We All Live in a Red 'Check Engine' Light

A warning light came on in my car. One of those mysterious little graphics that-- to the Automotively Unschooled such as myself-- are more frightening by the fact that they're lit, than any idea what the frig it's supposed to symbollize.

"Crikey-moses, I think my personal exploration submarine is going to blow!"

Realizing there probably wasn't enough room under the spare tire for a hidden marine submersible--- disappointing: I'd had my heart set on seeing those transparent fish who are their own flashlights-- I dug out the owner's manual.

It turns out the meaning of the warning sensor is actually more convoluted than a 60s psychedelic musical cartoon based around an excess of Liverpudlians cohabitating in a sunny steel shark.

In fact, it could indicate any one of the following:

Meaning One:
Something is wrong with your emissions. Which means something is wrong with your engine. Or transaxle. Or exhaust, intake, or fuel system. Possibly air freshener.

Which means your car will either stall out on a four-lane highway where you become instant paté-in-a-can for packs of very lost dingoes... Or, you'll make it to the mechanics only to learn everything but the cupholders are ruined, and you owe them your first born child and/or spun gold as payment.

Meaning Two:

The engine, which has tragically bad aim when it's been drinking heavily (especially the cheap stuff), has misfired. Giving itself a flesh wound. This may or may not require service, depending on how macho it is. VW Bugs will ask for floral-printed Band-Aids (ouchless) and a hug from the nearest maintenance man. Dodge Rams will only cry on the inside.

Meaning Three:

The emissions system is simply confused and cranky. The car may be feeling the effects of a loose gas cap. Rain might be frizzing its electrics. Its gas tank might be queasy from a new brand of fuel. Or the car might be held sway by the light of a full moon and Team Jacob. If the latter, druids should be called in to make the light go off. Though, it may go off on its own, after it's had a good cry.

Or not.

But maybe.

So you could wait.

Or you could explode in a fiery ball of flame and rubber Hello Kitty floormats.

Your call, really.

The funny thing is, as far as I can tell, the information on the problem is really no different than the Service Engine Soon light. I've written about that before. Does the Mini-Sub-looking icon indicate a greater level of peril than the big square "Service Engine Soon" icon?

Or does it simply mean that when I finally bow to the power of the light and take my car in, the mechanic will tell me it has... oh, I don't know... a small case of the Blue Meanies...

...And that "that'll be $700 Meanie-Extraction-and-Light-Resetting, Ma'am"?

If the last one's the case, I might just tell them to leave the Meanies there. I like company for my commutes. As long as they wouldn't go screwing with my stereo, we'd be cool.

And speaking of music. All together now... Everybody...

"We all live in a red 'Check Engine' light...
Red 'Check Engine' light...
Red 'Check Engine' light..."


New Year's Resolutions for Somebody Else

Well, last year, I'd posted about the things I resolved not to do for 2009.

This year, I've decided to post suggested New Year's Resolutions for people who are not, in fact, me.

See, I know me. I know that I could vow to... oh... eat fewer french fries. Or to exercise for two hours every day. Or to own only one pair of black shoes at a time.

But I also know I'll have forgotten about each and every one of those resolutions by the Ides of March. (Partly, it's because I get distracted, wondering when we stopped using the word "ides" to mean mid-month-- I mean, no one ever tells you your credit card bill is due "ides-ish.")

So, I figure if I want to make some resolutions that are going to fall through anyway, I might as well make them for someone else. Someone who can really use them.

