Monday, August 31, 2009

The Raging Controversies at the Swiss Wine Festival Celebrity Grape Stomp

Now, I'll be the first one to say I'm more than a little competitive (and if not, I'll at least say it before you do, so nyah!), so my competitive juices were bubbling and fermenting when I was invited to be a celebrity grape stomper at this year's Swiss Wine Festival in Vevay, Indiana.

I was one of 19 media types from Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Louisville, and of course, Vevay. I made the journey down with my family, and met my fellow stompers, like Paul Poteet of WRTV Channel 6 (Indianapolis), Renaissance woman Julie Tam of WDRB Fox 41 (Louisville), and Jen Dalton and Tara Pachmayer of WKRC Channel 12 (Cincinnati), and other notable media types from Indy, Cincinnati, and Louisville. Other celebs included Arik Hartvig from PBS' Across Indiana, Taylor Bennett, and Joe Ulery from WIBC/Network Indiana, and Andy Ferguson from Vevay's own Froggy Radio.

The stomp was for charity, and each member was stomping for the charity of their choice. Ulery ended up winning the entire thing with 10 1/3 cups of stomped juice, and bringing home $1,000 for the Madison County Humane Society. Elizabeth Musgrave, columnist for the West Side Community News (Indianapolis) won $500 for Freedom Cookies and Proctor Park, and Paul Poteet finished third, winning $250 for the Wheeler Mission. I finished 13th.

All in all, I was pleased with our state's performance, because while I like my new friends from Louisville and Cincinnati, we needed an Indiana win. "This is an Indiana town, in an Indiana county, honoring an Indiana industry," I told Paul a couple weeks ago. Indiana is home to the country's first commercial winemakers — so suck it, California! —— which is why a Hoosier win was so important

Controversy Overshadows Some Stompers

However, this stomp was not without its share of controversy. Put it down to celebrity ego, put it down to an overdeveloped sense of competition, put it down to the fact that I needed material for my blog, but a few stompers in the early rounds noticed that stompers in the later rounds had an extra advantage because all the juice created by the early stompers didn't make it into the jugs. That is, we created extra juice that remained in our vats, so it was no problem for the later stompers to just shove it in with their feet, thus standing on the shoulders of those who came before them.

A quick calculation of the average output of juice per round shows an marked increase from earlier rounds to later rounds. Round 4 was Elizabeth Musgrave's round, while round 5 was Ulery's. Paul Poteet had my vat in round 2, and was able to stomp, squish, and splash his way to third place (coincidence? I think not).

As a result of my experiences and research, I have learned two very important things:
  1. I have too much time on my hands.

  2. I am a sore loser.

You can read a recap of my weekend in Switzerland County on the website.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Phone It In Sunday: The Cool Table's "The Zombie Variations: Episode 1"

I've known The Cool Table for a year now, having caught several of their shows at the Indy Fringe Theatre Festival. (I reviewed one of their shows last week.)

Apparently the kids at the Cool Table are on Who knew? If you're ever in Chicago on a Tuesday night, be sure to check out one of their shows.

The Zombie Variations: Episode 1 is one of their offerings on FOD, and I love Kyle More's calm-yet-slightly-annoyed manner as the zombies are clamoring at the door (reminded me of the old SNL "Land Shark" bits).

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Pork Tenderloins: The Official Sandwich of the State of Indiana

We serve big-assed pork tenderloins here in #Indiana at the #SwissWineFestival.

I was participating as part of the Celebrity Grape Stomp at the Swiss Wine Festival, thanks to my friend Kendal Miller, PR Coordinator for Switzerland County Tourism. We took a break after the festivities, and I enjoyed a nice big tenderloin. Best fair food ever.

Air Conditioned Port-A-Potties

Air conditioned Port-A-Potties at the Swiss Wine Festival. Luxury at its finest! This ain't your daddy's Port-A-Potty.

Learning to Hate Horses in 3...2...1...

Hey, Mom! I get to be in the Swiss Wine Festival parade! Wait, I'll be behind the what now?

Special salute to the worst job in any parade.

Florida Mom Picks Up Daughter on Horse, Principal Overreacts

In order to point out the stupidity of a Jacksonville school's student pickup policy, a Florida mom tried something new: she picked up her 8-year-old daughter from school on horseback.

But the principal refused to let the daughter leave on horseback, and instead sent the little girl home in a police squad car.

Deidre, who owns several horses and whose 3-year-old and 8-year-old children are competitive rodeo riders, said she wasn't about to sit in line for 1 - 2.5 hours while students were retrieved and escorted — one at a time — by a staff member.

According to a story on the WJXT News4Jacksonville website, Deidre (no last name given) and other parents are upset about a new parking policy at the Crystal Springs Elementary School. Parents are told to line up their cars, and sit and wait, while the children are retrieved by the staff, one frigging child at a time.

I'd be upset too. Back when I was a kid, we precious snowflakes were allowed to walk home or ride our bikes. Now, there are schools here in Fishers and Noblesville , Indiana that the kids are not allowed to walk or ride their bikes, period. Instead, they have to ride a bus or be picked up.

And we wonder why so many kids are overweight.

So Deidre thought she would try picking up her daughter on a horse, working out that it was somehow less expensive. But when she showed up, she was asked to leave by police.

"Our first priority is the safety of our children, and during our arrival/dismissal, their safety is first and foremost a priority on campus," Principal Jaime Johnson told WJXT.

Johnson told WJXT said Dedere's horse posed a safety issue. Of course she would. She's probably the same person who thought it was safe for parents to wait for 60 - 150 minutes while students are escorted one at a time to their waiting parents.

Oh, and then she said that because of all the construction around the school, she also thought it wouldn't be safe for the little girl to ride the horse home.

So instead, a police office drove the little girl home, and waited alone until her mother arrived.

Brilliant. So, not allowing a competitive junior rodeo rider to go on a horse is not safe, but leaving an 8-year-old at home alone is?

So which is it? Horse isn't safe on school grounds, horse will stupidly wander through construction sights and not around them? Or was it that Principal Johnson hated to be made to look like, well, a horse's ass in front of the other parents?

It sounds to me like this ain't over yet, and someone's going to end up stepping in something bigger than horse poo.

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Groundwork Suites is Outstanding Performance by Kenyettá Dance Company

My 8-year-old daughter and I almost didn't go to the Groundwork Suites by the Kenyettá Dance Company. We had originally wanted to go to Blunder Construction, but they were sold out. We stood on the sidewalk in front of TOTS, and I wavered. Do we go, do we do something else? I borrowed someone else's program, saw that Groundwork Suites was playing in 8 minutes.

My daughter is from Haiti, and we have taught her to be proud of being black. She also loves to move, and has taught herself some basic gymnastics and dance moves, and is constantly in motion. She would, I reasoned, love to see a black dance troupe. So we raced down to the Earth House, got our tickets, and found our seats three minutes before show time.

When the entire dance troupe entered — no, flowed — into the room, my daughter grabbed my hand and started squeezing frantically. It was her signal for "I see other black people, and I'm feeling proud." (We worked this signal out when we first moved to Indianapolis, after she saw a black woman in a Starbucks, ran up to her and shouted, "MOMMY, SHE'S BLACK LIKE ME!")

Usually, her signal is just a simple squeeze, a quick message while we're holding hands, but tonight, it was firing like an acupressure telegraph.

I cannot begin to describe the beauty of the dancers' fluidity. If water could wear clothes and move to music, this was it. As I watched the dancers, I could understand what my daughter's hand squeezing was all about. I could use words like "graceful," "flowing," or "lissome." But those are just words, and dance is about vision. And when the professional wordsmith can't find the words to describe what he saw, you just need to see it for yourself.

