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A Midsummer Night’s Digression [Part 1]

June 8, 2001

[This week’s edition is being split into two parts. It’s also part of my ongoing series, "Summer: People Wish I’d Shut Up About It And Talk About Something Else".]

It’s not summer yet. I heard this during the weather report on TV the other night, while waiting twenty minutes for the local weather report. Remember the good old days when all the weather report did was tell you whether you needed to take an umbrella with you to work? They also mentioned whether the barometer was rising or falling, which nobody really understood, but it sounded good. For instance, if you forgot to take your umbrella to work and got soaked, you could say, "I should have known better. After all, the barometer IS falling," and everyone would think you were a pompous jerk for trying to pretend you knew what that meant. Then they added the humidity. This does you no good unless you live in Arizona, where you can walk around saying, "Gee, the humidity’s so low it doesn’t even feel like it’s 137 degrees," before you collapse from dehydration. Then they added the pollen count, which tells people with allergies how quickly they’re going to suffocate. Lately they’ve been adding even more useless information. They’ve added everything from sunspots to UV levels to the amount of neutrinos bombarding the Earth to the effect of gamma rays on man-in-the-moon marigolds. The weather report was so full of things I didn’t want to know that I never did find out when summer’s supposed to start.

Who’s definition of summer are we going by, anyway? It’s probably taken from some almanac written around Shakespeare’s time. You may be surprised to learn that they had weather reporters back then–although they were called "weather criers". They stood in booths by the side of the road saying, "The rain it raineth every day next week, with scattered sunny patches. Such weather doth increase the yellow choler, so be sure to pick up some leeches. This weather cry hath been sponsored by Harry’s Leeches. Yes, Harry’s Leeches, balancing the bodily humors since 1564." This not only was the origin of advertising, but also began the tradition that weather reports are never right. In those days if people predicted the weather accurately, they were believed to be witches and burned at the stake.

We live in a more enlightened time. There are still witches, but most people understand that witches are good people who are concerned about the environment and don’t cast nasty spells. Unfortunately old prejudices die hard, and even though very few are burned at the stake, they are occasionally fired. Anyway, it’s hot, it’s humid, and the kids are out of school, so as far as I’m concerned it’s summer.

[Next week: Bioluminescent coleoptera, "Hey sailor, wanna get lucky?", and conclusive proof that summer is here.]

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

I was sitting outside one cloudy day, reminiscing on all the bad luck I was having. Everything was going wrong. Feeling bad, I looked up to the heavens with outstretched arms and said, "Why me, Lord? Why me?"

Suddenly there was a clap of thunder and a bolt of lightning, and as the clouds parted, a booming voice came down from the sky, and said, "Because, there’s something about you that just ticks me off!"


Smear peanut butter on the sofa and curtains. Place a fish stick behind the couch and leave it there all summer.

Obtain a 55 gallon box of Legos (or you may substitute roofing tacks). Have a friend spread them all over the house. Put on a blindfold. Try to walk to the bathroom or kitchen. Do not scream because this would wake a child at night.

Borrow one or two small animals (goats are best) and take them with you as you shop. Always keep them in sight and pay for anything they eat or damage. 

Obtain one large, unhappy, live octopus. (Note: If you have a live octopus, don’t worry about whether it’s unhappy. As soon as you start mauling it, it will be unhappy.–CW) Stuff into a small net bag making sure that all the arms stay inside. 

Obtain a large plastic milk jug. Fill halfway with water. Suspend from the ceiling with a cord. Start the jug swinging. Try to insert spoonfuls of soggy cereal into the mouth of the jug, while pretending to be an airplane. Now dump the contents of the jug on the floor. 

Prepare by obtaining a small cloth bag and fill it with 8-12 pounds of sand. Soak it thoroughly in water. At 3:00 p.m. begin to waltz and hum with the bag until 9:00 p.m. Lay down your bag and set your alarm for 10:00 p.m. Get up, pick up your bag, and sing every song you have ever heard. Make up about a dozen more and sing these too until 4:00 a.m. Set alarm for 5:00 a.m. Get up and make breakfast. Keep this up for 5 years. Look cheerful.

Take an egg carton. Using a pair of scissors and pot of paint, turn it into an alligator. Now take a toilet paper tube and turn it into an attractive Christmas candle. Use only scotch tape and a piece of foil. Last, take a milk carton, a ping-pong ball, and an empty box of Cocoa Puffs. Make an exact replica of the Eiffel Tower. 

Forget the BMW and buy a station wagon. Buy a chocolate ice cream cone and put it in the glove compartment. Leave it there. Get a dime. Stick it into the cassette player. Take a family size package of chocolate chip cookies. Mash them into the back seat. Run a garden rake along both sides of the car. There, perfect.

Obtain a large bean bag chair and attach it to the front of your clothes. Leave it there for 9 months. Now remove 10 of the beans. And try not to notice your closet full of clothes. You won’t be wearing them for a while. 

Go to the nearest drug store. Set your wallet on the counter. Ask the clerk to help himself. Now proceed to the nearest food store. Go to the head office and arrange for your paycheck to be directly deposited to the store. Purchase a newspaper. Go home and read it quietly for the last time.

Find a couple who already have a small child. Lecture them on how they can improve their discipline, patience, tolerance, toilet training and child’s table manners. Suggest many ways they can improve. Emphasize to them that they should never allow their children to run wild. Enjoy this experience. It will be the last time you will have all the answers.

The Original Mad Cow

June 1, 2001

Recently someone pointed out to me that I had a thin spot on the back of my head–the potential beginning of at least one form of male-pattern baldness. Of course baldness has a long and illustrious history. Benjamin Franklin, Shakespeare, and Picasso were all bald.

