Night of a Thousand Pixie Stix

Now that I'm an adult, it's always interesting to be on the Giving instead of Receiving end of the whole Trick-or-Treating tradition.

First of all, I appreciate being able to actually breathe and see where I'm going; it's still novel.

Secondly, every year there is usually one costume that tends to dominate all others. And today I thought I'd tell you about Halloween 2001...

The doorbell rang and I swallowed up the last bits of a Nutrageous bar, and flung wide the door.

Before me was a wee pink little princess with a pointed hat taller than she was. Her big brother was the psycho from “Scream.”

They were well-trained, this pair. They peered down as Pixie Stix, candy corn and candy bars tumbled into their bag. Yep, they recognized extraordinarily good stash when they saw it. Then they wished me a well-rehearsed, "Happy Halloween."

Scream paused a moment on the stairs, turning. Perhaps it was a brief puzzled expression under his white plastic mask...

Did an adult actually understand the candy hierarchy? One who knew Milk Duds were called Duds for a reason?... That circus peanuts taste neither like peanuts or pureed clowns?... An adult who saw that microscopic-sized candybars and toothbrushes were not in the spirit of proper Halloween plunder?

Had I once been a child like them?

“Nah... Can’t be...” The moment was gone. The next house was calling.

The doorbell rang again moments later to reveal four teenage boys.

Two boys were cleverly disguised as eighth graders. And two were dressed as... Scream. Dueling Screams, these boys, jostling at the door for space.

To costumed and non-costumed alike, I unhesitatingly handed out the goodies. Yes, bring me your tired, your poor, your sugar rushes yearning to be free... I will not discriminate.

They thanked me. It was uncharacteristic politeness that year, and the heart swelled.

Once more with the bell. I greeted a pirate, a second princess, Friday the 13th’s Jason and... Scream.

I was starting to know how Neve Campbell felt. “Deja vuuuuuu!... Do you like Nutrageous Bars, Sidney?”

Another sound of the bell, and before me was a two-year-old rumpled, dirty bumble bee whose bent wings dragged on the ground. Clearly wardrobe malfunctions had ensued early on in the evening. Her mother, a weary-faced woman, trailed behind praying for a quick and merciful end.

Soon I greeted a suave little vampire, Jason Returns, a teeny-tiny blond Superman, and a person two-foot-high who cheerfully proclaimed, “I'm a ninja!”

... A ninja. Yep. You sure are.

Moments later a toddler witch cried at the sight of a monster on my porch, a fellow trick-or-treater, yet perhaps too in-character.

A robot almost couldn't make it up the stairs, his legs so short, his suit so stiff.

And a cowboy, dressing it Old School Retro, was jazzed about the Pixie Stix. So jazzed he almost ran straight into “Scary Movie’s” version of... yes... wait for it...


This suddenly explained all the sequels.

But I was having requests. The Pixie Stix dominated and Superman actually gave me back a packet of candy corn for a single Pixie Stick.

Now, on this special night of all nights, I wasn’t particularly worried about give-backs and tradesies-- certainly not for the beloved Man of Steel. But, hey, it’s Kiddom. You gotta play the game by the rules.

I remember.

For you folks looking for even more Halloween blog posty goodness:

  • And if you missed them, you can check out my two posts entered in the Carnival:

Signs You Might Spend Too Much Time on the Internet

How do you know if you're spending too much time on the internet?

The Internet has really opened up our worlds, empowering communication and the exchange of knowledge like never before.

Also photos of cats.

But with it, and all its benefits, come a few quirks as online life collides with everyday life. Our mission today? Well, it's the same thing we do every day, Pinky-- Try to take over the...

Er, wait... no.

Talk about the quirks... The quirks.


So here are just a few of the signs you might be spending just a little too much time on the internet
  • You're writing notes by hand and don't know how to revise without the highlight and delete functions.
  • In one day you can chat with five friends in Canada, three in England, two in the Philippines... plus learn how your buds' Diwali celebration went in Mumbai... And never leave your computer.
  • As Sherlock Holmes searches for the Purloined Letter in the book you're currently reading, you find yourself wondering why he hasn't checked Ebay yet.
  • You're American, but because of the online friends above, you find yourself regularly saying "zed" for the letter "zee," add unnecessary "U"s to words, and exclaim "bugger" when irritated.
  • ...Or the converse of this-- you're English, Canadian, or Indian, and friends wonder where all your beautiful "u"s have gone, and why you now address them as "youse guys" and "ya'll."
  • Someone tells a hysterically funny joke at a party, and you respond "LOL! LOL! ROTFL!"
  • Your Real World friends are forced to endure elaborate tales of people with names like GhostRiderNumberSeven, SharkGirl, AnarchistAnna and Skitzy42.
  • You know what the weather is doing in Spain and Sydney, but will need to actually get up off your butt and look out the window to see what it's doing in your town.
  • You mishear Culture Club's "I'll Tumble 4 Ya" as an offer to share your post on StumbleUpon
  • You order pizza online to be delivered to you from the shop next door.
  • You've written 2,000 Twitter posts, sent 500 emails, and have responded to 20 blog post comments a day, yet still need to send a "thank you" card to Gramma for the sweater from last Christmas.
  • You know how to make 37 different kinds of emoticons using only punctuation, but have no idea where to put a comma in a sentence.
  • You used to protest things like animal rights or war.... Now you incite forum members to mutiny against specific social media.
  • You react to your latest Google Pagerank increase about the same as you did the birth of your child.
  • Your mother comments about the spring birds twittering... and you wonder whether you should add them to your Following list...
  • ...You also wonder if wireless has finally made it to your neighborhood.
Have you experienced any of the points on this list? If so, then go offline immediately and take a walk outside!!...

(Just leave a comment about it first. You don't want to quit cold turkey, y'know.)


Even Superheroes Can Have an Off Day...

This photo of some local Halloween decor was taken in honor of the Humor Bloggers' Halloween Humor Carnival.

There were a few more spiders there a couple of days ago, but when we had some torrential downpours on Sunday, I guess the not-so-eensy-weensy spider had some waterspout issues and, well... we all know where things degrade from there.

Anyway, I'm afraid I have some other tasks I must flee to attend to today--- but before said flee-age, I did want to announce the following:

I'm currently working on a few extra-curricular writing projects, which I will be sure to share news of with you fine folks when complete....

One, in fact, involves rewriting a humor science-fantasy novel I'd done many moons ago, and which, I discovered, the final-final draft could actually be delightfully unsucky, if it gets some loving care....

I'm hoping to give it that care, to help it grow up into a big, strapping, confident self-sufficient novel no longer living in my basement and eating the food from my refrigerator. I hope to shove it OUT of the house, and let it make something of itself.

You know how kids these days are. You've gotta use tough love.

So, what this all amounts to from your perspective is, I'll be temporarily changing my posting schedule here to a Monday-Wednesday-Friday dealio, so I can get some extra time to pull together these other projects.

Unless we can figure out personal cloning. In which case, I'll take two clones.

One can work on my extra writing projects. One can work my Real Job. And me? I could finally have that nice vacation I've been longing for...

Clone scientists?-- email me.


The Real America Athlete Shindig 'n' Snack Stand

Inspired by the recent Olympics, Reuters reports China is now having its National Peasant Games, where farmers across the country compete in traditional Olympic-style competitions, as well as ones more tailored toward your local Every Man-- like tire-pushing and tug-of-war.

I was thinking this sort of thing might just be fun for folks here in the outskirts of Pittsburgh, too. You know-- bring some whimsy, optimism and excitement Real America. Because, honestly, with half our players injured, the Steelers can only do so much.

Of course, if we did have our own form of Olympics here, we'd probably have to make a few adjustments. We'd want it to not only truly inspire our sense of local competition, but showcase the tremendous heart and skills we have to offer.

