Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Party Bus to Wendover!

People like parties. Parties are usually fun, and fun is usually a good thing.

However, parties should never be mandatory. You can't really force someone to have fun.

Company parties can be fun. Company parties also can be mandatory. But, mandatory company parties are usually not fun.

Several years ago I was working at the local distribution site for a large national company. There were probably about twenty people employed at our location. (We warehoused and delivered the ingredients for a national pizza chain to a five state region.)

When January rolled around, the employees were informed that there was going to be a company Christmas party, a couple of weeks late. The local manager had arranged to rent a bus and take us all to Wendover, Nevada for our company party.

(I was living and working in Salt Lake City, Utah, at the time. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the area, Wendover is a small town on the Nevada border, about an hour and a half west of Salt Lake City. Since it is in Nevada, many things are legal in Wendover that would not be legal in Salt Lake City. Because of this, many people from Salt Lake City make regular trips to Wendover.)

I had never been to Wendover before. Gambling doesn't excite me. I'd been to Las Vegas, and found the casinos to be boring enough to put me to sleep, but too loud for me to actually get any sleep.

I had no desire to get on the party bus and go to Wendover.

But then the boss made a declaration. He told us we were all going to get a Christmas bonus! But, we would only get the bonus if we got on the party bus and went to Wendover. (And, just for added fun, no one knew the amount of the bonus. It could be $5. It could be $500.)

So, I got on the party bus going to Wendover.

There's a party going on right here!
I arrived at the designated departure spot and got on the bus. I was single at the time, so I sat by myself. Most everyone else brought a spouse or a girlfriend or a boyfriend. By the time everyone boarded, the bus was pretty full.

Once the bus was in motion, the beer flowed freely. This was, after all, a party bus, and what is a party bus without beer? As far as I could tell, the only three people on the bus who weren't drinking beer were me, the bus driver, and one of the receptionists who happened to be pregnant.

What amazed me about the beer drinking was the sheer volume of beverage that was being drunk. It was a ninety-minute ride from Salt Lake City to Wendover, and during that time I watched as my boss pounded down six over-sized cans of beer! Now, I like me some cold carbonated beverages, and I've been told that I drink way too much of them. But, I don't think I could guzzle six over-sized cans in 90 minutes. That would be about like drinking two 2-liter bottles in an hour and a half.

And if I did drink that much, I sure as heck would be fighting back the need to pee my pants! (There was no potty on the party bus.) (It was a party bus, not a potty bus.)

And yet, almost everyone on the bus drank that much on the way to Wendover. We arrived, and as we got off the bus the boss gave each of us our Christmas bonus (it turned out to be $100), a $10 casino chip, and a voucher for a free meal at the casino buffet.

I watched as people staggered off of the bus. My immediate supervisor was so drunk that he could barely stand.

Once we got in the casino, I barely saw any of my co-workers. I went and ate my dinner at the buffet. (Free food is good food, especially in high volumes.) And then I parked myself near a big-screen television that was showing a wild-card round NFL playoff game. (I think I gave my $10 chip to a co-worker.)

Fortunately for me, I had arranged to meet a friend of mine and his wife and have them give me a ride home so I didn't have to get back on the party bus. For some reason my boss, who was now about as red-faced as half of the roulette wheel, was not happy that I had arranged my own ride home. I didn't care. I didn't really want to spend 90 minutes confined in a giant tin can with a bunch of drunk people who had just lost a bunch of money.

The next year the company party was held at a restaurant in Salt Lake City. Once again, attendance was mandatory, but no mention was made of a Christmas bonus. So, everyone spent the entire evening eating dinner and wondering how much our Christmas bonus would be, and when (or if) they would be given to us. It made for an awkward, uncomfortable evening. Eventually, people just started leaving to go home, and no Christmas bonuses were given to anyone.

I would have had more fun on the party bus.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Where's Christ In Our Christmas Songs?

Now that we are well into December, I actually like listening to Christmas music. (Try playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving around me and you're likely to be on the receiving end of a nasty stare, a snarl, and possibly even a disgruntled grunt.)

We were listening to the radio station that plays nothing but Christmas music in the mini-van the other day, and it started to strike me how so many of the Christmas songs have absolutely no mention of the birth of Christ.

There's a lot of Santa and bells and snow and Rudolph and sleighs and winter and such, but Baby Jesus is fairly scarce.

We wish you a Merry Christmas! (Even if you are in Tijuana.)
Oh, the weather outside is frightful, and there are plenty of songs about that. Baby, it's cold outside when you're walking in a winter wonderland, going on sleigh rides, and making snowmen. Sometimes those snowmen come to life. (And sometimes we pretend those snowmen are Parson Brown and we ask them to perform marriages for us.)

There are plenty of songs about Santa and how he is coming to town. How he doesn't like pouting. How he watches us when we sleep. There's even a song ("Santa Baby") where a woman apparently tries to seduce Santa into giving her very expensive gifts. (This song gets waayyyy too much air time.)

There are songs about bells. Jingle bells and silver bells and sleigh bells and here come the bells, here come the bells, so many bells, so many bells!

Then there's "Last Christmas," in which a woman breaks up with a guy on December 26th, and a year later he is still obsessing over her and singing about it. (Dude, I think it's time to move on.)

Finally, there's even a song in which figgy pudding is demanded! (And bring it right now!)

Mentions of the Baby Jesus are few and far between. In fact, in December of 2014 the website fivethirtyeight.com did a feature about the songs with the most air-time on Christmas radio stations, and absolutely NONE of the 20 most-played songs mentioned Christ!

Oh, sure, if you listen to Christmas radio you'll occasionally hear a "Silent Night," or "Oh, Holy Night." Maybe a "Joy to the World" or "Away In a Manger" might slip through.

But, the fact remains that a very large percentage of Christmas songs played on the radio have absolutely nothing to do with Christ.

What can we do about it? I'm not really sure. I guess it wouldn't hurt to call the radio stations and request more Christ-centered Christmas music. But, with all of their automated playlists and algorithms, I'm not sure it would do any good, either.

Maybe the best we can do is keep singing the real Christmas songs. Every time you hear "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," follow it up with "O Come All Ye Faithful." After each "All I Want For Christmas Is You," let's hear a "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." For every "Chipmunk Song" let's get "The First Noel." Each "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" could be followed by a "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." And, every time you hear about how bad Batman smells and Robin lays eggs, give 'em some "Angels I Have Heard On High."

Look, I like crooning along with Dean Martin when he sings "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow" as much as the next guy. And there's nothing wrong with that. I just think that we should also occasionally remember that "it is the night of our dear Savior's birth."

A few "Hallelujahs" and "Hosannas" never hurt anyone.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Friday Fiction: Santa vs. Star Wars

"It's just a week before Christmas!" Santa exclaimed. "This is the busy time. We have last minute preparations. We don't have time for this!"

"I'm sorry, Santa," said Blinky the Elf. "I know the timing is not good. But it needs to be today. The elves won't wait."

"I just don't understand it," said Santa. "I treat the elves wonderfully. They get great benefits. Plenty of vacation time. All I ask is that during the busy season I get their best work. And the elves usually love their work!"

"It's true, Santa," Blinky replied. "It's just that this time there are extenuating circumstances."

"More important than their work?" Santa asked.

"Yes," said Blinky. "As much as the elves love their work, they hate spoilers even more."

