Friday, February 05, 2016

A Dude and a Bro Walk Into a Bar

When did I become a "bro?"

Not a brother, a "bro." As in, when I walk into my favorite local taco place, and they ask, "s'up, Bro?"

I look around. Did someone walk in after I did? Is there a frat boy with a backwards baseball cap and sunglasses pushed up on his forehead behind me? A hipster wearing skinny jeans and a flannel shirt in 90 degree weather?

Nope, it's me. I'm the only one there.

I'm the "bro."

And this guy, who's also wearing a backwards baseball cap and sunglasses on his forehead, is talking to me.

"So you want some tacos, Bro?"

I hate being called "bro."

It's awkward and overly familiar, like me and my new bud should be gym posing with other frat boys, proudly displaying our puka shell necklaces and tribal tattoos. And now this guy thinks we're bros, and should address each other as such.

Except I will not.

"Whattya want on your tacos, Bro? Steak or chicken, Bro? Bro, steak or chicken? The steak's really dope, yo. . . Bro."

"Son, I'm twice your age."

"Son? You're not my father."

"Yeah, and I'm not your brother either."

Except it doesn't happen that way. I'm more polite than that. Instead, I'll just sit quietly and eat my really dope steak tacos. Later, I'll complain about it to anyone who'll listen.

"Hey, Bro, d'you like the tacos!" my taco bro calls after me, as I leave. "Was I right about those steak tacos, Bro?"

"Yeah, they were totally dope, Bro! Thanks for the dope tacos, Bro!" I shout back.

No, I don't. That's a lie. I could never do that. I'd feel like an idiot. I've never been comfortable using slang, other than calling things "awesome," or using a well-timed swear word. Maybe I should try 1920s slang instead.

"They're the bee's knees, and how!" I'll shout to the big cheese. "Don't take any wooden nickels!" Then I'd ankle it out of there, and make tracks back to the mill.

The only nickname I ever use is "dude," and even then, you have to earn it. I call my 13-year-old son "dude." As in "hey, dude, can you mow the lawn?" Or "Dude, don't stand in front of the TV!" And I call some of my friends, "dude." But I don't go scattering it around indiscriminately, like pearls before swine bros.

It's not that I don't like nicknames, it's that I can't pull them off. When I use slang, I sound like Leonard Hofstadter trying to sound "street." I can't reel off a "s'up, bro?" or "nice hat, Vincent van Bro," partly because I'm not cool enough, but mostly I just think it's idiotic.

"Hey, Man, what can I get started for you?" my barista asks me.

"I'd like a latte, Other Man."

What do I say to a grown man calling me "man?" Referring to him as "barista" just seems dismissive and rude.

"Barista, I require a tankard of your finest coffee! Prithee, where is thy organic sugar?!"

"It's over there, next to the creamer, dawg."

If there's anything I hate more than "bro," it's "dawg." I've got so much gray in my beard that Gandalf is giving me the stink-eye. So what makes you think I would answer to "dawg?"

I'm also not fond of "buddy," "my man," or "homey."

So why do these damn hipsters keep addressing me like we're peers? Broskis drinking some brewskis? Broseph and the Amazing Technicolor Bro-Coats?

I appreciate that you think I'm youthful and hip enough to be addressed like we're in the same posse, or whatever you young people call it. But it's a little disconcerting when AARP has me in their "almost there" file, and some of my high school classmates are already grandparents, but my bartender wants to know if I want to play hacky sack and listen to Phish.

It's not that I think I'm better than everyone else, or that I just want these kids to get off my lawn. I'd just like to be addressed like a normal adult who doesn't live in his parents' basement, or in a beer-stink house with six other 'roided-out dudebros who spend all their free time at the gym.

I just hope they avoid the worst possible insult anyone could direct at me. Something that's sure to ruin my day, and possibly even the worse.

"Can I get you anything, sir?"

Oh man, that's the worst! "You're killing me, bro!"

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Am I Too Young to Carry a Handkerchief?

Maybe it's because I'm getting older. Maybe it's because I moved to a warm weather climate. Maybe it's because I'm turning into my father.

Whatever it is, I bought a handkerchief. I bought a whole pack of them, in fact. I did it so I could mop my brow in the Florida heat.

Another sign I'm turning into my father: I just said "mop my brow" without feeling like an old-timey English teacher.

I don't like the word "mop." It sounds gross, like an actual mop. The word just sort of flops there, like a moist, dirty jellyfish. So to say "mop my brow" just gives me an icky feeling all over.

I also hate the word "moist" for the same reason. The phrase "mop your moist brow" may make me throw up. And then we'll need a real mop.

I decided I had reached an age where I needed a new solution for forehead sweat. I'm no longer a college kid who can just wear a baseball hat. Once you hit your 30s, you need to stop wearing a baseball hat during normal work hours. Also, once you graduate college, you have to stop wearing them backward.

Which means I had to start carrying handkerchiefs.

The most important question to answer was whether it was pronounced "hanker-CHEEF" or "hanker-CHIFF." And whether the 'd' was silent. (It is. It always is.) My dad pronounces it hanker-CHEEF, so I decided to follow suit.

I called it a "hankie" once, but my kids laughed at me, so I quit. I'm already self-conscious enough about carrying them, I didn't want to make it worse. I mean, I'm reaching the age where men can just be dorky with a minimal effort.

Last week, I had a nightmare that I was wearing dark socks and sandals.

But I've realized that handkerchiefs are very useful, and wonder why I didn't start carrying one sooner. That's apparently another thing that happens as we get older. Men start carrying more useful things, and wonder why we never did before.

