Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Importens of Gud Speling

The Importens of Gud Speling
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

Knowing how to spell is critical. If you want people to take you seriously, you have to be able to spell. And you can't rely on your spell checker, because it only finds misspelled words, not correctly-spelled words in the wrong place.

That's why sentences like "John end eye went too the store, two" will always sail through without any problems.

But that doesn't mean you should skip the spell checker completely. Who knows? It might save you from the same ridicule as Michael Levy, dean of Markham Intermediate School on Staten Island, New York. He's the latest winner of the "This guy is in charge of educating our kids?!" award.

In May, Levy sent a letter -- chock full of spelling, grammar and punctuation errors -- to the parents of all the 8th graders, saying their children would be punished for an "unexcecpable" food fight in the "caferteria." He then demanded each parent sign the letter and return it, or their child would be excluded from all senior "activates."

The Staten Island Advance published a copy of Levy's letter and said they found at least 16 errors. That's because they weren't trying hard enough. I found 29 (including a missing space in his boss' last name, Della Rocca).

You can't be an effective leader of educators when you use the word "from" instead of "form," "an" instead of "on," or "out" instead of "our." And you lose all credibility with your students when they know how to use commas better than you. To be a leader, you need to lead by example. "Dew as I ssay, knot as I dew" just doesn't cut it nowadays.

What's worse is that Levy wanted to punish the entire 8th grade for the "unexcecpable" behavior of a few bad kids. The letter said all the students would be punished collectively, but later said that each child's punishment would be decided on a case-by-case basis.

In other words, NOT collectively.

The letter, which was written, printed, and distributed within 45 minutes of the "caferteria" chaos, isn't Levy's only sin. He is also stained with the sin of omission. That's because he forgot to ask his boss, Principal Emma Della Rocca, if he could send out the letter in the first place. (He said he came up with the punishment "(a)fter discussing with our Principal Mrs DellaRocca.")

But Levy never had that discussion, and Principal Della Rocca overrode his punishment. In fact, Principal Della Rocca snapped Levy back so fast, his head bruised his tailbone. She said they would only discipline the students who were involved in the food fight.

"I would never have anticipated that. . . Mr. Levy would actually write something that would have not been readable," Della Rocca told the New York Daily News.

(Ooh, "not readable." That's harsh. What's next? "Writing angry letters to parents: so simple, even a caveman could do it?")

She also said the school would investigate Levy's conduct, and would hold a disciplinary hearing the next day.

There's an old philosophical puzzle that ponders what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object. In this case, what happens when the irresistible force of a dean's zero tolerance meets the immovable object who is his boss? You find you're not so irresistible, especially after you get a good old-fashioned dope slap, with the promise of further punishment and humiliation.

However, two months later, there is still no word as to what happened to the Sword of Damocles over Levy's head. For all I know, it's still there.

One parent wanted the sword to drop. Rajiv Gowda, who is also the president of the local Community Education Council, said Levy should be fired for the error(s).

"This sends a bad message and sets a bad example," Gowda told the Daily News. "We are for zero tolerance when kids make a mistake. What is good for the goose is good for the gander."

Now I don't think Levy should be fired, because he was at his wit's end with these kids, and some of them probably deserved punishment. But neither should he escape without any punishment of his own.

In these days of zero tolerance among educators, I think it's only fair we have zero tolerance for educators. So should we follow his lead and punish all Markham Intermediate School teachers for his poor grammar and spelling? Or should we only single him out and give him the punishment he so richly deserves?

Like writing "I will proofread my work and remember my place in the food chain" 250,000 times.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

See Dick and Jane Grow Up

See Dick and Jane Grow Up
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

Youngest Daughter is learning to read, and has been practicing on the old standard, Dick and Jane, the same stories that taught me to read. I had lost track of the brother and sister literary team after first grade, so I decided to look them up.

I found them living together in a nice house in Dayton, Ohio. I rang the doorbell, and an all-grown-up Jane opened the door.

"Look, Dick, look. We have a guest. Who has come to visit us?" she called.

