Sunday, June 22, 2014

Jettison Journey: Five Reasons Why "Don't Stop Believin'" Must Go at Kauffman

T    The Kansas City Royals have chosen a new sixth inning song this year, and I, for one, am not happy about it. Journey's classic "Don't Stop Believin'" won a hotly contested, tournament-style battle which concluded June 7th. The "power ballad" survived from a field of 32 songs and will replace Garth Brooks' "Friends in Low Places," which had been a mainstay for several years. I agree that "Friends" had to go. Although the song is certainly catchy, it's not exactly the anthem you want to define your city or fan base. But then again, we in KC may be more "Garth" than "Journey" anyway. But my quarrel rests not with Garth (after all, he went to Spring Training with the Royals), it is with "Don't Stop," and I offer the following five reasons why the song must go:

5. It's Recycled Psychobabble

The whole “Don’t Stop Believing” thing, for our baseball purposes, is recycled psychobabble.  First, wasn’t this the whole theme in 2003 with Tony Pena’s “We Believe!” (Nosotros Creemos!) campaign?  This was a great theme but it’s had its day and no amount of Norman Vincent Peale will help the Royals hit Clayton Kershaw’s curveball  Tuesday night.  For more evidence on the recycling of this song, look back to the White Sox and Giant pennant runs during the past decade. It's a great song, but it's overused in this context

4. It's a Journey Song

Journey  has some great songs, but don't you thing another band should get a chance?  The S.F. Giants already play a Journey song (“Lights”) and we can never rival it. My son and I wandered in on Matt Cain’s perfect game (one of 23 in MLB history) two years ago at ATT Park and the atmosphere during “Lights” was amazing. We should stay away from Journey, we could never own one of their songs like San Francisco does. Maybe something like Foreigner's "Waiting..." Maybe the chorus could be rewritten to "I've been waiting, for a Ser-ies game, since Nine-teen Eig-ty Five/ I've been waiting for a pennant race, since I could jog a mile...."

3. Voter Fraud (Or Incompetence)

 "Don't Stop Believin'" was supposedly chosen after 32 songs, two-at-a-time, went head-to-head during Royals home games throughout April and May. Fans made their choices via text message. I don't know about you, but I can't ever send or receive a text message when I'm at Kauffman Stadium. Maybe everyone in the stadium is a loyal Sprint customer like me, and we've all overloaded the system. This “tournament” was obviously a scam commandeered by T-Mobile and ATT customers. And if this wasn't bad enough, there was no apparent "intelligence" available for voters. No bracketology, no seeding, no anything. Not the sort of tournament I'm used to!

2. It has nothing to do with Kansas City

We need a song that speaks to the Kansas City Indigenes. “Lights” works in San Fran because it’s a song essentially about that town. (By the way, does the sun shine on the Bay or set on the  Bay? If the  latter, I need a native San Franciscan to explain that to me (you know--the sun setting in the  north or east). At this point you may ask, what are our options for repping our city in song? My job here is really not to offer solutions; it is simply to identify problems  But, I'll give it a shot. We could consider Fats Domino's "Goin' to Kansas City," but that song is already played at the conclusion of every game. Plus, it wouldn't make sense to sing that song because it is about going to Kansas City and if you're singing it at Kauffman you're already there and don't need to dream about it. Another problem with "Goin'" is that it is offensive to our female population, characterizing our women as "crazy" and "little."  Steve Wariner's "Kansas City Lights" might gain some traction, but it has  some of the same issues found with "Goin’" in that  it's a song like Glen Campbell's Galveston in that it's about a military man longing to be home. So again, if we sing it at Kauffman, we're already there and don't have to dream going there. I suppose we could imagine that we are actually in Raytown and dream of driving a few hundred feet to be back to KC. 

At this point I could  try to offer another alternative but I believe I will stay  in my comfort zone and stick to identifying problems. As I look back at the preceding paragraph my "solutions" are really just a springboard to identify further problems.

1. The Motor City

The biggest issue I have with "Don't Stop Believin'" is that it makes strong lyrical references to a geographic region of the United States known as "Detroit."  It is one thing to sing a song in the sixth inning that has nothing to do with Kansas City.  It is quite another thing to sing a song which brings any further attention to the city which contains our division rival Detroit Tigers. Now some of you aging, purist, baby boomers may cry foul and say at this point the song says "South Detroit." Last time I checked, South Detroit is in the same Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area (a cool demographic and urban planning term) as Detroit proper. So, it's close enough.

But I'm not just a Detroit hater. I don't want to sing a song mentions other cities like Chicago or Cleveland or Minneapolis-St. Paul or even Fargo for that matter. Next these fans will want to sing "New York, New York."

Maybe this following point should have been put in my "Voter Fraud/Incompetence" Section, but I am wondering if the voters during each game at which “Don’t Stop” was contested realized the Detroit Tigers have won our division the last three years running? This would seem to be a major disqualification.

Well, there are my five reasons to Jettison Journey. Now it's up to you to come up with a solution or an alternate song. If not, you can just identify me as one of your friends in low places....

Monday, December 30, 2013

NFL: Chiefs’ J.V. Awarded AFC's Sixth Playoff Spot

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced this morning that the Kansas City Chiefs B Team will replace the San Diego Chargers in this weekend’s opening round of the AFC Playoffs.

The League cited several reasons why it decided to override its own formula for choosing which six teams would represent each conference in the quest for this season’s Super Bowl, to be held February 2 in New Jersey. “After reviewing the film of yesterday’s game in San Diego, we believe it would be an insult to the integrity of professional football for the San Diego Chargers to represent the American Football Conference in this year’s wildcard playoff game,” said Goodell, reading from a prepared statement.

The Chiefs, with its fifth seed sealed, gave the Chargers every opportunity to route them in yesterday’s game, but the San Diego club took advantage of none of them, barely escaping with a tainted 27-24 OT victory on their home field. The Chiefs played its scout team and did not even activate many of its eight pro bowlers.

 What’s more, the Chiefs denied their starters a pre-game meal and withheld Gatorade until the game reached overtime.  “We did everything in our power to give them the game except to take a knee,” said Chiefs’ coach Andy Reid in assessing the loss. “I’m not sure what more we could’ve done. You know, we don’t much like Todd Haley and all but we had to make it look like we were at least trying so as not to insult the Steelers. Shoot, our scrubs made that redneck Philip Rivers look like he was wearing a tutu out there,” exclaimed Reid. “I was like ‘Phil-take a valium and put on your big boy pants,’” he said as he shook his head laughing.

The Chargers could not take advantage of any of the Chiefs charity, but instead were forced to rely upon errors from the officiating crew, which it was later determined to be a holdover “scab crew,” from last year’s referee strike. “The zebras clearly blew two calls,” said Goodell in a departure from his prepared remarks. “The Chiefs kicker (Ryan Succop) should’ve gotten another chance to make a 36 yarder at the end of regulation because of that illegal formation, and then I don’t know what they were thinking when they gave the ball back to the Chargers on that fake punt in O-T,” admitted Goodell. “In my book, that was either a fumble/T.D./Chiefs’ win or Chiefs ball on the San Diego 22. Either way, ‘Good Night Chargers!’”

“While the NFL acknowledges that this decision is both unorthodox and certainly controversial,” read Goodell as he returned to his script, “we believe it is in the best interests of this game we all love to implement this decision.” He continued: “It would be an absolute joke for those sissy Chargers to go to Cincinnati Sunday to take on the 11-5 Bengals. I’m sorry, but if those pantywaists in San Diego can’t convincingly beat a bunch of rag tag B-teamers, then what in the world will Andy Dalton and the Bengals to them?” he said. “That’s simply not going to happen on my watch.”