My father-in-law typically carries a pocket knife, two lighters, a key pouch with a small pair of nail clippers, and about three dollars in loose change. That's in addition to his wallet, a small notebook, and two pens in his shirt pocket. And that's just for going around town. When he flies, he carries so much stuff, he has to gate check his sport coat.

This isn't a big deal for women. They've been carrying stuff in their purse from the time they were little girls. But for boys and young men, it's not cool to carry stuff. Once you hit a certain age, you stop being cool, and it's open season on looking like a dork in front of your kids.

I'm still clinging to my coolness by hiding my handkerchief in my pocket.

However, once you start carrying a handkerchief, you realize they're very useful. Like a towel from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, except smaller, thinner, and less absorbent. Also, you can't flick your friends in the ass with a twirled up handkerchief.

Over the last few months, I've used mine to mo — wipe my forehead, clean my glasses, clean my computer screen, and even wipe my mouth when I lost my napkin. Of course, it goes in the laundry at the end of the day, because I don't want to carry a sweat-stink hanky with hamburger juice on it.

The one thing I have vowed never to do, however, is blow my nose in it. Handkerchiefs are not for nasal hygiene. Sadly, you see it in public, like at church. A man will pull a wadded-up cotton square out of his pocket, search it for a clean spot, jam it on his nose as if he's trying to screw on a bottle cap, and then honk hard enough to give himself an aneurysm.

He then inspects the contents carefully, to make sure he's cleared out the offending snotwad, as well as the part of his brain that controls appropriate public behavior, and he sticks it back in his pocket!

And that's the worst part of a handkerchief. A man can blow a golf ball-sized booger out of his head, and he'll carry it with him for the rest of the day.

Lord save me from becoming one of those men who saves his snot. Let me just wipe it on the pew in front of me, like I did when I was six.

Photo credit: UK Imperial War Museum (Public Domain)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, January 22, 2016

In Praise of the Singular They

You know that wonderful feeling you get, when you learn something you've been told was "wrong, was later determined to be right after all?

Like learning "don't end your sentences with a preposition" was a nonsensical, unnecessary rule created by a Latin scholar in 1762 because he wanted English to be like Latin.

Like reading on Web MD that nothing will actually freeze your face that way.

Like finally being old enough to win an argument with your parents.

That's how I felt this past week, when I learned that top language experts support the "singular they."

"What kind of language experts?"

Top. Language Experts.

Singular "they" is the word you'd use if you don't know the sex of a person in a hypothetical situation.

"I don't know who keeps stealing my cupcakes, but they better hope I don't find them."

Singular they is a great replacement for "he or she" and "his or her," which are a linguistic nightmare for anyone who likes brevity.

Because nothing is as gross and disgusting as having to write sentences like, "If anyone wants his or her parking pass, he or she needs to come to the HR office, so he or she can register his or her car."

I've had to contend with this whole "he or she" nonsense since grad school in the early 90s, and I was always looking for a way around it. I'm not saying we should go back to the days of the generic "he," which was sexist and exclusionary. I just think we need something that's not as awkwardly formal as my junior prom.

"S/he" is even worse. That one was devised by a demon-possessed robot. Whoever came up with "s/he" needs to hang his or her head in shame — it's the participation trophy of the English language. I'm proud to say I've never, ever written "s/he" except to make fun of it and the people who use it.

Even in the early 90s, I was lobbying for singular they, but to a language tone-deaf crowd who saw nothing wrong with an overwritten, clunky "he or she." Of course, these were all academics, so overwritten and clunky was their stock in trade.

These were people who thought that if 10 words was good, 30 words was better. If one syllable was acceptable, four syllables were better. These people could turn a stop sign into a 30 word declaration, after spending six weeks writing a mission statement about a two week project.

Needless to say — but I'm a former academic, which means I'm going to say it anyway — my professors preferred "he or she," and were annoyed when I refused to use it. When I made a strong case for singular they, I was told it was grammatically incorrect because it referred to more than one person, while "he or she" was singular.

They got more annoyed when I pointed out how they used it in normal conversation.

So you can imagine my joy this past December, when the Washington Post admitted the singular they into their style guide when referring to transgender people, and to avoid awkward sentences, like "If anyone wants to register his or her disappointment with the Post's decision, he or she can write a strongly worded letter, if it will make him or her feel good about himself or herself."

It got even better a few weeks ago, when hundreds of linguists gathered at the American Dialect Society annual meeting, and voted to make singular they the 2015 Word Of The Year.

It may not be the Académie française, the French academy that determines the official French language, but the American Dialect Society is made up of professionals and academics who study the English language, and how it's changing and developing. And they don't give a rip about what Mrs. Fischgesicht told you in the seventh grade.

It sounds like the singular they is here to stay. Sure, there will be much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, especially by those holdouts whose blood boiled earlier when I said the "no prepositions" rule was wrong.

So if anyone has a problem with this change, he or she should log on to his or her Facebook page and express his or her opinion, as loudly as he or she can, to his or her friends. Then he or she can engage in a vigorous debate and explain his or her reasons for why he or she continues to hold on to his or her beliefs.

Trust me, they'll feel a lot better.

Hat tip to Grammar Girl for the podcast episode that alerted me to the Washington Post and American Dialect Society's decisions, and inspired this column!

Photo credit: A 10" x 14" engraving from the original painting by L.E. Pine in possession of Rev. Robert Lowth, M.A. dated 1809 as published in a special edition of "Dr. Johnson: His Friends and His Critics" by George Birkbeck Hill Wikipedia (Public Domain, PD-US)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, January 15, 2016

That Time I Tried to Cancel My Cable

"Hi. My name is Erik Deckers and I—"

"Thank you. How are you?"