Like this:
  • Charlie Sheen. Charlie... dude. Enough with the hookers and wife-beating and weaponry. It's getting old and boring, like Viagra jokes on a long-drawn-out sitcom. (Not that you know anything about that.) Surprise us for 2010. Join a cult or organized religious group or something. It could even successfully spill over into your series: "Two and a Half Monks." You're good at physical comedy, so the vow of silence shouldn't be a problem, plus, it will cut costs in the writing department. Think about it.
  • People Who Comment Passionately on News Sites. Did you know that you can make your paranoid rants, non sequiter commentary, and parroted talking points in reaction to news articles even more effective? Well, you can! For 2010, consider learning to spell "losers" and "riddance." "Looser" is what happens to your waistband when you drop a pants size. And "riddens" is just an overzealous misapplication of Hooked on Phonics. Calling a group of people "loosers" is, perhaps, not the way to establish the intellectual credibility you're seeking. I mean, I know you could also avoid name-calling completely and debate the actual issues like an adult. But I recognize that's probably asking a lot. It's "losers." Good "riddance" to them. And you're welcome.
  • Spammers. Spammers, I understand you're really devoted to your craft. I know you are desperate to have your unsubtle sales messaging nestled into the comments section of my blogs like a happily feasting tick on an overweight Golden Retriever. But did you know that even if, for some reason, I accidentally approve one of those nuggets of nonsense, when you place it on a blog where the audience doesn't read Japanese... or Russian... or French.... or ancient Mesopotamian.... you are, in fact, wasting a spam? So for 2010, why not resolve to actually, oh, do some research on the blogs you're spamming? Spam English-speaking blogs in English. Japanese in Japanese. Don't insert comments responding to a post about technology, when the post is actually about green beans. This is not to say I'll ever approve your comments. But at least you can say you've elevated your game. And that should make you feel all warm and gooey inside. Again, like that tick.
  • Jon Gosselin. As the clock hits midnight on New Year's Eve and it ticks through those very first fifteen minutes of 2010, look around you, Jon. Notice the lack of TV cameras directed at you. Observe the place where groupies do not drool. Think about those first fifteen minutes of this new decade. Recognize they are not very much like those fifteen minutes of fame you had back in 2009. And then resolve to stop trying to get them back with manufactured drama that comes off like it's been scripted by a high schooler whose watched too many Melrose Place reruns. Yup, Jon, it's time you leave the attention-getting-with-no-observable-talent to Paris Hilton. It's her Niche Super Power. There can be only One. Move along, sonny.
Well, those are the main Resolutions I'd wanted to offer up. I suppose, in reading this over, I really should step forward, and resolve something myself. Like to be less sarcastic for 2010. But---

Hey, did you ever wonder why we only ever hear about "ides" in relation to March? Did Shakespeare completely corner the market on "ides"?

Oh, sorry-- what was I saying before?

Well, nevermind. Happy New Year to you all! And thanks for helping to make it a great 2009!


Weather or Not

I've been wondering just at what point it is that we, as humans, transition into amateur meteorologists. I mean, is it a gradual thing or does it hit all at once?

One day, do you check the Weather Channel, and then the next you're watching it with your morning coffee? In two months, are you collecting barometers? And then before you know it, are you installing green screens, Doppler Radar and weather pickles in your entertainment room?

Or is it an instant Coming of Age moment, where they hand you your retirement watch and ask you:

"What do you plan to do with all your free time now, Bill?"

And (if your name happens to be Bill) you say:

"Why, I think I'm going to monitor precipitation and daily highs and lows in an obsessive-compulsive manner, Chet!"

(If the guy you were talking to happens to be named Chet.)

I say all this because it seems that, within the last few years, my dad-- who is retired, lives basically in Upper Margaritaville and has nowhere specific to be at any given moment--- has developed Weather Channel Addiction.

I had suspected this was going on, as each time I speak to him in our weekly catch-up phone call, from hundreds of miles away he recounts me with what my own weather is doing. Like some meteorological Carnac the Magnificent.

But I really notice it when he comes to visit and is Weather Channel-Free for a few days. By about Day Two, his hands are shaking... The fingers on his remote control hand are breaking out in hives... He's looking at the sky, his left eye twitching...

I ignore this for a while, because I am basically Evil. So he starts making vague hints.

"Are those cumulo-nimbuses coming in there? I wonder what that means."

(Cue ominous music.)

Then half-way through a movie, he can bear it no longer.

"Can we just put on TWC for a minute? Please? Just a minute. Just a little five-day-forecast. See what's happening at your Aunt Jean's. And Key West. And Iceland. I'll turn it off after that. I promise. I don't know what it's doing in Zimbabwe."

I thought he was going to slip into a seizure when he asked if the thermometer outside the kitchen window worked and I said I didn't know, I never really looked at it.

I would say this is an isolated case, but my best friend's parents have a similar fixation.

Not only do they monitor what it's doing outside with pinpoint accuracy, but they write it down as part of some log, along with rainfall totals.

