Saturday, February 27, 2010

Jumping on the Conspiracy Bandwagon

Three disturbing incidents happened recently in the great republic of Texas; henceforth referred to as the “Great Republic” subtitled “With Options to Secede.” (While doing a spell check on secede, I discovered a website: So make that four disturbing incidents in recent weeks.)

First, a nut who claimed to have been the victim of an oppressive IRS--yet still owned his own airplane--slammed said airplane into an office building, killing himself and an innocent victim and seriously injuring others. The nut was distraught because he tried to form his own church to avoid paying taxes. (Had he seen Fred Sanford try the same thing on an episode of “Sanford and Son,” he would have realized that effort would turn out badly.) To top it all off, his daughter, apparently desperate to get on the news, hailed him as a hero. She eventually backed off the statement, I suppose after a lot of people shook her, slapped her, and reminded her that innocent lives were lost.

Disturbing Incidents Numbers Two and Three would be that two candidates for governor of the Great Republic revealed that they are not entirely certain the US government wasn’t involved in the 9/11 terror attacks. (And I don’t think anyone has asked Rick Perry yet.) Easy as it is for me to concede that Dick Cheney can be sinister and diabolical, even I couldn’t make that leap. This has really brought pandering to an incredible low; these two candidates might as well encourage twelve-year-olds to get to the polls, because pre-teens are about as likely to vote as the conspiracy theorists who are battened down in their bomb shelters.

But this made me realize that conspiracy theorists are now getting into the mainstream. And I want a piece of the action. So today I present three conspiracy theories to see how far we can run with them.

The Toyota Conspiracy

By now everyone is well aware that you can climb into any Toyota car in Maine, go to sleep and wake up in Los Angeles. That’s because thoughtful engineers made the accelerator more like an “on/off” switch except the off part doesn’t work. This has led to many accidents, massive recalls and tearful reports of a woman phoning her husband while her car throttled out of control so she could hear his voice one last time. Hopefully, she was cited for using a cell phone while driving. (But then any good lawyer would have pointed out that she really wasn’t driving.)

Most people would argue that this is just an unfortunate screw-up, the cars will get fixed and a few Japanese auto executives will jump from 20th floor windows. But . . . it is actually a conspiracy. Who would benefit most from the demise of the Toyota brand? Ford and GM. But mostly, the U.S. taxpayer. Remember the massive billion dollar taxpayer-funded loans to GM to keep it afloat? What better way to ensure it gets paid back than eliminating the competition? For the past 18 months, CIA operatives have been sneaking around putting crazy glue onto Toyota gas pedals. And if you think I’m crazy, well . . . Volvo owners, beware. I’m just saying.

The Long Cold Winter Conspiracy

This has been a miserable winter, and we haven’t even seen the worst of it here in the central Great Republic. A lot of ill-informed weather people would like for you to believe that it is because of El Nino, some sort of weather phenomena or snow god who controls the pacific ocean spewing cold air and blizzards into the United States. But what you may not realize is that “El Nino” is Portuguese for “Al Ninny” or, loosely translated by this conspiracy theorist, “Al Gore is a ninny.” That’s because this long cold winter is actually a conspiracy to prove that global warming is a myth and that Al Gore is indeed a ninny.

“But you can’t control the weather,” a reasonable person might say. Not so fast. Think back to February 2 when all eyes were focused on famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil, who on an overcast morning would predict how long winter would last. As he came out of his home, everyone was sure he wouldn’t see his shadow on an overcast day. But what most people didn’t know was that high above in a black helicopter, CIA operatives shined a powerful flashlight down creating the shadow that caused Phil to predict six more harsh weeks of winter. Meanwhile, the oil and natural gas fat cats just get richer. And Al Gore is a ninny.

The Canadian Women’s Ice Hockey Gold Medal Conspiracy

CIA operatives disguised as hockey referees ensured that the Canadian women would win the hockey gold medal at the Olympics the other day.