"Great, I just wanted to—"

"Erik Deckers."


"No, E-R-S."

"Yes, with the 'S' at the end. So I just wanted to can—"

"No problem, I watched a whole episode of Elementary while I waited."

"Great, so I wanted to get some help with—"

"You've already got my account number."

"Then why did I enter it when I called in?"

"Verify what, exactly? It's not like someone wrestled the phone away from me while I was waiting. For 45 minutes."

"Fine, it's A2C-4EF-789."

"No, nine. One more than eight. You know, the German word for 'no?'"

"That's Dutch."

"Yes, I'm sure. Look, I just want to cancel my cable."

"No, the service is fine. We were happy with the service. I just don't need 300 home shopping channels."

"I know you don't. I was exaggerating for effect."

"Yes, I know how many channels I actually get. I don't need them all."

"I know all about those. I don't like them."

"I don't even watch one news channel, why would I need 12?"

"I don't think I've ever watched the Game Show Network in my entire life."

"No, that won't help."

"Because I don't need three free months of the sports package."

"Yes, but last time I had the sports package, all the baseball and football games were blacked out on the regional channels, which defeated the purpose of the sports package. Then, when the channels weren't blacked out, they all showed the same exact program at the same time. Every channel was showing the same poker tournament."

"Who needs 17 sports channels all showing a bunch of fat guys playing cards? If I wanted that, I'd hang out at the American Legion."

"I understand Major League Baseball doesn't call you about programming decisions. I'm not saying they should—"

"I don't care if they're high def! Poker isn't a game, and watching the semi-finals of the National Poker Championships on the Big Sky Sports Network doesn't interest me!"

"What kind of discount?"

"That's not much of a discount."

"No, I understand what you meant. I'm saying $10 per month isn't much of a discount."

"Well, my cable bill is nearly $100 per month. You're only offering 10%. I can switch to the other guys, and their cable package is half as much."

"Okay, cable and Internet. That doesn't really matter. The point is, I'm paying $100 per month for data to get into my house, and I don't need the cable."

"Let's see, we watch network TV, the kids watch YouTube on their cell phones, and my wife and I watch Netflix and Hulu on our tablets."

"We're just trimming the fat on our expenses. We realized we don't watch as much TV as we used to, and the stuff we do watch is available on Hulu. Or if we really want it, we can buy an episode on iTunes for two or three bucks. I can get a whole season of Elementary for $40. If I cancel our cable, I can buy seasons of two of our favorite shows on iTunes with one month's cable bill, and catch the rest on Hulu."

"Adding a phone line isn't an option."

"Because we don't need a landline. We haven't had a landline for 12 years."

"That's not even less than $100, that's 30 percent more. We're trying to cut costs, not increase them."

"Who needs it? I can use my cell phone in an emergency. I also use Skype and Facetime for video calls. Can your landline do that?"

"What about you? Do you have a landline?"

"Seriously? Who calls it?"

"So if no one but your mother and telemarketers calls your landline, why even have one?"

"Can't your mother call you on your cell phone?"

"Change it in her phone. Then she can just speed dial you whenever she wants."

"Of course you get a great discount on your landline. You work for a company whose dying mission is to sell telephone service, but you don't actually use it. So you're spending, what, $360 a year? Just so you can talk to your mother once a month? For that much money, you could buy your mom an iPad and teach her how to use Facetime."

"You're welcome. Now about my cable bill?"

"Look, it's not you, it's me. I just want to see other programs. And you don't offer those without me nearly doubling my costs."

"Don't cry. There's some other customer out there for you. You'll see."

"Wait, really? When does the new Game of Thrones season start?"

Photo credit: Seattle Municipal Archives (Wikipedia, Creative Commons)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, January 08, 2016

The Virgin Mary in a Cheese Sandwich

Erik is out of the office this week, so we are reprinting a column from 2005.

It seems cheese sandwiches have been in the news a lot during the last few months, but not always in a good way.

In November 2004, online casino paid $28,000 on eBay for a 10-year-old partially-eaten cheese sandwich that bore the image of the Virgin Mary.

I saw pictures of the Virgin Mary Cheese Sandwich on their website, and while I agree there was a face on the sandwich, I don't necessarily believe it's the Virgin Mary. For one thing, I've never actually seen the Virgin Mary, so I can't actually be sure. But I've seen Stevie Nicks, and I think it looks more like her.

But Diana Duyser swears that for 10 years, the Velveeta vestal virgin has brought her enormous good fortune, including winning $70,000 at her local casino. She kept it on her nightstand in a plastic container. announced they will take the sandwich on a national tour and sell Virgin Mary Cheese Sandwich t-shirts to help raise money for various charities. Maybe I'm just being cynical, but I can't help thinking that all this national attention will attract new gamblers along with it.

So while I applaud their efforts and sentiments, am I the only one who thinks it's odd that a gambling house has purchased a food item with the Holy Blessed Mother on it? Far be it from me to point fingers, but when a casino uses the mother of the Messiah to help attract new gamblers, I start looking for lightning.

All in all, it's a good cheese sandwich, at least in the "it won't get you tased" way.

On the other hand, convicted murderer Douglas Eugene Wilson got one of the bad kinds.

According to January 2005 Associated Press story, while Wilson was awaiting trial on murder charges, he was passing out cheese sandwiches to fellow inmates while he was in jail. A sheriff's deputy warned him not to do this, because it violated jail rules. When Wilson ignored the deputy, he was tased. He then reportedly charged the deputy and was wrestled to the ground and handcuffed.

Deputy: Hey, no distributing cheese sandwiches in jail!

