Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Andrew Gold's Lonely Boy: A Critical Analysis

While strolling through my local Price Chopper last Spring, I was serenaded by the 1977 hit single Lonely Boy by Andrew Gold. Hearing the song somehow evoked memories of high school football two-a-days, and I was suddenly overcome by the urge to stink. My next move was to promptly go home and downloaded this iconic song from the Oracle of iTunes.   Because I’m avoiding preparing my turkey for its Thanksgiving frying, I decided to dissect this song for your pre-Thanksgiving pleasure. It’s a song about loss and the fleeting period of one’s life called toddlerhood. And it’s a song about a desperate longing to be an only child and to pummel all the other kids in first grade.

The song begins with a complicated piano descant consisting of two chords. These chords are pounded over and over until we are finally rescued by these opening lines:

He was born on a summer day, 1951
And with the slap of a hand
He had landed as an only son

From these lines we learn that the Lonely Boy is at his core a baby boomer. Born into the bliss of post-WWII Americana, the boy was slapped by the obstetrician (probably family practitioner) while his father bought cigars at the gift shop. For those in Generations X, Y, Z and Facebook, this was an ancient tradition that was obliterated when it became politically correct, if not mandated, that the birthing experience be a sort of clean-room family reunion. This was a paradigm shift from which we as a society won’t soon recover. But we digress…

The first verse continues and we learn of the Lonely Boy’s (let’s call him “LB”) parents’ first reaction to this new and emerging experience of parenthood:

His mother and father said "what a lovely boy"
We'll teach him what we learned
Ah yes, just what we learned
We'll dress him up warmly and
We'll send him to school
We'll teach him how to fight
To be nobody's fool

Most parents in 1951 would be thinking about protecting their newborn from nuclear holocaust or wondering what the impact of the Eisenhower Interstate System would be on urban sprawl. But not LB’s parents. Instead, they were obsessed with warm coats and street-fighting. Fortunately before we can fully contemplate the parents’ obsession with schoolyard bullying, we are rescued by the catchy and melodic chorus:

Oh, oh, what a lonely boy
Oh, what a lonely boy
Oh, what a lonely boy

We’re not sure why he was born lonely, but it may have had something to do picking on the babies in neo-natal intensive care. We learn little more about LB during the ensuing two years, and presume his father is busy attaching a pediatric punching bag on the aerial mobile in his crib and working on his rope-a-dope footwork as he’s fitted for his white high-top walking shoes. Then, finally, we get another glimpse through the window of LB’s life as the next verse pounds on….

In the summer of '53 his mother
Brought him a sister
But she told him "we must attend to her needs,
She's so much younger than you"
Well, he ran down the hall and he cried
Oh, how could his parents have lied?
When they said he was an only son
He thought he was the only one

This verse is rich and provides much fodder for psychological analysis. We learn that LB’s little sister, simply by virtue of being born, creates the greatest case of sibling rivalry observed in history until the creation—much later—of Drs. Miles and Frasier Crane. We also learn that LB was in fact a genius, capable, at birth, of discerning the meaning of being the “only son.” And we learn that his parents were not only abusive war mongers, but turned their back on young LB as he reached his second birthday, forcing him to terrorize the hallways of preschool and kindergarten on his own, devoid of any parental love, support, or munitions.

After Mr. Gold shouts the chorus a second time, we engage a killer guitar solo that lasts an electrifying 16 years. In reality, this solo only takes about 47 seconds of the song, but when it concludes we discover LB has reached adulthood and we find him dodging the Vietnam draft. Let’s rejoin the song as passes from the innocent Fifties into the turbulent psychedelic Sixties…

He left home on a winter day, 1969
And he hoped to find all the love
He had lost in that earlier time

Evidently his parental hatred had festered long enough. He had fought all the fights and attended all the schools and worn all the coats that his parents would fund. So he moves out, in search of the love that he lost when his sister had the audacity of being born. It’s at this point the story shifts to LB’s sister, and we’re saddened to learn that the dysfunction of this family has festered into a multi-generational slugfest. Consider:

Well, his sister grew up
And she married a man
He gave her a son
Ah yes, a lovely son
They dressed him up warmly
They sent him to school
They taught him how to fight
To be nobody's fool

Learning nothing from the train wreck that was her brother’s life, the sister married someone just like her father, and adopted the values and mores of her mother as they pertained to parenting on the edge. The sister and her husband employed the narrow focus that had rendered LB a ne’er-do-well. Ignoring the past, they were doomed to repeat it with the nephew that LB, sadly, would never meet.

