Glitching Tiger, Hidden Login

It was growing hard not to take it personally. Of course, being unable to get inside the office on a Monday morning does that to a gal.

Oh, I stood in the parking lot, jiggling my key in the lock. The light drizzle which inevitably mists down when locks stick...

Or packages are heavy...

Or you've had six cups of coffee...

...was there and drizzling. Lightly. Right on cue.

Closer investigation proved-- it wasn't that the key wouldn't fit in the lock. It was that it fit too well. It spun. Why, that key went round and round in that lock like Linda Blair's head in The Exorcist. Only the key didn't vomit.

Thank goodness for small favors, I suppose. There'd have been metal filings everywhere.

Now my coworkers' cars were in the parking lot.

And since my colleagues weren't all standing outside with me, their hair plastered to their heads in the rain and cursing... well, it was fairly safe to deduce the lock had been working at some point.

Or they brought their jetpacks, ziplines and grappling hooks. Whereas, I had left mine at home.

Finally, a whack on the door handle-- well-known to be the proper way of fixing any and all delicate instrumentation-- and the lock clicked into place and gave way.

I stalked inside to my office twenty minutes late, dropped into my chair, turned on my computer, entered my username and password, hit Return and...

The computer cursor blinked at me blankly. You? Who are you?

"You know me," I pleaded. "My hair is just wet."

Blink... Blink... Never seen you before. And please, don't drip on my keyboard.

That's when I thought, maybe I typed in the wrong username...? Er, no.

The wrong spelling?... Nada.

Well, um, CAPS lock...? Nien!

So, did I forget the right password...?

And here, puppies grew into dogs and got old and died as I hearkened back to every password I'd had since my seventh grade locker combination.

Move along, kid, ya bother me,
the computer said.

"You've been talking to the gate downstairs, haven't you?"

It didn't dignify that with a response.

Now I don't consider myself to be a particularly paranoid person. But after not being able to get into the building, and then not being able to connect to the network, I was starting to wonder if this was an extremely passive-aggressive way of saying I wouldn't be collecting a paycheck anymore.

After all, I've seen Office Space 37 times.

On my way downstairs for tech help, I passed one of my supervisors in the hallway. "Heyhowyadoin?" I greeted, feeling the situation out.

I figured it was the perfect opportunity for him to pause and say, "Wait a minute! How'd you get in here? We'd changed the locks and altered your network access and everything. Writer, go home!"

Paranoia is a stinky perfume.

Fortunately, the standard "finehowareyou?" wafted it away pretty quickly.

And soon, our elite squad of Tech Ninjas was on the job. Profiles were examined, servers were rebooted, connections were remade...

"Try it now."

This time, as I entered my username and password, golden beams of light shot down from the sky. A chorus of angels sang the Mac start-up chord! And my computer-- which had pressed a heavy boot to my forehead and shoved, just hours before-- reached out and embraced me like a loving grandmother.

Until the next time I powered down and restarted my machine.

The Tech Ninjas were perplexed. It became a three Tech Ninja job.

So the Tech Ninja Triumverate recreated my user profile. They used electronic nunchaku on willful access scripts. They fought valiantly against Mac-PC incompatibilities in the technical treetops on wires. And when I came in to work the next day, a Post-it made of bamboo pulp was tacked to my machine which read...

"All should be well."
-Tech Ninja Master

I pressed the "On" button with a hesitant finger. The computer started up. The login box appeared. And again--- beams of light, angels, yadda, yadda, whathaveyou...

Fast forward to yesterday morning. I still have the "All should be well" Post-it, on my computer. It has become my security blanket for challenging client days. Sort of the equivalent of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy's "Don't Panic."

But this day, the Post-it lies. Again I am unable to log-in. And as the Tech Ninja Master meditates on this, his most complex of techno-existential problems, an idea strikes. "No. It cannot be."

Do you want to know what was wrong this time? Do you want to know why I came in at 7:30am but couldn't actually get anything done until 8:30 because the computer wouldn't let me in? Do you want to know why I was persona non grata with the network once more?

The time on the clock was four minutes off on my computer. And because of this, the server wouldn't recognize my machine. The clock. Fer pity's sake.

Those Tech Ninjas... they sure do earn their keep.

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Greeting Cards for Bloggers

The joys, the sorrows... Blogging is full of 'em. And with more and more people blogging, I think greeting card companies are missing a very important niche market here.

So, Of Cabbages and Kings has decided to step up and help bloggers, their families and friends, better support each other through the ups... the downs... and the, er, sidewayses... of this big ol' roller coaster ride we call the Blogging Life.

Go ahead and use these e-cards freely, to tell your blogging buddies just how you feel. All I ask is that you leave the images as-is and, if you'd be so kind, provide a linkback to Because, y'know, in a world of billion dollar bailouts, "free" is a pretty darned good deal.

I've created a wide selection of e-cards to suit some of today's most common blogging benchmarks!

For the blogger celebrating a PR increase...

And for the folks who took a beating during this last page rank update...

For when technical malfunction turns to tragedy...

And to celebrate the blogging life's rich rewards...

For those moments where the world seems unjust...

And to help soothe the stresses of social media...

And sometimes... sometimes... it's to simply announce the birth of a really great idea...

Hope you have fun with 'em, my friends!

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Or pop by Humorbloggers where everyone's a card.

Copper, the Psychologically-Damaged Carnival Fish

Black, impending doom. I looked at the water-filled plastic baggy in my hands and suddenly saw my future. The Grim Reaper would be approaching soon, dispensing swift justice in the form of the scythe-sharp tongue of one very angry mom.

I peered at the small golden prisoner in the bag, who flinched-- as if sensing my terror straight through the plastic film-- and glugged at my magnified eyes with fear and wonder.

It seemed impossible to believe that just two hours before, I had been so happy, so carefree! Strolling the annual fireman's carnival fund-raiser with a friend...

Reveling in the neon colors as amusement rides twisted and spun...

Surrounded by the buzzes and dings and cheers at the gaming midway.

I hadn't even planned to do it. Tossing that ping-pong ball into the goldfish bowl had been the last thing on my mind. I'd raised enough allowance money for my entrance ticket-- maybe a bag of cotton candy.

But then my friend Sarah's mom and aunt stopped. And Sarah, too. And in seconds they had placed their quarters on the counter and gathered their little white spheres. And one by one, they took their chances...

A miss!-- Too much wind.

Another miss!-- A mis-calculation.

And then a third toss and....

A hole in one!

The piscine prize was poured into a baggie and handed to Sarah who grinned and poked at her new pal.

Then Sarah's mom nudged me. Three white ping-pong balls had been set up for me.

"Oh, I can't," I said, unsure whether it was because I'd already glimpsed my demise at home, or simply because my over-hand was terrible.

"Go ahead."

And maybe it was the warm lights shimmering off that fish-bowl tower...

Maybe it was the heady smell of popcorn and spun sugar and funnel cake that skewed my better judgment...

Maybe I was just swept up in the thrill of competition. Or maybe... maybe... I just wanted to see if I could.

But I picked up those balls. And tossed them. And in a fluky twist of fate... the second one went in.

As the attendant handed the bagged up fish to me, triumph lifted my spirits. It was almost impossible to believe. I had won. And of all things-- my first pet!

