Thursday, October 25, 2007

Interview With an Ex-Vampire

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

With Halloween fast approaching, there has been an increased popularity for all things vampire. Numerous news stories and magazine articles have been written, and even National Public Radio's Diane Rehm devoted an entire show to the legend of Vlad the Impaler, the man known as Count Dracula.

So I decided to catch up with the fanged fiend to see what he thought about his renewed popularity. Here's a transcript of my interview.

Erik Deckers: So, Count Dracula--

Count Dracula: Please, call me Vlad. Whenever someone says "Count Dracula," I look for my father.

ED: All right, Vlad. You've been enjoying a media comeback of sorts. What's this doing for your career?

CD: Not as much as you think. Unfortunately, a lot of these stories have a "where are they now" flavor, like I'm just some washed-up has been still trying to hang on to the glory days. I keep expecting VH-1 to show up to do a "Behind the Blood" documentary.

ED: I have to admit, I hadn't heard much from you for several years. What have you been doing?

CD: I've been retired for a while, and loving the freedom. So I'm just taking it easy, hanging around the house.

ED: But surely you get bored at times. How do you keep your mind occupied?

CD: I'm studying for the LSAT. I want to go to law school and become a lawyer. (laughs) Hey, I've been a bloodsucker all these centuries, I might as well get paid for it.

ED: That sounds about right. Which law school?

CD: Well, I thought about Holy Cross, but decided against it, because. . . well, you know.

ED: Yeah, the whole cross thing.

CD: No, no. It turns out they don't have a law school. Speaking of crosses though, I can't help but notice yours. That's quite a big one.

ED: Thanks, my kids made it out of garlic for me.

CD: Looks good. But you know that doesn't work though, right?

ED: What doesn't.

CD: Garlic and crosses.

ED: Really? But what about the legends?

CD: That was just a myth created by the church and the Garlic Industrial Complex to increase garlic consumption and church attendance.

ED: But I thought. . .

CD: What, that you needed garlic and crosses to keep me at bay? I just don't like garlic because it makes my breath stink, and I smell it on my fingers for days. So, if you want to take it off and set it on the table over there, feel free.

ED: No, that's okay.

CD: I just thought it looked a little heavy and uncomfortable.

ED: I barely notice the weight anymore. So what should someone like me use for protection from vampires?

CD: Well, you're safe because you're a journalist. Your blood is already tainted. Blech! I wouldn't touch you with 10 foot fangs.

ED: Then who do you go for?

CD: Actually that's what I've retired from. With AIDS and STDs, not to mention the high cholesterol you mortals have, I gave it all up. I'm on the Ornish diet now, and high fat foods are strictly verboten.

ED: Wow, that must suck.

CD: It's not too bad. I've really learned to enjoy fresh, raw fruits and vegetables. I'm especially fond of blood oranges.

ED: Figures. So, Vlad, I noticed your home isn't as. . . well, castle-like as it used to be. What happened?

CD: I was driven out of my last castle.

ED: You mean by the angry mob, pitchforks, and all that?

CD: No, my neighborhood association was run by a bunch of power hungry tyrants. I couldn't stand their stupid rules. I mean, come on. I'm Vlad the freakin' Impaler, and they're telling me what color my mailbox has to be?! Then, when property taxes skyrocketed here in Indiana, it got to be too expensive. So I sold the place to a nice young couple from Munster, and went condo. No lawns to mow, no home repairs. The condo association does it all. And they've got a great workout room and hot tub.

ED: So you're out of the vampire business altogether?

CD: Well, you can never really stop being a vampire. I'll sometimes dabble during the occasional full moon, but I got tired of the whole flapping around, chasing young virgins business. And have you ever had a stake through the heart? Man, that hurts. So I gave it all up and moved on.

ED: Good for you, and good luck. I hope you enjoy your retirement.

CD: You're welcome. Are you sure you don't want to take off your cross?