After some more guitar licks, and some energetic keyboards, the piano reins us back in and we’re bid farewell as Andrew Gold sings one last time:

Oh, oh, what a lonely boy
Oh, what a lonely boy
Oh, what a lonely boy

What can we learn from this almost forgotten 1977 classic? You can do a lot with two hard charging chords. But when the music ends a few lessons remain. Surely we can teach our children well, and let them lead the way by discouraging violence. Sure, we need to dress them up warmly and we need to avoid truancy at all costs. But besides that, let’s encourage family unity and avoid sibling rivalry. Make sure your newborn understands there in fact may be other children that come into your nest. And most importantly, make sure you read him, in uteroHow to Win Friends and Influence People. That way he'll not be so lonely in the hospital nursery.

And maybe he'll stick around past his 18th birthday.
Editors Note: Follow this link to watch Andrew Gold's performance of Lonely Boy on Youtube.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Ready, Fire, Aim

As we approach Independence Day, our nation’s 234th Birthday, the staff at Finley River would like to explore some ways we who live in the country celebrate this historic holiday vis-a’-vis our city-dwelling counterparts. The chief difference can be summarized in one word—bottlerocket (which my spell checker says is in fact two words). The term bottle rocket has been around for millennia. In fact, most historians agree the projectile itself predates the invention of the bottle. The word(s) bottle rocket find their origin in an extinct Chinese dialect where it meant “firecracker on bamboo sold at six-for-one.”

You see, we country folk have a huge advantage over our city slicking brethren. We may freely purchase, detonate, and use as legal tender the bottle rocket while our urban friends may do so only at their peril. The bottle rocket, astonishingly, is illegal in most municipalities. In some cities all fireworks are outlawed, but the purpose of this column is not to criticize any municipal corporation which has a name beginning with “The People’s Republic of….”

But many, many, American municipalities, even those who freely promote fireworks extravaganzas, have passed ordinances against the bottle rocket ordnance. These laws have forced urbanites to conduct clandestine day trips to the country to buy black market bottle rockets with the express purpose of smuggling them back to suburbia, and in some extremely chilling cases, into the Central Business District. In many instances, these black market bottle rockets are then fired toward unsuspecting cedar shake shingles.

We’d like to suggest today that the bottle rocket has been much maligned in suburbia because the city dweller has not learned the proper way to enjoy the bottle rocket. Even a cursory observation of Fourth of July activities has shown us that the bottle rocket is not a fire hazard if it is never aimed higher than a roof line. In the country this is not a factor because we are too busy shooting them at each other. When your brother, cousin, or rural mail carrier is the target, the fire hazard is non-existent. (Granted, an exception may arise if your rural mail carrier happens to be hiding from you on the roof. If this happens, then all bets are off but we recommend cooler heads prevail and you issue an “ally ally income free” to this important Federal employee)

You see, while country folk are enjoying bottle rockets in this fashion, city dwellers are placing them in bottles, lighting them, and watching them soar at anywhere from a 45 to 90 degree trajectory. Said trajectory is like a beautiful football punt with great hang time that lands behind the line of scrimmage. It may look pretty, but it doesn’t accomplish its purpose, which in our case is by-and-large the infliction of pain on a trusted relative. Further, it offers the perfect trajectory to end up smoldering on a bunch of shake shingles. Not good.

Another key difference between urban and rural firework detonation can only be understood by exploring the eerie world of the so-called “Ancient Mystical Elements.” Evidently some philosopher of antiquity (with too much time on his hands) sought to distill all of matter into four elements—Earth, Water, Air and Fire.

Silly Philosopher! Evidently he conjured up this theory without consulting the so-called “Periodic Chart of the Elements.” Anyone who might have slept through Chemistry class, with their head cocked just right, would know that there are way more than four “elements.” In fact today we have a whopping 118 known elements to place and color on our Periodic Chart—and this doesn’t count other items which are currently being studied for elevation to elemental status—like Silly String.

But what does this all have to do with today’s topic--Fireworks in the Country? After all, everyone knows that gunpowder is mostly carbon (periodic symbol “C”). The point is this: We here in the country don’t just detonate fireworks (i.e. “Fire”) via the Air or from the ground (i.e. “Earth”), we also consider Water a key part of our July Fourth pleasure.

You see, a lot can be learned about our fragile ecosystems by detonating fireworks in the numerous ponds, streams, cisterns, & “potty ponds” that we have out here in the country. For instance, if you have a need for a fish census in your pond but haven’t the time to catch and tag all your crappie, then anyone knows you simply light and casually drop an M-80 off your dock and your fish will magically come to the surface and plead “count me!” Soon after they are counted they will regain their bearings, collect their "inards," and return to last year’s Christmas tree (crappie bed).

Fireworks may also be aimed in the general direction of one’s “potty pond.” Potty ponds are bodies of water which hold “effluent.” They make great targets for a hydroponic pyrotechnic displays. Many country people have found such efforts superior ways to deliver “fertilizer” to key portions of acreage in the vicinity of their sweet corn. You simply miss these opportunities if you live in an urban, suburban, or other traffic-signaled environment.

We realize we could continue by offering additional exhibits on the differences between urban and rural fireworks. However, it is obvious that this post is deteriorating rapidly and we don’t want to spoil anyone’s appetite for homemade ice cream (we prefer to make ours with sweetened condensed milk AND heavy whipping cream by the way).

