there dread checking your e-mail because of all the messages with subject lines that begin with the letters "FW?" For those of you that donít have e-mail, "FW" indicates that a messageóusually a joke or chain letterówas forwarded to you from somebody else.

Forwarded messages are one of my biggest e-mail pet peeves. Itís just because I receive so many of them on a daily basis, and I keep getting the same ones over and over.

So what are the biggest e-mail pet peeves? Last week, The Associated Press reported on a study conducted on annoying e-mail practices. A staffing firm asked 250 people in advertising and marketing over the summer about their biggest peeves.

Twenty-nine percent said being copied on the "reply all" function is their biggest peeve, and another 29 percent said receiving large, unsolicited files in their e-mail annoyed them.

According to the AP, around 16 percent said that messages that are too long are the most annoying. Thirteen percent cited typos and grammatical mistakes. Six percent cited having to scroll through the message to find the information they need.

"As professionals increasingly rely on e-mail to communicate, it becomes more time-consuming and cumbersome to manage messages," said Tracey Fuller, executive director of The Creative Group, a temp-staffing company based in Menlo Park, California.

Fuller also gave some great advice for writing: "When composing e-mail, itís best to be brief and identify what action is needed at the beginning of the message."

Another problem is that itís sometimes difficult to determine a message writerís intent. When you talk to someone on the phone, you can tell what they mean by the way they say it. But in e-mail, there is sometimes no way of knowing whether a person is being hostile or just kidding around with you.

One thing that I particularly dislike is when people type with the caps lock turned on. ITíS THE EQUIVALENT OF SHOUTING ...and itís really hard on the eyes to read an entire message like that.

I also hate chain letters that end with a phrase like "forward this to everyone you know or youíll have bad luck." Some messages really lay on the guilt trip. They might as well read: "if you donít forward this message then you are a very bad person."

I do enjoy a great deal of the forwarded messages that are sent to meóparticularly the ones that contain stories or pictures from our troops overseas, or tell a story about something that mass media has not reported. The only problem with these messages is that you can never be sure if they are legitimate stories. So here is my solution to the e-mail problem. Before you click "send," do the following:

1) Before you forward a story, check out www.snopes.com to make sure itís legit.

2) Donít forward chain letters. Theyíre pointless, waste time and clog up server traffic.

3) Be brief, to the point, and indicate if something you write is supposed to be a joke.

4) When replying, cut out unnecessary text.

5) ...Most important of all, TURN OFF THE CAPS LOCK!!!!!

 

From October 10, 2005

Sometimes smart people can say the stupidest things.

We could sit here all day and argue over which religious, moral or political views are correct. If you do your homework, you can find some validity to almost any argument you wish to pursue.

But if you put all of your opinions aside, we are all Americans and we are all people. That is why Iím so offended by statements made by Author Kurt Vonnegut during a September 9th appearance on HBOís "Real Time with Bill Maher."

I was reading a story on NewsMax.com by Steve Malzberg titled Laura Bush and Hitlerís Dog. Malzbergís column solidified my opinion that Maherís show ranks as one of the most hateful and disrespectful shows on television.

On the September 9th show, Maher and Vonnegut were engaged in some typical Bush-bashing. Political criticism is fine, and it has a rightful place on television. If someone wants to criticize the president in America, then they have that right. But much of what we see on televisionóespecially on shows like Maherísóis simply a vulgar attempt at a cheap laugh, and shouldnít be listened to.

Apparently, Vonnegut not only dislikes Bush, he dislikes his own country:

"When I show my passport in Spain or Italy or Germany or France or even communist China, what it would say about me is that Iím not only from the richest country in the world but the dumbest country in the world," said Vonnegut.

So, Vonnegut feels ashamed to be an American when he presents his passport in communist China? Why does he care what the Chinese think? They are the ones who should be ashamed, with their disregard for human rights.

Maybe Vonnegut doesnít care about Chinaís human rights track record. After all, his next statement implies that he doesnít like anybody, including himself:

"We are killing the planet as a life support system. We may have gone so far already that thereís no recovery from it. The game may be over. ... I think the earthís immune system is trying to get rid of us. And itís high time they did. We are a disease on the face of this planet ... itís time we got out of here. We are a disease on the planet, and I think we ought to become syphilis with a conscience and stop reproducing."

From this last statement, I gather that Vonnegut must be an atheist. Yet he implies that "mother nature" has some sort of intelligent immune system. Now thatís just plain dumb. In a way, I feel sorry for people like Vonnegut who are so negative, cynical and apparently hate themselves.

People like Vonnegut and Maher consistently poke fun at religious people, accusing them of ignoring science and reason. But how is it reasonable to them that a bunch of non-living chemicals managed to become a living cell?

Since Vonnegut is a writer, perhaps he should read I Donít Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek. After reading this book, I donít see how any reasonable person could accept Darwinism. Darwinists believe that all life came from one living cell. Okay, so where did that first cell come from? It had to come from somewhere, and non-living chemicals arenít going to produce it on their own. Natural processes bring chaos, not order. Over time, they become more chaotic.

If you leave your flowerbeds untouched all summer, do they become more orderly?

When the cold weather comes, my cat adapts by getting a thick coat of fur, but heís still a cat. Why doesnít he slowly evolve into something else?

If creatures evolved, then how did they survive? Wouldnít a reptile evolving into a bird become easy prey if their wings werenít yet developed enough to fly?

Think of it this way: suppose Iím going to "evolve" the six-cylinder engine in my car to a V-8 by changing out one part at a time. The engine couldnít possibly run.

And then thereís the familiar question: if people evolved from apes, then why do we still have apes?

Since he is so smart, I would really like to have Mr. Vonnegut take a stab at answering my questions. But, on the other hand, maybe heís not so smart. Perhaps his completed books evolved from several boxes of Alpha-Bits cereal that were spilled on the floor.

 

From October 3, 2005

Thereís something about Oprah

What I am about to write is going to get me into trouble with a lot of women. But the truth is, there is something that I find deeply disturbing about The Queen of Daytime Televisionóthe mighty and powerful Oprah Winfrey.

So how could a person not like Oprah? Well, itís not that I donít like Oprahóitís just some of the things she does that make me want to throw up. Through the years Iíve had the "Oprah argument" with several women, and for some reason I always lose the argument. I come across looking like some mean-spirited negative person for criticizing Oprah. After all, she tries to focus on the positive instead of the negative, right? But I canít help itóIím just not one of those "touchy-feely" sorts of people.

Some time ago, I decided that I was better off not to discuss Oprah in any way, shape or form. But something in the news this week set me off. A September 26th E! Online story by Gina Serpe reported that Oprah "has invested more than $1 million to become the prime producer of the Broadway-bound musical, The Color Purple. Winfreyís substantial contribution earns the daytime diva her first Broadway credit as well as marquee privileges: The production will now be listed as Oprah Winfrey Presents: The Color Purple."

Yuck!

She just couldnít wait to put her name on it, could she? But wait, thereís more:

"Itís been a secret dream of mine to be part of Broadway," Winfrey told the New York Times. "I hope to be able to do for this production some of what Iíve been able to do for booksóthat is, to open the door to the possibilities for a world of people who have never been or even thought of going to a Broadway show."

I didnít know that Oprah was the one responsible for the popularity of reading. I thought that big bookstores, the Internet and thirst for knowledge were behind the popularity of books. Iím surprised that Oprah doesnít pay to have her picture on the cover of every book featured in her book club. Why not? Sheís on the cover of every issue of her magazine.

If she wants to have a TV show, a Broadway production, a book club and a magazine, then that is fine. Iíd like to have those things as well. But thereís something about her show that Iím not okay withóthat would be Oprahís relativistic views. In Oprahís world, everyone has his or her own spiritual truth. In other words, whatever religion or moral code you adhere to (or invent yourself) is the truth. Everything is simultaneously true if you believe in it enoughóyou decide what works for you. Does that mean all of the religions in the world are true if you believe them? How irrational is that?

Syndicated columnist Debbie Schlussel summed it up well: "Ann Coulter says Katie Couric is Ďthe affable Eva Brauní of daytime TV. But Couricís got nothing on Oprah Winfrey. Oprah is the affable Joseph Goebbels of daytime talk...of chick magazines...of Oprah seminarsóand every other medium in which the self-anointed high priestess of the religion of Oprah has her hands. Through all of these, Oprah preaches "how to be your best self" and "live your best life."

Look closely at the phrases: "your best self" and "your best life." Anyone who has ever been to Sunday school can see there is a problem with the wording.

In Oprahís world, Christianity, Islam and Buddhaism are all true depending on which one you believeóeven though itís impossible for all of them to be true. Not if you have the mental capacity to reason.

But what more can you expect from someone whose magazine invites readers to understand Mohammed Atta and the other 9/11 hijackers by reading The Heart of a Destroyer?

While Oprahís book club has featured Christian books such as The Purpose Driven Life, it has also featured books such as Awakening the Buddha Within.

The book club has also featured the books Supersex and Your Long Erotic Weekend. Real classy. But itís her book club, so I guess she can do whatever she wants with it.

If I remember correctly, the first time I ever saw or heard of "psychic medium" John Edward, he was a guest on Oprah.

But thereís one more thing that bothers me about Oprah. Why do you think we all know about all the great things that Oprah does to help others? Itís because she holds it all up for everyone to see. I wish I had enough money and influence to build homes for poor people and give away cars. But I wouldnít go around bragging about it. Hereís a thought: Oprah said that she donated $10 million of her own money to help hurricane victims. According to Forbes, Oprah has a net worth of over $1.1 billion. If you do the math, $10 million is less than one percent of Oprahís net worth. This would be the equivalent of having a net worth of $50,000 and donating around $450 to charity.

While itís great that she donated the money, couldnít she have done it privately? For that matter, couldnít all celebrities give privately?

But Iíd be willing to overlook some of her faults if Oprah would be willing to come to Medicine Lodge and build us a new swimming pool and skate park.

 

From September 26, 2005

Does art imitate life, or does life imitate art?

Perhaps nothing instills fear in the common man more than the sight of a Viking driving into town with the intent of doing what a Viking does bestólooting and pillaging. And perhaps no other artist has captured that feeling more intensely than photographer Kevin Noland.

In his latest work, entitled Viking Man Terrorizes Main Street, Noland explores the darkest desires of the human mind. Renowned art critic Professor Jerry Noisewater, PHD, describes Nolandís work as "a poignant appraisal of the contemporary social situation. Notice the potent symbolism and the ominous shadows cast by the protagonistís helmet. He appears to be looking straight through the man on the scooter, who represents society. Instead of a ship, the Viking is piloting a Chevrolet Corvairówhich is a political statement in itself. The verisimilitude captured here, along with the juxtaposition of the different elements, is of the highest artistic merit."

 

From September 19, 2005

I am constantly scheming to find ways of making life easier, and I like to pass those savings on to my readers. In life, we are constantly facing little obstacles that get in our way of happiness, success, or just plain getting things done. But Iíve learned a few things in my 34 years that can help everyone avoid "sweating the small stuff."

Tip 1óMake a list of excuses

The question I dread hearing more than anything goes something like, "hey, what are you doing Saturday?" If someone asks me that question and I answer, "nothing," then Iím likely to end up agreeing to something I might dread. The question is a little deceiving because it implies that you are about to be invited to do something fun. But in reality, someone might be asking you to attend something very boring, help fix something, help them moveóor worst of all, listen to a sales pitch for a network marketing venture.

But there is a safe way to answer this question. First, donít say anything at all. Make some sort of gesture that makes you appear to be thinking hard about your weekend scheduleólook up in the air and dart your eyes back and forth, cluck your tongue or rhythmically blow air through your teeth. Then say something like, "I have to wait and see because (insert open-ended excuse here)." Better yet, create two excuses, in case one of them proves difficult to make happen. For example, if one of your excuses depends on weather, then at least you have a backup in case it rains.

Additionally, I try to avoid this whole scenario in the first place by trying not to make friends who: party all the time; are in a transitional phase; have boring hobbies; have too many kids; attend weird churches or conventions; lack transportation or mechanical skills; or canít do anything by themselves.

Remember, make your list of excuses and commit at least three of them to memory. Just make sure to pick three that are very general in scope and not specific to any particular time of year or weather condition.

Tip 2óCreate a fictitious network-marketing scheme

Do you ever want to end a conversation quickly? If so, nothing can accomplish this faster than saying something like, "Iíve been wanting to talk with you about something Iíve found zthat will earn you extra income by working from home."

Just invent a company, a product, and make up some bogus statistics regarding an industry study. Then print up a brochure and youíre all set.

Tip 3óLook busy, but not too busy

As much as I would like to take credit for this one, I heard it from a friend. When youíre at work, always try to look like youíre occupied with some work-related activity. This will avoid being reprimanded for just standing around doing nothing. But thereís more. If you look busy, the boss will assume you have your hands full, and he or she will hopefully not give you any extra work. Instead, they may assign it to someone else who looks like they are caught up. But beware, if you are perceived as a real go-getter, working too hard and too fast, the boss may assign you extra work or projects that are too complex for all of the average employees. The moral of the story is this: donít get ahead of your deadlineóstay behind just a little, but not so far behind that you canít get things done at crunch time. If possible, it also helps to choose a desk or cubicle away from high-traffic areas. At the very least, try and set up your work area so that no one else can see your computer screen.

 

From September 12, 2005

With all of the bad news in the headlines over the past couple of weeks, it would be good to laugh. So letís all have a laugh at the expense of a convenient targetóthe government. I received this joke in my email last week, and thought it was pretty good. I donít know the name of the author:

A major research institution has recently announced the discovery of the heaviest element yet known to science. The new element has been named "Governmentium." Governmentium has one neutron, 12 assistant neutrons, 75 deputy neutrons, and 224 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.