Wilson: Why? It's just a cheese sandwich.

Deputy: I'm not going to warn you again. Drop the cheese sandwich and slowly step away.

Wilson: But it's not going to—


Wilson was later convicted of murdering Lisa Chavez, and was sentenced to life in prison. In other words, he can't get out. Ever.

So it seemed a little unnecessary to then convict him of possession of contraband, and sentence him to three more years in prison. He did plead guilty to the lesser charge of possession of contraband in order to get the charges of second-degree assault and attempted second-degree assault dropped from charging the deputies, and then presumably trying to strike the deputy as his arms and legs were flailing from the shock.

I realize Wilson probably hopes he might someday get out of prison. But I would think there would be a point where you just need to give up and realize that life in prison means just that. Why would you even negotiate to remove charges? When you're going to spend the rest of your natural days in prison, what's another six years or so?

Judge: You are hereby sentenced to three additional years in prison.

Wilson: But I'm already in for life.

Judge: Oh. . .well, now you're going to a dirty prison filled with criminals.

Wilson: But I'm already—


Contraband refers to things that should not be allowed in jail, like drugs, pornography, weapons, and cell phones. But I didn't know cheese sandwiches could be dangerous. Why else would they have needed stun guns to stop Wilson from passing them out?

"Nobody move! I've got a Cheddar and mayo on whole wheat, and I'm not afraid to use it!"

"Do what he says! That's got the Virgin Mary on it!"

Hopefully word of these new weapons won't reach the criminal element, or else we'll have bigger problems. Bank robbers will carry roast beef and mustard on a kaiser roll. You'll need a license and background check to be able to order lunch at your favorite Subway. And gun-toting Texans will soon replace their six-shooters with Reuben sandwiches.

Not to worry though. The police will keep us safe from all sandwich-brandishing evil-doers, because they're well-trained and dedicated to preventing crime and helping people.

And they've been arming themselves with bratwursts and Kielbasas to help keep the peace.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, January 01, 2016

So, This Year's Banned Words List is Problematic

So, every year, I look forward to Lake Superior State University's List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use, and General Uselessness. But this year is not as emotionally satisfying as past lists.

It has some words that should have been banned years ago, and others that I just don't care about. So I don't feel as emotionally connected to the 41st annual list.

"So" made the list this year, although it's actually the second go-around for the offending utterance. In 1999, it made the list for things like "I am SO tired of you people." And now it's back again for being used at the beginning of sentences. Sort of like I did twice in the first two paragraphs.

I can't figure out when this became a problem. Either I've never really noticed it, or I've been doing it for such a long time, I'm used to it. So, I was pretty surprised when I learned this was a problem for a lot of people. But that doesn't mean I'm going to stop it. Some people think starting a sentence with "but" and "and" is a terrible thing. But I've done that several times already. And I'm not going to quit that either.

So there.

We could have a conversation about it, if it will make you feel better. Except LSSU banned "conversation" now. As in "join the conversation," which I hear on NPR call-in shows.

Every day. Every single day.

I'm always encouraged to "join the conversation," because the hosts either can't think of anything else to say, or that phrase was carved into the studio desk with a switchblade.

They tell me I can "join the conversation" on Facebook and Twitter.

Except there's no conversation on Facebook. There's never a real "conversation" on Facebook. Unless it involves shouting one's political opinions, refusing to listen to anyone else, and calling them names when they don't agree with you.

Also, most conversations don't include that one photo of Willie Wonka looking so smug you just want slap him.

"(Conversation) has replaced 'discussion,' 'debate,' 'chat,' 'discourse,' 'argument,' 'lecture,' 'talk'. . . all of which can provide some context to the nature of the communication," said Richard Fry, of Marathon, Ontario. He echoed the sentiments of other submitters who said the term was not only overused, it was used by people who still didn't listen.

That's problematic in a conversation, except LSSU just banned "problematic." The Urban Dictionary calls it "a corporate-academic weasel word;" I think it's just another word for "a problem."

The problem with "problematic" is that people like to use it, and other bigger words, to sound smart. They figure if they can take a short, two-syllable word like "problem," and turn it into a four-syllable word, they must be intelligentatic.

Still, this isn't the big controversial word I hoped it would be. I mean, people may find it slightly annoying, but it's not the hair-grabbing words from the past, like "bae" from last year's list, or 2008's "awesome."

No, the one that makes me want to tear my hair out is "vape" and "vaping," which refer to the act of smoking electronic cigarettes. There's just something about e-cigarettes that I loathe in the first place, partly because people think it's okay to do inside a restaurant because it's "not smoke."

Worse than that, they don't even know how stupid it looks. You wouldn't have seen James Dean on a motorcycle, with a cyborg cigarette hanging from his mouth. James Bond doesn't pull a cigarette case and battery pack from his dinner jacket.

I think LSSU should skip the word, and see what they can do about banning vaping altogether, simply on the grounds that it makes the user look like a clueless dork. (Unless you're one of my friends who vapes. Then you look awesome. Forget I said anything.)

The other problem is that vaping has a low "price point" compared to cigarettes.

What's that? "Price point?" It means "price."

Just like "problematic," "price point" complicates language so MBA squinches can feel good about themselves. "Price" is a very short word: five letters, one syllable, that very clearly means what it said, so someone plopped down a second word that doesn't clarify, doesn't enhance, doesn't do anything useful. It's the middle management of language.

Those are just a portion of LSSU's list of banned words for 2016. And if I missed your favorite word, or you disagree with my support of certain words, I can only offer one response:


You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Festivus and the Airing of Grievances

Thanks to Facebook and people's contrarian attitudes, Festivus' popularity seems to be growing. The fake holiday, first shared on Seinfeld, was created by George Costanza's father, Frank.

