Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wayback Wednesday: We're the Rodney Dangerfields of Comedy

We're the Rodney Dangerfields of Comedy

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 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. This one is from 5 years ago.

People often ask me what it's like to be a humor writer. It's very simple. So simple, in fact, that. . . uhh, I mean no, it's extremely difficult. It's hard, hard work. So hard, in fact, that only extremely intelligent, highly-qualified people with special skills should attempt humor writing.

Humor writers should be placed on pedestals and revered by society. They should be honored with parades, awarded medals, and have deli sandwiches and fancy coffee drinks named after them. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a humor writer.

Okay, I am saying that because I'm a humor writer.

Humor writing has a reputation of being a "lesser" art form. Since humor is supposed to be funny, it's not taken as seriously as other forms of writing or entertainment.

It's not as noble as novel writing, even though most novels have all the emotional depth of a high school prom. Newspaper editors rank us higher than the comics and lower than Dear Abby in terms of respectability.

Even celebrities who try their hand at children's writing look down on us. This is unfortunate, since the only reason they're writing children's books is because they can't read the big words in grown-up books.

We don't even get the same respect as clowns in a parade. Instead, we're held in the same regard as the guy who follows the horses with a shovel and wheelbarrow. Or, as one of my fellow humor writers once said, "we're the bastard children of opinion writers."

But what these so-called "real" journalists fail to understand is that no one talks about them. Or if they do, it's in derogatory terms.

When people complain about "the media" and all the negative or biased coverage that goes with it, they're not talking about us.

They're talking about those journalists wearing wrinkled clothes that are two years out of fashion, notebooks clutched in their sweaty hands, eagerly waiting for the next big scoop. They're talking about those people who said Al Gore won Florida before changing their minds and saying it was George Bush. They're talking about those reporters who make up entire stories and plagiarize from other writers.

People will stand around the water cooler and say, "Did you read today's Dave Barry? I laughed so hard I nearly wet myself."

They don't say, "Did you read today's David Broder column? I furrowed my brow so hard I nearly wet myself."

When someone says "David Broder," other people don't shout, "Ooooh, I love him! Hey, do you remember his column on Bill Clinton and Whitewater?!"

When someone says "Dave Barry," other people reminisce about their favorite Dave Barry columns, like the one about misunderstood song lyrics, making homebrewed beer, or taking his dog outside to pee.

If anything, humor writers have a harder job than other writers, because not only do we have to come up with 750 words on a certain subject (or 550 if you're a pansy), we also have to make our readers laugh. Newspaper writers are considered successful if their readers finish an entire article, while novelists just have to make everything seem depressing and interesting at the same time.

"Mildred sighed and slowly pushed away from the table. Things hadn't been the same since Barry left. As she cleared the dinner dishes, each clink of the plates was a nagging reminder that she had left some unfinished business in the city: getting the blood off her grandfather's antique watch."

But even with our lack of respect, we're still expected to be entertaining at all hours of the day. People think we wake up funny, and don't quit until bedtime.

"You're a humor writer? Say something funny," someone once said to me on the phone.

"It doesn't work that way. You can't just say something funny out of the blue."

"No, really. Say something funny."

I sighed and said the first thing that popped into my head: "Doody."

"You're not that funny," he said, and hung up.

I'd like to say I went to his house and put a flaming bag of dog poo on his porch, but I didn't. I wish I could say that I lectured him on the great contributions that humorists have made throughout history, but I didn't. I wish I had called him back and told him the funniest joke in the world, but I didn't even do that.

Instead, I sharpened my writing skills, honed my craft, and studied everything I could on the creation of effective humor. And I'm left with one unassailable truth about humor writing that every aspiring writer should know.

The word "doody" is hilarious.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

British Library Denies Use of Scissors to Woman Because She "Might" Stab Staff

The Holborn Library staff is overly paranoid about being stabbed.

At least that's what we're led to believe, after the British library refused to loan a woman a pair of scissors, because she "might stab a member of staff."

According to a story on the BBC website, the Camden Council, located in north London, was forced to apologize to Lorna Watts, a self-employed dressmaker, after they refused to loan her the scissors.

Watts told the Beeb, "I asked why I couldn't borrow a pair of scissors and she said, 'they are sharp, you might stab me.' I then asked to borrow a guillotine (paper cutter) to cut up my leaflets but she refused again - because she said I could hit her over the head with it!"

Actually, the thought never occurred to me until just now. I guess borrowing a cricket bat is out of the question.

Watts then visited three other libraries, and was denied her request in all three locations.

"It's absurd - there are plenty of heavy books I could have hit her with if I wanted to," Watts said.

Other things that can serve as weapons at your local library:
  • Pens and pencils are just as stabby as scissors, plus you'll get ink on your victim.

  • Magazines that can be rolled up into clubs.

  • CDs and DVDs that can be flung as weapons, a la shiny Chinese throwing stars.

  • The little chains that the pens are attached to the desks with can be used to strangle officious librarians.

A spokeswoman for the Camden Health and Safety Executive said there is no policy against loaning out sharp instruments.

"People know their own workplaces and must carry out their own risk assessments", she said. "But we do ask workplaces to take a common sense approach. This could be a case of someone misinterpreting the rules."

Could be? No, Moby Dick could be a story about a big fish. This is just out and out stupid.

A Camden Council spokeswoman told the BBC, "We are sorry we have not reached our usual high standards. We will investigate fully as soon as possible."

As soon as we're allowed to check out a magnifying glass. They're concerned we might start a fire.


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Sunday, September 27, 2009

What I Like About Being Married

I was having a discussion with a friend of mine about the question of marriage, and what we thought about the institution of marriage. It was sort of a one-sided discussion, because I'm 42 and have been married for nearly 16 years, and she's 25 and has never been married. I did all the talking.

My friend is sort of ambivalent about whether she'll get married or not. That's not to say she won't have a significant other in her life, she just may choose not to get married.

"What do you like about being married?" she asked me. I actually had to think about it for a minute, because any reason I can give for being married — having someone to come home to, having someone to share my life with, having someone to grow old with — are the same reasons she can give for living with someone, a la Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. (Those two have never married, but they've been together longer than most actual marriages.)

I wanted to think of that one thing that separated marriage from just living together for years and years. And I got it. One thing I like about being married: the sound of my wedding ring when it goes "thunk" against something. I have a heavy gold wedding ring, a plain gold band. No grooves, diamonds, patterns, or weird decorations. Just a plain gold band.

