Friday, December 30, 2011

Smokin' Service

Today we present another episode of “Great Moments in Dining:”

St. Pauli Girl and I recently spent a weekend away where we had the chance to enjoy dinner at a cozy wine bar/restaurant. We sat down in a good mood, as we were fortunate to get a table without a reservation on a Friday night. But then, it was only 6:00 p.m.

Within minutes of being seated our waiter arrived, much like the rolling cloud of smoke preceding the forest fires that engulfed Bastrop, Texas, earlier this year. I’ll call our waiter Marlboro Man, not because he looked like the fabled cowboy but because he smelled like he smoked three cartons a day. Anyway, things started off smoothly, as he quickly fetched our wine and came back for our food order.

Perusing the menu, we couldn’t find anything new or unusual that we wanted to try. Our best bet looked like “Fish of the Day.” So we asked Marlboro Man what it was.

“I don’t know. I’ll go find out,” he said, then darted back to the kitchen. St. Pauli Girl arched an eyebrow at me. Sloppy management or poorly trained server or both?

Yes, I agreed, but at least he admitted he didn’t know and set out to get the correct answer.

He came back, leaned on a chair on the opposite side of the table, and said. “It’s wahoo.”

We nodded our heads and waited for the description of how it was being served.


Apparently, they were just going to throw a wahoo on a plate. Finally, St. Pauli Girl and I both said in unison, “Is there a sauce or something with it?”

“Yes,” Marlboro Man said matter-of-factly.

Great! We smiled and waited. Again, nothing.

The long silence finally threw Marlboro Man into action. “It’s some kind of lime reduction thingy.”

To spare all of us more pain, I responded, “I’ll have the ribeye.”

Dinner was served and Marlboro Man was quite attentive, constantly checking our water glasses. I guess to avoid interrupting our conversation, he resorted to raising his eyebrows and making an “ok” sign with his fingers as he walked past our table. I began responding with a “thumbs-up” sign.

After a decent meal, we decided to not force Marlboro Man to recite the dessert list because he probably would have said, “Yeah, we got this chocolatey thing. And pie and um … some dessert.”

We asked for the check and waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, he came back and set the check on the table.

“Have a nice night,” he said. Then he walked away, leaving a trail of fresh smoke in his wake.

I inhaled deeply. “Ah yes,” I said. “Just coming off a Friday night mid-shift break.” I sniffed the air and closed my eyes. “Camel non-filtered, vintage 2010.”

When he brought the credit card slip back, he thanked us again and gave us another “okay” sign for good measure.

For the tip, I drew a picture of a “thumbs-up.”

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

BCS Without the "C"

Like everyone else outside of the confederacy, I’m trying to figure out how we got stuck with a “supposed title game” of Alabama versus LSU. This seems to be the result of the common knowledge that the SEC is the best college football conference. But how do we know that?

I decided to ask an expert, Colonel Zebulon “Bobby Lee Jeff” Davis:

Me: Let’s get right to it. Why is the SEC the best football conference?

Zeb: Because it’s the SEC.

Me: Um, okay. Can you expand upon that?

Zeb: It goes back to Biblical times really. On the eighth day, God created thy pigskin and planted it in Tuscaloosa, Athens, Baton Rouge and Gainesville. And on the ninth day, he saw what he had wrought and planted more pigskins in Nashville, Lexington, Oxford and Starkville to create losing teams as well.

Me: I’m not familiar with that version of the Bible.

Zeb: You’re reading the wrong version, like the King James or something. My version is the General Neyland version.

Me: Look, I’m not saying you’re wrong, I just want to see some proof. Why do you think the SEC is so superior?

Zeb: Well, we got better generals, er coaches. We got your Saban, Miles, and Richt. Those northern hordes have Tressel . . . uh, never mind. Okay, Paterno . . . never mind. Hmm. Well, they have McClellan, McDowell, and Burnside, et cetera.

Me: Granted, the SEC has done better in bowl games lately. What do you think accounts for that?

Zeb: Look at where the games are at: New Orleans, Miami, Orlando, Houston, Jacksonville, Dallas. They’re on our home turf, so it’s like we’re being invaded. Our boys rise up and fight a little harder because of that.

Me: I think we can all agree that we’d like it settled on the field and LSU already beat Alabama. Why a rematch?

Zeb: LSU is undefeated. And Bama beat all comers and only lost in overtime to LSU. And they’re both in the best conference in the universe. That’s an easy case.

Me: But why is it such a great conference? What are the facts?

Zeb: How about six straight BCS titles?

Me: But that’s the past. We shouldn’t rely on that to pick out the best teams and conferences. Let’s take a look at current statistics. The Big 12 has the best non-conference record with a staggering 27 – 3 record for a 90% winning percentage. The SEC is second, with an 88% winning percentage.

Zeb: And how many SEC teams did the Big 12 play in that staggering record?

Me: Well, just one.

Zeb: And?

Me: Arkansas beat Texas A&M.

Zeb: Case closed. SEC is better.

Me: But it was a close game and could have gone either way.

Zeb: I think those were Pickett’s last words.

Me: Okay, let’s look at the conferences against the other BCS conferences. The Big 12 only lost 3 non-conference games all to BCS conference teams while the SEC lost 3 to BCS teams and 3 more to non-BCS teams. Out of 44 non-conference games, the SEC scheduled just 12 against BCS teams while the Big 12 scheduled 9 teams out of 30 non-conference games. Both conferences had a 67% winning percentage in those games.

Zeb: We can’t schedule that many games against other BCS conferences because of our murderous conference schedule. Remember, the SEC is the best and toughest conference. Besides we play all directional teams from Louisiana and Arkansas as well as Chattanooga and the Citadel.

Me: Directional teams?

Zeb: Any team with a direction in its name, like Northeast South Central Louisiana, Central Northwest Arkansas, et cetera.

Me: The “best” should be proven on the field, not by you shoving your fingers in your ears and shouting “SEC! SEC!” Doesn’t this just go to show that we need a playoff?

Zeb: I think you got something there. But if we had an 8-team playoff today, it would include LSU, Bama, South Carolina, Vandy, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi State and the Bama junior varsity.

Me: What? How do you figure that?

Zeb: Because all of those teams were undefeated outside of the conference. Since they only lost games to teams from the bestest conference in the country, they are better than everyone else.

Me: I give up! Good thing the college basketball season has started.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Last Call for Last Supper

Recently, a Texas death row inmate put in this request for his last meal: a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger, a meat-lover's pizza, a big bowl of okra with ketchup, a pound of barbecue, a half a loaf of bread, peanut butter fudge, a pint of ice cream and two chicken-fried steaks. Instead of responding with a laugh, prison officials/chefs responded with: “Would you like some fries or a hot apple pie or delicious sundae to go with that?”

The death row inmate got his meal, but of course he didn’t eat it all, and this so infuriated a state senator that “last meals” were immediately banned. Apparently, killing the inmate wasn’t enough; everyone else on death row had to be punished for his gluttony. So, one greedy or possibly vengeful inmate ruined it for everyone else in the cell block, and they can’t even beat him up or shank him because he’s already dead.

Now for their last meal, death row inmates must eat whatever happens to be coming out of the prison kitchen that day. I imagine it’s hard enough knowing it’s your last day on earth, but now to endure the added cruelty of being killed on meatloaf night?

Would it really be too difficult to implement some sort of menu system for last meals? Simply let the inmate choose an appetizer, entrĂ©e and dessert or something from the Chili’s “2 for $20” menu. The state can’t grant one decent request and try to be the bigger person? I mean, the state gets the last laugh anyway.

But this being Texas, there is another solution inspired by moms everywhere: an inmate gets to order anything he wants for his last meal. If he cleans his plate, he gets lethal injection. If not, it’s off to the electric chair!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Quart Low

I don’t know anything about cars. I once spent hours replacing the windshield wiper blades only to end up using duct tape. That worked great until the day it started raining and I realized I had taped the wipers to the windshield.

I can’t even have an intelligent conversation with a teenager about cars:

Teenager: Wow! Did you see that X80-R2D2-Hyena-Hemi?

Me: Nice. It’s got, what, four wheels?

I finally resorted to quoting Springsteen lyrics whenever anyone asked me about cars.

Teenager: What kind of engine does your Saturn have?

Me: Um, a 396 with fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor.

Teenager: I didn’t think that big an engine would fit in a car that small.

Me: I’m driving a stolen car.

But when I get an oil change, I am treated like royalty. They roll out the red carpet, call me “sir,” and escort me to the special VIP waiting room which is filled with little old ladies. While other drivers are offered soda which gets tacked onto their bill, I receive complimentary champagne.

Last week, I took the car in for an oil change and its annual inspection. After 10 minutes, the mechanic came in with a dipstick in hand.

“Sir, the good news is you passed the inspection,” he said. “But when’s the last time you had your oil changed?”

“Hmm, about 5 months ago.” I knew the correct answer was supposed to be 3 months but he was obviously onto me so I wanted to make it seem better than the real answer which was: I have no idea.

“Take a look at this dipstick. You’re a quart low and look how dark that oil is. I got an engine treatment that’ll fix that right up for nine-ninety-five.”

“That’s 9 dollars and 95 cents, right? Sure go ahead.” Ha! Outsmarted him on the ol’ $9.95 versus $995.00 trick.

A few minutes later he came back with the air filter.

“Looks pretty ragged,” he said.

I actually knew the car was due for a new filter, so I agreed. So far, the oil change was going well, but I needed to stay focused.

After a few more minutes, he came back.

“Well, we checked your battery. It’s rated at 517 but it’s only cranking to 410.”

I put my finger over my lips and sighed. I did not verbalize what I was thinking, which was, “410 milliliters? 410 megawatts? 410 rpms, calories, RBIs? What does that mean?”

“Summer heat is just killing these batteries. Don’t want to be stuck on the side of the road. I’ll get you fixed up with a new one, five-year warranty.”