The Roman emperor Caligula had a bald spot, and if that’s not something to make bald people proud, they can at least use it as an excuse if they become tyrannical despots. For myself, I’m not too worried about follicular deprivation, but even if it does happen, I’ve got a plan. I’m not going to resort to toupees, implants, plugs, spray-on hair, or join any club. I know the ultimate cure for baldness: lycanthropy.

For the uninitiated, lycanthropy is what causes people to turn into werewolves. It always makes its sufferers incredibly hairy. Think about it: have you ever seen a bald wolf? Of course lycanthropy has its disadvantages, including severe allergic reactions to wolfbane, silver bullets, and the need for regular flea treatments. And for guys, who are the most common sufferers of baldness, being "in the doghouse" won’t just be an expression any more. On the other hand, lycanthropy is no longer punishable by death (it was in the Middle Ages), and these days people with lycanthropy are probably protected as an endangered species. The only problem is that in my quest to contact lycanthropy, I run the risk of contacting one of the other kinds of anthropy. For instance, there’s traganthropy (weregoat), which causes sufferers to eat anything and ram their heads into things a lot.

There’s choiranthropy (werepig), which a lot of bachelors have. And if you’ve ever been to a dog show, you know a lot of dog owners bear an eerie resemblance to their pets. This is either because the owners have skylanthropy, or the dogs have anthroanthropy. (I consulted several experts on this matter, and they all agreed on one thing: none of them care.) Finally there’s the much more ancient boanthropy–werecow. King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon (the guy who built the hanging gardens) was afflicted with boanthropy, which caused him to strip naked and crawl around on all fours eating grass. But at least he wasn’t bald.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

Word Play

The Washington Post recently published a contest for readers in which they were asked to supply alternate meanings for various words. The following were some of the winning entries

Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.

Circumvent (n.), the opening in the front of boxer shorts.

Coffee (n.), a person who is coughed upon.

Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.

Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.

Flatulence (n.) the emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.

Frisbatarianism (n.), The belief that, when you die, your soul goes up on the roof and gets stuck there.

Gargoyle (n.), an olive-flavored mouthwash.

Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.

Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightie.

Oyster (n.), a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddish expressions.

Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified demeanor assumed by a proctologist immediately before he examines you.

Semantics (n.), pranks conducted by young men studying for the priesthood, including such things as gluing the pages of the priest’s prayer book together just before vespers.

Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent.

The Washington Post’s Style Invitational also asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Here are some recent winners

Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the reader who doesn’t get it.

Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very high.

Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of obtaining sex.

Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease.

Karmageddon: It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like a serious bummer.

Glibido: All talk and no action.

Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a refund from the IRS, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

And, best of all..

Ignoranus: A person who’s both stupid and an asshole

Words of Wisdom

Remember all those classic one-liners "Norm" bestowed on us every time he walked in to "Cheers"? Here’s just a few of them

"What’s shaking, Norm?"
"All four cheeks & a couple of chins."

"What’s new, Normie?"
"Terrorists, Sam. They’ve taken over my stomach & they’re demanding beer."

"What’d you like, Normie?"
"A reason to live. Give me another beer."

"What’ll you have, Normie?"
"Well, I’m in a gambling mood Sammy. I’ll take a glass of whatever comes out of the tap."

"Looks like beer, Norm."
"Call me Mister Lucky."

"Hey Norm, how’s the world been treating you?"
"Like a baby treats a diaper."

"What’s the story, Mr. Peterson?"
"The Bobsey Twins go to the brewery. Let’s cut to the happy ending."

"Hey Mr. Peterson, there’s a cold one waiting for you."
"I know, if she calls, I’m not here."

"What’s going on, Mr. Peterson?"
"A flashing sign in my gut that says, ‘Insert beer here.’"

"Whatcha up to, Norm?"
"My ideal weight if I were eleven feet tall."

"How’s it going, Mr. Peterson?"
"I’m sorry to hear that."
"No, I mean pour."

"How’s life treating you, Norm?"
"Like it caught me sleeping with its wife."

"Women. Can’t live with ’em … pass the beer nuts."

"What’s going down, Normie?"
"My butt cheeks on that bar stool."

"Pour you a beer, Mr. Peterson?"
"All right, but stop me at one….make that one-thirty."

"How’s it going, Mr. Peterson?"
"It’s a dog eat dog world, Woody, & I’m wearing Milk Bone underwear."

"What’s the story, Norm?"
"Boy meets beer. Boy drinks beer. Boy meets another beer."

"Can I pour you a beer, Mr. Peterson?"
"A little early, isn’t it, Woody?"
"For a beer?"
"No, for stupid questions."

Smells Like Summer

May 25, 2001

As part of my series "Summer: I’m Going To Talk About It Until I Run Out Of Ideas", I’d like to talk this week about garage sales, yard sales, and the extremely rare rummage sales. (Rummage sales are rare because, while most people have either a yard or a garage, very few people have a rummage.)

The world is basically divided into three categories: people who do all their shopping at garage sales, people who only look like they do all their shopping at garage sales, and people like me who occasionally buy things at garage sales. Those of us in the third category are further subdivided into people who sometimes find things they actually need at garage sales, and people like me who will buy anything as long as it’s cheap enough. (I once bought a car horn at a garage sale because it was only fifty cents. No, I didn’t even own a car, but you can’t pass up a deal like that!)