And then depression crashed down like a Warner Brothers anvil. Winning was fleeting, but death would be eternal.

We had a No Pets Rule at my house.

And rules, with my mother, were not just guidelines. When you're an only child with parents who truly mean business, it's not like there are exactly a lot of distractions to smooth things over when you try to test the ol' boundaries. It's not like you can hide behind some brother or sister and hope they'll take the heat.

I mean, if something goes wrong, oh, it's you. It's always you. So, you learn pretty quickly to suck it up and face the consequences.

And it's not like your parents exactly have any barometer for what misbehavior is, either. There's no first-born to shift the bell-curve in your favor with weekend raves and missed curfews and green hair. No youngest to set a standard of broken knicknacks, smuggled stray puppies and tense teacher conferences.

Nope-- small things tend to get... magnified.... and treated accordingly. With consequences like groundings, and no TV and no phone and, why, Mom had a talent for Not-Talking to me for days.

I think now she may have been Amish. She was really good at spurts of strategic shunning.

Of course, the No Pets Rule was also there because Mom didn't want to have to maintain some finned or furry friend herself. And in all honestly, that's likely what might have happened.

So to flagrantly ignore the rule and come home with carp-in-a-bag? Well... anyone could see that this would not be pretty.

Sarah's mom must have realized it right about the time I did.

I don't know what Sarah's mom told my mother, but I could see the porch-side conversation from a safe distance on the sidewalk. There was gesturing, low voices, and then... Sarah's mom motioned me forward.

I recall apologizing the second I stepped in the door. I had a nice speech prepared to explain how I'd gotten swept up in the moment of Chance and Competition and Fish Fate.

But Mom just got me a water pitcher and said the fish could stay there for the night. And that was how Copper came to be a part of the family.


Copper was neurotic. Because of weeks of having ping-pong balls tossed at her, Copper would flinch and retreat any time a shadow passed over her bowl.

We realized this about four days into my being a Fish Owner.

The good news was, the fish's unexpected nervous condition seemed to have won my mother over-- something I certainly hadn't seen coming that night my life had flashed before my eyes.

Mom peered at the shimmering little creature with a sympathetic frown. "She's scared of everything," Mom said, and after a pause added, "Maybe she just needs some company."

Subscribing to the Only Child theory, that made a whole lot of sense to me.

So, enter Goldie-- from J.J. Newberry's five-and-dime. Goldie was frilled and self-confident, and made herself at home in what was now a bigger tank. Goldie had no time for fish filled with self-pity and twisted with bad nerves. She swam. She enjoyed her gleaming reflection in the glass. She did a little turn on the catwalk.

And pretty soon Copper came to see what all the fuss was about.

A week into it, Copper was swimming around, too. No longer retreating every time someone would step into the dining room. Or turn on the lights. Or cough.

It was a happy time under the sea for them. A happy time for me, too. I'd come home from school and, okay, so maybe they didn't greet me at the door, but there were logistical reasons for that. I, at least, decided they were glad to see me as they'd blow bubbles and follow my trailing finger.

And then one morning, I came downstairs to breakfast. "Oop! Gotta feed Goldie and Copper," I exclaimed, getting up from my eggs.

"Er... no..." said my mother solemnly.

"No?" Had mom already fed them? Because, this, I thought would mean she'd really taken to the little fellows.

But when I went into the dining room, Goldie and Copper weren't swimming.... and they weren't admiring their sleek, shiny reflections. They were doing the backstroke in their tank.

Something to do with their last change of water had done them in.

Well, we put them in a baggy-- oh, how things do come full-circle sometimes!-- and said a teary goodbye with the Monday trash pick-up.

Copper seemed to enjoy those fleeting few weeks, at least.

And after all, what's it all about if you spend life trembling at the bottom of the tank-- and you forget what's it's like to really swim?

A special thanks to Kathy of The Junk Drawer for reminding me of my first pet story.
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In Search Of: Answering Your Keyword Search Questions

Every now and then, I enjoy looking through the list of Google search terms that brought people to Cabbages.

It appeals to my sense of curiosity... My deep inner marketer... And, well, because I'm a big ol' loser with nothin' better to do.

But I'm also a big ol' helper. And I'd like to help my readers find the information they seek on this amazing thing we call the Web. I'm a giver that way. (snicker)

So today, I give you answers to some of Cabbages' most intriguing Google referrers.

"Gooten gleepen gloppen" ?
Yes, Sir or Madam, the bathroom in Ikea IS, in fact, located on the first floor level near the cinnamon bun store. I do hope you make it in time.

Well, okay, I'm kidding you. This person was actually looking for the faux German from the beginning of Def Leppard's "Hysteria." This also comes to me in variations of "Gooben gleepen gloppen globen," "Gruben greeben gloppen globen" and "Horace." Though those last folks clearly aren't really even trying when they listen to the song.

"What is a scround?"
I know in one of my posts, I had many a Cabbages reader befuddled by my mysterious use of the word "scround." And I apologize for that. So, to clear that up, a scround is the not-quite-round-not-quite-square packaging that ice cream now tends to come in.

And while it seems new to our lexicon, it's a little-known fact that the word "scround" has actually been around for decades. It made its debut as a part of 60s music culture, when it was first heard in the Beach Boys song, "I Get a Scround," a tune dedicated to Brian Wilson's deep love of ice cream as a cure for the munchies.

"What does ouija stand for?"
Why, truth, justice, and the Parker Brothers way, of course!

In my post about the time a friend and I tried to channel the Great Beyond, we didn't actually go into stuff like Ouija etymology. But the word is apparently a Parker Brothers trademark.

According to Wikipedia, one theory is the word was derived from the French word "oui," meaning "yes"... And the German word "ja" meaning... er... also "yes."

Because when you drag a spirit from the Other Side or, y'know, you're just sitting around talking to yourself... you want it to be polite and agreeable.

"Ouija, will I get that payraise?"

"Oh, oui... ja!"

The Ouija board's spirit guide may be Marlene Dietrich. But I can't be certain about that.

"Paintings of william shatner" ?
Er, are you looking for paintings featuring Mr. Shatner-- to flesh out your vast William Shatner Tribute Gallery (AKA, your mom's basement)? Or are you looking for paintings done by Mr. Shatner, in which case I'd kinda be keen to see those myself?

I can just imagine his work now.... A canvas done entirely in pink paint entitled, "Tribble."

I'm afraid, dear search engine visitor, I cannot give you Shatner Art here at Of Cabbages and Kings, but I can tell you about the time William Shatner almost wrecked my car. I hope that, at least, makes it worth your click.

"Why we r using form no 29 in post office" ?
Because Forms 1-28 are in the back room with that person who is terrified to come out to wait on the line that is now wrapping around the building three times and makes queues in Disney World look short and manageable?

Well, that's been my recent post office experience, anyway.

Truthfully, I don't really know y u r uzng the 4rm u r. May-b u shd ask ur boss?

"Mayometer" ?
This is the carefully-calibrated, microscopic, sensory-perceptive device, located in the tastebuds, that allows those of us with acute mayophobia to know that mayonnaise has been surreptitiously added to our foodstuffs. You either have a mayometer, or you do not.

