Friday, December 31, 2010

Party on, Cliff and Newman!

Who has the best office Christmas parties? The U.S. Postal Service.

The traditional office party usually relies on participants self-catering the party with some array of potluck dishes and treats. If you’re lucky, most of the partygoers will bring items from the local supermarket bakery; if not, you’re stuck with an assortment of bean dips and fruitcakes that make you want to go back to work. But apparently, the postal service just goes to the back room to round up treats that were scheduled to go elsewhere.

Every year, St. Pauli Girl spends a week baking goodies and putting together spices, jams and sauces to send out to the lucky few on our Christmas list. This year she sent over 11 packages via the U.S. Postal Service (she had to use a little red wagon to haul them inside the office). The postal worker asked St. Pauli Girl if the packages contained anything perishable. Fearing it might be more expensive, she said, “no.” Then she thought she heard the worker happily mumbling, “One for them, one for us, one for them, one for us,” as he placed each package in different stacks. Turns out that may have been accurate.

Yesterday, I opened an envelope from the post office which contained a torn off address from one of our packages. The letter stated “this address looks like it fell off one of your packages. If you’d like us to look for the package, please fill out this form so we can better identify it.” Hmmm, a package full of goodies with an address label neatly torn off? They may as well have added: “P.S. Can I have the recipe for that nut roll? Fabulous!”

I suspect some genius postal worker goes through the non-perishable packages, shakes them, and sets aside any that sound suspicious to be enjoyed later at the holiday party. After all, the shipper won’t complain because if he/she does, he/she can be put in postal jail because the shipper lied about the contents being perishable. Victory for the postal party!

But actually, UPS and Fed Ex probably have better parties. While it is illegal to ship alcohol though the U.S. mail, it’s only frowned upon by UPS and Fed Ex. They have a “don’t ask/don’t tell” policy. Actually it’s more like a “don’t tell” or “act lawyerly” philosophy because they will ask what’s in the package. And you have to say something like “cooking supplies” or, in your best Jackie Chiles voice, “yeast samples.”

So while the post office has a guy in the backroom searching for cookies, UPS and Fed Ex has a team of people looking for hooch. End result: a much more entertaining party than the postal service. They also have foolproof logic: it’s not illegal to ship it but we forbid it and so not only do we not have to deliver it, we won’t give you your money back.

The lesson here is that if you’re going to ship holiday gifts, ship a fruitcake. Then get a job at UPS or Fed Ex and enjoy great holiday parties. We apologize to friends and family that did not get their packages. But the post office would like you to know it was delicious.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Our Miracle On Ice

It was the typical holiday plan: pack up the kids, gifts, food, pillows, blankets and take a 15 hour drive to see family over the holidays. What could go wrong? We never have a white Christmas. Spring tornadoes sure, but not blizzards on Christmas.

Our master plan involved renting a van then driving on Christmas night in 2000 from the Texas panhandle to Tennessee to visit relatives on my side. It would probably be the only time we would ever do it with St. Pauli Girl’s kids, Eduardo and Raquel. They were probably less than thrilled but by driving overnight, we figured they’d be asleep and less likely to complain.

The weather forecast called for a snowstorm but what do meteorologists know? At least this time, they knew a lot. On Christmas morning, snowflakes filled the air. The bigger problem was the ice storm that shut down I-40 in Oklahoma with reports of ice and snow as far south as Dallas. I jumped onto the internet and scoured forecasts and road conditions. I found an alternative route by going south through Dallas. “If we can just get through Dallas by nightfall, we’ll be safe,” I told St. Pauli Girl. “But we need to leave as soon as possible.”

Now by “as soon as possible,” I meant “let’s get in the car and leave right now.” Unfortunately, we had to still pick up the rental van, send the dog to Grandma’s, load the van and get Eduardo and Raquel to pack their bags. Four hours later we were ready to pull out. The latest online road conditions report showed ice all the way to Dallas, but no roads were closed at that time. “And those reports are always ultra-conservative,” I explained to St. Pauli Girl. “Someone sees a snowflake and the plow trucks come out. It’s like those yellow highway signs showing a curve and recommending 35 miles per hour but you know you can really go about 55.”

The first twenty minutes of the trip went well. Snow was on the ground, but the roads were just wet, like driving through a nice spring shower. An hour in, snow was coming down a little harder, and you could see some slush on the road. I slowed down a bit but figured 55 mph would make okay time in this weather. I started to notice cars pulled over on the shoulder. “There sure are a lot of broken down cars,” I said. “They don’t build them like they used to.”

At this point, the van began slipping on icy spots so I slowed down a little more. As we neared a small town, flashing police lights alerted us to three cars in the median. “Idiots,” I said. “Obviously driving too fast for conditions.” I slowed down again.

A few minutes later, we drove past a Suburban laying on its side about fifty yards off the road.

“Did you see that?” St. Pauli Girl asked. “Maybe we should stop and check on them.”

“There’s no one there,” I said anxious to keep going and not lose anymore time.

“How do you know?”

“This is the country. They probably just park their car in the front yard.”

“On its side?”

“Well, it was probably on concrete blocks and the storm knocked it off. Besides if it had been a recent crash, the wheels would still be spinning, lights would be on or something,” I reasoned.

We passed several more cars that had gone off the road. Sleet came down harder, and I slowed down to about 40 mph. I could feel the van fishtail quite regularly now. I slowed down to 30. Our five-hour pace to Dallas had now become ten and what started out as a 15-hour trip had increased to about 27. But we pushed onward.

Finally, we came around a curve where the ice would not cooperate with our wheels. With “steer in the direction of the skid” pounding in my brain, I took us straight down a short embankment and into the snow covered median. Raquel screamed that we were crashing. Luckily there were no obstructions, and momentum carried us all the way through the median until we were pointed in the other direction just off the shoulder of the west bound side of the highway as if we had just made a U-turn.

“Wow,” I said. “What do you think?”

“I think we should keep going,” St. Pauli Girl replied. “We’re headed southeast. It’s going to get better!”

“You know what? Since we’re pointing in this direction, I’m going home.”

I pulled back onto the highway and slowly headed west. The storm became much fiercer, leaving a thick layer of snow atop the ice. But I wasn’t cold; I was covered in sweat. The snow came down so hard and fast it froze to the windshield before the wipers could clear it. We had to stop every 15 minutes and manually clear the windshield. Luckily the worst of the storm was headed east. By the time we hit the outskirts of our hometown, we faced only snowy roads.

We finally made it home, our 150-mile round trip having taken four hours. I sat down and St. Pauli Girl asked if it was wine time. “I’ll have scotch,” I said. “Make it a double.”

So in the spirit of the season, I send this holiday caveat to everyone: when the road department reports that conditions are bad and you should stay home, they aren’t kidding.

Monday, December 13, 2010

My Big Lumberjack Adventure

As I have mentioned before, we live on a two-acre piece of country property that requires about 50 times the amount of a work as your normal suburban lot. A golf course greens keeper once owned the property, and he planted a lot of extra shrubbery that the golf course couldn’t use. I’d rather he’d have just built a couple of par 3’s.

Due to age, drought, and neglect, prior to us moving in, many shrubs and trees had perished. St. Pauli Girl has been anxious to clear the land of this dead stuff. I agree, but being green-minded, I’d rather do it naturally, via say lightning or wildfires or waiting for the trees to rot so that we can just kick them over. Sure, it may take longer, but the property will be as God and nature intended it. But St. Pauli Girl would like it to be as St. Pauli Girl intended it.

This past weekend St. Pauli Girl’s brother happened to be passing through. She decided to make him work for his food and lodging by having him bring his chainsaw. (We will now refer to him as Grizzly since he has a beard, a chainsaw, and built his own cabin in the mountains, although to be fair, he looks more like a fifty-ish James Brolin with a goatee than he does Grizzly Adams.)

Saturday morning, after a big farm breakfast, Grizzly and I headed over to a group of poplar trees where Grizzly fired up the chainsaw and made quick work of them. I mostly stood out of the way and as each tree came down, yelled, “Timber!”

“What are you doing?” Grizzly asked.

“Aren’t you supposed to do that? Warn everyone, like yelling ‘fore’ in golf?”

“Actually, you’re supposed to make sure the tree doesn’t fall on me.”

Understanding my role better, we buzzed through tree after tree. Then we went over to a different kind of tree, the biggest one yet, and after felling it, Grizzly created a birdbath stand from the stump. I got on my knees and looked at it from eye level. “It’s crooked,” I said helpfully.

“Think of it more as a bird water park with a giant slide,” he said.

After lunch it was time to attack the granddaddy, the old oak tree in the chicken yard. The tree had been dead for years, with large branches hanging over the fence to the neighbor’s yard. Grizzly walked around the tree looking for the best plan of attack. “How well do you know your neighbors?” he asked.

“Enough that they won’t mind if we drop some branches in their yard, but they’ll sure be mad if we crush the fence.”

At this point we brought in a new element of danger: a stepladder. Grizzly would have to scale the ladder and operate the chainsaw from above while I stood in the next county. The first branch bounced off the top of the wire fence and fell into the neighbor’s yard. We studied the fence.

“That wasn’t so bad,” I said.

“Yeah, I thought the fence was a goner for sure.”

I pulled up on the wire fence to make it look like it was still mostly standing. “We can blame it on this vine. There’s a lot of overgrowth here.”

“You can just drop a post right there. Piece of cake,” Grizzly said as if that would be easy for me.

“Yeah, I think I’m just going to blame the vine.”

Next came a large multi-limbed section. Grizzly mounted the ladder while I stood on the ground holding a piece of rope attached to a thick, 30-foot branch with many smaller branches shooting from it. Grizzly fired up the chainsaw. “Ready?” he asked.

(It’s important to note here that some wood is denser and heavier than others. So far, we had cut down nothing but poplar and fir trees which are so light that I carried them with one hand over my shoulder like a javelin. Oak is much heavier, I would soon find out. Much, much.)