No two garage sales are alike, but one thing they all have in common: the industrial-sized bottles of perfume on one table off to the side. No one who puts these bottles in their garage sale actually bought them; they were either given as gifts by very naive (and wealthy) children, or they miraculously appeared under the bathroom sink ten years ago, along with the blood pressure machine that doesn’t work and the automatic eyelash plucker. Of course this perfume always gets sold because if you put a low enough price on something people will buy it. If you’ve ever worked in an office, you know at least one woman who walks around in a cloud of perfume so thick it distorts the space-time continuum, who seems to be at work at least an hour after she’s left because you can still smell her perfume. Well, now you know how she can afford such insane quantities of perfume on a salary comparable to yours. Of course it isn’t just women who do this. When I was in grade school, the school photographer was a guy who wore so much cologne when he stood still for too long he left a puddle. (Okay, so did the first graders, but this guy was 38.) He also wore tight, powder-blue polyester bell-bottom pants, a bright yellow shirt with an orange floral pattern that was always open halfway to his navel, and five or six gold chains around his neck. Frighteningly enough this look is coming back into style. Why? Because people are pulling these clothes out of their closets and putting them in garage sales. And if that weren’t bad enough, the same sort of clothes are appearing in department stores and are being sold for ridiculously high prices. After all, if you put a high enough price on something, someone’s going to buy it. And the people who buy clothes just because they’re expensive are the ones who only look like they shop at garage sales.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

What is a Cat?

  1. Cats do what they want.
  2. They rarely listen to you.
  3. They’re totally unpredictable.
  4. When you want to play, they want to be alone.
  5. When you want to be alone, they want to play.
  6. They expect you to cater to their every whim.
  7. They’re moody.
  8. They leave hair everywhere.

CONCLUSION: They’re tiny women in little fur coats.

What is a Dog?

  1. Dogs spend all day sprawled on the most comfortable piece of furniture in the house.
  2. They can hear a package of food opening half a block away, but don’t hear you when you’re in the same room.
  3. They can look dumb and lovable all at the same time.
  4. They growl when they are not happy.
  5. When you want to play, they want to play.
  6. When you want to be alone, they want to play.
  7. They leave their toys everywhere.
  8. They do disgusting things with their mouths and then try to give you a kiss.
  9. They go right for your crotch as soon as they meet you.

CONCLUSION: They’re tiny men in little fur coats.

All Quiet On The Weeded Front

May 18, 2001

Summer is finally here, unless of course you’re in New Zealand where Winter is finally here. Anyway, in the Northern Hemisphere it’s Summer, which means it’s time for most of us to take up the suburban labor of Sisyphus. I’m talking about mowing, of course. Eventually genetic engineers will develop a breed of grass that will not only stop growing at the ideal height, but will grab and kill everything from small insects to the neighbor’s annoying chihuahua.

I know it has to be done, but I don’t like mowing, and I’m suspicious of anyone who does. People who enjoy mowing must be direct descendents of Genghis Khan, who, with his Mongol horde, drove every living thing ahead of him. Of course now instead of a Mongol horde people do it with an internal combustion engine, which has slightly more horsepower. (On an interesting side-note, Henry Ford’s original use for the internal combustion engine was for mowing his lawn. Then he discovered how much he hated mowing and turned his attention to creating the automobile. This invention not only got him as far away from his overgrown lawn as he could get at 10mph, but it also made him rich enough that he could hire Lee Iacocca to mow his lawn for him. But I digress.)

Like most people I have one neighbor who obsesses about his lawn. Generally I mow about once a week, unless I can find some way to get out of it, but he mows every other day. And sometimes he’s out there sometimes after dark on his riding mower with the headlights on. (These people are the sole reason riding mowers have headlights. I have no idea why the rest of us need them. If you’re going driving at night, wouldn’t it make sense to use something other than a riding lawnmower, unless of course you’re Henry Ford?)

When he’s done flattening most of his half-acre to golf-course perfection, he uses a weed-whacker to take down everything left that’s over half an inch high, and finishes off with a pair of scissors. This guy isn’t Genghis Khan; he’s a descendant of some ruthless ancient emperor who brought civilization and weed- free lawns to his society before exhaustion drove them to extinction. As for me, I’m embracing my inner barbarian. I sneak across the street at night and blow dandelion seeds into his yard. Deep down I believe perfect lawns are unnatural, so I’m spearheading a revolution to save the weeds. Vive le crabgrass! My neighbor regularly fights back with herbicides, garden shears, and he recently bought a flamethrower, but he looks a bit more tired lately. Recently he waited two whole days before mowing again.

My revolution is gaining ground.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

New Twists on Old Sayings

He who laughs last, thinks slowest.

Everyone has a photographic memory. Some don’t have film.

A day without sunshine is like, well, night.

On the other hand, you have different fingers.

Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

I just got lost in thought. It was unfamiliar territory.

When the chips are down, the buffalo is empty.

Seen it all, done it all, can’t remember most of it.

Those who live by the sword get shot by those who don’t.

I feel like I’m diagonally parked in a parallel universe

He’s not dead, he’s electroencephalographically challenged.

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say will be misquoted, then used against you.

I wonder how much deeper the ocean would be without sponges.

Honk if you love peace and quiet.

Despite the cost of living, have you noticed how it remains so popular?

Nothing is fool-proof to a sufficiently talented fool.

It is hard to understand how a cemetery raised its burial cost and blamed it on the cost of living.

Just remember…if the world didn’t suck, we’d all fall off.

The 50-50-90 rule: Anytime you have a 50-50 chance of getting something right, there’s a 90% probability you’ll get it wrong.

It is said that if you line up all the cars in the world end to end, someone would be stupid enough to try and pass them.

You can’t have everything, where would you put it?

Latest survey shows that 3 out of 4 people make up 75% of the world’s population.

The things that come to those that wait may be the things left by those who got there first.

A fine is a tax for doing wrong. A tax is a fine for doing well.

It has been recently discovered that scientific research causes cancer in rats.

I wished the buck stopped here, as I could use a few.

I started out with nothing, and I still have most of it.

Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.