Dick came to the door. "Look, Jane. It is Erik. Erik is our guest."

"Please, come in. Come in to the house," said Jane.

We sat down in the living room, and I caught up with the elementary duo. Here's a transcript of that interview.

Question: The last time I saw you, I was six. Now my own six-year-old is learning to read with your books. How old are you?

Jane: I am 50. Dick is 52. We are in our fifties.

Q: So what have you two been up to these days?

D: Jane works. I work. Jane and I work.

J: Dick works in law. Dick is a lawyer.

Q: Really? What kind of law?

D: Tort law. I sue big companies. I sue big companies for people who get hurt.

Q: Interesting. Did you ever get married, Dick?

D: Yes, oh yes. I was married twice. I had two wives.

Q: Had?

J: Dick does not have wives. Dick is divorced. Dick is bitter. See, Erik? See Dick be bitter?

D: I love my work. I love to sue big companies.

J: Dick loves to sue. Dick loves to drink. Dick has a hole in his soul. Dick fills the hole with money and alcohol.

D: Jane is a spinster! Jane cannot keep a man! Jane drives men away.

J: Oh, oh. Dick has made me sad. Dick is a sh—!

Q: Maybe I came at a bad time. We can do this later if you'd rather.

D: No, Erik, no. Don't go. Don't go, Erik.

J: Yes, Erik, please stay. Please stay and talk to me.

Q: All right. So, Jane, have you've ever been married?

J: No, I am not a wife. I work. I work a lot.

Q: What do you do?

J: I make rooms look pretty. I paint and decorate. See my pretty living room? I made this room pretty.

Q: It's very nice. Do you specialize in any particular style?

J: Yes, I'm partial to contemporary post-modern designs that embrace bright, vivid colors reminiscent of northern Mediterranean influences.

Q: What?

J: I mean, I like bright colors. See, Erik? See the bright colors?

Q: And what has your little sister Sally been up to? Does she live here with you, too?

D: No, Sally does not live here with us. Sally is gone.

Q: You mean she died?

D: Ha, ha, funny Erik. Erik is funny. Sally is not dead. Sally is alive.

J: Sally lives in the city. Sally works in the city. Sally lives and works in the city. She is estranged.

D: Yes, Sally is dead to me and Jane.

Q: Dead to—? Why, what happened?

D: Sally is in marketing. Sally markets cigarettes to children. Sally is bad.

Q: That's too bad. I always figured she would be a veterinarian with as much as she loved Spot. Hey, whatever happened to Spot? I'm guessing he's gone.

J: No, Erik, no. Spot is not gone.

D: Yes, Spot is still with us.

Q: It's been over 50 years. Surely he's not still alive.

D: Silly Erik. Spot is not alive. Spot is dead.

J: We had Spot stuffed. Spot is our end table. Look, Erik? Do you see our Spot table?

Q: That's, uhh. . . very lifelike.

J: Yes, it is good.

D: Yes, Spot is still here. Spot has not gone. I can talk to Spot. Spot hears me. . . (Begins to cry.) Run, Spot, run. Run to me, Spot. Come here, boy.

J: Oh, oh. Dick is sad. Dick needs his meds.

D: No, Jane, no. I do not want my meds! I want a martini. Where is my martini, Jane?

Q: Well, I'd better go. Thanks for your time. It was nice talking to you.

J: No, Erik, no. Do not go. Look at me. Am I pretty? Don't you like me?

Q: Er, sorry, I have a deadline. And a wife.

J: Oh no, Dick. You made him go. You drove him away because you did not take your meds.

D: No, Jane. You made him go. You are too needy. Jane's neediness made Erik go.

J: You are a creep.

D: You are a b---(tape ends).

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Spider-Man Never Used Suction Cups

Spider-Man Never Used Suction Cups
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

Kids today have great movie toys. When I was a kid, we never had Spider-Man movies, video games, or shampoo and conditioner sets. We just had the cheaply-made cartoons. The ones that showed Spider-Man flying past the same cityscape so many times, I thought he was swinging in circles. (For those of you who don't remember, this is the show that gave us the theme song, "Spider-Man, Spider-Man/Does whatever a spider can/Spins a web any size/Catches thieves just like flies.")