So I've taken the liberty of suggesting a few events that I think we could all really get behind.

  • Mailbox Bashing for Distance. Now you see it, now you don't! Neighbors on our winding back roads never really can be sure whether a special delivery will come in the form of a relocated mailbox. So since witty local teens are already honing their swings, why not put that talent to use? Participants will be driven in 80s Fieros going at 45 miles per hour, and ranked based on swing-force, distance the mailbox goes from its original location, and form.
  • The 100-Meter Rusted Out Car Push. Now that unique classic fixxer-upper opportunity that you never quite had the time or funds to upgrade can still be seen and admired through this exciting test of brawn and bravery! Burnt-out Bonnevilles... Cracked Corvettes... Gear-shot Gremlins... All are welcome in this tournament of strength and streamlined design. Can you go the distance to secure the gold?
  • Roadsign Reappropriation for Speed. You know that Stop sign you've always had your eye on that would look so good on the wall of your basement family room? Or that hysterical road marker that reads "Wanker Drive" that you and your buddy Donnie have had so many laughs over? This event gives you the chance to show your sign-removal stuff. Participants are graded on speed, dexterity and overall subtlety. The winner of this event gets to keep the sign.
  • Marijuana Crop Camouflage. This time of year, police helicopters take to the skies looking for patches of green illegal substances among the withering brown corn stalks. This event is a test of wit. Whoever can most quickly and effectively camouflage his crop of wacky weed growing in unknowing Farmer Fred's cornfield takes Gold in this event.
  • Freestyle Cow-tipping. Bossy's goin' down! This event promises to be very popular. Show off your x-treme skilz by sending a wake-up call to our area's bovine population. The one event that truly proves the phrase, "Ya snooze, ya lose." Style counts here, so be creative! Cushions will be provided for all toppling cattle, to accord with Humane Society standards.
  • Predicting When The Cows Come Home. My friend Scoobie's uncle is great at this, and I think could be an important contender in this event. "The cows should be home any minute now," he said once during a picnic, and I laughed, thinking he was just kidding. Then seconds later all the cows came trooping in and put themselves into the barn. There, they made themselves lunch and did the dishes and started their book group discussion. It was really impressive. (They were reading Animal Farm.) Predictions in these on-location events will be accepted down to the tenth of a second. Whoever predicts closest to the cows' actual ETA receives a gold Real America Athlete Shindig kitchen wall clock.
  • The Ninety Degree Pick-Up Winch. How many pick-up truck drivers a year overestimate the abilities of their vehicle to go off-road? And how many of them end up backwards over an embankment? This event showcases skill while acting as an important safety tutorial for when the worst happens. How long will it take you to get your buddies who have an even bigger pick-up truck to come, and winch your truck to solid ground again? Find out.
  • The Inflatable Lawn Ornament Installation Precision Test. As the winter holidays approach, these days it seems that anyone who's anyone has a giant inflatable snowman, Santa, Grinch or reindeer bobbing festively in their yard. But setting these ornaments up with proper power from the house, good air output, and consistent inflation can be challenging. This competition adds a fun technical aspect to the games.
  • Corn Maze Racing. Anyone who's ever played on a farm knows the claustrophobic fear that can overcome you when wandering, lost and confused, through tall corn rows. This test requires nerves of steel, as entrants must find their way out of jagged, dark and scary cornrows the quickest. Your competitors, dressed as hockey-masked raving maniacs with chainsaws, will be hot on your trail to add that extra element of suspense. Outwit, outlast... out of the cornfield.
Well, those are my preliminary ideas, anyway-- though I'm certainly up for suggestions from you all. With the economy so low, and so many folks feeling the stress of day-to-day life, we need something special to look forward to. And I think the Real America Athlete Shindig 'n' Snack Stand (yes, cotton candy and deep-fried Oreos on a Stick will be available at the concession stands) would be a great way to bring us all together, boost morale and really show the world what hard-working Americans are made of.


The Z Word

Yes, that's right-- there's a new cuss word in town... Oh, I know. You folks think you're so worldly, so knowing, so sure you've seen all the colorful language life has to offer.

You go down to the docks at night, just to brush up on the salty sea language the grizzly fisherman use when bringing in the next load of tuna...

You'd bust a cap to sample the rap that goes on between the fly homies on the mean 'hoods of your city...

You listen to what the cool kids are saying on Facebook and MySpace, just to make sure you aren't the kind of tool who's accidentally left any good curses slip through the cracks.

Yeah, I know how you guys roll.

But I bet you don't know about the "Z word."

See, for fun, I ran Of Cabbages and Kings through a site rater that ranks web sites like movies. G... PG... R.... what have you.

Now I like to keep things fairly G/PG around here. Not because I don't curse in real-life (you should see me in a commute situation). But simply because I think it not only suits my material, but it forces me to be more creative with language. I figure anything that gives the ol' gray cells a workout can't be too bad.

So when the program was done, you can imagine my surprise when a screen popped up which read as follows:

The rating of your blog was determined
based on the presence of the following words:
  • zombie (9x)
  • death (3x)
  • kill (2x)
  • b*tch(1x)

"Zombie"?! "Zombie" is a word not appropriate for gentle ears these days?

Now the "b*tch" listed above I understand and can explain. That is our buddy Sandy. I mean, not Sandy per se-- I like Sandy. But as the b-word is part of the name of her web site, well... I'm sorry Ratings People. Sandy and her blog are both extremely funny; I'm afraid the b*tch stays.

But "zombie"?

Also, the word "death" is apparently not acceptable anymore for anyone under 13. Are ya kidding me? So Gramma dies and little Timmy is told... what, Gramma has gone to run free on a farm in the country?

And okay, I can see where "kill" might be said to be an Active Verb of Violence...

But how about, "I just saw the movie To Kill A Mockingbird?"

Or "I'd kill for a grilled cheese and bacon sandwich"?

Are we going to pan the lovely and talented Gregory Peck? Are we going to start up a "Stop the Violence Against Grilled Cheese Society" (SVAGCS- they'll probably have to work on the aconym) to take up the cause? I rather think not.

So context, my friends. It's all in the context.

Me... since I'm apparently such an on-the-edge Verbal Rebel, I think I'll spend my day testing how "zombie" works in an inflammatory cursing context. Somebody cuts me off in traffic on my drive in?

"Well, zombie you, mister!" (May have to be shortened to "zom you"-- has a ragey-er sound to it, don't you think?)

Someone says something mystifying on a forum?... "What the zombie!" (WTZ)

And if a request at work comes in that is totally irrational? "Well, zombie that!"

So perhaps the web ratings were right. "Zombie" could very well be the next most offensive term out there. Try employing it in a sentence and see how you feel.

And, er... Peace out, mutha zombies!


Showdown at Crazy Francois' Maison de Fier

Years ago, when I did corporate tradeshows, we had a show to do in steamy, spicy New Orleans. And as luck would have it, the technical expert we'd sent-- an outdoorsy ruddy-faced, blond we'll call Lars-- loved nothing more in the world than a flamingly hot hot-sauce. And when I say hot, I mean backdraft, four-alarm, do-it-yourself cremation kind of hot.

Tabasco? HA! None of that simpy-wimpy Tabasco for him-- no sir!

Lars sought the kind of hot sauce that would send your taste buds packing for Hell as a reprieve...

The kind that would blister the skin off the roof of your mouth by just looking at the bottle...

The kind that could make steely-eyed, lantern-jawed men who ate razor blades and rusty nails for breakfast get weepy and wail fer their mommies and pee flaming rivets...

Lars loved hot sauce-- and New Orleans, my friends, is hot sauce country. So on our one freebie day in the city, my buddy Lars and I went to find the sauce of his dreams.