"It's just one week," Santa begged. "Can't they just wait until the 26th? My golly, I'd even let them watch it on the 25th, once I get back with the sleigh!"

"Sorry, Santa. It's Keebler. Even as we speak the entire company has shut down and they are having a private screening. Those cookie-baking cretins would love nothing more than to send spoilers our way!" Blinky had a rare look of disgust on his face.

"Keebler!" exclaimed Santa, angrily. "You'll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy! That Ernie Keebler has just earned his way onto the naughty list! But wait. How did Keebler manage to get a private showing?"

Blinky blinked, then stated, "Simple bribery. Let's just say that J.J. Abrams won't be running out of E.L. Fudge anytime soon."

Santa furrowed his brow. "This is so strange," he said. "Why have we never had this problem before?"

"This is the first time they've released a Star Wars movie in December," stated Blinky.

Santa looked defeated. "Is there no way to get around this?"

"No, Santa," said Blinky. "They all want to see the movie, and they all want to see it now." Blinky thought for a second. "Well, 90% of them, anyway. There are still a few who say they'd rather watch old Star Trek reruns, and a few weird ones who prefer Doctor Who. And there's also a small percentage that wear the fact that they haven't seen any of the Star Wars movies like some kind of badge of honor. But there's not enough of them to make it worth keeping the production floor open."

"Fine, then," Santa said. "I'm not a monster. I'll let them watch the movie. But, as soon as it's over, they'll go right back to work, right?"

"Yes, Santa! Oh, yes!" Blinky was jubilant.

"Go set things up," Santa told Blinky, who ran off hurriedly.

Mrs. Claus, who had been listening the entire time, hugged her husband. "It's a good thing you are doing today. The elves will be happy," she said.

"They will," Santa replied. "I just hope, for their sake, my sake, and the sake of J.J. Abrams, that this movie is better than The Phantom Menace."


Now choose a title that best fits the story.

O A. Santa vs. Star Wars
O B. J.J. vs. E.L.
O C. The Spoils of Keebler
O D. Santa: The Force Awakens
O E. Harry Potter and the Phantom Menace

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: A Running Diary

Christmas is approaching, and that means our old favorite Christmas shows are on the television again. Shows like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. We've all seen it, and we all love it, right?

But should we?

Recently, I gave this classic another look. Things have changed a bit since this show was made back in 1964. The North Pole of Rudolph's world is full of grumpy, sexist, and discriminatory jerks. It really is quite jarring, especially after viewing all the nice, friendly, happy folks who inhabit the North Pole in the movie Elf.

So, I thought I'd take an in-depth look at Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer using the old running diary method I'm borrowing from former ESPN, current HBO writer Bill Simmons. I recorded the show on my DVR, then I sat down for a minute-by-minute review. Here's how it went:

00:00--I start the DVR and the show is already going. It was supposed to start at 6:00 PM, and that's when I set it to record. But apparently the fine folks at CBS decided to start it at 5:58 instead. You'd think the networks and the DVR people could get their times straight.

00:01--I start with the Narrator Snowman rolling along in the snow telling us all what's what. (I wish I could grow a mustache and beard like that!)

01:00--We are first introduced to Santa. He is grumbling about not wanting to eat. And Mrs. Claus is nagging at him to "eat, eat, eat!" because no one wants a Santa who isn't fat. (I don't like to use the word "nag," but there is no question that it is the word that best describes what Mrs. Claus is doing.)

2:12--The Narrator Snowman starts singing the song and the opening credits begin to roll.

3:30--Our first commercial break. (Rudolph is sponsored by Target.) (There's a deer hunting joke in there somewhere, but I'm not going to make it.)

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer! Don't be a jerk, own it today!

6:06--We get our first glimpse of Rudolph's famous red nose.

6:20--Rudolph's dad, Donner, is immediately repulsed. "How can you overlook that!" he exclaims. What a jerk.

6:44--Santa comes to congratulate Donner on the birth of his son. He sees Rudolph and quickly shows himself to be a jerk, too. "He'll never make the sleigh team with a nose like that!" Santa snarls.

7:55--Donner decides the best approach is to hide Rudolph's nose, afraid of the shame it will bring to himself.

9:38--We are introduced to Hermey the Elf. He is not good at making toys and doesn't like to do it. He is yelled at by the Elf Boss. "WHAT!?! You don't like making toys?" The Elf Boss yells at and mocks Hermey.

10:19--Hermey declares that he wants to be a dentist. He is once again mocked by the Elf Boss and all the other elves. Apparently jerks abound at the North Pole.

10:40--While all the elves but Hermey get a break, the Elf Boss yells, "Finish the job or you're fired!" (Is the Elf Boss related to Donald Trump?)

11:22--Donner covers Rudolph's nose with what looks like an oversized olive. When Rudolph complains, Donner tells him, "There are more important things than comfort!" And, "Santa can't reject you now!"

15:38--The Elf Boss leads the elves as they serenade Santa with the song, "We Are Santa's Elves."

15:45--While singing the song, one elf hits the other over the head with a hammer, because nothing is funnier than a little hammer-on-elf violence.

16:20--The song ends and Santa is unimpressed. "It needs work," he says gruffly. He seems much more grumpy than jolly.

16:35--"WHAT!?!" is the reaction by the Elf Boss when he finds out Hermey didn't sing with the other elves.

17:05--"You'll never fit it!" the Elf Boss bellows to Hermey.

17:30--Hermey climbs out the window to run away. Unfortunately, the nearest good dental school is in Greenland.

18:00--Coach Cotton is here to teach the reindeer how to fly. He seems nice enough, and even says he wants to be the friend of all his students.

18:10--Rudolph, with his nose in the oversized olive, begins to make friends with the other reindeer.

18:58--Rudolph meets Clarice, a beautiful doe who, for some reason, immediately seems taken with him.

19:55--Clarice tells Rudolph she thinks he's cute, which sends Rudolph in an excitable tizzy.

20:22--Unfortunately, in his excitement the olive falls off Rudolph's nose, exposing him to everyone as a freak.

20:45--Santa vehemently disapproves of Rudolph and his nose. "Donner, you ought to be ashamed of yourself!" he chides.

21:05--Coach Cotton proves to be yet another North Pole jerk as he bans Rudolph from joining in any reindeer games.

22:30--Hey, what do you know? Someone at the North Pole isn't a jerk! Clarice declares to Rudolph that she likes him whether or not his nose glows.

23:30--It doesn't take long to find another jerk. Clarice's dad forbids her from having anything to do with that red-nosed freak.

23:45--Rudolph decides it is best to just run away. He quickly runs into Hermey, and they bond in their mutual misfitiveness.

29:38--Rudolph and Hermey run into Yukon Cornelius. He is, apparently, the only male in the North Pole who is not a jerk, so he must be a little crazy.

30:05--To prove he is crazy, Yukon Cornelius licks both ends of his pick.

33:55--After escaping from the Abominable Snowman, Yukon Cornelius once again licks both ends of his pick. (I don't know why, but I think this is my favorite moment of the entire show. Maybe this proves that I'm crazy.)

34:29--Rudolph's Mom and Clarice say they want to go search for Rudolph. Donner puts the kibosh on that, saying "No, this is man's work!" Donner isn't just a jerk, he's a sexist jerk.