But schlocky effects and theme song notwithstanding, it was still a cool show, so I wanted to be Spider-Man. I wanted to climb walls, shoot webs from my special wrist web shooter, and catch my sister in a giant web and leave her stuck there for the police to find. I asked my mom whether being bitten by a spider would, in fact, give me super powers.

"Absolutely not!" my mother gasped, considering banning me from TV forever. "People can die from spider bites."

At nine years old, I figured my mom's grasp of comic book science was pretty shaky, and took her claims with a grain of salt. But since my plan also had the possibility of death, I decided to wait for a magical genie to grant me superpowers instead. Unfortunately, that doesn't get you anything either, so my dreams went unfilled, until that Christmas.

That's when I received the gift that I thought would change my life forever, and start me on the road to crime fighting: my very own Official Spider-Man Wrist Web Shooter. (In the Spider-Man cartoons, Spidey used a chemical cartridge to shoot his webs. None of this namby-pamby "I create my webs from my own wrist" crap.)

This is it! I thought to myself as I unwrapped the first step on my quest to becoming a superhero. With the Official Spider-Man Wrist Web Shooter, I could swing from the ceiling! I could climb walls! I could catch thieves just like flies!

Turns out, I couldn't do jack squat.

This wasn't a web shooter, it was a suction dart on a string. I put the strap on my wrist, pressed a button, and a spring fired the dart. It was just a glorified dart gun.

Now, don't get me wrong. I loved the gift. I kept it until I was 15, when it disappeared (and is still in my dad's attic, for all I know). But I was very disappointed when it didn't give me the super powers I craved, or let me suspend my sister from the ceiling. (Lord knows I tried enough times.) I couldn't climb walls, I couldn't swing from the ceiling, and the dart didn't capture my sister in a giant web. All it did was activate her power of screaming "Moooooommy!!!!Tell Erik to quit shooting me!!!!" (There's no defense against that either.)

You just can't do much with a run-of-the-mill dart gun dart. The only thing it stuck to was the refrigerator, the window, or the TV. Otherwise I couldn't figure out how to make it actually do anything. Any time I pulled on the string, the dart popped off, so I certainly wasn't going to swing around the room with it. The only thing I could do was use it to pull a pop can closer to me, assuming the dart stuck after the first twelve tries. And since the string was only two feet long, it was usually just easier to reach for the can.

"It's the string!" I declared one day. "The string is too short!"

Obviously, if I wanted to make the dart fly farther, I had to untie the string.

Unfortunately, this created its own problems, because while the dart did fly farther -- 12 feet, in fact -- I had to chase it down every time I fired it. And while this increased the dart's effective range, like when shooting my sister, it had its drawbacks, like when she grabbed it and took off.

It's pretty hard for budding superheroes to explain to their mother why shooting their sister with a dart is less bad than her stealing the dart, and thus the superhero shouldn't be punished. But parents don't recognize "saving the world" as a viable defense, so I usually got in trouble for my attempts.

But despite its lack of super powers, the Official Spider-Man Wrist Web Shooter was a great toy, whether I was taking potshots at the TV, pop cans, or my sister. It just didn't do much beyond that. So I resigned myself to a life of normalcy and blandness, until I found the product I was convinced would change my life forever and make me one of the coolest superheroes on the planet.

"Mom, I want the Official Aquaman Face Mask and Swim Fins for my birthday!"

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Back in the Saddle Again

Back in the Saddle Again
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

Heart: General, we've got a problem.

General: What's going on, Lieutenant?

Heart: I'm working harder and faster than I have in a while, sir. I haven't worked this much since Summer 2005.

Brain: Sir, we're getting similar reports from all sectors. Lungs are reporting heavy wheezing and their Filling/Deflating Operation is erratic. Legs are engaged in a repetitive circular motion.

General: Legs, what's going on? I need a situation report.