I decided to wait him out. I sat still, finger over my lips, hemming and hawing. But he was a pro at the waiting game, didn’t say a word and didn’t move. I finally realized I would have to say something.

“How about just soldering a pack of D batteries on top of the old one?”

Relief flooded his face. “Ha, you’re funny! Alrighty then, I’ll get you fixed up.”

I watched him walk back into the garage and high-five another mechanic. Soon another younger mechanic came up to me.

“Sir, your Klondike manifold has slipped out of joint. But we’ve got a special Klondike bar we can use to jimmy it back into place. Only $80, no wait, $180.”

“No, I need to get back to work. This was supposed to be a thirty-minute oil change.”

“You can never be too careful. So you don’t want the $180 Klondike bar?”

“No.” But for some reason my mouth started watering.

They eventually finished and gave me a 10% preferred customer discount which I paid for with my Platinum Oil Shop Visa Card. After I came home, St. Pauli Girl saw the invoice on my desk.

“I thought an oil change was $30,” she said suspiciously.

“Yeah, something like that,” I shrugged.

“So you got fifteen oil changes?”

I sang back in my best Springsteen, “’Open up them engines, let ‘em roar, tearin’ up the highway, just a big old dinosaur.’”

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Digging For Trivia

I come from a trivial family. By that I mean between us six kids and my dad, we each thought we were the king/queen of trivia, and we set out to prove it every year at the family Christmas gathering. These games usually resulted in shouting, protests, accusations, and some minor assault and battery. And this was with no alcohol involved.

The problem was that there was always too much luck involved via either the roll of the dice or the draw of the question. We finally eliminated the luck factor by simply having my impartial mom ask the questions while we shouted out the answers as quickly as possible. But having to pick who answered first distressed my mom the point that she finally refused to play.

My dad always played, and although he may not have been the fastest, he always came up with some amazing answers. In the original Trivial Pursuit game, the entertainment category consisted mostly of questions about the 30’s and 40’s (or so it seemed to me). So while the rest of us avoided that category, my dad always picked it. Invariably, he would get a question like “Who played the role of Tony Angelo’s sparring partner in the 1945 film Nob Hill?”

My dad would sigh and lean back with his hands behind his head while the rest of us snickered. The next player would grab the dice in anticipation of a wrong answer. After several minutes of us rolling our eyes, someone would start the countdown clock. At the last second, my dad would finally say, “Rory Calhoun.”

“Is that your final answer?”


“Rory? Don’t you mean Roy?”

“No, it’s Rory,” he would then grab the dice to roll again, he was so sure.

I realize that I’m now about the same age he was when we played those games so long ago. And I find myself leaning back now with my hands behind my head, thinking a lot harder than I used to trying to pull up some distant fact or memory. Answers that used to roll quickly off my tongue before having to even think about it now require a pick-ax, a shovel, and a few Sherpas to be unearthed from the mountains of data in my head.

Recently while in the car with St. Pauli Girl, a familiar song from the ‘80s came on the radio. Although I still knew every word, for the life of me I could not remember who sang it. Me, the trivia king.

“This is driving me crazy,” I said to St. Pauli Girl. “Why can’t I remember this? He was huge, couple of big 80’s albums with that familiar piano sound, he’s from Williamsburg, Virginia, good friends with Huey Lewis, played with Ricky Skaggs at one point….” I mentally ran through the alphabet trying to jog loose a name.

After about an hour, I shouted “Bruce Hornsby!” I was relieved to finally remember, yet perplexed at the difficulty of the task.

I suppose I’m just at the age where it takes a while, and like my dad and Rory Calhoun, maybe occasionally I can amaze the younger generation with something stupid, like who played the role of Mrs. Bellows in I Dream of Jeannie. But then part of me wonders if my brain is slowly being taken hostage and the ransom will not be paid, and there will be no survivors.

But I’m well-prepared and well-practiced. After all, I was the one who always answered the hard questions in those trivia games from so long ago.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Merrily Shopping

I’ve discovered I like grocery shopping. To be more exact, I like grocery shopping in stores that have bars and allow you to carry your drink around while you shop. I am not making this up. And to think I once thought it was stupid that shopping carts contained cup holders.

St. Pauli Girl and I recently went into the big city to do some grocery shopping at a store that I’ll call Whole Lotta Grocery Shopping and Tavern. Turns out that they have a real bar in their wine and beer section. After an hour of exhausting grocery shopping, we parked our cart, bellied up to the crowded bar, and ordered a glass of wine. And a cheese sampler. And then another glass of wine.

The grocery store ambience wasn’t great mostly because of the lighting, but the people watching was fun.

Me: Seems like everyone here is having a really good time.

St. Pauli Girl: Maybe it’s just us.

Me: I’ll drink to that.

The grocery wine bar has a small but nice selection of wine that can be ordered in flights or by the glass, as well as several draft beers. And since the bar really doesn’t need to make a lot of money, the prices and servings are very reasonable. Plus you can get your drink in a plastic cup to carry with you while you are shopping. And for you misers out there, guess what? The credit card slip doesn’t have a tip line! You don’t have to leave a tip, and you can blame it on the store. Or you can do what the guy next to us did: “Well, I’d leave you something, but there’s no line on the credit card slip. [He rummages through his cart.] Oh wait! Here’s a rutabaga for you.”

As we enjoyed our time in the bar, I tried to think how my life might have been different if these stores existed in my younger days:

Me: What are you doing tonight?

Friend: Going to Kroger’s. They’ve got 2 for 1 Coronas.

Me: Forget that! Albertson’s has 99-cent well drinks. Plus they have the best produce.

Friend: You’re right, fresh produce is the ultimate chick magnet. I’ll meet you there.

Although my friends always said the grocery store was one of the best places to meet women, it never worked out for me. Probably because my pick-up lines consisted of something like, “Hey, I see we both got the Salisbury steak. Do you know if you’re supposed to remove that little corner of peach cobbler before you microwave the rest of it?”

Yep, these youngsters have it good. Now you can amble slowly through the store sipping on a cabernet, and when you see a hot girl loading up a take-out container at the salad bar, you can take the opportunity to hook her with something like, “You know, that’s the same bean salad my grandmother used to make, God rest her soul. How ‘bout I buy you a beer over at the bar and give you the recipe?”

Our shopping trip/happy hour finally came to an end. I’ve never had more fun spending $200 on groceries. As we drove home, I said to St. Pauli Girl, “You know, I’ve been thinking we need to make our household chores a little more equitable, take some of the burden off of you. From now on, why don’t you let me do all the grocery shopping?”

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cooking Like Green Cavemen

Last week we finally made the big switch from propane to charcoal (with apologies to Hank Hill.) A few weeks prior, we had visited friends who grilled a fabulous dinner of Cornish game hens. And they made it look so easy! Dump some charcoal in a chimney starter, wait 30 minutes, dump hot charcoal into the grill, put hens on rotisserie spit, then go drink wine. The game hens literally cooked themselves, turned slowly over the hot coals by an electric motor. The grillmaster never had to worry about flare-ups, or flipping the hens, or thrashing them with a wet towel if they caught on fire.

We were so impressed that our friends bought us a charcoal grill and rotisserie so we could enjoy such easy and carefree grilling. For our maiden grilling venture, we opted for something fool-proof: chicken wings. We decided to light the charcoal at about 6:45 for an estimated 8:00 dinner time.

6:45: Since I had forgotten to save the newspaper, St. Pauli Girl crammed some old envelopes and bills from my office trash into the chimney starter before adding the expensive brand-name mesquite charcoal bought from a local store known for promoting organic health food and green practices. After ten lighting attempts, the envelopes on the bottom smoldered a bit. So, with smoke coming from the top, we let the starter rest for a bit on top of the grill to do its magic.

7:00: There may have been smoke but . . . no fire. St. Pauli Girl shoved the lighter through the bottom of the chimney starter to create some space to let the fire breathe. The paper seemed to catch this time and smoke again snaked from the top.

7:20: Supposedly, neither chimney starters nor this fine brand of charcoal require lighter fluid, but desperate times call for … so St. Pauli Girl squirted a liberal amount of lighter fluid on top of the charcoal and lit the chimney from the top. Success! Flames shot high into the night. [Note: do not try this at home. You could explode.]

7:40: We could actually see some gray charcoal on top of the starter, and it was somewhat warm to the touch. We dumped the charcoal into the bottom of the grill and put the chicken on. No sizzle, but it was a brand new grill with no old, congealed fat on it. That was our reasoning, anyway.

8:00: The wings looked the same—limp and white—as they had sitting on the kitchen counter, and the grill didn’t seem very hot. I pulled out the instruction manual and noted we should have twenty pieces of charcoal on each side of the grill. So we fired up another batch in the chimney starter. This time we used paper from the charcoal bag, and we set the chimney starter on the patio.

8:15: The chimney starter burned brilliantly, shooting off sparks like a Fourth of July ground-works display (did I mention we are in a drought?) Lesson learned: envelopes are apparently flame-retardant.

8:30: The grill is so cold we can lift it from the kettle with our bare hands. But the chimney starter is so hot, we have to use pot holders to dump it into the grill. We put the grill with chicken back on and can finally feel some serious heat.

9:00: St. Pauli Girl goes to turn the chicken. The heat has dissipated quite a bit, but the chicken looks darker. Of course that could be because the sun has gone down and twilight is upon us.

9:15: The charcoal still hasn’t really turned gray. In fact, the patio itself, holding heat from a 105* day, is hotter than the grill. We consider throwing the wings on the ground to cook but worry about ants. St. Pauli Girl goes inside to turn on the oven. I open a third bottle of wine.

9:30: The chicken goes into the oven.

10:30: Dinner is served.

Epilogue: After an intense post-mortem of this grilling exercise, we came to the conclusion that the expensive brand-name mesquite charcoal was seriously inadequate. A couple of days later we bought the cheapest charcoal we could find, and that evening, we made some fine hamburgers in record time.