You might say, “That’s crazy. You’ve gone too far. Why would the CIA sabotage the U.S. team? U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A! Woof! Woof! Woof!”

Partly it was just to demonstrate that we could. But mostly it was to show that Canadian women are a bunch of out of control, rabble-rousing, cigar-smoking, beer-swilling lumberjacks. After the medal ceremony, the Canadian women came back onto the ice to revel in their victory. CIA operatives disguised as photographers caught all the action of the Canadian lasses lighting up big fat stogies, drinking champagne and beer and honking the zamboni horn. My favorite photo is of the woman sprawled on the ice next to a 40 of what was probably Molson. Reports also surfaced there was some underage drinking, which is actually pretty stunning because, really, I thought Canada didn’t have a minimum drinking age.

So the master plan was to prove that Canadian women are, well, a lot of fun. Because if the U.S. had won, there would have been no champagne, beer, or underage drinking—this last for sure, because it’s strictly frowned upon and never ever happens in the U.S. The U.S. women would have celebrated by tearing off their tops because that is what happens when they win world championships, as evidenced by the 1999 World Cup. And the CIA would not let that happen this time.

Once upon a time you had to look under rocks in barren places to find a good conspiracy. But nowadays, if you glance around, you can find one just about anywhere--with a little imagination.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Calling All Varmints

Last weekend, St. Pauli Girl and I were out of town. As we drove back and passed through a small Texas town, I noticed the sign on the local taxidermy shop: “Varmint Calling Contest This Weekend.” I was so stunned that I didn’t even mention it to St. Pauli Girl.

What in the world could that be? The easy solution would have been to go to the contest and check it out. But then I thought, what if the town gets overrun by varmints while I’m there? Better to play it safe.

But it kept gnawing at me like a dog or better yet a coyote biting off a bikini bottom in one of those Coppertone ads. Perhaps I should enter the contest. If I can train my dog to answer the phone, then if I use my cell phone to call my dog from the contest, and he answers with a bark, how does that not win? But then I have to worry about cell phone reception, and I would hate to have to go through all that training when I can’t get any bars on my phone. Plus St. Pauli Girl would be mad at me for referring to our dog as a varmint.

Twenty years ago, I would have forgotten about the contest by now. But thanks to the internet, I instead wasted an entire day researching varmint calling. It turns out that varmint calling is the method of making animal noises to lure mostly coyotes or sometimes foxes to an area where you can them kill them. Or befriend them, which would make varmint calling akin to horse whispering. From my detailed research, the varmint call is usually the sound of a wounded jackrabbit intended to lure the varmint toward what he thinks is a delectable meal.

Others use the sounds of fellow coyotes, to attract a potential mate I suppose. Some of the advice I’ve seen for this includes:

1. Wear something off the shoulder.
2. Use a splash of perfume--preferably coyote urine.
3. Bring a nice bottle of wine, maybe a zinfandel.
4. Think sexy thoughts when making “the call.”

Varmint calling has a long and storied history going back to the first world championship which was won by Jim Dougherty in 1957. There have been national and state associations although California claims to be the only one still active. As Jim Dougherty himself said, varmint hunters “are adventurers, in a sense, who enjoy hunting some of our smartest animals in a one-on-one atmosphere where anything can happen and usually does."

So I guess I shouldn’t enter the contest with our dog because our dog is not one of the smartest animals, is technically not a varmint, and I would probably be expected to shoot him after calling him.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Customer is...

The customer is always right: it’s a very nice theory. But as Homer Simpson once said, “In theory, communism works.”

The phrase was meant to be a guideline for how businesses approach customer service. And it’s a nice thing to keep in the back of your head. However, consumers seem to have stolen this phrase and like to throw it out with a wink and nod, inferring: “So what do I get for free?” The problem with consumers cannibalizing this phrase is that they forget that they, the consumers, are often stupid, crazy, drunk, or all three.