The idea here was that as Grizzly cut the limb, I would pull on the rope to steer it away from the tree, the ladder, and most notably Grizzly. I could see the chainsaw going through the limb, and as it got about 3/4 through, I tugged hard on the rope. Well, it would have been a hard tug for a poplar tree. But this was oak. Suddenly the limb separated from the tree, huge branches crashing to the ground while the main limb swerved back, knocking the ladder which spun around on one leg with Grizzly clinging to the top and frantically grasping the vibrating, still-hungry chainsaw.

Luckily the limb fell to the ground, the ladder teetered back onto three legs, and Grizzly managed to avoid dismembering himself. I dropped the rope and called out to BooBoo, our dog. “BooBoo, run boy, run! Go tell the women-folk there’s been an accident.”

I ran to the ladder and secured it while Grizzly turned off the saw. He handed it down to me, then climbed down the ladder. He wiped his brow and breathed a sigh of relief while I studied the ladder.

“I think you bent the ladder,” I said.

Grizzly looked it over and knocked it back into shape. The incident didn’t seem to bother him much. All I could say was, “Hmph! Who’d a-thought oak was so heavy?”

An hour later, we stood in the yard holding a rope attached to the very top branch of the tree. We began to rock in unison, pulling the branch toward us. Grizzly said, “Let’s bounce it and count to three, then we’ll yank on it with everything we’ve got.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Oh yeah, and don’t forget to run.”

Friday, December 3, 2010

Auto-Complete This!

Google, I think I have to break up with you. And it’s not me, it’s you.

I have long been a fan. I even had you as my homepage for years. I always appreciated the quick response time and didn’t even mind the suggestions that popped up as I entered my own search words. But now your attempts to read my mind as I type in each letter has complicated my life so much and made you so high maintenance that I must now consider other search engines.

My computer is old, I admit. In human years, she would say she’s 39. (We all know what that means.) She also has a smoker’s cough, and her bones creak every time I save a file. But she still does the job she was hired for. I don’t use her to play video games or watch movies, and the hardest math I do is multiply and divide. Someone could replace my monitor with an old black and white text monitor and I probably wouldn’t notice.

But no, Google had to slip in its little auto-complete feature when I wasn’t looking. (Kind of like a roommate inviting a loser friend to move in and saying, “It’s just for a few days. You won’t even notice he’s here,” but the cigarette burns on the couch, pizza bones on the counter, and empty Schaefer beer cans in the shower scream, “Yeah, he’s still here!”)

The result? One of us has to go. So let me illustrate my last hook-up with Google:

Me: [I type “z” in the Google search box but nothing appears]

Google: What? Huh? Is someone there? [Rubs his eyes.]

Me: [My fingers are poised on the keyboard waiting for “z” to appear.]

Google: Okay, okay. Like, hold on a sec, will ya.? Hmmm, where’s my pants?

Me: [I type “o” after the “z” and still nothing appears.]

Google: Be right back. Gotta get some coffee.

Me: [I stare at the screen trying telepathically to get Google moving.]

Google: “Z.” Got it. Let’s see, what starts with Z? Z, Z, Z, zzzzz. *yawn*.

Me: Hurray! [“Zo” appears on the screen. I type in another “o.”]

Google: Okay, I’m gonna read your mind. Zo. Okay, Zamboni. Nah, that’s not it. I’ve got it--Zoey! You’re looking for porn with a girl named Zoey, huh? Or, maybe you’re thinking of Batman sounds, like “Zowie” and “Zounds”?

Me: [I bang my head on the keyboard waiting for control to return to me.]

Google: Aha, now you’ve got “zoo” in there. You want to go to the zoo!

Me: [I type in “k” resulting in “zook” in the search box.]

Google: Okay, I see you’re in central Texas. Let’s see what I got. San Antonio, no, how about this! [A page of Austin zoo links appears, including a map with pushpin markers.] Bam! Less than .0046 seconds! How’s that?

Me: Not by my watch! And I don’t want to go to the zoo!

Google: I think you do. That’s why I changed the search box to “Austin Zoo.”

Me: No, dammit, I typed in “zook!”

Google: Yeah, but I think so much faster than you that I knew you really wanted to go to the zoo.

Me: Jesus. I’m trying to get some info about a restaurant called “Zookini’s.” That is all.

Google: There isn’t one in Austin.

Me: I know! That’s not the point!

Google: You can eat at the zoo you know. How ‘bout I find you some zoo concessions, would you like that?

Me: No! [I try to ignore him and resume my typing but I haven’t noticed that he’s changed the search box. After I finish typing the search box displays “Austin Zoo kinis.”]

Google: Did you mean Austin Bi-kinis?

Me: What? No! Argghhh! [I backspace through the search box and start over. I type “zookiins” but only “zoo” appears in the search box.] Darn it! Misspelled it. Come on already!

Google: Hold on, freshening up my coffee while I look up other zoos since you don’t want to go to the Austin zoo.

Me: I don’t want to go to any zoo! Will you just show me what I typed so I can fix the misspelling?

Google: I’m way ahead of you. [A search page appears listing several zoos, a Ron Zook Insurance Agency, and several ads.]

Me: [The search box appears and I fix my misspelling. I start to press return.]

Google: Hold on there, sport.

Me: I don’t want to go to the zoo!

Google: Did you mean “zookini’s”?

Me: I already told you that.

Google: Yeah, but you forgot the apostrophe.

Me: They both get the same results.

Google: Maybe this time, but not always. So are we done here?

Me: Yes, I think so.

Google: Umm, okay. [Starts humming a tune.]

Me: Well, what are you waiting for?

Google: A little sugar?

Me: No, I am not thanking you.

Google: You’re welcome.

Me: That’s it! Pack up your auto-complete and get out!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Allan Rickman, Colonel Sanders and Me

I confess to having a man crush on Allan Rickman. There I said it.

This thought occurred to me as St. Pauli Girl and I watched “Bottle Shock” over the weekend (an okay movie from which I learned that women will sleep with you if you give them a really good bottle of wine). However, by the end of the movie I was fantasizing about sitting in an old AMC Gremlin with Rickman, drinking wine and eating a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken while he made droll comments about Colonel Sanders except he kept referring to him as Major Sanders.

(Sidebar: the movie made a mistake in that he was obviously eating original recipe in that scene yet the sound effect made it sound like he was eating extra crispy. Original recipe does not crunch!)

But how did my man crush happen? When America first met Allan Rickman he was the epitome of evil and destined to play only the most dastardly characters. He had his first big role in 1988 in “Die Hard” where he played the evil Hans Gruber doing battle with Bruce Willis who played Bruce Willis. This film was followed by 1990’s “Quiqley Down Under” where Rickman reprises his role as evil against Tom Selleck playing Tom Selleck. From that point on, when you saw Rickman in a movie, you knew he was the bad guy or at least you could never really trust him.

Somewhere along the line, he started playing other character types. I guess that’s the advantage of a British accent: you can be a snob, sensitive, and/or intelligent. I remember watching “Dogma” for the first time where every time Rickman appeared on screen, I expected him to become a traitor to the cause, but he never did. And I thought, “Wow! It sure was nice for him to be on our side for once.” And that’s what’s great about Alan Rickman, if he’s against you, you dread facing him, but if he’s on your side, he’s awesome!

It’s kind of like back in school when teams are getting picked for a sport, let’s say soccer. Rickman is not a captain, but he’s always the second or third player picked. If you get picked on the opposite team, you know at some point the game will have to go through him. As you dribble the ball toward him and the goal, he just stands there in supreme confidence, laughing in your face because you dared to challenge him. Then he’d probably sucker punch you, steal the ball, and kick you in the butt for good measure while making a sarcastic comment like “You should have tried to ‘Bend it like Rickman,’ you sad sack.” (And if it were a movie, he’d then break your neck with his bare hands). But the next day, you get chosen for his team and you cheer as he takes down an opponent and laugh uproariously at his clever sarcasm and then help kick the opposing player while he is temporarily down before exchanging fist bumps with Rickman (at which point he’d stare at his hand wondering what happened, then mumble something like “Americans….” And shrug).

And that pretty much sums him up. When he is in a movie, attention must be paid. But it still doesn’t explain why I want to drink beer and eat fried chicken with him. He would undoubtedly complain that the beer is too cold, that it should be no colder than a retriever’s nose or something equally British-sounding, and that the mashed potatoes tasted like they came from some blimey’s stewpot on the Isle of Wight. But then I could say, “Yeah, that Major Sanders was mad as a hatter.” And Rickman’s withering look would be priceless.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sharia, Don't Like It!

(Note: On 11/2/2010 the state of Oklahoma banned the use of Sharia Law in Oklahoma courts because we can only assume it was a big problem in the state whereas other states including Mississippi and Texas follow their state laws and state constitutions.)

Bailiff: Hear y’all, hear y’all. The 15th State Court of Oklahoma is now in session, the honorable Jim Ed Don Paul presiding.

Judge: Please be seated. Let’s see what we got here. The State of Oklahoma versus Hakeem Achmed. [Glances down at defendant dressed in a long robe and cloth headdress.] Well, Haji, says here you got the sticky fingers.

Hakeem: My name is Hakeem.

Judge: And you will address me as Your Honor.

Hakeem: It would be my honor, Your Honor.

Prosecutor: On the night of October 15, Mr. Achmed stole a music box from Garth Billy Ray.

Garth [standing and yelling from the middle of the courtroom]: It’s not a music box! It’s a four-hundred-and-fifty dollar I-pod!

Judge: And you are?

Garth: The victim. Not only did he steal it, but when I got it back, he had replaced my Toby Keith playlist with some recording of dead goats wailing.

Prosecutor: It’s true, your honor. Four police officers needed psychological counseling after listening to the music box for evidence.

Judge: These are very serious charges, Hakeem. How do you plead?