These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of particles called peons. Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert. However, it can be detected, because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A minute amount of Governmentium causes one reaction to take over four days to complete, when it would normally take less than a second.

Governmentium has a normal half-life of 4 years; it does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places. In fact, Governmentiumís mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes.

This characteristic of moron promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a certain quantity in concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as "Critical Morass." When catalyzed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratiumóan element that radiates just as much energy as the Governmentium since it has half as many peons but twice as many morons.

Here are some odd and amusing stories making headlines last week:

BERLIN (Reuters) - A German thief stole a manís in-car navigation system and unwittingly auctioned it online back to his victim, who had police arrest him, authorities said Wednesday. Police in Berlin said the 26-year-old victim spotted the device on an Internet auction site and quickly re-acquired what he had reported stolen from his car some two weeks previously. He informed police, who went to the thiefís house posing as the buyers and then arrested the 21-year-old.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) - A monkey, apparently a pet, escaped, then chased a 12-year-old boy into his house and bit him on the buttocks in the western Malaysian state of Pahang, a news report said Friday.

SHANGHAI, China (AP) - A restaurant in northeastern China that advertised illegal tiger meat dishes was found instead to be selling donkey fleshómarinated in tiger urine, a newspaper reported Thursday. The Hufulou restaurant, located beside the Heidaohezi tiger reserve near the city of Hailin, had advertised stir-fried tiger meat with chilies for $98 as well as liquor flavored with tiger bone for $74 a bottle, the China Daily reported. The sale of tiger parts is illegal in China and officers shut down the restaurant, only to be told by owner, Ma Shikun, that the meat was actually that of donkeys, flavored with tiger urine to give the dish a "special" tang, the newspaper said. The report didnít say how the urine was obtained.

 

From September 6, 2005

While the thought of paying $3 per gallon for gasoline is painful, a temporary spike in the prices may turn out to be a good thing in the long run. Iím not a tree-hugging environmentalist, but I do think that we desperately need to make some changes to decrease our dependence on gasoline.

The only way that people will change their driving habits is to hit them with higher prices. Heck, I donít drive too many miles each week, but even I was thinking of riding a bicycle to work.

Itís easy for people who live in a big city to look down their noses at big trucks and SUVs. Living in that environment, most folks can get away with driving a car with a small four-cylinder engine. But in a rural area, a great deal of the people actually need big vehicles with big enginesóthe demands of farming and ranching require them. In addition, our county roads are very hard on small cars under the best conditions. After a heavy rain or snow, they can become impassable unless you are driving a 4-wheel drive truck or SUV.

Until there are hybrid versions of full-size trucks and SUVs readily available, those of us who live in the country will be stuck with vehicles that get less than 20 miles per gallon.

But for the sake of the environmentóand to lessen our dependence on the Middle EastóI hope that people will learn good habits during this gas crisis, and stick to those habits later.

In Europe, where the price of gas has always been high, lightweight dual-purpose (on-road/off-road) motorcycles have been popular for some time. Unfortunately, the market for these types of bikes has not been very good in the US.

Itís a shame though, as the use of dual-purpose motorcycles makes sense: they are relatively cheap, lightweight, not too fast, handle well in emergencies and use very little gas. There are plenty of these bikes wasting away in garages and barns across the country. There are also plenty of smaller Japanese street bikes out there that can be used for cheap reliable transportation.

Itís not that people in this country donít like motorcycles. It just that their interest is mainly focused on street bikes (Harley-Davidson) or sport bikes (also known as "crotch-rockets"). But large street bikes are expensive, and in most cases, too nice to drive if the weather isnít perfect. Sport bikes are uncomfortable, have high insurance rates, and further the image of making motorcyclist look like idiots (Have you ever seen someone on a sport bike riding wheelies through traffic?)

Or, if you want to be really cool, ride a moped! There is actually an organized group of moped enthusiasts around the country who have formed the Moped Army (www.mopedarmy.com). Check out the groups mission statement:

"The Moped Army is the organizational end result of an outcropping of moped enthusiasts throughout the nation. Seeing it as more than just an easy and inexpensive way to get around town, members uphold the moped as a way of life. Although the advantages as a mode of transportation are many, a similar mind set is what brings us together. We see the moped as more than a means of travel, and truly believe in the lifestyle that accompanies riding one. Itís all about the mopedís aesthetic, its marginalized status in our society, the friendly traveling, easy stop communication, and our ability to enjoy the trip, as well as the destination."

The groupís motto is "Swarm and Destroy," and chaptersóor moped gangsóare popping up all over the country. So get out there and save the environmentóstart a revolution by riding a small street bike or moped.

And donít forget your helmet!

 

From August 29, 2005

Drive-thru restaurants are the bane of my existence. Itís not because I donít like fast food, or the concept of a drive-thru. On the contrary, if it wasnít for fast food I would have been dead from starvation years ago. My attempts to shop for groceries and cook for myself have nearly always ended in disaster. At one time, I even thought of joining the military so that I would never have to cookóthatís how much I hate cooking.

Itís a little ironic really. I can repair my own vehicle, I can build a computer from parts, and I can write HTML code for WebPages from scratchóbut I canít read a food recipe and make it turn out right. Fast food to the rescue.

Thereís something comforting about fast food. For example, you can go to a McDonaldís restaurant in any city and have the same burger, fries and two-for-a-dollar apple pies. The food is usually pretty consistent, despite the wacky level of quality control on one particular itemóthe Filet-O-Fish. If, like me, you are a real tightwad, you can go to any Wendyís restaurant and order all the cheap stuff from the dollar menu; it will taste the same anywhere you go. A visit to a Long John Silvers restaurant anywhere in the country will leave you with that same nauseous feeling that makes you want to lie down. The food itself tastes darn good, though.

My problem with the drive-thru is not the food, itís the level of stress created by ordering from some invisible person over an intercom system that sounds like it was purchased from Radio Shack in the 1970s. In addition, the drive-thru attendant will usually not give you any time to contemplate the menu. As soon as you pull up to the speaker, they ask for your order and try to sell you whatever product their corporate puppet-masters have decided to promote that week.

Drive-thru attendant: "Welcome. I see you have barely rolled down your window, but are you ready to order right now?"

Me: "Give me just a minute."

Attendant: "Okay. Take your time. Order when youíre ready."

Silence ensues while I think about the menu. Once Iíve decided, I donít know whether the attendant is still there. Should I just start shouting out my order?

"Okay, Iím ready." More silence, then I hear "go ahead."

I always try to make the order easy, so there is no confusion. I find items that I like as is, with no substitutions or changes. There are two reasons for this. First, it doesnít confuse them. Second, I donít want to get off on the wrong foot with someone who has private access to my food. These people can really sabotage you without your knowledge.

But I always get stuck driving a car full of high-maintenance eaters. Then I have to juggle a complex order that consists of substitutions galore. Not only do I have to quickly memorize the order, but also I have to relay that order over the intercom and hope that it gets translated correctly. Then I have to be the diplomat while we are sitting at the window trying to explain everything that was wrong with the order. Even worse, one of my passengers will inevitably make additional requests or orders at the windowósometimes even after the window has been closed and the attendant has walked away. Then I have to be a jerk and knock on the window.

Thatís why I hate drive-thrus. They make me look like a jerk. But there is one thing that troubles me even more. They "forget" to give you any ketchup, salt or napkinsóprobably in an effort to save money. But when you ask for these things, they dump a truckload of condiments in your hands. Itís like they are saying, "you want ketchup? Iíll give you ketchup, jerk."

 

From August 22, 2005

Identity theft. Donít you just get sick of hearing about it on the news?

Personally, I wouldnít mind having my identity stolenóif the thief would be getting my current credit card bills, student loan statements, and responsibility for paying for the vehicle that I am "upside-down" in. If those things were part of identity theft, then the thieves could have me.

But the problem is that the majority of the would-be thieves are just not that smart. And worseóthey must think that all of us are idiots as well.

Most of the scams out there fall under the category of phishingóthe practice using an email message as bait in order to obtain personal financial information. Some of the messages appear legitimate the first time you see themósuch as the well-publicized PayPal and Ebay password scams.

The scams must work occasionally; otherwise we wouldnít hear anything about them on the news. My personal favorite scam attempt is the one that appears as a personal letter written by an "attorney" overseas regarding the estate of some guy who has no living relatives. The letter states that this poor guy died overseas, and his bank account is about to be taken by the governmentóunless someone in the U.S. can pretend to be a relative and provide a bank account to deposit the money in. As Mr. T would say, "I pity the fool" who buys into this scam.

Sometimes I read through the messages that arrive in the bulk mail folder of my Yahoo! account. I participate in several Internet message boards, so my email address is posted in quite a few places. The result is a bulk mail folder that receives about 1,000 messages per day.

The quality of the scam email Iíve been receiving lately seems to be getting worse though; they are obviously composed by non-English speaking foreigners.

Check out the following phishing scam email that I received last week. The senderís name was simply "Doreen," and the subject line read "czechoslovakia David Fasgold cancelling," and the message read as follows:

David Fasgold,

My name is Doreen and I checked your informoation in Newcastle, OK and you have been approoived for a reffinawnce. Please find all details below:

Interrest: 3.5

Teurm: 360 months

Please follow this linkj for your instant activaation http://www.svxecl.com/zzowcbso.asp?fl=158482062

Thank you for your immediadte attenteion.

Very truly yours,

Doreen

Accouonts

OK Directt

Only a moron would respond to an email like this and give away personal information. This was a very poor example of an attempted scamóthe equivalent of the coyote trying to catch the roadrunner by luring him in with a bomb disguised as a female roadrunner.

Unfortunately, these scams are here to stay. You know the old sayingóthereís a sucker born every minute. I just hope that Iím not one of them.

 

From August 15, 2005

Spiders. Yuk!

Iím usually not grossed-out too easily. Snakes, mice, bats, dirty diapers, vomit and litter boxes donít bother me too much. I can even eat sardines, hot spicy squid and various forms of sushi.

But Iím a real sissy when it comes to spiders. Spiders are absolutely disgusting to look at, and theyíre even creepier to come into contact with.

When I was a kid, I watched an episode of the Brady Bunch. Most people my age will remember this one: The Brady Bunch goes to Hawaii, they find some weird statue that brings bad luck, Greg nearly buys the farm while surfing, and then a tarantula crawls into the girlsí beach bag. Later that night, in the hotel, the tarantula crawls out of the bag and on to the bed where Peter is sleeping.

After seeing that episode, I could not sleep with any blankets touching the floor; I had become paranoid that spiders would crawl up and on to the bed. In fact, I was so obsessive that I would inspect all the bedding, the walls, the ceiling, behind any picture frames, and finally under the bed.

So you can imagine my horror last week when my wife woke me up to tell me that something was biting her. Sure enough, a spider was in our bed. It was one of those brown spiders that seem to infest the house every summeróyou know, the ones that have a body shape similar to a black widow and spin webs around the baseboards.

I figured that my wife wasnít going to die or anything, but I stayed up anyway and researched spiders on the Internet for the next hour.

The little brown spider that bit my wife is actually in the same family as the black widowóa family of spiders called "comb-footed spiders." Apparently, the black widow and northern widow are the only ones that are dangerous. The bites that my wife received were similar to mosquito bites. These spiders are commonly called "cobweb spiders," and their markings vary quite a bit.

Even though the spider in our bed was essentially harmless, I got my revenge. After all, it did bite my wife. I captured the little devil and dropped it into the bathroom sink, which I then filled with very hot water.

"Die! Die," I said.

After the spider was dead, I washed it down the drain.

The next day, I inspected the house and found that several of the little jerks had spun webs around the baseboards. I actually enjoyed killing them. I even smashed a couple of them with my thumb. (If you have an urge to do something gross, smash a spider with your thumbóyou wonít be disappointed.)

I believe that the majority of the spiders in my house are now dead, though I know it would be impossible to get them all.

At least now I know that if any did survive, they are probably harmless. There are only four spiders we really need to worry about in this part of the country: black widow, northern widow, brown recluse (fiddleback) and yellow house spider (yellow sac spider).

But even though spiders serve a purpose, and most are harmless, I still canít resist stomping on them immediately. Can you see what too much exposure to the Brady Bunch can do to a person?

 

From August 8, 2005

I would like to dedicate this weekís column to anyone who no longer fits into his or her clothes. If youíve ever made five trips through a buffet line, slipped into a Long John Silverís-induced coma, or thought it was a good idea to eat that burrito named "The Bomb," then this oneís for you:

One thing in life is certain, besides death, taxes and standing in line. It is certain that as you age, your waistline will increase.

Most of us are in denial of this inevitable fact, so we try to squeeze ourselves into our old clothes to the point that we become miserable.

When my wife was pregnant, she had to eat more because she was "eating for two." Following that logic, I also started eating moreómy excuse was that I was eating for three.

For years, I wore pants with a 32-inch waist. Thirty-two seemed like a good compromise when the 30-inch waistband became too uncomfortable.

Itís unfair, really. Iíve worn size 9 1/2 in shoes since I was around 14 years old. So why canít I still wear jeans with a 30-inch waist?

At some point, everyone has to make a choice: lose weight or buy bigger clothes.

When I was in my teens and early twenties, I could eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and in any quantity I wanted.

Those were the good old days. There was nothing wrong with eating a huge breakfast at Dennyís at 3:00 a.m., then going straight to bed until noon. There was nothing wrong with pizza for breakfast, an entire batch of chocolate oatmeal cookies for lunch, or a steak before bedtime. Indeed, those were the good old days.

I first realized that age was catching up to my eating habits a few summers ago. I was living in Castle Rock, Colorado, and I had purchased several cases of Flavor Ice at Costcoóa store similar to Samís Club.

Some people are alcoholics; some are chain smokers. I, on the other hand, canít say "just say no" to Flavor Ice. Itís not unusual for me to eat 3-4 in a rowósometimes more...

