Thursday, July 31, 2008

Old Jokes Never Die, They Just Grow Whiskers

Old Jokes Never Die, They Just Grow Whiskers
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

I was sitting with a new friend, Lalita Amos, having coffee, and she told me about a group of bloggers she meets with on a regular basis.

“We write about local news, current events, national and international politics.”

“I feel silly now,” I said.


“Because last week, all I wrote about was animal farts.”

After our conversation, I wondered if I’ve been wasting my time all these years as a humor columnist. Other journalists and writers take their work so seriously, writing about presidential politics, the ramifications of the Iraq war, and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic’s recent arrest. I, on the other hand, write at length about the TV show Project Runway on the Bravo channel, Polish men who find their wives working as prostitutes, and the methane expulsion of cows.

Real journalists, the kind who write for newspapers and TV news, look down their noses at the humor writers of the world. We're the class clown of the journalism world, the kids who don't know when to quit screwing around and get sent to the principal's office, because I told a dirty joke to the kid sitting next to me.

So my spirits were lifted when the University of Wolverhampton published the list of the 10 oldest jokes in the world, and I saw that potty humor – my humor -- has not changed in the last 3,908 years. The study was originally commissioned by the British television channel, Dave.

According to the website, the world's oldest joke is from the Ancient Sumerians in 1900 BC (Sumeria is now southern Iraq). They had a saying that went: "Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband's lap."

Okay, so it's not "why did the chicken cross the road?" but at least the Sumerians had a sense of humor. Not like those cranky Babylonians.

What really made my day was the realization that I now have history on my side. All those teachers who said that potty humor is the lowest form of humor were mistaken. If a fart joke can last for nearly 4,000 years, that says something about the staying power of bodily function humor. Of course, it also made me feel like my 14-year humor career is a crying infant compared to the creaky old man of Ancient Sumeria.

According to the study, four of the ten ancient jokes were about sex or potty humor, one was about marriage, two were political, two were literary, and one was about John McCain as a young boy.

Number nine was a political joke from 1600 BC Egypt that asked how to entertain a bored pharaoh. "(S)ail a boatload of young women dressed only in fishing nets down the Nile and urge the pharaoh to go catch a fish."

Nobody said the Ancient Egyptians were funny. I mean, who tells jokes about pharaohs?

Five hundred years later, they were at it again though. Number four was a joke from 1100 BC: "A woman who was blind in one eye has been married to a man for 20 years. When he found another woman, he said to her, 'I shall divorce you because you are said to be blind in one eye.' And she answered him: 'Have you just discovered that after 20 years of marriage!?'"

The Ancient Egyptians had no sense of timing either.

"Jokes have varied over the years, with some taking the question and answer format while others are witty proverbs or riddles," said Dr. Paul McDonald, senior lecturer at Wolverhampton and writer of the report, said in a Reuters story. "What they all share however, is a willingness to deal with taboos and a degree of rebellion. Modern puns, Essex girl jokes and toilet humor can all be traced back to the very earliest jokes identified in this research."

My favorite joke is number 10 on the list, collected in the Philogelos (Latin for "Laughter-Lover"), the world's oldest joke book: "Asked by the court barber how he wanted his hair cut, the king replied, 'In silence.'"

I'm almost embarrassed to admit I've used this type of joke at restaurants, usually met with the same stony silence that I'm sure is coming from everyone who just read that last joke.

"How do you want your steak cooked," a waitress will ask me.

"On the grill," I answer.

I admit it's not "a horse walks into a bar," but at least I'm funnier than those Ancient Egyptians.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

New Zealand Solving Animal Methane Problem

New Zealand Solving Animal Methane Problem
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

The headline cheered women around the world, and chilled men to their very bones: "Scientists isolate animal fart gene."

According to a June story on, New Zealand's premier news website, New Zealand officials announced they had discovered the gene that causes methane in livestock. And could stop it.

"We believe we can vaccinate against (methane)," said the Honorable Phil Goff at a conference in Paris.

According to some agricultural experts, animal methane can be much more harmful to the environment than carbon emissions. Some experts even believe it's the animal's burp, and not the fart, that produces more methane. And according to a United Nations report, animal methane – both burps and farts – is responsible for 18% of all global warming gases. So it follows that giving a methane vaccine to all livestock around the world could help reduce global warming.