Instead of a tree, they hoisted a plain aluminum pole, noted for its high strength-to-weight ratio, as a direct contrast to the commercialism of the season. Everyone gathered at the Costanza's house for the Festivus Dinner, where everyone would participate in the Airing of Grievances, which is your chance to tell everyone how they have disappointed you in the past year.

"I've got a lot of problems with you people, and now you're going to hear about it!" Frank Costanza told his guests.

As I write this, Festivus was yesterday, and there are a few people I have problems with, so now I'm going to air a few grievances of my own.

Donald Trump is a walking, talking grievance, and I could rant about him until next Festivus. In the last few months, he has mocked a disabled reporter, expressed his support for Japanese internment camps during WWII, proposed a database and special IDs for Muslims, and the British parliament is actually considering banning him from ever entering the country.

You know that one uncle who comes to Thanksgiving dinner and says things that are horribly offensive and racist? When he gets together with his other friends, there's one guy who is so over the top, your uncle says, "Dude, too much." Even that guy thinks Donald Trump is terrible.

Why hasn't William Shatner stolen a starship to go save Leonard Nimoy?

I've got a grievance with people who think they're foot soldiers in the War on Christmas. I'm especially aggrieved at those who are incensed over the plain red cups at Starbucks. Just because Starbucks chose not to put anything wintry, like a snowflake or snowman, on their cups doesn't mean they hate Christmas. Snowflakes are about winter, not Christmas.

Have these so-called defenders of Christmas forgotten all the people living in Florida, Southern California, and Texas who never see snow? Maybe they're tired of being reminded they're missing out on all the seasonal changes. Maybe they're tired of the War on Sunshine. For these snowless millions, the plain red cups reminded them of stepping barefoot on the sidewalk on Christmas morning, and you're trying to take that away from them.

Besides, when I went into my local Starbucks yesterday, they gave me a white cup. Is Starbucks declaring war on the War on Christmas? Where's the outrage now?

If you're truly offended by the plain red cup, just tell yourself the red cup is a closeup of Santa's suit, and then get back to the real meaning of Christmas: trampling complete strangers to save 20% on your third flat-screen TV.

Man buns. I have a bitterness in my heart for man buns. As I said previously, don't put your hair in a bun unless you're a ballerina or a Little House on the Prairie re-enactor.

I have a grievance against the children attending American colleges and universities. I say "children," because that's how they're acting: like precious snowflakes who are at expensive summer camp, and not at a major life milestone.

With their shrill cries of "trigger warnings" and wailing demands that universities keep them safe from controversial ideas, these college students won't be prepared for the cold realities of the real world, and won't be able to go hide behind their mama's skirts any more.

At Yale University, students demanded that a married pair of faculty members resign after one of them said she thought students could make their own adult decisions about whether or not to wear offensive Halloween costumes.

Their complaint? That they shouldn't have to be treated like adults, and that the university should, in fact, tell them not to be offensive.

In a video of the protests, one "child" even swore repeatedly at one of the two faculty members and said his job was "not about creating an intellectual space."

It was as if millions of grown-ups suddenly slapped their foreheads in frustration and then were silenced.

Finally, I have a grievance about people who get their panties in a twist over "spoiler alerts." Yes, I enjoy seeing a movie fresh, but I'm not going to have a full-on freakout whenever someone accidentally lets slip a key point in a TV, movie, or TV show. It's not the end of the world, so quit acting like your life is ruined.

Having said that, if anyone tells me anything about Star Wars, you will face me in the final Festivus tradition, the Feats of Strength.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Man Who Came To Christmas

"Hey, Kid, slide over a little. Give me some room!" Karl shoved my arm. "Seriously, you're crowding me over here."

Karl, I'm already over. Any more and I'm going to fall off the stool. My friend and curmudgeon, Karl, and I were sitting at our favorite Spanish bar, Escritor's, to watch the Roller Hockey World Cup final. Spain was facing Argentina, and it didn't look too good for La Roja.

"It feels like you're crowding me. I need my space."

Hey, I'm not your clingy girlfriend. You're the one who wedged yourself into the corner there. I'm sitting on my stool like a normal person, and giving you plenty of room. Karl grumped and grunted, and tried to make himself comfortable.

What's your problem, anyway? You've been a complete grouch this whole evening.

"I'm sorry, Kid," said Karl. "I'm just having problems at home."

You're single, how do you have problems at home? I knew you were a pain in the ass, but you just don't get along with anybody, do you?

"Not me! My kids. My kids are just getting underfoot and into everything. I can't have a private moment to myself."

I thought your kids were grown up and out of the house.

"They are. They're visiting for Christmas, and Sheila brought her kids and her idiot husband, Bartlett." Karl rolled his eyes at the name.

And how's that going?

"It's a zoo. Her kids are ill-mannered brats. They don't eat what's set in front of them, they don't stay at the table for more than five minutes, and neither she or her husband know the meaning of the word 'discipline.'"

That sounded bad. I'd met Karl's grandkids before. Sheila and her husband Bartlett were crunchy-granola hipsters who owned an organic farm-to-table restaurant, where they grew and served their own food. It would have been a peaceful, idyllic life, if their children weren't shrieking demon-spawn.

Is that it? I knew all that. Why do you think I mailed your Christmas present, instead of bringing it over?

"No, it gets worse. Remember Jake?"

Karl's son, Jake, was some sort of high-up muckety-muck at a corporation in Chicago. They made stereo equipment or car tires or something; I couldn't remember, and I don't think Karl knew either. This was Jack's form of rebellion — Karl was a laid-back literary type, so Jake became a cutthroat business executive who recently divorced his second wife.

