The School of Self-Service Voiceovers

It never has any idea what you've really bought, how it's pronounced, and whether it's even in a 50-foot radius of the bag... 

Such is the Wide and Wondrous World of Self-Service Grocery Checkout.

But you don't think those are just simple mistakes, do you? Oh, no. Voiceover folks are trained for that sort of thing.

This is how it goes:

The instructor stands at the front of a packed room of aspiring self-service voiceover talent. A sample register is set up beside him, and a young woman is poised before it with a basket of groceries...

INSTRUCTOR: "Okay, class. Welcome to the School of Self-Service Voiceovers. I'm Mr. Stuffinsak. 

"Experts have realized self-service registers break the moment a customer looks at them cross-eyed. Meaning, it's actually more cost-effective to return to an earlier service model...

"The one where we hire cashiers to talk around the customers,  relaying tales of bad dates and drunken evenings out, who's on break now, who's going on break, and when their next break might be."

"So: with this new shift in goals, your job as voiceover for the self-service system is more important than ever. You need to make customers desperately want to go back to being completely ignored by real live human beings.

"Since today's our first session, we're going to start with the main principles of self-service voiceover. And to make it easy, you can remember them by the word: ' BUNGLE.' That's...

"Be Courteous
"Light Flash
"and Expedite

"Be Courteous, greet them warmly. It's important to really set the customer up for the ultimate disappointment, make them feel at home... Ursula, can you read from that script there to show the class?"

(The Instructor indicates a stapled set of papers in the hand of an assisting student.)

URSULA: "Welcome to GroceryGuru Self-Checkout! Please scan your first item... now."

INSTRUCTOR: "Excellent! Very warm, very friendly! So now that they feel like a part of the GroceryGuru family, you hit 'em with 'U'-- Unsettle 'em. Ursula?

URSULA (reading): "Weigh your... vidaria onions."

INSTRUCTOR: (chuckling) "Now I bet you've noticed, what our grocery store shopper there has is not onions. It's a 20-pound bag of charcoal. But it's going to scan up as onions. That's very important. See, now the shopper isn't sure whether she's getting the right price on the charcoal...

"She's also confused because she knows it's actually VIDALIA onions instead of vidaria. And we like to have those little mispronunciations on all our commonly-purchased items. They'll never get it out of their heads once they hear it five, ten times...

"It's just that extra little push to get 'em back to the regular checkouts...

"Ursula, go on with the next graph of the script, please?"

URSULA: "Please put your... vidaria onions... in the bag."

INSTRUCTOR: "Okay, now here's where we hit N. That's for Nag.

"See, there is just no way that big bag of charcoal is going to fit in that little thin recyclable grocery store bag.... So, with these systems, we like to wait... oh... (looks at his watch)... five, six seconds or so... just to have 'em looking around wondering what to do... before we queue up the voice over again. Ursula?"

URSULA: "Please put your... vidaria onions... in the bag... now."

INSTRUCTOR: "Ah, see now, how our shopper has gotten frustrated and put the charcoal bag just randomly in the bagging area? Now we can move on to G. That's for Grab.... Go ahead, Ursula."

URSULA: "I'm sorry. There is an unidentified item in the bagging area.... There is an unidentified item in the bagging area.... Please remove all unscanned items from the bagging area, and bag your scanned item... now."

INSTRUCTOR: "Notice how confused our poor customer is? She knows she's scanned the item and it doesn't fit in plastic bag. So what we do is let the customer stew a minute, and then we start with the flashing lights.... Ursula?"

URSULA: "Service needed in the check out area. Service needed in the check out area."

INSTRUCTOR: "Ursula will repeat that... oh... 60 or 70 times before someone comes to help. And notice how that light will keep flashing. Studies show it embarrasses about 82 percent of users and the other 18 are already on the floor from epileptic convulsions, so all our bases are covered...

"Okay, lastly, we have Expedite. Once you've got your customer blushing and confused-- or, you know, medics are trying to keep them from swallowing their tongues-- then you try to shove 'em out of the store. Let's give 'em Expedite, Ursula."

URSULA: "Thank you! Please remove all bags from the bagging area, and don't forget to take your receipt. Remove all bags now. This will help us keep the line moving, and provide the quality service you trust to all of our customers...

"Now. Quicker. Now. Faster. We don't have all day.... Move, move, move, Maggots! And thank you for shopping at GroceryGuru."

INSTRUCTOR: "Very good Ursula. That will be all for today. Next week, we'll learn how to do fake British accents to be used in US grocery stores, and we will practice sounding like unfeeling robots."


T'was the Night Before Halloween, Plus Zombies (Shaun of the Dead Sequel Poem)

(As part of the Humor Bloggers Halloween Humor Carnival)

T'was the night before Samhain and all through the mall
The zombies, they found it a great human haul
All hungry they'd tripped to this mecca of dosh
And readied themselves for a holiday nosh

The humans had come here in bright fancy dress
With visions of prizes, for those who were best.
A few conjured witches, a few crept as cats,
Here sulked emo vampires and there-- other twats.