May 11, 2001

Kids do the stupidest things. Holidays like Mother’s Day are needed because they give kids a chance to show their parents just how uninteresting their lives would be otherwise. For instance, four teenagers in Kentucky were ordered to read twelve classic books and turn in book reports every two weeks by a judge. If they fail to read the books and turn in the homework, they could be prosecuted of felony charges and face up to five years in prison, where they’ll have a lot of time to read. What did they do to deserve this punishment? One of them was voluntarily hit by a car that another one was driving, while the other two videotaped the event. Supposedly they were inspired to do this by television, specifically the show, "Home Videos Of People Being Hit By Cars". What books were they ordered to read? I have no idea, but if they’re so easily led, should they really even be reading books? If they read "A Tale of Two Cities", they might take up knitting and try to stir up a revolution, and if they read anything by Hemingway, they’re going to go out and buy a lot of guns and head for Africa.

What’s a classic book, anyway? Some people define classic books as anything that’s over a hundred years old, which means they might be able to get away with reading the works of the Marquis de Sade. Mark Twain defined a classic as "a book which people praise but don’t read," which means that any book they read will, by definition, not be a classic. On the other hand, my Uncle Rupert, who recently led an unsuccessful attempt to drive a fast food taco stand out of town because it was "foreign", said, "Reading rots the mind." So maybe that judge was on to something.

As a further side note, the judge also banned the boys from watching any television other than late night news programs, where they won’t see any stupid or criminal acts they might be tempted to imitate. Right.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.


JOB DESCRIPTION: Long term team players needed for challenging permanent work in an often chaotic environment.Candidates must possess excellent communication and organizational skills and be willing to work various hours, which will include evenings and weekends and frequent 24 hour shifts on call. Some overnight travel required, including trips to primitive camping sites on rainy weekends and endless sports tournaments in faraway cities. Travel expenses not reimbursed. Extensive courier duties also required.

RESPONSIBILITIES: This is for the rest of your life."Must be willing to be hated at least temporarily, until someone needs $5 to go skating. Must be willing to bite tongue repeatedly.Also, must possess the physical stamina of a pack mule and be able to go from zero to 60 mph in three seconds flat in case, this time, the screams from the backyard are not someone just crying wolf. Must be willing to face stimulating technical challenges, such as small gadget repair,mysteriously sluggish toilets and stuck zippers. Must screen phone calls, maintain calendars and coordinate production of multiple homework projects. Must have ability to plan and organize social gatherings for clients of all ages and mental outlooks. Must be willing to be indispensable one minute, an embarrassment the next.Must handle assembly and product safety testing of a half million cheap, plastic toys and battery operated devices. Must always hope for the best but be prepared for the worst. Must assume final, complete accountability for the quality of the end product. Responsibilities also include floor maintenance and janitorial work throughout the facility.

POSSIBILITY FOR ADVANCEMENT AND PROMOTION: Virtually none. Your job is to remain in the same position for years, without complaining, constantly retraining and updating your skills, so that those in your charge can ultimately surpass you.

PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE: None required. On-the-job training offered on a continually exhausting basis.

WAGES AND COMPENSATION: You pay them, offering frequent raises and bonuses. A balloon payment is due when they turn 18 because of the assumption that college will help them become financially independent. When you die, you give them whatever is left. The oddest thing about this reverse-salary scheme is that you actually enjoy it and wish you could only do more.

BENEFITS: While no health or dental insurance, no pension, no tuition reimbursement, no paid holidays and no stock options are offered, job supplies limitless opportunities for personal growth and free hugs for life if you play your cards right.

So Much For Privacy

May 4, 2001

Privacy has increasingly become a concern in today’s modern, wired world where every purchase you make is monitored, where your preferences are stored and analyzed by every online vendor whether you buy anything or not, and where advertising is targeted specifically to your geographic region, age group, and speed at closing that annoying pop-up window that tries to sell you crap no one wants. It’s enough to make you think the only really smart people are the ones who’ve fashioned aluminum foil hats to prevent their thoughts being read by shadow agents in black helicopters.

I never thought of myself as a particularly private person until I started riding the bus, where complete strangers will describe in meticulous detail their recent hemorrhoid surgery. Apparently these people have given up entirely on the idea of privacy and decided to live completely unencumbered. They’re living in metaphorical glass houses. (Let’s just hope they stop there.) For the rest of us who would like to keep some level of privacy, I’ve been doing some research, and here are some helpful hints:

  • Never buy anything online. Believe it or not, there are places called "stores" that actually sell many of the things you can buy online. Some of these places, believe it or not, even sell things you can’t necessarily find online. The only trouble with buying things in a "store" is that you generally have to interact with a person who may be able to identify you later.

  • Always pay with cash. Using a credit card means all your movements are carefully tracked. Paying cash for some very expensive items (television sets, stereos, rare jewelry) may attract attention, or you may simply be concerned about carrying such large amounts of money. In these cases, make arrangements to come back and pick up the items after the stores have closed, and when there’s nobody around.

  • Get a post office box, preferably one in a state or province other than the one where you currently reside. The added benefit of this is that every place has better mail service than where you live, so you won’t have to worry about your mail being lost, stolen, or opened, even though you may only be able to pick it up once a month.

  • Always wear a dark suit and dark glasses. When people in the movies dress this way, they’re always able to slip through large crowds completely unnoticed. What works in the movies must work in real life.

  • Have all your plastic surgery done in Brazil. This is especially important if you’re a person who has special privacy concerns (for instance, a serial killer, or if you were believed to have been killed in that yacht explosion and have spent years plotting your revenge).

  • When robbing a bank during normal business hours, always wear a humorous mask, such as a clown mask. This will not only prevent fellow bank patrons from identifying you later, it will also psychologically scar any children present.