"He and Bartlett are constantly arguing politics. Jake's a Ted Cruz supporter, and Bartlett's torn between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton."

I'll bet that's interesting.

"Well, Bartlett's been haranguing Jake about Cruz's stand on immigration and shouting about Cruz not being eligible to run because he was born in Canada and his dad's Cuban." Karl took a sip of his wine. "It's actually kind of funny. Last night at dinner, Bartlett was on his feet shouting at Jake, 'where's his birth certificate? Show me his birth certificate!'"

I'm sorry I missed that, I said.

"Don't be. The kids were running around the table, and Sheila was yelling at everyone to shut up, so I went up to my study and locked the door. I fell asleep on the couch with my headphones on, and woke up when Bartlett tried to break the door down because they thought I was dead." Karl snickered. "He dislocated his shoulder and has to wear a sling for a few days."

How long are they in town?

"Until after the new year. They closed the restaurant 'to let Mother Earth recover during the winter solstice—'" Karl made air quotes with his fingers and rolled his eyes "— so they're going to be here for at least 10 more days."

Well, it'll be nice to have family around. You don't get to see them that often.

"Yeah, but I like it that way. I was just with them at Thanksgiving."

How was it?

"As you might expect. The kids were brats, and Sheila only gave them vegetarian hot dogs and cheese quesadillas, which they never actually ate. The rest of us had a vegetarian Thanksgiving: tofurkey, organic sweet potatoes with artisan cane juice, and hand-mashed potatoes because a mixer was too 'violent to the spirit of the potatoes.'"

So how are you going to survive it?

"I figured I'd stay with you a few nights. You know, just to relieve some of the pressure."

Oh man, I don't know. My wife is kind of picky about having people over.

"No problem. I already talked with her. She said it'd be okay." He clapped me on the shoulder. "I really appreciate this, Kid."

Hey, Karl, give me some room. I shrugged off his hand. Seriously, you're crowding me.

Photo credit: Carlos Delgado (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

The worst spoiler I ever experienced happened when I was in high school, reading David Morrell's "Testament" before one of my classes. I was five pages from the end, where the hero, bent on revenge over the death of his family, is about to rain holy hell down on the man responsible.

He's hiding in a sniper's nest, the cold metal of the gun and scope resting against his cheek. He aims the rifle at the unsuspecting villain—

"He doesn't do it."

"What?" I looked up, frowning at the interruption. A friend, who had previously read the book, stopped to check my progress.

"He doesn't shoot him."

"What?!" I shouted. Everyone stopped and looked at me.

"Yeah, he chickens out at the end."

"Did you just spoil the ending for me?" I jumped to my feet. "I was five pages from the end! I've been reading for three days, and you just ruined it!"

"Erik!" said my teacher. "We do not shout in class."

I told her what my so-called friend had just done.

"Douglas!" she shouted. "You never, ever tell the ending of a book!" And she proceeded to lecture him at the top of her lungs.

It was months before I forgave him. Literally months. I had spent three days reading a book by my new favorite author. All 320 pages had built up to this moment and it was stolen from me at page 315 by some inconsiderate clod.

Despite my experience, however, I've never been that hung up on spoilers. I don't freak out if someone drops a hint at a scene in a movie. The experience isn't ruined for me, and I can enjoy the show even if I know the surprise twist at the end.

(Bruce Willis was already dead.)

But plenty of people lose their ever-loving minds when someone even hints at the tiniest detail of a movie or TV show. One friend has a lifetime ban on anyone discussing a show or movie he has never seen, even if the movie in question is 40 years old and the details have become part of our national identity.

(Rosebud was his sled.)

Out of politeness, I avoid spoiling movies and shows, but I have my limits. Not spoiling the ends of 33-year-old movies — Spock dies at the end — is light years beyond those limits. At some point, you're responsible for your own life, and if you can't be bothered to find out the ending of a decades-old movie, you deserve to have it spoiled. Hard.

(Kevin Spacey was Keyser Söze.)

It turns out spoiler haters may be getting their panties in a twist for nothing. In 2011, researchers at UC San Diego gave several dozen undergraduates 12 different short stories, with varying methods of spoiling the ending for some of the readers.

The results showed that, for the most part, readers actually preferred the spoiled story more than the unspoiled one. In fact, 11 of the 12 stories scored a higher rating for the spoiled version.

(In The Crying Game, Dil was actually a guy.)

What does this mean for the spoiler haters?

According to an August 2011 Wired magazine article, it's only recently that we've become obsessed with avoiding spoilers. For thousands of years, our stories were incredibly predictable — the guy always got the girl, the bad guy always lost, and the fortune was always recovered.

You only have to look at every play by Shakespeare to know that either everyone is going to live happily ever after, or die a horrible death.

(In Twelfth Night, Cesario was actually a guy.)

Even movies and TV shows over the last 100 years followed the same formula. John Wayne killed the bad guy, Cary Grant got the girl, and Harrison Ford recovered the fortune. No one dies in a romantic comedy, and she always marries the bad boy, not the stuffy, boring fiancee.

Seriously, if you scream "spoilers!" about a romantic comedy, you just don't understand how they work.

(Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks fall in love at the end.)

I admit there's some enjoyment in being surprised by a show. But there's also something to be said about knowing and watching how the writer and director manage to get there.

Try an experiment the next time there's something you've been waiting to see: peek at the end, or just read the reviews before you watch. See if you enjoy the show any less, or if you're still able to get the same amount of pleasure by knowing the end.

Spoiler alert: I think you'll like it.