The lesson: Expensive charcoal from an organic health food store probably does great at grilling tofu or bean sprouts. Real meat demands fossil fuels.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Texas-sized Guns

I must confess that I’ve been browsing the weekly sportsmen’s stores’ catalogs for guns. In the past two years, I’ve come to find that there are a lot of scary varmints in the countryside as evidenced by the recent skunk experience. Plus all my neighbors have guns, and I’d like to fit in.

I don’t know much about guns. My firearm experience consists of shooting BB guns at empty bottles, occasional live rodents, and certain “friends” (but that’s another story). Typically, I’m drawn to the cheapest gun with the biggest barrel. So, yes, you could probably sell me a blunderbuss. But in last weekend’s catalog, I found the perfect solution: the mini-cannon!

That’s right: you can purchase a fully operational mini-cannon styled like the classic Napoleon version from the Civil War, or the Old Ironsides model like the ones found on old ships. I scoured the ad looking for a disclaimer and thought, “This can’t be real. It can’t possibly be legal to sell a working cannon to your average Joe.” Then I remembered where I live, and realized rural Texans probably made their own cannons before these came on the market.

The ad states “fully operational” and also mentions accessories, including granular powder, round balls, and fuses. Plus they cost a whopping $250. They must be the real deal!

Since I don’t have a ship or parrot, I’m leaning toward the Napoleon version.

And since I don’t know anything about guns, this is the perfect solution. How hard is it to operate a cannon? You 1) light the fuse and 2) cover your ears. Any dummy who’s ever watched cartoons knows that. Aiming might be hard because it could take a couple of people to move it. But then again it’s not like hitting a bull’s eye with a shotgun.

I’ll be able to take on entire armies of skunks, rattlesnakes, opossums and of course deer. Plus there’s the home-protection aspect. If the click of a loaded shotgun frightens a home invader, just think what the sound of a lit fuse would do! And St. Pauli Girl could finally get the horse she’s always wanted . . . as long as she lets me use it to pull the cannon when we go on field maneuvers.

Best of all, I’ll be the envy of all my neighbors: “Well, Mike, of course that’s a mighty fine shotgun you got there. But let’s see which one of us can blow up that barn faster.” BOOM!

I could start my own demolition business. I can offer to blow up condemned buildings and bridges for a small fee (plus cannonball expenses). I’ll even dress up like General Sherman, or no, wait! Maybe Nathan Bedford Forrest, depending on where I’m at and who’s paying me.

While pulling out my credit card, I studied the ad closer. Then I looked it up online, and that’s where I saw the catch: the cannons are 12 inches long by 6 inches high. I guess that’s why it’s called a mini-cannon. But $250 for something you could fire off your desk?

That’s dumber than selling real cannons.

Oh, but wouldn’t it be great if the next time I’m forced to sit through a crappy, boring Power Point presentation at work, I could load a cannonball into my desk cannon, aim it at the screen, light the fuse, and cover my ears?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

My Golf Buddy

Note: Apologies to email followers that have been spammed recently. It is beyond my control. I don't know what's going on. Hope to have it fixed very soon!

I don’t play much golf these days. Hence, my golf clubs are stored in the corner of the garage along with other useless items like batons, yard darts, hubcaps, a badminton set, and a Slip’n’ Slide. (What can two adults do with a Slip’n Slide? I’ll save that for another blog.) As I have mentioned before, we live in the country and our garage is detached, or, as we like to say, “way out back.”

I hadn’t touched my golf clubs in well over a year. They rested against the wall next to a new golf bag which, much to St. Pauli Girl’s chagrin, I hadn’t used yet. I had been too lazy to move the clubs to the new bag since I didn’t know when I would be playing again. During that time I had noticed that Booboo the dog really liked to jump into that corner and growl and scratch at stuff. However, that was pretty normal Booboo behavior.

Last week, I had to make a trip to Lubbock, as St. Pauli Girl hosted a small reunion with old girlfriends from high school. (Hmm, what can six women do with a Slip’n Slide in 100-degree heat? But I digress.) Since I would be gone for the weekend, I threw the golf clubs in the car.

On Saturday, with the temperature hovering at 104, I drove to the golf course, paid my fees, then went to the driving range. I pulled a 6-iron from my bag and noticed something odd on the grip. “Are those feathers?” I thought. I ran my hand over the grip and realized that it was animal hair, and it seemed almost glued on. I wiped the grip with my towel and pulled out the 3-wood which had hair stuck on it as well.

I dropped the club back in the bag. Surely there wasn’t a dead animal in the bottom of the bag? I took a quick mental inventory of all our pets and nope, none seemed to have gone missing lately. Judging by the color of the hair, I guessed squirrel. At first I thought I should go ask for a refund. I really didn’t want people to see fur flying every time I swung a club. But then I tried to imagine how that would sound:

“So you want a refund because there’s a dead weasel in your bag?” the clerk would ask.

“Yes. I’m traumatized.”

“Unless the weasel was struck by lightning while on the course, sorry, no refund.”

But then I started thinking rationally. My golf bag had been in the car with 100-degree heat for four days. The car should have smelled pretty rancid since my bag is not an airtight mausoleum. I convinced myself that a squirrel probably only wintered there, condo-like, and then left when spring came, leaving behind his cold-weather fur. Why, if I looked hard enough I might even find some nuts. And on the positive side, I should be happy it wasn’t a hibernating rattlesnake which might have crawled out during the drive.

Since I probably couldn’t get a refund, I went ahead and played. Every time I pulled out a new club, I had to wipe sticky brown hair from the grip. Occasionally I did notice a foul odor but I could not positively say it wafted from the golf bag. (Lubbock does smell bad on occasion.) At the end of the round, I threw the clubs in the car and didn’t think about dead rodents. And the car smelled just fine all the way home.

After I got home, I knew I would at least have to clean the fur from bottom of the bag. This would be the perfect time to transfer everything to the new golf bag. One by one, I pulled the clubs out and set them on the ground. As I bent over to empty the side pockets, I noticed a foul odor much like . . . Lubbock.

I took a flashlight and slowly pointed it down the center of the bag. I could see a big pile of fur at the bottom. Looking closer, I could just make out a little squirrel paw.

Case closed! Dead squirrel in the golf bag!

I gave the little squirrel a proper burial by throwing the entire golf bag in the trash. “He would have wanted it that way,” I said, a tear sliding down my cheek. I put the clubs in my new bag then carried the bag into the house to stow in my office closet. At least next time, I’ll only have to worry about scorpions.

Last night during happy hour St. Pauli Girl asked how my golf game in Lubbock went. “Great,” I replied. “I done bagged me a squirrel!”

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Airline Evil Eye

I hate flying, but it’s not due to fear. Flying today is like spending money to sit in a gulag for 14 hours. (Which is how long my normally 4-hour trip home actually took me recently. At least Greyhound has the decency to tell you it will take 14 hours and you’ll stop in 22 cities you don’t want to stop in, although you’ll probably sit next to a convicted felon who hasn’t showered since two weeks ago Tuesday.)

But okay, I admit, I do have some superstitions. I know the drive to the airport is statistically more dangerous than the flight. Yet I can’t quite rid myself of what I consider potential omens.

During my last trip, as I left the airport restaurant, the waitress said, “Have a safe flight.”

I looked at her closely. What did she mean by that? Once I get to the airport and go through security, it’s out of my hands; I hope she says that to every flight crew that walks by. Then I remembered I had stiffed her. I ran back and gave her $3; I didn’t want my final moments on a death-spiraling plane to go like this:

Passenger #1: What do you mean you stiffed her? Don’t you know that kind of karma can carry over to our flight?

Me: Well, I did have to ask twice for salsa. And she never refilled my water.

Passenger #2: So you’re satisfied with that giant stuffed burrito as your last meal?

Me: (Burp.)

On a normal flight, even if I haven’t witnessed any omens, I’ll usually mentally write my obituary just in case. This can be a very useful exercise at any time because it forces to you to weigh your life. After running down the pros and cons, you can then decide if a plane crash would be right for you.

While sitting at the gate, I’ll watch the pilot make his inspection as he walks around the plane outside. This usually leads to me thinking, “He sure is spending a lot of time looking up at that wing. He must see something. If the wing falls off during the flight, at least I’ll know why.” Or conversely, “Man, he sure walked around the plane really fast. I bet he missed something.” Either way, I then cross myself.

If I miss a connection due to weather delays, instead of looking for a ticket counter to change my flight, I look for TV crews that might be tracking me down because the plane I was supposed to be on crashed. Then when I don’t see the TV reporters, I start to think that I’ve been bumped to a flight that’s going to crash instead. I’ll be the sorry footnote on page 3: “if only he had gotten to his first connection on time.”

I always wonder about the pilots. Some of them don’t like to talk at all to the passengers during the flight. I assume they are either focused squarely on flying safely, or drunk, or asleep. Then there are the pilots who practically serenade you through the flight. I wonder how they react when the plane goes into a nosedive. Will they still be calm and collected? Will they be screaming? Will they still be giving us updates from the flight deck? “Well, folks on the right you can see the Grand Canyon. Look quickly because it’s approaching really, really fast.”

Several years ago I was en-route to my annual golf trip. Because of weather, my flight was canceled and I had to fly out the next day. Normally this would cause me to look over my shoulder for TV reporters; however, I got moved up to first class for the next day’s flight so I started thinking about free wine and Scotch instead. The next morning, as I sat in Seat 1A, the plane made its final approach then suddenly increased speed and veered sharply up and to the right. “I can’t believe it,” I thought, “my first time in first class, and I’m going to die. And here in first class we’ll hit the ground first!”

My next thought was, “Those golfing bastards better not continue the golf trip without me. I would not have wanted it that way. I would like a Viking funeral at the minimum and for everyone to permanently give up golf in my honor.”

The pilot then came on the intercom and said he had to abort the landing because another plane was still on the runway. So I ordered another Scotch.