This is what has frightened men and excited women. The very thought that a man can be vaccinated for farting.

"Absolutely, I'm all for it," said Annie Stevens, a local fictional woman. "If I could stop my husband from stinking up the living room with a shot, I'd jab him with it myself."

"Amen," said another Kate Fields, her fictional neighbor. "It'd put an end to my years of suffering and torment. Then maybe he'd quit making the kids pull his damn finger."

"Hey, our bodies, our rights," said Jerry Stevens, Annie's fictional husband. "Ain't no way anyone should be able to take away my rights like that."

"You got that right, brother," said Ed Fields. "It's my First Amendment right. I'm expressing myself."

"It's not a First Amendment right, moron," said Kate. "It's first degree murder."

"Stop censoring us!" said Ed.

I'm not saying that farting is our inalienable right, or that we should proudly. . . offer our opinion's in public. However, I also don't think Jerry and Ed have anything to worry about. So far, scientists have only found the gene that causes methane in animal gas. That doesn't mean they have found the solution just yet. And when they do, they'll only be able to stop the stink, but not the gas itself. So Jerry and Ed can breathe a little easier for now, even if their wives can't.

Goff revealed New Zealand's discovery at the OECD Forum on Climate Change in Paris, France, organized by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a European think tank.

(Goff, is the Minister of Defense, Minister of Corrections, Acting Minister of Police, Associate Minister of Finance, Disarmament and Arms Control Minister, and Trade Minister. I know New Zealand is small, but surely they have enough people to spread the work around a little. Even if it's just every other weekend?)

But those Kiwis aren't done yet. Scientists at Gramina, a joint biotech firm between an Australian Research Center and a New Zealand rural services company, are creating a burpless grass for cows. They are working to suppress an enzyme in the grass that will help it be more easily digested, which will cause fewer burps, and thus, less methane.

According to Goff's website, he told conference attendees, "half of our emissions come from our agricultural sector and comprise methane and nitrous oxide instead of carbon dioxide. . . Although New Zealand represents only 0.2 per cent of global emissions, as a developed country we are committed to playing our part in implementing global solutions. Indeed, we have set ourselves a challenging goal by aspiring to be the world’s first carbon neutral country."

In other words, if global emissions were a dollar, New Zealand is responsible for two-tenths of one cent of it, while the U.S. and China together are responsible for fifty cents – half of all global emissions. But it's New Zealand that may have figured out a way to stop one of the biggest contributors to global warming, and the less well-known global Dutch oven.

"Do you think they'll make burp-reducing beer?" asked Kate Fields.

"Don't you trample my rights, woman!" hollered her husband, Ed. "The Declaration of Independence says I'm entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and burping makes me happy."

Goff told attendees that the New Zealand government has developed an Emissions Trading Scheme, which will help "big emitters" make a transition to a carbon neutral design. And to put their money where their mouth is, the New Zealand government has said their six core public agencies will be carbon neutral by 2012, and the other 28 will "be well on their way to carbon neutrality by the same date."

Unfortunately, Kate and Annie don't share Goff's optimism. They figure their husbands won't be carbon neutral in this lifetime, unless Goff unleashes his scientists on Ed and Jerry.

That shudder you just felt was the men of the world trembling in fear.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Flavor of Fishers features Fishers, Indiana restaurants

The first ever Flavor of Fishers event, presented by the Fishers Chamber of Commerce and Community Hospital North, will be held on Saturday, August 2, from noon – 10 pm at USA Parkway Circle (behind Sallie Mae).

The evening will feature samplings from 30 different Fishers restaurants; a beer and wine garden by the Old Town Ale House; live music by Zanna Doo!, Silly Safaris, Fishers & Hamilton Southeastern High School bands, and Brenda Williams and the Soul Providers; Wheels on the Parkway, a vintage car show; and the Family Fun Zone by Snapperz.

Tickets are $5 for adults, $3 for students (age 14 - $18), and kids under 14 are free. At the gate, prices are $7, $5, and still free. You can buy tickets at Marsh Supermarkets, Fishers Train Station, Fishers Farmers Market, or at several other Fishers locations.

