Thursday, January 31, 2008

Rebel Without a Tongue

Rebel Without a Tongue
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

Kids' brains work in amazing ways. At times, they can grasp complex concepts and make impressive discoveries. Other times, you have to wonder how we ever survived as a species.

My kids have come up with lame excuses for some of their behaviors, which makes me question their intelligence. Or wonder if they question mine.

Recently we were at a restaurant when my five-year-old son started acting up, My wife scolded him, and he responded with something he had never done before: he stuck his tongue out.

We teach our kids to be respectful of others, so this was a big no-no. So when she got on his case about it, I could see the little wheels spinning in his mind, and he latched on to the first excuse he could think of.

"I was thinking about my hamburger, so I licked my lips because I was looking forward to it."

I turned away so he wouldn't see me laugh. I wanted to say, "Kid, if that excuse was any more lame, it would ride on Bob Cratchit's shoulders and say 'God bless us everyone.'"

When we pointed out the feebleness of his excuse, he knew he had been busted. But that didn't stop the problem. As my wife continued her lecture, my son put his chin in his hand, cupped it in front of his mouth so she couldn't see, and stuck his tongue out again. So I had to get involved.

It was funny to see my son trying to be sneakily defiant, launching his very own secret revolt. As if I couldn't see a little kid three feet away, sticking his tongue out from behind his hand.

I could almost read his thoughts: "I'll only stick it out a little bit. Mommy won't see, but I'll know I'm doing it, so I'll win."

You just can't keep a stuck-out tongue a secret. No matter how hard you try, you can't stick it out a little bit. There is no "little bit" when it comes to your tongue. It shows. It sticks out like a little pink neon light that says, "you're not the boss of me." And there's always a mom or dad who says, "wanna bet?"

Every child goes through a minor rebellious phase. I know I did. One day, my mom was scolding me for something, so I thought, "I'll show her. I'll stick my tongue out a little, and then I'll win."

I stopped doing it because it caused a sharp pain on my rear end, roughly the size and shape of her hand. After that, I never stuck my tongue out at my mom. Once I tried sticking it between my teeth, but not actually out. Turns out, that causes a sharp pain on the rear end too.

But I also knew that when I was in my room, "thinking about what I did," she couldn't see a thing. That's when I stuck my tongue so far out, Gene Simmons would have gasped in amazement.

I was also the king of lame excuses when I was a kid.

Back in the day when teachers still spanked kids, I was often on the receiving end of a yardstick whack from my first grade teacher, Mrs. Jefferson.

Each afternoon, we would march down to the cafeteria, wait in line, and get our lunch. After lunch, we went back to the classroom to hear the recital of the litany of our sins that resulted in someone getting a whack out in the hallway at least once a week.

One day, I decided to antagonize one of my classmates in the lunch line, and started blowing on his face. When we got back to class, one of the other kids ratted me out.

"Mrs. Jefferson, Erik kept blowing on Kent in the lunch line." said the little ratfink.

"Erik, why were you blowing on Kent?" Mrs. Jefferson asked me. My mind raced for a suitable answer. One that would save me from a whacking.

"Uhh, it was cold in the cafeteria, so I was trying to keep him warm?"

WHACK!

While that didn't necessarily stop my youthful shenanigans, I did learn not to come up with such stupid excuses. That's not to say I didn't become a first class BS artist as I got older. I just got better.

If my son is smart, he'll learn that you can't out-BS an old pro like me, or that overt displays of rebellion are going to get you into trouble quicker than you can say "you can't make me."

I just hope he figures this out before he learns what his middle finger is for.




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Giving Presentations Like Steve Jobs


Tip of the Big Hat to Anthony Juliano, who came up with the "Top 10 Little Known Steve Jobs Presentation Strategies.

I'll let you read the list on Anthony's blog, but I'll preview my two favorites here:

6. Use scissor lift to reach point on graph showing "Number of people pissed off when we lowered the price of the iPhone."

4. Put a pile of MacBooks on the stage next to a bag of
tangelos; yell "that's like comparing apples and oranges!"

Great job, Anthony!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Project Please Kill Me Now

Project Please Kill Me Now
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

I hate myself for what I'm about to say:

I've been watching Project Runway.