(By the way, Dumbledore dies.)

Photo credit: (affiliate link)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, December 04, 2015

How to Meet People in a New City

Having moved to a new faraway city, I find myself meeting a lot of new people. Back home — I still think of Indianapolis as "home" — I knew plenty of people, and could always count on bumping into someone I knew at one of my regular haunts.

Except now I don't have a regular haunt, which means I have to find some new ones, which involves a lot of trial and error. Delicious, and rather unhealthy, trial and error.

Also, I don't know anyone in my new city. This means when I meet someone, which I actually enjoy, I go through the same get-to-know-you dance over and over. We ask and answer the same questions: What do you do for a living? Do you have any kids? What do you do for fun?

After a while, I think my answers sound boring, sort of like when you say the same word over and over, and it sounds weird. I worry that I'm coming across as an uninteresting person, so I occasionally make up answers just to relieve the monotony and feel better about myself.

"What do you do?" someone asked me once.

"Write soft-core porn for seniors."

In my defense, it was the first, and funniest, thing to pop in my head, so I blurted it out before I could stop myself.

Also in my defense, I used to get into trouble for speaking without thinking; it was a problem that plagued me for years before I finally learned to control my impulses.

I just have occasional lapses once in a while.

The poor guy was more than a little shocked, so I promised him I was only joking, and that I've never done anything of the sort. I don't know how well my joke went over though, since we've never been back to that church.

Based on my years of networking and meeting new people, and the fact that I've written a book on the subject, I've learned the right and wrong — oh, so very wrong — answers to give when I'm getting to know someone in my new city.

What not to say: I watch Netflix 'til about two in the morning before I go to bed. Then I get up around 8:00 or 8:30 and roll into the office around 10, get into pointless arguments on Twitter, take a long lunch, and get back around 2:00. I'll do a little work, head home around 4 – 4:30, do a little more work, and start watching TV around 8 or 9.

What to say: I'm a professional writer. What do you do?

What not to say: Ha, good question! My father was a merchant marine for nearly 30 years, and he was a firm believer in "any port in a storm." We're always meeting new ones, and at last count we were up to 16, including ones from Peru, Iceland, and Sri Lanka.

What to say: One brother and one sister.

What not to say: I get large salamis from the butcher and then pretend they've been captured and are being sent down a slow conveyor belt toward a giant table saw blade. Then I pretend I'm James Bond, and I have to rescue them before they reach their grisly end. Sometimes I fail on purpose so I get to have salami and cheese for lunch.

What to say: I do woodworking on the weekends.

What not to say: The skulls of my vanquished foes!

What to say: I collect Sherlock Holmes memorabilia.

What not to say: I farted around for a few years before I nearly failed out. So I broke into the bursar's office one night, changed all my grades to give myself a 3.95 GPA, and from there, I went to medical school in the Caribbean. After that, I posed as a doctor until I was finally found out after several of my patients "suffered severe complications."

What to say: Ball State University, class of 89.

What not to say: I don't see how that's any of your business, and if you don't know, I'm certainly not going to tell you.

What to say: No, I don't know how fast I was going, officer.

And if you're curious, no, I have never actually done any of these things. Are you kidding? Do you think I'm a moron? This is a humor column, so you can't take anything I say in here seriously. I know how to act like an adult, and know to never actually do or say this stuff! Come on, man, give me some credit for having half a brain.

What to say: Thank you for reading! Have a good week.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, November 27, 2015

How 49ers QB Blaine Gabbert's Press Conference Really Happened

Suppose they gave a press conference and nobody came?

Last week, the 3-and-7 San Francisco 49ers held a press conference for their new starting quarterback, Blaine "Yo Gabba" Gabbert, but forgot to actually tell the media. When Gabbert showed up, he was the only one in the room, other than a 49ers staffer there to record the event.

It was Gabbert's second week as the starting quarterback, after he replaced former starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was benched after seven games and only two wins.

"Hey, good to see you," he said from the podium. Then he sat in the front row and said, "I'll be the one asking questions." Local media reported that Gabbert chatted with the staffer for a few minutes before leaving.

Except the camera was rolling the entire time, and it captured the questions Gabbert actually asked.

"So what do you think of the team's chances this week?" Gabbert asked from his seat.

Gabbert ran up to the podium to give his answer. "Well, the Cardinals are a tough team. At 8-and-2, they're leading our division, which is some sort of record for the NFC West. I think they're on pace to win at least 10 games going into the playoffs, so we're all pretty excited," said Gabbert, referring to previous playoffs, where NFC West teams flolloped their way into the first round at 9-and-7, while certain AFC South teams barely made it in at 11-and-5.

Gabbert raced to the back row, and raised his hand. "How are you preparing for your first game against the Arizona Cardinals?" he asked, without waiting to be called on.

"Excuse me, excuse me, pardon me, excuse me," Gabbert said, squeezing past his fellow reporters on his way back to the podium.

"Well, they beat us 47 – 7 when Kap faced them in Week 3, so we already know how tough they are" said Gabbert. "I just hope whoever organized this press conference isn't responsible for organizing my O-line." Gabbert returned to his seat for the obligatory insider-joke laugh.

"But seriously, the Cardinals are a great team. We're keeping a close eye on Deone Bucannon, their leading tackler. And Dwight Freeney has three sacks this season. It's not the nine and ten sacks he was getting in Indianapolis, but man, when that guy does his swim move, you hear the 'Jaws' theme in your head."

"Do you think Coach Tomsula is taking a big gamble on starting you in place of Colin Kaepernick? What do you think that means for his future with the team?" Gabbert asked.