Some of the participating restaurants include the Bamboo CafĂ©, BD’s Mongolian Barbecue, Fionn MacCool’s Irish Pub, Ram Restaurant, and Scotty’s Brewhouse. Find the entire list of participating restaurants at the Flavor of Fishers website.

(Full disclosure: My employer, VisionDirect, is a member of the Fishers Chamber of Commerce, and I am on the Flavor of Fishers PR committee.)

Indiana Fever Fever: Catch it!

(I'm late in writing this post, but my Fever fever has not died down yet.)

Thanks to Katie Vaas of the Indiana Fever, I was given two free passes to the July 5 Fever game in exchange for blogging about it. The plan was to take my oldest daughter to the game, let her see some positive female role models, watch some basketball, and knock out 500 words.

That's a no-brainer, I thought. I've always wanted to see a Fever game, but never wanted to spend the money. At least not until I told my wife, who reminded me that her folks would be in town on the 5th, and I couldn't just ditch everyone to take my oldest daughter to the game. So, I bought tickets for the rest of the family – so much for not wanting to spend money – and we went to the game on Saturday afternoon.

All I can say is this was the best $50 I ever spent. The cheapest tickets were $10, and were on the same level as the luxury suites. There literally was no bad seat in the house. The upper section was completely closed off, so you could actually see the players.

There were all sorts of activities before the game, fans were walking around and smiling, and it was just a nice place to be. I've been to two Pacers games, and the atmosphere and crowd mood were completely different. This was a great place to bring the family, including my two youngest.

We got to our seats – 6th row behind the Connecticut Sun, thank you very much, Katie – and the game started. I watched the game and scribbled down a few notes, in no particular order.

- Former Fever player Tamika Whitmore, who is now a Sun, was announced in the visitors' lineup. Everyone cheered for her and made her feel welcome. Now THAT'S class. She usually wears #91, but wore #00 that day. What's the significance?

- Male AND female dancers. Equal-opportunity eye candy for both men and women. No women-only Pacemates. Plus, one of the male dancers did a series of back flips down the entire length of the floor, and accidentally kicked a ref in the head on the last flip. Awesome.

- Tully Bevilacqua is a little scrapper. She was the smallest player on the court, but held her own against the other players . I saw her fighting for a loose ball against women who had 8 inches and 40 pounds on her, and winning. I wish she was playing for the US in the Olympics.

- Between plays, it was quiet enough that I could sort of hear the Sun coach talking to his players. I half expected him to turn around and ask us what we thought.

- We need more fans to show up at the games, especially in the seats on the ends of the floor. When the Sun were taking foul shots, Fever fans were waving their noodles like crazy, in hopes of distracting them. Unfortunately, 17 waving noodles does not a distraction make.

- Tamika Catchings committed her 5th foul with 2:05 remaining in the game, and the fans went nuts. At a Pacers game, the fans would have just mumbled a collective "meh."

- My two youngest kids loved the music during the time outs, and were dancing fiends whenever they had the chance. They danced even when there wasn't any music. They both said it was The Second Best Day ever. (The day before was The Best Day Ever.)

- Since everyone else in my family was in the cheap seats, we switched off after each quarter, so each of us could enjoy floor level seats. I'm sure the people sitting next to us in the 6th row thought we were doing something nefarious and underhanded.

All in all, a great day. The fans were great, the game was great, and the atmosphere was awesome. My wife asked me why I thought this was the case, when people just don't seem to get behind the Pacers with the same fever pitch.

"Because the Fever fans care about this team," I said. And now I do too.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Campers In the Mist

Campers In the Mist
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

Several days ago, I was asked to join an expedition to southern Indiana, to observe a group of 10- and 11-year-olds through a life-changing rite of passage known as "weekend church camp." Inspired by legendary primatologist Jane Goodall, I agreed to go, especially since my oldest daughter was going. Here is a record of my observations.

Day 1, 3:30 pm – Campers have begun to arrive. Since these campers are from the same social group, the social structures have already been established. While the girls and boys have varying opinions on many different issues, both groups agree that the other group is "disgusting" and "dumb." Members of both groups go out of their way to point this out to each other.