It makes a nice manly "thunk," it's more than just a sound. It's a reminder of a promise I made.

Nearly 16 years ago, I took an oath. I made a promise that I would love only one person, would be with only one person, would forsake anyone else who came along, just to be with this person.

I realize I could have made that same promise without the ceremony. We could have been Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell and just said, "I really, really mean it. No foolin'," but it wouldn't have meant as much to me. We made a promise to God and to each other in a holy place. Our vows have meaning to us, if for no other reason than where we were and what we believed (and still believe).

Whenever I "thunk" my ring, that's the sound of that promise. It reminds me that when I go home tonight, she's waiting there for me with our kids — someone else we made promises to — and we'll spend one more day together. One more day of forever and ever, 'til death us do part.

Sometimes I'll just "thunk" it just to hear it, so I can remember it on purpose.

That's what I like about being married. The fact that I promised someone something that's supposed to last a lifetime.

So while some people may say they're just as happy never being married, I'm not one to judge or think there's something wrong with them, or that they're missing out. I know what I like, and I know what's right for me. And I wear it on the third finger of my left hand to remind myself of everything it stands for.


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Phone It In Sunday: The Black Knight Scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail

I had a hard time deciding which is funnier, the Black Knight scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail or the Stoning Scene from Monty Python's Life of Brian. For sheer dark comedy and sword-through-the-headery, the Black Knight scene always wins hands off down. If you've never seen it, watch it here.




If you have seen it, can you name the Pythoner who played the Black Knight? Leave your answer in the comments section.
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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Johnson County, Iowa Supervisor Sends F-Word Email to Iowa City Man

Yale Cohn of Iowa City, Iowa was shocked — shocked! — when he received an email with the F-word in it, from Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan.

According to a story in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Rod Sullivan sent an email to Cohn that said, "F--- you, 'Donny.'" Cohn is known as Donny in the comments section on the Press-Citizen website.

The dispute arose from their sniping in the comments section of Maria Conz's September 15 blog on the Press-Citizen website.

So Cohn sent Sullivan a personal message, which he admits was "sharp-witted and snarky."

That's when Sullivan staggered Cohn with the F-word email.

"I don't believe (my email) was anywhere as near outrightly offensive" as Sullivan's "guttural tactics," Cohn whinged to the Press-Citizen.

Cohn's message to Sullivan was asking why Sulllivan had set his user profile to "private."

"Are you afraid of accountability? Being on the public record? Being caught in a lie?" Cohn wrote.

Cohn said Sullivan's response was an "abject lack of professionalism."

"(People) should expect more from their elected officials," said Cohn, citing a long-standing policy that elected officials can never, ever, ever say naughty words or have naughty thoughts.

People should expect more from their elected oficials, but people should also not be surprised when elected officials get tired of people calling them liars.

Sullivan later apologized on KCJJ radio for using bad language in the email.

“I wanted to apologize to the community for poor language,” Sullivan said on the radio. He said he wanted to tell the listeners he had “said stuff I shouldn’t have said.”

“It’s a good political move to apologize but I don’t expect it was heartfelt nor would have been done without the media attention,” Cohn told the Press-Citizen.

To which Sullivan called him an f---ing SOB, and flipped him the bird. Or at least he should have. First you whine that he used the F-word and hurted your feewings. Next you claim to have some sort of psychic insight into what goes on in his heart and head, and know whether he was sorry he told you to go have sex with yourself. No wonder the guy doesn't like you.

While we should expect elected officials not to use bad language, keep in mind that 1) they're still human, and 2) you don't need to be so sensitive.

Stop acting like you're horribly offended, like you've never heard this kind of language before. It always cracks me up when people act so horrified and outraged when a politician uses the same language/makes a joke/drinks a beer in public, or otherwise doing the very same thing the Outraged were doing just the other night.

Look, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, politicians are people, and they use the same bad language you do. If you don't like it, tough shit. People talk like this. We elect people to represent us. They're going to talk like this too.

If you didn't like his response, you shouldn't have called him a liar to begin with.

So if you want to be able to exercise your First Amendment rights, feel free. Just don't be so shocked when he exercises his.


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Friday, September 25, 2009

My Baby Girl is Growing Up, Despite My Best Efforts

My Baby Girl is Growing Up, Despite My Best Efforts

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2009

Earlier this week, my wife sent me the text message from Hell, the text message every father dreads getting. The words no father of a daughter wants to hear or read.

"Your daughter has a boyfriend"

My reply was calm, well-reasoned, and rational.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. . .!"

Every father with a daughter reading these words is silently nodding and thinking, "there's nothing irrational about this." Every father who only has sons is snickering, thinking I'm overreacting.

To that, I have two responses: 1) Try to remember what it was like when you were a teenager, and you'll understand my concern, and 2) if your kid ever pokes his nose around here, I'll return it to him in a box.

I immediately called my wife.

"I blame you for this, you know," I said.

"How'd you leap to that conclusion?" she asked.

"I've been very clear on several things she is not allowed to do. Talking to boys or being in the same ZIP code as boys are a couple of them. Now you're just violating those rules willy-nilly, letting her be in public, or go to school."

My wife said some things that were meant to be reassuring, but since none of them included the phrase "heavily armed response," I wasn't really listening.

But my wife told our daughter that if she wanted to continue to see The Boy, she had to tell me herself. (I call him The Boy because I don't plan on learning his name. I don't anticipate him being around long enough for me to care.)

"I have to tell you something," my daughter said when I got home that evening.

"What's that?"

"Other people might call it 'going out,' but I call it 'hanging out.'"

"Call what hanging out? And what am I going to call it?"

"Well. . ." The pause was killing me. "Well, I've been 'hanging out' with a boy." She even said "hanging out" like there were actual quote marks around it.

I started pacing around the kitchen. Outwardly, I was very calm and rational. Inside, I was still continuing my text back to my wife.

". . . OOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

I've been trying to mentally prepare myself for this for the last 12 years. Even when my daughter was one year old, we had family friends trying to set her up with their own one year old.

"Look, they're playing together. That's so cute. Wouldn't it be great if they got married?"

"No, they're clearly just playing in the same vicinity, not 'together.'" I was very protective of her even then. "She's not getting married to anyone, especially someone who still wears feety pajamas and sleeps with a night light."

My attitude has not changed, but apparently all the rules have. And yet nobody told me about this. Nobody warned me that I need to beware of young men taking an unhealthy (for them) interest in my baby girl. Nobody told me my daughter was going to be interested in boys when she hit her teen years.