"Summertime...and the eatiní Flavor Ice is easy..."

So anyways, several summers ago, the Flavor Ice fetish magically turned my pants from 32 inches to 34 inches around the waist. There was nothing I could do to stop it.

One day my wife pointed out that I was getting too fat, and would have to cut back on Flavor Ice. Though she was right, her observation did cause a blip on my hypocrisy radar. If I had said the same thing to her, I would have been in very, very bad trouble.

Fast forward to the present time. The 34-inch pants had been getting tighter, and tighter, and tighter.

I tried to get by for a while by leaving them unbuttoned, but soon it was clear that I would have to jump up to the next size.

So, like any fashion-conscious 30-something geek, I headed for Super Target to buy some new pants. (Side note: You see kids, there comes a time in your life when you will no longer pay shopping mall pricesóand purchasing your wardrobe at Wal-Mart or Target becomes a viable option.)

But a new problem emerged: It was obvious that I was too fat for size 34, but too skinny for size 36.

Apparently, the people making the pants can only count by twoís. Why are there no pants on the rack with a 35-inch waist?

I was tired of being miserable in the 34-inch waist. Those pants were so tight that I felt like the fat Elvis, the fat Jim Morrison, Jaba the Hut, Patrick from Spongebob, and Andy Milonakis all rolled into one.

In the end, I opted not to lose the weightóat least not right away. Instead, I bought pants with a 36-inch waist.

Now Iím walking around with pants that are too big. They keep sliding down and theyíre making me look like a really big dork. One day my jean shorts came down a couple of inches, and my boxer shorts were showing. If I had been wearing a sideways ball cap and a few chains, I would have looked like a white rapper.

So Iím faced with a new dilemma. I can either buy a belt, or try and eat more so that I can eventually fit into my new pants. Hopefully, Iíll get back into those 34ís someday. But if not, thereís still a bright side:

There are usually plenty of pants size 38 and up on the sale rack.

 

From July 25, 2005

Last week, I was eating Chinese.

Let me clarify: I was eating Chinese foodónot people. That would be wrong.

Anyway, after I made four trips to the buffet, our waitress brought the check. The check was in one of those little plastic trays; you know, the ones that donít look so clean. Sitting atop of the check were two stale fortune cookies.

As I was chewing the cookieówhich tasted like petrified cardboardóI read the fortune that was inside.

"Be content with what you have," read the statement on the fortune. There were also some lucky numbers printed below itóif you believe in that sort of junk.

Be content with what you have. How profound.

I showed the fortune to my dad, who was sitting across from me.

"Thatís good advice," I said, stuffing the piece of paper into my wallet as a reminder.

Half an hour later, I was standing at the register in Guitar Centerópurchasing yet another guitar. Do as a say, not as I do.

You see, Iíve played the guitar for over 20 years, and when someone asks "how many guitars do you have?" I have to stop and count them out loud...letís see...the yellow Fender, the blue Fender, the Takamine, the Alvarez, the Ibanez, the Silvertone, the Danelectro...the blue Fender...no, I already counted that one...and the lap steel guitar. I think thatís all of them. You get the picture. Musicians are always broke for several reasons; one of them is that they spend all their money on guitars.

I had honestly not intended to buy a guitar. But when I walked into the guitar store, there it was. I can remember all of my favorite guitarsóand the moment I first played them. I had wanted a Les Paul guitar for years, and I had my eye on a particular modelóthe exact model I saw hanging on the wall in the store that day. Of course, it was in mint condition, and my buddy worked there, so he got me a deal.

The only obstacle to buying the guitar would be getting the purchase approved through the purchasing departmentóthe wife. Once you are married, all requests for toy purchases or recreation must go through this department or else.

"Or else what?" you ask. If you donít know, then Iím not going to tell you. Just know that if you donít get permission for major purchases, then things are going to get very, very bad.

To make a long story short, the purchase was approvedówith a catch:

"Which guitar are you going to sell to pay for it?"

Ouch! Thatís kind of like saying "which one of your puppies do you want for breakfast?" or "which hand do you want to have crammed into that garbage disposal?"

I lined up all my guitars for a meeting. It was like one of those reality shows: "Tonight," I said. "One of you will be gone. The only question is, which one will it be."

I looked at them all, played them all, reflected on their worth, and looked up their current market values on Ebay. Finally, a sacrifice was selected. Now I know how Abraham must have feltósort of. But I had a plan. A truly genius plan. I would go through absolutely everything in the house that could possibly be sold online. If I could raise enough money, then maybe nobody...I mean...no guitar would have to be sold.

You know that line in the Good Book, where it talks about putting away childish things? Well, I decided that since Iím a grown-up nowóand have a wife and kidóthat maybe it was time. What could I sell?

Something shiny caught my eye from the entertainment center. It was the silver box from my copy of Grand Theft Auto III for Xbox. It was not the version of the game with all of the naughty bits that has received so much attention, but itís probably not the best game to play in front of your kid. In fact, it has no redeeming social value at all. The proper thing to do would be to throw the "mature" rated game in the trash, but instead I took a picture of it and listed it on Ebay.

So began Plan Aóan evening of selling a bunch of worthless junk.

If Plan A fails, then Iím moving to plan Bóselling all of my CDís, after I copy the songs I like onto my computer.

Mwwwwaaahahahahahaha!!!

(Author erupts into diabolical laughter)

From July 18, 2005 - The world is full of clichťs, quotes and catchy sayings. Some of them are meant to educate, inspire, or generally uplift you in some way. Some people have really made it big by being upliftingóOprah, Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura, etc.

But sometimes things can almost be too uplifting. You know those posters that you see hanging up in grade schools? There all pretty much the same...something like a hot air balloon with a caption such as "reach new heights" or a cute picture of a kitten about to fall out of a tree with a caption like "donít give up."

Isnít it funny how these images disappear from our lives after grade school? Doesnít anyone want to inspire us adults with some uplifting posters?

This may be a little morbid, but maybe I could make some money selling these types of inspirational posters to prisons. The posters could have captions like "five years isnít that long" or "at least youíll be out before you die."

Another thing I like are the rocks with uplifting words engraved in them. They look so nice as they adorn gardens and doorsteps of houses across the country. Somewhere, there is a person who gets paid to think of words to put on the rocksówords like "love" or "dream" or "possibility."

I would really enjoy that job, except I would be fired after a few days of adding my own words and phrases, such as "despair," "incompetence" or "the end is near."

There are two sayings in particular that I would like to be made into posters, bumper stickers, or engraved on rocks: "If you never try anything new, youíll miss out on many of lifeís great disappointments" and "The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese." I wish I could take credit for these, but I found them on the Internet.

Speaking of the Internet, I donít usually read jokes that are forwarded to me, but last week a friend sent me one that I really liked. So now, Iím basically forwarding it to the entire town by publishing it in the newspaper. Here is an excerpt from the diary of a housecat:

"Day 183 of My Captivity: My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while I am forced to eat dry cereal. The only thing that keeps me going is the hope of escape, and the mild scolding I get from ruining the occasional piece of furniture. Tomorrow I may eat another houseplant. Today my attempt to kill my captors by weaving around their feet while they were walking almost succeeded; must try this at the top of the stairs. In an attempt to disgust and repulse these vile oppressors, I once again induced myself to vomit on their favorite chair, must try this on their bed. Decapitated a mouse and brought them the headless body in an attempt to make them aware of what I am capable of, and to try to strike fear into their hearts. They only cooed and condescended about what a good little cat I was. Hmmm, not working according to plan. There was some sort of gathering of their accomplices. I was placed in solitary confinement throughout the event. However, I could hear the noise and smell the food. More importantly, I overheard that my confinement was due to my power of "allergies." Must learn what this is and how to use it to my advantage. I am convinced the other captives are flunkies and snitches. The dog is routinely released and seems more than happy to return. He is obviously a half-wit. The bird, on the other hand, has got to be an informant. He speaks their language and talks with them regularly. I am certain he reports my every move. Due to his current placement in the metal room, his safety is assured. But I can wait, it is only a matter of time."

Now I know what our pets really think about us! Have a great week, and remember: "Tomorrow will be the first day of the rest of your life...if you live that long."

From July 5, 2005

Like so many, I have become addicted to certain types of television shows. I never watch sitcoms, television dramas or moviesóand I try and avoid being sucked in to reality type shows.

The shows that Iím hooked on are of the "improvement genre." Iím not talking self-improvement like Oprah or Dr. Phil, but the types of improvement shows that are found on TLC, HGTV or Discovery.

While flipping through the channels, I can kill off an entire evening with shows suchs as Designer Finals, Curb Appeal, In a Fix or How Clean is Your House.

The problem is that I try and act out the things I see on these TV shows. Itís kind of like what you hear on the news: some kids listened to heavy metal music or played a certain videogame, then they went out and committed atrocities. My problem is like that, only Iím acting out "home improvement atrocities." Itís not that I do a bad job on my home improvement. The problem is that I never seem to get anything finished.

After working on my house for over a year, the only room that is truly finished is the hallway. Every other room has something wrong with itómissing or unpainted trim, half-finished texturing, ceilings that need painted, etc. The list never ends.

But my projects arenít always disastrous. The scar left from when I drilled into my left hand has healed nicely, and some rooms in the house are nearing completion.

A couple of weeks ago, TLC was running several back-to-back episodes of What Not to Wear. My wife and I stayed up late watching a pair of fashion gurus overhaul the images of several fashion-challenged individuals. It was very entertaining. I enjoyed laughing at the terrible fashion sense of the lady who wore leopard prints and flames on a daily basis. I was appalled by the woman who had been sporting a sweet mullet since the late 1980s.

It was all fun until I looked in the mirror during a commercial break. At nearly 34 years old, I realized that I looked pretty dumpy. So, I decided right then that we would play our own version of What Not to Wear the next day.

I decided to go through everythingóshirts, pants, shoes, socks and even underwear. If it was out of style, worn-out or no longer fit, I was going to get rid of it.

I was under no illusions. A fashion makeover was not going to turn me into Brad Pitt. I would still be me, only a little more presentable and clean-shaven.

The only problem is that I got rid of about 75 percent of my clothes. But at least I have room for new clothes that I will purchase off the sale rack at Target. (Iím not stylish enough to pay shopping mall prices.)

So far, the self-imposed fashion makeover has worked out well. But it sure is a drag to shave on a daily basis, and I absolutely hate to iron. And I donít think Iím ready to give up my long-established practice of "bachelor washing" my clothes. (In case you are unfamiliar with the term, "bachelor washing" is the practice of throwing dirty and wrinkled clothes into the dryer with a dryer sheet to freshen them up enough to wear in public.)

I think everyone should play What Not to Wear at home. It may not make the world a better place, but at least it would make it a better-looking place. You can always go back to wearing sweat pants, and you can always grow a mullet.

 

From June 27, 2005

Itís funny how mothers can be so paranoid when it comes to their kidsóeven after the kids have grown.

Last week I was on the phone talking to my mother when I mentioned that I had just cleaned my gun.

She interrupted to say, "donít accidentally shoot yourself."

Thanks, mom. If you hadnít told me that, then I would probably have had a serious accident.

We had discussed the gun before, and I had told her that:

A) The gun is over fifty years old and spent probably 20 years buried in the sand in Afghanistan.

B) Several parts were missing, including the bolt mechanism necessary to even fire the gun.

C) I donít even own any frigginí bullets.

I do not know how she thought it was even possible for me to accidentally shoot myself. I guess that I could have accidentally found the missing parts, purchased bullets, and then someone could have placed a bullet in the chamber when I wasnít looking. Anything is possible, right?

Iíll chalk that one up to Chronic Extreme Maternal Paranoia Syndrome (CEMPS), a disease that my mother obviously suffers from. The disease causes the sufferer to continuously give irrational instructions to their grown children in hopes of avoiding potential hazardous or life-threatening situations. Such instructions include, but are not limited to:

A) Donít burn the house down.

B) Donít electrocute yourself.

C) Donít fall off the roof.

D) Donít run over the children or pets.

Women suffering from this psychological disorder are traumatized by the thought of their children doing things such as: lighting pilot lights on appliances; operating a chainsaw; working on or around any device that uses electricity; and operating a motorized vehicle (including, but not limited to: car, motorcycle, boat, aircraft, or lawnmower).

If my mother had failed to warn me, I probably would have run over all of our family pets, as well as every single one of my sisterís kids. Itís highly likely that I would have burned down the house on several occasions, and chopped my leg off in a bizarre gardening accident.

The scary thing is, accidents happen. I just hope they donít happen to me. One of my childhood friends lost part of a finger to a jigsaw, and one of the guys in my band had an unfortunate encounter with a meat saw. If only their mothers had said, "donít cut your finger off," would the outcome have been different?

So far Iíve been lucky, but I grew up to be an extremely paranoid adult. I used to have a recurring nightmare where some kids and I were playing with a guillotine, and I accidentally chopped off someoneís head. I wonder if that dream was the manifestation of paranoia instilled in me by my motherís warnings? Perhaps.

Iíll probably be walking down the street some day and be crushed by a safe or piano falling from the window of a tall building. Oh well, at least it would make an interesting story.

Have a great week, and donít do anything stupid!

From June 20

Some weeks are easy, and some are just nuts. The past few have been crazy, and I knew that Iíd reached my limit when I came home one evening, took off my socks, and threw them in the trash. It took about 30 seconds to realize what I had done, and then I went through the trash to make sure I hadnít thrown anything else important in there.

Last weekend I was working in Wichita, and I stopped at Wal-Mart to grab a few things I needed before heading back to Medicine Lodge. I paid for my stuff and walked out of the storeówithout my sack!

Iíve discovered that there are several apparently universal truths and laws of physics that are always standing in the way of progress. Some things never fail to happen:

-If you have extra money coming in on a particular month, then an unforeseen expense will also occur in the same month. The expense will always be slightly higher than the extra money.

