Thursday, April 26, 2007

You Can't Do That in Public

You Can't Do That in Public
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

I was sitting with Karl, my friendly-neighborhood curmudgeon, in our favorite Scottish pub, when I became aware of a certain change in the atmosphere.

Karl, that's disgusting! I said. You shouldn't do that in public.

He plunked his beer on the bar. "Kid, what makes you think I need lessons from a young pup like you?"

I'm 39.

"My point exactly. You're just a kid."

Barkeep, another lager for my new best friend, please.

"My point, Kid, is that I'm an old man. The last thing I need is lessons on farting in public from a kid."

Well, I'm good, but I wouldn't say I'm an expert.

"Not those kinds of lessons!I mean etiquette lessons." He drank his beer with his pinky raised to prove his point.

Yeah, but you just don't do that kind of thing, I protested.

"Maybe not, but it was an emergency. Besides, there's nobody in here."

True, but still, there is such a thing as appropriate behavior in public.

"Yeah, yeah. You know, you remind me of this guy I met several years ago in a bar like this one. I was drinking beer and eating taquitos like there was no tomorrow, so I was pretty well in the bag. Guy walks up to the bar with his wife, who was quite pretty -- they were both pretty fancy, in fact -- but I didn't know they were there. So I raised up off my stool and let one slip, rather loudly. That's when I realized saw them.

"The guy has this disgusted look on his face, and he says 'How dare you fart in front of my wife!'

"I said, 'Sorry buddy, I didn't know it was her turn.'"

I stared at him. That's an old joke, Karl.

"Hey , Kid, I'm an old man."

So you're an advocate of breaking wind in public?

Karl stared thoughtfully at the bagpipes hanging over the bar for a minute. "Well, no, not an advocate. More of a practitioner."

So you think people should just be able to fire off their public poots at will?

"Only if Will doesn't mind, which I think he would."

Not Will, will. As in free will.

"Why not? People air their grievances, their dirty laundry, their opinions. So why not air their air?"

Because you'll be a social outcast if you keep ripping one off around a bunch of people.

"But why should people be embarrassed by it? We all do it."

Yes, but we don't all do it in public.

"Sure we do. You've heard people who make what sounds like a fart, and start grinding around in their chair trying to recreate the sound to let you know that it was the chair and not them. Truth is, most of those people did a real one, and are trying to make you think it was the chair."

Yeah, but still. . .

"But nothing, Kid. Let me tell you a story."

This isn't another joke-disguised-as-a-story, is it?

"No, no. This one is real. A long time ago, I was in this meeting. There were about 12 people, and I'm sitting down near the end of the table. A couple of women show up late, and sit down next to me.

"As I start talking, one of the women lets out this distinctive, but very ladylike poot. It was quiet, but everyone in the room heard it, and we all pretended like we never heard it. I was able to keep talking without missing a beat, trying to help this poor woman out by not laughing at her little slip.

"As you know, I've got the sense of humor of a 12-year-old, so it was extremely hard to keep a straight face. As I'm talking, I see a woman at the other end of the table trying not to smile. I keep thinking, 'Oh man, if she laughs, I'm going to lose it.' So I very carefully avoid eye contact and finish my point."

That's a very mature attitude. At least you didn't embarrass the poor woman by laughing at her.

"Yep. Instead, I waited until the meeting was over to call a friend to tell him about it."

So how is that supposed to help people get over being embarrassed about their public flatulence?

"I suppose it isn't. But it's a great story."

Not unless everyone thought you did it. Maybe that woman at the other end of the table was laughing at you.

"Oh jeez, I hope they didn't think that was me. That's embarrassing."

You're a weird guy, Karl.

"I know. Hey, pull my finger and I'll show you a trick."

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Dumping For Dollars

Dumping For Dollars
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

They say that breaking up is hard to do. At least that's what the song says. So for $68, you can outsource the job.

German entrepreneur Bernd Dressler has started a service where he delivers a break-up message on behalf of someone who wants to dump his or her lover, partner, or spouse.

"Roses are red, Violets are blue, Welcome to Dumpsville, Population: You"

Dressler's so-called Separation Agency has helped to terminate 120 relationships in 11 months, earning him the nickname, "The Terminator."

"We have had dating agencies for 30 years," Dressler told the BBC. "If you want to have a new partnership, then you have to quit your previous one."

Dressler will deliver the bad news with typical German efficiency in person for 50 Euros, or by phone for 20.

"I say to them, 'Good day, my name is Bernd Dressler from the Separation Agency, and I have been asked by your partner to inform you that he or she wishes to end your relationship,'" Dressler said in an interview with the BBC.

The client is asked to give three reasons for the breakup, and then gets to choose from one of four breakup packages, starting with a "let's stay friends" arrangement, which includes a "sensitive phone call."

I should sue Dressler for royalties. I was on the receiving end of this one so many times in college, I trademarked it.

For the 50 Euro package, Dressler will show up on your soon-to-be ex's doorstep, and give a painfully detailed account of why you can't stand him or her anymore. He will then collect your stuff and be on his way.

The BBC also spoke with one of Dressler's victims -- er, recipients -- a 37-year-old council official named Hagen. Dressler informed the unsuspecting Hagen that his girlfriend, Heike, wanted to break up with him.

"It hurt like hell at the time," Hagen told the Beeb. "But Mr. Dressler was very objective. I suppose it was the only way that Heike could tell me that things are over."

No, there was one other way. "Hagen, I'm breaking up with you," leaps readily to mind. But the problem with that approach is that it takes, well, courage.

"I have come to the conclusion that younger people can't face up to ending difficult affairs. Many treat relationships in the same way as an empty Coke can -- when it's finished, they want to throw it away," said Dressler.

That, and they're a bunch of gutless cowards. What happened to the good old days of breaking up? The tearful pleadings? The late night hang-up phone calls? The obsessive stalking and restraining orders?

Nowadays it's separation agencies, relayed breakups through mutual friends, or in the case of a woman my wife knows, receiving a text message on her cell phone. (This particular self-absorbed coward sent a text message to his girlfriend telling her that he was spending the weekend at his fathers, and "by the way, I don't think this is going to work out.")

I'm not saying people should stay in bad relationships, or to be with someone they don't like. But this guy should man up and actually talk with his girlfriend, not tap out a free text message on his camera phone.

"Hey, u r dumped. Thx. L8r."

With services like Dressler's, I have to wonder, is he filling a preexisting need? Are there people who are such wimps that they can't break up with their partner without help? Or has the creation of his service created also created the demand, like the iPod, the fax machine, or the Chia Pet.

Some businesses have begun using the phrase "separated from employment," as a euphemism for firing someone or laying off a bunch of people. They can't bring themselves to say "Bob was fired" or "we just crushed the livelihoods of hundreds of people so our CEO can get his stock bonus." So they came up with a phrase to make themselves feel a little less guilty.

How long will it be before these companies start outsourcing their employment separation to people like Dressler?

"Hello, my name is Eugene Farnsworth from the Employment Separation Agency, and I have been asked by your employer to inform you that he or she wishes to end your employment. I need to collect their stapler and their toothbrush."

Still, Dressler may be on to something. After all, he gets paid $65 just to crush someone's heart on behalf of a coward, with only a minimal effort on his part. Maybe this is something I should consider.

Mary Ann Shaw, please call me at your earliest convenience. I have a message for you from your husband, Ron.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

It's Not Road Rage, It's Moral Superiority

It's Not Road Rage, It's Moral Superiority
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

"Watch where you're going, you jerk!"

"Did you see that guy? He cut me off!"

"I did not blast the horn at him."

"I only lightly honked at him."

"Because he cut me off."

"I had to hold it down to make sure he heard me."

"Uh, it was a gentle reminder to watch out for other cars on the road?"

"He does not have a gun."

"I don't know what I would have done."

"Well, we don't have to worry about that, do we?"

"I am not speeding up to catch him."

"No, I'm just making sure no one else tries to pass us unsafely."

"See, he's speeding away. He knows he was a jerk."

"JERK!"

"I do not have road rage."

"No, I don't."

"I have road annoyance."

"That's when I get annoyed at people because they're stupid when they drive."

"Like this guy. Hey, Snailman! Try using the vertical pedal on the right."

"I just wanted to get past him."

"Because he's going too slow."

"I am not speeding."

"I'm just trying to match the speed of the traffic."

"Well, everyone else is too slow. This is the speed they should be going."

"So what if I'm going a few miles over the speed limit?"

"No I'm not. I'm only going -- okay, ten is more than a few."

"There, are you happy?"

"Nonsense. I haven't had a ticket in years."

"The last ticket I had?"

"It was a speeding ticket?"

"What? The last THREE tickets?"

"Hey, look at that old car. Man, I haven't seen one of those in years."

"I'm not changing the subject."

"No, I'm just surprised they still make parts for those things."

"We had one when I was a kid. I didn't think there were any still around."

"I just -- alright, alright, my last three tickets have been speeding tickets."

"But they were spread out over several years."

"Who cares if two were in the same year?"

"I mean, besides the police."

"And besides the insurance company."

"Or the BMV."

"Okay, besides you too."

"Cop? Where?"

"Okay, I see him."

"No, I'm not going a little fast."

"If I was worried about my speed, I'd -- wow, that IS a little. . . uh, car. That's a little car up ahead."

"I mean, it's a little SUV."

"Well, it's pretty small for a Hummer."

"No, I'm not worried."

"I'm slowing down out of courtesy to show my fellow motorists there's a radar trap up ahead."

"I'm doing the speed limit."

"Okay, maybe I was a little over. But just a little."

"Did he follow us?"

"Oh, #&@*! There he is."

"The kids can't hear us. They're watching a DVD with the headphones on."

"What, Buddy?"

"I said shoe. Keep watching your movie."

"No, don't you say shoe. Just watch your movie, Bud."

"Are his headphones back on?"

"Oh sh-- jeez, he's coming up behind us."

"Uh, maybe he wants to thanks me for being such a safe and conscientious driver?"

"As a matter of fact, I do believe most of the stuff I say."

"Alright, alright, I was going a little faster than I should."

"Ha, ha, very funny. We were nowhere near the speed of sound."

"(Because I can still hear you.)"

"Huh? I didn't say anything."

"Whew, there he goes. Guess we're alright."

"No, I'm not worried, because I'm not speeding at all. See? Five miles under."

"Yeah, when my heart slows down a bit, I'll get back up to a normal speed."

"No, that's not speeding."

"You're the one who's worried about being late."

"Well, I can either get there on time or drive slowly."

"Then why didn't you drive?"

"I did not insist on driving."

"Racing to get my keys and jumping into the car before you is not insisting."

"Because I like driving this car."

"Nothing's wrong with my car. I just like a change now and then."

"Because I can take turns way faster in this car."

"I'm kidding!"

"There's the cop. He pulled someone over."

"Hey look, he got that jerk who cut me off earlier."

"HA! JERK!"

"Told you that guy was unsafe. Good thing I'm such a safe driver."

Thursday, April 05, 2007

You've Got a Thing Hanging. . .

You've Got a Thing Hanging. . .
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

Erik is feeling a little under the weather this week, so we are reprinting a column from 2005. He should be back, raring to go, next week with an all new column.

Quick, check the mirror. You've got something in your teeth.

How many people would tell you that? Not many. You could be eating lunch with a friend and you've got a huge chunk of your lunch stuck between your front teeth, and your friend just stares at you. You think you're wildly interesting, because she's making great eye contact and hangs on your every word. But in reality, you're going to spend the rest of the day with a huge piece of spinach stuck to your front tooth, making you look like Mike Tyson's prom date.

And your friend will never tell you.

Some people say that you can tell who your true friends are, because they'll tell you if you've got a booger hanging from your nose; they want to save you from complete embarrassment later on.

But most people I know say they never point out dangling boogers or tooth spinach because they don't want to embarrass the other person. That's understandable. You wouldn't want to have your carefully crafted persona shattered by being told you have a barbecued rib dangling from the corner of your mouth.

On the other hand, these so-called friends never think about the fact that you won't discover your faux pas until three hours later when you finally stand in front of a mirror.

Now how embarrassed are you? Not only did you sit through lunch with your friend, but you had a department meeting, and gave a presentation to your boss,with that booger stalactite hanging from your nostril.

Let's face it, we're not really trying to spare the other person's feelings. We're just embarrassed ourselves. We don't want to be the one to point at the other person, say "Err. . . you've got a. . ." and then wipe our hand under our nose.

We feel absolutely no compunction about laughing about it with friends later: "I mean, it was just HANGING there , flapping in and out with every breath!" But we just can't bring ourselves to say, "Dude, you've got a boogie. Wipe your nose."

We need to get over ourselves. Life is not always about you (it's about me, actually), so we shouldn't worry about the shame of saying "You've got a. . . uhh. . ." We're actually doing the other person a favor -- the same favor we would want them to do for us.

It's the Golden Nugget Rule: Point out others' boogers as you would have them point out boogers stuck unto you.

Ultimately, the kind of person you are comes down to that one simple question: are you a forthright straight shooter who tells people what they need to hear? Or are you a shy, timid wallflower who would rather be swarmed over by fire ants then tell your best friend of 25 years, "Your barn door is open." (Okay, that's two questions.)

I hope you're the former, and that you'll spare a friend total public humiliation and remind her to check her teeth before she leaves the restaurant.

But it's a whole different ball game when it comes to smells and odors. Even communication and relationship experts agree that telling someone they smell is the most awkward, uncomfortable thing we could ever do. It's less awkward to tell your wife you're having an affair with her best friend as the two of you walk out the door for a romantic weekend.

Our smells are one of the most basic things about us -- they're our very essence. The way our prehistoric ancestors used to identify each other back in the 1940s. Even in some cultures today, a person's odor is considered part of who they are -- as distinctive as their face and their personality. To experience a person's odor is to experience the person.

Because odors are so primal, people never want to point out that someone else is emitting an unpleasant one. In most cases, it's considered a grave insult. The only exception is when a group of Guys get together and someone shouts the inevitable, "Dude, that was gross! What died inside you?!" immediately after one of them breaks wind. Then, not only are odors pointed out, they're usually celebrated.

So, don't be a fair weather friend. Look out for your friend, co-worker, or new acquaintance and help them save face in what could be an awkward social situation. Stand up, point dramatically at the other person, and declare proudly at the top of your lungs: "I am your friend, and you've got a large booger hanging from your nose!"

They'll thank you for it. And wipe it on your pants when you're not looking.