When out from the food court arose a great murmur,
Like massage chairs gone wonky in Hammacher-Schlemmer.
Away to McDonalds I flew like a flash;
Were they giving free chips? It would save me some cash.

The moon through the skylight above Chick Fil-A
Gave the tile floor a spotlight in silvery-gray
When, what to my red, jetlagged eyes did appear
But that gaggle of zombies in zombie-like gear.

With a corpse in the lead just so bloody and fat
Well, I ran off to purchase a strong cricket bat.
As slow as molasses these zombies they came.
(Bought baseball, not cricket-- plus thrower-of-flame)

Now Gimpy, now Pinhead, now Jason, and Freddie
On Limpy and Nigel and tens of old deadies...
From Perfumes in Macy's to the front of the stage,
The undead they oozed in their undeadly rage

I stood firm and waited, just tapping my bat
And cursed my bad luck. I mean, who would think that
I'd fly off just to meet an American friend
And wouldn't you know? Bleedin' zombies-- again!

My friend only frowned. "What's that thing for, Shaun?"
"They're zombies! Get ready. Here, turn this thing on."
As I passed the flame-thrower, and was ready to swing,
The zombies, they did a remarkable thing.

They were forming a queue, one right after the other.
This with popped eyeballs, that-- one ugly mother.
They queued and they shuffled up front of the judges
They gave their best moans, their best drools, some nice trudges

Their jaws how they slackened, their lips how they drooled
And yet no one ran panicked. "They're zombies, you fools!"
Yet shout as I did, the crowd wasn't afraid.
"Shaun, it's our annual costume parade..."

"...They do this each year," said my friend of the hoard.
And he showed me a sign. "Zombie Walk." Oh, good Lord.
"You took me to this after all I'd been through?!...
"...Ed's undead in my shed!" "Well, it's something to do."

So I grabbed the flame-thrower, I bagged up the club
I pushed past three zombies and hit the mall pub.
And my friend called to me as I stalked out of sight,
"Their mixed zombies are great. But order me a Bud Light?"


The Completely Unfactual Facts About Writer's Block

Did you know...?
  • The amount of beverage you consume while writing is inversely proportionate to how unmotivated you are. A writer experiencing serious writer's block can consume up to three two-liter bottles of soda, 24 12-ounce-containers of beverage, or the entire contents of the Hoover Dam (non-drought-season) in the quest to avoid actually typing or thinking. Severe writer's block has been known to lead to kidney damage, incontinence, and regional flash-flooding.
  • Typical writer's block has been known to skew programming choices and even Nielsen ratings. A university study of 100 bloggers with severe writer's block demonstrated that a 24-hour Full House marathon suddenly contained the riveting power of actual, quality programming for 97% of study participants. This is believed to explain the ABC Family Fall lineup. It is also believed that the entire CSI family of television shows was a result of writer's block, based on the premise, "I hear Miami's nice this time of year" and "I like New York in June."
  • More houses in America are cleaned each week as a result of writer's block than sticking to the floor, or any other reason. This includes impending visits from mother-in-laws, holidays, and spontaneous pet explosions.
  • (1) Guilt and large, (2) angry bill collectors named Rocco are rated the two highest motivators to get over writer's block. This is followed by (3) rabid writing fans waiting nearby with hobbling tools.
  • While it's believed Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Kubla Khan was left unfinished due to writer's block, this is untrue. He'd actually tried out several alternate endings, one eventually setting the entire plot in space where Khan seeks to destroy his enemies with deadly technology and eventually is blown up on his ship, Xanadu. Tentatively titled The Wrath of Kubla Khan, at the last minute Coleridge determined the premise was absurd, that the dialog for Khan's nemesis was stilted and over-dramatic, and nixed it.
  • A hot shower is the single most effective cure for writer's block. It is believed an osmotic process takes place as a counter-balance to the beverages cycle as discussed in point one.
  • St. Francis de Sales is the patron saint of writers... While, St. Francis de Mist-Dedlyne is the patron saint of writer's block. He can be identified in illuminated manuscripts and statuary holding the symbol of the nibless quill, empty inkwell and the hugging sloth.
  • Words may hurt, but 15% of Stephen King characters are actually murdered as related to writer's block. Also possession by evil spirits, adherence to poignant horror genre cliches, and John Turturro.
  • Many people don't realize Descartes' famous philosophical proverb, "I think, therefore I am" was actually an unfinished sentence. He'd tried out "I think, therefore I am sleepy," "I think, therefore I am due for a holiday," and "I think, therefore I am needing an aspirin as this headache is frikkin' killing me." Yet none of them quite had the feel he was going for. Eventually he abandoned it, which became the insightful philosophy we know today.
Do you have a completely unfactual fact about writer's block to contribute? Add it here! Or don't. Have a sandwich and bath instead. And a sixth cup of coffee. You know you wanna.

I Was a Juvenile Cacoa Dealer

Call it the entrepreneurial nature of youth. Or desperation. Call it a laziness that meant I didn't have to drag my 13-year-old butt down gray Jersey streets for hours, alone, in the bleak autumn chill.

Call it meeting local market demand. Or easy money.

Hey, call it "Clarence," if you like.