It's one of the most annoying shows I've ever watched, like watching a train wreck, or meeting someone with a really disgusting growth. I want to look away, but I can't.

It's a show about wannabe fashion designers who are supposed to create fabulous new designs out of different exotic materials -- colorful fabrics, recycled blue jeans, and even candy bar wrappers. Last year, the contestants had to use recycled materials for their designs.

Each week, host Heidi Klum tells the designers, "either you're in, or you're out." And she says "out" with each T perfectly enunciated and crisp, like a snare drum -- "out," "outt," "ouT." It's so annoying, I've begun to hate the word.

"Honey," my wife asks, "do we have any more milk?"

"No, we're ou--I mean, there's none left."

"Where are you going?"

"I'm going ou-- dangit! I mean, I'm going to get a beer with the guys."

I think she does it on purpose.

She's also the one who got me hooked on the show. She's been watching Project Runway for two seasons, and occasionally I would watch a couple minutes, for something to do. Pretty soon, I started watching the last 15 minutes to see who got booted. Now, I watch the first 15 minutes, wander off for a half hour, and then come back to catch the last part.

Please understand, I don't care what happens to these people.

Actually, I do. I want them to suffer painful and humiliating embarrassment. I want them to lose in the most spectacular manner, stumbling off the runway, sobbing uncontrollably, tears and snot running down their bony faces.

I'm sure they're all very nice people, once you get to know them. But I don't want to.

They've got all the emotional depth of a high school dance. They have more self-induced drama than a week-long Shakespeare festival. And they Capitalize when they speak, as if they're talking about Important Things.

I just really hate them So Much.

Except Jillian. I like Jillian. She's a 26-year-old fashion designer from Long Island who has her own label and consults to other fashion designers. She's smart, doesn't throw tantrums, and seems to be the most level-headed of all the fashionistas. My wife thinks I have a crush on her. I just like her, because she does her job without all the drama.

My least favorite designer is Christian, a 21-year-old Obnoxious Brat from Maryland. He's an effeminate, officious little diva whose hair looks like a pack of deranged apostrophes attacked his head. He looks like a backup singer for a Kajagoogoo cover band. Even the women are more macho than he is.

With Christian, everything is "Faaaaabulous" or "fierce," and he could "just die" if something doesn't go just right.

He's also Spoiled. Every time he doesn't win, he gets a shocked look on his face -- how dare you?! -- like he's going to stamp his little feet and storm off the runway.

The problem? He's good, he's really good.

Even I, who knows absolutely nothing about women's fashion, look at some of his stuff and wonder if they'll ever make it in my size.

I'm also worried he's going to win. Week after week, he easily makes the final cut. He rarely comes down to the last two designers, who are forced to listen to Heidi's catchphrase, "one of you will be in, and one of you. . . will be out."

Outt.

I want him to lose. To be laughed off the runway because he used shoulder pads and epaulets on a cocktail dress. Or because his model "just died" when she was crushed by the "fierce" little jacket he made out of the reclaimed doors of a 1978 Buick Skylark.

Because every time Christian makes The Cut, it reinforces that his whiny, simpering arrogance is an Acceptable Way to go through life. I just want to cut his hair off with dull Pinking Shears.

I'm really not a mean person. I try to like people, and find the good in everyone. I've been told this is my most endearing, and most annoying, trait.

So why can't I like 15 people who have devoted their lives to making a bunch of painfully thin women look beautiful? Why does a weekly show about a bunch of drama kings and queens instill such loathing in me.

More importantly, why do I watch the Stupid Thing each week? I'm worried I'll start watching entire episodes. And checking the online blogs, voting in the little contests, and actually caring about whether someone is In or Outt.

Because if Jillian doesn't make it, I'll Just Die.