35:21--Rudolph, Hermey, and Yukon Cornelius land on the Island of Misfit Toys and meet the sentry, the Charley In a Box.

Here's Rudolph, Yukon Cornelius, Hermey, Narrator Snowman, Abominable Snowman, Charley-In-a-Box, Santa and Clarice, all available for sale at Amazon.com!

37:42--We are introduced to some of the misfit toys, including a spotted elephant and a train with square wheels. Among them is a water gun that shoots jelly. Why in the world is that toy on the Island of Misfit Toys? I would pay good money for a squirt gun that shoots jelly!!!

40:05--Fearing that his nose is getting his friends in trouble with the Abominable Snowman, Rudolph heads out on his own.

41:00--During the commercial break there is an ad for Halos, those cute little oranges, which features a psychotic little girl leaving a stuffed horses head in her dad's bed to send a message to him that she needs more Halos. Here's a link: (I find this a bit disturbing.)

44:45--Rudolph arrives back at Santa's village to find that his Mom, Clarice, and Donner are all missing because they went out to search for him. Is Santa concerned? Not about Clarice or Rudolph's Mom. Selfish Santa only worries that "without Donner I'll never get my sleigh off the ground." (Yes, he's still a jerk.)

46:05--Rudolph goes to the cave of the Abominable Snowman, where he finds the lost Donner party. (They have not yet resorted to cannibalism.) (Yes, I know that's a lame Donner Party joke, but I just couldn't help myself.)

47:50--After the Abominable has captured Rudolph, Hermey and Yukon Cornelius come to the rescue.

48:55--Hermey literally practices dentistry by pulling all of the Abominable Snowman's teeth.

49:30--Yukon Cornelius wrestles the Abominable Snowman over a cliff to their seeming death.

49:58--Back at Santa's workshop, Santa, the Elf Boss, and Donner all give half-hearted apologies.

50:45--What's the best way to make friends with an Abominable Snowman? Apparently, pull out all of his teeth and throw him over a cliff. The Abominable is now so friendly that he helps put the star on the top of the Christmas tree. "Lookie what he can do!" declares Yukon Cornelius.

51:20--We finally see Mrs. Claus again and, once more, she is nagging Santa to eat and get fat.

52:20--A winter storm is so fierce that Santa declares that he is going to have to cancel Christmas.

52:20--Santa finally decides to fully accept Rudolph for his differences. Why? Because he has grown and realizes he was being a jerk? No! He finally accepts Rudolph because he figures a way he can use him for his own best interests!

53:00--Donner continues to prove himself to be a jerk. He says, "I knew that nose would be useful someday! I knew it all along!" No one believes him. (The jerk.)

54:30--Mrs. Claus force-feeds Santa one last time.

57:51--With Rudolph leading the way, Santa picks up the toys from the Island of Misfit Toys.

58:30--Isn't Santa supposed to deliver toys by going down the chimney and placing them under the tree? So why exactly is he having elves throw the misfit toys out of the sleigh in mid-air as they are flying through the sky? Seems a little harsh, doesn't it? (Personally, I think this Santa is still a bit of a jerk.)

So, there you have it. I really don't think this version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer would fly (figuratively speaking) if someone tried to make it today. But that's okay, because it's been deemed a "classic." We'll still be showing it to our kids and grandkids for years to come. And they'll all wonder why everyone was such a jerk back in 1964.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Family Christmas Letter: What It Really Says

It's that time of the year. The family Christmas cards are coming in the mail. Maybe you've even written your own Christmas letter and sent it out. (Or, if you're a procrastinator like me, you're thinking about maybe writing a Christmas letter sometime in the next couple of weeks and maybe getting it postmarked by Christmas.)

We've all read those Christmas letters that sound a little too good to be true. Everything is peachy and wonderful. Everyone is a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon. (Or a brain scientist or a rocket surgeon.) Every kid is a star athlete and/or a stellar student.

In real life, things aren't always that wonderful. Nothing is ever as perfect as it seems in a family Christmas letter.

Today, I'm going to go behind the scenes and share with you a typical family Christmas letter, and then, in [brackets and italics,] I'll tell you what it really means:

The Christmas cards are coming! (What do they really say?)

Greetings and Happy Holidays! [I say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" because I seem to recall someone on our mailing list is a non-Christian heathen, and I wouldn't want to offend him.]

Once again the time has come to send you our holiday greetings and give you the latest news about our family. [I feel the need, at least once a year, to remind you how much better our family is than yours.]

It was a big year for Hank. He decided to leave his job and is now freelancing as an independent contractor. [He "left" his job because they fired him for embezzling. His freelancing as an independent contractor has mostly consisted of piddling around at his workbench in the garage attempting to make an end table.] And, although he enjoys the freedom of his current job, he is also looking at the possibility of re-entering the conventional workforce. [He'd be willing to get a job again if he could find anyone who would hire him.]

Betty is keeping busy running the household, taking care of her husband and the kids. [Betty's husband and kids would be helpless without her.] Betty is so good at taking care of the house that she is offering to help other women in the neighborhood with their domestic duties as well. [Because of Hank's job status, Betty has had to start hiring herself out as a maid.] Betty also enjoys writing, and continues to work on her novel. [Betty likes to write. Betty is writing this. Betty enjoys referring to herself in the third person.]

My, how time flies, because Hunter is a senior this year! [I can't believe he made it this far in school.] He is very involved in school. [He actually even attends every once in a while.] He enjoys athletics and his school work. [He went to watch a basketball game once. And, one day, I actually saw him looking at the pictures in one of his school books.] When he finishes school here he has several colleges that he is looking at. [If he actually graduates from high school, he'll probably hang out at the college campus to try to pick up girls.]

Ashley is in 9th grade this year, and she's blossoming into a beautiful young woman. [One of Hunter's creepy friends keeps asking her out.] She plays the clarinet and has moved up to third chair. [There are only four clarinet players, and one of them continues to blow into the wrong end of her instrument.] She studies hard because she wants a job in the health care industry. [She's taken a special interest in my pill cabinet.]

And finally, little Jimmy is now a big 3rd grader! His teacher can't stop talking about him. [She calls at least once a week to discuss some behavioral issue.] He continues to be an extraordinary student! [Not being potty trained by 3rd grade is definitely beyond ordinary, a fact his teacher continually tells me.]

I hope that you and your family had as great of a year as we did. [I know you didn't. I heard about Allen's arrest.] And we all wish you a Merry Holiday and the happiest of New Years! [But not as happy as ours, because I still want you to know that I'm better than you.]

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

You Can't Always Get What You Want

We don't always get what we want. Sometimes we have to deal with disappointment. I learned this lesson early in life as a fan of the Minnesota Vikings.

And, I also learned it on the Christmas after I turned 12 years old.

As a kid, Christmas was always a wonderful time. As a family, we were never rich, but we also were never lacking. My parents did a good job of providing for us, and at Christmas we always had several presents under the tree. We would "tell Santa" the big gift we wanted, and almost always we would get it.

The Christmas after I turned 12 was one of the few times I was disappointed on Christmas morning.

My Dad was a big, manly man. He was a farmer, and an athlete, and he liked to do manly-man things. (I wrote about him in detail here: Ode To My Father.) One of the things he liked to do was go hunting. It was something he wanted to do with his children.