Hakeem: I cannot lie. I did it.

Judge: Let the records show that Mr. Achmed pleads guilty.

Hakeem [bowing his head while slowly placing his left arm on the table in front of him]: I wish to restore honor to my name.

Judge: What are you doing?

Hakeem: I give you my left hand.

Prosecutor: Your honor, he would like us to cut off his hand. This is standard practice under Sharia law.

Judge: Is that right? Well I’ll be! Sorry, but you are out of luck, Haji. The good people of this state have outlawed Sharia law in our courts. We’re sick and tired of you people coming in here in your bath robes with your harems and genies and AK-47’s. Actually, you know what? The guns are okay. But we don’t smoke ‘em no hookah pipe in this state, you got that?

Hakeem: No, it is okay, really. Please, take my hand.

Garth: You heard the man! Anybody got a knife?

Judge: Sit down! One more word out of you and I’ll hold you in contempt! That outburst could be construed as promotin’ Sharia law in a state courthouse. Now Haji, as I was saying, we’re not killin’ all y’all in Iraq just so you can come in here and make a mockery of our courts. Bob Ed, what are y’all looking at for punishment?

Prosecutor: He has no priors and as far as we can tell, other than this case, he seems to be a model citizen.

Judge: A U.S. citizen or a Sharia citizen?

Prosecutor: Good one, Jim Ed! Anyway, the state would be satisfied with one year’s probation.

Judge: Done and done. [Pounds gavel.]

Hakeem: What is this “probation?”

Prosecutor: You’ll have to meet with a probation officer every week, we’ll drug test you, check you for alcohol, and you’re not allowed in bars.

Hakeem: And you will take the hand?

Prosecutor: No, but if you mess up, we’ll put you in jail.

Hakeem [slamming his arm on the table]: Please, take the hand! For my honor.

Judge: If you spout anymore Sharia nonsense, I’ll have you gagged.

Garth: One year’s probation? Can you at least waterboard him for good measure?

Prosecutor: Well, you know judge, waterboarding really isn’t Sharia law…

Judge: He’s already confessed and pleaded guilty. We are a state of law and order. The people have spoken. There will be no Sharia law in Oklahoma. We’re sick and tired of it. Haji, you can put your arm down.

[Hakeem holds his arms out in front of him and approaches the Bailiff.]

Garth [yelling]: Watch out! I bet he’s booby-trapped!

Hakeem: Cuff me?

Judge: No need for that.

Hakeem [still approaching the bailiff]: We can go back to jail, please?

Judge [snickering]: No Haji, you’re free to go.

Hakeem: I do not understand. You don’t take my hand, you don’t cuff me, and I do not go back to jail?

Prosecutor: Just make sure you get to your probation officer next week. And no opium either.

Garth: This is outrageous! I thought we were a tough on crime state!

Hakeem: Ironic, no?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Pick a Card, Any Card

Recently, a follower alerted me to a hot new way of meeting people. For about the price of a case of beer you can get a pack of cards with some sort of witty opening line that you can pass out to women in hopes that they will then contact you via a webpage listed on the card. This is to save guys the embarrassment of possibly being shot down in a face-to-face situation and/or the cost of having to buy someone a drink.

(This is where I smack myself on the head and think, “Why didn’t I think of that? I could be rich!”)

Anyway, the articles focus mostly on women using these cards with a high degree of success, but what they’re forgetting is that men will ruin this just like we have ruined all previous new-fangled methods for attracting someone:

Dating Method . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ruined by
Clubbing a woman over the head . . . .Civilization

Newspaper personals. . . . . . . . . . . . . . Guy who wrote the Pina Colada song

Video dating service . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Guy who invented fast forward button

Online personals. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Married guys, creepy guys, and liars

Matchmaking Services . . . . . . . . . . . . .Married guys, creepy guys, and liars

Speed Dating . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Married guys, creepy guys, and liars

As you can see, there is a trend. But with these cards, it won’t be the married and/or creepy guys ruining it but rather just the natural state of guys. Whereas women tend to be pickier with the focus of a laser beam, men tend to be more like a shotgun blindly aimed in a crowded room and hoping to hit someone. But now we can be more like a nuclear bomb, saturating entire cities with these cards in hopes of meeting 5, 6, or 20 women, depending on how many cards are purchased.

A normal guy would probably order 2500 of these cards. Then he’d order 2500 more for the next weekend. (Married and creepy guys would be getting volume discounts on orders of 10,000 and up).

Women will be dealing with card envy. “Hey I just got carded. Again,” a woman will sigh to her friend. She will toss the card onto a pile in her backseat already overflowing with them. Women’s purses will get larger to accommodate all the cards collected in an evening out.

Then there’s the inevitable card snub. Imagine a subway where some hot guy is walking down the aisle handing out cards left and right. Suddenly he realizes he’s down to just one card, but there are two girls left uncarded. He starts to offer Girl #1 his last card, then his eyes light up, he jerks it away and walks on. Girl #2 is prettier. Or bigger-busted.

Then there’s the follow up on the webpage where the girl tries to contact the guy that gave her a card. If you thought calling technical support for a computer problem was a horror, imagine what happens when she dials the number listed on the webpage:

Girl: Hi, you gave me a card last week.

Guy: Hello, thanks for calling Max. We are experiencing a large volume of calls at this time. (She’s put on hold.) Thank you for your patience. Are you contacting me from Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, or Wichita?

Girl: Hi! It was Dallas. You know, from the restaurant.

Guy: Of course. Chinese, Mexican, seafood, or barbecue?

Girl: It was at The Hungry Jellyfish.

Guy: Bar, patio, lobby, kitchen, parking lot, or restroom?

Girl: Restroom? You went into the--? Oh, never mind. Bar. Short brown hair, black turtleneck.

Guy: Barstool or table?

Girl: Barstool. You liked my glasses.

Guy: Wire rimmed or Buddy-Holly-ish?

Girl: Uh, Buddy Holly. You said you liked my sexy librarian look.

Guy: Vodka, beer, or wine?

Girl: Zima! It was a Zima! I was the only one in America drinking a Zima at the time! Sheesh.

Guy: Ah, of course! I remember now. How are you? So, you wanna go out sometime?

So ladies, as marketing and technology seek to break down the awkward first meeting ritual, remember that it is actually a gatekeeper. Forcing someone to come up and talk to you in real life, or better yet buy you a drink, is nature’s way of filtering out the riff-raff. Yes, you may lose a few good but shy catches, but it’s worth not having to sort through the ones that will only waste your valuable time.

And for you guys out there, if you really want to meet fun, interesting women, follow romance writers on twitter. Uh-oh. I think I just ruined twitter for women.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Haunted Silo

(In honor of Halloween and my favorite show, “Ghost Adventures,” I detail my own brush with spirits.)

In the summer of 2007, St. Pauli Girl and I took a short road trip to get away from the headaches of running a restaurant. We discovered an interesting bed and breakfast housed in an old silo in the middle of an artist colony. Arriving on a Sunday, we found the colony deserted and the restaurant beneath the silo closed. No problem; having the place to ourselves seemed much more fun and enjoyable.

We took a bottle of wine and sat on the spacious patio as the sun set and darkness gathered. The old woman who ran the place eventually wandered by.

“Enjoying your evening, are ye?” she asked, her lips moving around the pipe in her mouth. “You like the room?”

“Yes, it’s very nice,” St. Pauli Girl said.

“I suppose you’re here for the headless artist.”

“What?” I asked.

“Mmm, oh nothing.” She took a long drag on the pipe. “You like the room?”

I became suspicious. “You already asked that. What did you say about a headless artist?”

“I didn’t. You misheard. This is an artist colony. Lots of painters, sculptors and welders. Accidents happen.”

“You distinctly said ‘headless,’” I insisted.

“Ye think so? Ye best be getting the wax blasted from yer ears sir. I be locking the gate now. Enjoy the night.”

We watched as she sauntered off and slowly slammed the iron gate shut. After she locked it, she puffed on her pipe and stared at us for a long moment. Then she got in her car and drove away. It was dark by then and getting chilly so we went back to the silo room. Before going up, I glanced in the empty restaurant and noticed a desk lamp lit on the hostess stand. I didn’t remember it from before but figured it must be on a timer.

We finally went to bed and had no trouble falling asleep. About 4:00 a.m., I suddenly awoke as the overhead light came on. St. Pauli Girl slumbered away. A shiver ran down my spine. Logic took over. I figured I must not have flipped the switch completely, and it just came back on. I got up and looked at the switch. It was still in the off position! More shivers.

“No need to panic,” I thought. “Somebody’s probably coming in early to work in the restaurant and didn’t realize anyone was up here.” I crept down the stairs and looked into the restaurant. It was now completely dark; even the light on the hostess stand was now off. When I heard a loud bang in the kitchen, I ran back upstairs and dove into bed.

“What are you doing?” St. Pauli Girl asked. “Turn off the light.”

“It is off. I don’t know how it came on. Did you hear the bang downstairs?”


We lay still and quiet. Everything seemed to return to normal except for the light.

“Maybe we should get out our EVP recorders,” St. Pauli Girl said.

I went to the suitcase, pulled out the recorder and turned it on. Suddenly, we heard a lot of noises coming through the recorder.

“Wow, there’s a lot of paranormal action in here,” I said.

“Really? Can you make out anything?”

“I think it’s saying, ‘Zak.’”

“Give me that!” St. Pauli Girl ripped the EVP from my hand and held it to her ear. “This is strange. I hear, ‘French toast.’”

Then we heard a knock on the door. We dropped the EVP and stared in horror as the dead bolt slid back by itself. Slowly the door swung open. We saw a pale head floating just inside the door. He had long hair and a drawn face with sunken cheeks.

“The headless artist!” St. Pauli Girl gasped.

“Mmmm, you mean body-less,” said the ghoulish voice of the head.