6:30 pm – Dinner time. Battle lines have been distinctly drawn. While the occasional boy or girl will venture to the other social group, they are quickly chased off by that group's members. I notice one boy I call Shaggy, and a girl, Elf, are the ones doing the venturing and visiting. While the girls and boys are content to talk amongst themselves, Shaggy and Elf seem to be developing a closer friendship.

7:30 pm – Low ropes course. A low-grade obstacle course designed to promote teamwork and cooperation among the participants; the young males refuse to learn this lesson. Many of them are eager to show off for their female counterparts. Unfortunately, they are not successful: the females are not paying attention, and the males are not tall enough or strong enough. Fighting ensues among many of them until I get tired of the noise, and tell them they need to cooperate if they want to succeed. They consider my words carefully and go back to what they were doing.

10:00 pm – Capture the flag. I have noticed it is usually Elf's friend, Freckles who chases Shaggy off. As the leader of her group, she has stormed after Shaggy a number of times, warning him to "leave my friend alone." The other girls follow her closely, and have to scramble out of the way whenever she turns around too quickly. Elf is ushered away, but always looks back to Shaggy. Ah, the drama of the 'tween.

10:15 pm – Breakthrough! Shaggy has done the unthinkable. He has asked Elf to "go out with him." I suspect he doesn't realize what this means, but it is evident they are now, to some degree, boyfriend and girlfriend. This upsets Freckles to no end. "How can they go out?" she asks another friend. "He can't even drive. Where are they going to go, the water fountain?" Freckles seems to be pleased with this line, because I hear it repeated all over the field throughout the game, despite my urging to "get back on defense and make sure the other team doesn't steal our flag."

11:00 pm – Lights out. After showers, brushed teeth, and threats of "no snacks tomorrow," the two groups have retired to their sleeping quarters for the night. Not too surprisingly, the groups stay up, giggling and whispering. Some of my fellow observers and I find a few members of the male group sneaking out of their room. Our unexpected appearance causes them to flee back to their beds. We stay up until they're all asleep.

1:00 am – I should launch another expedition to observe the communication styles of fathers and mothers of young campers. But that's for another day. I'm going to bed.

Day 2, 11:30 pm – Water games. Despite their constant closeness, there does not appear to be any thawing of feelings between the two groups. In fact, it may have been heightened during these games, which pits boys against girls. I wonder if the separation of the sexes creates this animosity, or does the animosity feed their sense of competition. I am startled out of my reverie by several squirt guns of cold water to the face.

3:00 pm – Swim time. An amazing discovery: swimwear induces shyness! Neither group seems to draw attention to the swimming attire of the other group. Both groups pointedly ignore each other, except for Elf and Shaggy, who are swim buddies.

5:00 pm – Bad news. Apparently, sometime during swim time, Elf and Shaggy broke up. I suspect Freckles played a large part in this. However, I am only an observer, so I cannot interfere. That, and Shaggy's parents are friends of mine.

The rest of the weekend continues uneventfully. Other than Shaggy and Elf's brief relationship, the battle lines are unbroken. I may return to visit these young charges – these campers in the mist – in the coming years to determine their progress. And to keep the boys away from my Oldest Daughter.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Thirty Days before BlogIndiana blogging conference!

It’s just 30 days before the BlogIndiana blogging and social media conference. I’ll be a speaker at the event, discussing how to write for blogs, both for readership and search engine optimization. So if you want to learn some tricks about the blogging trade, be sure to sign up.

I’ll be joining other blogging giants like Chris Baggott of Compendium Blogware, Scott Abel of The Content Wrangler, and my friend Doug Karr of The Marketing Technology Blog, to name a few. Former Indy Star writer Ruth Holladay will also be speaking; as dragon slayers go, she’s my favorite.

The conference is on the IUPUI campus, and promises to have a lot of great information for new and experienced bloggers. Plus my session. It's only $49 for the whole weekend.

Best of all, as a Laughing Stalk reader, you get a 15% discount off the price of your registration. So, you pay the low, low price of $41.65.

To register, go to the conference website, enter the code BLOGDISC on the registration page, and you're all set.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Improving My Writing with a BS Detector

Improving My Writing with a BS Detector
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2008

As a self-appointed fighter against corporate gobbledygook (I'm a BS Detector), I have railed against all jargon, corporate speak, and, well, BS that I hear from corporate America and the government. My usual method of BS detecting is to read something, point a finger skyward, and shout, “This is complete and utter BS!"

