Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Power of The Linger

Stuart McLean, host of the CBC’s Vinyl CafĂ©, spoke about the joys of lingering on his show this past Saturday.

“It’s not procrastination, it’s enjoying the moment you’re in,” he said. “Lingering is an attempt to let life slip out of time for a bit. It’s about letting go and engaging at the same time. About being imbued with the present rather than focusing on the future.”

For me, linger is a word that holds anticipation and promise. Like if you wait long enough, something special will happen. The first time you met the man or woman of your dreams, you let your hand linger a moment longer than usual when you shook hands. When you’re with a group of people you enjoy, you linger until the end, not wanting to be the one to shatter the mood and cause the whole group to disperse. At a book signing or lecture, I will often linger just to get a chance to meet the author or speaker for a few minutes – something those people who raced out the door never get to do. And I’ve gotten some sage advice from the people I spoke with. Who says lingerers aren’t productive?

Over the last several years, I’ve become a lingerer. I take things at a slower pace. The best times to linger are at a coffee shop with a notebook and pen, my iPod, and an empty schedule. My life slips out of time, and I float. I can actually get more done when I have this time, than when I have to rush off somewhere. Or taking a slow walk around the neighborhood with my kids, just being imbued with the present – with their presence. They pick up sticks and rocks and ask all sorts of questions. And when I’m lingering, I can answer them. When I’m in a hurry, we don’t even get to walk.

Someone recently asked on Smaller Indiana how we use social networking to our benefit. I use the power of the linger.

My best conversations come at the end of gatherings and meetings I attend. When I go to large gatherings, like Rainmakers, I meet some excellent people during our allotted time. But the best meetings happen at the end, when everyone else has fled to their next appointment.

We talk about our work, our families, our hobbies, and I learn about who they are, not what they can do for me. Those are the people I remember. Those are the people I want to help. Not the ones who rush around as if they’re in a race. Not the ones who are competing to see how many business cards they can hand out. I like the people who linger with me because they’re real people, not a 2” x 3.5” piece of cardstock. If only there was a way to put the last 20 minutes of a meeting at the beginning, I could do a whole lot more of it.

But my best meetings – my favorite meetings – are when I meet someone for coffee or lunch, and we linger over our time together. I get to learn a lot about that person during that lingering time. We talk about writing, books, music, art, families, and careers. I know I’m having a good time when I look up and it’s 20 minutes past the time I’ve allotted for the meeting. Which is why I don’t schedule anything immediately after a meeting.

Because I never want to miss the linger.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Steroids Investigation Reaches New Low

Steroids Investigation Reaches New Low
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

SENATOR SOGGYBOTTOM: Esteemed colleagues of the Senate Judiciary Committee, we are launching an investigation into the use of performance enhancing drugs by Ancient Heroes. Today, we will hear testimony from Samson of Ancient Israel, Hercules and Atlas of Ancient Greece and Rome, and Thor from Scandinavia. You four have already sworn your oath, so we'll begin.

THOR: I renew my objection to swearing on a Bible. In my day, a Viking's word was his oath. We would often swear by my father Odin's beard, or sacrifice a goat before a battle, but never on a book.

SOGGYBOTTOM: Your objection is so noted. Now, gentlemen, on to our questions. Mr. Hercules?

HERCULES: Let me start by telling you this. I have never used steroids, period.

SOGGYBOTTOM: Don't bother. We've heard that one before. Now, you are considered one of the strongest men in the world, and your many exploits are legendary. However, you have also been linked to the BALCO scandal and two steroids commonly known as the Cream and the Clear.

HERCULES: That's a lie!

SOGGYBOTTOM: Sir, we have several eyewitnesses who can place you in the same vicinity as a known steroid dealer on at least 17 separate occasions.

HERCULES: Those are foul lies spread by my enemies.

SOGGYBOTTOM: These statements have been made by Greg McGregor, a personal trainer to many Heroes, including Paul Bunyan, Irish hero Finn MacCool, and of course, yourself.

HERCULES: Greg McGregor? That guy couldn't train a monkey to eat a banana.

SAMSON: Looks like you were a good fit then.

HERCULES: Up yours, Long-hair. We haven't heard too much from your part of the world since you killed all those Philistines with your mother's jawbone.

SAMSON: Why you son of a--!

SOGGYBOTTOM (bangs his gavel): Gentlemen! That will be enough out of both of you.

HERCULES: As I was saying, Greg McGregor is not a trainer. Guy spots me for one set of bench presses, and suddenly he's my trainer? He's a walking pharmacy. I wanted nothing to do with him.

SOGGYBOTTOM: Then how do you explain the meetings?

HERCULES: They weren't meetings, he was stalking me. I spent a month in L.A., and he followed me everywhere. I'd go to a movie premiere, and he was there. I'd go to the gym, he was there. Pink's Hot Dogs? Bam, there he was. He finally quit when I threatened to pound his head down into his shoulders. Who needs restraining orders when you've got biceps like these? You got your tickets to the gun show yet, Senator?!

SOGGYBOTTOM: Sit down, please, Mr. Hercules. So you're saying you've never used the Clear or the Cream?

HERCULES: Absolutely. I'm the son of Zeus. I don't need artificial enhancements like Ms. Long-hair over here. What can he do when he paints his nails?

SAMSON: That's it, olive breath. It is so on!

HERCULES: Ooh, what're you going to do, Long-hair? Hit me with your purse?

SOGGYBOTTOM (bangs his gavel): That's enough! Mr. Samson, stand over there, please. Mr. Hercules, you stand over -- uh, Mr. Samson, could you please step away from those pillars? You've got a bit of a history with. . . thank you. Now, Mr. Atlas?

ATLAS: Yes, sir?

SOGGYBOTTOM: This report says you've also been linked to steroids.

ATLAS: Oh yeah, totally.

SOGGYBOTTOM: Totally what, Mr. Atlas?

ATLAS: I totally used that stuff.

SOGGYBOTTOM: And that you -- wait, what?! Are you admitting to using steroids?

ATLAS: Absolutely. Every day for the last 70 years.

SOGGYBOTTOM: But why? You've held the Earth on your shoulders for the last 3000 years. What made you start using them?

ATLAS: Because I've been holding the Earth on my shoulders for 3000 years. That really takes its toll. A lot of these young bucks come along and they're stronger and faster, just like Tall-Blond-and-Handsome here. I needed an edge.

THOR: Dude, there's no way I'd ever be able to outperform you. You've been the gold standard all these centuries. I mean, I just have this magic hammer. You can hold up, like, the entire world.

ATLAS: Don't sell yourself short. I've heard the stories about you.

THOR: You're too kind. By the way, that's a nice suit. Where'd you get it?

ATLAS: Manetti's. It's a little menswear shop on Delaware. Do you know it?


ATLAS: Maybe we can stop by when this is done, and get a drink afterward.

THOR: And I know this great little tapas place if you're hungry.

ATLAS: Oh, totally. I love tapas with a nice Merlot.

THOR: Sounds fabulous.

SOGGYBOTTOM (bangs his gavel): Gentlemen, if we could get back to business? We're going to take a 30 minute break, and we'll resume the questioning when we return.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Goldilocks v. The Three Bears

Goldilocks v. The Three Bears
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

Erik is feeling under the weather this week, so we are reprinting a
column from 2002.

Bailiff: All rise! The Honorable Jacob Loveless presiding.

Judge Loveless: Bailiff, what's the next case?

Bailiff: Goldilocks versus The Three Bears, your Honor.

Loveless: Who represents the plaintiff?

Johnny Cochrane: I do, Your Honor.

Loveless: What seems to be the problem, Mr. Cochrane?

Cochrane: Your Honor, my client had occasion to enter the defendants' home on Saturday, May 18th. During her visit, she sampled some of their food, sat in their chairs, and slept in their beds. Because of the Bears' negligence in food preparation and furniture maintenance, as well
as a failure to secure their home against intruders, my client suffered third degree oral burns, chronic back pain, and a bruised tailbone. She also suffered severe mental anguish resulting from a fear of being mauled during a brief chase. We're suing for physical injuries and emotional distress, and are asking for $3 million.

Loveless: I . . . see. And who represents the defendants?

F. Lee Bailey: I do, Your Honor. We believe the plaintiff's claims are frivolous and a cheap attempt at making a personal fortune out of her own misdeeds. Her injuries are a direct result of illegal entry into my clients' home, misdemeanor theft, and wanton destruction of private property. Not only do we dispute her claims, we are counter-suing for property loss and emotional distress. We are seeking four million dollars.

Cochrane: Oh yeah?! Then we're amending our suit to FIVE million dollars!

Loveless: Gentlemen, gentlemen.

Cochrane: Sorry, Your Honor. My client only entered the home to seek shelter. She was lost, cold, and afraid for her safety. She knocked on the door, but no one was at home. She decided to wait for the occupants inside. Being overcome with hunger and exhaustion, she made herself at

Loveless: Is this true, Ms. Goldilocks?

Goldilocks: Yeth, Yoa Onnow. I wath afwaid ad awone.

Loveless: What did she say?

Cochrane: She said "Yes Your Honor, I was afraid and alone."

Loveless: Why is she talking like that?

Cochrane: Because of the serious oral burns she received after sampling the "Too Hot" porridge, which we are submitting as Plaintiff's Exhibit A.

Loveless: It's stone cold.

Cochrane: Well, it has been two months, Your Honor.

Bailey: If the porridge ain't hot, a case you ain't got. Isn't that right, Johnny?
Cochrane: Shut up, F. Lee! I taught you that trick!

Loveless (sighs): Please continue, Mr. Cochrane.

Cochrane: We further contend that the defendants' negligence in maintaining their home in suitable living conditions caused my client to sit in a chair that was too hard and another that was too soft. This has resulted in her chronic lower back pain. The third chair was also shoddily constructed, which is why it broke under her weight and bruised her tailbone. These conditions have affected her ability to work, and have had a negative effect on her personal income.

Loveless: What do you do for a living, Ms. Goldilocks?

Goldilocks: Dewivvewy thervithe.

Cochrane: "Delivery service," Your Honor. She owns and operates a food delivery service for the elderly. You may remember the murder trial of a Mr. B. Wolf for the murder and cannibalism of one of her employee's grandmother.

Loveless (mumbling): Someone please kill me now.

Bailey: Your Honor, the plaintiff is obviously blaming my clients for her own crimes and misfortunes. I fail to see how it's the Bear family's fault that she injured herself. She was not invited into the home, she was not asked to eat their food, sit on their furniture, or sleep in their beds. She did all of these things illegally, and blames them for her injuries. Where is the justice in that?

Loveless: So why are you suing for $4 million?

Bailey: The emotional distress my clients have suffered are causing irreparable damage to the family harmony. Mama Bear wakes up every 15 minutes to make sure the doors are locked. Papa Bear is paralyzed with a sense of helplessness at the violation of his home. And the two have not
been intimate since the break-in.

Papa Bear: We told you that in confidence, you shyster!

Bailey: I'm sorry, please don't eat me.

Loveless: I never should have gotten up this morning. Please continue, Mr. Bailey.

Bailey: Baby Bear has been inconsolable ever since his favorite chair was broken. And Mr. Cochrane has even reported the Bear family to Child Services, claiming the faulty chair and uncomfortable furniture constitutes a safety issue for Baby Bear.

Cochrane: If the bear cannot sit, you must report it.

Bailey: One more hackneyed rhyme out of you, Cochrane, and we'll step outside.

Cochrane: There once was a stock scammer from Florida, who--

Bailey: Why, you son of a--!

Judge: That's enough out of both of you! I'm dismissing both cases on account of you two being idiots. Bailiff, call the next case.

Bailiff: Next case: People v. Georgie Porgie on 13 counts of aggravated assault, sexual misconduct, and fleeing the scene.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Skittles: The Gateway Candy

Skittles: The Gateway Candy
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

It just doesn't do to break the rules, especially when you're an elected office holder.

We've all heard about the elected official who was recently stripped of his office after purchasing an illicit item. He was no longer able to hold that office, was humiliated in front of his peers, laughed at by his enemies, and his family name was sullied in the national news.

I'm not talking about New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, who shamed himself and his family, by paying for a $1,000-per-hour hooker, after making a name for himself by putting other prostitutes in jail. Not former Attorney General Eliot Spitzer who was forced to resign by a bunch of so-gleeful-it's-frightening Republicans who hated Spitzer for putting the thumbscrews on their buddies on Wall Street.

I'm talking about eighth-grade honors student Michael Sheridan, of New Haven, Connecticut, who landed himself into some hot water by buying – horror of horrors! – a bag of Skittles.

"Skittles" is not a new slang term for crack, pot, or heroin. It's the brand name of the rainbow-colored candy with dozens of different flavors and styles, including the new, limited edition ice cream flavor, which I blatantly flog in the hopes that the fine folks at Mars Snackfoods will send me a few bags.

For committing such a heinous act at Sheridan Communications and Technology Middle School ("Go Eagles!"), Michael was barred from an honors student dinner, suspended from school for a day, and removed as student body vice president. Michael's unidentified dealer was also suspended for a day.

School officials first became suspicious when Michael's name began appearing on FBI reports as "Client 10."

"There are no candy sales allowed in schools, period," school spokesperson Catherine Sullivan-DeCarlo told the New Haven Register.

In other words, if Michael hadn't purchased the candy, it would be okay. If Michael's mac daddy had just given him the candy, and then borrowed $.50 after school, there wouldn't have been a violation. Michael could have come to school with a shopping bag full of Skittles and shoved his head in to eat them, and the school couldn't have done anything about it. But God forbid one kid hands another kid some pocket change. That changes everything.

"It's too much. It's too unfair," Michael's mom, Shelli, told the Register. "He's never even had a detention."

After a national outcry against this blatant overreaction, it appears that school superintendent Reginald Mayo may have intervened, restoring a glimmer of common sense to an American school system plagued by Zero Tolerance.

By Thursday, the hallowed halls of SCTMS was restored to normalcy. Mayo met with principal Eleanor Turner and Michael's parents, after which Turner expunged Michael's record, as well as his mac daddy's (or is that snack daddy?). Michael was also restored to his post as class vice president. (Sadly, there are no reprieves when you're governor.)

"I am sorry this has happened," Turner said in a written press statement. "My hope is that we can get back to the normal school routine, especially since we are in the middle of taking the Connecticut mastery test."

Mastery test? The biggest test of the Connecticut school year? This is what puzzles me: wouldn't you want one of your smartest students to actually do well here? Don't you want the kids who offset the slower kids' scores to actually be present, rather than serving a one day suspension "in the middle" of the most important test your students will take all year?

In Turner's defense, she was only following the rules the school system laid out in 2003, when they banned all candy sales to improve school wellness. As someone who used to work in public health, I can certainly appreciate that. But it's more than a knee-jerk overreaction when you strip a young man of his office and publicly humiliate him, just because he bought a bag of candy from his hand-to-hand man.

In an attempt to defend the principal's actions, Mayo said that Turner only wanted to keep students safe.

From what? Tooth decay? Raging gun battles between rival candy dealers fighting over their turf? Is Skittles the next gateway drug? Where will it all lead? Popping Smarties during gym class? Huffing Milky Ways after lunch? Freebasing Mr. Goodbars in the bathrooms?

Principal Turner needs to relax a bit and put it it into perspective. At least Michael wasn't buying the same kind of candy Elliot Spitzer enjoyed at $1,000 a pop. You'll catch something, but it sure ain't cavities.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

This Ain't No "Gift of the Magi"

This Ain't No "Gift of the Magi"
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

It's the age old story: boy meets girl, boy marries girl, boy visits brothel, boy finds girl working in brothel, girl divorces boy.

If I had a dollar for every time that happened, I'd have, well, a dollar.

According to a Reuters news story, it happened to a Polish man this past January. He was visiting a local brothel when he found his wife was working there. And not at the snack stand, if you know what I mean. She had told her husband she was working at a store in another town, when in truth she was peddling her wares a little closer to home.

Apparently, the hickeys and smell of cheap vodka and shame weren't a tip-off that something was wrong. He wasn't too quick on the uptake either.

The Polish tabloid Super Express said the woman had been working at the house of ill-repute to make a little money on the side. (Or on her back if you want to get technical about it.)

All of which resulted in a slew of jokes that end with "that was no prostitute, that was my wife."

"I was dumbfounded. I thought I was dreaming," the unnamed man told Super Express. "And not the good kind either, where my wife turns into Carmen Electra."

This is what's known as a Catch-22. They needed the extra money, because he kept spending it on prostitutes. She became a prostitute to earn extra money, which he promptly spent on more prostitutes.

It reminds me, in some twisted way, of the O. Henry "Gift of the Magi" Christmas story.

"I sold my father's pocket watch to buy some tortoise-shell combs for your beautiful hair," he said.

"But I sold my hair to a wig maker to buy a platinum fob for your pocket watch," she said.

"That's just great. Your hair will grow back, but where the heck am I going to get another pocket watch?"

You have to wonder how this guy even found her. Did they pass in the hallway and try to pretend they didn't recognize each other? Or did they get matched up through a malicious quirk of fate? Did he have to pay the full price, or did he get a discount? Makes you wonder why they didn't just skip the middle-madam altogether and go home.

Unfortunately Reuters and Super Express were less than helpful answering these questions, so this is how I think it went.

Husband: What are you doing here?

Wife: I could ask you the same thing.

Husband: Don't change the subject. What the f&#! are you doing here?

Wife: I think you just answered your own question. So why are you here? And why do all my co-workers know you by name?

Husband: Uh, would you believe I'm a health inspector?

Wife: No, because you're a welder.

Husband: Researching a book?

Wife: You barely graduated high school.

Husband: Yeah, well what about you? You told me you were working at the Gas and Gulp in Parzniew, and instead I find you here.

Wife: I had to earn some extra money to support us. We've been falling short $100 every week, so I had to start working here to make up the difference.

Husband: Well, I'd better run, I left the oven on.

Wife: Wait a minute, I make $100 a week here. You son of a--!

So who's to blame for all of this? The husband, who apparently made a habit of visiting brothels and paying for his adultery? Or the wife who actually profited from it?

Like most stupid families, I think they can equally share the blame If he hadn't been paying for sex, they wouldn't have needed the extra money. On the other hand, there are plenty of jobs that don't involve having sex with strangers. Like animal carcass remover for the highway department, septic tank inspector, or telemarketer, just without the dignity and self-respect.

Understandably, the couple is getting a divorce after 14 years of marriage. And I bet the wife is the only one who can afford a divorce lawyer, since she's got better earning potential than he does. But how do you even explain it to your friends and family?

"Sheila and I are getting a divorce because I found her working in a brothel."

"Bob and I are getting a divorce because he was visiting a brothel."

It's the answer to the next question that will be a little harder to explain.

"That's awful! How did you find out?"

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