Or maybe they were, and I just wasn't listening. I'm bad about that.

I'm sure there are those of you who think I should have been prepared for this for the last 12 years, that I should have known this would come one day.

I have been. I read "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter" several times. I even created my One Simple Rule for Dating My Teenage Daughter.

It's "NO!"

But apparently, this rule was ignored — it's simple, it's clear and to the point, I don't see the problem with it — because now my little baby is "hanging out" with The Boy.

Now, we've been very clear on what our daughter is allowed to do. No being alone, no kissing, and no actual dating until she's 16. And I've already begun devising a plan to frame her for some heinous family crime that will allow me to ground her for 14 years, so I think I'm set there. But beyond that, I haven't done much mental preparing, which is why this took me by surprise.

Why is it that fathers are so overprotective of their daughters, yet don't worry the same way about their sons? Why do we look at these young men as threats to our own sanity and family cohesiveness?

Is it because it means we're getting older? That our daughters are old enough to look to another male, and not us, as their hero? Or that in a few short years, they're going to be leaving the house and starting their own families?

I'm not that worried about it though. My wife owns a Remington 11-87 shotgun, and I'm not afraid to let her use it.
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Thursday, September 24, 2009

"Spotted Dick" Back on the Menu, Childish Customers Warned. This Means YOU

It was one of the few times in a person's life that he or she could loudly use the words "Spotted Dick" and not get into too much trouble.

At least until the canteen staff at the Flintshire Council in Wales started calling it "Spotted Richard" after some of their less mature customers had made childish comments. (In my defense, I have never actually been to Flintshire, Wales.)

In other words, they knocked their Spotted Dick in the dirt. They were Spotted Dickless. They had — um, never mind. I see their point.

But after the firestorm of hate mail that came from as far away as Canada, the canteen staff has reverted the menu item back to the original, proper name. But the BBC says they have warned that if any customers act in a "childish way," they will be refused food.

Spotted Dick is a steamed suet pudding containing dried fruit, originating in the middle of the 19th century. The "spots" come from currants, and "Dick" may have derived from the word "dough."

The Flintshire County Council had renamed the pudding, says the Beeb, to the less offensive name because they had received a number of immature comments, "at its headquarters in Mold."

Spotted Dick? In Mold? The heart quivers with comedic anticipation.

Klaus Armstrong-Braun, a councillor in Flintshire, said during several interviews, "It's all the more ridiculous when we now learn that only one person was responsible for making smutty remarks which led them to get rid of something which has been a tradition for more than 150 years."

Councillor Armstrong-Braun is right. There's no reason to end a 150-year tradition just because some childish twit makes a few stupid comments.

So congratulations to Flintshire, Wales, for allowing everyone to enjoy your Moldy Spotted Dick.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Yeah? Well, I DOUBLE Dare You!

Yeah? Well, I DOUBLE Dare You!

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2005

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. This one is from September 2005.

I don't know what it is with teenagers these days.

For one thing, they make me feel old, especially when I say Old Geezer things like "I don't know what it is with teenagers these days."

They're so awkward and gangly, but are eager to take on the entire world. A dangerous, yet humorous combination.

I saw a perfect example a few days ago. I was at a stoplight, behind several cars, and saw a 14-year-old kid walking on the sidewalk with his girlfriend. Someone a few cars ahead must have said something to the kid, because he turned around and shot a dirty look at the passenger.

He held his arms out wide, as if to say, "You wanna piece of me?!" and shouted something at the other car. Then, with as much macho swaggering as he could manage, he turned around — WHAM! — right into a light pole.

As I laughed uproariously, and nearly missed my green light, the kid looked over at me with the worst case of raisin heart (that's when your heart shrivels up like a raisin). His accident and subsequent humiliation reminded me of when I was growing up. I never would have done anything like this. Not because I was some noble pacifist who didn't believe in violence. It was because I couldn't fight.

I lived by the "He who hides and runs away, lives to hide and run away again" rule. I learned at an early age that humor was a better defense, and if that didn't work. . . let's just say that my instinct for self-preservation lead to a semi-successful ten year career as a bicycle racer.

I can remember vividly the first time I discovered the humor defense. That's because I've relived the nightmare every day for the past 30 years.

My friend Eddie and I were at the bike rack one day after school, when two other kids started hassling us. I couldn't tell you what it was about or who they were. All I can remember is the four of us standing around, threatening to beat the crap out of each other for some imagined insult. It was like a kids' fight scene from "The Andy Griffith Show."

"I dare you to cross this line."

"No, I dare YOU to cross this line."

"You go first.

"No, YOU go first."

"Point of order. In Robert's Rules of Playground Order, the person who is dared first must accept the challenge on the floor, before another challenge is made."

"Really? I thought Robert's Rules were amended last year to allow an escalated dare to supersede the previous dare."

And so on.

But somewhere in all our challenges of "I'll kick your butt," "No, I'll kick YOUR butt," the word "kick" somehow managed to become to "pick."

These new, more powerful taunts were volleyed about with further promises of pain and violence. But I, being the wimpiest of the bunch, wisely kept my mouth shut to avoid further trouble.

"I'll pick your eye!" shouted one of the kids.

"Oh yeah? I'll pick your head!" shouted Eddie.

"Uh-uh. I'll pick your stomach!" shouted the other kid.

I decided I had heard enough to master this new threat, and offered my own menacing contribution to the pending melee.

"Oh yeah?! I'll pick your nose!"

It was like a nerdy-looking stranger had walked into a biker bar. Everything fell silent. All conversation and outdoor noises within 200 yards stopped, and 20 pairs of eyes locked onto me.

Eddie and our two opponents burst out laughing so hard, they nearly wet themselves. No longer was I one-half of an unstoppable team of whirling third grade mayhem. Now I was the dorky kid who threatened to go on a booger hunt in the middle of a fight.

The three of them laughed so much, they could barely stand. They did manage to squeak out several more jokes at my expense, like what I expected to find, and whether I had any other areas I wanted to pick.

So I did what any good comedian will do: end on a high note and leave them wanting more. I climbed on my bike and rode away as fast as I could, my face burning hotter than a steel forge. And while this pretty much put an end to any possibility of ever becoming a playground pugilist, it did launch me into my career as a humorist, and a possible career as a diplomat.