Legs: It's the weirdest thing, General. We're experiencing motions we haven't made in years. We used to do it all the time, but it's been so long, we can't even remember what it is.

General: Are you running?

Legs: Negative, sir. We ran last year, so we remember that. We just can't put our finger on this one.

Fingers: That's all right. We're so numb, we couldn't feel anything anyway.

General: Numb?! Heart, give me a sit rep. What's your status? Are you under attack?

Heart: Negative, General. I'm racing, but it's rhythmic. Nothing I can't handle.

Brain: Lungs are reporting the same, sir.

Stomach: General, we're short on supplies down here. Can we get resupplied soon?

General: Sergeant, you were supplied at lunch. Now, would someone tell me what the #*&! Command is doing?

Brain: Sir, Eyes report the scenery is racing by. They're also reporting an occasional glimpse of a bicycle wheel.

General: Bicycle--? Eyes, please confirm previous report.

Eyes: Report confirmed, General. Command is on a bicycle.

Legs: That's what we're doing! We knew that felt familiar. General, Command used to be a bicycle racer. We're back on the bike!

General: Understood, Lieutenant, but that was 18 years ago.

Fingers: That explains our numbness, General. Arms never move very much while Command is on the bike.

Brain: General, Heart and Lungs are reporting greater exertion. And Butt says he's having problems as well.

General: Butt, what's going on down there?

Butt: Mph, bg gmp bemf.

General: Say again, Butt.

Butt: I said, "Sir, I can't breathe."

General: Understood. So why can I hear you now?

Butt: Command stood up. We're on a hill.

Stomach: Sir, what about those supplies?

General: Not now! Brain, what's gotten into Command? Why is he on a bicycle, and how can we stop him?

Brain: Sir, We've got intel from Memory. Last night Command watched "Breaking Away," the 1979 bike racing movie. Command remembered his glory days of racing, and decided to get back in the saddle.

General: Son of a--! Command needs to realize his glory days are over and done. How this get past us? Why isn't Self-Preservation intervening?

Brain: We found Self-Preservation bound and gagged in a broom closet.

Stomach: Sir, about those supplies. . . ?

General: This isn't the time, Sergeant! If you don't want to be demoted to private, I suggest you shut up about those supplies. We've got a real crisis here.

Legs: General, we're spinning out of control. We need Fingers to downshift.

General: Fingers, change gears. Go to fifth!

Legs: Thank you, sir.

Brain: General, we're getting some additional intel on Command's decision. It's Vanity, sir. He's responsible for Command's return to the road.

General: I thought Self-Preservation could handle Vanity. Are you telling me Vanity overpowered him?

Brain: Apparently it's a trick. Self-Preservation and Vanity are in cahoots. Locking him in the broom closet was a diversion. They were sick of Stomach's whining.

General: I don't blame them.

Heart: If I may be frank, General, we're all a little sick of Stomach. He's been a drag on this unit for the last 12 years.

Stomach: But sir, it's not my fault. Blame Mouth. He's been sneaking me extra supplies when Mrs. Command wasn't looking.

General: Hmm. You know, I think Vanity is on to something. If Stomach gets his way, this unit will eventually break down. Brain, recommend Vanity for a medal.

Brain: Gladly, sir.

General: All right, let's get this done. Legs, Heart, and Lungs--

Butt: Mng mph?

General: Yes, Butt, you too. Suck it up and give Command what he needs. Legs, monitor your resources and energy levels and work with Fingers to make necessary gear adjustments. Lungs and Heart, send any intel directly to Legs to maintain current output. Not too fast, but not to slow either. Eyes, maintain a sharp lookout for dogs. We've seen what they can do to Legs.

Brain: What about us, sir?

General: Legs are in a lot of pain. Distract them with stories from Command's childhood. If you run out of those, recite the list of U.S. Vice Presidents who wore sideburns. Now let's go, people. We need to bring Command safely home, 'cause we're doing it again tomorrow!

Stomach: I'm not going to get those supplies, am I?

General: An army moves on its stomach, son. We're just going to do it with a little less.

You can also sign up to receive this column every week at