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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Top 10 Signs You Have or Don't Have a Man Bag

Top 10 Signs Your Bag is a Man Bag

10. It's made from the finest Italian leather, lovingly treated so it doesn't chafe the tender areas under your arms.

9. When you get angry at a friend, you stamp your little feet and hit him with it.

8. It has separate clips for your keys, cell phone holster, and a coin purse.

7. It comes with a matching fanny pack.

6. The guys from "Queer Eye" roll their eyes and tell you to butch up.

5. It's a big hit with Manfred Mann, Eli Manning, and Chuck Mangione.

4. Everyone thinks your wife asked you to carry her purse again.

3. It has extra roomy compartments to carry your dignity. And a small zipper pocket for your masculinity.

2. You can buy it at Abercrombie and Fitch, the Gap, and Limited Too.

1. It easily holds your cell phone, your PDA, and the first three seasons of "Sex and the City" on DVD.


Top 10 Signs Your bag is a Guy Bag/is not a Man Bag

10. It was made from a bear skin. With the bear still in it.

9. Ernest Hemingway was banned from the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, after he killed a bull with it.

8. It fires Patriot missiles out of the pen holder.

7. It came with a free set of Monster truck tires.

6. Rocky IV was originally about Rocky fighting your Bag. It had to be rewritten, because Rocky died after being punched one time.

5. When you meet Chuck Norris, he clenches his fists, narrows his eyes slightly, and whispers, "Nice bag."

4. It's the only other thing that can stop Superman.

3. Your bag was banned from the Canadian wilderness because they will dominate wolf packs and wreak havoc on nearby towns.

2. You didn't buy your Guy Bag. It was granted by the Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite.

1. It can hold a regulation size NFL football, a regulation NFL helmet, and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.



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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Does This Match My Shoes?

Does This Match My Shoes?
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

My wife recently committed the heinous, unpardonable crime of asking me to carry her purse.

Not hold the purse, but to actually lug the thing around so I look like I've got so much stuff, I need to carry it in a large leather bag. It's a humiliating thing for a Guy.

For the record, I carry a messenger bag or a backpack. They're not man purses, man bags, or man clutches. They're testosterone-laden, adrenaline-pumping, football-playing messenger bags and backpacks.

It's hard enough when I have to hold the thing. Then I have to figure out the most masculine way to hold a woman's handbag, trying to figure out a how to give off the vibe that I'm reluctantly doing this as a favor for the woman I've chosen to spend the rest of my life with. A vibe that says it's only a lifetime commitment made in front of family and friends that has saddled me with this humiliating task.

Once I tried pinching it delicately between my thumb and forefinger, but I looked like I was holding a raccoon carcass. Then I remembered I'm a Guy, and we don't do anything delicately, otherwise our other Guy friends make panty jokes about us.

So I set it on the ground next to me, but she scolded me for not knowing how to take proper care of a leather purse. (On my list of important things I need to know, this ranks right below knowing the color of my aura.) You would think I had just asked my son to juggle knives.

Then I tried setting it on top of my shoes.

"What's the matter, not secure enough in your masculinity to hold my purse?" she asked.

"There's not enough masculinity in the world to hold a woman's purse," I said. "I just don't want people to think it's mine."

"Don't worry about that, it doesn't match your shoes."

For the last few years, I've been able to hand the thing off to my oldest daughter. This usually gets an annoyed look from my wife, but at least I avoid the uncomfortable stares from passersby.

But she finally crossed the line a couple Sundays ago. We were in church, standing outside the sanctuary. Our kids were already in their classes, and we were getting ready to walk in. We were actually on time for a change, and could get a good seat.

"I have to make a quick stop before I go in," my wife said, sweetly batting her eyes at me. I've been married long enough to know that when she bats her eyes, I'm being set up for something horrible.

"Can you carry my purse in for me?" She shoved the bag into my hands, and I held it, not knowing whether to drop it and run away, or shove it back at her.

"I'll just stand out here with it."

"No, you have to go in and get our seats."

"But. . ."

"Oh, don't be such a baby."

"Why can't you carry it with you?"

"Because I don't want to set it on the floor." Apparently there are purse-eating bacteria lurking on bathroom floors. "What's wrong, are you afraid someone will think it's yours?"

At that moment, a husband and wife walked past us, on their way into the sanctuary. He looked at me with a mixture of amusement and understanding pity, like he wanted to laugh at me, but had recently felt the sting of carrying his own wife's purse around.

"You poor S.O.B.," his eyes said.

"Ha ha, you have to carry that," his smile mocked.

I almost hit him with my purse.

"Just take it in please. We need to find some good seats for once."

I gave her my best "I'm never doing this again" look. She lobbed back an effortless "don't bet on it" stare.