This could be a great way to bring peace to the Middle East. Booger jokes are hilarious in any language.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Call the Police, There's a Guy in a Mask Who — Never Mind

Mostrose, Michigan High School had a bit of a scare when a man wearing a stocking mask was lurking outside the school. A cafeteria worker spotted the man and sounded the alarm, which caused the school to lock down, and evacuate 180 students from the cafeteria to the gymnasium.

Police would have apprehended the masked man, except it was Montrose Police Chief Darrell Ellis, said a story in the Flint (Michigan) Journal.

Chief Ellis was at the school as part of a classroom exercise. He and a colleague were going to surprise students in a forensic science class. Everything went well in the classroom, but Ellis said he realized something was wrong when he found the lunch room completely empty.

Ellis learned what had happened, called for the all clear, and the lockdown ended 10 minutes after it started.

Ellis and principal Jim Ply praised the worker's action, as well as the students response.

"Er, ah, Ms. Jenkins' swift actions and — uh, jeez this is embarrassing — the students' cooperation, we were able to, ah, test the school's reaction to, um, terrorist attacks. Yeah, that's it, terrorist attacks."

"She did exactly what she was supposed to," Ply told the Journal, which he mistook for a TV station. "On the positive side, it was amazing how well (lockdown lessons) kicked in."

The schools have been doing these mock robberies for 12 years, but this is the first time they've had this kind of reaction.

The lesson plan calls for a fake robber to steal the teacher's purse, and students will interview one another on details, just like police take witness descriptions.

Parents were sent a note on Thursday that explained what happened, but they were mistaken for bomb threats and audit letters from the IRS.

School officials and police are already making plans to avoid any repeats, and will send an email alert in advance of the next mock robbery. Of course, it will be mistaken for a "Cheep Canadian medz now!" email, and deleted by the school's junk mail filter.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

The final moments at the Lacy Leadership Association LEAD seminar. I'll be blogging after every session for the next six weeks.

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Who Plays I-Spy While Flying Over the Ocean?

In England, the London Daily Telegraph (official motto: dot dot dash dot dash dash dot dot) reported a story of British vacationers (called holidaymakers over there) who had some rather unreasonable, absurd, and stupid complaints.

One woman complained that she was not able to play I-spy with her children on the plane, because the sky was too cloudy, which blocked their view of the sea.

It's the freaking ocean. What can you play I-spy with?

Mummy: I spy, with my little eye, something that is blue.

Little Nigel: Is it the ocean?

Mummy: It is! It is the ocean! Well done.

I spy, with my little eye, something with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement.

It's a freaking plane. You live in freaking England, one of the cloudiest, rainiest countries in the world. The only place more cloudy and rainy than you is Cloudyrainstania. If you want to play I-spy with your kids, try looking at different colored objects in, oh I don't know, the inside of the plane, or better yet, a children's book. Get them a couple of Where's Waldo books and have them go nuts. Don't complain about things that are 1) beyond your control, 2) totally not the point of what you're in the plane for, and 3) are so incredibly stupid that you make the international news for even bringing it up.


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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Phone It In Sunday: Target Women: Vampires

From the odd-but-hilarious musings of Current TV's Sarah Haskins.





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Friday, September 18, 2009

Wisconsin Ruins a Relationship

Wisconsin Ruins a Relationship

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2009

When I was in high school, in 1984, I nearly had a girlfriend from Wisconsin. It's not that I ruined the relationship, or that there was something wrong with her. Rather, I wrecked lost her, thanks to a tree and a bloody nose. Personally, I blame Wisconsin.

That summer, my mom, my stepfather Tom, sister, and brother went to a camp and lodge somewhere deep in the heart of the Wisconsin wilderness. We were far enough away from civilization that I was actually allowed to walk through the lodge bar despite the alcohol laws, and into the back room where they had some video arcade games. Ideally, we weren't supposed to be there, but it was a slow week, and the odds of the excise police showing up were slim to none.

Each night we would hang out in the back room, and my sister and I would play video games, talking to any of the other kids who would hang out. On our last night, I met a girl my own age, who was on vacation with her family. We spent nearly an hour talking about school, family, and college plans, while our parents were in the bar, and my sister played Donkey Kong.

Finally, when it was time to go, I asked the girl if she would give me her address, so we could write to each other. My family had already left, so she wrote it out on a bar napkin, handed it to me, and urged me to write to her right away. Then she gave me a quick kiss, and walked off after her parents, back to their cabin.

Wow, she liked me! She wanted me to write to her, AND she kissed me. This was the best vacation ever. This was the closest thing I'd had to a girlfriend in a couple years, so I was really stoked. I was going to write my first of the letter as soon as I got back to the cabin.

It was dark, and I wasn't sure where I was, but I figured everyone was farther up the trail, so I ran to catch up. As I did, I saw some people moseying along, and I moved to pass them on the left.

There was a flash, a crash, and the S-word as I ran face first into an oak tree that was able to absorb a full body blow without flinching. I could feel my glasses cut the bridge of my nose, which started bleeding before I even hit the ground.

Instinctively, I covered my nose with the first thing that came to my mind: the napkin with this girl's address on it. I said another S-word, and yanked it off my nose. Tom just moseyed over and asked if I was okay. He had to do it, since my mother was choking back her concern, which sounded suspiciously like laughter. Tom helped me to my feet, and I handed my sister my glasses, my hat, and the napkin.

"You know, I was thinking," said Tom, "that surely you wouldn't run into that tree. I was sure you saw it, and would avoid it. But no, you ran smack into it." And he started laughing. Tom was not prone to loud laughter, but that may have been one of the few times I ever saw him laugh that hard.

"I couldn't see it. It was dark, I didn't even know that was you guys ahead of me," I said, dazed, wondering where I was. I'm nearly blind without my glasses, so I couldn't see a thing. Add the blunt force trauma to my face, and I was pretty out of it as they led me back to the cabin, blood streaming down my face.

Back in the cabin, I sat down on the couch as I held a wet paper towel to my nose. My sister handed me my stuff, and I could hear the disappointment in her voice. "I'm sorry, but you used the napkin to stop the blood, and now you can't even read it."

I looked at the napkin, and saw what she meant. It was ruined beyond readability. I could make out a few letters here and there, but I had soaked it up pretty good. The girl's address, her hometown, even her name, were all obliterated. I had no idea what her name was or how to reach her.

Since she had already gone back to her own cabin, I couldn't run back to the bar and ask for another copy. I couldn't knock on every door in the camp and ask if they had a 17-year-old daughter. I could only sit there and stare at the shredded, bloody napkin, and think about what might have been. And to wish I had been smart enough to give her my address as well.