But under this mild-mannered exterior...

Below this honors student halo and within these polished shoes of goody-two...

There lurked a flagrant rules-violator and illegal goods pack mule at the institution of learning we'll call Edgar Allen Poe High School.

And the benefits far outweighed any burden on my teenage conscience.

Yes... you guessed it... I was dealing in...

Band Candy.

"Do you have it? Do you have the stuff?"

Tanya "The Moo" Mueller was a big-boned, big-chested, big-bellied, big-fisted girl with thighs like a junkyard car crusher. She'd sooner block tackle you as look at you. I knew; a few of my friends had unwillingly played her tackle dummy.

But "The Moo" and I had found unexpected common ground. Yes, each time her great shadow would fall over me in the girl's locker room like an indoor solar eclipse, oh, I'd still flinch...

I'd still anticipate knuckles against my newly braces-free teeth. But what I'd get was a twenty tucked hastily into my hand. As long as I had those band candy chocolate bars... that sweet, sweet sugar rush... I had immunity.

High school was survival of the fittest and while The Moo could never be called fit, I could count on her candy addiction to keep me safe.

So my stash was secreted in my book bag. Who would ever suspect Miss Priss wasn't carrying thick tomes of Earth Science, American History, Language Arts and copies of Le Petite Prince?

Perhaps the vague whiff of mint or peanut butter might linger as telltale evidence... But nothing more... nothing more.

I was careful. I had a rep for being discreet.

So buys were made in hasty pre- and post-class rushes, slipped carefully from bag to purse, under desks, between the covers of Trapper Keepers bearing innocent kittens or rainbows. Thanks to the overall student body, plus "The Moo's" cravings, why sometimes 30-50 bars a day would change hands.

The Crispies, the Almond Bliss, the Peanut Blasts, the Mint Mind-Melts... Each one had its buyers, and I made sure the shipments kept rolling in.

Now you probably wonder-- do I feel no guilt as an illicit choco-trafficker? Do I feel no adult pang of regret over abusing the which rules our educational administration so deeply entrusted me with? Do I feel no remorse over contributing to The Moo's obvious food addiction? Or the wasteful spending of hard-earned allowances for which my smuggled goods were exchanged?

And the answer is... nah. I made it over the border to Canada. I high-tailed it to Florida once. These were, of course, pre-scheduled band trips I'd funded with the chocolate bar dough. But still.

Everyone has their price. And mine was $1 for plain, $2 for specialty.

Question for the day: Any other former band members here? And what, if anything, did you have to sell for your fundraisers?


Attack of Zachary Quinto's Eyebrows

They mesmerize me. I cannot look away. They are unnatural. They move as one. I watch his character Sylar steal the powers of yet another "Hero" and I find I am strangely ambivalent to their dire fate... distracted... numb....

The eyebrows.

Oh, the eyebrows. Actor Zachary Quinto's eyebrows have seized my attention and sapped my mind.

I am powerless to avert my gaze.

On closer consideration, they are like caterpillars conversing in close tete-a-tete.

And even with a certain amount of man-scaping, they only seem to find follicle solidarity-- to form a thicker, more united front.

Clearly, in his role as Spock, they sent in Stunt Eyebrows. How else would you explain how Mr. Quinto went from this...

To this?...

I know I need to not think about it. When watching Netflix of "Heroes" I should be contemplating the parallels of the plight of superheroes, to real-world racial prejudice...

I should be analyzing the historic similarities of the governmental approach to handling its superheroic citizens to Nazi takeover or Japanese Warcamps...

I should be properly oogling the actor who plays Mohinder.

But alas... the eyebrows. The eyebrows have stolen my better sense.

Resistance is futile.

Wait, that's the Borg, isn't it?...

See, what's happened to me?! Run. Run while you still can!


The Land of Oz Mobile Phone Plan and Other Gadgets

The green, gruesome, disembodied head hovers over the palace room, shouting, "Who dares seek the Great and Powerful O--"

The booming voice breaks off. A synthesized version of Elton's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" tinkles from a small curtained booth to the side.

Suddenly the Green head flushes red around the cheeks. "Oh, hang on a second-- I've got to take this call..."

The head gets a thoughtful look. "Glinda? Yeah, babe, how's the bubble bouncing? What?... Well, yes, there is a kid here in blinged-out shoes. So you sent her, huh? What's the 4-11?"

This is what crossed my mind the other day. The Wizard of Oz might have been just some humbug from Omaha with a defunct hot air balloon. But he was clever enough to create an interactive 3-D holographic projector system with surround-sound-- way ahead of its time.

So wouldn't he have been able to cash-in on other clever time-saving gadgets?

In fact-- he did!

The O.Z.-Mobile system had coverage from Munchkinland all the way to Winkie Country, breaking up slightly in the Enchanted Forest, which is why the apple trees are so sour. They have to rely on the grapevine instead. Which is the pits.

O.Z.-Mobile also has a hands-free option which is ideal, not only for keeping in touch with Winged Monkey friends and their busy schedules, but it really cuts back on costly crystal ball minutes.