The second time an incident like that happened, I was on my way to Las Vegas. We were probably no more than 200 feet off the ground when the plane picked up speed and aborted the landing. I realized what had happened even before the pilot told us. But this time I thought much more rationally: with the twenty-minute fly-around delay, is the airline going to reimburse me for those lost minutes of gambling? I very well could have hit a royal flush in that timeframe.

But then dark thoughts crept back in: how awful would it be to crash on the second landing attempt after the first abort? What are the odds?

I guess I should just stop thinking and find a good book to read while I travel. But then again, deep down I want to be the person that says as the plane goes into a tailspin toward the ocean, “Ha! I knew it! The pilot didn’t do his inspection right, I didn’t see the gas truck fuel the plane, the TSA inspector scolded me for locking my luggage, the gate agent moved me to a middle seat, the bartender gave me a vodka martini instead of gin then forgot to wish me a safe trip, the book store didn’t have change for a ten, I forgot to pack the green jacket, I left my cell phone on, and the dog didn’t eat his breakfast. With all of those omens, this was bound to happen!”

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Guns Make Great Neighbors

We live between two very different neighbors:

Neighbor A: Just finished building a large work shed that includes a concrete foundation. He has several trashed Cadillacs, a lopsided pop-up camper, and assorted industrial equipment decorating his backyard. Sometimes at dusk he comes out wearing nothing but shorts and practices archery.

Neighbor B: Mild mannered, middle-aged insurance salesman. He has a swimming pool, a hot tub, and a lighted tennis court in his backyard. He mows his lawn fully dressed and hosts tennis matches two nights a week.

Recently, a situation called for the neighborly assistance of someone with a gun. Guess which neighbor came running shirtless with a shotgun in his hands?

(Hint: We live in Texas.)

Give up? The correct answer is Neighbor B, the insurance salesman. (The hint should have just made you realized that we all have guns. Well, almost all.)

But I am jumping ahead. We have noticed an excessive amount of skunk activity in the neighborhood this spring. By notice, I mean we can smell their trails after they’ve been running around the yard all night. So St. Pauli Girl went and bought a skunk trap, which is a steel box that could accommodate maybe two hamsters comfortably. Of course the trap had to be small enough so the skunk couldn’t lift its tail after it had been caught, but I had a hard time believing a skunk would even try to enter. Regardless, we were told a piece of bacon would make the trap very attractive. (It worked, at least for me.)

We set the trap and came out the next morning anxious to see what we caught. The empty trap lay on its side, bacon-less. We had been the victims of a “dine and dash.”

After that, we went several weeks without a skunk scent so we stopped worrying about it. Then one afternoon St. Pauli Girl and I were relaxing with a cold beer on the front lawn after a long day of yard work. I heard the Neighbor B’s Labradors barking up a storm. I didn’t say anything because I thought they might be eating one of our chickens, and I didn’t want to upset St. Pauli Girl.

The labs suddenly approached their fence and chased a little ball of black and white fur onto our property. I looked down to make sure it wasn’t Yogi, our black and white dog who happens to look very much like Pepe Le Pew. No, Yogi was snoozing soundly at our feet.

“Skunk!” I yelled. This woke up Yogi, so I chased him into the house so that A) he wouldn’t chase the skunk, B) the skunk wouldn’t chase him/try to mate with him, and C) he wouldn’t get shot.

We then ran toward the skunk as it skittered about before slipping out under the front gate. Another neighbor whom we’ll call Neighbor C approached and said, “There’s a skunk in your yard.”

“Yes, we know,” St. Pauli Girl said. “Should I get the skunk trap?”

“Why? Bill there’s got a gun.”

Seconds later, our shirtless insurance agent, Neighbor B, came a-runnin’ with his shotgun in hand. “He’s in your yard!” he shouted.

“What are you saying? Are you going to sue us?” I asked. (With three attorneys in the family, that’s always my first question.) “So he’s our responsibility now?”

“No, he went out the gate,” St. Pauli Girl said.

Bill and Neighbor C peered into the culvert that ran beneath our driveway next to the street.

“There he is,” Neighbor C said. “He’s hunkered down at the other end.”

Bill raced to the opposite side and pointed his gun into the culvert.

“Fire in the hole!” I yelled as the gun flashed and went boom.

“What was that for?” Bill asked, shotgun smokin’.

“I don’t know. They say that in all the war movies.”

We watched and waited but nothing happened. It was unlikely the skunk had been hit by the blind shot, and he certainly hadn’t run out. I debated whether or not to go fetch Neighbor A with his bow and arrow.

“There he goes,” Neighbor C shouted, pointing at the other end of the culvert.

Bill spun around and fired. The skunk dropped to the ground but not before lifting his tail and spraying the ground around him in one final act of vengeance. Sort of an “I’ll see you in hell!” kind of farewell, if you will.

We boxed up the carcass and gave it to the Neighbor C, the largest landowner, so he could leave it somewhere far away for the vultures. Then we stood around and chatted for a while, congratulating each other on our great collaborative hunt and kill. I felt a real bond with our neighbors that evening. But I also realized I should never wander into their backyards uninvited.

Sometimes it just takes a gun to bring people together. Or a skunk.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Pole Dancing Goes Mainstream (and to Church)

I recently read a newspaper article where local girl Natasha Wang made good by winning the National Pole Dancing Championship and $5,000 (in one-dollar bills stuffed down her bra). In her interview, she stated that she’d like for pole dancing to “shake the strip-club stigma and be recognized as a legitimate sport.” I couldn’t agree more.

I love sports, and there’s no reason leather corsets and fishnet stockings can’t come in traditional team colors. Plus, it takes a serious athlete to work a pole and defy gravity while wearing 9-inch heels. That’s a lot of drag. Hopefully, when pole dancing is recognized as a sport, scientists will perfect the 9-inch heel by making it more aerodynamic. And then there’s no stopping this sport! Look for PPDA franchise teams to spring up, with names like the “Pittsburgh Pole Kittens” and “Sheboygan Shimmies.”

In these days of personal seat licenses and hundred dollar tickets for sporting events, I think America is ready for a sport where you can get a front row seat with a just a fat wad of dollar bills. Thus making it easier to explain to my wife . . .

Me: I’m going to a not-quite-sanctioned sporting event at MSG.

Wife: Madison Square Garden?

Me: Well, no. It’s a place called “My Secret Garden.” It’s a little more intimate.

Wife: And the bulge in your pocket?

Me: My admission fee. Fifty dollars in one dollar bills. But there may be a discount since it’s Monday. And lunchtime.

The great thing about this . . . sport . . . is that they haven’t lost sight of their roots. The pole goes way back to the early 1900’s Colonel Quentin Pfepherhaus’ Traveling Burlesque Show, held in a large tent, where Lois “Good and Plenty” Amore got tired of running into the main tent pole and incorporated it into her routine. You didn’t need a Ph.D. in literature to tell you what that pole symbolized. The pole was here to stay. And still today, anyone able to pull off those crazy acrobatics without getting her hair tangled in their stiletto straps deserves our admiration, respect, and cash.

While doing research for this blog, I stumbled across another article: Pole Dancing for Jesus. Naturally, this group is based in Texas; leave it to Texans to take a great sport and elevate it spiritually.

Every 2nd Sunday of the month, the group gets together to work out on the poles with Christian music. Then they carry the collection plate through the church. But it’s not as decadent as it sounds: they wear t-shirts and shorts instead of nothing. But still I can’t help but picture Jesus, hiding behind sunglasses and with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, sitting in a club waving twenty dollar bills to his, er, disciples. How much cash must a dancer earn to be saved?

I can already see the next rapture approaching in October:

“So do I have what it takes?” asks the pole dancer/athlete/disciple as she slinks down the pole.

Jesus shrugs.

The pole dancer jumps off the stage and into Jesus’s lap. “Maybe you’d like a little lap dance? Don’t tell my manager, but I’ll let you have two songs for $40.”

“Eh, I don’t know,” Jesus says. “I’d kind of like to check out the other dancers/athletes/disciples.”

The dancer runs her fingers up his chest, licks his ear, then whispers, “What about the VIP room? I can do things there that are illegal in 17 states. I’ll show you a real rapture.”

“Okay, sure, just let me tell Moses to find another ride home.”

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Viva Las Vegas... Nyet!

“Did you see any shows?” is the second question people ask you after you get back from Las Vegas. (The first is “Did you win any money?”). But there’s no need to ask us about Las Vegas shows anymore. Two years ago on our last trip, we attended a show that pretty much soured us on Vegas shows forever.

It wasn’t one of those $120-a-pop supershows with flying flaming monkeys, surfing clowns, and acrobats who can swallow their own foot. We opted for something a little more low key and intimate, but mostly cheaper. The show was in the small cabaret theater of an older hotel on the strip, the kind of place you might expect to find Major Nelson and Major Healy in white dinner jackets on a Saturday night. Or Don Ho. The show featured a little comedy, singing, dancing and, some, er, mature entertainment. So let’s just call the show “Juggs.”

Too busy drinking wine and playing video poker at the bar to watch the time, we ended up near the end of the general admission line. This turned out to be a major tactical error. The maitre d’ led us and another gentleman into the theater where he sat the gentleman in a center seat near the back. Then he motioned for us to keep following.

“That guy got a center seat,” I thought. “We must be getting a really good one near the front.”

The maitre d’ did lead us toward the front of the theater. Then he opened a side door next to the stage. He stood there smiling and pointed out into a hall.

“Awesome!” I told St. Pauli Girl. “Backstage pass! We get to meet the dancers!”

We followed the maitre d’ into a long, dimly lit hallway.

“I’m not sure we’re in the theater anymore,” St. Pauli Girl whispered after we had walked about a hundred yards.

We could hear loud noises at the end of the hallway. The maitre d’ turned to the left and held open a swinging door which opened into the hotel kitchen. Cooks, waiters, and dishwashers ran around screaming and throwing things. The maitre d’ signaled to one of the lowly cooks who then rolled two barrels of frying oil over to him. He set them upright, and the maitre d’ slapped our programs down on the barrels.