And far past the the beignet booths and the po' boy sandwich shops...

The pseudo-voodoo tourist traps and the Mardi Gras beads sellers ...

Past the steel drum band playing "Girl From Ipanema," because that was the only song they knew...

Beyond all this... At the very, very end of the French Quarter market, there it was...

Crazy Francois' Maison de Fier.

The shop window alone was enough to make Lars' heart skip a beat. In it, in the golden glow of a spotlight shone 200 bottles of hot sauce.

Bottles with names like: Jabenero Pete Brand Flame Thrower or Dante's Eleventh Ring. Or Rectum Retaliation. Or Nawlins' Death Juice. Or Uncle Looney's Lip Bleeder.

We strode into the store, and were surrounded by walls and walls of the stuff. Hot sauces. Hot sauce salsa. Hot sauce pickles. Hot sauce chips. Hot sauce oils. Hot sauce ties and hats and shirts and umbrellas. Even hot sauce coffee and chocolates... Y'know, for multi-taskers.

Lars looked like a kid at Christmas, his eyes in wide-eyed wonder at the glowing red display of fiery fantasy before him.

A tan, curly-haired man-- possibly The Francois himself!-- sidled up to him solicitously. "May I help you?"

"I'm looking for a good hot sauce," said Lars. "The hotter the better."

Francois raised an eyebrow and sized Lars up, from his six-foot-four frame and pink face, to his bright blond hair.

"Hm," he said thoughtfully, "I might have something for you." And he went over to the register counter and from an open bottle there, put a little hot sauce on a small red spoon. "Try this."

Lars took the spoon, tasted... and laughed, deep and mirthful like Bacchus at a particularly rip-roaring bacchanalia. "Nice. Probably fine for the kiddies to put on fries. But I was looking for something in a... hot sauce."

"Ahhh!" Francois' eyes glowed at the response. He had not suspected. Surely, in this world of wimpy tourists, it could not possibly be that he had a true officianado in his midst? He took another small red spoon and poured a dash from another bottle on the counter. This liquid was a deep red-brown. "Well, then maybe you might find this one more to your taste."

He handed the spoon to Lars. Lars tasted. There was a momentary pause...

And Lars, expression unchanged said, "Flavorful. Pleasant. But I don't really consider it very hot, do you?"

Ah, authority was being questioned! Francois was now wondering if this was the Real Deal. But, no... this could not truly be a connoisseur of the hot pepper? They were so rare these days. "No," said Francois simply. "In fact, I don't consider it very hot. So this makes me think that... this sauce.... might appeal to you."

From a third bottle there on the countertop he poured. This time, the liquid was a bright green color. Francois watched Lars closely.

Lars took the spoon, sipped, and I noticed a bead of sweat pop out on his forehead. He smiled, but his smile was just ever so slightly forced. There was a longer pause than the last time before Lars responded, "Energetic... a very fresh taste... a little low on the spice, though. A waste of my time, really."

Francois grew flushed under his tan, and an exhilarated sigh escaped his lips. "Interesting, very interesting..." he said meditatively. His hand trembled a bit. His heart had begun to race. It was clear it had been a long time since Francois had had a customer such as this!

He pondered a moment, and then went under the counter.

Sauce after sauce, he poured from some secret stash under the counter. And one by one, Lars took them, tasted, and gave each a summary as if it were some simple bottle of wine.

Some he deemed smoky. Some he called tomatoey. Some he said had an aftertaste of wood or leaves or brine.

But by now Lars' pink face had gone a deep magenta, and bubbles of perspiration had cropped up suddenly at his temples like mushrooms from the earth. With every spoonful, he remained deadpan. With every spoonful Francois watched attentively, looking for the slightest movement to betray pain.

By this round of death in a bottle, I swear I saw a tumbleweed roll by and music from Ennino Morricone wa-wa in the background.

There seemed to be no end.

And then Francois put up a finger, and ducked behind a curtain into the back room. He came out with a simple, streamlined bottle black as night. One so elegant, it could have been art. And so black, it could have been poured from the heart of a voodoo priestess.

He handled it gingerly, opening the cap with light fingers. I thought I saw a whiff of gray steam escape!

And from the bottle slid a liquid of a thick, gray-green. It was the color of festering flesh, army drab and tombstones all rolled into one.

It looked unnaturally chunky, I thought, as it glopped into the spoon. Probably loaded with the singed hair and cremated bones of those who last tasted it.

It might just have sizzled.

And did I see fear flash behind Lars' bright blue eyes?

I didn't dare think about it. It was going to be awfully hard to explain to my supervisors back at the office that they needed to send another one of our tech guys to help at the booth immediately. As the last one had died in a rare incident of spontaneous combustion.

Lars took the spoon with a slow, slightly unsteady hand. He knew that he was officially in Hot Sauce No Man's Land now. But he had stepped across the border, and there was simply no going back.

He took a sip. I looked at him. I looked at Francois.

Francois looked at him. Lars looked at Francois. Francois looked at me. We both looked at Lars.

Lars' face went crimson, then ashen. His blue eyes suddenly were wet and rimmed red. His eyebrow quivered as slightly as a ladybug being blown away by a child.

"Well?" said Francois.

"Well?" said I, fully getting ready to dial 911.

A pause. A mighty exhale.

And then...

"This one," Lars said, smiling and pulling out a handkerchief to wipe his forehead. "This is the one I want. Fantastic, just fantastic. So flavorful and just the right amount of heat. This bottler is a genius. A genius, I tell you."

Francois rang up the purchase with admiration and perhaps tears shining in his deep brown eyes. He had finally found someone worthy of his store.

And to this day, if you step into the French Market and get the locals talking, they still recount tales of the showdown between Crazy Francois and the mysterious Viking...

The one who came from the north, with the hair fair as snow, and who strode from the blistering Inferno unharmed.


So What Do YOU Think It Is?

I've got a number of biggish work projects to focus on, but didn't want you all to think I was neglecting you. So I have a quick little something for you today, and will return tomorrow with a fun, more traditional Cabbagey story.

This was the nightstand of my hotel room when I went to Philly in September. I was looking around the room for any sort of information on how to hook up my laptop, when I spied this rather peculiar fastener-type lock bolted to the end-table. Here is a closer look.

You will note, in addition to it seemingly serving no purpose whatsoever at the moment, it is also... well... gross. What is that goo in the interlocking areas? WD-40?

I'm hoping for WD-40.

Anyway, what possible purpose do you think this thing was supposed to have served?

All theories, credible answers and wholly incredible yet amusing responses will be appreciated and savored.


Zombie Situation Anti-Cliche Specialist For Hire

Zombies. In our first look at the topic here at Of Cabbages and Kings, we gave an overview examination of innovative ways to prepare for a potential zombie plague.

But today, I would like to share my personal plan for being a productive, employed citizen during the aforementioned zombie infiltration.

I mean, with so much of the population either already dead, or potential zombie Slurpees-- and with no pre-determined Governmental Non-zombie Exit Strategy in sight-- this pretty much will leave the job market wide open for an unspecified amount of time.

So I got to thinking how I would support myself in a post-apocalyptic zombie-based society. I mean, under normal conditions, I'm a marketing writer. There probably won't be a big need for brochures and banner advertising right away--

Especially, not after the power grids go down, and my clients go all hors d'oeuvrey. I'm going to have to consider a career change.

So after careful self-evaluation, I feel deeply that with my current knowledge of horror films, plus my years of marketing project management, I might just be successful as...

A Zombie Situation Anti-Cliché Specialist.

Yes, it's an untested career niche, and it doesn't offer a 401k, but I think the New Post-Zombie World Order would bear it.

Now, what does this position entail, you ask?