The Oz-Max theaters leverage Oz's unique patented Lev-i-Head Technology for evenings of family fun. All moving pictures are in technicolor. But soon, Oz plans to unveil a whole new way of watching pictures-- black and white. He feels it will really be a sensation-- like nothing the Ozites have ever seen before!

In the Emerald City Oz-Max, you can also take in a special midnight laser light show. Here, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon is queued up to synchronize with a popular social documentary film, a story which follows a little illegal immigrant girl, and her challenges in Oz, given she has no proper Visa and commited manslaughter upon arrival.

And lastly, the Oz-Pod portable music improv system is a compact device that goes where-ever the brick road takes you. It offers special audio projector functions to provide appropriate background accompaniment the moment you feel the urge to break into an impromptu musical number. Sing lyrics on the fly like never before, all with perfect orchestration!

Whether you're killing time waiting for an Emerald City appointment...

Whether you're celebrating a new rust-free and heart-healthy aerobics routine...

Or whether you've finally gotten that stick out of your butt and now you don't care what anybody thinks...

The Oz-Pod offers the perfect complement to your musical self-expression!

And tomorrow?... Wonderland goes High Def!

(Or, um, okay, maybe not.)

RoboJeeves and the BugBytes

"This is your local pharmacy," said the robotic male voice on the other end of the line, cheer radiating from its diodes.

"Our records show that you have a prescription that needs to be refilled. Would you like me to refill it for you... now? Press one for yes. Two for no..."

I blinked at the phone in my hand. Really? Mr. Roboto could do that for me?

Normally, getting a refill involved long lines while 30 octogenarians in powerchairs asked whether their heart medicine would counteract with their hair bluing...

Or waiting while Handsome Pharmacy Dude talked someone down from the ceiling whose kid had just ingested a whole can of Spray Tan.

I pressed 1.

My friend Austin, who'd been visiting, was frowning curiously at me by now. Protocol was not such that I usually answered the phone and then didn't speak to the person on the line.

"It's my pharmacy's RoboJeeves," I explained. "He just called to see if there was anything I needed... Y'know, shrimp cocktail... a martini.... a bottle of hydrochlorothiazide..."

And we took a moment to marvel on the wonders of technology. How RoboJeeves was only the beginning. How this was the first in a whole new wave of customer service apps designed to make our lives easier and more... er.... Jetsonny. I hung up the phone with a sense of satisfaction, the bright gleam of possibility in my eyes.

The future, my friends, was now.

So when I went to pick up my prescription the next day, it was with a spring in my step and joy in my heart. I even oogled Handsome Pharmacy Dude more blatantly than usual, even though it's totally futile as he's ten years younger than I am and likely dates girls not on so-very-sexy blood pressure medications.

Soon, it was my turn, and they went searching for my prescriptions.

This search would become something only slightly less elaborate than the quest for King Tut's tomb.

"When did you call it in?" said Handsome finally, wiping sweat from his brow and putting down the archaological tools he'd been using to dig through the vast pharmaceutical sands. He'd found Jimmy Hoffa, the Ark of the Covenant and Paula Abdul's career, but not my little amber bottle.

"Monday," I said. "And I didn't. He called me."

He raised a dark eyebrow. "Who called you?"

"Your RoboJeeves. He called and asked me if I wanted my prescription filled. And I told him to go ahead, knock yourself out."

"Oh," responded Handsome flatly, irritation creasing his fine features. "Him."

Him. He said it like RoboJeeves was that relative who got drunk and caused a scene at the family reunion every year, but no one knew how to uninvite him. "You, um, know him, do you?"

"He calls but then never puts the prescription in the system. So people come in here expecting a prescription we don't have. Last week, he tried to refill a prescription that wasn't even valid anymore."

"Your robot pharmacist is prank calling your customers?"

"He's got to go," Handsome muttered, more to himself than me. He asked me to wait while he filled the prescription RoboJeeves hadn't bothered to tell them about.

He also said he would set it up so my prescriptions would just automatically refill, and I would get a call saying they were ready to pick up.

Of course, it's time to refill them now. And I received no phone call.

So I bet RoboJeeves has lost his phone privileges. Sure, early in the day he might have been calling folks about their prescriptions and then not filling them. But I bet he grew bored with that.

In no time, he'd be calling bars and asking if "Seymour Butts" was there. And phoning grocers to see if they had Prince Albert in the can.

He's probably been busted down to bringing in the shopping carts, or stocking in the back room.

But I guess that's progress for you. In any Brave New World, you have to expect a few bugs. I mean, look at the first C-3PO prototype. That guy would get a little oil in him, and start flashing his motherboard at everybody.

Lucas just doesn't like to talk about it.


Darth Vader Brainstorms Naming the Death Star

The Death Star...

The. Death. Star. ®.

I'm pretty sure Darth Vader didn't brainstorm with anybody on naming ideas first. No consulting with marketing, or Emperor Palpatine, or even running it by Darkside Legal;

Because it never would have gotten final approval.

See, anyone who's worked in business knows how these things go-- particularly when there's a committee involved.

This is how I see it:

Darth Vader is in his Dark Side Conference Room, in a swivel chair, and his right-hand men are taking notes on their Darkberries and Jed-iPhones.