-Old men complain about having plenty of hair growing out of their nose and ears, but not enough on their head. Along those lines, grass will grow up through every little crack in the driveway, but will not grow in the bare spot of earth in your backyard.

-Babies are either hungry, gassy, dirty, wet or sleepy. They are rarely content to just lie there and let you get something done.

-Some people say that death "comes in threeís." The same is true for retailócustomers come in threeís. You will either have no customers at all, or too many to handle.

-A cat will lie on top of anything new that you bring into your house.

-I have taught guitar lessons since 1988. In that time, Iíve found that people will suddenly quit showing up for their lesson. After a few weeks, I write them off. As soon as I fill their time slot, they will show back up expecting a lesson.

-If you are in business for yourself, there are a small percentage of your customers who are actually going to cost you money, rather than make you money. Learn to recognize them and get rid of them ASAP.

-A squirrel sitting along the side of the road will remain motionless until your vehicle gets close, then it will suddenly decide to cross the road.

-Automatic transmission fluid will always find a way out of the transmission and on to the driveway.

-A female cell phone user will always use up her free minutes, regardless of which plan she is on.

-Water leaks and plumbing disasters always happen on Sundays, holidays, or in the middle of the night.

-Tires go flat only when you are in a hurry to get somewhere.

-If youíre over 30, that group of teenagers standing over there is laughing at you.

-Speaking of teenagers, their music is always garbage, while the music you listened to as a teenager is great.

-And one final truth: If you leave your car windows down, it is guaranteed to rain.

Have a nice week!

 

From June 13, 2005

Nearly every grown-up man can remember the joy of buying a bag full of green plastic army men as a child.

I can remember having hundreds of those army men. Even now, I can think of few things more exciting than conducting oneís own miniature war in the sandbox.

The plastic army man is more than a toy. Itís a cultural icon, and something I consider to be truly American. In fact, I donít trust a man who didnít play with army men as a child.

No matter how much abuse they are put through, the plastic army men are always there ready to follow orders. Bury them in the sand; melt them with a magnifying glass; blow them up with fireworks; or run over them with your bike. The green plastic army will not go AWOL or refuse to fight.

Someday, future archeologists will find millions of plastic army men buried beneath the earth in what used to be the backyards and flowerbeds of America.

Last week, a buddy sent us several British Enfield rifles that were dug up in Afghanistan. In celebration of receiving our new toys, I put on a helmet and reenacted some of my favorite army man poses. Many of these poses are universal to plastic army men, regardless of the brand or when they were made. There was the guy marching, the guy sniping, the guy throwing the grenade, the guy with the bazooka, and (my favorite) the guy charging with the bayonet.

Iíve included three of the best pictures that we took. From now on, anyone who is offended by anything I write can take these pictures of me and do one of the following: bury them; melt them with a magnifying glass; blow them up with fireworks; or run over them.

 

Now drop and give me twenty!

From June 6, 2005

I believe that out of all our senses, the sense of smell is one of the strongestócapable of triggering delight, disgust or even memories from long ago. Some people like the smell of flowers and things like thatóbut I like the smell of cars.

Just about everyone loves the smell of a new car, but I love the smell of old cars. For some strange reason, if I concentrate on it, I can remember the smell of my dadís 1977 Dodge pickup when he first brought it home from the dealer. To a six-year-old kid, the purchase of a new truck is a life-changing event, and to this day I love the smell of a vinyl car interior baking in the sun.

Some cars even have their own type of smell unique to their make or model. An old Volkswagen Beetle has its own distinct smell, and a Chevrolet Corvair definitely has a certain smellóespecially when the heater is on. For some unknown reason, Iím particularly fond of the smell of SAE 30 weight oil cooking on an exhaust manifold.

All of my old clunkersóí55 and í57 Chevy, í50 Buick, and about a dozen Corvairs in various states of disrepairóall had the same musty and rusty smell inside. That smell reminds of long days spent under a shade tree or in the garage, fixing up cars.

The smell of two-stroke engine exhaust smells like summer. Just a tiny whiff of the stuff makes me think of riding a dirt bike, jet ski or boat. All of those things bring good memories for me.

Now Iíve read that smells can also affect your driving.

According to a story that Reuters brought out of London, odors affect the way motorists drive. Fast food scents are more likely to increase road rage, and peppermint can improve your concentration, according to the RAC Foundation motoring organization.

"This is why the smell of perfume can turn men into gibbering idiots, the smell of baking bread can destroy the best intentions of a dieter and the smell of baby powder can make a child averse individual quite broody," said RAC Foundationís consultant psychologist, Conrad King.

The RAC Foundation said it conducted research into the impact of smells on driving after the release of an odor study by Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia.

Besides peppermint, good odors to have in your vehicle include cinnamon, lemon and coffee. (Clarification: I would assume they are talking about good coffee like Starbucks, not 10-hour-old gas station coffee in a Styrofoam cup.)

The smell of fast-food wrappers or fresh bread "can cause driver irritability and a tendency to speed because they make drivers feel hungry and in a hurry to satiate their appetites." I just hate the smell of fast food wrappers because they make the car smell dirty. Even worse is the smell that your box of take-home Mexican food leaves in the car after it bakes in the sun while you are shopping.

According to the study, cars of the future may have in-built systems to "detect a driverís mood and react by altering the carís seating, lighting, temperature and even smell." Thatís great, but I would be happy if they would just hurry up and give us the flying cars we were promised!

 

From May 31, 2005

I received an interesting book in the mail last week, the 2005 edition of "50 State Comparisons." After opening the book, I could not put it down. The information contained in the book showed where Kansas ranks among other states in many areas. Some of the rankings were surprising; others were not. But overall, the information was interesting to me, so I thought I would share some of it with our readers.

I did most of my comparisons with our closest neighbor, and my home state, Oklahoma. Contrary to what many people believe, Kansas is doing quite well in many areas.

In population, Kansas ranks 33rd in the nation with approximately 2,735,500 people. Oklahoma ranks 28th, with 3,523,500. The most populated state is California, with nearly 36 million people, and the least populated is Wyoming, with 506,000. Our population in Kansas is less than half of the average state population. This works out great for me, as Iím totally freaked out by large crowds.

In property values, Kansas and Oklahoma rank low, but that may not be such a bad thingóat least property is affordable here. In 2003 inflation-adjusted dollars, Kansas ranks 41 with a median housing value of $100,257. Oklahoma ranks 48, with $85,502. The U.S. average is $147,275.

In median family income, Kansas ranks near the middle at number 27, with $51,157. On the other hand, Oklahoma is near the bottom at number 45, with $43,259. The U.S. average is $52,273.

Regarding the percentage of the population below poverty level, Kansas beat the U.S. average with 10.8 percent. Oklahoma, on the other hand, has 16.1 percent of the population living below the poverty level. The U.S. average is 12.7 percent.

If you look at the number of households with computers, Kansas ranks far above the national average, with 63.8 percent. About 54 percent of Kansas households also have Internet access, which is average for the entire country.

Kansas also has a low outstanding state debt per capita when compared to other states. The national average is $2,234, but in Kansas that debt is only $844. In fact, we are very near the bottom in this category. In contrast, Oklahoma has $1,856. The highest is Alaska, with $8,281.

Hereís an interesting oneóThe Economic Freedom Index, which measures the level of economic freedom based on state and local tax burdens, regulations, labor market and property rights. According to the EFI (2002), Kansas ranks in the top half of states at number 21. Delaware ranked number 1, while West Virginia was at the bottom. Oklahoma ranks 36.

Since reading this book over the past week, Iíve become a storehouse of interesting factoids, which I hope will make me the life of the party this summer. But in reality, I will probably put most people to sleep with this information. Statistics arenít perfect, and can easily be twisted one way or the other, but I still find them interesting. Hereís one more to think about: Kansas ranks in the top five for 4th grade math scores, ranks in the top 20 for ACT scores and percentage of students who graduate. This confirms one thing that Iíve seen up close over the past year:

Though we have little money to spend on education, and donít pay our teachers enough, our educators are going far beyond the call of duty every day.

Have a great summer!

 

From May 23rd, 2005

Itís Friday, and I feel like Iím going off the rails on a crazy train.

What a great week it was here at the Premiere! It was one of the those rare weeks where the news practically writes itself.

The week wrapped up with Fridayís train ride. I was fortunate to be able to attend the morning ride from Zenda to Isabel. This was my first time to ride on a train, and I definitely hope it wonít be my last.

A big thanks goes out to Charlie Swayze, the Farmers Equity Coop and K & O Railroad for making it possible. (And thanks to Jim Bertoglio for giving me a ride.)

While riding in the comfortable, air-conditioned train cars, I couldnít help but think about how hot it was outside. From the window, I could see the hundreds of recently replaced railroad ties scattered about on the sides of the tracksóevidence of the hard work of those who originally laid the track, and also of those who recently replaced it.

I was sitting next to a couple of guys who are members of the "Greatest Generation." As I listened to them swap stories about the war, I thought about the American soldiers who rode across Europe in the old "40 and 8" boxcars during WWI and WWIIógiven their name because they would hold either 40 men or eight horses. From what Iíve read, those boxcars were not fit for either.

I also thought about a man I recently interviewed, who told me his experiences as a POW of the Germans in WWII. He experienced what it was like to ride in a boxcar under guard. The closest Iíll ever come to understanding his situation is from watching the movie "Von Ryanís Express."

Over the past couple of centuries, the railroad has been a tool of many thingsótransportation, progress, industrialization, communication to name a few. It was also an instrument of death in the hands of the Nazis.

Today, most of us are removed from the railroad. We only encounter it when a passing train forces us to wait at an intersection. Itís hard to imagine a time when a train ride was a neccessity.

But taking a train ride for a vacation makes sense, given the high price of gasoline versus the cheap price of a train ticket. I just hope we recognize this before passenger trains completely disappear from this area of the country.

So, like the song title says, "Take the A Train!"

 

From May 16, 2005

Working at a small town newspaper, you have to be very careful in handling certain news items. A great number of stories that would be buried within the pages of a large daily paperóor not even coveredóend up as front-page news in a small town weekly.

A large newspaper in a large market also has a large number of reporters and a large number of subscribers. Such a newspaper likely employs several receptionists for angry readers to take out their grievances on. In short, such a newspaper can afford to make a few enemies along the way.

But the story in a small town is completely different. A great deal of the audience is made up of friends, neighbors and other acquaintances. There may be only one or two reporters on staff; so good relationships with local government and law enforcement are crucial. It is also important to earn the trust of the community in general.

But there is a very delicate balancing act in covering the news in a small townóa balancing act between maintaining good relationships and an obligation to report the news.

In order to stay in this business, you have to become pretty thick-skinned at times; you have to learn not to take things too personal. But still, criticism can bother you. After all, nobody likes to make enemiesóespecially in a small town.

But there is another balancing act to master: the balance of sensitivity and reporting the news.

Since I took the position as editor nearly a year ago, weíve had quite a few accidental deaths in the area. Offhand, I can count a total of six. These stories are by far the most difficult to write. On one hand, people are concerned and want to know what happened. On the other hand, the reporting can be upsetting to the family of the deceased.

It seems a little ironic, but it was a fatal car crash that set off a chain of events that eventually brought our family to Medicine Lodge.

Very early on the morning of October 27, 2001, I awoke to the sound of the doorbell. I confused the sound with the telephone, and reached for the receiver, only to hear a dial tone. I got dressed and stumbled into the front room. I was greeted at the door by a blinding flashlight, and the man behind the light identified himself as an Oklahoma City police officer.

In my tired and confused state, I did not understand why a police officer was at our door. Then he started asking me about my father-in-law. Once he verified who I was, he informed me that he had been killed in a car accident in Colorado.

By that time, my wife had woken up and was entering the room. When the officer saw her, he quickly left. I would be the one breaking the news.

The news was shocking, to say the least. My father-in-law was not supposed to die like thatóespecially not at 53 years old. It seemed senseless then, and it seems senseless now. He had survived combat in Vietnam only to die driving 35 mph in a Toyota.

We did not read any news coverage from his hometown. Instead, we avoided it entirely. It was a small town, and lots of rumors were circulating.

The investigation into the accident sort of fizzled out, and we had to finally accept that we would never know for certain what had happened.

All we were left with were cold, hard facts: In north Denver, around 9:45 p.m. on October 26th, 2001, a 2000 Toyota Avalon driven by my father-in-law was traveling approximately 35 mph when it crossed the median. The car ran head-on into a Honda Civic that was being driven by a 17-year-old Vietnamese girl. Both of them were killed instantly, and the cause of the accident is unknown.

An event that happened in the blink of an eye had permanently changed the course of our lives. In addition to losing her father, my wife stepped forward to begin cleaning up the enormous mess that was left behind. The matter was complicated further when the original executor nearly bankrupted the estate. Court battles ensued. There were bills to pay and there was property to liquidate. It seemed that at every turn, someone had his or her hands out for money or property. Creditors do not care about a familyís personal loss.

There were many tough decisions to make, and in the end, only the attorneys came out on top.

But something good came from the whole experience: during our time living in Alva, we made friends in Medicine Lodge. This led to a job here in town, and the opening of many new doors.

Last year, I was having a discussion with our publisher, Kevin Noland. Someone had died in a car accident, and I was unsure how to cover the storyóor even if I should cover the story.

His response was that if, for some reason he or a family member was killed, he would expect me to cover it in the paperóand vice versa.

When someone in the community dies accidentally, we take it very seriously. We are often unsure as to the approach we should take with a storyóthe details, placement, length, whether or not to include a picture, etc. We try to be sensitive and make the best decisions we can at the time. However it is impossible to predict readersí reactions to every single detail in a story.

I hope that our readers understand our position in reporting deathsówe have been personally affected by those awful experiences ourselves.