“But the caretaker said headless…”

The eyebrows on the head went up and down. “Headless ghosts can’t talk. They mostly just gurgle. So when I need to talk, I use the head.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“Are you familiar with Van Gogh?”

We nodded.

“Let’s just say I took bad advice from a friend who said I could be more famous than Van Gogh.”

“What do you want?” I whispered, trying to sound courageous.

“Well, this is a bed and breakfast. What do you want for breakfast?”

“It’s kind of early for us,” I said.

“I’m a ghost. I don’t do anything after sunrise.”

St. Pauli Girl and I looked at each other and shrugged. “Eggs and sausage would be nice.”

“Do I look like I can cook? Think continental, like muffins and cereal.”

“I like Cap’n Crunch. The peanut butter one, not Crunchberries,” I said.

“We don’t have Cap’n Crunch. We only have Count Chocula.”

“Cocoa Puffs?”

“Count Chocula. It’s is the same thing except scarier and not as cuckoo.”

“Okay, sounds good. Goodnight.”

“Wait a second,” St. Pauli Girl said. “I want an English muffin, lightly toasted, not too dark with orange marmalade, a dab of cream cheese, not a dollop, but a dab, then on the side I want grilled jalapenos. Fresh, not pickled. Plus some butter.”

“How about a PopTart?” the ghost head asked.

“Sounds great! Goodnight!” I said.

St. Pauli Girl leaned forward and shook her finger at the head. “Only if it’s a real Pop Tart and not an off brand. Brown sugar cinnamon.”

“Geez, sorry I asked,” said the ghost.

With a woosh, the head disappeared, the door closed and locked itself, and the light went out. St. Pauli Girl quickly went back to sleep while I stayed awake until sunrise. By the time she got up, I had packed and was ready to check out.

“I put your clothes on the foot of the bed,” I said. “Get dressed, let’s get out of here.”

“Not until we get breakfast, or at least coffee.”

I looked at her and rolled my eyes. “Fine. I’ll see what I can find.” I opened the door to go downstairs and almost tripped over the breakfast tray on the floor. It held a big pot of coffee, a bowl of Count Chocula, and a bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon.

Remembering our last room service ordeal in New Mexico, St. Pauli Girl grabbed the salmon and bagel and said with a smile, “Ghost karma.”

(Note: Okay, maybe this was embellished a bit. But the lights did mysteriously go on and off in the middle of the night, and that was pretty creepy.)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Rah, Rah, Sis, Boom, Distort

(Sorry, getting on the soapbox today.)

I have long believed that the internet is the greatest form of free speech and a good reason why maybe free speech should be restricted. Years ago, before there were very many websites, bulletin boards were the most popular venues for wasting time. You might sign up for a bulletin board about your favorite tv show and chat with like minded people. Way back when, just for entertainment, my friends and I would make up ridiculous posts. For example, on a golf bulletin board we would invent Ben Hogan stories (kind of like Chuck Norris myths) until finally someone would recognize us for the idiots we were and remove our posts.

Yes, that’s how boring the internet was back then, but it’s still a great place to ignore facts. I was recently made aware of a petition going around to chastise a Texas high school principal who kicked a cheerleader off the squad because she refused to cheer for the man that allegedly raped her.

The public’s initial response:
A) Egads! That’s awful! How could a man be so unfeeling about something as awful as rape? and
B) What a great illustration of how blind love is when it comes to Texans and their football!

The only problem is that the petitioner chronicles the story like it all happened in a very short time span, as if it were a one hour episode of “Law and Order,” when in reality the events transpired over a two year period and were only fully resolved this month. But to fully appreciate the situation, you must flashback to February, 2009 and take into account only the facts known during that time.

In October, 2008, the cheerleader alleged that she was raped by the football player at a party.

In January, 2009, a grand jury declined to indict the football player. (An old saying goes, “A good prosecutor could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.”)

With no indictment, the player was allowed to continue with competitive sports, this time, the basketball team.

In February, 2009, the cheerleader refused to cheer the player’s name when he attempted free throws (a good idea unless you want him to miss).

Around this time, the cheerleader was dismissed from the cheerleading squad and sued, alleging that her free speech rights were violated. (The courts ruled in favor of the school and an appeals court affirmed the decision just this month, which put the story back in the news.)

We never learn who complained about her lack of cheering. It might have been something easy to ignore. But once you allow a cheerleader to be selective about who she will or won’t cheer for, you’ve set a precedent, and other cheerleaders will follow suit: “I’ll only cheer for my boyfriend” or “I won’t cheer for him because he cheated on me over the weekend” or “I won’t cheer for him because he won’t return my texts.”

So what should the high school principal have done? And how do you legally justify it?

If you want to petition someone, petition the DA who couldn’t get an indictment the first time around.

(Note: A second grand jury indicted the football player in November, 2009. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in October, 2010.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cash for Bonfires

I figured by now Pastor Terry Jones had returned to his day job as the star of The Buffalo Bill Cody Wild West Show. But no, it turns out he’s driving a brand new Hyundai as a reward for canceling his Quran burning . Yes, it’s true: a New Jersey car dealer promised the good reverend a new car if he didn’t burn the Quran.

In a nutshell: he’s getting paid for not burning the Quran..

Sign me up! I think he just single-handedly solved all property crime as well as kidnappings and extortion in the United States. Why rob a bank when you can just hold ideas hostage? And it’s mostly legal!

So I’m preparing a list of things I will not do. Car dealers, bankers, realtors, furniture salespeople, chefs, country clubs--please send me your best offer to prevent me from doing these dastardly deeds.

1. I will not commit murder. Not even attempted murder. (Okay, so I’m not setting the bar very high but you haven’t met some of my previous co-workers. Surely this is worth a hard piece of chewing gum from an old pack of baseball cards?)

2. I will not burn the Quran, the Bible, the Torah, and the Kama Sutra. (I’ve got an itchy finger on my lighter; I’m warning you. Send me a car with rich Corinthian leather seats. Send me a motorcycle, and I’ll only burn two out of four.)

3. I will not burn the Ten Commandments. (If someone can come up with a Hyundai for not burning the Quran in America, surely I can get a fleet of Bentleys out of this?)

4. I will not burn St. Pauli Girl’s Lionel Richie CD collection. This will require my utmost willpower. This deserves a house. No wait-- a villa. In the south of France.

5. I will not burn “Titanic,” “The Blind Side,” the entire Star Wars and Star Trek movie collection, “Avatar” and every musical that doesn’t involve Planet of the Apes. Netflix, please don’t send these movies to my house. They’ll just go up in smoke unless maybe someone gives me a state of the art home theater with rocking movie theater chairs and used gum on the floor. And a popcorn machine.

6. I will not burn Texas textbooks that contain references to Muslims, capitalism and condoms. I’m putting it on the line here; I could go to prison in the Republic for this. (It turns out the largest pickup truck in the world is owned by someone in the United Arab Emirates This isn’t right. Send me a bigger truck so we can right 2 wrongs.)

7. I will not burn DVDs of NFL games without the expressed written consent of the National Football League. All I ask is free tickets to all games, plus college games too. And my own marching band.

8. I will not burn “Dianetics” by L. Ron Hubbard. Any takers? Anyone?

9. I will not burn calories, birthday candles, rubber, bridges, leaves, the candle at both ends. I promise not to burn any of it for the low, low price of mansions, fast cars, yachts, cash and assorted door prizes. In short, luxury. I can be the least offensive person in the world for the right price.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


We owned our riding lawn mower a good month or so before I noticed its best feature: the beverage cup holder. I couldn’t believe Cooter didn’t point it out when he sold the mower to me. This being Texas, there’s only one beverage that belongs on a riding lawn mower. So in honor of Hank Hill, I popped open an Alamo Ale and mowed the lawn.

I can now impart words of wisdom for mowing and drinking:

1. Drink really fast. Mowing means warm weather which means . . . warm beer. To prime yourself, drink one while you fill up the gas tank. An alternative would be to invest in a koozie. Better yet, get a koozie and drink fast.

2. Don’t forget, safety first. Remember, you’re riding for two now. Beware of bushes and low hanging branches which could knock your beer off the mower.

3. Buy a cooler attachment. When shopping for a mower, look for a model that has a cooler attachment or extra space for you to attach one. The only thing worse than actually mowing the lawn is having to go back inside for more beer while mowing the lawn. The Germans have probably already dealt with this mowing/beer issue, so a German mower may be your best bet.

4. Carry a cell phone. In case you accidentally cut off your foot, you’ll need to dial 911. More importantly, if you haven’t attached a cooler, you can call your wife inside to get off her lazy butt and bring you another round.

5. Get the right size for the job. I’m not talking about horse-power, I’m talking about number of beers. For example, my two-acre yard is a 6-pack. (Half of you probably think I have a big yard, while the other half think I just drink too slow. And everyone might be right.) We all have our limits, so know yours and keep enough beer chilled for the job. Also, size matters. Obviously if you’re drinking 40’s, cut back on the number.

6. Drink what you like. Some of my mowing buddies have argued that the perfect beer pairing for mowing is a lite American lager. Not true. Remember, a riding lawn mower doesn’t require much effort. Feel free to drink a heavier beer like Guinness. (Note: Check local laws before making your purchase. In Texas, for example, the law requires that you drink only Shiner, Pearl, Lone Star or Alamo while doing yard work.)

7. Watch for back blasts. Be careful when mowing against walls, fences, trees and shrubbery. The back blast may blow dirt, leaves, grass or even locusts into your beer. Protect your beer by planning your route carefully. Or, just avoid those areas.

8. Be neighborly. If you see your neighbor mowing while you’re mowing, raise your beer and toast him. (In Texas, make sure the Pearl, Shiner, Lone Star or Alamo label is visible, to avoid legal issues.) Hopefully, he has also planned well and you don’t have to offer him one.