There is silence in the room. A heavy pause. Then his Marketing Director raises a finger and says: "Are you completely sold on the name?"


ItalicThe Marketing Director looks doubtful. "Going to be hard to trademark. I'll run it by Legal, but I can tell you right now they'll say it's too generically descriptive. Never fly."

Darth Vader pounds a fist on the table. "BUT 'THE DEATH STAR...' IT SAYS IT ALL. IT IS LIKE A STAR. AND PLUS-- YOU KNOW, THE DEATH."

The Marketing Director shrugs, "Look, I don't make the rules. I'm just telling you how Legal goes..."

As the Marketing Director feels invisible fingers close around his throat, he squeaks out, "Er-- but hey, hey, what was that you said earlier: 'Cosmic Colossus of Chaos'?... That had a ring."

"No, no, too wordy," a few others chime in.

"Darthy's Black Planet o' Doom?"


"Wait, I've got it!" exclaims the Marketing Director, a relieved smile stretching over his face. "Titanic!"


"Question," interrupts the HR Manager, motioning for Lord Vader's attention. "So you're going to be on this Death Star of yours all by yourself then?"


"Well, it's just with a name like 'The Death Star', you won't be able to draw in any decent employees."


The HR Manager shakes his head and snickers. "Who's going to apply for a job at a place called 'The Death Star'?"


"It sounds like it doesn't offer benefits. Does it offer benefits?"


"'Let 'em live'? Let 'em live?! Use that recruiting technique and all we're going to get is a bunch of loonies and degenerates-- backstabbers destined to be more trouble than they're worth," explains the HR Manager.

He continues, "...You can't run a competitive Dark Side operation if you don't retain quality employees. The kind of people you'll get without a comprehensive benefits package are desperate paranoids who'll either spend all of their time lasering each other, or terrified they'll turn up ten minutes late in the morning and have their tracheas crushed. They'll be completely unmotivated. We'll have to have a corporate psychologist just to handle it all."


"Then you won't have any employees left to do your Evil Bidding. Look, you've got to make the place have some appeal, some draw. 'The Death Star' isn't really going to cut it."

"How about 'House of Sith'?" suggests one exec around the table. "Sounds sexy and exclusive."

"Or 'Rebel Scum Elimination Services Inc.? RSES for short?" suggests another. "Efficient and techy."

"I know-- " cries the Marketing Director, "'Dark Side of the Moon'!"


There is a moment of silence around the table.

Then the Marketing Director says, "You realize, you're going to have to get sign-off from Palpatine and the Sith Board of Directors for this first, don't you?"

"ER..." mumbles Vader. "YES... YES... I FORGOT ABOUT THAT."

"And you just know how Palpatine loves to micromanage," the Marketing Director reminds him. "If you'll recall, Tie-Fighters were saucer-shaped before he got a hold of them."


The Marketing Director nods. "Right. We'll pull together a few alternate storyboards and tagline options for you, and get back to you. How's a week from Friday look for you?"


Wonder Woman and the Lingerie of Doom

When I was a kid, I pretty much wanted to be anyone but me. I still do some days, only now it's somewhat less socially-acceptable for me to tell people my name is, say, Daisy Duke.

It was my poor mother who had to deal with the aftermath of my enthusiastic imagination. And looking back, I can see now why I might have owed mom an apology... or five.

Ladies in the local mall would see ol' mom and I out for the afternoon, lean down to knee-level and query: "And what's your name, little girl?"

"Mary Ellen," I'd reply promptly. Or "Erin," or "Elizabeth," or even-- on one occasion, I'm told-- "John Boy" would escape my lips.

I wasn't particular. As long as you lived on Walton's Mountain, you were in the rotation.

"Oh, Mary Ellen! Such a pretty name!" the nice lady, aka, total dupe would coo.

"Her name's not Mary Ellen," my mother would clarify, looking like she wished the mall's tile floor would just swallow her up now...

Anywhere far away from the humiliation of small people who had more creativity than front teeth.

"We need to watch fewer Waltons."

Of course, the Waltons were just one group in my vast repertoire. I also spent a lot of time being Nancy Drew, the aforementioned Miss Duke, and my perennial favorite-- Wonder Woman.

And Wonder Woman was especially great because that involved two key wardrobe sets-- the second of which became a big reason for apology.

One was my official Wonder Woman swimsuit, printed in stars, a strategically-placed eagle and the words "Wonder Woman" at the waist-- the latter of which I was sure the Amazon princess herself would consider total overkill, as I did.

This dazzler in man-made fibers was complemented by my Wonder Woman accessory kit, complete with plastic tiara, utility belt, bracelets and Magic Lasso (read: a length of yellow string). I'd saved my fifty cents a week allowance from chores to get this for myself, at a piggy-bank-breaking $6.

It was worth every penny.

Sure, the bulletproof bracelets cracked about a month into it-- proving that even on Paradise Island, the manufacturing can be shoddy. These were replaced by two gold-plated slave bracelets I bought from an elderly lady at a garage sale at a quarter a piece.

At six, sometimes you had to improvise.