I prefer to look at customer service like the rules of golf. Scenario A: A golfer hits a shot that comes to rest on a sprinkler head or on a cart path. A bad thing has happened to him/her through no fault of his/her own. And so the rules grant relief: the golfer may move the ball at no penalty. Scenario B: A golfer hits a shot out of bounds. Usually, this means the golfer has hit a shot off the course or, more likely, into someone’s backyard. Oftentimes golfers will not only trespass through someone’s backyard, they will also play a shot after finding the ball. This is not only against the rules but grossly outrageous. Therefore on an out-of-bounds shot, a golfer has hit a horrendous shot that was his fault and he is severely penalized with loss of stroke and distance and should probably be arrested for traipsing through someone’s backyard.

By the same token, in a customer service situation, if a consumer has a problem with a product or service through no fault of his/her own he/she should be entitled to relief. Other times a consumer has a problem because of his/her own horrendous actions and is therefore out of bounds.

So this will be the first of many quizzes in which the reader can test his/her customer service skills against real life situations that actually happened in our restaurants.

Answer options:
Entitled to relief: the customer had a bad experience through no fault of his/her own and is entitled to relief

In a sandtrap: the customer is in an unfortunate situation but there is no penalty other than not grounding his/her club on the next shot

In a lateral hazard: the customer has put himself/herself out of play and will have to take a penalty but not lose distance.

Out of bounds: the customer did something really stupid or horrendous and should probably be banned from the golf course/restaurant, if not the planet.

The Quiz:

1. After perusing the menu, the customer says, “I would like some enchiladas.”
“Um we don’t have enchiladas on the menu,” the server responds (confused).
“That’s okay. I’m sure your kitchen can make some.”
“I don’t think they’re set up for that.”
“But I really want some enchiladas.”
“I’m sorry we can’t do that.”
“Fine! I’ll have the t-bone. Well-done.”

“That was the worst steak I ever had in my life.”

This customer is:
A. Entitled to relief. While the manager went out to buy ingredients for enchiladas, the cook should have downloaded some recipes, learned how to make enchiladas all the while cooking for other tables. Or all customers are entitled to free meals if they order something that’s not on your menu.
B. In a sandtrap. The server should have suggested the most Mexican looking dish on the menu.
C. In a lateral hazard. Saying bad things about the steak was uncalled for.
D. Out of bounds. The customer should have planned a little better, thinking about what he was craving and what restaurant would come closest to resolving that craving.

2. Good Eats served a ceviche appetizer (a citrus marinated seafood dish) that came in a martini glass atop a small round plate. A beverage napkin was placed between the martini glass and plate to keep the glass from sliding while the ceviche was being served. One night a woman orders the ceviche; the server sets it in front of her. The woman proceeds to dump the martini glass of seafood onto the napkin and plate underneath. The server thinks that’s kind of weird but, whatever! (Can you see where this is going yet?) Upon completion of the ceviche, the woman summons a manager. She berates the manager, “I just ate half a napkin!?!?” in the same way that Lucy from Charlie Brown yells, “Uggghhh! I’ve been kissed by a dog!” She continues, “I can’t believe you put napkins in your food.”

This customer is:
A. Entitled to relief. Anytime you eat half or more of the serving utensils, you are entitled to a free entrée.
B. In a sandtrap. Upon seeing her dump the martini glass, the server should have pulled the dish away and said, “your IQ must be more than 50 to enjoy this dish.”
C. In a lateral hazard. The manager should have said, “If you can finish the entire napkin in 2 minutes or less, the entire meal is free.”
D. Out of bounds. She should have ordered the beef kabobs where there would have been a 50-50 chance of her choking or stabbing herself to death with the skewers.

3. Two young couples with children sit together for a birthday celebration. After some drinks and appetizers, they order entrees, running up a $150 tab. But then something goes wrong. One of the women looks at the other in a funny way. A remark is said that maybe shouldn’t have been. The woman stands up and slaps the other one. Pandemonium! The men jump up, fists fly, kids start crying, someone holds back the fighting women. After some order is restored, the couples decide that maybe they should leave (without paying). On the way out, one of the men says to the bartender/assistant manager, “So we’re good, right?”