9. Pay attention. Just because you’re drinking fast doesn’t mean you should drive fast. If you notice that you’ve had to re-mow a few spots, slow down. If you notice that you re-mowed the same spot five times, head on in: you may have over/under estimated how many beers it takes to mow your yard.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Art of the Deal

After moving to our current home in 2009, we quickly realized a hand mower was no match for two acres and the Texas heat. We went to the local home and garden store to check out riding lawn mowers. Eventually, a helpful store associate came over to talk to us. I looked at his nametag: Cooter. (I swear I am not making this up. I swear on the Bible, the Texas Constitution, and the Koran if it’s not on fire.) And since Cooter spoke of himself in the third person, as in, “Would Cooter steer you wrong?” or “Cooter wants you to buy top of the line,” I concluded the nametag must be legit.

Cooter steered us away from the green and yellow American mowers toward a bright orange brand. Who was I to argue? The only things I would trust someone named Cooter on more than lawn mowers would be camouflage t-shirts, shotguns, or bear traps.

“This is the one you want. It’s the best model for the price. It’s Swedish.”

“Swedish?” I asked. “Don’t they mow like twice a year?”

“Exactly! It’s a low maintenance machine. Plus it’s safe.”

“It’s a Volvo?”

“No, but same country, same standards. And it has an American engine.”

“So it’s loud, fast, and safe?”

“Yep. And it’s orange.”

We had a lot to think about, but Cooter wasn’t about to let us think. He hopped on the mower and demonstrated that we didn’t have to use a stick to shift from forward to reverse. Then he opened the hood to show us the engine.

I stared for a moment and didn’t know what to say. “Does it get good gas mileage?”

“There’s the gas tank,” Cooter said as he pointed just behind the engine.

“What’s that, like 25 gallons?”

“No, it’s five, Boss.” All of a sudden Cooter ducked down under the hood. “Speaking of boss, there goes mine,” he said, his voice muffled. “He’s kind of pissed at me, because I was late today. Warn me if you see him coming again.”

“Uh, okay. So, you said we could get zero percent financing?”

“It wasn’t my fault. My car wouldn’t start. I started walking here. Jogged actually. After half a mile, I’m dragging. You seen how hot it is today? Little old lady stops and gives me a ride.”

“That’s nice.”

“Yes, a very sweet lady. Tried to get her to come inside so could I give her something out of thanks. But she just left. Bless her heart. Boss man didn’t believe me. Says I’m on thin ice already. A sale sure would help.”

“Look, we’re sold if you can get us the zero percent,” I finally said.

“All right! Step on over here.”

We followed him to a computer kiosk.

“Now we don’t actually offer the zero percent anymore, but I’ve got a plan. We can match other stores, and I know who does have zero percent right now.”

He picked up the phone then spoke into it. “This here is Cooter down at the Home and Garden Store. I got a customer interested in the Swedish lawn mower. Do you offer zero percent financing? Yeah, Cooter. Right, Home and Garden…..what? Hello? Look, I’m just--”

He slammed down the phone. “They hung up on me! That’s no customer service. I mean, I’m trying to help a customer out. I could have been sending them business. Anyway, I know they have zero percent which means I can go ahead and match it. Anyway, let’s talk attachments. You’ll want the grass catcher. What about the canvas canopy?”

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” I said.

“What about skin cancer? Ol’ Cooter here had a scare a few years ago.”

“Skin cancer?”

“A big mole on my forehead. Had it cut off.”

“But I always wear a hat outdoors.”

“What about your wife? Pretty thing like that shouldn’t be struck down so young by skin cancer.”

“She’s not going to be mow--” I started to say, then reconsidered, thinking Cooter might be onto something. The mowing, not the skin cancer.

“Seventy dollars for the canopy? Or skin cancer? Your choice, Boss.”

“Sure, let’s do it.”

We finally wrapped up the deal and even got to meet Cooter’s boss while Cooter told him about the sale. Oddly, he wasn’t very impressed and told Cooter he needed to speak to him later.

A few days after that, a big truck delivered the lawn mower with the canopy and grass catcher already attached. The deliverymen offered to start it up, but I’d forgotten to buy gas. I thanked them, then went and got gas so I could take it on a test run.

I started it up and punched the gas pedal, but it didn’t move. I checked the brake, tried reverse, even pushed it, but it would not budge.

I came inside and grabbed the manual. “I must be forgetting something really stupid,” I thought. Unfortunately, the manual was written in Swedish, and the only Swedish I knew was from watching the Swedish Chef on the Muppet Show. I found an English version of the manual online and did everything it recommended, but the mower would not go. I finally called the store and tried to explain. “It’s like there’s no transmission,” I said.

The deliverymen came back and brought a whole new mower. One guy started it up and drove it around the driveway. Piece of cake! When he finished, he hopped off, demonstrating the efficient safety feature that shuts off the mower if no one is in the seat.

The next day I jumped out of bed early, ready to mow. I sat down in the seat and reached to turn the ignition. “That’s odd,” I thought. The key was already in the “start” position just where the delivery guy had left it. I sighed. I turned the ignition off then tried to start it. Nothing. Sure enough, a dead battery.

After more phone calls, they delivered a new battery, and I finally mowed the lawn. I cruised around for awhile like a kid on a go-cart, but then I ventured near a tree, heard a loud crash, and suddenly felt the sun beating down on my face. A low branch had snagged the canvas canopy, ripping it from the mower.

A few weeks later, the grass catcher broke. It has now taken up permanent residence in the garage next to the canvas canopy.

But what the hay: I got zero percent financing, so far so good on the skin cancer, and then I discovered something that Cooter had forgotten to tell me about. But that’s for the next blog!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Attractively Thwarting Blunt Instruments

St. Pauli Girl and I were actually watching tv the other night when a rather bothersome commercial came on. I believe it was for some sort of shaving product, but it’s hard to tell by the visuals. It showed a guy getting hit by a bamboo stick before it turns into a splash of water, a woman throwing her top at a guy before it turns into a splash of water, followed by another guy getting hit in the face by a hockey puck which turns into a splash of water.

It got me thinking about how the development meeting for this commercial must have gone:

New Ad Guy: So we show an animated close-up of the blades slicing off individual whiskers. That’s followed by a clean shaven, shirtless guy, getting his face licked by the family dog. Then maybe a voiceover of the dog thinking out loud, “I wish my face was this smooth.”

Shaving Company Exec: (after a long silence) It’s different. Not sure I’m ready to run out and buy the product.

Old Ad Guy: Check it out. Girl rips off her top, throws it at the guy’s clean shaven face, but as it hits his face, it turns into a blast of water. Message: if you use this product, women will get naked for you.

Shaving Company Exec: Bingo! That’s exactly what our product does. Now if the commercial’s on cable, we can show nudity right?

Old Ad Guy: Great idea! We’ll do two versions, one will be rated R and the other PG-13.

New Ad Guy: Actually, I don’t think you can do that. Besides, we’re getting away from the product a bit.

Shaving Company Exec: Naked women is the product!

New Ad Guy: We’re getting into sexist territory…

Shaving Company Exec: You mean sexy.

Old Ad Guy: Maybe Skippy here is right. We can soften it up a bit. Add some manliness to it. How about some kung fu fighting? A guy gets nailed by a bamboo pole on the back of the head, but it turns into a splash of water as well.

Shaving Company Exec: Yes, violence and sex! Perfect.

Old Ad Guy: And for the grand finale, guy takes a hockey puck to the chops. But no, it’s just a splash of water!

Shaving Company Exec: Yeah, and then maybe the goon from the other team takes a whack with a hockey stick as well.

New Ad Guy: That’s not nearly as bad as the bamboo stick since he’s wearing a goalie mask.

Old Ad Guy: Who says he’s wearing a mask?

New Ad Guy: That’s ludicrous! Who plays hockey goalie without a mask? Are stupid people your target audience?

Old Ad Guy: The violence is beside the point. It’s just going to be way cool when something painful turns into a splash of water.

New Ad Guy: But the commercial is insinuating if you use this product, it has the power to stop blunt instruments and hockey pucks to the face. Let’s take it all the way and show it stopping bullets, knives and steel beams.

Old Ad Guy: That’s just crazy. Plus you’re asking for a lawsuit at that point. I mean SWAT teams will be using the product instead of bulletproof vests.

New Ad Guy: But you don’t think someone will be dumb enough to use the product and then allow himself to be smacked in the face by a 2 by 4?

Shaving Company Exec: What 2 by 4? It’s a bamboo pole. Panda bears eat bamboo. That makes it soft and cute.

Old Ad Guy: Plus we can put some Asians in the commercial.

New Ad Guy: I just don’t think implying that this product makes you indestructible is the right message to send.

Shaving Company Exec: That’s irrelevant. There’s a topless woman!

Old Ad Guy: Remember the ad you did for that 900 telephone number with that blond chick with the smokin’ hot body who says she’s at home on Saturday night waiting for cool guys like you to call?

New Ad Guy: Yeah, she never returned my calls.

Old Ad Guy: Anyway, all ads are just a twist of that message. You buy this product and hot, smokin’ girls/guys are waiting to talk to you or throw their clothes at you.

Shaving Company Exec: Yeah kid, you obviously haven’t been in the business very long. And you look a little scraggly. Here’s a sample of our new shaving kit. I bet that blond girl calls you back after you get a good close, clean shave like a blast of cold water.

New Ad Guy: Wow, thanks! You really think she’ll call me back?

Shaving Company Exec: For $49.99, can you afford not to take the risk?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Great Moments in Hospitality

Today we present another episode of "Great Moments in Hospitality":

A few years ago, after working nearly non-stop at Good Eats for the first 18 months of its existence, St. Pauli Girl and I decided it was time for a break. We managed to slip away for a long weekend to a resort in the mountains of New Mexico in January. As picturesque as the mountains were, it helped that the resort included a casino.