And, it’s time to actually quit writing and go outside and let all the fun commence. I think I’ll be able to do that as soon as I get that pesky rural mail carrier off my roof.


Editor’s Note(s):

1. In case there is any doubt, we are JOKING here. We are strong advocates of fireworks safety and encourage the few of you who are actually reading this to discharge all fireworks safely and under the supervision of an adult! For more information on fireworks safety, please visit the following link:

2. We are also serious about something else that may have appeared to be a joke above. We really do utilize sweetened condensed milk AND heavy whipping cream in the same homemade ice cream recipe. This is very hard on the ice cream freezer’s motor, so beware.

3. No brother, cousin, rural mail carrier, fish or sweet corn was harmed, contemplated to be harmed, or contaminated with organic matter in the writing of this column.

4. We are joking that Silly String is really being considered as an “element.” It is actually being considered as the Eighth Wonder of the Modern World.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Considering a Day Trip(s) to the U.S. Open

Ah, Pebble Beach…the greatest meeting of land, water, and unadulterated greed. As we prepare for this week’s United States Open, to be held at the venerable Pebble Beach Golf Links, imagine the following exchange taking place in a bedroom near a master bath....

“Hi honey, I’m home!” says husband to wife.

“You’re late dear!” says wife to husband. “I tried to call you but your phone just went to voicemail. I was worried sick! Did you have to work late again?”

“No dear,” says husband, “remember, I went to the U.S. Open today. We discussed that this morning at 3:57 a.m. while I was leaving for the airport.”

“Oh that’s right sweetie,” says wife, “You’ll have to forgive me, my Advil P.M. was still hard at work keeping me comatose when you kissed me goodbye. That seems like yesterday!”

“Well, sweet cakes, that’s because it was yesterday,” says husband. “It’s now 1:45 a.m. on Friday. Yesterday was mostly Thursday!

“Why, I declare,” says wife to husband, “I guess it is Friday. At least you can sleep-in tomorrow and go to work late.” (The wife’s voice fades as the husband steps in the shower near the master bath)

The husband eventually emerges from the shower, shaves, and puts on new golf attire. “Honey, I’m off again to the Open. I’ll be home again in about 22.5 hours. Would you mind washing this plaid Izod outfit you bought me at the thrift store? I want to wear it again Saturday.”

“Saturday?!” The wife sits bolt upright in bed. “What do you mean Saturday?” Her slumber is now supplanted by slow burning but accelerating wrath.

“Would you rather I wore it Sunday? I can wear the argyle Satur-“

“Sunday?!?” The wife gasps. “But that’s Father’s Day! You were supposed to assemble the grill we bought you then cook for the neighborhood!”

“Darling, we’ve been over this a thousand times. I’m commuting this year to the United States Open. I went to great lengths to explain this to you while you were alphabetizing the spices a few weeks ago.” The husband reaches into his briefcase to reveal a camouflage dossier and travel itinerary. “Once again, our recreation budget would not allow me to book an affordable hotel room within 100 miles of the Monterrey Peninsula. I had two free flights on Southwest and found deals on two other airlines for $300 each—round trip. One night at the Monterey Marriott is $757.78. I sleep about as well on the plane as I would at the Marriott. So…I’m commuting. Now give me a big smooch and fry a couple of eggs over easy…please honey lover?!”

If the above scenario seems far-fetched, think again. If this story’s dialogue seems slightly over-the-top, you’re right. But only the wife’s anger at her husband has been embellished under the umbrella of “literary license.”

You see, golf fans everywhere who would like to attend this great golf tournament are being forced to reconsider because of the outlandish and opportunistic price gouging perpetrated by the hospitality industry in and around Pebble Beach and the larger Monterey/Carmel/Pacific Grove area of California. Even thought tickets to the event are reasonable and at least three airports—San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose—offer travelers reasonable airfares, the tournament attendee is slapped in the face when attempting to find a room—any room— in an inn.

Even rooms at Motel 6, the brand whose spokesman Tom Bodett promises to “leave the light on” for you, have been going for rates exceeding $300 per night. So much for “economy lodging.”

So why wouldn’t an astute golf fan consider community to the Open to avoid paying these outrageous room charges and their accompanying “hospitality taxes?” I believe the idea has merit.

Originally at this point in this “essay” we had planned to demonstrate the infinite wisdom demonstrated by commuting to Pebble Beach this year. However, in the interest of sound journalism we must confess that the idea has a few holes. Not the least of which we’ve discovered is traffic, drive time, traffic, unprecedented inconvenience, and the lack of a direct flight from Kansas City International to Pebble Beach’s number 1 Fairway.

So I’ll leave it to Michael Lewis (The Blindside, Moneyball) to research the market inefficiencies of commuting to Pebble Beach from Garden City, Missouri. For now, we’ve done our job. We’ve floated the idea out there for the general public and academia to digest.

Thus, instead of flying home tomorrow night after Day 1's competition, we'll just sing to our GPS System: Do you know the way to San Jose?

Monday, May 31, 2010

One Man's "Late" is Another Man's "Early"

Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of summer. As such, it’s a time for us to ask ourselves some serious and probing questions: Will the bubbling crude in the Gulf ever be stopped? Are we about to enter a double-dip recession? At what point on the American calendar is it too late to take down my 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 would snicker at those in the general vicinity of our neighborhood who had seemed to have lost their stepladder on New Year’s Day. We gawked with dismay at those who would drive in and out of their driveways each spring morning, apparently oblivious that Santa’s sleigh and reindeer were still on the roof above them, laughing at their unprecedented display of sloth.

So now, here on May 31, I stand sufficiently humbled. I’ve become the loser of my childhood, as my Christmas lights remain firmly attached to my house instead of tangled in the attic as in previous years. But I’m even in worse shape than anybody I can remember from my youth. I remember no neighbor or other human homeowner (circa 1970’s or any other non-leisure suit bearing epoch), who couldn’t take care of this light-taking-down business by Memorial Day. My Christmas lights now stare down at me each day, a mocking monument to my inability to even master one of the seven habits of highly effective numbskulls.

I find solace in the fact that even though tomorrow is June 1, the season we know as summer technically doesn’t begin for another three weeks, when one of the most important solstices of the summer—the MLB June Amateur Draft—takes place. This critical solstice, while important, should not be confused with the lesser-known “Summer Equinox,” which does not exist. Great Astronomers and weathermen since Galileo Galilei 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 three weeks until 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 2010 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 latte, 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.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

On the Precipice of 50

Today marks the 49th Anniversary of my birth, which means if I remember any trigonometry at all I’m embarking on my 50th year. It’s an odd phenomenon in our culture, that we can't just be the age we are, we're always going on the next year. So no longer 16 going on 17, I'm 49 going on THE END.

So here I stand, peeking over this cliff with my fiftieth birthday staring back at me from below. It taunts me, really, with so many questions that yet remain unanswered. Things like how do we attain world peace; who is the family of man; and what, really, is the function of the gall bladder? Will I figure any of these things out before May 18, 2011?

What is there to show for these 49 years? Oh sure, there were some highlights in the early years. Dirty diapers, tetanus shots, leisure suits, and high school graduation to name a few. But these feats required little effort, little moxie. Showing up was sufficient.

Then I entered my “adult years,” went to college, and learned new and important and world-changing things like how to bounce a quarter off a table. My education there was not limited to parlor games, however. I also learned to expand my worldview and recognize that we are citizens of a larger planet, so I purposed to learn the Greek alphabet and to hate the Ruskies’ hockey team.

In college I was also introduced to fashion. I learned about the invention of a new color called argyle and the art of wearing a polo inside a button down (I actually never did this—thankfully). I learned that it really was o.k. to wear shorts that showed way too much of my legs and that wearing Topsiders did not mean I had to like Ted Turner. I even learned something about my masculinity. Yes, I could wear pink and plaid and not get beaten up.

But I had to leave college and grow up and find a job so I went to graduate school because my parents let me. There I learned that not everyone thought like I did. There I learned that some people contemplated more lofty, weighty, and meaty things than choosing between pepperoni and Italian sausage pizzas. There I learned that people thought my then-hero John Ashcroft was a “fringe idiot,” and that Marxism was not only a viable but preferable system to which you could hitch your proverbial wagon. But I survived graduate school and they did not manage to convert me to Marxism nor even dissuade me from voting for Reagan in his second term.

So after that I did the only Marxist thing I knew to do and went to work for the government. While working for the government I learned how to violate fundamental constitutional rights by annexing entire subdivisions into the city limits while the unsuspecting residents watched the Cosby Show.

My learning was not limited to city planning, however. Valuable, life-changing concepts were introduced to me. Things like “comp time” and “personal days” and “field work (on the golf course)” began to capture my full attention. Other "life skills" were acquired, like how to stretch a 15 minute coffee break into a referendum on the jelly doughnut.

Sometime during “the government years” I married my best friend and we embarked on a bit of a kamikaze 23 years that have added five children and multiple dogs and even a rodent or two to the mix. We moved from the suburbs then to the exurbs then finally to the country. If the goal was to move as far away from civilization as possible, then only Siberia remains.

But I still vow to see many questions answered before I'm actually 50. During the next year I resolve to finally and fully understand terminology such as Universal Life, Double Indemnity, and Oil Viscosity. It is my quest.

CAUTION: We will now shift into a serious gear....

Ecclesiastes 7:1 says that "the day of a man's death is better than the day of his birth." I often wonder how that can be, and can only understand it at the Cross of Christ. Somewhere below the precipice of 50, 60, 70 and beyond is a Cleft in the Rock. And it's there that everything makes sense and that all things are made new. Aged and ravaged and diseased bodies will be made whole once more. And all the groanings and longings of creation will be quieted and satisfied.

And all my questions will finally be answered. Better yet, they'll be rendered insignificant.

Photos Compliments of Michael R. Finley

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Walkin' in a Winter Blunderland

In the words of the great military officer candidate Zach Mayo: "I got no place left to go." With this column, that is.  Back in January, with about 36 hours to spare, I decided to enter this year's Erma Bombeck Writing Contest. My offering was slapped into the proverbial stands like Cole Alrich swatting away a layup at Allen Field House. So since "they" didn't publish it, I figured I'd throw it out here so it could endure some more abuse. Please read this then follow the link to the winners' entries and tell me where I went wrong.  I think my main problem is I can't write even a salutation in less than 450 words. That limit was the laughingly small number of words I could use for the contest entry. How can anyone develop a funny story, let alone a timeless masterpiece in 450 words?  So I guess I'm not in the business of winning contests, I'm in the business of crafting timeless masterpieces.

If you believe that, you should join Zach Mayo-Naise by dropping and giving me 20.

Winter Blunderland...

Some realizations strike abruptly, like a recent epiphany that I hadn’t seen my ribcage since Reagan’s second term. Others come slowly, like THIS WINTER’S NOT ENDING. Our family spent Christmas in Alabama, so we missed the snow that blanketed our ten acres. Wondering what remained of the White Christmas back home, we pointed our two cars northward on December 27, negotiating the 674 miles loaded with kids, presents, and Social Networking. Although our state’s snowplow had indeed cleared our road, when we reached our property we discovered a massive snow barricade between our cars and driveway—it seemed to say: “Merry Christmas from the D-O-T.” I then did what any lucid parent with a wife and five children looking on would do—I floored it. Suddenly stopped, I jumped out to motion my son (driving the other car) over to the shoulder. He interpreted my complicated hand gestures as “Son, drive your car into the ditch.” We spent the next two hours engaged in activities therapists would describe as “family bonding.” We excavated the first car, “log-chained” the second, and portaged presents, suitcases and French fries down 177’ of icy driveway. Welcome home.

The next wave of snow wreaked havoc New Year’s Eve as I employed my turkey fryer to boil some birds in 375⁰ peanut oil. Left to cool, the fryer was commandeered by our “outside dogs” (the ones we forget to feed). It was later uncovered near our pond. Fortunately, after the first snow I had told the kids to put the four shovels back in the barn. That explains why they could not now be found, undoubtedly in the general vicinity of the driveway but lying invisible under snow.

Snow followed snow, ushering in subzero temperatures and wind chills—an invitation to all mice within two miles to hunker down inside our garage. To the mice’s pleasure, the garage refrigerator’s door was left open. Finally one of us got around to closing it. The mice probably didn’t complain too much; the temps in the fridge were warmer than those in the garage. Good thing we’d stocked up with an array of fine meats and cheeses.

My despair continued through January. But just when it seemed no end was in sight, I awoke this morning and glimpsed a sod-colored oasis. A beautiful oval patch of brown grass was peeking from above the subterranean warmth of our septic tank. Like Noah receiving a dove’s olive leaf, it was my first sign that travail was subsiding.

Like a groundhog that didn’t see his shadow, I’ve decided to celebrate. I think I’ll fire up that peanut oil and see what I’ve got left to cook from the fridge.


Check out the Global winner and honorable mentionees of this year's contest:
Humor Category - Global

First Place: Barb Best - Sherman Oaks, CA, United States

Honorable Mention: Nancy Berk - Pittsburgh, PA, United States

Honorable Mention: Amy Mullis - Moore, SC, United States

Honorable Mention: Bob Shirley - Kingsland, GA, United States

Honorable Mention: Sarah Stirman - Abilene, TX, United States

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Truman Corners: Trials and Tributes

Author’s Note: Maybe I’m too much of a neophyte in the craft of writing to have seen it coming. When one of my Facebook friends posted a nostalgic status update last fall about Grandview Plaza and Truman Corners, I immediately conceived of writing what I thought would be a witty, humorous piece from the perspective of a young boy about a shopping center of his youth and the perceived trials and tribulations with which it was fraught. But I’m learning that stories and columns and “pieces” rarely leave the station of my mind and arrive, unaltered, at their intended destinations. Somewhere along the way they get hijacked, commandeered, or just plain take me on a Sunday drive in the country. Such is the case with what you’re about to read. The hoped-for wit came slowly; the humor sluggishly, and I’m all the better for it. I hope you enjoy, and I hope you appreciate, even if just a little better, someone who shaped you into who you are today.

Truman Corners Circa Early 1960s. Photo Courtesy Jackson County Advocate

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dollar General and Trickling Pork

I'm pleased to announce the Federal stimulus package is officially working. How do I know this? Because Garden City, Missouri (pop. 1,500) just welcomed the arrival of its first national retailer--Dollar General Stores.

I live in the Kansas City hinterlands, in "the country" so to speak, some fifteen minutes from the closest Wal-Mart and almost an hour from a regional mall. So imagine our joy when Dollar General arrived, just four miles away in Garden City, to give us another outlet for the purchase of Spam, potted meat and other products which were once part of a pig. But seriously, heretofore our trips to Garden City have only involved excursions to C-Store Casey's to purchase staples like pizza and essential items like vegetable pizza. Now that we have DG, an entire 9,014 square feet of shopping paradise awaits.

If you live in a slightly larger metropolitan area, say, Tokyo, you may at this point be somewhat envious to hear of our new Dollar General since you can't shop like we do. My only advice to you is to be patient, "sit tight" and hope market forces (Economic Stimulus Money) visit a yen near you. In the meantime, try not to salivate as I give you a "virtual tour" of DG's "merchandise mix" (a complicated formula which measures the ratio of Mossy Oak to Hormel products). Perhaps you can begin developing your own personal shopping list for the day Economic Stimulus monies "trickle up" and a Dollar General finally comes to your town.

Dollar General's website says the company stands for convenience, quality brands and low prices. The company also boasts that it carries "items you just can't live without, you know, things like detergent, soap, socks, underwear…" and as I observed personally, ladies French purses and "Exfoliating Moisturizing Ointment."

As my initial stroll through the store revealed, Dollar General's most popular aisles are dedicated to health and beauty products. These products include well known brands like Crest, Sauve, and Tylenol. But if one digs deeper, an entire cosmos of store-branded merchandise unfolds before you. Men will recognize Old Spice as a manly fragrance worn primarily by reeking fishermen at sea. Old Spice is a very popular brand among "men of a certain age," but juxtaposed at eye level with Old Spice Body Wash was Dollar General's brand—"BodySense." I was impressed by the deep discount offered by BodySense over the Old Spice brand—so impressed that I purchased some BodySense Invigorating Sport Body Wash for $2.50 (compared to the Old Spice version at $3.75). I am happy report that I was not disappointed in my purchase and the BodySense brand body wash is definitely thicker than water.

Sense is not limited to one's body at Dollar General, however. Consider the chain's health brand "HealthSense." HealthSense produces an array of products for the cost-conscious consumer. Because HealthSense does not have to spend costly fees on advertising and brand development strategies, it doesn't have to come up with catchy names for its products. Consider this product's name instead: "Maximum Strength Heartburn Prevention." That product does the consumer a favor by not wasting his or her valuable time trying to figure out what's inside the box. No confusion with pesky brand names like Tums or Pepacid

HealthSense shines most when considering its baby products. Some of my favorites are "Infants' Gas Relief" and "Creamy (as opposed, presumably, to Chunky) Diaper Rash Ointment." Where were these products when my wife and I were new parents? Perhaps receiving my greatest admiration was what must be HealthSense's flagship product—the venerable "Freezer Pop Electrolyte Solution Variety Pack." That's good news for you parents who still have barfing infants. Back when my children were babies and had lost valuable and helpful electrolytes, they demanded variety. Sadly no variety was available and we only had orange pops to stick in the freezer. Now DG's pops are delivered in a host of flavors and colors, allowing you to now sport a kaleidoscope of vomit stains on your pajamas.

Now for my favorite section—Food. In the DG freezer case you'll find Tombstone Pizzas and TGI Fridays Wings. But DG stays true to its Southern roots by offering a customer favorite—Curly's Pulled Pork Sandwiches. The store's menu also sports a variety of packaged cookies, crackers, and cereals for your pre-diabetic pleasure. Here Dollar General also offers a value brand—Clover Valley. Clover Valley offers a veritable smorgasbord of popular food stuffs like peanut butter ($2.50 compared to JIF at $3.50) and soy sauce. I can go along with Clover Valley on many items, but I draw the line on the soy sauce. I'm neither buying nor eating any Chinese condiment that doesn't have some sort of authentic name. Can you imagine going to P.F. Chang's, ordering Moo Goo Gai Pan, then asking your server for some Clover Valley soy sauce? No Sir.

Men are not forgotten at DG. In fact, at least one-half aisle is dedicated to hardware and automotive products. A respectable assortment of motor oils and shop towels are available, and, for the adventuresome male with a sensitive side, Dollar General carries Bahama Bag Company's "Tahitian Vanilla Scent Pouch" for placement under the seat of your car. From the looks of the pickups and SUVs in our DG's parking lot, I'd say they should've conducted a little better market research before putting that product in our store.

If you don't yet have a Dollar General near your billfold, don't lose heart. The Federal Stimulus Monies are just kicking in, and soon you'll be able to catch the rising tide we've experienced here in Garden City.

Ben Bernanke and the United States Congress will get their way, and when they do there'll be Curly's Pulled Pork in every pot.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Does Anyone Care What I Had For Dinner Last Night?

There's a book out there about blogging that's called No One Cares What You Had for Lunch. I haven't read it, but presumably it gives the aspiring blogger some ideas to spice up his posts so he's not reduced to torturing his readers with excruciating details about the contents of his lunch bucket.Today you are in for a treat because no one has written a book called No One Cares What You Had for Dinner Last Night. If such a book existed, I would refrain from telling you that last night I ate what I believe to have been the best meal of my life.

In fact, this meal was so satisfying that I told my wife that if for some reason I had a lapse in judgment or character and became a serial killer at some point in the future and that my serial-killing activities resulting in my arrest, trial, conviction, failed appeals to the Governor, and no stay of execution, that this meal would be my last requested meal. Sort of like, "what do you want on your Tombstone (Pizza) sort of meal." Although I don't intend to go down that path, at least my Death Row Last Meal Menu has been established so that my wife doesn't have to fret over that part of my dying process and she can instead be consumed with other minor details pertaining to the location of the checkbook, the existence or not of college savings plans and ask me questions like "Babe, just wondering--does your life insurance policy cover death by lethal injection?"

My wife and I actually celebrated Valentine's Day early because we were saving the rest of the weekend for more romantic activities like attending sports meetings and games and visiting prospective colleges for our son. And if those activities don’t end up being romantic enough, we'll try to clean the house. Or at least I may provide a romantic type of moral support (watching a college basketball game) as she cleans the house.

So our Valentine's Day was celebrated early at our favorite restaurant--J. Gilbert's in Overland Park, Kansas. J. Gilbert's prides itself in "Wood Fired Steaks" and has become our default or "go to" restaurant of choice. We've always enjoyed the food at J. Gilbert's, but last night it attained another level of excellence. It could have been the ambiance, or our seat by the fireplace or even the near starvation state we found ourselves in because of our entanglement with the South Beach Diet.

Sticking to the South Beach Diet might have been the key to success, as it guided our every selection. The appetizer of Beef Carpaccio was outstanding, although I had to avoid the accompanying bleu cheese cracker. Then we got down to business with the bleu cheese wedge salad and the surprise of the evening—butternut squash soup. As I ate this puree derived from fruit that’s part of the gourd family, I wondered why squash can’t just be squash. You’ve got your butternut squash and your acorn squash and your spaghetti squash. Squash seems to always have to have an adjective accompanying it. But then I started thinking about “summer squash” and the probability that I might receive about 27 loaves of zucchini bread next summer and thought I’d best get back to enjoying the soup.

We both ordered the same main course—a 4 oz. petite filet with four George’s Banks Scallops. I have to admit I’d never just had a steak that was only four ounces, but maybe that added to my appreciation of it. It was the best I’d ever had, period. It was even better than the ribeye I remembered having at Ponderosa as a kid. The scallops were joined by a double portion of sautéed spinach with an extra kick of garlic. This completed my high protein perfect storm.

Speaking of Perfect Storms, I stared admirably at my George’s Banks Scallops and thought of the dangerous fishing region from which these tasty morsels came. Then as my eyes glazed over two of the scallops turned into George Clooney’s eyes—and they were staring back at me. Creepy.

Fortunately my wife couldn’t eat all of her dinner. Usually she sends what she can’t finish my way, but last night I abstained. It was worth it when she gave them to me for today’s lunch (see above photo).

I would like to conclude by thanking you for allowing me to tell you about last night’s dinner. If this has really bored you, I encourage you to contact a literary agent and begin working on publishing that book called No One Cares What You Had for Dinner Last Night. Even though you had to read this column and thus haven’t escaped unscathed, it’s not too late for you to help your fellow man.

Now let’s see if I can find a mozzarella stick.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

I am privy to information which could change the course of human events, or at least what you think about the next time you eat salmon. I've been harboring this dark secret for at least five days now, and it's got me rattled. I need to come clean with it, you know, get it "off my chest," because if I don't I'm liable to forget about it and then when I remember it again it will be too late to write a humor column about it.

Before I divulge this information though, I need to ask you to promise me you'll not let my wife know you've read this column/blog/whatever you call this venue for posting really irrelevant, meaningless, and self-promoting information. It will be our secret. Oh, she knows about this information—you know, the human-events-course-changing-information. She knows about that information. She just doesn't know that I'm going to tell you about it. That's what needs to be our little secret. She would be mortified if she knew I disclosed this information. And besides being mortified, she'd be "caused to experience shame, humiliation, or wounded pride; humiliated." (i.e., mortified) But that happens all the time around here. The real issue is she'd be mad at me. And let's face it; life is way too short to have your wife mad at you more often than she's mortified.