And improvise I did. The second Wonder Woman ensemble-- and the day of its official unveiling-- became one my mother was not soon to forget.

Let me start by saying, for any of you who didn't watch the Wonder Woman TV series in the late 70s, sometimes the character would go home to her Amazonian birthplace-- Paradise Island-- and visit her folks.

The fashions there leaned toward early Greek couture, filmy toga-esque creations in whites and pastels.

But to my six-year-old mind, they were not entirely unlike... say... a one-piece slip with a push-up bra built into it.

As luck would have it, I had one of these! It had been my mother's and its function as a garment, I learned later, was to go under the dress-up dresses I'd been allowed to play with.

Yet it was inconceivable to me that something so silky, so lacy, so... automatically built-in with boobs... would have to be hidden under a lot of stupid clothes.

And darn, if it didn't look so right with my utility belt, bracelets, tiara and two small ends of Leggs egg-shaped pantyhose containers put into the boob holders!

Now, I'd worn my Paradise Island outfit in my room many a day, when I'd needed some motherly advice from the Queen of the Amazons... Or, y'know, just to get a little vacation from my secret-identity in the military.

I had not, apparently, showcased it to the world.

So when my mother had a couple of friends over with children my age-- why, as soon as we began playing superheroes, I knew the Paradise Island costume's day had finally come!

I recall rushing upstairs to put it on... To secure that utility belt... To get that tiara tilted just right. I cracked open the Leggs Pantyhose egg containers and tucked those in, too-- instant boob job!

A quick glance in the mirror showed the regalest princess-superhero North Central Jersey had seen in a while.

I ran back down the stairs into the basement rec room, where everyone was congregated, and I expected all the super-heroic action to be met with cheers...

Wonder Woman had arrived!

Instead, a shriek emanated from my mother, echoing off the wood paneled walls like the final cry of a dying Canada goose.

"GAAAAH! What are you doing?!"

"I-I'm-I'm Wonder Woman!" I stammered, thinking this was abundantly obvious. I indicated the tiara. I pointed out the utility belt as evidence.

"You go back upstairs right now and put your clothes on!" Mom's face was a deep brown-red tomato color, like a sauce that had been simmering on a too-high burner.

The faces of mom's friends were pale and blank.

It was some time before I came to realize what I had done wrong...

To me, yes, I had shared the greatest, most perfect costume improv in the history of superhero dress up.

To mom, I had just showcased her skivvies to half the neighborhood.

Of course, saving the world from super-villians has its price. But a savvy six-year-old superhero realizes that that bit of philosophy is probably one best kept to herself.

Did you have a favorite character you wanted to be when you were a kid? And did you... accesorize?


Why Your Photo ID Must Frighten the Locals

Your one eye is closed just enough to give you a vague, Popeye-esque aura.

Your hair--which you're sure was in place when you'd arrived-- has managed to spring aloft, in a fine Gorgonian tradition, like lethargic, yet mildly curious snakes.

But only on one side.

A zit has appeared from nowhere to perch in the center of your forehead, a red pustulant beacon to the inevitable.

Your lipstick, which had been glossy in prime Angelina Jolie fashion (male readers, just go with me on this one), is now smeared and crooked, causing you to look less "Sexy Single" and more "Septegenarian Recovering from Severe Stroke."

Yet this-- THIS is what has been immortalized on your passport. The legal document used to identify you to the world for the next decade. This is on your driver's license, that everyday identification you will share with people in the places you patronize, to give them something to laugh about in the break room.

How does this happen?

Well, it's a little-discussed axiom I'd like to call the "Queuing Personal Degeneration Principle."

You see, what most folks don't realize is this:

  • The photo is not designed to show you.
  • It's designed to give a realistic depiction of what you will look like after you have traveled thousands of miles, sitting in the center seat of a plane the size of a tuna can, with a 400 pound man snoring lightly on your shoulder with scotch-and-peanut breath.
  • It is the projected visual estimation of how you will appear after you've waited in the airport for an extra three hours only to learn your flight has been canceled and now they're sending you to Vancouver via a brief stopover in scenic Greenland.
  • It is the view the police officer will get of you the moment you roll down your window and he says, "License and registration, please?"
  • It is the most accurate way to ensure you are who you say you are, and Make Our World A Safer Place.

And while you might think these photo-takers in the post office and Driver's License Renewal Center are just slap-dash amateurs paid too-little to embrace the joys of working with the vain and surly public, this is also a common myth.

In fact, these individuals are artisans, highly-trained to uncover just the most perfect, most uncomfortable position in which to seat you, to get the optimum photo results. To light you such a way that that emerging pimple stands proud...

That once-tempered hair showcases its wild side...

That glossy mouth slides its southernmost.

They are trained in the the art of One-Shot Hideous Masterpieces.

It's exactly like painting the picture of Dorian Gray. Only, y'know, with film and stuff.

So remember, friends--

The next time you sit in the Post Office on the hard stool in front of the poorly-lit white screen that brings out the circles under your eyes...

And the Postmaster/Photographic Expert before you asks you to sit up straighter...

No, straighter...

Now stick your neck out...

Now tilt your head to the left, no, the other left...