On the second day of the trip, we decided to splurge on room service for breakfast. St. Pauli Girl had never done it before, and while I thought I had at some point or another, I think I was mostly remembering television shows. We filled out the special menu card and left it on the doorknob overnight.

As expected, the next morning at 10:00 a.m., we heard a knock on the door. The pleasant room service woman wheeled in a cart with covered dishes and small vase of flowers. I signed for it along with a nice gratuity on top of the service charge. We sat down and pulled off the plate covers to reveal our scrumptious breakfast. My “Ranch Hand Breakfast” featured most of the major food groups: fried potatoes, meat and coffee. St. Pauli Girl’s breakfast was lighter, much lighter.

“Didn’t you order anything?” I asked.

“The smoked salmon.”

“Oh yeah, that sounded good.” I looked all around the tray again, but there was no salmon. “I guess they forgot.”

I called room service.

Me: Yes, we ordered the smoked salmon but didn’t get any.

Room Service: Yes, we ran out. It’s supposed to be on the delivery truck later today.


Me (looking down at the check): You billed us for it.

Room Service: We’ll bring some up as soon as the truck comes in.

Me: Which is when?

Room Service: About 4:00.

Me: We can go ice fishing, catch our own, smoke it and eat it before the truck gets here. Can we get something else?

Room Service: Um, of course, sure.

Me: Why didn’t you call and tell us before you came up here the first time?

Room Service: We didn’t want to wake you.

Me: We filled out a card that said ‘Please deliver at 10:00 a.m.’ I think it’s safe to say, a 9:45 or even a 9:30 call would have been okay.

Room Service: Well, we don’t know that. Some people get really upset when you wake them up.

Me: I see. So instead of trying to upset us with a phone call, you decided to deliver half of our food but bill us for all of it? And hope we don’t notice?

Room Service: The Ranch Hand breakfast is enough for two normal people.

Me: Normal? What’s that supposed to mean?

Room Service: Sir, do you want another entrée or not?

Me: Yeah, how about the Belgian waffle?

Room Service: Very good. Oh, and we won’t charge you either.

St. Pauli Girl encouraged me to eat my breakfast before it got cold while she sat and stared. It’s difficult to eat in front of starving people, but I managed to finish. Then her waffle finally arrived. I watched for awhile before deliberating how mad she might get if I turned on the television. Instead, I just walked around the room then stood and looked out the window. I noticed a small grey truck driving up the service entrance. It had a fish logo on the side.

“Hey,” I said, “I think the salmon just arrived. You want me to call room service?”

St. Pauli Girl sighed. “No, they’ll probably just throw a whole salmon on the plate, stick a Marlboro in its mouth and call it, ‘smoked.’”

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Books of Mass Destruction

(For background info)

Reporter: We are live in Gainesville, Florida outside of The Dove Church. With me is Pastor John Wesley Hardin. I hear you have a special event planned this weekend?

JWH: That’s right. A good old-fashioned book burning.

Reporter: I imagine a lot of Henry Miller books, maybe some romance and a few evolutionary theory books?

JWH: Nope, just one book. In honor of the fallen of 9/11, we are going to burn “My Pet Goat.”

Reporter: The children’s book?

JWH: Satan’s children maybe.

Reporter: What is your objection to the book?

JWH: First of all, a goat has horns. We know it’s a sign of the devil. And here’s another tidbit, if you change one letter in the word “book”, it becomes “bock” which is German for goat and of course, the devil. And this was the book President Bush was reading to schoolchildren during the attack on the twin towers.

Reporter: So you believe President Bush was teaching satanic rituals to schoolchildren?

JWH: Hmm, well yes. But more importantly, it is my belief that had he been reading The Bible instead, he would have thwarted the 9/11 terrorists.

Reporter: You mean maybe by casting a spell from the Book of Psalms or something?

JWH: No, by demonstrating faith, God would have seen that and had those planes crash somewhere else.

Reporter: But there were innocent people on those planes as well.

JWH: He probably would have done like a mini-rapture, suck those innocents straight into heaven and then have the terrorists crash by themselves. Except for the Buddhists and the Jews, they probably would have crashed too.

Reporter: But you realize that the school probably wouldn’t allow him to read The Bible because of separation of church and state.

JWH: There you go. The attack was God’s punishment for the government taking The Bible out of schools. So by burning “My Pet Goat,” we are saying bring The Bible back into the schools.

Reporter: Don’t you think maybe a rally reading passages from The Bible would be more effective?

JWH: We do that every Sunday. A burning is flashier, hopefully draw some youth out.

Reporter: You expect to attract children by burning a children’s book?

JWH: They know it’s wicked. I been preaching that for years.

Reporter: So what you’re telling me is that this is all about publicity?

JWH: And saving souls.

Reporter: Reading “My Pet Goat” is a sin?

JWH: Yes, but more importantly there is a direct correlation between reading that book and terrorism.

Reporter: That’s preposterous. Children have been reading that book for years.

JWH: Everytime a president reads that book, we get attacked by terrorists.

Reporter: And you’re certain no other president ever read that book?

JWH: Of course not. Only Satanists read it. Well, Clinton probably would have read it if there was nudity in it. And Obama is probably waiting for the Arabic version.

Reporter: Are there any books you think might have the same disastrous effect?

JWH: I’m working on it. Right now I heard something about “I have Two Dads” or “My Mommy is a Dad” book. Something like that could wipe out an entire city!

Reporter: You think children’s books are the ultimate weapons of mass destruction?

JWH: Maybe, maybe not. I do know The Bible is the ultimate antidote. There’s never been any killing in the name of The Bible.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Put an X There

I have a secret guilty pleasure which I will now confess to the world. Every Friday night at midnight, I get a snifter of cognac, handcuffs, whip cream, a badminton racket and a pogo stick… oh, no wait, that’s my other addiction. No, on Friday nights, I like to watch “Ghost Adventures” on the Travel Channel.

This show follows the exploits of Zak Bagans and crew as they get locked into some of the scariest places in the world and dare the ghosts to come and get them. If ghosts appear, Zak and crew will record it, and the ghosts get to be on national tv. It seems to me to have been based on a British show called “Most Haunted” where a British crew does the same thing except you can’t understand them. Except for the screaming. Which is really loud. Zak has essentially Americanized the idea by going into haunted houses and taunting the ghosts, saying, “You want a piece of this?”

The first half of the show involves the crew touring the location and interviewing people who have had ghost “sightings.” When they find a ghost hot spot, Zak will say, “put an X there” and the camera guy will put down duct tape in the form of an “X” which will mark where they will place cameras later. I now try to use that phrase in my daily life. During meetings when someone makes a valid point, I exclaim, “Put an X there!”

After getting locked down, the crew sets up cameras, video, recorders, seismographs, MRI’s, X-ray machines, etc. to record ghost footage while Zak taunts the ghosts to come out. My favorite device is the EVP (electronic voice phenomenon), which is, for lack of a better term, ghost-speak translator. For example you might hear a whisper, the wind, or a mouse scurry across the floor, and the EVP will pick it up as “Shhhbrggghgfffttyuitbundesliga.” When this happens on the show, I can never seem to make out the translation, but Zak can. He’ll say, jumping up and down, “Did you hear that? It said, ‘Get out! Get out!’”

But the EVP has really revolutionized ghost hunting. (In fact, I’m thinking about getting a “Scooby Doo Theme” ringtone for my cellphone, then charging people obscene amounts of money to let me walk through their house: “Yep, every time you hear the Scooby Doo song, that means a ghost is present.”)

Some paranormal investigators contacted Zak to let him know they heard the ghosts from one of his previous investigations say, “I want Zak.” The ghosts called him out! Apparently, ghosts watch a lot of tv, especially the Travel Channel (which makes sense for a soul doomed to spend eternity in some old house). Another time, an interviewee from a haunted saloon and brothel reported that some ghosts were having sex upstairs. The afterlife is apparently not so bad: there’s satellite tv and hookers!

Recently, St. Pauli Girl, her son Eduardo, and I were at a pub when the subject of ghosts came up. Eduardo pointed out that he actually had an EVP application on his smart phone and proceeded to show us how it worked. The phone displayed a radar with brown dots which represented numerous ghosts in the bar. We were surrounded, which makes perfect sense; if ghosts exist, they have to be all over the place, not just in dungeons, old houses and television sets.

But I needed more proof. Having watched enough Zak, I knew what to do. I looked around the room and called out, “If there are any spirits here that would like to talk to us, please pay our beer tab.”

St. Pauli girl was not amused. “What are they going to pay with?”

“Hmmm, yes of course. ‘If there are any spirits here that would like to talk to us, order me another beer. A good one, something imported or a microbrew’.”

I never got another beer, but it doesn’t make me any less of a believer. Rest assured, I’ll be watching Ghost Adventures this Friday night, rooting Zak on. “Yeah, Zak, put an x there!”

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Senator is on Line 1 and Says You're Stupid

Last week we received a rather odd message on our answering machine. It was made to sound like that we were being privy to a press conference of our beloved senator. In that press conference, Red, a farmer from central Texas, asked the senator about the estate tax (which, if you are unaware, will return in January if the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire). Unfortunately, our answering machine cut off too soon, and we didn’t get to hear the senator’s answer. But I’m pretty sure it would have gone something like this:

Red: Senator, my wife and I started with nothing in 1958 and over the years we acquired some property. We’d like to leave it to our 4 kids who are in the ranching and farming business. At least they will be. Right now they’re in FFA.

Senator: Good for them. They are the salt of the earth.

Red: As I hear it, the estate tax will take away 55% of our property before the kids get it.

[(in background, teenager’s voice) I don’t want a farm. I want a drum set!]

Senator: First of all, Red, it’s not an estate tax. It’s a death tax. It doesn’t affect your heirs. It’s all about you. If the Bush tax cuts expire, funeral homes will be required to collect a death tax before they bury or cremate you.

Red: Well, we just won’t pay it.