If you've come to this site, a person suffering from mayonnaise fear and the occasional familial mayo-betrayal, I consider you my newest bestest friend and you may very well enjoy this post. If you are a mother looking to slip mayo into your family's foods-- shame on you! Shame, shame.

"Tentacle egg impregnation story" ?
Okay, I don't really have any answers for this, but maybe you-- my readers-- do. What's a "tentacle egg"? Or are the eggs impregnated in the tentacle? So many questions. No answers. I just hope this wasn't a personal health question. Because I don't think WebMD will have what they're looking for, either.

"Why there are lots of safety pins in 1980's?"
Excellent question! This is because we all felt the need to buy very expensive jeans, with designer names on them, and then slash the heck out of them with razor blades.

Then, our parents would ground us because they had paid for said very expensive designer jeans, and they wouldn't let us out of our rooms until we thought about what we'd done, and fixed them.

Of course, most of us also failed home ec.

So the safety pins were a quick fix allowing us to at least get to see the light of day sometime during our high school careers.

"Anonymous of the word captain" ?
I just have no idea on this one. "Anonymous of the Word" would be a good band name. But it doesn't seem to be. If we're looking for the anonymous posts of some dude named the "Word Captain," then, um, we're probably not going to find them due to his... er... anonymity.

So, folks-- ideas? More questions? A rousing chorus of "I Get a Scround"? Let me know.

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Nightmare on Sesame Street: Part Two

(Missed Part One? Read it by clicking here.)

"Where are you?" my friend Dawn asked, from what sounded very far away.

"I'm here. Where are you?" I could see what appeared to be a giant yellow pineapple with a unibrow, bobbing in front of my eyeholes.

"I'm here," said the pineapple. "Is my mask on straight?"

"Heck if I know. Is mine?"

"Er, yeah. Sure," Dawn said, lying through her air-slits.

It was Halloween night. We were dressed as Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street. We were on our way to two hours of sheer Candy Nirvana....

And we would be lucky if we found our way out of my parents' house.

But Dawn said my mom's homemade Bert costume was an upgrade from her usual Halloween garb. And I imagine that was true. See, the last nine Halloweens of her life, Dawn had been a witch. And Dawn's mom didn't believe in dressing her girl as any pink-gowned glamorous Barbie-type Good Witch of the Nordstroms sort of witch, no sir!

She believed in Ye Olde Timey sneering, taloned hag-witches. Of "bubble, bubble, toil and trouble" fame.... And, er, now-popular Broadway musicals.

The green face makeup alone would leave Dawn acne-flecked, and with a vague "oxidized penny" haze for weeks.

So even with impaired vision, Bert, he was a real treat.

Now Sarah, a friend from down the street, has just made her grand entrance as the Cowardly Lion-- leveraging beige khakis, and a tan hooded sweatshirt trimmed in fun-fur.

And then there was Leni. She and her dad had spent months crafting Gumby out of foam panels and green satin. The visual was flawless. The mobility, well... let's just say going up stairs, she looked a lot like a giant arthritic green bean.

So it was very slow-going on this moonlit night. We would meander through the leaf-littered streets of the housing complex with masks randomly turning sideways on our heads, but optimism filling our hearts.

Happily, minor wardrobe malfunctions were delicately ignored by the kind neighbor ladies, who tweaked us and fussed and tossed goodies in our rapidly-filling sacks. These were the days where full-sized candybars were not an anomaly, but the standard. And with one neighbor who worked for M&M/Mars, the potential for Twix and Snickers was extremely high.

Crunch bars and Kisses... popcorn balls and Goobers... Quick glimpses of these delicacies would reach through the eyeholes and only increase the excitement. Some folks even got particularly creative, with wax cola bottles or lips, candy buttons or-- outlawed in my home every other day of the year-- the adrenaline-pumping Pixie Stix, pure sugar and complete bliss.

Of course, we did have the folks who, we theorized, distributed from the very same bag of Milk Duds each year. The Duds would reach us speckled with an unnatural white on their chocolate coating, the Dud inside rock-hard and long-forgetting the cow it might have known.

But by all early estimates, we agreed, overall it was looking like a very good year for loot.

The final bend of our journey changed all that, though. As we trekked down this last dark street at the end of a turnaround, we glimpsed tall figures stealing through streetlight shadows... moving closer... closer....

And before we knew it-- bam! Gumby got picked off from our ranks like a gazelle in a National Geographic special. There she was, flat on the ground while her bag of candy was in the hands of some high school punk rapidly headed for the woods.

Gumby flailed like an overturned turtle. The same four inches of foam that had broken her fall, also prevented any sort of flexibility, leaving her a lump of immobilized clay. Bert and Ernie ran to mold her back into a standing position.

By then, the leopards had regrouped and were coming in fast for another kill. This time, Ernie must have been in their sights. Because in a second, I felt myself being grabbed, dragged across the macadam, anchored by the trick-or-treat bag wound twice around my orange-gloved wrist.

I found myself on the ground, face down, bleeding, with a ripped, half-bag of candy still wrapped around my hand.

And that when I recalled thinking, This isn't what Halloween is supposed to be about, is it? Halloween isn't about being harassed and roughed up and having stuff taken off of you...

It's about guilt-free candy, and the relief of being someone else for a while. Someone less likely than me to have the livin' tar beat out of her...

And that’s when Ernie got mad.

"Let's get 'em!!"

What those high school boys saw next was, I imagine, something they never anticipated when they first plotted their little snatch-and-grab routine.

Because before they could gather round to count their ill gotten gains...

Before so much as a Tootsie Roll passed before their lazy lips...

They were being swarmed by Ernie... Bert... the Cowardly Lion... and Gumby (bringing up the rear)... charging at them in Full-On Berserker Rage.


Now, I’d like to say we all got our candy back.

I’d like to tell you we made a stand for bashed and bullied kids everywhere.

But Ernie’s nose got scraped up. And Bert started crying. And the Lion summoned courage but still ate pavement.

We shuffled back to my house, sore and limping, faces tear-stained and hearts heavy. On my parents' living room floor, the Lion, Bert and I divvied up our loot to make a new bag for Gumby. We knew what those other kids didn't: fair was fair.

We learned a lot that night.

We learned Muppets in saddle-oxfords were nobody's puppets. We saw the Cowardly Lion had courage when push came to shove.

And suddenly, in a moment quicker than the flicker of a jack o' lantern, we learned we had grown entirely too old for Halloween.

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Nightmare on Sesame Street: Part One

Vision? Like a horse with blinders.

Oxygen? At about 30%.

Atmosphere? A candy corn-scented fog clung to the inside of the mask.

Mobility? Shoes, a size too large.

Comfort? Hair sweaty and neck officially itchy...

All riiiight! Welcome to Halloween in Kiddom!

Every year, my mother and I looked forward to this special day. And every season, Mom's Singer sewing machine sung with the joy of mad transformation.

While I was in it purely for the candy, my mother, well, she was motivated by something far greater, more noble-- costume design immortality.

With my hometown Halloween contest well in her sights, year after year, my mother concocted new, more elaborate creations destined to imprint our family name in the town annals of Homemade Costume Glory.

The imagination and execution of her work were beyond compare. Material, yarn, paint and chickenwire... it all bowed to her genius.