 

From May 16, 2005

People are strange, when youíre a stranger...

One of my favorite songs from the 1960s is People are Strange by The Doors. And the truth is that people are strange. Very strange indeed.

Buy not everyone appreciates the music from the sixties. In Benton Harbor, Michigan, Superintendent Paula Dawning tried to ban the schoolís marching band from performing the song Louie Louie.

The controversy surrounding the song dates back to 1963, when the most famous version of Louie Louie was recorded by The Kingsmen. The bandís unintelligible singing fueled rumors that the lyrics were obscene, which prompted a two-year FBI investigation. Didnít the FBI have anything better to do for two years? The FBI eventually admitted that they were unable to interpret any of the lyrics. Another fine example of your tax dollars at work.

Parents of students at the Michigan school finally convinced the superintendent to reverse her decision. All I can say is that if Dawning was offended by Louie Louie, she would probably drop dead if she heard the lyrics of the music her students are listening to most of the time.

In Boston, a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has organized a convention for time travelers.

Amal Dorai held the party on Saturday, in hopes that someone visiting from the future would show up.

"You only need one," Dorai told the Associated Press. "The chance that anybody shows up is small, but if it happens it will be one of the biggest events in human history."

Doraiís only request for his guests was to show proof they came from the future: Bringing the cure for cancer, a solution for global poverty or a cold fusion reactor.

In the event that MIT is no longer around when time machine is finally invented, the invitation included geographic coordinates for the campus courtyard. As of press time, we had not heard if anyone showed up for the party.

In North Carolina, a prank that involved putting a high school senior up for auction on Ebay have landed two boys in trouble.

Principal Ed Boger took away the boysí computer privileges for the rest of the school year. Even the mother of the boy being "sold" on Ebay, said she thought the prank was funny.

"Mr. Boger didnít," she told the Associated Press, adding that she thought the prank had been blown out of proportion.

I doubt that Boger would have appreciated my prank from the eighth grade: signs in the restrooms that read, "please flush twiceóitís a long way to the cafeteria."

In California, the land of fruits and nuts, an outbreak of chlamydia at the San Francisco Zoo left a dozen penguins dead, according to a spokesman. What kind of a zoo are they running anyway?

The bacteria, which was most likely transmitted to the birds by an infected seagull, is spread through airborne saliva or other bodily fluids, said Bob Jenkins, the zooís director of animal care and conservation. Hey Bob, keep a close eye on your penguins and seagulls in the future, okay?

 

From May 2, 2005

What we have here is failure to communicate...

So many problems could be avoided if people would either: A) read the instructions; or B) learn to be accurate when giving instructions or writing descriptions.

A familiar problem in this day and age comes from buying and selling on Ebay. People are very bad about reading descriptions of items before bidding.

I can remember one occasion when my wife was selling a purse that she made. The description began with bold letters stating "handmade purse." The auction ended, the bidder paid us, and the purse was shipped out.

A few days later, we had a message on our answering machine from the bidder. She wanted her money back because she claimed that she did not know the purse was handmade. So, being the nice people that we areóand trying to avoid negative feedbackówe refunded the money. Of course we lost out on the shipping and seller fees.

In reality, the lady probably decided she didnít like the color. Or maybe the purse was an impulse purchase and she decided she needed the money.

But sometimes I think that people are just too lazy to read. Several years ago I worked at a store called "Box-n-Mail." When I answered the phone at work, I would say something like "Box-n-Mail. Can I help you?" It was not unusual to get a response like "So, do you pack stuff in boxes and mail it?"

At Box-n-Mail, we had a huge logo painted on the wall behind the counter. In 12-inch tall letters it read, "We pack and ship." So you can imagine my disgust when a customer would approach me (with the big sign in the background) and ask, "Do you guys pack and ship stuff for people?" (Note: If you can relate to any of the above, go out and rent the movie Clerks.)

My point is that most people donít like to read. For example, on one occasion a person called our office screaming that we have "nothing local" in our paper. I wonder if they ever bothered to actually read our paper.

Now letís get back to discussing Ebay, and failing to read the item descriptions. Probably the most blatant failure to read an item description was committed recently by my own father.

Always interested in historic military items, he ran across what he believed to be an under-priced German Afrika Korps satchel from World War II. The bidding was to start at only 99 cents. I can imagine his surprise when the auction ended without any other bids.

But later he noticed the name Rudi Kessling in the item description. At first, he thought that maybe a German soldier had written his name on the satchel. That sounded logicalóIíve seen countless military items with soldiersí names written on them. But a search on Google revealed that Rudi Kessling is not a German soldier, but a collectible action figure that retails for around forty dollars. So now my father is the proud owner of a military satchel that is about the size of a quarter. The lesson here? READ!!! So quit complaining and have a great week.

 

From April 25, 2005

During weeks when I feel like I have absolutely nothing to say, I only need to look to news stories from around the world for inspiration.

In San Antonio, a police officer accidentally shot his gun while he was on the toilet. According to the Associated Press, "This is one story theyíll be telling around the San Antonio Police Department for a long time. An off-duty officer was at a San Antonio auto auction house yesterday when nature called, a police spokesman said...Officer Craig Clancy strolled to the appropriate facility and was lowering his trousers when his pistol fell from his waistband. When Clancy fumbled for the falling firearm, it went off, twice...One of the bullets nicked a bit of floor tile into the leg of a man who was washing his hands nearby."

I have good friends who happen to be police officers, so I hope they will be careful in similar situations.

Hereís a strange headline out of Portland, Oregon: "Inventor creates soundless sound system."

At first I thought this headline was written by someone high on drugs, but itís true. Inventor Elwood Norris has created a sound system without speakers that focuses sound on you and makes the sound seem like it is coming from inside your head.

"Imagine your wife wants to watch television and you want to read a book, like the intellectual you are," Norris said to a crowd watching a demonstration of the invention. "Imagine you are a lifeguard or a coach and you want to yell at someone, heíll be the only one to hear you."

Norris is obviously much smarter than meóor anyone else I know. I hope that his sound system is affordable, as I can already think of a lot of fun things I can do with it.

Hereís one that nearly made me sick. According to Reuters, a woman in Yangon (also known as Rangoon, the capital of Burma) is breastfeeding some tiger cubs: "Three times a day, the Myanmar housewife goes to the Yangon Zoo where she breastfeeds the hungry black-striped, orange-brown cubs rejected by their natural mother...Hla Htay told Fuji TV that the cubs are "just like [her] babies," as one of the baby big cats suckled her breast.

I donít even like for my cats to grab on to my hand with their mouths. That story is more than a little disturbing, and confirms my belief that Western culture is superior to all others.

And finally, according to the AP, a woman who claimed she found a finger in her bowl of Wendyís chili last month has been arrested, the latest twist in a bizarre case about how the 1 1/2-inch finger tip ended up in a bowl of fast food.

So far, nobody has stepped forward to claim that they are missing a finger. So where does one go to acquire a severed finger? I donít even want to know.

See ya next week....

From April 18

April 14, 2005

For immediate release:

MEDICINE LODGE, KSóThe entire city and all its citizens can now breathe a collective sigh of relief, as a missing Medicine Lodge cat has finally returned home.

The six-year-old female catónamed Brown Catóescaped on Saturday, April 9, and was missing for approximately five days, three hours and 24 minutes. (She is named Brown Cat because she is brown, and because she is a cat.)

The safe and triumphant return of Brown Cat was a direct result of the efforts of friend, neighbor and librarian extraordinaire Barb Keltner, whose diligence, commitment and keen eyesight made the homecoming possible.

After several dead-end leads, and a few false sightings, Keltner stated that she believed she saw Brown Cat loitering in her driveway upon returning home around 10:00 p.m. on Wednesday evening. (We are still not sure why Keltner was out so late on a school night, and we probably do not want to know.)

Barb Keltner receives the Silver Hairball Medal with Catnip Leaves and Clusters from Velcro Fasgold, brother of Brown Cat. Courtesy Photo

In an e-mail sent to the Fasgold family shortly before Brown Catís return, Keltner described the events of the previous evening: "[the cat] was very dark gray...looked much like [the picture of the cat] in your column this week," wrote Keltner. "It was at the top of our driveway and headed over to the evergreens between our houses when I drove in."

Because of the darkness that often occurs at night, Keltner mistakenly identified the animalís color as gray.

After visual confirmation of the catís identity, an attempt to capture her was initiated by the Fasgold Feline Recovery Task Force (FFRTF).

Though she is a lovable cat, Brown Cat has never been the "sharpest pencil in the box," according to the family. She had forgotten how to get back in the house, and did not even have enough sense to come to her owner.

Brown Cat temporarily evaded capture by taking shelter in a stack of tires. She then hid beneath an overturned fishing boat, until becoming frightened and running beneath a neighborís deck. Forced from under the deck by a large stick, the cat once again hid in the stack of tires. She was finally apprehended by the FFRTF who had the assistance of some very thick leather gloves.

For her efforts and valor beyond the call of duty, Keltner was awarded the Silver Hairball with Catnip Leaf Clusters during a special ceremony conducted by the Kansas Society for the Advancement and World Domination of Felines.

After her return, Brown Cat was treated to a can of tuna and allowed to sleep in a laundry basket filled with her ownerís clean clothes. Resting comfortably for a long nap, Brown Cat appeared relieved to finally be back home.

 

April 18, 2005

This week was one of those difficult times for writing a column, so here are some random thoughts that Iíve took notes on.

Ripped from the headlines (and twisted around for a cheap laugh):

-The Associated Press reported last week that a Virginia judge sentenced a spammer to nine years in prison in the nation's first felony prosecution for sending junk e-mails. Maybe the justice system will also get tough on murderers and sex offenders.

-A jury recommended a nine-year prison term after convicting Jeremy Jaynes of sending at least 10 million e-mails a day. Can they also convict all of my friends who send me 10 million e-mails each day that contain a "forward" in the subject line?

-A story in the Sunday Wichita Eagleís Local & State section (April 10) was titled "The Capitals of Kansas." According to the article, by Wichita Eagle staff writer Beccy Tanner, there are 70 Kansas locations that are the capital of something.

For example, Wichita is the Air Capital of the World; Lenexa is the Spinach Capital; Washington is the Pie Capital; and Russell Springs is the Cowchip Capital.

So why isnít Medicine Lodge or Barber County the capital of anything?

According to Marci Penner, director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation--which promotes rural culture--the whole concept helps communities identify who they are and promote tourism.

So, who are we? Some might say that we are the "Ordinance Capital" or the "Junk Car Capital." But there are legitimate ideas as well. Our county could be the Gypsum Capital, or maybe we could capitalize on local history. Maybe we could capitalize on the Peace Treaty.

If you have any ideas, visit www.kansassampler.org or email Marci Penner at marci@explorekansas.org.

From April 4, 2005

Have you ever bought a house that came with its own pets? Well, thatís what happened to us last year when we moved to Medicine Lodge.

We were lucky that our house came with cats, since we are "cat people." I know that some people donít like cats, but thatís okay. Itís just a matter of preference--kind of how I donít really care for jogging, onions, rap music or pictures of clowns. But I digress.

Our house came with several cats. My favorite is a fuzzy brown one that refused to move when the previous owner did. This little kitty decided she was staying, so we took her in.

But one cat that hangs around really disturbs me. I always knew something wasnít right about this cat. The cat is always hiding and waiting to pounce on the other cats and steal their food, and he wonít ever let any humans come near him.

It finally occured to me that this cat has serious problems, but I couldnít put my finger on what exactly was so strange about him. Then it hit me. The cat bore a striking resemblance to Adolf Hitler. Thatís right, this cat looks like Der Furher himself.

Now that Iíve noticed the resemblance, everything makes sense. Now I know why he fights with the other cats, hiding sheepishly around the corner to steal their meals.

I had been attempting to photograph the cat, in an effort to prove to everyone that there really is a "Hitler cat" trying to take over our residence.

   

See the resemblance?

The photo Iíve supplied here is proof that outdoor cats in Medicine Lodge are in danger of being recruited and manipulated to believe in Neo-Nazi rhetoric. When I snapped the photo, the cat had just finished making a speech in my backyard. There were only a couple of other cats in attendance, but Iím afraid that they may have been forced to join the National Feline Socialist Party, and are busy making plans to take over my neighborsí yards.

What scares me the most is that the cat has somehow figured out how to make his own arm-bands for the party. (Okay, Kevin did the arm-band with photo editing software, but the photo is otherwise genuine.)

While big foot and the Lochness monster may be figments of our imaginations, the Hitler cat is for real! If only the National Enquirer would buy my photo and pay me for it...

 

From March 28, 2005

Obsessive

Compulsive

Disorder

After a recent trip to the movies to see "The Aviator," I was reminded of some of my own troubles. The story is based on the life of eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes, and there is a focus on his obsessive-compulsive behavior.

Though Iíve never been diagnosed, I know beyond a doubt that I suffer from this affliction. As a kid I knew something was different about me, but I couldnít really put my finger on it. It was disturbing at the time, but seems humorous now.

Only someone who has OCD can really understand the compulsions and ritualsóand the power that they can have over a person. The rituals may be subtle or vary bizarre. But what is often most disturbing to the person affected is that they do not understand why they do the things they do.

For example, I never understood why I couldnít throw anything away. As a kid, I can remember stuffing everything into drawers or under the bed. It didnít matter if it was a broken toy or a candy bar wrapperóI could not bring myself to discard an item. I got better, but I was still a pack rat as an adult, and it has taken years to begin to get a grip on that behavior.

But many of the things I did were just plain weird.

I never wore shoes indoors, and as I crossed the threshold between the kitchen and living room, I had to make sure that the ball of my foot touched the threshold so that I would be stepping on carpet, metal and linoleum at the same time. If I missed, I would have to go back do it again.