I would play a key role in spotting potential horror movie cliché set-ups and heading off the parties involved before disaster strikes-- guiding them from pointy teeth and irony, instead to fresh potential plotlines and safety.

For example, a few critical Horror Movie Cliché Warning Situations I would be on alert for would include:

  • Petty tiffs between individuals likely to spawn someone going off in a huff into a dark, distant zombie-filled sector
  • Blond girls running in four-inch heels, alone in dark alleys (Disclaimer: no action required by law if girl is named "Buffy.")
  • A couple just realizing they really love each other and deciding to announce their engagement and how now they'll never, ever, ever be apart again
  • A couple deciding it's the end of the world anyway, so they might as well make-out in this conveniently unlocked car
  • Anyone exhibiting hysterical fear and saying phrases like, "They're going kill us, they're going to kill us all" or "Game over, man."
  • Anyone who thinks they can manipulate the zombies against the humans by either becoming their evil leader, or by befriending them to save himself/herself
  • A subset of the aforementioned: anyone who tries to engineer bigger, better zombies for reasons explicable only to themselves
  • Those curious about what that strange noise is coming from an otherwise dark and creepy area
  • Minorities, particularly if they display a likable sense of humor
  • Someone about to go back for, or check on, a beloved pet
  • Someone who thinks he or she hears a friend return and wants to go check it out and say hi because they were so, so worried
  • Anyone deciding to include someone who has "just gotten a nick/nip/mysterious bleeding wound" into their group, simply because the person assures them "they feel fine, really"
  • The person who just wants to check out why a generator or other bit of semi-vital technology isn't working
  • Anyone scoffing at the power and dangers of zombies
Now, mind you, this is only a sampling of the kinds of situations I would be working diligently to head off. But it should give you a sense of what the occupation itself would involve.

And now, well, I'm afraid I've gotta go-- I want to post this For Hire ad well-before anything starts to heat up on the zombie front.

I'll be posting my availability on, doncha know. And I just bet I'll make a serious killing in the field.

So how do you plan to support yourself in a Post-Apocalyptic Zombie Plague Society? Cabbages readers want to know.

Jailbirds, Sing-Sing and a whole New Meaning to Polly Pocket

Sing with me!...
"Catch a pretty bird and put it in your pock-et
Save it for a rainy day..."

That's what a man did in a pet store this last week, anyway. He went into a pet shop, he grabbed a parrot when he thought no one was looking, and he tucked it into his trenchcoat. He was halfway out the door, when his coat began to sing.

Turns out, the parrot was a stool-pigeon after all. Staff stopped the guy and asked to see what exactly it was that was singing in his coat. I guess he didn't think quickly enough to play it off as a clever new ventriloquism act. And so he finally had to give them the bird.


Now, after seeing this story on KDKA news-- because, of course, it was all caught on the in-store security camera-- I went looking online to see if I could find the full story to share with you. Getting ratted out by your feathered kidnapping victim is just funny to me.

But do you know what's more funny? Not that I couldn't locate the right story...

What's funny to me is that I located tons of pages of stories about people trying to steal parrots in almost this same way.

My favorite of them is the headline: "Woman Allegedly Steals Parrot By Hiding it in Bra." Shouldn't it have been a blue-footed booby, then? Or a titmouse?

How do you fit an entire parrot in your bra? I mean, what do you do, wear Pamela Anderson's braziere while sporting Callista Flockhart's figure? This might just look suspicious.

Also, does anyone know where Olga the Traveling Bra was on November 10, 2005? Because I sorta hope she has a good alibi. She may very well have been an accessory to a crime.

And we all know if there's anything Olga's good at, it's accessorizing.

Another thing I was wondering is, why do so many people seem so intent on stealing the noisiest kind of pet available?

I mean, I know parrots go for the big dough. But if I were the kind to steal from a pet store, I would want me a perfectly silent pet to steal. Something you'd never hear a peep out of. Like a box turtle, a rabbit, or a hermit crab.

Not that I recommend putting hermit crabs in your coat, either. But it's a lot easier to explain away a certain itchy-twitchy St. Vitus' dance, than a London Fog with a pair of lungs like Ethel Merman.

Anyway, sing with me now! (To the tune of "Catch a Falling Star")...

"Catch a pretty bird and put it in your poc-ket,
Save it for a rainy day
Catch a pretty pol and hide it in your jack-et,
Never let it fly away

"Though cops may come and tap you on the shoulder,
There in Petsmart
Stuff the bird into your bolder holster,
You’ll have a parrot close to your heart..."

The Code of the Pajama

A chill in the air, dark, drizzling... The alarm went off and instantly I knew it'd be one of those mornings I'd wonder why I couldn't just stay in my pajamas all day.

Okay, yes, I still have work to go to.

But I found myself seriously examining just what the reaction might be, if I appeared in the office at my usual time, but instead wearing:
  • Black velvety drawstring lounge pants
  • A Jack Sparrow t-shirt
  • Purple stripey bedsocks
  • Slipper boots
  • Fluffy bathrobe for "outerwear"
Also, hair sticking up in all directions and black framed cat's-eye glasses...

It's sexy high-glamor all the way for me, yessir! In fact, it's a wonder the runways of Milan, Paris, and central Bayone, NJ aren't all clamoring to replicate this particular edgy, offbeat, polyfibrous style.

"Bag-lady Chic," I call it. A little of everything and all mixed up. Like nothing the likes of Versace or Vera Wang have ever seen before!

And can you imagine an entire office of folks not bothering to get dressed for work? Cripes, there'd be flannel and sweats, satin and boxers, and promo t-shirts from tradeshows...

Not to mention a modicum of nudists.

And I didn't want to mention them mainly because, well, look around your office at your coworkers... yourself....

How many of us do you really want to see stylin' it au naturale?

And certainly not making copies, changing lightbulbs, or climbing under desks to set-up network connections.

Just sayin'. I imagine this is fairly universal.

Still, in the middle of a client crisis, or a really long conference call, a plushy bathrobe and bedsocks might be just the thing to soothe the soul.

Comfy workers are happy, productive workers. I think as long as we can come to some arrangement with the nudists, the Code of the Pajama might just improve morale.

And plus, I've got this awesome A Christmas Story "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out" nightshirt all ready for the office holiday party.

With some thermal leggings, a 40s Chinese red chenille bathrobe and some pink bunny slippers, why, I'm virtually guaranteed to be the life of the whole event!

So tell me-- what would be your new office attire? (Unless, you're one of the nudists. In which case, there is such a thing as sharing too much.)


The Silent Communication of Commuting: Also About the Elmo Truck

*FLASH!* "You first, mister."

*FLASH, FLASH!* "Really? You mean it? Thank you!"

It was a very civilized moment on the roads yesterday, as another driver and I sorted ourselves out in a space wide enough only for Victorian carriages or natural childbirth.

I was feeling strangely magnanimous about my fellow man at the moment-- probably had too much Diet Dr. Pepper-- and I'd yielded way in the charcoal light of the autumn evening. The driver's surprise at this courtesy was expressed in happy high beams.

Funny how these signals we've come to use on the roads can mean one thing-- and can also mean exactly the opposite.

I mean, high beaming can say, "Please, go ahead." And "thank you." So basically, you could conduct a whole scene of those two gophers on Bugs Bunny using only your high beams...

*FLASH, FLASH!* "After you."
*FLASH, FLASH!*" Oh, but no-- after you."
*FLASH, FLASH!* "Oh, but I insist!"
*FLASH, FLASH!* "Why, thank you! You are too kind."
*FLASH, FLASH!* "No, thank YOU!"

(Humvee comes by, riding up over the back of both vehicles, crushing the drivers within, killing them instantly... )

*FLASH, FLASH!* "Ha-ha."

See, that's the thing. We have those Courteous Gopher high-beams, and then we have the Driver Teetering on Sanity's Edge high beams.