Unfortunately for him, his children weren't that excited about it. His oldest child was a daughter, and back then girls didn't go hunting much. (Years later, after she was married, my sister and her husband went hunting with my Dad several times, and she greatly enjoyed it. But, as a kid? No.) My older brother never really took to hunting, either.

That left me. As his youngest son, I was seemingly his last chance to have a hunting buddy. But, it wasn't to be. I just never was much interested in hunting. I was a nerd. Most boys where I grew up did like hunting. In fact, the first day of hunting season was practically a local holiday. School attendance on that day was usually below 50%.

But, to Dad's dismay, I was more interested in reading my comic books or watching television than I was in trudging through the woods looking for animals to kill.

On the Christmas after I turned 12, Dad made one last push to get me excited about hunting. That year, for my big "Santa" present I got a 22 caliber rifle. It was not what I wanted. There's a picture of me with it on that Christmas morning, and you can pretty much see the disappointment on my face.

That is sad attempt at fake enthusiasm.
Contrast that picture with one from a few years earlier, when I was actually happy with what I got for Christmas:
That's me in the middle, happy and grinning like a fool with my toy machine gun.
I loved the toy machine gun. I could pretend to shoot all kind of things with it. But, with a real gun I couldn't pretend anymore. With a real gun it was either: A) Shoot at something; or 2) Don't point it at anything. There was no in-between.

Besides, by the time I turned 12 I had "outgrown" playing with guns. I was much more interested in video games.

Like I said, we knew that we could ask for one big thing, within reason, and we would usually get it for Christmas. That year the "one big thing" I requested was a Mattel electronic handheld football game.

Realistic football action!!! (If real football featured nothing but glowing red blips.)

All the cool kids had this game, and a bunch of the nerds, too. Kids today wouldn't understand. It was the ultimate in sophisticated electronic gaming at the time. The game featured one bright blip (the offense) trying to avoid all the other, duller, slower moving blips (the defense.) Looking back on it now, the handheld game resembled real football much in the same way that I resembled Tom Selleck.

But, I really, really wanted it for Christmas. And, since we usually got the one big thing we asked for, I was sure I was going to get it for Christmas. When I came upstairs and saw the gun sitting there, I was initially confused. Then, when it became clear that the gun was my "big" gift, I was crestfallen. I held out some small hope that the football game was somewhere wrapped under the tree. It wasn't. I was devastated.

Never mind that the gun was worth several times more than the game. Never mind that all of those cool kids who had the game (and most of the nerds, too) would much rather have had the gun. Never mind that it was what my Dad really wanted me to have. I was not happy.

But, somehow, I managed to get over it. In time I even took the gun out and shot it a few times with Dad. We did some target practice at the gravel pit. (Not surprisingly, I wasn't a very good shot.) And, we did some squirrel hunting, too.

I have some good memories with my Dad because of the gun, even if I never did really love it or get very good with it.

Eventually I did get one of the electronic football games. My bright red blip scored many a touchdown. But soon enough it feel out of favor when the Atari came around.

I'll leave it to you to choose what the moral of this story is:

O A. If you are sure of what you are getting for Christmas, you might end up disappointed.
O B. Be happy with what you get.
O C. You can't always get what you want. (But if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.)
O D. If you get something you didn't want for Christmas, and someone is taking your picture, for heaven's sake at least attempt to smile and act like you like it.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Friday Fiction: You Better Not Pout

"Are you sure about this, Santa?" When Jangle asked the question, several of the other elves in the board room gently nodded their heads in agreement.

"Yes," answered Santa. "Yes, I'm very sure about this. It's time we put a stop to it, here and now." Many of the elves who nodded at the question were now shaking their heads ever so slightly. A few of the others nodded in the affirmative, including Cho-Cho, who pumped his fist and shouted, "Yes!"

"Are you aware of the ramifications of this decision, Santa?" Jangle asked.

"This is the Naughty or Nice board meeting, Jangle. Of course I'm aware of the ramifications," Santa answered, sternly.

"Are you? Are you positive you know all that this will effect?" Jangle continued to press Santa, to the point that many of the other elves in the room started to get a little uncomfortable. The Big Guy wasn't usually questioned on his choices.

"I think I do," said Santa, calmly. "But apparently you don't think I do, Jangle. Why don't you tell me what you think I don't know." A barely audible "Oooo" filled the room at Santa's stern reply.

Jangle cleared his throat, then took a sip from the mug of water in front of him. He cleared his throat again. "Well, Santa, if you hold firm to this decision, the naughty-to-nice percentages will be way out of whack. My elves are estimating it could be as much as a thirty-two percent swing toward the naughty side. That would put the overall totals well into the naughty camp."

"I'm aware of that," Santa said flatly.

"Do you know what that will do to production?" Jangle continued. "We'll have a surplus of goods. A big surplus of goods. We don't have the warehouse space to handle all that surplus."

"Then we might just have to cut back on production," Santa said. There was an audible gasp in the room.

"Does that mean you might lay off elves?" asked a suddenly very concerned Tooshi, sitting two seats down from Jangle.

"There will be no lay-offs," Santa said. "At worst some of the elves just might not have to work as hard, or they might get a bit more vacation time." Again there was a gasp.

"But the elves love to work!" Tooshi replied.

Santa looked Tooshi square in the eye. "When times are tough we don't all always get what we want." He turned back to Jangle. "Any other concerns?"

"Yes," Jangle answered. "It goes to intent. I don't think most of the people who are guilty of this are intending to be naughty."

"Then what do you think their intentions are, Jangle?" asked Santa.

"Oh," Jangle said, "I think they are just trying to be silly. Or funny. Or maybe even sexy."

"Maybe," replied Santa. "But I've got to draw a line somewhere, and I'm going to draw it here. All these people have heard the song. 'You better not pout.' It's right there in the song. They know it, but they're flaunting it right in my face. They purposely pose for their selfies with a pouty face. I'm ending it now!"

"To be fair, Santa, most of them don't call it a pouty face. Most of them call it 'duck lips.'" Jangle could tell he was losing the argument.

"I don't care what they call it. I'm Santa, and I call it a pouty face. Therefore, everyone who has posed for a pouty face selfie this year is going on the naughty list." Santa spoke directly to Jangle. "Is that clear?"

"Yes, Santa," Jangle said as he lowered his head in defeat.

Santa turned to Cho-Cho. "Cho-Cho, you are in charge of this project. Make sure you check everyone's social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Flckr, Tumblr, PhotoBob, and any other apps that might be out there." Cho-Cho nodded his head enthusiastically.

"And then," Santa added, "Check them twice."


Now choose a title that best fits this story.

O A. You Better Not Pout
O B. You Better Not Duck-Lip
O C. Naughty, Nice, And/Or Annoying
O D. Checking Them Twice
O E. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Catalog of Useless Junk

When I was a kid I loved going to my Grandma's house and looking at her Christmas catalogs. She'd always have the Sears catalog, plus catalogs for JC Penney, Montgomery Ward, and something called Spiegel. 

My favorite sections of the catalogs were, of course, the toys, and also the NFL section, which included clothes, bedding, garbage cans, and other knick knacks with the logo of your favorite team printed on them. (Some items would only have a few teams available. If they didn't have the Vikings, I would get upset.)