  • When robbing a bank after hours, make sure you give the security guard time to fall asleep. About ten minutes after the doors are locked should do it. Also, shoot out all video cameras.

  • Avoid getting an e-mail account at all costs. Getting e-mail is just asking to be subjected to useless and annoying advertising. Avoid getting a television set for the same reason.

  • Finally, enjoy this week’s offerings. They have absolutely nothing to do with privacy, so they’ll be a pleasant distraction while I collect detailed demographic information about every one of you.

(Mother’s Day is still more than a week away, but here’s a preview–CW)

My mother taught me TO APPRECIATE A JOB WELL DONE: 

"If you’re going to kill each other, do it outside –
I just finished cleaning!"

My mother taught me RELIGION: 
"You better pray that will come out of the carpet."

My mother taught me about TIME TRAVEL: 
"If you don’t straighten up, I’m going to knock you into the middle of next week!"

My mother taught me LOGIC: 
"Because I said so, that’s why."

My mother taught me FORESIGHT: 
"Make sure you wear clean underwear, in case you’re in an accident."

My mother taught me IRONY:
"Keep crying and I’ll *give* you something to cry about."

My mother taught me about the science of OSMOSIS: 
"Shut your mouth and eat your supper."

My mother taught me about CONTORTIONISM:
"Will you *look* at the dirt on the back of your neck!"

My mother taught me about STAMINA:
"You’ll sit there ’til all that spinach is finished."

My mother taught me about WEATHER:
"It looks as if a tornado swept through your room."

My mother taught me how to solve PHYSICS PROBLEMS: 
"If I yelled because I saw a meteor coming toward you, would you listen then?"

My mother taught me about HYPOCRISY: 
"If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a million times – DON’T EXAGGERATE!!!"

My mother taught me THE CIRCLE OF LIFE:
"I brought you into this world, and I can take you out."

My mother taught me about BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION:
"Stop acting like your father!"

My mother taught me about ENVY: 
"There are millions of less fortunate children in this world who don’t have wonderful parents like you do!"


Smells Like Tourists

April 27, 2001

Recently my wife and I took a vacation. This was earlier in the year than most people take their annual vacations, so for those of you who haven’t taken your mandatory two weeks (or seventeen days, if you live in Germany) yet, here’s something to consider: No two vacations are exactly alike, but if you’re actually going somewhere (and not taking a "vacation at home", which is merely a euphemism for "lots of yard work") there are some things that are constant in every vacation. Here are a few of those things:

  • If you actually get on the road earlier than you had planned, something will happen that will delay you twice as long as the amount of time you saved. For instance, if you get on the road fifteen minutes early, you’ll realize you need to change the oil in the car, and this will take thirty minutes. If you get on the road an hour early, one of the tires will go flat and it will take two hours to replace it. If you’re really eager and get going a day early, your car’s engine will explode.

  • No matter how fast you’re travelling, someone will pass you. If you’re cruising along at 90mph (note: I’m not advocating this, unless you’re in Montana) someone will blow by you doing 120mph. There’s a 50% chance that they will then move directly in front of you and slow down.

  • Traffic will slow down for no discernible reason. Sometimes as you’re travelling along, you’ll notice that traffic will suddenly slow down, come almost to a stop, then, after passing a point that is no different from any other part of the road, everyone will speed up again. This is known as a "phantom accident". Several hours before an accident occurred that slowed down traffic, and even though the road is now completely clear, people are still slowing down as though there were something there. Scientists don’t yet understand this phenomenon.

  • The same five people work at all fast food restaurants. Scientists who were frustrated by their inability to understand traffic slowing phenomena took up cloning and genetic engineering in their spare time. By splicing genes from Dolly the cloned sheep and the Three Stooges, they’ve created an army of fast food workers. Improvements are constantly being made, and it’s expected that future workers will understand that a customer who’s getting a "to-go" order doesn’t need "free refills".

  • No matter where you go, no matter what you do, and no matter what you wear on vacation, waiters, waitresses, and store clerks will all ask the same question: "So, where are you folks from?" Strip malls have become so ubiquitous that the only way to tell Athens, Georgia from Athens, Maine is to look for palm trees and spanish moss. Despite the growing homogenization of the United States, tourists can be spotted from a mile away. Even ones who aren’t wearing loud clothes with enough zinc oxide to coat a 747 plastered on their nose, even tourists who are dressed like everyone else, who talk like everyone else, are known to be tourists. I tried to ask a scientist once, but all he said was, "You’re not from around here, are you?" 

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

You Know You Live in California When…

  1. Your co-worker has 8 body piercings and none are visible.

  2. You make over $300,000 and still can’t afford a house.

  3. You take a bus and are shocked at two people carrying on a conversation in English.

  4. Your child’s 3rd grade teacher has purple hair, a nose ring, and is named Breeze.

  5. You can’t remember… is pot illegal?

  6. You’ve been to a baby shower that has two mothers and a sperm donor.

  7. You have a very strong opinion about where your coffee beans are grown and can taste the difference between Sumatran and Ethiopian.

  8. You know which restaurant serves the freshest arugula.

  9. You can’t remember….. is pot illegal?

  10. A really great parking space can totally move you to tears.

  11. A low speed police pursuit will interrupt ANY TV broadcast.

  12. Gas costs $1.00 per gallon more than anywhere else in the US

  13. A man gets on the bus in full leather regalia and crotchless chaps. No one notices.

  14. Unlike back home, the guy at Starbucks wearing the baseball cap and sunglasses who looks like George Clooney IS George Clooney.

  15. Your car insurance costs as much as your house payment.

  16. Your hairdresser is straight, your plumber is gay, the woman who delivers your mail is into S & M and your Mary Kay rep is a guy in drag.