The ones that say:
*FLASH, FLASH.: "MOOOVVE, curse you! I'm leaving the job I hate... with the boss I hate more... to go home to my nagging wife and screaming, ungrateful kids... and get ten blissful moments to myself before they're home to make my life a living hell... and YOU are the meatsack between me and my destination. This is the frikkin' commute, you moron-- not Driving Miss Daisy."

I've met this guy before, actually. He comes in different variations in different places, but in mine, he drives a pickup truck with a great big red Elmo doll in the front window. He's run me off the road three times already.

And let me tell you, the irony is tangible when you begin to think your last view of life on this planet will be this blazing red Elmo screaming toward your windshield at 80 miles per hour.

*FLASH, FLASH!* "Yeah, that's right-- curse YOU, Elmo Truck! Do us all a favor and register for some anger management classes, mister!

So there's the high beams.

But waving's another one. I mean, waving can be, "Hey, thanks for not crushing my car in this merge..."

It can mean, "Hey, there's Gladys over there, let's wave at her and not pay any attention whatsoever to where we're driving..."

And it can also mean, "You tried to crowd me out, you bugger, but I merged in anyway so ha-jolly-ha-with-knobs-on. Thanks fer nothin'!" Sorta sarcastic-like, see?

And this doesn't even include the various hand gestures available to us. I mean, there is, of course, the ever-popular one-fingered salute...

But me, now, I prefer what I think of as the Jersey Hand Wave and Rhetorical Question Combo Pack. It's sort of a flat-palmed chop to the air followed by a, "What's wrong with you? What're ya doin'?" that no one outside the car can hear, but which still somehow makes me feel a lot better.

To spice it up, the "What're ya doin'?" can be followed by the nickname of your choice. I prefer to start out with things like "Chachi", "Snookums," "Sweetie" and then, in extreme moments, I escalate it to a few more colorful selections.

I just think it's great that without much direct vocalization, we can say so much, so easily.

But hey, if you see a dude in a monstrous-big pickup with a massive stuffed Elmo in the front window, playing chicken with you?--

Just get out of his way. I mean, I like you guys, and nobody deserves Death By Muppet.

A little smart give-and-take can make a big difference in getting to Sesame Street safely.


The Office on Walden Pond

This time of year, as the leaves shift into individual self-expression and the cool air reminds us of woolen socks, I think about my former supervisor and one very strange experience on the banks of Walden Pond.

Now, before you start thinking anything untoward-- let me head ya off and explain: this absolutely isn't going to be any office romance story. (Aw, quit yer whining, I promise, you'll still get a laugh.)

In fact, this would be whatever the opposite is of an office romance story-- if the opposite stood somewhere on the border of Resigned Tolerance and Bewilderment.

A Polite, Detatched Coexistence with the Occasional Wincing, Longing-to-Run-for-the-Hills story? Wordy. But probably something along those lines.

You see, my job at the time was Marketing Manager-- a vague title made vaguer still, so that within it, no matter how the company grew (and it did) the Powers That Be could also include odd tasks like shrink-wrapping and shipping product boxes...

Occasionally answering the main telephone...

And a mysterious need to measure and note the dimensions of all the printers, servers, and fax machines in the office. (To this day, I have no idea what that was all about.)

You'd be surprised at the wide array of tasks that can be tossed under the umbrella of "Marketing" when no one else wants to do them.

Picking up sandwiches for the office, for instance, can be "Internal Marketing" because it offers morale boosting properties. Organizing the heavy boxes in the storage room can be "Corporate Marketing" because the sales literature lives there.

You get the gist.

My boss at the time was a very work-driven man, who was extremely bright and had a great passion for what he did. So passionate was he about the company, that he would get brainstorms at 2 o'clock in the morning... And then come in bright-and-early with a familiar grim expression, and say all our sales literature we'd just printed needed to be rewritten to include this brand new positioning.

This happened about every three to six months, like crops of locusts springing from the ground.

During one of these locust-springing times, it was decided that what we really needed to do to get our shiny new positioning out into the world was to have a Press Tour. Meaning, instead of the press releases we'd usually issue, we would go in person to speak with the reporters in our niche.

This meant traveling to the Boston area.

Because I was Marketing Manager and wrote the press releases-- in addition to walking to the post office to get postage, and assembling the press kits, and mailing them-- (that Marketing Umbrella again)-- I would be going with my supervisor to meet the press.

The thing about business trips with my supervisor was that he absolutely adored them... and I was usually one step from leaping from the moving plane without a parachute. See, for him, having me there meant he pretty much had a captive audience for several days of intense 24-hour brainstorming, rebrainstorming and re-re-brainstorming sessions. He was in his glory!

The car ride to the airport, we could noodle around with the positioning we'd just developed...

Waiting for the plane, we could have six urgent conference calls back to the office we'd just left a ten minute drive away...

A minor travel delay would rouse a need for 12 uber-critical documents the office should overnight us in Boston...

And two hours on the plane meant rediscussing the discussion of the re-positioning and changing a few more things back to what they were four hours before.

This didn't even include the calling my room at the hotel two hours before we were scheduled to meet up, to talk about meeting up.

It was the sheer wheel-spinning relentlessness that made me question the meaning of my life.

Well, my supervisor, as you can imagine, didn't really enjoy things like downtime. He wasn't what you'd call a sit-down-and-read-a-magazine sort of person. So while we had a few hours between press meetings, he decided we would take a small side trip while we were in the Boston area.

And because I'm a writer, he felt it would be nice if I got to see Walden Pond.

Walden Pond. The idea was thoughtful and it did appeal to me. Getting to see the inspiration of Henry David Thoreau?-- The place which exemplifies solitude, living off the grid, meditation, and tranquil natural beauty?


Only once we got there, the peaceful non-conformist life contrasted starkly with...

The dude in the business suit, his trouser legs rolled up, ankle deep in cold water and socks balled up on the bank-- while talking loudly on his cell phone about express packages than never made it to our hotel.

I recall noticing how the yellow autumn light caused the waters to look like liquid gold. Squirrels chased each other around tree trunks. The occasional maple leaf would call it quits and glide to my dress-shoes and briefcase as I waited.

I recall him rehashing our positioning once more, and wanting to take another look at the freshly-printed sales literature, thinking it might need another tweak here or there.

I remember juggling it in my arms on the bank of Walden Pond. But I don't really know what he said about it.

In fact, I never heard a single word. I couldn't. Henry David Thoreau was really yukking it up in my head-- the joker.

Literary Beer Goggling -or- Nocturnal Composition Decomposition Phenomenon

Nocturnal Composition Decomposition Phenomenon: the mysterious principle by which any piece of prose or poetry, fiction or non-fiction-- which appears coherent, insightful and well-written one evening-- changes into a giant bubbling puddle of ectoplasmic goo and poop when you look at it the next morning.

How does this happen? I was thinking about this over the weekend as I rummaged through some boxes of aged creative writing. I was searching for the final draft of a humor book I'd written right after college.

I recall liking this novel. I recall feeling good about it.

I even recall proudly asking my friends Scoobie, Austin and Rhet to read some of it. (The poor dears. How they have suffered!)

Now, I didn't yet locate the final draft. Which I understand from Scoobie was a lot better than the steaming pile of equine excrement I seem to have stepped in.

But honestly, I don't have much hope for it. Based on what I've seen so far, I think Scoobie was simply trying keep me from setting fire to my entire body of work then and there-- in one massive smoldering flame-o-rama. She was probably trying to save her eyebrows from singing.

Who can blame her?

Because it's very clear Nocturnal Composition Decomposition Phenomenon has hit, big-time.

So, again, I ask you: how does it happen?