I was torn between trying to take pictures and watching the dancers. I tried to capture some poses, but without a flash, many of them were blurred. So I would put down the camera, thinking it was better to experience the moment. But then they would hold a beautiful pose for a brief second, and I would wish they would do it again, so I could take one picture, and capture that perfect moment. I'd snap a few, put the camera down, snap a few more, put the camera down.

All told, I took 75 photos during the first three numbers of the performance, before I finally decided I'd taken enough, and wanted to experience this beautiful movement with my own eyes, not through the screen of a digital camera. (I snapped a few more near the end, not wanting to forget what I had seen tonight).

I've seen more than 12 shows over the past two years of the Fringe Festival, and I can say without hesitation that this is one of my two most favorite performances ever. My only disappointment is that I waited until Friday night to see this performance. I wish I would have gone much earlier in the week, so I could tell more people about the show. As it is, there are two more performances over the weekend: Saturday, 6:00 pm, and Sunday, 1:30 pm. This is truly a Do Not Miss show.

The dancers are (from left to right):

Tiara Clarke
Erika Casey
Taylor Greene
Nicholas Owens, artistic director (front, center)
Adrian Jackson
Gregory Manning II
Teriya Vorhis
Layla Hazelwood

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Friday, August 28, 2009

It's Not a Diet, It's a Lifestyle Plan

It's Not a Diet, It's a Lifestyle Plan

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2009

Day 1 – Starting a new diet my wife wants me to try. So weak. . . need food. . . wasting away.

"It's not even breakfast time," says my wife. "Don't be so dramatic."

As if. Starting new diets are always hard. My body can sense when one is coming, and it fights with me, fights without knowing this is supposed to be good for me. I've tried being sneaky, not telling it when a diet is coming, but it always knows. Sometimes I think my body and my brain are conspiring against me, trying to undo my best efforts to get and/or remain healthy.

Today, it was grilled chicken salad with vinaigrette for lunch, a banana smoothie for a snack (ooh, snack?!), and stuffed green peppers with beef and rice.

"What is this?" I ask. (I like stuffed green peppers.) "I didn't think we were allowed to eat beef on a diet."

My wife says this is all about "clean eating." Basically, we eat foods that speed up our metabolism, and avoid foods that slow it down. Fair enough. Do hamburgers speed up or slow down?

Day 2 – It's been 24 hours on this new diet. I'm attributing the fact that I'm not dead yet to sheer force of stubborn will, and not the fact that this might actually be good for me.

"This isn't a diet," says my wife. "It's a lifestyle plan. You stop a diet after you reach a certain weight, but a lifestyle plan is something you do forever." My brain starts sending secret messages to my body about battening down the hatches and damning the torpedos.

However, she saves the day with red beans, rice, and beef burritos for lunch, and grilled chicken and pasta sauce for dinner. We also have a light snack after breakfast, and another after lunch. I think I like this die—er, plan.

The secret is to eat several small meals throughout the day, rather than three large ones. Your body's metabolism can more easily keep up, and you don't gain weight. Tomorrow will be the true test, however, when I go to work, and am left on my own to follow the new plan.

Day 5 – I don't think this is working. I've tried following the idea of eating smaller amounts several times a day. For breakfast, it's a bowl of oatmeal, because it lowers the cholesterol. Mid-morning snack, a small doughnut. Lunch, one large slice of pepperoni pizza — not two — with veggies. Mid-day snack, the other slice of pizza. Dinner, whatever we have for dinner at home.

"I gained three pounds," I tell my wife.

"Haven't you been following the plan?"

"Oh absolutely. Eat smaller meals more frequently." I tell her how I've been careful to only have the small doughnut, and the one slice of pizza for lunch.

Apparently, clean eating also means not eating processed food.

Apparently, doughnuts and pizza dough and pepperoni are all processed food. And apple fritters do not count as a serving of fruit

Apparently, says my wife, I wasn't paying attention to that part of the plan when she explained it this weekend.

I remind her how hard it is for me to concentrate when I'm faint from hunger.

Day 6 – Lunch consists of leftovers from dinner last night. I am no longer allowed to fend for myself until I truly understand what clean eating entails. I have also been warned that sneaking off to the doughnut shop down the block is strictly verboten.

Tonight's dinner is stuffed red peppers, this time with chicken and rice. I love stuffed red peppers too. Still, it would be great, if instead of peppers, we had steak, and instead of rice and chicken, we had garlic mashed potatoes.

Day 12 – I have lost four pounds. It's my first little victory. I suck in my now-slimming waistline, puff out my chest, and strut around the house for all to admire, "all" being the dog, since my wife took the kids to the health food market and organic co-op to stock up. While the health food market and organic co-op does not carry steak, they do have organic potatoes and organic garlic cloves, which I learned, does not have much effect on one's metabolism.

To celebrate my weight loss, I decide to reward myself with a nice dairy product: a chocolate-covered vanilla ice cream cone. Milk is considered a "clean" food, and small amounts of chocolate are supposed to help reduce free radicals in the body.

A few more of these, and I'll be as healthy as a horse. I just need to space them out evenly throughout the day.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Waiting With M. Godot: A Review of Love, Wine, and Redheads

I don't even remember what the show description was about. All I saw was the word "redhead," and I knew I wanted to see Waiting With M. Godot.

"Blah blah blah redhead blah blah blah."

I have a soft spot in my heart for redheads. It's the Scots-ophile in me.

So I went to M. Godot on Tuesday night to see what the big deal was, and if there was anything other than the promise of a redhead.

Loved it!

As a writer who primarily spends my day on the right hemisphere of my cranium, I have very romantic notions of love. Sort of the French ideal of love, which is what M. Godot, the waiter, tries to teach Jackson. (I know! Waited on by Godot?! Get it?)

Unfortunately, Jackson (Nick Foreman), an engineer, views love like an item on a checklist. Godot sees it as the ultimate achievement in life. Something to be treasured, revered, embraced, not a transaction to be conducted over a questionable wine. All he knew was that he thought he loved Danni, a playwright and temp office worker.

"How did you know when you were in love?" Jackson asked Godot.

"How do you know if you have a cold or not?" asked Godot. "How do you know if you are hungry or not? You just know."

At first, Monsieur Godot was an annoyance to Jackson, an intrusion into the carefully laid plans he had created, complete with right angles and primary colors. He had a formulaic approach to the night, to the rest of his life, and it showed in what he thought of love.

Godot, on the other hand, knew that love, like life, is chaotic and unpredictable. It doesn't follow formulas, and it refuses to be tethered, like a wild horse bucking a rider. He knew that only certain wines go with love, and other wines — like a Pinot — go with redheads. (But what the hell is wrong with merlots? I like merlots.)

But Jackson doesn't like this nosy waiter, who is interfering with his vision and with his formula. He's got his plan. He's going to propose to the playwright and hope she calms down and quits being so damn loud.

"I really don't like Jackson," I whispered to the woman sitting at my table. "She's too good for him."

It's like Carmel trying to marry Downtown, I wrote in my book. Practical trying to tame passion.

"Do not pick your image of love," said Godot. "Be made by love." At least he got it.

I even shared my view of Jackson with Steve Pierce, the director, and Ronn Johnstone, the writer. They both looked surprised and hurt.

"Oh no, I mean Nick did a great job. But I didn't like Jackson as a character. He wasn't good enough for her."

"Sure, but you were supposed to like him at the end," they both said (independently of each other, mind you).

Yeah, I guess I did at the end. And I loved Waiting With M. Godot, uptight and misguided civil engineers notwithstanding.

If you like romance, then you need to see this play before it leaves the Fringe.

(UPDATE: I enjoyed the play so much, I brought my wife back to it on Thursday night. "That's what I think about you," I told her. "Who, Jackson?!" "No, Godot. I think everything about you that Godot said." Awwww.....)

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PETA Wants to Buy Lighthouse as a Fish Empathy Center

I think PETA is getting into comedy, because their latest caper just screams hilarity.