But I had other rituals involving the kitchen, such as the "knob touching ritual." This one was easyóI had to touch every knob on the kitchen cabinets as I walked by. Then there was the rug-straightening ritual, which required that all throw rugs were lying flat on the floor, centered with the doorway, with the edge parallel to the threshold. A final kitchen ritual involved the microwave. Whenever I passed by the microwave, I had to make sure that the timer knob was set to zero and all of the buttons were in the same position. It drove me crazy when someone stopped the microwave before the timer ran out, or if they left one of the temperature buttons pressed in.

I also had an issue with light switches. Upon entering or leaving my room, I had to test the switch to make sure it was still functioning properly.

There were also rituals that were frightening. I couldnít go to sleep until I scanned the entire room for spiders. After inspecting the walls, floor and ceiling, I checked behind every picture on the wall for any spiders that I may have missed. Then I would rip off the bedding and check it out. When I did go to sleep, I would not allow any blankets to spill over the edge onto the floor, because I was too paranoid that a spider would crawl up them and on to the bed. (I think that this fear originated from seeing the Brady Bunchówhen they went to Hawaii and Peter woke up with a tarantula on him.) Periodically during the night I would get up, turn on the light and check to make sure no spiders came in while I was sleeping.

When I was a really young kid, I had this phobia that Anubis (the Egyptian, jackal-headed god of the underworld) was coming to my house to kill me. I would wake up occasionally to look things over and make sure that he hadnít shown up yet. That was totally irrational. I also had this recurring dreamówhere I would wake up and see that a glowing red telephone had appeared on the wall. The phone would ring and ring and ring until I picked it up. When I finally picked it up, it was the devil calling me. I think I may have been exposed to a few too many fire-and-brimstone sermons at a young age. So I would wake up to turn on the light to make sure no mysterious phones had appeared during the night.

A more "normal" compulsion I had was the "check your fly" syndrome. I would check my zipper at least three or four times before exiting a restroom. Then I would check it again to make sure it didnít come unzipped while walking through the door.

One of the things that drove me nuts was that I would occasionally be reading a book, and a "little voice" would tell me to read the same sentence over and over.

As a teenager, I almost needed a checklist before I could drive my car. First, I had to look underneath for small animals. Then I would check to make sure that none were sitting on top of the tires. This required an inspection trip around the vehicle. When I felt like everything was clear, I would "bump" the starteróa warning to any animals that may be hiding under the hood. Sometimes I would get out and open the hood, just to make sure there were no cats under there. Of course I couldnít get back in the car until I looked under it again. Itís a wonder that I ever managed to go anywhere.

I was a very thorough individualóand I was pretty smartóbut I didnít have the ability to focus on things that really mattered, so I barely got through school. At times, I really believed that I was crazy. Taking up the guitar helped me focus that energy on something productive. Except for the fact that the guitar was the only thing that I could focus on.

In college, I started making a living playing in bands. We would play at clubs, public events and private parties. The pay was usually good, so I tolerated it. But I was terrified of being in a crowd. It didnít bother me to perform in front of 50, 100 or even 1,000 people; what I couldnít deal with was having to walk around in a crowd or have people look at me when I wasnít on the stage. I would usually go through the back door and sit in my car while the band was on break. Sometimes I would drive off and wash my car, or find a place to wash my hands.

But like the guy who got turned into a newt in that Monty Python movie, "I got better." But remember, just because youíre paranoid doesnít mean everyoneís not out to get you. I have to go and wash my hands now.

From March 21, 2005

Well, it was only a matter of time before gas prices went through the roof again. I donít know which is worseópaying a little more at the pump, or having to suffer through all of the news stories speculating on the future of gas.

I remember my first caróa 1957 Chevrolet 210 sedan. The color was Canyon Coral, which was similar to the color of tuna fish. The car was parked in some old ladyís front yard. A phone call to dad, and $2,000 later, and I was the proud second owner of a classic that only had 87,000 miles on the odometer. The carís only flaws were that it had two doors too many, was packing a six-cylinder under the hood, was not a Bel Air model and was completely the wrong color. But to a 16 year old, those flaws were all fixed by the installation of a Kraco tape deck and Jensen speakers from Wal-Mart.

The year was 1987; a gallon of leaded gas cost around 88 cents, and life was good. (Except for the bad music, bad fashion and the fact that we didnít have any Internet.)

Then some little middle-eastern jerkazoid named Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and messed everything up. I remember the horror of paying $1.24 per gallon during the height of tension surrounding the Gulf War.

One dollar and twenty-four cents. Wow!

Iím sure that a lot of people are in a panic about now, and thinking of rushing out to the dealership to trade in their SUV for something more efficient. I have to fight that temptation myself.

But, even with the high gas prices, I would be a little a foolish to trade in my Explorer for something smaller. According to the Department of Energyís website (www.fueleconomy.gov) my V8-powered Explorer gets an average of 20 miles per gallon on the highway. So, at $2.00 per gallon, it costs only 10 bucks for every 100 miles to haul my family and a carload of stuff. Thatís pretty cheap when you put in into perspective.

For example, suppose you have a 20-gallon gas tank in your vehicle. At $2.00 per gallon, filling it up from empty would cost $40.00. If you only drove on the highway, and you were getting 20 miles per gallon, you could drive 400 miles on that tank of gas.

Suppose your gas-guzzling vehicle is already paid-off. In that case, how could you justify purchasing a new car? An average car payment for a new vehicle is around $350 a month. At two bucks a gallon, $350 would buy 175 gallons of gas. If your existing SUV gets 14 mpg in town, and 20 mpg on the highway, you would have to drive between 2450-3500 miles every month to equal the cost of the car payment. So unless you are putting 30 or 40 thousand miles per year on your SUV, it doesnít make financial sense to take on a new car payment.

Therefore, my philosophy is this: If itís paid for and doesnít have mechanical problems, you probably canít drive enough miles to justify getting rid of it.

Iím just glad that gas is still relatively cheap when compared to other things. Like coffee.

If you buy a 12-ounce coffee Starbucks, you will spend $1.35. Fill up you 20-gallon gas tank with coffee and you will spend about $427.

I was going to calculate the price of filling up a 20-gallon tank with my wifeís cosmetics, but it stressed me out too much. Anyway, my point to all of this rambling is this: 1) donít go out and get rid of that SUV just yet; and 2) be glad your vehicle doesnít run on coffee.

 

From March 14, 2005

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

An interesting part of the newspaper business lies in the amount of press releases that end up on oneís desk each week. Sometimes the information is useful. Sometimes it is not.

One of the happiest occasions in my line of work is when someone walks in my office with a storyópreferably one that is timely, relevant and already written. A well-written story falling onto the desk is even cause for greater rejoicing. We have many excellent people in the community that submit stories from time to time, and I am always glad to get them.

But the majority of the fodder that ends up on my desk is press releases that have no relevance whatsoever. If I attempted to print this stuff, people would think I was a moron. Or, to be more precise, anyone who didnít already consider me a moron would soon be persuaded.

Some of my favorite useless press releases come from Owens Country Sausage. Yes, you read that correctlyóI get press releases about sausage in the mail on a regular basis. I donít even like sausageóitís disgusting. Here is an excerpt from the latest press release, though it contains no information on sausage:

COLUMBUS, Ohio Ė Building on its successful refrigerated side dish line, Owens Country Sausage will introduce two new varieties of mashed potatoes in March, 2005.

Well stop the presses! We canít allow ourselves to get scooped on that story. I like the way that the author specifies that the year is 2005óas if they think that Iím stupid enough to believe that they would be sending out these types of announcements a year in advance. The story continues:

Owens Texas Mashed Potatoes and Owens Cheddar Potatoes are convenient side dishes that will be introduced throughout Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Nevada, Mississippi, Arizona, Kansas and New Mexico.

First off, they should put the names of the states in alphabetical order, so that people in Arizona donít feel slighted by being listed after Texas. Second, Iíll bet that even if they were bringing these potatoes to all 50 states, they would still list them all by name. Third, I love the way press release authors always plaster their company name all over everything. They canít just write Texas Mashed Potatoes or Cheddar Potatoes; that would be too easy. Instead, they have to remind us that these are Owens brand potatoes. At least they didnít write Owens Country Sausage, Inc. Ė A Bob Evans Farm Company with each reference. Now for the inevitable quote by some company bigwig:

"This is a flavor combination unlike anything else in the refrigerated case," said Owens Country Sausage President and Chief Operating Officer Mike Townsley.

Iíll bet a weekís pay that Owens Country Sausage President and Chief Operating Officer Mike Townsley didnít actually say any of that. He probably spent half an hour perfecting it on paper before emailing it to his public relations person. But a more likely scenario is that someone else wrote it while Owens Country Sausage President and Chief Operating Officer Mike Townsley was "out of the office" or "in a meeting." Townsley probably approved the statement after it was text-messaged to him while on the golf course.

The press release goes on and on about how great these potatoes are, and then it finally lists a website to get more information. This is something I like to add in my own stories on quite a few occasions. Itís ten minutes until deadline, and the story isnít long enough. So thatís when you pull out the old for more information visit www.bobevans.com or www.owensinc.com. At least those web addresses are short and simple. They could have easily been listed as something like http://www.owenscountrysausage.com/products/food/potatoes.html.

Whenever you read a news story that contains no byline, remember: you could be reading a press release. Look for the telltale signsósuch as the examples given hereóand you will never be fooled by the man behind the curtain. Or is it the Public Relations Department behind the curtain? On second thought, pay no attention to the President and Chief Operating Officer behind the curtain. No sausages were harmed during the writing of this editorial.

From March 7, 2005

Do you ever wonder who invented the fixtures in public restrooms? Somebody probably made millions of dollars from these. Many of the fixtures are based on brilliant ideas, but theyíre not quite perfected yet.

Still, public restrooms have come a long way.

I can imagine that once upon a time, public restrooms were just like home restroomsóonly dirtier. Then one day, somebody invented a wall-mounted soap dispenser and a paper towel dispenser that incorporated a mirror mounted on the front. Fantastic idea.

But some ideas are not so great. I have always been disturbed by the towel dispensers that make use of a re-circulating cloth towel that hangs down. It just looks unsanitary, and you can see evidence of where everyone else has dried their hands. Yuck.

There has also been a new towel dispenser design in recent years: a wall-mounted cylinder that allows the user to simply yank a paper towel from the bottom of the unit. This never seems to work for me. The towel invariably fails to tear away from the roll, and I pull out five or six towels before it tears. (Of course you can hang on to the extra towels to shield your hand from touching the door handle or sink knobs.)

Then somebody decided that automatic hand dryers were a great idea. But there were a few downsides. First, they were button-operated, which means you actually have to touch something. I donít know about you, but Iíve got a Howard Hughes-like paranoia of germs in public restrooms, so I hate to touch anything. The second downside is that the dryers only stay on long enough to get your hands almost dry. Hit the button again and your hands are quickly dried, but now the dryer runs way too long.

Finally, the majority of these dryers were shipped with the unforgettable instructions: 1) Push button 2) Rub hands gently under warm air. Of course, some wise guy visited every public restroom in the country and scratched up the instructions to read: 1) Push butt 2) Rub hands gently under arm.

This situation has been partially remedied by dryers that include no instructions, and are switched on by an electronic sensor.

And speaking of sensors, how about those awesome sensor-operated sinks? Theyíre great, except for two problems. First, the sensor doesnít always work, forcing me to wave my hand in an effort to get its attentionóor Iíll have jump from sink to sink to find one that works. Second, the sinks never give me enough time to wash. Between the acts of triggering the sensor and trying to properly wash my hands in three-second intervals, I end up doing a sort of dance routine: activate the motion sensor, hurry and put hands under the faucet, repeat. To top it off, the sinks are always too shallow, forcing me to constantly bump my hands against the bottomówhich violates my "no touching rule."

We used to shop at a store in Denver that had a fully automatic hand-washing device in the restroom. This device actually worked like a charm, and I would make excuses to visit the restroom as much as possible every time we shopped at that store. The machine is brilliantójust roll up your sleeves, insert your arms into two tunnels, and the washing process begins. The best thing about it is that your hands get very clean, and you donít have to touch anything.

Howard Hughes would be proud of that machine. Itís the way of the future.

From February 21

Donít get left holding the bag!

Any married man knows the sense of dread that accompanies an impending shopping trip with the wife. What produces a warm fuzzy feeling in women is nothing more than a mundane chore to menólike bathing or shaving.

I, for one, absolutely hate to shop. Give me five t-shirts, five pairs of pants, five pairs of underwear, socks and a jacket, and Iím set for the next few years. But it doesnít work that way for women. What else can you expect from a species that coined the phrase "you can never have enough black shoes"?

For a married man, the sense of dread caused by shopping has several aspects:

1) The time lost to shopping which could have been used for more productive purposes;

2) The potential amount of money spent on shopping that could be put to better use elsewhere;

3) The anxiety created by crowded parking lots and shopping malls;

4) The money which must be spent to feed the female throughout the day; and

5) The embarrassment of holding the femaleís purse while she tries on numerous outfits.

While the man dreads every one of these aspects, number five is by far the worst.

Itís bad enough to be seen walking around in a womenís clothing store. Personally, I try and think of every excuse possible to avoid the situation. There is not much about a shopping mall that interests me, but if Iím following my wife and she walks into a clothing store, I can suddenly think of several places that I have to go to.

"Honey, Iíve got to go to (insert Starbucks, GameStop, Sharper Image or the restroom). Meet me at the food court."

Heck, Iíd rather fill out one of those stupid mall surveys than follow my wife around the Express store. If I have to return to the store to meet her, I walk very quickly through the store. This tells everyone in the area "Iím only here to retrieve my wifeóI am not here to buy womenís clothing."

Now, back to the issue of being forced to hold a purse.