Stupid Wisconsin.


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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Australian Mobile Users Complain About UNSOLICITED Death Threats

A couple days ago, I wrote about a news story by KCRA TV in Sacramento, California not getting how a couple of sky divers might have died. I was worried that the American news media is just getting dumber by the day.

Apparently it's spreading.

Australia's Marketing Magazine just launched this doozy of a headline:

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has received complaints about unsolicited SMS death threats being sent to Australian mobile users.

Unsolicited death threats? Unsolicited death threats?! Are they any other kind?

"This month, we're running a special where you can get unlimited long distance, unlimited texts, and unlimited death threats for $59.95 per month."

Apparently, some Australian mobile phone users were receiving death threats from an overseas location.
“I am about to kill you. If you want to live, contact [xxx@xxx.com] to get information on what you will have to do to live. If you ignore this message, you will die!”

"Can you kill me now? Good."

The ACMA says that these death threats are nothing more than a scam to scare money out of people. They're telling people to ignore the messages — because if you ignore assassins, they'll go away — and not to disclose any personal information or pay them money.

"Hello, my name is IƱigo Montoya. You sent me a text. Prepare to die."

I'm sure the people at Marketing Magazine are very fine people, but if they're like most marketers, they like to use as many words as possible. So whoever wrote the headline probably thought nothing of adding the word "unsolicited" to it.

Next time, just avoid the marketing speak and extra words to make yourself sound smart. Write the headline the way real people talk, and you'll do fine.



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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wayback Wednesday: G'Day Mate, Bonzer Hat Ye Got There

G'Day Mate, Bonzer Hat Ye Got There

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2006

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. This one is from 3 years ago.

They're called "cringe moments." Those things that we've done in our past that make us squirm uncomfortably like a Baptist at "Brokeback Mountain" as we remember them. We die a thousand deaths as we recall our past cringe moments and break into a cold sweat at the first sparkle of memory. No one likes to talk about them, but everyone has them, me included.

Sorry, I mean, me especially.

Big surprise, right? Believe it or not, most of my moments come from saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. It was a lifelong lesson, but I finally learned it.

I now think before I speak.

People who have known me for several years have just fallen out of their chairs in stunned amazement. That just shows why you shouldn't drink at work.

Okay, so I still need a little practice.

This has been a hard lesson for me, because I have always been a "shoot first, aim later" kind of guy, which is why I usually ended up with my foot lodged firmly in my mouth. I would often say the first thing that popped into my head without thinking beyond the next three seconds. If I had, I could have predicted the response I was likely to get: an angry rebuttal, a tearful "why would you say that?!" or a punch in the nose. Or a combination of all three.

But if I had just thought beyond my own need to make a clever statement, I could have avoided years of embarrassment and frantic backpedaling as I tried to remove my size-10 cross-trainers from my back molars.

I finally decided to change my approach after meeting the mother of one of my daughter's friends several years ago. We were standing outside the girls' dance class, and got to chatting about our kids and our own lives.

Now I'm a fairly outgoing person. When I meet someone new, I like to ask a lot of questions about where they're from, their family, and what they do for fun. These kinds of questions are usually safe in the hands of anyone else on Earth. But not me. I managed to make a tasty snack of both feet in less than 10 minutes.

As this woman and I talked, I noticed she had a distinct accent.

"So, are you from Australia?" I asked.

"No, New Zealand." The quickest way to aggravate a New Zealander is to mistake them for Australian.

Later: "What does your husband do?" Turns out she was recently divorced because he had joined a cult and had become something of a jerk about their daughter's custody. So I made a joke about "visiting" her family in New Zealand for a very lo-o-o-o-ong period of time, because there were no extradition treaties with the United States.

You'll never guess where she returned from three weeks earlier, or why a family court judge thought she had gone in the first place.

During our conversation, this woman happened to mention she was finishing her last few rounds of chemotherapy for a brain tumor, and explained this was why she was wearing a hat.

I told my wife later, "It was like watching a slow train wreck. With the way the conversation was going, if she hadn't said anything, I swear I would have asked her why she was wearing a hat." (Luckily I had decided to cut my losses after the visiting New Zealand crack, and just listened instead of speaking, so I was spared that little faux pas.)

This has since become our code for saying something completely stupid. Whenever my wife and I hear someone ask a dumb or insulting question, or more frequently, we ask it ourselves, the other one follows it up with "So why are you wearing that hat?"

Nowadays we don't even ask the question. A simple "nice hat" or "He was sure wearing the hat on that one," has become our little verbal shorthand for "Man, that was nearly as moronic as that time I talked to that woman from New Zealand."

So why am I telling you the story of one of my biggest cringe moments? Because I hope you, my reader, can keep your foot out of your mouth and spare yourself the shoe leather buffet that has been my life. I want to help you avoid saying anything overly stupid. It'll just make you look like a complete moron who wears a helmet out in public and still needs their mommy to dress them.

I still need some practice.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

KCRA TV in California Fails to Understand Skydiving, Gravity

KCRA3, Sacramento, California's NBC affiliate, does not strike me as having a lot of common sense.

You can see it in one of their latest stories, 2 Parachutists Die In Lodi Accident, No Word On Cause.

Two parachutists were killed at the Lodi Parachute Center in Acampo after an accident Sunday, officials said.

The San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department said one person was dead at the scene. One person was transported to Lodi Memorial Hospital.

There is no word on what caused the deaths.

Hmm, it probably wouldn't be a stabbing, drug overdose, or romantic murder-suicide pact. What could it be, what could it be. . .?

Now, I'm not a physicist, a parachuting expert, or a coroner, but I'm going to wager a guess that it was caused by massive blunt force trauma preceded by a fall from a very long height.

And you wonder why so many people were upset when Walter Cronkite died.


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Monday, September 14, 2009

Green Business Owner Fined for Not Producing Garbage

We've all been told how we need to reduce, reuse, and recyle, in order to keep things out of the landfills, and help save the earth, right?

From the "Must have missed the memo" files, the Southend (England) city council is fining Mark Howard and his bicycle shop for not producing any waste.

According to the London Daily Mail, Howard takes his commitment to the environment seriously. He reuses old materials like cardboard and pedals or sells old aluminum and steel bike frames as scrap, so he doesn't have any trash. But the council doesn't believe him because they're too busy with an up-close inspection of their own large intestine.