“These are our seats?” I asked.

He nodded, pointing to a television monitor mounted on the wall above the swinging doors. Then he left.

We sat down and sure enough the show started on the television screen but with no sound. Then an angry chef threw discarded duck organs at the screen. Soon after, the head chef came over and grabbed me from behind by my shoulders. He spun me around on my feet then jabbed a finger into my chest, yelling something in some sort of French or German. (I thought it was French, but he spit and growled a lot.) Then he pointed to two huge sinks full of dirty dishes.

“You want me to wash dishes?”

He pounded his finger into my chest even harder.

“But I have tickets.” I showed him our tickets and pointed at the television screen.

“Nyet!” He shoved me toward the sinks.

“It’s alright,” St. Pauli Girl said. “According to the television screen, it’s intermission.”

Okay, so maybe that was a slight exaggeration of our experience. In reality, we were seated behind and underneath a projection screen that hit me at about nose level. I had to lean down to see anything, while the guy in front of us kept leaning back and banging his head on the screen.

“Oh, they’ll take that up before the show starts,” I told St. Pauli Girl.

But they didn’t. A man down the row from us left after the corner of the swinging projection screen poked him in the eye. Lucky me, I wound up with only a stiff neck.

It’s one thing to not thank customers as they walk out of your store/restaurant/theater, but this brought customer service to a new low. In a message I sent to the resort, I pointed out that essentially their message to us was, “Thank you for your money. We hate you. Please don’t ever come back.”

Guess we should have spent the money on a show with double-jointed contortionists on unicycles.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Do Politicians Need More Bandwidth?

First I’d like to apologize to any follower who got spammed by a Google bot recently. I’m not sure how/why it happened, but I am investigating furiously so that it does not happen again. Evil must not be tolerated!

The U.S. government recently announced a new cell phone alert system in which people could get critical alerts from government officials, including the President. I’m not so sure this will work the way they intended.

Let’s imagine possible text message alerts about a tornado forming in Austin and how a Mr. R. Perry of Austin might react:

Obama: Attention Texans, this is your President speaking. Tornadoes are forming across Texas. Seek shelter immediately!

R. Perry: (answering cell phone) Hello? Hello? Who is this? Is anyone there?

Obama: It’s a text message. Use your keyboard to text me back.

R. Perry: 118547770321889

Obama: No, not the number pad. Use the keyboard that slides out.

R. Perry: Weren’t you recently clubbed to death by a team of seals?

Obama: That was OSAMA! This is President Obama!

R. Perry: I believe weather and tornadoes are a local matter. We don’t need Washington telling us when to carry an umbrella.

Obama: An F-5 tornado is bearing down on Austin. Get to the cellar!

R. Perry: Maybe that’s a tornado for you Eastern elites but where I’m from in west Texas, that’s just a summer breeze.

Obama: You will die if you don’t seek shelter.

R. Perry: Ha! A Washington death panel. I knew it!

Obama: The tornado will kill you! Look out your window. Can’t you see the dark noon sky?

R. Perry: Looking east towards that Washington swamp, it’s always dark.

Obama: What’s it going to take to drive you to safety? What if I said there’s two gay illegal immigrants trying to get married on your front porch while trying to vote without a valid I.D.?

R. Perry: Yikes! I’m battening down the hatches. Gotta go. Oh wait! I forgot. How about you going ahead and getting the ball rolling on some federal disaster relief?

Obama: Bwahahahahahahahahaha! OMG! LMAO!

For a fair and balanced blog, let’s travel back in time and pretend we had this system during the George W. Bush presidency. Same setting, different players: a tornado heads toward Austin, and a Mr. Lemony Alfalfa receives the texts:

Dick Cheney: Texans, get yer ass in a shelter, pronto!

Lemony Alfalfa: Hey, what happened to W?

Cheney: Don’t know. He’s walking Barney or something. I’m in charge.

Alfalfa: After not finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, why should we believe a tornado is coming?

Cheney: That’s what Osama Bin Laden would like you to think. I’m pretty sure he conjured up this F-5 tornado.

Alfalfa: That’s possible. But wouldn’t he target New York or D.C.?

Cheney: Uh, the President’s ranch is in Texas. Duh.

Alfalfa: I’d like a second opinion.

Cheney: I’ll have Colin Powell text you. But you’ll probably be dead by then. Get to a shelter now!

Alfalfa: I’ll wait for the general’s text.

Cheney: What if I told you illegal immigrants were seen coming into your neighborhood?

Alfalfa: They’d probably improve the restaurant scene.

Cheney: These are Eskimo immigrants. I hope you like herring. And what if I said they had concealed handgun permits and they had grounded a ship leaking oil in the Amazon and now they were seeking work as union-busting goons?

Alfalfa: I haven’t finished building my shelter yet. I’m trying to make it green.

Cheney: Go #@*%$ yourself!

Friday, May 6, 2011

The TSA Healthcare Plan

I recently got to try out the new airport body scanner. No, I’m not going to complain about strangers checking out my hot, naked body; it seems most complainers wildly over-estimate how many people want to see them nude. I suspect the task is tedious and boring and causes most workers to kick the internet porn habit. I am here to praise the scanners and promote their usage.

I walked into the scanner and placed my hands over my head as instructed. I winked at the woman behind the control screen and said, “Yeah, that’s all of me.”

“I can see your gut just fine through your shirt,” she answered.

The machine whooshed around me, and I felt more like I was stuck in a revolving door rather than a nuclear reactor core as some people have stated the danger. As I stepped out, the control woman yelled at another worker, “Left knee. Check the left knee.”

Bewildered, I stood still while the officer slid his hand around my leg just above my knee.

“You can go,” he said.

He had barely touched me plus I was wearing shorts so I couldn’t hide a whole lot. But something got her attention. What could it have been?

“Is it cancer?” I asked.


“A tumor? These are giant x-ray machines, right? I assume you can see medical conditions?”

“Move along.”

But that got me thinking that we should combine airport security with health care. Not only should we scan for weapons, by why not just give people a full MRI? After security clears you, a doctor could then check out the image and either wave you on or steer you to a back office for further consultation.

The benefits would be tremendous. People like me who fly once or twice a year would no longer have to get an annual physical. The constantly traveling businesspeople could get cheaper health insurance. The government could cash in its frequent flier miles to force poor people to fly somewhere once a year to ensure they get health care. Plus they would be forced to fly to cash-strapped cities (like all of the ones in Texas) where they could help jumpstart the local economies.

Let’s assume the worst in my scenario and assume that it turns out I have gangrene in my left knee. Check out these great options:

 I could change my flight to Minnesota and go straight to the Mayo Clinic. (let’s also pretend airlines couldn’t charge rebooking fees for medical conditions)

 While sitting in the middle seat in coach, I could just gnaw off my leg to solve the problem.

 I might decide to upgrade to first class.

 I might decide to fly to Tahiti.

 I might upgrade my room to a suite in Vegas and bet everything I had on the craps table (assuming the El Cortez has upgrades)

 The airlines might add skydiving to the inflight entertainment menu to get more fees and provide dying people with that once in a lifetime experience.

Regardless, I would have options rather than just dropping dead on my keyboard like I probably will someday.

Monday, April 25, 2011

I Am Somewhere Else Today

Today I was invited to submit a guest blog at L.M. Stull's site. Check out my adventures in beer writing.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Postcard from Las Vegas

St. Pauli Girl and I just got back from Las Vegas on our first vacation in two years. Since I don’t get out much, I will probably write the next 50 or 60 blogs about this trip.

We love Vegas and have been going off and on for the past ten years. When you are there, it really feels like you’ve stepped out of reality for a few days (for example, you look in your wallet and swear there was $100 in it an hour before). Another appeal is that you get to see the full spectrum of humanity on display, from Bible-thumping street preachers, to Bubbas toting coolers packed with Coors Lite, to old rich people who’ve had so much plastic surgery they look like wax museum wannabes.

One of my conversations with St. Pauli Girl about that:

Me: Why do all these old men look so gay?

Her: They’re not gay. They’re rich and can afford plastic surgery, good hairpieces, and bi-weekly manicures and pedicures.

Me: Oh…. So, all rich people are gay?

So here are just a few notes and observations from our latest trip:

 If you are sitting in row 18 of the airplane and people in row 12 can hear your regular conversation, you are talking too loud. After having to get up at 4:00 a.m. to catch our flight, I could not sleep the entire trip because of the two loud talking ladies behind me. The nine-month-old baby across the aisle behaved better. I learned from Loud Lady #1 that her first love died mysteriously, her second love started out as just a friend knocked her up, she dumped him, kept the baby and now she hopes to retire to someplace like Argentina where the government won’t bother her as much. And she likes to drink screwdrivers. Four at a time. Don’t cry for her, Argentina.

 Friendly travel tip: there is no need to line up in front of the jetway 30 minutes before your flight. You either already have an assigned seat or, if it’s Southwest, you have an assigned place in line. I’ve never actually seen an airline close the door and declare the plane full before everyone with assigned seats boarded anyway. But what do I know? I don’t travel much these days.

 Not only should you not gamble what you cannot afford to lose, you should also act like you can afford to lose it. Case in point: a rich-looking old guy with slicked back shoulder length grey hair and expensive shirt was strutting between blackjack tables with a stack of green chips ($25) in his hand. Whenever he saw an opening at a $5 table, he’d place a single $25 bet. He did it at our table where he promptly lost, screamed at one of the players for making a “wrong” play, and stomped off.

A. He obviously wasn’t as rich as he wanted us to believe.

B. He had no right to berate other players for being stupid; he was the stupid one for making a stupid bet he couldn’t afford to lose, because if he really wanted to win money, he would learn how to play properly.

 Restroom Etiquette.