On one occasion, Kevin and I accompanied our wives to the mall in Wichita. While the girls shopped and spent our money, we drank coffee, sat in massage chairs and even let some lady at a kiosk buff our fingernails. Did we look totally gay? You betcha. But it kept us from having to hold our wivesí purses.

If you are a married man, and have not yet been in a situation where you had to hold your wifeís purse, here are a few pointers:

1) Do not, under any circumstances, hold the purse by its strap! Holding a purse in this manner suggests to onlookers that the purse belongs to you.

2) Try and hide the purse if you canópossibly inside your jacket, or between you and a wall. Caution: be careful to not appear as though you are shoplifting.

3) If the purse cannot be concealed, always hold the body of the purse with your fingertips and keep it away from your body. Handle it in the same manner that you would handle a dead animal by the tail.

4) If you are lucky, the store will have a chair or two outside the dressing room. Kevin informs me that this chair is officially called the PBC or "Poor B*st*rd Chair." If there is a PBC in the area, by all means use it. Place the purse on the floor and avoid eye contact with any of the clerks or ladies coming out of the dressing rooms. In fact, you should keep your head down and stare disinterestedly at the ground.

If you or a loved one have ever been a victim of purse holding, I hope these handy tips can provide some comfort, as well as provide a knowledge base for dealing with future situations. That is, unless you actually enjoy carrying purses. In that case, I am no use to you.

But I will leave you with this somber warning: whatever your wife purchases this week, she will take back to the store next week. So prepare for the worst!

From January 24, 2005

In an effort to get our communityís youth interested in civic affairs, I have re-written this weekís coverage of the City Council meeting in a language that they can easily understand:

Some people on the City Council got together to, like, talk and stuff last Monday at City Hall. It was a really long meeting you know, and I could like hardly sit still for that long.

The ones who showed up were some guy named Etheridge (the mayor), Mr. Hauser, some lawyer named Raleigh, Mr. Gary Ohler, and Police Chief Moore, I think.

This lady named Jean Kimball, like, sat there and took notes.

There were also council members there. They were John Harding, John Colborn, Brandon Poland, and Bob Angle.

They, like, called the meeting to order, said the Pledge of Allegiance and stuff, and then started talking about something called minutes. They decided that it was okay to approve them.

Then they started, like, talking about warrants. It has nothing to do with arresting people. Itís like something to do with paying money.

After they talked about them, Council member Poland was like "Iíll make a motion to pass them," and then John Colborn was like "Iíll second that," and then they voted and the motion passed or something.

The mayor dude said it was time for public comments, so this lady named Amy who had something to do with the new playground said that they were going to build it April 29th or something. But there was some problem with flooding or something. She also said something about a meeting in February. She was like, you know, there has to be a definite day picked out so they can plan everything.

Then Mr. Hauser was, like, "hey, weíre going to build a mound or something so it wonít flood," or something like that. Anyway, he said itís no problem.

And then some guy talked to them about a "call center." He said it was, like, full of phones and stuff. It sounded very exciting. He said we might even get one here!

But he said that finding people to work in the place if itís only open on nights and weekends would be hard, and I was like "duh." They said that they want to talk more about it, so I guess he has to come back next time.

The mayor then said that they had some unfinished business, and thatís when Mr. Hauser said something about a bid to clean the two digesters at a cost of $65,000. I was like, "$65,000...holy cow thatís a lot of money!"

Then someone said that the sludge could be pumped into the new sewer plant (I know, I was thinking "yuck!") and it wouldnít cost so much money.

Anyway, there wasnít much else going on except a bunch of boring stuff, except like, when Mr. Hauser started talking about the new swimming pool.

Some guy wants to build it, and itís going to cost over a million dollars, and then the people at the meeting were like, "no way! Thatís too much money."

I think weíre supposed to vote on it or something. Anyway, if you werenít there, then thatís what you missed. I think theyíre going to meet again and talk about those things next month or something.

From January 17, 2005

There are a lot of things that make me sick. But lately, what really makes me sick is television. I know, I know. Weíre all sick of it, but just let me rant for a few paragraphs.

There is a sharp and extreme contrast between all of the horrific stuff going on the worldówars and disastersóand all of the vain stuffólike celebrities, fame, money and self-importance. But what really gets on my nerves are some of the celebrities.

There are good celebrities and bad celebrities; some have class while others have absolutely none. But it just bothers me that we give so much attention to Hollywood in the news when there is so much horror going on in the world.

In addition to the Tsunami and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, weíve had massive flooding, snow, ice, mudslides, avalanches and tornadoes. The amount of money wasted on the famous is almost vulgar. People are dying, and all the while we are busy watching the Golden Globe Awards, where the presenters are each given a basket of gifts valued at $50,000 each. What an obscene waste of money.

Why are we paying so much attention to the break up of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston? Itís too bad that they broke up, but why does Entertainment Tonight have to speculate on how the couple will divide their assets. Itís nobodyís business but theirs, so why is it on TV every day?

Iím also sick of hearing all of the speculation about Michael Jackson. Everyone knows that the guy is guilty. I wish they would just proceed with the trial, and let us know the verdict when itís over. Other than that, I have no desire to hear about Michael Jackson.

And then there is Star Jones from The View, who constantly assaults us with tales about her overly expensive wedding and reception. She bats her eyelashes and flirts with the camera, like she thinks of herself as some kind of sex symbol. Itís like sheís saying, "Hey look at me. Iím rich, famous and Iíve wasted millions of dollars on a self-indulgent ceremony that makes me look important."

Why should we care about Star Jonesí wedding? I certainly donít, and I wish that she would stop talking about it every five minutes. All right Star, you found someone who would marry you, so take your seat and be quiet.

I would rather be locked in a small room and forced to listen to Ashlee Simpsonís singing than hear one more word about Starís wedding.

Speaking of bad singers, we had better brace ourselves for the worstóBritney Spearsí little sister is slated to be the next queen of teen pop, safely securing our countryís position as the world leader in bad entertainment.

But in light of recent events, we can take comfort in this: At least our presidentís kids have the good sense not to show up at a costume party dressed as Nazis.

 

From January 10, 2004

It looks like the future we have been promised may finally be within grasp. According to the Associated Press, South Korean scientists have developed the worldís smartest robotówhich they claim is able to "think and learn like a human." As cool as it sounds to own a robot that can "think and learn like a human," I can foresee some problems. If the robot can think and learn from its master, will the robot pick up its masterís bad habits? Imagine this scenario:

Master: "Robot! Come here."

Robot: "Yes, master?"

Master: "I need you to change the oil in the car, mow the grass, do the laundry, clean the litter box and clip my toenails."

Robot: "Sure. Iíll do those things in a little while."

Several hours pass, and the robot is still sitting on the couch watching television. Surely, any robot that can "think and learn like a human" will probably learn how to "work the system like a human."

As the smart South Korean scientists unveiled their creation, they said the robot resembles "a small teenager wearing a blue and gray space suit" Except the robot doesnít have pimples, a stupid haircut, a bad attitude or overpriced clothing. I assume the robot doesnít listen to bad music or sneak out of the house either. Come to think of it, there are probably a lot of people who would trade in their teenagers for a robot.

Ever since the first grade, when I saw Star Wars in the movie theatre, Iíve dreamed of having my own robot. But so far all of the robots Iíve seen are terrible. For example, there is a small robotic vacuum cleaner on the market called "Roomba." Itís supposed to constantly run around your house and vacuum up debris. But I saw it in action in a store display, and it ran over the same piece of debris several times and never picked it up. If I purchased "Roomba," then I can imagine the poor little guy would end up as nothing more than an expensive cat toy.

There are even robotic lawn mowers available. I would actually be interested in owning one, except that Iíd always be afraid that somebody would steal it. Perhaps I could program it to explode, or at least give the thief a nasty shock.

Then there is the bipedal robot that Honda built. This one can walk like a human. Iím not sure how useful the robot is, but Iíll bet that itís built to last at least 300,000 miles.

And finally, there is the wonderful new teenage-sized robot built by the smart South Korean scientists: According to the AP, the robot "can become wiser through learning because it is linked with an outside computer through a high-speed wireless telecom network, and is able to exchange information with the server and respond quickly to real-life environments."

My guess is that the network will be down most of the time, and when itís up, it will run very slowly.

"This is the first network-based humanoid in the world," said You Bum-Jae of the Korea Institute of Science and Technology.

As if real people arenít bad enough, we may soon be living in a world populated by network-based humanoids...thatís great, just great.

 

From January 3, 2005

Another year, and itís time for the same old cliches about all the wonderful things that I plan on accomplishing.

Call me jaded, but New Yearís resolutions are just a waste of time.

If you are like me, you make a new list in your head each year, but never act on anything.

For the past decade, Iíve made a resolution that I will do sit-ups until I have abs like Brad Pitt. I do a few sets of the exercise, and then take my place on the couch.

Every year, I vow that I will not procrastinate anymore. But I end up putting that off, too.

Thereís the usual list of stuffóbe more productive, be more creative, take time to smell the roses, be a better citizen, yada, yada, yada.

If I would follow through with only half of those things, I could write a self-help book and be a guest on Oprah. The episode would be so uplifting that it would probably make everybody puke.

But this year I will be realistic in my goals.

In 2005, I will exercise on average of once per month. Hey, thatís only 12 timesóI can handle that.

This year I will eat a healthful meal sometime during each week.

Instead of eating a whole can of Pringles, Iíll stop after finishing half. Iíll have the one-percent milk with my bowl of Fruity Pebbles. Instead of having three eggs, 8 pieces of bacon and four pancakes, I will settle for two eggs, four bacons and two pancakes.

I canít cut back on the coffee, so Iíll switch to decaf and leave the quantity consumed as it is.

I will arrive at work no later than 10 oíclock...at least once a week.

In 2005, I will try to think good thoughts most of the time. Or at least I will try to think one good thought for each dark one that pops into my head.

I will stop wasting my time watching garbage reality TV. Instead, Iíll just watch Viva La Bam.

This year, I will stop making fun of Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, J Ho, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and Michael Bolton. Wait...on second thought, scratch that idea.

In the year 2005, I will finish painting the kitchen cabinets and mow the lawn on a regular basis. I will rake the leaves instead of trying to grind them up with the lawn mower.

I will not clean greasy car parts in the kitchen sink. I will no longer put them in the dishwasher either. I will not attempt to bring a motorcycle inside the house anymore. I will not rebuild carburetors on the table either.

I will not lay in bed and watch noisy war movies all night while my wife tries to sleep.

And speaking of movies, Iíll take my wife to see a chick-flick, and I will try and pretend to enjoy itóeven though I may tell all my friends how stupid and sappy it was.

After all, I have an image to uphold.

I hope you all have a great New Year. But I hope itís not better than mine. Otherwise, I may have to hunt you down and kill you.

From December 20, 2004

Dear Santa,

I know itís been awhile, and Iím sure that you are wondering why Iíve suddenly decided to write you a letter after 27 years have passed.

First off, Iíve really been pretty good this year. Except that I was late to work nearly every day. I also told my wife I was going to paint the kitchen six months ago, and never did it. And then there was the time when...oh, never mind. You get the picture.

But seriously, the reason Iím writing you is this: Iím on to your little scheme. When I took your picture for the paper over the weekend, I noticed something odd. On each occasion, you looked slightly different. Sure, you had the same red suit and beard, but your eyes looked different each time. Something doesnít add up.

I donít know who you are, but you look suspiciously like a guy Iíve seen around town. It would be a real shame if I had to tell all the little kids what I know. You wouldnít want to see that happen, now would you, "Santa?"

You must take me for a real dope. But Iíve been watching you all along. I noticed that the presents that were under the tree for several weeks were the exact same ones that "Santa" brought down the chimney on Christmas morning. Dude, Iím no idiot!

But donít worry, I can keep quiet on the matter...for a price.

I have a small listónothing too fancyóof things that Iíve wanted over the past three decades. Maybe if some of these items were to magically appear on Christmas, then I could just sort of forget what I know, and we could pretend this conversation never took place.

Oh yeah, something else...Why do you insist on giving me clothes every year? Clothes are not fun. I want things that are fun!

-I want a new Star Wars X-Wing, to replace the one that you brought when I was only seven. That one had a faulty fake light, which was supposed to be a laser cannon.

-I want a new Boba Fett, to replace the one I lost in the sandbox at school.

-While youíre at it, get me the Star Wars Trilogy on DVD.

-I used to want a more powerful BB gun...one that uses CO2, and not some sorry pump job. But scratch that one. Instead, I want an M-16 now. (Do those come with grenade launchers installed?)

-I want a new model airplane, but not some boring civilian plane. Instead, I want a really huge bomber with lots of guns sticking out everywhere, and a good-looking lady painted on the nose. What would be even better is if it was radio-controlled, so that I could terrorize the other children.

-I want a new acoustic guitar, but it had better be a Martin this time!

-While you are at it, I also could use a new amplifier for my electric guitaróthe biggest and loudest one you can find.

-I would also either like a Jeep with mounted machine gun, or a Sherman tank. I canít decide which, but with the high gas prices, Iím leaning toward the Jeep.

-Okay, pay attention cuz this is important. Here are the games I want for Xbox: Halo 2, Ghost Recon 2, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Tony Hawkís Underground 2, BloodRayne 2, Knights of the Old Republic 2. If you get anything else, please include a receipt.

-Wouldnít mind having a Playstation 2, but not a GameCubeóthose are lame.

-I want a whole bunch of cement to pave my entire yard, so that I donít have mow it anymore.

-I know that I said no clothes, but I need some new underwearómine is starting to disintegrate.

-A moat and a drawbridge would be nice.

-A custom Orange County Chopper...and I also want video of Paul Sr., going ballistic on everyone while they are building my bike.

-A box of M-80s, the really powerful ones they had when I was a kid.