Senator: That would be even worse. President Obama will send Government agents to the funeral home where they will go through your pockets to get any leftover wallets, loose change and even extract gold fillings from your mouth. They will then shakedown everyone at the funeral until they get the death tax. And you know what they’re going to do with that money?

Red: What?

Senator: Give it to Cadillac-driving welfare queens and drug dealers to ensure that crack babies get free health care.

[(in background, teenager’s voice) I want a cadillac!]

Red: What happens to our property?

Senator: Have you seen the pictures of Michelle Obama working in the White House Garden? She wants to be a farmer, and if the Bush tax cuts expire, she’s going to get your farm.

Red: Well, I’ll be.

Senator: Red, do you have cancer by chance?

Red: Nope. Fit as my John Deere tractor.

Senator: I’d advise you to spend as much time as possible in the sun. I have two words for you: melanoma.

Red: Is that a new cantaloupe disease?

Senator: Live as recklessly as you can. Don’t wear a seatbelt, drive while texting, run with scissors. You have three months to die without the death tax or say hello to Farmer Obama.

Red: You’ve got my vote senator!

Senator: Thanks, Red. And to help me get this message out to everyone, I want you to make a pledge to my team motto: “I’d rather die in 2010 than pay the death tax in 2011.”

As for an opposing point of view, I anticipate something like this on our answering machine next week:

Francois: Good afternoon, senatorial candidate. I’m an unemployed haberdasher who also happens to have lung cancer. I hear republicans would like to repeal President Obama’s healthcare act. Is that true?

Candidate: First, it pains me to hear of your unemployment and ill health. If elected, I promise to end unemployment forever and keep healthcare legal. Sadly, the republicans would like to outlaw healthcare.

Francois: Wow, I hadn’t heard that. I thought maybe if I could find a job, I may get healthcare again.

Candidate: Not likely if the republicans have their way. In fact, they don’t want to just repeal healthcare, they want to kill you.

Francois: Me?

Candidate: Yes, and all the other sick people who are a drain on the system. They intend to set up an organ farm where rich people will get to harvest the organs of poor people so they can live longer and enjoy tax breaks which keep the economy humming.

Francois: I’ll never go to the hospital again!

Candidate: And that’s what they want. For you to die alone out of view of the rest of us. With the abolition of healthcare, republicans will once again encourage children to smoke cigarettes and more people like you will get lung cancer.

Francois: I’ve never smoked a day in my life.

Candidate: Exactly! Had we eliminated second hand smoke earlier, maybe you could have been saved.

Francois: I worked most of my life in a coal mine.

Candidate: Did I tell you I love unions? They are the antidote to the evil mine owners who smoke big fat cigars made of hundred dollar bills only to get lung cancer themselves then harvest your organs to prolong their lives.

Francois: Why would they harvest organs from someone who has lung cancer?

Candidate: I’m sure you have other valuable organs which may not be killing you at this time like the republicans are. Have you heard about how they’re doing face transplants these days?

Francois: A rich person might buy my face one day? That’s something to consider. Man, I could be a movie star yet!

Candidate: And that’s what republicans want you to think when in reality they’ll probably just put your spleen in some CEO's poodle.

What’s on your answering machine?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Pimp and Circumstance

St. Pauli Girl just completed a short, miserable stint teaching English for a certain online college we’ll call The University of Griffins. With a Ph.D. and several years of college teaching experience, she had the audacity to bring this experience into this new job and expected students to have to work like college students and write papers as well as a college student (or at least as well as a 9th grader). It turns out that her teaching philosophy clashed with the school’s motto: We accept Visa, Mastercard, Discover and especially Guaranteed Student Loans.

A lesser person might be bitter and angry, but I see opportunity. Having learned how a great online campus is run, I’ve decided to open my own university: University of Flagstaff (we’ll only raise the flag half-staff if you don’t graduate). My university motto will be: We accept Visa, Mastercard, Discover, student loans, drachmas, gold doubloons, cases of whiskey and the renminbi or yuan.

U of F is a win-win situation for both the students and myself (Dean, President and Director of Financial Aid) because I reap the rewards of Guaranteed Student Loans while the student will enjoy a grading curve that makes Dead Man’s Curve look like a runway at Edwards Air Force Base. One of the great things I learned from the University of Griffins, is that it’s all about word count. When assigned a paper, teachers usually demand a minimum word count to extract a certain amount of torture from the student. Usually, failure to achieve the word count results in failure for the paper. But not at U of F (or U of G for that matter)! You get credit for the percentage of words you write! Just by putting your name on a paper, you avoid getting a grade of zero.

Let’s look at another example. An Introduction to Quantum Mechanics class includes an assignment of a 500-word paper on Newton’s 3 Laws. Whew! That would make me want to drop that class. But there’s a better solution at U of F. Here’s my paper:

Newton’s 3 Laws
Dexter Klemperer

The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog….

Now imagine that sentence being repeated until I’ve run up a word count of 375. Most high school teachers would probably give you an “F”. But at U of F, 375 words out of 500 is 75% which means “C”. Just think if I take a couple more minutes of copying and pasting to bring the word count up to 500: “A+”! Why does this paper merit that kind of grade? Because you get partial credit for word count, the grammar is perfect, and since content is subjective, we just grade on the objective parts. (Plus you’d get bonus points for using every single letter in the alphabet.)

You can use the same paper for every class (just make sure you cite yourself or your 1st grade phonics book in the bibliography to avoid plagiarism charges.) But you can also easily change it up for different classes, foxes can be grey, white, golden and dogs can be sleeping, growling or diffident. Get an online Ph.D. in no time!

U of F will offer many employment opportunities with jobs paying as much as $4 per hour. If you know how to access the “Tools”, “Word Count” menu, our employment recruiters want to talk to you (must be at least 12 years old to apply for a professor position). As an instructor, you will be put through a rigorous training program which will totally waste your time, but that’s okay because we won’t pay you for it. In the final phase, you will be paired with a sorcerer (kind of like a mentor but cooler and more magical) to help you navigate your first course. For instance, if you teach English, we might assign a Professor of Upholstery to be your sorcerer. Not only will your students master English, but you can probably get one to fix your couch as well.

Students will enjoy the more informal atmosphere of our online campus. Instead of instructors and professors, our faculty will be referred to as your BFF. But that’s not all, we require your BFF to provide his/her home telephone number so you can call with questions at any time. Don’t like the grade on your last test? There’s nothing illegal or against school policy about 3 a.m. phone calls.

But my university isn’t just about making lots of money like the others. For many years, test scores show that American students have trailed other countries especially in science and math. Educators and politicians have struggled for ways to improve American education. But they’re looking at it from the wrong end. Since the U of F accepts the renminbi or yuan as well as other Asian currencies, we encourage as many foreign students as possible to enroll. We’ll dumb them down to the American level.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Let Your Fingers Do the Taking

Today’s blog begins with a quick quiz:

Upon starting a new small business:
A. Your mood swings will go from optimism to depression to joy to sheer terror on an hourly basis
B. You will get great satisfaction out of being self-employed and providing valuable goods/services to the community
C. You will become rich
D. You will become destitute
E. Both C & D within a few months time
F. Knowing that you have financing by either investors or a bank, people will try to get that money as quickly as possible from you—sometimes legally, sometimes dubiously, and many times through chicanery

The correct answer is F (partial credit if you answered A or E). I have many stories to tell but this one just came up again so now I will provide this knowledge to others. This scam has less to do with knowing that you have money and more to do with hoping you won’t notice that they are stealing your money.

Let’s say you and I went to grade school together. Sometime during 4th grade, you borrowed $5 from me. I asked to be paid back several times until you finally said, “You want your five dollars? Here’s five for you!” You pull your fingers into a fist and punch me in the face.

Now let’s say for some reason, 44-year-old me just remembered this morning that you owed me that money. Somehow I get my hands on your telephone number. But instead of calling you, I call your phone company and tell them to bill you and to please send it to me.

Amazingly, the phone company says, “Sure.”

So you’re thinking, “Big deal. You got your $5 back.” However, you and I both know that we didn’t go to school together and that you really don’t owe me anything (although donations are always welcome). And to make it more fun, the $5 charge ends up on your bill by coincidence only because I’m going through a phone book, picking out numbers and telling the phone company that these phone numbers owe me money. And the phone company—because they can’t afford to hire humans—has a computer voice respond, “You betcha.”

Let’s assume I managed to bill 10,000 phone numbers $5 a month which comes to $50,000 a month. How many people will actually notice this charge on their 5-page phone bill? For fun, let’s assume that 50% (probably way too high) of the people complain and get it taken off their bill. I still get $25,000 a month! See you in Aruba! (Hmmm, wait maybe I should be making an infomercial…)

Of course, I would be too easy to track down this way. So let’s say there’s a company out there that we’ll call just for fun, JME Services, that specializes in what they call third party billing. Now I simply tell JME that you owe me money for what I call Special Directory Services, and they contact the phone company to have it added to your bill.

Your phone bill now lists a charge for Special Directory Services from JME Services but only provides a number for the phone company. You call the phone company which tells you there’s nothing they can do because JME told them to do it, but they give you JME’s phone number. JME will tell you there’s nothing they can do because I told them to do it, and they give you my phone number. Depending on how crooked I am, I may try to convince you that you really did order my services but more likely I’ll apologize and remove you from future billing because I’m already making a killing in this business. But the best part is that with three companies involved, they can all blame someone else! Plus I think you’d really enjoy my Special Directory Services if you knew what they were.

Every month I get charged $30 to $50 on my bill from some third party. Every month I call the phone company who then tells me to call JME who then tells me to call this mysterious third party who never answers. Eventually JME puts a stop on the billing and the phone company drops the charge from my bill. However, the phone company cannot put a stop on third party billing because the government requires them to allow it. Fantastic! Another example of the government working hard for the people.