I miss the Christmas catalogs of my youth. But that's not to say I can't be entertained by the catalogs of today. The other day we got a catalog in the mail for something called "Hammacher Schlemmer." According to the blurb on the cover, it is "America's Longest Running Catalog," and it has been "Offering the Best, the Only and the Unexpected for 167 years."

The Catalog of Useless Expensive Junk!

I almost threw it straight into the garbage. I'm glad I didn't. It actually was pretty fun to peruse. (It had been quite a while since I'd enjoyed a good perusal.) Here's some of the fun stuff I found amid the 88 pages of useless crap:

1. The Hand Carved English Rocking Zebra-- The cover featured a picture of a zebra riding horse. Eventually I found it inside the catalog.
Everyone needs a rocking zebra!
The rocking zebra is, of course, hand-crafted and has "a real horse hair mane and tail." And, it "will not tip over even during the most enthusiastic rides." What a great gift! And it only costs $9,000!!!

Wait….Did you say $9,000? Yes, I did.
$9,000? Seems reasonable.
So yes, you could spend your $9,000 on a nice used car, or you could buy a rocking zebra.

2. The Electric Kazoo-- Not everything in the catalog is as useless and expensive as the zebra. I mean, who doesn't need an electric kazoo?
That wonderful kazoo sound can be amplified at long last!
If only they'd had this technology in the 1970s. Instead of forming the Electric Light Orchestra, Jeff Lynne could have formed the Electric Kazoo Orchestra! (I have a feeling music will never be the same again.)

3. The Darth Vader Pancake Maker-- Many people like pancakes. Many people like Star Wars. Why not combine the two?
I find your lack of syrup disturbing.
It even comes with a "built-in five-setting thermostat" so you can choose between light and dark pancakes. (And whatever you do, don't underestimate the power of the dark side.)

4. The Darth Vader Toaster-- Of course, if you think the pancake maker isn't Darth Vadery enough, you could always get the toaster.
"Toast, I am your father."
It's great that the toaster looks like Darth Vader, but it's too bad the toast doesn't. If you could somehow combine the pancake maker and the toaster, I just might buy it.

5. The Selfie Toaster-- But, what if you're one of those weirdos who doesn't like Star Wars, but you do like to have things imprinted on your toast? It's okay. Hammacher's got you covered.
Who wouldn't want an image of themselves burned into their toast?
This looks like fun, but as The Wife points out, it wouldn't do me any good. In order to burn an image of my handsome face onto my toast, the Selfie Toaster would make my toast darker than I like. (The Wife and I are always changing the toaster settings. She complains that what I eat isn't toast, it's just warm bread.)

6. The 8' Inflatable Elsa-- Perhaps you'd like a giant inflatable Disney princess in your front yard?
Do you want to build a snowman?
Because, if you're like me, what you need is another reason for your kids to ask to listen to the Frozen soundtrack one more time.

7. The Bearded Beanie-- If Elsa has turned your town into a harsh, frozen winterscape, maybe you'd be interested in a stocking cap with a built-in beard?
For those times you want to look like Zach Galifianakis.
The ad says, "Though comfortable and soft, the beard imparts a machismo only the most confident can exude." (Dang, I wish I had written that sentence!) (Or was confident enough to exude machismo.)

8. The Pinchless Electrolysis Hair Remover-- However, if you are opposed to facial hair, Hammacher has something for you, too.
Just don't get it confused with your light-saber.
She looks so happy, doesn't she? You would be too if you had your own magic wand with a "harmless electrical current" that "destroys the germative hair cells and dermal papilla, preventing hair from ever growing back." (I didn't even know I had dermal papilla, let alone ones that were germative.)

9. The Single Handed Barber-- But that's not the only hair removal item Hammacher offers.
Too bad there's not a 'before' and 'after' picture.
The Single Handed Barber. Call me crazy, but I think there are some things that it's okay to use two hands to do. Cutting your hair is one of those things. I really, really, really would like to see a picture of someone who has used this item on themselves. It can't be pretty.

10. The Walk By Scrabble Board-- What's better than the family fun of playing a board game together?
Look! I got a Double Word Score for "LAME!"
Have you ever been playing Scrabble and thought, "This is great, but it would be so much better if I could play while standing up." I didn't think so.

11. The Handcrafted Hippopotamine Sofa-- Have you ever wanted to sit on a hippopotamus? Who hasn't?
It's a hippo! It's a couch! It's a hippo and a couch!!!
Wow. Like most people, I have always dreamed of having a life-sized statue of a hippopotamus in my house. And, like most people, I enjoy sitting on a couch. Unfortunately, taking a look at the picture, it doesn't look like a very comfortable couch, does it? It doesn't look like you could slouch on it very well, and I think we all like to able to slouch on a couch. Still, it would be a pretty impressive piece of furniture, and for only $95,000 it would be well....

Wait...what!?! $95,000??? You've got to be kidding, right?

Yes, that's right: $95,000!!!
For $95,000 you could buy a new car. Or two. Or three. Or four. For $95,000 you could buy an entire fleet of five Toyota Carollas (starting at $17,230) and still have almost enough left over to buy a Hand Carved English Rocking Zebra!!! Is anyone buying hippopotamus couches for $95,000? How insane is that? Why not give the money to charity? Or give it to me? I am officially flummoxed.

And, those are just a few of the many items that can be found in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog this year. (For more fun, go to hammacher.com) I found it very entertaining, and I hope you did, too. And now, I'm off to have some breakfast. What do you think, should I have a Darth Vader pancake, or some selfie toast?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

How To Cook a Turkey (by The Girl)

Thanksgiving dinner can get pretty complicated. Do you get a little overwhelmed trying to cook a turkey? Well, my seven year-old daughter is here to help.

As an assignment for her second-grade class, The Girl wrote a story titled: How to Cook a Turkey. I'll share her story with you now (complete with The Girl's second-grade spelling and punctuation.) I hope it helps make your Thanksgiving more enjoyable!

The Girl is the author and the artist!

How to Cook a Turkey:

"First you get a thanksgiving recipie book and look for the recipie of a juicy turkey. Next, get a list and write that you need to go shopping for a good turkey, carrots, stuffing, potatos, spices, and 7 kinds of ice cream that you choose. 

Than put the good turkey in A big roasting pan and set it for 7 degrees. 

After that put the spices on the good turkey and the rest of the food except for the ice cream and serve it for thanksgiving dinner.

Finally, you get the yummy food on a plate and save the delicious ice cream for last.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING and I really mean it!"

Monday, November 23, 2015

The 5 Best and Worst Things About Thanksgiving

It will be Thanksgiving again before you know it. There are a lot of wonderful things about Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad things about Thanksgiving, too. Here’s five of the worst, then five of the best:

Worst #5: Shopping—It used to be that Black Friday started at six in the morning. Then it started at four. Then it started at midnight. Now, some greedy retailers are starting Black Friday on Thanksgiving afternoon! Enough!!!

Worst #4: Detroit Lions—Why do we get stuck watching Detroit every Thanksgiving? Having to watch the Lions is like someone saying, “You can have a piece of fruit, (Yay!) but it has to be a prune.” (Boo!)

Worst #3: That One Relative—We all have “that one relative.” He/she is the one who makes Thanksgiving (and all family gatherings) a little more stressful than they need to be.

Worst #2: Cooking—The bad thing about the good food on Thanksgiving is that it takes a long time to cook it all. Sometimes it takes days of preparation for a meal that lasts less than an hour.