What chemical of delusion courses through a writer's brain during the act of writing that makes us misinterpret hideously malformed plot-lines... bloodless dialogue... and clammy satire... as something even remotely safe to see under the golden light of dawn?

As I've grown older, I've become more aware of this phenomenon. I've tempered my enthusiasm for new projects with a more guarded attitude. Sort of like you would each time you send your toddler up to bat in T-ball. You cheer the kid on with a: "Hey, do your best, little guy!" With some knowledge that no matter how much you love him, he could wet himself in front of everybody, or run entirely the wrong way around the bases.

But it makes me fearful for past blog posts, I have to say. How can we trust what will hold up to time, if the writing process makes us blind and brain-dead to the truth-- if only for a euphoric fleeting moment?

It's the writing equivalent of beer goggling, some might say. And I'd love to know, how can we face ourselves that morning after, when what we see just really ain't purty?


Rubbernecking the Ridiculous: Tips to Reduce Forum Thread Outrage

You know how cars on one side of the road end up slowing down, compelled to get a glimpse of a tragic accident on the other side of the highway?

That's what I find myself doing in some online forum threads.

What inevitably I see there is the verbal equivalent of a ten-car pile-up. Something that might have once been a respectful point... decent adult discourse... a unique perspective... something we could all learn from... now pulled apart and twisted together again, turned upside down and made grotesque.

A nose where a nose should not be. A leg where an arm once was.

All tangled up metal and smeared with gore and not quite human anymore. Or perhaps all too human. Because I look at it and am still reminded of what it had once been. And mourn what it's turned into.

See, the thing is, I know going into particular threads that this is likely what I'm going to see. Yet I lurk, anyway. Why? Why do I do this to myself? Because each time I do, I feel my blood pressure jet-packing skyward.... I see my belief in basic human decency hitting the southbound express lane...

And I have only myself to blame for it.

Which got me thinking-- there have to be a lot of other folks out there facing the same problem. More silent folks who know we shouldn't look, but still do, due to our own personal weakness... our own compulsions... our own mysterious need to see the unfathomable. Folks who could cure our own ailments by simply hitting that X button in the corner of the browser window. And yet sometimes we still find ourselves crossing the county line from North BlissfulIgnorance to Lower Curiosity.

So I've pulled together a few alternate suggestions, of ways to deal with Forum Thread Rubbernecking for habitual lurkers. Ways to diffuse the irritation, to experience even the most divisive thread with a gladder heart, and to drive past the car crashes without a direct route to Depression. Perhaps one of these techniques will help you, as well:

  • Pretend every thread is the next season of the hot new soap opera, As the Stomach Churns. Meet the insidious Lola, the two-faced Thad, the overcompensating Raven, the off-her-meds Angelique, and the contradictory and conflicted Javier.
  • Bone up on psychology and play, "Name That Disorder." Uncover phobias, unspoken cries for help, inferiority complexes, covert narcissism and sociopathic mindsets.
  • Make it into a drinking game, where points are earned every time name-calling occurs, stereotypical labels are flung generously, self-contradictions occur within the same paragraph and report buttons get hit. Chug when threads are removed by administrators.
  • Imagine all the participants are giant cranky 2-year olds, complete with Dora the Explorer and Barney t-shirts, rubber pants and security blankies. Predict when naptimes will occur and when the next "time-out" will be awarded.
  • Make a list of ten impossible-to-believe stand-alone forum quotes a day. Compile them into a best-selling coffee table book.
  • Parallel different personalities with literary figures and compare where plotlines diverge.
  • Create abstract art to represent each horrifying thread. Sell your work on Etsy, or at local arts fairs with titles like "Flame Warfare No. 12," "2Cute4U19's Confusion" or "Rage in Caps."

Yes, for those moments when you simply cannot make yourself X out, there are still ways to minimize the disappointment, the horror, the disbelief. By employing some simple strategies, it may be possible to get through social media with one's soul intact. Together, I hope we can make the Internet Highway a smoother, healthier, less road-ragey ride for everyone.


If TV Guide Wrote Classic Book Summaries

Ever read the local TV listings and marvel at their ability to cram the plot of an epic film into just a few words? Unfortunately, sometimes space constraints mean they might have to overlook a few of the nuances.

So this had me thinking, what if the same folks who summarize television shows and movies had to write up listings for classic books?

Well, I think they might go something like this:

  • The Telltale Heart, by Edgar Allen Poe. Half-blind elderly man gets in bad rental situation.
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Sports fishing contest strains nerves.
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. A young man's lifelong struggle with anger management issues, domestic abuse and hygiene problems.
  • Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. Hormonal teens and their families enact Jerry Springer-like drama.
  • The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Single mother makes "A" of herself with local preacher.
  • Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain. Head injury patient experiences a couple of rough knights.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Coming of age tale says "Boo" to racism.
  • The Odyssey by Homer. Ancient Greek goes on road-trip, meeting a rag-tag team of misfits along the way.
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Teacher strives to overcome classism, sexism and an erratic, non-union employment situation.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Frenchman in frame-job seeks justice, revenge, and inspires tasty sandwich.
  • Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder- Shoddy public works department effort in Peru leads to potential lawsuit.
  • Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll- Indigestion of picnic lunch triggers colorful socio-political dream sequence.
  • Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. Jude carries pain of the world on his shoulders before getting McCartney's good advice.
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Rejection of adopted child with a disability turns love to hate and overseas travel.
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. Amber Alert candidate goes too far with real-life MySpace page and child predator.
  • Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift. Man acts as connection between bigwigs and the little people.
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Five sisters in rural district seek 29 dimensions of compatibility before the invention of online dating.
  • Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. An artist finds a corrupt male model puts too much of himself into his work.

Have any you'd like to add to this list? Just let me know!

Do-Bees and Don't-Bees: Rules Our Parents Made Up

EttaRose's Humor Bloggers comedy carnival
had asked posters to talk about two topics, one of which was "Rules Our Parents Made Up."

While I've already entered a different post for the Carnival, I thought I'd also try to more directly address the topic here. For one, because I'm the kind of giant nerd who actually enjoys playing by the rules...

And also because I couldn't think of anything else to post for today.

My parents liked rules. With the amount of rules I had growing up in the 70s and early 80s, you'd think there were unruly tribes of Saxons, Celts, Huns and Goths duking it out in our livingroom on a regular basis....

Sweeping in wearing blue face paint... brandishing broadswords... and slinging morning stars... with only the "Don't" list to keep them from wiping out the home furnishings.

Alas, it was just me, and I rarely wore the face paint.

But, yes, the rules were what kept my home separated from chaos. Or, like, a social life. But the rules during this time took two forms. Spoken Rules, and Unspoken Rules. I'll go with the spoken ones first.


The Two Bite Rule.
New foods were automatically given the two-bite rule. You dish yourself a very small amount of it, you take two bites of it, see how you like it. And if you don't like it, you don't have to eat any more of it.

Until, of course, Mom tries to sneak it into your meals in some other way later, to trick you into eating it. Because you might just only think you don't like it, but you probably do. Yes, you do. Really. You do. No, really. Just eat it.

Bedtime is Not Subject to Advanced Inter-party Negotiation. I learned this straight off. Bedtime was bedtime. Try as I might, amendments to policy were not to be made "Just for this one Magnum P.I. episode which ran late because Jimmy Carter got chatty in his State of the Union address."

Or "Only to see how Ricardo Montalban cracks down the Lei-trimmed hammer of poetic justice on Fantasy Island this week."

Bedtime was bedtime. Period. No sneaky glasses of water as a stall tactic, either. Go to sleep.

Homework First. Godzilla After. Ah, I think I can attribute my good grades largely to this rule. See, Godzilla was often on the "4 o'clock Movie" on WWOR-TV. And if it wasn't Godzilla, it was Planet of the Apes. Or giant ants stomping a city. Or War of the Worlds.