If Howard doesn't pay his fine within 10 days, it will rise to £300, and then he could be taken to court.

Last month, Howard received a letter from the council asking how he disposed of his waste. That's because the garbage collectors noticed they hadn't been picking up any waste. That caused a stir, because they're paid £80 to collect the trash, and they weren't collecting any, which meant they weren't going to get the £1.6 per week.

So Howard called the council, and said he didn't have any trash. The council basically said they thought he was lying, and would send out an inspector to check it out. The inspector showed up, didn't look around, and handed him a letter with the fine.

Howard says he actually has the paperwork to back up all of his claims, but nobody will listen to him.

"Despite repeated calls I was fobbed off all the time," Howard told the Daily Mail. "I have tried to get an interview with the director of the department but nothing has happened. This is totally stupid. The council must have money to burn because they want this case to go to court.

But stunningly, the Southend Council had the temerity to defend their actions. Simon Crowther, group manager for waste, told the Daily Mail, "Mr Howard is required under the Environmental (Duty of Care) Regulations 1991 to produce evidence as to how he legally and lawfully disposes of commercial waste under his control"

Sounds like no one from your office actually looked, Simon. All you've done is presume him guilty, and forced him to prove himself innocent. A lack of garbage doesn't mean he's doing anything sinister with it, like storing it in little jars in a closet. Pull your head out of your Crowther and go see for yourself what he's doing with it.




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Friday, September 11, 2009

Clean Your Den, or No Maidens For You

Clean Your Den, or No Maidens For You

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2009

"Buddy, is your room clean yet?"
"How much have you—oh jeez, you guys! I asked you to clean your room two hours ago. This looks worse than it was."
"Sweetie, you were supposed to help him. What have you two been doing this whole time?"
"But you weren't supposed to be playing. You were supposed to be cleaning your room. Weren't you guys working together?"
"Playing together is not working together. I told you before things go faster if you can both work together. It cuts your work time in half."
"Right, Sweetie, that's called cooperation."
"Yes, Buddy, just like you learned on Sesame Street."
"So why weren't you cooperating?"
"No, I don't care what Ernie and Bert did on Sesame Street today."
"Because I want to find out why your room's not clean."
"What do you mean, she was the bad guy?"
"Huh, I didn't know you guys played knights and dragons. I used to play that as a kid. I remember one time—wait, that's not important. You need to get your room clean, Buddy. Let's stay focused on the issue right now."
"No, I didn't know she could imitate a dragon."
"Okay, Sweetie, show me what dragons sound like."
"Wow, that's pretty scary."
"Yes, I'm being patronizing. That's a pretty big word for an 8-year-old."
"I know you're smart."
"Yes, and you know big words. So what do big words have to do with dragons?"
"But you weren't supposed to be playing knights and dragons. You were supposed to be cleaning your room, remember? That's what I asked you to do after lunch."
"You just had lunch two hours ago. You don't need to eat anything else."
"But dragons don't need to eat that often."
"Dragons don't eat cookies."
"They eat one big meal every two weeks, and then they're finished for a while."
"Princesses. Sometimes cows, sometimes knights, but mostly princesses."
"No, we're not going to make gingerbread princesses."
"Because you're supposed to be cleaning your room, Buddy. What part of 'clean your room' don't you understand?"
"What do dragons have to do with cleaning your room?"
"But dragons are not supposed to mess up your room even more."
"I'm sure it was a great castle. But you were supposed to—"
"Well, dragons crashing into a castle wall can be pretty devastating. But I asked you guys to—"
"You need a giant bow and arrow. I mean, you can't just bring down a dragon with regular bows and arrows, and a catapult isn't accurate enough to hit something moving as fast as a dragon. You need what's called a ballista."
"It's sort of like a catapult, but it's a giant bow and arrow. So how did you shoot down this one?"
"Guns? Buddy, castles don't have guns."
"Well, they just didn't."
"Yes, Sweetie, I know you're using your imagination."
"Yes, I know dragons aren't actually real."
"You got me there. If you've got dragons, you might as well have guns. So what do guns have to do with cleaning—"
"Well, Buddy, your wall crashed because it was pretty weak on the north side here. Your walls are pretty thin. You need to reinforce them a little."
"Because Legos can't withstand the impact of a dragon. I think if you shore up that north wall with Lincoln Logs, you'll be able to handle another blast. Ooh, and we need some GI Joes with their laser rifles. Send your Hot Wheels around on the left flank, but don't send them until I give the word."
"Now, Sweetie, give me five minutes to assemble these Lincoln Logs, and then you get back to your original—"
"What? I'm helping them clean the room."
"Well, they were playing knights and dragons, and the castle wall wasn't strong enough, so I'm helping him shore up his defenses."
"Hey, dragons have everything to do with cleaning a room."


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Thursday, September 10, 2009

I am One Stupid Person Away From Losing It Completely

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm an easy-going guy. I love people, everyone's my friend, and I can find the good in anyone. My wife says that I attract really odd and strange people as a result, because I'm so nice to everyone.

"It's like all the weirdos and artsy-fartsy types flock to you," she said once. "And you're their king."

(Not quite the fame and notoriety I had in mind, but you take what you can get.)

But on other days, I just get in a mood that can best be described as "frothy." I get my head wrapped around something inane, unjust, unfair, or just plain stupid, and my mental temperature hits 211 degrees.

Just one more stupid thing, and I'll hit 212.

I won't become boiling-over angry, but rather, I'll launch into a foaming-at-the-mouth rant — think Chevy Chase from Christmas Vacation — that makes my wife laugh, which is like taking the pot off the stove. I lose my head of steam, and the boiling water begins cooling off immediately. However, she has learned to hold it as long as she can, because I'm apparently quite entertaining when I get revved up.

When I get rolling, I can go like this for a good two minutes.


Early this morning, when I finished a meeting with my good friend Kyle Lacy, I was frothy. Not because of anything he did or said, but rather, a topic — a shared experience, actually — we had been discussing that remains something of a sore point for me. As I left, I realized that I was one stupid thing away from coming uncorked.

Happily, I had coffee with another friend instead, who made me relax and calm waaaay down. It's hard to stay frothy when talking with someone who is so much more idealistic and sunny than me (even on my good days).

Too bad too, because tonight is column-writing night, and I still need a topic.