I take my inspiration from Ernest Hemingway, who once said, “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, (crap) detector." Only he didn't say crap. But I figured if it was good enough for him, it was good enough for me.

And my BS detector is usually on high alert. Unfortunately, this didn’t always sit well with other people. When I was working for state health department as a writer, I edited someone else’s work for a brochure. This woman, whom I had never met, liked big words and bigger sentences. She was one of those people who was offended by editing, taking it as a personal insult against her intelligence.

An hour after I handed back the edited piece, the woman walked from a whole different section of the building, stomped to my desk, and thrust the paper in my face.

“What is this?” she demanded.

“It’s a piece of paper,” I said. This wasn't going to end well.

“I know that. What are all these red marks on it?”

“They’re edit marks.”

“I know that. Why did you edit my writing?”

“Because I was asked to. I just tightened it up a bit and made it more readable.” Uh oh.

“More readable?! I’ll have you know I’ve been a nurse for 12 years. This is my area of expertise.”

“Well, I’ve been a writer for 14 years. Words are MY area of expertise.”

She thought for a moment and realized she wasn’t going to win, so she stomped off again.

Now I have a new weapon in my BS arsenal. The folks at, and authors of the book Why Business People Speak Like Idiots, have developed a piece of software called Bullfighter that scans your writing for BS.

The software measures three things: Bull Composite Index (BCI) , which is your total score on a scale of 1 -10; Bull Index (BI), the number of jargon and corporate speak terms you use on a scale of 1-100; and the Flesch reading level (FRL), the “grade reading level” on a scale of 1-100. For all three scores, higher numbers are better. I installed it, and tested some writing samples.

First, I checked to see if practiced what they preached. I loaded their Frequently Asked Questions and hit the button.

“Bull Composite Index: 8.8, Bull Index: 97, FRL: 67. Diagnosis: Mostly clear, with some unnecessarily long words and sentences. You get to the point, although with an occasional detour. Most educated readers will navigate the text with no difficulty. Longer words and sentences appear occasionally.”

Not too bad. I hoped they would do better on the FRL rating, but since they’re writing to writers, the audience is educated.

Next, I tried what I thought would be a bastion of BS: President George W. Bush’s speech to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a British economic think tank.

“BCI: 8, BI: 98; FRL: 54." The diagnosis was the same as the last one.

Not bad. Give your speechwriters a raise. They were just slightly worse than the people who wrote a book on business speaking idiots.

Then I tried the master of simple writing, Ernest Hemingway. I chose a few paragraphs from his short story, “Big Two Hearted River."

"BCI: 9.6; BI: 100; FRL: 85. Diagnosis: Clear. You get to the point. Short sentences describe key thoughts concisely. Readers of all levels can focus on the message rather than finding their way through difficult text. The good Dr. Flesch would be proud of you."

Nicely done, Papa Hemingway! A 100 BI. That’s great! And the diagnosis and FRL score are outstanding. Not even the guy who made the Running of the Bulls famous had any BS on him.

Then I wondered: how does my own writing stack up? I plugged in Chapter 2 of a book I’m working on, closed my eyes in worry, and pressed the button.

"BCI: 9.5, BI: 100, FRL: 83." Woo-hoo!! I scored almost as well as Hemingway!

I'm not saying my writing is on par with Ernest Hemingway's, just that we're kindred spirits in the fight against written BS of any kind. Armed with the sword of BS slaying, we're formidable foes against garbled grammar.

Except for that last sentence.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Injured on the Fourth of July

Injured on the Fourth of July
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

For a new Laughing Stalk tradition, we are reprinting Erik's "Injured on the Fourth of July" column from July 2006.

Dear Doctor Taylor:

I'm writing this letter to give you a better explanation of today's chain of events at my family's Fourth of July celebration which resulted in my appearance at your fine hospital. The anesthetic hasn't quite worn off, but the neck brace and bandages around my head are uncomfortable enough to keep me awake to write this.

When I came in, I recall you asking what happened, and that I kept mumbling "Ray, Ray." But you said that didn't explain my broken nose, possible concussion, powder burns on my butt, and certain. . . male injuries.