They want to buy the Grand Haven lighthouse on Lake Michigan as its new anti-fishing campaign headquarters and memorial center, says the Detroit News. PETA applied to take over the lighthouse through a federal program that allows nonprofits to take control of the country's lighthouses as a way for the federal government to reduce operating costs.

"We want to renovate the Grand Haven lights as a memorial to the billions of fish killed annually by sport fishermen, as well as for their flesh (commercial fishing industry)," said Lindsey Rajt, manager of PETA's campaigns department. "We also want to make it a fun and educational place."


You know, I'm thinking we need a grain empathy center to commemorate the billions of tons of grains killed to make the granola PETA loves so much. We'll build it in an abandoned barn I saw a couple hours north of Indianapolis. And we'll start a similar one for a soybean memorial center for all the tofu they've preyed upon over the years.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wayback Wednesday: Animal Interspecies Dating, Sin or Civil Right?

Animal Interspecies Dating: Sin or Civil Right?

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2004 (originally published week of December 2, 2004)

On Wednesdays, rather than rehashing a news story, I reprint one of my old columns. I've got 15 years' worth of the damn things, so there's no point in letting them sit moldering in a box in my garage. At least not the good ones.

Just when we thought we would get a much-needed rest from moral politics, a new emotion-charged controversy has reached a fevered pitch in Provo, Utah.

According to a recent story in the Associated Press, it started when Utah resident Susan Sewell tried to adopt a kitten from the Utah County Animal Shelter. That's when they learned that Provo law prohibits a dog and a cat are not allowed to live in the same house. It's possible for two dogs or two cats to share a residence, but that's as far as the law will go. And it's raised the hackles of some Provo residents. [Erik's note: This part was true. The rest that follows, not so much.]

"This really has my back up! It's an invasion of our privacy, pure and simple," said pro-interspecies supporter Mabel Hutchinson. "Since when can the government start legislating morality for its citizens?"

Hutchinson, who has secretly owned a cat and dog for four years, shares the sentiments of many Provosians: that the city government needs to stay out of the sleeping rooms and dog houses of its citizens.

But there are two sides to every controversy, and this one is no exception.

"We're not going to let the actions of a few activist animal control officers dictate the acceptability of a such a heinous practice. The Bible is very clear on this," said Reverend Horton Jacobs, a vocal opponent of interspecies cohabitation. He has been an outspoken supporter for the city law, and has given countless sermons against the "evils of interspecies intimacy."

Gregory Polenska, president of Provosians for Animal Values (PAV), echoed Jacobs' philosophy: "We don't see why dogs and cats should be given special treatment or treated differently. And allowing this vile cohabitation is just one more item on the anti-values agenda, along with shared benefits, like shared veterinary insurance. Pretty soon they'll begin promoting this kind of behavior in the pet stores, recruiting puppies and kittens to their perverted ways."

Jacobs and Polenska joined hundreds of other pro-separation protestors outside Provo City Hall this past week. For six hours, they marched, carried signs, and chanted "God made Snowball and Fluffy, not Snowball and Scruffy."

But the pro-interspecies activists have not been silent. They held a counter-protest just a mile away, at the Provo Animal Shelter.

"It's species-phobia!" said Irene Morris, president of AIRS, Animal Interspecies Relationship Supporters. "Those anti-rights zealots need to quit sniffing around our private business. If two consenting grown animals want to live in the same house, it's no concern of theirs."

Morris and 300 other protestors then marched to City Hall, walking mixed breed couples on leashes, and chanting: "We're fixed! We're mixed! Get used to it!"

"This isn't just a question of whether two animals from different species can live together. It's much deeper than that," said Mabel Hutchinson, holding her dog Sebastian and cat Clover on a shared leash. "It's a matter of whether an animal can choose who he or she is going to share its life with. And no government should make that decision for them."

The Provo City Council has agreed to vote on the law, but neither side shows any signs of quitting when it's over.

PAV has already retained a local law firm, Alonzo, Macavity & Gus and have begun taking the necessary steps to file an injunction and an appeal to the Utah State Supreme Court if the vote does not go their way.

"I know this isn't a popular point of view among many Provosians," said Polenska. "But we're fighting for our moral values. And we'll use any means we can to make sure our way of life is protected from those who would seek to corrupt it."

The pro-interspecies supporters won't be caught by surprise either. Not only have they recruited their own law firm, Turpin, Lovett, & Todd, but plans are already underway for a Million Paw March in Salt Lake City next month.

Organizers originally had some difficulty obtaining a permit to have that many dogs and cats in a single location, but after contracting with a street cleaning crew and a promise to "bag any accidents," Salt Lake City officials finally agreed.

"When we explained that it was a million paw march, which only meant we were going to have a little over 250,000 animals – a lot of people out here own three-legged dogs – the officials were a little more agreeable. They were originally worried we were talking about a million animals," said march organizer Paul Zielinski

"We'll either be celebrating or protesting, depending on how the vote goes," said Irene Morris.

Photo: Pokester (
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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Missouri Senate Bans Wrong Plastic From River. Scientists Roll Their Eyes.

Leave it to Missour-uh. Their heart was in the right place, but their understanding of science was, well, not.

The Missouri state government passed a law that would make it illegal to have polypropylene on many Missouri rivers. They meant to ban expanded polystyrene.

In effect, they banned Tupperware, but not Styrofoam, which was their original intention, says an Associated Press story.

While I understand this can by a little confusing to people, since the words almost sound the same — polypropylene, polystyrene — wait, they don't almost sound the same, unless you listen to the first two syllables and then quit paying attention.

The problem was that many people were bringing Styrofoam coolers onto the river, and then leaving them there, so they wanted to ban them. Instead, they banned the things you bring your cold fried chicken and potato salad in. Things which no right-thinking mother would abandon.

As a result, you can bring your Styrofoam coolers with impunity, but so help you, if you're caught with a single piece of plastic polypropylene, whether it's plates, cups, or utensils, you can spend up to a year in jail.

I'll take Why Didn't Anyone Double-Check This for $200, Alex.

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The Cool Table at Indy Fringe Theatre Festival 2009

I ate Lindsey Fisher's cookie.

The cookie in question, before your mind starts wandering, was a prop for a sketch she performed as part of the sketch comedy troupe, The Cool Table, at their fourth appearance at the Indy Fringe Theatre Festival. More on that later.

The Chicago-based troupe performs original sketches during each performance without repeating any during their entire Fringe appearance. What I saw tonight was not what they performed either of the last two nights.

I had the chance to see The Cool Table twice last year, and actually recognized a couple of this year's sketches from last year, not that I'm complaining. I remembered the Lollipop sketch from last year, and maybe one or two others, but I still had a great time.

The fantasy sketch was one that netted me some cookie. I bumped into The Cool Table at the Chatham Tap 30 minutes before the show. Since they remembered me from the year before, they invited me to join them for a drink (note to Goose Island: your 312 wheat beer is not that wheaty). Lindsey was sitting there with a giant cookie, and said I could join them after the show.

The sketch itself involved Lindsey and Dan Sanders Joyce who had been told by their therapist to share their fantasies with each other. While Dan's didn't sound entire unreasonable — mmmm, steak — Lindsey's was hilarious. She walks out with a giant cookie, tells Dan to shut up, and she gets to eat a giant cookie while making him perform Styx songs in a slowed-down rap.

My favorite sketch out of all of their performances, other than "The B Squad," was tonight's final one, the three guys — Paige Smith, Dave Sipoli, and Dan — who were waiting at Neiman Marcus, clutching their wives' purses, while they played games to pass the time. The role playing workshopping of Dan's. . marital problems shows the great results that flowers can bring to any marriage.

While you probably won't be able to see the Neiman Marcus sketch this weekend (although I'm hoping they'll do it and B Squad on Friday, because I'm going back), you'll still be able to see some great comedy three more times on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Political Correctness Rears Its Ugly Head in Great Britain. Again.