Stay frothy, my friends.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

John Jorgenson, Grammy-award winning guitarist, playing in Arcadia, IN Friday, Sept. 11 at 8 pm

John Jorgenson is a Grammy-award-winning guitarist who plays “gypsy jazz,” reminiscent of the music played by Django Reinhardt.

Tickets are $25 at the door, or $20 in advance from Bob Foster (reservations may be made on Foster’s cell phone, at 317-691-1207).

The show itself is this Friday, September 11, at 8 PM.

The venue is the Hedgehog, at 101 West Main Street in Arcadia, Indiana (about 10 miles north of Noblesville).

Finally, here’s a a video of John Jorgenson and band, actually covering a Django Reinhardt tune:





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Wayback Wednesday: The Dangers of Daughters

The Dangers of Daughters

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2006

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. This one is from 3 years ago.

I think it's time to start talking my daughters about the facts of life.

Now, bear in mind, I don't want to have this conversation. If I had my way, my daughters would stay locked up in the house and not be allowed to date, hang out with boys, or become young women until 10 years after I was dead.

However, my wishes have been largely unheeded by Mother Nature and the human life cycle. My daughters continue to grow older, and have begun learning more about the birds and bees. Which is a problem, since none of us have been talking about them.

I blame NBC's "Fear Factor," the reality show that forces contestants to face their fears through frightening challenges. They have death-defying races, spend time in tanks with alligators, spiders, or rats, and have to eat otherwise unedible parts of animals, like brains, intestines, and other tasty snacks.

My three children were watching a repeat episode a few days ago, where the contestants had to eat something that only reinforced my loathing for the show.

"The people on 'Fear Factor' had to eat tentacles," said my five-year-old daughter.

"That's not a big deal," I said. "That's calamari — squid. We've had that before."

"No, daddy, DEER tentacles," she corrected.

"Yeah, they were shaped like eggs," said my ten-year-old daughter helpfully. "I didn't know what they were."

"Tentacles!" my three-year-old son shouted. "Daddy, what are tentacles?!"

I hope the heavy feeling in my chest and my numb left arm were normal for fathers whose daughters start learning about the male human body. I was caught between wanting to bust out laughing and shrieking at the top of my lungs. All I could do was grit my teeth, mumble "uh huh," and desperately wish something else would distract them.

"Ask your mother," I muttered through clenched teeth, hoping that would satisfy them until they forgot the entire conversation.

But it didn't end there. Not more than 12 hours later, my wife reported that my oldest daughter asked where babies came from.

We had discussed this at length while our eldest was still a toddler. I reminded her of our agreed-upon solution.

"Just answer the question she asked. Tell her babies come from their mommy's tummy," I said.

"No, she already knew that," said my wife. "She wants to know how they get in there in the first place."

That feeling in my chest and arm flared up again.

I knew this day would come. It's been hanging over my head ever since I knew our first child was going to be a girl. Back then, I swore I would do everything I could to protect her from marriage, dating, and those awkward teen years when young boys wonder why I glare menacingly at them whenever they look at my daughters.

Now Mother Nature is having her own little laugh at my expense and discomfort. "Ah, you have forgotten much from your own childhood," she seems to laugh at me.

My own sex education was delivered with one simple word: "Here."

When I was 11 years old, my mother handed me the childhood classic, "Where Did I Come From?" the book that described sex like "being tickled, but only much better."

It described the entire birthing process, from the sly wink the man gives to the woman, all the way through through the entire gestation, followed by the birth and breast feeding. Other than that, I figured things out on my own.

This was the '70s, where sex education was learned on the playground and from books our mothers gave us. It's so much different from the 21st century, where kids learn about sex from TV, the Internet, movies, magazines, radio, their friends, Victoria's Secret catalogs, and if they're lucky, parents who wonder how to explain "like being tickled, but much better" to a ten-year-old who struts around the house, singing "Oops I Did It Again."

We've tried to shelter our own kids from this. They don't listen to pop music, we don't buy skimpy clothes, and we limit their television watching to shows like "The Strict Abstinence Gang" and "Father Knows What Boys Want, So You're Never Leaving the House."

It doesn't seem to be working. Now they're learning about "deer tentacles" and that only boy deer have them. They've figured out that if babies come from a mommy's tummy, something must have put them in there. And nothing I do seems to stop it. So I guess all I can do is go with the flow and make sure they learn it in a safe, educational environment.

"Hey kids, let's go visit Grandma and see if she has any of my old books!"


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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Ladybag Pocket Urinal for Women. Eeeeeewwwwww!

Sometimes, for laughs, I like to make up sentences that have never been uttered, and never will be again.

I punched Genghis Khan in the throat for cheating at backgammon, spilling the cranberry juice to the floor.

Other times, for bigger laughs, people will come up with these unique sentences all on their own:

Urinating into yoghurt cups while careering down the motorway will be a thing of the past for women thanks to a new German invention for ladies.

That little gem came from the English language version of Der Spiegel, the German newspaper. (And it beat the Genghis Khan thing all to Hell. Ausgezeichnet, Der Spiegel!)

Eva Tinter, a German entrepreneur, has invented the Ladybag as a way to "put an end to nightmare encounters with filthy public toilets, time-consuming queuing and having to relieve oneself into yoghurt cups during car journeys."

Question: is it common for women to pee in yoghurt cups in cars? Is this something plaguing the women of Western Europe?

According to Der Spiegel (which is German for "the spiegel"), the Ladybag is filled with absorbent polymers that turn to gel when hit with, um, liquids. The gel, says Tinter, will absorb half a liter of pee, but in an emergency, can hold as much as a liter. (Which, by an amazing coincidence, so can many women.)

"It can be used in cars, or to avoid dirty toilets or at open-air festivals when you don't want to queue. You can just nip round the back of the toilet and use this," Eva Tinter, told Der Spiegel online.

Tinter invented the Roadbag for men in 2007, and said she has sold over 200,000 units to German men who can't find a tree. She believes that every car in Germany needs either a Roadbag or a Ladybag in their glove compartment, and hopes to get one in all 4 million cars in the country.

My only question is whether people will be willing to leave the bags in their car until they can find a trashcan, or will they begin flinging half-full Roadbags and Ladybags onto the Autobahn?

(Hat tip to Lorraine Ball of RoundPeg for the heads up on this)

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Monday, September 07, 2009

British Gardeners Banned From Using Barbed Wire Because It Might Hurt Vandals

British gardeners have been told they can't used barbed wire to stop vandals, because the precious snowflakes might hurt themselves.