This customer is:
A. Entitled to relief. It is a well-known fact that when you start a fight in a restaurant you are entitled to free food and drinks.
B. In a sandtrap. If the restaurant had bouncers like any well-run biker bar or strip club, disaster could have been averted and the customers would have thought twice about starting a melee
C. In a lateral hazard. They would have “been good” if the women had taken their tops off or if mud, pudding or Jell-O was involved.
D. Out of bounds. And there’s really nothing I can add to that.


The correct answer to questions 1 and 3 is “D – Out of bounds”.

Surprisingly, the correct answer to question number 2 is “A – Entitled to relief.” That’s because anyone who is willing to eat paper products to save $9 on a check deserves it. And all the laughs that come with it.

Stay tuned for more.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

American Idols

Over the weekend, the New York Times reported that singing “My Way” at karaoke bars in the Philippines can get you killed. Not by Frank Sinatra, Jr. or the ghost of Frank senior, but by angry patrons. Or jealous patrons. Or irate, boozed up, gun toting nutty patrons who don’t know what they’re doing. Or some combination of all of those. (And I thought Texas was tough.)

The article never did pin down a definitive reason for this other than karaoke is taken very seriously there. Indeed. I've never been to a karaoke bar, but I once did a horrible off-note rendition of Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” at a party, and another time, I did sing “My Way” in a crowded bar. Amazingly I lived to tell about it. Probably the worst thing that happened was everyone exclaiming, “What a drunken idiot!” Thank God there were no cell phone cameras back then to record the event for all eternity. So . . . no, that never actually happened.

But now I suddenly have the urge to go to a karaoke bar. Certainly not to sing, nor would I pack heat. I’m just curious as to exactly how seriously people take that singing-to-canned-music stuff. Do their friends cry? Is there booing? Do the “performers” think they’re the next Mariah Carey because their inebriated friends gave them a standing ovation? Do people bring weapons?

I’m a homebody, so I won’t be going to a karaoke bar any time soon. But then I thought, what if this were on tv?

And of course it is, in the form of “American Idol.” But imagine the drama if, instead of merely shoo-ing away the untalented, Simon Cowell pulled out a pistol and blew away the losers? Or the judges pressed a button and the stage exploded? In fact, they could do away with the judges altogether and just have one of those James Bond villains from the 60’s sitting with his cat, flipping switches that send doomed contestants to horrific deaths. This would be a ratings bonanza.

St. Pauli Girl finally got around to watching the current season of “American Idol.” She had never seen it before although she loves the idea, loves singing and checking out new talent. She used to ask me what night/time it came on, and I would conveniently forget (if I did happen to know which I rarely did). And on top of that, we have a DVR player. We’ve had it for five years now and have yet to record anything. Why? I don’t know. I guess it always just seemed like a hassle. Plus we didn’t have any 12-year-old kids around to show us how easy it was.

We have managed to watch every episode so far. I’ll even admit it’s not as bad as a root canal. Reality show producers/directors really know how to edit for drama. Nevertheless, it gets a little old hearing someone shriek utter nonsense followed by a couple of good singers including a heartwarming story about someone’s past. But the mix of guest judges certainly has me looking forward to each show. So far they’ve had Posh Spice (or was that Old Spice?), Neal Patrick Harris, Avril Lavigne, and Katy Perry’s breasts.

I couldn’t name a song by either Avril or Katy, but they were certainly memorable with Avril sporting some sort of hooded jacket with ears that made her look like a cat or the devil, and Katy sporting half-visible 36D’s. Then I come to learn that Katy achieved fame with her hit, “I Kissed a Girl.” Brilliant. She is obviously following the patented “Madonna Memorial I Want to be Every Guy’s Wet Dream” career path.