It's a black day for the English language, unless you work in Great Britain.

I recently read on The (London) Times website that a number of public organizations, commissions, and nonprofits are all dropping certain words because they could be construed as sexist or racist.

Normally this would be an admirable effort. I'm all for getting rid of racism and sexism. But these organizations are just making knee-jerk responses to the words "black," "white," and "man."

Some of the words that have been blackballed are "whiter than white," "gentlemen's agreement," "black mark," and "right hand man."

Are you kidding me? This is what you're worried about? Rather than actually eliminating sexism and racism, you're going after this ticky-tack little crap? It's like putting a Band-Aid on a migraine, but only half as intelligent.

The Times reported that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has dropped the phrase "black day" with "miserable day," because certain words carry a "hierarchical valuation of skin colour."

The fancy spelling of "colour" notwithstanding, the only people who seem to be putting that hierarchical valuation on it is you guys. The only people who are miserable are the people who have the misfortune to have to put up with this nonsense.

Oh, but it doesn't end there. The National Gallery in London has dropped the phrase "gentleman's agreement" because it could be potentially offensive to women, as could "right-hand man."

Meanwhile, the Learning and Skills Council doesn't want anyone to "master" their skills, but rather "perfect" them. And Newcastle University doesn't want you to call the biggest bedroom in the house the "master bedroom."

I guess we can no longer go around saying "I am the master of my domain."

It's this stupid behalfism practiced by these politically correct dunderheads that kills language for writers. People accuse texting and IMing as being the death of the English language, but it's not. All those have done is hurt spelling and punctuation, but there are still accepted norms for "correct" punctuation and grammar.

What these butchers have done is slowly chipped away at some of the poetry of our language by speaking on behalf of people they don't represent. Instead of saying something might be offensive to someone, why don't you ask them, and then come up with something acceptable instead? Instead they presume to speak on behalf of other races and sexes, because they know what best.

I don't know, sounds a little imperial to me.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Phone It In Sunday: Sarah Haskins, Target Women: Doofy Husbands

I'm thinking we need to have a Sarah Haskins - Lisa Nova video smackdown. Sarah is wicked funny, Lisa has out-of-left-field ideas she executes very well. Who will come out on top, wry and dry or wild and wacky?

I may just have to run a poll. Look for that in a September Phone It In Sunday.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Andrea Merlyn's Greatest Hits (and Missus) at the Indy Fringe Theatre Festival

I took my oldest daughter to see Taylor Martin's show, Andrea Merlyn's Greatest Hits (and missus!) at the Theatre on the Square 2 stage. It was a full house, and my first chance to see Taylor Martin (née Andrea Merlyn) perform, even though I've known him for over a year.

I enjoyed Taylor's illusions and jokes, and I was impressed by his ability to project his characters into magic. The fact that he did it all in drag made it even more funny. The thing I really liked and appreciated about Taylor's — that should be Andrea, actually — Andrea's show was her ability to recover from audience participants who. . . weren't quite what one would hope for in an audience participant (I can see why magicians will use audience plants instead of pulling people from the audience to help with a trick. Talking to you, Jennifer Sutton! ;-) ).

On the way home, my daughter and I talked about what magic means to a little kid, like her younger brother and sister, and how disappointing it is for kids once they learn that magic truly isn't magic. We talked about how we were both a tiny bit disappointed when we learned that magic was just sleight of hand and trick props. But, as adults and young teenagers, the new joy of magic comes from learning to appreciate the magician.

I saw numerous magicians when I was a kid, but I couldn't tell you a thing about who they were, other than they did cool tricks. But now, as an adult, I watch magicians to see if I can spot how they're doing their tricks. If I can't, they're good. If I can, well, they need to work on it a little more.

Andrea Merlyn let us in on one of her secrets when she showed us how a trick is supposed to work, and how it went down at the Orlando Fringe Theatre Festival. The rest of the tricks were good, but it was Andrea's snappy banter, teasing of the audience members (including one poor guy, Dan, who wasn't as well-versed in Shakespeare's sonnets as he led us to believe). She gave him such grief that she ended up running a sword through his neck in retaliation. (No kidding).

Taylor Martin is this year's only magic show featuring a drag queen who impales audience members on ancient weaponry. With a pedigree like that, you can't go wrong.

Find more photos like this on Smaller Indiana

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I made the LOL Celebrities Lineup on

I usually make about 3 submissions a week to the I Can Has Cheezburger sites, like ROFLRazzi and Pundit Kitchen, but I never get enough votes to make the regular lineup.

Until Thursday.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

A 6-year-old Theatre Reviewer at the Indy Fringe Festival

Backer buttons: 3 dollars
Performance tickets: 10 dollars
Having your 6-year-old son say out loud what everyone else is thinking: priceless

Find more videos like this on Smaller Indiana

I took my family to the Indy Fringe Theatre Festival Preview night, and we watched several brief performances. While we all had our favorites — the kids loved Blunder Construction, my wife and I enjoyed Crossing the Bridge from Leonix Movement Theatre Ensemble, and I loved the Kenyetta Dance Company's Groundwork Suites.

We also watched Medea from the Butler University players as part of FringeNext. It's an adaptation of the original Greek tragedy by Euripedes, and it's not necessarily everyone's cup of tea, especially for my 6-year-old son.

He sat next to me, patiently, wondering what the hell this thing was about.

Watch the video, and listen closely around the 40 second mark.

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Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking, Or Be Judged

Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking, Or Be Judged

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2003

Erik is out of the office this week, and just finished speaking at a seminar last week, so we are pulling out an old column from 2003 about public speaking.

What is it about public speaking that scares the bejeezus out of some people?

Public speaking is considered such a horrible, terrible, awful ordeal that it frightens people more than snakes, spiders, or the words "President Paris Hilton."

According to the Book of Lists, more people cite public speaking as their worst fear, more than any other stressful event including death. Or as we speech teachers like to joke, people would rather die than give a speech.

Speech teachers have the sense of humor of a can of salmon.

So what's wrong with public speaking? Why can people talk to two friends about any topic for hours on end without the slightest nervous twitch, but they can't speak to more than five people without wetting their pants?

I used to teach public speaking at our area community college, and at the start of every semester, I ask my students what scares them about it. The most frequent answers were usually "I'm afraid I'll be laughed at" or "I don't want to look stupid." So I helped them become desensitized to their fears by making them wear silly wigs while the rest of the class laughs at them.

Actually, we would spend the first class doing exercises to help them see how easy public speaking can be. The silly wigs and laughter are part of the final exam.

I'm actually one of those rare individuals who enjoys public speaking. I love being the center of attention, and having people hang on my every word. Short of running into a crowded restaurant and shouting, "Hey everyone, look at me!" public speaking is the best way to get this kind of attention. I'm what non-public speakers call "an outgoing personality," "an attention seeker," or "a nerd."

But you don't have to take a class to conquer this fear. I belonged to an organization that helps people overcome their fears and improve their speaking skills. Toastmasters International is a worldwide organization dedicated to the fine art of lightly scorching bread and then describing it to fellow toast lovers. Other discussion topics range from the best brands of toasters, butter versus margarine, and whether to use pre-sliced bread or to slice your own.

Actually, Toastmasters speeches will cover a wide range of topics, and will almost never discuss burned bread.

"So what can public speaking do for me?" you're asking yourself quietly, because there are more than three people nearby.

Lots of things. It boosts your self-confidence. It can enhance your communication skills. It can help you shout "Fire!" in a burning building without stammering or blushing furiously.

It can even make you world famous, like Masanam Venu from India. He is currently the world record holder for longest public speaker. He spoke for 51-and-a-half hours in January 2003 on the fundamentals of chemistry. By an amazing coincidence, everyone in attendance also shattered the world's record for longest boredom-induced slumber with an amazing 51-hour-and-25-minute performance.