A. I believe cell phones should have a mechanism that electrocutes anyone using a cell phone in the restroom unless your name is Lyndon Johnson. There is probably .00000001% of the population that is important enough to be using a cell phone in the restroom. And probably none of them are in Las Vegas restrooms. At the very least, if you don’t get electrocuted, whoever you are talking to should either divorce you, defriend you, demand their money back, or fire you. Or set you on fire.

B. Zip up before leaving the urinal. No one wants to see you adjusting yourself or even just tucking in your shirt with your fly hanging open. And it’s ten times worse if you’re doing that while talking on a cell phone.

And finally: why I love Las Vegas. This incident actually occurred on a previous trip. I was sitting a bar playing video poker while watching sports highlights on the tv. Two little old ladies, probably in their 70’s, one with a walker, shuffled up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder.

“Excuse me, young man,” said one lady. “Did you happen to see if the Boston Bruins won?”

“Actually, they lost 5 to 2,” I replied.

“G%$*& it!” they screamed. “F%$&ing idiots!”

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My Life As An Old Rock Star

While watching American Idol with St. Pauli Girl this season, I have become a big fan of Steven Tyler for all the wrong reasons. Not since Vanna White has someone done so little to earn a fat paycheck. His comments range from “You knocked it out of the park” to “That’s how you do it” to something unintelligible. If he were a real judge, everyone would win: plaintiffs and defendants. In the same cases.

So it occurred to me, what if I lived my life like Steven Tyler? Not the flamboyant, decadent rock star, but rather what if I just talked like him on a regular basis? I suspect my usual day as a computer programmer would go something like this:

(Note: I would need a Randy Jackson to follow me around all day to help me form some of my opinions. Let’s assume he’s there with me.)

8:00 a.m. Break Room. I get a cup of coffee that has just been brewed by the office admin.

Me: (after sipping coffee) Mmmm, sweetheart let me tell you something, when you brew coffee, you really know how to brew coffee. It’s like you magically know just how much of the coffee package to pour in the thing-a-ma-jig.

Admin: Um, thanks. It’s caffeinated.

Me: Let’s hope so. Java nice day.

8:30 a.m. At computer on my desk, responding to a meeting invitation
Me: (typing) “Your request sets my heart on fire. It makes my feet want to dance and hopscotch all the way to the conference room. You really know how to schedule a meeting. I’m not sure about the time though. I mean does anybody really know what time it is? Perhaps we shall chat by happenstance in another dimension, like a hallway. A chance meeting, eh? See you then!”

10:00 a.m. Performing a code review of a co-worker’s program.
Me: Sammy, you knocked that one out of the park. That “Do Loop” has got the “to do” of my “doo wap” doing somersaults. I feel it right here (pointing to my heart). There’s a little misty tear there.

Randy Jackson: Yeah, okay, dawg, so you got the “ifs” and the “elses” but the comments leave me wanting. I feel like there could be a little more lingo there to really let me know what’s shaking in that sub-routine.

Me: I concur.

11:00 a.m. Arguing with co-workers about where to go for lunch
Sammy: What about Olive Garden?

Me: My pasta flour is not blooming.

Sammy: There’s that new deli down the street, The Souper Submarine.

Me: (long sigh) Down periscope.

Randy: Yo, man, all you ever want is soups and salads. Bring me the big greasy burger. I say let’s go to Burger Dawg Haus.

Me: I concur. Hooters it is.

1:00 p.m. Monthly Budget Meeting
(Rosemary has just finished presenting department numbers.)

Me: Rosie, I gotta tell you, what you’re doing with those numbers makes me blush. I mean that’s a 36-24-36, A-1, brickhouse budget. A good manager knows how to manage, and the management you just showed on that budget just blew me away. Beautiful.

Randy Jackson: Alright, so listen up. There were some good spots, some pitchy spots and some spots I just didn’t like. The part where you scheduled me for 60 hours next week just doesn’t work for me. And some of these numbers just look like you’re spoutin’ ‘em off the top of your head. In your performance, it almost looked like you were reaching here then reaching there pulling numbers out of thin air. I don’t know dawg.

Me: I concur.

3:30 p.m. In the Testing Lab
(I’m standing behind Anne as she works through a test scenario on the computer. Suddenly the computer bursts into flames.)

Anne: Oh my God, let’s get out of here!

Me: Annie, always lookin’ to vamoose just as things heat up.

Anne: It’s on fire! The halon gas will be coming on any second! We need to get out of here.

Me: Annie, to be a good tester, you need to know how to test things, and I don’t think you’re putting your best foot forward. Maybe you need to find something that’s more you. Find something that screams and shouts: Annie!

Anne: My name is Anne!

Me: Who?

Anne: This thing was running just fine until I loaded your program. Your stupid program blew up the computer! It’s your fault!

Me: Annie, a wise man, I believe his name was Little Caesar said, “Don’t blame the messenger.”

Anne: Little Caesar said, “Pizza, pizza!”

Me: Excellent advice as well. Now, I'm all hungry.

5:30 p.m. At door of Boss’s office
Me: Boss man, are the paychecks in yet?

Boss: Yeah, they just got here.

Me: Sweet Jesus Hallelujah! Aiiieeeeyooowwww! Koo-koo ka-choo! I do love payday!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mmmmmm, Dog Jerky Treats

I’ve never been crazy about beef jerky. It’s about as interesting as chewing on a salty shoe. Dogs are less picky, so we recently started buying chicken jerky treats for our dogs. The dried-out slices of chicken parts are long and thin and look like bacon. The dogs love them and everyday at 5:00 p.m. they come running around and begging for the treats. Lately I’ve noticed when I pull them from the bag, they look really good. They smell like dried, processed chicken, but as I’ve said, they look like bacon. And what’s not to love about bacon? I’ve found myself really wanting to try one.

It’s crazy, I know! I’m sure it would break my teeth and make me long for the salty rubber flavor of a Slim Jim. But when I look at them, I think of Sunday brunch and a juicy, fat slice of crispy bacon. And French toast with a side of hash browns. And champagne. I really want to eat one of these treats.

Then I realized if I wanted to make an entertaining blog about it, I should film myself eating it and post it on youtube. I could title it “Crazy Guy Eats Dog Treats.” And now for your viewing pleasure, here’s the clip…

No I couldn’t do it. I finally realized there’re probably scarier videos out there and sure enough, a brief search leads to “Girl Eats Dog Food Naked.” (It’s a 2-minute clip so I’ll wait here until you finish.)

This scenario reminds me of another problem I have: when I’m doing laundry and I pour the liquid detergent into the cap, I have to remind myself not to drink it. I have no desire to drink it, but for some reason my brain is reminded of pouring a glass of water or wine and has to nudge me that this is indeed not wine. (Amazingly, I don’t have this problem with bleach but maybe that’s because I pour the bleach directly into the water rather than a measuring cup.)

After I pour in the detergent, I breathe a sigh of relief that once again I have avoided drinking it but then find myself going over scenarios of what I should do the day that I actually do drink it. Hopefully I’ll catch myself before I drink too much. If not, I’ll perform a self-Heimlich maneuver by thrusting my stomach against the washing machine lid. Then I’ll rinse my mouth out with water. And hopefully the worst thing that happens is I burp soap bubbles for a few days. Because I’m certainly not telling St. Pauli Girl.

She’ll probably say, “Why did you do that?”

“I don’t know. Seemed like a good idea. I think my mind noticed that it was a rare vintage.”

So I struggle through my daily life trying not to eat the dog treats and drinking laundry detergent though I know at some point in the future, I will fail. Perhaps if I just eat a dog treat today, that will stop me from ever putting anything stupid in my mouth again. At least that’s the excuse I’ll use when St. Pauli Girl catches me with a hunk of dog jerky hanging out of my mouth.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Economic Baggage

I am all in favor of airlines charging fees for baggage. Why should I expect to be able to pay the same airfare as I did ten years ago? Besides, I fly maybe twice a year and maybe check a bag (golf clubs) once; plus I live in a Southwest airlines market. So my opinion is actually pretty pointless.

Anyway, I booked one of my annual trips this week using frequent flyer miles. My mind then ran down the economic dilemma of whether or not to bring the golf clubs as argued by the golfer in my mind versus the financial guru:

Golfer: I want to play golf with family members but it will cost an extra $50 round trip to bring my clubs.

Guru: You could rent golf clubs at the course for maybe $20.

Golfer: But playing with unknown clubs, I will play terrible. It’s better to bring my own clubs.

Guru: You play golf once a year. You’re going to play terrible even if it’s a course with windmills and dinosaurs.

Golfer: Oh wise guru, you’re also forgetting that I’ll have to buy golf balls and a golf glove.

Guru: You can pack those in your carry-on. At least pack the golf glove and buy a sleeve or two of balls at the golf course.

Golfer: But pro shop golf balls are really expensive.

Guru: Not if you buy those slightly used ones they sell for $.50 each from the fishbowl on the counter. Or grab a few from the driving range.

Golfer: So now you want me to play with unfamiliar clubs and balls? You may as well pencil in my score of 150.

Guru: Ten strokes above your average? It’s worth the money savings.

Golfer: What about shoes? They won’t fit in my carryon.

Guru: Wear them.

Golfer: In an airport? I’ll look like a dork.

Guru: You’re also married, fat and have a mullet. It doesn’t matter what you look like anymore.

Golfer: Yeah, but security may confiscate the shoes as a weapon.

Guru: They’re rubber spikes! They can’t hurt anyone. In fact, they really don’t even help you on the golf course. You wear tennis shoes most of the time, remember?

Golfer: Well if it’s dry. But we’ll probably play in the morning dew and I don’t want to slip. And what if we end up with a stranger as the fourth person in the foursome? Won’t the stranger be terrified of playing with someone in tennis shoes, rental clubs and used golf balls?

Guru: Remember about 15 years ago when you got stuck playing with a guy that looked like a cross between John Denver, Grizzly Adams and Jesus Christ? He wore an old leather cowboy hat, jeans and sandals. Do you remember how you scoffed? And he went out and shot 72. If you play like that, no one cares how you look.