One year, I was a Cabbage Patch Kid-- fully-encased in footy pajamas crafted of doll cloth and stuffed to dimpled capacity with fiberfill. Once in this suit, backing out was not an option. The chubby mittened hands-- sewn straight to the arms-- and the zipper in the back absolutely ensured that those encased in the Kid, stayed in the Kid.

After I struggled into this polyfiber astronaut suit, I had to "dress" the doll, too-- layering on a smock, bloomers, anklet socks and Mary-Janes. Then top it off with a fully-sculpted doll head and wig.

Needless to say, all liquids ceased several hours before the big event. It was as much for the safety of the costume as for my comfort. Mom was taking no chances.

From inside the suit, I felt like a python's dinner being slowly digested. Sights and sounds were distant and muffled. Breathing was shallow. I wondered vaguely how 'd agreed to this, and how I'd ever thought it was such a good idea. But, then, I wondered that every year.

Mom said it was the price one paid for Art.

Other costumes over the years included Miss Piggy, featuring a homemade mask cleverly MacGyvered from window caulking. The fumes alone in that baby were stronger than any sugar rush...

It also was the unfortunate beginning of all my relatives giving me random pig tchotchkes. It solved their gifting concerns for the next five years.

The year of Mom's Garfield extravaganza allowed me to wield sarcasm and a tail. But logistically, that suit had similar problems to the Cabbage Patch Kid-- complete sensory isolation...

Plus fur.

Then there was Olive Oyl, a costume which left me a refreshing amount of mobility, but the rubber nose which Mom said topped off the look to perfection ("It's just not Olive Oyl without the nose," she insisted, handing the schnoz back to me) was held there with duct tape, and kept toppling off at inconvenient moments.

Like during breathing or walking.

Plus, when you're a skinny, awkward girl to begin with, being Olive Oyl could be said to be embracing your Inner You....

Or, it could be the start of a nickname which your classmates will enjoy for the next two years.

Now you might be wondering where these costume ideas came from. Well, these costumes were chosen through an elaborate two-tiered brainstorming process the summer before each Halloween.

In Phase One, I would toss out ideas of characters I wanted to be-- like Wonder Woman, Barbie, Batgirl, or Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz...

And in Phase Two, my mother would go through my list and veto them all using her Executive Designer Overrule Power, because I'd be too cold... Or I was too flat-chested... Or because it didn't offer enough creative challenge... Or, most of all, because it didn't have the "wow-factor" contest judges were looking for...

Mom had a sixth sense about these things. She may have missed out on a lucrative career in Hollywood movie casting.

And it was true, the contest competition would be stiff. In the cool autumn air, as leaves twirled in the New Jersey post-dusk mist, we'd stand among the ranks of our fellow masqueraders in Mom's latest fancy-dress inspiration...

And we'd find ourselves chatting with a large bunch of grapes... or a fish in a bowl... or a crystal ball on a table... or, oh, a wedge of cheese. Each one had potential to seize the gold, depending on the mood of the judges.

And we'd wait nervously for our turn on the costume catwalk.

The year of the "Nightmare on Sesame Street," as it's come to be known in my circles, Mom's creative spark spawned two lovable Muppets. My mother made her costumed character debut as Bert this Halloween, and I-- the shorter-- was Ernie.

The night of this costume contest marked the first time my mother shared directly in the anticipation... and the visual impairment. ("Wow, it's really hard to breathe in these things, isn't it?... And where'd your father go? Oh... he's right here. My mask got twisted.")

It seemed a strange sort of Universal Balance had finally been struck. I didn't know what the word for it was at the time, but if I did, I'd have told you, it was "closure."

Or possibly "poetic justice."

Either one was acceptable.

Yes, indeed, that night we took home the first place trophy with joy in our hearts, the Sesame Street theme song on our lips, and a bag full of candy in my hands.

So with neighborhood trick-or-treating still on the orange harvest horizon, life seemed simply filled with mind-boggling, nerve-tingling, tooth-rotting possibilities....

Little did I know, that in less than 24 hours, my friends and I would find ourselves learning a childhood lesson we would never, ever forget.

Ah, but that is a story for tomorrow, my friends...

I hope you'll pop by for Part Two of Nightmare on Sesame Street.
(Update 9/24-- Click here for Part Two.)

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Emailing Tips for Our Parents

Email from your beloved parent, or The Davinci Code? Which is easier to decipher?

I ask, because while many of us grew up with computers, the same can't be said for our good ol' moms and dads.

They were halfway through life, got a good stride going.... Then the personal computer came along. And the Internet. And e-mail. And suddenly, Life threw a big honking wrench into their smoothly-running machinery.

There was all this new stuff to learn. Stuff that you couldn't touch, or hold-- but only existed on a glowing screen. And while some folks take to it seamlessly, an equal number have some... creative interpretations of how it all works... until they get up to speed.

So I thought I'd pull together a few helpful tips of common email issues that result from the 'rents hitting the Information Highway. Let's remove the roadblocks and get 'em back on the path, shall we? And here's wishing them happy, safe driving.

  • The Subject field should contain a few words summarizing your message-- not an excerpt from War and Peace. My friend Debbie's mom's grand entrance into the world of e-mail involved a detailed multi-paragraph message sent entirely in the Subject line. It was remarkable how much Deb's mom crammed in there. In fact, I believe Debbie may still be scrolling at this moment.
  • The Subject Field is meant to be descriptive and probably shouldn't require a team of Navajo Code Talkers or that curly-haired kid from Numb3rs to figure it out. In a variation of the issue above, my dad goes the entire other way with his Subject lines. He seems absolutely terrified he'll run out of characters in the Subject box-- so he abbreviates things. Things that have no abbreviations suddenly have unique and exciting new acronyms. I'll get a message that says "R L ," for instance. "R L ? What the heck's 'R L '?" And then I'll open the message to discover that the Pop has just gone to Red Lobster. Email from Dad may require an extra cup of coffee.
  • Writing in all caps really is considered shouting. And no, it isn't easier to read. It isn't.... No, it really isn't. No... Please stop. The message comes through looking like a 1940s telegram but with punctuation. I've heard all sorts of reasons new users to email composition will say caps are better. They're "larger." They're "easier to read." When in fact, the real answer is, "They're readily available, because I can't figure out how to turn the caps lock off."
  • No, you haven't attached the photo. Yes, I know you think you did. But you didn't. Attaching a photo is a multiple-step process. Any missed step means the photo is not attached. And while I know parents like to retain their sense of authority with their kids, when the adult child says you didn't attach the image, insisting you did and getting irritated really won't make the attachment suddenly appear. Remember, it's perfectly okay to have a learning curve-- no parents lose their 'Rent Cred simply because they're still learning Attachments.
  • 2 GIG files will probably not make it into your recipient's Inbox. They will, however, clog up your email server for, possibly, the next twenty years. Or until technology catches up with you. Whichever comes first.
  • SPAM filters can't read your mind. Spam filters are triggered by keywords, and they don't so much take into account context. So if you are a "Subject Abbreviator" and you want to tell a story about your friend Ed Delaney, writing "E D" in the subject line is likely to get filtered out for SPAM. Writing "White Breasts" in the Subject because you had nice white meat roast chicken for lunch is also likely to be filtered. And no amount of cute miniature donkeys at the local petting zoo on a steamy July day require a Subject field to read "Me, Petting These Hot Little Asses." Just sayin'.
  • The shorthand you learned in secretarial school in 1962 isn't a nifty new form of text messaging. A few moms I know who were killer with the shorthand years ago, seem to want to transition it to the Web. This would be fine if they were only writing to other moms who were killer with shorthand. But most of us don't know that "usta" is "understand" and not some side table from IKEA. And "uavob" is "unavailable" and not the name of an alien from Battlestar Galactica. It's good to know your audience.
  • Hitting "Send" multiple times does not make the computer hurry up. It just makes more messages. I know email is exciting, and sometimes the speed of the computer seems inversely proportional to your desire to see your email winging its way to your loved ones. But the Send button is not a snare drum. It doesn't need to be hit rhythmically to work effectively. Just the once is usually good enough.
Do you folks have any to add to this list? Send 'em along! But, um, if you do? Please do it in a comment, okay? And not in the form of 1 GIG attachment. My email server and I will thank you. :)