  17. You can’t remember… is pot illegal?

  18. It’s barely sprinkling rain and there’s a report on every news station about "STORM WATCH."

  19. You have to leave the big company meeting early because Billy Blanks himself is teaching the 4:00 PM Tae Bo class.

  20. You pass an elementary school playground and the children are all busy with their cell phones or pagers.

  21. It’s barely sprinkling rain outside, so you leave for work an hour early to avoid all the weather related accidents.

  22. Hey!!!! Is pot illegal????

  23. Both you AND your dog have therapists

  24. Your power goes off before you finish reading thi…………..

Quack Quack

April 6, 2001

[Special note: All good things must come to an end. Freethinkers Anonymous, on the other hand, only requires an occasional vacation. The mailings will resume on April 27th, 2001.]

A while back I read an article that made the claim that the number of words in the English language was rapidly diminishing. This threw me into a panic. Forget the shrinking ice caps, disappearing rain forests, the energy crisis, rising fuel prices, uncontrolled arsenic levels in drinking water, and new strains of bacteria that are resistant to everything.

The decline of words is a serious matter. Words are not only my stock-in-trade, but most of the people I know use them. If the language disappears, how will people use their cell phones to completely ignore people they’re actually with? Will we become an Orwellian society where people walk around quacking like ducks, and, if so, will we have to fly South in the winter? And where are these words going? Well, apparently they’re not going anywhere, they’re just getting the word "obsolete" placed next to their entry in the dictionary, so it may not be much of a crisis after all. The reason certain words seem to fall out of circulation is because nobody uses dictionaries anymore, so even if you tell people you have an "umberty" of old magazines you’re trying to get rid of, not only will they be too embarrassed to admit they don’t know what that word means, they’ll never bother to look it up so they won’t know it’s obsolete.

Of course English will survive, if for no other reason than its unfailing ability to make new words by sticking prefixes on other words. (This is a habit borrowed from Latin and Greek, which is odd because English is a Germanic language. Fortunately we haven’t adopted the German practice of making new words by sticking several really long words together. If we did this, we’d have to make a new group of words called "ridiculouslylongwords".) But the use of prefixes raises some interesting questions. For instance:

  • -Someone can be "incompetent" or "competent", "incapable" or "capable", but have you ever heard of someone being "capacitated"?

  • When a patient stops breathing doctors "resuscitate" the patient (or try very hard to). So when you’re breathing, are you "suscitating"?

  • If "reincarnation" is being reborn after death, is being born "incarnation"? Or is a newborn simply a "carnation"?

  • If the "interior" is the inside and the "exterior" is the outside, is "terior" the side? Or is it somewhere in between?

  • You can "exclude" someone or "include" someone, but what are you doing if you "clude" someone?

  • If you do something impolite, you say, "Excuse me," but why is it that if you do something polite you never say, "Incuse me"?

  • If an "obsolete" word is one that’s no longer in use, are words that are currently used "solete" words?

  • You’ve heard of people being "ruthless", but have you ever known anyone whom you would call "full of ruth"?

And finally, what about those words that are still in use but that no one can really define–words like "ziggurat", "punctilious", or "ombudsman"? Maybe Lewis Carrol said it best when he said, "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean."

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

[Normally I would save something like this for the annual "Oh What A Year It Was", but this was too funny not to share immediately. Of course it’s already old news, but then so are most of my jokes.–CW]

In the Birmingham Sunday Mercury (7th Jan 2001):


Bosses of a publishing firm are trying to work out why no one noticed that one of their employees had been sitting dead at his desk for FIVE DAYS before anyone asked if he was feeling okay. George Turklebaum, 51, who had been employed as a proof-reader at a New York firm for 30 years, had a heart attack in the open- plan office he shared with 23 other workers.

He quietly passed away on Monday, but nobody noticed until Saturday morning when an office cleaner asked why he was still working during the weekend.

His boss Elliot Wachiaski said: "George was always the first guy in each morning and the last to leave at night, so no one found it unusual that he was in the same position all that time and didn’t say anything. He was always absorbed in his work and kept much to himself."

A post-mortem examination revealed that he had been dead for five days after suffering a coronary. Ironically, George was proofreading manuscripts of medical textbooks when he died.

You may want to give your co-workers a nudge occasionally.

And the moral of the story: Don’t work too hard. Nobody notices anyway.

One thing that has always bugged me, and I’m sure it does most of you, is to sit down at the dinner table only to be interrupted by a phone call from a telemarketer. I decided, on one such occasion, to try to be as irritating to them as they were to me. This particular call happened to be from AT&T and it went something like this:

Me: Hello

AT&T: Hello, this is AT&T.

Me: Is this AT&T?

AT&T: Yes, this is AT&T.

Me: This is AT&T?

AT&T: Yes. This is AT&T.

Me: Is this AT&T?

AT&T: YES! This is AT&T, may I speak to Mr. Byron please?

Me: May I ask who is calling?

AT&T: This is AT&T.

Me: OK, hold on.

At this point I put the phone down for a solid 5 minutes thinking that, surely, this person would have hung up the phone. I ate my salad. Much to my surprise, when I picked up the receiver, they were still waiting.

Me: Hello?

AT&T: Is this Mr. Byron?

Me: May I ask who is calling please?

AT&T: Yes this is AT&T.

Me: Is this AT&T?

AT&T: Yes this is AT&T.

Me: The phone company?

AT&T: Yes, sir.

Me: I thought you said this was AT&T.

AT&T: Yes sir, we are a phone company.

Me: I already have a phone.

AT&T: We aren’t selling phones today Mr. Byron. We would like to offer you 10 cents a minute, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

Me: Now, that’s 10 cents a minute 24 hours a day?