Worst #1: Dishes—When the meal is over, someone has to do all those dishes. That someone will likely be you.

All the fixins! (Or at least most of them.)

Best #5: Naptime—After the meal is over, find yourself a cozy spot. There’s nothing quite like a turkey-induced nap!

Best #4: Football—Between the NFL and college, there’s always a game on. (And if you nap through the Detroit game, that’s okay because so do the Lions.)

Best #3: Family and Friends—It’s always great to spend the day with the people you care about the most. (You might even get to see your favorite cousin!)

Best #2: Food—So much good food! There’s turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, rolls, pies and so much more! It’s a wonderful feast, and it all tastes great!

Best #1: Pies!—Yes, I know I included pies under the “food” category, but I figure they’re so good they deserve a category of their own. Pumpkin, apple, peach, cherry, pecan, chocolate, banana cream, or whatever it be, it be delicious! This guy likes to try some pie!!!

There is never too much pie!

 I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving!!! In the spirit of the holiday, be sure to be thankful and appreciative of all the good things in your life! 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday Fiction: Parent/Teacher Conflagration

"Well, thank you very much," Jimmy's mom said to Mr. Eller as they both got up out of their chairs.

"The pleasure's all mine," said Mr. Eller as they engaged in a solid hand shake. "Jimmy is a very good student. I wish I had more like him." Jimmy's mom smiled as she turned away, looking for the next teacher on her list, Mrs. Krause, the Spanish teacher.

Mr. Eller relaxed for a moment and took a swig from his water bottle. He looked at his watch. An hour and thirteen minutes into parent/teacher conference and so far it had been a very pleasant evening. Sometimes it went that way. Sometimes it didn't. Tonight, it wouldn't.

The woman walked up to Mr. Eller's table and stood with her arms folded and a scowl on her face.  She looked at the sign on the gym wall behind him. It read, "Mr. Eller: History." He watched her read the sign, then look at him, then look back at the sign, then look back at him. "Are you Mr. Eller, the history teacher?" she asked gruffly.

"That's what they tell me," he said.

"My son is in your class, and he says you are mean, and a jerk, and out to get him," the woman said. Her  arms were no longer folded. Instead, she had an accusatory finger pointing in the direction of Mr. Eller.

"I'm sorry to hear that," Mr. Eller replied. "I may be mean sometimes, but I really try hard to not be a jerk, nor do I try to be 'out to get' anyone. May I ask who your son is?" Mr. Eller had a pretty good idea who her son was, but there were two or three other possibilities in his mind.

"My son is Akron. He is in your third period US History class. Do you even know who he is?"

Just as Mr. Eller had suspected: Akron. Upon closer examination, he had seen that scowl before. Apparently, scowls can be hereditary. "Yes, I'm quite familiar with Akron," Mr. Eller replied. "He can be a really good student when he tries." ("It's just that I've never seen him actually try," thought Mr. Eller.)

"He's not getting a passing grade in your class. Why is that?" asked Akron's mom.

"Well," Mr. Eller said, "He's a good kid (outright lie!) but he needs to work a little harder (vast understatement!) and sometimes he can be a bit of a distraction to the other students (vast understatement!)."

"How can he get his grade up? He wants to go to an Ivy League school someday, and he can't have an F in 8th grade US History!"

(Ivy League? The only ivy this kid might have a chance to get into is poison ivy!) "Well, the grade is based 20% on assignments, 20% on tests, 20% on his report paper, and, because of a district mandate, 40% on attendance. Unfortunately, Akron needs work in all of those areas."

"Akron is very smart and a very good student. I demand to know why you have it out for him!" Akron's mom's face was getting redder by the minute.

Mr. Eller tried to remain calm. "As I said, 40% of his grade is attendance, but he has already missed 14 days. That's a lot of days. And he still hasn't made up for the assignments he missed on those days."

"We needed to see my sister in Spokane," Akron's mom said. "He learned a lot on his trip to Spokane. It's a very historical city, you know. He probably learned more about US history there than he would of in your class!"

(Spokane? Yes, Spokane is surely one of the most important cities in all of American history!) "He said something about going to Disneyland," Mr. Eller replied.

"Yes, we went to Disneyland, too. You can't tell me your little history class is more important than Disneyland! He learned a lot about history at Disneyland!"

(Yes, I'm sure he learned that Johnny Depp was a pirate, Sheriff Woody saved the old west, and it really is a small world, after all!) "I'm sorry, but attendance is actually important. His grade reflects that."

"And what about his paper?" she asked. "How could you give him an F on his paper? He worked so hard on that!"

"Well," Mr. Eller said, "he copied his paper directly from Wikipedia."

"Oh really? How do you know that? Do you have Wikipedia memorized or something?" Akron's mom was flaring her nostrils.

"No," Mr. Eller replied. "But I know it was from Wikipedia because it had said 'Wikipedia' up on the corner of the page. He printed it out directly from the Wikipedia page."

"What, and you won't accept that? I'm sure he's not the only kid who got his stuff off of Wikipedia."

"No, but he was the only one who handed in a page printed directly from Wikipedia. The other kids at least copied and pasted or paraphrased it."

Akron's mom was getting more and more flustered. "What about his test scores? He's been doing good on his test scores, hasn't he?"

"Actually, no," said Mr. Eller. "I recall one answer in particular where he marked that Donald Trump was the president of the United States during the Civil War. To the best of my knowledge, Donald Trump has never been the president of the United States, nor was he alive at the time of the Civil War."

"You just have it out for Akron!" she shouted. "He says you won't even let him use his cell phone in class!"

"I'm sorry, but cell phones are not allowed during tests," Mr. Eller said. "District policy says we can no longer confiscate cell phones, but they must be put away during test times or they can look up answers on the internet."

"What's wrong with that?" Akron's mom asked. "You just want them to fail, don't you?"

"No, I don't want them to fail," Mr. Eller replied. "I want them to learn."

"Well you're not going to get away with failing my Akron! I know the principal, and I'm going to have a nice chat with him!"

"What a coincidence, I know the principal, too," Mr. Eller replied. He had tried to keep his snarkiness under control, but it was starting to leak out. "Enjoy your chat with him."

As Akron's mom stormed out of the gym the eyes of several other parents followed her. Mr. Eller leaned back in his chair, took another swig from his water bottle, and thought of a topic for the next assigned paper for his class: Spokane and its importance in the Civil War.


Now choose a title that best fits this story. Fill in the circle completely, or your answer will be marked incorrect.

O A. My Son Can Do No Wrong.
O B. You Want My Son To Fail, Don't You?
O C. Johnny Depp and the Other Important Pirates of History
O D. Parent/Teacher Conflagration
O E. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Two Turkeys of Thanksgiving

Every year at Thanksgiving we get a turkey. And we love it. It's great alongside the stuffing. It's wonderful covered in gravy. It's fantastic in combination with some cranberry sauce. It might even be best of all as leftovers on a roll as a mini-sandwich. We love turkey on Thanksgiving!


Every year at Thanksgiving we get a turkey. And we hate it. It's the same thing every year. You'll think maybe this year will be different, but no, this turkey is still terrible. It doesn't matter how you dress it up or what you put around it, this turkey is just lousy.

This second turkey: the Detroit Lions.