"We'll see about that," I thought, as she walked away.

I stomped into the sanctuary, clutching the offending handbag in a white knuckle death grip. God was smiling on me that morning, because the lights were off, everyone was already standing and singing, and there were two open seats near the back. I ducked in, slipped the bag into my wife's seat, and stood with the rest of the morning crowd, without anyone noticing.

Crisis averted.

Wives, stop asking your husbands to carry your purse. When we said "for better or worse," this isn't what we had in mind.

We were thinking more along the lines of letting your mom stay with us for a couple weeks over the summer.




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Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Price of Love

The Price of Love
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

They say you can't put a price tag on love. That true love is more valuable than money. That money can't buy you happiness.

Apparently they're wrong.

If you're Johnny Valentine of Holly Springs, Mississippi, it turns out you can put a price tag on love. Actually, you can put a price tag on "society, companionship, love, and affection," plus "the loss of sexual relations."

To Valentine, that's worth $750,000.

That's how much Mississippi millionaire Jerry Fitch has to pay Valentine after stealing Valentine's wife.

In 1997, Sandra Valentine went to work for Fitch, a prominent businessman, oil man, and big-shot real estate guy. Shortly thereafter, Fitch and Sandra began having an affair, and in 1999, she gave birth to Fitch's daughter.

Which means Valentine can't make any "son of a Fitch" jokes.

Sandra originally denied the affair or that their new daughter wasn't Valentine's. But after a paternity test revealed Fitch was the father, Valentine divorced his two-timing wife, and Sandra married her lover.

Just a slow day at the office for Jerry Springer.

Mississippi has an old state law that permits a spouse to sue for damages based on the aforementioned loss of society, companionship, yadda yadda yadda. So Valentine decided that as the cuckolded husband, he was entitled to some of Fitch's riches.

Valentine was granted the three-quarters of a mil by a Mississippi jury, but Fitch must have thought Sandra wasn't worth it, because he appealed the verdict to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Valentine won again, so Fitch appealed it again to the U.S. Supreme Court. But the Supremes refused to hear the appeal, thus upholding the lower court's ruling.

In other words, while money can't buy happiness, Fitch bought himself $750,000 worth of society, companionship, love, affection, and sexual relations.

Which means Fitch will spend the rest of his life wondering if it would have just been simpler to register at eHarmony.com instead.

I hope she's worth it. I wouldn't even pay five bucks to shake Paris Hilton's hand.

Valentine's suit was based on an antiquated law that says a wife is a man's property, just like cattle. And when Fitch stole his property, Valentine thought he deserved compensation.

(The concept of wife as property goes all the way back to the Teutonic tribes of 10th century Germany, so if you want to write any angry letters, write to the Germans, not me.)

Sandra should feel proud that she's worth $750,000 to Fitch. Whenever she wonders whether he really loves her, he can show her the checkbook and say "I love you thi-i-i-i-s much." And she can also rest assured that he won't cheat on her again, since he's so heavily invested in the relationship.

Many women, including Sandra, are offended that the "women as property" law is still on the books in Mississippi. They don't think they should be treated as cattle.

But if Sandra really was cattle, Fitch got the short end of the deal.

Last February, two Kansas men stole 133 head of cattle worth more than $140,000. At those prices, Fitch could have gotten a herd of nearly 713 steer.

And he got off easy. Apparently, cattle rustling is still a hanging offense in Colorado.

Meanwhile, Mississippi is one of only seven states to have the "alienation of affection" statute on the books – Hawaii, Illinois, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah are the others.

In other words, Colorado places a higher value -- your life -- on cattle than those other states place on a man's wife.

Talk about your family values.

Mississippi is not the only state to award big damages. In 2001, North Carolina awarded $2 million -- 1,901 cattle -- in a similar case in 2001.

Does this mean that Mississippi wives aren't worth as much as North Carolina wives? Or did Valentine just shoot too low?

In October 2007, Fitch told "Good Morning America," that his case was about principle, not just the money.

Not just the money? Not JUST the money?

In other words, it's partly about the money.

Which makes me wonder if Fitch might be looking at his new wife and seeing her head atop a big bag of money with wings on it. Like in the cartoons when a dog looks at a cat and sees a big steak.