Golfer: So now you’re saying I should bring my clubs because I couldn’t possibly shoot 72 with rental clubs.

Guru: The only way you post 72 is if a tornado carries you away after the 12th hole or so.

Golfer: But it’s not just about a score. It’s the jokes, camaraderie, and the beer.

Guru: Go to a bar.

Golfer: Our wives won’t let us sit in a bar for five hours. That’s the only reason we golf.

Guru: I see. In that case you’ll want to check your golf bag on the flight but take all of the clubs out of it.

Golfer: Why?

Guru: You can fill it with ice and beer. You’ll save money in the long run.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

White Guy Scholars

My niece recently won a small college scholarship offered to students of Hungarian descent. Naturally, she had to have proof of her Hungarian heritage. Not a problem, as last year she won the National Stuffed-Cabbage Bake-off.

This reminded me of another new scholarship being offered to white male Texans by the Former Majority Association for Equality. That’s mighty white of them. (Ha, you had to see that one coming.) Anyway, you must be 25% Caucasian to be eligible for the scholarship. I wonder how you go about proving that?

Luckily I obtained a sample application and am offering some sample answers to help out any un-certified white males out there:

The Former Majority Association for Equality
“White Guys Don’t Need to Jump”

White Guy Scholarship Application

Name: Dexter Klemperer

Address: Texas

Phone: Censored

Tell us about yourself:

I am: __X__ A White Guy _____ Other

(If you checked “Other”, you can skip to the signature section. Don’t bother enclosing a SASE)

Tell us about your schooling: My favorite subject is English. I refused to take a foreign language, because you can never be sure what they are really teaching you. Instead I did an independent study of Old English. Because of that, I earned a part in our school musical production of “Jack the Ripper.” I played the part of Ye Olde Chorus. I also enjoyed chemistry, keyboard skills and skeet shooting.

Tell us about your career aspirations: I hope to join a large mega-corporation and become a mid- to high-level manager. I hope to eventually stand on the glass ceiling. Or I might go to law school and someday become a Supreme Court justice like my idols: Scalia, Roberts, Alito, Kennedy, Breyer, and the rest.

Tell us about your heroes: I have a very well-rounded list of heroes, from entertainment to sports to politics. Musically, I admire Josh Groban, Toby Keith, Bing Crosby, and Justin Bieber if he weren’t Canadian. I think Eminem is talented but that he just went too far. I like Larry Bird, most golfers, almost everyone in the NHL and all of NASCAR. As for politics, I think the United States had a spectacular run of great Presidents up until the current one. My favorite is Thomas Jefferson because although he owned slaves, he eventually didn’t have to buy anymore because he just sired new ones. I also believe Roosevelt doesn’t get enough credit for creating the Japanese internment camps. Actually, if he were around today, we probably wouldn’t need immigration policy. We could just turn Arizona into one giant internment camp.

Tell us about some instances where you managed to overcome the stigma of being a white minority: I joined the chess club my freshman year where I was surrounded by Asians. Back then they could checkmate me in 4 moves while reading an electrical engineering textbook at the same time. But I stuck with it and eventually earned their respect. I never won but by the time I was a senior they at least had to put their books down while playing me.

I actually embraced the idea of being a minority and trying to learn other cultures when I got my first job at Taco Bell. I never liked Mexican food and the only Mexican words I knew were “Frito Bandito.” But I jumped right into the culture and even invented my own burrito called: The Salisbury Steak and Gravy Burrito. I have come pretty close to mastering the Mexican language as well: gordita, chalupa, grande, tortilla, and supreme. I even know all the words to “Low Rider!”

How will you use the White Guy Scholarship to demonstrate your opposition to racism: What’s “racism”? That’s how far we’ve come! I’ve never experienced it! I prefer we live our lives with rose colored memories like Haley Barbour and the Sons of Confederate Veterans who are working tirelessly to set the historical record straight. I believe if we try hard enough, someday people will realize the Civil War was just a gentlemen’s disagreement over chicken fried steak.

Final Thoughts: I see this scholarship as my one last shot at greatness. My hope is to become the intellectual Gerry Cooney: “The Great White Hope” and perhaps, the last great white hope.

Signature: ___________________________________________

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Perry Speak

Yes, it’s another Governor Rick Perry blog. I can’t help it; he makes George W. Bush look like Sam Houston or at least Thomas Jefferson.

Rick Perry is a fanatical devotee of the 10th Amendment to the Constitution which from what he says means something like: as state governor I have the right to sit on the front porch of the governor’s mansion with a shotgun and tell federal lawmakers to get the hell off my ---- I mean our - property. And he’s absolutely right, especially when it comes to speed limits. (Never mind that in 2009 while denouncing federal stimulus money with his right hand, he was cashing the check with his left hand.)

But at least he practices what he preaches, because he has made it clear that in the same manner, the state does not interfere with city and county governments. Yesterday he announced that people should not blame the state for teacher layoffs because that is a local decision made by local school districts. Never mind that they get their money from the state. Never mind that the state is facing a $27 billion shortfall. Never mind that the state controls textbooks.

So it turns out that Perry doesn’t support state rights as much as he supports the idea that the state is always right. But most importantly, he’s given us hope and a new language in which we can lead more productive and richer lives. This is how the world would be if we all spoke like Rick Perry:

Boy to his mother: I didn’t eat the last cookie, my mouth did.

Speeding driver to police officer: It’s a Toyota. The accelerator was stuck. I wasn’t speeding, the car was.

Computer Programmer to Boss: Yes, I wrote the program. It’s not my fault the computer doesn’t know how to handle a null exception and shutdown.

Guy who firebombed the Texas governor’s mansion: Yes, I threw a molotov cocktail at the mansion. What happens after that is beyond my control.

Cook to irate customer: Yeah, I put a cup of cayenne pepper in that dish instead of paprika. So what? I can’t help it you aren’t cayenne tolerant.

Air Traffic Controller: Yeah, I had two planes landing on the same runway at the same time. They’re big planes. It’s not like they couldn’t see each other.

Kid playing softball: Yes, I hit the ball that went through your window. But it was a softball. The manufacturer didn’t make it soft enough.

Murderer to the jury: Yes, that was my gun. But what a bullet does after it leaves my gun is up to the bullet.

Airline Agent: Yes, I understand you were the only survivor of the plane crash, but I’ll still have to charge you a $150 rebooking fee to get you home.

Oh wait, that already happens.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Next American Idol: Enrico Pallazzo

“It was the beast of times; it was like er, mmmgghdddtttbllg, something, something, yeah London. And don’t forget Paris.”

The preceding sentences would win the Nobel Prize for Literature if judged by the American Idol Judges.

Yes, St. Pauli Girl and I are watching another fine season of American Idol. She loves anything involving singing while I’m all in favor of anything to relieve winter boredom. Every week the judges inform us that this is the best crop of talent ever on the show. If so, I’m glad we waited until season 9 to start watching the show. Prior seasons must have included deranged lunatics reciting poetry William Shatner style.

Last night two performers completely forgot the words to the songs they were singing. One was the high strung woman who actually quit the contest the night before because she either went off her meds or needs to get on some meds. The other was the cowboy with the deep low voice that would cause the throbbing subwoofers in your car to blow out the windshield. He freely admits he only knows one song and has only survived because of his low voice. Somehow, the judges promoted both of them to the next round.

I don’t think it’s too much to ask a singing professional, an “idol,” to know the words to a song. Is this some token gesture to make Christina Aguilera feel good about herself for taking a meat cleaver to the national anthem? Really, out of 5 million auditions, the judges narrowed it down to 50 finalists, and two can’t remember the words to a song? And the judges thought the guy dressed like a transformer was stupid.

The second compelling story of the week featured the 15 year old chubby kid who got kicked out of a group by the guy wearing giant round glasses that made him look like Dexter from “Dexter’s Laboratory”. The judges gave the chubby kid a free pass to the next round. And then, after admonishing Disco Dexter, they promoted him as well.

Simon Cowell must be rolling over in his grave. He would have taken the crazy girl’s Hollywood ticket away on the auditions show after she freaked out--the first time. He would have made numerous fat jokes before dumping the chubby kid, told Disco Dexter “those glasses will help you find the exit door,” and advised the low-voiced cowboy to join a barbershop quartet.

I’ve had enough. If you’re going to reward butchered singing, there will always be only one American Idol: Lieutenant Frank Drebin.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

How to Tighten Your Belt The Texas Way

As states (especially Texas) madly struggle to balance their budgets, a lot of rhetoric revolves around the idea that the government needs to operate like families during tough times: they tighten their belts, cut out unnecessary spending, etc. As mentioned in a previous blog, Governor Rick Perry (Republic of Texas) and other conservative legislators seek to balance the budget without raising taxes and without touching the 9 billion dollars in the rainy day fund. (That is not a misprint. Yes, a 9 followed by 9 zeroes. Just sitting there. Doing nothing.) So I thought it would be useful to study how a family should operate during tough times under these standards.

I convened a panel of misers, I mean Texas conservatives, and posed some real life examples to them, with Dick and Jane as the parents of two children. Dick is an electrician while Jane stays at home to take care of the kids. They have scrimped and saved through the years and have a healthy “rainy day fund” of $10,000 in a savings account.

Scenario 1: One day, their 1987 Chevy Nova breaks down. The transmission is shot and total repairs will cost $2000. What should they do?

A. They should tap into the rainy day fund to fix the car and replenish the fund when they can.
B. Dick should work overtime and maybe pick up a weekend job to raise the money for repairs.
C. Jane should get a part time job to help buy a new car.
D. They should not touch the rainy day fund, skip a few meals to save money, sell the old car for parts, and buy a used bicycle to replace it.

Panel’s Response: Answer: D. You don’t want to use 20% of the rainy day fund because you never know when times are going to get desperate. There isn’t a worse feeling than having $8,000 in the bank when you know you could have had $10,000. It will be impossible for Jane to get a part time job because she will have to home school the kids once we close all of the public schools in Texas. And how can Dick get a part-time job without a car? So the obvious solution is D, get a cheap bike.