The previous record was held by 15-year-old American high school student Bridget Garvey, who spoke for 47 hours and 39 minutes about how she heard from Stephanie that Alex broke up with Stacy and started going out with Heather and now Stacy is going out with some creep named Garrett but Stacy and Alex danced together at the dance last weekend and oh my God I think they may get back together but they say they're not and do you think I would look good with bangs?

But you don't have to be world-famous. You don't even have to make a career out of public speaking. You may only use the skill a few times in your life, but wouldn't it be nice to know how?

I know, you've got a variety of reasons to avoid it. Maybe you don't like feeling like they're being judged. Or you're afraid people won't like you. Or you may just be one of those people who don't like all those other people watching you. Staring at you. Studying you under their steely gaze. Finding every fault, every flaw, until the pressure becomes too much. Then you finally crack and run screaming from the—sorry. That doesn't really happen. Much.

So if you ever find that you have to give a speech, presentation, or even just a toast to a friend, just relax. Remember, your audience wants you to succeed. They'll forgive your little flubs and verbal mixups. They understand your nervousness, because they've felt it too.

Besides, I'm sure no one even noticed your fly was open.

Photo: HelloLeticia from my presentation at BlogIndiana 2008. Doug Karr calls that my "I have an orange" move.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

I'm a Celebrity Grape Stomper at the Swiss Wine Festival in Vevay, IN

I've been asked to be a celebrity grape stomper at the Swiss Wine Festival in Vevay, IN by my friend, Kendal Miller, PR coordinator of Switzerland County Tourism. (She's also a great photographer. Click the hyperlink on her name back there.)

The competition begins at 11:00 am on Saturday, August 29 right there in Vevay (pronounced "VEE-vee." Don't ask). If you're going to be in the area, swing by and cheer me on. If you're one of the competitors (especially them damn furriners what lives in O-hi-uh and Kintucky), well, this is one celebrity weekly newspaper humor columnist/blogger who plans on bringing home the bacon grapeskins for his home state.

So nyah!

Kendal says. . . (with some editing for length)

We have 20 stompers signed up for the “First Annual Media Celebrity Grape Stomp for Charity” for Sat. Aug. 29 at noon.

Four stompers will go on the stomping stage at a time, so we’ll have five full rounds.

Although everyone is your competitor when you’re stomping for your favorite charity, I have prepared the stomping order so you’ll know who will be the three other stompers beside you in your round. Also, we almost had 10/10 split with male and female competitors, but the men have one up on the woman. [Because we, as a gender, are awesome! — Erik]

As far as the stomp, I have been told that your size or weight have nothing to do with how much juice you squeeze out of your grapes. It’s more the technique while your feet are in the barrel that makes the difference. The more your feet “work” the grapes, the more juice you’ll get out of them. Just a little “tip” from a seasoned stomper. The top three stompers that get the most juice out of their wooden wine barrels (with the help of your swabber that will be provided) are the prize winners.

Each round will be two minutes long. That doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re putting forth your best efforts, it may feel longer than you think!

2009 Celebrity Grape Stomp Stomping Order

Round One:
Tara Pachmayer (Cincy), Erik Deckers (Indy), Julie Tam (Louie), Tom Davis (Indy)

Round Two:
Carissa Lawson (Louie), Brad Underwood (Cincy), Jen Dalton (Cincy), Paul Poteet (Indy)

Round Three:
Sara Denhart (Madison), Michael Wigren (Vevay), Taylor Bennett (Indy), Tony Mirones (Cincy)

Round Four:
Marianne Holland (Indy), Jim Simmons (Indy), Elizabeth J. Musgrave (Indy), Richard Graham (Indy)

Round Five:
Kate Shepard (Indy), Aric Harvig (Indy), Andy Ferguson (Vevay), Joe Ulery (Indy)

I have been warned that Julie Tam is a ballet dancer, and is fast on her feet. However, female ballet dancers perform on their toes, thus reducing her total surface area, and giving me and my size 10.5s a nice advantage. Tara and Tom are unknown quantities (although since we're both from Indy, I feel bad that I don't even know who Tom is).

Paul Poteet, on the other hand, is a Twitter buddy, yet he will not return an email I sent him inviting him for coffee, so I may just have to cheer for Jen Dalton (whom I have never emailed for coffee, and thus, have never been turned down by).

Andy Ferguson of Vevay is going to be a hometown favorite, and thus may have an. . . advantage. I'll be watching for any signs of barrel stuffing going on.

I don't know anything about the rest of these people, although I met Marianne Holland once. So, like any good over-the-hill athlete, I am going to be totally overconfident and not prepare or train one whit for this, and hope that the minimal amount of research I have done for this will propel me over the top.

See you at the bottom of the barrel.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Doug Karr Totally Looks Like Jason Falls

For fans of I Can Has Cheezburger's Totally Looks Like website who are also fans of Doug Karr and Jason Falls, I present:

Doug Karr totally looks like Jason Falls

Need further proof? Here's me, Doug, Rodger Johnson, and Jason at BlogIndiana 2009.

One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just isn't the same.

Give up? Jason is from Kentucky, the other three are from Indiana. If you said "Rodger is much, much smaller," that is incorrect!

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Wayback Wednesday: Snakes Have Feelings Too, You Know!

Snakes Have Feelings Too, You Know!

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2003 (published week of June 6th, 2003)

On Wednesdays, rather than rehashing a news story, I reprint one of my old columns. I've got 15 years' worth of the damn things, so there's no point in letting them sit moldering in a box in my garage. At least not the good ones.

Scientists call them herpetologists. I call them weirdos.

People who watch snakes, study snakes and even — ick! — like snakes all descend on Narcisse, Manitoba every Spring to watch the Great Snake Awakening.

That's when thousands and thousands of allegedly harmless garter snakes -- some estimate as many as 70,000 -- slither out from the cracks in the limestone bedrock and do what snakes like to do: scare the bejeezus out of me.

I hate snakes. I don't just dislike them, I hate them with a white hot passion that's usually reserved for personal injury lawyers. I scream like a girl whenever I see one (a snake, not a lawyer), and I've already checked under my desk several times as I write this to make sure one hasn't sneaked in here (still a snake, but also a lawyer).

So why people would want to watch snakes pop out of the ground without beating them with a large stick is beyond me. But starting on Mother's Day, snake geeks begin showing up at the Narcisse snake dens to watch the snakes emerge from their winter slumber to eat frogs and toads, and to mate.

"There's nothing else out here but the snakes," Darlene Herron, a roadside snack seller, told the Associated Press. "I don't know why anyone brings their mother to the snake dens."

We've been through this, Darlene: they're weirdos. And apparently their moms are too.

When the snakes emerge from their law offices underground dwellings, they haven't had anything to eat or mate with in seven months, so they do both.

Voyeuristic visitors hike three miles to watch the mating ritual, where dozens of horny male snakes climb onto the back of a single female snake in the hopes of making more snakes. Some of these romantic pursuits are known as mating balls. And because the spectacle is such a popular one, there's even a statue of two mating snakes on the road leading to the romantic reptilian rendezvous.

Young Impressionable Child: "Daddy, why is there a statue of two snakes wrestling?"

Uncomfortable Father: "Uhh, you'd better ask your mother."

After the female has chosen the lucky male, the rejected suitors slither away, and leave their comrade to a lifetime of taking out the garbage and mowing the lawn. Later in the summer, 20 to 50 more law students baby snakes are born as a result of the coupling, but happily for snake haters like me, only two percent survive into adulthood.

That's because snakes have a lot of predators, including birds of prey, like hawks and owls, weasels, foxes, and raccoons. So if you're ever looking for a charity to support, please consider making a donation to the Hawks, Owls, Weasels, Foxes, and Raccoons Defense Fund.