ED: Dead sure.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Good Thing His Name Isn't McDonald

Good Thing His Name Isn't McDonald
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

Not many people know it, but there are two Erik Deckers in the world. The other Erik Deckers is a real estate agent in Belgium, while I, well, live here. At least that guy gets to live in a foreign country.

Several years ago, my Belgian counterpart and I exchanged a few emails, and we promised not to step on each other's career toes. I wouldn't sell real estate, and he wouldn't write humor columns.

Seems easy enough. Neither of us have ever had any problems with being confused for the other. No one writes angry letters to him about boob jokes, and no one has ever asked me about an apartment in Brussels. Neither of us has ever been confused for the other.

If people are smart enough not to confuse two people with identical names, they're smart enough not to confuse businesses with somewhat similar names. Right?

Not if you're a lawyer.

Case in point: Restaurateur Ty Morton recently opened a new eatery in downtown Muncie, Indiana, my hometown. The name of the place? Morton's Pub and Grub.

Seems obvious enough. You open a restaurant, you put your name on it.

But Morton's Steakhouse is worried people might get confused between their place and Ty's. So they sent a nasty letter telling Ty to change the name of his restaurant. They said it infringes on their trademark, and he must change it or face legal action.

In other words, Morton can't use his own name on his own restaurant. Why? Is the steakhouse worried that someone will confuse a 40-seat restaurant that serves Irish food and pub fare with a place that serves expensive steaks? Or worse, are they worried someone is going to come into their steakhouse and -- how gauche! -- ask for Shepherd's Pie and hot wings?

I could see the problem if Ty Morton tried opening a steakhouse. But it's just a small restaurant, not a steak empire.

A few years ago, Bill Wyman, an American reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, faced a similar problem. The former bassist for the Rolling Stones, Bill Wyman, had his lawyers send a warning letter to American Bill, saying he couldn't use the Bill Wyman name if it caused confusion for English Bill's fans.

(It didn't. The fans are smarter than the lawyers.)

The funny part was English Bill had changed his name from Bill Perks three years AFTER American Bill was born. So, I think American Bill had the better claim to the name, and should have counter-sued English Bill for the very same reason.

Which makes me wonder: could Ty Morton's dad have sued Arnie Morton, founder of Morton's Steakhouse, for using his name? Maybe Ty's dad didn't want his name associated with a steakhouse started by a guy who used to run Playboy Clubs in the 1970s.

And why didn't Morton Salt, which was founded in 1848, sue the steakhouse for trademark infringement in 1978, when the first steakhouse opened in Chicago? Weren't they worried someone might confuse a round box of salt for a delicious slab of beef? Wouldn't some people mistakenly put granulated beef on their french fries, cucumbers, or oven-baked chicken?

No, of course not. That would be silly. So will someone please tell the steakhouse shysters to unclench a bit? No one is going to confuse a small Irish pub in downtown Muncie with an upscale steakhouse found in 69 cities around the world. Just like they won't confuse the steakhouse with any other kind of Morton's establishment around the world. But they decided only to pick on Ty.

They completely missed Morton's BMW in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Morton's Orchards in Palisade, California, and Morton's Seafood in Madisonville, Louisiana.What about Morton's Bistro Northwest in Salem, Oregon, or Morton's Supermarket in Dublin, Ireland? Those places serve food, why don't you pick on them?

What's wrong, did Morton's Warm Springs Resort in Glen Ellen, California, Morton's Horticultural Products in McMinnville, Tennessee, and Morton's Christmas Fundraising Wreaths escape your beady gaze?

And let's not forget Morton's Toe, a condition where the second toe is longer than the big toe. I'm sure there's someone you could sue for that.

This problem has given Morton's Steakhouse some bad PR (which didn't make the News section of their website). While they're getting their name in the media, they've become a corporate bully who gets its kicks by picking on the little guy. Even if they win, they lose. And if they let Ty keep his name, they lose.

In other words, they're between a rock and a hard place. They're faced with two equally unpleasant options, both of which lead to the same bad ending. That's what the English call Morton's Fork.