My friend has told them many times that there are whole groups of Almanac People to take care of this task-- that history isn't relying on them specifically to trot out their spiral bound notebook and let us know there was a light frost on October 29, 1984 with a low of 31 degrees. But it's made no impression.

So as I get older, I wait for the moment that I, too, transition from a gal who just wants to know if I'll need to dig my car out for the morning commute, to an unpaid weatherperson with a deep passion for the total snowfall in the Rockies... which Tropical Storm is brewing in Barbados... and how many inches of rain I can expect on Sunday, as I watch it from the house.

If I ever start a blog post telling regular readers what the weather is doing in your areas based on your IP addresses, you'll know I've succumbed.

Compulsive meteorology affects one in seven. It's up to us to resist the high pressure front of weather addiction.

Question of the day: do you have a weather bug in your family?


Doctor Who Versus the Daleks Verus the Dickens Christmas Village

Who stands tall (or at least disproportionately out of scale) when the Dickens Christmas Village in the living room is overrun by invaders from another planet? Why, our dashing Doctor Who, of course!

Last year, it was All Silent on the Porcelain Dickensian London Landmarks. But this year, Daleks have developed a fleet of evil green minions....
Okay, so they LOOK like Christmas bottle brush trees. But what better way to infiltrate and conquer a sleeping city during the holidays than to disguise your crazed robot machines as docile holiday firs?

As a space ship hovers above Big Ben, casting inordinate glare over Doctor Who-- which looks strikingly like an over-exposed camera flash but really isn't at all in the least, move along please-- the Doctor prepares his battle plan...

He's hoping to keep the potential peril under wraps from the general populace as long as possible. Though he suspects even bustling, absorbed, energetically-shopping Londoners might eventually notice the crashed flying saucer on the Tower Bridge...

Remarkable how advanced alien technology resembles two styrofoam dinner plates glued together, isn't it?
"What do you think, Rose?" begins the Doctor. "How long before they start to get suspicious that it's going to be yet another year the world nearly ends on Christmas?"
"Two, three hours tops," Rose suggests, peering thoughtfully at the scene below. "Think I have enough time to pick up some tea for my mum at Harrods? I'm not quite done shopping."

"Focus, Rose. Focus."
The TARDIS-- which is not, in any way, a DVD storage box my friend Scoobie made for me, even though it is completely filled with awesome-- waits by, ready to leap into action at the Doctor's command.

Will everyone at St. Martin-in-the-Fields cathedral be exterminated before they can finish their brass rubbings and tea in the crypt?...

Will the alien villaness Cassandra turn the Dalek pine trees against the Daleks for her own nefarious purposes... Or at least for a really freshly pine-scented space ship?...

Will Rose be the last human left in London, and have to take over the duties as Queen and do all of that bored waving?
And the biggest question of all...

How long will it take my dad to realize that the standard Christmas Dickens village has been wholly invaded by alien lifeforms this year?

Stay tuned, Friends of Cabbages! And happy holidays!

Doggs and Reindeer Living Together, Mass Hysteria

I'd pretty much pooh-poohed all the paranoid blather about 2012 being the End of the World As We Know It...

Until this morning. Because I do believe I saw evidence we're headed that way.

I was flipping channels, enjoying my beloved morning java, and there on my television screen was Martha Stewart and Snoop-Dogg, making holiday brownies together in jarring, surreal camaraderie-- and rapping about it.

Martha Stewart. Rapping.

Snoop-Dogg. Baking.

This alone may be proof that something decidedly strange is up with the Universe.

For me, however, all else remains per the holiday norm. For instance, the Annual Christmas Self-Crippling is well underway.

Yes, nothing suggests a festive holiday like spending it twisted and hobbled like a cross-dressing Tiny Tim with a gland disorder!

I'm not sure why exactly, but every year at this time, I feel compelled to spread Holiday Perfection to all corners of my home-- and apparently mostly those that require ladders and Twister-like contortionist skillz to reach them.

The fact is, my father will be the main person to see this Winter Wonderland of Interior Excess.

And this is a man whose feels he's really home-cooked when nuking instructions exceed three minutes...

A fellow whose most-used dishes come on a roll labeled "Brawny."

There really isn't a lot of pressure here.