Dave Roberts, who is the wildlife technician in charge of the Narcisse snake dens (i.e. the "Head Weirdo"), told the AP that the dens are ". . . a great opportunity to pass on information about these snakes and their stewardship. We try to teach a little more tolerance of the fact these creatures live around us."

You go right ahead and teach snake tolerance, Dave. But I'm staying right here in my own little corner of the world where the lawn mower blade is always sharp, and the snakes are in short supply.

Shorter, when I fire up the old Lawn-Boy.

Roberts says that males use their tongues to detect the pheromone that attracts them to the female. However, he wasn't sure why some male snakes also give off the female pheromone. Possibly to confuse rival males, he said.

Sophia Munro, a Grade 5 teacher in Winnipeg, says on her website that these "she-male" snakes are twice as lucky at mating than the non-pheromone producing males. She also agrees that the "she-male" snakes do confuse the other male snakes during the mating season.

However, scientists have shown that it's not uncommon for young male snakes to be confused about their sexuality at times (not that there's anything wrong with that), and that it's all just part of growing up.

The snakes will then travel as far as 10 miles into nearby marshes to hang out for the summer, drink beer, and tell stories about how they're suing McDonald's because their client ate there every day for 20 years and got fat.

In the fall, the snakes who weren't eaten or disbarred make their way back to their limestone offices to sleep for another seven months, and the whole process starts all over again.

The whole idea is enough to give me a permanent case of the willies, and to swear on a snakeskin-jacketed Bible never to set foot near the Narcisse snake dens.

Driving a steamroller is an entirely different matter.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

British Grandmother Sues Supermarket After Being Beaned by Pineapple

If you're standing in a store, and another shop reaches for something, causing a pineapple to hit you in the head, who's at fault? The shopper? The pineapple? The store?

If you're Mary Raimo, a 76-year-old OAP (old age pensioner; a British term for "senior citizen), you sue the store.

Raimo is suing Tesco, a supermarket that has made some lovely boneheaded moves like banning helium balloons carried by small children. Needless to say, I don't like Tesco very much, but I think Raimo is in the wrong on this one.

Raimo was in her local store in Lochee, Dundee (Scotland), looking at some fruit on a shelf, while another lady was looking at the pineapples on the top shelf. That's when Raimo was bonked on the coconut by a pineapple. She dropped her basket and fell to the floor.

According to an article in the Daily Telegraph, Raimo says her vision was blurred and she couldn't think straight. (I'm not saying this is a symptom of a head injury, and I'm not saying this is a symptom of being 76. I just think there should be some kind of baseline established before this suit goes forward.)

A doctor told her she had a concussion, but she says she is still in pain, even one year later.

Raimo's lawyer told the Telegraph, "It is her position the shelf was poorly stacked. Tesco say it was another customer who knocked it off. We are not seeking massive damages, but we would be looking for £3,000 or £4,000 to compensate for Mary's injuries."

Admittedly £4,000 ($6,500) is a nice chunk of change, and I'll bet Tesco will settle, or at least their insurance company will cough up. And while I love any story that involves Tesco looking like a scrooge or jerky, I think I have to side with Tesco on this one. Raimo's accident is unfortunate, and no one can be sure who actually caused it.

She should just be grateful that watermelons aren't that common in Scotland.

Photo: Randall Femmer, National Biological Information Infrastructure
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Monday, August 17, 2009

"Oh Yeah? How Much Do You Hate Parsnips?" "A LOT!"

Don Burke hates parsnips. And he hates people who like them. So he hates Donna Hay.

If you're not Australian, none of this means anything to you. Of course, if you are Australian, this still may not mean anything to you.

Don Burke is a well-known radio gardener in Australia. Donna Hay is a well-known TV chef in Australia.

Burke has caused something of an uproar in Australia — mostly because nothing ever seems to happen there — by slamming Hay and the Sydney Daily Telegraph after she published some parsnip recipes in the Sunday Magazine.

"Don Burke lashes out at Donna Hay over parsnips" screamed the headlines.

Burke even described Hay as "wretched" for serving parsnips, saying they weren't fit for pigs.

"I'm outraged, I'm angry, I'm upset, I'm crushed. I'm all of those things and a lot more," Burke said on his program. "If you get that appalling newspaper today, The Sunday Telegraph, and get out Sunday Magazine ... that wretched Donna Hay has got two pages of parsnip recipes. I respect pigs, I like pigs, but I wouldn't give my pet pig parsnips."

Good God, Burke, it's a freaking vegetable. It's a parsnip. It's like a potato and a carrot had sex, found out they couldn't have children, so they adopted a parsnip, and never told it where it came from.

Hay said Burke was out of touch, so she sent him a box of parsnips and recipes, and challenged him to get over himself.

"I was surprised he was having a go. It's just a parsnip," Hay told the Daily Telegraph. "If Don cared to step into a modern restaurant he would find everyone's using parsnips - they're in vogue."

Hay should be careful, since this is tantamount to placing a burning bag of dog poo on Burke's porch

Angeloa Lamattina, an Australian parsnip grower, said Burke was un-Australian for his comments.

"Where does he get off?" he said. "Here's some bloke who had some TV show and reckons he can come out and bag our work."

Yeah! It's like if some bloke had a parsnip farm and reckoned he could bag the work of some TV gardener.

Burke stood by his comments however, and said that the "root cause" (get it? "root cause?" It's funny, because a parsnip is a root vegetable!) — ahem — the root cause of his hatred of all things parsnippy was his mother's cooking, calling her baked parsnips hideous.

Ah, it's all beginning to make sense now. If my psychology classes have taught me anything, it's that Don Burke is in love with Donna Hay.

You heard it here first, folks:

Don and Donna sitting in a tree

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Phone It In Sunday: What if We Treated People Like Dogs?

From LisaNova and Rawn: What if we treated people like dogs?

The last few seconds show why humans have opposable thumbs.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

British School Student Given Certificate for Catching a Bus

Bobby McHale will go far in his life. At least as far as the 8:35 to Downtown bus goes.

The 15-year-old school student received a certificate for catching a bus. His 13-year-old brother, Joe, did not fare so well. He failed this simple task.

According to an article in London's Metro website, Bobby didn't even realize he was being graded on this rather difficult and arduous task, so you can imagine his family's pride and joy at the letter he received.

A certificate from the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA), a British exam certification board, arrived in the mail one day, notifying Bobby he had completed the "Using Public Transport (Unit 1)" assignment.

I don't know which is more frightening: that someone actually monitors these kinds of assignments without the student knowing it, or that there may be a Unit 2.

Completing the assignment included:
  • Walk to the local bus stop.

  • Stand or sit and wait for the arrival of a public bus

  • Enter the bus in a calm and safe manner.

  • Be directed to a downstairs seat by a member of staff.

  • Sit on the bus and observe through the windows.

  • Wait until the bus has stopped, stand on request and exit the bus.

You can see a copy of the Using Public Transport (Unit 1) certificate with these tasks at the website.

Apparently, Bobby took the test during a two-week summer vacation "scheme" called Bury and Rochdale Active Generation.

The Bury City Council apparently spent £20,000 ($33,000) to organize the project, which is supposed to improve students' self-reliance in getting to their different activities.

"Scheme" is right. I would also add the term "wacky," "hilarious," or "crazy, mixed-up."

Youth support services director Barbara Lewis told the Metro newspaper, "For some, it may be the only qualifications they get."

An unnamed spokesman for the AQA said, "We would expect centres to ensure candidates are entered for units that are appropriate to their needs and abilities."

I know I knock the British government from time to time, but there are times they deserve it.

Like now.

How stupid are British teenagers that freaking bus riding is not only a unit of study, but is "appropriate to their needs and abilities?" I think England needs to take a long hard look at the quality of their educational system if they're creating 15-year-old students whose "needs and abilities" have only risen to the level of sitting on a bus and observing through the windows.

What self-respecting young person is going to get his certification in bus riding, shout to his mom and dad, "Lookit! I got my O levels in buses!" (O levels are the "Ordinary Levels," which is similar to passing high school with a basic understanding of a subject, but not enough to go to college.)

"Congratulations, son, we always knew you had it in you," they would say. "We knew you would get a qualification in something one day."

"I know, I was worried after I failed Walking and Chewing Gum (Unit 3), but this is all the motivation I need to tackle my next big qualification: Looking Both Ways Before Crossing the Street (Unit 2)."

Photo: Konqui (Flickr)
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Friday, August 14, 2009

A Cross-Country Coach Remembered

A Cross-Country Coach Remembered

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2009

I'm not a young man anymore. I got a harsh reminder last week when my family and I went for a walk in our local park. As we walked back to the car, we got separated; my two youngest were with me, my oldest daughter and wife were a couple hundred yards ahead.

"Let's catch up with them," I said.

"How? They're so far," said my kids, so I started running. "Hey!"

Clearly they weren't expecting this. Or prepared for it, since they stopped after we had covered half the distance. My wife and oldest daughter spotted us and took off, so I kept running after them, the two youngest complaining about "all this running." Eventually, our eldest dropped off, and I chased my wife all the way back to the car.

"Come on, Erik, catch that guy," shouted my cross-country coach, Joe Rogers. "He's the only one between us and the championship!"

It was 1981, and I was 13 years old, running in the 8th grade cross-country regional championships in Richmond, Indiana. A mile and a half of a bunch of skinny, gangly 13-year-olds chasing each other through a park.

"Go, Erik! Go, Erik!" I could still hear him, nearly 28 years later, as I chased down the runner in front of me.

Mr. Rogers was the cross-country coach and a science teacher at McKinley Middle School in Muncie, Indiana. He been a runner for years, in a time when running was just for getting into shape for other sports, and for criminals.

Don't get me wrong, Joe Rogers was a great coach. We wanted to run for this crazy little man who had taken to running like a duck takes to water. A cannonball-calfed, endorphin addicted duck.

I ran because my dad was a runner. He started running around the time he got married, but I figured he couldn't have been too good at it, since my mom managed to catch him and bring him back home each night.

When I started 7th grade, Mr. Rogers introduced himself and said, "I know your dad. Are you a runner like him? Why don't you try out for cross-country?" I said okay, since I didn't know 1) anyone else, or 2) any better.

Turns out, I didn't enjoy running. It hurt, it was hard, and we had to do it every day. I was the slowest guy on the 7th grade team, and Sean Harshey was the slowest guy on the 8th grade team. We didn't care, we were the best joggers in town. Nobody could jog as thoroughly as we could.

While the rest of my teammates were turning in sub-6 minute miles, we were planted firmly in the 8-minute mark. While some of our teammates would make fun of us, we enjoyed ourselves. However, my 8th grade year was a different story.

"I'm tired of being last," I told myself. "I'm not going to be the slowest guy on the team anymore." And during our first practice of the year, I ran harder than I had ever run before. I still remember it. It was a half-mile heat (we ran about five miles that day), and I finished fifth out of the 15 guys who had showed up for our first practice.

"Wow, what happened to you, Erik? You were the slowest guy last year," said Mr. Rogers, stunned.

"I'm not going to do that anymore," I said.

"Great. I knew you had it in you."

That year, I never jogged again, I ran. Only the top five finishers from each team count in a race, and I never missed a top five finish that season. And in Richmond that fall, heading for the finish, I had 10th place sewn up. A guaranteed placement, but Mr. Rogers was yelling at me to chase the guy down, and beat him at the line.

"He's the only one between us and the championship!" he hollered. "Go, Erik! Go, Erik!"

I squeezed out the little I had left in the tank, passed him, and reached the finish.

"You're out of breath, old man," said my wife.

"You sound a little shaky yourself there," I said. We wandered slowly around the car, hands on our hips, trying not to show the other we were out of breath. A sweaty victory hug, a short wait for the kids to show up, and we were back in the car, headed for home.

With the smug satisfaction that comes from knowing that while we were much older, we were still faster than our kids.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sign Making Fail Photo

I took this photo while I was in Lincoln City, Oregon several years ago. It's a sign shop's, uh, sign.

I'm reminded of the saying about the shoemaker's children going barefoot. At least I hope that's what it is. Unless their specialty is crappy banners people take to ball games.

If you click the photo, you can vote for my photo so it can appear on the Fail blog front page.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Wayback Wednesday: The Three Phases of Parenting

The Three Phases of Parenting

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2003 (published week of November 28th, 2003)

On Wednesdays, rather than rehashing a news story, I reprint one of my old columns. I've got 15 years' worth of the damn things, so there's no point in letting them sit moldering in a box in my garage. At least not the good ones.

I recently became a proud father for the third time, and although I love and adore my new son, I've noticed my standards for obsessive care and compulsive hovering have lowered quite a bit.

I've heard that most new parents will agonize over every little detail about doing what's best for their child, but that they relax significantly after the second and even third child come along.

I've even noticed my own constant worrying and stress has decreased to the point where my blood pressure is nearly normal, and I think my hair is growing back.

And after analyzing the charts and graphs that every new parent keeps, I've discovered a pattern in every facet of child raising.

First Child: Your name was inspired by a woman of royalty. She was loved by millions.
Second Child: Your name was inspired by a beloved member of the family. Everyone loved her.
Third Child: Your name was inspired by my favorite professional wrestler, Hulk Hogan. He could beat the crap out of anybody.

Holding the new baby
First Child: We're the only ones who can hold her.
Second Child: You can hold her, but you have to wash your hands first.
Third Child: Someone please hold this kid for me!

Food and Feeding
First Child: I will feed you only pesticide-free organic foods that I've prepared by hand in a carefully-sanitized kitchen.
Second Child: I will feed you baby foods from a jar that don't have preservatives or additives.
Third Child: Do you want corn dogs or chili dogs for breakfast?

First Child: Don't run in the house. You could fall and hurt yourself.
Second Child: Don't run with scissors.
Third Child: Don't play with Daddy's good chainsaw.

First Child: I will give you toys that are fun AND educational.
Second Child: I will give you toys that give you hours of entertainment.
Third Child: How many times do I have to tell you, wear safety goggles when you're using my table saw?!

First Child: You need to go to bed by 8:30.
Second Child: You need to go to bed by 9:00.
Third Child: It's 11:30, I'm going to bed. Turn the TV off when you're done.

First Child: It's a little chilly. Put on your jacket, a hat, gloves, and a scarf.
Second Child: It's a little chilly. Put on a sweater.
Third Child: Did we forget your pants again?

Potty training
First Child: We'll start her potty training when she's two-and-a-half.
Second Child: She'll let us know when she's ready to start potty training.
Third Child: He'll figure it out by the time he gets to high school.

Television watching
First Child: You can watch one hour of educational TV per day.
Second Child: You can watch two hours of regular TV per day.
Third Child: My TV is broken, can I watch yours?

First Child: Your baths will be a mixture of sparkling spring water and pasteurized milk with essential oils
Second Child: Your baths will be a mixture of warm water and baby oil
Third Child: We'll hose you off in the backyard twice a week.

First Child: You're going to get the finest education we can provide.
Second Child: You're going to get the finest education we can provide.
Third Child: Go ask your know-it-all sisters.

First Child: Turn that crap down!
Second Child: Turn that crap down!
Third Child: Why can't you listen to something decent, like your sisters do.

First Child: A temperature of 100?! Rush her to the hospital!
Second Child: A temperature of 100?! Give her some Children's Motrin.
Third Child: A temperature of 100?! I'm not doing anything until he starts projectile vomiting.

Living at home
First Child: You can live here as long as you want.
Second Child: Wouldn't you like to get your own place after college?
Third Child: What are you still doing here?

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Syracuse, N.Y. Councilor's Re-Election Petition Short by One Signature. His Own.

We've all heard that every vote is important, that entire elections can be won and lost by one vote. The same is true for signatures.

Just ask Michael Heagerty, the Syracuse, New York Common Councilor, whose re-election petition was short by just one signature.

His own signature.

Heagerty needed 335 signatures on his re-election petition, but he only had 334, said the Syracuse Post-Standard. He was horrified to discover he had forgotten to sign his own petition.

Not all is lost, however. Heagerty will be on the ballot on the Working Families Party, and will be listed there in the general election. He can also run as an independent if he gathers at least 346 new signatures by August 18.

Heagerty and his volunteers originally had 398 signatures, but his Republican opponent Matt Rayo challenged the petition. The Board of Elections found 64 of the signatures were invalid.

Heagerty told the Post-Standard, "We got almost 400, and we figured we were good."

Heagerty isn't that worried however. He figures voters will scan down the rows of names and find his and vote for him.

Let's just hope he remembers to vote.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Tulare, California Hates Lemonade, Small Children

Tulare, California joins the list of California cities that hates retail food stands run by children.

Tulare closed down a stand run by 8-year-old Daniela Earnest on the same day she opened it,. said a story in the Fresno Bee (official motto: "Don't swat at it, you'll just make it angry). She wanted to earn enough money for a family trip to Disneyland.

However, the city shut her down because she didn't have a business license.

Daniela and her stepmother, Marisa Earnest, were stopped when a Tulare code enforcement officer told them they couldn't be at the busy intersection, because it was not safe. He also said they needed a business license.

But when news of the city's tromping of a little girl's dreams made the news, a Visalia radio station, KSEQ Q97, offered Daniela and her family four free passes to Disneyland in exchange for 30 cups of lemonade.

After the outcry, Tulare is considering giving Oliver Twist some more gruel however. They are considering a compromise measure that will either ask lemonade stand operators to pay a small fee or waive license fees for children under a certain age.

If they're smart, it will be whatever age will stop angry citizens and journalists from turning stories like this into national news.

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

Phone It In Sunday: Paulina looks for Wild and Crazy Nights

Part Borat, part Czech brother, YouTube comic Lisa Nova plays Paulina, interviewing people about their Wild and Crazy Nights.

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Saturday, August 08, 2009

Portland, ME City Council Bans Shakespeare, Worried About Rowdiness

There is to be no more Naked Shakespeare in Portland, Maine, because it might lead to rowdy crowds. Because as everyone knows, Shakespeare fans are just a bunch of degenerates prone to drunken debauchery.

Fat, drunk, and literate is no way to go through life, son.

According to an article in the Portland Press Herald, the city of Portland has a zoning rule that says bars cannot have an entertainment license within 100 feet of another bar with another license. And since the Wine Bar & Restaurant is next to a bar that already has one, the Acorn Productions' Shakespeare Ensemble may no longer perform their monthly Shakespeare readings for the patrons.

Verily, this is the dizzying pinnacle of beef-witted loggerheadedness.

Mike Levine, artistic director of Acorn Productions, told the Press Herald that because of the short-sightedness on the part of the city council, the entire ensemble may leave the city for some place less motley-minded.

"You would think it was something you should be celebrating, rather than trying to contain," Levine told the Press Herald.

Tough noogies, codpiece, said Mayor Jill Duson at the Cicy Council meeting. (I'm paraphrasing.)

"It's interesting that they grapple with this versus grappling with a place that wants to have more dancing girls in short-shorts and cowboy boots dancing on the bar," said Scott Berry, one of the owners of the Wine Bar & Restaurant.

The city council voted to renew the Wine Bar's liquor license, but denied their request to approve the Naked Shakespeare performances, probably out of fear that the cheese-and-cracker nibbling, wine-sipping Shakespearean crowds might get out of hand, and scoff openly, as ne'er-do-wells and ruffians are wont to do.

While some councilors would like to see the rule abolished, some others are still unclear on the concept of Shakespearean theatre as an art form.

"I want to see a fair amount of analysis before I would consider altering it significantly," said Councilor Nicholas Mavodones Jr. "It  makes sense to not have establishments with entertainment butting up against each other."

Yeah, I can see how readings of the Merchant of Venice can interfere with a Journey cover band's draw. I'm surprised there haven't been any big brawls or anything.

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Friday, August 07, 2009

Ordering McDonald's Is Not That Complicated

Ordering McDonald's Is Not That Complicated

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2009

"Oh my God!" I exclaimed to my wife, slamming the car door.

"The kids are in the car," she said, reminding me not to go into one of my. . . colorful outbursts while little ears were within range. Then she saw the look on my face, and realized that ship was about ready to sail anyway. "What's the problem?"

I explained as calmly as I could, without sounding like Yosemite Sam in a hysterical frenzy. My youngest daughter and I had gone into McDonald's to get an iced tea, and a water for my youngest daughter. The rest of the family just wanted to wait in the car. When I got inside, we were in line behind 16 people and one open register. A family of six, followed by a group of 10.

The family of six was having trouble trying to order a simple meal, and since they were taking so long, someone opened up the other register, and the group of 10 — a church youth group, it turned out — all swarmed to the open register like horny bees on a flower.

"I just want an iced tea and a water," I wanted to say. "Why do I need to stand in line for a stupid iced tea and a water?!" But I didn't. We weren't in a hurry, we were just out for a nice drive, and decided to take a quick break. So, no rush, no deadline, no need to be anywhere, and I'm not a jerk, so no outburst.

The leader of the big group made it really simple. "We want 10 small ice cream cones." The cashier rang it up: $10.80 And then, rather than asking someone else to make them, she made them all herself. The whole thing took less than five minutes.

Not so surprisingly, the family of six was still at the cash register apparently trying to figure out how many mathematical combinations of hamburger and fries they could come up with.

"They had to have a conversation with each kid about the whys and wherefores of their meal. The United Nations passes resolutions faster than these people. I mean, you don't need a discussion about the global ramifications of getting a friggin' hamburger and fries with each child when there are people in line behind you!"

My wife just waited patiently. She has learned that when I get on one of these rants, it's better to just let me run out of gas.

We're actually pretty lucky with our kids. For one thing, they're young enough to order from the children's menu. And while they like just about anything we feed them, they have their favorites. So we work it out beforehand what they want to eat. We don't make the cashier or wait staff wait for our kids to decide. Unlike some people I could name.

"And then, while they were deconstructing the regional agricultural subsidies needed for McDonald's pickles, the previous kid would come up and change his order. I swear, I would not have been surprised if they had written a mission statement and a set of goals."

"And then," I continued, pointing wildly to the heavens. "And then, the dad keeps turning around to see where the kids are, and he's wearing a ball cap. All I can see on the cap is 'State University.' And I think, is he from Ball State? Illinois State? Indiana State? I'm hoping he's not from Ball State—" my alma mater "—because then I'll think that we truly did graduate some morons from there."

My wife gave me a look, wondering where all of this was going.

"Where is this going?" she said.

"When the guy finally turns around, to find out if the ambassador from But-I-want-chicken-stan wants pickles on his sandwich, it says Ohio State University on his stupid hat."

"So?" she said.

"So the guy was a Buckeye!" I said. "More like a buckhead," I added.

"Language," she warned.

"I should have known. You can always tell a Buckeye. You just can't tell 'em much."

"What does that have to do with this story?"

"Nothing," I admitted. "I just feel better saying it."

"But you would have said it if he had been from Illinois State or Indiana State, right?"

I calmed down a bit, having gotten my rant out of my system. I smiled at her. "You know me so well."

"I know. After almost 16 years of marriage, I know what to expect from your little outbursts. It helps me understand little things, like why you only got one water, instead of two."

"Language!" she said a half-second later.

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