The charges will stop for a few months then a new mysterious company will pop up with its hand in my back pocket. And so I go through the whole painful process again. The scammers have figured out for the bargain price of $35 a month, you’ll eventually tire of dealing with all these companies and just keep paying them.

As good as it feels to get that off my chest and take satisfaction in alerting others to read your phone bill with a magnifying glass, I realized I probably also inspired 6000 people to set up their own billing companies. Why not? It’s easy; just call the phone company where the answer is always, “You betcha!”

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Your Money's No Good Here

Several years ago, St. Pauli Girl and I chose our bank based on its thousands of world-wide locations since we considered ourselves sophisticated frequent travelers. And St. Pauli Girl happened to have an account there already. Moving half-way across the Great Republic wouldn’t be a problem except we chose the one town that didn’t have a branch for our bank. This is not a big deal anymore with direct deposits and online banking. In fact, I overdrew our account while I typed this.

But rare occasions call for us to make the twenty-mile drive to the bank. Turns out I had to get a cashier’s check to pay a certain sheriff of a certain parish in Louisiana. That parish had a nice welcome center consisting of two police cars parked on the interstate in an area where you had about thirty feet to slow down from 70 to 55. Downhill. Some people would call this a speed trap, but I prefer to think of it more like a telethon. I’m happy to pledge some money so this parish can make its budget.

So I took my pledge card (plus a check from another bank to cover the funds) to the bank where I actually got to deal with a real live teller:

Me: I need to deposit this check.

Teller: Certainly. (her fingers fly across her keyboard then she hands me a receipt). There you go.

Me: Great. Now I need to get a cashier’s check.

Teller: From the same account?

Me: Yes. Assuming that I have access to the check I just deposited.

Teller: No, you don’t. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow morning.

Me: (Sigh)

Teller: But if you’d like, I can cash that check, deposit the cash and then you can get a cashier’s check.

Me: Great. Anything to save me another trip. (I hand back the receipt and as she works on the keyboard again, the wheels in my mind begin to turn.) How come I don’t have access to that deposit right now?

Teller: Standard policy. Funds aren’t available until the next day.

Me: But you cashed the check.

Teller: You’re a loyal customer. We can do that for you.

Me: How is your ability to cash the check different than my having access to a deposit?

Teller: Because you deposited cash. You always have immediate access to deposited cash because cash is cash.

Me: But it worked the same way. I gave you a check, and you gave me access.

Teller: No, I cashed the check. I just didn’t show you the money. If it would make you feel better, I can give you the money, you can fill out a deposit slip, deposit the cash and then we can do the cashier’s check.

Me: No, by cashing this check, you are telling me this check is good right now. But if I just deposit it, someone somewhere will decide sometime tonight the check is good.

Teller: Yes, the computer.

Me: But you’re typing into a computer right now.

Teller: I’m entering the transaction. The computer will update your account tonight.

Me: So if I deposit a check for a million dollars, I can’t access it until tomorrow but you’d cash it for me today?

Teller: Let’s not get ridiculous.

Me: Well, what’s the threshold? $500? $1000? This could be important someday.

Teller: Do you want a cashier’s check or not?

Me: If I deposited the check instead of what you call cashing it, would you still give me the cashier’s check even though I don’t have enough money in my account?

Teller: Of course.

Me: But then I’d be overdrawn.

Teller: And the computer would charge you for it.

Me: Now I understand!

Teller: Okay, the fee for a cashier’s check is $7.

Me: Yeah, take it out of the account.

Teller: Do you need a cashier’s check? I can get you a money order for $4.

Me: What? Aren’t they the same thing?

Teller: No.

Me: Sure they are. When Sheriff Leroux gets either one, he knows it’s as good as cash. The difference is that a cashier’s check comes from a bank while a money order comes from a convenience store.

Teller: We sell money orders as well.

Me: What’s the difference?

Teller: $7 versus $4.

Later at another bank, I close down a business savings account:

Teller: May I ask why you are closing this account?

Me: Because of a monthly service charge of $5 and a 0.000001 interest rate. I’m better off keeping it under the mattress.

Teller: You only have $13 in the account. The $5 is a government regulation when you have less than $100 in the account.

Me: I see, but I also get charged for transfers from checking to savings and back again.

Teller: That’s also a government regulation if you do more than 6 in a month.

Me: Well that’s a drag because the account was a good place to store my sales tax so I wouldn’t spend it before I had to send it in to the state. At least I can blame it on Obama. So these fees go to the government?

Teller: No.

Me: I see. But it was the government’s idea?

Teller: Yes, exactly!

Me: And the banks fought it pretty hard because they value their customers?

Teller: Sir, it costs money to keep an account open.

Me: Really? I do online banking, get paperless statements, and you don’t pay any interest. I assume the bank president keeps it under his mattress.

Teller: You’re supposed to keep money in savings. Not move it back and forth. That’s why it’s called savings. The government wants to ensure that enough money stays in the bank.

Me: So if the government makes you do this, can’t you slip a little refund to your customers?

Teller: That would violate the spirit of the law. We can’t do that. We must do what the government tells us.

Me: So you don’t want to do it, but you’ll accept the fees anyway?

Teller: Yes.

A lot of people were against the recently passed financial legislation law because they were worried that banks would have to think of more creative ways to make money. Good news! I think they’re up to the challenge.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Not Richard Scarry, but Dick Scary

This past Sunday while waiting for St. Pauli Girl to get ready for church, I stumbled across this headline in an online newspaper:

“Pope Adds Children’s Book to Resume.”

Fantastic. It’s high time the Catholic Church got its act together and addressed the innocents it strives to protect.

Luckily, I got my hands on an advance copy of the Pope’s new book:

The Friends of Jesus

by The Pope

Greetings, Little Sheep! As the Head Shepherd, I want to take a moment and talk to you about your future with the Church.

Jesus had 12 apostles (“groupies,” you could say). Each one had traits that we still see in today’s church-goers and staff, and you will meet people very similar to them throughout your life.

To make it easier for you youngsters to understand, I’m going to call our modern-day apostles . . .

The Seven Dwarves

Dopey: Dopey is the only female in the group. The original Dopey, when traveling with Jesus around Galilee, always said annoying stuff like, “Why don’t you stop and ask for directions?” and “Did you bring enough fish and bread for everyone?”

As you will soon learn in your religion classes, a woman like Dopey is only good for being a nun or making babies. Dopeys can’t become priests. But they can be nuns which is almost as good because they get to spank children and rap their knuckles with rulers. They just can’t take it to the next level.

Remember, we should always respect women like Dopey. After all, without all the Dopeys of the world we wouldn’t have so much fun replenishing the flo… oh wait, that’s an adult joke between me and the Cardinals.

And what do you say when someone asks if women should be priests? That’s right, “Oh, that’s just ‘Dopey’!”

(Girls, you can stop reading at this point. Assuming you know how to read, ha-ha!)

Grumpy. As an apostle, Grumpy was the one who always whined, “Are we there yet?” and “Do you have to wash our feet first? I’m hungry.” Grumpy is the not-yet retired priest who is relegated to the Sunday matinee mass rather than the 10 a.m. Main Event. You’ll recognize Grumpy because he

 is still pissed off about Vatican II,
 thinks Latin is good for you (because it was good enough for him, dammit)
 won’t give up on the vintage fire and brimstone sermon.

And you’ll remember Grumpy because he yelled at you for talking in church, or chewing gum, and we all know that’s the quickest route to hell.

Happy. Happy’s the young priest at your church, fresh from seminary, learning the ropes of priesthood. He plays an important role with the youth group and is very friendly compared to Grumpy. In fact, he’ll likely offer you gum and invite you to play touch football, in which you can expect to be on the “skins” team. Don’t be afraid, little guy; he only wants to make you happy too.

Happy may invite you to go camping or to a movie and he may even give you your first taste of bourbon. (Ah yes, I remember the first time I took the youth group to the cinema, way back before I became Pope. The movie was a remake of “Shaft” starring Dale DaBone. Great flick.)

Doc. You should never be afraid of the doctor, which can also be said of your parish pastor, the senior priest who’s like a doctor, except better! He’ll probably recruit you to be an altar boy. This requires a physical exam. There may be tickling involved, a second taste of bourbon, and maybe a round of the fun game “Can You Find the Candy in My Pocket?”

Doc will probably take you out to a nice restaurant like “Between the Buns.” To earn brownie points with God, you should offer to wash Doc’s car. In tight shorts, no shirt. Lots of soap. (I digress . . . now where was I?)

Bashful. This is the apostle you should strive to be. Nothing sinks a church like loose lips. Happy, Doc and myself will forever be in your debt if you remain bashful. In fact, I can guarantee you’ll get to heaven (no matter what Grumpy says) if you keep your mouth shut. I can do that; I’m the Pope.

Judas. He’s the opposite of Bashful, and he’s on a hayride to hell. Stay away from Judas. He’s in the clutches of Satan and the Trial Lawyer’s Association, who’s always trying to extort money from me and the Church. If, like Judas, you squeal to authorities, you’ll be immediately ex-communicated from the Church. I’ll call Satan on his private line, and he’ll then personally come and possess you, making your head spin and causing you to spew vomit all over your mom and dad and Rover. You’ll wish you hadn’t said anything, and your mom and dad will have to have Doc come and exercise, I mean, exorcise you.

Vito. Vito was Jesus’s top lieutenant, kind of like the Lone Ranger’s Tonto, or better yet, Batman’s Robin. And we have a bunch of Vito’s here in the Church. Vito carries a baseball bat and a Luger. You may run into him someday when you’re trying to decide between accepting a ride from Bashful or Judas. He’s got ways to persuade you to ride with Bashful.

So remember kids, just like Jesus had his Apostles, so the modern day priest has his Dwarves. Strive to be the best little sheep you can be. Then someday, a priest may choose you from the flock, stand behind you, and guide you to heaven.