Christmas won't skip to next door just because one wayward dust bunny isn't wearing a Santa hat.

Ebeneezer Scrooge won't humbug for all eternity if I don't get the Dickens Village set up this year.

The world will not end if the sugarplums are not moshing away in La-La Land.

If anything, the world ends when Snoop-Dogg starts telling us how to get the perfect glaze on the ham we smoked in our own smokehouse.

The gig is over when Martha starts her program with "Yo, yo, yo, peeps! S to the A to the N-T-A!"

But alas, I still find myself thinking-- if I could only uncover some way to wrap festive holiday lights around the electric heating pad I will be strapped to for the next five days, I could truly multitask.

Some things never change, I suppose.

Hail to your mommas.

The Dead Blog Memorial Wall and Rave Party

They fill our weekly routines with joy, laughter, knowledge.... And then, too soon, they are gone... Vanished suddenly from our lives like pretty much any Joss Whedon series on FOX.

Yes, I'm talking about blogs. The ones that draw you in, that engage you, only to die a silent premature death.

Sometimes it's because that bossy Offline Life steps in and pulls the plug.

Sometimes inspiration drains from blogging like ice cold, soapy bath water.

Sometimes existentialism cold-cocks the blogger with the ham-fisted hand of "Why frikkin' bother?"

But no matter what the reason, we readers mourn. And we mourn alone!

But no more! Because Of Cabbages and Kings has created the Dead Blog Memorial Wall and Rave Party. Yes, that's right!--now we have the perfect Interwebz spot for honoring those blogs and former bloggers that served their readers, and served well-- until their creation snuffed it like a groundhog on a six-lane highway.

Find the closure you need while remembering your favorite deceased blogs-- simply leave a comment here. Tacky virtual plastic shrines are welcome.

So take off your coat, grab a cup of your favorite libation, and join in the party. Let's celebrate the Creativity That Was and the Blogs That Now Aren't!

I'll start us off in the comments section with a couple of my own most-missed blogs.

(PS- Please take your shoes off if you plan to dance on the virtual tables... I just had them polished.)


Eau de Terrier Blanc: A Unique Fragrance

Lisa's post over at Boondock Ramblings--- about the eye-watering stench of one of her cats-- reminded me of my four-legged friend, Fritz.

Now Fritz was a past landlord's dog, a large and cheerful white terrier. Because he traded on looks over brains-- (that dog made Goofy look like Stephen Hawking after a couple of cups of coffee)-- Fritz was the lovable idiot you just felt compelled to pet.

The mental negligence I understood. That was from one too many concussions. Each day, I would leave for work where Fritz would race me to the metal gate, and skid out head-first into it.


Each evening, he would see me returning home and do the same.


You had to admire his enthusiasm, if not his coordination.

But the smell, now that was a mysterious phenomenon that simply hadn't made it into the Natural Wonders list yet.

And it wasn't one I would notice right away, no. But
it would sidle up-- an aroma of pure, unabashed, eternal, deep-radiating, primeval Dogocity. The kind that would wrap its yellow-green tendrils around the ol-factory senses... and hump the heck outta them.

It didn't matter if he'd just been to the groomers, either. Fritz would return all fluffy white, trimmed and joyous, a clean bandanna slung jauntily around his neck. And a brief affectionate pat on the head would leave traces of a gagging canine stink that multiple hand-washings, handiwipes, sandpaper and sulfuric acid would not remove.

Now Fritz's mother, Henrietta, lived down the street. She was an outside dog, calm, mild-mannered and grateful for any speck of attention anyone gave her.

And, one day, it occurred to me that Henrietta might serve as a decent control group to test the Fritz Foulness problem. Was this mysterious Puppy Putrescence something to do with the breed, the family line, or just Fritz himself?

I was determined to find out!

So as I approached the lady dog with my daily greeting, it was this time I paused. And petted...

And, um, sniffed. Deeply.

It occurred to me later that anyone watching out their windows might find it a little odd to see someone stop, play with, and then sniff someone's dog.

They might consider it equally strange to see that person leave, energetically sniffing their own hand and making mental notes of it.

Ah, but much out of the ordinary must be done in the name of Science! We didn't see Alexander Fleming recoiling from penicillin and crying, "Eeew! What's that green stuff? Gross! Take it away!"