Scenario 2: Remnants of a hurricane pass through the area causing a massive flood that leaves a foot of water in Dick and Jane’s house. They only have one room that is livable. Since they don’t live in a flood zone, they have no flood insurance and Governor Perry does not declare it a disaster area because it was only the remnants of a hurricane as opposed to a real disaster. What should they do?

A. They should tap into the rainy day fund to find better housing or make necessary repairs.
B. Dick should work overtime and maybe pick up a weekend job to get more money.
C. Jane should work harder to clean the house.
D. They should buy a Coleman camping stove, and everyone should live in the one tiny bedroom. They can all take baths in the living room since it is flooded.

Panel’s Response: The correct answer is D, but it’s a stupid question because an electrician obviously knows how to fix stuff. He’s probably been stealing supplies from his company for years because that’s what everyone does, so fixing the house will be virtually free.

Scenario 3: Dick and Jane get into a big argument one day. Jane storms out and does some “therapy” shopping and runs up $3,000 in credit card debt. What should they do?

A. They should kiss and make up, use the rainy day fund to pay off the debt, then cut up their credit cards.
B. They should return everything and get the credit card refunded.
C. Dick should file for divorce and make Jane keep the debt in her name.
D. They should make the minimal monthly payment on the credit card for the next 43 years.

Panel’s Response: Answer D. By now everyone is acutely aware that some companies in America are too big to fail, notably banks. By making the monthly minimal payment, you keep the economy humming by helping the bank’s bottom line while saving some of your own monthly budget. When banks are sound, America is sound. Also they should make up to 10 transfers back and forth between their savings account and checking account so the bank can make a monthly charge on their account. Come on, the bank needs to be making a little something with all that rainy day money they have there.

Scenario 4: It’s the week before Christmas. Dick and Jane’s house is all decorated with several presents already under the tree. One night while the family is at church, thieves break in and steal all of the presents. What should they do?

A. They should tap into the rainy day fund to ensure the children still have a memorable Christmas.
B. They should all volunteer at the local homeless shelter so the kids can see they don’t have it as bad as others.
C. Dick can give everyone supplies he stole from work as Christmas presents.
D. They should tell the kids Santa knows they’ve been bad, and he took the presents back.

Panel’s Response: This is a trick question. A is not an option but B, C and D are all pretty good even though they ignore the moral dilemma. Most people would argue that Santa Claus is the ultimate capitalist with his contract: if you’re good, he’ll deliver. It’s totally fair and would hold up in most courts. However, we all know Santa Claus does not exist. Hence, it’s up to the parents. How many parents do you know that actually withhold presents because the kids are bad? Zero. And that makes Christmas a socialist practice. So the correct answer is: you shouldn’t celebrate Christmas at all. Unless you’re communist.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Governor Perry Predicts Doom for Texas

Like most states, the Great Republic is trying to come to grips with a drastic revenue shortfall from the recent economic slump as the legislature attempts to complete a balanced budget for the next two years. According to democrats, we’re “zillions upon zillions of dollars short.” Governor Perry, on the other hand, says “we’re about that close” while holding his thumb and index finger half an inch apart. That may be right . . . assuming that half inch of space holds a stack of billion dollar bills.

However, the future looks bright, as Texas has saved its money for just such an occasion. Starting in 1987, the state started stuffing money under a really large mattress and called it the “Rainy Day Fund.” With great foresight and brilliant conservative thinking, the fund now holds about 9 billion dollars. This would be enough money to fix a large portion of the budget shortfall.

Unfortunately, it turns out the Rainy Day Fund is more like a giant safe . . . buried somewhere in North Korea. Under a volcano guarded by flying monkeys, trap doors, voice recognition gates, and an oracle who will ask visitors three challenging questions about cricket. In Klingon. Backwards. And your answers must be in the form of a question. Yup, that’s right, Governor Perry and his conservative lawmaker brethren have decided we can’t touch the Rainy Day Fund.

I’m all in favor of fiscal conservative policy, but miserly-to-the-point-of-starvation policy? Let me ask you this, Mr. Governor: as you debate the budget, will you be burning large bundles of cash from the fund to keep the capitol warm? Or on the first day, perhaps every legislator gets a blanket full of bills to keep himself/herself warm at night? Or maybe you’re practicing origami in order to make umbrellas out of bills so the legislators don’t get wet when it rains?

I can picture a gaunt, shoeless child approaching the governor next year:

“Um, Mr. Governor sir, can I have a dollar for my school lunch? Wait where are you?”

“I’m over here,” a Rick Perry-ish voice says.

“Oh, I can’t see you behind those stacks of money.”

“It’s my fort. In case it rains. And in case the roof leaks.”

We’re in the worst economy since the Great Depression and the governor can’t even feel a sprinkle. Maybe he’s waiting for everyone to get struck by lightning first. Or swept completely away in the downpour. Maybe we’re saving it for the day Oklahoma springs a surprise nuclear attack on us. Then we’ll be able to rebuild the state or at least the Cotton Bowl so we can keep playing Oklahoma in football.

Governor Perry is quoted as saying, “Why in the world would we want to spend dollars just because they're sitting there…” Oh I don’t know, BECAUSE THEY’RE TAX DOLLARS and that’s what you do with tax dollars. Or you can give it back. At least the federal government spends the money we send it. (And then some.).

In fact, I would expect that to be the conservative argument: “We’re going to spend it on the budget or give it back.” But no, it’s “We’re going to cut your services to the bone while we build a giant cash playground in the Capitol that we can play in all day.”

Since Governor Perry refuses to touch the Rainy Day Fund, I can only conclude that he thinks Texas is in for a doomsday scenario so scary we can’t even picture it because to do so would sear our eyes and cause mass death and destruction.

Seriously, what’s the use in having a Rainy Day Fund if you don’t believe in rain?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Back Office Stick-Up

So I’ve had quite the holiday hiatus. In honor of the new year, I am kicking off the blog with a public service announcement. But first, a little background:

Last August, St. Pauli Girl was the victim of a hold-up. Except the thief didn’t have a mask or weapon and St. Pauli Girl never even met him. The thief was a large financial corporate institution we’ll call Rancid, Inc. (Times must be really, really tough.)

St. Pauli Girl withdrew a small sum from her retirement account held by Rancid, Inc. A couple of weeks later she received a call from the personnel office of her former employer: High Plains Drifter College. They told St. Pauli Girl they had received a $10,000 check made out to the college and referencing her name. The college had no idea why they received it and mailed the check to St. Pauli Girl.

St. Pauli Girl went online to check her account and noticed that the day after her small withdrawal, a $10,000 withdrawal had also been made. So despite now having the un-cashable check in her possession, her account was still missing $10,000.

Her retirement plan is a 403B plan which can best be described as the female equivalent of a 401k because it’s more complicated and has lots of “fine print” you ignored when you signed up. Plus it’s regulated by each individual state which means companies like Rancid, Inc. have to be able to handle these accounts in 50 different ways.

Surely a phone call would straighten things out? Well, here’s how that played out:

St. Pauli Girl: Can you tell me why $10,000 was taken from my account and sent to my former employer?

Rancid Operator: That check was requested by the college.

St. Pauli Girl: No, it wasn’t. I talked to them.

Rancid Operator: It’s standard procedure that a college requests the unvested amount of your investment when you leave their employment, and that’s what Giddyup College did.

St. Pauli Girl: Wait, Giddyup College? I haven’t worked for them in over ten years, and that was mostly part-time for just a few years. Almost all of my retirement investment is from High Plains Drifter College, where I was full-time for many years.

Rancid Operator: Well, when you change employers, you rollover what you had and the previous employer requests the unvested amount.

St. Pauli Girl: I changed colleges ten years ago! What took so long? Isn’t there a statute of limitations?

Rancid Operator: Let me ask a supervisor.

(20 minutes and 9 Musak songs later)

Rancid Operator: Yes, Giddyup College requested that money.

St. Pauli Girl: But you made the check out to High Plains Drifter and mailed the check to them.

Rancid Operator: Yes, hmm, well there goes my computer . . . sorry…. Let me ask a supervisor.

(20 more minutes later)

Rancid Operator: Ma’am? We mailed the check to High Plains because those two colleges merged.

St. Pauli Girl: What? Are you crazy? That sure will be news to them! Let me speak to your supervisor.

Rancid Operator: She just went to lunch. And I’d better get going too. Thanks for calling.

St. Pauli Girl tried numerous times to call back, but the Rancid operators put up a strong defense, and she couldn’t get past them. She tried to call the investment advisor listed on her statement, but he wouldn’t return her calls either. (Apparently he only returns calls when a commission is involved.) She called Giddyup College, and they verified they did not request a check . . . nor had they secretly merged with High Plains Drifter College.

We did extensive research and concluded no one was entitled to the money except St. Pauli Girl. We then mailed a formal letter to Rancid protesting her most recent retirement account statement and demanded the money be restored. (If this didn’t work, I knew where to find the A-Team.)

Finally after receiving our letter, a Rancid representative called to tell us there had been a mistake and the money would be restored by the end of the week. (It may have helped that in our letter we used words like “fraudulent,” “usury” and “chicanery.”) But no one ever explained the mistake. After $10,000 disappeared, no one could tell us how or why.

It was probably a computer glitch, or perhaps the fact that even minor employees have to know 50 different ways to handle retirement accounts. But in a large company like Rancid, no one is going to notice a missing $10,000. Luckily the HR person at High Plains Drifter College did notice.

So my public service announcement:

Balance your checkbook!

Always carefully read any investment statements!

Carefully review all bills, credit card statements and especially little charges on your phone bill!

If an ATM declines your withdrawal request, always check your statement and make sure the ATM didn’t take the money from your account anyway!

Times are tough; you never know when a company like Rancid, Inc. is going to keep a little something for themselves.