Basically I was guaranteed something large and scaly would be trying to crush Life as We Know It. Which any kid knows, is seriously cool. So, this was well-worth investing time in stupid things like homework, and studying, in order to see.

I bet much of the New Jersey educational system had a strong foundation in Godzilla. I don't think studies have been done, but perhaps they should have.

Children Are to be Seen and Not Heard. Yes, Dad was kickin' it Old School. It was a favorite phrase.

But what I've come to learn as an adult is, that Dad just really likes to talk, and gets a runaway train-like momentum going. You don't even have to really interact with him, as long as you're physically in the room and you nod sometimes.

In fact, he's been known to lecture on a topic for up to 3 hours straight without real input from the other parties in the room. Or water. Or oxygen. (I use this time to catch up on magazines.) So this is less of an ageist thing than I'd ever realized. The Pop just really enjoys an audience.

Thou Shalt Practice Piano a Half Hour Every Day. Now, to the adult brain, a half hour is nothing. It's a quick lunch break. A conference call. How long it takes to figure out how Entrecard works.

But to a kid brain? A half hour could hold... oh, a fist full of jellybeans, three Underdog cartoons, jigsaw puzzle sorting, jump-roping, a game of jacks, a costume change for Barbie, destruction of the Death Star, and two elaborate blueprints for a Secret Clubhouse. That's a LOT of fun things that don't involve Beethoven.

My parents also had a lot of unspoken rules, that became more apparent to me the longer I hung out with them. I thought I might share just a few of them here today.

Don't Ever Not Know Where You Are. My dad had this habit of, if we were out somewhere in the car, announcing:
"I don't know where we are, Jenn. We're lost! Do you know where we are? You have to get us home!"

Of course, I was, like, seven at the time, and could get lost playing "Pin the Tail on the Donkey."

I didn't know geography. Because I lived in a town called Dover, I thought the mountain across the street was the White Cliffs. (No really, I did.)

Dad, of course- in the perverse way of teasing family members-- thought my panic about logistics to be huge blockbuster entertainment.

He'd say, "Jenn, we're counting on you to navigate us home!" And there'd be me crying and thinking I was never going to see my stuffed animals, again because I'd failed to be the family Magellan.

Family can be a riot sometimes, can't they?

Nowadays, of course, a kid in the same position could just say, "What-- you don't know how to work the GPS, Pop?" But it was a tougher existence in the 70s and 80s. Let's call it character-building.

So now, when Dad visits me and I'm driving him around obscure sections of Pittsburgh, I enjoy asking him, "Dad, where are we? Do YOU know where we are? You have to get us home."

I've since received an apology for my childhood, by the way. You can't buy that sort of therapy.

Never Lie About Anything You Can't 100% Get Away With. Somewhere along the way, my mother had convinced me she could read my mind. Though, mostly, it was just because whatever I was thinking was written in scented-markers all over my face.

My cousin Sauce has the same issue. Maybe it's hereditary. But anything we think, you can pretty much read in our expressions. This is what makes us a hazard in poker games and client meetings...

This is why neither of us will be starting a career in politics.

Anyway, Mom could always tell whenever I was lying, so eventually, I gave it up entirely unless under extreme circumstances. Like grades.

My mother also belonged to the Inter-District Mom Grapevine Network. It was an early form of an online chatroom, only Real World and involving things like PTA meetings, parent teacher conferences and giving the Spanish Inquisition to my friends' mothers.

Through this Network, rumor, theory and information were collected and distributed amongst the parents. Nowadays, it'd be in database format with password protection.

So tell me, folks-- did you have any similar rules? What were the big "Beware, All Ye Who Enter Here" topics in your household growing up?


Unsolicited Advice and Other Tidbits from Auntie Jenn

Life's all about learnin'. So today, my reader friends, I thought I'd share some observations and a little homespun advice on some topics near-and-dear to my heart...

Or, at least, exploding in my coat pocket this last week.

Yesseree, it's a pot luck o' miscellany, here at Cabbages today, so tuck yer napkin in yer collar, 'n dig in!

  • Barbecue sauce packets tucked in the pocket of a suede jacket for later home use = ticking time bomb.
  • Just because a distance looks "right around the corner" on a map, does not make it "a short, pleasant walk." Remember, bloody stumps are never fashionable no matter how cute your shoes are.
  • At any fast food restaurant, if there are two, normally-standard items you do not wish to have on your food, ask to remove only the one you'd have to scrape off. The Law of Fast Food Averages states you have a 90% chance of avoiding one item, but only a 10% chance of avoiding both.
  • Optimism is seeing the glass half-full. Pessimism is seeing the glass half-empty. But you're never disappointed if you're just grateful for the glass.
  • Suntan and the world embraces you. Burn and peel, and you might as well wear a sign that reads "Leper for Rent."
  • Backless shoes and speed are mutually-exclusive.
  • You can tell whether Brad Pitt's character in any movie has gone mad by his facial hair. Insane = beard. Not insane = no beard.
  • Never expect an errant shrubbery to go down without a fight. Wear goggles.
  • He who laughs last... probably didn't make a joke quite as funny as he thought it was.
  • Pedestrians' walking speed reduces by half the moment they are jaywalking directly in front of your stopped car.
Well, that's what's been on the ol' noggin lately, folks. Any wisdom to share of your own? Love to hear it!


The Freshman Gym Class Ho-Down

Pimples, growth spurts, body odor... and square dancing. Such was gym class freshman year.

I don't know what made our school administrators look at the phys ed curriculum and think...

Administrator 1: "You know what these kids should do to get the exercise they need? More skipping! Lots more skipping! Natural for building cardio-strength, and stronger calf muscles."

Administrator 2: "Also more hand-holding. Having to hold hands with another kid so encrusted with nasal mucus you wouldn't even lend him a Number Two pencil is a sure-fire way to forge life-long friendships, peace, harmony, and intra-student extra-curricular involvement."

Administrator 3: "Hmm... Skipping... Hand-holding... Sounds like a critical need for square-dancing, to me! Miss Manzetti-- get a record player and a copy of 'Cotton-Eye Joe', immediately. These kids need to get their do-si-do on!"

When first they told us we would be square-dancing for the next three weeks, they should have realized it was going to be an uphill battle.

This was north-central New Jersey in the 80s, after all. We were city kids. We knew strip malls and rollerskating rinks and movie multiplexes. We listened to heavy metal and rap and pop and Latin rhythms.

Many of our ranks had moved to the area from Puerto Rico or South America. Still more of us from Vietnam and Korea.

As a whole, the closest we even got to country music was Bon Jovi singing, "Wanted: Dead or Alive."

The only square-dancing we'd seen? Snippets of Hee-Haw, and those cartoon hillbillies who wanted to cook Bugs Bunny.

Our gym teacher, Miss Manzetti, had barely set up the record player before we kids had scattered around the far peripheries of the gym into tight, tiny, terrified knots...

Would we get to choose our own partners? Or would it be left up to the Phys Ed Fates, the forces of chance that boded darkly for so many of us year-round?

Because as freshmen, we were only just now beginning to think of a few select members of the opposite sex as anything other than totally repulsive.

We were only just now starting to work some sort of Cootie-Free détante between us-- a few hormonal ambassadors from our ranks here or there willing to step over the gender gaps to peaceful coexistence and possible salivary exchange programs.

You know, because Tommy Evans had a cute smile. Or Michelle Saunders had boobs.

But as for our fellow classmates as a whole, well, mandatory grade-dependent hand-holding was an absolutely outrageous suggestion-- where anyone even half in tune to the social dynamics of Kiddom would gape with abject horror!