No. He said, "Hm! Jolly! Someday people will be over-medicating with this."

And I learned something important from my little experiment, too. I learned that the all-weather female, four-wheel-drive model of the great Fritzmeister was completely odor-free.

Now, I haven't expanded the experiment to other terriers of this type, because, well, I got bored.

Also, I have sinus problems.

Also-also, I don't want to be known as "Crazy Dog Sniffer."

But I think it's reasonably safe to say that the problem was uniquely Fritz' own. Was it some gland issue? Some evolutionary glitch? An unfortunate designer dog signature fragrance choice?

We may never know.

If only it could have been used for the powers of Good. Harnessed in the right hands, I believe Eau de Terrier Blanc could have reshaped today's on-the-ground warfare. Concentrated and formed into exploding capsules, the enemy would be rendered completely incapacitated for miles. And nobody would ever have to get hurt.

I'd say there might even be a Peace Prize in that!... (And hey, we've seen those things handed out for less.)

Pass the handiwipes.


Mr. Toad's Driver Re-Education Program

Good morning, Class! And welcome to The Wild Wood Driver Re-Education Program and Speed Addiction Management.

I am Mr. Toad, and I'll be your teacher for this re-training course.

Now, like each of you, I have committed some... erm... minor infractions of the law on our local roadways. But l am here today to show you that it is possible to become 100% rehabilitated! (And possibly work off your debt to society in a teaching capacity.)


Through a clever three-step regimen of Visualization, Desensitization, and Messing About In Boats.

Now I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Why, Toad, but you are a creature of superior intelligence and wealth, with good friends willing to do a motorcar intervention for you. And I am a mere thick, friendless human who had an issue with road rage, speed and/or car-jacking. How am I to live up to the example you set?"

Well, just keep in mind, we are not holding you up to lofty Toad Standards, and that should alleviate any pressure you might feel.

Now: Visualization and Desensitization. (We'll get to Messing About in Boats once mine is back from the shop.) But I assure you, once you complete this part of the course, you will see a motorcar, you will sit in a motorcar, but any need for speed will be vanished from your heart like an Alpha Romeo in a straightaway!

Look here up on the projector screen, and what do you see?

Why, yes, that's right, class-- it's a photo of a Lamborghini Murcielago in sunshine yellow! Notice its aerodynamic styling. Consider its four-wheel-drive.

Picture yourself behind the wheel... All those lovely, blinking controls before you, just waiting for your next move... Sitting in its plush, ergonomic seating...

Is-- is-- is it getting warm in here?... Could someone just pop open that window please? Thank you.

Now imagine you're turning the key in the ignition... Your flipper pressing down on that gas pedal and you're giving it a few revs.... Now do you really want to see if it can go from 0 to 65 in 3.4 seconds?

In mere moments, the Wild Wood Constabulary would be hot on your trail, as you leave destruction and devastation in your wake...

As you go on to break the hearts of your friends, who simply don't understand the beauty and power of motorcars like you do.

Who really don't appreciate the feel of the wind on one's skin and the landscape roaring past so that you feel nothing could stop you... Certainly not a few pathetic, underpaid bobbies with no sense of fun and...



You don't want to test its turbo. Instead you imagine yourself easing gently away from the curb. Safely. With no special agenda. (yawn) You look around you. You feel the calm. You listen to the purr of the engine.

The engine...

What you do not do is you don't think how much louder that engine could roar if it were pushed up to its ripping 211 miles per hour as you tear across hill and dale, kicking up dust and overturning milk carts, tearing across the bridges, watching your neighbors leap aside to safety as your eye catches sight of that horn...

Oh, that glorious, shining, melodic horn! And you take one hand from the wheel and you reach and as you press it your heart gives a thrill as you hear its beautiful, beautiful voice singing out:





Here is a photo of a Geo Metro...


Santa Was a Jerk

Okay. It's finally out there. I've said it once and I'll say it again:

Santa was a jerk.

No, no, not to me. To Rudolph. And I think because of his position and influence and the potential for coal-filled stockings, we let the Fat Man's open discrimination and self-interest slide long enough.

I mean, the evidence is clear and we've all witnessed it. Santa takes one look at Rudolph's glowing nose and does he tell the other reindeer to lay off with the name-calling?