Many around the NFL were immediately critical of the League’s decision because it did not choose the Steelers to take the Chargers’ spot, instead giving the nod to the Chiefs’ second string. When asked about that, Goodell, clearly annoyed, simply stated: “Bottom line—we  chose what we thought was the best remaining available squad from what we had to pick from. This decision was about putting the best 22 guys on the field against the Bengals. Period.  No more, no less. I can’t involve myself in conjecture and ‘what-ifs?’ If Rooney’s boys had taken care of their own business throughout the season we would not have had to step in. Let them go cry on their collection of Lombardi trophies,” said Goodell.

The Chiefs’ Reid was clearly pleased with the NFL’s decision, which will allow him to coach games on consecutive days this weekend and allow backup QB Chase Daniel additional meaningful work. “I think our staff is up to the task,” said Reid. “We’ll practice like we always have—starters vs. scout—during the week. We’ll all head to Indy Friday, then the J.V. will bus to Cincy at halftime Saturday. Both squads will be without backups but hopefully we’ll remain injury-free,” said Reid. “The only other thing we’ve got to figure out is how to get Ryan (Succop) and Dustin (punter Colquitt) down to Paul Brown (Stadium) by noon Sunday,” he said. “We’re essentially approaching this like the Royals do a split squad game out in Spring Training,” said Reid.

The NFL declined to meaningfully address the possibility that the Chiefs’ first and second strings could play each other for the AFC Championship January 19. “There’s a lot of football to be played between now and then,” said Goodell. "Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves."

He paused, then added: “I can tell you one thing for certain: If the Chiefs end up essentially having an intrasquad scrimmage for the AFC Title, then that game will definitely be played at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City,” he said.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Is Dr. Heimlich in the House?

Kansas City BBQ addicts have a dirty little secret. Sometimes, in exercising our passionate desire to consume smoked meats, we forget to chew.  Such was the case last night at Jack Stack in Martin City, as Sandee and I met our old high school friend Roger Denney there for dinner. 

Roger, raised in Kansas City, is as fine a connoisseur of Kansas City BBQ as you will ever meet. Now he practices anesthesiology  in the D.C. area where he sports a Virginia license plate that simply says “KC BARBQ.”

So you see barbeque is serious business for Roger. He knows his stuff. Since Jack Stack is his favorite stop when he comes back home to visit his mother, we were only too happy to share a decadent Jack Stack meal with him, the last such one he will enjoy until his mail order shipment of burnt ends and such arrives for his annual Christmas Eve dinner back East.

After devouring some famous Martin City fare, we were enthralled in post-dinner conversation. But as we relaxed, piecing together the better part of the last thirty years, a commotion from the other side of the room distracted us. Tables were pushed aside, people rose to their feet, and a voice cried out: “Does anyone know the Heimlich?!?”

Suddenly before my very eyes, Roger Denney, 17-year-old post player and all-star student, was transformed with phone-booth-like speed and precision into Dr. Roger “Heimlich” Denney, Man of the Hour.

Roger sprung to his feet, raced across the room, and was presented with a petite young woman who had fallen prey to a giant cube of burnt end of brisket. Roger quickly assessed the situation, found the proper location of the woman’s sternum, then raised her forcefully from behind in an effort to dislodge the giant hunk of beef that was obstructing her air flow.

After a couple of tries it looked like the woman had been freed from her barbeque-induced trauma. So Roger turned to her and asked her to speak. She could not. He then resumed the procedure with three more pushes. The offending morsel was then freed from its esophagul berth.

Roger returned to our table amid fanfare and appreciation from our fellow diners. We told him it was fortunate that he, Dr. Roger Denney, had been in the house and had gone to medical school and had done all of those E.R. rotations and the like. All of that experience for this moment. Roger could have agreed with us, but dismissed the act as basic first aid, presumably anything the local life guard could have done.

Maybe he’s right, but he performed the Heimlich on this young woman with such skill and care that she was barely impacted by the entire experience. I don’t know about you, but if I almost perish in a crowded restaurant in Death-by-Choking fashion, I may ask for the check and go home and make a fruit smoothie and call it a night. I may pause for a bit and wonder if I need to at least call my mother to have her come and cut up my meat.

But this woman was a BBQ Woman superhero. She jumped back in the saddle and ate the hair of the dog that bit her. It was like someone had told her “As You Were,” and she rejoined her Burnt End Euphoria in progress, barely skipping a beat, even though a table or two around here, with contorted faces,  had cleared out and headed home rather than enduring to the end with her during her plight.

Jack Stack was very appreciative of Roger. Our server came over and told him that for his efforts the restaurant would like to buy him a dessert.

I guess this was a nice gesture, but if I’m Jack Stack brass, and Dr. Denney had just performed life saving heroics in my dining room, I’m springing for more than a piece of carrot cake. I’m naming a sandwich after him. I’m dubbing him the new “Martin City Mayor.” I’m shipping him Kobe and babybacks once a month for life.

A free dessert is what you get for complaining that the service is poor. A free dessert is what you get when it’s your birthday. For last night’s efforts, Roger needs a statue erected of him at the corner of 135th and Holmes!

But the ever-humble and gracious Roger, thanked Jack Stack for their generosity, and asked them to give him his dessert to go. For this kind soul, it was all in a day’s work.

But the rest of us...we were treated to a tiny glimpse of how some very fortunate patients are treated in Washington D.C. each day.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Ponzi For Dummies

Editor's Note: This essay was originally submitted to the Robert Benchley Society as an entry into its 2013 writing contest. Since the essay did not reach the finals of the contest, it is published here to endure further ridicule. Looking back, the essay lacked several key qualities, not the least of which was the writer's lack of familiarity with Robert Benchley's (grandfather of Jaws author Peter Benchley) style. The essay was further encumbered by a 500 word limit and the author's aversion to review and editing, but we hope you enjoy it nonetheless.

All I hear about these days from financial pundits are warnings of Financial Armageddon.  Cries and bellows of “Credit Tsunami!” and “Global Economic Collapse!” litter the business landscape.   It’s enough to make a person think about alchemicing gold.

I don’t know who to believe, so I’ve decided to get back to the basics. In doing so I’ve discovered an oft overlooked and as of late much maligned investment strategy called the Ponzi scheme.

I don’t see what all the fuss is about Ponzi schemes. If we take the word “scheme” away (which I will henceforth do here) the term “Ponzi” becomes quite benign.  Its biggest problem is that its namesake, Charles Ponzi, evidently swindled a bunch of people in a scam involving stamps—probably S and H Green Stamps. People will stop at nothing to get a free toaster….

Ponzis have developed troublesome reputations because they provide returns to initial investors from contributions tendered by successive investors. Everyone is up and arms about this and acts like it was contrived from the depths of Sheol.  But there is nothing new under the sun.  For decades this investment strategy has worked handsomely for the Social Security Administration.

A successful Ponzi, like any investment worth its salt, is a function of proper  timing. Neophyte Ponzi investors often miss this critical fact. They hear stories of third, fourth, seventh and so on level investors who came to the Ponzi after the well had gone dry.  So they sit around wringing their hands when they could’ve already been in-and-out, down the road perusing the next  Ponzi prospectus.

But unfortunately not everyone is as savvy and enlightened as me. The SEC (short for Southeastern Conference) has issued a white paper on Ponzis and  urges investors to consider various  “red flags.”  

The SEC creates unwarranted panic by asking questions such as these:

1. Does the investment guarantee certain returns?
Actually, the lack of an offer of a guarantee does not ensure you are not being bilked or swindled. If a prospectus would actually guarantee me a loss, I might not doubt the veracity of its money managers’ claims, perhaps forwarding to them even my very last dime. Honesty from a money manager is my top priority.