The day started, as you would expect, with the phrase "Hey y'all, watch this!" This was from my cousin, Ray, who had been drinking since 7:00 pm. The day before.

At Ray's shout, I turned just in time to see him fire off a textbook golf shot with his Big Bertha driver and a croquet ball.

Until that very moment, I had believed there was nothing funnier than a guy getting hit in the privates with a croquet ball. But as I writhed in agony on the ground, I could think of a lot of things that were much funnier, including wrapping a golf club around my cousin's skinny neck.

As I chased Ray around the yard, I managed to step on -- you guessed it -- the very same croquet ball. The ball rolled out from under my foot, and I managed to land nose first into his kid's wading pool.

You have to understand that Ray is what you medical types call "a complete moron." So it follows that his kids are too. Why else would his eight-year-old hellspawn, Little Ray Ray, think this was a great time to play Water Balloon Catapult with me as Target Alpha?

I'm afraid I lost my cool, and was swearing a blue streak when I emerged from the water, blood gushing down my front. Given everyone's reaction, you would think they had ever heard language like this. In fact, I know from personal experience that Ray has used worse language on many occasions, including church. However, I somehow managed to out cuss him, which shocked Aunt Evelyn so badly, she went into cardiac arrest.

She's recovering nicely, two doors down.

I've never had a broken nose, but Ray told me the blood flow and irregular shape "looked about right," so he reset it. I collapsed into one of the deck chairs, praying I'd make it through the night.

It's about this time that Little Ray Ray started to fire off Roman Candles. However, lacking a bottle -- Ray only serves beer in cans because "it's safer" -- Little Ray Ray used a tube from his mother's vacuum cleaner as the launch pad. After a few shouts of "fire in the hole," I took the tube away from him before we were all hit by tube shrapnel.

So I guess it's my fault that Little Ray Ray decided to jam a Roman Candle into the ground, tape a string of firecrackers to it, and light them both.

"Sheer genius!" proclaimed Ray, calling the creation the Big Momma. (When you've set the bar as low as he has, anything looks smart.)

What happened next I've pieced together from the paramedics, family members, and the beautiful light that told me it wasn't my time yet.

The Roman Candle fired from its makeshift launch pad, ricocheted off a low-hanging branch, and then floated lazily toward me in a sort of psychedelic slow motion. It was like being in The Matrix.

I leapt out of my chair, took two steps, and stepped on -- you guessed it -- my old nemesis, the croquet ball. I landed head first on the deck, which caused my possible concussion. The Big Momma landed right on my butt and the firecrackers began to explode, which caused my powder burns.

Hopefully this helps you better understand the cause of my injuries and why I mumbled "Ray" as my explanation for it all. Now I'd better close this letter, because I just spotted my moronic cousin walking this way, carrying a huge bouquet of flowers.

(Doctor's note: Unidentified male, known only as Ray, was found in a patient's room with two black eyes, a broken nose, and a bouquet of flowers inserted in what can only be described as an "excruciatingly painful and embarrassing manner." Patient Ray was heard to mumble "Erik, Erik" as he was rushed to the ER. No further details are available at this time.)

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Gas explosion in Irvington in February 2004

In February 2004, a gas explosion took out three houses in Irvington, a historic neighborhood in Indianapolis. Surprisingly, no one was killed, and the only person who was hurt was the guy in the house that blew up, and he landed in the yard of the house behind him.

(This empty space is where the exploded house once stood. The debris is for the house to the south.

In August 2007, the second of the three houses was rebuilt, and my family and I moved into it.

(The damaged house is where my house now stands. You can see my neighbors' house next door.)

Artist and fellow Irvingtonian Todd Bracik, who lives just a mile or so from the explosion took some photos of the Ritter Gas Explosion a couple days after it happened. He has some photos from the nursing home across the street, a blue house with Gambrel roof that was on the next block, with its windows blown out, neighbors two doors to the north that lost windows. It's a real mess.

To drive around the neighborhood now, you wouldn't even
know something happened, except for the empty lot of the original explosion. And we have just learned the guy who owns the property -- a firefighter, of all things -- is going to build a new house there soon.

(Google Street View of my house, the empty lot, and my neighbor's house.)