Does he use this as a teachable moment to explain how some clay stop-motion reindeer have lightbulb noses and some don't, but that we're all equal in Santa's eyes?

Does he instate an inclusive reindeer games policy?

No. He's as bad as the rest of them. He makes a mockery of Rudolph's nose. And then-- only when he realizes that the shiny schnoz could suit his own needs-- then he uses Rudolph by conning him into a high-risk flight.

No "I was wrong, Rudolph."

No "I will no longer support discriminatory practices in this workplace, Rudolph."

No "Please don't find an elf who secretly desires to be a lawyer and then sue the red knickers off me, Rudolph."

Nope. Nothing.

And Rudolph, raised in an atmosphere of ostracism and low self-esteem, totally takes it without a single, "Oh, so ya like me now, huh? Well, it's a little late for that, Nicky-boy."

No, Rudolph's just grateful for Santa's acknowledgment, the poor deer.

It's a sad, dysfunctional situation if ever I saw one, and frankly, I've totally lost respect for Mr. HoHoHo.

So this year, I'm skipping the milk and cookies for the Fat Man. Instead, I'm leaving some deer treats and this note.


Please give these reindeer num-nums to Rudolph, and you can skip the presents for me this year. It's bad enough you're running an elf-labor sweatshop--

And you're clearly violating copyright laws by replicating toys that actual corporations hold the trademarks on and passing them off as legit--

But your Equal Opportunity policies stink, too.

So go ahead and give me coal if you dare. With the current rates on fossil fuels, I'll be making out all right.


I think if enough of us leave notes like this, Santa might be forced to pay attention and do something about it. Fair is fair. Let's show Mr. Naughty-or-Nice that we can't be bribed into silence anymore!

Who's with me?


Roger, the Friendly Neighborhood Human Skull

"Thar be skeletons ahead!" the disembodied Disney pirate voice warned. Or something to that effect. I don't recall precisely. I was five. It was my first time on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. And I was absolutely frantic to return to a more skeleton-free existence.

Now in my family, fear was not an option. Just like my Pop felt any aches and pains or pneumonia or bubonic plague could be totally cured by "doing a few squat thrusts," fears were irrational things you needed to just suck up and get over.

Why, in his day, five-year-olds smoked cigars. And worked 20-hour jobs. And faced their fears like men. Small men. In short pants. With milk mustaches. But men.

They didn't make a lot of noise because they'd lost a few fingers at the bandsaw, or had a little skeleton problem.

So one day, Dad came home from the hospital where he worked, and brought a new friend. This friend had commuted in a paper bag. And jingling through the door after a long day of biomedical booyah, Dad handed the bag to me.

Oh, foolish, unsuspecting me... I peeked inside thinking there might have been a hospital booksale. That discount Nancy Drews might lurk within.

Instead, I was met with a skull's plastic grinning face. Roger's. A to-size human skull with poorly glued dentition and great empty staring eyesockets.

Roger was a medical school teaching tool that had been surplus to requirement.

Now he was our permanent houseguest.

Well, you can just imagine the reaction of a kid who's terrified of skeletons being handed the head of Yorick...

That whole "Children Should Be Seen and Not Heard" thing my family had been operating on all these years went right out the window.

But I was informed that Roger, as the Pop called him, must stay. And that's when he began living in our basement rec room on top of the television set.

I played there, of course. And so reruns of Underdog and Hong Kong Phooey and the Monkees were now seen with the relentless, wobbly, yellow grin of Roger beaming down on me. The drawback was the quality time I was forced to spend with Roger.

The benefit, I soon realized, was the improvement in aerial reception.

Over time, Roger gained a head scarf and an eyepatch, but regrettably lost his lower mandible in a freak dusting accident.

And while friends visiting the house for the first time would question Roger as one of the many oddities my packrat father had found and tucked away in the basement, to me, Roger quickly became little more than one of those Starving Artist paintings you buy for cheap to match the couch and then forget about.

"Skull? What skull? Oh, him. That's Roger. Let's play Monopoly."

Yesterday, my friend "The Knave" was commenting on some skulls printed on my pocketbook, and I had cause to recall Roger for the first time in years. Dad has long since moved and the basement cleared of its residual weirdnesses. Yet where did Roger go?