We look forward to watching football every Thanksgiving. And yet when we attempt to watch the football, we end up with the Detroit Lions.

The Detroit Lions are the turkeys of the NFL, and by that I don't mean they are a delicious bird. Dictionary.com lists the fourth definition of the word turkey as, "a person or thing of little appeal; dud; loser." That certainly describes the Detroit Lions.

Before somehow winning the past two years, the Detroit Lions had lost 11 out of 12 Thanksgiving Day games, including nine straight. And most of those games weren't even close, with the Lions losing by scores like 41-9, 27-7, 47-10, 34-12, and 45-24. In fact, of those nine straight losses, only one game had a final margin of less than 11 points!

I'm sure when they named the team the Detroit Lions, they were thinking of a fierce jungle animal, like this:
Actual lion
But in reality they play more like this:
You know, it's kind of unfair for me to compare the Detroit Lions with cartoon lions.
(I hope the cartoon lions accept my apology.)

I find it kind of amazing that every year thousand of people in Detroit spend their Thanksgiving going to the stadium to watch the Lions lose. What a horrible way to spend your holiday.

Over the past twenty years, there are only two things I remember from Detroit's Thanksgiving games, and both of them involve ineptitude.

One was from the 2012 game, when the Lion's head coach, Jim Schwartz, didn't know how or when to properly challenge a referee's call and cost his team a touchdown in a game they ended up losing in overtime. Typical Detroit Lion incompetence.

The other memorable "play" happened in 1998 during the coin toss in overtime when Steelers running back Jerome Bettis called "tails," but the referee thought he called "heads," awarding the ball to the Lions and enabling them a rare Thanksgiving win. This one wasn't Lion incompetence, but it was incompetence nonetheless.

Happily, though, the Detroit Lions aren't the only turkey we get on Thanksgiving. A well-cooked, juicy turkey will help make the day a good one. And if we eat enough of it, it just might help us in getting a nap so we can sleep through the other Thanksgiving turkey: the Detroit Lions football game.

Friday, November 13, 2015

14 Things You Can Do Instead of Staring At Your Phone

Everywhere you go anymore, you'll find people staring down at their rectangles. They'll be Facebooking or Pinteresting or Twittering or ESPNing or Skyping or Angry Birding or Candy Crushing or somethinging.

[I'm officially old now. Why? Because I'm about to use the old man's phrase. What is the old man's phrase, you ask? "Back in my day."]

Back in my day, we didn't have all-knowing, all-powerful telephones small enough that we could carry them around with us wherever we went. Our phones were mounted to the wall, and you could only take them as far away from the wall as that pig-tailed cord would let you. (Sometimes as far as fifteen feet!)

Yes, times have changed. It's a much different world than it used to be. Here's a list of just some of the things people used to do more of back in the day before the smart phones took over:

1. Look people in the eye. People actually exist in the real world, not just as profile pictures on Facebook.

2. Talk to people. Sometimes if you talk to people, they will talk back. Occasionally, an interesting conversation will actually take place.

3. Play board games. We used to gather around the table and play board games as a family. It was fun, and we learned a lot about each other, like which cousin was super-competitive and which uncle was a sore loser.

Playing Clue with the family at Grandma's house back in the day.
(I'm the cute kid in the middle about to drop a "Colonel Mustard in the Ballroom with the Revolver" on everybody.)

Back in the day, if you wanted to play a game by yourself you had the choice of solitaire or...solitaire. (And even then you would very likely have someone looking over your shoulder "helping" you.)

"Red 8 on the black 9." "Oh. Thanks."

4. Spell out words. Or, as the kids today would say, "spll wrds." I have an aunt who thinks that because using "u" and "ur" in place of "you" and "your" is acceptable in texts and on Twitter, that it is acceptable everywhere. She doesn't realize it's rather jarring to see "text language" in the middle of real sentences. (It'd be like someone throwing in a couple of German words in the middle of an English sentence.)

5. Watch shows on actual televisions. Yes, it's great that we can take our shows with us wherever we go, but there's something kind of nice about watching a show on a screen bigger than 5 inches.

6. Write letters. Do you remember the thrill of getting an envelope in the mail with your name and address hand-written on it? Do you remember getting actual words and "conversations" sent to you from someone you knew and liked? If so, well, congratulations: you're old, too.

7. Play with toys. These days, if you take away their phones kids will likely say, "I'm bored." Back in the day, we played with toys. We had Hot Wheels and Tonka trucks and Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys and pop guns and Barbies and other dolls. (Or "action figures," if you were manly like me.)

8. Play outside. Back in the day, instead of staring at a tiny screen we would play tag or hide and seek or red rover or hopscotch or jump rope or Cowboys and Indians. (I didn't say that we were politically correct. Just that we used to go outside and do something.)

9. Read a book. Whole worlds were opened up to us by reading books. And, books were interactive: if you turned a page you would get a whole new slew of words to read!

10. Use our imaginations. Instead of staring blankly at a screen, we could be cowboys or astronauts or fire fighters or soldiers or super heroes or the King of Slubovia. (And believe me when I say not just anybody could be the King of Slubovia.)

11. Go to the park. Swings. Slides. Teeter-totters. Monkey bars. Forts. Fun of all kinds.

Hours (or at least minutes) of family fun.
12. Play sports. Did you know that people used to go outside and actually play baseball? I know, it sounds unbelievable, but it's true!

13. Discover nature. Hiking can be fun. So can climbing on rocks, or climbing mountains. Finding waterfalls can be fun. It's much easier to do these things if you are outside.

You can't do this if you are staring at your smart phone.
14. Talk on the phone. Do you remember when phones were actually used for talking to someone? Did you know your smart phones can be used to call and talk to another person and have instantaneous interaction? You don't even have to wait for them to type out the next words they want to say. It's true.

It's amazing what we can discover if we just put down our rectangles and look around a bit.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Lesson I Learned from The View

Sometimes life's little lessons come at you unexpectedly.

When The Wife and I bought our house several years ago, one of the things we liked about it was the view. We're up on a bit of a hillside, and from our house we can look out over almost the entire valley, including many different mountains to the north, northeast, and northwest of us. (Our front window faces the north.)

Here's a nice sunset as seen from our house.

After we had been in the house for a year or two, it was announced that the Mormon church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) was going to be building a temple in a nearby town. When the site was chosen for the temple we were excited because we thought we might be able to see it from our house. Mormon temples are beautiful buildings. If we could see one from our house it would only enhance the already wonderful view from our front window.

As they built the temple, we were thrilled because, yes, we could see it from our front window! As they finished work on the temple it became clear that not only could we see the temple from our front window, we could also see it very clearly while sitting on our couch, which is located on the back wall of our living room. The view was gorgeous, and I was very proud of it.

A little too proud.

I began to look around our neighborhood and noticed that, while our house faces north, most of the other houses face either east or west. The people in those houses couldn't see the temple from their front windows, because their houses were turned the wrong way. There are a few houses above the hill from us that face south, so while they might see the temple from their back deck, they wouldn't be able to see it from their front window. There were only two or three other houses in the entire neighborhood that might be able to see the temple from their front window.

I started to crow a little, saying things like, "We're about the only house in this whole area that can see the temple from our front window." I enjoyed our view and I enjoyed the uniqueness of our view.