And that’s when I realized that it’s not the untalented, can’t-carry-a-tune wannabe singers who are wasting their time. They’re getting a few minutes of fame, and one of their friends who knows how to work a DVR will record it for posterity. It’s the untalented—and possibly talented--good-looking women that are wasting their time. They just need to focus on a viable career path: roll out the cleavage, write a few songs about girl-on-girl, beer, sex in movie theaters or on airplanes-- and then Hollywood will beckon. A sex video never hurts either.

All I know is that when the American Idol audience gets to vote, until a contestant knockers her from her throne, I’m casting my ballot for Katy Perry’s breasts.

Monday, February 8, 2010

How Do You Know It’s a Rooster?

When it starts crowing! Well, that was our last logical line of defense against our better instincts.

We live far enough in the country that we hear several neighborhood roosters. They aren’t really annoying until it’s warm enough to sleep with the windows open. Cityslicker Myth #1 is that they only crow at sunrise. If so, then these roosters are living on Greenwich Mean Time. They crow all night. But then if I had my pick of the hen house whenever I wanted, I’d crow all night too.

St. Pauli Girl always wanted chickens. She loves them. So about ten years ago, when our house was outside the city limits, we decided to give it a go. We managed to cobble together a chicken house (actually old kitchen cabinets) inside a fenced-in area. The first problem was that I did the fencing. Actually, I was somewhat proud of the fence. It stood up fairly straight and although it wouldn’t stop a human from running through it, I believed it would stop animals from running through it. You know, like baby rabbits and kittens. But the gate was another matter. Even I must admit that it more resembled three or four sticks tied together, and anyone using it risked getting an eye poked out. It was more like a tent flap except not as sturdy.

The second problem was that the fence was anchored by trees. My previous exposure to wildlife consisted of running screaming from a garter snake many years ago. When engineering the fence, I never really considered predators’ abilities to climb trees.

So we got five chickens that we raised from chicks, and miraculously they all survived into chicken adolescence which meant it was time for them to move from the garage into the new chicken coop. Everything was fine the first two days. On the third morning, heading out to feed the not-quite-grown chickens, we were met with a scene of carnage straight out of a Friday the 13th movie (except the hockey mask must have hidden a coyote or raccoon or other vicious predator). Feathers and blood were splattered about, one poor victim lay twisted in the chicken wire, but two very traumatized chickens had survived. We quickly gave them away to someone who could actually coop them up securely. Thankfully we moved a few months later, because I always expected those two chickens to come back and take revenge on us. And we probably deserved it.

I think one of the reasons St. Pauli Girl wanted our current house was because it already had a good solid chicken coop and fenced-in area. Raising chickens would be much easier here. I agreed to give it another shot on one condition: No Roosters. (I cherish my sleeping-in on weekends.) So in September, we went out to the chicken farm to pick out five chickens. The proprietor--we’ll call him Mr. Haney in honor of Green Acres--took us to a large fenced garden area where hundreds of chickens were running amok.

“These are all hens?” we asked.

“Of course. Absolutely.” The straw he was chewing barely moved.

I should have suspected something was up when Mr. Haney stretched “absolutely” out into sixteen syllables. But we got our chickens home and St. Pauli Girl took good care of them. They grew up very fast. By December, they were huge and looked like the chickens you remember from childhood, you know-- the ones on those See-n-Say games. But one chicken really stood out. She had beautiful long feathers of shimmering green, black and red. She was glossy while the other chickens were more like a flat paint.

One day around this time St. Pauli Girl sat me down, held my hand, and told me that this chicken might be . . . a rooster. She’d done the necessary googling and that chicken exhibited rooster characteristics: shiny feathers, a long neck, and spending a lot of time in front of the mirror. It turns out that it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between a hen and a rooster until they’re older. Like three months after you bought them.

But it wasn’t crowing. Maybe it was just an exotic hen, we told ourselves. St. Pauli Girl thought about taking it back and exchanging it, but the thought of trying to catch it and stuff it in a tiny cat porter changed her mind. Plus, it wasn’t crowing. So no problem. Right?