Brook-Bagging Louie Stamoolis

As a bully, Dwayne Pasternak was an underachiever.

Oh, he probably could have gotten good at it, if he'd just applied himself a little more. But on a scale of Bullying as an Artform, his work was like a Starving Artist painting...

Unoriginal... Cheap.... Initially getting your attention, but eventually just blending in behind the sofa.

He was the kid who'd call you "dogface," if you just happened to look his way. The one who'd trip you on your way to class so you'd drop your books. The boy who'd snap your bra.

I always felt his repertoire lacked range.

I mean, Teeny DeLuca, now she'd shown first-rate creativity when she tried to give me lead poisoning. And Arnold Kosninski, he used skilled spin-doctoring to enrage his victims. But Dwayne, well, he'd never make into the Bully Hall of Fame... His lack of imagination held him back.

Until he decided to brook-bag a kid named Louie Stamoolis.

Louie Stamoolis was a seventh-grade human computer... input and output. His math was of Texas Instruments quality. He remembered dates and events like he lived them. He even seized foreign languages like Napoleon did countries. Louie was brilliant.

But because Louie was storing all of this data in his brain, regrettably, it left very little room for anything else. Like manners... modesty... or a sense of humor. And the giant weight of his brain also seemed to press on the back of his eyes, straining his tear ducts.

Louie Stamoolis could cry at the drop of a hat.

It didn't even have to be his hat.

Add to that, he was small for his age, with an almost pretty face, and long dark lashes. He was a target for his intelligence, his looks, and because he was a little bit hard to like.

The crying only made it worse.

So, one day as school let out, I was headed on home and spied Dwayne Pasternak playing keep-away with Louie's backpack.

Dwayne was tall, wiry, and with a straw-colored flat top. With his plaid flannel shirt and that scrub-brush hair, he looked like a scarecrow teetering in the wind-- the book bag dangling high over Louie's head.

Louie's pale face was streaming with tears and he'd jump. And miss. And sob. And jump again. And whimper.

"You want it?" laughed Dwayne, "Come get it. Or consider yourself brook-bagged, Stamoolis!"

Brook-bagging meant tossing someone's backpack into the stream that ran outside the school. Many a text book and homework went the way of the brook. Teachers knew papers turned in with crinkled and smeared pages had probably been resurrected from a serious brook-bagging.

Well, at the very threat of it, Louie Stamoolis' tearducts started working overtime. And that's when I heard a bored, irritated voice say, "Aww, just give him his stupid bag back, Dwayne."

Oh. That voice was mine.

Dwayne fixed his attention on me, with a look of vague recognition like, "Hey, hadn't I bullied you before?"

But strangely, Dwayne didn't really scare me. What was he going to do to me? Snap my bra again? Call me ugly for the umpteenth time? By eighth grade, I'd seen it all, and survived to tell about it. But picking on Louie Stamoolis... that was like flipping a turtle on its back to see it struggle.

Someone had to take the side of the turtle.

"You stay out of this," Dwayne snarled.

"C'mon, Dwayne. It's not cool. Just give it to him," I said.

And that's when Dwayne started racing down the hallway.

I looked to see what Louie planned to do about it. But he just leaned against the lockers, sobbing like Joan Crawford trying for an Oscar. So maybe it was a lack of fear. Or maybe I'd just watched too many Wonder Woman episodes. But I left Louie in the middle of his big scene-- and ran after Dwayne.

Now, Dwayne wasn't really expecting to be chased-- let alone by a girl. Down the metal stairs we went, one after the other, with a clatter like thunder.

Bang! went the school doors and out onto the sidewalk we flew. Dwayne sprinted. I sprinted, too. And that's when, true to his underachieving nature, Dwayne lost all initiative and dropped the bag. It lay there on the pavement in the center of the bridge over the brook-- the shining prize in my quest for justice.

Dwayne called me some names over his shoulder for good measure, as he ran on home. A parting shot of a desperate man. The weak words of the defeated. I picked up the backpack.

I smiled at the bag, gave it a little hug, and thought, "No brook for you today, my friend." And jogged back into the school to find Louie.

Louie was right where I'd left him, having a meltdown at his locker, his world ending in the form of a drowned red Nike backpack. I handed him the rescued bag with flourish and a warm triumph swelling in my heart. Or maybe that was just my asthma kicking in after all that running.

"Here!" I proclaimed. "It's safe!"

But Louie snatched it from my hand like I'd tried to brook-bag him myself. He glared up at me, gave a swipe to his running nose, his tear-stained eyes, and slung the bag on his shoulder. Without a word, he stalked off.

I stood there, watching Louie's retreating back bob off into the afternoon sun, and I shook my head.

I bet Wonder Woman had these moments, too. The scenes they never showed us.


Power to the Quirk

A few days ago, my bud Crotchety Old Man passed along a non-mandatory and unusually laissez-faire meme suggesting I share things about myself with you folks which are either "boring or quirky."

Regular readers are probably already snickering into their hands because, you know, even pre-meme, Cabbages is pretty much up to its leafy bits in Quirk.

As the Quirk does tend to ooze from the pores (sorry for the smell, I haven't found a good prescription-strength de-quirkorant yet), I figured we'd play along today. I was pretty sure I still had some quirkworthy items that hadn't been covered yet.

Because since Carnival Freak Shows have been outlawed, now we have memes:

  • I actually like the smell of gasoline. I mean, not enough to want a new body fragrance called "Chevron Number 5." But I do find the smell of a filled fuel tank to be pleasant. More pleasant, of course, if it costs under $4.00 a gallon.
  • I still occasionally catch myself walking with my thumbs tucked into my fists, because of too many years of marching band. WHY?!! What is it about flagrantly flappy thumbs I'm worried about these days? I mean, it's not like I also put on white rubber spats over my ballerina flats. Or wear a stupid hat with a large plume shaped like a guinea pig, anymore. But the thumbs. I simply cannot undo the thumbs. Curse my band director and his pointy baton!
  • My Thanksgiving comes complete with gigantic spiny reptiles. Yes, I know what you're thinking. I'm seeing turkeys, right. Ugly Thanksgiving turkeys. But no, my friends. I am seeing Godzilla versus Megalon, camped out in Dad's backyard in the Florida Keys. Because Little Hannah couldn't take her moderately-sized pet iguana along when the family moved to California. And Little Harrison, the same. And now their cute little lizards, left to the south Florida wilds, have grown. And expanded. And enjoy sunbathing. In between, y'know, stomping Tokyo.
  • My dad listens to fish. No, really. He studies bio-acoustics, which is a fancy way of saying, "Toadfish make booping noises; and I listen to 'em." Not that he knows precisely what they're saying. Not that he's a toadfish therapist or anything, and tells them to lie down on the reef and tell him what's bothering them. ("I zink you verr traumatized early on as ze egg.") But he records them, pulls data, writes academic papers... And when I phone him, sometimes toadfish are booping over his stereo system in the background. I bet the neighbors love it! He's also made a CD of these sounds, and likes to drive around to it. Road trips with The Pop are... interesting.
  • I Flex-All my face sometimes. You know, Flex-All, that burning hot muscle rub? Yep. I have killer sinus migraines regularly, and one way to help them is the Flex-All. It could be because of the comforting vapors. Or it could be just the stinging, eye-tearing, hot-cold excruciating pain of the stuff distracts me from my actual headache. Mine is not to question.

Now, I bet you all think I'm going to Meme the heck out of you, picking off blog buddies from your ranks like ducks in a shooting gallery and publicly peer-pressuring you into a meme-along....

Well, okay, that would be kinda funny... But NO! In the spirit of the Quirk, I will NOT ask you to meme. I will passive-aggressively suggest that if anyone wishes to meme of their own accord, then let the meme-ing begin! Otherwise, may you live happy and meme-free this day.

And possibly just think fondly of me a moment should you see an iguana the size of a Humvee.... a bottle of Flex-All... or some idiot walking along with his or her thumbs tucked neatly into their fists.

Until tomorrow, my friends!


Cheating Natty Bumppo and the Kit-Kat Barter

A big ol' fat cheater. That was me. It was only the once, and yes, I still feel the piercing pangs of guilt for it. But I had my reasons.

Natty Bumppo drove me to it.

That's right, I said Natty Bumppo. Also called "Leatherstocking." Or "Hawk-Eye." Or, probably, "Chuck." The main dude in James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans. In the world of literary names, I'd say Natty Bumppo perches on top. Right up there with Martin Chuzzlewit, Mr. Fezziwig and Thursday Next.

It's fun to say. Say it with me now: "Natty Bumppo..."

But as far as stories go, Last of the Mohicans, for me, was harder to get down than week-old bread-- and just about as flavorful.

Admittedly, I haven't revisited this classic since my impatient youth. But at the time, the mind boggled and then eventually just bogged in a chapter that seemed entirely devoted to describing a few trees. No matter how much I read, I was simply unable to get out of the woods.

I'd tug at the narrator's sleeve.... Mention it looked like rain.... Even point out how dark it seemed to be getting, and still, the narrator just kept running on about what the woods looked like.

I think the narrator might have been my grandfather.

Grandpa Keith was a stand-up fellow, a great cook, an avid sportsman with a deep love of nature- and a passion for detail. His tales of hunting, fishing and hiking could go on for hours, leaving no river, no tree, no stone undescribed.

Plus, his stories tended to be nested-- so just about the time he'd take us to the part where the 12-point buck walked into the scene, he'd backtrack...

And compare it to a previous 12-point buck moment...

Or a time he'd seen another autumn that had the same vibrant leaves...

Or segue into the life story of the buddy who was hunting with him...

Or a particularly good batch of venison.

Leaving the threads of the first story flapping in the breeze, to weave in the details of a second. A third. A flashback...

A flash sideways.

Reading Last of the Mohicans was like a long holiday weekend with just Grandpa and me.

The problem with getting tangled up in undergrowth of the forest, however, was our tenth grade English teacher still had this funny idea she wanted to test us on it.

So the morning of the test came, and there I was, sitting in my class with detailed knowledge of leaf and stone, and absolutely no idea what else happened in the book.

I turned to my friend Ken, with fear draining the color from my face. "Did you actually read this? What happened in it?" In sheer desperation I added, "If you tell me what happened, I'll give you two blocks of my Kit-Kat bar."

Well, any kid at the time knew, Kit-Kat bars were premium currency. An offer of even a few blocks was certainly worth information.

"Deal," said Ken. And he relayed to me a Ken's Notes version of what happened in the forest. He told me all about Natty Bumppo, and Uncas and the French and Indian War.

Well, as luck would have it, it was an essay question-- "Describe the character of Natty Bumppo."

I recalled Ken's words. I filled in the logical bits. I wiped sweat from my brow and used vague wording where necessary. Soon, the bell rang and we had to turn in our papers.

Oh, the guilt I experienced in the days between handing in my test, and getting the results. I was almost certain my teacher would take one look at that paper and see into the empty core of my soul.

My Natty Bumppo was a sham, bought for the price of a two-block candybar. Soon, this would filter down to my mother-- who had convinced me by about age five that she could read minds. There would be parent-teacher conferences, in-school suspension and, worst of all-- television privileges revoked until I graduated high school.

I got an "A" on the paper.

And the moral of the story? Well, it's not that cheater's win. I mean, I hadn't cheated before and I didn't do it again-- largely due to 40% too much conscience and 60% kid paranoia. But sometimes, those literary classics drive a hard bargain...

If Manhattan were bought for a few bucks in beads, in retrospect, two sticks of Kit-Kat doesn't seem too bad a value.

Do you folks recall a classic book that you struggled with? I'd love to hear about it.

Vote for Of Cabbages and Kings at Humor-blogs. Or check out
Neither will cost you any wampum.

Helpful Tips to What Gifting Probably Kinda Sorta Isn't

A leaking Jell-O mold wrapped in pretty paper... Sweatshirts bedazzled with love and giant furry decals of cross-eyed kittens... Dollar store Precious Moments knockoffs tied with happy bows...

When it comes to family, gifting can be... an interesting experience. So, I thought it might be helpful-- well-before the whole holiday season pressure hit-- to offer up a few tips to keep in mind when selecting that special something for those you love.

These nifty little hints have been hand-picked based on real-and-for-true moments experienced either first-hand by yours truly, or by those near and dear to me. Because, you know, you really just can't make this sort of stuff up.

Oh-- and if you have a gifting trauma-- er, story-- of your own? By all means, feel free to give us your worst. Of Cabbages and Kings is about nothing if not sharing and learning and growing. (And limiting the amount of anthropomorphic pig figurines one needs to dust each week.)