To the dumpster, to roll from truck to truck and eventually land up in a grand garbage pile, waiting to scare the socks off some curious rummager?

Or was he purchased at the house sale, by some lucky Goth kid? Or maybe a low budget Shakespeare company prepared to make Roger a star?

I'll have to ask.

I like to think he's out there somewhere. Scaring the Sunny-D out of some other kid. Who'll grow up to be reasonably well-adjusted in spite of it. Or because of it.

Plus, he really did wonders for channel 9.


Shopping Tips for People Who Hate to Shop

I see you there in the stores. You give yourself away. It's in the eyes, I think. The same trapped look one sees in aged zoo animals who have vague memories of jungles beyond their simulated concrete habitat, yet they can't quite recall the details.

You hate shopping and don't want to be here. It's the world's oldest fish-out-of-water story, right after the one that actually starred the fish. And you have my sympathy. Yet, as much as it pains me to say it, the shopping world isn't quite ready for you, either.

So here are some shopping tips for you good folks who'd ordinarily choose fingernail-extrusion over trying to find that French nail kit your niece asked for.

I think if we all work together, we can get through this burst of mandatory commercialized gaiety for another season. Without anyone getting hurt.

  • The cart need not necessarily be an extension of your body. Because individual inventory items do not yet come with GPS, you're not sure where you're going. Understood! Just remember, when you turn your head to locate a particular department, you don't actually need to move your entire cart with you, full-body. You can 1.) let go of it and 2.) just turn your head to see. I have witnessed more people do sweeping spins in the center of narrow aisles than Dorothy Hamil going for Olympic Gold. Only this involves more bruised shins and flattened toes.
  • If something is "Cute for $5," this isn't really the positive endorsement you think it is. I know; you want to check those family members off your gift list and go back to non-shopping normalcy in the fastest way possible. So you stumble upon a whole wall of beautifully-discounted, faux-painted, artificial slate, virtually hand-crafted, seasonally-inspirational signs bearing a genuine simulated folk art goose wearing a Santa hat. You need to gift 15 nephews, nieces, neighbors and grandchildren. If you bought every single person on your list one of these miniature works of fine art you could be done with this foolishness instantly. You can now see the bright shining portal of the exit, where before you were only envisioning a slow fluorescent retail-induced death. But I beg you, put Santa Goose down. You have succumbed to delirium. It is not "cute for $5." It is barely cute for the fifty-cents it took that eight-year-old in China to make it. Your grandson does not want one. Go home and bake everyone cookies which are goose-free. Tell them about Santa Goose. They'll understand.
  • Keep in mind, you are just entering a store, not approaching the Great and Terrible Oz. Yes, when you don't shop often, going into these crowded, jumbled stores can be intimidating. But remember, step through the automatic doors and don't stop dead, frozen in dread and awe-- keep moving. There are people behind you. People who are now being punched in the face as you swing off your coat in the entryway because you're now in a Panic Sweat. Giving a stranger a black-eye before you even set foot in the shop is not, perhaps, the right tone for the day.
  • Resist the temptations of Begos, Darbies and Patchbox. If you find yourself saying the words "it looks almost the same" when you're trying to buy something on a family member's Christmas list, just forgo it. Do not try the Fiscally-Sound Switcheroo. Yes, I know there seems to be no discernable difference between Darby and that pink-boxed, 12- inch plastic hoochie your kid asked for. And yes, the Patchbox cars do have four wheels and almost probably maybe aren't coated in lead paint. But kids have super-sense about these things. They have criteria for why Barbie kicks Darby's skinny polymer butt beyond what mere mortals can see. You think you're a genius now, but wait until you have to explain why Darby seems to be experiencing female pattern baldness on Christmas morn.
  • Decision-making stops before the cash register. Have you made the right choice? Have you thought your purchases through? It's always a risk. But here's a helpful hint-- the time to truly debate about this is not at the cash register at the front of a line which snakes all the way back to the Orange-Gloed restrooms. Think of the cash register as the Moment of Truth. Step forward bravely. The cashier does not know your daughter-in-law's taste. If you are taking 20 items up to the register and only buying three, there is a problem.