And guess who's going to get jabbed with it in the end.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Just Don't Drop It

Just Don't Drop It
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

Brain: General, we've got an emergency. Arms and Chest are reporting massive strain and burning.

General: What is it this time? Control's not back on his bike again, is he?

Brain: Not unless he's adopted a new riding technique.

General: Check that attitude, soldier, or I'll have you doing Mad-Libs for a month.

Brain: Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. I mean, this is a new sensation.

General: Control isn't having heart trouble, is he?

Brain: Heart reports all clear, General.

General: See if you can raise Arms.

Arms: Arms here, General. We're doing a lot of pushing and straining, but it doesn't seem to end.

General: Are you doing push-ups?

Arms: Not sure, sir. We're not pushing Control's total weight, but it's still pretty heavy.

Brain: Sir, Eyes are reporting a type of bar that's moving toward and away from them.

General: Oh, good God, don't tell me. . .

Brain: Yes, sir, I think Control is lifting weights. He's doing the bench press right now.

General: I knew it! That idiot! Who does he think he is, Arnold Schwarzenegger?

Brain: No, he thinks he's 23.

General: We always seem to have these problems when Control wants to relive his younger days. What started it this time?

Brain: Searching memory banks. . . Ah, here we go. It seems that Mrs. Control got a seven day pass at the local YMCA, and Control and his family went for a visit to try out the facilities.

General: Let me guess, Control used to lift weights?

Brain: Extensively, General. He did it nearly every day for a year.

General: And so he saw all the weights at the Y, and thought he'd pick up where he left off?

Brain: Not exactly, sir. He, uhh. . .

General: What is it, soldier? Spit it out.

Brain: Preliminary intelligence says he saw some younger guys lifting, and didn't want to look weak.

General: I swear, I hate my job sometimes. You know, if I thought it would make any difference, I would order Lower Intestine to perform an emergency gas release just to get Control to slow down.

Brain: I don't think it will work, sir. Control might--

Arms: General, what's going on? We're under attack in a new zone.

General: Put a map of the affected area on screen.

Brain: It's the biceps, sir. Control is doing bicep curls now.

Arms: Can't maintain. . . this level. . . of output.

General: Prepare to stand down, Arms.

Ego: Hey, what's going on here? We can't stop now!

General: Ego! I knew you were behind this.

Ego: Who else, big cheese? I'm the reason this big hunk of man does anything healthy.

General: I knew we made a mistake allowing a hippie into the command structure.

Ego: Yeah, yeah. It is what it is. Now why are you allowing Control to slow down.

General: We're not slowing down, we're stopping.

Ego: You can't do that. The other boys are watching.

General: I don't care if the Queen herself is watching. Control can't keep this up.

Ego: Too late, dude. I've already installed a new program into Control's main data banks. That boy is on a mission to get pumped.

Arms: General, if you don't do something, we're going to cramp up. We won't be able to work on the computer for the next two days.

General: Get ahold of yourself, Arms.

Ego: Good one, general.

General: Shut up, you. Brain, see if we can get Control to try something new.

Brain: Switching to triceps. . . now.

Arms: What are you doing? We can't hit both areas.

Brain: Relax, Arms. You used to do it all the time, remember?

Arms: It's been so long. We don't know how long we can keep this up.

Ego: You'll keep going until those other boys respect you, soldier!

General: Ego, you do not order my men around, do you understand me?!

Ego (whispers): General, I didn't want to say this in front of the other men. But it's actually Mrs. Control and their oldest daughter who are behind this. They didn't think Control could handle something this heavy, ever since he turned 40. But we need to show them that he's still as rough and tough as he was 10 years ago.

General: Mrs. Control, you say? Hmm. . . all right, Arms, you heard the man! Grunt it out until I give the order to drop those weights. Now get lifting. We've got some iron to pump!

Stomach: Request permission to hurl, sir.

General: Permission denied. Don't get too comfortable, Stomach, because you're next. Now suck yourself in and look sharp.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

But Can He Do Jazz Hands?