Of course, views can sometimes be blocked. I wasn't too concerned about this, though, because the chances of that happening to our view were slim to none. There was one little vacant lot down the hill from us where there was a slight chance if they built an oddly tall house or grew a tall tree in just the wrong place it might block our view. But the chances of that happening were negligible. The lot had been vacant for years, as were several other lots in our neighborhood.

I didn't think the lot would ever sell. When it did sell and someone began building a house on it, I still wasn't too concerned about losing our view. In fact, The Boy and I enjoyed watching from our window as the big digger came and dug the foundation of the house.

Why wasn't I worried? Because in order to block our view of the temple, the new house would have to be about twice as tall as the house next to it.

Here, construction on the house had started, but I still wasn't worried.  We could still see the temple quite well.
(The view of the temple was much better than it appears in this photo. This is just a blown-up corner of a camera-phone picture I took of the bus for a different story.)

You can probably guess what happened.

One day we came home and noticed they had added another level completely to the work they had already done on the house. Suddenly, it was about twice as tall as most of the houses in our neighborhood. Our view was blocked.

Okay, so we can still see the very top of the temple's steeple.
(And we can still see the mountains!)
Earlier, as I walked around bragging about our temple view, there was always something nagging at the back of my mind reminding me not to be bragging or boastful, because those things usually come back to bite you in the end. I didn't listen. So, instead, I had to learn my lesson.

(I should say here and now that I hold no ill feelings or ill will towards the family that is building the house. I've met them and they seem like very nice people, and I welcome them to our neighborhood. They found a lot they wanted, and they are building the house they want to build. I wish them well. I'm sure they didn't build their house there for the purpose of blocking my temple view.)

In the end, it's all okay. We can't see the temple from our front window anymore. But, from our front door we can see about half of the temple. If we walk out into our driveway we can see most of it, too. And, if we just walk down the hill a half a block, we have a lovely view of the temple.

I remember as a kid being forced to learn the song "It's a Grand Old Flag." I never liked that song. In it there is a line that boasts and brags about how America is a land "where there's never a boast or brag." Bragging and boasting about how you never boast or brag seems like a bad idea to me. 

And, as I recently learned, nothing good will come from boasting and bragging in general.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Friday Fiction: Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

Owen stood at the head of the table. He did not look happy.

"Okay, people," he said. "You know why we're here. We need some fresh new ideas about cheap old crap! This movie studio needs a hit. You like your jobs? You like getting paid? Well, we need ideas. We gotta find something we can turn into a franchise. Something. Anything." The other people in the room fidgeted in their chairs.

Owen continued. "You see what they did with Legos? 400 million dollars is what they did with Legos! Transformers? Well over a billion, and they're still printing money with 'em! And the comic books! Don't get me started on how much money they're getting from the comic books! I mean, good hell, something called Ant-Man made over 100 million! Ant-Man!!!"

Owen had worked himself into a frenzy. He paused for a moment to collect himself. "There's a lot of crap out there that hasn't been used yet. A lot of ideas out there that aren't movies yet. Toys, TV shows, comic books. Something. Anything. We need ideas." He sat down. "We're going to go around the table. Now, this is just a crap-shooting, brain-storming session. There are no bad ideas here. We just need ideas." He turned to his left. "Jimmy, you start us off."

"Jughead," Jimmy said.

"Jughead?" Owen repeated.

"Yes, Jughead," Jimmy said. "People know who Jughead is. They like him. They think he's funny. Jughead."

"Not bad," Owen said. "Put somebody in a silly hat, get a script about him obsessing over hamburgers. It just might work. I'm thinking maybe a young Jeff Goldblum. Is there a young Jeff Goldblum out there yet?" he asked aloud to no one in particular. "Brenda, get that down. Find out who owns the rights to Archie Comics." Owen turned back to Jimmy. "Not bad, Jimmy. Who's next?"

Everyone looked to Linda, who was in the seat next to Jimmy. "I was thinking about toys that everyone had as a kid. How about those stackable donuts?"

"Stackable donuts?" Owen looked confused.

"You know," Linda said. "There's a big blue one on the bottom, and then a green one above it that's not quite as big, and then a yellow one above it that's not quite as big, and then…"

Coming soon to a theater near you!!!

"Oh, okay, I know what you're talking about," said Owen. "But, how do you get a movie out of that?"

"Oh, you know," Linda said, "just get some typewriter jockey to write it up. They're still cranking out Alvin and the Chipmunk movies, so someone ought to be able to slap something together about stackable donuts."

"Good point," Owen conceded. He turned to the next spot at the table. "Harold?"

"How about this?" Harold asked excitedly. "M*A*S*H: The Movie!"

"M*A*S*H already was a movie," Owen said.

"It was?" Harold asked.

"Yes," said Owen. "It started out as a movie, then they made it into a TV show."

"Actually, it started out as a book, then a movie, then the TV show," said Linda.

"A book, huh?" Jimmy said. "Maybe we could get movie ideas from books!"

"Books?" Owen said incredulously. "I'm not looking for boring ideas! I'm looking for exciting stuff that people actually like. Like toys, comic books or TV shows!" He turned back to Harold. "Do you have anything else?"

Harold looked frantic for a few moments, then blurted out, "How about this? Cheers: The Movie!"

"Hey now, that might actually work," said Owen. "Nice job, Harold." Harold sat back deep in his chair and let out a big sigh of relief. "Next," Owen said, moving on.

"There was this comic book I loved as a kid," Thompson said. "It had great action sequences and wonderful witty banter, exactly what people look for in a comic book movie. I think, with the right people in charge, it could be one of the biggest movies ever!"

Everyone was sitting on the edge of their seat. "Sounds good, Thompson," Owen said. "What's the name of this comic book?"

Thompson grinned and said, "It was called, The Fantastic Four!"

Groans were heard around the room. "Not funny, Thompson," Owen chided. "Not funny at all."

"Actually," Thompson said, "my idea is a little more hippy, trippy, and dippy: Spirograph: The Movie!"

The room was silent for several seconds, then Owen said, "You know, with the right director, it could work. Brenda, look in to what company owns Spirograph." Brenda wrote something on her pad and nodded. "Okay, Kip, you're next."

"Barney, the purple dinosaur," Kip said calmly but confidently. Once again, groans were heard from around the room.

"Barney!" exclaimed Jimmy. "I hated Barney!"

"Exactly," Kip said, still calm and still confident. "Everyone has an opinion about Barney. Some people love Barney. Some people hate Barney. And some people love to hate Barney. The movie will have something for everyone."

"I love it!" Owen shouted. "That's the kind of thinking we need around here! Nice work, Kip!"

Two years later, Kip was standing next to Owen on the red carpet for the movie premiere. Behind them the movie poster had been blown up to 60 feet high. In big letters at the top it said, "Jack Black is: Barney the Dinosaur!!!" Then, below the picture of Jack as Barney was the tag line: "Hello again to all my friends!"

Owen turned to Kip and said, "Great idea, Kip. Great idea."

"I've got another one," Kip said. Owen looked at him with anticipation. "How about," Kip said, "Angelina Jolie is: Dora the Explorer!"

Dollar signs lit up in Owen's eyes.


Now please choose a title that best fits the story.

O A. Hollywood Has Officially Run Out of Ideas
O B. Those Donuts Will Be Blockbusters
O C. Jurassic Barney
O D. Coming Soon to a Theater Near You
O E. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix