Thursday, May 29, 2008

Dinnertime at the Zoo

Dinnertime at the Zoo
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

Panda Polly: There you are. Hurry and get ready, our dinner guests will be here any minute.

Panda Paul: Oh jeez, is that tonight? I forgot all about it. I had to work late tonight. The zoo had some VIP visitors, and Steve the zoo keeper needed me to stay after.

Polly: Why didn't you call?

Paul: I couldn't. We were out in the exhibit, and I couldn't get away. Didn't Steve tell you I was going to be late?

Polly: Obviously not, or else I would have known.

Paul: Who's coming?

Polly: The Bears, the Gazelles, and the Chimps.

Paul: Oh man, not the Chimps. Did you forget the last time, they ended up flinging their. . . poo around the house?

Polly: That's because you and Chester drank too much and argued about politics. I nearly flung some at you myself. So tonight, you lay off the beer and keep a civil tongue in your head.

Paul: What about him? I swear, if he starts spouting Rush Limbaugh, I'm going to--

Polly: There they are. Now behave yourself.

Benita Bear: Hello, Pandas! Are we early?

Polly: No, you're right on time. And there's the Gazelles right behind you.

Barry and Benita Bear: Hi.

Greg and Gloria Gazelle: Paula, we brought you a bottle of wine from our summer in Napa Valley.

Polly: How lovely. Thank you very much.

Barry (whispers to Paul): I was going to bring you a case of beer, but the little woman stopped me before I even got it to the car.

Paul (whispers back): No biggie. We'll drink it Sunday during the Lions-Bears game. Who do you like?

Barry: You're kidding, right? The Bears, of course.

Gloria: Can I help with anything?

Polly: No, we're all set. Honey, would you ask our guests if they would like something to drink?

Paul: You just did.

Polly: No dear, I mean, why don't you be a good host and ask them?

Paul: We're all standing right here. They can hear you ask me about drinks just as easily as they can hear you be disrespectful to me.

Benita: Oh, my. Uh, I'd like a Cosmopolitan.

Gloria: Can I have some of the wine we brought? I'd love to tell you all about our trip to Napa.

Greg: Ooh yes, darling. I also brought some photos of our Gabby at the all-zoo track meet. She was simply excellent. She left all the other animals in her dust.

Barry: I know. She trash-talked everyone else. Our Betty was so upset, she didn't eat for three days.

Greg: I'm sure she made up for it later.

Barry: Is that a shot at my kid? Not all of us are blessed with your same. . . fragile build, Greg.

Gloria: Careful, Greg, he's salivating.

Paula: Now, now, we're all friends here. Let's not spoil a nice dinner.

Gloria: You're right, Paula. I'm sorry Gabby was so disrespectful, Barry.

Barry: Me too. I just get really defensive about my kids. Benita says I should have been the mother bear.

Paul: So, who's ready for a refill?

Polly: Uh, dear, no one has had anything yet.

Paul: Maybe you haven't, but this is my third.

Polly: Paul, you promised you wouldn't drink.

Paul: No, you promised. I said no such thing.

Polly: Typical. There's a little conflict and you hide inside your bottle. You're as bad as the Ostriches.

Paul: I've had a hard day. We had those stupid VIPs, plus that bus load of school kids.

Barry: Tell me about it. At least no one tries to imitate you. All day long, I get people going "Hey Bear! RAARRR!" It's annoying.

Greg: We get people who make lion noises to get us to run. Hey morons, we can see you from where we're standing. We know it's you.

Paul: And then the news crew showed up to talk about how Polly and I can't have kids.

Polly: You insensitive jerk! Why would you even bring up our personal lives like that?

Paul: The whole freakin' world knows about our sex lives. Ooh, big news flash: the pandas can't get pregnant!

Polly: Well, maybe if you wouldn't spend your nights drunk in front of the TV, we might have better luck!

Paul: And maybe if you took better care of yourself, I wouldn't need to spend every night getting hammered!

Gazelles: Hey, look at the time, we'd better go.

Chimps: Hi all, sorry we're late. Did we miss anything?

Polly: Not at all, the flinging is just getting started. Take that, Paul!

Friday, May 23, 2008

I don't remember you. Do you remember me?

Hi there. You may not remember me. We met at the place that had the stuff, and we talked about the thing the guy did that one time.

At least I think I did. Because I don’t remember you.
I’ve got your business card, so our conversation must have lasted long enough for you to hand it to me.

The thing is, I don’t remember you at all. I don’t know where I met you or what day or anything, because I go to all these networking events – Rainmakers, Smaller Indiana, Fishers Chamber of Commerce – throughout the month. And after a while, everyone starts to blend together, and pretty soon, I’ve just got a kaleidoscope of faces and names: IT professionals, insurance agents, graphic designers, entrepreneurs, writers, real estate agents, and software providers.

And, I’m sorry to say, you didn’t do enough to make an impression on me. So your card ended up in this pile.

I cleaned out my business card files last week and pulled out the cards of the people I lost touch with, couldn’t get together with, or just plain couldn’t remember who they were.

Are you in this pile? This pile of cardstock that now sits in my recycling bin, waiting to make more business cards, to start the whole circle over again? If you made an impression on me, you’re not. If we had a meaningful conversation and I know something more about you than “I make small business owners’ lives easier,” you’re not. You’re safely tucked away in my business card file. If you were one of those blurred faces I met at the place with the stuff, then you’re in the pile.

While I’m in some great networking groups, I don’t know if everyone understands networking. I’ve met people who think that if they scatter a bunch of cards around, they’ll get business. So they hand me their card, tell me in the vaguest, most generic terms what they do, and then dash off without waiting to hear about what I do, or to tell me what makes them special, and why I should even like them, let alone do business with them.

I’ve written before about the “
power of the linger,” and how the conversations that happen after meetings are the best ones, because those are the people I connect with. They’re the people I want to do business with or refer my friends to. They’re the people whose cards I keep, for months and years after I met them. They’re the people who become my associates and even friends. They’re who I call whenever I need some help in their area of expertise.

The next time you see me – or anyone else you want to do business with – take more than two minutes. Tell me something about you the person, not you the business. Connect with me, and make it a memorable conversation. That way I’ll know who to call when I need your services. Otherwise, when I need help with a problem, I'll call the other guy who does the thing.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Very Special Commencement Speech

A Very Special Commencement Speech
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

Recently, Montana governor Brian Schweitzer gave a speech to the Opheim High School graduating class, which consisted of one student, Jeff Greenwood. Greenwood will attend Dickinson State University in North Dakota next fall. While Governor Schweitzer spoke to a crowd of 100, I have my own ideas of what I might say to a graduating class of one.

Thank you, class of 2008. That is, Steve. This is a momentous occasion of your young lives, er, life. The world holds many possibilities for, well, you Steve. Whether it's college, trade school, or working on the family farm, you will--

What's that? Okay, whether it's college or. . . college, you will be presented with all sorts of choices, some good, some bad. And as I gaze out at this sea of young, uh, face here in this. . . Smokey's Restaurant and Bait Shop, I'm positive that your years at Traxel Elementary-Junior-Senior High School will provide you with a firm foundation to make those choices.

The word "commencement" comes from -- uh, I'll have the meat loaf and mashed potatoes with a side salad. Oh, and can I get a refill on my drink please?

The word "commencement" comes from -- Diet Coke -- comes from the -- Ranch dressing. You're welcome -- the Latin word "cominitiare," which means "beginning." So, even though this is the end of one chapter of your life, it's the beginning of adulthood, when you become men and women, uh, a man in this great state of ours.

Where? Wisconsin! Are you kidding me? You're leaving the Big Sky state to become a Cheesehead? Yeah, okay, they've got the Packers, but we've got the University of Montana. What school are you going to?

University of Wisconsin?! That's the Big 10. U of M is in the Big Sky Conference, here in God's country. Look, kid, the Badgers have a good football team, but the whole state is flatter than a pancake -- no ma'am, I don't want any pancakes -- Montana's got. . . okay, you know what? It's fine, that's fine. You do what you want.

As you begin your life -- in Wisconsin -- I hope you'll look back on your time at Traxel Elementary-Junior-Senior High School with fond memories. Memories of winning the school spelling bee, the school chess championship, quarterbacking the school football team to a -- oh jeez, a 0 and 48 record? Uh, I see you're also the valedictorian. Guess that also makes you the lowest student in class too. Heh heh. . . er, sorry, Mrs. Thompson.

Treasure those memories, young people -- er, person. They will -- I had the meatloaf. I think he had the cheeseburger. Thank you. Oh, and can I have some ketchup, please? Anyway, treasure those memories. They will become the stories that define your identity. Oh jeez, that's hot!

Ar tories mak uh ar bary effens. Sorry, that was really hot. I said, our stories make up our very essence.

I remember my own days in high school. I attended a school very much like yours, except we had a lot more students in my class. We would often -- what's that? Missoula. . . University of Montana. . . Business and Forestry Management.

I remember one time, right before my own high school graduation. I was with my friends Chris, Jon, and Mike, and we decided to pull one final senior prank the day before we graduated. So we piled into Mike's car and stole 20 For Sale signs from a local realtor. Then we stole a bed sheet from Mike's mom and spray painted the words "Eat me" on it. Then, when we were driving to the school, we found a dead possum and tossed it into the trunk with the signs. We stuck the signs in the school's front yard, then we climbed onto the roof and draped the sheet and possum on the front of the building.

That night, we all split up -- I had to walk home, because those guys were complaining about gas money -- so none of us would get caught. Unfortunately, Jon decided to drive past the school one more time to check out our handiwork, and got pulled over by the cops. So they reported it to the dean's office the next morning, and that's when -- what's that? Oh, sorry Mrs. Thompson. You're right, that's not a good story for young people.

So, my point is, young people, I mean Steve, even though you're attending a fine institution like. . . Wisconsin, your best education comes from life's experiences. Take time to see the world. Learn about other cultures and how people in different parts of the world live. Once you do that, you'll truly understand the meaning of -- Thanks, do you guys take Visa?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

'Cause It's 1-2-3 Cavities, You're Out

'Cause It's 1-2-3 Cavities, You're Out
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

Erik is out of the office this week. But it's baseball season, and the Yankees are once again the highest paid team in Major League Baseball. To commemorate the fact, we're reprinting a column from late 2002.

When companies face high taxes and financial strain, good executives will try anything they can think of to fight their way out of a bad situation. They'll make salary cuts, slash travel and advertising budgets, and even cut employee benefits.

Cue the wacky sports blooper music!

That's the situation New York Yankee owner George Steinbrenner finds himself in. His Yankees have the highest payroll in Major League Baseball. In 2002, the Yankees' payroll was $125,928,583. The Boston Red Sox were second with $108,366,060, and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were dead last with $34,380,000 -- nearly 64% less than the Yankees spent.

Or to put it another way, the top three Yankee paychecks -- Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, and Mike Mussina -- totaled $3.5 million MORE than the Devil Rays spent on their entire team.

So Steinbrenner is racing to avoid paying the "payroll luxury tax" that came from this year's collective bargaining agreement. The luxury tax is a fee assessed to baseball teams who go over a certain dollar limit on their total payroll, and it galls Steinbrenner to pay it, even though it's his fault it exists.

So what's the Yankee Spender doing to fix the problem? Firing one of his middle-of-the-road bench sitters? Cutting a small percentage of every player's payroll? Asking Jeter to take a slightly smaller piece of his $14.6 million per year pie? No, he's eliminating the dental plan for his 150 front-office employees (of course, the players and coaching staff will not be affected by this move).

Steinbrenner: Have fun at our office Christmas party everyone, but don't eat too much candy. By the way, your dental insurance is canceled. Merry Christmas.

According to sports humorist Robert Hunt Jr.'s "Monday Morning Noter," Steinbrenner is doing this so he can save. . . are you ready for this? . . . $100,000!

When your team payroll is three-and-a-half times higher than the Gross Domestic Product of the island nation of Montserrat, how is gouging your support staff going to help? Wouldn't cutting player salaries be a better idea?

After all, Derek Jeter earns $100,000 in ten innings. How about asking him to taking one for the team to help out the front office folks? It could go a long way in helping him avoid certain headaches next season.

Yankees' launderer: I don't know who put the Icy Hot in your jockstrap, Mr. Jeter. I meant to wash it, but the pain in my tooth was too much, and I had to go home early.

Yankees' publicist: Derek, I know you were supposed to visit the Children's Hospital last night, but my filling fell out, and I had to rush to the dentist. I don't know how you ended up at the Leprosy & Bubonic Plague Sufferers Christmas party. You're not contagious, are you?

Yankees' secretary: Mr. Jeter, your wife called earlier today, but I'm so worried about how I'll pay for my son's braces, I may have accidentally told her you were with another woman.

Steinbrenner, whose notorious cheapness and bad business decisions have turned him into a punchline with a bad haircut, seems to be looking in the wrong direction to solve the problem. Maybe he should focus less on whether or not 150 of his employees have icky teeth, and worry more about the fact that if the Yankees were a country, his team payroll would rank 192nd out of 268 countries and island territories on the world's Gross Domestic Product list.

But he doesn't do that. Instead, he nickles-and-dimes his front office employees to cut back on team costs. This past October, Steinbrenner fired nearly 25 people because of the luxury tax, and forced them to sign a "media non-disclosure" agreement or lose their salary.

"(The Yankees are) coming off record revenues and record ticket sales, and they've made the playoffs for eight straight years," one anonymous source said in an news story. "It would seem inconceivable that they would stoop to that. This is something only a really bad businessman would do."

You hit the nail right on the head, Mystery Baseball Source. When a CEO worries more about the cost of a box of paper clips than the fact that all his Vice Presidents have been arrested for insider trading, he is fired and and bludgeoned by angry stockholders. But when a baseball owner whines and chisels every cent from his support staff, but still insists on paying top dollar for his players, he's hailed as some kind of financial genius.

At least his overpaid players think so. Everyone else thinks he's a financial moron.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Indiana Primary Make Us Feel Special

Indiana Primary Make Us Feel Special
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

I did my civic duty with great pride on Tuesday when I voted in Indiana's primary election. I even wore the little sticker they gave to all the voters.

"I vote, I count," said my little symbol of adhesive activism. However, it was poorly designed, using one big "I," next to the words "vote" and "count."

It looked like "I vote count," so I had to explain to everyone what it meant.

"I vote, I no design good."

Mind you, this wasn't any ordinary Indiana primary. This one was special. It was a presidential primary. And this time, it counted.

Indiana, which is barely a blip on America's electoral radar, finally made the national news for something other than corn, auto racing, or the 2006 Super Bowl Champions (nyah nyah Chicago!)

Thanks to the nation's undecided and wishy-washy, the Democratic presidential primary has extended well into May, two months past its typical expiration date. All other recent presidential primaries, with the exception of the last season of West Wing, are usually decided by the end of February, mid-March tops.

Not this time. Because Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have such strident supporters, there wasn't a clear candidate by the middle of April, which thrust Indiana's primary voters squarely into the national spotlight.

We're not used to that. We're Hoosiers, after all. We prefer to work behind the scenes, and stay out of the limelight. Meanwhile the news media are on a first name basis with the citizens of New Hampshire and Iowa.

But we enjoyed it. Being part of the nation's political conversation. The excited thrill of hearing "Indiana" on national news without also hearing the words "Pacers," "legal troubles," "strip club," and "shots were fired."

We were important. No longer slapped with the "foregone conclusion" label, we would influence presidential politics for the first time since anyone in our state can remember. The media wanted to know where we stood on the issues and who we were going to vote for. Flyers were crammed into our mailboxes, pollsters wanted our opinions, and Hillary's campaign called my house three times.

So we got used to all the strangers with cameras and microphones. It soon became commonplace to see national news trucks drive by, or to be asked deeply personal questions by men and women with microphones and video cameras.

One day, I walked into one of my favorite coffee shops, and was nearly run over by a news crew I didn't recognize.

"Who was that?" I asked the barista.

"That was the CBS Evening News," she said. "They're doing 'man on the street' interviews and wanted to talk to some of our customers."

"Oh," was all I could say, as if being bowled over by out-of-town newsies was an everyday occurrence.

In fact, most of my fellow Hoosiers became jaded and cynical about the media. Or at least we pretended to. We pretended that we didn't want to be on the news. We pretended we were political celebrities used to being in the national spotlight, like those prima donnas in New Hampshire and Iowa. But just like guys who suck in their guts whenever an attractive woman walks by, we checked our hair whenever we saw a TV camera.

But it's all over now. It's already two days after our primary, and we miss the action.

"Wait, wait!" we shouted to the departing news crews, who were on the road to Kentucky and West Virginia. "Wait, we have more to say!"

It was too late. They left as soon as the polls closed, without even a cuddle or a kiss goodbye.

"Look, uh, we have to go," they mumbled. "We have a meeting on the other side of the country in the morning, and traffic is crazy. We'll call you later."

And that was it. No calls, no emails, no promises to hook up in November. Just a memory of the month when we felt special and wanted.

Now we've had a taste of that special treatment, and we want more. We want what New Hampshire and Iowa have. We're tired of being America's Jan Brady. We want to be Marcia -- the cool Marcia, not the Marcia that got hit in the nose with a football. We want the same special treatment the early primary states get.

So I'm urging our state political parties to move the dates of our primaries. Nothing too early, because we don't want to seem easy.

February is fine. Even March would be good. But bring the spotlight back to our state.

Because New Mexico keeps calling us names behind our backs, and we want to show them up.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

I won Humor Carnival. Now I need your vote again

I think I have an understanding of how Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton feel. They each won a primary yesterday, but are back on the trail for the next one.

I won last month's Humor Carnival, with 28 votes (44% of the total). But I'm back in the running for this month's contest with my column I Still Don't Have a Topic.

So, when you have a chance, please stop by and vote for me again. There's another 10 bucks on the line, plus bragging rights. Right now, I'm behind Leeuna Foster, who is actually pretty funny. So if I lose to her, I won't feel so bad.

But not bad enough to schill for your votes right now. So please take 30 seconds to visit this month's contest and vote for me.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Deckers Family, Inc. Annual Report

Deckers Family, Inc. Annual Report
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

To: All members of Deckers Family, Inc.
From: President Daddy
RE: Yearly Evaluation Report

Dear Employees of DFI:

I must apologize to all members of our organization. By my calculation, I am seven months overdue in filing my Yearly Evaluation Report. Or I'm five months early. Regardless, I am pleased to report that I have filed a report every single year since 2004.

Except for 2005, 2006, and 2007.

Mistakes were made, delays were experienced, passive voice writing style was used. Owing to a series of events and incidents, including moving our corporate headquarters twice in two years, it has been difficult to maintain the annual report schedule. Thank you for your patience. Now, down to this year's findings.

I am mostly pleased with the maintenance and cleanliness of our new headquarters. However, I have serious concerns about the state of the offices of the junior staff. Many times, I have seen them in serious disarray, and in need of drastic organization. CEO Mommy and I have pleaded, cajoled, and even threatened to withhold your weekly pay, but to no avail. If these conditions don't improve soon, I may have to move your belongings to the Automotive Storage Area.

I am once again ready to oversee the Exterior Facilities Management this Spring and Summer, and am considering promoting our Manager of Daughter Operations (MDO) to Assistant Facilities Manager. Our new facilities are much smaller and easier to maintain, and the new equipment is easier to use, so I believe the MDO is ready for the responsibility.

While I understand other corporations often pay their Assistant Facilities Managers an additional salary for Exterior Management, senior management must discuss this issue before we make a final decision. In the meantime, Assistant Manager of Daughter Operations (AMDO) and Coordinator of Son Operations (CSO) may continue to patrol the exterior for dandelions, rocks, and sticks.

I am also pleased to report that our AMDO has finally completed her training, and is now a certified "Big Girl." She no longer requires special protective clothing or regular nighttime visits to the office restrooms. I am further pleased that our CSO is not far behind in his training. I fully anticipate he will receive probationary "Big Boy" status by the end of the calendar year.

Once again, President Daddy has taken on new responsibilities outside DFI, which make it necessary to be gone during normal business hours. CEO Mommy continues in her role as Chief Financial Officer, Chief Operating Officer, and General Manager. President Daddy still heads up the "Killing Spiders" task force, but has asked the MDO to suck it up and fill in when he is gone.

Special thanks to all of our junior staff for your wonderful behavior during the recent joint celebration with a contingency from Grandparents, Inc. and two members of Aunts and Uncles Amalgamated. I was very pleased to see all junior members behave in a professional manner befitting our organization.

On a serious note, we were all deeply saddened by the loss of the two Co-Chiefs of K9 Security, Chief Hannah and Chief Macy, within 12 months of each other. They were both fine employees, and we miss them. However, I am reluctant to replace them at this time, because both Co-Chiefs had a bad habit of "leaving evidence" in the kitchen, despite constant supervision and attention.

I do appreciate suggestions of possible replacements, but most of the candidates don't have the requisite size or experience to serve in a security detail. Plus, President Daddy has expressed grave concern that said replacements will be nothing more than eye candy. Reports that I have called them "little yippy nuisances" are greatly exaggerated. I believe the term was "furballs."

Furthermore, I don't think junior staff appreciates how much work and training a new K9 staffer will require. I would like to remind them, especially the MDO, how tensions arose when she was given the responsibility of the care and feeding of our chiefs.

Finally, I have noticed an increase in the amount of disharmony between the AMDO and CSO. It seems to happen most often when you work together on joint projects. While I fully support your sharing of ideas and opinions with each other, please refrain from doing so at the top of your lungs.

Although we have had some difficulties here at DFI since our last report, I am very pleased with our overall performance. Day-to-day operations continue to run smoothly, and our long-range outlook is positive. So keep up the good work, and try to remember that Saturdays are still officially sleep-in days for President Daddy.