But Can He Do Jazz Hands?
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

I was in high school when the NCAA implemented its now-famous Title IX sports massacre, which brought parity to men's and women's collegiate sports. But as a male athlete, I hated the way the universities brought the parity about. They slashed men's sports across the board so there were equal numbers of men's and women's teams. By the time they were done, there were more casualties than Freddie Krueger's visit to a summer camp counselor convention.

The better choice would have been to increase the number of women's sports, rather than eliminate men's sports. Killing the dreams of young male athletes is not equality; creating new opportunities for young female athletes is.

"But there's not enough money," the universities wailed, including my alma mater, Ball State University. "We have to cut the sports that thousands of young men have dedicated their lives to!"

If they had instead eliminated a couple of football scholarships for, say, the back-up punter and third string right tackle, they could have funded a couple of new women's teams.

Even my own sport suffered. By the time I got to college in 1985, the men's soccer team had withered to nothing more than a club. We were now rubbing elbows with the Physics Club and the Dungeons & Dragons Society.

Only we got more women. Literally.

During my junior year, a woman joined our soccer club. We were happy to have her, partly because we were a forward thinking club, but also because she was cute, and had a leg like a cannon.

We all grew up in the day when girls fought and sued to play boys' sports -- baseball, football, even wrestling. "Girls are good enough to do boys' sports," they said. And they are. Today, Franklin (Indiana) High School has a girl kicker on the team.

So when Sam asked to join, we said yes without batting an eye.

But what if a guy wanted to play a woman's sport, like field hockey, softball, or women's soccer? Do our little boy instincts kick in, and we think he's weird for wanting to play with a bunch of girls? Will he face ridicule and scorn? What about reverse discrimination?

Those are questions high school senior Evan Miller tried to answer when he was on the Delta High School dance team in my hometown of Muncie, Indiana.

According to a recent story in the Muncie Star-Press, Miller made the team this past spring, and practiced with the squad all summer long. But it was all for nothing, because he was cut from the squad on Sept. 19.

"It's because I'm a boy," Miller told the Star-Press.

His last performance was at Delta's home football game on Saturday, Sept. 14. The following Wednesday, Miller was taken aside by Lisa Letsinger, director of the Delta Energy Dance team, and mother of team co-captain, Ashton Letsinger.

According to Miller, Letsinger said she had received some negative feedback from Delta's principal, Greg Hinshaw, and others "higher than her" that it was "not right" for a boy to be a dancer on a girls' dance team.

But Letsinger offered something nearly as good. He could be the manager and come to practices, but couldn't dance at games or go to competitions. And they would be secret best friends, only no one else could know.

Now wait a minute. We already know girls are good enough to play boys' sports. They've proven that time and again for the last 30 years. But why isn't a boy good enough to be on a girls' dance squad?

When Miller and other members of the squad talked to Principal Hinshaw about the discrimination -- I mean, decision, he said it was actually about Miller's overall performance.

Miller said, "The principal said the reason was that (Letsinger) didn't want to hurt my feelings at try-outs by not letting me make the team then."

That makes sense. I'm sure making the team, practicing for three months, performing a few times, and then being cut because some people have gender role hangups doesn't hurt nearly as much as being told "no" from day one.

Either Letsinger or Hinshaw are lying. Neither of them can give Miller a straight story. He says it's about performance, she says it's about his gender. One of them hurt his feelings, the other opened the school up to a sex discrimination lawsuit it would be smart to avoid.

Miller told the Star-Press, "I think, if you want to join something, and it's a club, and you have a passion for it, you should be allowed to do it."

I agree. If Miller wants to dance, and he was good enough to make the squad in the spring, then let the boy dance.

So shame on Hinshaw and Letsinger for being hung up on the fact that one of their dancers has a Y chromosome. Girls have spent the last 30 years fighting to play boys' sports. So it should be no surprise that the tables are finally turning.

Because it seems it's the boys who will finally end up dancing on them.