2. Do you understand the investment?
Implicit in this statement from the Southeastern Conference is that such investments, if not understood,  should be avoided. But if we followed this advice religiously, who in the world would own life insurance? Speaking of which, it is only a deluded Ponzi investor that would, as the last man in the world standing, expect to collect on that double indemnity.

3. Is the seller registered?
I assume the SEC is talking about being a registered securities dealer. But even Bernie Madoff, the  mother of all Ponzis, was “registered” when he “Made-Off” with billions.

Don’t listen to the naysayers like the Southeastern Conference.  Follow me. Together we’ll be Positively Ponzi. 

Better come quickly, though. Before you know it, I’ll be long gone.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Head Bobs and Finger Nods--The Country Wave

If we are anything out here in the country we are wavers.

We wave at every available opportunity. We wave at our rural mail carrier. We wave at the UPS man. We wave at the meter reader from the water district. I think I’ve even waved at a suspected meth chef or two as they’ve whizzed on down the road.

Although country waves are effective while sitting, standing, piddling and what-not, our best waving out here occurs while driving. It is a major country faux pas to not wave at an oncoming vehicle while behind the wheel. Waving expectations heighten with particular road and vehicle types. Case in point: In some counties, if one fails to wave at a pick-up truck while driving on a gravel surface, the local prosecuting attorney may file misdemeanor charges.

There is not a specific prescription for how one waves. Most simply raise their pointer finger slightly above the top of the steering wheel. You want to lift this finger high enough to be noticed, but not too aggressively lest you startle the oncoming driver.

This is the so called “finger nod,” One can use any finger he wishes during the conveyance of the finger nod. Certain fingers should be avoided, for obvious reasons and to avoid confusion with the sort of less-friendly gestures that are used in the city. And, use of the pinkie is sort of frowned upon. It’s considered a little half-hearted and likely to betray suburban roots.
One should also stay away, while driving, from the literal raised hand wave. A literal wave is seen by most country folk as sort of desperate and screaming for attention. It implies you don’t have enough country business on your mind. The wave is never about the wave itself. It is a vehicle for delivering respect. It’s a subtle, dignified acknowledgment that we’re all in this together.

In some townships waves may be replaced by head nods, or more accurately head bobs. The head bob can either be a slight lift of the head about five degrees backwards, or a slight downward head movement that is quickly returned to the starting position. I often employ the head bob during the operation of a riding mower. This gesture is universally accepted by passers by. No one expects a man on a lawnmower, tractor, combine or any other piece of machinery to hinder the safe and productive operation of said machinery by ceasing to steer the machinery—even momentarily—for  the sake of a wave.

Another thing about driving and waving on the road is you start to recognize your neighbors and other folks by the grille on their pickup. Then thoughts just run through your head…’Yeah, that’s Jim. He needs to apply some bug and tar remover….’ ‘….Billy Wayne is missing the "G" from his" GMC"….’ ‘… Mr. Blake still has that big old crack in his windshield….’

 I came to the country wave late in life. I was exposed to it initially during college in the early 1980s while driving along Farm Road 1217 outside Springfield, Mo. My first reaction was a childlike curiosity on how the nice farmer might know me. My curiosity turned to panic as it occurred to me that he might just sort of know me but really know my parents. I finally realized something bigger was going on along Farm Road 1217 after three of the next four oncoming drivers also waved at me. It was then that my love for the country wave was born. When I eventually moved to the Kansas City hinterlands,  I could finally own it.

When we leave the country and venture back to the city, we can’t turn off this habit of waving. It’s now a built-in reflex. Sadly, no one in the city waves back. In fact they look at us like I looked at that farmer in Springfield back in 1983. My son Davis has grown up waving at folks. While far from a country bumpkin in all other ways, the country wave has become part and parcel of who he is. He’s working is in Panama City Beach, Florida this summer. Much to his chagrin, no one there waves back at him either.

I hope Davis and my other children raise my grandchildren to be wavers. Even if they live in the city, training a child to wave the country wave should be an integral part of child rearing. It’s as respectful as a Georgia father teaching his children to say “Yes sir” and “Yes ma’am.”

Let’s not forget, however, as we teach our children and grandchildren to wave properly, that there are real live human beings behind those steering wheels. Let’s not just blindly wave at them without being willing to step into their worlds. Let’s not substitute the country wave for real, live, down-and-dirty interaction.

The next time you look over the steering wheel and see me coming at you, flag me down and pull me over. I’ll have a thermos of coffee that we can share right there in the middle of that gravel road.

And if you don’t like coffee, I’ll have some bug and tar remover and we can go to work on that grille.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Aspiring Couch Potato

I am lower than a couch potato.

How do I know this? Because I installed the iPhone workout app called Couch to 5K (C5K) and I can’t get through the first day’s routine.

C5K (changed from the politically incorrect “Couch POTATO to 5K”) is a workout regimen that is designed to take you, over a period of nine weeks   from being a so called couch potato to a living, breathing specimen that can run a 5 kilometer race.  Five kilometers.  As in 3.1 MILES.

At first blush the idea seems plausible. The plan is to alternately walk and jog for a thirty minute or so session three times a week. Each week the workout transitions into more jogging and less walking until, voila’, during week nine you jog for 30 minutes, which at the pace of 6.2 mph should carry you about five kilometers.

But as with all seemingly plausible schemes, there was for me one glaring flaw in this app. The flaw, I have discovered, is that the C5K’s definition of couch potato is apparently  “world class athlete.”

I’m not sure who wrote the code for the C5K app. I think it was written from some college kid who was either juiced or blood-doped. I don’t think the programmers actually identified a focus group of bona fide couch potatoes to see if they could actually finish the first day’s workout.

Let me take you through the C5K routine to see if you agree.

The program starts Week 1, Day 1 with a five minute warm up walk.  So far, so good. This caused me to break a sweat but my heart rate only got about 25 points above resting. No cause for concern or reason to have Life Flight on standby.

 But after the five minutes is up a woman’s computerized voice softly says “jog.” That’s when the trouble began for me.

I started jogging at her prompt but I had only gotten about 12 seconds into it when my body began to writher and convulse. My heart rate skyrocketed and by blood pressure catapulted to life-threatening levels. Or so it seemed.

I started to get dizzy and unspeakable things started happening at the cellular level. Impurities from the bowels of my stored cholesterol  fought  through the layers of pizza rolls, frozen burritos and late night Taco Bell runs to be released.  Lipids, long ago forgotten, fought to free themselves from their plaque-covered berths. Every saturated fat and empty carbohydrate I had ever consumed paraded before my mind’s eye, mocking me and daring me to quit.

I was taken to the woodshed for every slab of ribs, every Big Mac, every Chinese buffet,  and every slaw dog from  my favorite drive-in at Panama City Beach that I had ever eaten. All of them, and other unidentified toxins, commenced a no-holds-barred assault on my cardiovascular system.

Finally, after what had been only a minute but felt like an eternity,  I was saved by the woman’s voice that said, “let’s walk, ” which sounded more like “let’s croak.”

This walking reprieve lasted only 90 seconds and then I was pressed back into duty as that annoying voice once again told me to jog. During this second jog I was transported back into junior high school  when  I had eaten 10 for $1 hamburgers at Smak’s. Then some post-little league baseball game onion rings from Paul’s Drive In on Blue Ridge Blvd. were released from a special storage compartment inside my liver.  Paul’s onion rings did not leave quietly.

Once again my 90 second walk saved me. But it was during this walk that my mind immediately shifted into high gear. I had to figure out a way to modify this workout regimen or I would have to be scraped off the ground by emergency medical personnel.

I finally decided I would skip jogs 3 and 4 (there are 8 total during Day 1) and would simply walk until I could pick up the  5th jog in three or four minutes. Then I jogged the sixth leg but walked until the 30 minutes were up.

This altered routine saved by live, but it left me in despair as I realized I was not worthy to be called a couch potato.

But I did not linger in grief. I realized that I must simply write a new program for a new app for people like me who aspired to achieve  a level of fitness worthy of the name “couch potato.”

My new app is in development and I am currently learning various codes like Morse and the like so that I can properly market this new app to Apple and other manufacturers. I think I’m ready to announce its name.  After rejecting my first two ideas—“Comatose to Couch Potato” and “Drone to Prone,”  I’m pleased to announce that I have decided to name my new app “Insulin Resistant to Couch Subsistent”  or IRCS for short.

IRCS is still in beta testing, but here is what I’m thinking the first few workouts will look like.

Week One, Day One:  Sleep For 30 Minutes
Week One,  Day Two:  Lie Quietly for 30 Minutes, Sleeping for 25 of those.
Week One, Day Three: Alternately Sleep and Wake for Five Minutes until 30 Minutes has expired.

Week Two, Day One: Sit upright in recliner watching the U.S. Open Golf Tournament.
Week Two, Day Two: Sit upright in the recliner for 30 Minutes without the benefit of television, focusing on your pain and vowing to push through it.
Week Two, Day Three: Sit upright without TV for 12.5 Minutes; stand for five minutes, then return to upright TV-watching position for another 12.5 minutes.

Week Three, Day One: Stand for ten minutes; then sit and take your blood pressure. If still alive, stand for another ten minutes the replenish fluids with Gatorade.
Week Three, Day Two: Walk for 15 minutes around the hospital’s emergency room parking lot. Sit for the remaining 15 minutes in the E.R. waiting room. Note: do not eat anything from E.R. vending machines during this segment
Week Three, Day Three: Walk for 30 minutes while hooked up to portable EKG monitor.

I’m still working on the remaining six weeks, but you get the idea. By the end of the ninth week of IRCS, anyone should be in couch potato-ready form and will be promoted up to level  C5K.

I believe my app will save many unsuspecting lives thought they could just start C5K straight away. This app will provide a great service to mankind, and will remove the long-held stigma associated with couch potatoes nationwide.
So download my app as soon as it comes out. I’ll get you in tip-top shape.

And if I don’t, I’ll meet you at the Chinese buffet.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Late or Early? You Be the Judge

As June draws near, it’s a time for us to ask ourselves some serious and probing questions. Questions like:  Is it too late to take down Christmas lights?

When I was growing up my father made it abundantly clear to me that nothing spelled “L-O-S-E-R” quite like the homeowner who could not get around to taking down his Christmas lights by Groundhog Day. We scratched our heads at those neighbors who would head into Spring with their decorations still screaming “winter!”

So now, here on May 21, I stand sufficiently humbled. I've become the loser of my childhood, as my Christmas lights remain firmly attached to my house, dangling innocently above my wife’s Mother’s Day flower baskets. They  now stare down at me each day, a mocking reminder of my inability to even master one of the seven habits of highly effective numbskulls.

I find solace in the fact that even though we’re in late May, the season we know as summer technically doesn’t begin for another month, when one of the most important solstices—the MLB June Amateur Draft—takes place. This critical solstice should not be confused with the lesser-known “Summer Equinox,” which does not exist. Great Astronomers and weathermen from Galileo Galilei to Al Roker  have recognized that the equinoxes are celebrated only in March (Vernal—after Vern Gosdin) and September (Autumnal—after “Fall”) when we have nothing better to do than note that the days and nights are equal in length at the equator (right…as if we’re ever actually going to be there).

But the point is that I have four weeks or so before it’s really summer. That’s a lot of time to evaluate my options. But by then the U.S. Open will have concluded and we’ll be thinking about buying fireworks so if you can’t call it summer by then, well then, you must be in New Zealand.

But what really should be the deadline for taking one’s Christmas lights down? Is there a point on the Roman or any other lesser calendar at which a guy should just yield to his loserness and decide he’s simply going to parlay his sloth and inability to launch into getting a jump on next year’s decorating? According to my calculations, the mid-point between January 1 (the theoretical appropriate time to take down the lights) and November 15 (perhaps the earliest anyone would put up their lights) is a none other than June 14—Flag Day. Yes, Flag Day. I am now declaring June 14 the “Official Point of No Return for Christmas Light Takedowns.”

I think Flag Day makes sense for a variety of reasons. While you’re walking outside to put your US Flag in its holder, why not spend a little extra time and drag out the ladders and take your lights down? You’re already in a decorating mood. The neighbors will hear your clanging ladders but not look over because they assume you’re just putting up flags. By the time they again look at your house they will not have noticed that you have removed all empirical evidence of your loserness. They may even forget you even forgot to take them down in the first place. Also, the last summer thought your neighbors will have of you will be of that nice Patriot who zealously celebrated Flag Day.

But what, you may ask, happens if Flag Day comes and goes and your Holiday Display is still firmly attached to your sagging gutters? You may wonder how I personally will handle this situation when I wake up on the morning of June 15. I fully intend to handle this situation by acting like it was my plan all along. I will simply acknowledge that I have a 5-6 month head start on all other 2013 Holiday Decorators.

Think of the benefits of leaving your Christmas lights up throughout the remainder of the summer. First, you avoid endangering your life by climbing on ladders, roofs, and hornets nests. Instead, you use your time much more wisely by enjoying various summer activities such as smoking baby back ribs, watching your sons cut grass, or sipping Arnold Palmers poolside. Second, consider an Independence Day lightshow on July 4th. You can invite your friends over and have a “countdown” ala New Year’s Eve then flip “the big switch” and illuminate the night sky. If you want to save money on fireworks, simply have one of your children stay inside and vigorously flip the light switch on and off for 35-40 minutes, thus simulating a patriotic fireworks display.

The benefits will endure throughout the remainder of the summer and pay big dividends long after the first autumn frost. Come Thanksgiving, you’ll be out frying turkeys instead of crawling up to your attic to untangle the lights which had mysteriously since last year wrapped themselves around that highchair your wife is saving “for the grandkids.” If that doesn’t get you going, then picture yourself this coming December parked in a lawn chair on your property line, sipping a steaming triple espresso, as you watch your neighbor traverse his ladder and downspouts, leaning at a 45 degree angle right before he rides down his icy roof to his frozen concrete driveway below. If that’s not entertainment I don’t know what is! And YOU made it all happen by getting a jump on everyone else in the neighborhood. You bucked the trend, didn’t succumb to peer pressure, and stood your ground while others thought you were an idiot.

We may be onto something here. Don’t let those pesky neighbors or homeowners’ associations bother you. You’re making your life easier!

And while you and I may be losers in June, we’ll have the last laugh in December.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

My Fourth Grade Birthday Party Was in a Pawn Shop

Not many things are as impressionable to a young boy as a birthday party. And while much of our growing up is spent reluctantly learning that everything is not about us, a birthday party offers a reprieve from such lessons as we bask in a glory exclusively reserved for ourselves.

My mother threw me two birthday bashes while I was growing up. Don’t get me wrong, we celebrated my birthday every year.  She’d fix me an angel food cake and have some sort of special dinner for me, but during my youth my mother threw me two PAR-TAYS. You know, an epic event that included other kids and where I didn’t have to hear things from adults like “Gregory, we thought you’d get some good out of this tie-tack.”

The first party was held when I was in Kindergarten. After the conclusion of Miss McCafferty’s morning session, my entire class shuffled and skipped across High Grove Road to my family’s little brown ranch house. Note it was my entire class—even the girls. Mom had her own notions of what “no child left behind” might have meant in 1967.  I’m not sure there was very much interaction between the sexes that day and my mother’s experiment in social engineering was quite a flop. But, the girls “showed up” and brought some pretty good presents—perhaps picked out by sports-loving fathers. And as far as I know no one got any cooties.

The Kindergarten party, although co-educational, was special because the confines of our living room and kitchen could not hold it. The size and scope and undoubtedly expected chaos of the event forced my mother  to move the festivities to  our one car garage. This “room” was reserved for really special occasions like grandparents’ 500th wedding anniversaries and the like. When events were held in the garage, the ladders and tools and motor oil would vanish, and only the feint scent of ethyl gas would linger.

Evidently it took my sweet mother four years to recover from that first birthday party, because I didn’t have another one until I turned ten in the fourth grade. By that time she knew I was a lost cause and let me invite whoever I wanted (translation: NO GIRLS) and she took it off-site—to the local pawn shop.

I guess the party wasn’t really at a pawn shop in 1971, unless you subscribe to some sort of goofy Lakehouse sort of time travel. It’s a pawn shop now—Super Pawn—on the west outer road of U.S. 71 Highway in Grandview, Mo. Back in 1971 it was a Burger Chef, and on that Spring day as “my boys” and I filed into the joint, we were greeted by wafting grease and cholesterol that smelled better than even the ethyl gas had in my dad’s garage four years earlier.

Burger Chef was a relatively late arrival onto the fast food landscape in Grandview. The upstart chain wasn’t exactly McDonald’s, but it seemed better than Griff’s, who I think sold like ten burgers for a dollar and had a blue and white striped roof or  Smak's, which boasted Smakky, a cute little seal who gave his "seal of approval" to all food sold there. For the record, I don't think that the Smakky ad campaign was devised on the set of Mad Men.

So Burger Chef enters the Grandview market and gave me another option for accelerating my coronary artery disease. Burger Chef had some great stuff. The Big Shef was a formidable sandwich as I recall, but I think the big draw for my party was a “Fun Meal” which included a Batburger.

The memories are fuzzy of that day, but I can still see the guys lining a wall of booths and tables just opposite the ordering counter. I can still see Randy and Barton and GregM (Gino) and Roger and Clay  and Billy B and all the other guys from Mrs. Bockleman's class squirting ketchup (not catsup) at each other and blowing the paper off their straws with the sort of enthusiasm that suggested they’d never done it before. I can see the fellas sitting on their knees stealing French fries from one another and I can see my precious mother trying to quiet them all enough to take a polaroid that would not survive. 

Today if you visit Super Pawn you can browse guitars and amplifiers and coins and other collectibles, but no remnant of Burger Chef remains. No smells, no sounds, no Big Shefs, no Batbugers.   The building is just real estate; the location just an address. 

Soren Kierkegaard said "Life can only be understood backwards...." Today, I look backwards and I understand well that my mother knew exactly what she was doing, and that two birthday parties, for me, were just right.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Dems: Air Quality Affects Voter Preference

Democratic Party leaders met Friday to determine why so many people in the middle of the country voted for Mitt Romney instead of President Obama in last Tuesday's national election. After several hours of map study and discussion, the Dems identified one common denominator: fresh air.

 "We were sitting around looking at these maps trying to figure out what was going on out there in that sea of red in the middle of the country," said Senior Obama Strategist David Axelrod.  "And it finally hit me-an abundance of oxygen must be messing with these peoples brains to not have voted for the President."

 "We recognize that oxygen is an essential element for all Americans, but its bio-availability and its seemingly ubiquitous presence in the outlying regions of our country, you know away from population centers, must be playing more of a role in voter preference than any of us would have imagined," said DNC Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. "These people's judgment is definitely being compromised," she said.

Party leaders think identifying the so called "fresh air voter trend"  will give them a leg up on Republicans moving forward. "Since Republicans don't really understand chemistry, we are hoping they will totally miss this trend and keep doing whatever it is they've been doing," said Axelrod. "And, if they do find the link, we're confident they'll think it's "O-1" instead of "O-2."

Axelrod, while confident that he has found something politically noteworthy, was unsure Friday what the Democrats would do about it. "Right now I'm just giddy that we've discovered this phenomenon, so tonight I simply want to savor it," said Axelrod. "Tomorrow we'll begin developing a plan to redistribute carbon monoxide from our cities to those blasted red counties."

The so-called "oxygen gap" is not anything new, as political scientists first identified it in 1965 when the husband and wife tandem of Oliver and Lisa Douglas first debated the merits of "Fresh Air!" vs. "Times Square!" in the CBS sitcom Green Acres.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Chiefs, Falcons to Play Six-Man Game

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced early this morning that Sunday’s game between the Atlanta Falcons and Kansas City Chiefs will be contested under the rules of six-man football. The action was taken after both teams criticized Goodell and other League officials earlier in the week for assigning a six-man officiating crew as replacements for the locked out regular NFL referees.

 “The NFL had indeed assigned the finest six-man officiating crew available from the Texas State High School Activities Association,” said NFL Spokesman Matt McGinnis. “So we’ve been wondering, hey, what’s the fuss about? This was the best crew available since all available refs from the Lingerie Football League were, quite frankly, spoken for by Jerry Jones,” he said.

Kansas City Coach Romeo Crennel became alarmed Tuesday when he was told the six-man crew’s head linesman, Jordan Thibodeaux, admitted he didn’t know which positions constituted the so called “interior line.” Thibodeaux, while watching NFL game film, was reportedly overheard saying “what are those two guys doing next to the center? They need to move away from him and run crisper routes.”

Thibodeaux, during an interview with ESPN The Magazine, confirmed fears shared by Crennel and Falcons’ coach Mike Smith. “The fact is, I don’t know what a right guard is, let alone a left guard,” said Thibodeaux, who usually refs games where only a center and two ends are on the line of scrimmage. “I think I would be awful confused with those extra ten guys running around on that big gridiron up there in K.C.”

Once Thibodeaux’s comments became public, Crennel called Smith with an idea.  “I called Mike and we started kicking around the idea of just changing up our offensive schemes a bit and giving the six-man format a shot,” said the Chiefs’ Crennel. “I thought, what the heck, that’s fewer guys for me to be running in and out of the game and it’s sort of like having a bye week even before the season gets under way," he said.  Added the Falcons’ Smith: “If those refs can’t officiate our brand of football, we thought, hey, let’s just suit up, strap it on and play their brand. I told Rac (Crennel), ‘it’s a win-win for all of us.’”

Six-man football, although played with the normal pigskin and with authentic features like goal posts and turf, contains a host of rules which differ from those found in the NFL game.  All linemen are eligible to receive passes and the game is typically played on an 80 yard field that is just 40 yards wide. This latter requirement prompted the Chiefs to bring George Toma out of retirement to ensure the placement of orange traffic cones on the Arrowhead turf would provide authentic six-man field dimensions.

Although generally amicable, the two clubs hit some rough spots while their respective GMs Scott Pioli (Chiefs) and Thomas Dimitroff (Falcons) agreed on some minor rule variations. The fact that each team’s center would be able to receive passes was a particular point of contention for the Falcons. “It was a no-go for us that (Chiefs center) Rodney Hudson could be a possible receiver on every play,” said Dimitroff. “Son...he got some reps at tight end down at Florida State and the film we broke down showed us that the kid can flat out catch the ball. He might be the first dual threat in both hiking and catching we’ve ever seen. No way were we going to go for that,” he said.

Reportedly an impasse was averted at Pioli’s suggestion that Hudson, although eligible, would not have to be tackled upon catching the ball but would instead be outfitted with a set of red recreational flags like those utilized in flag football games. “We talked about it and decided, yeah, if we don’t have to tackle Hudson, and only have to yank his flags off,  then we can live with him beating us once in a while on a down-out-and-up,” said Falcons’ GM Dimitroff.

Other peculiarities of the six-man game include 15-yard first downs, a 45 point “mercy rule” in the second half, and an odd scoring structure where a field goal is worth four, instead of three points. Each team reportedly believes these other nuances give them the advantage Sunday.

 “We think hands down  Matt Bryant is a better field goal kicker than Ryan Succop,” said the Falcons’ Smith.  “We will probably trot Matt out there pretty often on first and fifteen and just let him tee off,” he said. “Look, I think if Matt makes like eight field goals then that’d be like better than—if my math’s correct...carry the three—five  touchdowns!”

Crennel thinks the mercy rule will work in the Chiefs’ favor Sunday. “Man, we’re going to jump on them early in the game then get up by 45 or 46 early in the third quarter,” said Crennel. “We do that and it’s lights out! Our fans will be back in the parking lot tailgating by 2:15.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 12:05 local time Sunday in Kansas City where the game will be broadcast by Fox and the Texas High School Cable Network.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

McCaskill Dumps Ad Agency For Not Coloring Opponent Akin

Kansas City—In a surprise move today, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) announced she has fired the advertising agency responsible for the attack ads aimed at her Republican opponent, Representative Todd Akin of St. Louis County.  The firing of the agency, Plus+Plus+Plus, comes on the heels of the firm’s release of a fifth consecutive ad depicting Akin in exclusively black and white photography.

“The good people of Missouri have a right to judge Todd Akin on the entirety of his personhood, including the color of his clothes and skin,” said McCaskill in a prepared statement. “And quite frankly, my recent advertising campaign has deprived the Show Me State’s electorate of that opportunity,” she said.

In the aftermath of  Akin’s  victory in Missouri’s Republican Senatorial primary, McCaskill launched a no-holds-barred assault on Akin’s conservative principles, citing the Congressman as “out of touch with mainstream Missouri,” but most alarmingly depicting him as disgustingly “non colorful.” McCaskill’s ads have only portrayed Akin in black and white images and most of the photos were blurry, contorted, and appeared to portray Akin as picking his nose. In one of the most aggressive of McCaskill’s  television  commercials,  Akin was shown brandishing an axe dripping with blood. In every instance, McCaskill was juxtaposed in colorful designer ball gowns and business suits, typically with a smile on her face.

“I admit that I am scared to death that the voters of Missouri will realize that Todd Akin actually has very beautiful blue eyes,” said McCaskill, peeking through the window of her limousine parked just outside of the Nodaway County Courthouse. “I’ve spent many sleepless nights wondering how my chances might turn if the voters saw that really snappy red and blue tie Todd rocked at last year’s Joint Chamber Christmas Party," she said. “But I have decided I must win or lose on the issues, not on the our ability to Photoshop that smirk on Todd’s face—Hah-Hah, but that was a pretty good one, huh?” she said as she slapped her knee repeatedly.

McCaskill’s announcement sent shockwaves through the Democratic National Committee. DNC Chairman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, when told of McCaskill’s decision, was beside herself. “What was Claire thinking?” said Wasserman Schultz. “Now we must develop a whole set of talking points that are grounded in factual information. We were prepared for almost every eventuality, but we certainly didn’t see this one coming,” she said. “I need to get back to Florida to develop a strategy that will not include Photoshop.”

The Akin campaign seemed equally stunned and was also caught off guard by McCaskill’s announcement. “We are obviously pleased that in Senator McCaskill’s commercials Todd will no longer look like he walked off the set of a 1962 Perry Mason episode,”  said Akin Communications Director Ryan Hite. “You know, even if it was that one really cool episode, I think it was The Case of the Terrified Typist where Hamilton Burger had Perry dead to rights...well, anyways—no one in this Millennium  likes to be portrayed picking his nose in grayscale.”

Akin, boarding a plane at Lambert Field in St. Louis, seemed upbeat when told the news. “Good for Claire,” he said. “I’m glad I packed that navy blue double-breasted sport coat for this trip.” Maybe she can get a couple of shots of me in that,” he said.

Although not confirmed, it was reported that the campaigns intend to get together next week to discuss the viability of a series of debates for later this Autumn in which McCaskill and Akin will wear the exact same outfits and avoid make up of any kind. An unidentified source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said both the Senator and Congressman are excited about the proposed dress code and are optimistic that other details can be finalized just as soon as they determine which, if any, issues need to be discussed at the debates.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Vur-SI or Vur-SALES? An International Debate

Today my wife and daughter are touring the famous Palace of Versailles while I try to fix the aerator pump in our septic tank. But that’s okay, at least I’m not cutting the brush that obscures our potty pond, which is the ultimate destination of the “effluent” which is currently not being aerated.

The Palace of Versailles, in case you’ve never watched Madeline, is the historic center of French Government. It was perhaps in its heyday prior to the French Revolution of the late 18th Century.  It was also the site of the signing of the famous Treaty of Versailles, which outlined the terms of the armistice for World War I.

The Palace of Versailles, or more aptly Chateau De Versailles, is located in the once-remote-but-now suburban (Paris) community of Versailles. I state this fact to draw attention to the lack of sense shown by the French in employing the common Osage River Valley dialect of the English language when naming buildings and cities.

You see, as a Missourian, I am very familiar with the correct pronunciation of any town which may be spelled V-E-R-S-A-I-L-L-E-S.  Clearly, it would be Vur-SALES, as in the county seat of Morgan County near the beautiful Lake of the Ozarks.

But the pretentious French get this wrong in their own backyard. They pronounce the palace and town as Vur-SI, and in so doing provide we Missourians a grave disservice. But we here in The Show Me State don’t buy into all that mumbo jumbo. We realize calling Vur-SALES, Vur-SI, is like me calling my septic tank PepĂ© Le Pew.

Not that Versailles, Missouri in any way should be compared to a septic tank. It is a very fine community, and an extremely enjoyable gateway to the Lake of the Ozarks. As I recall, the community has a very fine golf course located on Missouri Route 5 north of town. If memory serves I birdied hole number 3 there in 1982. But memory does not often serve.

Versailles used to be home to a Ticonderoga pencil factory. Ticonderoga, if you recall from your 2nd Grade Scooby Doo Schoolbox, made the very functional Ticonderoga No. 2 pencil. It also made the Ticonderoga No. 3, which in my view was not at all an improvement on the Ticonderoga No. 2 as it would always break and would not present crisp lettering when writing a note to “your neighbor.” And besides, the No. 3 was never “specced” in the School Supplies Advisory published each August in the newspaper.  So if your mom bought you No. 3s instead of No. 2s you’d probably be in big, big, trouble.

But I digress. The real reason the Ticonderoga factory closed in 2005 was that the Dixon-Ticonderoga plant was purchased by the Italian conglomerate Fila. And, as with any Italian conglomerate, they can’t get passed losing World War II. They keep saying stuff like “The Axis will rise again” and “Long Live Benito” and they go to closing plants they own in any town that appears to have  a French name. The whole plant closure thing was just a bad case of mistaken identity and the good people of Versailles (Missouri) suffered because of it.

But in fairness, we Missourians have not always gotten it right when trying to name things after something legitimately French. A good example would be Lake Pomme de Terre. This is another beautiful lake in Southwest Missouri not far from the nice little bergs of Wheatland and Hermitage. The name absolutely  flows from the lips, whether or not one utilizes his native Osage River Valley dialect or the actual French.

But I’m not sure we did our homework on this one. Pomme de Terre means Apple (Pomme) of the Earth (Terre). So far, so good. But the bad news is the “apple of the earth” is, well, a potato. So the next time you’re fishing or skiing or otherwise recreating on Lake Pomme de Terre you need to realize you’re really just on something called Potato Lake. Somehow I don’t think the Chamber of Commerce down there is going to latch onto that one.

I suppose visiting France is a fine way to pass the time if you have nothing to fix or aerate. And, I’m sure Versailles and the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre are the European equivalents of the cool stuff to visit here like Silver Dollar City. 

However, I believe one can experience French, near-French, or French Wannabe culture right here in the Show Me State. Beyond Versailles, there are the Missouri towns of Paris and Bonne Terre and Desloge and Bois D’Arc (means Hedgeapple-go figure) and Ste. Genevieve. And if that’s not enough you can float the Robidoux Creek or snag paddlefish (a/k/a “spoonbill”) on the Marais des Cygnes. Who wants to endure the jetlag when all these enchanting places beckon from among our own backyard?

In closing, and in the spirit of Madeline, I’ll just say this: “That's all there is; there isn't any more.”

Vive La Ticonderoga! And Vive Pepe’ Le Pew!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

My entry into the 2012 Erma Bombeck Humor Writing Contest was slammed into the jusdges' trash cans with more velocity than a Blake Griffin dunk through an orange NBA rim.

So once again, I'm a LOSER. I should have known. My 22 year old daugher didn't get it. My wife kindly cautioned: "I guess I just don't think it's that funny."

I tried to appeal to the largely female judging panel by talking about my inner "Texas-high-school-cheer-mom" and stuff like that, hoping they'd think I was a woman (I forgot that strategy when I started talking about my wife later on).

Then I hoped that writing about Words With Friends would appeal to the word-geeek side of the judges, but then I guess that backfired too. Oh well, at least the contest gave me an excuse to write and made me jettison a lumbering 500 words from a previous blog post on the same topic.

So that I can end a two month posting drought on this blog, I'll post my contest entry here. The esteemed winners' entries are posted at the following link:

My heartfelt congratulations and strangulations go out to them....
All's Fair in Words With Friends
I’m compulsively obsessed with Words With Friends. It’s the electronic version of Scrabble, and it’s turned me into someone I no longer recognize. The game has caused me to contemplate heretofore unthinkable things—like  cheating or opening a dictionary.

Words With Friends, like another WWF—the World Wrestling Federation, is simply raw, bone-crushing and contorted competition.  It brings out my inner Texas-high-school-cheer-mom, and prevents me from carrying out important daily activities like working, sleeping, or going to the bathroom.

Words With Friends particularly interferes with my work day, which has now been reduced to something akin to a kindergarten recess. Well-meaning people, who are theoretically contributing to our country’s gross domestic product, send me game requests and make moves all the business day long.  And unlike Alec Baldwin’s flight attendant, these requests and moves are difficult to ignore.

Last week while I was on a conference call, I put this guy on speaker phone while I scoured my computer screen for a place to put my “Q.” At a critical juncture on the call the guy asked me a question to which I started to shout “Quasar!”

But this crazy game doesn’t just hamper my work productivity. A dangerous feature of Words With Friends is that there are no pesky time limits in between moves. So after scoring a Triple Letter/Triple Word, I have ample time to go mow the lawn, make nachos, or vacation in Paris. All this anonymity and “down time” is fraught with danger, however, as it allows me to dream sketchy dreams like buying black market vowels from a Colombian vowel-Lord.
My depravity is fully unleashed when I play my wife. She is a wordsmith, par excellence, so I will resort to all manner of deceptive practices in my attempts to beat her. Last week while she was in the shower, I happened to walk by her computer and behold, there before me was the game we were playing against one another.  I seized the opportunity and made an especially skillful move on her behalf.  
Can I help it if her only play—“IT”—is only worth two points?

Me later: “Honey, haven’t we discussed you not logging off and leaving your computer unattended?  And, let’s not miss the point—most people shower well before 3:15 p.m. on weekdays.”

I highly recommend Words With Friends, unless you have burdensome demands on your life such as a job or family. If not, then indulge yourself, but don’t let the intensity of the competition change who you are at your core.

It’s time for me to run. I’ve got a 10 o’clock with a Proper Noun who represents a Consonant Cartel.

About Greg: 
When not brokering commercial real estate in Missouri, Greg Finley scribbles about business, sports, and life in the country at .  He’s been published in  the Wall Street Journal under a headline entitled For Sale: Staples-Anchored Shopping Center in Rolla, Missouri. Perhaps his greatest work of fiction was crafted while serving as the lead author of the 1988 Olathe, Kansas Comprehensive Plan. It was during this project that he was accused of feeding at the public trough. Indeed he was. While in college, Greg once missed a 49 ½ yard field goal wide right by a hair. This event has been responsible for decades of night sweats. He lives in the Kansas City hinterlands with his wife and five children.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Rendering Lard

We’re spending this Christmas with my wife Sandee’s family in Alabama. So upon our arrival last night we, like most families during this time of year, began eating and talking and talking about eating. After some time I was introduced to a new delicacy—the microwaveable bag of fried pork skins.

The wonder of the microwaveable bag of pork skins is a story for another day, but it was those pork skins that started a conversation that held us captive for a good bit of the evening.

After I “popped” the bag of pork skins I walked around the family room and shook them out the bag into everyone’s hands. While doing this I made the mistake of casually asking Sandee’s dad (“Papa,” “Big Dave,” or simply “Mr. Hill,” depending on who you are) what part of the pig the pork skin came from.

As Mr. Hill sat in his recliner, he could have insulted me for asking such a dumb son-in-law question (they are pork skins after all), but instead he overlooked it and launched into a tale about pork processing at home from when he was a 9-year-old boy. The story won’t soon be forgotten.

As we were munching on the pork skins he began, “You see when you butcher a hog, you first dip it in scalding hot water so you can more easily scrape off the hair.” As we checked our pork skins for any remaining pig hair, he continued, “It’s amazing—I’ve seen hogs that were completely covered with black hair but by the time we’d scrape ‘em clean, they’d be as white as the palm of my hand here.”

“So that’s where you get those skins there,” he said. By this time I was the only one that was still reaching into the bag for a second handful of skins. Everyone else was wondering what happened to the black hair that had been scraped off the pig whose skin they were now digesting.

Mr. Hill went on: “My Daddy used to say, ‘we’d cook everything but the oink,’ and we sure did. We’d bake the tongue, scrape inside the head to get the head cheese or pressed meat as we called it, and then sometimes we’d even bake the pig’s ears. The worst thing though would be making chittlin’s from the intestines. We’d boil them and would they ever stink! We’d turn them inside out as we cleaned them. Finally we’d fry ‘em up and I'm tellin' you, they tasted good! Pickled the feet too,” he said.

At this point Sandee took the conversation to a place no one really wanted to go. “Who was the first person,” she asked, “who thought of the idea of cleaning a pig’s intestines so they could boil, fry, and then eat them? What sort of person thinks of such a thing?”

No one really had an answer for that question, and few wanted to think about it long enough to conjure one up. But even if they did, Sandee followed it up with another: “Why,” she said, “did you all bake the tongue when everything else was fried?” Papa didn’t seem to know the answer to this question either but stated that the baked tongue was sliced in a very thin fashion to achieve maximum palatability.

“One other thing, we used to do,” Mr. Hill said, “was to make lard. You know just below the skin is all that pig fat—the lard. We’d scrape all that lard off then put it in a big 15 gallon iron pot. We’d heat it under a big fire until it’d liquefy and then the ‘cracklin’s’ would come to the top. We'd skim those off and that’s what we used to make cracklin’ cornbread and cracklin’ biscuits,” he said. “Then all that lard would sort of be strained and then we’d pour it into buckets to store for later use. We called that process Rendering Lard.”

Sandee suggested Rendering Lard would be a great name for our next diet. I thought it a more proper name for our son Davis’s next rock band.

Mr. Hill saved the best part of his memories for last, however, as he described to us the process of actually killing the pig. “We’d have this little chute that Granddaddy and me would force the pig in to,” he said. “Now Daddy hated killing the pig anyway but one time we had an especially large hog to slaughter—must’ve weighed 600 pounds—and Daddy was especially nervous about it,” he said.

Papa continued: “So how he’d do it is to get above the hog, straddle it sort of, then take a sledge hammer and knock it in the head. Well this one time—on this 600 pound hog—just as he was comin’ down on pig’s head with the sledge, the hog reared back so daddy wasn’t able to get him with a good blow. Boy that pig got mad! He chased Daddy around that pen until Daddy pulled his pistol and shot him. The bad thing about that though is he didn’t catch him clean with the shot so the hog squealed and got madder and ran around after him some more. Daddy emptied the pistol on him but the hog still wasn’t dead. Finally though he ran around in circles until he all of a sudden dropped. Hogs are mean. They aren’t docile like some people think.” I didn't have tangible evidence to refute this last statement, but wondered if we shouldn't study a control group of pigs who were not shot at and beat on with a sledge hammer before passing judgment on that particular hog for his contrary personality.

Now that story might not have been about a Red Ryder BB gun, or a snowstorm, or someone coming back home for Christmas after World War II, but I think it’s one of the greatest Christmas stories I’ve ever heard. I'm glad my kids got to hear it first hand. Someday I hope I'll be able to tell one that is half as good.

But since I can’t, I think I’ll just go render some lard.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

About a Dog

Editor's Note: This story is not funny, but we didn't have anywhere else to go with it....

Much has been written about the dog. He’s man’s best friend and all that. We’ve cried about dogs from Old Yeller to Marley and Me. But those stories have always been about someone else.

Yesterday while walking my youngest daughter’s puppy I discovered our oldest dog Drover out in our pond. He was several yards from the bank, looking at me with a look that was a combination of sheepishness and of fear and of discomfort from the late October chill.

At first I thought Drover was simply going for an Indian summer swim, or more accurately a wade. Such an activity was not out of character for him, as often I would observe the four muddy paws that betrayed him.

But this time it was different. He wasn’t moving, and no amount of coaxing or cajoling could dislodge him from his muddy berth. He was stuck in the Missouri muck that had accumulated from a decade of spring gulley washers.

Freeing himself from his quagmire would have been a snap for Drover in his youth. An amalgamation of large breeds—Great Pyrenees and Coon Hound mostly—he had once been a rugged specimen of vigor and strength. But the years have not been kind to his large frame. Arthritis and other age-related maladies have taken their toll on him. Lately he would mostly lie around, and getting to his feet was indeed a chore, as the hours in one place would leave his arthritic joints “stoved up.”

So there he was, trapped, with little hope of unaided escape. After getting our puppy back in her kennel, I put on some boots and waded out to my loyal friend. If the water was cold, which I’m sure it was, I didn’t really notice. After getting a collar and leash on him, I tried to pull him out like a winch on a tow truck. The collar kept slipping over his head, and I began to fear it would act more like a noose than a lifeline.

So I regrouped, throwing the collar and leash aside. After freeing myself from the mud, I was finally able to pull him to the bank where he lay shivering and unable to stand or really move at all. The long odyssey to shore had taken all the surviving energy out of him. I couldn’t stand him up, so I went back to my house and called our vet, Dr. Morse, for some advice.

After our consultation I decided to try to get Drover to our barn and put him under some heat lamps. This process took about an hour as I had to carry him inches at a time until I could finally hoist him into the SUV. My little ambulance then took him to the barn, where I managed to lift him out and set him on the floor under the warming red lamps.

Dr. Morse suggested an elixir of maple syrup and water to give Drover an energy boost. He’d have none of it, and just lay cold and lifeless on the concrete floor.

After a warming night among soft blankets in the barn, Drover now lies in Dr. Morse’s office, his fate to be determined after a couple of days of observation.

I never really understood the degree of sadness that some people seemed to experience about their pet. After all, they are just animals. And, from an eternal context, I still believe a pet’s significance is over-rated.

But I realized something as I pondered whether or not these days are Drover’s last. A dog is indeed part of a family and indeed provides pleasure in-and-of himself. But a pet like Drover represents so much more.

As I think about Drover’s 13 years I see snapshots of our family and snapshots of myself. During his first night with us, I pulled his fluffy whining body up with me onto the couch where he finally fell asleep with me until morning.

I see him in the back yard when we lived “in town,” playing with the kids. I see him in on our little back deck in my daughters’ Little Tikes castle, a structure that he eventually commandeered for his dog house.

I can still hear him in the middle of a night in 1999, whining and crying out in that same back yard while I was desperately trying to go back to sleep in my warm bed. When the racket wouldn’t stop I went to investigate, and discovered he’d somehow gotten himself entangled in one of the swings of our kids’ swing set. It took me several minutes to free him from his contorted state, perhaps a sad foreshadowing of what one day lie ahead. Finally freed, he didn’t look back to thank me, but just wandered back off to bed, undoubtedly asleep again before I was.

One day I put together a chain link pen for Drover. I remember while constructing that thing, looking at the directions, frustrated no doubt, I got a call from my friend Al Reed. That day Al told me about the birth of his only son. After hanging up I went on back to putting together Drover’s pen.

The memories of Drover flow on. They are good memories of the dog himself, but more than that they are a thread that weaves our family together. Drover is somewhat of a final link to an earlier time when my identity was that of a father of young children.

As long as a dog lives, the family in some sense is linked to the era from which he first came. Drover is the last vestige of a time when I was young myself and the final composition of our family was still not yet fully revealed.

It is perhaps one of the great sorrows of family life that a child grows up while his or her dog grows old. I did it with the dog I got when I was eight years old. One day while I was at college my father called me and told me he’d taken Spotty (yes, I know, an original name) to Wayside Waifs in Kansas City to be put to sleep. It was time. Practically unnoticed during the presumed busyness of my collegiate life, I paused for but a moment, not fully realizing what a step out of boyhood and into manhood that day was.

And so it is with our children. Drover came into our lives as a free puppy that we weren’t even sure we really wanted. And since that time he has remained a fixture, outlasting other dogs as he presided over our kingdom with patriarchal formality. Never really playful, he just “showed up” every day. You knew he loved you, by his nuzzle and by his presence.

As Drover lies in the vet’s office I know it is only a matter of time. He may survive a few more days, or months, or even a year, but his vibrant dog’s life continues to ooze out of him. He is a sobering picture of the Apostle Paul’s statement that “the whole creation has been groaning with the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:23b) When he goes, a big part of my kids’ childhood will go with him. And a little bit of me as well.

I don’t know if dogs go to Heaven. If they do I know our focus on them will be minimal as we gaze on the beauty and glory of our Savior. But while on this temporal Earth, Drover has been a rich blessing to me and my family. Taken mostly for granted, his companionship and unconditional love will be sorely missed. In this picture of the Fall, we are reminded that our hope must be in eternity and in the grace that overcomes the groaning.

And now the cycle begins anew, as my youngest daughter’s puppy, just four months old, grows and frolics and provides a new context and a new backdrop for more years of precious family memories.

May they be as sweet as those given to us by Drover, our kind and loyal companion and friend.