Thatís about all I can think of for now, but youíll be hearing from me again, "Santa." Mwuahahahaha...(diabolical laughter)

 

From December 13, 2004

Just last week I was reminded how much I am sick of the whole "politically correct" movement that we have been living with for the past decade or so.

It all started off when we all went to a Japanese restaurant last weekend. A certain friend of mine accidentally made an off-the-cuff remark. Basically, he called the chef "Chinese." To the Japanese, this is apparently an insult.

I tried to relate this to my own experience as an Oklahoman. Calling the Japanese guy Chinese is equivalent to saying, "You must be from Texas" or "Didnít you go to Oklahoma State?" I havenít really lived in Kansas long enough to know what Kansans consider insulting (maybe calling someone an Okie?).

A group called The Global Language Monitor released their top 10 list of what it considered to be the most politically-charged terms and phrases.

Topping this yearís list was the computer term "master/slave," which was banned as racially offensive by a Los Angeles County purchasing department. In computer terms, "master/slave" refers to primary and secondary hard disk drives. But a Los Angeles County purchasing department told vendors last year that the term was offensive and violated the regionís cultural diversity.

"We found Ďmaster/slaveí to be the most egregious example of political correctness in 2004," Paul Payack, president of TGLM told Reuters. "This is but one more example of the insertion of politics into every facet of modern life, down to the level of the control processes of computer technology."

Other terms that made the list were "non-same sex marriage" to describe heterosexual unions, "waitron" for waiter or waitress and "higher being" for Godóbecause some people believed it sounded "too religious."

According to Payack, the phrase "non-same sex marriage," was used by a former congressman who did not want to offend gay people by using the phrase "traditional marriage."

If you follow this list, you will call someone a "progressive" instead of a "liberal." If you donít think much of President Bushís intellect, you might call him "incurious" instead of the some of the other rude terms in use. Terrorists should be properly labeled as "insurgents," so that they will not be offended.

Common sense tells us that there are certain things that you shouldnít say. You know what they are, so there is no need to spell them out. But most of the political correctness out there is just silly.

I once heard a story about an employer who wasnít allowed to advertise for "hard-working enthusiastic employees" because it would discriminate against some people. I donít know if the story is true, but I found it funny anyway.

To me, all of this stuff is stupid. Speaking of stupid, after a little research on the Internet, I found several politically correct ways to describe someone who is not too bright. Here are a few of my favorites:

-He is a few clowns short of a circus.

-The wheelís spinning, but the hamsterís dead.

-That guy is one taco short of a combination platter.

-The cheese slid off her cracker.

-He couldnít pour water out of a boot with instructions on the heel.

-She forgot to pay her brain bill.

-If she had another brain, it would be lonely.

Political correctness has even infiltrated our food. Think of all of the products in the grocery store that boast themselves as a "turkey product." There is bacon, bologna, hot dogs, pastrami, burgers and all sorts of other stuff made from turkey.

Turkey is not Ďredí meat. Itís low in cholesterol, and turkeys are not endangered. Therefore, turkey is a politically correct meat.

But have you ever eaten turkey bacon? Itís not terrible, but itís not good either. Give me red meat, or give me death (or both).

I hate to even bring up the race issue, but since Iím griping about political correctness, I am obligated to write about it.

For starters, I am a cracker, which is another way to say that Iím a "whitey." Big deal. If I start telling people that Iím "Aryan-American," people will think that Iím a huge idiot. (The FBI might also open up a file on me.) Yet there are some people insist on being called "African-American" just because of their ancestry. Unless these people are originally from Africa, arenít they just simply "Americans?" Is a white American who moved from Africa also called an "African-American?"

I donít think itís insulting to describe someone as being "black" any more than it is to say someone is "white." Personally, I think that black people are cool.

I can kind of understand why an American Indian would want a special label to distinguish that they are not from India. But isnít everyone born in this country a "Native American?" Makes you think, doesnít it?

Well, thatís my soapbox for the week. If anyone would like to discuss the matter with me any further, call first, as I keep a non-traditional work schedule (i.e. sleep late). You might also catch me on the street. If Iím not driving my pre-owned Explorer or semi-restored environmentally challenged Corvair, Iíll be walking around in fashion-challenged well-used clothing.

From November 22, 2004

There were several interesting items in the news last week, so I thought Iíd mention a few of them and fill everybody in on the details that may have missed the headlines.

The big news on Thursday was the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Top Clinton administration officials, the Bush twins (Dubya and Senior), rock stars and ordinary admirers of Bill Clinton turned out Thursday to pay homage to the former president.

Admission to the event was $7.00 at the door, but there was no cover charge for un-escorted ladies.

Rock stars Bono and The Edge of the band U2 performed a three-song set before Clinton spoke. In lieu of rock music for entertainment, Clinton originally planned on having a woman pop out of a cake.

I can envision the marquee out front: William J. Clinton Presidential Center--hottest girls in town.

A headline on Yahoo last week read "Bush picks Secretary of State who shares his thoughts." Are they talking about sharing thoughts about the direction of the country, sharing the same brain, or sharing thoughts in a touchy-feely Dr. Phil sort of way? Iím just curious.

Hereís some food for thought. Pizza delivery is annually ranked among the most dangerous professions.

In Nashville, Tennessee, a fledgling national union for pizza drivers is demanding better wages and training, saying the large chains have been taking advantage of them for years. The effort has attracted the attention of the Teamsters union, but the Association of Pizza Delivery Drivers has yet to organize its first shop. A vote at a Dominoís franchise in Nebraska failed last week, but organizers expect a better result this week when Pizza Hut drivers vote at a store near Columbus, Ohio.

"A lighted pizza sign on a car in a bad area says, `Look at meóIíve got food, Iíve got cash and Iím unarmed,í" said one member of group.

The group even has its own website: www.pizzadeliverydrivers.org.

Are you sick and tired of all the spam messages in your e-mail? You are not alone: The Associated Press reported last week that Microsoft chairman Bill Gates gets 4 million e-mails a day and is probably the most spammed person in the world, according to CEO Steve Ballmer.

But donít shed a tear for Bill. Only a few junk e-mails get through to his inbox thanks to anti-spam technology that filters his messages, Ballmer said at a Microsoft event in Singapore. Still, the story said that Gates is "suffering more than anyone" from spam. Boo-Hoo.

Finally, reality TV shows are slipping in the ratings. I guess the networks will have to cancel their plans for the shows Death Row, Forced March and Who Wants to Marry my Teenage Daughter?

Personally, I would like to see a "Trading Spaces" type of show where rednecks and snooty rich people redecorate each otherís houses.

In Brooklyn, New York, funeral services were held for troubled rapper O.D.B., as family and friends continued to remember the "artist."

O.D.B. (which stands for Olí Dirty B*stard) was known for his unique rap styles, which ranged from the slurred to the hyper to the nonsensical--as opposed to rap music that is non-slurred, not hyper, and has sensical lyrics.

O.D.B., 35, collapsed and died Saturday inside a Manhattan recording studio. The cause of death remained undetermined, but the Olí Dirty One had struggled with drug and alcohol addictions. Shortly before his death, he had finished a prison sentence for drug possession and for escaping from a rehabilitation clinic. He had complained of chest pains before he died. Logic tells me that had a heart attack.

What amazes me is that once upon a time, a bunch of record executives had a meeting and decided that they should give a record deal to a guy who called himself Olí Dirty B*stard.

There is more trouble ahead for Michael Jackson.

Marc Schaffel, a gay-porn producer and ex-Jackson confidant, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Courtóthe same day Jackson released a greatest-hits box set. Schaffel is seeking more than $3 million, including $2.2 million he said the singer owed him for loans and cash advances for "shopping sprees" and other expenses, including money to "pay Marlon Brando to appear at Jacksonís concert" and to "buy jewelry for Elizabeth Taylor."

The dilemma for the judge will be in deciding which one of these guys is a bigger idiot.

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that ancient humansí advantage was not because of brain size or tool-making ability. Instead, the human species was set apart from its ancestors by the ability to jog mile after mile with greater endurance than any other primate, according to research published Thursday in the journal Nature.

According to the article, "human beings evolved as the cross-country stars of a primordial runnerís world two million years before the advent of jogging shoes, tracksuits and arthroscopic knee surgery."

It was also two million years before the advent of junk food, cigarettes and desk jobs.

 

From November 8th, 

Next year marks an historic event in our household, as my wife and I are going to have our first kid.

Up until this point, I have been the only child in the house. Ahead of me lies the unpleasant task of putting all of toys in safe places so they donít get broken, slobbered on, or worse.

Construction on the kidówhich we are 99 percent sure is a little boyóis currently on schedule. We are hoping for an early March release date.

The prospect of being a parent is a terrifying experience. No more free time. No more sleep. No more extra money.

Besides those inconveniences, it will be a fun experience. I will have someone to play with. In a few years, we can play video games together. I will also have someone to ride dirt bikes with.

My wife was a little disappointed when she found out she would be having a boy. She really wanted a girl, even though everyone says we should be relieved that weíre having a boy.

Little girls are cute, but there are many advantages to having a boy:

1) Some boys will work. For example, my nephew and Kevinís kid, Joey, stayed at our house recently. They mowed the lawn took care of the weeds. What did they charge me for this service? Absolutely nothing.

2) Boys are low maintenance. They donít sit around and talk about yucky stuff, like feelings and such. Give them something to play with, or put them in the back yard, and you can forget they are even there until mealtime.

3) Boys donít care about bathing, so they donít use much water.

4) Boys will fix things that are broken.

5) Boys can carry heavy loads.

6) Boys donít mind crawling into spaces that you wouldnít. (i.e. under the house or in the attic)

7) Boys will clean fish.

8) Boys are entertaining. They can play melodies with their armpits. Some can even take requests. They are also fond of building bicycle ramps, which can provide hours of entertainment.

9) Much like a surgeonís assistant, boys will hand you tools while you work on your car.

10) Boys provide their fathers with excuses to buy toys for themselves.

But there will be challenges down the road.

My sister, a school teacher, sent me an email telling me that she ordered all of the "Boohbah" videos for the kid (www.boohbah.com). I looked at the website, and I was very disturbed. If you want your kid to become a heroine addict, get them hooked on Boohbah. Luckily, my sister was only kidding.

I wonder what sort of awful music my kid will listen to as a teenager. The kid will probably think my music is square. In my day, the evil in rock music was supposedly hidden in backwards messages. In todayís music, the artists just come out and say whatever they want. Scary.

There is also a new style of music, which combines "country" and "rap." Combine the two and you get "crap."

What kind of stupid hairstyles will my kid have? When I was in high school in the 1980s, we used to laugh at the pictures of studentsí hairstyles in the 1960s and 1970s. Now I look back at the 1980s with bitter shame. Why didnít somebody tell us that a permed, bleached mullet, combined with a flattop and lines shaved through the sides was a bad idea? And why, oh why, were we attracted to girls sporting the infamous "Wall-O-Bangs" hairstyle?

And what kind of piercings and tattoos will future kids want? Today, people pierce eyebrows, lips, tongues and privates. Some kids look like they fell into a tackle box. Will the kids of tomorrow want to pierce their entire head? When I was in school, they wouldnít even let boys wear earrings.

For now, I will enjoy my peace and quiet. Next year, the age-old struggle of youth versus old age will begin!

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Warp Your Favorite Local Person. A Different Victim Each Week!!

Do you ever wonder about the origins of slang words we use? I sure do. I wonder about the guy who invented words and phrases such as "idiot," "barf" and "bling-bling."

Iíve always wondered how a word gets used and spread, until everybody knows it. Because of this curiosity, Iíve always wanted to come up with a new word to promote.

In the spring of 1999, I finally found that word.

It was around one oíclock in the afternoon, and I was in the kitchen trying to decide what to have for breakfast. My roommate, a very unusual character, ran downstairs and through the kitchen on his way to work.

He was known in my circle of friends for having quite an imagination, and had a bizarre habit of making up stupid names to call everybody.

As he ran past, I said, "Good morning, Bryan."

"Shut up, dorfus crack tractor," was his only reply. And then he was gone.

Dorfus crack tractor. Interesting, and very funny. It made me laugh; I had found my "word."

I began thinking about how the word (actually a phrase) should be properly spelled and used.

The first part, "dorfus," made perfect sense. It was a combination of "dork" and "dufus."

The second part, "crack," could have several origins and uses. Here are some examples:

1) He is a crackpot.

2) She is a crackerjack fighter pilot.

3) The President must be on crack.

The third part of the word, "tractor," really made no sense, but it sounded good with rest of the word. I decided that "crack" and "tractor" should be combined, but not hyphenated. The "T" should always remain capitalized. Thus, the final proper spelling: Dorfus CrackTractor.

Say the word out loud. Funny, isnít it? Now try it on a friend.

The term can be used in several ways. First and foremost, it is a mildly affectionate insult to refer to oneís friends.

For example, my "boss" and good friend, Kevin Noland, is a real Dorfus CrackTractor, and I remind him every chance I get.

Remember, the full term "Dorfus CrackTractor" must be used as a noun only. However, "cracktractor"by itself may also be used as an adjective, meaning "all messed up." Examples:

1) She had a really cracktractor day.

2) We thought the war museum would be cool, but the whole thing was cracktractor.

It may also be used as a verb. Example: The cat stepped on the keyboard, and now the computer is cracktractored.

CrackTractor may also stand alone as a noun. Example: My boss is such a CrackTractor.

The word is spreading, and there are confirmend uses of the phrase Dorfus CrackTractor in California, Kansas, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas thanks to me and Kevin.

In Kansas alone, the phrase has been spread in Kansas City, Medicine Lodge, Salina and Wichita. There is even one confirmed case of a teacher calling a student by the name.

Kevin and I have even decided to name our brand new rock band  after the phrase. The first public performance of Dorfus CrackTractor: The Rock Band will be on Main Street this weekend. Nobody will want to miss that.

For more information, visit www.dorfuscracktractor.com