Well, my dear Shopping-Phobic Friends, here's hoping these tips are enough to guide you, reduce your stress, and eliminate the potential of you being hamstringed by angry fellow shoppers in housewares. Remember, the best gift you can give is of yourself, and yourself probably doesn't involve 50 overstocked copies of the Taco Bell dog's autobiography.


Christmas Songs that Need to Be Written

The awesome beauty of crystallized precipitation... The joy of uniting with people who share a common genetic structure... Hard-shelled, protein-rich foodstuffs combusting over a potential fire-hazard... This is the stuff of Christmas song.

Yet, I can't help but feel there are other topics that reveal an even greater part of the Modern Family Christmas Experience that have not yet been addressed.

So rather than endure a 3,000th broadcast of George Michael's "Last Christmas" or McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime"-- which always make me want to puncture my eardrums with a marshmallow roasting stick-- someone needs to write about the subjects that are truly relevant to our time.

Subjects like:
  • 35 and Sleeping in the Bunk Over Grandpa
  • O Little Table of Lesser Fam, Where Dost Thou Put One's Knees?
  • Yes, Yes, Yes, I'm Still Single, Auntie (Pass the Peas)
  • Over the River and Through a Ten Car Pile Up On the Turnpike
  • Egg Nog Helps Me Forget
  • Silent Treatment for Sister
  • Dreidel, Dreidel, Spun Way Under the Couch (For my Jewish friends)
  • Guilt Brings Us Together
  • Oh Christmas Socks, Oh Christmas Socks!
  • Tales from a Christmas Form Letter
  • The Airline Peanut Feast
  • When Santa Brings Math Flash Cards
  • In the Glow of the Shining Leg Lamp
  • A Toy Worth Trampling For
  • Black Friday, Blue Christmas
  • Please Don't Eat the Garland
  • Ornament Physics with Fluffy
  • Weeping on the Keyboard (The Sappy Christmas Email Forward Song)
  • Who Stole the Light-up Baby Jesus?

...And, of course, many other soon-to-be-classic hits!

I hope this preliminary list will inspire you talented songwriters out there to really get creative and make music that reflects Christmas as we truly know it. Because I have to tell you, McCartney's really getting on my last nerve.

Help me.



Question for today:
Any new Christmas song ideas you'd like to add to this list?


Ten Signs Your Neighbor is a Zombie

So you think you might be living next door to a flesh-eating zombie, but want to be sure.

In suburbia, a neighbor with a glazed expression and red-stained clothes may not, in fact, be zombified. Mrs. Johnson might just be one Cosmo away from forgetting how much she hates PTA meetings. Or Mr. Johnson might have slugged the kids' soccer coach again.

So how can you be absolutely certain the people next door have not joined the walking dead in their unholy crusade for human nibblies?

Of Cabbages and Kings has you covered, with our Top 10 Signs Your Neighbor is a Zombie:
  • The annual neighborhood barbecue mysteriously swaps burgers and hot dogs for steak tartar and ribs. Very rare ribs.
  • Local trick-or-treaters seem to have all coordinated their costumes and gone as what you can only describe as "grunge." It's the first year no one has shown up as the killer from Scream.
  • People are milling about on your lawn in the wee hours of the morning, peering in your windows and moaning, but you're not actually holding a yard sale this day.
  • Your dog is missing, and Mr. Brown next door is in bad need of a lint brush.
  • This is the first time you've talked to Mrs. Brown where she didn't try to verbally one-up your kid with her kid's success. In fact, it's the first time she let you do all the talking.
  • You ask for a hand with some groceries, and you get one. It wears nail polish.
  • Mr. Timmons' white picket fence is now in a designer color you could only describe as "Carotid Artery Crimson."
  • Suzie White's Girl Scout Cookie stand now carries flavors like "Thin Mintons," "Peanut Taggarts" and "Samoans." Coincidentally, the Mintons, Taggarts and Samoans live down the block.
  • The kids' babysitter seemed wholly uninterested in raiding the fridge. But licked her lips when she saw your cat Mr. Fluffy.
  • Keeping up with the Joneses has become easy. They meander in the yard in circles at about two miles per hour.

Thank you, we'll be here all week, folks! Enjoy the finger sandwiches!