One morning in January, I went out to get the newspaper. On the way back in, I heard a strange noise. I looked towards the chicken coop and saw our exotic hen flapping its wings while balancing on the fence. It made a sound not quite like a crowing rooster, but maybe a rooster with laryngitis. The “Cock-a-doodle-do” was more like a hoarse “doo—oo-o-o-ewww!” It hadn’t mastered the crow yet, but it sure was trying.

I walked into the house and called out to St. Pauli Girl. “Our exotic hen ran away. And the rooster wants his breakfast.”

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Magic Gun

About ten days ago, some nut with a handgun went around the Texas State Capitol and fired off five shots into the air. Alert state troopers grabbed him and hauled him off. Two days later, he was executed. (No, that’s a joke. Even in Texas executions don’t really happen that fast. It will be scheduled sometime in March.) Naturally, everyone started questioning safety around the Capitol and many (left-wing, Obama-loving) citizens proposed that metal detectors be put in place at all entrances. It worked so well at San Francisco City Hall.

But our beloved governor is opposed to that idea because state offices should be open to all; it’s state records that need to be hidden. Besides, with our concealed handgun laws, we have enough armed citizens to police any place, like oh, let’s say, Fort Hood. Plus how will our state senators and representatives get into their offices with their concealed guns? (The idea of a shootout between legislators on the chamber floor makes me all giddy!) One current GOP governor candidate carries a concealed handgun at all times except when in the grocery store. Perhaps she’s nervous that she has a trigger finger and maybe someone with 14 items in the express line might just set her off.

And in a nutshell, that’s the gun culture of Texas. Guns don’t kill people. Only people with concealed weapons kill people, and the victims were probably asking for it.

Flash back several months to the shopping center location of our restaurant. We will call this restaurant Better Eats because it is still open and making money. Late on a Saturday night, some crooks managed to get into the shopping center courtyard where they proceeded to smash the windows of a few stores and make off with the cash registers. Obviously Better Eats got the first blame probably because we were the only owners not on site at the time of the investigation. The shop owner detectives theorized that the criminals shimmied up our outdoor walk-in cooler to get access to the shopping center. Never mind that it would have been easier to scale the fence or use a ladder to climb over the roof.

The next order of business was how to prevent this from happening again. The first idea was that we should all arm ourselves. That does solve most problems in Texas, but there is the expense of the handgun and you should really spend a little bit of money learning how to shoot and practicing. But most of us have watched enough John Wayne and Rambo movies to understand how easy it is.

The Marxist, Obama-loving, pinko owner of a new age shop suggested there were easier and cheaper means of prevention. We could just put up a sign that the place is under surveillance. That was laughed off because crooks can’t read or they don’t care about surveillance. Why not a real surveillance system then? Because guns are cheaper.

Comrade Lenin, the new age shop owner, was not making much headway. He then pointed out that all of the cash registers that were stolen were in plain view of the bashed-in windows. Stores where the cash register could not be seen were not broken into. Perhaps everyone should move their cash registers out of site of the windows, he suggested. The response? Cash registers are heavy! It’s so much trouble!

But you have to buy a new one anyway, he argued, so why don’t you put it in another location?

“I’m not letting crooks tell me what to do! We cannot let them win!” the shop owners argued

Comrade Lenin threw his hands in the air and gave up. The consensus: all shop owners should be armed. One shop owner even mentioned that she was also adding alarms so that if someone broke in, the security company would call her before the police, thereby giving her a chance to come down and put a bullet through someone’s head.

Hence, the magic gun which works so well for the good guys in the movies--and not as much for the bad guys--has solved another problem. I guess we won’t see the other shop owners much in our restaurant since it’s illegal to pack heat where alcohol is served. But when shop[lift]ing in Texas, when you see the sign that says, “shoplifters will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” you’d better think long and hard before you slip something into your pocket.