AT&T (getting a little excited at this point by my interest): Yes, sir, that’s right! 24 hours a day!

Me: Now, that’s 10 cents a minute 24 hours a day?

AT&T: That’s right.

Me: 365 days a year?

AT&T: Yes sir.

Me: I am definitely interested in that! Wow!!! That’s amazing!

AT&T: We think so!

Me: That’s quite a sum of money!

AT&T: Yes sir, it’s amazing how it adds up.

Me: OK, so will you send me checks weekly, monthly or

just one big one at the end of the year for the full $52,560, and if you send an annual check, can I get a cash advance?

AT&T: Excuse me?

Me: You know, the 10 cents a minute.

AT&T: What are you talking about?

Me: You said you’d give me 10 cents a minute, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. That comes to $144 per day, $1,008 per week and $52,560 per year. I’m just interested in knowing how you will be making payment.

AT&T: Oh no, sir, I didn’t mean we’d be paying you. You pay US 10 cents a minute.

Me: Wait a minute, how do you figure that by saying that you’ll give me 10 cents a minute, that I’ll give YOU 10 cents a minute? Is this some kind of subliminal telemarketing scheme? I’ve read about things like this in the Enquirer, you know.

AT&T: No, Sir, we are offering 10 cents a minute for…

Me: THERE YOU GO AGAIN! Can I speak to a supervisor please!

AT&T: Sir, I don’t think that is necessary.

Me: I insist on speaking to a supervisor!

AT&T: Yes, Mr. Byron. Please hold.

At this point I begin trying to finish my dinner.

Supervisor: Mr. Byron?

Me: Yeth?

Supervisor: I understand you are not quite understanding our 10 cents a minute program.

Me: Is thith A Teeth & Teeth?

Supervisor: Yes, Sir, it sure is.

I had to swallow before I choked on my food. It was all I could do to suppress my laughter and I had to be careful not to produce a snort.

Me: No, actually, I was just waiting for someone to get back to me so that I could sign up for the plan.

Supervisor: OK, no problem, I’ll transfer you back to

the person who was helping you.

Me: Thank you.

I was on hold once again and managed a few more mouthfuls. I needed to end this conversation. Suddenly, there was an aggravated but polite voice at the other end of the phone.

AT&T: Hello Mr. Byron, I understand that you are interested in signing up for our plan?

Me: No, but I was wondering — do you have that "friends and family" thing? Because you can never have enough friends and I’m an only child and I’d really like to have a little brother…

AT & T: Click

Where’s The ATM?

March 30, 2001

Credit card companies are now offering titanium cards. I don’t know why they decided on titanium, but having apparently run the gamut of precious metals (silver, gold, and platinum) they’re now moving on to other metals. It seems kind of goofy that credit cards would be named after various metals, considering that they’re all made from plastic (in fact, the reason for the impending fuel crisis is because plastic is made from petroleum, so with all those credit cards the average person carries about five gallons of gasoline in their wallet), but "The Titanium Card" does sound better than "The Plastic Card". Titanium is tough, useful in alloys, and has a really cool name. But eventually even titanium’s not going to be good enough, and new cards will be needed for customers with different needs. Here are a few suggestions:

The Aluminum Card: This card is ideal for people who only carry credit cards in case of an emergency. People who say "I use my card only for emergencies" fall into two categories: those who will stand in front of a hotel in pouring rain for twenty minutes debating whether not having a warm, dry place to sleep is really an emergency, and those who think a craving for french fries is an emergency. Why aluminum? Because it’s cheap and lightweight, which pretty much describes the two types of people.

The Bronze Card: Strictly speaking, bronze is an alloy. It’s a mixture of tin and copper. Bronze used to be grouped with the alloys called "brass", but some wiseacre salesman decided he could double the price of his brass candleholders if he told people they were made from "bronze", which sounds more respectable. The Bronze Card is for pre-adolescents. Since teenagers are now carrying credit cards, it won’t be long before children who have just started walking will have credit cards. (They already have cell phones.) The Bronze Card will have a credit limit of $25, and can only be used to buy candy, CDs that don’t have parental advisory stickers, and candleholders.

The Mercury Card: Remember in chemistry class when the teacher allowed you to hold some mercury in your hand, and it immediately slid onto the floor and scattered in about eight billion pieces? Well that’s what the Mercury Card will do. It won’t stay in your wallet but will go everywhere, and with its 80% interest rate, it will dissipate your finances. Prolonged exposure to this card also causes insanity, but don’t worry. You won’t have it long before you’ll be ready for…

The Plutonium Card: This card is for people who have declared bankruptcy at least three times. The Plutonium Card is carefully monitored, has to be carried in a special case, will poison everything else in your wallet, and, with a half-life of four and a half billion years, will never go away. Carriers wear this card around their neck for life.

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

These comments come from test papers and essays submitted to science and health teachers by elementary, junior high, high school, and college students and compiled at the NEA Life Sciences Symposium, Kansas City, Kansas.

As the originator noted, "It is truly astonishing what weird science our young scholars can create under the pressures of time and grades."

Please note that the original spelling has been left intact.

  1. "The body consists of three parts – the branium, the borax, and the abominable cavity. The branium contains the brain, the borax contains the heart and lungs, and the abominable cavity contains the bowels, of which there are five – a, e, i, o, and u."

  2. "Nitrogen is not found in Ireland because it is not found in a free state."

  3. "H2O is hot water, and CO2 is cold water."

  4. "To collect fumes of sulphur, hold a deacon over a flame in a test tube."

  5. "When you smell an oderless gas, it is probably carbon monoxide."

  6. "Water is composed of two gins, Oxygin and Hydrogin. Oxygin is pure gin. Hydrogin is gin and water."

  7. "Three kinds of blood vessels are arteries, vanes and caterpillars."