Okay, here goes:

  • If your feet have been inside the Christmas socks, reconsider giving that particular pair as a gift...
  • If you are unable to resist sharing this specific set of footwear, do not tell the recipient how much your big sweaty feet-- and those of your spouse-- enjoyed testing them out. (Most people really do prefer a lack of toe-jam over quality control.)
  • 8-year-old boys are not inclined to get excited about shaving kilts.
  • Giving someone a book they'll love is nice...
  • Reading the book first and then presenting it, along with an hour-long lecture on its contents (complete with marked notations)? Not so much.
  • When someone thanks you for a gift, try not to respond by saying, "Well, what was I going to do with it?"
  • When gifting, do not tell the recipient that the gift was chosen because you would receive two FREE items that were far better than the gift itself...
  • ...And then share how you squirreled those free items away for "emergency gifts."
  • Desk blotters with calendars are more effective when the calendar is for the upcoming year.
  • Everyone in the family is unlikely to want a copy of Tom Brokaw's biography, even if the bulk discount is tempting.
  • If you don't know what the item is yourself, chances are, it may not be a clever gift idea.
  • Always remember to remove the $0.50 sticker prior to wrapping.
  • Writing someone a poem, as a gift, is thoughtful...
  • Unless it's a five-page epic and you recite it...
  • Twice...
  • And then spend the next half hour elaborating on the lines that make it so gosh-darned brilliant...
  • Just to make sure the recipient didn't miss the good parts.
  • Reindeer typically have two antlers and two ears. If holiday reindeer earrings have just one ear and antler apiece, they are probably broken --and can't be spun to be "Christmas unicorns."
  • Just because someone owns cats, doesn't mean they will get equal pleasure from a day-glo pink "I HEART my cat" t-shirt.
  • A cake-mix and permission to use the stove isn't quite the same as an EasyBake Oven.

So, all right, folks-- those are the ones I could come up with! Now let's hear your reasons it's better to give than receive...

A vote for Of Cabbages and Kings at Humor-blogs is better than a one-horned reindeer earring any day. Or drop down the chimney at Humorbloggers because, you know, it's so early they'll NEVER expect it.

Cult of Personality: Some Alternate American Icons for President

Few election years have made it more clear that the U.S. Presidential Race is not about issues, but about personalities.

As a country, we're busy people. We can't be bothered with those piddly details about how to handle war, environmental problems, energy conservation, future terrorism, or improve education for all children. No reason to, really-- not when we can boil it all down to anecdotes, pep rallies and high school yearbook quotes.

Yes, we owe it to ourselves to be able to skim for five minutes and make solid, unflinching decisions on the fate of our country for the next 4-8 years.

So while your blog hostess here at Of Cabbages and Kings doesn't claim to be a fine political mind, I was considering some alternate presidential candidates that should have been tossed out there. Ones, I think, who would have worked well in the Cult of Personality we're currently immersed in and who also have potential as popular, effective leaders.

I'll try to keep it brief, for maximum effectiveness.

  • "David Palmer" AKA "President Allstate" from 24. Firm, smart, a great orator, and part of a rare breed-- an honest politician. Not only that, but he has previous presidential experience-- which yes, technically, should disqualify him from running this time around, but... work with me, people. Who didn't feel uplifted and inspired by watching him take command of our country, even during the terrorist attacks on 24? Okay, so, yes, he died tragically in that show, but I still see him on those Allstate Insurance ads. He looks pretty good for a dead guy. So I think he might rally. President Allstate would be my top candidate. Appropriate sound-bite: "...That's Allstate's, er, America's Stand. Now get me Jack Bauer and a tow truck."
  • "Earl Hickey" of My Name is Earl Fame. A dark horse candidate, Earl Hickey is down-to-earth, has a maverick approach to problem solving, and he get things done. In fact, he has a whole list of things to do, and he makes good on them-- more than we can say for most politicians. Sure, Earl has a past, but who doesn't? At least Earl is forthright about his. He believes in Karma, so that might not go over with the evangelical base, but Earl has a number of other things going for him. Like ex-wife Joy. Voters love a lady with sass, and they don't come sassier than Joy. Appropriate sound-bite: "Earl, I don't care what you say, Crabman and I are stayin' in the Lincoln Bedroom. You think they get QVC on the cable TV in there?" -Joy


  • "Vince" the ShamWow! guy. He's mesmerizing to watch, if somewhat frightening due to his Dick Tracy character one-big-eye-one-little-eye-- something sure to put the fear in any terrorists planning attacks. He has the patter down, and he's very convincing. We know he pours the cola, there's a giant puddle of cola under that carpet, the camera cuts away and then that cola has magically gone. We suspect the ShamWow! had nothing to do with that cola being gone. But yet we buy the ShamWows! That's the power of Vince at work. Vince is prepared to clean up this country, even if it involves doubling your order of presidential terms for only the cost of shipping and handling. Appropriate sound-bite: "That's two terms, for the price of one. You follow me, camera guy?"
  • Dana Scully from the X-Files. Women looking for female candidate they can relate to might do very well with Dana Scully. She's bright, pretty, has a wide base of knowledge, and she already has the wardrobe-- pantsuits galore. Plus, she's a Christian and a mother, which are important qualities for a large chunk of voters. Okay, yes, yes, the baby might be part-alien. But that will just help diversify her voter base. Appropriate sound-bite: "The truth is out there... And we'll feed it to you in vague, cryptic installments over the course of a multiple term run, just to keep you guessing."
Now, I'd tossed around some other options, but I'm not as confident in those selections.

  • I mean, Dwight Schrute from The Office is a powerful public speaker, but the U.S. would officially become a dictatorship.
  • I considered both the Geico Gecko and Charles Dyson, the Dyson vacuum cleaner inventor-- but neither of them were born in the U.S.
  • And Monk, well, he's smart, but the Oval office isn't even enough-- it would freak him out and he'd spend tons of taxpayer dollars on renovating it into the Square Office.

Soon, the U.S. will put itself in the hands of a new leader, but how do we feel about the choices we currently have? I don't know; I like to think we'd have been in good hands with Allstate.

Get out and vote in 2008-- for Of Cabbages and Kings at Humor-blogs. Or check out my friends over at Humorbloggers. Some of them are even running for President-- kinda sorta.

Fletch Would Have Wanted it This Way

by Jane Doe

Gregory McDonald, author of the Fletch detective novels, passed away on Sunday at the age of 71. And I tip my invisible L.A. Lakers cap in his honor...

Because his Fletch once helped me horrify my creative writing professor.

It was college in the early 90s, and in my fleeting spare time, I greedily devoured the Fletch series like ramen noodles. Gregory McDonald's style was one I hadn't seen in mystery stories before-- bare bones, crisp narrative, plot twists like pretzels, and dialogue so sharp you could shave your legs with it.

By my junior year of college, I'd read most of the books-- a pleasant respite from the literary and cultural theory that was currently trendy in my classes.

The professors we had then preached largely the same post-modernist ideas. That authorial intent didn't matter; it was what the reader brought to the text that counted. It was the reader's perceptions and interpretation of the content that ultimately "wrote" the final story. Not the author's brain or passion or sweat or scenes planned out on 3X5 index cards.

As a fledgling writer, I found that view fairly depressing. With a crushing courseload and my mother unwell back home, writing was one of the few things I'd thought I could control in my life.

Also, to say you wanted to write mysteries or humor for a living... well, you might as well have come to class with a serious case of leprosy and tried to shake hands.

We were supposed to be Digging Deep. Resolving Traumatic Conflict. Suffering for our Art. And tapping into the Inner Angst As Related To the Human Condition Which Also Coincidentally Wins Literature Prizes.

If we didn't have Inner Angst to tap into? We could rent some cheap from the local coffeehouse. The grittier, less likable and more non-conformist the better.

Soon the class was filled with gritty, unlikeable non-conformists all making their Inner Angst outer. Which is challenging when the greatest grit most of us had experienced in life was the questionable clean of the dorm bathroom.

Me, I just wanted to write what made me happy.

Year after year, Ernest Hemingway was held aloft to us as the writer we should all aspire to be. Many a semester, we read "Hills Like White Elephants," a sparsely-written short story where characters speak in near-riddles, and nothing appears to happen but we know it does because we're graded on it.

And in no time at all, most of the class had evolved to become cryptic, gritty, unlikeable non-conformists.

Students who wanted to keep up their QPAs just needed to learn how to Not Conform along with the other kids.

Bull-fighting scenes were optional.

Unfortunately, I was terrible at Not Conforming as part of a group, particularly when it involved delving into my dark, seedy emotional turmoil I didn't have. In retrospect, I should have just written something so obscure even I didn't know what it meant. But I never thought of that-- I was too inspired by all the wrong things.

Gregory McDonald had helped me detect a passion for punchy dialogue... Jean Shepherd stoked the fires for childhood nostalgia.... And Douglas Adams had shown me where my towel was. There was no going back.

So I wrote a simple humor tale about a kid forced to go camping with his family and...

I had to see my professor for review.

Carrie, as we'll call her, was a doe-eyed grad student who earned her teaching position because of a Literary Award she'd won and probably-almost-certainly-not-because-in-part she was dating the head of the creative writing department.

She blinked those doe eyes at me as she said she wanted to talk about my work. And I remember, in this interview, she asked me a number of very important questions.

"Where is the story here?"...

"What does the character truly want?"...

"Where is the crux of the conflict?"...

I can tell you right now that "not wanting to go camping" was not the right answer to these questions.

Suddenly, she was explaining to me that my "real story" here was not about going to camp at all, but about the difficult interpersonal relationships between my main character and his mother...

And that this story could be "better realized" if it took place before the camping. So the camping scene needed to be removed and--

"Er, the whole story pretty much is a camping scene," I reminded her.

"Right, that'll have to be cut. Also, your use of language really needs to be thinned out. Have you ever read Hemingway? Because his style is perfect for--"

And that's when I sort of lost it. I had a head cold, I was losing my voice, and my Maximum Hemingway Threshold had been exceeded.

"If I'm going to read writing with thinned out language," I rasped, "I'd much rather read Gregory McDonald's Fletch books!" I proclaimed, thinking I was taking some sort of grand stance for genre writers everywhere.

Leprous hand? Extended! And poke... poke... poke.

Oh, the look on her face... Munch's "The Scream" shows greater composure. Her jaw dropped, the doe-eyes were in headlights. I could hear her brain whirring as it tried to process what I'd just said, and who the heck Gregory McDonald was.

In fact, if I'd been Fletch myself, I wouldn't have gotten any better reaction.

Of course, if I'd been Fletch, I also would have been wearing a rubber nose, novelty teeth and enjoying classes using the name "Emma Dickinson-Bronte." My whole tuition would have been charged to the Underhills' bill, and I would have left this little tete-a-tete through the window.

But still... It was a strangely satisfying moment. Less satisfying was the "B-" I received for the course-- in retrospect, the logical reaction to my blasphemous outburst.

And my rewrite? It contained 100% manufactured post-modernist literary angst, and zero nostalgic camping.

She liked the story well enough.

I hated it.

I spent that summer vacation trying to figure out who I was, and whether I really wanted to write at all ever again. I wasn't faring well being Ernest Hemingway.

Years later, the 90s post-modernist movement faded significantly. Gone the way of harem pants and Milli Vanilli.

But it was bound to happen, wasn't it? After turning out 30 Ernest Hemingways per creative writing class, publishers eventually must have been up to their matador hats in cryptic, unlikable non-conformists.

So today, while I think I would have approached the whole class differently, I thank Gregory McDonald for giving me the courage to step up for the genre crowd. Trends are fleeting, but character isn't.

Sometimes you might wear a rubber nose and novelty teeth for a while... but under it all, you still have to be you.

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Grocery Store Graceland and the Burger Barn Boobyhatch

Elvis enjoys a good bowl of soup. Sure, fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches get all the press, but there's something about a nice can of Campbell's that apparently gets the King all shook up.

I know this, because I saw him in the soup aisle of the Giant Eagle grocery store a few years ago. He was considerably taller than I'd expected-- a good six-foot-four and lanky-- but with the spangley big-collared white shirt, sunglasses, and side-burned coiffure we've all come to know and love...

Young Elvis with Old Fat Elvis accessories, really.

As I'd turned the corner to get a can of chicken noodle, I admit, I was surprised to see the American icon with his basket of ten items or less. And, considering this supermarket was typically patronized by college students and elderly Jewish ladies, the rest of the clientele appeared to share my sentiment.

I could pretty much tell just where Elvis was in the store by the 20-somethings walking past giggling into their hands. Or the blinking, glazed expressions on Gladys and Zelda as they returned from the deli.

Of course, when you live in a city, to a certain degree you come to expect these sort of things. I currently work across from a restaurant we'll call Burger Barn, which René Magritte and Salvadore Dali could have drawn on for choice material.

It's an old building-- what was once a 50s gas station, I've heard-- which was transformed into a restaurant and somewhere along the way it seems to have become trapped in its own unique plane of space, time, madness and kitsch.

Initially everyone who joins my company considers having a fast food joint right across the street as a bonus. They approach it with rosy spectacles, naively anticipating a burger-and-fry experience like those found in shops of the same name around the globe. Little do they know that this particular restaurant emits some kind of unspoken, yet strongly-magnetic pull for the strange and unusual.

They stop in once or twice and encounter someone kneeling on the floor and speaking in tongues...

Or someone with hundreds of silk scarves safety-pinned to their clothing, forming a robe of satin diamond-shapes....

Or they order from the cashier who smiles, only to reveal a full mouth of bright brown teeth...

It sort of changes your perspective on a BarnBurger Junior with Cheese.

And on Friday mornings? I can almost set my watch by the barking. It projects from the street below to my third floor office. I'd thought this was a part of a regular dog-walking ritual, but the receptionist recently shared that it is a man. A man who barks, and whines and whimpers, every Friday morning as he takes himself for a walk.

This is not to be confused with the man who pushes his small dog around in an old-timey baby carriage..

Or the guy who used to stand outside Burger Barn with a teddybear bungee-corded to his upper thigh, spitting out epithets or beautifully singing to no one, depending on mood. (Don't we all have those days?) Well, I realize I haven't seen him for a while-- and I find myself hoping he and Teddy are okay.

I think some days if I sat, watching the street below, the whole tapestry of humanity would eventually unroll itself before my eyes. For good or bad, it is what it is, and it's never dull.

Tomorrow afternoon, I'll be hearing Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries," Patsy Cline, or maybe even "Kick Me, Lord Jesus, Through the Goal Posts of Life" blasting up beyond my window at about 3:00. It's a motorcyclist who comes on through, sharing his tunes with the world. It'll probably be followed by the person who randomly shouts "Woo-hoo!" and the guy who drives the A-team van.

Yep, the only thing we can really expect in life is the completely unexpected.

And in case you were wondering? Elvis prefers Chunky Vegetable.

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