Everyone knew Hernando Sierra liked to snap your bra if he got a chance. And Ken Martin called many of us "dog-face" for the last two years. And Nathan Jackson enjoyed putting Bubblicious in our hair. These were slights not easily dismissed-- wounds not readily healed by fiddles!

I thought I had it sewn up at the time, because one of my very bestest friends, Raoul, happened-- through no fault of his own-- to be a boy. The boys, I learned, had similar Cooties Transmission Fears related to many of us girls.

Raoul and I discussed this rapidly and determined that while holding hands was an embarrassing breach of Friend Etiquette-- one of monumental proportions-- we could set it aside for the duration of the square-dancing portion of phys ed.

As long as it was never spoken about in Algebra, or Language Arts or among the woodwinds in band, things would be fine. There, we would go back to mocking each other as normal.

Yes, what happened in gym class, stayed in gym class.

And that's when Miss Manzetti, tired of having to round us up from around the gym like willful cattle, had us form two lines-- girls and boys.

Raoul and I put our plan into action. He was 15 boys back in the line, I the 15th girl. It wasn't easy doing, as I had to maneuver my way past Sandra Haney, a large angry girl with a sugar addiction. But it was done.

Until our cunning plan dissolved. In a wholly unexpected move, Miss Manzetti started matching boys and girls at random.

As a severe, 60-year-old unmarried woman herself, we wondered why she was so big on forcing us together like this. But her set-jaw and thin-lipped expression betrayed no sign of her inner thoughts as she went through our ranks, pairing us two-by-two willy-nilly like some perverse Noah.

I saw Raoul, shoulders sagging, as he got spirited away by Mary Ann Modesto, a great speller but prone to fits of random crying. He gave me a trapped glance from across the room.

I'd have felt pangs of sympathy for him-- but I had bigger problems. My partner was... Arthur Hensen.

Arthur Hensen was a nice kid, and smart, but what he had in kindness and intelligence, he lacked in the hygiene department. His hair hung into his eyes in long greasy strings. He was always sick, but came to school anyway, so he projected a cloud of pestilence and sweat, cough drops and yesterday's Cheez-Doodles. He was tall and stooped, and was the only kid in the freshman class to have facial hair and hairy knuckles.

I'd have been happy to do a group project with Arthur, or invite him to a birthday party. But I didn't really want to hold his hand.

Of course, Arthur was undoubtedly having the same hesitations about me-- the weird girl with the blue nailpolish and long, orange over-permed hair-- like Medusa with a box of Clairol. In my orange gym uniform, I undoubtedly radiated a level of intense color that could burn the retinas. It was no wonder Arthur couldn't look at me. He needed to preserve his eyesight.

Resigning to our fate, we took our places as the record player crackled to life. And with only a few moments of instruction, we tripped over our Reeboks in our first Promenade.

Around and around, we whirled and twirled... turning... hand-shaking... and ducking under human arches.

We passed blurred faces, pale, drawn and wishing-- for the first time in our lives--- that we were being cracked in the back with a dodgeball. Or wheezing around the track. Or untangling our limbs from the Jane Fonda Work-out.

With every Do-si-do... with every Flutterwheel... we realized that it wasn't just each of us... it was all of us. We weren't just the Ugly Betty with the braces, or the Smelly Joe with the stained uniform. No, we were all the same-- the pretty and popular, the dumpy and depressed-- we were all red-faced, stumbling and sickened because of our Squaredance Suffering.

For us, the country violins started playing a tune of mutual empathy.

By the time the record came to a bumping stop, a quiet resignation had fallen over the class. We parted wordless, a nod to our partner here or there, knowing something we hadn't known when it all began.

Sure, most of us still didn't want to touch each other again with a ten-foot cattle prod. But we knew now, we all had what it took to make the grade... to step up... to endure the seemingly impossible... to get through these three weeks until our next giant phys ed humiliation-- which would come in the form of the pommel horse and uneven bars.

And maybe most of us wouldn't be making out with each other under the bleachers any time soon, but maybe we also weren't so different from each other, after all.

We were all in it together. Who imagined cooties weren't life-threatening?

I did get Arthur's cold.


Button Pushing at the Pump

"Push button to speak to attendant."

As I pumped my gas, the button next to the sign seemed particularly large and red and tempting. At over $3 a gallon for gas, it seems the mind will do anything it can to distract itself from the reality of the situation, and somehow it got to mulling over that button.

The same kind of wandering also happens during yet another smeary election ad, or one more Sham-Wow! commercial.

"Push button to speak to attendant."

And I started wondering if anyone had ever pushed that button just to chat...

Attendant: Hello? Can I help you?

Me: Hi!-- who is this?

Attendant: This is Carol. Do you need assistance with something?

Me: Hi, Carol! I'm Jenn-- really nice to meet you. Are you from this area originally, Carol?

Attendant: Um, just down the street. I--

Me: Really? Just down the street? Wow, that's nice. Gotta be wonderful having such a short commute. Particularly in winter. Now, did you grow up around here, too?

Attendant: Er, yes... in Irwin... Is there something I can help you with, ma'am?

Me: Did you catch the Steelers game by any chance last night, Carol?

Attendant: Well, yeah, I did-- er---

Me: What was your take on the defensive situation? I think they made too many mistakes for it to be called a real win. I'd be interested in your analysis.

Attendant: Ma'am, are you having trouble with the gas pump, or getting your credit card to go through or something?

Me: No, it's working really well, actually. You folks run a smooth operation here. It's always impressive... Do you enjoy your job, Carol?"

Attendant: Er, ma'am, I don't see how this relates to--

Me: I was just wondering whether they treat you well here? As an employee, I mean?

Attendant: Well, I can't complain, really. I mean the hours aren't great, and the smell of the hot dogs get to me after a while, but we get all the Krispy Kremes we want, and we get credits for a free car wash once a month.

Me: A free car wash once a month-- you don't say!

Attendant: Ma'am, is there anything I can actually help you with?

Me: Well, you know, I have been trying to think of the name of that sitcom that was out in the 80s, where Carol Kane was behind the scenes writing a soap opera. I think Geena Davis was in it, too. Do you remember that?

Attendant: Er, no, ma'am. I meant, could I help you with anything related to the gas pump?

Me: Nope! In fact, my tank's been a filled up for five minutes now. Really nice talking to you, though, Carol. Don't let those hot dogs get to you too much! I hate to have to cut our chat short, but I want to hit the Wendy's drive-thru before I head home. They get lonely, too, you know.


Sheep Thrills from the Dusty Archives

When I first resurrected my college newspaper comic characters, Shearadon and Woolworth for Doodle Week, a few of you had asked if I'd post some of those early strips.

This weekend, in going through some old boxes, I came across that album of comics. You can tell right away that these were from my good ol' college days because of the yellowing parchment... the lack of the second unnecessary "n" in Jenn... and the fact that there's coffee spilled all over the comic header. Anyway, I thought you all might get a laugh or two, if you can read my atrocious handwriting. Click the panels for embiggification.

This was the first strip I did...

Not long into the story line, Woolworth-- the spectacled character-- learned that the reason he has spent so much time standing around a field during his lifetime is that he is, in fact, a sheep.

The shock ends up being extraordinary. His brother Shearadon seeks to help him come to terms with it here...

This became a part of a lengthy and somewhat convoluted storyline where Woolworth goes on a quest for adventure and to find out who he really is...

What ensues involves farmers with cleavers, beauty contestants in convertibles, county fair judging, Shirley MacLaine, hippies in a VW Microbus, a liberal use of spandex, college admissions, fraternity pranks, and existential angst.

So, you know, basically what every college student has to deal with. Except for maybe not the Shirley MacLaine.

Anyway, if you folks don't hate it too much, I'd be willing to scan a couple up and post them every now and then.

Tuesday, I return you back to your regularly scheduled humor blog!