Then lowers the camera long enough so you blink and yawn and he can snap the picture...

Well, remember, this is not Glamour Shots.

This is For the Good of International Security. Feel glad. You're doing your country proud!


Questionne du jour:
Are you happy with your license and/or passport photo? Has it ever scared small children or, say, liquor store clerks?


Facebook Users Found Massacred in Mafia Wars

Of Cabbages and Kings Gazette-Post-Tribune-Press
by Shannon Maydup

UPPER PODUNK, MO-- Mary "The Homemaker" Johnson was taken into custody today, believed to be the Facebook Mafia Queenpin responsible for the slaughter of rival mob boss Carl "Double-Click" Willis, and members of his gang.

The Facebook Labor Day Massacre, as it has come to be known, began when both players in the popular Facebook Mafia Wars game got into a virtual territory dispute and "The Homemaker" used a secondary app to lob a horse's head at Mr. Willis.

The violence escalated to a series of taunting quizzes, poisoned virtual beverages and eventually led to a full-out physical assault by Johnson, busting into Willis' recroom with an unregistered AK-47 on the Labor Day holiday, leaving 22 picnic guests dead and seven critically wounded.

Ms. Johnson was reported as shouting, "That's for sending me that sad black sheep who needs a home for my Facebook farm app, jerk! Day after day, I had to look at that thing's stupid, sappy eyes and I couldn't give him away! So who's crying now, Double-Click? Who's crying now?"

Some Mafia Wars competitors are nervous.

Says Stephanie "the Knitter" Nelson, a first grade teacher and leader of The Needles crime family, "Today alone I saw two of my former high school classmates get iced, which is a real shame because our 20th year reunion was coming up next month. I'm not sure where it will end. Soon there'll be no one alive on Facebook to post about their lunch and stuff."

And under condition of anonymity, one Mafia Wars participant indicated he wants out and he's getting ready to flee the social media venue under an assumed name.

"I hear it might be safe over at Twitter. I get a new avatar, a new username... I keep an eye on any suspicious Followers, I block who I've gotta block... I might be able to make a new life for myself. We'll see."

But others remain swept up in the power and intrigue of the crime syndicates and plan to continue on their current path.

George "Mouseman" Evans, financial accountant and Facebook user, stated, "What, stop-- Me? Why? I just got made yesterday! Happened right between my toting up accounts payable and accounts receivable. I tell you, I've never been so proud. I had my microwave Spaghetti O's with a small bottle of Chianti just to celebrate."

Unfortunately, as of the time of publication of this story, Mouseman was found dead, face down in his microwavable lunch. Coworkers report he'd just been advising a woman he'd said he knew from college.

The case is currently under investigation.

Today's Questions:
  • Do you play Mafia Wars and every time you try to get out, do they keep dragging you back in?
  • Have you ever found a horse-head in your bed-- or a lost sad sheep on your Facebook page?
  • Do you think this is funny, do I look like a clown to you?... Or, say, Joe Pesci?

Shadowing Raoul, Deflector of Stuff

The wallet was tell-tale. Slim, black, velcro and bearing the word "KISS" in jagged letters. My friend Raoul had been here. And as this was the third time I'd retrieved that flea market KISS wallet for him that week. I was seriously considering desperate measures...

Like stapling it to his thigh.

It was high school. The 80s. KISS was in its heyday, and so was Raoul's insomnia. It made him beat the school record for most "Tardies" in a single marking period...

Which, of course, gave us the opportunity to say the word "tardy" a lot-- which was always fun because, honestly, how smart can any school system be to call "being late" a goofy word like "tardy" and not expect it would be applied to our classmates as an adjective as well as a noun?...

The insomnia also caused a remarkable phenomenon in physics, which had the science teachers scratching their comb-overs.

It seemed that during the course of any class, all loose objects which belonged to Raoul automatically lost their grippiness and were quietly and subtly repelled from the three-foot radius around his person. There, they would be left at random around the school, like part of some less-than-rewarding scavenger hunt.

We, his friends, spent much of our time collecting the items that insomnia and physics left behind.

I'd watch my cousin Jay clomp into the class on thick-laced, untied high-tops and plunk Raoul's oboe before him. "I found this in the locker room," he'd say flatly, knowing an oboe would be so much harder to staple.

I saw my bud Josette brandishing a collection of KISS and RATT bumper-stickered notebooks, and plop them down on the desk for the umpteenth time before his pale startled face. "I believe these are yours?" she'd intoned dryly, the cheer having drained from her normally-musical voice.

And then there was the wallet. Always that stupid wallet. Once again lost and found. And once again missing the cash that had been in it.

It was the one thing that prevented us from demanding Finders' Fees.

So we flash forward 18 years, and my friend Raoul is now a doctor.

No, a real one.

No, of medicine and stuff.

The world is nothing if not a beautiful and amusing place.

Yes, apparently Raoul's innate intelligence, pleasant personality, and that strange sleep schedule has paid off in unexpected ways for my ol' pal. And every now and then, when I see a black velcro wallet sporting the logo of the latest, hottest band, I think of that fine fellow, and how very far he's come.