  8. "Blood flows down one leg and up the other."

  9. "Respiration is composed of two acts, first inspiration, and then expectoration."

  10. "The moon is a planet just like the earth, only it is deader."

  11. "Artifical insemination is when the farmer does it to the cow instead of the bull."

  12. "Dew is formed on leaves when the sun shines down on them and makes them perspire."

  13. "A super saturated solution is one that holds more than it can hold."

  14. "Mushrooms always grow in damp places and so they look like umbrellas."

  15. "The pistol of a flower is its only protections agenst insects."

  16. "The skeleton is what is left after the insides have been taken out and the outsides have been taken off. The purpose of the skeleton is something to hitch meat to."

  17. "A permanent set of teeth consists of eight canines, eight cuspids, two molars, and eight cuspidors."

  18. "The tides are a fight between the Earth and moon. All water tends towards the moon, because there is no water in the moon, and nature abhors a vacuum. I forget where the sun joins in this fight."

  19. "A fossil is an extinct animal. The older it is, the more extinct it is."

  20. "Equator: A managerie lion running around the Earth through Africa."

  21. "Germinate: To become a naturalized German."

  22. "Liter: A nest of young puppies.

  23. "Magnet: Something you find crawling all over a dead cat."

  24. "Momentum: What you give a person when they are going away."

  25. "Planet: A body of Earth surrounded by sky."

  26. "Rhubarb: A kind of celery gone bloodshot.

  27. "Vacuum: A large, empty space where the pope lives."

  28. "Before giving a blood transfusion, find out if the blood is affirmative or negative."

  29. "To remove dust from the eye, pull the eye down over the nose."

  30. "For a nosebleed: Put the nose much lower then the body until the heart stops."

  31. "For dog bite: put the dog away for several days. If he has not recovered, then kill it."

  32. "For head cold: use an agonizer to spray the nose until it drops in your throat."

  33. "To keep milk from turning sour: Keep it in the cow.

Proshchai, MIR!

March 23, 2001

After years of putting astronauts in danger, the ultimate thrill-ride MIR, the Russian (formerly Soviet, formerly Romanov–since it was apparently built in pre-revolutionary times) space station is finally coming down. Like the fast food restaurants introducted to post-collapse Russia, the descent of MIR (whose name means, "peace", as in, "Watch out for that ‘peace’ of flaming wreckage hurtling toward Japan at 40,000 miles an hour!") can only be appreciated by a select few, except of course in the United States where we can watch MIR’s descent on the Internet. Or at least we could. By the time you read this, MIR will probably have already entered the atmosphere, turned into a spectacular blazing comet, and killed the entire cast and crew of "Survivor 3".

A fast food chain has agreed to give a free taco to every person in the United States if MIR hits a 40 foot X 40 foot target in the Pacific–which is a little bit like trying to drop a car on a coffee mug from an airplane. And, as a friend of mine pointed out, Russia’s doing all the work but we’re the ones getting the tacos. All I can say to that is, we don’t make the rules. If we did, the target would cover the entire ocean between New Zealand and South America, and we still wouldn’t share with Russia. A few years ago we dropped a little science project called Skylab, and Russia didn’t even offer us a congratulatory bowl of borscht.

So it is with some sadness that I say farewell to the little space station that could. Originally designed to be in use for only three years, MIR survived for fifteen. It was mocked, ridiculed, and even called the biggest space blunder in history–but only by people who had never seen the movie "Contact". In the end, MIR’s accomplishments will probably best be summed up by one of the last cosmonauts to leave, who said, "Wait, I think I left the lights on!"

Enjoy this week’s offerings.

(The author of this is unknown, probably with good reason.–CW)

Calling in sick to work makes me uncomfortable. No matter how legitimate my illness, I always sense my boss thinks I am lying.

On one occasion, I had a valid reason, but lied anyway because the truth was too humiliating. I simply mentioned that I had sustained a head injury and I hoped I would feel up to coming in the next day.

By then, I could think up a doozy to explain the bandage on my crown.

The accident occurred mainly because I conceded to my wife’s wishes to adopt a cute little kitty. Initially the new acquisition was no problem, but one morning I was taking my shower after breakfast when I heard my wife, Deb, call out to me from the kitchen. "Ed! The garbage disposal is dead. Come reset it."

"You know where the button is," I protested through the shower. "Reset it yourself!"

"I’m scared!" she pleaded. "What if it starts going and sucks me in?"

(Pause) "C’mon, it’ll only take a second."

So out I came, dripping wet and buck naked, hoping to make a statement about how her cowardly behavior was not without consequence. I crouched down and stuck my head under the sink to find the button.

It is the last action I remember performing. It struck without warning, without respect to my circumstances. Nay, it wasn’t a hexed disposal drawing me into its gnashing metal teeth. It was our new kitty, clawing playfully at the dangling objects she spied between my legs.

She had been poised around the corner and stalked me as I took the bait under the sink. At precisely the second I was most vulnerable, she leapt at the toys I unwittingly offered and snagged them with her needle-like claws.

I lost all rational thought to control orderly bodily movements, while rising upwardly at a violent rate of speed, with the full weight of a kitten hanging from my masculine region.

Wild animals are sometimes faced with a "fight or flight" syndrome. Men, in this predicament, choose only the "flight" option. Fleeing straight up, the sink and cabinet bluntly impeded my ascent; the impact knocked me out cold.

When I awoke, my wife and the paramedics stood over me.

Having been fully briefed by my wife, the paramedics snorted as they tried to conduct their work while suppressing their hysterical laughter.

At the office, colleagues tried to coax an explanation out of me. I kept silent, claiming it was too painful to talk. "What’s the matter, cat got your tongue?"

If they had only known.

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