Gabbert took a long drink of water from his bottle, playing for a little extra time. "A big gamble? No, certainly not. I mean, sure, I was brought here as a backup. But backing up Kap isn't like backing up Peyton Manning. His backup barely has a chance of getting into a game. Hell, I think they listed Y.A. Tittle as his backup one week, and he's gotta be100 by now."

"But what about Kap's future with the team? Do you think he'll return to the starting lineup this season, or are you their Golden Boy?" Gabbert pressed. A scowl flickered briefly across Gabbert's face as he listened to the question.

"Do I think it means Kap's going to be traded?" Gabbert said, referring to recent rumors that the once-favored QB was now being shopped around. "Of course I have no way of knowing. We're just focused on the Arizona Cardinals right now. We just take the season one week at a time."

"Is it true that you're actually Coach Tomsula's favorite, but he can't say so in front of the rest of the team?"

"Well, I can't speak for Coach, but I think I'm at least in his top ten. Top five, at best." Gabbert paused for the obligatory laugh again, which he delivered from the second row.

When Gabbert returned to the podium, he continued. "I have been spending a lot more time with Coach Tomsula for the last couple of weeks, as well as (offensive coordinator) Coach Chryst and (quarterbacks coach) Coach Logan. I spent time with them anyway, but now I've become one of their favorites as well."

"Is Kaepernick still contributing to the team?" asked Gabbert?

"Absolutely," said Gabbert. "Kaepernick has been making solid contributions to the team. He is constantly contributing and providing a lot of contributable support. He's one of the most contributive members of the team, and his contributiveness is unmatched."

Gabbert looked over to his handler, Blaine Gabbert, who signaled that it was time to wrap it up. "Thank you everyone for your time. We'll talk again after the game."

"Good luck this week," called Gabbert from the fourth row. Gabbert stopped for pictures and answered a few follow-up questions as he left.

Photo credit: "Gabbert, Blaine" by San Francisco 49ers - Author. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - Wikimedia Commons

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Loving On People And Hugging Your Kids

What does it mean to "love on" someone? Why is that even a thing? It sounds weird and awkward, and I don't know whether to appreciate it or be creeped out by it.

I hear it a lot, especially in church when people describe what they do in their small groups.

"We get together, do life, and just love on each other."

We'll ignore the "do life" thing for now. You know, the phrase that means "to live" or "spend time together." It's an empty phrase that doesn't actually express anything.

You're "doing life" right now. You were "doing life" when you got up this morning and made coffee. You were "doing life" when you went to work. And you were "doing life" the entire day right before you met with the small group of people you "do life" with.

"Doing life" is not any different from what we've been doing all along: living. It just sounds so. . . California.

But we're ignoring that part, remember? I'm still stuck on "love on each other."

It makes me think of being grabbed by a particularly loud and gregarious aunt who clutches your arm, hug-smothers you in her ample bosom, and then plies you with food and hovers nearby while you eat.

I asked friends on Facebook what they thought it meant, and got a variety of responses.

For some, it means embracing or caring for someone deeply. Giving hugs and kisses, like a parent or grandparent. For others, it means just paying attention to someone, letting them know you're thinking of them.

One Facebook friend said it best, "Youth pastor with a soul patch and a tattoo, who isn't afraid to be XTREME. 'Somebody's gotta love on these kids, man. I love Creed probably.'"

A few people said they didn't like the phrase. They found it off-putting, like when someone you don't know very well hugs you too long.

Personally, my only complaint is with the additional "on." Since when did love need a preposition?

Other than being "an appalling lack of grammar," as another friend said, it doesn't mean anything. No more than "loving toward," "loving near," or "loving around," although that last one sounds a little slutty.

I did learn that "loving up" is another prepositional phrase that means something not suitable for this newspaper.

Still, "loving on someone" is not so terrible. I can live with it, even if I still silently judge people who say it.

No, the thing I hate is being told to "go home and hug your kids extra hard" any time there's tragedy in the news.

Major car accident in your city?

"Go home and hug your kids extra hard tonight."

Terrorist attack?

"Go home and hug your kids extra hard tonight."

Simon Cowell taking Howard Stern's place on "America's Got Talent?"

"Go home and hug your kids extra hard tonight."

Constantly being ordered to hug my kids makes me want to shout, "You know what? Screw you, and screw my kids! I was going to hug them today until you ruined the moment. Now my kids won't get a hug today, and it's. All! Your! Fault!"

I hug my kids several times a day, every day. I don't need to be reminded to do it just because something bad happened in the world. Something bad always happens in the world, every single day. Does that mean I have to go home and hug my kids extra hard every single day?

Being told to hug my kids extra hard, willy-nilly, raises more questions than it actually answers. Like, are there rules to this kind of thing?

For example, what if I work from home that day? Do I need to leave and come home again before my extra-hard hugs? Or should I just do normal hugs? Can I just give a normal hug, but make it twice as long?

What if I really do hug them extra hard every day? Doesn't that level of squeezing become the new norm? When that happens, do I have to squeeze even harder the next time something bad happens? How hard can you squeeze a kid before the authorities are called?

And what if I'm a back patter? Should I pat their backs extra hard too?

I don't understand what extra hard hugging is actually supposed to do. Sure, I'll feel better, but it doesn't do much for the people involved in the original tragedy.

"Steve was in critical condition after the car accident, and we weren't sure he was going to make it. But then Erik hugged his kids extra hard, and Steve pulled through. He's going to be okay!

"Now we can love on him."

(Special note: That's our friend, and Maddie's old youth pastor, Josh Reynolds. This is the only photo of any youth pastor I have. As far as I know, Josh does not like Coldplay.)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.