I'm also somewhat relieved he's not a surgeon.

Oboes and Trapper Keepers are a whole lot larger than medical sponges and clamps.

And there are some places which even your closest friends cannot follow.


Today's Question:
Did one of your classmates end up in a occupation you never would have expected?


Halloween on The Doll Lady's Doorstep

Eyes... so many, many eyes.

When I was a kid, in the center of the block between my house and that of my Great-Aunt Bess was a distinctive home...

For the sheer quantity of plastic dolls which decorated the exterior.

Big dolls, small dolls, staring dolls. The neighborhood watch, relentless... tireless... glassy-eyed... all-seeing...

The stuff of many a footy-pajama nightmare.

As long as I could remember, this house had been decorated in weather-blighted plastic children.

Dolls were strapped to chicken-wire across the front door in a layered collage like the bodies of a thousand less-fortunate Hansel and Gretels-- their dirty, faded faces appealing to passersby begging release from this infinite imprisonment.

Dolls jutted up from sticks in the flower beds, their shredded taffeta gowns gone gray, frayed ribbons blowing in the wet autumn wind.

There were naked dolls, decapitated dolls, and heads alone... Dolls with soft matted hair, and dolls with no hair at all. In between these, metallic pinwheels spun, like the rides on a traveling carnival... Reflective like a hall of mirrors.

It was enough to make you dizzy.

The old woman who lived there, her name was Grace, I recall my dad saying. And those dolls had been there as long as he remembered, too. I only caught a glimpse of her once or twice, but she didn't disappoint-- with her gray soft curls rolled under at the nape of her neck, and a black blouse and skirt.

Dad said she always wore black, but whether in mourning of some lost husband, some swept-away childhood, some beloved infant that went missing from life's path, I don't recall.

As a kid, it was enough that she just was.

So every Halloween, we kids would roam the neighborhood scouring it for treats. And every Halloween we would give the house of The Doll Lady, as she was called, a good wide berth. It remained dark, just those cool garden lights to illuminate the sidewalk... to reflect on the residents in the garden.

Until one year when I was about ten.

"Look," breathed my friend Sarah-- or rather Sacajawea-- pointing an anachronistically mittened hand from her fringed tunic. "The Doll Lady. Her light. It's on."

Passing from the House of Cocker Spaniels, to Mr. Esposito Who Worked at the M&M Mars Factory (always a primo place to stop), and on to my Great-Aunt Bess, we were forced to go past the Doll Lady's abode.

And sure enough, Sacajawea had scouted out the truth of the matter. It was Halloween. And there, displaying the Universally-Accepted Symbol of "Candy Distributed Here" was the golden porchlight glow of The Doll Lady's home.

We stopped dead on the sidewalk.

"Should we try it?" asked Sacajawea, who'd been dreaming of candy since about June, and the sugar and endorphins were probably screwing with her better judgement.

"It's gotta be a mistake," I said, muffled inside my giant Garfield head. Per the criteria of my family's Halloween tradition, (you can read about that here, if you like) I was once again head-to-toe costumed in a hand-made creation of my mother's so well-done, it had won an award at the town costume contest the night before... And so confining to my senses that I actually needed an Indian guide, just to see where the heck I was going.

"But the light is on," Sacajawea pressed. "Is it ever on at night?"

"How would I know?" I said, strained. "I'm usually in doing math homework now."

"I'm going to try it," the Indian maiden said, stepping a moccasined foot forward.

"Mr. Esposito just gave you, like, five Twix bars," I argued.

But clearly, the cacao addiction was having its effect. My friend was already moving silently down the walk.

I followed, a reluctant Lewis and Clark, peering through my styrofoam eye-ball slits to watch the plastic piked heads watch me as I passed.

In the damp light of day, the dolls held a weary forlorn appearance. Under the cold harvest night, they took on a taut, ready look I didn't like.

"She's never given out candy before," I hissed to my friend's back. "Let's go. There are plenty of other places to hit anyway."

But now that we were standing on the porch, in front of the giant chickenwire and dolly shrine, we were frozen into place.

There were so many faces. So many eyes. Some fluttered gently in the breeze. Some were faded to white, blind with years in the elements. Some had sunken clear back into their heads.

The display was trimmed with bows, once possibly pink, but now faded to a sickly orange-gray, like some macabre birthday present straight from Tim Burton's mind.

In layers of fake orange fur, I broke out in a cold sweat.

As if in a trance, Sacajawea pressed the doorbell.



Why would anyone do this to so many playthings? What was missing in the lady Grace's heart, or jagged in her mind that would craft this torture chamber of youth? This warning sign to the curious?

And what in the name of Mattel were we doing standing on the woman's porch?!


Then a squeak.

And we were down the sidewalk and all the way to Aunt Bess's before you could say Hundred-Thousand-Dollar Bar.

Looking over our shoulders, the door of The Doll Lady's home was still tight as a toy drum. The squeak? It had to have been nothing... Nothing.... Just the wind on a pinwheel...

Just the slip of a doll's reaching arm.


Today's Question: Anything in particular-- rational or irrational-- kids in your neighborhood were scared of, growing up?