Columbus, Ohio USA
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Eric Broder


Cleveland writer Eric Broder
Eric Broder's weekly column, The Great Indoors, ran for many years in Cleveland alternative papers The Cleveland Edition and Free Times.
Visit https://www.facebook.com/eric.broder.7 | email erictbroder@yahoo.com

SEE June 19, 1998 profile Area Humorist hits 'below the belt,' by Michael Drexler in the Cleveland Jewish News

Publications include The Great Indoors: Favorites 1987-1996 (1999) and Below-The-Belt Manager (1998)

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[3-29-95] May/June 2017
Film Festival Losers

Some of the films that didn’t make this year’s International Film Festival:

The Sheep (Russia; Vladimir Koussetvsky, director): A tale of a simple village shepherd whose flock’s interior monologues constitute the bulk of the film’s 239-minute running time. The camera follows the animals as they walk through a meadow, focusing on each individual sheep’s overdubbed thoughts about life, the new Russia, and their harsh criticism of the shepherd, a symbol of Russia’s current leadership (“Where is he leading us? Does even he know? I think not.”) Said one film festival judge: “After you listen to about four sheep, the novelty wears off very, very quickly.” Commented another: “If you’re gonna have sheep think out loud, you gotta make ‘em sound peppier than this.”

Serving Dish (Sweden; Ola Brugman, director): Brugman frames the momentous events of Sweden’s Vasa Dynasty (1521-1654) by showing the meticulous hand painting of a huge serving dish, done by a family through several generations. We watch the highly detailed work done by this family of artisans, interrupted on occasion by neighbors rushing into the family’s home, relating news about various wars with Denmark and Poland. A judge said that “watching someone paint a dish for two hours is death,” and “during those long, long stretches when there was no news, just dish painting, I really wanted to cry.”

Disappearances (United States; Ronny Fulmer, director) Feature-length animated film employing trick photography: first you see an object, then you don’t. “Fulmer takes a shot of a box, stops the film, moves the box out of the picture, continues filming and we’re supposed to think it disappeared. Then he does it with pop cans, shoes, waste baskets and other stuff,” said a judge. “It’s absolutely pathetic.”

Bingo, The Bravest Dog in the Whole World (United States; 1958; Andy Warhol, director) An early film by Warhol, starring the very young Lou Reed as a boy whose life is totally wrapped up in his dog Bingo. An extremely conventional drama
centering on Reed breaking his ankle in the woods, with Bingo ultimately dragging him to safety and into the arms of his widowed father (Allen Ginsberg), the film was so ridiculed by Warhol’s friends and associates he isolated himself in his apartment for six months. A codicil to Warhol’s will dictated that the film not be shown in public until 200 years after his death. A judge said, “This is Warhol’s dirty little secret. If this thing ever got out...”

Ramona (Australia; Susan Lockland, director) Documentary about a woman who believes she is the anointed messenger of intergalactic creatures and delivers her message of peace to embarrassed onlookers at Sydney and Melbourne city parks. “You sit through 100 minutes of this woman’s incomprehensible babbling and then at the end she says she’s just kidding around,” said a judge. “No, no, no.”

The Brady Bunch Goes To Sex Hell (United States; the artist formerly known as Henry Hole, director) Sexual deconstruction of American icons the Brady Bunch, wherein the female members of the family wear masks representing their male counterpart, and vice versa: Carol wears a Mike mask; Greg wears a Cindy mask, and so on. The family then takes an automobile trip to “Sex Hell,” a fictional town in Indiana where their masks are torn off and they’re beaten to death by rodent people. “You’d think this would be good,” said a judge. “But it wasn’t.”

Festival! (Brazil; Juan Leon, director) Director Leon brings us the festivals and carnivals of Rio, focusing on the common people, their colorful costumes, and the exuberant music of Brazil. Using a handheld camera, Leon strives for immediacy in conveying the fun and color of this special time. “Would someone tell Leon that he can’t dance and film at the same time?” complained a judge. “I thought I was gonna throw up.”

Lights of the World (Great Britain; Beatrice and Graham Mobley, directors): Documentary on the various shapes of light bulbs the world over. “The Mobleys put together quite an impressive collection of light bulbs,” remarked a judge. “Unfortunately, who gives a rat’s ass?”

[10-11-95] January 2007, April 2017
The Old Grocery Guy

My wife Barbara and I were standing by the celery at our local supermarket when an elderly gentleman rolled his cart up to us.

“Excuse me, sir,” he said to me. “Do you allow your daughter here to accept candy from strangers?”

He then handed Barbara a piece of hard candy, which she looked at in confusion.

“You get one too,” he said, and gave me a piece. I thanked him, and the old man said, “Did you hear about the Amish hooker? She had 10 men a night. Oh, I’m sorry, that’s terrible,” and he walked away.

I popped the candy in my mouth and Barbara gave me hers, evidently fearing that this could be the gift of an escaped sociopath from a home for the criminally insane attempting to murder strangers with poisoned candy. I ate her piece as well because, sociopath or no, I was hongry. (They were good, too, little butterscotch affairs, and save for a minor bout of diarrhea later I suffered no ill effects.)

This old fellow really inspired me. A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants. The incident made me completely rethink my thoughts about the kind of elderly guy I could be.

I’d always assumed I’d be a miserable old fart, sullen and withdrawn, snarling at small children. Get away from there. If you break that your parents will pay for it in full, I promise you. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I could be creative and put all this negative energy I have to work making people happy, going up to them and telling them jokes in questionable taste. The man in the supermarket proved it can be done!

What I do have to remember is that I can’t do this now. It’s one thing to have a lovable, Gramps-looking gentleman with a cane in his shopping cart approach you and offer you candy and a dirty joke; it’s totally different if it’s a middle-aged stocky goateed guy. Then we’re talking possible arrest and jail time. But there’s nothing wrong in planning for the future.

All right, I’m 79 years old and I’m in the supermarket. I’ve got a few items in my cart: bran, Beano, rubber tips for my cane, Depends, whatever. By that time my evil-looking goatee would be long gone, and so would the rest of my hair for that matter. I’ll have a bushy white mustache and be wearing eyeglasses. Think Wilford Brimley with a larger snout.

And instead of that dyspeptic look I always figured I’d have, I’ll be smiling and have a twinkle in my eye. I’ll have to work on the smile and the twinkle because as of now, it cannot be done. I’ve tried to twinkle at myself in the mirror, but all that happens is my eyes tear up. Barbara tells me I need to smile more, but when I try, she says, “Never mind.” It doesn’t matter, I can certainly master this crap over the next 30 years.

All right, say you’re a young married couple. You’re in the supermarket, standing by the margarine, inspecting a tub of Fleishmann’s. Suddenly you feel the bony finger of an old man tapping you on the shoulder. That bony finger is me!

“Excuse me,” I say. “Is this margarine party by invitation only?”

“What?” you say.

“I brought the drinks,” I say, handing each person a little bottle of airline vodka. Hard candy might have been OK for the guy we ran into, but I like to splurge. “Here’s looking up your old address,” I say, draining my bottle of vodka. “Say, did you hear the one about the hooker who only liked a certain kind of margarine? It was the high-priced spread. Oh, that’s bad, I’m sorry.” I’ll smile and twinkle at you, then roll my cart away.

Man, this is going to be great. The hell with waiting. Why should old folks have all the fun?

 

[10-11-95] January/February 2017
No More Mr. Nice Guy

On a recent PBS documentary, Rock & Roll, punker Johnny Rotten sneered, “Anyone can be nice.”

This was like a cold slap in my face. I’ve spent most of my life trying to be nice. If not nice, agreeable. I agree with everyone, all the time. Where has it gotten me? Am I rich? No. Am I famous, like Johnny Rotten? No. I’m the leading citizen of Agreeable Land, the place where nothing happens. Where I get pushed around. Where I don’t make any cash.

Well, I’m done being nice and agreeable. From now on I’m going to be a dirty bastard.

I’ve started being one already, as we speak. Here at the newspaper, my office mate, Lisa, takes sticks of my Beemans gum out of my top desk drawer, gum I paid for. Guess what? She ain’t gonna do that no more. I’ve hidden my Beemans. Yeah! She wants gum she can go over to the drug store like I do and buy it herself. The next time Lisa asks me for gum, I’ll point out the window towards the store and say, “You go on over there, woman. I ain’t supplying you with free gum no more.” I’m letting the grammar go, too, by the way. From now on I’m talking like a biker. I’m gonna put “at” at the end of every question. Like, “Where’s that review at?” or “Where’s my fine-point pen at?” Using superfluous prepositions shows you are ready, willing and able to stomp some booty.

I used to go around this office chatting up my co-workers. Old Mr. Conviviality, spreading his sunshine. Well, I just signed a card for Tom, a sales executive here who’s celebrating his thirtieth birthday, by writing, “In your thirties life becomes progressively more difficult.” Is that “convivial” enough for you? Is Tom gonna have a “nice” day after reading this? No. But this is the message of one tough hombre who won’t be trifled with. I ain’t no simpering daffodil who writes “Happy Birthday! Good luck!” on every card that’s handed to me. I’m a rotten nasty sonofabitch and nobody’s sweetheart!

I’ll tell you what else. Up to now, when publicity people called me on the phone to pitch their events for the listings, I’ve been a pushover. “Sure, send it along,” I’d mewl. “We’ll take a look at it.” The next time I get a call from someone trying to do this, I’m gonna say, “You got a fine chance of getting that crap in here.”

If they complain about this treatment, I’ll taunt them: “Come on, crybaby! Sell it to me!” Only the strong survive in this world. You go toe-to-toe with me, you snap ‘em back at me, and I’ll reward you with a listing. This is how the big ones – the listings legends – operate. And it’s got nothing to do with being “nice.”

The same goes for my other management and executive duties. For example, I always line my own wastebasket. Does Donald Trump line his own wastebasket? No way. Leona Helmsley doesn’t take time off from screaming at some chambermaid in one of her hotels to line her wastebasket. Guess who just stopped lining his wastebasket? You got it. From now on, I’m just filling it up au naturel. This is a statement. And the statement isn’t “This is the wastebasket of a nice guy.” It’s “This is the wastebasket of a big-time executive with a massive personality who didn’t get where he is today by worrying about lining wastebaskets and other niceties.”

You don’t get remembered for being nice. How many gravestones do you see engraved with the words “He/She was nice”? When I’m gone, people are gonna remember me. I’m the guy who hid the gum, was pessimistic on greeting cards, and challenged listings. My grave will say, “Here lies a real scumbag.” And I’ll own the cemetery it’s in.

Just now I went over to the sales executive Casey and gave him the finger and he gave me one right back. Well, no one said this was gonna be easy.

[10-28-92] September/October 2016
My Congressional Campaign Speech

I know it’s a little late, but I’ve decided to run for the congressional seat in my district. I don’t know which district it is exactly, but one of my first acts as your congressman will be to find out. And I won’t rest until I do – you can depend on that.

The reason I’ve decided to run is many-faceted. The first facet is that I care about people. As a congressman I will stand up for my constituents. No corporate or special interests will dictate to me how I’ll vote on the issues. Gifts? Perks? Junkets? Special privileges? Sure, I’ll take them. But when it gets down and dirty on that congressional floor, I’ll do the right thing for the people I represent. That’s a promise – from me . . . to you. (Here I’ll point at audience, my other hand placed on my thrust-out hip – my campaign trademark.)

The second facet is that I want to help people I care about. What good is caring if you don’t help those whom you care about? I’m going to help my constituents; just see if I don’t. If I don’t, you’ll know the reason why! I won’t hide under my desk or behind the sofa or take a quick trip to another state. I’ll be there if you want to complain, or whine, or give me a hard time. I’ll be there for you. If the line’s busy, just keep trying. If I’m not there, I’ll be there later. Just leave a message. I’ll get back to you. Count on it. (Pointing again.)

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, is I want to be an instrument for change. Change is a hard thing. It involves risk. It involves daring. It involves turning old notions on their heads and trying new ideas.

That won’t be necessary with me. I can implement change without all that risk stuff. How? With people. That’s right. With you! With my constituents. You’ve had enough of us in the Congress telling you what’s what, and what’s best for you. What we need are congresspersons who listen to their constituents; I mean really listen. This is what I plan to do. I’m going to perk up my ears, put them to the rail, and wait for that train that’s the voice of the people to come rolling into the station. When it pulls in, my head will be on that rail, listening. So . . . all aboard . . . for improved service in your congressional district! All aboard for change! Woo, woo! (Here pantomiming pulling a train whistle.)

But what are my programs? What are my plans to improve health care, produce jobs in the private and public sector, stimulate growth, and relieve the gridlock in Washington that prevents so many fine plans from being implemented?

I have a Four-Point Plan – a Five-Point Plan, if you count private and public sector job production as two separate things, because there are two different sectors, but originally I thought of it as one big thing: job production. But they wouldn’t give them different names if they weren’t different things, correct? The way I see it is, public sector jobs are like jobs in government agencies, and private sector jobs are say, jobs in art galleries. You can rest assured one of my priorities as your congressman will be to find out the difference between the two, and let you know as soon as I do. Promise. (Point, hip thrust.)

At any rate, Four-Point or Five-Point, take your pick. I don’t have time to get into specifics, but let me just say that each point – whether it be the First or Second or Third or Fourth (or Fifth, depending on which program you prefer) – will be given equal attention by me and my staff. We’re not going to spend months on the First point and then, because we run out of time, not get to the Second or Third. That’s not the way I’m going to do things. Why? Because that’s not the way you do things. You don’t run your household that way. If you did, you’d be out of a job. The least your congressman can do is budget his time and delegate his responsibilities so his points can be implemented, the way you do at your home and business. Who says we congresspersons can’t learn anything from our constituents? (Laughing warmly here.)

Please consider voting for me on November 8. Because, really, a vote for me is a vote for yourself. And I think yourself is a pretty good person to run this district. (Nodding sagely as I walk off stage to thunderous applause.)

[] July/August 2016
Life With a Dog

I believe I’ve fallen in love with a dog. We were at Petsmart the other day, and I met a dog there with whom I connected immediately. He was squat and built very close to the ground, but when he looked up at me, his big eyes said, “You the man.” I haven’t had a similar feeling with an animal since that goat in 1993.

I petted his head and he liked it, clicking his tongue against his gums. As we left the store, he looked at me as if to say, “I thought we had an arrangement.” We didn’t, of course; he was on a leash, he was obviously someone else’s dog; but I felt bad nonetheless.

I’ve never personally owned a dog. The last dog we had in our family was during the Kennedy administration. We did have two dogs in the ’50s: Jimmy, who was run over, and Happy, who had fits. The Kennedy administration dog, Spook, liked to bite young people and was asked to leave.

My siblings have only had a few dogs after they moved out of town. My brother’s dog, Eddie, was haughty with me when my brother wasn’t around, and had two puppies named Gary and Steve. My sister’s dog, Shaker, crashed through closed basement windows. And during my formative years all my friends’ dogs either barely tolerated or completely ignored me, and one looked at me as if she would just as soon have me for hors d’oeuvres. So I’ve never felt a great desire to have a dog.

Yet this dog at Petsmart ... he was a good-looking fellow. A dog you could live with. He had stubby legs so he couldn’t run away from you. (I don’t really know if it was a male or not. Plus I’m one of those people who ask dog owners, “What’s his name?” and when they reply, “It’s a she,” I always say, “Well, he’s a handsome brute.”) He wasn’t one of those nervous little yappers who pee on you if you try to pick them up. He was a good, solid, compact dog.

I thought about a life with a dog. My wife Barbara loves all animals – this past weekend she felt so guilty about a squirrel dropping his nut after she honked at him that she wanted to find him and give it back – and would get along easily with Stubby. (That’s the name I’ve given him.) Maybe as she drove us in the car Stubby could sit on my lap in the passenger seat, and we could both put our heads out the window. As a gag I could look one way out the car window and Stubby the other. The comedy potential of this is unlimited.

I’d take good care of Stubby. I’d feed him, water him, and take him on walks. Would you believe I’ve only walked a dog once? It was an awkward affair. The leash constantly got between the dog’s legs and she’d look back at me in irritation. Keep the leash above my heinie. Is that such a big deal? I’d perfect my leash technique, becoming so masterful at it Stubby wouldn’t even know it was there.

I could roll balls for him, and he could run and bring them back. That’s the boy, Stubby! Bring that booger on over here, Stubb Man! Way to be, Stuberoo! He could serve as companion and protector, too. Anyone who got funny with me would have Stubby to contend with, and their ankles would be at serious risk. He’d nip you and bark and raise all kinds of hell. You’d be well advised not to mess with me while the dog Stubby is in attendance.

However, I envision Stubby being more of a fireplace dog, lying peacefully on a rug in front of the hearth and making those tongue-against-the-gum sounds I’ve grown so accustomed to. I’d puff on my pipe and talk to him. “You’re a good boy, arent you?” That’s how people talk to dogs – they ask them rhetorical questions. “You’re man’s best friend, am I right?” I take a back seat to no one at asking animals rhetorical questions. And afterwards, as a reward, I’d give him a snout rub and perhaps the odd kibble or two.

Yes, I would enjoy finding Stubby and taking him home. However, the cat Dizzy is certainly the joker in that particular deck.

[December, 15, 1999] May/June 2016
What Sign Is Your Pet?

Taurus (April 20-May 20)
Dogs: Just deliver a trace of urine on that little sweater they’re trying to squeeze you into — you won’t have to wear it long ... That matting on your coat isn’t anything to worry about, so stop gnawing at it! Cats: The clawing-the-couch bit is getting old fast; better knock it off or there’ll be a trip to the vet soon — and it won’t be for a “minor” nail trim.

Gemini (May 21-June 21)
Dogs: You don’t have to “express yourself” every time a stranger passes in front of the house. You’re getting on everybody’s nerves. ... And don’t fret about the new collar; it’s for your own good. Remember? You almost scratched yourself raw. Cats: Easy on the catnip this week. Your people are beginning to think you might have an issue. ... Just what is it you’re trying to get at behind that wall?

Cancer (June 22-July 22)
Dogs: You’re going to get a haircut this week, and you are not going to like it. But keep it to yourself ... You’re going to find a nice week-old meatball in the corner of the kitchen. Help yourself. Cats: The new kitten is a threat only if you let it be one. Unlax yourself ... The new scratching post is there for a reason. Use it.

Leo (July 23-August 22)
Dogs: Hate to break it to you, but it’s bath time! ... I know you think the Frisbee thing is stupid, but humor the guy. It’s as much exercise for him as it is for you. Cats: I see a balled-up pack of Salem Lights in your future. Have at it ... Listen, those people paid $65 for that cat condo. Just sit in it for a minute or so every day and you’ll score some serious Brownie points. Guinea pigs: The watchword is “quiet” this week.

Virgo (August 23-September 22)
Dogs: They took the L.L. Bean bed out to be cleaned, not permanently, so don’t panic ... Expect a barrage of Liv-a-Snaps this week, then a sudden drop-off. Cats: Your people will have a guest this week who won’t appreciate your attention, so steer clear unless you want to get swatted off the sofa ... And quit sniffing that spot on the carpet, there’s nothing there.

Libra (September 23-October 23)
Dogs: Big white bowl in bathroom is toilet, not water dish. Get it straight ... I see a nice, fat chewy pig’s ear in your future. Cats: You can’t groom yourself too much this week; put that tongue in overdrive ... You’ll get Pounce treats up the wazoo this week. Hamsters: Take it easy on the wheel this week. You’ll run yourself ragged.

Scorpio (October 24-November 21)
Dogs: Stop showing all that love to your people’s thighs. You’re beginning to make ’em nervous ... Cats: Your new friend is going to be sharing your litter box, so “patience” is the watchword this week. Don’t spray the walls, it’s counterproductive ... And stop spitting out those antibiotics!

Sagittarius (November 22-December 21)
Dogs: Keep away from that squirrel carcass you see on your walk this week. Bad medicine... You will smell a nice butt this week, very nice — but don’t let it go to your head. Cats: Tough hairball week.

Capricorn (December 22-January 19)
Dogs: Chew up that couch any more than you have already and you’ll be living in a world of hurt ... Your people are taking you on your first hunting trip this week. You won’t have a clue as to what’s going on, so just fake it. Cats: Bringing that dying sparrow into the house isn’t going to win you any style points. To the contrary ... Remember: Aim down into the box!

Aquarius (January 20-February 18)
Dogs: That porcupine you’ve been seeing can be a real “prick,” so steer clear ... There’ll be a lot of foolish talk about you “licking down there,” but don’t worry about it — they’re just jealous. Cats: You’ll find a dynamite new sleeping spot in the front closet this week ... Vomiting on the new Oriental rug may cause unpleasant ramifications this week.

Pisces (February 19-March 20)
Dogs: Whining gets you nowhere this week. Take that back: It gets you locked in the basement ... You finally find your rawhide bone, but where you’d least expect to. Cats: A switch from Nine Lives to Cat Chow may cause some momentary concern, but don’t take it personally: It’s the odor issue.

Aries (March 21-April 19)
Dogs: This could be the week for a chewy, meaty treat, so it’ll pay you handsomely to be on your best behavior ... There’s a pricey new knick-knack on the coffee table, so watch the tail. Cats: A shiny new litter box is on the way; get ready! Also a nice empty cardboard box. Everybody: Careful where you lick this week, there’s something going around.

[Jan. 12, 2000] March/April 2016
Interview with Millennium Marty

Early this month we noticed an odd looking fellow in the office. He had thick glasses, long stringy hair and a wildly growing beard, and was wearing jeans, a checked 1972-vintage polyester jacket and a filthy derby hat. He didn’t smell too good.

He was taking out a classified ad to call attention to his self-published book Hark! The New Age Calleth! Prophecies on Humanity’s Course in the Next Thousand Years. He signed his check “Millennium Marty.”

We asked Millennium Marty if we could interview him about what he foresaw for society in the coming millennium. He was all too eager to cooperate.

EB: What are your credentials to act as a prophet, or seer, if you will, for the millennium?
Millennium Marty: I have been deep in study regarding this subject all of my life, and in all my previous lives, as slave and master, man, woman, child, wildflower, rhinoceros and fish. I have taken internal trips through the use of all-natural herbal and vegetable hallucinogens, as well as extensive use of dental-strength Novocain, to attain my current exalted state of vision.

EB: Are things going to be OK in the next millennium?
MM: “OK” hardly describes it. We will find heaven on earth within this century. Yes, that soon! Utopia is well within our grasp. We will soon experience great revolutions in nature, thought and culture. These revolutions will be so profoundly impactful that our current way of life will be looked back on as Dark Ages. We will reflect ruefully back upon ourselves as a confederation of chuckleheads. Chuckleheads! (Bangs the table with his fist.)

EB: What kind of revolutions are we talking about here?
MM: I have irrefutable evidence that our water supply, thanks to an unusual planetary alignment, is being naturally fortified with certain minerals that will change the physiological and genetic make-up of human beings worldwide. These minerals, which I call “Mighty Mins,” will send disease packing. Off to Toledo with you, disease! People will have good health and an unprecedented sense of well-being. There will be no more wars waged and all debts will be forgiven, personal and national. Men will be able to ejaculate superhuman distances, up to 75 yards. You may start to see the beginning of this process by 2020.

EB: What kind of evidence do you have of this?
MM: I have scientific papers in my apartment, kept in a strongbox secured by a Master lock to which only I have the combination. For $10 I will mimeograph a set of these paper for your examination.

EB: What other changes do you foresee?
MM: I see a great easing of personal restrictions. There will be unfettered nudity throughout the land. There will be massive pavilions created to smoke herb.

EB: Are you saying there will be pavilions filled with nude persons smoking marijuana?
MM: That is precisely what I’m saying. Also underwater colonies.

EB: Underwater colonies? Where?
MM: You may be surprised at my answer. Lake Erie. Yes. Another benefit of Mighty Mins is that they genetically alter the brain for the better. Cleveland engineers, thus fortified, will soon be able to build an underwater city. It will be situated somewhere between Cleveland and Detroit. And there will be nude herbal pavilions down there as well.

EB: What other restrictions do you see being eased?
MM: People will no longer be slaves to artificial grooming products. Take deodorant, for example. I used to be addicted to deodorant. Oh yes. Mitchum, Sure, Arrid Extra Dry, Ban, Right Guard – you name it, I used it. I was deodorant’s bitch. I threw my last Speed Stick out the window three years ago. Deodorant is the Great Inhibitor! Death to deodorant! (Bangs the table.)

EB: So you foresee nothing bad happening at all in the next thousand years?
MM: There will be a minor squirrel revolt late in the 22nd century, but that’s about it.

EB: Do you have any parting words for our readers?
MM: I would tell your readers to drink at least eight glasses of water a day. If they desire to spoon some Tang into it, that is fine. Tang should not unduly affect the Mighty Mins.


[Feb. 7-13, 1985] January/February 2016
Single Men's Household Hints
: Readers write in with single-guy problems

Dear SMHH:
I was watching TV the other day and had consumed eleven or twelve beers. The beer I was working on was sitting on the armrest of my lounger and somehow it fell off. I was kind of tired so I just watched the beer soak into the carpet. What do I do now? - Al, Brunswick

Dear Al:
Not much, I guess. If you had sprung into action immediately – and who the hell really does that – you could have poured cold water onto the soiled carpet and rubbed it in with your foot. That might’ve helped, I don’t know.

Dear SMHH:
How do I get the grout out between the tiles in my shower? - Bill, Rocky River

Dear Bill:
I don’t know – spray it and rub it with something, I guess. What is grout, anyway?

Dear SMHH:
Boy do I hate winter! It’s so cold and the car won’t start, etc. Sometimes the heat won’t work in my apartment, either. Anyway, my question is, how do I get the salt stains off my shoes after I come in from Old Man Winter? - Toby, Cleveland Heights

Dear Toby:
I heard that if you rub your shoes with vinegar the stains come off. I’m not sure what you rub it with, like a cloth, or a sponge maybe? By the way, next time you write, get to the point, will you? And change that name of yours, it’s stupid.

Dear SMHH:
When I got ready to turn on my dishwasher the other day, I discovered I was out of dishwashing machine detergent. So I poured dishwashing liquid in the little hole in the thing. Then the dishwasher after a while started whirring, then going “chuffa chuffa” and bubbles came pouring out and water all over. What now? - Hobart, Willoughby

Dear Hobart:
Is that Hobart Einstein, or Hobart Oppenheimer? What do you mean, “what now?” You clean up the mess and don’t do it again, that’s “what now.” Read the directions on things, for crying out loud.

Dear SMHH:
How do I get a vinegar smell off my shoes? - Rex, Cleveland Heights

Dear Rex:
Dab them lightly with Lysol and throw them in the dryer. It may work. I doubt it. What happened, you spill salad dressing on them?

Dear SMHH:
I’ve got a dog, and he sheds like crazy. There are dog hairs all over my furniture. What’s the best way to get these hairs off the furniture? - Dave, Shaker Heights

Dear Dave:
Boy, I’m not sure. Rub the furniture with a wet Kleenex, maybe that will pick them up. Or you might swipe the furniture with your hairbrush in a counterclockwise motion, though I don’t see how that would work.

Dear SMHH:
Is it really necessary to separate whites from colors when doing laundry? To me it seems like a big bother. I’m an attorney, and I simply don’t have time. - Gil, Lakewood

Dear Gil:
Well, big shot, if you’re an attorney, you can afford to send your laundry out or have your mama do it. The problem with not separating whites from colors in doing laundry is getting bleach all over the colored articles. Or don’t you use bleach, either? Don’t waste the readers’ time, these fellows have real problems.

Dear SMHH:
I’ve invited my fiancé and her parents to my apartment for dinner. I’m having salad, spaghetti with meat sauce, a vegetable and some wine. My question is what kind of wine should I serve, and what kind of vegetable. - Dan, North Olmsted

Dear Dan:
Since spaghetti is pasta, either a red or a white wine will be fine, though you might want to serve your future father-in-law a little whisky aperitif. As for the vegetable, I haven’t the slightest idea. Corn?

Dear SMHH:
My girlfriend gave me a big plant for my birthday, and I don’t know how to take care of it. How do you take care of plants? - Harry, Cleveland

Dear Harry:
Plants need plenty of water, so water it two or three times a day. Spray it and rub it with something to keep it clean. Beyond that, nothing.

[6-21-90] November/December 2015
Clear the Area, Please

During my vigorous, healthful post-dinner walks I see many things that disturb, outrage, and yes, sicken me. If you see a paradox there I'm not surprised. You probably think the streets should be cleared of all people and animals when a sensitive type like myself chooses to take a vigorous walk so that I can receive the full benefits of the exercise without being annoyed or irritated. But I realize nothing's perfect in this world, and that other people have rights too, even though they shouldn't be outside at the same time I am.

I don't think it's too much to ask, however, that people stay inside their homes between the hours of 7 and 8 p.m., especially if they own dogs which continually bother me on my walks with their barking and spinning around and other threatening behavior. They sniff my feet as I pass by while their owners hold their leashes and pretend to try to pull them off. Dogs love me because my feet look like little animals to them, no matter what kind of shoes I wear. They think that a pair of chipmunks is headed toward them as I approach. They believe they're going to sniff, shake, bite and pee on my feet when I reach their area. But they better think again. I'm not easy, and I'm not about to stop and let them have their way with me because they find me attractive and my feet possibly digestible. This ain't ancient Rome.

Not only that, but some dogs seem to find me a highly stimulating sight and go out of their way to stare at me no matter what they're doing. If you can take graphic material, I'll describe to you what happened just the other day. I was walking on the sidewalk and this dog on the median strip across the street was squatting on the grass, having a b.m. (I'm sorry. Maybe you better send the children out of the room for this one.) Anyway, he was doing this with a big stick in his mouth, and he was staring at me as I walked. His eyes followed me as I proceeded down the street. Maybe I was some kind of visual laxative to him. We continued to look at each other as I walked away from him, thinking that in all my life this was the dumbest-looking thing I'd ever seen. Finally I just turned away in contempt with the thought, "You go ahead and do what you want. You must be a source of great pride to your owner." Then I realized his owner was standing right there and probably did that sort of thing himself, and the dog was merely imitating him. Believe me, it was no pleasure considering this possibility as I continued on my walk.

People, too. There are lots of weirdies out there. I see some of them on my walk and they're walking too, but power-walking, which means they pump their arms as they go. They grin and have a big time of it, strutting like stray majorettes on the road company of The Music Man. Sure, I could tell them to stop it, but since when have people changed their behavior so as not to offend me? Since never. It's tragic.

At least the power-walkers don't interrupt my aerobicizing. Sometimes people in cars slow down and ask me directions. Then I have to stop, and all the work I've done on my heart rate goes down the toilet. Get this. One woman stopped me right as my heart was surging toward the perfect tempo and asked for street directions. I tried to be helpful. Then she started arguing with me, saying that wasn't the best way! I thought I'd heard it all, but this took the cake. We argued for a while as my heart rate petered out to its usual unhealthy sitting around level and my blood pressure went through the roof.

I realize that it sounds like my walks are filled with outrages directed against me personally, but often I see things that are just plain odd, like the child I saw smiling and waving at me from between the front and screen doors of her house. She was standing in the space between these doors, and both of them were closed. I had to question in my mind the thickness of a child who could fit in five inches of space between two closed doors. And her mom was in the front yard, standing back on the lawn looking speculatively at something on the house. I felt like saying to the woman, "You better pay less attention to the gutters there and more to your child, who seems to be flat." I didn't though. The child was happy mushed in there. I'm the one who felt strange, but I walked on in silence.
Yes, plenty of things bother me as I try to stay in shape by taking my vigorous walks, but I go on despite them. Call it courage.

[--] September/October 2015
Wild Kingdom

I don’t feel right about meeting up with certain animals. For example, I’m not afraid of rabbits, but if they don’t appear to be afraid of me, then something’s wrong. I was walking down busy Lee Road a couple of weeks ago, and there, sitting on a tree lawn between South Woodland and Parkland, was a brown rabbit. As I approached he continued to sit calmly, and when I got to within five yards of him and he still didn’t move, I began to get nervous.

This rabbit had no fear of me; he’d obviously been toughened by Lee Road, the street that does not forgive. What if he didn’t know he was supposed to be meek and timid, I thought with growing apprehension, what if all he saw was some large pink thing invading his turf and he came at me, rabid and slobbering? After a rabbit attack you’re supposed to take the animal to the doctor with you so both of you can be checked out. As I began to worry about the rabbit in the box on the way to the doctor’s office, grunting and scratching and foaming, the actual bunny hopped into the bushes.

That’s not all, however. Not far from where I saw the crazy rabbit I had a run-in with some ducks and geese at the duck pond near the corner of Lee and Parkland. As it happened I was sitting at the edge of the pond, wearing only my running shorts and shoes. It was a hot day, so my T-shirt was off.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a gang of ducks and geese heading toward me. They weren’t moving too fast on their webbed feet, but plenty fast enough. They stopped a few yards away, ostensibly to pull grass, but they were giving me furtive glances. When I would look openly at them, they’d put their heads down real quick and pretend to eat. But I knew what they really wanted. They wanted a clean shot at my nipples.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had a duck or a goose latch onto one or both of your nipples, but believe me, it’s no day at the beach. They don’t gently place a downy wing across your breast like in some boring poem you studied in high school. They clamp their beaks right down on the nipple, and I mean hard. They’re stuck as fast to you as a pit bull or one of those hospital hemostats we used to use as roach clips in college. They focus on the nipple and nothing short of a grenade can blast them off.

Fortunately for me – and I should add for them, too – the ducks and geese decided I wasn’t worth the risk. They turned and waddled off. But my heart was in my throat for those nipple-threatening moments, moments I can’t ever forget.

I won’t soon forget my raccoon-checking days, either, as a garbageman at the Cleveland Metroparks. I used to travel with a crew at the Metroparks’ picnic areas, and we’d toss the big drums of garbage into the bed of our truck. But first we’d have to do some raccoon-checking. Often raccoons would climb into the garbage barrels to forage for scraps. Sometimes they couldn’t get out. This enraged them as you might imagine. So every morning we’d peek into the barrels to see if a raccoon was seething inside.

One July morning I casually looked in the can, as I had countless times before, uneventfully. But this time a raccoon was staring up at me, his eyes brimming with hate. He was lying in a dark jumble of half-eaten buns, paper and foil. I jumped back, then tipped the barrel over so he could crawl out. He did, but looked back at me as if to memorize my face. This was his implied threat, anyway. I watched him run his sorry ass back into the woods. He didn’t scare me as much as surprise me. Raccoons with their little heads don’t scare me like ducks can with their cruel beaks or bills or what-have-you.

To prove that animals don’t affect me adversely, as might be concluded, let me end this essay with a joke I thought up on the spot concerning some ants. We here at the office were sitting around the lunch table eating popcorn, and a piece fell on the floor. Within a few minutes a horde of ants rushed out from their home behind the wall and overwhelmed the piece of popcorn. So I said, “They went out for the kernel (Colonel)!”

Everyone laughed at this excellent animal joke, a joke that could only have been made by a person who knows animals and isn’t afraid of most of them. .

[11-29-84] July/August 2015
Euro-nuclear Geopolitical Rock: Taking the fun out of dumb music

G.W. Raresheid

I’m beginning to see the light. For years I thought rock ‘n’ roll was about bumping, grinding, drinking beer, shouting, finger-pops, Elvis, teenage girls, cars, sex.

I was wrong. According to many rock critics at Rolling Stone and The Village Voice, it’s about oppression. Poverty. Fascism. Political commitment. You know: stuff teenagers like to think about.

I’d like to take a whack at writing rock criticism, using a fictional band for my audition review.

The Files’ debut album, Fangers, is the beginning of a new music I suspect will matter in the coming years: minimalist agitpop. These guys make the Talking Heads look like a Cool Whip dessert: artificial, disingenuous, ultimately meaningless. Where the Walpurgisnacht of the Heads ends in chic posturing, the Files’ concerns cut much deeper. This is a cry of pain from the hinterland of sexual politics.

The title cut, taken from the black argot of the word “finger,” is a stunning indictment of pervasive white power, kissed off so effectively in Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” But where Jackson’s monomania negates much of the impact of his cry of pain, “Fangers” goes all the way, to total commitment. The lyrics, if you can take them, convey a heartbreaking helplessness: “The lives we lead/in broken-down dreams/ keep nagging our sexual congress/ pervasive in screams.” This, incredibly, from a white band.

Death and sex commingle startingly in many of these songs, propelled by a backbeat not heard since the day of the old Chicago R&B master Fats Pelligan. In the third cut of side one, an almost-symphonic effect is achieved with xylophones and cow bells. These guys have balls. The song, “List Me on the List,” is a rave-up on the most unlikely subject of love/death, territory heretofore unexplored by the boho establishment. The drummer (Paddy Hertz, formerly of Wee Wee on the Indians) produces a wrenching solo that tells us more about El Salvador than a thousand articles in the New Republic.

On the last cut of side one, a thirteen-minute tone poem cum ballad decrying American policy in the Middle East, guitarist Egil Faye’s (formerly Glazia Sondheim of Roach Murders) lyrics cuts so deeply the pain is almost unbearable: “Refugee/ Locked/ Shattered/ Shocked beyond the ladders of the world/ Plying the trade/ In the world he never made/ the world he never made.” Danny Partridge’s bass riffs add an unrelentingly ominous bottom that threatens to undercut the rock ‘n’ roll business itself. It’s almost the death knell of American music fascism, contained in less than fifteen minutes of wax.

If side one is powerful, side two is a utilitarian textbook on musical terrorism, punishing the listener, and ultimately acting as a catharsis for his sins. In the first cut, “Lick It Down,” by deliberately reversing the dialectic that makes us all so much cannon fodder for the nuclear age, the band pulls us into its obligatory annihilation nightmare. Ironically using the beginning rhythm-guitar riffs of Wilbert Harrison’s “Kansas City,” the Files state categorically that Hell, No, They Won’t Go. “Lick It Down” is as uncompromising a call to arms as Little Eva’s “The Locomotion,” and as terrifyingly felt.

Now the Files make their most numbing statement, the six minutes of complete silence that is the second cut, entitled “The Second Coming.” This is rock’s most shattering moment, and most daring. As you wait for something – anything – to happen, a single sound, the cumulative effect is staggering. You’re so jarred out of your complacency, you’re almost angry at the band for doing this, committing this mental diaspora. Most people are going to lift the needle and jump right over this cut, which is a shame, for this is the most telling and important song on the album, the legitimate heir to “Gimme Shelter.”

After the experience of the “The Second Coming,” there’s a sense of physical drain that the band exploits by screaming at the top of their lungs at the beginning of the next tune, “Andrea and Me.” Lead guitarist Walter Lippman Jr.’s lyrics display the band’s all-pervasive hegemony of spirit that indicates that these guys are survivors.

It’s a lovely ballad, a post-nuclear love song that uses a love-as-wounding-concept peg that nearly throws off the preceding despair. But not quite. The last song on the album, “Pee Shoes,” is a disturbing pre-funk fallout disco satire that closes the Files, so to speak. The lyrics, by harpsichordist/triangle player Pete Wheat (late of Puking) are demonstrably intense: “Absolute peculiar buttons/ Buttons of war/ Feeding devil dogs/ Satan’s dogs of war” followed by small hiccups of agony in the refrain. You can dance to this, folks, but be careful: there’s more here than meets the eye.

A lot of people aren’t going to like this music. It’s too damn uncomfortable, too damn far ahead of its time. But if you care anything about rock ‘n’ roll – if you care anything about life itself – the Files will have to be an essential part of your days and nights. It’s artificial respiration for your head.

[6-28-95] May/June 2015
Is The Cat Dizzy Crazy?

I think the cat Dizzy is mentally ill.

I’ve been reading the Globe Mini Mag How to Talk to Your Cat, which I picked up for 99 cents at the checkout counter at Heinen’s. Some of the stuff in the book I don’t buy, like the author’s brother teaching his cats “to go potty on the bathroom toilet. ... Now if he could train his cats to FLUSH the toilet after each use, we’d have a truly purrfect situation!”

I’ve always believed the litter box to be an excellent facility for a cat, and I certainly like the fact that I have my own toilet. If you took the author’s logic to its furthest extreme, dog owners would end up going to the bathroom on tree lawns. No, I think animals and people should have exclusive – and separate – toilet facilities.

Regardless, there are many interesting points in the book to consider. In the section “Mental Health,” the author asks “Why does a previously pleasant pet suddenly turn into the devil cat from hell?” This is the core of the problem with Dizzy.

For example, during her morning rubdown Dizzy is at first extremely pleasant. However, after a few minutes she begins to get cranky, then bitterly resentful, and then openly enraged. She gets what the book terms “aggressive ears ... indicated by a slight rotation. The ears look like the wings of an airplane, ready for flight.” Once those ears rotate you know she’s ready to commit violence. But why would anyone rotate their ears like airplane wings while they’re getting a massage or a rubdown? She’s the one that wanted the rubdown in the first place! No one’s putting a gun to her head! It doesn’t make sense.

One possible answer the book proposes is that the cat may have a medical condition, but Dizzy is healthy as an ox. She saunters around the apartment like royalty, eats the finest in chow, and sleeps like a baby. So it’s not that. Another explanation involves territory and dominance. If a new pet or household member is introduced, it may trigger offensive behavior in the cat.

We certainly haven’t introduced a new household member or pet, but I’m wondering if Dizzy is so crazy she’s perpetually honked off by even brief, temporary additions to our home, like my niece Jane E. Frazier, who on occasion comes to visit and, shrieking, chases Dizzy around the living room. What if she’s enraged by inanimate additions, like, say, a new bookshelf, or groceries? What if when she sees a can of bean soup or box of Ritz crackers, she’s thinking, “There ain’t room enough here for the both of us”? And punishes us later for bringing these things into her home?

Another factor the book doesn’t bring up – and which I hope is not involved – is that she may be irritated by my personifying her, which I’ve done for years with cats. By this I mean I ascribe human characteristics to her in a variety of situations, and often these characteristics aren’t flattering. When I say stuff in her voice – which I imagine to be a squeaking Brooklynese, similar to Bugs Bunny – I make her out to be fairly stupid and shallow.

For instance, when I’m watching a movie on TV, I say in her voice, “I don’t care for this picture, this ain’t a wholesome picture. There’s no cats in this picture. I wanna see a picture with cats in it.” When I do this, I glance over at her and she’s usually giving me a dirty look. She also gives me dirty looks when I’m cussing in her voice, as in “Giddadahere, yuh doity bastard. Shuddup and gimme sometin’ to eat, yuh prick yuh. I hate yer guts, yuh lousy schmuck” etc., etc.

I don’t know why I imagine Dizzy talks like a Bowery Boy or Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, but maybe I shouldn’t go on this way around her (which, I should admit, I do all the time). She might be very sensitive. Her behavior might be her way of telling us, “Don’t put me down. Don’t make me out to be a fool, ‘cause I’ll tear you up. I’ll kill you.”

Ah, I’ll bet she’s just mentally ill.

[?] March/April 2015
Relaxing It Big Time

Mark Stivers

I had a revelation coming back to the office after my vacation. You know how you feel relaxed after time off and things don’t worry you or get under your skin as they normally do? Well, I like this feeling so much I’m going to be this way the rest of my life. I’m giving up the anxiety, man. I’m giving up the stress. From here on in I’m unlaxing myself big time.

At the office, I’m going to stop worrying about every little thing. Life’s too short. The stuff I think about on the job – stories coming in, proofreading, writing, doing listings, getting photographs – I’m going to let those things take care of themselves. Why the hell be so linear all the time? The best stories tell themselves. They’ll find their way into the paper if they’re important enough. Same with photos. If we don’t get a photo, we’ll just have restful white space in that spot. There’s nothing wrong with white space. Or we can throw in funny drawings of dogs and cats. Dogs and cats may have nothing to do with a story, but dogs and cats exist, right? So they have a right to be there, with the story. This is what I mean by not being so linear.

As for listings, I’m going to do them once and not update them week to week anymore. I’ve got all these files on my desk with information about concerts, museums, dance and theater. It’s a drag. My life is measured out in file folders. With my new non-linear listings strategy, if Jesus Christ Superstar is opening at the theater on April 1, as far as I’m concerned it’s there forever. If people go to the theater expecting to see Jesus Christ Superstar and Plaza Suite is there instead and they experience anger with that, the problem is in their heads, okay? I’m not dealing with it. I’m just going to let events happen and stop trying to control everything.

I’m not going to be so compulsive about writing, either. Hey man, I’m not going to worry about punctuation. From now on if it feels good do it. If a comma looks pretty, after a certain word, that’s where I’m going to put it. I’m going to toss words up in the air and fly them like kites, and when they float down to earth people can make their own sense of them. By the same token I’m not going to be so concerned about “mistakes” getting in the paper. Who’s to say what’s “misspelled”? Who’s to say that Cleveland’s mayor isn’t still Joe Biden, or that Tom Brady doesn’t play for the Browns, or that the body of water out there isn’t Lake Erie at all but the Caspian Sea? Facts supply their own reality. I’m tired of being a fact fascist.

It’ll be like an endless vacation at work. I’ll put my feet up, drink vodka out of my water bottle, and call everyone “Ace” or “Champ.” As in, “I’m on it, Ace.” “You got it, Champ.” I’ll be the Charlie Sheen of the office. If people complain about it? “You tell ‘em, Champ.” When the boss asks me to do something, I’ll just laugh. “Hey, that’s a good one! I’ll get right on that, Ace.” Then I’ll just slide on home, drunk.

The way I figure it, the worst that could happen if I do this is that I get fired. And the worst that could happen after that is that I don’t find another job. Then I could move back in with my mom. They call this “the Baby Boomerang.” I’ve already floated the idea by her and she said, “Oh, that’d be great.” She was clearly excited about it. So that’s all arranged, too, if need be. And I could help her around the house, you know, by drinking out of her glasses and sitting on chairs and stuff.

Well, gotta go. Got a few of my famous eternal listings to tap in, and then an Amstel Light to pound. The Big Relax has begun.

[2-10-99] January/February 2015
Ask Dr. Valentine: He'll bring you right down!

Mark Stivers

Ask Dr. Valentine: He’ll bring you right down!

Good day. My name is Dr. Arne Valentine, freelance psychologist, and I have been asked by this publication to give to its readers advice on the matters of love and romance, befitting the impending Valentine’s Day holiday.

Though I consider Valentine’s Day to be a rather manufactured and artificial event, one cannot fail to acknowledge its sustained popularity. The editors, too, thought my unusual name would supply added appeal, a “hook,” if you will. I found this all rather ludicrous but not the money I am being paid for my efforts. Therefore, I hope you will receive some benefit from my observations.

I have a co-worker at my office who I’m head-over-heels in love with, and I’m pretty sure he feels the same way about me. I’d like to make a major statement this Valentine’s Day to let him know that “all systems are go.” Any suggestions? - BB, Lakewood

I “suggest” you keep your feelings to yourself, and your workplace relationships professional. Entire organizations have been brought down by minor functionaries being “head-over-heels in love” with one another. I also “suggest” you read Gibbons’ Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire for irrefutable evidence to this effect.

My husband is wonderful, and I want to show him my appreciation for our years of happiness by doing something special, maybe even a little naughty, for him on Valentine’s Day. But I don’t know what! Do you have any ideas for an unforgettable Valentine’s Day treat? - SR, Parma

I would like to establish what you mean by “naughty.” This word is generally employed while referring to the behavior of an errant five-year-old. If your use of the word is sexually connoted, as I suspect to my utter distaste, then I’m sure I don’t know what direction you should take. Perhaps you should query your local pornographer.

I’m a fourth-grader, and there’s a girl in my class I really like. I’m too shy to give her a card, but I want to let her know I want her to be my valentine. I really like this girl a lot. - ML, Westlake

Is this a question, or merely a series of statements of fact? You certainly frame it as the latter. How am I expected to respond to this? There is no query asking for specific direction within your note. You must learn to be forthright when addressing your elders. I consequently have nothing further to say to you.

My girlfriend and I are going to Niagara Falls on the weekend of Valentine’s Day. Would you recommend any activities to make it a more romantic weekend? - LV, Cleveland

Never having been to Niagara Falls, I have no recommendations.

I’m a college student, and I’ve been admiring a woman in my class for some time now. Do you think it’s corny and childish to send her a valentine, then go up to her later and ask, “So, did you get any valentines this year?” I figure this might get the ball rolling. - FW, Cleveland

I think you might do better to devote more time to your studies and less to, yes, “corny and childish” romantic scheming. No woman I have been acquainted with has ever responded to such foolishness as you’re proposing. As a matter of record, Mrs. Valentine, after having read your letter, tells me that if she received such a correspondence in a college classroom she would report you to the dean of students immediately and recommend your expulsion.

Do you know if there are any stores that have pet valentines? I think it would be funny to give a valentine to my cat Pepper. If you don’t know of any stores, would you know of any catalogs or Web sites that might carry pet valentines? - AL, Rocky River

I am not aware of any company that manufactures greeting cards for animals. It is also difficult for me to give credence to a fantasy postulating that printed material could have any salutary effect whatsoever on a creature that does not have the ability to read. You are aware, I assume, that your cat cannot read. Therefore, at the risk of being painfully obvious, I would not recommend this course of action.

[6-21-95] November/December 2014
Secrets of Fine Writers

Mark Stivers

Have you seen that TV commercial depicting the “publishing house” Gramercy Press wooing a “writer” over a telescreen? This writer had long, shaggy hair, wore a thick sweater, and spoke in a soft British accent. As a writer in the real world, I’m here to tell you that there’s far more to writing than wearing fat sweaters, puffing a pipe, and murmuring like Jeremy Irons or Ralph Fiennes.

But this is typical of the idea people have about writers and writing. The truth is, writing is a cut-throat profession where, if you’re any good, you leave dozens of bodies in your wake. And if you follow the so-called “rules of writing,” you’ll find yourself holding a one-way ticket to Nowheresville, living in a cheap motel with paper bath mats and an air conditioner that doesn’t even have a HI-LO setting.

I suppose the notion about writing I find most amusing is “Write what you know.”

I have several novels-in-progress, and not one is about anything I know. For example, one of these novels is a western. Here’s the opening paragraph.

Brad Summers looked at his watch. The digital display said 10. The stagecoach bringing his girlfriend Courtney to Dodge City was an hour late. Brad peered down the railroad track. Where were those horses anyway! He decided to go over to the bank machine and take out $500. He’d need it for the Civil War coming up.

Did I live in the Old West? No. Have I done any research on the subject? Certainly not. But you’re going to read on, aren’t you? That’s because you’re being carried away by the writer’s imagination.

Here’s another example, from the medical thriller I’m working on.

Suddenly the kidney jumped out of Tony Lloyd’s body and leaped onto the floor of the airplane. With its tiny arms, the organ grabbed the leg of Nurse Brittany Rodriguez. “I’ll tackle her!” it threatened. The medical personnel froze as the kidney then ran up to the front of the plane and wrested the controls from the pilot.

What do I know about kidneys? Nothing. But I know if a kidney jumped out of a body it’s better that it does it on an airplane, where hundreds of people can be put at risk. That’s called plotting, and that’s called imagination. It’s the writer’s most important tool.

Another cliché about writing I find laughable is that writers write “every day.” I don’t know about other people, but I write only when I feel like it. We writers have what is called a “muse.” It inspires us to do our work. If your muse isn’t around, you’re totally wasting your time trying to write. Writing isn’t like mowing a lawn or scraping a garage overhang; the words must be carefully harvested out of your inner being, like grapes.

One time I made the mistake of trying to force it. I sat down and summoned forth my muse, which was nowhere to be found.

I was uninspired, and my writing showed it. It happened as I was writing my medical thriller. Sans muse, this is what I came up with:

Suddenly the kidney fell on the surgical room floor. Nurse Brittany Rodriguez picked it up and put it back in Tony Lloyd’s body. “Thank you,” said Tony. “You’re very welcome,” replied Brittany pleasantly.

There’s no greatness in this writing, no suspense, no conflict. There’s no airplane! My muse is the one that told me to put the kidney in the air, give it legs and arms and the ability to threaten the lives of hundreds of innocent passengers. I am but a medium; I accomplish art by channeling this muse onto paper.

Naturally when my muse is inspiring me, I cannot be disturbed. That’s why, when my co-workers bother me with trifles like phone calls or asking about lunch, I have to say to them through clenched teeth, “Can’t . . . you . . . see . . . I . . . am . . . composing?” On occasion I’ve had to jump up from my chair, whip off my cape, and cane them about the head and shoulders. However, I hope this article has helped them, and you, gain a small understanding of what it is we writers do.

[11-10-99] October 2014
Facing Lifelong Fears: Beer helps, underwear doesn't

Millard Draudt

I once had the amusing notion that you’d be less scared of stuff as you got older. I do not find this to be the case.

These days I find myself staring up at my ceiling at 3 am, worrying. I’m “blessed” with vivid dreams, and after I wake from them in the middle of the night they invariably rocket me into full-force anxiety.

Last week I dreamed I was driving with my friend Joe (“I heal sick minds”) the psychologist down to some kind of mental health convention in southern Ohio. In the middle of the trip Joe got out of the car, and I continued on by myself. Problem was, I was in the passenger seat and no one was driving the car.

After a few hours of riding in a driverless car, I panicked. Not because there was no driver, but because I was afraid I was going to run out of gas. I slid into the driver’s seat and promptly ran the car up against a wire fence in a dimly lit hick town. The car was going fine until I got my hands on the wheel. I can’t remember what else happened after I crushed the car against the fence, but it had something to do with asking Philadelphia 76er star Allan Iverson for directions. You know how dreams are.

I woke up, it was 3 am (of course) and I immediately started fretting about driving. Since I haven’t driven for several years, the act seems incredibly difficult to me now, with getting into an accident not just a possibility but a certainty – a one-in-three shot (that is, for every three driving excursions I’d embark on, I get into one accident).

The funny thing is I was never a bad driver; I just got out of the habit. But now driving a car seems to me like flying a Boeing 707 or captaining an ore freighter. “That’s stupid,” you say. I know!

Hey, but I have other fears, too! These are a bit more common and will hopefully put me in somewhat less of a wuss light than the driving business.

I have a fear of public speaking. I have only done it a few times: once in college, where I presented a paper for my Gilded Age class. I was so petrified I drank a can of Colt 45 malt liquor before giving the presentation. Colt 45 doesn’t taste too hot at 8:30 in the morning.

I talked so fast that my speech, supposed to last the length of the class, ended in about four minutes. I could tell my professor was honked off because he’d have to fill the rest of the time. I felt bad about it. For nearly 25 years thereafter, I managed to avoid doing any public speaking whatsoever.

A while back, though, when I was promoting a book, I had to make some radio appearances and I knew I wasn’t coming off that well. I talked real fast, mumbled, said “absolutely” a lot, and most humiliating, was not even remotely funny. This is not good when you’re promoting a humor book.

I did have one good experience, though, reading out of that book at a public function. It was at the Great Lakes Brewing Company. Not only was there a microphone so I didn’t have to shout, there was beer. It was dark, there weren’t many people and I made an effort to read slowly. Success! A brewery is an ideal public speaking situation.

By the way, I always thought the advice “You should imagine your audience in their underwear” to be completely ludicrous.

I don’t know about you, but when I imagine people in their underwear, I find it extremely difficult to say anything – I just stand there and gulp. It doesn’t even matter if it’s positive underwear thoughts, or negative ones. I’m struck dumb or say, “Ahh ... errhhh.”

Not that I go around all day thinking about people in their underwear. It’s just when I do, that’s what happens.

Aw, never mind.

[2006] July/August 2014
Notes on Camping: Nothing More Fun Than Thinking about It

Julie Larson

Big plans this summer. I am going to get out there and engage in all the warm-weather fun I’ve spent years avoiding through inertia, fear or previous bummers. Do you understand what I’m telling you? This is the Summer of LIVE.

For one, I’m going to do the camping thing. Tents, sleeping bags, the whole deal. I’ve camped out exactly three times: at Red Raider overnight camp in 1962 (didn’t like it), Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes in 1967 (really didn’t like it) and Daytona Beach in 1974 (drunk, don’t remember).

I definitely want to do this. Usually when I go to Target and walk the camping aisles – inspecting all the miniaturized sleeping bags and tents – I envision myself as a tiny guy camping out in the middle of Target itself, slipping in and out of the foot-long sleeping bags, then running around Electronics and Audio/Video after the store closes.

But last week while doing this, I thought, “This is lame. This isn’t really like camping.”

No, you have to actually get the full-size sleeping bags and tents and take them into the woods if you want to camp. You have to go outdoors and deal with weather and chipmunks and whatnot. Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett did it, and they were can-do Americans.

Rather than taking a chance on humiliating myself in Target asking for the wrong stuff, I start browsing my L.L. Bean Summer Gear catalog. I page through the kayaks, which appear to be okay to putter around in. But what happens if you capsize one of those things? There’s nothing in the catalog copy about that. They’d find my corpse upside down underwater, still paddling reflexively post-mortem. Ha ha, there’s a funny video for your Sunday evening TV entertainment. Not for me.

I arrive at the pages of tents, bags, extreme binoculars, hand-cranked radios, headlamps, camp stoves. Now we’re talking. Pull into the woodsy site, plunk the tent material right in there, pound those stakes in like Elmer Fudd, pull the cords taut. Set up your trail chairs in a circle and voila, one campsite that kicks some sweet ass.

Think I’ll give the King Pine Dome Tent a whirl. I see you can put your chair in there, sit down, stand up, move about at will. The King Pine has no-see-um mesh panels (I guess bugs can’t see you through them) and carabiners at pole junctions. You can’t set up properly without these accouterments, I know that much.

Tent pitching is hungry business, and once you fire up your Volcano II Collapsible Grill, you’re golden. At least, according to the picture in the catalog. Man, does that campfire chow scene look good. It’s the L.L. Beaniest.

There’s little Kayla squirming on Gramps’ lap as he heats up his sandwich or personal pie using the Campfire Pie Irons over the Volcano II. The lad Tyler roasting up a marshmallow. That’s s’more! Mom fiddling with her own personal pie iron. The white Lab, Jerome, looking on, tongue lolling, thinking, “I’m really going to need to get fed at some point.” Pines and blue lake in the background. What a tableau. Idyllic.

“Where’s Dad at?” you say. I’m glad you asked, because he’s where I’m going to be. That’s him (me) sitting in his Wilderness Recliner, grinning and strumming his Washburn Rover Travel Guitar. The Washburn Rover is scaled down – in the manner of say, your travel-size Scope or Speed Stick – but that baby plays like a man guitar. Outstanding!

“One of the highlights of spending the night outdoors is sitting around the campfire sharing your favorite music with friends,” says the catalog.

You’re telling me. Hand me that Washburn, pardner, and we’ll set around the fire (or collapsible grill) and I’ll lay down some fireside licks like you won’t believe. I’ll put on my guitar face and play some “Hey Jude” and Blood, Sweat and Tears tunes and all the stuff you’ll want to hear over and over again.

“Domenique”? Check. Classic folkie tunes like “Puff the Magic Dragon” and “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore Hallelujah”? I can warble those more tremulously than Peter and Paul or for that matter, even Mary, ever dreamed of. Capped off with a ghost story to frighten the youngsters, several nips from the vodka-and-cranberry flask, then into the bag for the night.

Camping.

[3-22-90] May/June 2014
My Right Foot

© Matt Wyatt

My question is, how can I go on this vacation I’ve been thinking of taking with a mortified small toe plus my problem with sleeplessness? You ask, what about the toe? What’s the matter with it? You say, Let’s hear about the toe first before going on with the other stuff. Well, all right. The toe first, then the sleeplessness, then the vacation plans.

You know how you step on your baby toe with the one next to it as you walk? Even if you don’t know, believe me, it happens. And when things aren’t going right, that adjacent toe can flatten out the bottom of the baby toe, creating a horny ridge, a ridge so sharp you can cut paper. You could shave with it, honest. That’s what I’m facing right now. A toe that has turned into a weapon, a total instrument of pain; a toe that has turned against its master: specifically, the host foot, and generally, me.

You say, That’s terrible! How can a person live with a condition like that? How can a person walk while he’s stepping on his own toes? Well, I won’t claim that it’s easy. Each step brings a new experience in pain, a fresh rush of discomfort.

Bad, you say? There’s more. I also have to contend with the insensitivity of others. When I brought my Dr. Scholl’s Toe Cap into the office the other day and slipped the foam cushioning cover over my toe, I thought, naturally, others would be interested in seeing this. I, for one, had never seen a Toe Cap at work, and I found it quite fascinating how the Toe Cap resembled a big Russian fur cap, and how it made my toe look like Lara from Dr. Zhivago. But when I showed my capped toe to the boss he displayed no reaction, and the guy he was with – a man who owns a running store here in the Arcade, a man who is supposed to care about feet – said, “God, we’re going to be reading about this next week.” Yes. That hurt even more than the toe itself. Slapped down, I hobbled back to my desk.

Now prepare yourself for a real shock. I mentioned my problem with sleeplessness. One of the main reasons I have trouble sleeping are the leg tingles I get at night. These tingles are much like the needles and pins you get when your leg falls asleep. But imagine having these tingles and not being able to get rid of them. You feel like you’re being tickled all night. I try shaking my leg and even waving it around in the air, but when the tingle is in there, it’s really socked in. There’s no getting away from it. You say, that is shocking. Imagine a human being putting up with such torment, forced to shake his leg like a dog so he can sleep. But the worst – and this is what I can’t believe – is that this is a whole different leg than the one with the sharp toe! This is an entirely separate problem! I’ll wait a moment as you absorb the full force of this statement.

Mix all this together, if you can, and add to it that I’m trying to make vacation plans. I need a break from routine, too. I want to see the world just like everybody else. There are places I want to see, cultures I’d like to observe, peoples from different societies to talk to. But how can I think about taking a trip to Tokyo or Nepal with my toe and leg so up in the air? How do I know that the sight of my crested toe won’t send sensitive peoples of other nations into fits of murmuring and prayer? Not that I can realistically afford to go where people fall down in prayer. At most I might be able to swing a trip to Detroit or Windsor, Ontario. Even so, can I be sure that Michigan has the facilities to cope with toe-or-leg-related emergencies? What if I lost my Toe Cap in Canada? These are the things I have to think about.
Whew, you say. We thought we had problems!

[2-17-99] March/April 2014
Office Psycho

Mark Stivers

One of my duties as a management executive at this newspaper is to instill in my co-workers a sense of unity and bondage. The way I achieve this is through my employee morale-building program, Jobs of Ecstasy (JOE).

In the past, the JOE program has included theme days such as Hootenanny Holler, Tequila Chug and Who’s Got the Crabs Scavenger Hunt. But morale can’t hinge on day-long office parties alone. Much more is needed.

First thing every morning, I gather my co-workers in the conference room for my singing of our national anthem. “Like at a ball game!” you exclaim. Right. Beginning the workday with the national anthem focuses employees and makes them feel part of a team.

While on most mornings I’ll sing the anthem straight, to add variety I’ll sometimes deliver my finger-popping, swinging version: “Oh say! Can you see! By the dawn’s early light!” (This hip-swiveling rendition is something the ladies particularly enjoy, as evidenced by their frequent gasps and tittering.) And, as at a ball game, the end of the anthem signals that now it’s time to go out and beat the enemy — in this case the workday — into a bloody pulp.

Once the day begins, I make my rounds of the office, going to each and every employee’s desk and assisting them in any way I can, coaching them or patting their legs as they speak on the phone. Though I work on the editorial side of this newspaper, I spend much time going on sales calls with account executives, because I know what side my bread is buttered on; that is, I know how important ads are to this newspaper.

The account executives here have begged me not to go with them, saying my presence is “counterproductive,” and that their clients consider me “bizarre” or even “deranged.” But here’s where I pull rank: Where else but on sales calls do I get to hug complete strangers? I’ve always found it astounding that our account executives don’t give a big hug to every person they approach, whether they buy an ad or not. But I will! It’s good sales karma.

I’ve also unfortunately received some resistance to my Sleepover Sundays program, where I go to co-workers’ homes on Sunday nights and sleep in the same rooms with them. This is an excellent way to get to know people better or even have a pillow fight should the occasion arise! However, I recognize the harassment factor is all-important these days and that sleeping with people for the purpose of boosting office morale might be considered questionable. It’s a very fine line.

Most times, however, I remain in the office. Because I don’t want my co-workers to think I’m too “crunchy” or “new agey,” I’ve recently instituted the ultra-military Fax Patrol, where each day I designate a selected employee to stand guard by the fax machine. This employee wears a red FP armband and must stand by the machine all day long to oversee the reception and sending of faxes. No food or lavatory breaks. As a fun extra I ask the Fax Patrol guard to salute me every time I pass and address me as “Brigadier General.” I can tell by their faces that people take their Fax Patrol duties very seriously – they almost look grim!

There are many more activities and events I have planned. My boss has told me that first he wants me talk to some “very very nice people” from a company called Unhinged Executives Counseling Associates. After that – look out. Morale’s going to shoot sky-high.

[1-25-90] September 2001, January/February 2014
On the Road to Fitness

© Susan Sturgill

I read in a TV tidbit once that Roger Moore kept his stomach flat by holding it in while sitting in his car at red lights. When the light turned green, he’d let it out.

Maybe that’s all right for some people. I try at times to trim down my gut using the same principle, by tightening my abdominals real hard while counting to twenty. It doesn’t work. No doubt red lights go way beyond a twenty-count, thus insuring Roger Moore better results. But you can bet Roger Moore does more to stay slim than tensing up at red lights. You can bet he’s got a pool and a sauna off one of the guest bedrooms. He’s got a lot more going than traffic isometrics, believe me. So his statement is the height of irresponsibility. What if someone like John Goodman took this TV tidbit to heart and drove around sucking it in at red lights? I’d hate to see the portly Goodman stopped at a traffic light turning purple, a danger to himself and the community. But I suppose Goodman’s given up all hope of svelteness at this point anyway.

Not me. I realize that the Special K Pinch has given way to the Big Grab, great handfuls of fat around the stomach. I don’t like it. What do I expect with all the Milk Duds and potato chips and Little Debbies I eat? It’s deeply troubling to see my belly tumble over my beltline as I’m lounging in front of the TV. At the commercials I stand up and do the aforementioned twenty-count isometrics, but what good does that do if I then proceed into the kitchen and load up a plate with pretzel sticks? I was recently agonizing over this universal question when suddenly a video changed my life.

The video was Raging Bull, the story of boxer Jake La Motta, with an Oscar-winning performance by Robert De Niro. At the beginning of the movie you see the muscular, rock-hard La Motta charging after his opponents in the ring and pummeling them into bloody pulp. I paused the video after one of these scenes, ran into the bedroom, and boxed at my reflection in the mirror, hoping for a glimpse of De Niro/La Motta. I didn’t get it. Instead of my shoulders tapering down to my waist they took the straight route. It wasn’t even close.

I went back to the video and watched La Motta blow up to 250 pounds himself. I saw cause and effect, delivered graphically by the great De Niro. I saw an athlete grown fat, telling terrible jokes in scumbag Vegas strip joints. I thought, this could happen to me. I don’t mean that I could end up degraded in Vegas (unless my life really takes a surprising turn) but I could certainly replicate the fat part of the La Motta story. The fact that De Niro himself gained 75 pounds for the role didn’t make me feel better, because he not only earned a million bucks for his trouble, he could work it off in a few months at some fancy gym, maybe even at Roger Moore’s place. My getting blubbery wasn’t earning me a nickel, and you who are reading this probably don’t get paid a hell of a lot for gaining weight, either. All these anxieties finally led to some action. The next evening, I ate dinner and made a crucial decision. I decided that now, definitely now, was the time to bounce.

This was not a determination lightly made. I was always afraid that night bouncing might pump me up so much I wouldn’t be able to sleep. But when I thought about it, not bouncing hadn’t kept me from flipping and flopping in bed until all hours, had it? So I pulled the mini-trampoline out from under the bed, took some deep breaths, got on, and started hopping. And it was great. I probably should have waited a little longer until after dinner to begin, as I almost threw up some chili midway through the set. But this was a minor affair, easily adjustable in future workouts. I jumped for twenty-five minutes, listening to Rolling Stones songs, and before I knew it I was done. When I got off the trampoline my feet were shuffling on their own power and my heart was pumping blood to places that hadn’t gotten any in months. Mr. Vitality. The World’s Most Perfectly Developed Man. Three times a week and that’s where I’ll be. No problem.

This has been the story of how a combination of Roger Moore fooling around in his car, Robert De Niro gaining weight and Jake La Motta’s aggressive boxing style got me headed down the road to fitness.

November/December 2013
Useless Fortune Cookies

Millard Draudt

The following is a sampling of some of the fortunes from fortune cookies that I have saved and squirreled away during the past 20 years. I have attempted to live my life by the words of these fortunes, but to tell the truth, I've found them to be remarkably ineffective. However, I'm sure that's just me. I offer these precepts, and the age-old wisdom therein, in the hope that they may benefit others.

(Unfortunately, shortly after I wrote this article, these fortunes were stolen from my desk. I would very much appreciate the return of these fortunes so I can prove to any curious readers their legitimacy, and that I'm not just making them up.)

Invest the totality of your funds by the position of the stars.

Unclothe yourself for all who ask.

An employer's wishes should be blown off like a dandelion in the wind.

Taking care of your teeth is like whistling in church.

A goat is often as large as the barnyard it inhabits.

Do not let the penurious find their way into your underpants.

Palm trees, huts and hula girls on short-sleeved garments signal impotence.

An acquaintance's attention is paradise without commerce.

Do not fear death for it came yesterday.

Polyester blends make for summertime comfort.

Wishing hard enough pays the bills.

A part-time career in fishing license renewal is the way to untold wealth.

A leaky vessel will never polish glass.

All will betray you unless you betray them first.

A party without trail mix portends an ill wind.

Shopping for hair-care products is often like shouting in a deaf tiger's ear.

Patience is no virtue if things don't get done immediately.

Lending money to a friend is like filling an empty toolbox with lemon peels.

Carpet shocks are the idiot cousins of electricity.

Tyranny is fine if tempered with a stylish hairdo.

Prop the ladder of your compassion against the house of your ambition.

A buttered rake collects more leaves.

The wire baskets of the just will always hold water.

Vanity can always be bought, but conceit is never on sale.

If a thousand fairies can dance on the head of a pin, your financial troubles can be overcome.

If your mother cannot remember your name, even a name tag won't help.

[1-17-96] July/August 2013
Cleaning Fashion

Millard Draudt

Many of you have wondered just exactly what type of outfit I wear while doing chores at home. Though I have never been specifically asked this by readers, either in writing or by telephone, I have a strong sense that this subject is being talked about in residences and workplaces throughout the community.

Therefore, I will do my best to give you a sense of a) what I wear; and b) what I do while I wear it. This should supply you a complete picture of how a winning household is maintained – fashionably.

I wear clothing, basically, that gives me total freedom of movement as I perform various tasks and functions around the house. While vacuuming, for example, a certain joie de vivre must be attained, and this can only be achieved by wearing shorts and a T-shirt. Pushing the vacuum should be accompanied by a brief step, consisting of a leg and arm thrust out to the side, giving the push a bit of body English. (More pressure is put on the vacuum, enabling it to suck better.) Heavy clothing such as denim jeans, leather vests or jackets, and ornately-buckled boots do not encourage this flinging out of the arm and leg, nor the requisite swiveling of the hip. Underpants may also be a hindrance while vacuuming, though this may be a matter of personal preference.

The same outfit of T-shirt and shorts is required for the dusting process as well. The use of a feather duster necessitates holding out the opposite arm of the dusting arm, with the elbow bent at a 90 degree angle, the tips of the thumb and index finger lightly touching. Again, a heavy top of overcoat or sport jacket and tie prohibits effective application of this flamenco-type expression; and underpants, once more, are not altogether necessary.

For bathroom cleaning, the T-shirt and shorts ensemble is absolutely de rigueur. While scrubbing underneath the exterior of the toilet bowl, however, the positioning involved in lying on one’s side on the bathroom floor, and the jiggling to and fro to reach the furthest regions of the bowl, may call for the wearing of sturdy undergarments. Underpants, however, are not essential for the action of transferring items de toilette from one fixture to another as the former fixture is being cleaned. A brief changing period, then, may be taken when going from the spraying and wiping of the sink and toilet bowl rim to the spraying and wiping of the exterior of the toilet bowl. Again – a matter of personal preference.

As for activities in the kitchen, some sort of thongs or sandals may be worn to avoid stepping barefoot on painful unpleasantries like hard food crumbs from pretzels or crackers, spilled coffee grounds or similar items. Yet the kitchen is no place for capes, ponchos, or leather-studded pants set off by spurs on boots . . . no, our dependable old friend, the classic T-shirt and short outfit, is the way to go.

Regarding kitchen specifics: the loading of the dishwasher ought be accompanied by the aforementioned flamenco-type posture used in dusting (one arm out, elbow at 90 degrees, tips of fingers touching). Glasses and bowls shall be placed on the top rack; dishes and the occasional larger item on the bottom. Note: The automatic dishwasher was not devised to be a handy receptacle or “hiding place” for every pot and pan one uses in the preparation of meals.

The hand washing of pots, pans and delicate utensils is ideally accompanied by a slight swiveling of the hips, though in not as exaggerated form as employed in vacuuming. While soaping pots and pans and rubbing them clean with a sponge, a low moaning sound may be emitted. Underpants? Your call.

[1-25-06] May/June 2013
A Dozen Little Pieces: Another Shaker memoirist matches James Frey sordid detail for sordid detail

Mark Stivers

James Frey and I have a lot more in common than he’d care to admit. The author of the sensational 2003 memoir A Million Little Pieces and I both made our bones on the unforgiving streets of Shaker Heights. But, unlike Frey, I have no need to embellish the facts to make my work more salable. And I make no claim to redemption. My world continues to be soaked in booze, drugs and squalor.

I was born at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cleveland, now closed and doubtless overrun with vermin. Rats the size of your fist! Larger, even! I was a twin, a surprise to my parents, beaten down for months in the womb by my sister, now a Cleveland cop. She was born four minutes ahead of me, tamping my tiny head down with one foot as she climbed out with the other: Down, down, down! Back, back, back! I was the Last Child.

I had a reasonably happy childhood until, at 11, I was forced to go to overnight summer camp. I was inconsolably homesick and the cabin reeked of Off. I had to share a lavatory with seven other boys. That was embarrassing.

At the camp mess hall, loaves of white bread were placed at the center of the table, and we had to fashion our own peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. We were given what we called “bug juice,” yet we were told it was red Kool-Aid. Right. Why would the camp directors spring for costly Kool-Aid when there were millions of bugs available in the woods to pulverize and milk for their pee? Who cares? They’re just stupid kids …

The horrors continued when I began junior high that fall. I was punched and bullied for my lunch money. Freeze, suckah, give me a dime! I withdrew into my own fantasy world, emerging only to play softball and football on the dusty, broken playgrounds of the Shaker schools.

In high school I began drinking with my buddies on the weekends. We’d go to my friend Pete’s house — his dad was the mayor of Shaker — drink Colt 45s and Boone’s Farm Apple Wine and sing along loudly with the player piano. I don’t want her, you can have, she’s too fat for me … she’s a twosome, she’s a foursome, if she’d lose some, I would love her more some. Lost nights. Hollering numbers from The Music Man … I don’t like to think about it.

I was heavy into beer and the bud in college. It was the ’70s. It’s a miracle I got my degree. I was flat on my ass 90 percent of the time. Rolling up doobies, banging gongs, sucking on water pipes … we did it all as the druggy strains of the Dead, the Allmans and Steely Dan permeated our dorm rooms. We suffered with the munchies while loud noises and sudden gusts of wind alarmed us as we moped around the CWRU campus.

It’s a wonder I earned my master’s for that matter. A car full of shouting undergrads called my pal Ferd and I “burn-outs” as we straggled down the streets of Ann Arbor. We were. We were ramshackle and doped to the gills. I’m sure if we’d seen a cop around there’d have been trouble. But plenty! A night in the hole and a nickel-bag full of heartache. It could have happened.

Now the drugs have different names, but I’m still hip-deep in the shit. I take Ultram, a powerful painkiller, for my nagging backache. It’s slightly sedating. It’s a good thing I was on it when I just last month experienced terror on an airline flight, as Frey “had.”

I had just clasped together the ends of my seat belt when, not more than four feet away, a baby, held over his father’s shoulder, gushed a stream of vomit. The stench was overpowering. I gagged. The mother caught the rest of the baby’s seemingly endless supply of barf in her palms. On his flight, Frey claimed to have lost his front teeth and been covered in blood, snot and urine, but I had real baby vomit, as well as some minor back pain. But I guess that’s not as compelling as Frey’s crapola!

Frey also wrote he underwent major dental surgery without anesthesia. Well, that’s swell, but did his dentist ever hurt his feelings by using the term “sayonara” in reference to one of his molars? Did he waste hundreds of bucks getting a root canal on that tooth, and then, a few weeks later, fracture it on a taco shell? Leaving just a nubbin, then, finally, a gaping hole?

Frey can fix his teeth and face with all that Oprah money now. I keep it real, and I continue to roll my tongue over this cavern in my mouth to this day. I should be surprised.

[1999] March/April 2013
Indoor Performance Art Festival

© Mark Stivers

The first annual Indoor Performance Art Festival begins this week and runs through April 20. The audience is encouraged to verbally choose the locations of the performances, where they will then become site-specific. (Dates and times are fluid.)

March 2, 8 pm – Cleaning. The opening ceremony of the Festival features Deric Roder, a conceptual artist from San Mateo, engaging in a shower performance, asking the audience to stay outside the bathroom so they won’t see him naked. After clothing himself, Roder performs a handwashing ritual, soaping his hands while shouting out the names of countries and peoples “Uncle Sam” (Roder) has abandoned or exploited, thus washing his hands of these countries and peoples Deforestation of the Amazonian rainforest will be ritualized in a shaving ceremony accompanied by humming and singing, after which the audience will be asked to clean up the bathroom in a participatory performance.

March 9, noon – Indoor Sculpture. An indoor installation, filled with site-specificity. Toledo’s Derek Floder installs himself on the couch and doesn’t move for the duration of Andy Griffith, The Beverly Hillbillies and Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. in a postwar protest against the American involvement in Vietnam during the ’60s, accompanied by Floder’s wry description of his unsuccessful attempt to donate himself as a living sculpture to the United Nations Building in New York City. Floder mimes talking into the telephone as a commentary on mass communications and concludes by asking the audience to carry him out to his car so he can then drive back to Toledo in a satire of various vehicular modes.

March 16, 8:30 am – Animal and Human Consumption. Cleveland’s Eric Broder eats a bowl of Alpha-Bits with the cat Dizzy squirming in front of him on his Plain Dealer Sunday Magazine in a performance involving a table-and-chair installation and the questions: What do we eat? What role does media play in relation to human and animal consumption? Do we learn what to eat through the coupons in the Sunday newspaper supplement? Broder attempts to answer these through the ritualistic eating of edible items the audience is asked to bring along with the items’ corresponding coupons. (The coupons will then be affixed to the refrigerator in a magnetized performance.)

Throughout the Festival – Sleeping. The cat Dizzy in an ongoing event, a sleeping ceremony followed by a leaving ceremony when the audience arrives. A contextual performance demonstrating our relationship with animals in an indoor environment.

March 23, 24 at 8 pm – Chicago’s Erik Doder in a wellness performance entitled “I Tell You I Don’t Feel Good.” In a particularly apropos performance considering today’s controversy over health care issues, Doder describes his ailments while hurling little snips of paper into the audience in a Dadaist pageant of cast-off confetti symbolizing the good health that leaves our bodies as we age. The audience is invited to view Doder as he then takes ibuprofren (buffered aspirin at the March 24 performance).

March 30, 7 pm – Video Event: Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation. Boston video artist Darique Droder performs the 1962 Jimmy Stewart comedy Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation by exhibiting the film on her videocassette recorder, then asking the audience to leave when the film is over.

April 6, 9 pm – Fascism. Fashion. The direct connection between fascism and fashion is performed by New York’s conceptual pagan light artist Erica, accentuating the energy flux of the body and its dressing as she assigns audience members to shine a flashlight on her as she plucks at her garments and yelps in pain. Then Erica will collect and deconstruct the flashlights, tossing the batteries to audience members, who will then be required to give the batteries back.

April 13, 7 pm – Phone Anarchy: “Take-Out Order, Please.” Minneapolis phone anarchist Rick Roader in a Futurist performance calling local restaurants on the phone and ordering take-out for the year 2020. Roader examines with the audience the restaurant personnel’s reaction to his calls and contextualizes it to 2013 take-out orders.

April 20, 7 pm – Closing Ceremonies. Cleveland’s Eric Broder leads the audience on an anti-capitalist journey by demanding cash – then paradoxically keeps the money in a surreal exploration of art and funding. In an interactive ceremony celebrating closure and circularity, the audience will help Broder tidy up the installation, then be escorted from the Festival by actual police officers as Broder relaxes on-site. ”"

[6-6-91] March 2002, January/February 2013
What's Worse Than Having a Bat in Your Apartment?

©Millard Draudt

I got the Bat Call last week. My mother phoned me Tuesday night and told me she had a bat in her apartment. Then she said she thought she might have two bats, one swooping one way, one the other, thus supplying an instant answer to the question “What’s worse than having a bat in your apartment?”"

“Are you sure it’s not a bug?" I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “It’s as big as an eagle.”

“I’ll be quite frank with you, Ma,” I said. “I hope that’s not the case.”

Though I was busy (I had been sitting in my shorts, looking at Time magazine with the TV going) I went over to her apartment. I had no game plan formulated. My father used to swat bats with a tennis racket or a broom and flush them down the toilet. Here’s the fun part of that: lifting the toilet lid to check if the bat flushed or if it was still swimming around in the bowl. I could have a coronary just thinking about it. No, I would try to whoosh it out.

After the bat took a couple of dives at my head in the dark of my mother’s front hall, I decided to go home. My mother was safely locked in her bedroom and she could call the apartment building’s maintenance man in the morning. I’m a young boy with a whole lifetime in front of me. I couldn’t be having a rat with wings sucking the juice out of my neck. But I did feel sort of guilty walking home, leaving Ma alone with the bat.

When I got home, Barbara was there and she was eager to go after the bat. We went back to my mother’s place, this time with a flashlight, baseball glove and shoebox.
I don’t know what we expected to do with the shoebox or the glove. We stood in an alcove beyond the dining room, shining the flashlight on the bat, who was struggling to find a way out via the dining room window. We wanted to get a living room window open, because that seemed to be on the bat’s flying route. Neither of us had the nerve to open the dining room window with the bat right there, beating its wings and squirming around.

I walked slowly into the living room to get the window open, then I headed back to the haven off the dining room and the bat was suddenly on me. I shrieked and ducked. The bat flew by.

I heard my mother’s faint voice from behind her bedroom door.

“What did you say?” she asked.

“I was screaming, Ma,” I said.

I heard her say “Oh. As long as it’s nothing important!”

Barbara and I stood watching the bat for a half hour. Every minute or two the bat would fly by and Barbara would leap back, landing on my feet, and I’d cuss her. How was I expected to back her up with her jumping on me like that?

Soon the bat began creeping around on the floor in the front hall. The poor devil was tired. He was lying on the floor a foot from where I was standing, and I shined the flashlight on him. I felt sorry for him. He wasn’t so bad looking. If I’d had a jacket or towel I could have ended the whole thing right then by throwing it over him, scooping him up and tossing him out the window. All we had at hand was the shoebox, though, and that would have taken precision placement. I’ll admit it: I was too scared to try. If that thing had flown up at my face while I tried to place a box on him it could have been the end of me. Oh – no way? People die jogging and shoveling snow and no way would I die from a bat attack? All right. I’ll take your word for it.

He only rested for a minute, though. He went back to his swooping. We thought we could draw him out the living room window by standing in the den off the living room shining the flashlight. He flew by a few times but didn’t get the idea. Then Barbara backed up and accidentally turned on my mother’s Vornado fan with her foot, which made me swear. For some reason the sound of the fan enraged me, and I kept swearing until we managed to turn it off, which took some doing. I was beginning to get very tired of the whole business.
I think my mother was beginning to get tired of it too, with the noises, the light flashes and the swearing, so she told us to go home. The custodian would take care of it in the morning. We all hoped – especially mother – that the bat would be hiding in the drapes in the morning and she could sneak out to work.

The next day my mother did find the bat, hanging in the den window. She carefully slid the den doors shut, closing the bat off from the rest of the apartment. The custodian took it from there.

I think if I were to give myself a grade in this affair, it’d have to be an F, since we failed to get the bat out. I would, however, give myself an E for effort and, if it improves my grade any, I did dream the bat flew out the window. The whole thing still ended better than my aunt’s bat incident. She called an exterminator when she had a bat flying in her house, and when he came down after going up to her attic with a flashlight, he was grinning.

“Wow, lady,” he said. “You got thousands of them up there.”

Thousands.

[3-3-99] November/December 2012
Molding Young Minds: English 101

© Millard Draudt

A few people have told me that someday I ought to teach. What an opportunity that would be, to mold young minds!

If I were to do this, I would enjoy teaching freshmen English, to make my mark on students before the other instructors in the university have a chance to pollute them with their commie propaganda. I would incorporate my management executive skills to promote a more, shall we say, focused classroom. I like to think I’d be tough, but fair.

I have already prepared my opening remarks, and the possible student response, for my first class.

Me: This is English 101. My name is Mr. Broder, and in this class, you are going to learn how to speak and write the language.

If you think this is a cake course or an easy credit you have just made the mistake of your lives.This is English 101, and no namby-pambys or mollycoddles need apply. I will drive you like dogs, and by the course’s end you will hate me. And don’t make the mistake of thinking that in twenty years, you’ll thank me. You’ll hate me then, too.You’ll carry your hatred of me to your graves and through eternity. If I do my job properly, every time you hear my name you will experience an uncontrollable paroxysm of anxiety and dread. Some of you will have to be medicated or even hospitalized – that, I can promise you.

Having said that, let me officially welcome you to English 101.

In my class, we will learn the basics of grammar and usage. We will learn sentence construction. We will learn why a split infinitive is anathema. (I scan my class list.) Quickly, David Rogers, what is anathema?

David Rogers: Uh ... like “The Star Spangled Banner”?

Me (trembling in barely contained rage): No ... no ... that’s an anthem. You’re wrong! You made a mistake! You fool! You idiot! For Mr. Rogers’ edification, an anathema is “one that is greatly reviled or shunned ... an accursed thing.” Ignoramus! Imbecile! You will be dealt with later, and your punishment will be swift and severe!

Now, Mary Smith, please be good enough to tell us all about the nominative absolute.

Mary Smith: Uh ... uh ...

Me: Come, come, Ms. Smith. We’re all good friends here.

Mary Smith: Er ... ahh ...

Me (vibrating in barely contained fury): How can there be educational dialogue if one half of the dialogue is mute? You will answer this instant or the harshest discipline will find you in its icy grip!

Mary Smith: The ... nominative absolute is a phrase beginning with a noun or pronoun that acts as the subject of the verbal.

Me: Yes ... well. That is correct. You will be substantially penalized for the tardiness of your response, however.

People, you must not be afraid to be wrong in my classroom, because, after all, that is how we learn. (Seething in barely contained revulsion.) I don’t like it when you’re wrong. I don’t like stupidity and ignorance. I recognize that you may make mistakes, but don’t make too many, because I won’t be as tolerant in my response to them as I was today. This is not an American studies course, where all you are asked to do is identify Calista Flockhart on the cover of a magazine! This is English 101– failure is not an option! There shall be no forgiveness here!

I look forward to an enjoyable semester.

[4-1-97] September/October 2012
Singing Cowboy

Millard Draudt

Howdy. I’ve been listening to my new Gene Autry CD boxed set, Sing Cowboy Sing (Rhino), and the experience has changed my life.

Gene Autry is the Singing Cowboy of screen and radio fame, who sang to you direct from Melody Ranch. He was big in the ‘30s and ‘40s, but my unerring cultural instinct tells me that the pendulum is about to swing back, to a new rage for Singing Cowboys. And I’m going to be the first to redefine myself in this role. I’ve been a big-city, hard-driving, go-go management-type executive long enough, and it’s high time for a change. Therefore I would ask that you not fence me in on this issue.

First I’m going to need a new outfit – a cowboy hat, a leather vest, chaps, boots and spurs that jingle, jangle, jingle. I’ll need a loop or something on my pants, where I can keep my rope in the eventuality that I’ll require it to lasso dogies. There aren’t many dogies in the office at this point, but this could change. (I’m still in the formative cowboy stage here, so I had to look up in the dictionary to find out what a “dogie” actually is, and they’re not little dogs, as I thought, but baby cows, which makes more sense, really. There’s no reason to rope little dogs.) Because if things go according to plan, this newspaper office will soon be transformed into a real cowboy ranch, complete with dogies and corrals and rodeos and all the rest of it.

Yes, a ranch with rhythm on the range! Which brings me to the second item I’m going to need: a guitar. I can see myself at editorial meetings, my feet up, strumming my guitar, humming and saying, “I reckon.” “I reckon that’s so.’ “Well ... I reckon so.”

I can do that clucking business with my tongue that cowboys do, too, when I’m amused. Like when we’re talking about doing a special dining section in the paper. I can cluck and say, “I reckon we’ll do somethin’ on vittles,” shake my head, and continue to strum. My co-workers will
admire me, what with all my down-home folksy wisdom going for me.

As editing is hungry work, I’m going to eat like a cowboy, too. No more corned beef and Swiss on rye and other fancy-Dan city chow. It’s beans in a tin plate from now on. I’m going to set up a chuckwagon in the lunchroom here and build mini Sterno fires that me and my pardners can cook up our beans in. Beans and coffee and bacon – that’s real cowboy fare. All cooked up in a fondue, ‘90s style.

I also have to think about getting a saddlemate, or a sidekick, like Roy Rogers’ Gabby, or Gene Autry’s Smiley. Because I can’t really afford to pay anyone to be my sidekick – someone who’ll deliver messages for me, help me catch rustlers, hogtie me if I get too drunk, whatever – I’ll have to make do with the cat Dizzy. She’s got the right kind of name for it, and while cats aren’t usually sidekicks in cowboy movies, we’re talking about a new era here. Dizzy won’t be able to actually fulfill any sidekick duties, but I can refer to her as such, i.e., “my saddlemate, Dizzy.” Since no one will ever see her, I don’t have to mention that she’s a cat.

The one thing I’m not sure about, however, is the horse thing. I’ve thought up a name for my horse, Triscuit, but I have a slight problem. I’m a tad afraid of horses. I like them, don’t get me wrong, but they’re pretty big.

I had trouble getting on a horse once in day camp in 1961, and I’ve been a little “spooked” ever since. I had to help put the saddle on this horse, too, and I had difficulty with the tying-the-saddle-string-around-his-stomach business. You know, they can kick the shit out of you. If they don’t take a shine to you, they’ll aim that foot – which has got a metal shoe on it – right at your face. And while I do want to be a cowboy, I also want to live. So I’ll just make those clickety-clock horse-walking sounds with my mouth as I mosey around the office, and I don’t think anyone will notice that there’s no horse under me.

[12-15-88] January 2002, July/August 2012
Cub Reporter

I admire reporters. It takes plenty of courage to do what they do. They go up to complete strangers - sometimes hostile ones - and ask them questions. Then they whip off a story about it. Or they go to a yawn festival like a city council meeting and attempt to render it meaningful and interesting to the reader. What a job. I don't envy reporters.

I even went to journalism school to learn to be a reporter. I did learn that I didn't want to be reporter. I wasn't allowed to toss any laffs into my dispatches. The bare facts weren't enough for me. I never acquired the knack of presenting them clearly. The leads in my stories were confused and were followed by more confusion in the copy. Then the story would end abruptly. It was as flat as a pancake. In my shortsighted view I figured I'd never learn to write a news story that sang.

There was a bigger problem as well. I wasn't that interested in the news. To be a good reporter you need curiosity as well as tenacity. I had neither. I had (and have) little interest in issues and politics. My interest is in human nature. I mean, I like to read about a politician bashing someone over the head with a chair, but I don't want to read about referendums. It's shallow and shameful. Thank goodness enough people do care about referendums and that some of these people are skilled reporters. But it's not for me.

I did cover a city council meeting in Ann Arbor, Michigan, while I was going to journalism school there. Once was enough. They were discussing the placement of newspaper boxes on street corners. Yak, yak, yak. The councilpersons were a bunch of good Ann Arbor liberals who wouldn't dream of smacking each other as we do here in Cleveland. This makes for better government but a duller story. As they droned on about the newspaper boxes, I panicked. How could I make something that was putting me to sleep interesting to the reader? I cooked up some baloney about the First Amendment being under siege in Ann Arbor, resulting in a very tepid reception from my journalism teacher. I thought, Okay -so much for covering politics.

Another example of my lack of tenacity was the aftermath of the Sadat assassination in October 1981. This occurred during our journalism workshop so we had to get out a story on it. I was assigned to get local reaction to the shooting. I had to call people up during the dinner hour. So I'd call up chewing Ann Arbor notables and ask them what they thought about the momentous event. When they made it clear they had no interest in talking to me, I apologized and hung up quickly. I was sweating like Rodney Dangerfield. I only had a few quotes, but I wasn't about to bother anybody else about it. The next morning, I handed my pitiful, abbreviated story to the journalism teacher and he just shook his head.


A few weeks later, our class was assigned to do some reporting at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in Detroit - to get some human interest stories, culled from the lawyers, bailiffs, cops and criminals standing around in the hallways of this grim building. I didn't have the nerve to approach any of these people. They looked, most of them, like they were having some serious problems. Who was I to annoy them? I really wouldn't have dreamed of it. So I eavesdropped on some tough-sounding talk and wrote that down. This worked a little better than the Sadat business, but not much.


That's all the reporting I've ever done. I'd say I gave it a fair shot. Well, maybe not. But I began to think about my career goals. Even the reporters at the New York Times and Washington Post have to bug people to get stories, and they're at the top of their profession. Is this what I wanted to work toward? Or should I hold out, and hope to run into a guy who would eventually start up an alternative weekly in Cleveland and let me write a column about sitting around, watching TV, preparing snacks, listening to tunes and looking at magazines.

I think the answer to that is rather obvious.

[1/17/95] May/June 2012
Old Dad

© Some ILLUSTRATIONS BY ERIC BRODER

© Susan Sturgill

Seeing all my young nieces and nephews from various sides of the family once again brings to the fore my fears about having children at an advanced age. Let me get one thing out of the way before I go any further: I do realize I would not be the one actually having the baby. I mention this because every time I bring up this anxiety to people they say, “What do you care? You wouldn’t be the one having the baby.”

I think this kind of remark is the height of insensitivity. Although I would not be the one physically giving birth to the child, I would certainly be involved. When my wife Barbara drives us in the car, for example, I am involved in the motoring process as a passenger, gasping at close calls and giving the finger to other drivers. We’re a team. If Barbara said, “I’m going to have a baby now,” I wouldn’t just raise a hand and say, “I don’t want to hear about it. That’s not my business.” I would say, “Well, Barbara, how may I be of help at this time? Shall I plug in the heating pad?”

So enough of the insensitivity already.

My fears of having a baby at an advanced age also don’t include things like 2 a.m. feedings, or being woken up by crying. How is that worse than staring at the bedroom ceiling at 2 a.m., as I often do now? You might as well cart an infant around the room as lie there trying to think of all the actors’ names in Mission: Impossible or Room 222. And I’m certainly not queasy about changing diapers, considering my medical knowledge of the workings of our friend the colon and the entire gastro-intestinal system. When you’re a scientist like me you have an analytical attitude toward such matters.

No, my fears are focused on the child’s developmental years, adolescence and beyond. At the rate I’m going I’ll be in my fifties by the time the child gets in nursery school. I’m looking forward to the nursery school superintendent asking me, “Will you be accompanying your granddaughter to school every day?” And my daughter smacking herself on the forehead and saying, “I knew this would happen. This guy’s older than Moses.”

When my child is in elementary school and bringing home his or her little friends, what will they make of me? “Is that your daddy?” they’ll say. Their daddies will be working out in the yard in their plaid shirts and jeans and I’ll be lying in front of the TV in my underwear and black socks and slippers. Their daddies will be taking them to Chuck E. Cheese while I’ll be watching TV documentaries I’ve seen a hundred times about the last days of Hitler and the JFK assassination. And I’ll attempt to talk my child out of wanting to go to places like Cedar Point or Disney World, selling food as a substitute: “How about some of my great scrambled eggs? Hah? How about some nice tuna salad?”

When my child is in his or her teens and rebelling, I’ll be ill equipped to handle it. “I’m walking out, man, I am tired of this bullshit!” I’m not sure how I’ll respond. As an old guy with eyes glued to the set I’ll probably say something like, “Fine, fine, but first look at this. They’re closing in on Oswald.” The whole thing will make the James Dean-Jim Backus relationship in Rebel Without A Cause look like a tea party.

And of course I’ll be on Social Security with a child in college. All my daughter’s friends will be talking about how I broke my hip helping her move her stuff into the dorm. “He’s still in the infirmary,” they’ll whisper. “They’re afraid to move him. She has to take him lime Jell-O every night.” I’ll be the only father sitting in a chair covered with a wool blanket at commencement.

Grandkids? That’s a good one.

[4/22/98] March 2012
Monkeying Around with ATM Machines

Millard Draudt

I recently heard a business opportunity advertised on the radio that greatly intrigued me.

A company is offering individuals the opportunity to own their own ATM machines. I didn’t catch the name of the company or the particulars, but the idea itself has planted a seed, one that has sprouted even more ideas. The more I thought of it, the more excited I became. All my fantasies of being both banker and businessman could be realized, and in 21st-century fashion. I could be my own boss. I could help people. I could revolutionize the ATM experience!

The first thing I would do is change the name of my machine. It would no longer be called an ATM, but a “BB” or “Banking Buddy.” This is no cold, hard brick-and-metal unit that merely dispenses and deposits money. It’s a friend who cares about you. From the get-go, people will know they are in for something unique and special when they do their banking with Banking Buddy.

You see, I’m not about to buy an ATM and just let it sit there. I’m hands-on. I, or an employee, will be on-site 24 hours a day to help you, the customer, with your banking needs.

The first thing that will happen when you approach my BB is that you will be met with a friendly greeting. “Welcome to Banking Buddy! My name is Eric, and I’m the owner and manager of this automated teller machine. I’m pleased as punch you decided to choose Banking Buddy to deposit, withdraw or transfer your funds.”

At this point, Moolah, the promotional monkey puppet I’ve got on my right hand, will interject, “And you can bet we won’t monkey around with your money!” (I’ve been working on my ventriloquism for a few weeks now.)

“Shut up, Moolah! They know their funds are safe with Banking Buddy.” I’ll give Moolah a little whack with my other hand. “You can be assured that the cash amount you punch in to withdraw will be the exact amount you receive. If it’s not, I’ll personally make up the difference. You can also be sure that any deposit you make will go directly to your bank —”

“And not in this guy’s pocket!” Moolah will chirp.

“What did I tell you!” I’ll smack Moolah again. “I was about to tell these nice people that their money will go directly to their bank – and if they use Banking Buddy to make fifty deposits, they’re automatically entered in a drawing to win their own Moolah Monkey puppet!”

By this time the customer is hooked. Here again is where the personal touch comes in. I’ll use my puppet hand to reach into the customer’s pocket or purse and pull out his or her wallet or billfold. Now if I were to reach into a pocket or purse with my bare hand, customers might find it disturbing, or even “weird.” With Moolah doing the grabbin’, all they see is an adorable chattering monkey having fun in their purse or pants!

Now I’ve got the bank card. Instead of customers burdened with the annoying chore of punching in a PIN, I’ll have them tell me what it is and I’ll key it in. That’s service!

Plus now you, the customer, are ready to tell me what you’d like to do. Give me that check and I’ll deposit it for you, or tell me how much cash you’d like and I’ll hand it over to you personally. If you want to tip me for my trouble, that’s okay too. A buddy is a buddy!

The transaction is now complete. I’ll give each and every customer a big hug before they leave, a la Bill Clinton.

“Thanks for visiting Banking Buddy, the bank that cares about you,” I’ll murmur into customers’ ears as I give them an extra squeeze. At the same time Moolah will give each a friendly little ear nip as a reminder that this is, indeed, the future of banking.

[1/2/96] January 2012
Little Women and the Old West

© Millard Draudt

Not only did I not drink this past New Year’s Eve, I watched the 1994 film Little Women starring Winona Ryder, went to bed early, and even dreamed about Jo, Meg and Beth and the rest of the March family. Rather than being hung over the next day like the rest of you laggards, I was a wholesome guy who had been spiritually uplifted by the story of these selfless women. There were no exploding buildings in the movie. No car crashes! No breakdancing or trailer hi-jinks! Nobody taken hostage! Everyone was so nice to one another I drenched a couple of Kleenex.

I didn’t think I’d like Little Women. I thought it would be like a western. Not exactly a western, as I knew it didn’t take place in the west, but something set in the 1800s, which it definitely was.

There’s little about those days that appeals to me. I get all my information about them from books and movies, of course, but it seems you could boil down the 19th century to horses and their manure, bad light, weird-looking dolls, often-fatal illnesses tended to by inept doctors, uncomfortable clothes, and being too hot or too cold. In the photographs of the day all the guys had hair that was slathered down with grease on top and curly on the sides, and the women wore bonnets and grim expressions. Naturally photographic processes in those days made everyone appear as if they had just died, but couldn’t Mary Todd Lincoln or U.S. Grant have grinned in one lousy picture? Come on.

As far as the old west goes, if you believe movies like the mini-series Streets of Laredo, you’d think it was all psychos and horrible death. Old TV westerns gave you a different idea. When James Garner starred as Bret Maverick in the late ‘50s, it was always in the back of your mind that after the day’s shooting on the Warners’ lot Garner would hop in his Corvette and swing over to Bel Air. And in the ‘60s, TV westerns like Bonanza and The Big Valley were filled with unbelievably artificial people on artificial sets, with hair by Mr. Kenneth of Beverly Hills. They looked ridiculous. Linda Evans, in the old west? Right.

These people wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in the world of Streets of Laredo, which goes too far to the other extreme. In Maverick Jim Garner played cards and wore dynamite threads; in Streets of Laredo, lying against a log, he has his leg amputated, without anesthetic, and then a horse drags him through the frontier on his way to meet a demented killer. I guess it’s not much of a story if nothing happens to Garner, but jeez, let him keep his leg. Everyone in these Larry McMurtry westerns like Lonesome Dove and Streets of Laredo gets something cut off, or they’re bitten to death by water moccasins, or burned alive.

And God forbid that they should complain about it! That violates the code of the west, to complain or whine. Let me tell you something. If I knew someone was going to cut off my leg without giving me drugs, or some lunatic was going to burn me alive, or someone said to me, “I reckon I’ll blow your haid off” I’d be whining. I’d be unhappy!

Even if no one did any of those things to me, I’d still have to go home every night to a shack with no light or heat, choke down some fried cornmeal, and whittle some damn piece of wood into the shape of a possum until it was time for bed because there was nothing better to do. I’d wake up and try to squeeze a little bit of a living out of the land, with some dimwitted mule and a moth-eaten old nanny goat as my only friends. I’d probably be sucking on a bottle of rotgut most of the time. One day I’d stagger out into my yard, drop dead, and the buzzards would have their way with me. That’s how I’d fare in the old west.

These are some of the reasons why I didn’t think I’d like Little Women. But I did.

[12/18/87] December 2011
Beloved Christmas Memories

Millard Draudt

When I was six years old, I was asked by my parents to do an imitation of President John F. Kennedy in front of the Christmas tree for their friends, many of whom had been drinking cocktails. I had a little mop of brown hair like the president’s, and I could approximate his Boston accent. So I stood in front of the tree, wearing my Dr. Dentons, and piped, “Ahsk not what your country can do for you, ahsk what you can do for your country,” and “Let me . . . ah . . . say this about that.” Everyone roared with delight. For months afterward I was known as “Little JFK” around the house.

That’s about the cutest Christmas anecdote I can come up with. I have four brothers and sisters, but I didn’t notice any cute stuff they did at Christmas. I was too busy rooting around the bottom of the tree like a piglet looking for my presents. I examined each one carefully, estimating value. It was not very attractive.

I should have been caroling. I should have been singing “The Little Drummer Boy” at the school assembly. But I wasn’t.

I don’t feel guilty about it. Most of the kids I knew weren’t caroling either. It’s not that I wouldn’t have caroled if asked; I just didn’t want to be considered a pill by volunteering. Christmas music is beautiful, but I decided to let Bing and Johnny Mathis do it.

I did have to dance around the elementary school gym to the “Sleigh Bells” song. We children put our arms around one another and danced at the Christmas assembly. I pretended to be uncoordinated so they’d put me in the clodhopper line at the back of the gym where no one could see me. Sleigh bell dancing was undignified, a cousin to the square dance. Of course once the line got moving I began to enjoy it. And I was dancing with those clumsy oafs who stumbled all over themselves, when I could have been showcased with the graceful kids! I learned a valuable lesson, though it didn’t really hold. I still act dumb to get out of stuff.

But to me Christmas has always primarily meant presents. As a little boy I secretly felt it was far, far better to receive than to give. It’s terrible and it’s shameful. Even today, when I Christmas shop, I’m thinking about what I want. I give it much more thought than what my family and friends might enjoy. I know where this attitude will land me – in a lonely efficiency apartment, ignored, despised, with a malfunctioning 13-inch black-and-white TV as my only friend. That’s what happens to Christmas cruds.

And it happens to Christmas snoops. I was searching the attic for unwrapped presents just before Christmas one year and I found one clearly meant for me. It was a Mr. Ed board game in which the talking horse had to reach some goal or destination, though I can’t remember what. I told our babysitter Stella that I saw it, and she gave me a tongue lashing: “Now you won’t be surprised on Christmas morning. I hope you’re happy. Your parents went to a lot of trouble getting you that game.” What a sneaky little turd! This was one of the worst Christmas memories of my childhood, which, looking back on it, wasn’t exactly Dickensian but was dramatic in its own way.

I think of treasured gifts on Christmas Day: a toy Sinclair multi-level gas station with little cars you rolled up and down the ramps. An Aurora racing car set. A Mattel Vac-U-Form with which you could make smelly plastic toys that were non-toxic (as I didn’t die after chewing on them.) A Danny O’Day ventriloquist dummy. The soundtrack to The Wizard of Oz, an incredibly beloved present. “If I were King of the Forrrrest!” The most asked-for present throughout elementary school: a chemistry set. Some of these science kits even included a dead frog to dissect. The immortal Lionel train. Books, records, bills, puzzles, games, models, balls, mitts, bikes.
Oh, we were lucky!

[8/28/99] November 2011
The Sound of Mucus

Being a stoic, I don’t generally like to talk about the way I feel when I’m sick. I suffer in silence, only fully describing my symptoms to others when they say hello or look at me.

However, the details of my recent bout with the bug that’s been going around may be of value to the medical and lay community. I should add that I’m glad to talk about the course of my illness, and even answer any questions that you might have later – as long as sharing my experiences will help others. Readers looking for “cheap thrills” from gross descriptions of raging mucus are advised to look elsewhere.

With my own extensive medical training (I drank beers with a medical student named Ed at the Euclid Tavern) it was obvious to me this past week that my raw, sore throat and aching joints portended trouble. Despite this, I went to work. We have a newspaper to put out, and the news doesn’t come to a halt just because a person doesn’t “feel good” or has a “sore throat.” Not that I would find any pity in this office anyway. When I told a co-worker that my illness might well be “the last roundup,” she replied, “Just stay out of my area,” selfishly not wanting to be infected herself. I merely walked away in a dignified manner. Even sick as a pig, I still retain my dignity.

That night I couldn’t sleep, tossing and turning in a kind of delirium. I worried about surreal matters that, at the time, seemed extremely real. I worried about germs hiding in the bedroom walls, and I was determined that the next walls I “bought” would be germ-free. I agonized over what I was going to say to the clerk at the wall store. I woke up in total confusion, with my tongue coated and hanging out.

Not only that, there was big trouble when I tried to sing the first line of Leo Sayer’s “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” in my morning shower. The line, “You got a cute way of walking,” came out in an unearthly screech, like the tires of Hell burning rubber. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the cat Dizzy rocket off in fright. She had nothing on me in that department. What if I had attempted to sing a Bee Gees song such as “Night Fever” or, God forbid, “You Should be Dancing”? My vocal chords would have jumped right out of my mouth and I’d be lying dead on the floor. That’s how bad it was. My ability to simulate ‘70s dance music was completely destroyed by this illness.

But what about congestion, you say. Tell us about the congestion. Oh, I had congestion – but plenty. I bought all kinds of cough and throat potions to tame that gentleman. One night I took an expectorant to loosen my mucus. It loosened it, all right.

I coughed so hard in bed I threw my back out. I woke up coughing, bent, and dangling my paws in front of me like an injured dog. Every time I coughed I had to grab something to keep my back stiff so I wouldn’t end up permanently shaped like an S.

That was a picnic compared to the next day. My back was feeling better, but in the early afternoon my eyes started to fill with mucus. This was a new one on me. I’d never had gobs of mucus covering my eyeballs before. It was like trying to see through milk, or cheesecloth. When my wife Barbara and I performed our usual Saturday night routine of going to a restaurant, I kind of enjoyed the novelty of not being able to see anything clearly. I pretended I was eating in an underwater restaurant. Dinner in Atlantis! I’m not sure Barbara enjoyed it though, seeing strings of mucus slide around in my eyes and watching them drop off into my lap. I’m not convinced that’s a big turn on.

As we left, we ran into a friend who was eating with a couple of nationally known writers and we stopped to meet them. It’s great to meet famous writers you’ve admired with mucus cascading across your eyes! To cover my embarrassment, I said to them, “I got mucus in my eyes.” I didn’t want them to think I was a lunatic or that my eyes normally looked like that.

That night as I slept the mucus hardened in my eyes like cement, and in the morning I had to chip it out of my eyelashes. But it didn’t return, and my other symptoms finally eased up as well.

By the way, most of the people in our office had this bug, but no one suffered as much as me. As I said, I don’t really like talking about it.

[3/13/96] October 2011
Why I Talk to Food

Mark Stivers

The other day I was having lunch with Joe (“I heal sick minds”) the psychologist and he caught me talking to my ketchup.

What I mean by this is that Joe saw me take the ketchup bottle in my hand, look it right in the eye, and say, “Buddy, you and I are gonna happen together.” Then I whacked it a few times on its side and eventually its thick tomatoey goodness poured into a glob next to my fries. You’ve all seen that. You know what a beautiful sight rich red ketchup next to a pile of fries is. And I was excited.

Now, I realize I shouldn’t have done this in front of a mental health professional.

Because Joe, in his smoothest, most comforting psychologist’s voice, said, “You know, people who read your writing have no idea how f---ed up you really are.”

But am I? Am I f---ed up? Who’s to say what’s f---ed up and what’s not?


I happen to talk to some objects. When I’m very hungry, I talk to food. I’ve talked to burgers, cheese, onions, celery sticks, pickles, baked potatoes, bread, assorted condiments, and many other comestibles. My purpose in doing this is to make a meal fully interactive; to make the things I’m going to eat feel like they’re part of a process, which after all, they are. I’m going to eat them, and they’re going into my stomach. We’re working together to reach a common goal: to feed me.

I do this with drinks as well. On Friday nights at Happy Hour I say to my Miller Lite, “Hello, my good man. I’m going to drink you now” and give it a pat on its head. This isn’t so uncommon. You’ve seen people communing with their drinks in bars. A lot of them are drunkenly staring into their drinks and thinking, “You’re . . . the only friend I got.” Me, I don’t talk to drinks when I’m all sentimental and mawkish. I’m positive and upbeat with drinks.

Before you say, “You’re out of your goddam mind,” wait a minute. I don’t believe these things necessarily understand what I’m saying to them. What I’m doing is creating an event, a ritual, like they do in Far Eastern countries. These items I’m about to eat are going to help me. They’re going to make me feel good. Why shouldn’t I give them every consideration? Why shouldn’t I treat them nice?

How do I know that when I die and go someplace in the afterlife, food items aren’t going to be running the show? You say, “Food items aren’t going to be running the show.” You gonna bet your afterlife on that? Not me. The afterlife is pretty damn eternal to be taking chances. If I get to the afterlife, and discover that say, a big potato is in charge – I admit I’d be surprised by this – I want that potato to say to me. “You treated all my brothers and sisters down there on earth with love and respect before you ate them. Now I will give you every consideration you gave them.”

That’s why I talk to animals, too. Of course I talk to the cat Dizzy, but I talk to dogs, squirrels, pigeons, crows, chipmunks, and everything else I see. Most of the remarks I make to animals are of the teasing variety, but a good-natured teasing. When I see a squirrel digging around on somebody’s lawn, I yell, “I’ll knock you on your buns!” It’s real friendly stuff. They know I’m horsing around with them. They know I’m like Daniel Boone, only without a musket. And both my wife and I yell at squirrels when we see them venture out onto tree lawns and too close to the street, frightening them to scamper back to safety. If the afterlife is ruled by a kingdom of squirrels, I’m going to be covered.

Psychologists don’t know everything.

[8/25/88] September 2011
Tales of the Northern Woods

Millard Draudt

While I was in the woods this past week, getting away from Cleveland’s hustle and bustle, I saw nearly all the animals I thought I would, including a snake that was swimming around our dock in the lake water. I kept my distance from that gentleman. A snake that can slither up through the boards of a dock and attack a young fellow like myself. I stayed on the shore and watched his movements carefully. You can tell me until you’re blue in the face that snakes aren’t slimy, but this one was. This one was a killer, like the snake in the August Reader’s Digest “Drama in Real Life” story, the one about the boy who was bitten by a rattler, then carried to his home, and help, by an angel. This boy swelled up to twice his normal size before he recovered. I’m not into that, thanks.

I also saw a raccoon, who one night came right up to the screen door and stared at our cat, Tootie. They sat there looking at each other for some time while I, unaware, was drinking beer and reading His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra by Kitty Kelley. I just happened to look up for a moment from the book – Frank was threatening someone – and spotted the two animals gazing at one another, I tiptoed over to the door and the raccoon, with a “fun’s over” expression, slowly turned and shambled off. Curiously, Tootie was purring. Had there been some kind of “thang” going on between these two? Nothing could shock me after reading about Sinatra’s life. Plus a few minutes later the raccoon reappeared, peering at Tootie over the edge of the deck on the side of the house. Loneliness was etched on his face. He had a purpose, a mission. But I wasn’t about to let Tootie out into that jungle.

And it was a jungle. Make no mistake. There were small children up there in the woods. My nieces and nephews. They ranged in age from seven months to eleven years. The seven-month-old one was my nephew from Washington D.C. He was fed from piles of green, orange and brown food. My brother would put him on the floor, and he’d swim in place, on his stomach. Then he’d turn over. He never said a word.

The other child ran wild. They lived in the house. They drew on the walls with pencils. They put their fingerprints on the windows. They broke screens, kicked in doors, and switched the lights and heat on and off. One of the three-year-old twins turned the thermostat up to 86 degrees in the middle of the heat wave. They talked about bathroom occurrences in great detail. They smacked each other and hollered and cried. They ate Kix and Life cereals. They ate Dairy Queen Blizzards made with Nerds. They ate macaroni and cheese.

They spoke in a way I couldn’t understand. Here’s a dialogue I had with one of the three-year-old twins, Edward.

EDWARD: Shut up, stupid.
ME: That’s not nice.
EDWARD: Shut up, stupid.
ME: No no.
EDWARD: Shut up, stupid.
ME: No no no.
EDWARD: Shut up, stupid.

What was this person getting at? What was his point? Why would he call me “Turd” or “Mr. Toilet?” And why would his seven-year-old brother belch and grin maniacally at me? When I was a youngster in the woods I wrote in my diary and observed nature–just like Beatrix Potter.

I was respectful to my elders and carried out their wishes with the greatest deference. I never cried or made trouble. I was perfect in every way. Anyway, I had a very nice time in the woods. I learned about the mating habits of raccoons, flies, and Frank Sinatra. I learned all about children. Like most good vacations, it was fun and educational.

[Jan. 1994] August 2011
Dominatrix

© Mark Stivers

I have questions about what I read in the Consenting Adults category of the personal ad sections in newspapers and magazines.

Some ads are fairly straightforward, like “ATTRACTIVE FEMALE WANTED for nude modeling opportunity. Photo (returnable), phone to: Photographer, etc.”. You’d hate to think this ploy would work, but knowing life, it probably does – a slap in the face of those of us who spent (and spend) years considering matters of nudity. Maybe the attractive female goes to the “photographer” and says, “I’m here for the nude modeling opportunity,” then poses with one hand on her hip and the other on the back of her neck, in what our former staff writer Jeff calls the Universal Symbol of Nudity. Fine. What can you say, they’re consenting.

But some ads raise other questions, like “WM seeks FEMALES ONLY to WRESTLE for fun/more. (Let’s make videos.) Training available.” God forbid this white male should wrestle himself. He’s thinking, Let others wrestle while I eat my sandwich, listen to my Herb Alpert records and watch. Some arrangement. What in the world does a woman think about as she heads out the door to go be trained in wrestling by a white male who put an ad in a rock’n’roll weekly? Wouldn’t the fun of wrestling for a white male pall after a while? And what if only one woman agrees to this guy’s wrestling scam? That’s the kind of wrestling match this doofus deserves.

I have more pressing questions about the dominant-submissive ads. How do you decide if you’re dominant? What if you’re just a little bossy? When I read an ad like Mistress Athena’s (“DOMINATRIX! Attention all submissives: Mistress Athena is currently seeking slaves to worship her throne. Skilled in all types of fetish/fantasy role-playing. Surrender now!”), it seems to go beyond bossy. It’s one thing to want things your own way, another to seek slaves to worship at your throne. There’s a person with a healthy ego, who has a throne where his or her slaves can conveniently worship.

If you’re a submissive, how do you present yourself to a dominatrix like Mistress Athena? Hat in hand, I guess. “Hello, I’m the new submissive.” It seems you would want to sound querulous. Then I suppose the dominatrix would say something like, “Get down on your knees, worm. You will obey your master and do as I command.” And of course, you being the submissive, would reply, “All righty.” I would also assume by that point both of you would be out of your street clothes and into something more uncomfortable.

You’re saying, “You sound a little too fascinated with this.” Frankly, I am. What kinds of fantasies do these people play at? Caesar and Cleopatra? The stable master and the debutante? Leona and Harry Helmsley? Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker? Madonna and Ross Perot? And what kind of fetishes are there, beyond the ever-popular one of the foot? Can you have a fetish for, say, the phone book? I hope not.

If you misbehave, does a dominatrix give you a smart rap on the nose with her finger – as you would do to your cat – or flick you with her whip? I wouldn’t care for either. Does she trod upon you? If this is punishment, is there a reward system? If submissives like punishment, wouldn’t that be a reward in itself, or would they want something normal, like a Tootsie Roll?

I also saw an ad for a dominatrix in a magazine containing the words “crossdressing denial.” The words were grouped just like that, leading you to think you could go up to the dominatrix and say, “Are you a crossdresser?” and she’d say, “No.” But they’re probably separate entities. Though I can guess what crossdressing is, I don’t know anything about denial. Is that like being contrary? Submissive: It’s hot. Dominator: It’s cold. Submissive: You’re right about that. Boy, you hit the nail right on the head. You certainly – Dominator: Silence, worm. Submissive: Yes, thank you, your grace.

[6-5-96] July 2011
Fun in the Office

Mark Stivers

While in the workplace it is, of course, vitally important that you perform your duties to your fullest capacity. But it is nearly as important to know when, and how, to “play.”

There may be times during your workday when you find yourself with a spare minute or two, and this is the perfect opportunity to take time off for less serious activities. As long as you are not bothering others, there is nothing wrong with enjoying a light moment with yourself – or with your co-workers, if they too find themselves in a “lag.”

Here are a few ways we here at the newspaper enjoy ourselves in our spare time.

The Time Expansion Game. One of my personal favorite workday games is Time Expansion. In this I talk about a certain subject – say, my choice of shirt that day – to a co-worker, then an hour or so later go back to that co-worker and say, “Remember when we were talking about my shirt? Those were the days, huh?” And I’d pretend to get misty with the recollection, and sing in a quavering voice, “Memories ... memories ...” Talk about mindbending fun!

Once, on our way to lunch, my co-worker and I had an argument about legalized gambling. After lunch – where the subject had been totally forgotten in the urgent business of eating food – I said to her, “Remember that time we argued about legalized gambling? We were so young then. We were passionate and we cared. Perhaps we cared too much.” And my co-worker said, “Shut up,” knowing full well that I had just scored point, game and match!

Try Time Expansion at your office. You’ll have the “time” of your life!

Imagining Happy Hour Themes. On Friday evenings here at the office, several of us head to the bar to drink beers at Happy Hour. To liven up this activity, we think up exciting “themes” for each Happy Hour.

For example, one week we had a “Hootenanny” theme. The next we had a “Rodeo” theme. The next, “Carnival in Rio.” In following weeks: “Under the Serengeti Skies,” “The Canals of Venice,” “Ski Lodge,” “Arrivederci Roma,” “Paris Cafe,” “North to Alaska” and many others.

These themes are all total fiction. We never follow through on any of them. We just go down to the bar, drink beers, complain about work and then ooze off our separate ways.

But it sure is a “hoot” to think ‘em up!

Finger Puppets. At your desk, an amusing thing to do with your fingers while they’re momentarily idle is to pretend you’re operating a puppet. When I want to take a brief respite from work, I “talk” to myself, answering by moving my fingers in puppet fashion while speaking in a different voice. I thus have a short but very stimulating conversation with my hand before getting back to work. (You might say it’s a “paws that refreshes”!)

Me: What’s your name, little fella?
My Fingers: I’m Fingers the Puppet. Why don’t you quit d--king around and get back to work?
Me: All right, all right! You’re one tough little taskmaster, aren’t you!
My Fingers: Go to hell.

Now there’s one conversation you’re in complete control of – when you want it to stop, just stop moving your fingers!

Listings Fantasy Land. Another activity I do while at my desk and without urgent business to transact is to type my name into this newspaper’s listings file to make myself the star of various concerts, shows and films.

So, for example, if the Art Museum is showing A Streetcar Named Desire, I go into the file where the information has been input and substitute my name for Marlon Brando’s: A Streetcar Named Desire. Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois and ERIC BRODER in his stunningly convincing performance as animalistic sex machine Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams poetic drama. With Kim Hunter and Karl Malden, 1951.

In this manner I’ve also starred in Casablanca, High Noon, Malcolm X, and The Wizard of Oz, was the featured artist in the Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and appeared on stage in the lead roles for touring productions of The Music Man and Fiddler on the Roof.

Of course I only leave my name in for a few seconds, then re-input the correct information. It’s fine to enjoy yourself, but not irresponsibly!

[7-26-90] October 2001, May 2011
Those Crazy Psychologists

Mark Stivers

So now they want me for medical experiments. I got a letter from a graduate student in psychology at Case Western Reserve University, and she says she wants to talk with me about my life history and have me fill out several questionnaires. She says in the form letter - sent to male CWRU graduates of 1972-82 - that she's studying the developmental differences among male graduates. And I've been chosen to be examined, just like a monkey!

If I thought that all I really had to do was fill out a few questionnaires and talk about my life history, I'd sign up for this thing. But it could be the old bait and switch. These psychology people lure you into their experiments with an incredibly appealing enticement like asking you to talk about your life history. Once they have you, though, they strap you into a wooden chair, give you electric shocks and slap you around.

I've taken a psychology course in college. I know what they do. Chances are this is one of those deals where I'll inflict pain on some other poor sap, to be rewarded for it with a few M&M's. Behavior modification, they call it. Or maybe this is one of those car studies, where they tie you up and lay you down in a parking lot, and almost but not quite run you over with a car to see your reactions. No thanks. I'll stay home if you don't mind.

I've always had trouble with psychologists. Despite having a psychologist friend (Joe - "I heal sick minds") most of these people make me uncomfortable. Once a psychologist came to the office to promote one of his b.s. seminars (something like "Finding and Holding Onto the Inner You") and he said to me, "Ah yes. I've read your articles. You could use some therapy." What do you say to that? "
Mais oui. Who among us couldn't?" Or "Is it not best to be insane in an insane world?" But I just said "Thank you."

"
What he didn't know was that I tried therapy a few times in my day. In seventh grade my folks took me to a psychologist because I was spreading a little misery around the house due to my inability to adapt to junior high. Big deal! Who doesn't complain about junior high? This was 1967. Junior high was tough in those days; so much so that they made a TV series about it, The Wonder Years, one of the most successful programs on TV. Doesn't that tell you anything? Was I so crazy to complain?

Anyway, they took me to a psychologist, and when I saw him, I knew I would not be able to work with him. The guy wore Hush Puppies with white socks! Junior high kids are very fashion-conscious and I was no exception. A psychologist who wore Hush Puppies with white socks would not be able to help me. The man couldn't even dress himself. That was the last time I went to him, and I also decided to try to cheer up a little so I wouldn't get sent to some other, maybe even worse, geek.

I went to another psychologist my junior year in college because I was depressed and smoking and drinking too much. I started talking to him and he kept shaking his head and repeating, "That's a devil of a problem. That's really a devil of a problem." I thought these people were supposed to shut up while you blabbed about your troubles. This doctor made me think he was going to have to bring in some heavy psychological artillery to battle my difficulty, which, looking back on it, was most likely a case of having too much time on my hands added to typical college kid depression. I thought, "Hey! This guy thinks I'm really sick!" and I got out of there in a hurry. From that point on I decided I could live with my blues, and maybe I'd feel better later.

I went to one more psychologist when I was studying journalism and revealed to him that I didn't think I was going to make it as a journalist because I didn't like calling people on the phone. To my surprise, he agreed with me and gave me three Valium. Him I liked. But if these CWRU people think I'm going to be part of their experiments, they're crazy. Unless they can assure me that all they really want to do is hear my life story, in which case I'll oblige. Just tell me when you want me to start.

[12/17/97] April 2011
Role-playing toys offer glimpse of real world

Indoor Toyshoppe, a wholly owned subsidiary of Indoor Industries, presents its catalog of role-playing toys that offer youngsters the educational opportunity to learn while having fun.

These interactive toys aren’t generally choking hazards and are thought to be flame retardant (see disclaimer on page 64).

Catalog item descriptions include overheard remarks of actual children, recorded during product testing.

License Bureau Felt playboard allows your child to pretend he/she is waiting to get a driver’s license just like mommy and daddy! Dozens of felt human figures (supplied) can be placed ahead of your child in line, while he/she systematically removes them one by one to get to the final destination: a driver’s license! Children role play other motorists and license bureau workers as patience and temper skills are tested in an interactive and fun environment. Includes actual Bureau of Motor Vehicles and E-Check pamphlets to read while waiting, and a miniature, out-of-order soda machine. Ages five and up.

Remarks overheard from Daryl, eight, and Carla, six, while playing License Bureau:
“The line starts back there. ... I don’t care how old you are, the line starts back there.”
“I don’t have my registration.”
“This isn’t the right form, you’ll have to come back. ... You’re going to have to come back, this is not the right form. I don’t care what you were told on the phone, this is not the right form.”
“Do not use that tone of voice with me.”
“You got a real attitude problem.”

Discount Drug World Children can set up their very own discount drug store with racks, fixtures and aisle signs (includes “Pain,” “Cough and Cold,” “Ears,” “Nasal,” “Vaginal Needs,” “Moist Wipes,” “Anal” and “Automotive”). We even supply dozens of products — miniature, detail-accurate boxes of Tylenol, Rogaine, Kotex, Ramses, etc.— their young “customers” can add to their shopping baskets. Then, your little shoppers can go on to a real cashier at a real checkout counter! (For that special discount drug ambiance, we’ve even included a cassette tape containing the original soft rock hits “House at Pooh Corner” and “Wildfire,” as well as Muzak versions of Jim Croce and Steely Dan songs.) Ages four and up.

Remarks overheard from Tiffany, six, Jason, five, and Adrian, eight, while playing Discount Drug World:
“I dunno, it might be in Aisle Eight.”
“This is the cash line.”
“I’m not gonna pay $1.59, it says $1.29 on the sign. Don’t you people look at your own signs?”
“Did you see my coupon? No, it expires today, it’s still good.”
“Let me see the manager.”
“I’m closed.”

My Little Bar Let your little ones have the fun of running a real-life tavern! Comes with an authentic three-foot by one-foot faux mahogany bar, tiny stools, moving draft beer pulls, miniature liquor bottles (courtesy of TWA) and two wet bar rags. Watch the fun as your diminutive barkeep serves his/her small-fry customers, wipes the bar, and closes up for the “night” — just like at mommy or daddy’s joints! Ages five and up.

Remarks overheard from Joe, eight, Ethan, seven, and Marla, five, while playing My Little Bar:
“Hey baby, hey baby, hey baby.”
“Get your hands off me.”
“My life’s a joke.”
“Settle down, settle down.”
“You’re cut off.”
“I could lose my license.”
“Yeah, and get my ass sued? No thanks.”

[8/28/99] March 2011
Fascinating Facts on Aging

Paul Palnik

Over the years I have observed many fascinating things about the aging process and the physical and psychological changes endemic to us all as we get older.

While these observations are taken from my own life, I believe that they’re universal. I’m telling you they’re universal.

Your dreams become duller. When I was a young buck, I would often dream about having sex with various women, including such celebrities as Ann Margret. In the past few months alone my most vivid dreams have been about a) eating dinner; b)getting a haircut; c) finding tufts of hair in my nostrils; and d) renting the movie Donnie Brasco only to discover it was actually Godfather II. When I’m not dreaming about this kind of stuff, I dream about dirty bathtubs or overflowing toilets.

You become a flat-out hypochondriac. I now ascribe catastrophic illnesses to all the minor physical aches, pains and discomforts I used to snap my fingers at. When I have a headache, I think cerebral hemorrhage. When I feel pain in my side, I think kidney failure. When I have gastrointestinal distress, I think colon cancer. Whenever I get even the mildest flu, I think, This is it: the final act.

You can’t wave a magic wand and get rid of your fat stomach. As I lie on my back watching TV, I’m bummed when I examine my stomach, which used to be concave but is now convex. I try pushing it back in, but it pops right back out. For the first time in my life, I might just have to go on a diet. To this end, I bought some cans of chocolatey Slim Fast, of which my co-worker Chris Spencer says, “That goes good with a burger and fries.” So, in a concession to age, I’m going to go on my Slim Fast-burger-and-fries diet to get back to a figure that is youthful and possibly even award winning.

You start acting like a great-uncle. As my eyesight and memory worsen, I greet people I can’t remember with a false, hearty “Hello! How are you today!” adding a mumbled “Rruh-ruh” to cover their names. When people honk at me from their cars and I don’t have a clue as to who they are, I yell “Hello there!” adding to myself, “whoever the hell you are.”

Men pee on their feet when they get older. Fellows: if you doubt that you pee on your own feet — not on purpose, of course — I’ll bring the cat Dizzy to your house for her special urine test. She’ll smell your feet, and after she does her mouth will hang open and her eyes will cross as they do whenever she smells pee on my feet, which is all the time. Don’t be saying you don’t pee on your feet, because you do. You’re old, you pee on your feet.

Out of desperation you do things you would never have dreamt of doing. Because I obsess over my liver, I’m now trying the herb milk thistle, which is supposed to put that gentleman on the straight and narrow. Two years ago I would have snorted if anyone had suggested that I would take herbs — the ultimate hippie alternative tree-hugging weirdo deal. But it can’t kill me, am I right? Hey, if something called milk thistle can kill me, I don’t deserve to live.

Your sense of humor regresses, becoming more infantile. Rude, cretinous bathroom humor is again appealing to me. For years I scorned jokes about poo-poo, wee-wee and throw-up. Now I make farting noises with my mouth out our car window whenever I see a dog making number two on a tree lawn. It’s really funny because the dog gives me a dirty look but can’t do anything because the car’s going fast and he can’t catch me. Ha ha ha!

You get dumber. See items above.

[6/27/91] February 2011
Why I am a Sex Machine

Paul Palnik

There are many reasons why I am a sex machine. I think the main ones have to do with appearance and attitude. Let's start with appearance, if that's OK.

Appearance of the sex machine. Clothes make the man, and I'm no exception. All the clothes I wear are made of the sex fabric, cotton. Cotton breathes with the skin, wicking perspiration, and as it and the skin become one you end up with, you know, a sexy look. That's why I'm constantly being undressed by women's eyes as I walk around the office building here, because they want to, you know, see me naked, I'm pretty sure.

My hair is real sexy too. It's brown, the sex color. You know what they say about men with brown hair. The same thing they say about men with receding hairlines. My hairline recedes on some days, and on other days comes charging back. You know what that is? That's raging hormones, and you better believe that's got everything to do with sex. Sex, sex.

Framing my sex-filled brown hair are my ears, as you might suspect. They're quite big, and that means something too. They stick out from my head, which is a sure sign of potent. . . ah, you know. . . potent sex. Clark Gable had ears like mine, and they called him the King of Hollywood. He was big box office, but he was big in other fields as well. My ears are just like his, so you can draw your own conclusions, if you want to.

To the direct right and left of each ear are my eyes, which are really pretty suggestive. I've hypnotized women with my eyes, because they're very powerful, like Svengali's. They bore right in on you. I'm afraid to look people in the eye because I've got this frightening power, and I could easily misuse it. Don't you think? So when I don't look you in the eye, it's not that I'm squirrely, but that my hypnotic sexual eyes would put you in a trance, and that's not necessary in everyday business. But, as I said, I can and have hypnotized women with them, and, you know, may do so again.


Many a time a woman has said to me, "You have a sensual mouth." I think the strength of my sensual mouth is in my lips, which are crimson slashes that cruelly bisect my face. Actually, they're a little lower than that, but "bisect" is a well-known sexual buzzword. Most of you got that, right? At any rate, the mouth is very sensual, which spells t-r-o-u-b-l-e for the woman I'm kissing, if I can get personal here.


Attitude of the sex machine. On to attitude, which might even be more important than appearance to a sex machine. I have a devil-may-care attitude that really is catnip to most women. Which is to say they find it very appealing, not that women could be influenced like cats are with catnip. But if they could ; and mind you, I'm saying if - maybe they'd react to my devil-may-care attitude in a way that's similar to cats and catnip; that is, by wriggling around on the floor and having breathing difficulties. But maybe you'd get the same reaction if you tickled them, I don't know for sure.


Anyway, a sex machine has to have an attitude of "I don't care what you think, I'm me, and I like being me!," darn it. Which is what I do. For example, I had a stress zit on my forehead last week, and I covered it with a big Band-Aid. Now most people don't look too good with a Band-Aid plastered across their foreheads. But here I turned disadvantage into advantage. I didn't tell people I had a stress zit on my forehead; I used a special strategy. I walked on the balls of my feet with my arms dangling loosely at my sides ; just like a cocky, bantamweight fighter. Women weren't thinking, "Look at the loser covering that zit on his head with a Band-Aid," they were thinking, "That monkey's been in a scrap. I'd like to place a cool, moist towel on his injury. I hope he's not hurt in every part of his body, that big sex machine."

God, I hope that's what they were thinking. I looked like such a shmuck.

[2-16-89] January 2011
A Message From Pleasantville

Paul Palnik

Hello! I’m writing to you from Pleasantville, New York, home of the Reader’s Digest. I’m not physically in Pleasantville, but my heart – and a lot of my money – is there. Because I’m rapidly becoming a member of the Reader’s Digest family, and there’s no turning back once you cross that line into Reader’s Digest territory. Once the Reader’s Digest has you it tenaciously but pleasantly holds on.

I knew I was finished when I received my first Reader’s Digest Condensed Book the other day. I could never have consciously ordered a Reader’s Digest Condensed Book. A swinging guy like me doesn’t have a shelf full of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books in his living room, with their triple-titled spines and their cheap, lightweight paper. Grandma keeps these books, not finger-popping urbanites who read Spy. But there it was in my mailbox. Three books in one volume, with 1937-style magazine illustrations peppered throughout. And they’re going to keep coming every two months until I say Stop, which I’m slightly afraid to do.

This is all my own fault. I teased the Reader’s Digest, which is to say I made the decision to subscribe. But you don’t just subscribe to the Reader’s Digest. They didn’t build a media empire on simple subscriptions where they send you 12 issues and politely ask you to renew when it runs out. I was told I made a commitment for two years in a note that seemed to be written by a nice but potentially disapproving elderly woman who makes her home in Pleasantville. And now the Reader’s Digests are piling up. You can’t throw the boogers out, either. I can’t anyway, and I’m not sure why.

It’s probably because the magazine looks like a book, chock-full of items that may be useful in the future, like October’s “Hospital Handbook” and “The Smart Way to Car Shop.” What if I threw it away and then suddenly landed in the hospital, or decided to buy a car? or November’s “How to Argue With Your Boss.” December’s “Problem Solving Made Easier.” January’s “How to Beat a Bad Mood.” How do I know I won’t need these tips? You can throw away other magazines with self-help articles, but not Reader’s Digest, with its handy front cover table of contents that is like an index of helpfulness. It would be sinful to throw a reference away, wouldn’t it? These Reader’s Digest people are shrewd.

They don’t neglect the lighter fare either, like “Paradise on the Palate: Pickles” (October), “Let’s Give Salt a Fair Shake” (November), “What Our Fingernails Reveal” (also November), “How to Swat a Fly” (June), and “Wackiest thing I Ever Heard” (October). Not to mention “Humor in Uniform,” “Life in These United States,” “Campus Comedy” and “Laughter, the Best Medicine,” all the chuckle-inducing staples, dumb jokes taken from life, Pleasantville laffs. No filthy talk, no dirty stuff. Sam Kinison wouldn’t make it in the Digest. We Digest readers wouldn’t dream of listening to Sam Kinison.

See? I’m thinking like a Digest-er already. Phrases are beginning to run through my mind like “A Simple Gift of Blood,” “ABCs of Courage,” and “Where Joy Abounds.” The famous “Drama in Real Life.” That one won’t go away any time soon. These folks will make any circle square. I know I’m being brainwashed. And I’m getting it every month without fail, and sometimes I think twice a month the stubby little journal is being stuck in my mailbox with its “God Bless Irving Berlin” articles written by Ronald Reagan and “Disney’s Five Ways to Make Dreams come True” and “The Dog Who Knew Better” and “My Father’s Greatest Gift” and all the rest of it. I know I’ll keep getting it, too, because I don’t think you can unsubscribe to the Reader’s Digest. They’re far too powerful in Pleasantville.

[12-5-95] December 2010
Successful Saving Strategies

Millard Draudt

As I peruse my copy of A Millionaire’s Notebook: How Ordinary People Can Achieve Extraordinary Success, the same old question pops into my mind. Why do people buy 270-page books designed to make them millions when all they have to do is read a 700-word column like this one and get the same result? A column that’s not only free – but worth every penny?

This is the first rule in amassing wealth: Never spend money on millionaires’ books on how they became millionaires. Money spent on millionaires’ books is money flushed down the porcelain facility.

Here’s why. Say you bought ten millionaires’ books, at twenty bucks a pop. That’s $200. You could have invested that $200 in a mutual fund, and within a few years it’d be worth $150,000. Certainly the $200 is only a small part of what would have to be an initial investment of $100,000, and don’t ask me how to get the $100,000, but I think I’ve made my point. You’re you! It’s time you invested in yourself! And this is what this column is all about.

Let’s begin by defining investing right off the bat. Investing is taking one sum of money and transforming it into another, bigger sum of money. Go into any brokerage house downtown and you’ll see a framed needlepoint sampler on the wall, with the motto Money In, Money Out is Our Bidness embroidered on it. All this means is Money In (from the investor); Money Out (to investments), and that’s their bidness. And this has got to be the key to your investment strategies.

I personally have found considerable success by putting my money into savings accounts. What is a savings account, you ask. Well, simply put, a savings account is an account at a bank that you put your money into and forget about for a while. In 1961, at the age of six, I (under the supervision of my parents) put one dollar into a savings account at a bank at Shaker Square. I forgot about it for years, and the bank went out of business in 1972. I lost that dollar, but it had been gathering interest, and that’s your key. If the bank hadn’t gone out of business, I’d have several dollars now, and that’s savvy investing.

Another saving and investment strategy I’ve found that works for me is the “cash on the night table” technique that saves me at least $20 a week. Like you, I use my bank card to get cash. However, I don’t keep all the cash I’ve withdrawn in my billfold – I put some on my night table, where I can’t get my hands on it during the day. Thus I’m not tempted to spend it! This money not spent is money that could possibly go into stocks, mutual funds, municipal or corporate bonds, pig futures, and Treasury bills. I haven’t put any money into these things personally, but I always have that option, and options are all-important when it comes to investing.

The only things I invest in directly are CDs, and this is where I diverge from the average investor. Where some invest in CDs as Certificates of Deposit, I invest in them as Compact Discs. Do you know that I own CDs featuring the work of such artists as the Beach Boys, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Madness, Love, Duane Eddy, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, and Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band? That's right – those and many, many more. Not only are these CDs filled with music that I “get down to” on a daily basis, they’re my hedge against the future.

Others laugh at me when I tell them that my CDs will bring in $500 apiece in a few short years. They call me an “imbecile” and an “idiot.” But we'll see who the “imbeciles” are when I rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars as I sell my Bing Crosby and New York Dolls CDs. We’ll see who has the last laugh.

And, as for you, if you can’t get rich after having read this column, you have only yourself to blame.

[] November 2010
A Thanksgiving Memory
A simple farmboy remembers animals and dissension . . .

The Thanksgiving of 1966 was my best. I was a farm boy, eleven years old, growing up on a quarter-acre in Shaker Heights. We grew corn, wheat, barley, squash and racquetball and raised cows, pigs, horses, goats, chickens and weasels. God, the place stunk. My twelve brothers and nine sisters and I loved it, though we hated each other.

On this particular Thanksgiving my pa had selected for our dinner a huge turkey we had raised from scratch. His name was Ray, and he was my favorite pet. Ray followed me to school and stayed outside the classroom door, with occasional trips to the lavatory, but faithful beyond that.

Ray was my protector, too. When Larrupin' Ed Goldblum, the school bully, tried to mess with me, Ray would peck him and whip him with his considerable wattles. And Ed would go home crying. (Eventually he transferred to Hawken.) Naturally, I felt close to Ray.

When my pa announced that Ray was going to be Thanksgiving dinner, I didn't really mind, because I realized that despite the closeness I felt to the bird, he'd be delicious. There were plenty of other animals around, anyway.


The real story of that Thanksgiving, however, was the defection of my brother Hurdy over to the Soviet Union. Hurdy was by far the most unpopular member of the family, with the personality of a slice of Velveeta. (As a matter of fact, we called him Vel.) He decided that Thanksgiving would be the perfect day for his defection. He figured the authorities would call while the whole family was together, and we'd be uniformly depressed about the affair.


We did notice that Hurdy wasn't at dinner, but no one commented. The call from the FBI came right in the middle of dessert. My pa answered the phone. "Uh-huh, uh-huh," he kept saying. Finally he hung up and came back to the table.
"Hurdy's defected to the Soviet Union," he said. No one knew how to respond to this, though we all knew it was for the best. Hurdy really was a pain to be around. So we never talked about it again.

Another fascinating thing that happened that Thanksgiving was the Beatles' visit to our home. It was after dinner, Hurdy was gone and forgotten, and things were a little dull.

My sisters Carmello and Aruba were big fans of the Fab Four. They had all their albums and played the hi-fi out in the barnyard, which drove my pa crazy. But the animals seemed to like it, which made our dairy products all that much better. So my pa quit complaining after a while.

We were sitting around after dinner arguing (as usual) when a Lincoln pulled up in our driveway, sending chickens squawking. It was Brian Epstein, the Beatles' manager:"'Ello, luvs!" he called. "Could my lads stay here a bit? They're all out really."Then the Beatles piled out of the car. Carmello and Aruba were squealing and hooting. George kissed Aruba on the cheek, and she screamed and fell down. What a dumb commotion, I thought.

But it turned out the Beatles were all nice guys. My brother Elvert and I showed them how to milk cows and dig wax out of chickens' ears, except George, who said it was "grotty." The rest of them were quite eager to learn about farming, and my brother and I showed them all we knew.

My ma was inside serving Brian Epstein frozen cocktail tacos when the Beatles pulled me inside. "Eric, yer a smart boy really," John said to me. "Wot ye doin' hangin' around this 'ere farm when ye cood be managin' us."I had to say no, because at age eleven I considered myself inexperienced. But it was a boost to my ego, and I was walking on clouds for days after the group left. They did use one of the tunes I wrote for them that night, "Hey Jude."

The only blot on that Thanksgiving was my brother Paolo being arrested for arson. They took him away snarling like a rabid dog. Beyond that unpleasantness, though, it was the best Thanksgiving of my life.

[February 25, 1998] October 2010
Healthier Than Hell

A recent newspaper article revealed that “taking brisk, half-hour walks just six times a month appeared to cut the risk of premature death ... among twins” and, even better, that vigorous exercisers – those who did at least the equivalent of six walks a month – were 44 percent less likely to die.

All right! Not only have I been taking vigorous, healthful walks regularly for years, I’m also a twin. I was always pretty sure I wasn’t going to die, and this new research bears me out. I even phoned my twin sister, a Cleveland cop who doesn’t walk, to taunt her about this, but she won’t return my calls. I walk nearly every day, usually for 35 minutes, often longer. Do the math. According to my calculations, I’m actually 92 percent less likely to die. Who knew?

I’ve always known that walking is the greatest exercise in the world. You can really burn off some serious anger as you leg it down the avenue. Just the other day, I successfully walked off a Revco rage. I had been in the Revco pharmacy, waiting a good half-hour for a prescription to be refilled – then I was told I was short 71 pills and would have to come back. Seventy-one pills! I get there early, wait and wait while these people diddle around, then I get 49 stinkin’ pills. You think I like loitering in the Antacid aisle reading Gas-X boxes to kill time? I do not. You think I like feeling up bags of cosmetic puffs because I’m so freakin’ bored waiting around for my colitis pills? I do not!

Then, that same day, I go to Lenscrafters to pick up my new spectacles which were “done in one hour” – yeah, one week and one hour. My lenses were so strong they had to send away to Elyria. Elyria, the long-fabled home of world-class opticians! So I get to Lenscrafters, sign in as I’m supposed to do – playing the game! – then this old bag comes in, waltzes over to the ladies’ frames without signing in and gets served ahead of me as I sit there with my thumb up my ass. I managed to stand up and protest, grab my glasses and get the hell out. I’m telling you, if I hadn’t walked off my tension earlier in the day, I’d surely have toppled over in a fit at Lenscrafters, hit my head on a Armani frame display and be writing this from a hospital bed as I gnaw on my evening gelatin.

Walking is a peaceful exercise, too. You can really organize your thoughts and get a lot accomplished. Of course, not every walk is completely tranquil. I’ve mentioned “Nibbles’ Christmas Miracle,” a near-fatal squirrel incident, in an earlier column, but unleashed dogs barreling up at me can be mighty alarming as well. If they’re little pooches it’s no big deal, but some of these ladies and gents look like they could rip you a new one. They seem to have a particular interest in me, too. At first I thought the explanation was that they thought my brown shoes were little dogs moving toward them, but I’m now convinced that they just think I’m a bigger dog. I’ve gained a few pounds over the years, have a brown, furry beard and a round, dog-like snout, so it makes sense. (With this in mind, my co-worker, Laura, has taken to calling me “Stubby.” That’s all right, Laura. Give me your best shot! I’ll take it with a smile, because I’m Ford tough on the outside. But no one ever sees Stubby’s tears in the men’s room.)

I’ve had to practically develop the skills of an animal trainer to keep these animals from biting me. You have to hold your hand out, let them smell you and hope to god you don’t withdraw a bloody stump. Hey, dog owners: you ever hear of a leash? It’s that peculiar device that keeps your dogs from running up to innocent pedestrians and nipping at their ankles or peeing all over them. Here I am trying to get my vigorous exercise and I gotta practically be Jungle Larry to prevent myself from being devoured by your nitwit mutt. Get a goddamn clue, willya?

Ninety-two percent, man. You’ll still be seeing me in 2088, humping down the street, and healthier than hell.

[September 15, 1988] September 2010
Conversational Klutz

© Millard Draudt

When my dentist asked me how I was, I said, “Fine.” I settled into the chair silently cursing myself. That answer was straight out of the book. Why couldn’t I come up with something zestier? “Fine.” What a word. It’s right up there with “Good,” which was my reply to his next question: “And how are those teeth doing?” Not that his cues left a lot of room for improv. But those words should be a preface to the conversational fireworks to follow, not hang there and then drop to the floor.

I’m embarrassed by my lack of conversational skill. It’s only with people I don’t know very well. I don’t come up with anything good. As a former writer and editor at a sassy big city weekly I should be able to make stinging political remarks or knowing references to the machinations of the powerful. I can’t, though. I don’t know a thing about it. I know what I know, which is embarrassing in itself. I know about Michael Landon and Tony Curtis and Lainie Kazan. I know about Steve Allen and Sid Caesar and Cyd Charisse. I know about Red Buttons and Barbara Bain. But I don’t want people I don’t know to know right away that I’m a show-biz cretin, so I don’t talk about much of anything at first. I say “Good” and “Fine” and “Thanks a lot.” Small ticket conversational items.

I’m not at ease with people I don’t know, and I envy those who are. I can’t wing chit-chat. Those who can have the ability to pick up on another person’s interests and get him or her to talk. Dale Carnegie knew. Tell the woman working at the bank or post office you like her hairstyle, said Dale Carnegie, or ask her about her work. Get her talking. People love to talk about themselves. God knows I do. Of course, I wonder if those people who do get you to talk about yourself are really listening, though that’s not the point, is it.

I wish I could have gotten the barber to talk the other day. He was knocking my head around with a plastic brush, stimulating my scalp (I hope), spritzing my hair with foul spray and keeping his mouth shut. I think he was Greek. He looked like former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, one tough monkey. As I sat in the chair I heard an ad for a hair salon on the radio. The voice-over said, “It’s in, it’s now, it’s happening, it’s today,” obviously caught in a time-warp. But I wondered what that barber thought of all that “in, now, happening, today” stuff taking away his business. But I didn’t ask. I miss a lot when I don’t ask.

So in my efforts to avoid looking foolish I end up looking boring. The “yes, no, good, fine, thanks a lot” guy. When I first meet someone I want to say, “Listen, don’t judge me on the dull exterior…I’m really a funny guy!” I have actually said this to some people. I don’t even want to think about how that came off. What a pisher. I’ve kept up a front of politeness and cordiality with some of my acquaintances for years, which kept them acquaintances. Only when I relaxed with them did they become friends. I wasted a lot of time because I didn’t just say what was on my mind, wing it, improvise, have fun.

This skill could also help me in sticky situations. Haven’t there been times when you’ve wished you could have crushed some dolt with spontaneous wit? But “yes, no, good, fine” people like me rarely summon wit up when it’s really needed. Like the other day, when I was on the rapid transit and it cruised right by my stop and took me a block out of my way. This was hardly a disaster, but as we all know the point of mass transit is to drop the passengers off at their stop. I mean, this is a crucial part of the venture. And I was standing at the door, poised to debark. These are precisely the points I should have made to the driver, plus I should have asked for a free weekly pass – incidentally impressing the pretty blond woman sitting near the front of the car with my mastery.

But instead I squawked “Huh – hey!” from my spot at the rear door, and after lurching up to the driver, all I could think of to say was “Yuh missed my stahhp!”

in my flat Midwestern voice that always gets flatter in times of stress. And I didn’t say anything when all the driver did was offer me a lousy transfer for the next rapid headed west.

Good or bad, I don’t know what to say.

[December 1993] June 2010
Dining Rights

Mark Stivers

Last week a local publication presented a dining section filled with restaurateurs’ anecdotes of various diners’ behavior in their establishments. Some restaurateurs indicated they didn’t always appreciate the methods of some of their customers’ criticism of their restaurant, food or service.

I myself receive superior service in restaurants because I demand it. I’m paying the bill, and I do not hesitate to assert my basic rights as a customer. The following is a brief guide on how you can assert your rights as well.

When you walk in the door. The first thing you do when entering a restaurant is to demand to see the manager. When the manager comes over, you read him or her the riot act. “All right, ground rules: I’m going to sit down at that table. Then you’re going to serve me. Everything better be perfect. If it is, then I may eat in your restaurant again. If not, I’ll put you out of business so fast it’ll make your head spin.” I do this everywhere, from the most expensive restaurants to McDonald’s, where they pat me on the shoulder after my opening statement and say “Uh huh, that’s right” to show how much they appreciate my candor.

And don’t put up with any nonsense about there being a “wait” for a table. In this eventuality, I put my arm around the host, keep it around him, and go wherever he goes until I get my table. Don’t even let the host go to the bathroom without you going with him. You will get seating priority if you follow this simple plan.

At the table. Before you order, ask your server some essential questions. Go down the menu and, at each and every item, ask for a complete list of the ingredients and exactly how the meal is prepared, from time spent cooking to the sizes and kinds of pans and utensils used in preparation. This may take a while, but your server will see that you are truly a professional diner.

Examples of other key questions: “What is the exact fat content of this meal?” and “Precisely how much salt was used in preparing this?” If they say a teaspoon, demand to see the teaspoon used and scrape it with your fingernail to see if it is sufficiently clean. Hold it in your hand and check its heft.

Again, I do this even at McDonald’s, where every morning I demand a complete list of ingredients and method of preparation of my Egg McMuffin. A long and angry line forms behind me as the McDonald’s employee and I discuss this, but you can’t let other people’s grumbling affect your rights as a consumer.

When you are served. When your server presents your meal to you, raise your index finger and say, “Just a moment.”

Try a tiny portion. Then, without fail, hand the plate to your server and say, “Send it back.” It makes no difference if the food tastes fine. No experienced diner eats the “first draft” of a meal. I personally have sent back a meal up to a dozen times.

On occasion I have demanded to go to the kitchen and talk to the chef myself. One chef who repeatedly blew the preparation of my meal and was the recipient of one of my lectures thoughtfully listened to my suggestions. However, by an unfortunate coincidence, he went berserk at this same time and had to be restrained from attacking someone with a meat cleaver. Although he was looking unnervingly in my direction during this episode I know he couldn’t have been annoyed with me for simply asserting my dining rights.

Snapping your fingers. One restaurateur mentioned that he didn’t like customers snapping their fingers to get a server’s attention. To the contrary, I have been snapping my fingers for service for years, and it has worked just fine. Recently, at one restaurant, not only did my server literally run to my table when I snapped my fingers, salute smartly and say “Yes, sir!”, most of the restaurant’s other servers came to my table to look at me as well. Then, as I left the restaurant, I saw the servers standing together, all snapping their fingers in unison in tribute to my sophistication as an experienced diner. (I also heard one of them say “Snap this,” adding an unintelligible word that sounded like “pucker” — apparently a mispronunciation of my last name.)

Tipping. Tipping is un-American.

A final word. So go out and enjoy your dining experience. A word of warning, however: The last several times I’ve returned to the various restaurants I’ve dined at previously, I’ve been told that they were “closed for private parties until further notice.” You might want to make a note of it.

[April 1997] April 2010
Flavorful Cheese and Bad Poetry

I recently received an excellent book from Vintage called Very Bad Poetry. I do find it necessary, however, to question one of the editors’ selections.
The following poem is entitled “Ode on the Mammoth Cheese” (weighing over 7,000 pounds. Here are just a few stanzas:

We have seen thee, Queen of cheese,
Lying quietly at your ease,
Gently fanned by evening breeze,
Thy fair form no flies dare seize. ...

Cows numerous as a swarm of bees,
Or as the leaves upon the trees,
It did require to make thee please,
And stand unrivaled, Queen of cheese. ...

We’rt thou suspended from balloon,
You'd cast a shade even at noon,
Folks would think it was the moon,
About to fall and crush them soon.

You call this “very bad poetry”? Excuse me, but ... it’s about cheese. This extremely interesting poem was written in 1855, which proves that cheese is an ageless and universal wonder. And the poem itself calls forth vivid imagery of a huge cheese lying in a dignified manner out in a meadow (“Lying quietly at your ease ... Gently fanned by evening breeze”), ready to be nibbled on by villagers. Plus, I will tell you in all candor that if I have to be crushed,
I would love to be crushed by a 7,000 pound cheese. If it doesn’t kill me, I could gnaw my way out to the top. I’d prefer it to be extra sharp cheddar, too. Delicious!

Because I’m a writer, I have numerous thoughts, and cheese is chief among them. Through the years I have taken extensive notes on the subject. I'd like to share some observations with you, although this is of course only the tip of the cheese iceberg.

You may have guessed my favorite cheese is extra sharp cheddar, and you’d be right. There isn’t any point to mild cheddar; sharpness is what makes cheddar sing. Have you ever grated extra sharp cheddar, put a massive load of it on top of a burger, then garnished it with ketchup? Oh my. Oh my. Simply eating it a la carte is a big-time thrill, too. Plane some thick slices off your chunk, get yourself a crisp red apple, and you’re in bidness. The sweet and the sharp of the apple and the cheese have a fistfight inside your mouth, and guess who wins? That's right. Your mouth.

“What about American cheese?” you ask. I’m going to throw you a curve here. My opinion is ... there’s nothing wrong with it. Hey, it beats Colby. I’m serious. Monterey Jack, Brick, Muenster, Colby – these are all mewling little half-assed unassertive cheeses that only serve as sandwich filler. Caulk! American cheese (while perhaps not an a la carte item) tops your burger almost as well as the extra sharp cheddar ... if you use it in conjunction with raw onion, ketchup and mustard. Once, I was in a bar eating a cheeseburger with raw onion, ketchup and mustard, and it was so perfect I started to cry a little, and had to go to the men’s room to recover. So don’t ask me to make fun of American cheese.

Which brings us to American cheese’s unfairly scorned and despised cousins, Olde English Cheese Food and Velveeta. Have you ever had these on top of your burger, particularly the Olde English? You spoon a heaping tablespoonful of this stuff on your meat near the end of the broiling process, and just watch that baby melt like lava over the sides of a mountain. Velveeta on a burger, too, is excellent, leaving a microscopic film on the roof of your mouth for days. Just don’t put on too many slices of Velveeta, or you’ll have trouble discerning the burger from the cheese. I made that mistake once, and didn’t know what I was eating.

Space restrictions prevent me from going on here, but rest assured I’ve got plenty to say about Roquefort, Swiss (I’ve got some controversial ideas on this), Stilton, my Italian friend Bel Paese, the ultimate waste-of-time mozzarella, the pointless provolone, and Laughing Cow. But plenty. Some other time.

Pick Hit of the Week: Merkt’s Garlic Herb Cold Pack Cheese Food spread on Old London Onion Melba Snacks.

[January 1994] March 2010
Choking: A pressure-packed situation

Millard Draudt

I was eating lunch with our office’s production manager at a fine restaurant recently when she began coughing and turning red. I thought, “I hope to God she’s not choking, because no way do I want to try the Heimlich maneuver.”

After she settled down, we discussed the relative embarrassment of having the Heimlich maneuver done on you or choking to death in a public place. Gina was saying she’d rather choke than have someone get behind her, wrap their fists around her stomach, and thrust up until a chunk of food comes shooting out of her mouth. I say, sure, that looks tacky, but boom, it’s done, you ask for the check quick and then get the hell out. Maybe the restaurant would give you the meal on the house. That’s a potential bonus.

On the other hand, if you choke to death, you lie there on the restaurant floor in full view of other patrons. What dignity is there in that? You’d hope the host or hostess would cover you with a tablecloth – or at least place a napkin over your face – but there’s no guarantee. Some of these hosts and hostesses are just kids and don’t know anything about etiquette. It could be an hour before the proper authorities come to bundle you out of there, with the waiters and waitresses stepping over you on the way to their stations.

I worry more that my dining companion will be the one choking and I’ll try the Heimlich maneuver and fail. I’m afraid I’ll put my fist up too high and crack a rib, though I read somewhere you place your fist “just above the navel and below the ribcage.” I can remember the navel tip better than about the ribcage because obviously you have a better idea where a person’s belly-button is than their ribcage. It’s a universal location.

But this is a pressure-packed situation and you might end up thrusting all over the person’s body and never find the right spot. You’d look like one prize chump. What do you do when the person you’re trying the Heimlich maneuver on drops to the floor? Do you laugh embarrassedly and say, “Well, it was worth a shot, right?” That’s about as much savior faire as you can summon in this kind of situation and frankly, it’s a lame remark.

I read somewhere you can give yourself the Heimlich maneuver if you’re choking alone or if your dining companion is so embarrassed he or she pretends not to notice. It’s got something to do with a chair, I know that. You bend over the back of the chair but I’m not sure what you do then. It’s got to be the right kind of chair, too. It’s not going to work with a barstool, unless you thrust the barstool in your stomach. That might be a little more comfy than the hard wooden back of a chair, now that I think of it. Of course if neither works in dislodging the chunk of food from your windpipe it won’t matter. I don’t see how hugging yourself in the Heimlich would work either. You can’t get that good thrusting action.

I do happen to know CPR, however. I learned it in college 15 years ago. So if you’ve choked and I’ve failed to dislodge the food chunk with the Heimlich, you haven’t necessarily bought the farm. I could try mouth-to-mouth on you. Of course, if food is blocking your windpipe ... hmm. I could probably get your heart going for you again, if you’re interested. I revived dummies in my CPR class. Just don’t ask me to “clear your airway,” which if I remember correctly means wiping vomit out of your mouth with my finger. Put it this way. If you can find someone to clean your airway, I’ll give the mouth-to-mouth and the heart thing a shot. That’s the best I can do.

[December 1998] December 2009
Eternal Verities of Life

I have been pleasantly surprised as to how my aging and newfound maturity has affected for the better my interaction with my colleagues and co-workers.

As I get older I have a heightened appreciation of the Golden Rule and the eternal verities of life. I now see the beauty of simple pleasures: a crisp apple, a cool glass of water, a refreshing enema.

I also see the profound truths in the old maxims and proverbs I used to dismiss as “square” or “strictly from Nowheresville.” Indeed, I find myself using many of them for situations that arise in the office.

For example, if a colleague asks to borrow a dollar, I present him or her with a penny and say, “Here is one penny. Come back tomorrow and I will give you another. The day after tomorrow I will give you another. In 98 days, you’ll have your dollar. Because ...” And my colleague will invariably finish the sentence: “Because a penny saved is a penny earned,” throw the penny in my face and walk away. I will call after the person, “What you have learned is worth more than any dollar. It is priceless,” and re-pocket my penny. In my younger days, I used to loan money freely. This is much better.

When a young colleague starts to complain about work, I will remain silent for a moment, then remark, “A fool expects to find water at the first stroke of his spade.” In most cases, my colleague, in youthful ignorance, will ask, “What does that mean?” I’ll reply, “It means a coconut shell full of water is an ocean to an ant.” While these young people may not fully comprehend what I’m talking about right now – the last person I told the ant-in-the-coconut-shell proverb told me I ought to be “put in a hamster cage” – the wisdom of these words will become apparent to them soon enough.

What these people don’t realize is that these proverbs have lasted hundreds of years for a reason. While one may not immediately glean the meaning of old proverbs such as “A barber learns to shave by shaving fools” or “A fence lasts three years, a dog lasts three fences, a horse three dogs, and a man three horses,” they become crystal clear as you get older. I know that every time I pass a fence, I think,“A dog lasts three of these.” This kind of knowledge can come only from life experience.

As I continue to mature and accumulate wisdom, I have begun to devise my own proverbs, ones more apropos to today’s world (and thus more accessible to my co-workers).

Personal grooming. When co-workers remark to me that I “smell like crap” because I no longer believe in wearing unnatural deodorant products, I reply: If the Almighty had wanted us to use deodorants, he would have provided us Speed Sticks in our mother’s wombs.

Going to rock concerts. When co-workers ask me if I’m going to attend a particular rock concert, I reply: A gopher wearing a wig and playing an amplified guitar is still but a gopher.

Watching television. When co-workers ask if I watched something on television, I reply: Television shows prepare you for nothing but the next television show. Better to enjoy a crisp apple, a cool glass of water and a refreshing enema.

Food. When co-workers ask me why I don’t salt my fries, I reply: Salt is the toenail clippings of the devil preserved in a shoebox of corruption.

Clothing. When co-workers tell me that the colors of my shirt and trousers clash, I reply: Only a fool tells a brown bear wearing blue underpants that his colors clash.

Work. When co-workers ask me to pull my weight in the office, I reply: It’s far more productive for the older workers in the office to make up proverbs than to work.

[July 1995] November 2009
10,000 Dreams Interpreted

© Millard Draudt

I‘m looking through my book 10,000 Dreams Interpreted, or What’s in a Dream, trying to figure out what these crazy dreams of mine mean. I’m worried because the book seems to be pretty old. There’s no date on it, but there are references to such things as the cavalry, lime-kilns, bake-houses, cuspidors, gramophones, flying machines and Yankees among the 10,000 subjects discussed.

I don’t recall any dreams where I’m standing by a lime-kiln or a bake-house listening to the gramophone and watching the Yankee cavalry ride by.

Many of my dreams deal with going to school and forgetting important things like a) going to class; and b) where my locker is, much less the combination to the lock. There’s not much in the book about this. Under “school” it says “If you think you are young and at school as in your youth, you will find that sorrow and reverses will make you long for the simple trusts and pleasures of days of yore.”

I don’t think so. Why do I keep forgetting to attend classes in my dreams, with the final exam suddenly upon me and me not having done any of the work during the semester? Then on the day of the exam, I can’t even find the classroom, and I walk down endless hallways, searching, with the occasional added bonus of being naked. This book is obviously talking about little red schoolhouses like Laura Ingalls Wilder attended and not big city high schools, so its advice is irrelevant on this issue.

The book is even less help on why I can’t find my locker. I’m always dreaming about forgetting where my locker is, and if I do find it, I have no clue what the combination to the lock is. Under “lock” the book says, “To dream of a lock, denotes bewilderment.” No kidding! It adds, “If the lock resists your efforts, you will be derided and scorned in love and perilous voyages will bring to you no benefit.” I don’t care about perilous voyages that bring to me no benefit. I just want to get that locker open and get my books so I can cram for that exam I forgot about. That’s got to mean something.

My dreams about water, and more specifically bathwater, have to mean something too. The news is bad about bathing in dirty water. The book says, “If the water is muddy, evil, indeed death, and enemies are near you.” Thanks a lot. I must dream about dirty bathwater once a week. My one hope in this matter is that when I dream about bathing in dirty water it’s not exactly muddy – just kind of used. A few people have bathed in it already, and there are sock threads and stuff like that floating around in it. Sock threads and a little scum denotes evil, death and enemies? This book is tough.

I also dream quite a bit about toilets backing up and flooding the bathroom, and I didn’t even want to look that up. But the book doesn’t mention toilets, or even privies or outhouses. It’s just as well. What good could backed-up toilets symbolize? If the book was less squeamish it probably would have said something like, “Overflowing toilets denote the immediate deaths of you and your loved ones. Like tomorrow.” Under “bathrooms,” however, it does say, “To see white roses in a bathroom, and yellow ones in a box, denote that sickness will interfere with pleasure.” Yeah, there’s a dream I have a lot, seeing white and yellow roses in my bathroom. I’d be shocked if I even sighted a lousy dandelion in any of my dreams, much less a box of yellow roses in my bathroom.

Other water dreams involve having fun in a cool, clear lake, the most memorable being when I was wrestling with Ann- Margret in shallow water while Paul Newman was lying on the beach chuckling. Under “water” the book says, “To sport with water, denotes a sudden awakening to love and passion.” I know I was thinking fervently about Ann-Margret when I woke up. And my dream about the huge goldfish coming to the surface of a creek and smacking their lips at me indicate “many successful and pleasant adventures.” That’s good.

The only other dreams I have repeatedly involve shopping for compact discs at huge stores within walking distance of my home. The closest thing to that the book addresses is under “store”: “To dream of a store filled with merchandise foretells prosperity and advancement.” This book is so old the “merchandise” it refers to is more like gingham swatches and biscuit tins, not Who boxed sets. The point is that this is a good dream too, far better than my scummy bathwater and overflowing toilet dreams.

[August 2006] October 2009
I Wanna Do TV News

© Millard Draudt

I suppose my real dream has always been to be a local TV news anchor. Can you imagine? What an awesome job that would be.

There are certain things I’d have to change right away. My nose won’t fly on TV. It’s too round and the nostrils are somewhat obscured, giving the entire unit the appearance of being packed solid. So I might have to whack some of it off. (Oh, I almost forgot. Off-color material doesn’t make it on TV news. You gotta have dignity if you’re an anchor. If you get on TV and start making jokes like that, you’re going to have real trouble with the dignity issue.)

I’ll have to get a hairpiece, although sometimes my hairline does rally and come charging back. What’s the anchor formula? One inch from hairline to eyebrow.

I can’t comb down; I have to get the wig. Who cares, I don’t mind wearing a rug. The station pays for that, right? I’m not paying for it.

I also have to rehearse the way I talk. Mumbling and muttering won’t cut it on big-city TV news. I mean, MUMBLING AND MUTTERING WON’T CUT IT ON BIG-CITY TV NEWS. Can you picture a news anchor giving a report and having his or her co-anchor turn to him and say, “What?”

You have to enunciate. So I’ve been rehearsing various common anchor phrases, saying them slowly . . . and . . . clearly.

“Neighbors complained about a bad smell – and what authorities found will shock you.”

“We’ll be keeping an eye on the situation.”


“ . . . who showed no emotion as he was sentenced for the brutal beating death.”

“Uh . . . apparently we’re having technical difficulties. We’ll get that report to you later in the newscast.”

“Jennifer, what’s going on over there?”

“Brad, do police think this is an isolated incident?”

“Disturbing news from Berea.”

Those are the only lines I’ve been rehearsing except for the segue into weather, e.g., “Steve, have you got good news in the forecast for us? We could use some,” and the segue out, “We’ll take it. Thanks, Steve.”

But I’ve also been practicing eyeball shifts from camera to camera, tapping my pen on the desk, swiveling to the remote monitor, paper-shuffling, eyebrow-raising, grinning, frowning, thoughtful lip-pursing, nodding, and the occasional saucy head-cock.

I’ve been working on the pantomime at the end of the broadcast, when the anchors are apparently having a conversation with the sound muted. I’ve been mouthing stuff in front of the mirror, laughing soundlessly, and repeating words like “rutabaga, rutabaga. artichoke, artichoke, elephant, elephant.” I’m not going to get caught with my pants down and say out loud what I’m really thinking. I’ve heard of instances when the audio was inadvertently left on, and you’d hear the anchor say something indiscreet like “Viewers are d--kheads. Let’s go find some hookers and take drugs.” That’s a career-ender, and it’s not going to happen to me.

But the very, very best part of being an anchor are taping promos. I’ve set up a table with a stack of notes on it, which I then grab and head out. This is the anchor on his way to deliver a late-breaking story.

I’ve worked on my facial expression, with the mouth slightly ajar – I’m out of breath – my eyes fixed on my goal. Get to that news desk and inform the people. The videographer will blur my image to simulate lightning-fast movement. I’ve tripped and toppled over a few times practicing this move, but in the finished promo no one will suspect that I’ve fallen down at all.

[March1997] September 2009
Hair Dye

© Millard Draudt

I have been noting with considerable interest the Just for Men hair dye commercials on TV. I’m thinking of doing that – dyeing my hair back to its original brown (the sex color). I can change the way I look in just five minutes. In one Just for Men ad, a cop doesn’t believe the driver he stopped is the same person on the driver’s license, because the guy looks so much younger with his dyed hair. I want to get to that point, where people don’t know who I am anymore. I want people to think I was a tot when Saturday Night Fever came out.

I’d even consider really lathering in the Just for Men, so I’d end up looking like a teen. To be carded in a bar again? That’d be heaven. “You got ID, kid? ... Oh, excuse me, sir. You know, I gotta tell ya, you look like you’re fresh out of junior high. This vodka’s on me.” And the bartender would turn to his co-workers and whisper, “Such a youthful appearance. What’s his secret?” I could even slather on the stuff to get myself back to the elementary school look. That would be excellent on so many levels.

Presently I’ve got large patches of gray in my beard and around my ears, in my regular hair. I look at myself and I’m troubled. This isn’t supposed to happen to people like me. Some people tell me it looks “dignified.” I don’t want to look dignified, I want to look “boss” and “cool” and “down with myself.” I want to boogie the night away. If you try to boogie with gray hair, people think you’re an old rat bastard. You just look like you’re trying to hang on to youth. You add to that the wisps of hair growing out of my ear lobes, my growing eyebrow tufts, my various tongue woes – and you’ve clearly got yourself a guy whose best days were in the early ‘80s.

So I’m going to do it. They say you can dye your hair gradually, so no one will notice the change. I hope that’s the case. You can’t just be gray one day and totally brown the next. You will be mocked at the office. But I read on the box that even you may not notice the change. How can you change the color of your hair without noticing it? This makes me nervous.

I might test an inconspicuous portion of my body hair with a bit of dye – as you would do with bleach on your clothes to test color-fastness – to see what happens.

I could dye my armpit hair, for example, although that’s not graying. If I made my armpit hair a tad browner, no one would notice or, I dare say, care. What I would do is comb some Just for Men in my armpit, hold my arms up in front of the bathroom mirror, and scientifically observe any changes. “Don’t blink, you might miss it,” you say. Don’t I know it! I’ll just stand there until something happens.

If everything goes well, I’ll comb a little in my chest hairs, repeating the same observational process. Then I’ll put some in the hair on my legs, arms, unmentionables, etc., until I’m fully browner. Then I’ll have the confidence to apply the concoction to my on-top hair.

Perhaps I’ll have my wife Barbara take before and after photos of me, like in the TV ads. What I’ll do is look down-in-the-mouth in the first, gray photos – here’s the old, tired rat bastard – then look progressively more cheerful in the middle photos where you see the gray being gradually eradicated. (I’m rehearsing the different smile levels for these middle photos.)

Then the ultimate photo, where I’m completely brown and happy, with an open-mouthed grin, even displaying a bit of tongue, as Bugs Bunny does in his publicity photos. That’s the youthful look. That’s the now look. In just five minutes!

[1-19-97] August 2009
Criminal Career Thwarted

This past Saturday I not only set off one alarm as I walked out of a store, but two – once at Borders Books, and once at Marc’s (the home of drug value). At both places I meandered away to give security time to come get me. Come on, flatfoot. You gonna apologize nice and pretty when you see my receipt for these Little Debbie Pecan Pinwheels?

I had it all planned. As they apologized, I’d look off into the distance, not saying a word. Then, after making them sweat for a while, I’d turn on the charm, pat them on the backs, and say, “You’re just doing your job. No problem.” And as I walked away, they’d be shaking their heads, thinking, “Mister, you are one cool customer.” No one actually came after me, but that’s how that whole business would have “gone down.”

This episode made me wonder what would have become of my life if I hadn’t made that right turn to the life of virtue and goodness I currently lead. I shudder to think what might have happened if I’d followed the criminal path I explored early on, when I went on a shoplifting spree in seventh grade.

That year I was caught red-handed at Woolworth’s stealing a rubber ball, and if I hadn’t been “scared straight” by the Woolworth’s manager, no doubt I would have continued on a criminal career. More shoplifting. Acting up in class, threatening schoolmates with my Swiss army knife, eventual expulsion. A life of petty thievery. And then, invariably, reform school.

I used to imagine what my nickname would be in reform school. “Fingers,” perhaps, or “Johnny Cobb” (we used to call shoplifting “cobbing”). “Spider” (when I was younger I could move sideways quickly). Or “Toes” (I’ve always been able to pick up small objects off the floor with my toes). Or, ideally, “El Conquistador” (in tribute to Vasco de Gama, on whom I did a book report in fifth grade). I would have come up with something dynamite, I know.

I would have gotten out of reform school tough as nails and kept stealing because that’s all I knew. By this time my family would have disowned me and I’d be on my own. I’d crash with my disreputable friends and we’d think up “scams” and “operations,” sharing a snort.

“What say we rob an armored truck?” I’d propose.

“Yes, let’s give that a try, El Conquistador,” my friends would say.

Invariably something would go wrong – we were young and stupid. I’d get nailed and sent to the Big House. If I wasn’t a hardened criminal by then, the penitentiary experience would fill the bill. I’d get some tattoos, work out in the weight room, and fashion a shiv which I’d keep concealed under my prison blouse.

“Bitch, you better get out of my face or you’ll get a taste of my shiv,” I’d say to anyone who would dare to bother me in the “yard.” Word would get around that El Conquistador was not to be monkeyed with under any circumstances. And I’d soon become a power broker in the joint, trading Marlboros, HoHo’s, reefers, Jello pudding cups, glad rags, quilted toilet paper and other items of value in exchange for personal favors.

“What can I do for you, Jimmy?” I’d ask.

“I could use some Final Touch fabric softener,” Jimmy’d reply.

“Well, then you have to do something for me.” And I’d hold the Final Touch tantalizingly out of Jimmy’s reach until he agreed to do my bidding. This is how you build power, and loyalty, in the pen.

Once I got out on parole, I’d play it much smarter. No more jimmying open ATMs. No more pennyante university alumni telephone scams. No more tacky bar fights! I’d be hanging with a much classier criminal element.

After that ... well, it’s a good thing I made that right turn back in seventh grade. You’d all be paying through the ying-yang for ibuprofen and moistened towelettes right now, because El Conquistador would surely have his big finger in those operations.

[1-7-97] July 2009
Stress and driving

© Millard Draudt

I’m looking at a pamphlet from a local self-help group that talks about techniques for controlling nervous symptoms and fears. These symptoms include heart palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, tremors, sleeplessness, etc., and the fears include being alone or in crowds, closed or open spaces, eating, choking or of making mistakes.

When I’m really nervous, I don’t get shortness of breath, I get shortness of pants. You’ve heard the classic advice, “Don’t get your panties in a bunch”? Well, mine get in a major bunch when I’m stressed out. My underwear takes on a life of its own and tries to choke me to death.

I could rearrange the knotted mess in the lavatory, but if the stress returns the underwear starts crawling and contracting again, and I can’t be running to the lavatory and pushing and pulling at underwear all day. Plus I have several executive-type management duties, so it’s necessary to put my underwear on the back burner. My other nervous symptoms include hot flushed ears, so when my co-workers see me twisting around with red ears, they know I’m stressing big time.

I don’t have any fears of crowds or of eating, but I do fear driving a car, and I’m beginning to think I’ll never get over it, because in 1973 if you’d told me I’d still be too nervous to drive 36 years later, I’d have laughed in your face. But this baby is stubborn, to the point where I’m beginning to admire its staying power.

This fear started when I was 15 and drove my mother’s Oldsmobile 442 into the house, was reinforced when I smushed my dad’s Plymouth Sport Satellite against the garage, solidified when I smashed my sister’s Pontiac LeMans against a tree, and baked right in when I took ownership of my grandma’s 1968 Pontiac Catalina.

The accidents are self-explanatory, and no more than what many young drivers experience, but I was particularly impressed by the first. A big bush stopped me from driving the 442 right into the kitchen, but what if it hadn’t been there? I might have destroyed the car, the house, and maybe even run over my folks, who were watching me from the kitchen window coming right at them. Afterwards people would be whispering: “He drove into his house, and over his parents.”

I don’t consider this a positive thing for people to be saying.

The other accidents were run of the mill, but also like little reminders: this ain’t for you. Whenever I did drive I was okay at it, but I’d go months and years without doing it, and soon driving took on an overwhelming aspect to me. Then I got the Catalina with its speedometer fluttering at 120, its battery being stolen twice (anyone could pop the hood in those pre-’70s cars), greasy windows, and most enraging to me, flat tires every time I turned around. I’d leave it in the parking lot a few days, and when I’d go to look at it the car would be leaning left with two flats. Not low – flat. Up yours, Cat! Not to mention when I tried to jump-start it off my sister’s car, the cables jumped out of my hands and into a pile of leaves, setting a fire. Just sitting there, the Catalina wanted to kill me.

Add this to all my fears of breaking down, getting lost, wheels flying off on the freeway, Deliverance-type mechanics, insurance payments, driving off a cliff or a bridge, running over beloved family pets, and every other imaginable vehicular disaster – not to mention that I can’t see anymore – and you’ve got yourself one major anxiety-producer.

The good news is this is my only big fear. I do fear overflowing toilets, but compared to the driving, that’s chicken feed. I constantly have bad dreams about toilets flooding bathrooms, with all kinds of disgusting waste just pouring out over the floor. When I encounter a toilet that’s got high water in the bowl, I get real nervous. One little obstruction in the pipes and that water’s gonna come right up at you like a tidal wave. When I do flush these high-water toilets, I tighten up as the water starts swirling. You going up, or are you going down? This is why I like urinals so much.

[9-19-91] April 2000, June 2009
Allergies and Dentistry

© Millard Draudt

I hate going to the dentist when I’ve got allergies, but I had to last week. It was humid, and those of us with hay fever had a hard time of it. I was mouth breathing, which dries out my palate and makes it itch. I tried to scratch it with the tip of my tongue, but seeing how deep down itchy the palate is, and how soft a tongue is, it wasn’t very satisfying.

I know what you’re thinking: Ain’t you ever heard of nasal spray or allergy pills? Well, sure I have, but you can get addicted to nasal spray. Your nostrils become dependent on that stuff to clear them out instead of doing their own work. I don’t want any part of Lazy Nostril Syndrome. (I just made that name up, but it’s the essential pathology we’re talking about here.) And over-the-counter allergy medications dry out the brain as well as the sinuses – even Alka-Seltzer, which you would think keeps everything wet, but doesn’t.

Anyway, with or without medication, allergies make me wobbly, and with my mouth open too, I didn’t have that crisp, with-it feeling. My knees seemed to be taking the impact of my steps when I walked. You want your calves to take that impact. You’re not solid on your pins with the knees taking it all on. And I’ll guarantee you one more thing: When you’re in this kind of shaky situation – mouth breathing and stupid and week-kneed – no way do you want to go to the dentist!

Sometimes you have to go, though. Sinus trouble or not, plaque continues to build and teeth continue to decay. But with my allergies I started to sweat as soon as I got in the dental chair. And since I had put off my visit to the dentist for three extra months, I had three extra months of plaque to scrape off.

This took a long time, and I sweated like a pig. Each tooth was coated. I’d been lazy with my brushing and flossing, and I was still using the same toothbrush the dentist had given me three visits ago!

How could I have expected those old soft bristles to do any real gumwork? Plus my mouth had been open for a month with hay fever. That couldn’t have helped. Stuff in the air probably floated in and stuck to my teeth. Not to mention all the Beeman’s gum I chew.

Things really went from bad to worse when the dentist put cotton on my lips while she scraped. I hate cotton on my lips and teeth. It raised goosebumps on my arm and I wanted to groan. But what could I say? I wasn’t in pain and the dentist didn’t want me slobbering while she scratched at my cruddy tartar.

I shouldn’t have worried about making a good impression anyway because after the cleaning, the dentist gave me a hand mirror to hold in front of my mouth while she showed me how to brush and floss properly. I was confronted with my unhappy face and my ruddy nose in the reflection, and the dentist’s yellow light shining on my mouth. That was a better look at my toofs than I’ve ever had or wanted! As the dentist plucked the floss out from between my teeth, spit flew on the mirror, and it really flew when she demonstrated brushing up and out on my lower teeth. I know dentists are used to flying spit, but I always like to maintain some element of cool. It’s hopeless though when you’re spitting and sweating onto the chair and the dentist is pulling down on your gum line with a metal pick with your teeth bared like a dog’s, and all you can see in the mirror is nine months of lousy brushing and general dental neglect. The gums don’t lie.

Add this to allergies and that’s one tough dentist appointment.

[6-24-96] May 2009
2046 : When I'm 91 years old

During my idle moments at the newspaper, I think about what it’d be like to work here in 2046 when I’m 91 years old.

I’d be semi-retired with the title “Executive Manager,” and come in only two days a week. By that time the paper will be a daily. I’ll shuffle in the office and the young staffers will whisper, “It’s the Old Man.” I’ll wave my cane at them. By then they’ll dread my presence, which is fine with me.

I’ll proceed over to my desk, turn on my computer as I have for 54 years, and log in. By that time all computers will verbally greet workers. As is our routine each morning, the computer will say “Good morning, Mr. Broder,” and I’ll croak “Go ---- yourself” and give it a slap. This will feed the legend of my irascibility, which I’ve cultivated for years.

I’ll still be doing listings. Over the years upper management has tried to take listings away from me, but I won’t let them. One of the great joys of my dotage will be calling people and complaining to them that their press releases don’t contain enough information for me to do a proper job on their listing. I’ll give them holy hell.

“What do you mean by sending this sort of material to me? There’s no street address on it! Are people expected to find your event through osmosis? Hah? Oh ... there it is. Well, see that you don’t send this sort of material to me again.” And then I’ll hang up on them. It’ll be great.

As an old man I’ll have a good excuse to do all kinds of things. I’ll grab ringingphones, angrily ask, “Who’s calling?” and then hang up if the answer doesn’t please me. Staffers will beg management to stop letting me answer the phones, but everyone will be so scared of me they won’t say a word. They won’t say anything about my cigar that I bring into the non-smoking office either. I’ll be the king of small wastebasket fires.

I’ll terrorize co-workers by meandering over to their desks and putting my bony fingers on their computer keyboards so they can’t work while I’m talking to them. I’ll struggle to pull myself up to sit on their desks – embarrassing them greatly – and proceed to tell them about the old days.

“In the ‘90s we still got photographs the old-fashioned way, either through the postal system or hand delivery. I’ve had photographs in my files ranging from Colin Powell before he was president to Mitzi Gaynor. Mitzi passed in 2011, bless her soul. There’s nobody like Mitzi Gaynor today. I wouldn’t cross the street to spit on the entertainers of today. Mitzi Gaynor began her career in Chicago, you know. Did you see the picture South Pacific? Mitzi was absolute magic in that picture. I’ve also owned photographs of Lionel Richie. I’ve had photographs of the Doobie Brothers, Steppenwolf, Bachman Turner Overdrive ...” and on and on. And people will have to listen to me if they want to hold onto their jobs.

I’ll still write this humor column as well. Upper management knows that absolutely no one reads it anymore – the people who once liked it are long dead – but won’t pull it, because it’s considered an institution. By this time I’d have totally exhausted all my humorous themes and resort to straightforward complaining.

“Premium saltines haven’t been worth a tinker’s damn since the crybabies and reformers banished salt from the dinner table and our lives. You’d think we were all a bunch of damn cattle at salt licks the way these people carried on. Now what have we got? Bland, faceless foods with no more flavor than a length of copper pipe. I don’t even bother putting my dentures in anymore. What’s the point? All I eat is gelatin anyway. Maybe with a piece of melon in it, I don’t know. I want some soup.”

The editors will let this stuff get by, because they figure I’m on my way out. The bad news for them is that I’ll be writing this column, and coming into work, well into the 2050s.

[1-14-97] April 2009
Beast and Bug Life No Fun

How’d you like to have someone deposit their eggs inside your body while at the same time injecting a poison that paralyzes you, and then have the hatched larvae eat your digestive organs and fatty deposits, followed by your heart and central nervous system? You think your sex life is crappy? That’s about the crappiest sex I ever heard of.

It could happen. According to The Book of Lists, that’s what Ichneumon wasps will do on occasion to caterpillars. Granted, if you’re reading this you’re probably not a caterpillar, but if you are, I have two words of advice for you: Get out. If you see an Ichneumon wasp in the vicinity, get your ass out now.

The “Animals” section of The Book of Lists makes for particularly compelling reading. For a long time now I’ve been happy that I’m not a bug or a fish, and reading these accounts of animal behavior and life merely heightens my delight.

Say I were a tick and wanted to mate. I’d have to sneak under a female’s stomach and then wiggle around her, you know, orifice, because I don’t have a penis. “Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a penis,” says the book. Yeah, I’d say that’s unfortunate! Then I have to turn around and deposit a packet of my bidness near the entrance of the orifice, and push it in with my nose. There’s a romantic evening for you. There’s some torrid erotic pleasure. And no penis!

Then I read about average penis lengths for those animals who are “fortunate” enough to have them. A humpback whale’s is 10 feet, for example, you have to tip your hat to that, and a rhino’s is two feet. Impressive numbers, but would you really want to be a rhino? What would you do all day? Head butt other rhinos, or chew leaves off a tree? Take a dip in a waterhole? These things just walk around aimlessly and lie down when they’re tired. I can do that being regular-sized, and I can watch The Dick Van Dyke Show too. Who’s better off here? What good is a two-foot penis if the rest of your life is Dullsville, U.S.A.?

Along these same lines, the “Maximum Recorded Life Span of 27 Animals” list says that a lake sturgeon lived to be 152 years old. First, how could they tell? I know the fish didn’t croak, “I happen to be over 150 years old,” to some scientist. I know that some scientist didn’t see a fish in 1938, then fifty years later see the same fish and say, “Hey, that fish is still around,” with the fish thinking, “Not only that, I knew your grandparents.” It’s ridiculous! It doesn’t happen.

But more importantly, what does a lake sturgeon do for 150 years? “Probably what it does for one year,” you say. Yes, but what does it do for one year? Nothing. “Who are you to say that a sturgeon doesn’t do anything?” you ask. “Those 150 years might have been action-packed.” Oh, right. Action packed with swimming and eating. Forgive me – on some days, eating and swimming. Maybe once, for a thrill, it hid behind a rock. Maybe it had sex in 1911. Pretty slim pickings for 150 years.

If I had to be an animal, I’d be a cat or a dog. I realize getting a decent human owner is a crapshoot if you’re a cat or dog, but I’d take the chance. Many of these animals lead the life of Riley. If you’re a cat or dog, you at least get a shot at watching TV or listening to the radio, even if they’re not aimed at your specific demographic. Can you imagine lying on a soft bed all day, no job or money hassles, the tube’s on and there’s a bowl of delicious food a few footsteps away? And if you’re my cat, Dizzy, you get a rubdown in the morning, free chow, 31 places to sleep, Whiskas treats, owners who don’t give you a smack when you bite them, and a litter box kept sparkling clean and fresh.

Yes, being Dizzy would be far better than being a rhino or a tick. As for being a caterpillar, I never wanted to be one, and I want to be one even less now.

February 2009
Sexual Harassment Workshop

I was astounded at our company’s first sexual harassment workshop when, as our instructor began discussing the inappropriate use of suggestive remarks, innuendoes and double meanings in the workplace, everyone in the room turned and glared at me.

It was the same sort of look I had received earlier in the meeting, when I smacked my lips at a female colleague, then waggled my tongue between my fingers at her. The instructor asked my name, then wrote something in a notebook. I figured he was taking attendance.

After the workshop, I thought about what was discussed. I reviewed the various exchanges I’d had with female co-workers during the past several days and jotted them down.

I’ll leave it to you, the reader, to determine if my behavior is at all inappropriate in a workplace. While one or two of these exchanges might admittedly fall into a “grey area,” this is the way I usually converse. If this is inappropriate, then I’ve been wrong a lot of years.

Female co-worker: Do you want this copy?
Me: Mmm ... do I want it? Oh, baby, I want it. I want it bad. Oh yeah, give it to me! Give it to me hot! Give it to me sweet! Give it to me now! Mama, give it to me now! I want it! Hunh! Sock it to me!

Female co-worker: How are you today?
Me: If you’re asking if I’m wearing any underwear, the answer is no, baby, uh-uh.

Female co-worker: Why can’t I open this document?
Me: Baby, you got to double-click it. Let me put my pointer on it and I’ll double-click it for you. You like that double-click power? Yeah, let’s open that thing up with double-click power, uh huh, all right.

Female co-worker: Could you help me with this printer?
Me: If you help me with my zipper.

Female co-worker: This damn hard drive is acting up again.
Me: Sweet mama, my hard drive is acting up too. Maybe I can reboot my machine. You want to help me reboot my machine? All we got to do is slip the disk into the drive. Yeah! Slipping the disk into the drive. Yeah, that feels good, oh mama.

Female co-worker: Well, this copy is clean.
Me: As clean as if you and I got in a tub and rubbed each other real hard with soapy washcloths till we both squeaked? That clean, hot mama?

Female co-worker: Can I borrow a pen?
Me: Sure, sweetbeets. But you got to find it first. Here’s a hint: it’s located somewhere in my underwear. Yeah, baby, let’s get us up a search party. Oh, yeah. Searching in the temple of doom, baby, looking for a needle in a haystack. Go long, go deep, oh yeah, looking for school supplies, that’s right, uh-huh, going for the utensil, baby.

Female co-worker: What time is it?
Me: Time to unnh! Time to hwah! Time to oww! Time to hunh!

Female co-worker: I need to get a Rolodex.
Me (putting my tongue between my fingers): You mean that thing that goes bluhbluhbluhbluhbluhbluhbluh?

Female co-worker: Just what is the matter with you?
Me: Nothing that doing good hard construction work won’t fix. I think I need to lay some pipe. I’ve got pipe that runs from here to Ashtabula, yeah, think I’ll get on down and lay me some pipe, put that pipe on down to Ashtabula. Yeah, that’ll cure what ails me, oh yeah, baby, all right, lay me some pipe.

[12-7-89] June 1999, January 2009
The Hello, Dolly! Horror

I got scared while watching Hello, Dolly! on video the other evening. I was feeling under my sweatshirt, and to my chagrin my breasts felt bigger and puffier than usual. So that’s what was happening – I was growing little breasts now, possibly from radiation on the TV? I was turning into a woman? For a second I thought that maybe I was turning into Barbra Streisand, but I only thought that because she happened to be on the screen while I was worrying about it.

I worried about lots of things while I watched Hello, Dolly! It wasn’t distracting me as videos usually do. Sometimes I get bored watching long movies like this, and so I worry. I worry about my teeth. Since I stopped drinking beer I’ve developed a sweet tooth, and I’ve started eating Good and Plenty and chewing on Rain Blo bubble gum balls. I eat two boxes of Good and Plenty a day and chew big wads of Rain Blo on the weekend. It’s a frighteningly obsessive situation. I go to work each day determined not to buy any more Good and Plenty, but after I eat my broccoli and cauliflower baked potato at lunch I crave the taste of licorice wrapped in a candy coating. I eat them two at a time, carefully crunching down on the candy coating and then sucking on the bare licorice. But sometimes I go a little crazy and pop five or six of them, indulging in wanton, reckless chewing. And I feel ashamed.

It’s worse with the Rain Blo. I buy packs of ten of the bubble gum balls and then stuff four of those big hombres in my mouth and smush down on the lethal mixture of sugar and gum arabic. It’s really disgusting with all the purples and yellows and reds mixed together in there. When I pull the gum out of my mouth, it looks like I’m pulling out a lung. And I have to keep my mouth tightly shut as I chew because I would drool purple/gray Rain Blo juice all over my chin if I didn’t. Not only do I have to worry about losing my teeth with this business, I worry about being accused of trying to return to adolescence. A 53-year-old man isn’t supposed to pull chewed-up gum out of his mouth and look at it – or drool, either. A 53-year-old man who does this must want to be 13 again. That’s what I’m afraid some people are thinking.

Then the teeth worry escalates into old age worry. You lose your teeth, you’re fitted with dentures, bing, bing, bing, suddenly you’re an old guy. I can see those false teeth sitting in a glass of water on my bedstand, and me on a dirty old bedspread, gumming away on a spoonful of dry cereal, and there’s a box of Minute Rice next to a hotplate . . . oh, God. And I don’t have any possessions except an old hairbrush with a comb stuck in the bristles, except all I use is the comb to flatten out the little tufts of hair sticking out on the back of my head, and the only time I go out is to bother the clerk working at the party store below my one-room apartment with monologues on how I used to know members of rock bands through my job at the newspaper and how powerful I was in choosing events for the listings section and all the photos I got in the mail. . . or worse, as an old guy I obsess on the mail, only I don’t get any and I spend my last years at the post office, standing by my box, waiting for letters that never come. I’m worrying about all this while Barbra Streisand is belting out the “Before the Parade Passes By” number in the movie, but instead of being rousingly entertained by it I’m biting my fingernails.

At least in that worry I’m still a guy. I thought of my little breasts again, and how I’d look at the beach wearing a T-shirt with the breasts showing through, and the hair had come off my arms and legs. I saw myself walking around the beach, with the breasts jiggling under the T-shirt, and the small fry sneaking looks and snickering. This was what radiation was doing to me. This was what all the years of sitting in front of the TV would result in.

I turned off Hello, Dolly! before it was over. I don’t like movies that scare me.

[3-30-89] March 1999, December 2008
Cheeping and Squeaking

© Millard Draudt

What do you do when you’re alone? If it’s anything like what I do, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Not that I do dirty stuff. At least no more dirty stuff than your average broken-down guy in his early fifties does. Yes, I do have a few magazines. I don’t even refer to them anymore. Tawdry, revolting publications...they disgust me. I don’t know what I was thinking of when I bought them. Cheri, Velvet, Club, High Society and all the rest of them. I hardly remember their names. That section of the magazine rack is strictly off-limits these days. I was on a mini pornography kick then. Can I help it? I was young. It was 1986, the Reagan Era of laissez-faire, and I took full advantage in the skin mag department. I keep the magazines in the bottom of my pants drawer as a reminder: These are from the days when you were a fool! Don’t return to those days! I think as I look through them.

No, I’m not slobbering over pictures of Amber Lynn or Kitten Natividad anymore. Now I get my ya-ya’s out in a different way. I imitate mice, chipmunks, squirrels and the Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs when I’m alone. I cheep and squeak and make animal noises and sing in a high voice.

Now there’s nothing wrong with cheeping and squeaking once in a while when you’re fooling around at home with nobody watching. Even Obama lets out a squeak now and then when he’s by himself, and he’s a no-nonsense guy. But I go way overboard. It’s getting to the saturation point, where all my noises are animal noises. I’m turning into a cartoon character. I partially blame the Bee Gees for this. Remember their Saturday Night Fever music, when they sang like mice let loose in a disco? You know - “Stayin’ Alive” and “You Should Be Dancing,” songs like that. I’ve been chirping those tunes to myself for well on 33 years now. I’ve always had rodent – like sounds running through my head. Now they’re coming out.

For instance, I have a Bangles record with some very catchy tunes on it, sung by Susanna Hoffs. Susanna Hoffs sounds like one of the chipmunks of Alvin and the Chipmunks, not any particular one, not specifically Alvin, Simon or Theodore, but like a generic chipmunk who didn’t make it into the group. I find myself imitating her helium-like voice in front of the mirror, to the point where I frighten myself. What the hell am I doing! I’m standing there, in front of the mirror wasting precious moments of my life with this nonsense. Then I run into the bathroom in shame.

But as they say on TV, you can run, but you can’t hide from yourself. If I’m not trying to imitate Susanna Hoffs I’m aggravating squirrels with my impressions of them when I walk outside the apartment building. When I see a squirrel I feel a need to make squirrel noises, snatting my teeth together rapidly to simulate nut-cracking and using my tongue and gums to create chewing sounds. They stand on their hind legs looking at me, their tiny brown eyes filled with hate. And who can blame them?

That’s nothing compared to how I talk to the cat. I don’t just make nauseating baby talk to the cat, though I do do that. I sing to her and do a call-and-response with her when she meows. She doesn’t meow often but when she does she means business. She doesn’t need to hear my meows whenever she cries for her food or when she does that mysterious howling by the litter box. It would be like if every time your dog barked you barked back. And I make up songs about feeding her which must be extremely vexing to her because when I sing to her about feeding her it’s precisely the time she wants to be fed. It’s in that cartoon character voice, too, that flattens her ears every time she hears it.

My largest fear in this matter is that I’ll be caught in the act. I mean, I’d know how to respond if someone caught me with a Club or a Velvet. But what do you say when someone catches you squeaking?

[2-1-90] November 2008
Demonic Possession? No thanks.

Ever been possessed by the devil? Neither have I, really. I only bring the question up because I rented the Exorcist on video last week, and it really made me wonder who among my friends and acquaintances had ever been possessed. I couldn’t think of anyone offhand, but maybe they just hadn’t mentioned it.

Naturally. Being possessed by the devil isn’t something you want spread around town. Like Linda Blair in the movie, I’d stay in my room if I was possessed. “Don’t let me out of here!” I’d tell my wife or my mom, whoever it was taking care of me. Afterwards, I’d tell everyone I’d been down to Florida for a vacation. If they ask why I’m all bruised up, I’d say, “Well, I was in Florida, plus I fell down.” If they ask why I don’t have a tan, I’d say “I was in New Hampshire part of the time.” You have to be a fast thinker to keep this kind of thing a secret.

And you do want to keep it a secret. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that the fewer people who know you are possessed the better. You’re definitely not at your best at this time. I’d like to think, though, that I’d have better manners than Linda Blair’s if I did get possessed. Spitting and vomiting on people, inappropriate trips to the lavatory, crotch-grabbing, biting and neck twisting are inexcusable whether you’re possessed or just cranky. I’m not saying possession is a day at the beach and you’ll be at the top of your game, but I wouldn’t use up all the goodwill built over the years in one brief, albeit difficult, period of your life.

The only people who should know you’re possessed by the devil are your family, a physician, a psychiatrist and, of course, an exorcist. (You might also have to tell the team of Mighty Maids that come to clean up the place. They’ll guess anyway.) As in the movie, the line of specialists (physician to psychiatrist to exorcist) will follow in natural progression. Again, I wouldn’t vomit on these people or grab and wring their crotches. Nobody likes this except, perhaps, bargoers down in the Flats. Even while possessed, I’d try to think of the other person’s feelings. Would I enjoy having my crotch wrung? Is demonic possession really a good enough excuse for this kind of behavior? These are the questions I’d ask myself before I committed an indiscretion.

Not that indiscretions are completely avoidable while you’re possessed. That’s the whole point of it, after all. But I’d try to keep them to a minimum. Growling’s all right – everyone expects that – but bellowing obscene, blasphemous remarks at your exorcist isn’t going to win you any friends. In the movie, Linda Blair lashes out with superhuman strength against those who try to feed her and sedate her, or she levitates irritably. Again, don’t be more of a nuisance than you have to be. Caring for the demonically possessed isn’t much fun, and those who do would much rather be watching a video or enjoying a good meal, or anything, really. Keep in mind that while most of the aggravation is yours, demonic possession can ruin everybody’s day.

Remember that words can hurt. Linda Blair says some vile thing to the exorcists in the movie, and to add insult to injury, kills them as well. Try to be considerate while you’re possessed. If you can’t, here’s what I’d say afterward to anyone who may have absorbed your verbal abuse: “Listen, if I said anything out of line there, I hope you’ll forget it. I was possessed by the devil and anything funky I said was probably due to that.” That’s usually enough to dispel any lingering uneasiness you invariably cause with comments made while possessed. If your family still looks troubled by the effects of your possession, I’d say, “Really, don’t worry about it.”

The best way to avoid these problems, of course, is to avoid possession by the devil in the first place. The way I do this is by maintaining a positive, upbeat attitude. So far, this has worked fine for me. Also, lay off the fried foods.

[11-30-89] September 2008
King Kong vs. Patty Duke

The other evening I pulled a buttock muscle while watching cable TV. What happened was that I had shifted slightly on the sofa and the muscle went, causing me considerable pain the rest of the night and giving me a pronounced limp well into the next day. It could be that the slippers I had on were ones I wasn’t used to wearing and had caused the injury, but who can tell about these things? I tried to work the pull out with the small $3.99 personal vibrator I got on sale at the May Company, but it didn’t work. I was just glad I had cable TV to get me through this trial, to distract me from the pain.

I’ve had cable for several months now. It was installed in May in what I’ll always remember as a heartwarming scene. A guy named Keith put it in, and he and I had a friendly chat as he did. We joked about the wires going through the cabinet there in the living room, and although the conversation wasn’t too scintillating, I thought to myself, “Here are a couple of American guys, up until now total strangers, talking about wires and cables and electrical stuff in a free and easy way.” A couple of American guys. It made me feel good. Plus the cat was sitting contentedly nearby, watching us, to round out this inspirational tableau.

Not only did I feel good about the American-ness of my cable installation, I was excited about the new world of TV programming I was about to experience. After Keith left, I ran the gamut of the new channels. I couldn’t believe it. All these great old shows were on, like Father Knows Best, Make Room for Daddy, Car 54, Where Are You, and The Donna Reed Show, and they were on all the time. You can always catch a glimpse of Andy, the Beaver, Jed and Granny, Lucy and Desi, Hazel, Samantha and Darrin, Perry Mason, Hoss and Little Joe, Bugs Bunny. And the movies! TNT and American Movie classics run them all day, and with TBS, USA, Lifetime, the Family Network, and the rest of them pitching in, there’s always something decent on.

That’s the trouble. I had always scorned those who zapped through the channels with their remote, never settling on one thing. I felt I had a moral superiority in this admittedly minor area of life. Once I had decided on a show, I stuck to it.

But once I got cable, I became a channel zapper too. What can I say? There’s no sense sitting through a muffler commercial in the middle of Two Guys from Milwaukee when you can press a button and see Paula Abdul dance and squeak her way through a song on VH-1. I enjoyed the novelty of channel zapping for the first few weeks, wallowing in what I thought was viewing freedom. But it soon became the slavery that my instincts had told me it would be.

Everyone with cable has felt it. You sit there, remote in hand, flashing from one idiotic show to another, becoming increasingly nervous and irritated, getting that boredom pain in your urinary tract. Nowadays I turn the TV off when I get to this point (at least most of the time I do). I turned the corner on this problem several weeks ago when I was switching from the movie King Kong to The Patty Duke Show. I went back and forth, King Kong to Patty Duke, Patty Duke to King Kong, until I almost went into a trance. I had to throw the remote down, get up off the couch and walk it off. I swore: Never again.

I also discovered that 99% of the old shows I was excited about at first were really pretty dismal. I was sure that I’d be watching The Donna Reed Show all the time for its nostalgia and suburban American Dream value. I couldn’t even sit through one episode, it was so foolish. I realized that I couldn’t stand Carl Betz. I’d gone through my whole life thinking that Carl Betz was cool, and it took ten minutes of cable TV to change my mind. And this wasn’t my only disillusionment with old black and white sitcoms. The only one I’ll sit through any more is The Dick Van Dyke Show – or maybe The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, if they ever bring it back. The Honeymooners and You’ll Never Get Rich, too. The rest they should just bury in the sitcom graveyard.

But believe me, I love having cable. I would be living a lie if I pretended I didn’t. There’s always something for me. Right now I’m in a phase where all I watch are documentaries on Hitler. If you have cable you can see all you want on Hitler and Nazis and World War II. Last Sunday

I watched a show called The Fatal Attraction of Adolf Hitler and then one called Hitler: The Whole Story. Four hours of Hitler. I like getting worked up about Hitler, though, granted, there’s not much I can do about him now. But it’s good to have the extra opportunity to watch educational stuff that cable gives you.
Yeah, I love having cable. There’s so much of it.

[4-26-90] August 2008
How to Get Ahead in Business

A question people seldom ask me is "How did you get on the fast track to success?" They don't ask me anything about success. They think because I don't wear suits or have my hair cut by professionals they can't learn anything from me.

Well, I got news for those people who think I'm a clod who doesn't have any good fast-track or pursuit-of-excellence or megatrends talk. The talk I do have is better. I've got better ways to get ahead than all those management monkeys in their fancy underwear. And I'll share it with you. No seminars, no fees, no hidden costs. No charge.


The most important thing to remember in moving up the corporate ladder is to Always Let Them See You Sweat. You've heard just the opposite, right? Well, that's Fallacy Number One. Common sense dictates that the more you look like you're busting your hump for the company, the further you'll go. "I do work hard," you say, "but the boss doesn't seem to notice. I feel like the myth of Sisyphus here, pushing a heavy rock up a hill and then the boss pushes it back down and I have to start over."

You've got to do what I do. How's the boss going to know that you're working hard unless you make it crystal clear by every word you utter, every move you make, every expression that crosses your face? You've got to show him or her that you're sacrificing your health and peace of mind for the good of the company. When my boss asks me to do something, the first thing that comes out of my mouth is "Oh God, oh God." It doesn't matter what task he asks me to perform. Whether he asks me to run to the post office for stamps or go get some copies made, I respond with a gasp and a few moments of pre-heart-attack-type labored breathing. Then the simple, tortured eloquence of "You want me to go?" This tells the boss one thing: that you're getting ready to fall on your sword for the company. (Then throw in a few more minutes of gasping and breathing before saying, "I'll carry the ball for you on this one, boss.") Believe me, this stuff is remembered at promotion time.

While you're working at your desk, make sure everyone around you knows it. This best can be conveyed by the classic technique of chanting "work, work, work" or "busy, busy, busy" every five minutes or so. (Frequent sighing punctuates these work mantras nicely.) Other statements to let fly during the workday: "All right, what's next on the agenda!"; "I'm a busy, busy executive"; "Let's see here, let's see here"; "I'll handle it – as usual"; "What do these people want from my life?" (a personal favorite); "Let's get organized, let's get organized"; "These people are trying to kill me"; and its variation "I'm gonna die, I'm gonna die." If you pepper your day with these phrases, no one is going to think you're fooling around, even if you are. I myself toss off a few of these while sitting at my desk reading People or the sports page, giving the illusion of perpetual labor. (An added bonus: if the boss thinks you're busy, he or she may not ask you to do anything else.)

What cannot be overstressed as well is the value of sucking up to the boss. I give speeches to my co-workers like this, within the boss's earshot: "Now the boss told me personally that you all aren't giving it 110% and that there could be some drastic changes around here if you don't shape up. Believe me, I'd hate to see any of you get fired, but I think if we work together on this we can turn this thing around and . . . let me get that for you, boss!" And then I run over to the boss and help him lift his coffee cup to his lips or move his chair, whatever I can do to be helpful. Not only have I helped him, he's heard me give the rest of the staff a needed pep talk, which also lightens his load. Sure, your co-workers may build up a resentment toward you, but are they the ones signing your weekly checks? They don't have to love you.

You mix up the martyrdom technique with sucking up and I guarantee you there will be no stopping your climb to the top. I guarantee it.

[-] July 2008
Too Many Movies

I was embarrassed for myself the other night while watching the 1946 MGM musical extravaganza Till the Clouds Roll By on video. I was hypnotized by the Technicolor awfulness of this long movie biography of the songwriter Jerome Kern. You know how you sit there sometimes, stupefied, feeling the sand in the hourglass run out as the TV picture washes over you in its junk glow? That’s how I was: sprawled on the couch, watching Jerome Kern – and myself – move slowly, but inexorably, towards the grave. The clock ticking away along with the counter on the VCR. Time being chipped off my earthly stay in 90 to 120 minute chunks.

As you may have guessed, I’ve been watching too many videos lately – old movies from the 1930s and ‘40s, specifically. Stuff like The Jolson Story, Ball of Fire, Angels over Broadway, My Man Godfrey, After the Thin Man, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle and Girl Crazy. Not very heavy or demanding films. Movies where people crack wise and chase each other and have zany misunderstandings. I love them, don’t get me wrong. But I think you can overdose on them.

I can tell I have already. The worlds in these old movies are so artificial, reality is actually becoming more interesting. Probably most people feel that way already, but they’re not movie crazy like me. They can’t imagine how a false, Hollywood depiction of anything could be more compelling than the thing depicted.

I envy those people. They can see the value and interest of any setting they’re in. I don’t believe there are a lot of people like that though. Do most people even notice where they are?

I do. But my problem is that when I’m in a locale that’s not quite to my liking, it bothers me too much and I want to leave pronto. It’s not very realistic or very attractive. For instance, put me in the more obscure Western states, say Utah, Wyoming or the Dakotas. I’d really want to get out of those states. And don’t even ask about the places like India or Vietnam or Central America. Big old lonesome plains, or steaming jungles with guerrillas creeping around in them, hunting you down. I wish I was more open-minded about it, but I’m not. I don’t even like to see movies about these places.

So I see movies about places I would like to be in, like New York in the 1930s. Maybe it’s foolish. I’m fascinated, though, by those buildings and the cars and the clothes people wore. How about those hats? Yet the more I see, the more I want to see how it really was, instead of the crisp and sunny MGM view. The people in those movies seem to be in sharper contrast to their surroundings than people in real life, thanks to the lighting, and this is starting to seem bizarre to me. I’ve been seeing so many old movies that I welcome the fuzziness of reality. A steady diet of old movies and you begin to feel you’re on another planet, maybe in a parallel universe, but off the orbit of the things you know to be true. It can give you the willies.

And it can give you ideas, ideas about how life should be, how places and people should look, how they should behave. When they don’t live up to these movies’ ideals, it’s disappointing. I’m no dumber than average, but I have been affected by Hollywood in these ways. And that’s embarrassing in itself.

So I’m going to get off it for a while, away from the Gay Divorcee’s and the Father of the Bride’s and the Topper’s – or at least not watch them so obsessively. They are great movies, but there are items off-screen to be tended to. As for the trash like Till the Clouds Roll By and other duds too numerous to mention, life’s too short. If you’re going to spend time in dreamland, it might as well be with a good movie.

[10-1-97] June 2008
Advice to Young People

I work with many young people, and I like to give them advice whether they ask for it or not.

I’m considerably older than many of these people, and while it’s true that I haven’t gone anywhere or done much, I happen to have actual, real-life experience – experience in the realm of human relations. You don’t need to crew on a fishing boat, work in a hospital emergency room or spend a year overseas to learn this stuff. I learned most of it by just hanging around and sitting on my ass.

Therefore I believe it’s crucial that others benefit from my experience. As a matter of fact, I insist on it.

For example, a co-worker, Laura Putre, recently went to Illinois to get married. Now I’ve been through the whole wedding thing, both as observer and participant. I know a few things about the subject: the ins and outs, the pitfalls and pressures, the anxiety-producing elements of the nuptial ceremony.

So I took Laura aside before she left for Illinois and told her, “Just don’t make a fool of yourself.”

That’s all you need to know about getting married. You can pay your so-called “experts” thousands of dollars and never get better advice.

“In what way, ‘make a fool of yourself’?” you ask.

In every way. From falling and chipping your tooth on a pew during the walk down the aisle, to getting bombed off your wiener and vomiting as the vows are being exchanged, there are literally hundreds of ways to make a fool of yourself at your wedding. So my advice? Don’t do it.

The sales associate Chris Spencer, also about to get married, has indicated some trepidation about the affair. My advice to him took on a slightly different tack.

“Ha ha ha ha ha,” I told him.

Through my gift of laughter, I conveyed to Chris something very valuable, and very wise. Nyah, nyah, you gotta go through it and I don’t.

Martha Stewart can tell you what kind of tablecloth to use, but it takes real experience to tell you the critical truth about a wedding: Just pray you live through it. And after I have my good laugh at Chris’ expense, I add this comforting thought: “Don’t worry. You probably won’t remember a thing about it anyway.”

Of course there have been other workday situations where my older, wiser head has prevailed. At a recent lunch, the aforementioned Laura Putre was complaining that when she tells people her name, they always say, “Hey, that sounds like Laura Petrie” (of The Dick Van Dyke Show).

My co-workers clucked sympathetically and suggested methods that Laura could use to avoid this repetitive and tedious line. I leaned back in my chair and reflected a moment.

Finally, I said, “Laura, when people say that, just say ‘F--- you.”

Simplicity is the key in human relations. Certainly you could go through a lot of self-defeating rigmarole when confronted with annoying behavior, but I’ve learned that just leads to more frustration. You could be cordial; you could have a witty, canned response; you could emit a hollow laugh; or you could simply ignore it. However, sometimes it’s best just to say “F--- you.” Like “please” and “thank you,” these truly are the Magic Words.

Of course there will be exceptions to this, when “F--- you” isn’t appropriate. In these instances you might wish to say, “Bite me.” Or “Eat me.” “Go to hell.” The somewhat more elegant variation “Go f--- yourself,” or its classic, heartfelt cousin, “Why don’t you go f--- yourself?”

As you get older, you’ll learn which of these to use, and when. That’s the nice thing about maturity.

[8-11-88] May 2008
Into The Woods

I'm outta here. I'm going to spend some time in the woods and commune with nature. I've had it. I've had it with the heat and work and the Cleveland Indians. I've had it with the lousy TV and all the latest Hollywood blockbuster hoopla. I'm sick of looking out over crummy old Euclid Avenue from my office window, and I'm sick of crummy lunches. I'm sick of riding on the rapid with lunatics who bark like dogs. I'm sick of smelling the kitty litter box in our dining room, and I'm sick of looking at my bathroom ceiling with the paint peeling from water leakage from the apartment upstairs. I'm sick of sweating on the sofa. It's time to say Yes to Michigan.

We have a place in the woods. We're lucky. I feel sorry for people who don't. Our family started going to this place sixty years ago. It's a little town in Northern Michigan called Charlevoix. Hemingway country. He fished and hunted up there in his youth. I hunt up there too, but only for bugs in the house. I don't fish, because I don't eat fish. I like the idea of fishing, though. When I was a boy I used to fish off a dock with my older brother. He showed me how to bait the hook, but I soon switched from worms to plastic lures. Then I switched from fishing to not fishing. I enjoyed the sitting around aspect of fishing, but the slime factor had no appeal for me. I won't touch fish and I won't eat them. Except for Chicken of the Sea or Bumble Bee or Star Kist. Tuna is more like chicken or ham than fish anyway. Put a little Worchestershire sauce and lemon and mayo in tuna and you can forget it had been squirming around in the hold of some boat. Don't ask me about salmon, though. I don't know a thing about it. You can eat it if you want. I don't want any.

Maybe I'll play a little golf up there. I'll play on the 9-hole municipal course. No, I won't. I haven't played in 15 years and I probably won't this summer either. I learned how to play golf from the pro at the course when I was 13. I was under pressure from my folks to keep busy and I had to pretend that this thrice-weekly, hour-long golf lesson was a dominating summer activity, a substitute for the camp I had complained bitterly about going to. My parents were desperate to find something that I would be interested in that would get me out of the house. I probably didn't spend more than six hours a week on the golf course, but I tried to make my parents believe I was thinking about playing golf all the time, thus taking some of the heat off. I was satisfied to lay on my butt the whole summer, in other words, but I had to make them think I wasn't. It was hard work.

I wasn't a shut-in, however, I had solitary pleasures. I liked cutting weeds around the house with a scythe, which was easy and another excellent way to keep my parents off my back. Don't think I didn't stretch that out, either. I'd wander around with that scythe for hours, cutting and shuffling, shuffling and cutting. Everyone else in Charlevoix was sailing and water-skiing, but I was slashing at weeds. That's the life I chose for myself. It gave me time to reflect on things. Most of the time I reflected on why the hell I was messing with tall weeds when everybody else seemed to be having fun. I was afraid of looking like a fool while trying to have fun, so I did things by myself. I wasn't angry enough to be truly alienated. I knew it was my own fault. You might say I was passively alienated. So I cut weeds.

After all this cutting, though, I did learn to love the woods. The woods in Northern Michigan are filled with cedar, spruce and pine, and they look and smell great. They're filled with rabbits and raccoons, and these animals jump around on our driveway. The rabbits do, anyway. The raccoons chew on our garbage. There are snakes and deer and porcupines and foxes, plenty of chipmunks, and don't forget the birds. At night the stars fill the sky. The lake laps gently on the rocky shore. That soft rustling from the woods might be a deer moving shyly and gracefully, looking for plants to nibble on, or it might be one of those raccoons gnawing on an empty frozen dinner box he dragged from our garbage. It doesn't matter to me. I like it all. See you later!

[2-21-85] April 2008
If Julio Iglesias Came To the Gristmill
Toasting the marvelous persons of Cleveland

Illustration by Kirk Anderson, 1985.

It was a pedestrian Saturday evening at the Gristmill, a bar near Shaker Square, until Julio Iglesias, popular international recording star, walked in.

I was sitting at the bar, nursing a Lite Beer, when I saw this geek with a boss tan and a white tuxedo come streaming in with a bevy of attendants. He stepped up to the bar and said in a loud voice, “Eight Schmidts beer, por favor, and do not mention that I, Julio Iglesias am here, for I do not wish to be embarrassed in Cleveland, U.S.A., with undue attention for this modest singer of songs.”

This was immediately accompanied by a chorus from his cohorts, who said things like “quiet, quiet” and “no embarrass” and “mention nothing of Julio, nothing, please.”

Iglesias was served his beer and held it up in a toast. The others quickly followed suit.

“I would like to make a toast, si? He glanced at his buddies, who nodded vigorously, “a toast to wonderful Cleveland, the North Coast of the U.S.A., who has been so kind to I, Julio Iglesias, and listened so marvelously to his songs of love. I feel so deep in my heart your love of my beautiful songs and your own beautiful – how do I say – vibracions. Now we drink, Julio Iglesias and his friends, to you persons of Cleveland and your enormous–” he looked around for confirmation of correctness of the word, receiving only a few shrugs, “– city. Thank you, thank you!” And he and his friends drank.

“Ah!” cried Iglesias, wiping his mouth with his handkerchief. “Delightful!” He smiled dazzlingly at the customers.

The customers stared back at him. Iglesias smiled some more, putting tremendous effort into it.

“Ah!” he said again.

“Do you guys need some more beers?” asked the bartender after a moment.

Iglesias gestured dramatically.

Si, more beers,” he said waving his arms, “and perhaps these marvelous persons would like to hear a song from Julio.” He snapped his fingers and one of his friends quickly pulled out a guitar and began strumming. “It is a little song about amor, do you know it? It is of love, of romance, here in Cleveland, the city of amor. Would you like to hear it, dear people?”

The customers looked at each other.

“This lovely song was written many years ago,” continued Iglesias, “and has been muy popular ever since. It is especial for las personas de Cleveland,” he simpered winningly, “and I sing it now for you.”

And he sang Amor slowly, with guitar accompaniment. When he finished, a few people clapped. Iglesias’ tan glowed and he bowed deeply.

“That is right,” he said enigmatically. He looked at one of the women patrons, a nurse at Huron Road Hospital. “Did you enjoy my song, my firebird?” he asked. The nurse grinned but didn’t say anything. “Ah!” cried Iglesias, and laughed suavely. “I know how that is!”

Suddenly Iglesias grabbed one of his friends’ wrist and examined his watch. His head snapped up.

“We must go now,” he said tersely. He led his procession quickly out the door, onto Larchmere, and into waiting limousines. They drove away.

The bartender stared at all this in wonder. He shook his head.

“One thing you gotta give that Julio Iglesias,” he said finally. “He isn’t afraid to go out and mix with the people.”

The people in the Gristmill agreed.

March 2008
Heaven Better Be Nice

I was watching the news the other evening when suddenly I began to think about what it would be like to be dead. I shut my eyes real tight and tried to make my mind a blank, but I soon realized this would hardly be a realistic simulation of death. I’m not about to hear the newscaster talk about global warming, or notice cars going by on the street outside, when I’m dead. But then again, who knows?

I frankly don’t think I’m going to be dead for a while anyway, because I practice preventative medicine. I eat those pre-peeled and pre-chunked carrot nuggets every day, and maybe an apple or an orange. To make up for the bad stuff, I also drink a glass of Grit Free Sunrise Smooth Metamucil laxative, which flushes out any remnants of the burger and Peppermint Patties I’d eaten earlier. (I am a little worried that without the grit in the Metamucil, I’m not getting the scrubbing-bubbles-like action that really scours the colon, but I’m sure Metamucil knows what it’s doing. Otherwise, I might as well be drinking Tang.) Plus I take walks and lift my dumbbells every morning, so I’m surely going to be around a long time.

But when I do die, am I going to see that famous white light? That’s what it says in Reader’s Digest: you float down a long tunnel towards a white light when you die. Of course, that’s from people who almost, but not quite, die. No offense, but what do they know? They say that someone, or thing, in the light grabs them and shoves them back into the regular world. If they didn’t make it past the doorman, I’m not sure what they can tell us about the club.

Besides, if you die like that – boom – what does that do to the light theory? Maybe if you just go “ppt” you’re instantly in the afterworld and you skip the tunnel business. Are you then standing in some cheerful place and looking around, like in the movies, and if so, what are you wearing? That’s one of the main things I think about. If you’re destined to look for eternity like you did when you died that’s going to bum out a lot of people, me included. I’m hoping that you look like you did during your best period, when you were young and your hair looked good and you were scoring in the fashion department. I also hope you’re the one who gets to decide when that period was because, obviously, everyone has different tastes.

Maybe you’ll end up as a child again in a fantasy land, like Narnia and Oz, filled with meadows and ponds and blue skies and magic. Talking animals, the whole bit. That would be all right. It seems to me, though, there ought to be problems and dangers in an afterlife or it will get pretty dull. I mean, you can dance around a Maypole alongside a trickling brook for so long until you think, “Geez, I wish something would happen.” Chatting with moles and gophers is fine, but there’s got to be some challenges.

It wouldn’t be bad living – eternally – like Homer Price or the Little Rascals, for example. I could forego the talking animals and the other mumbo-jumbo if I could ride in a wagon pulled by a mule or drive a boat powered by ducks’ feet, like the Rascals, or be buried in thousands of doughnuts, like Homer Price. Or I could hang out in some idyllic European setting, like Hans Brinker or Heidi, clunking around in wooden shoes. Certainly if heaven is all they say it is, you’ll have a choice, and maybe the option to flip-flop between worlds.

What may happen, of course, is that when your soul gets separated from your body it just flutters around forever. That’s not for me. What, you just hover over Main Street and watch traffic patterns? You hang invisibly in ceiling corners at school board meetings and observe? What kind of afterlife is that? If I’m going to drift around in space with nothing to do – if I’m not even allowed to talk – I’ll just skip the whole thing. I’ll go for the void. However, I may not have much say in it.

Well, we’ll see. As I said, with my Metamucil and carrots, I won’t have to worry about it for some time.

[2-9-89] February 1999, February 2008
Ten Commandments of Love

What are the secrets of a successful romantic life? Although this subject has been addressed in thousands of articles in hundreds of magazines, couples still want to know how to keep romance alive in their relationships. Each week I receive dozens of letters from dissatisfied couples, pleading for my help. On this Valentine’s Day, I would like to set forth my Ten Commandments of Love that, if followed faithfully, will enhance and enrich your romantic life. (Clip this article and carry it with you for handy reference.)

1. The Less Said, the Better.
Communication is vastly overrated in relationships. If you’re having trouble with your mate, don’t express your displeasure right away. Let it simmer on the “stove” of your emotions. Like food, if you let a grievance “cook a while,” it’ll be much tastier when it’s done!

2. Laugh at Your Mate’s Insecurities. They say laughter is the best medicine, and nothing will make your mate feel better than when you laugh at his or her fears, problems, insecurities and anxieties. If you use this strategy, your mate will see that these insecurities are little better than a joke and should not be taken seriously. Problem solved!

3. The Best Things in Life are Free. So there’s no reason to throw away a lot of money on gifts for your mate. Most times a pleasant nod in his or her direction is a perfectly adequate display of affection. A “little thing” like a nod – or even a wave – can go a long way!

4. Ignorance is Bliss. Or should I say “Ignoring your mate can be bliss”? Sometimes there’s nothing better than withdrawing into yourself and completely ignoring your lover’s wants and needs. This can be a “quiet time” you can share when you pass each other like “ships in the night,” in silent communion as you remain happily unaware of each other’s existence. Nothing solidifies a relationship more!

5. Flirt Openly with Others. When out and about with your special someone, flirt openly, and broadly, with others. A lewd stare, a waggling tongue, even a goose of an attractive stranger can say so much to your mate: “Though I find this other person appealing, it’s you I care about; after all, it’s you I have to go home with.” This sentiment will be appreciated, I kid you not!

6. Good-natured Teasing Will Add Spice to the Proceedings. Along with flirting, good-natured teasing of your mate in a social situation will liven up any relationship. Want to make fun of your lover’s appearance, salary, intelligence or sexual skill? Now’s the time!

7. Let Yourself Go. Once you are in a stable relationship, there’s no reason to continue any fitness programs you may be on. Your personal grooming, dress and hygiene may also be safely neglected once you have “snared” your special someone. Nothing says “I can relax with you” to a lover more than gaining 60 pounds and wearing super casual attire around the house. So let your hair down a little – what can it hurt?

8. A Whine Will Get You Further than a Kind Word. When you must communicate with your mate, there are few ways of expressing yourself more effectively than with a good, steady whine. And don’t underestimate its cousins whimpering, sniveling and bitter complaint – these can be your best friends in any conversation with your mate!

9. Don’t Touch - Private Property. While in a relationship, guard your body like a fortress. You won’t get any respect from your mate by letting him or her touch you whenever the mood strikes. Have a “sexual schedule”: arrange specific times for intimate moments, say once every six weeks. Your playing “hard to get” says a big N-O to “easy pickins” and a big Y-E-S to self-esteem. You see if it doesn’t!

10. Be Frank About Sex. When you do have to have sex, be open about it. Don’t preface sex with a lot of murky foreplay (like hugging and kissing) that will obscure the issue – be plain and to the point by saying “Let’s just do it, okay?” You’ll find that in sexual matters honesty is the best policy!

[11-21-91] January 2008
Club Man

Excuse me, I got no time to talk now, I have to go to my club. No – the club. Excuse me, I’ve got no time to speak with you right now, I’m on my way out the door to the club . . . Goddamit, I’ve had it! If you want me, I’ll be at the club! ... No, he’s not here right now, he’s at the club, but you can leave a message for him there and they’ll give it to him after his sauna ... Put it on my tab, Ronnie ... Yes, sir, thank you, sir; it’s good to see you again, sir! You’re too generous, sir! ... Let me give you the number at my club too – we all squared away? Okay, Dick, fine. I’ll talk to you soon ... bye bye.

Just practicing my club chatter. I just got a free year’s membership in a downtown health center through a trade agreement. Normally I wouldn’t have signed up, but I need to get out of myself a little, meet more people. I don’t meet many people on my vigorous, post-dinner walks – just that dog who runs down his driveway every night toward me, then stops short and trots back up. At my club, I’ll meet all kinds of people, people who can help me onto the fast track. I can make deals with guys and playfully snap my towel at them afterward. I’m ready to join the old boy network at my club!

Except I was never very good at that towel-snapping business. I myself would get popped, but my own towel just sort of flopped out there. I never much liked locker rooms, either. I haven’t used one in 20 years. I hate the smell of Desenex and off-brand deodorants, and I’m not much one for taking showers with guys. When I hear the clang of lockers slamming shut and see guys taking showers together, I automatically think: prison. And then I think of some big mother with his knees on my chest and a homemade knife at my throat. Plus I still have bad dreams about forgetting my locker combination. Yes, I’ll be nervous when I first use the locker room.

But hey, once I get over that, I’ll be whipping my bod over at the Stair Master, or the rowing machine, or the treadmill, or the Universal. When I went to my club for the first time to pick up my card and sign in, I saw what all they had. Not that I was offered the Grand Tour when I got there. Far from it. When they saw me come in with my brown pants and custodian shoes they probably thought, Here comes Mr. Free Membership. Here comes Mr. Low Rent. I was wearing my tan jacket that during the past few years has degenerated from studwear to something slightly off, and this combined with my pants and shoes made me look like an odd guy from Serbia or someone just released from an institution. I was worried I was going to be blackballed before my first workout even.

While I was there I also peeked into the aerobics room. There were mirrors on every wall, like in a ballet studio. This is one feature of my new club I’m not about to utilize. I’m not about to hop around like Richard Simmons with those hateful legs of his. I’m a lone wolf and I’m not going to jump with a bunch of strangers! So what I’ll end up doing, I guess, is buy a Master lock, memorize the combination somehow, get some workout clothes, go to my assigned locker and nervously undress, tiptoe out to the workout room, hop on a machine, pedal and pull, try not to get too smelly, go back in the locker room and hope no one else is in the shower room, take the shower as quick as I can, stand at the sink and mirrors and hope nobody notices I’m still using zit cream, walk uneasily back to my locker, slather my pits with Speed Stick, get dressed quick, then rush out of there. And that’ll be it.

I’m sorry, he’s not here right now, I think you can reach him at the club. Yes, that’s right, he’s at the club ... You can reach him at the club.

December 2007
The Orangutan Outrage

Like you, I was outraged by the recent newspaper story about the orangutan who confronted and stripped a French tourist in a Malaysian ape sanctuary. And like you, I have questions and concerns.

In case you missed it, a French couple was walking in the sanctuary when they were confronted by the orangutan. The orangutan walked up to the male tourist and then stripped him. The stunned tourist didn’t move a muscle as the orangutan removed his clothes, including his underwear, and then ran into the forest. An official later said, “This ... incident is a warning to all tourists to wear clothes which cannot be removed easily.”

Well, isn’t that fine. Isn’t that marvelous and delightful. According to this official, the orangutan did no wrong. It was the Frenchman’s fault for wearing clothes that could be “removed easily”! What does that mean anyway? Was he supposed to wear combination locks on his shirt buttons and on his zipper? Are we all expected to dress for the day prepared for the possibility that an orangutan might strip us naked as we walk peaceably through ape sanctuaries? Is this the way we’re meant to live? I don’t think so.

I think we should wear whatever’s most comfortable for us and let ape sanctuary officials worry about orangutans stopping us and stripping us of our clothing. Let ape sanctuary officials concern themselves with making sure their orangutans don’t confront people and start unbuttoning and unzipping their clothes and then taking them into the forest. That’s their job, isn’t it? To make sure that people come into their sanctuary with their clothes on and leave with their clothes on and not end up naked as jay birds? Some “sanctuary”!

Here is another comment the official made. He said, “We will track it [the orangutan] and see if the animal attempts to wear the Frenchman’s clothes.” Oh, ho! And then what will they do? Take photographs of the orangutan and then have a good laugh back at the maintenance center? I’d hate to see the condition of these photographs after having been passed back and forth by ape sanctuary officials and their relatives. Too bad for the zoologists and anthropologists, who may really need these photographs to study and maybe, just maybe, help stop this kind of behavior. But ape sanctuary officials have to have their joke. That’s priority one!

And will the Frenchman get his clothes back? Will he want his clothes back? That’s the question no one seems to want to address – the condition of the Frenchman’s clothing after a few days of hard wear by an orangutan. Would you want your pants back after an orangutan has worn them? Even for an afternoon. Because I’ve got news for you: Orangutans aren’t known for their delicacy, and they’re not known for their fastidiousness. They’ll run around in your pants, scratch at them with their fingers, rub up against trees in them. When I was at the zoo a few years ago, I saw a baboon ... well, I won’t tell you what he was doing but you wouldn’t have wanted him to be wearing your pants or your shirt, and that was an ordinary day at the monkey house. If I was that Frenchman, I’d consider those pants gone, a loss.

Having said all this, I do think we as people should be somewhat responsible for our own clothing. No one can honestly say for sure how they would react to the situation where an animal stops you in your tracks, unbuttons and pulls off your clothing and underwear, and then runs into the forest with them. We all have to look into our hearts to discover what we’d do. I like to think that I’d have the courage to take that orangutan by the wrist, look him in the eye, and tell him, “This isn’t right. Don’t do this.” I can’t say what kind of effect this would have on him. Maybe he’d look wildly around and then run away. Or maybe he’d crack me on the snout and then strip me as I lie crying on the ground. I really don’t know. But God! Just give me the chance to find out.

November 2007
The Saga of Disco Dick


I got an advance copy of this book Retro Hell, an encyclopedic collection of items relating to the pop culture of the ‘70s and ‘80s, written by the wisenheimer young editors of the ‘zine Ben is Dead. I immediately turned to the entries on disco, and was overcome with a flood of memories and emotions. Back in the late ‘70s disco was my life.

I was probably Ohio’s greatest disco dancer. People would scurry off the floor when I arrived at the discotheque and murmur, “That’s the Disco Dick.” (They called me “Dick” because it went better with “Disco” than “Eric” did.)

I will tell you candidly that my dance moves made John Travolta’s look feeble. Ask anyone who used to frequent Traxx in those days. No one did The Hustle like me. I did such a fabulous Bump I sent several people to the hospital. In Saturday Night Fever Travolta slid across the dance floor and everyone gasped. Travolta stole that from me. I was sliding across dance floors long before John Travolta had even heard of disco.

Not that it matters. People gasped at all my moves. I bounced off walls, swung and swayed from the disco ball, and once even danced in my gold-glitter underpants. You can imagine the commotion that caused. Screaming women had to be physically removed from the premises. For some women, seeing a person like me in underpants is far too intense. They can’t handle it and have to vacate the area for their own protection.

When I strutted in wearing my five-inch heels, with my nine-inch collar framing my bare chest and my gold necklace with its “I ™ Disco” logo – I was the first to use the heart symbol to signify the word “love,” by the way – it was like a bolt of lightning had struck the dance floor. People got out of my way fast.

The moment I heard the music, I was consumed. My feet, hips and booty could not be controlled. “Boogie Wonderland” drove me absolutely insane. I’d shake it, pound it and swivel it ‘til everyone shouted for mercy. It was as if a machine – a dancing machine – had possessed me and taken over body and soul, like in The Exorcist.

I’d punctuate my moves with frequent hollers of “Dyno-mite!,” the catchphrase popularized by the superstar Jimmie Walker on the show Good Times. I’d also cause quite the stir by pointing mid-boogie to a group of women who’d be watching me and I’d yell, “Dyno-mite, ladies!” And they’d laugh hard, because that’s what women do when they’re turned on in such a major fashion.

And “Disco Inferno”? Oh my God, I loved it. When the DJ played “Disco Inferno” I brought out my flaming rod. Yes, I actually danced with a flaming rod. I’d throw it up in the air and catch it in the middle of my spins. You can bet I had the dance floor to myself when “Disco Inferno” played!

I did have one mishap dancing to “Disco Inferno.” Mid-spin my heel got caught on a wad of gum, and my flaming rod hit me on the head, destroying my trademark Disco Bow, the huge, bright purple ribbon I always tied to the top of my head before going to the discotheque. I also lost most of my hair, my eyelashes, and one sideburn. But a night in the Burn Unit wasn’t about to take the dance out of me.

And I danced to ‘em all: “Rock the Boat.” “Brick House.” “Disco Lady.” I’d chirp along with the Bee Gees to “Stayin’ Alive,” and every time I danced to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” I’d scream, “This lady’s gonna survive! This lady’s a survivor!” And don’t even ask how I’d react when Miss Donna Summer was on the turntable.

Of course it was too good to last. One night in 1979, a mob who obviously hated disco as well as sexually attractive people with a gift for dancing took me outside the discotheque and beat me to within an inch of my life. My dance career was effectively finished. Yet even now, you can still catch me unconsciously swinging my butt around as I experience flashbacks to those disco days.

[11-17-88] October 2007
Secret Squirrels


Man, why do these people send me these funky catalogs? What mailing list am I on? It must be that video I ordered last year from Publisher’s Central Bureau, The Best of Caballero Films Vol. 8. One lousy skin flick and I’m in the Spicy Adventure computer files. One lapse of taste and I’m getting Gordon Liddy’s and Gordon Gekko’s junk mail.

The latest catalog I’ve received is from Life Force Technologies Ltd. out of Aspen, Colorado. On the cover is a leather-clad killer bimbo holding a “Night Penetrator” handheld night vision viewer – “the dark holds no secrets from the Night Penetrator” – that costs eight grand and wearing a lethal Tekna dive knife strapped to her upper arm. She’s no Laura Ashley or Ann Taylor, I’ll tell you that. After scanning the rest of the catalog to find naked pictures of her (there weren’t any), I settled into examining the fine products the Life Force folks were selling.

The first thing that caught my eye was the Stress Analyzer, a little device you hide under your desk to measure your adversary’s stress level. It analyzes the voice, which under pressure sends out micro-tremors that this thing converts into numerical digits you can see on the LED readout. The higher the number, the higher the level of stress. I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do when the numbers get way up there. Scream suddenly, then move in for the kill? I don’t know. I’m not sure of the advantage of knowing another person’s nervousness level. Maybe he’ll get so nervous when he discovers you’ve been secretly analyzing his stress, he’ll shoot your ass.

I’d rather try something a little safer, like the Voice Camouflage, which will “Change Your Voice Into an Intimidating Threat” by turning it into a deep growl. Except I’d use it to call my paper boy to frighten him into delivering my Plain Dealer on time. Nothing else has worked. Children may use it, too, says the catalog, for a feeling of security while home alone. Ten-year-olds growling “Mommy and Daddy aren’t here.” Plus you can touch a button and add the sound of a terrier’s yip or the “deep-throated” bark of a Great Dane. Hell, why not a lion’s roar? I’d rig it up so if anyone called, the theme to Jaws would play as they waited for me to come to the phone. Mess with this guy and he’ll eat you alive. That’s the idea I’d try to get across.

If this stuff doesn’t do anything for you, Life Force Technologies offers other nasty little gadgets and dirty tricks. “Think of the many ways you could use the Super Ear Mini-Stethoscope system,” says the catalog, next to a photo of a guy pressing the device against a wall and listening to the conversation in the next room through an earphone. The ad copy says you can use it to “detect clocks” in luggage. Uh-huh. How about Expose, the X-Ray Spray? You spray this junk on a piece of mail and you don’t have to open it – it turns paper translucent for 30–60 seconds. Just long enough for a peek. Even their non-sneaky stuff is for tough guys. A lambskin attache: perfect for the kind of wolves who’d order spy cameras and secret tape recorders.

Well, maybe I should order some of these items. Then perhaps I could be like the Vice President of Product Develop-ment for Life Force, Doug Casey. I mean, the man has even discovered the secret to eternal youth. He did this by adding the personal Radical Shield to his daily regimen. The personal Radical Shield is an “ultra-high potency, natural antioxidant which bonds with, and eliminates, free radicals in the body. These molecules speed the aging process and inhibit DNA production. It’s simply common sense that eliminating free radicals from the body will slow down aging,” says Doug in his introductory letter on page two of the catalog. He doesn’t look so good in his picture, but at least he won’t look good for a very long time with his Personal Radical Shield, which is available, by the way, for only 37 bucks for a 28-day supply.

Yeah, I should order some. Then I can get out of this minnow pond and start swimming with the sharks.

September 2007
Aging anxieties

I don’t care for this getting old business. When I was young, I didn’t think about getting old. Now that it’s happening ... well, I don’t like it, that’s all. Make it stop.

I don’t like it that I can’t remember things anymore. I don’t like that I could lose my balance and fall over at any moment. I don’t like that I put blubber on so easily and can’t get it off. I don’t like that not only am I not getting any wiser with age, but quite noticeably more stupid.

I know what you’re thinking. “Quit whining. Everyone gets old.”

This is my column and I’ll whine if I want to! Go to hell!

That’s another thing. I also don’t like it that I’m becoming more irritable.

You say, “This is all perfectly natural. You’re aging, so of course you’re going to get fat, crabby and stupid, forget stuff and fall over. What you’re really afraid of is facing your own mortality.”

I’m not afraid of facing my mortality. I’m afraid of facing the end of my mortality.

I’m certainly not afraid of dying or, more precisely, the actual state of being dead. I don’t think I’ll mind it. Either I’ll be flapping my wings somewhere nice, or I won’t be doing anything. As for reincarnation: skip it. With my luck I’d come back as a stinking olive or a motorboat or something.

Here’s what I’m afraid of: If things go as I expect them to, my final years will be filled with humiliation, degradation, and utter misery. That’s if I have some money saved up. If I don’t ... well, that’s off the charts.

Some might see this as somewhat of a pessimistic take. But I’ve always been kind of a “expect the worst and you’ll never be disappointed” guy.

“Just what do you expect is going to happen?” you ask.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. I know what I imagine.

I imagine arthritis so bad that I’ll need a rocket booster to get to “shuffle.” I imagine gallstones, kidneys shutting down like clockwork, uncontrollable flatulence, adult diapers, eyesight so bad it would make Mr. McGoo chuckle and as my main fashion accessories an oxygen tank and a tube up my nose. Beyond that, I figure to be the very picture of health.

I’m a bit more concerned with my mental status. If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably surmised I’m already about three bricks shy of a load. That’s all right. The best case scenario for my old age is kind of an endearing dottiness, where I’m merely eccentric and dodder around the house like an old English guy, and the worst I’d do is absent-mindedly brush my teeth with shampoo or put shaving cream under my arm pits.

The scenario I’m not too excited about is getting old, senile and just plain crazy, leering at young women in halter tops, having fits at fast food restaurants, taking off my shirt at discount drug stores and driving cars into buildings. Then being put into some kind of a home ... with a roommate. Oh Jesus! I don’t want to die with Wheel of Fortune on the tube in the background. I really don’t.

And what if I didn’t have any money? What if I became a “ward of the state”?

I don’t exactly know what that is, but it doesn’t sound good at all. In my less optimistic moments I think about being 79 and a ward of the state, spending my last years in some godforsaken room with my black socks falling down over my white shins, and an indifferent attendant ignoring my bedpan and turning the TV to Wheel of Fortune. And then glaring at me with utter contempt after I accidentally drop some lime gelatin on the floor.

He wouldn’t even bother cleaning it up, because I’m just a lowly ward of the state.

I look at it this way. If none of this comes to pass, just think how delighted I’ll be.

July 2007
Betsy's Paralegal

I was talking to my ma the other day, and she gave me some news about my sister Betsy, who’s a lawyer with a practice in a little town in Washington. Betsy’s lone paralegal quit, so now she’s looking for another one.

After I hung up the phone, it hit me. Why don’t I be Betsy’s paralegal! What a marvelous opportunity to weasel my way into the legal profession. Betsy can teach me law, and then my brother-in-law Joel, who’s a circuit court judge, can teach me judging. I should be able to pick it up in a week or two. I enjoy journalism as a career, but you have to be realistic. If I combine my lawyer and judge salary with my humor column salary — well, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out. I’ll be sitting pretty.

I’ll make it clear to Betsy right off the bat that my first love is what we attorneys term homicide law. I’ll tell her to put me on all her murder cases. In my role as paralegal, I’ll track down homicide witnesses and interrogate them, or perhaps go undercover and infiltrate a suspected murderer’s home or office. I’ll be sure to pack heat, like that guy on Perry Mason.

“What if some of these Washington mugs try to get cute with you?” you ask. This is a small town. All I’ll have to do is snarl, “I’m Betsy’s paralegal,” and they’ll cooperate, don’t you worry about it. They’ll fold up like a 12-dollar accordion. I’m in from Cleveland, baby. I’ll show them how paralegals operate in the big city. I’ll show them in-your-face paralegaling!

Of course, all my legwork is merely pre-court appearance preparation. I’ll also help Betsy with “briefs,” which are the folders lawyers bring into court to show the judge before the trial begins. A brief has to contain all the necessary information so the judge can take it home, read it as he drinks his evening bourbon and decide on a ruling. Or, if there’s a jury, overrule them if they “fudge the verdict,” which happens a good 65 percent of the time. It’s a very complicated process which I can’t hope to fully explain here, but my primary role of paralegal is to help Betsy nail the real murderer, who is usually sitting in the courtroom.

As we do expose the murderer, we have to be prepared he’ll try to make a quick exit through the courtroom window. “You got a gun, you can pop him,” you say. Hey, this isn’t the Wild West. There are sheriff deputies and bailiffs to take care of that stuff. A paralegal’s duties are confined to bringing killers to justice, nothing more. Besides, Betsy and I aren’t exactly spring chickens anymore. We can’t be chasing miscreants around the town square, potting at them with revolvers. You have to let the rest of the legal system do its job by sending these people up the river or giving them a ride on Old Sparky or what-have-you.

Besides, this is where Joel comes in. After a year or so of paralegaling, I’d like to become a judge. Ironically, as a magistrate I’ll have less power to choose what cases I work on than I did as a paralegal. Where as a paralegal I could work on sexy murders, drug busts and interstate kidnappings, as a judge I’ll have to rule on whatever comes before me.

This being a small town, these cases could run from anything to juvenile delinquents terrorizing citizens with snowballs to divorce and probate beefs. “What’s a probate beef?” you ask. That’s what happens when a person dies, and then his or her family argues about the will. As judge, you get to tell everyone what they inherit from the dead person, using your legal acumen to decide stuff if the will gets murky. For example, if the will states “I leave Herbert my real estate holdings,” you have to determine which holdings Herbert gets, and which holdings you get. I mean, you’re not doing this for free.

I’ve already called Betsy to share my ideas with her. She interrrupted me midway to tell me that she’s doesn’t generally do homicides, but nevertheless she’d “review” my resume and get back to me “sometime in the near future.” I also wanted to rap with Joel about the judging game, but Betsy said he wasn’t home (although when I called, I thought I heard his voice in the background say “What’s that wack job want now?” It must have been the TV).

In any event ... see you in court!

[10-26-89] June 2007
You're Fired

During this past layoff at the paper, I thought I would do some freelance writing and make a little extra cash.

I intended to work several hours a day and write articles to make the people howl with excitement.

I didn’t, of course. With so much free time in the day there was no way I could get anything done. I couldn’t get anything done in the morning, because I had to take an hour-and-a-half walk. When I returned from the walk it was 11:30, and I spent a half-hour thinking about lunch, a half-hour eating, and a half-hour digesting. I couldn’t get anything done in the afternoon, because I spent the afternoons in research, which meant reading magazines and watching TV. By 3:30, I had to think about taking my nap, a siesta lasting from 4 to 5 p.m. And when I awoke from my nap it was almost time for the TV news report, which I prepared for by reading more magazines and wandering around the apartment. And, of course, after 6 p.m. is evening, a time for relaxation. So very little got written.

Another problem was that I couldn’t think of anything good to write about when I did think about it. My best idea was a story about Zsa Zsa Gabor, on trial for smacking a Beverly Hills police officer. My theory was that the police officer mistook her for her sister, Eva Gabor, and had made an ill-advised comment about Eva’s TV show, Green Acres, not knowing that references to Green Acres enraged Zsa Zsa, who flew into fits at the mere mention of this CBS situation comedy that kept Eva, not Zsa Zsa, in the public eye. But that’s as far as I got with it.

Another idea I was temporarily excited about was a story concerning a fellow running for mayor of Cleveland who held his own left buttock as he campaigned, this representing his political trademark, like JFK twisting his suit button. Then the buttock-holding candidate lost in the primary, far behind Ralph Perk, Jr. I felt this was a good idea but maybe not saleable.

This was the trouble with most of my freelance writing ideas. They weren’t practical. I spent a lot of time thinking about one idea I knew couldn’t pan out, but I kept thinking about it anyway instead of getting down to real work. It was after I saw a TV commercial with the Pillsbury Doughboy, a revolutionary spot wherein the Doughboy is lying on a chaise lounge asleep or perhaps dozing. Usually, as you know, the Doughboy is poked in the stomach by a human finger and chuckles delightedly. This time, the hand that usually gives him the poke has mercy and covers him with a blanket. When I saw this commercial I took all sorts of notes and paced the room with all kinds of thoughts about the Doughboy and if he really liked being poked. It was a big waste of time. You don’t make any money with ideas like that.

More than the bad ideas, though, was the lack of discipline. Writers are supposed to sit down and write no matter what, which is what I told myself, boss to employee. As an employee I only half-listened to this, smoking a cigarette, watching the clock, impatiently waiting to punch out so I could go home and take that nap we discussed earlier. Or I’d go on missions to Revco that were really just evasions of responsibility. I spent far more time at Revco looking at shaving needs than I did working. I compared Barbasol to Edge when I should have been whipping that Gabor piece into shape. I hung around the Duracell display instead of banging out those dynamite stories that would turn American literature upside down, set it on its ear, redefine it. Instead of making literary history I was messing around in dry goods.

I began to see that this was not the formula for success. I decided to take a good hard look at myself. This yawning fellow was not on the fast track to financial freedom with all the napping, crummy story ideas, and trips to Revco. So I said to myself, “I’m afraid your services are no longer needed here. Thank you and best of luck in the future.”

[5-3-89] May 2007
Hello, I must be going

When you’re leaving, I’m not going to hug you, cry and whisper “I’m no good at good-byes” like they do on TV. I’m very good at good-byes. From me you’ll get a wave and a simple “so long” with maybe a ciao, sayonara or vaya con Dios thrown in. No, I’m usually glad to see you leave so I can go about my business, which is usually not much, but it is mine. And though I enjoy being with people, being by myself involves a lot less strain. So. . . bye! See you later! I’ll call you! Take care!

No, for me it’s the hellos that are hard. When I first meet someone, I’m supposed to shake hands and say my name. My name doesn’t seem like it would be hard to pronounce, but it is. People think I say “Art” or “Ed” or “Mark.” I’m embarrassed when older guys in suits stick out their hands and say “How you doing, Art.” I think they want my name to be Art or Ed, good business names. On the other hand, some women hear my name as “Derek,” which conjures up the image of a British stud in a tuxedo à la Tom Jones. I feel terrible correcting them because it was my mushmouth that led to the confusion. No one knows what to make of the name “Eric,” either. It’s not identifiable with anything. If my name was “Webster,” people could say “Like Webster Slaughter, right?” They don’t do that with “Eric.” No one has the slightest bit of fun with “Eric.”

I can’t remember other peoples’ names, either. That kind of information flies immediately out the windows of my mind. I can remember your face, your problems, your idiosyncracies, your hopes, your dreams, your desires, but I probably can’t remember your name. Many people mistake my embarrassment with unfriendliness when I pass by them and give them a stiff “Hey, how you doing.” I’m ashamed that I can’t remember their name, so I look pained. Sometimes I don’t even say “Hey how you doing” when I think of all that could go wrong in mid-greeting. To compensate I try to smile, but I never get a full one out because I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing, so it comes out more like a grimace. In other words, when I pass most people, they either think I’m hostile or that I’ve got appendicitis or a spastic colon. I’m far from being a hail-thee-fellow-well-met.

And when I get to know people better, then I have to worry about hugging them. I don’t believe in hugging out of the family, though I will make certain exceptions. But generally, hugging makes me uncomfortable. I couldn’t go on the Oscars or Grammy awards ceremonies with all that hugging. You can’t tell me that all those people know each other well enough to embrace. Why the hell should I hug Madonna or Celine Dion? It’s no different here. There’s lots of people around who believe you should hug friends or even acquaintances.

I try to avoid this. I put on an exaggerated uncoordinated act when I run into people to make them think I’m all knees and elbows, so they won’t want to hug me. I’m not saying I jump around and frighten people; I’m more subtle. I just try to look slightly off. I want my actions to say, “If you try to hug me, I’m not guaranteeing I won’t loosen a few of your teeth with my chin on the approach. I also might jab you in a tender spot. But I’m willing to hug if you feel we absolutely have to.” Most people leave me alone when I give off these vibes. I can spot others who use the same strategy to avoid hugging, and I feel a special kinship with them. We look at each other in relief, knowing that neither of us are huggers and we can stop fretting, at least for the moment. But we both know that there’s always going to be somebody who’s going to want to hug in the future, so there’s always going to be something to dread.

Yes, good-byes are easy, and the rest is hard. So good-bye.

April 2007
How To Be Witty: Phrases to make you sound S-M-A-R-T

This will improve your life tenfold, so you’d better read it. Your social life is a joke because you haven’t mastered the simple art of conversation.

You’re a conversational slug. Forget all the other theories on improving your word power. You can use big words and still sound like a lout. Remember Howard Cosell?

Employ these stock phrases and you will sound witty, vibrant and cultured.

• “Ah’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers”: This is a line by big-deal playwright Tennessee Williams. Say it if someone offers to buy you a drink or a bag of nuts, or anything. It’s from A Streetcar Named Desire, the story of a southern woman and a Polish man, if anyone should ask.

• “Ah! Paradise Lost, no?”: Say this if someone should mention they broke up their marriage, lost their job, etc. It’s from a long, long poem about the devil written by John Milton. He’s dead, so don’t talk about him as if he weren’t, i.e., “He’s a real good poet from England, you bet.”

• “Et tu, Brute”: When the situation calls for a philosophical remark about betrayal, this baby fills the bill. It’s from Julius Caesar, a play by dramatic heavyweight William Shakespeare. Pronounce Brute Brewtay, not Broot, like the cologne.

• “Now wait a minute”: The key to this one is to say it like Jack Benny: “Now WAIT a minute!” It’s always funny, and you can say it anytime. (SPOUSE: I want a divorce. YOU: Now WAIT a minute!) It’s charming and shows that you’re a little bit wacky. If you can’t sound like Jack Benny, forget this one.

• “How Kafka-esque”: This little gem is appropriate when someone is telling you of problems with the authorities, such as the police, small claims court, or the phone company. (YOUR FRIEND: Hey, the phone company turned off my phone without warning me, and when I try to call them, the line’s always busy! YOU: How Kafka-esque.) Kafka was a Bohemian writer who dealt exclusively with such stuff.

• “Fiddle-dee-dee! I’ll think about it tomorrow”: Scarlett O’Hara said this in Gone With The Wind. It’s a good line to use at work. When your boss assigns you a task, just say this to display an attractive take-it-or-leave-it attitude that will impress your co-workers.

• “Cast a cold eye/ On life, on death/ Horseman, pass by”: Use this in any situation. It’s from a poem by Irish rhymesmith William Butler Yeats. (YOUR FRIEND: How you doing, anyway? YOU: Cast a cold eye, etc.) Finish up with the quote by saying “Yeats, of course.” And it’s Yates, not Yeets.

• “I tell you, it’s a whole different sex!”: Jack Lemmon said this to Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot, and he was describing women. Naturally, women can use it to describe men. Very sophisticated.

• “Frankly, I thought it uninspired”: This little sweetheart is perfect in any conversation concerning movies, music, theater, books – any of the arts. (YOUR FRIEND: Hey, didja see Porky’s II? It cracked me up! YOU: Frankly, I thought it uninspired.) You will be regarded as a person disturbed by the absence of quality in the art world, and that equals s-m-a-r-t.

• “Mea culpa, mea culpa”: Latin for “my fault, my fault.” When you’re caught in some bonehead move, this is much better than “whoops” or “ho-boy” or “holy jeez.” You won’t compound your infraction with a knucklehead response. (YOUR BOSS: Jenkins, you lost us the TRW account! YOU: Ah, mea culpa, mea culpa), and chuckle suavely.

• “It’s just good old-fashioned pork barrel politics”: You can sum up any shenanigans in City Council with this one. (YOUR FRIEND: Hey, I hear Councilman Druthers used our city tax to buy himself a private jet! YOU: It’s just good old-fashioned pork barrel politics.) Always good because nobody really knows what it means.

• “I’ll take the Fifth on that”: A witty way to deflect unpleasant questions. From the Constitution. (SPOUSE: You’re seeing someone on the side aren’t you? Aren’t you!! YOU: I’ll take the Fifth on that.) Say this as gaily as possible, and everything will be just fine.

[1-26-94] March 2007
Cry of the Timberwolf

In winter I’m generally as tough and adaptable as a Minnesota Timberwolf, but this year a combination of factors has made it difficult for me. And though, like the Timberwolf, I usually suffer in silence, as a member of the media I feel it’s my duty and obligation to reveal how sick I feel so that maybe my experiences can help others.

Like everyone, I currently have a head cold. However, mine traveled up from my chest to my sinuses. As any doctor will tell you, colds normally travel down, dripping from your sinus passages into your lungs. This dripping forms a puddle in your lungs, causing what we close to the medical profession call congestion.

The congestion in your lungs makes you feel like coughing, but often your coughing just causes the puddle to splash around in there. It’s non-productive coughing. That’s why you need an expectorant (from the root word “expectorate,” or “to spit it all up”). You want to spit the puddle up and out, whereupon you can then go on about your business.

You ask, how does an expectorant work? Well, it’s a little like the scrubbing bubbles in basin, tub and tile cleaner. The cough syrup somehow knows to slide down into your lungs instead of into your stomach, where it then breaks up the congestion into tiny particles of what we call sputum. It’s got foaming action. And, if it’s worth a damn, it will make you drowsy.

Unhappily, recent advances in the expectorant field have made it possible to take cough syrup without feeling drowsy. I always make it a point to buy expectorant carrying the drowsiness warning on the box, because if you’re home, and it’s nighttime, drowsy’s good.

However, the stuff I just bought didn’t have the drowsiness warning – and yet it didn’t carry a “non-drowsy formula” banner on the box. I assume cough syrup will make you drowsy unless explicitly told otherwise. I felt that perhaps the drowsiness warning was left off in an oversight – or maybe not an oversight. Maybe it was the old bait and switch: to get you to buy their cough syrup they don’t tell you it will make you drowsy, and you take it at the beginning of the day. Then you find yourself at work, expectorating and nodding out.

But what these cough syrup people didn’t understand was, I was willing to play along. You don’t have to tell me it will make me drowsy . . . just as long as it does. I outwitted myself in this matter. I overthought the whole thing. My congestion was broken up, but I wasn’t properly narcotized.

You say, “You really had a bad experience with that cough syrup.” Yes, but you don’t know the half of it. After I took the cough syrup my cold traveled to my sinuses, the expectorant doing its work too well, with the sputum traveling up into my sinuses. The laws of gravity had once again let me down, unless I had unwittingly been on an incline during this period. But who gives much thought to the positioning of their heads and feet during the day? We’re all far too busy for that – especially me, with my executive-type management duties.

To battle this I took allergy pills. I bought a brand new bottle of pills to replace the (open) bottle of pills I had accidentally knocked into the toilet. The pills had then met an even worse fate in that particular facility due to my not paying attention to the havoc I was wreaking upon them until it was too late. Without going into specifics I will candidly say these pills were ruined on every conceivable level.)

But it didn’t matter, because these pills didn’t have sufficient nasal-passage-shrinking power anyway. I was mouthbreathing in bed, the dry heat parching my throat, so I got up and squirted nasal spray in my nose. This prescription nasal spray had expired in March of 1993, but what could I do? The stuff barely had the pep to make it out of the dispenser but it still had enough scrubbing action to clear one nostril.

Now I’m going back to the drug store to buy fresh nasal spray and something that will knock me out. I’m going for one that says on the box “May cause marked drowsiness.” Marked, there’s your key word.

[11-3-93] February 2007
Fabio and I On Love

As I listened to the CD Fabio After Dark, a collection of brief discourses on romance by the long-haired Italian supermodel (alternating with songs by established artists), I felt his views on love deserve amplification and commentary. I will present his remarks followed by my own, which should essentially cover the subject for you.

Buon giorno. I’m Fabio. An’ I’m vary interested in what makes romance work. I want to share wif you my recipe for a perfect evening ... Wan I plan a date, I want to make sure dat everything is perfect for us. Music is de mos’ important thing to set the mood for the night ... A song can speak for me wan I cannot put my feelings into words. I listen to a solo and I think of a duet. Wan it’s dark, I turn on the music, I light the candles. Thar is no timetable for us for a fantasy that we will make come true. – “Fabio: About Romance”

What Fabio is saying here is that he sets things up before a date by lighting a few candles and putting a special song on the hi-fi. And the song isn’t something uptempo like “The Yellow Rose of Texas” or “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” it’s slow and romantic – like “Wind Beneath My Wings.” When Fabio says “I listen to a solo and I think of a duet,” he’s not being literal, he just means when the music’s going he’s thinking about sex. Then he removes his shirt and it’s off to the races.
I would add that you also might want to serve tortilla chips and dip.

[Breathlessly] I can be vary shy when I first meet a woman. But I’ll always dream of learning her secrets. First I look into her eyes ... Thar is a quality in a woman’s eyes that show more than her physical being. It reveal her tanderness, and passion. Her inner beauty. I loff to take her anyplace I can devote all my attention to her. It can be a corner of our li’l ressrunt, it can be in front of my fireplace, [whispering] curled up, together. – “Fabio: On Inner Beauty”

Fabio can tell a lot about a woman by her eyes, which he shyly looks into before going to a restaurant. I don’t quite understand why he goes on about her eyes revealing her tenderness and passion, then immediately jumps into talking about going to a restaurant. I guess he takes the woman to the restaurant, looks into her eyes and sees if it’s all right to ask her to go to his fireplace where they can then curl up.

I like to take a special lady to a ceenema whar we can hold hands in de dark and wheesper vary quietly about what we see. I wonder: Will she kees me ... like dat? Will I always be de hero of her life? I wish there were more romantic feelms, because romantic feelms can lead to beautiful adventures after we leave de theater. – “Fabio: On Films”

Here’s where Fabio and I seriously disagree. I don’t believe you should talk at the movies, even “very quietly,” because that drives me nuts. I go to very few movies because inconsiderate people like Fabio are whispering at their dates. While he’s worrying about being a hero and if he’s going to get kissed, I’m trying to enjoy the movie, and I can’t because he’s babbling. If Fabio wants to whisper at his date he should rent a video from Blockbuster and do it at home.

There is no place I’d rather be than on a tro-o-pical island. We seem to have it all to ourselves ... just me an’ my special lady. There are no ... phones ... to intrude on us. Feesh from de water ... froots on de trees ... an’ wahnderful silence. The only sounds we hear are de sound of nature ... and of our hearts ... beating as one. – “Fabio: On Tropical Islands”

Fabio would like to spend time with his date on an island, where no one’s calling him on the phone trying to get him to subscribe to magazines or take out insurance on his credit card. Amen to that. I’m not too crazy about his fish idea as I assume he’d eat the fish, which is no treat, believe me. What’s he going to do, wade out in the ocean and catch fish with his hands? Please. I’m concerned about the fruits on the trees, because I don’t think islands have normal-type fruits like apples or peaches. I’d rather bring food. Some deviled ham, maybe. I also think wonderful silence would pall after a while, so I’d bring a short-wave radio so I could listen to a little sports talk. But that’s just me.

[?] Janury 2007
The Old Grocery Guy
(See April 2017)
January 2007

[10-28-92] December 2006
Adult Meat: and other tantalizing supermarket positions to dream about

My local supermarket is now hiring. I got the memo through a flyer I picked up at the store. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for.

The flyer says there are full- and part-time positions available in Adult Bakery, Adult Deli, Adult Produce and Adult Meat. “We are looking for friendly customer service oriented people,” the ad says.

I am so their man it’s not even funny.

I dig ’em all, each and every grocery department. I could be a floater, zipping from bakery to deli to produce to meat, helping PEOPLE at each counter, and freelancing in the aisles, too. Customer service is my middle name. I’m not kidding about this. I’ll serve you ’til you beg for mercy!

I’m happy to shelve, slice, scan, load, unload, bag, whatever you need. But I really need to be let at the customers.

“Hello, how may I fulfill your deli needs today?” That’s what I’ll say standing behind the counter, deli hat rakishly tilted on my head. “What number you got?” Pulling the little cord or whatnot to get to the next number. “Eighty-four? Eighty-five? Eighty-six? Who’s got eighty-six?” I’m rehearsing this as we speak.

“A pound of the Sara Lee maple ham? Good call. Sliced wafer-thin? Good call again. I like to ball it up and suck on it between my tongue and upper palate. Get every bit of that sweet maple pig juice! That’s the ticket. Anything else? Can I interest you in a pound of Swiss for even more deliciousness? No? Okay, move along, move along. Eighty-seven, eighty-eight, eighty-nine.” Friendly, but efficient. No number, no deli, no nonsense. That’s how it’s going down at Adult Deli when I’m there.

On my days in Adult Produce, I’ll wander through, stocking the fruits and vegetables and make helpful remarks. “Not that one.” Or “Don’t store that with your other citrus, it’s a troublemaker.” Or “That may funk up your Nice N’ Fresh drawer.”

I’ll juggle red and green bell peppers to amuse the tots riding in the carts and playfully toss cherry tomatoes and radishes at the small fry driving the little red cars. Who says fruits and vegetables can’t be fun? That’s the message I’ll be sending the youngsters.

To further entertain, when I’m working the cereal aisle, I’ll sing commercial jingles from the past to correspond with what I’m stocking. Made with real fruit avor-flay, for breakfast or for acking-snay … oot-Fray Oops-Lay! … So all ashore that’s going ashore, get Captain Crunch at your grocery store! … Snap! What a happy sound, snap is the happiest sound I’ve found … K-E-Double-L, O Double-Good, Kellogg’s best to you! … Cinnamon TOAST CRUNCH! Really holler that last one to make the shoppers jump. Ha ha!

“Maybe you should just get a job as a grocery clown,” you say.

Listen, I understand there’s a time for fun, for lying down in the freezer case, pretending to be a corpse among the DiGiorno pizzas. That’s a given, that’s normal grocery hi-jinks. But I’ll take my Adult department duties seriously, make no mistake.

For example, I’ll determine just how many pastries, cookies, cakes, pies and other sweets it’s kosher to sell while I’m working Adult Bakery. Obesity in America is a serious issue and I have a responsibility to not enable.

“I think two apricot Danish are plenty for today, dear. No, the pound cake isn’t for sale … no, dear. No, the chocolate éclairs aren’t available today … no, no, no.” Knowing, of course, they may do an end-around and snatch up some Krispy Kremes or Little Debbies, but they won’t overindulge from my shop.

Sure, I’ll encounter some initial resistance – a little whining here, a little complaining to the manager there – but I’m looking out for my bakery customer’s waistline, and she’ll thank me in the long run. When milady’s peering down at that pleasing number on her bathroom scale, she’ll think, “I’m glad the Adult Bakery Stallion saved me from myself yet again. He’s a winner, and now so am I.”

The possibilities are endless. As a shopper, I can barely refrain from dispensing unsolicited grocery advice to my fellow customers now. To be paid to do it? Oh. My. God.

[10-28-92] November 2006
My congressional campaign speech

I know it’s a little late, but I’ve decided to run for the congressional seat in my district. I don’t know which district it is exactly, but one of my first acts as your congressman will be to find out. And I won’t rest until I do – you can depend on that.

The reason I’ve decided to run is many-faceted. The first facet is that I care about people. As a congressman I will stand up for my constituents. No corporate or special interests will dictate to me how I’ll vote on the issues. Gifts? Perks? Junkets? Special privileges? Sure, I’ll take them. But when it gets down and dirty on that congressional floor, I’ll do the right thing for the people I represent. That’s a promise – from me . . . to you. (Here I’ll point at audience, my other hand placed on my thrust-out hip, my campaign trademark.)

The second facet is that I want to help people I care about. What good is caring if you don’t help those whom you care about? I’m going to help my constituents; just see if I don’t. If I don’t, you’ll know the reason why! I won’t hide under my desk or behind the sofa or take a quick trip to another state. I’ll be there if you want to complain, or whine, or give me a hard time. I’ll be there for you. If the line’s busy, just keep trying. If I’m not there, I’ll be there later. Just leave a message. I’ll get back to you. Count on it. (Pointing again.)

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, is I want to be an instrument for change. Change is a hard thing. It involves risk.

It involves daring. It involves turning old notions on their heads and trying new ideas.

That won’t be necessary with me. I can implement change without all that risk stuff. How? With people. That’s right. With you! With my constituents. You’ve had enough of us in the Congress telling you what’s what, and what’s best for you. What we need are congresspersons who listen to their constituents; I mean really listen. This is what I plan to do. I’m going to perk up my ears, put them to the rail, and wait for that train that’s the voice of the people to come rolling into the station. When it pulls in, my head will be on that rail, listening. So . . . all aboard . . . for improved service in your congressional district! All aboard for change! Woo, woo! (Here pantomiming pulling a train whistle.)

But what are my programs? What are my plans to improve health care, produce jobs in the private and public sector, stimulate growth, and relieve the gridlock in Washington that prevents so many fine plans from being implemented?

I have a Four-Point Plan – a Five-Point Plan, if you count private and public sector job production as two separate things, because there are two different sectors, but originally I thought of it as one big thing: job production. But they wouldn’t give them different names if they weren’t different things, correct? The way I see it is, public sector jobs are like jobs in government agencies, and private sector jobs are say, jobs in art galleries. You can rest assured one of my priorities as your congressman will be to find out the difference between the two, and let you know as soon as I do. Promise. (Point, hip thrust.)

At any rate, Four-Point or Five-Point, take your pick. I don’t have time to get into specifics, but let me just say that each point – whether it be the First or Second or Third or Fourth (or Fifth, depending on which program you prefer) – will be given equal attention by me and my staff. We’re not going to spend months on the First point and then, because we run out of time, not get to the Second or Third. That’s not the way I’m going to do things. Why? Because that’s not the way you do things. You don’t run your household that way. If you did, you’d be out of a job. The least your congressman can do is budget his time and delegate his responsibilities so his points can be implemented, the way you do at your home and business. Who says we congresspersons can’t learn anything from our constituents? (Laughing warmly here.)

Please consider voting for me on November 7. Because, really, a vote for me is a vote for yourself. And I think yourself is a pretty good person to run this district. (Nodding sagely as I walk off stage to thunderous applause.)

[3-7-85] October 2006
The Auto Answer Man: Natural healing for living vehicles

Illustration by Kirk Anderson

Dear Auto Answer Man:
Does a whining under the hood indicate a serious problem, or is that to be expected in a 6-year-old car? The whining presents itself upon acceleration from a full stop and continues for 10 seconds or so. Any suggestions?
L.V., Cleveland
Dear L. V.:
The whining sound you hear is known as “the ghost in the machine,” and this means precisely what you might think: a profound spiritual anxiety in the chasis. A gentle lubrication – with safflower oil, baking soda and natural herbs – applied to the undercarriage will soothe the offending living metals.

Dear Auto Answer Man:
How best to jump a battery, negative to negative or negative to ground?
P.W., Solon
Dear P.W.:
To please your electrical system in its natural housing, the cable should be grounded to the vehicle with the temporarily unliving battery. And isn’t it wonderful how two vehicles can share life and breath with each other in this way: heart to beating heart. Would that humanity could live this lesson.

Dear Auto Answer Man:
What are some fuel alternatives to gasoline? I will not give the oil conglomerates another penny.
S.S., Brunswick
Dear S.S.:
Bravo, S.S.! There are many other earth sources for fuel. I’ve been running my car for years on a mixture of baking soda, reconstituted lemon juice, Colt 45 malt liquor and beeswax. For the precise ratio of these ingredients, please send me $20 in care of this newspaper.

Dear Auto Answer Man:
How do I bleed my brakes at home?
A.L., Chagrin Falls
Dear A.L.:
Do not refer to this process as “bleeding.” It brings to mind the primitive medical practice of leeching a human being in illness, when herbs were – and are – sufficient to cure sickness. Brakes have a difficult enough task to perform in your automobile and are among the most stressed of all mechanisms. Therefore, to clear air out of their lifelines, we liberate the hydraulic fluids from them. It is a beautiful and relaxing experience for your brakes and should be celebrated.

Dear Auto Answer Man:
My car – my good friend – is on its last legs, and I don’t have the heart to sell it and see it with another owner. The car was me; I was the car; I saw the world through its eyes, and it mine. How should I deal with this?
R.V., Cleveland
Dear R.V.:
There comes a time when beings separate and become two, and you must accept this inevitability. Your car feels your presence, and will continue to, even as it is compressed into nothingness at the junkyard. Celebrate its life, not its end; light candles and incense and feel, feel.

Dear Auto Answer Man:
How do I keep my alternator drive belt supple?
B.W. , Cleveland
Dear B.W.:
Perhaps the most erotic of all your automobile’s belts, the alternator drive mechanism feels best when fed with patchouli oil.

Dear Auto Answer Man:
Should I polish my car in a clockwise, or counter-clockwise motion?
T.T., Cleveland Heights
Dear T. T.:
First I must ask what kind of polish you use: Turtle Wax – which, did you know, uses the essence of real turtles in its composition – or organic polish derived from any number of plants that need not be uprooted to obtain their essences. Boycott Turtle Wax and use my polish, which you can obtain by sending me $20 in care of this paper, and your car will feel nature polishing it instead of the blood of turtles.

Dear Auto Answer Man:
My power steering chatters when I make a hard turn. My mechanic tells me the repair is not costly, but I’d rather do it myself. Is there a way?
O.M., Lakewood
Dear O.M.:
As in any human matter, there’s always a way! When your power steering – or as I call it, “fortified guide” – chatters, it canmean but one thing: time for an herbal balm! My Fortified Guide Herbal Balm can be massaged into the steering column by anyone from 8 to 80, and is available at NAPA stores statewide. The balm uses the power of the sun to generate liquid healing of the fortified guide’s nub. Try my balm on wheat-and-sprout pancakes too – delicious!

Dear Auto Answer Man:
How does a tire feel when it blows out?
C.R. , Mentor
Dear C.R.:
Profoundly depressed. The trauma of a blow-out is, to a tire, akin to the feeling of dropping dead to a human being. It is nothing to make light of, and meditation is the only course when it happens – after, of course, jacking up the car and putting on the spare.

The Cleveland Edition, 3-7-85

[9-24-87] September 2006
Dawgs

I was eating a delicious London Broil at Nighttown the other evening when it became clear I would not be able to finish. I asked the waitress for a doggie bag, and to my surprise she brought me just that. A real, old-fashioned 1954-vintage grease-proof doggie bag with superb drawings of grinning dogs on it and a little song too: “Oh where, oh where have your leftovers gone/Oh where, oh where can they be?/If you’ve had all you can possibly eat/Please bring the rest home to me!!” Now that’s good. I gazed upon this item fondly for a bit, then came to the sober realization that almost all the dogs I ever knew were not like the dogs on the bag.

The dogs I knew didn’t pant and grin and jump for joy. They were troubled or oddballs or both. Our family hasn’t owned a dog since 1961 because we went through some bad times with them. One dog, Happy, was a misfit, unable to get along with anyone or anything. The next, Jimmy, was run down soon after we got him. The final dog, a Weimaraner named Spook, bit my brother’s friend, Tommy, opening a series of doors in the house to get at him. The premeditated nature of this act forced my parents to give Spook away. We’ve been a cat family since. My sister living in Washington has a dog, but he jumps through closed windows. No one else wants to take a chance.

It was more interesting to observe neighbors’ and friends’ dogs. Both our next-door neighbors had dogs, and it was like night and day comparing them. On one side there was a collie named Laddie, who I swear was more intelligent than some of the kids I knew. This dog dripped dignity. He was owned by a distinguished German doctor, and when I’d see them walking together I’d think, “That dog likes classical music as much as the doctor does.” And that gave me a thrill.

On the other side, however, there were Tony, Pokey, and Violet. Well, first there was Tony, a nervous little pug who had asthma and a certain fondness for kids’ legs, if you catch my drift. He wasn’t bad and neither was Pokey, a nondescript mixed-breed who seemed about as average as a dog can get. But Violet . . .

Violet was put out early in the morning every day, and the neighbors’ driveway, where she was leashed, was right below my bedroom window. She was a little black dog with a real big mouth. I have never before or since heard a dog yap so ceaselessly as Baby Violet did. She emitted a piercing “Ike” sound, and she went with it. It was unbelievable. She never shut up. Now and then our neighbor would poke his head out the back door and say “Violet! No!,” but that only kept her quiet for as long as it took him to get his head back into the house. I would lie in bed gnashing my teeth, listening to Violet every morning.

My friends’ dogs were all a little bit off, too. I felt sorry for most of them. One had a goiter and slobbered. He was nice, but I didn’t really want to deal with him. Another was a St. Bernard named Sam whom I had a healthy respect for. I feared him. While not a violent animal, he seemed easily offended. I never tried to pet him or even look at him. He also seemed to know I was a jerk, leading his young master down an unsavory path, and he looked at me weird.

I should also mention Chrissie, the arthritic dog that ate Sugar Smacks instead of conventional dog food. I felt very sorry for Chrissie, the dog that struggled up the stairs fueled only by Sugar Smacks and her own determination.

Those were the only dogs I ever really knew. To me dogs are poignant animals that make me feel slightly guilty, but maybe I’ve just been associating with the wrong ones. I like them and I like how people like them, but I’d hate to think of a dog of mine crashing through a closed window.

August 2006
Auto Erotica

It’s time to get my Ohio driver’s license renewed. This time around, I am determined to get me a hot, tight, sex-machine driver’s license photo. That means enough sleep. That means watching the intake of my slightly sedating back pain pills, too, so my mouth doesn’t fall open cretinously as the picture is snapped. That means no hangover.

I’ve been rehearsing the ideal driver’s license look in the mirror. I don’t want to be some grinning assclown, but I can’t have the imminent prostate exam appearance either. I’ll drop in some Visine right beforehand, and arch my eyebrows as the shot is taken to present the look of a suave, bemused boulevardier. You thought you’d catch my eyes at half-mast? It is not to be, mon petite cherie license bureau lady.

I’m pondering, too, whether to do a Just For Men treatment the day of the shoot. Strictly a beard-and-sideburns deal. I have to be careful not to keep the goop in too long or it’ll be the Wayne Newton thing all over again, which was really humiliating. I have to carefully calibrate the Just For Men so that the facial-hair color lands in a happy medium, somewhere between Wayne Newton and Gabby Hayes. You really have to plan for this stuff. I mean, this is the face you’ll be presenting the world for four years.

What’s notable, too, about this particular driver’s license renewal is that this is the first year I will actually use it for driving. For more than 30 years my driver’s license was strictly for ID because I had talked myself into a driving phobia. I had pretty much quit driving in my early twenties.

In youth I had a series of unfortunate events with cars, like nearly driving into the family kitchen and slamming into trees. I would drive to the neighborhood saloon and then stumble home, forgetting the car and being mystified the next morning. Now where the deuce did I leave that Cutlass?

I had vision woes, too, stemming from being unable to wear a contact lens in my left eye, thanks to a lit match head landing in there. I misjudged distances, which made maneuvering a car somewhat problematic. Especially those ’70s boats. I had a couple of crap cars that drove like busted shopping carts and often died where I parked them. I had a really bad experience with a ’68 Pontiac Catalina. I can’t even talk about it.

So I just bagged the whole driving thing, getting rides when I needed them, taking the train to work and walking everywhere. “How environmentally responsible!” you say. Nah, I was just chicken, not to mention cheap. No car or insurance payments? That’s pretty sweet. I never went anywhere, but I had plenty of cash to throw away on rockin’ albums and CDs.

But last summer I just decided to get over it. I work at Cedar and Lee and live near Shaker Square, and walking to and from work in last year’s beastly heat didn’t appeal much to me. I could see myself staggering down Coventry Road, pouring sweat, then dropping dead of a heat stroke. So I weighed the choice between death, with morgue personnel laughing at my underpants, or driving a late model air-conditioned automobile to work.

I don’t have the one-eye excuse anymore. Those pesky spatial relationships are no longer a concern with two working eyeballs.

It also dawned on me that there are a lot of dunderheads out there driving, and how could I possibly be worse at it than them?

And even if I were a lousy driver, who cares? Nobody. That’s the great liberating knowledge I’ve acquired with age. Always morbidly and cripplingly self-conscious, I find to my delight that no one gives two shits what I do or how I do it.

So I start driving and discover I’m an excellent driver. Skilled and fearless, expertly maneuvering the sedan in and out of tight spots, zipping around like Jim Rockford. As a fresh, new driver I have a unique perspective, free of years of pent-up road rage. Hello, fellow motorists! I enjoy captaining my automobile! A friendly smile and a wave of the index finger.

Also, I put rockin’ tunes in the car’s CD player and blast away. Playing loud music and hollering along while driving the car is a good time. Who knew?

[8-1-91] July 2006
The Greatest Vacation of All Time

The best part of going to the northern woods of Michigan is swimming in the green lakes up there. I get wet slowly, by wading into the lake waist-deep, then patting water on my shoulders and stomach. I may look like an old guy doing this, but isn’t that better than risking shock or perhaps instantaneous death by jumping right in? How macho is it to be lying in some small-town Michigan morgue? Not very, I’d say.

Once I’m completely submerged, I like to blow air out of my lungs and sink to the rocky bottom. I pull myself along the rocks, pretending to be a bottom feeder or a parasite. This de-evolution is very relaxing. After coming out of the water I towel off and sit in the shade and read about Nazis. Is that a vacation or what? And the birds would chirp: Foo foo fweet. Foo foo fweet. Whoop, whoop.

At night we’d go into town and walk along the pier that goes out into Lake Michigan. Then we’d walk around the harbor in town where all the cabin cruisers are docked. The people sipping cocktails on board the docked cruisers would look at us, and we’d look at them. I didn’t envy them, because I like crawling along the bottom of the lake better than sitting on top of it in a boat.

We went on boats anyway. We paid $20 each to go on a cruise on an 85-foot schooner. There was no wind, so we drifted and ate Eagle brand potato chips they sold on board. We also went rowing on a rubber dinghy, with me battling the waves with nothing but brute strength and two aluminum oars. I didn’t even get a chance to crack open my Diet Pepsi, I was so busy fighting the current like an Eskimo. Our dream of floating peacefully in the middle of the lake and drinking our pops was crushed by Mother Nature.

But they say man is more brutal than nature, and this was proven by my sister during the trip, when she asked me to move some of the house’s deck chairs when I wasn’t feeling right. “No!” you say. “Not on your vacation!” Yes. When she started moving the chairs and I just stood there she said coldly, “Will you help?” Despite the way I felt, I did. At my funeral, people would ask my sister if I died from moving things around when I wasn’t feeling right, and she’d wave her hand dismissively and say, “Nah, he was just sick.” But my gravestone would read, “He didn’t look right, but they made him work anyway, even on vacation.”

You might think the whole trip was ruined by my sister’s inconsideration, but I forgave her and continued to have fun. I’m always on the lookout for animals up in the woods, and we saw a lot of them. We saw a raccoon mother and her kids. Raccoons’ main function in life is eating garbage and giving people dirty looks for bothering them. Even the baby raccoons look bitter. Geez, if you don’t like it learn a trade, like a beaver or a woodpecker. We also saw a great strapping deer run across the driveway. “Where you going, honey!” I yelled at him. And of course we saw rabbits sitting around.

My favorites, though, were the seagulls, who are just pigeons in sailor suits but look good to me anyway. We fed them bits of ice cream cones in the harborside park in town. Gulls are garbage eaters too, but don’t have the attitude, and when you see one perched on a dock, or better, on a piece of driftwood – boy, that’s maritime. That’s nautical. And if birds could talk, gulls would never shut up. They’re hustlers, like New Yorkers: “Hey, listen, hey listen, whattya gonna do with that sugar cone? Hey listen, hey listen, throw that over here. Say, whattya got there, hey, hey.” Gulls are all right.

The entire vacation was all right. Those were just the highlights I was talking about, and you might find different kinds of fun up there in the northern woods, like water skiing, or camping, or whatever. I personally probably wouldn’t care for the activities you choose, but what the hell, I’ve had my vacation, now you have yours!

[9-30-98] June 2006
Rapping with the kids

My wife Barbara and I were sitting at the bar of a fine East Side restaurant Saturday evening when a large group of dressed-up high school kids filed in and sat down at two tables nearby. At first I was worried they’d be noisy and raucous, disturbing my dinner. But after a few Finlandias I grew misty-eyed, recalling my own high school days. After another drink, I informed Barbara that I was going over to talk to the kids, and maybe give them some advice. She said, “Uhh ...”

I walked over and placed myself between the kids’ tables. “Hi gang,” I said, raising my glass and grabbing the back of a chair for balance. “Mind if I rap with you a little bit?” I saw surprised looks and heard a few snickers. I wasn’t insulted — after all, who did this old graybeard think he was, horning in on all the Saturday night fun? But there was plenty I wanted to say to these young people.

“Kids, I know you’ve heard this before,” I began. “But as I was sitting at the bar, I thought to myself: You know, over at those tables, that’s our future. And I said to myself, I said, ‘Self, if you don’t do anything else in this life, you gotta do this. You gotta tell these kids one thing.’

“And that one thing is this: Don’t ... let ... go ... of ... your ... dreams.

“Okay, you’re laughing. I get it. Who is this guy? And why is he crashing our big party?” I waved my drink around. “It’s just that when I see your faces I see my own face. Yes, believe it or not, this old fossil standing before you went to high school too. But you want to know something? There were no activities listed under my high school yearbook picture and I regret it to this day.” I waited a moment to let the kids absorb the full impact of what I was saying.

“I didn’t do anything. No clubs, no debating team, no student newspaper, no varsity nothing. You know what I did? I watched TV. That’s right. That’s what could have been listed under my picture: ‘Watched TV.’ Not that there was cable in those days. You had 3, 5 and 8. NBC, ABC, CBS, that was your choice. On, off, that was it. Volume control ... vertical hold ... Oh, maybe we had a few UHF stations, big deal. Big deal! Don’t interrupt, son, I’m talking here.

“The point is I piddled my time away. Ski club? Drama society? Don’t make me laugh. Prom? I never even smelled the prom. Nixon was president,” I said darkly. “Richard M. Nixon. Watergate. ‘I am not a crook, I am not a crook.’ Who could blame me for retreating from the world and looking for solace where I could find it?” I chuckled sadly, and dabbed at my eye with a tissue.

“Kids, just don’t do what we did. Don’t drink Ripple and Boone’s Farm Apple Wine and smash up Dad’s car ... and for pity’s sake don’t mix gin and vodka in a flask, then chase it with MD 20/20. Jesus God! That stuff tasted like Clorox bleach. I lost my glasses that night. I was on the floor at some party screaming obscenities and woke up wallowing in dried vomit. At first I thought I had slept in corn flakes. Ah, you girls think it’s funny now, but I certainly wasn’t laughing the next day. I was crying like a baby, I had to eat saltines all day long to settle my stomach.” I wiped at my eyes again, spilling a bit of Finlandia on one of the kids.

“Are any of you girls cheerleaders? I didn’t even smell cheerleaders. I talked to them sometimes in class, but not much. No, cheerleaders were a different breed of cat, a different kettle of fish. Not the world of cheerleaders for me. Rah! Rah! School spirit? I didn’t know from school spirit. This was the Watergate era, we found our fun where we could. I know you kids like rock music. I listened to rock music too. ‘Knights in white satin ... doo doo doo doo doo doo ... and I love you, wooooo, I love you, ohhhhhhh, I love you.’ Stereo systems? On, off, volume control, that was it. Treble if you were lucky. You kids have the technology, you have it easy. In the ‘70s computers were as big as cars. We didn’t even smell computers.”

I don’t really remember much more of what I said to the group. It may be that at that point my judgment had become slightly impaired, because I remember following two of the girls to the Ladies Room. I began to talk to them about how smoking aids my digestion but didn’t get a chance to finish because some restaurant functionaries came in and removed me. But I had a wonderful time rapping with the kids.

[6-9-93] May 2006
The Married Sex Machine

What’s it like being a married sex machine, you ask. Well, it’s very interesting. Now that women know I’m married, the old idea of forbidden fruit comes into play. They see the simple band of gold on my finger and think, “That sex machine is all married up, and now I want him even more...This desire could send me to women’s prison, but I can’t fight the feeling. It’s like seeing a luscious bon-bon or a jar of the finest caviar up on the shelf just out of reach.”

My wedding ring has a message for these women. The message is, “Too bad for you. You didn’t win the sweepstakes, this one here (my wife) did, and now you have to suffer.” It says, “You can look but don’t touch” and “Private property – no trespassing.” It’s like I’ve put up an electrified fence around myself. Though these women can no longer sidle up to me and knock me down, I still feel their vibes. So I have to put out my own vibes: Don’t get too close to the flame. You’ll just get burned. And for what? It’s a dream that for them can never come true. I pity them, yet I envy them their fantasy.

I see these women on the street and in the mall, but what can I do? I feel them giving me the hairy eyeball as they pass by, looking boldly at me and at the crease in my pants. I can’t stop every woman and tell her that these are wrinkle-free pants with perma-creases built in, that when I iron slacks myself the creases veer off to the right or the left, and sometimes I double-crease and then there are two lines running down the front of my pants leg so I look like I’m walking in two directions at once. How can I tell these women what they consider “fashion mastery” in reality stems from a practical decision in the marketplace? Am I to shatter their every illusion?

It’s the same with the wallet marks in my back pocket. “Look at the sex machine, he’s got a wallet. I wish I could be around when he takes it out of his pocket. Ooh, aah.” Do you think I enjoy this? I can’t even buy a pack of sheet protectors or double-A batteries at Rite-Aid without feeling women’s eyes on my wallet marks. They’re thinking, “He’s buying sheet protectors and batteries now – tomorrow it may be shampoo or floss or other personal items. Ooh.” Why can’t they leave me alone? Am I just a piece of fine-aged Angus beef? I might as well walk around with “Certified Grade A” stamped on my forehead. Would that make everyone happy?

It’s oppressive to be a sex machine. To have your hair stared at, and your fingers. Your feet. When I’m with my wife in the mall, all may appear normal to the casual observer, but the sexual tension in the air is nearly overwhelming. What may seem to be to you to be an inconsequential glance from a woman speaks volumes to me, because I am a man who knows who I am. I’ve been cursed with this thing.

I constantly have to be on guard because I never know when I’m going to awaken the savage in someone. It’s constant stress. I have to stay on the balls of my feet in the mall, keeping my arms dangling loosely at my side. My wife doesn’t know that I’m ready in case women jump out at me from stores. She just continues on. But the women know, saying to themselves, “The sex machine is ready. I’d better cool my jets.”

I know this may be insensitive to the women out there, but in conclusion I would like to present a brief snapshot of my life at home, because I think it will be of interest to the general reader. The other day my wife accidentally trod on my bare little toe, and I screamed and fell over onto my bed and whimpered for several minutes. My wife thought I was a big baby, but when I later shone the flashlight on my mortified toe for her – highlighting a swollen, sharply ridged corn on the bottom of it – she then had a great deal of sympathy and understood why it was I shrieked like I did.

It was a moment of tenderness and understanding for myself and my wife, and while I do realize this is cruel to other women to flaunt our relationship in this manner I thought it might be helpful to you married fellows out there to know that you can shine a flashlight on your toes and your wife will then feel sorry for you. A hint from the sex machine.

[5-14-92] April 2006
I Wish I Were Amish

I’ve been staring longingly at my new Amish Country calendar I picked up last month for 50% off. That’s the life for me, the life shown in the color photographs of the calendar.

The photos show the Amish working their green farms in Holmes County, Ohio, leading their horses down dirt roads, driving their buggies in bucolic winter settings. Peace and quiet. That’s the ticket. No one bothering you, except to ask you to help put up a barn. And if you didn’t feel like it, you could say you were sick. “Virgil, I can’t put up the barn with you today, I’m like working on a migraine here.” They're not going to give you a hard time about it. “Okay, my man, next barn then.” How many barns can they put up in a year? They don’t do it weekly. And if I don’t want to help with the next barn
I can come up with something else, like pretending to be out of town.

See? See how I’ve been trained by city living? I’ve been trained to be selfish. I’d help put up barns, and I’d thrash grain too, though I’m not exactly sure what that is. There’s a photo of some Amish loading up wagons with hay to fill their silos. Those people can sleep at night. Me, I sit in a chair all day and fret, go home and eat a junky dinner, read magazines and watch TV, then toss and turn in bed until morning. What kind of a life is that? I’d be happy doing physical labor, though let’s not go overboard on this. Lifting a little hay. Patting old Dobbin the horse as I pass by and giving his harness a fond shake. “Good boy.” Those animals won’t turn on you, will they? Clamping their big square teeth down on your hand? Naw. Animals and I are simpatico. Hey, anyway, it beats getting battery acid splashed in your eyes or having your radiator cap ricochet off your forehead like here in the big city! The hell with cars!

I won’t miss the TV either. I’ve gotten all I can get out of the tube. You think I care if I ever see Family Matters or Home Improvement reruns again? Believe me, I won’t. The thing is. . . what about football games? I don’t know how I’d get around that. You can’t drive a buggy to a sports bar. There are no rogue Amish in bars sucking beers and whooping at the games on TV. Maybe I could work out a deal with furniture stores, so when I bring in the chairs and tables I make, I could deliver on Sundays at one in the afternoon and they’d have the game on for me. If not, I guess the best I could do is sneak a peek at the standings in the paper once in a while.

It’d be nice to eat some decent food for a change. I’ll bet the Amish make good soup. Potatoes and corn . . . I hope they don’t have a thing about salt. Not to worry! I just remembered! They make pretzels with plenty o’ salt on them. Pretzels. These people and I are as one in that department. I’ll be out there behind my team of horses, thrashing grain, munching on a pretzel, hauling the grain to the silos to make more pretzels. Man, that’s Amish. That’s for me.

I want to be a craftsman. I want to make chairs. Planing down wood, munching on a pretzel . . . that would be all right. Then going home and taking a cold shower and scrubbing off the sawdust with a good hard chunk of pumice. Or Zest, it doesn't matter. Then settling down for the night with a good book: Willa Cather, Sherwood Anderson. A volume of Shakespeare. None of that John Grisham or DaVinci Code nonsense. None of that worldly crap. No Elmore Leonard? Hmmm. Hey, I can live without it.

Up to bed. I made it myself. Solid maple. I stuffed the mattress, too, with thrashed grain. I’ll sleep as soon as my head hits the pillow, my arms and legs pleasantly sore from all the harvesting and carpentry and horse-patting and harness-shaking I did all day. No air conditioning necessary, thank you very much! Unless it’s really bad out. Sometimes fans just move hot air around, and you’ve got to bring that cold air in somehow.

Just give me a few more weeks to think about it and I’ll be ready to move on this Amish thing.

[8-30-84] March 2006
Rapid Fantasies


I’m riding westbound on the rapid, heading for Public Square. At Shaker Square, an old woman gets on. The rapid is full and not a soul gives up a seat for her.

I notice this after glancing up from my book (Freud’s Lectures on Psychoanalysis). I rise instantly from my seat, touch her arm and say, “Please sit here, ma’am.”

Her face lights up with pleasure and she says, “Why, thank you, young man.”

After disembarking at the Terminal, I walk up the ramp toward Euclid Avenue.

I stop for a moment to pick up some litter to place in a trash receptacle when I see the old woman coming toward me.

“Young man, young man! I’m glad I caught up with you,” she says, a little out of breath. “I want to give you this.”

She hands me a piece of paper. I look at it and gasp.

“Why, this is a check for fifty thousand dollars!”

“Yes, young man, it is. I am a very rich woman, and your kindness was the most heartening act I’ve seen in all my 80 years. I merely wanted to show my great appreciation.”

“You got any more?” I ask eagerly.

“Much more,” she replies. “I will notify my attorney that you are to be included in my will for an annual stipend of a quarter million dollars. Julia Von Sohio does not forget a favor.”

I get on the rapid downtown at 3:30 on a Friday afternoon. The car is filled with raucous, noisy students. I chuckle at their horseplay; after all, I was a junior high school student once myself.

I’m reading Plato’s Republic when I feel a wet splat against the back of my neck. I turn around and see an arrogantly grinning young fellow holding a plastic straw.

“Now, now,” I say waggishly, shaking my finger at him, “is that the proper kind of behavior?”

For some reason this evokes gales of laughter from the mischievous students.

I go back to my reading (now The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire) when I begin to be pelted by a barrage of spitballs. As soon as I turn around, I’m met by a sea of smiling innocent faces.

“I know what you’re up to!” I say with a twinkle in my eye. The students respond with hoots and disrespectful laughter.

Patient as I am, I bristle when the students heave small rocks at me with the use of a makeshift catapult. I decide to act.

I walk back to their seats and suddenly grab a smallish fellow whom I had pinpointed as one of their ringleaders. I hold him by the neck and scream, “I’ll kill you!”

“Let ‘im go!” yell the others.

“Only if you promise to simmer down, kids, and let the rest of the passengers enjoy their ride. And you must promise to study and watch only one hour of TV a day,” I say, tightening my squeeze on the lad.

“We promise to be considerate of other passengers from now on, study hard, and watch only one hour of TV a day,” they say.

And they do.

I board the westbound rapid at the Coventry stop. I find a seat and settle in to read my book (Mann’s Buddenbrooks).

I notice the rapid is moving erratically: lurching and given to sudden bursts of speed. I glance up at the driver’s cubicle. He’s waving his arms around, shouting and laughing.

“He’s drunk!” I hear a woman say.

I walk up the aisle to the driver. I poke my head into the cubicle and say, “What’s the matter, old man?” He turns, casting an unsteady gaze in my direction. “Who’s there?” He sees me and suddenly bursts into tears.

“Oh, a little passenger!” he wails. Then the tears stop as suddenly as they started. His lip curls.

“You think you’re man enough to take this train away from me?” he snarls.

By now, the rapid is hurtling down the tracks at 75 miles an hour. The passengers are screaming.

“An appropriate question at such a moment,” I reply suavely, applying pressure with my finger to a crucial spot below his left ear. As he loses consciousness, I quickly pull him out of the cubicle and take over the controls.

“Okay, troops,” I say over the loud speaker. “I’m your new skipper. I’ll have you at Public Square, safe and sound, in a few minutes.” I pull up at the rapid’s rudder, secure it with a rubber band and ballpoint pen, and time the sensors so the rapid will come to a halt inside the Terminal. I then administer cardio-pulmonary resuscitation to several elderly passengers (who later give me checks totalling $100,000). And everyone gets to work on time.

[2-3-99] February 2006
The Poop on Libel


As a management executive type, I was recently asked to attend a seminar given by a newspaper publishing company on the subject of libel. Two of the company’s attorneys briefed us on what was and was not permissible in this increasingly thorny and controversial area of the media. I’d like to share with you, the readers, a bit of what I learned in this interesting and very illuminating meeting.

Let’s begin with a short quiz. Which of these two statements is not libelous?

A. Joe Blow enjoys having sex with goats.
B. Gov. Joe Blow enjoys having sex with goats.

Statement B is not libelous, because as governor, Joe Blow is a public figure.

Now, it should be noted that it’s better for everyone involved that Gov. Blow actually does have sex with goats. If you print that someone enjoys having sex with goats and it’s not true – even if it’s an elected official – then you can’t do that. It may be amusing, but the fact that you made it up may hinder your case if you happen to be sued.

As a reporter, neither can you simply accept what a source feeds you as gospel. Say a source tells you, “Councilman _____ gets dressed up as Ethel Merman, sells sexual favors and sings numbers from Annie Get Your Gun at stag parties, then uses a city vehicle to lure cheerleaders to nude golf courses.” You can’t just say, “Neat!” and go with it. You have to find corroboration.

For instance, you could say to the councilman, “Say, how’d you like to put on your Ethel Merman outfit, sell sexual favors and sing ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’ at my stag party?” If the councilman says, “Sure, let me grab my wig,” then you’re OK. If he socks you or calls security, then you should reconsider your story.

You have to be careful, too, in how you spin people’s quotes. Say during an interview with a corporate bigwig, you casually remark, “It’s kind of like drilling a hole in a wall to peep into the ladies’ room, huh?” and your subject coldly replies, “No, it’s not like that at all.” If you write in your story, “Mr. X – who, by the way, has more than a passing knowledge of how to drill holes in walls to peep into ladies’ rooms – said he expected profits to rise dramatically in the fourth quarter,” then you may find yourself in hot water. “Giving a story a goose” is not considered an adequate defense in libel court.

Lawyers also look for “neutral reportage” as they review stories for libelous or defamatory material. Let’s look at an example of what may be considered “biased reportage.”

“Gov. Blow – the most egregious example of a slackjawed cretin you will ever encounter – introduced himself to the secretary of state and positioned himself beside her on the platform. During her remarks, it appeared that Gov. Blow was listening attentively. But something in his eyes indicated that there may have been more – much more – on his mind. Sex. Cocaine. Goats wearing thong bikinis and floating in a sea of Bosco.”

Now, as this reporter you might argue, “I didn’t flat-out say Gov. Blow had sex, cocaine, goats and Bosco on his mind. I just threw those words in at the end to make it more interesting.” But the court won’t buy this, particularly since you’ve already revealed that you consider Gov. Blow a slackjawed cretin. It shows that you have an ax to grind, that you’re not capable of neutral reportage. This is a gross oversimplification of this complicated legal precept, but I think you get my drift.

You also have to be careful in using innuendoes or implications that might be taken as defamatory. If the subject of an interview, for example, leaves the room for a protracted period, you’re not permitted to speculate in print that “perhaps” he or she went off on a Texas murder/prostitution spree. The use of the word “perhaps” isn’t enough to get you off the hook.

The best bet, in any event, it to exercise restraint and common sense. Unless you want, as we libel lawyers put it, to get your ass sued off.

[2-17-93] January 2006
Why I Am a Finn


After watching a 60 Minutes report on Finland and its inhabitants, I thought, “These are my people.”

The Finns’ dominant national characteristic is melancholia. The 60 Minutes camera swept over dozens of Finnish faces, each one glummer and more downcast than the last. When the Finns spotted the camera, they quickly and guiltily looked away. On a Finnish bus, the riders looked as if they were being driven en masse to a community proctology exam. Finns apparently are terrified to have strangers talk to them, and God help you if you should try to hug one.

I have no problem with this. What some might consider pathological unfriendliness or squirrely behavior I consider good manners and letting others have their personal space. I often don’t look people in the eye, because I’ve always thought it bold and forward. If someone stares at me as they speak, after a while I think, “Get the hell out of here.” It unnerves me. I don’t need to be gaped at. Neither do Finns. I like that in a people.

I don’t see what’s wrong with being perpetually downcast, either. It doesn’t indicate anything except that you’re not a grinning nitwit. I’ve had people tell me to cheer up when I’ve been in my best moods. So it doesn’t translate to my face. Big deal. Who knows what Finns are thinking? They could be coming up with great stuff as they sit there brooding. The world could use a lot more brooders and a lot fewer dinks going around shooting off their big mouths.

Neither do I like having strangers attempting to start conversations with me. What earthly benefits could talking to me possibly have for a stranger? One minute they’re telling you they like your jacket, the next they’re asking what kind of bank accounts you have and how do you withdraw your funds. The old withdrawal scam! That’s what talking to strangers gets you. And I’ve had smelly guys sit next to me on the rapid and say, “Hey, how you doin’, ha ha ha ha,” or point at my book and say, “Is that a good book? Ha ha ha ha.” You think keeping that kind of conversation going is in your best interest? These are the little chats that begin on the rapid and end with you buried in a landfill. So I keep up my forbidding Finnish demeanor and I don’t get bothered.

Here at the office, Miriam, one of our sales executives, always gives one of the staff writers hugs and neck massages. As a Finn, I don’t go for this. I’m not physically demonstrative and don’t think people ought to be hugging and massaging each other in the workplace. When these two start doing this I groan and scowl at them, causing them in turn to make yet more personal remarks about the tautness of my nether regions. I say move to California, where they squeeze each other in schools, offices, restaurants, wherever, if you want to do that. But you’re in Cleveland now, a Finnish-type city if there ever was one.

Even our cat Dizzy is a Finn. Dizzy’s an isolated character who’s often tense and nervous and runs away if you try to hug her. She sits on the sofa at times looking utterly dejected, or like a sullen teen who’s just been caught smoking dope. And she’ll bite you if you offend her, which could be at any time, for any reason. But she’s often very affectionate – at the proper moments. It doesn’t come cheaply. What’s the worth of love and affection if that’s all you give? You’ve got to mix the sugar and spice. Dizzy, along with Finns, understands this.

60 Minutes showed that one of the ways the Finns cut loose is by getting together and tangoing. The dancers looked as I did when I went to dancing school: like they’d just received death sentences. Maybe dancing gloomily isn’t the best way to dance, but that’s how I dance, so I doubly enjoyed watching the Finns go at it. My heart filled with identification.

I couldn’t believe it – a whole country filled with people like me! The notion elated me so that at one point during the broadcast I got up to my feet.

Briefly.

[12-20-90] December 2005
Last Year's Christmas Party

As I sit here waiting to go to our office Christmas party, I think back to last year's bash. I hope this year I don't have to do what I did then.

Last year the party was held at a bar downtown. (I won't mention the name.) For the first hour, not much happened. I chatted with my co-workers and gave them advice on everything from romance to proper nutrition. As usual, they gathered around me and hung on every word.

Something was missing, though. The music from the bar's stereo system wasn't moving me. I'm a party man and I like to dance - to kick out, as it were. So I mentally devised a playlist and told the bartender to program it on the CD multi-changer.

When I heard the first few notes of "Celebration" by Kool and the Gang - my signature tune - I spun in place my patented 10 times to signal that I was ready to go. My co-workers gasped and backed away. I stopped in my tracks, pointed up, and began swiveling my hips slowly. I heard moans. I strutted out to the dance floor, the bar patrons parting for me as I advanced.

As "Celebration" continued, I hopped from one foot to the other in perfect synchronization with the beat, my hands fluttering like disco birds. Beautiful women stared at my body as it pulsated to the music, and when I winked at one of them and hollered "Yeah, hoo!" along with Kool after the refrain, I saw her fall to the floor, swooning in ecstasy.

When I started dancing to the Village People's "Macho Man," there was general panic and screaming. As I thrust my hips and shouted "Hey! Hey! Hey hey hey!" at the song's crucial point, several women came at me and pulled at my disco scarf. They looked at me like I was an hors d'oeuvre more delicious than caviar. "Are you as good in bed as you are on the dance floor?" asked one, leering. "I don't know," I replied coyly. "Maybe." Always leave them tantalized!

Suddenly there was a commotion at the door. Two gunmen had busted in, yelling for people to lie down. One stood near the door, waving his nickel-plated Smith and Wesson at the crowd. The other ran through the bar, poking people with his gun while shouting instructions. People dropped to the floor quickly. I got down on my stomach and watched through narrowed eyes the gunman's movements. The guy at the door would stand pat, I knew. I began to formulate my plan.


The gunman moved through the prone crowd, collecting wallets and purses. When he got to me, I slapped my hand over his as he went for the billfold in my hip pocket. "I'll hold onto that, if you don't mind," I said crisply. "I work hard for both my cash and credit cards." He couldn't believe it."

Why, you ______ fruitcake!" he exclaimed, and kicked me in the stomach as I lay there.My breath rushed out of me, but I managed to snarl "You're quite a nerd!" I was baiting him. I could see he was going to kick me in the face. But this time I was too fast for him.

I grabbed his leg and pulled him down. The gun went off just before I squeezed his wrist, making him release the weapon. Because I had calculated the exact angle of the shot before I made my move, the bullet had been fired harmlessly into the west wall of the bar. I had just enough time, too, to stuff the gun into my pants to keep it from the gunman, who I was now spinning on my feet as I lay on the floor. All my breakdancing skills were coming into play. I stopped spinning the gunman, cocked my legs, and catapulted him against the wall, knocking him out.

The other fellow was easier. I inserted my pinkie into an empty beer bottle lying nearby, took aim, and flung it at him. It struck him in the forehead, and he fell soundlessly to the floor.

I leapt up and looked around to make sure everyone was all right. After everyone had gingerly gotten to their feet, I called the police to come pick up their goods.

My job wasn't over yet. People were still shaken up, so I whispered something to the bartender. He nodded and went over to the CD player.

People shrieked when they heard the selection. It was "Superfreak" by Rick James, my specialty dance that I do only under extraordinary circumstances. The crowd watched, spellbound, as I bumped and ground through the number in the manner that had become legendary. After a few minutes of this spectacle they'd totally forgotten the recent upleasantness.

This year, though, I'd like to relax at the office Christmas party.

[12/16/92] November 2005
Raymond Burr in a lump

I have many methods of dealing with insomnia, none of which work. I’m going through a sleepless period now, and I’ve found I just have to tough it out.

A big problem is my pillow. It’s dying. Where it used to be spirited and fluffy, it’s now hard and unforgiving. The impression my head makes on my pillow is the cavity I have to live with the rest of the night. There are no second chances with my pillow. I try to puff it up, but the hole my head makes at the onset of bedtime is socked in for good, and the bottom of the head hole is flat and hard. Some nights the pillow makes a brief comeback, displaying its old pep, but those nights are few and far between.

Most nights, though, the main problem is I’m just not tired enough, but I go to bed anyway because I’ve had enough of being awake. Sometimes I go to bed hungry, too, which is a big mistake. Then I have to get up an hour or so later and eat 25 or 30 saltines and 5 or 10 cookies. You say, “Why don’t you go to bed later and eat something immediately beforehand?” My response to that is, I just don’t know.

When I’m flipping and flopping in bed, I don’t worry about my life. Most of my insomnia time is spent with assorted junk running through my head, mostly ‘60s TV themes and commercials. The theme from Mannix goes through my head, as does the one from Room 222, and the semi-circular theme from Dennis the Menace. Just last night the opening siren-filled theme from Ironside kept running through my head, along with the image of Raymond Burr lying in a large lump after being shot and before being confined to a wheelchair. Do you know what it’s like to not be able to sleep and have Raymond Burr in a lump dominating your thoughts at the same time? It sucks.

Some of the commercials that plague me are ‘60s Ford jingles, like “Ford/It’s the going thing/It’s what’s happening” and “Only Mustang makes it happen/Only Mustang makes life great/Only Mus-tang/Only Mustang/Mustang, Mustang, ‘68.” Also, “Smile a little/Frown a little/Give a little grin/Every time you use your face/Dry skin lines set in/You need new Deep Magic Dry Skin Conditioner.”

Another one I can’t shake is the old commercial for Score, the hair cream. “Baugh baugh bup bup baugh bup baugh baugh/Baugh baugh bup bup baugh bup baugh baugh/Baugh baugh that’s the Score/That’s the Score/That’s the Score.”

Many ‘60s songs bother me, too, while I try to sleep, like the Rolling Stones’ “She’s A Rainbow.” I’ve spent many hours lying in bed, thinking “Have you seen her dressed in blue.” “Have you seen her dressed in gold . . . She comes in colors everywhere/She combs her hair/She’s like a ra-a-ainbow.” Ever since the Syndicate of Sound’s “Hey Little Girl” came out 25 years ago, it’s been running through my head. “Hey little girl I don’t want you around no more/If you come round knocking you won’t get past my door. Hah!” It’s hopeless when that one starts up.

If I am able by some miracle to get this crap out of my mind, I then attempt to hypnotize myself to fall asleep, which fails miserably. I try to visualize a timepiece swaying in front of my eyes, but I can’t get it placed correctly in my mind’s line of vision. It’s always off to the left somewhere. I tell myself, “You can’t keep your eyes open. Your legs are getting heavy. You’re getting sle-e-e-epy.” But I’m not.

I also try the counting-backwards-from-100 technique, in the hope that I’ll fool myself into thinking I’ve been given anesthesia like before an operation and I’ll knock myself out, but my body’s not that stupid and stays awake. I’ve even tried counting sheep, which was totally laughable. They’re supposed to be jumping over a fence, right? That’s how counting sheep is done in cartoons, but maybe the original idea was a headcount of sheep in a field. At any rate, it doesn’t work worth diddly. Nothing does.

[2/3/93] October 2005
The Joy of Mel


What’s better than getting mail? Nothing, in my opinion. Sex or travel, maybe, but mail delivery is every day (except Sunday and holidays). Every day there’s a chance of getting something interesting in the mail. Every day there’s a chance you’ll get a letter from someone telling you they’re hot for you. Every day there’s potential for getting a package. What the hell’s better than getting a package? Maybe inside the package there are dozens of compact discs featuring your favorite artists and a letter from someone attractive saying you’ve got a great body and they’re in love with you. Huh? Doesn’t that sound good? Well, that’s mail.

I personalize mail by calling it “Mel.” People think I’m an idiot, but I don’t care. I love getting mail so much that when I see a pile of mail on my desk or in my box I say, “All right, Mel!” I call the mail delivery person Mel, too. Like, “Mel’s gonna bring something good today.” To me the word Mel connotes “the delivery of good times, sex and money.”

You say, “All this Mel stuff is fine, except that usually Mel only brings bills or Ohio Motorist. You have to be some kind of a dork to think something spectacular is going to happen through Mel.”

What I’m talking about is the possibilities of Mel. For example, I got a letter recently from Paul C. Forstrom, in which he said, “I am sending you this letter with my business card to introduce myself to you as Paul C. Forstrom, Vice President-Special Accounts of Citizens State Bank, Clara City, Minnesota.” Paul C. Forstrom is with the Reader’s Digest Sweepstakes, and he’s the guy who’s going to give me the check if I’m the winner. At a special luncheon. A check made payable to “M-R. E-R-I-C- B-R-O-D-E-R.” The somoma-beetch even spelled my name out for me!

You say, “Paul C. Forstrom isn’t going to give you a check.”

I know that. And I don’t care if he’s a real person or not, either. The point is that (through Mel) I can fantasize about receiving a $167,000 check from Paul C. Forstrom, who I see as being a chubby guy in a suit, in his late forties, with gray hair, mustache and glasses. He’ll give me $167,000 a year for 20 years, and if he dies along the way, Paul C. Forstrom Jr. can take over. You can’t beat that. Mel just generates good vibes.

Sure, in reality Mel is mostly bills and catalogs, but what’s wrong with that? You’ve got to pay your bills, don’t you? You may blow a lot of money and be getting billed until the end of time, but that’s hardly Mel’s fault. Look at it this way. The more you buy, the more offers you get through Mel. Then you take the offers – like ordering a book on back pain or a subscription to Playboy so you can get Playboy’s Foxiest Ladies thrown in for free – and mark the “Bill Me Later” box. That’s your choice. Mel’s not marking that box. So anything you get is what you asked for. And that’s what keeps this economy rolling. That’s a big positive, too.

Here would be a perfect Mel day for me. I’d get three packages. Each one would be filled with brand-spanking new books, videos and CDs. Balance due: 0.00. Then a letter: You’re so hot. I fainted thinking about your body today. You’re a sex machine, and all my girlfriends agree. Then my income tax refund check. Finally, a letter from Paul C. Forstrom: “I am indeed real, and it is my pleasure to inform you have won the Reader’s Digest $5 Million Sweepstakes. This is no joke. Reader’s Digest will send a private jet to pick you up and take you to Clara City, Minnesota, where I’ll hold your elbow and present you with your first check for $167,000. You’re the main man and I’ll see you later.”

There can hardly now be any doubt in your mind that Mel is one dynamite government service.

See Kathryn Forstrom's response to this article: Letter November 2005

Eric Broder is a Cleveland writer. You can email him at erictbroder@yahoo.com. This is excerpted from The Great Indoors, copyright 1999 by Eric Broder. Reprinted with permission of Gray & Company, Publishers. Available online from booksensec.om or Amazon.com. More info at grayco.com.

[8/10/94] September 2005
Looking to feed somebody

So far it’s been an uneventful summer. The biggest thing that happened was that one day at work the zipper on my pants broke and I had to walk around the office with my fly open. I couldn’t just stay at my desk and ride it out, because I’m a go-go executive who needs to move around to supervise others. So I told people to not look down there – which of course is like an engraved invitation to look down there. Humiliate yourself first, that’s my motto. Then you’ll be part of the humiliation process, instead of merely being the brunt of ridicule. This has netted excellent results for me on several occasions.

The other highlight of my summer, however, was my trip this past weekend to a local community fair. I went with my wife Barbara, her sister Kathleen, and Kathleen’s two children, Megan and Charlie. I’m more comfortable when I’m accompanying a family to these things, as it makes me feel legitimate, instead of like some lone nut loitering by the corn dog booth, smoking non-filtered Pall Malls, and picking tobacco flecks off his tongue while eyeballing other fairgoers.

In any event, we walked through the fair, making our way to the petting zoo, the main attraction. There was a good assortment of animals there, unlike the fair Kathleen told us she went to earlier in the summer that had a petting zoo of a dog and a cat and what might have been a dead fox. This zoo had a chicken, a turkey, a parrot, a cow, a llama, a pig, a donkey, goats, sheep, a lizard, turtles, and a few animals I couldn’t identify but that seemed to belong to the yak or alpaca family.

There was a small feed machine – much like a Spanish peanut or M&M machine – from which you could get a handful of generic animal chow for a quarter. I turned the crank and out cascaded a party mix of grain, seeds, and brown nuggets. I took a handful of this chow and walked around, looking to feed somebody. I saw a disgruntled goat sitting under a tree and tried to feed him/her, but he/she wasn’t interested. I don’t think sitting around in a petting zoo in a suburb was the career path this goat wanted to take. Another goat nearby, though, wasn’t so particular about the party mix, and ate it right down. I have now fed goats in two different states, Ohio and New York.

Most of the other animals seemed in pretty good spirits. You can’t keep a pig down, and the llama and his unidentifiable buddies in their corral seemed to be in excellent moods. The llama sucked the chow out of my palm with a gnar, gnar, gnar sound. I think it’s amazing that a llama would eat food out a human’s hand, whereas if the situation were reversed a human wouldn’t eat out of a llama’s hand. Not that llamas have hands, but still, they’re walking around in who knows what. If you knew that a llama would wash its hooves (and I’m talking Lava, or some strong antibacterial soap) then maybe you’d consider it. Or maybe you wouldn’t. It’s a matter of choice for each individual.

After the petting zoo we stopped off at the crime booth, presented by the local police. The crime dog McGruff was there, walking around with a paw to his mouth as if he were having gum pain. The booth itself displayed cuffs, billy clubs, pepper spray, and a megaphone used to talk somebody out of a house: “Come on out of there, Glenn!” or “Let’s talk, Glenn!” or something of that nature. I wanted to ask the cops if I could do a “Come on out of there, Glenn!” thing on the megaphone but didn’t have the nerve.

I did get a crime pencil that said “Say No to Drugs,” however, which I put in the side pocket of the passenger door of our car. I have that one palpable souvenir, plus my assorted animal memories, to commemorate our day.

[3/17/93] August 2005
Behavior in and around bathrooms

I went to a party recently at a house in which the bathroom was situated smack in the middle of all the activity. It was between the kitchen and the dining room, people were congregated around it, and if you needed to use it you had to shoulder your way through guests and tell them to move so you could shut the door. Because I drank so much beer, I had to use the bathroom several times, and each time I considered giving the other guests the customary “don’t listen” command. But if you tell people not to listen, then they’ll listen for sure.

Let my clarify that. Some people would listen. Personally, I wouldn’t. Call me “square” or “out of it,” but I don’t feel I was put on this earth to embarrass others as they go to the bathroom. If someone told me “don’t listen” I would consciously go to another part of the house so I wouldn’t even be tempted. That’s how strongly I feel about it.

I try to comport myself with dignity on a daily basis around bathrooms. Here at the office, for example, when I walk into the men’s room and see a fellow employee working on himself in front of the mirror, I don’t say “It’s no use” or “Why bother, loser?” or “There’s nothing you can do about that hair” or other remarks of this nature. I give him a thumbs up and a “Lookin’ good!,” no matter what I personally believe is the genuine worth of his efforts. “Isn’t that lying?” you ask. Yes, but of the white variety. If others – even mistakenly – think that they’re “lookin’ good,” it’s good for everybody. Offices operate far more efficiently when people believe they are “lookin’ good.”

Conversely, when a fellow employee bursts into the bathroom when I’m fooling around at the mirror – say, slapping myself on the cheeks to get the blood flowing, washing my nose, or singing – I continue the activity no matter what. This is to convey the idea, You’ve caught me doing something stupid but I’m not ashamed. I’m 100 percent all-man.

It’s the very essence of machismo. I will do what I will do. You need to develop this tough attitude as there are always going to be people sneaking around in their soft shoes outside of bathrooms and popping in.

At this office, however, I have another problem: what to say to women employees I encounter on our respective ways to the bathroom, because the men’s and ladies’ rooms are next to each other.

Now, I know these women are going to the bathroom. There can be no denying it. Up until recently, my reaction when I would have an unexpected encounter with a woman on the way to the bathroom was to grunt “hunh” and cast my eyes downward. This was to indicate that I was sorry I caught her doing something of a personal nature, that this wasn’t my choice, it was pure chance, and it wouldn’t happen again. But that’s not reality. It will happen again. For the rest of my life I’m going to run into women heading for the bathroom. This is the world we live in.

So my solution is to acknowledge our common humanity. Instead of grunting and looking down, I now say, “You going to the bathroom? Me, too.” And then add a suave chuckle to show that this is, indeed, a lighter moment. Like “Lookin’ good!” “You going to the bathroom?” is an expression that speaks volumes more than the words themselves. The subtext is sophisticated, knowing, and so very adult – with a hint of joie de vivre. It shows I know my way around bathrooms and suggests I know how to behave when I get inside them, too. That’s good.

[5/12/88] July 2005
Happy Teeth


A friend writes: “On your next visit to our office you’ll notice some very positive additions that we’ve made for your protection against infection . . . each staff member and I will now be wearing latex gloves, masks and eye protection when treating you.”

That’s the only piece of mail I got yesterday. If you guessed that it was from my dentist, you were right. I have an excellent dentist. His name is Huck Finn. Yes it is. You might say he’s riding a “raft” on a “Big River” of satisfied dental patients. And I’m one of them.

I do feel bad, though, that my dentist and his assistants are going to be wearing masks. I assume they will for everybody. Wouldn’t it be terrible if that letter was intended just for me? “Carol, send this guy a letter telling him we’re going to wear masks, gloves, and goggles when he’s in the chair. Tell him it’s for his protection so he doesn’t complain. I’m not going to risk my life chipping away at his filthy tartar.” I’m sure it’s not. Still, I’m going to miss looking up at the faces, chins, and nostrils.

On the other hand, who can blame them if they’re tired of being hit by flying bits of tooth decay? That’s the reality of it. They’ve put up with it far too long already. Dentists and dental assistants are people, too. They’re the nation’s mouthworkers and deserve respect. A hearty “Fine Job!” to our dentists and dental assistants.

You’ll find no cheap jokes here about dentists. I’ve never minded any of my trips to the dentist. As small children we went to a dentist who had a playroom with an aquarium. I associate my childhood dental care with tropical fish, along with the magazines Highlights, Jack’n’Jill and Humpty Dumpty. My dentist never hurt me. While never squealing excitedly about a trip to the dentist, I always got into the car without a word of complaint. I’d merely think to myself, “Well, now I’m going to the dentist.”

Our family switched dentists, to the crusty old Dr. Courtney, when I was thirteen. Dr. Courtney was a dental grandfather to me. The last thing he said to me, a few weeks before he died, was, “Will you brush every night? Honest?” I’m not saying this was the last thing he ever said to anyone, of course, but it was to me. I promised him I would. It’s as sacred a promise as I’ve made to anyone. Who would have thought a dental covenant could carry such weight in a person’s life? But it has.

I didn’t even mind orthodontia. The orthodontist, Dr. Morse Ruggles Newcombe, was another older guy. I’d stare at the name “Ruggles” on his diploma as he tightened my braces. What a noise that tightening made. Squeezing metal around your teeth. That grossed me out so I liked it a little. He put rubber bands in my mouth that snapped whenever I opened too wide. It was no bother, though.

This is beginning to sound like I enjoy dental work – maybe even like a sicko, like the Bill Murray character in Little Shop of Horrors. Not so. I didn’t like getting all four of my wisdom teeth removed at once. You’d have to be a sicko to like that! I had local anesthetic and could hear the teeth being pulled out of the jaw. Cra-a-ack! It wasn’t painful but it was pretty tiring to me as well as to the dentist. He earned his pay that afternoon. The worst part of the business was the weird painkiller he prescribed. It made me dream of terrorists in Michigan. Plus I feared the dread “dry socket,” which your dictionary will tell you is a painful inflammatory infection of the bone and tissues at the site of an extracted tooth.” Dry socket teased me a little during my post-surgical period. I had a taste of it, and that was plenty.

That was the worst of it in my dental history. Now my dentist is going to wear protective gear while working on me. I’m not offended. Sure it’s a little impersonal, and that latex feels disgusting in your mouth, but it’s better than an infection. Time marches on, in dentistry as in life.

[9/1/93] June 2005
A Philosophy on aging


As I was getting my hair cut recently, I looked down at the tufts of silver hair on the barber’s bib and thought in disgust, “They could have shaken that old man’s hair off before they put this thing on me.”

Then I saw the hair falling from my own head matching the scorned tufts. So this was it. The beginning of the end.

I thought about having to get brown hair coloring, like the guy on the Grecian Formula commercial, who after dyeing his hair kept an unsmiling picture of himself with gray hair on the mantle for comparison purposes. Where was I going to get a picture like that? Did I have to get a mantle, too, or was it all right to put the picture on an end table? And how gradual was the hair re-browning process? Would my entire head turn an unnatural, Ronald Reagan copper-brown, and look like I was wearing some dimestore wig?

Next August I’ll turn 50. This and other concerns about aging have been bothering me. I’ve been having various troubles. I lost my right contact lens – the superpowered one – in Lake Michigan during my vacation. Driving home from the lake, my wife Barbara, as a vision test, asked me how many people were crossing in the sidewalk ten feet in front of our car. I said two, which was right, but I had no idea what sex they were. This with partial correction! If I hadn’t had the one contact lens in I certainly wouldn’t have known the number, and only guessed they were humans through their general shapes and that they were moving under their own power.

Even with both my lenses in I’ve mistaken tree stumps and rocks for dogs and squirrels. I’ve said, “Hi, boy” to tree stumps with corrected vision. You think this is going to improve as I get older? I don’t. I’m going to be walking into parked cars and wet cement and falling down hills.

I’ve got a tattered colon, too. I have to take four pills a day for it. It’s not like I can skip a few, because then I can feel the colon acting up. I hear it groan. Do you think that’s pleasant? It’s not pleasant to go to a party either, and have a doctor you know tell you you should just have the colon taken out right away, because sooner or later you’ll have to anyway. That was by far my worst party, when a doctor told me to have my colon removed. Later I went to my own doctor and told him what the other guy said, and he winced and said, “Not necessarily.” And then he asked, “He told you that at a party? But that’s the kind of stuff that happens when you age, I guess.

You say, “Well, even with your gray hair and lousy colon and terrible eyesight you have an I.R.A. to fall back on when you get old.” Wrong. That’s another concern I’ve got. I have no money for my retirement, or anything else for that matter. I’ve been using my money to live on, not socking it away. Are little things like buying books and CDs and not packing my lunch going to cost me in the end? What a terrible thing, to be living in a smelly shelter in your last years and know that you’re there just because you went out to lunch too much in the ‘90s. They say Social Security is running out of dough, too. That’s nice. I’ll be living in a single room with a cot and a hot plate and a can of My-Tee-Fine baked beans for company. I’ll be lurching around drunk and hollering somewhere with my pants falling down.

The way I figure it, if I take this somewhat negative view of the future now, it will make aging easier on me. I’ll be so used to the idea of having no money or colon and being blind as a bat it won’t seem so bad when it comes to pass. And if I end up with a little money and my colon and eyesight intact, imagine how relieved I’ll be.

You just have to know how to think about things.

[4/19/95] May 2005
Jobs I Lucked Out On

When I get sick of doing this job, it always makes me feel better to think back on the jobs I lucked out on and didn’t get.

One was a job at Northwest Orient airlines, which I applied for in the late ‘70s.

I thought not only “Orient” but even “Northwest” sounded glamorous, and I liked being in planes. I applied for a ticket sales job thinking I could work my way
up to being a “flyboy.” However, since I wasn’t a pilot or navigator, that would obviously translate to becoming a steward.

It dawned on me that if all you do is spend time in planes as a steward you might get tired of it. Twenty years in-flight, and I’d become cynical about the whole flying and service experience. At some point I’d probably begin nipping at the tiny airline liquor bottles.

ME: How about some peanuts. (Tosses a bag at the passenger.)
PASSENGER: I’m not sure I want any (handing the bag back).
ME: Take ‘em or don’t take ‘em, I don’t give a s---.

If passengers complained about the food, I’d snarl, “What are you gonna do, walk out?” While demonstrating emergency exit procedures and how to inflate life jackets, I’d make remarks like, “Yeah, let the charade begin,” or “Like this is gonna make any difference.” Because of union protection, I wouldn’t get fired but would end up riding in the baggage hold along with the cats and dogs in their carriers. That would be that career.

Another job I applied for was at an insurance company, going so far as to take an aptitude test. The test showed I had no aptitude at all, which is good. You know people who don’t take “no” for an answer? I take “no” for an answer and always have. Most times I walk away relieved.

If I had gotten the job, I believe that after several years I’d have acquired a bad insurance attitude.
ME (to phone prospect): How about some insurance. I got auto, I got home, I got a special on fire.
PROSPECT: I really can’t afford it. I just got laid off, I’ve got car and medical payments and-
ME: Yeah, I know, I know, spare me the song and dance. Cheap bastard. (Hangs up. To a co-worker:) Hey, Dave, it’s buck-a-shot happy hour at the Lion’s Den. I’ll tell Buttface we’re going on a call and we can shake our booties on over there.One job I actually held, but only lasted 45 minutes at, was advertising copywriting. My first assignment was to write a brochure for Thistledown race track. After several minutes of staring at the materials I was given, I walked into the boss’s office and told him I had to leave. I would have been asked to leave anyway as soon as he saw what I would have come up with.

“If you like horses and gambling your money away, then Thistledown is for you. Thistledown has plenty of horses racing around, and ‘you can bet on that.’ Bring plenty of money. Maybe you can double or triple it and ‘that ain’t hay.’ Look in the phone book for the address and the phone number if you want more information.”

Maybe the boss would have been dumb and given me another chance, and I would have become competent enough at copywriting to stay employed. But it seems to me that after several years I’d just be going through the motions with that too.ME (during client presentation): Then we show the horse racing with the jockey on top of him, the jockey waves at the camera, we cut to the logo and boom, that’s it.
CLIENT: That doesn’t seem very imaginative.
ME: No, it doesn’t, but I don’t feel like working on it anymore.

No, I’ve got a good job.

[7/24/96] April 2005
Ways I'd Rather Not Die

There was a story in the newspaper about a man who, while sitting in a boat, yawned – and a fish jumped from the water into his open mouth. He choked to death.

I find this to be a bummer on two levels. First, I hate eating fish, those slimy, smelly, disgusting things. I see fish lying in ice-chips behind glass at the grocery store and I say to them, “Here's a news bulletin. You I'm not eating.” I walk on by and proceed to the real meat.

Secondly, this is the worst possible way to eat fish, even if you do like eating fish. You have no control over the process. The fish is dictating to you that you're eating it. It's saying, “So you want to eat fish, you bastard? Here I am.” And, as a special added bonus to this wonderful experience, you wind up dead.
I suppose there are worse ways to die.

For example, I wouldn't want to die wearing shorts at an amusement park on an extremely hot, humid day. It'd be awful to lurch around, mortally ill, at an amusement park with my shorts climbing up my thighs, the smell of cotton candy and grilled sausage nauseating me, and eventually toppling onto a tattooed biker who heaves me off in revulsion. Then have to lie in melted, off-brand ice-cream until I die, right on the midway.

I don't want to go like Elvis either. To be found lying dead next to the toilet, pants around my ankles, wallowing in feces and God knows what else, with all kinds of illicit narcotics in the medicine cabinet. That's not the glamorous final image I want to present. Or what if I'm flirting with an attractive woman at a bar or party and then start choking on my own vomit? You know she's not going to remember my charm and wit; she's only going to remember me choking on my own vomit. People tend to focus on the negative.

I don't want to die dancing. I heard that when people die while dancing their butts continue to swivel minutes after they expire. Tragedy followed by tittering at the discotheque! I also didn't particularly enjoy the way Robert Shaw died in Jaws, kicking fruitlessly at a shark's head, then slipping into his mouth and being crunched down on like a pickle. I'd prefer not to be bitten by an alligator, either. Or, in another spin on animal participation, die alone in an efficiency apartment and then have my poodle eat me.

In the book How We Die, I read about how after one guy died, he arched his back and let out an ear-splitting howl. I'll go quietly, if you don't mind. If I have to say something, I'd like it to be somewhat sophisticated and not a bark from hell. Like, “So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye” (The Sound of Music). Or something flip: “So long, screwy. See you in St. Looey.” Or the dignified “Well, it appears that I'm heading for the last round-up, and they're ringing down the final curtain. At this opportunity I'd like to thank all of you, and wish you the very best of luck in your endeavors.” Then I'd go.

The best way, though, would be to just have everything stop. Here is my ultimate death scenario:

I'd be fabulously wealthy, mostly from the money given to me by my son, All-Star Cleveland Indians outfielder Eric Broder, Jr., who during my lifetime never gave me any lip, drove me around, and bought me my own loge at Jacobs Field.

One day I'd be home watching a great Dick Van Dyke Show episode, eating buttered popcorn, laughing at Rob Petrie . . . then that'd be it. I'd just nod off. No pain, no muss, no fuss, no barking like a dog or honking like a goose. No going to the bathroom!

I'd be grinning and giving the thumbs-up. And they could bury me that way.

Eric Broder is a Cleveland writer. You can email him at erictbroder@yahoo.com. This is excerpted from The Great Indoors, copyright 1999 by Eric Broder. Reprinted with permission of Gray & Company, Publishers. Available online from booksensec.om or Amazon.com. More info at grayco.com.

[10/30/96] March 2005
Blowing the Lid Off Squirrels

Why doesn’t anybody ever talk about squirrels? You never read anything about them. They’re never on TV. You see squirrels every day, in both their dead and alive formats. So what’s the big cover-up here?

Don’t get me wrong. Not all my waking moments are consumed with thoughts of squirrels. But unlike many of you, I do have some thoughts of squirrels. They’re not as invisible to me as they seem to be to you. They’re there. How can you argue with that?

Every day I walk home from work along a busy road. I see so many goddamn squirrels ... I can’t even tell you. I see rear views of them digging in the ground, their tails sticking up in the air; front views of them on their hind legs, staring straight ahead; I see them holding nuts in their hands, cracking them with their teeth; I see them scrambling up trees and across streets. I don’t think there’s a squirrel activity I’ve missed seeing, except maybe for when they’re being sexually intimate, or asleep.

But the most truly amazing thing to me about squirrels is that they all look exactly alike. What other rodent can make that claim – or for that matter, what other mammal? I’m not saying some aren’t fatter than others, or that there may not be slight differences in tail thickness from one squirrel to the next. What I am saying is that in all my experience I have never seen animals who looked so much alike in terms of size, coloring, facial expression or attitude.

Say as an experiment you line up six squirrels and give them names, e.g., Gary, Todd, Jane, Tiffany, Brittany, Alan. Then mix them up. Would you be able to tell Alan from Jane, Tiffany from Todd? No way. That’s your ultimate tip-off that there’s no discernible difference from one squirrel to the next. It’s unfathomable!
Perhaps this is why nobody seems to care that there are so many dead ones lying in the streets. Aah, what’s one squirrel more or less. They’re all the same. Just road pizza.

Well, I care. As I walk, I see squirrels rooting around on tree lawns, mere inches away from the road. I clap my hands to frighten them off, though I’m always afraid that my clapping might propel them right into the path of a car. But they always seem to run away from the street and up a tree. In my small way, this is how I assist them in my role as a pedestrian.

I see far too many dead squirrels on the side of the road. Some are pristine in death, looking like they’re napping or taking five; some are smushed big-time with their guts hanging out; some are flatter than a compact disc. How can animals so famous for their nervousness be so careless? Nobody wants to kill them. My friend Rick Montanari, who writes internationally published bloody thriller novels, told me he’s upset when he hits them. “When I see one run in front of the car, I do my best to avoid him. But then when I look in the rear-view mirror I see him breakdancing in the middle of the street. Why can’t they just stay on the curb?”

When my wife Barbara and I drive, we keep an eagle eye out for squirrels at risk, honking to warn them off. If, for example, we see a squirrel just lounging in the middle of the street, Barbara exclaims, “Look at this guy!,” rolls down the window and shouts, “Excuse me!” and that gets him moving.

But usually we honk at squirrels who are racing across the street a good distance in front of us, as an admonition against future foolishness. To make this more entertaining I take on the role of the squirrels replying to our honks. I imagine the squirrels saying in a squeaky, insolent manner such things as “Shut up!” or “Mind your own business!” or “I made it across.” Sometimes I’ll pretend to be an arrogantly reckless squirrel, saying, “I know what I’m doing, I’ve been crossing streets all my life, I happen to have a sixth sense about these things, I don’t need you to-” then SPLAT. That’s a little scenario I’ve worked out in light of all the carnage I’ve seen.

I realize this sort of thing might cause you to consider my wife and me as potential poster children for the Get A Life foundation.

We happen to like squirrels, that’s all.

Eric Broder is a Cleveland writer. You can email him at erictbroder@yahoo.com. This is excerpted from The Great Indoors, copyright 1999 by Eric Broder. Reprinted with permission of Gray & Company, Publishers. Available online from booksensec.om or Amazon.com. More info at grayco.com.

[3/24/93] February 2005
The truth about cussin' jobs


Reading David McCullough’s biography, Truman, I ran across the phrase “cussin’ job.” For the young farmboy Harry Truman, raking hay was a “cussin’ job.” So was milking cows, as they “flipped their manure-soaked tails in his face.”

This was an eye-opener to me. Being hit in the face with a manure-soaked tail has just replaced pulling on a fat disgusting udder as my top reason for why I don’t milk cows. Probably the main fear we all have when it comes to milking cows is getting kicked off the stool by an enraged cow whose udders you are ineptly trying to manipulate. But to now know that even if you don’t get kicked off your stool, the very least that can happen is that you’ll get slapped in the face with a manure-soaked tail . . . well, I’ll just continue to pick up my milk at the store. Plus I had no idea cows’ tails were soaked with manure; although, if you think about it, why wouldn’t they be? I must have been living in a fool’s paradise thinking cows moved their tails out of the way when they went to the lavatory.

Anyway, this cow thing made me think about cussin’ jobs, jobs that make you say swear words beyond their normal, enjoyable, everyday usage. I’ve been lucky that I haven’t had too many of these.

I’ve had several manual labor jobs that I liked, particularly one when I was part of a maintenance crew in the Cleveland Metroparks system. We’d empty barrels at the picnic areas and pick up roadside trash with sticks with sharpened nails driven into them. This job gave me the opportunity to see animals like raccoons and rabbits, plus hopefully catch a glimpse of full beer cans or discarded pornography. For even more fun we would fling our sticks at the picnic tables; if your stick stuck straight up on the table you . . . uh . . . won.

Where the cussin’ came in was when we had to fill roadway chuckholes with hot tar. We fought over who got the job of raking the tar, and who got the (cussin’) job of shoveling it out of the truck bed. With my thin arms I didn’t have much control over the shovel so the hot tar would plop all over me as I dumped it on the ground. And I’d say “f---” and “s---.” But at least with filling chuckholes you knew within a few days you’d go back to pleasant garbage duty with its potential for raccoons and pornography.

Not so with my landscaping job, where the thing I was lousiest at – mowing lawns – was the main task. The boss always got mad at me because I couldn’t mow in a straight line. I’d go straight for a while, but then my mind wandered and I’d veer off. And when I got to the end of the yard I’d look back at my mow line and say “f---!” My mow lines looked like tossed ribbons on the floor on Christmas morning. I never improved, and when I went to the boss and quit, he said, “I’m glad you’re quitting, because I was going to fire you anyway.”

Another thing that made me cuss was when I was an usher at a movie theater and had to clean up vomit. I only had to do it once, but that was enough. Fortunately the theater was supplied with Vo-Ban, a powder you pour over vomit that dries it up, making it easy to sweep into your usher’s helper dustpan. But of course you do have to ultimately confront the vomit, so you cuss while gagging. I’d say “f--- (gulp).”

My philosophy is, if your job is more than a certain percentage a cussin’ job, you should think about getting out, if it’s financially possible. I once quit a house painting job after only two days. I was doing overhead scraping on a carport overhang in unbelievably humid weather, with the paint chips falling on my face, sticking to my sweaty nose, cheeks, and forehead; so I decided to take an early retirement.

Later, when I ran into one of the other painters in a bar, he said the guys wanted to give me the “Most Dedicated” award. Hey, I thought, let them have their fun. I’m not about to spend my life in a cussin’ job.


Eric Broder is a Cleveland writer. You can email him at erictbroder@yahoo.com. This is excerpted from The Great Indoors, copyright 1999 by Eric Broder. Reprinted with permission of Gray & Company, Publishers. Available online from booksensec.om or Amazon.com. More info at grayco.com.

[5/4/94] January 2005
New Levels of Being Boring


They say you become more boring as you get older. They’re right. This has been brought out in my own life, with my behavior around the house and at work, and by having the most tepid, uneventful dreams in human history.

For example, I set my alarm clock for 7:04 every morning, having to slide the switch to “radio” every night before I go to bed. But I can’t just set it now. I have to check it and recheck it, repeatedly putting my finger next to the switch to make sure that I did indeed move it over to “radio.” I shift back and forth, bending over, staring at the alarm clock, all the while thinking in self-disgust, “What, do you think the wind is going to move the switch back to ‘off’?”

You say, “That’s compulsive behavior. People get medicated and institutionalized for stuff like that.” I’m not worried about being medicated, I just think it’s pitiful that I’m reduced to this. It’s boring! With everybody talking about their dysfunctional behavior – being dopers, drunks, sex addicts, compulsive gamblers – what am I going to say? “Yeah, I double- and triple-check my clock radio.” And this from someone who used to be a world-class party animal, for whom “getting down” was a nightly occurrence.

I’ve become addicted to wiping down the tiles in my shower stall every day to thwart grout mildew, too. The problem is I enjoy this wiping procedure a little too much. When sponging your shower tiles is the highlight of your day you’re not exactly living on the edge. Of course, when I worry too long about it I tell myself, “Do this now and you save yourself a session with the Tilex later.” So there are plusses – and I did get a good deal on Tilex with a coupon recently.

Another excellent example of how boring I am happened just the other day here at the office. I received a publicitiy bra in the mail from a book publisher pushing a sex-filled novel. “Whew!” you say. “You got a bra in the mail! That’s red-hot!”

Not so many years ago I would have agreed. I would have snickered and horsed around with the bra, twirling it around my head. This time I just handed it to another editor who had far more use for it than me. I’ve received plenty of publicity underwear and hats in the mail, and it’s nothing to me anymore. I even lost a publicity bathrobe I once got from Stouffer’s and didn’t think twice about it. What pride is there in wearing a publicity bathrobe? Bathrobes have to be earned. That’s my view today.

All this wouldn’t be so bad if my subconscious wasn’t boring. I know it is because of the dreams I’ve been having. I used to have Salvador Dali and M.D. Escher-like dreams, dreams that would rival anyone’s for bizarreness. Just last night I dreamed I saw an item in the newspaper about Tim Conway. That was it! That was the most vivid detail of that dream. I remember it was concerning the young Tim Conway, so perhaps the dream was set in the ‘60s. Where others’ ‘60s dreams might be about Vietnam, the Kennedys, or maybe an acid trip at a Janis Joplin concert at Fillmore West, mine was about a supporting actor on McHale’s Navy.

And where I used to dream about sex, now I dream about mail. I dreamed I was looking through the mail in our apartment building mailbox, and the more I paged through the mail, the more mail there was to page through. In other words, to my ultimate delight, the mail kept replenishing itself. All those years of my longing for more mail manifested itself in this dream, which drove me into such a frenzy that when I woke from it I felt like having a cigarette.

The dream I recently had about my wallet beats them all. When I went to bed that particular night I knew I had only two dollars in my wallet. I was concerned. I like to be a little more flush than that. But how boring are you when you dream you have exactly the same amount of money in your wallet as you have in real life, as I did? How boring are you when you dream about paying a door charge to get into a bar, and you can’t get into the bar because you don’t have enough money in real life?

In my mind, that covers all level of being boring.

Eric Broder is a Cleveland writer. You can email him at erictbroder@yahoo.com. This is excerpted from The Great Indoors, copyright 1999 by Eric Broder. Reprinted with permission of Gray & Company, Publishers. Available online from booksensec.om or Amazon.com. More info at grayco.com.

 [5-16-91] May 2002
Mother's Day in Vegas

May, 1957. Las Vegas. I had brought my mom to the Nevada Entertainment Mecca for Mother's Day. I was 1 1/2 years old.

We stood on the Strip and looked out over our range of choices of casinos, bars, clubs and restaurants.

"Whattaya want to do, Ma?" I asked. "It's Mother's Day. How can I make this day something really special for you?" As I looked around, I noticed a tourist couple from Podunk staring at me disapprovingly. They obviously didn't think a baby should be smoking a non-filtered Kool.


"Hey, you!" I yelled. I walked quick-step up to them. They seemed startled that I could even move. The wife pulled her handbag close to her chest.

"What the hell do you think you're looking at! I got my mother here. You're making her nervous. Bug off. Don't make me do a nasty on you."

"See here, little fellow - " began the husband, but he didn't get far. I jumped on him and grabbed his jacket lapels. I pulled myself up, using his lapels, until my head came up to his. Then I butted his forehead with mine, dropped off, ran behind him and bit him on the thigh. I got on my hands and knees behind his legs and yelled for Ma to push him over. When he was down, I stood on his stomach and shouted, "Don't mess with me on a holiday. Don't make that mistake."

After the couple had taken off, I had to comfort Ma, as she wasn't used to these street brawls. She'd never knocked anyone over before, so she was shaken up.

"Listen, Ma," I said. "I'm sorry I asked you to do that. Sometimes things get rough in Vegas. We didn't build this city on lollipops and moonbeams. You gotta understand that."

"Yes, Little Man," said Ma.

"How about a nice drinky?" I said. "We'll go to Tony's Desert Oasis Inn. Maybe we'll see the boys there."

We walked to Tony's, who ran up to me when he saw me come in. "Hey hey, look who's here!"

"Hi, Tone, Just a coupla seats at the bar. I'll stand on a stool." Tony arranged us nicely at the bar, Ma ordering a bourbon and me a Seven and Seven. It was early in the day yet so I went light.

"So who's around, Tony," I said, firing another ciggy. "I brought my Ma here for Mother's Day, you understand what I'm saying."

"Say no more. Gee, it must be great to be the mom of this one," Tony said to Ma. Ma was staring down at her drink, but she nodded. "Imagine. My goodness."

"All right, Tone," I said impatiently. "Enough of the friggin' Gettysburg Address. Let's get some action here. Come on. Vamanos. Schnell, schnell." Tony got the idea and disappeared.

"So, Ma," I said, turning to her. "You having a good Mother's Day? Whattaya think of our little desert hideaway?"

"Good, Little Man," said Ma.

"Yeah, yeah, well" Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something white come whirling up toward us. Finally. The entertainment had arrived. It was Sammy Davis Jr.

"Oooh!" cried Sammy, dancing and dipping. "The Little Man and his momma! Oooh, oooh!"

"Ma, you tell Sammy what you want him to do for you, and he'll do it," I said, snapping my fingers along with the Human Dynamo.

"Within reason!" hollered Sammy. I had to laugh at this crazy nut.

Ma looked uncomfortable, so I pulled Sammy over and whispered in his ear. "Yeah, yeah!" he said. He ran up to the small stage and told the combo what to do.

Then Sammy sang a medley of love songs, adding the word "Momma" to the refrains, personalizing wonderful standards like "I Love You" and "I Only Have Eyes For You" for Ma. She was thrilled, I could tell. She stared at the stage, chewing on her swizzle stick.

While Sammy tapped to "Puttin' On the Ritz," I spied two familiar heads poking out of the curtains stage left. Then Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin sidled out on stage and helped Sammy finish up the song.

"Little Man, and Little Man's mom," said Sinatra, raising a glass, "From the bottoms of our hearts, Happy Mother's Day to you and yours." Sammy was in tears, though still jiggling.

I raised my Seven and Seven to Ma.

"Ma, I drink this toast to you this Mother's Day. You've done a marvelous job, I can't tell you. You just tell these lunatics what you want to hear and it's done.

"But Ma's head was down on the bar. She'd had one too many.

"Well, nonetheless," I said, patting her back. " You've done a marvelous job. Am I right, Sammy?" I yelled to him.

Sammy nearly twisted himself into the stage floor in excitement. "Oooh, ooh, the Little Man and his momma!"   

[2/21/91] April 2002
Baby Shower

We threw a baby shower for my sister a few Sundays ago. It wasn't my idea. This is what people do.The party consisted of nearly 20 women and me. Barbara and I were nervous preparing for it. We cleaned and cleaned. I cleaned my bathroom, which had to serve as the guest bathroom, but I couldn't totally wipe out its socked-in grime. It was hard to believe that this had come to pass: 20 women might have to use my bathroom - my buddy - where I smoked and dripped and where 5-year-old dustballs nestled in the corner behind the toilet. I had to be tough about it. I could get out the surface dirt, but there was no way to get rid of the yellow film that had accumulated over the years, and it was fruitless to worry about it.

It turned out only one person used the bathroom anyway. When the guests arrived at 3 they sat down immediately. We had plenty of food and drinks: sodas, wine, vegetables, and dip, cheese strata and artichoke squares. I wondered why they didn't dive right into the food, and I stood by the tables eating to give them the idea. Soon they wandered in from the living room and chowed down. Then everyone went back into the living room to watch my sister open her presents.

This wasn't too exciting for me. Baby items don't interest me. My sister opened things like bath wraps, which I guess you wrap the baby in after it's been dipped in a bath. It had a hood on it. She got a bottle dryer, a baby swing and a stroller. She got a receiving blanket to wrap the baby in after birth, which I'd never heard of. Doesn't the hospital have these kinds of supplies on hand? Do you have to bring towels to the hospital, as well, so the doctor can wipe the baby off after it's born? They'll pry money out of you for anything.Some of the women made more of a fuss over the wrapping paper than they did the presents.

"Oh, that's so pretty." Big bamooch. Tear it off, crumple it up, throw it away. You're going to congratulate Hallmark for every little product? They save the bows and ribbons too. I suppose it makes sense to recycle these, but to have to think about that is for me a slice of Hell. It certainly wasn't my place to say anything, though.

After the ceremony the people started going home. Some of my sister's close friends hung around for a while and started talking about breast pumps. Their gross talk nearly bent me over in disgust. They talked about stretched nipples. This was another thing I'd never heard of. You put this breast pump on and it sucks the milk out of you. I'm not making this up. I thought if women had trouble nursing, they just got the milk at their grocer's dairy case. Or they bought Lactaid and poured that in a bottle. How would I know? (I asked a friend what Lactaid was and he said it "cleaned metal." I'm not the only one who doesn't know what's going on.)

That wasn't the only unpleasant surprise, either. My sister let me feel her stomach, which I've never done before; that is, feel a pregnant woman's belly. The instant I felt it I pulled my hand back in revulsion. My God, it was as hard as a nut! I thought it was supposed to feel soft and floaty - I thought the baby was surrounded by albumen or sputum or something of this nature, and it would be like marshmallow whip. I touched it again so as not to offend, but I couldn't imagine putting my ear to it like they do on TV. The whole thing made me queasy.

After everyone left, we cleaned the place up. As I mentioned before, only one person used the bathroom, and it had been a toddler who'd been brought to the party. Of course, I didn't have to worry about her doing a white glove test in there. I found it ironic that the toddler's mom had to go in the bathroom to check that her child didn't do anything weird that she'd have to clean up, when I had been afraid all along that one of the women would find something weird that I had done in the bathroom already. So it was kind of like the old switcheroo.

Anyway, the baby shower was over in time for me to watch 60 Minutes and that was good.


[6/6/91] March 2002

Bat!
(See Jan/Feb 2013)

[1-12-89] February 2002
Four Uppers

You'll be seeing a lot of articles in the paper during the coming weeks telling you how to cope with winter depression. You'll be told all sorts of things. You'll be advised to embrace winter sports, like cross-country skiing. Face it, if you're not into winter sports - mean since childhood -you're not going to start on them now. You'll be told to change your diet. Yeah, yeah, yeah. You'll get right on that one too. All these articles will do is make you feel guilty and deepen your depression, so don't bother with them. Face it. You're going to feel lousy this winter, and that's all there is to it. What you need to do is pop out of your depression now and again to keep it on an even keel. Here's where I can help.

You're going to need a television set and a VCR. If you don't own a VCR, look for those full-page appliance store ads in the newspaper. You can buy a VCR for under $200, paying $15-20 a month. Stop insulting my intelligence, you say. I know how to buy small appliances. Well, then buy one! Stop fooling around. You need to bring movies into your life. Forget about cable. You have no control with cable. They're not going to stop the picture while you're fetching something delicious. Just buy the VCR, join a good video club and I'll tell you what to do next.

Since you're depressed, you should rent movies that are uppers. In my opinion, movies that are uppers usually have to do with trains, mistaken identity and cross-dressing. Bear with me a moment, please. What I'm telling you is that four of the most entertaining movies ever made - the most up movies - deal with these subjects. Watch these movies and your depression will be lifted, at least temporarily. Then you can settle right back into it if you like.

The first movie is North by Northwest, a 1959 comic thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason. This is Hitchcock's most elegant-looking film, with his most elegant star, Grant. He plays an ad executive who is mistaken for a double agent by enemy spies- then for an assassin by the cops. Trouble. Grant's impossible savoir-faire in the face of these fixes is exhilarating - somehow, he makes us feel that we too are dapper, witty and resourceful. And that's the genius of the Cary Grant invention. The movie itself is better than some other top-of-the-line adventure films: it's a little brighter, a little faster, a little more romantic. Which makes it an almost perfect lift for a bummer of a winter night.

Most of North by Northwest's action takes place aboard a speeding train. So, too, in The Palm Beach Story (1942), a frantic romantic comedy directed by Preston Sturges, who places you in a cockeyed world peopled by such odd birds as the Weenie King. (Rent the movie to find out who the Weenie King is. You won't be disappointed.) There's more to the movie than him, of course. Claudette Colbert is married to Joel McCrea, you see, and she feels she (and they) are not getting anywhere financially so she hops on a train down to Palm Beach, Florida, to find herself a millionaire, which appears in the form of the Rockefellerish Rudy Vallee. McCrea, taking exception, follows her (bankrolled by the Weenie King) and has to assume the identity of her fictional brother, Captain McGloo. Forget the plot. The important thing in a Preston Sturges comedy is that his dialogue keeps you off balance - it's filled with surprises. His universe is a delight to escape to because it's close enough to ours to not seem excessively bizarre. It's just that everyone is, well, whacked out.

Another mistaken-identity comedy set on a train speeding down to Florida is Billy Wilders Some Like It Hot (1959). You probably know what it's about: two Chicago musicians witness the 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre and are forced to join an all-girls' band - in drag - to escape pursuing gangsters. Maybe this isn't the funniest movie of all time, but it's close: Jack Lemmon (as a woman) and Marilyn Monroe in an upper berth of a Pullman; dirty old man Joe E. Brown making eyes at Lemmon; Tony Curtis peeling himself out of drag and into the guise of millionaire Shell Oil, Jr. to win Monroe; the famous last line delivered by Brown. The movie is deliriously comic and fast moving. It needs to be seen without commercials.

Which brings us to Tootsie (1982), like Some Like It Hot, a huge hit and remarkably similar. Dustin Hoffman plays an intense, unemployable New York actor who gets a job on a soap as a female character. He falls for fellow soap actor Jessica Lange (Monroe-like in her role) with Hoffman's problem identical to Curtis's and Lemmon's in Hot: he can't reveal himself as a man. In Tootsie, too, Hoffman is plagued by older men (George Gaynes, Charles Durning) who have the hots for him/her. Tootsie and Some Like It Hot are practically the same movie, about the same sexual frustrations. People want to see this stuff. Here are two of the most successful comedies of the past 40 years. They'll both chase your blues.

North by Northwest, The Palm Beach Story, Some Like It Hot and Tootsie are available for rent at most video stores. Rent them

 [12/14/89] December 2001
A Cheap Uncle

My question is this: Why should I spend my valuable time shopping for Christmas presents for my nieces and nephews, who are scattered throughout the country and whom I rarely see and when I do see them they act weird?

I'm not saying my nieces and nephews are creeps or psychos, or that they flick lit cigarettes at me when they see me (their median age is about six), but they don't act too respectful when their uncle's around. When I see them they break off into little groups and make faces at me. Maybe they're not making faces at me, but they're definitely doing something disrespectful with their faces. And for this they want presents every year? (I should add that there's one nephew, out of Washington, DC, who treats me with respect. He's about two years old, and I can carry him around or jab him with my finger and he doesn't care. He just looks at me with his mouth hanging open, which is the way I should be treated.)

Most of these children live in the state of Washington, a world of canoes and bikes. They're not indoorsy kids, though sometimes I suspect they'd like to be. There's not much I can teach them about camping or survival tactics; their dad is good at that. But they should come to me when they have TV questions. "You want to know about E.G. Marshall, Jon? Come here and sit down. I'll tell you a few things." "What's that, Willie and young Tom? A question about Karen Valentine? Well, why don't we take a look at the book here." You know, uncle stuff. But no. Perhaps I should blame their parents. And why not? Someone's to blame for this situation. My sister has these five kids and a full-time job, but that doesn't mean she shouldn't be teaching the children to treat their uncle with respect. It should be part of their daily routine, thinking about their uncle in Cleveland and being grateful that he knows so much about TV and '60s pop songs and Robert DeNiro movies. Granted, my sister does send me their drawings, but they're usually a depiction of somebody eating a booger cookie or a dinosaur crushing a cow. This is respect?

And what do I get them for Christmas even if they did treat me right? My niece in New York City goes through toys like a buzzsaw. I can imagine how my toys would be dealt with in the sophisticated Big Apple. "Oh how marvelous, a package from Cleveland!" - flung carelessly, into the corner of the room, to be opened later after the live entertainment has left. What are you supposed to buy for a hot-tempered eight year old in New York, anyway? She'd tear the head off a Care Bear or a Cabbage Patch doll, and those are the only toys I can think of.

It's easier with the kids in Washington State - they're mostly boys, except for one girl, Emily (she's a twin, named after my twin sister, but her twin brother is named Edward, not Eric, another insult I'm not about to forget), and I can always get them squirt guns. Whenever I see them they seem to be holding squirt guns, so I know they like them. But squirt guns can run into money, and they can be (and have been) used against me. Maybe I'll just send them legal pads. I'll send the whole family a package of six. Each child and adult will receive one legal pad apiece, with the twins Edward and Emily splitting one. Those two are small, anyway. They won't know the difference.

I don't like being this way. I don't believe in family grudges or melodramatic statements like "I have no nieces or nephews!" But how else can I feel? Have I been offered a choice? Get this. When I call my sister long distance and one of my nephews answers the phone, it's never "This is certainly an honor, Uncle Eric!" or "Please tell me another of your famous stories, Uncle Eric!" It's always "Uh, hi" and then I hear the phone clatter on the kitchen counter and I have to wait. Is that outrageous? Is that disrespect or isn't it? Should that kind of behavior be rewarded with lavish gifts? You should treat your uncle with respect, then maybe you'll get the nice presents.

[5-2-91] November 2001
Obituaries

I am like most people. I want a nice obit when I die. Page three is okay, but with a picture on the front page, above the fold, below the head "Legend Dies at 79."

CLEVELAND (From wire reports) Eric Broder, legendary Cleveland writer and Nobel Prize winner, died at his home today of a heart attack while watching a rerun of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Death came instantly and painlessly for the beloved figure, said his wife, Brandy LaFlame, who was with him in the family living room at the time of his death. Broder was 79.

Broder, winner of six Pulitzer Prizes for his humor writing as well as the Nobel (in 2006), wrote until his death for an alternative weekly that became a titan in the newspaper world, dwarfing in nationwide circulation competitors such as The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor and The Wall Street Journal, due mainly to Broder's behind-the-scenes maneuvering in marketing and promotions. Broder became a millionaire several times over thanks to his involvement.

Broder's real fortune came, however, with his humor column, "The Great Indoors," the groundbreaking and phenomenally popular weekly feature syndicated worldwide to more than 6500 publications. "The Great Indoors," a series of personal essays, touched a universal chord among its readers, as Broder mixed humor and pathos in what many considered to be the greatest writing of all time, better than Shakespeare even.

Broder won his first Pulitzer Prize in 2004, with the Pulitzer committee's comment that Broder's writing "might be the greatest of all times; anybody who doesn't like it has to be crazy." By the time of his sixth Pulitzer (in 2029), the Pulitzer committee stated, "We would have given it to him every year but we felt sorry for the other writers, who try hard after all, but they can't write as good as in 'The Great Indoors,' which is the greatest thing of all time, in our opinions."

"The Great Indoors" was made into a film starring Russell Crowe in 2006, becoming the highest grossing movie in Hollywood history. In his acceptance speech for winning the Academy Award for best actor in that film, Crowe remarked that "Without the advantage of a fabulous story and fantastic characterization - which is what 'The Great Indoors' and Eric Broder are all about - I wouldn't have won this award. So really this award is Eric's, who I know personally and admire above all others." Broder did win a special Oscar later than night, for "Greatness of Theme from an Original Source."Broder published several books during his lifetime, all reaching the bestseller lists. Among his better-known titles are The Great Indoors, Return to The Great Indoors, More Return to The Great Indoors, and The Best of The Great Indoors (Vols. 1-8).

In his Nobel speech, Broder made his famous conciliatory gesture toward his early critics: "But you know all those people who wrote nasty letters to the editor about me, criticizing my work, saying they didn't want to read about me going to the bathroom or about my cat? I forgive them, because they know not what they did." Broder was interrupted at this point in the speech by a 15-minute standing ovation, the audience transported by his generosity of spirit.

Broder lived in Cleveland his entire life, refusing to move to New York or Los Angeles, though both cities made numerous attempts to lure him. Regarding his loyalty to Cleveland, Broder once made the touching statement, "I wouldn't move out of Cleveland to some crappy p-hole filled with a bunch of weirdos. And you can take that to the bank."

Broder is survived by his wife and his four children, Eric Jr., Erica, Ericina, and Ericareeno.Then again, things might not go so well:

From the Plain Dealer, May 11, 2003 - Eric Broder, 48, who wrote the humor column "The Great Outdoors" for an alternative weekly newspaper until his dismissal in 1994, was found dead in his one-bedroom apartment last night. Cause of death was undetermined. Broder had been unemployed since leaving the newspaper, and had caused various disturbances at local malls during the past years. The shirtless, shouting Broder was a familiar figure to several suburban police forces.

Broder is survived by a cat, Jinx.

[7-26-90] October 2001
Those Crazy Psychologists
(See May 2011)

[1-25-90] September 2001
On the Road to Fitness
(See Jan/Feb 2014)

[3-28-91] August 2001
Drug Confessional

You're about to receive a real bargain.

Movie producer Julia Phillips (Taxi Driver, The Sting) has a book out titled You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again. It's one of those cathartic drug confessionals.It's about Phillips' daily cocaine freebasing, it's about Goldie Hawn being dirty, Warren Beatty as a borderline pervert, Dyan Cannon not wearing underwear, Richard Dreyfuss and Liza Minnelli's coke addiction (it staggers you to think of these two- both already having personalities that would make coffee nervous - on drugs), and lots more.


If you wanted to read this stuff you'd have to plunk down some of your hard-earned money for a copy of the book. Here, in this space, you can read about my dope smoking in Cleveland for absolutely free.

I FIRST EXPERIMENTED WITH DRUGS at my buddy's house in Shaker Heights. We were a couple of snotnoses looking for a cheap thrill. We really wanted to get high and were willing to try anything. We had a cheap corncob pipe from Woolworth's. We put thyme and oregano in the bow and lit it. Nothing happened. We tried cutting up a banana peel and smoking that, but that didn't work either. I guess you have to dry out the peel first.

I had my first puff of real marijuana in high school. I couldn't figure out to inhale until college. Then, in my sophomore year, I got genuinely high for the first time. My senses were sharpened to a razor point when I got high. My friends and I listened to the doper album A Child's Garden of Grass and laughed and laughed. I remember the laughter most of all. We played rock music and giggled in our dorm rooms, drinking malt liquor to take the edge off. We were drunk and stoned college sophomores, with all that term implies.

WHEN WE BEGAN TO SMOKE DOPE ON A DAILY BASIS, I developed a galloping anxiety. My senses had been a little too sharpened. I began to fear going to class, seeing people, phone calls, and the weather. My roommate and I smoked from bongs and waterpipes in the morning, effectively killing the rest of the day. Things got fuzzy. And we got hungry.

IN THE '70s THEY CALLED THEM "THE MUNCHIES." And did we ever have them. We ate potato chips and Cheetos, Fritos and Munchos. We ate sandwiches and moaned in ecstasy. We ate hamburgers and peanut butter on white bread. Our mouths got dry and we drank any liquid available. Kool-Aid. Hi-C. Mountain Dew. We weren't too proud. Was it in a glass? We'd drink it. Was it wet? Down it'd go. The munchies were a vicious cycle. We'd indulge in our salty treats, get thirsty, slake that, and crave more salt. Then we'd take another half-dozen hits from the bong, and start the cycle all over again.

THEY DON'T CALL IT "PARANOIA" FOR NOTHING, EITHER. The more I smoked, the more sensitive I became to even the mildest criticism. I often interpreted innocent remarks as deeply harsh indictments of my personality, intelligence and integrity. I'd smoke and brood on it. I'd walk the college campus, squinting in suspicion at other people, and often, the sky itself. A windy day was particularly stressful to me when I was high. It seemed to blow me all over the place. My dry mouth, the wind, and my girlfriend's latest comment combined to reduce me to a quivering mass of resentful, fearful anxiety that could barely put one foot in front of the other. "It's a good thing I've got dope to serve as a mood enhancer," I thought as I walked along.

I THREW THIS MONKEY OFF MY BACK after a Halloween party a few years later. I'd pretty much given up dope, but I smoked some powerful weed at a party in Cleveland Heights. Driving home in my crumbling '68 Pontiac Catalina, I began to hallucinate the car flipping backward on me as I drove, creating a Ferris wheel effect. I thought I was going to go upside-down. If a cop had stopped me then I would have given myself up and asked him to destroy my car. I made it home, barely. That was the last time I smoked dope. I've been clean ever since.

[5-23-91] July 2001
Even Farmers Need AC

I'm a primal beast with primal needs. Food. Water. Sleep. Love. Exercise. And, most basic of all, air conditioning.Today, in our offices, the 1954-vintage air-conditioners are going full blast. I'm writing this in the middle of a heat wave. We've gone through several summers in this office without air conditioning, and you don't know hot until you've been in this office in the middle of summer. Let me tell you how hot it gets. Mr. Wasserman, who ran the building many years ago, warned us about the heat this way. He said, "It's hot. Hot! H-o-t." If he could have held up a sign with the word "hot" on it he would have. How hot does it get? we asked him. "So hot you want to get out of there," he said. How much hotter can you get than that? None. You can't get any hotter than wanting to go somewhere else!

Beyond telling you how hot it gets, let me describe how it makes me feel. Now this is something that will surprise my co-workers, my shedding the mask of stoicism and discussing my feelings. I'm from Illinois farm stock, and we don't generally complain. For us it's work from can to can't, a glass of milk at the end of the day, and bed. Then up with the chickens. We don't usually talk about the weather, unless it directly affects the crops.

But since I'm a city guy now - and don't get me wrong, I've never been on a farm in my life, but I am of that hardy stock - being hot is hard for me, making- me-feel-sick wise. I'm a guy who has a higher than average body temperature, you see, and hotness aggravates this condition. Where your body temperature might be 98.6 degrees, mine's .6 degrees more. Now anyone can handle .4 degrees more, because that puts you at 99 even, the not-yet-sick temperature. But 99.2 - that's cause for concern. That will make your arms and legs begin to feel wobbly. And bingo! You're sick.

Now imagine a man for whom 99.2 is the norm. That's me. I run a little hot year-round, but hotter during the summer months. Bear with me here. You doctors will understand this, but I need to go into a bit of detail for the layman. When it's hot my temperature is pushed into the 99.6-100 degrees zone, definitely an undesirable area to be in. Most of you readers out there would be lying in bed with that temperature, resting up as your body fights the illness. You'd be drinking juice and shuffling around and napping. But me - a farm stock guy - I've got work to do and can't afford to luxuriate and indulge myself. I'm a go-go-professional, and just because my radiator's overheated does not mean I go off to the side of the road with my hood up and watch the rest of the world go by. It doesn't work that way.

No, I've got to keep moving, and that's where air conditioning comes in. We need big air conditioners here at the office - 16,000 BTUs - because, as I've said, this is a big cooling job. It gets so hot here even the bugs won't come out. It's hotter than a prison kitchen and hotter than Louisiana too. You're cooler barbecuing ribs than sitting in this office when it's hot.

So now there's air conditioning. It's up and running in the window next to my desk, purring like a big cat. It's got a huge, three-pronged plug as big as a man's fist, a plug that spells P-O-W-E-R. Cooling power for a high body temperature old farmboy like me.

[8-11-88] June 2001
Into The Woods
(See May 2008)

[3-22-90] May 2001
My Right Foot
(See May/June 2014)

April 2001
Secrets of Great Cooking

The secret to great cooking is timing. What time you eat? you ask. No. The timing you use in cooking the food together so it all comes out at the same time. Without timing you could end up with hard, crunchy stuff you don't want to eat (unless it tastes like pretzels.) What you want are delicious, nutritious meals bursting with country fresh flavor as opposed to charred, desiccated remains.Last weekend I prepared both lunch and dinner for two. For lunch I made bacon and scrambled eggs. That's easy, you say. Any dunce can do that. Yes, but perfectly? So they're both bursting with country fresh flavor? So the bacon is chewy and the eggs sunshine yellow and full of creamy goodness? I'll bet mine are chewier and creamier than yours could ever hope to be.

Here's how I do it. I put the bacon on a flat griddle and turn the heat on the electric burner to 3. This very moderate heat slowly makes the bacon translucent. You can tend to it at your leisure this way. You're in charge. You put the bacon on any higher - even on 2 - then the bacon's running the show. It'll have you hopping to. When it comes to frying bacon I'll be the boss, if you don't mind.Now where are the eggs? you say. Where you got them sitting? Why, they're on the counter, broken into a bowl, ready to be beaten to within an inch of their lives. Look over at the bacon - it's on its way to being done. Okay. Now plop your margarine in the pan where you're going to scramble the eggs. Put that baby on 2! The bacon's doing fine. A couple more turns and it's ready to be moved off the burner. And now the margarine's beginning to sizzle.

Take the bacon off the burner now and ready a paper towel on which you can lay the strips. I'd double up that toweling if I were you so the bacon grease doesn't seep through onto the counter. Put the strips on the toweling, then quick beat the eggs with your whipper or your fork. Guess what? The pan with the sizzling margarine is now ready to have the eggs poured into it for scrambling. Now's the time to do it, too. Don't stand around with your mouth hanging open at this crucial point. Seconds count! Pour the eggs into the pan and stir them around with the fork. Personally I don't do this too fast. Fast stirring leaves you with what I call "nervous eggs." Moderate stirring makes them creamier, larger-lumped and, in my opinion, more delicious. Plus the bacon's sitting on the towels, ready to be plucked. And that's all there is to it.

For dinner, I made a roast. Yes, a roast. I bought a boneless English chuck with plenty of marbling. ("Marbling" is a term we cooks use to say it's got lines of fat in it. Health-conscious people don't want too much fat, but regular people say "The more marbling, the better!" because it makes meat juicer.) Listen to how I cooked it. I wrapped it tight! tight! tight! in two (two!) layers of Reynolds Wrap. Before I did, though, I poured Lipton's Onion Soup Mix over it and mushed this aromatic mixture of brown powder and dried onions into the meat. This is a classic move roast-wise. I don't know how people can eat a roast without at least some kind of onion action to it.

All right, I threw the roast (after giving it a good luck punch) into a preheated 300 degree oven for three to three-and-a-half hours. Then I chunked potatoes and carrots. No problem, you say, put those boys in an hour before the meat's done. Wrap them up with the chuck and they'll roast to appropriate softness.Except I want more than "appropriate softness." I want golden brown and tender! Here's what I did. I put the carrots and potatoes in an hour-and-a-half or even two hours before the roast is finished. I tried to really sock them in there among all the juices, too, so they'd take up some Lipton flavor.And it worked, of course. It always does. It's perfect every time. We tore up some lettuce for a salad, and ate like kings.

So that's great cooking. At least concerning the two things I know how to make.

[10-18-90] March 2001
Yet Another Injury

And now the true story of how I threw my back out this past weekend.

On Saturday I was supposed to go to a wedding in Westlake with Barbara. I complained bitterly about this - after all, I have a reputation to maintain - but I was basically resigned to going. I remember thinking that morning, however, how nice it would be to come down with a sudden illness. Nothing serious. Just something bad enough so that nobody could ask me to go to Westlake or anywhere else.

Saturday morning, then, I was in the kitchen, babbling away at Barbara, when I bent over to pick up the plastic margarine tub the cat Daisy uses for her water dish. On the way down I felt something pull in my back, causing me to bellow and then fall to all fours. "My back," I groaned. "My back. Oh, my back." Much like Jack Lemmon in The Odd Couple. I managed to crawl onto the carpeted dining room floor, because I didn't want to die on linoleum. There I stayed for several moments on my hands and knees, panting like a dog, and hoping fervently I hadn't slipped a disk or dislocated my spine.

I couldn't get up for some time. I looked up at Barbara, attempted to smile, and said "Well, it looks like I pulled a muscle or strained something here." I didn't want to worry her too much as it was obvious I was going to survive this thing. Of course, I didn't want her to think I was faking, either. There was no sense going through all this pain and not getting out of the wedding. So I worked at making my smile brave yet sickly, like in a TV hospital drama. I didn't mention the wedding right away, though, as I didn't want to appear too eager to claim that I had sustained a social-obligation-ending injury.
I shouldn't have worried. No way was I going to any wedding, much less one in far-flung Westlake. I wasn't about to be in pain in Westlake, away from everything. I spent the whole day with my back feeling like it had been whacked with a baseball bat. I walked with little, mincing steps, emitting chirps of pain as I went. Not even the mighty ibuprofen helped. I was in distress. Would I have to spend my life on a board? I'd heard about back problems like this, with people who weren't allowed to bend for months at a time. Where would I be if I couldn't sit? What good's a man without his chair? All these years I had taken sitting down for granted. Now this back injury threatened what had become a major activity of my life.

I didn't want to go anywhere, but I figured I'd better go to Revco and buy a heating pad. I shuffled painfully over to the discount drug store with Barbara and bought an $11 heating pad. Despite my discomfort, I was pleased at this solid value. Eleven bucks and I might never have to buy another heating pad again. A heating pad is like an iron, an item you can buy for less than $20 that could conceivably last 20 years. This heating pad could serve me through many back strains in years to come, I thought.

When I got the heating pad home, however, my satisfaction quickly turned to disillusion. There were more warnings on the pad than in a nuclear power facility. "Do not" do this, "do not" do that. How about this one: "Do not lean on, sit on, or crush pad. Place pad on top of injured area." What a ridiculous notion. Have you ever seen anyone use a heating pad that they weren't leaning on, sitting on, or crushing? Leaning or sitting on a heating pad is the very essence of using a heating pad! I'm supposed to lie on my stomach and put the heating pad on top of my back? I'm not a goddamn fish. These heating pad people better get wise to themselves. I'm going to set up my heating pad on the back cushion of my chair and lean against it, the way I learned as a boy. And heating pad manufacturers better learn to like it.That night, while Barbara was at the wedding - she had somebody else to go with anyway - I sat home and watched the videos F/X and the second half of The Music Man. During The Music Man I got stuck on the floor. I was lying there, watching the spirited musical, and I couldn't get up because of my back. I started to spin around there on the carpet, sort of like Curly of the Three Stooges, but believe me, this was no comedy! This was a Cleveland guy in big trouble. Finally I was able to drag myself up onto the sofa. But it had been a dicey moment.

My back started feeling better the next day, midway through the Cincinnati-L.A. Rams game. I guess it wasn't a serious injury after all. But I sure wasn't about to risk permanent damage to my back by going to a wedding in some faraway place, so I'm glad I decided to stay home and take it easy. You never know about these things.

[10-17-91] February 2001
Nothing Going On

Sometimes, when I have trouble coming up with stuff for this column, I begin thinking about job security. In my mind, I then see a picture of my replacement at my desk, a chimp in a pointy red cap, jumping and chattering and getting paid more. Then I see myself, making doughnuts or being the person that sets up things that are knocked over in booths at county fairs. And the only thing that anyone ever says to me anymore is "Hey you. You missed a spot."

Right now, by an odd coincidence, I'm having this problem. There's nothing going on in my brain. Nothing! I don't know why. It's possible that the pills I'm taking for my colon are making me dumber. Not that I ever had a soaring IQ, but it really seems to have dropped 35 points or so lately. Sure, I can function; do laundry, heat up soup; but the edge is gone. Where there were once a million electric thoughts, there are now around 20 to 25, most having to do with simple motor skills. Put your foot there ... now the other foot there ... place your hand on the knob ... turn ... pull.

Here's a good for instance. A few weeks ago, I attempted to write an essay about Bugs Bunny. I couldn't come up with a thing. And I think about Bugs Bunny all the time. I even had great Elmer Fudd lines to throw in, like "I got me a wabbit! I'm gonna cook me a wabbit stew!" and "That weally was awfwy good weg of wamb." How can you lose with material like this? Yet I was stumped. And this has been going on for a while. I've had a total of two - two! - big ideas lately. One is about fish. These are my notes: "Bass, trout, flounder, tuna, buttock of haddock, dork pike, sucker sharks, piranha." That's it. Where do you take this? Oh, I had one more line. "Let cats eat fish. I'm not interested." I've got news for you. You're not going to see this on The New York Times editorial page. As a matter of fact, you probably won't even see it in this space. Apparently I have nothing further to say on the subject of fish. And that's a hard thing to face for a guy who always thought he had the fish world nailed down in his mind.

The other idea is about Liquid Plumr. The commercial on TV for Liquid Plumr keeps going through my head. Does Liquid Plumr push hairballs through pipes or does it dissolve them? It's a drag that this is one of my two ideas, because there's really nothing to discuss. It either does one thing or the other, pushes or dissolves; and once the fact is established there's really no need to go on about it. I mean, you can wonder how Liquid Plumr can push an object through a pipe when another Liquid - water - can't, and you can wonder if the Liquid Plumr can melt hairballs why it wouldn't eat through the hair on your arm if you splashed it on there or on, God forbid, your head. Well, maybe you don't wonder about this, but I have to, because that's my beat. And I can only wring one lousy sentence or two out of this idea, and the same with fish.

I've been so desperate for column ideas I looked in some old notebooks from several years back. Some of the notes I took in bars when I was half in the bag. Like these three: "Turtles blown away in a tornado." "Visine in beer is laxative." "Fiddled with fuse and heard the song Domenique suddenly." Or how about this one: "Guy sticks valuables down shirt front and crooks go right after it."

Are these great or what? You know where I'm going to take these ideas? That's right. Nowheresville. The same place I'm taking this one that I couldn't quite finish: "Wily French landowner who ruthlessly -" And this: "Story of a man who is waiting for an important piece of mail but only gets catalogs and mail from the AAA." And these were the best ones from my old notebooks. The rest of the jotted notes (like "My son Otto," "Don Murray as Nibbles," and "I overheard her say to her agent, 'Don't give them my phone number, Mort'") are even more useless.

Yeah, that's what I'm thinking about. Job security.

January 2001
Heaven Better Be Nice
(See March 2008)

[2-1-90] December 2000
Demonic Possession? No Thanks

(See November 2008)

 

November 2000
A Thanksgiving Memory
A simple farmboy remembers animals and dissension . . .

(See November 2010)

 

October 2000
Men's Studies: Learning How to Be One

Are you a man? Then read this, please: As a member of the privileged group in society, you know there are disadvantages to being on top. You and I know (being guys) that being a man - top dog, big cheese, head geek - can be a pretty awesome responsibility. It's a responsibility many of us men aren't that crazy about.The New York Times reports that some colleges (most notably University of Southern California) offer men's studies programs that help men deal with their role in a changing society. Great!

Here are some courses I would enroll in:


COPING WITH BEING IN CHARGE 101:
(Required for degree in Men's Studies): This course will explore the problems associated with having people think you know what you're doing. Role-playing exercises will supplement the text Why Can't Somebody Else Do This? by Dr. Arnold Bennell, and puppies and kittens will be provided to reawaken lost nurturing traits. (Bunnies available.) Alternatives to the "Set Jaw Syndrome" will be investigated, and we will read Men, Tension, Ulcers and Death, by Dr. Ruth DeLorenzo. The politics of masculinity will be discussed, and we will attempt to undo all the damage done by our brothers. - MW 2:10-3:15

COPING WITH BEING IN CHARGE 202:
More on being nicer and more reasonable. Advanced nurturing-trait testing with full-grown dogs, cats, and rabbits. Unlearning sports-chat and developing other non-sexist conversation techniques. Unlearning male bonding with role-playing exercises. Text: Wanna Let Us All In On It, Fellas? by Dr. Ronnie Glaser and Felicia Browner-Pitts. We will also investigate the history of the men's studies movement from 1998 to the present, and we will attempt
to select a mascot for the movement. Past suggestions have included a baby moose, a wallaby, a St. Bernard pup, and a snow blower. Winning contestant receives a model miniature clock-radio and certificate. - MWF 9:05-10:10

UNLEARNING THE WESTERN MYTH 391:
We shall see, through the examination of historical materials, that the true western heroes were not men, but cows, and the myth thus perpetuated gave men an inflated view of their role in western development. We will attempt to shuck off the unwanted macho baggage that accompanies the illusion that we tamed a land, when we merely organized cows into herds and ate them. The lecturer, Dr. Frank De Lo Graham, will use his text, Men and Cows: The Western Lie and Landscape, as the cornerstone of this course. - TTH 1:15-2:20


T
ORNADO MANAGEMENT 201: This lightheartedly titled course is actually a serious overview of why men are usually assigned to deal with panic situations such as fire, robberies, wars and, yes, tornadoes. My name is Dr. Al Bullins, and I will lead the class in a series of simulated disasters, weed out the incompetents and weaklings, and discuss with the remaining members of the class how the failures humiliated themselves. Perhaps we will see something in ourselves? (Fee for disaster lab: $15) - MWF 11:00-12:05

LEARNING THE HOMEMAKER'S ROLE 304:
Men are feeling freer to take on the homemaker's role, and we will discuss the psychology of cleaning and how we can feel better about it. We will begin by sweeping, move on to vacuuming and, time permitting, finish up by doing the drapes. Course held in instructor's home. Text: Manliness and Tidiness 1880-1980, by Dr. Evan Richard. - M 4:00-6:00


T
HE PSYCHOLOGY OF FIGHTING 404: Why do men fight? Why has the "fighting man" been so admired in American culture? We will look at historical examples to demonstrate that the backdown might often have been the wiser course. We will see the film Gandhi and feel positively about this Indian leader. John Wayne films will be screened afterward, and we will discuss how terrible he is compared to Gandhi. In role-playing exercises half the class will take the Wayne role, the other half Gandhi, and we will fight. The winners will be required to write a 60-page history of India, the losers a 4-page overview of the films of John Wayne, and we shall see how this affects the battle. - TTh 8:05-9:10

MEN AND SEXISM 511: We will read every work of major world literature and note when sexism occurs, especially when it involves men. Students will be required to keep a daily diary recording every sexual thought, which I will dissect at the end of the semester. In class we shall discuss the most overtly sexist entries and identify the writer. Text: Collision! Guys Against Gals in World Cultures. - MTWThF 8:05-6:15

[2-8-90] September 2000
This Time of Year

I'm beginning to develop a serious attitude problem. I usually do this time of year. Normally, I'm calmer and gentler than Captain Kangaroo. But this is the time of year I find my customary Zen-like patience taxed to the limit. This is the time of year I could easily go on a murder spree so gruesome they could make four or five TV movies out of it. Psycho: The Discount Drug Store Killer. Or Transaction Canceled: Death at the Money Station. Or The Otis Elevator Massacre. Yes, people at bank machines, discount drug stores and in elevators are getting me down, and I'm not sure I'm going to make it through February.

Discount drug stores.
I can usually handle waiting in line in a discount drug store. I kill time by letting my mind wander, or by carefully examining the interesting selection of prophylactics near the checkout counter, or by counting from 5000 to one backwards. I can't do that this time of year. For some perverse reason I have to watch the clerks check out the customers in front of me. I know this is masochism. You watch the clerk take eight to ten minutes to process a pack of Big Red gum or a couple of bars of Dove. Or you watch the customer - usually an old lady - question the price at length, sigh heavily, then begin the extended business of searching in her purse for the cash. If you're really unlucky, she'll pull out her checkbook.
You can then discern the very essence of boredom on the faces of the clerk and other customers as the tortuous check-writing procedure begins. "How much is it?" "$9.51." "How much?" "It's $9.51, ma'am." Martyred reply: "Oh, all right." You try to be understanding, but the line behind the old lady is getting longer and longer, and it's filled with other old folk who are about to keel over.

I'll tell you what else takes a long time: waiting for some of these people to gather themselves and clear out when their purchase is finished. You could go out, earn a degree from Airco Technical Institute, work a few years, get married and have children and come back to the drug store to find the same customer still trying to get it together. Not that it really matters how long it takes. As soon as you get up to the cashier with your batteries and shampoo, she'll decide it's time to change the register tape.

Bank machines. This is the time of year when I'm behind the real dunces at the bank machines. Usually I'm behind people who are afraid of the machine, who think one false press of a button will send their savings up in smoke. I can't blame these people for thinking this, because I don't trust computers either. (They finish up their transaction, let out their breath, and say to me, "I don't like these things.") But these days I always get behind somebody who keeps attempting the same futile transaction over and over. They key in the wrong identification number and do it again and again until I can't take it anymore and have to leave. Or they try to draw funds from dead or nonexistent accounts. I want to say, "Give it up, man. You can't get blood from a stone!" But you can't say something like that to a stranger. So you suffer, and wait.

Elevators.
This is the time of year when the real nut cases ride the elevators in the building where I work. First they try to kickbox the closing elevator door to death attempting to get in. Then they'll hit the G button for Ground when the rest of the passengers are going up. That's why we all got on this particular elevator - because the little arrow pointing up next to it was lit. "You're going to go up before you go down," I sometimes say to these doorkicking people, the contempt evident in my voice. And they always make me feel ashamed by laughing and saying, "Oh, that's okay." Then I think, What was the big hurry to catch the elevator if you don't mind that you're going the wrong way? Even worse are the goofs who hit a floor number on the elevator, then get off on some other floor. That freaks me out.
I can't escape elevator aggravation at home either. I live in a building with a few elderly people, and some of these old ladies drive me berserk as pertains to the elevator. I'm always careful to open the elevator door slowly as I'm getting out so as not to alarm or knock down anyone waiting for it. But no matter how slowly I ooze out the door, this one old lady falls back in terror like I was jumping out at her with a stiletto. And she gives a pitiful little cry: "Oh!" It scares the hell out of me. And it happens every time, to the point where I'm beginning to think that she practices this at home, just to drive me round the bend. It's a bad capper to a hard day of elevators.

Don't get me wrong, I can usually handle this stuff. It's just this time of year.

[12-5-91] July 2000
Laundry Anxiety

I have various difficulties. Laundry anxiety is one of them. Being anal-retentive, I want to do my laundry when I want to do my laundry. I'm psyched to do my laundry at a certain time. God wants me to do it then, too. Both God and I have picked this time for me to do my laundry and we don't want any crap about it.

However, I live in an apartment building and have to share a laundry room with several other tenants, and they too want to do their laundry when they want to do their laundry. They think God's helping them with their wash, but of course, as I just said, God's helping me with mine. So, by all rights, I should have full and free access to the laundry room.But I don't. Now you with your washers and dryers in your homes don't have to worry about this problem. Bing-bang-binga, you can throw your clothes in the wash and leave them in there for a year. Go to Mexico or Brazil while they're sitting in the machines if you like. No one cares and no one's going to bother you about it.

Me, I won't even go to Revco while I'm doing my laundry. Why? Because I have an overwhelming sense of responsibility to get my clothes in and out of the machines so I don't tie them up. When you're dealing with a community laundry room, doing your wash is a commitment. You can't go gallivanting off to discount drug stores after you begin the process. There are other people in the world and sometimes pleasure has to wait. Sure, the deodorant aisle is a fun place to be, but you started something and now you have to finish it. You can't be partying at Revco when there's work to be done.

At any rate, since I don't have free access to the laundry room, while I'm preparing my clothes for the wash I have to do more than sort the colors from the whites. I have to wonder, "Who is down there? Are all the washers free, or just one, or two...or none? What will I do if I'm rebuffed? Can I do my laundry on say...Wednesday? What if it's full on Wednesday as well? Will I have to start wearing my underwear on a second cycle, and if so, which ones are freshest, and how do you judge this? Are the freshest ones the ones most recently worn, or the ones worn days ago? In other words, can funk wear off after a few days, giving socks and underwear new life – or is this specious reasoning? What about my pants?

"With a community laundry room, all this has to be taken into account. Imagine the empty feeling of standing forlorn at the portal of the laundry room, carrying baskets of heavy, dirty clothes, seeing your dreams of getting it done now smashed by the sight of some dork loading up the machines with his junk. Imagine going to the trouble of stripping your bed to do your sheets only to be denied! "Well, you put on your other sheets," you say. What do you know? What if you haven't opened the package to your other sheets (which you bought five years ago) so they're not even washed yet? Obviously you can't put new sheets on your bed without washing them first because they're so stiff it'd be like sleeping on typewriter paper. And you can't wash them because the machine's being used, and even if the machine wasn't being used you'd be washing the sheets that you stripped in the first place. And don't tell me to put the old dirty sheets back on until a washer's free. I ain't L'il Abner!

These are just a few examples of the sort of stuff I have to put up with every laundry day. I should end this by admitting that 98 times out of 100 washers and dryers are available when I want to do my laundry. . . . But still.

[8-4-88] May 2000
Blind as a Bat

Last week the optometrist flipped his lid over the vision - or lack of it - in my right eye. I couldn't read the eye chart until he put lenses of colossal power in front of me, lenses never before tested on humans, lenses used previously only to observe astronomical phenomena. As he examined me he said, "Boy, have you got a . . . wow." He was referring to my degenerative myopia, telling me, in a nice way, what little Steve Sones told me in the third grade when I tried to read from the blackboard and saw just blue and white mush: "Gahhd, are you blind!"I am, too, without corrective lenses. Other people will tell you they are too, but they're not. Not like me. Take off my glasses and all I see is Impressionism. I see no edges, just blurs of color. You can hold up your fingers for me and I won't even see your hand. Plenty of people brag about how bad their eyesight is, but when these same people try on my glasses they take them off quick because then they know they've played in the big leagues. No one ever complained about their vision again after a session with my glasses.

I only wear my glasses at home though. I'm not going to walk around this town looking like a bug. I wear contacts. Somehow it's not manly to refer to "contacts." I don't know why. But I got them. I wore glasses from third grade until the end of high school and that was enough. Big old heavy things hanging on my face. Kids with thick glasses know the feeling. It's a barrier between them and the cool world, and most of them feel better after getting their first pair of contacts. I sure did.

It took a while to get used to them; people who started with hard lenses like me know what I'm talking about. The lenses seemed to flutter on your eyes, causing pain and tears, and you blinked furiously for a few weeks until your eyes became accustomed to the foreign objects. I knew some people who never got used to hard lenses, but they wore them anyway, looking like fish.

The advantages of hard lenses are that they are easy to take out and put in, needing little more than spit to wet them, though that's not a recommended procedure. Plus you don't have to store them in any special way. The disadvantages are that they can be painful. On windy days, dirt and dust can fly under your lenses, causing a bit of discomfort - like someone slashing your eyeballs with tiny razors. The lenses can pop out, too, which is a real pleasure considering how much they cost. Those little devils are hard to find on the ground or floor. Once my lens popped out when I was on a boat in the middle of a lake, and I saw it fly away into the water. Bye bye. Like the old South, hard contact lenses are Gone with the Wind.

I switched thankfully to soft lenses a few years back. What a look, what a feel compared to hard lenses! And I'm able to wear two of them; I only wore one hard lens for years because I burned my left eye with a lighted matchhead in 1974 and wasn't able to wear a lens in it afterwards. (That was a long period of half-sight. I couldn't recognize people and objects off to my left.) The only bad thing with soft lenses is taking care of them: you have to clean them with gooey stuff, rubbing them between your fingers for 20 long, boring seconds. Then you have to spritz them with saline solution, and store them in their case, and stick them in a machine and boil them. And this is every day.

I can't kick, though. I'm lucky I can see at all. Let the optometrists and lensmakers laugh at my prescription - and they have, too. Let them use my lenses in telescopes, and let my head look shrunken behind my glasses when I'm wearing them. I don't care. I can see clearly now.

[9-19-91] April 2000
Allergies and Dentistry
(See June 2009)

[1-18-90] March 2000
Let's Talk Saltines

Imagine my excitement when I spotted a box of Premium saltines behind the counter of my local video store the other day. It was the store owner's saltines, and that box looked magnificent on the shelf, proud and bold, its rectangular perfection enhanced by the dynamic Premium logo and the mouthwatering photo of the Freshness Stacks on the front. I wanted to tell the store owner that I was a Premium man myself, but I was afraid that he might be too shy to talk about his crackers. But I'm not. So let's do it. Let's talk saltines. Saltines are the classic crackers, simple yet profound, versatile (and neutral) enough to go with anything. Name one other cracker that goes with peanut butter, cheese, margarine or butter, and meat. Ritz? Can you put margarine on a Ritz? I won't even bother answering that one. How about Town House or Waverly Wafers? They're cut from the same cloth as Ritz. They're all buttery, orange-colored crackers that crumble into slime as soon as your teeth hit them. I call them "mock crispy"; they don't hold up in your mouth with the guts and tenacity of your average; even your off-brand; saltine. Triscuit comes close, but again, saltines beat them on the margarine front. (The margarine aspect may not seem important, but if you're out of peanut butter, cheese, or meat such as Italian salami, margarine can look mighty good as a cracker garnish. And there's usually a little margarine around.) Saltines really are the great utility crackers.

Of course, this doesn't prevent some people from misusing saltines. In my extensive research for this report I talked to people who make peanut butter sandwiches with saltines. To me, this is the height of folly. Yes, you can buy snack-paks of peanut butter-and-cracker sandwiches, but these snacks are put together by professionals, with years of experience in the field. That's not even the point. The point is that two saltines are one saltine too many for a glob of peanut butter. Put on more peanut butter? That's not the answer. There's just so much peanut butter you can fit on a saltine. You can't keep loading up on peanut butter, then placing another saltine on top. You've got to be able to control the overflow if you do, and not many can. It's best to keep the entire business open-faced and manageable. Then you can take a swift lick of the peanut butter to moisten it down, and you're ready to take a major bite or start nibbling, whichever approach you're used to.

As for cheese, avoid the party squares. They're the wrong height for saltines. Plus there's too much saltine border around the cheese square. It's far sounder to plane cheese off a wedge to fit on top of the saltine. There can be a cheese overlap over the edges. Who says there can't? There's no hard and fast rule on cheese overlap. Don't let anyone bully you on this. If you want to fold the cheese slice completely around the saltine, go right ahead. You can fold meat around a saltine as well, particularly the aforementioned Italian salami, though I prefer the economical system of cutting the salami slice into quarters, thus getting four saltines per each slice salami, with the resultant stretch of my snack dollar.

However, with all that, my favorite food is saltine au solo; the saltine unadorned. As I mentioned, I'm a Premium man, though Premium's glory days seem to have passed. Maybe I'm looking at the past through rose-colored glasses, but I remember when all Premiums were made the same: baked medium to well with plenty of brown bumps and plenty of salt. Today, Premium still comes up with these dream saltines, but not consistently. What happened to their quality control? Premium also makes Unsalted Top and Low Salt saltines, and my fear is that these varieties are getting mixed up with the original blend. And where would that leave me?

Still, I eat all my saltines the old-fashioned way: I lick the salt off, scrape down the top with my bottom front teeth, re-lick the top, then push a bite of cracker against the upper palate to soften it up for the final destination. Then down she goes.

And there you have it. The story of my favorite dish.

[11-21-91] February 2000
Club Man
(See January 2008)

[5-7-92] January 2000
Assorted Dangers of Walking

I've never been shot at on my vigorous post-dinner walks, but just about everything else has happened to me.

I've been attacked by tots as I pass their homes. All right ; one tot. As I walked by a house on this particular night, I saw a small child running down the driveway towards me. He was a squirt, a runt, no more than three or four years old. But, to my alarm, when he got to me he began pummeling me with his fists, grinning idiotically the whole time. I smiled tightly and said "Hi." What could I do? I couldn't pick him up and toss him on his lawn. When I spoke, though, his grin vanished and he looked surprised. What's this guy doing talking? And he ran back into his house.

The sight of me must shock and amaze children, though I'm just an ordinary person with brown hair and glasses. One evening I was walking down the street and saw a little girl riding a bike. When she spotted me she immediately wiped out, going down with her bike on top of her. She wasn't hurt, but she was looking at me in astonishment, her eyes wide. Was she thinking I was a telekinetic guy with the power to make people fall over? I walked on, too prideful to defend myself to her, even though I obviously had nothing to do with her wipeout. I was just hoping her mother hadn't seen the incident, because if the child believed in telekinesis, her mother probably did too, and I'd end up tied to a big stick and dipped in the lake like a witch. Of course, that was the worst-case scenario I was looking at.

Around the same area I was attacked by the tot, I saw an upside-down car. Actually it was leaning up against a tree, the chassis facing out. Too cool to get a closer look, I saw bystanders and police crowded around the car, which had an odd, relaxed appearance with its back resting on the tree that way. On that very same walk, I was startled by the sight of a rabbit sitting calmly on someone's lawn. I was totally unnerved by this. But do you know what I think? I think this was a case of delayed consternation at seeing the upside-down car. I was projecting my anxiety upon this rabbit. Do you see what I'm saying here? It's a psychological thing.

There's nothing psychological, however, about having dogs in your face while straightening up after being bent over. This is what happened several weeks ago. I was writing in my notebook as I walked along and dropped my pen. I bent over to pick it up, and when I looked up there was a big old dog face an inch from mine. I said "Yow!" and the dog's face pulled back. His master, standing across the street, called his name, which sounded like Harv or Marv, and the dog trotted away. Not before he had scared the hell out of me, though.

Two minutes later, while I was on my homestretch, a car sped by as I walked on the side of the street. It was going so fast it nearly spun me around, like in a cartoon. I shook my head. First the dog face, now this. Then I saw the car stop and begin backing toward me. It stopped alongside me, and the driver yelled, "Can I say something? That's a good way to get yourself killed!"

This made me mad, and I began hollering at him, "I've been doing this for five years! I haven't had a problem up 'til now! Five years! No problem! Thanks very much!" As time goes on I sound more and more like a 58-year-old man. Fifteen years ago I might have said "___ you in you __" or "___ my ___," but today it's "Five years! Five years and not a honk!"

My life is filled with situations where I think of good retorts too late. I spent the whole night stewing about it, then came to the conclusion that maybe I was as hard to see as Batman out there with my dark coat, dark cap, and even black rubbers over my sneakers. So instead of a stinging rebuke, I began to work up lines for the driver explaining why I was walking in the street and not on the sidewalk. Finally, after swinging back to the retort mode, I came up with,"Yeah, I will get killed if people keep going 40 on a 25 mile per hour street!" And that's how I left it.

Walking. The pathway to adventure.

[12-20-90] December 1999
Last Year's Christmas Party
(See December 2005)

[5/2/90] November 1999
Me and the Champ

When people have car trouble I have a good laugh to myself. Today one of my coworkers is standing around the office forlornly, waiting for someone to help him jump his car battery. "I'd like to help, Pete," I say, "but I don't have my car down here today." This is a half-truth. It's true that my car isn't downtown, but it's not true that I'd like to help. The last time I tried to jump a car, in 1983, the cables jumped out of my hands and started a small fire in a nearby pile of leaves. My philosophy is, you leave car batteries alone, they'll leave you alone. Electrocution or a faceful of battery acid is a mighty high price to pay for helping Pete.

And that's my entire car strategy. Let the car be, don't drive it around, don't touch it even, and it won't give you any problems. It'll last for years. I plan on keeping my Plymouth Champ around for a long time. It's a 1982 model that cost $900. I've had it a year now, and I've driven it maybe ten times. I've got one thin key for it and that's all it needs. It's got an AM radio and a fan and a sensitive braking and acceleration system; it's sensitive to you slamming your foot down on the pedals to get any kind of results. It drives like a dream if your dreams shake and are noisy.

The first few weeks I had the Champ (which is basically a Mitsubishi-made Dodge Colt with a different name; they don't make them anymore, so don't go looking for a new one) I was tender with it. I took it to a parking lot and sprayed the vinyl interior and wiped it down. I looked at the engine, keeping my distance from the battery, of course. I emptied the ashtray of the cigarette butts from the previous owner and by hand picked up all those whirlybird things that fall off trees that were on the floor. I opened the rear hatchback and checked the spare. It was flat. I closed the hatchback quickly, in the faint hope that I didn't really see this or that maybe when I looked again it would be inflated.

Then I drove the Champ around the neighborhood trying to look like an experienced driver, imagining I was a big ham-fisted guy whose hand dwarfed the steering wheel, and who had driven several hundred thousand miles in his day and had seen everything there was to see on the road. I wanted my expression to say, "Yeah, I've driven everything from Cutlass Cieras to Toyota Land Cruisers to Chevy Blazers to even Peterbilt trucks, but this is the baby I've settled on. This is my Champ." I was only able to sustain this hard-driving illusion for a few minutes, though, and soon I was back to being a nervous guy in a subcompact.

After a month I took the Champ into a Procare to get its oil changed and to fix the interior light that kept flashing and beeping. I wanted the guys at Procare - all named Mike - to think I was an old hand at auto maintenance, so I tried to act sour and taciturn. The Mikes were so friendly my facade quickly melted and I ended up confessing to them that I hardly ever drove and knew nothing about cars. I don't think they charged me extra, though.

I also took the Champ in for the Emission Test at a Sunoco station. I wanted to seem like a casual Joe who was used to taking cars in for Emission Tests so I said to the mechanic, "While you're doing that I'm going to go across the street for a cold drink." He looked at me strangely and said, "If you like." What the hell did he care what I did! I was just another toad in for an Emission Test and here I was telling him my life story! That's what I was thinking over my drink until I settled down and realized he was probably a nice guy who just wasn't used to people telling him their plans as their cars were given the Emission Test. When I got back to the Sunoco I was heartily friendly to him in my new spirit of understanding and he looked at me strangely again.

After those two maintenance episodes, I pretty much put the Champ away, loaning it to my sister when she didn't want to drive her Thunderbird in nasty weather or if she wanted a car she could leave a week or so in the airport parking lot when she flew out of town. I drive it once in a while to kick out the jams a little but that's all. I also look for other Champs on the road and give them a raised fist when I see them. Most of them are ramshackle affairs that look like they're headed for housepainting jobs. And I saw one crumbling away on the street that had bumper stickers that read "would you believe this SUCKER runs" and "Warning: This car explodes on impact." Beyond this, though, I don't have much to do with the Champ.


[5/3/89] October 1999

Hello, I Must Be Going
(See May 2007)

[6/27/91] August 1999
Why I am a Sex Machine
(See February 2011)

July 1999
How To Be Witty: Phrases to make you sound S-M-A-R-T
(See April 2007)

[12-7-89] June 1999
The Hello, Dolly! Horror
(See January 2008)

[4-26-90] May 1999
How to Get Ahead in Business
(See August 2008)

[5-14-92] April 1999
I Wish I Were Amish
(See April 2006)

[3/30/89] March 1999
Cheeping and Squeaking
(See December 2008)

[2-9-89] February 1999
The Ten Commandments of Love
(See February 2008)

[6-21-90] January 1999
Clear The Area, Please

(See November 2015)

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