You might be asking yourself at this juncture: "But won't she be reading this blog?" To which, I would answer: "Don't rightly think so." To which you might respond: "Please get on with the story." To which I might then ask: "Why don't you want to know why she doesn't read the blog?" To which you would then say: "Isn't that self-evident?" To which I would most surely say: "That's hitting below the Mendoza Line!" At which point you might wonder what having a baseball batting average of less than .200 has to do with the above reference to salmon...and that, my friends, is how I draw you back into my story.

I'd like to utilize a few more words and paragraphs to weave a gluten-free web of mystery, intrigue, and boredom, but it'd be pretty light on the mystery and intrigue. Thus, I'll just come out and say it: There has been, and likely remains, a rodent in our refrigerator…. (allowing for ample time to gasp)

If you're at this point exhaling and wondering what's with people who live in the country eating squirrel and porcupine and the like, you need to understand that this rodent is alive. Yes, ALIVE! This rodent, the one of which I'm speaking, is neither filleted nor field dressed. It has not been prepared in any fashion for consumption of people who live in Cass County, Missouri, or for that matter any other county that reluctantly gave up cock fighting.

Now to fully understand this predicament you need to trace its roots to the South Beach Diet. That's where our woes began. My wife and I decided to start the South Beach Diet because my doctor told me I had acquired something called "metabolic syndrome." Now I'm all for syndromes if you can handle them. They're better than diseases and usually don't require medical "procedures." But I told him I'd never taken steroids in my life. Sure, I could hit a baseball at least to the third baseman "back in the day," but that was during the dead ball era. The closest I'd ever gotten to steroids was when I grabbed a couple of Omega 3 chews at GNC.

Anyway, the South Beach Diet is big on protein and down on carbs. So, we went to the grocery store and bought a variety of meats, cheeses, and ricotta cheese. We asked our children to put these items out in our extra refrigerator in our garage. We need an extra refrigerator in the garage because the one in our kitchen contains approximately 473 different types of condiments. These condiments are designed to be spread, slathered, and squirted on various meats, cheeses, and lesser proteins, but since there is no room for these in the inside fridge—because of the condiments—they are placed in the fridge in the garage. One would think the "inside refrigerator" would be utilized to hold staples like milk, orange juice, and leftover pizza. But if these "staples" were placed in the inside fridge, there'd be no room for important condiments like cranberry horseradish sauce and pepper jelly and jalapeno slaw—items that are used at least once a month and need to be handy for just the right sandwich.

I should note here that if you ask your children to place food in any refrigerator, but especially one outside of your general viewing paradigm, you must ask them to actually close the refrigerator door upon placing the items inside the fridge. This isn't really important for keeping items cold, because if your fridge is in the garage and it's winter it is likely to be warmer inside the fridge than in the general vicinity of the garage. However, the bigger picture suggests the door be closed so that unwanted pets, neighbors, or even rodents, are kept out. But if you want your refrigerator to say to all area rats and mice: "allee allee income free," then by all means teach your children not to close the door. Or teach them, like we did, to close the door after the critters have made their way inside.

How do I know that a rodent is in our refrigerator? Well, I don't for sure. But last Wednesday when I opened a package of salmon I noticed the cellophane had a hole in it. I didn't think this was too big of a deal until I opened the cellophane and discovered that little black pieces of Styrofoam were underneath the cellophane—"shavings" if you will. Upon further investigation, I noticed that a piece of the salmon's flesh was missing and that the missing flesh was eerily shaped like the Strait of Gibraltar. Thus, I deduced that a live rodent had gotten into our refrigerator and had been treating himself to fresh seafood and miscellaneous cholesterol. What did I do with the salmon? I did what any red-blooded American man with a knife in his hand would do—I trimmed the Strait of Gibraltar off of it. Then I got to cookin' it.

Well, I guess once this story is out in the open it's not as bad as it sounds (unless you're my wife, then it's worse). But there's more. Most people would rummage through their fridge if this happened to them. They'd go out to the freezing garage in a haz-mat suit and quarantine all of the food then scrub it down with Clorox. But I'm way ahead of them. I figure the rodent will get cold at some point and head for the door. Then he'll play into my hand. He'll undoubtedly find the large rat-strength glue trap I placed inside the refrigerator. That'll get him. I just hope he's not staring up at me the next time I open the door. By the way, does anyone really release the rodent "gently" out of these glue traps while they're still alive? That's a good one... like he couldn't find his way back to my Ro-Tel dip.

But seriously, a growing fear, after doing some forensic study on the bite mark, is that it may be one of the larger rodents. Larger than a mouse, rat or porcupine, it may be the Mother of All Rodents—the Capybara. The Capybara is the largest rodent known to men like me who visit Zoo World in Panama City, Florida. If there were a Capybara in our refrigerator, however, there'd be no room left for much else, as they grow to over 4' tall and weigh in at 140 lbs. That's a big ol' rodent!

So if I go out to the garage tomorrow morning and find a Capybara in my refrigerator, I'll first "release him gently" from the glue trap. Then I'm going to encourage him to build on that meal of salmon and join me on the South Beach Diet.