"This alienation of affection law is only in seven states in the United States now," Fitch told Good Morning America. "It needs to be off the books. This is not right."

Maybe not, but neither is adultery or coveting a man's wife. Just be happy you're not living in the Old Testament days where they stoned you for that.

They just fined you if you stole livestock.




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Thursday, January 03, 2008

It Is What We Thought It Was

It Is What We Thought It Was
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

It's the first column of the new year, and faithful Laughing Stalk readers know what that means: Lake Superior State University's List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse, Overuse, and General Uselessness.

Each year, for the last 33 years, Lake Superior State University (LSSU) of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan (official motto: We're up here!) has created a list of words they want people to stop saying, because they're used incorrectly, they're used too much, or they're just plain dumb.

The words, not LSSU. Or the people.

As a writer, language is my stock in trade. So when an institution of higher learning bans words, I try to pay attention. To spread the news, I've wordsmithed a column about The List for the past four years. Or at least I did, until LSSU banned the word "wordsmith."

So I asked if I could say I authored a column, but they said axed "authored" too. Which means I have to settle for "writed" like everyone else.

There are some naysayers who believe The List is worn out and has lost its usefulness. That it's nothing more than a way for the little school in Michigan's Upper Peninsula to attract attention to themselves.

To those people, I say, "it is what it is."

Actually, it isn't anymore, because they banned that phrase too.

"It means absolutely nothing and is mostly a cop out or a way to avoid answering a question that might require genuine thought or insight," said phrase submitter Doug Compo.

I happen to like the phrase. It's a great rhetorical answer to a rhetorical question. Rhetorical questions aren't supposed to mean anything, so rhetorical answers shouldn't either.

If the phrase is truly banned, then let me suggest my son's new favorite, "they are who we thought they were!" from the Coors Light commercial. When you hear it hollered by a five-year-old, it's hilarious.

But LSSU is nothing if not consistent, so they threw it under the bus.

"Under the bus" has also been thrown under the bus.

A phrase of misplaced blame, it's often used to offer up a scapegoat to a bad situation, as in "Cam Cameron was thrown under the bus for the Miami Dolphins' abysmal 1-15 record this year."

In a show of support for our troops, I think we should change it to "under the tank" and revive it. I think it will catch on.

"Perfect storm" washed out this year too. It originally meant a simultaneous-but-highly-unlikely occurrence of events. But it's been downgraded to an above-average coincidence or brief collection of events, as in "The New Hampshire presidential primaries are a perfect storm of puffery and egotism."

"Hands off book titles for cheap descriptors!" hollered contributor David Hollis in response.

For the most part, I agree with David's Sound and Fury. But literary references are sometimes the best way to convey a message. It's a real Catch-22, and All the President's Men couldn't change it if they tried.

Critics often decry LSSU's List for decimating our popular culture's trite clich├ęs. And yes, I'm using "decimate" correctly, since they had a go at that one as well.

Decimation was originally an Ancient Roman practice of reducing prisoner of war populations by one-tenth, hence the name 'deci.' They lined up ten prisoners, who drew straws. The "winner" was killed, and the other nine were spared. (This is similar to tithing, which only decimates your income.)

Nowadays, we say "decimate" when we mean annihilated, wiped out, or thrown under a tank.

Speaking of which, it would be so sweet if my phrase "under the tank" became popular. Or it would have been, if LSSU hadn't killed "sweet" too.

"Youth lingo overuse, similar to 'awesome,'" said contributor Gordon Johnson.

"It really sounds stupid coming from the mouths of adults," said Wayne Beaver. "It became popular with the advent of the show 'South Park.'"

Actually, Wayne, "sweet" is much older than South Park I was saying itwhen I was in high school, back in the day. At least I was, until LSSU whacked "back in the day."

According to contributor Liz Jameson, it used to mean something "really historical."

Really historical? Like when I was in high school, wa-a-a-a-y back 25 years ago? Thanks a lot. Under the tank with you!

You have to hand it to LSSU. Thirty-three years later, and they're still watching our words. You'd think they would slow down, but no. They clamp down on bad language, like an obsessive-compulsive pit bull. They're kind to language enthusiasts, cruel to the illiterati, and a bane to lazy talkers and slang slingers everywhere.

They are who we thought they were.




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