Many British home owners have an allotment garden, sort of a community garden, where they can grow vegetables. But in Southampton, members of the Muddy Bottom East Allotment have dealt with damage as often as three times a week, including smashed sheds and water taps left running. So the allotment gardeners lobbied the council to install barbed wire to prevent further destruction.

The Southampton council said no, because they were afraid the criminals might sue if they were injured in the course of causing damage to other people's property.

So instead of trying to catch the little miscreants, the Southampton City Council wants to mollycoddle them and keep them from getting boo-boos on their widdle fingers. It sounds like the MBEA isn't the only place where the vegetables are running free. In this case, they're running the Southampton Council.

Mervyn Hobden told the Daily Mirror, "The fences are easy to climb. We asked for four lines of barbed wire to put on the top, but the council said they have a liability towards the trespasser."

"Some of the sheds cost £500," said Hobden. "And we have to pay to repair them. Some people have packed in because of the vandals."

The Southampton Council owes it to the tax-paying members of the Muddy Bottom East Allotment to keep their gardens safe and secure. And I think the MBEA should explore suing the Southampton City Council for the costs of the damages, since they did not do what they needed to to provide a safe and secure place for people to grow vegetables.

Otherwise they'll be out on the streets, running local governments.

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Sunday, September 06, 2009

Phone It In Sunday: The Cool Table's "Edgar Allen Poe's Basketball Diaries"

I've seen five Cool Table shows when they were at the Indy Fringe Theatre Festival, and thought their last show last Sunday was the funniest show I've ever seen them do. "Dude Date" was hysterical, and I thought Phil Van Hest of "Phil the Void" was going to pee his pants.



Apparently several members of the Cool Table are heading off to Los Angeles to see if they can make it as actors, including Lindsey Fisher. Paige Smith (McHale in this video) is sticking around Chicago. I'm not sure who else is taking off, but while I wish them all the best, I'm sad to see them go.

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Saturday, September 05, 2009

British Garbagemen Refuse to Empty Recycling Box Over a Maggott

British garbage collectors — called binmen over there — have made international news when they refused to empty an every-other-week recycling box because it contained a maggot.

When John Harlow, the bin owner, called the Warwick District Council to complain, he was told it was against council rules for contractors to handle "live animals," and that the box's contents would only be collected if he dumped it into the garbage can instead.

The staff member at the council had called the maggot livestock, which is why the binmen wouldn't handle it.

"I live in the country and see livestock like sheep, pigs and cattle regularly but there were none in my box," Harlow told the London Daily Mail. "It is hardly surprising the odd maggot gets into the rubbish when they only collect the bins every two weeks."

In more shocking news, the Council apologized for the screwup and told the Daily Mail, "we are sorry Mr. Harlow has experienced problems with the service. Contractors are expected to be practical about what they leave and what they take."

Another spokesman for the council said, "The call centre officer who took Mr Harlow's call was incorrect in stating that 'maggots were classed as livestock.'"

In the future, they will only be classified as "tort lawyers."

Not too surprisingly, the garbage contractor refused to comment. There is no truth to the report that they were busy milking mice out back.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

TV Rots Your Brain. Read a Newspaper Instead

TV Rots Your Brain. Read a Newspaper Instead

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2009

"Have you ever thought about DirecTV?" said the message. My wife had just IMed me while I was at work.

"Uhh, no, no I haven't," I replied, getting defensive. "And so what if I have? There's nothing wrong with that. Dr. Phil says fantasies are important to having a healthy relationship. I mean, sure I walk through Best Buy with sunglasses on, but that's because it's so dang bright in there."

"What are you talking about?" she wrote back.

"All right, all right. Sometimes I think about DirecTV when I'm watching our other TV. But that's perfectly normal, isn't it?" I was rolling now. "I once had a TV accuse me of looking at other TVs, but I said 'hey, just because I bought a TV from the electronics store, doesn't mean I can't look at the ads once in a while.'"

"You're weird," my wife messaged back.

Fair enough. But I was also stunned. Years ago, my wife would have never considered DirecTV. Years before that, my mom would never have let me watch that much TV.

Even 32 years later, I'm still embarrassed to admit that my mom limited my TV watching when I was a kid. I was allowed one hour on weekdays, two hours on Saturday, and three on Sunday, so I could watch all the religious programming.

(See, if you knew me when I was a kid, that would be hilarious.)

Actually, it was because I was a big Star Trek geek when I was 10, and Channel 13 out of Indianapolis played Star Trek on Sundays. When I realized I was only getting two hours of Saturday morning cartoons, we switched the weekend schedule.

But that's not the embarrassing part. That came when I was in the fourth grade, and my school wanted to put televisions in the classrooms for educational purposes. Needless to say, some parents had a problem with this.

"TV in the classrooms? But our children watch TV for entertainment. Does that mean they'll be entertained in class? Our children will be watching cartoons during school hours!!" There were a lot of parents who were up in arms, and many of them descended on the next Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) meeting en masse.

And guess whose mom was leading the anti-TV charge. If there was a Women's Television Temperance Union, my mom would have been the president. If Al Capone had sold bootleg TVs, my mom would have been kicking in doors and taking axes to TV sets with the FBI. (Not really, but when I was 10 years old, I believed otherwise.)

It wouldn't have been so bad, but my mom made me go with her to the PTO meeting. I thought I would die a thousand deaths when all my friends — whose moms had dragged them to the meeting too — saw my mom firmly entrenched in the anti-TV camp. Nothing could be more humiliating than this, I thought.

Oh, but wait, there's more, said Murphy, the patron saint of humiliation.

That's when my mom, in order to stress how unimportant TV is to the lives of children, stood up in a room full of nearly 100 people, including all my classmates, and announced loudly, "WE DON'T LET ERIK WATCH MORE THAN ONE HOUR OF TV PER DAY, AND THREE HOURS ON SATURDAYS." She even pointed back at me, to make sure all my friends knew who to laugh at the next day.

Now that I'm a parent, I'm just as careful with what my own kids watch. We only let them watch kids' shows on PBS, Nickelodeon, and Disney Channel.

"We only had four stations when I was a kid," I told them.

"You did?" they asked, astonished. "Was it in color?"

"Yes, and yes. And I could only watch an hour a day when I was your age."

"An hour?!" they said. They couldn't imagine seeing only one hour of their wonderful shows they knew and loved." "What did you do the rest of the time?"

"I spent that time reading and learning," I said. "So count yourselves lucky that you get to watch two hours a day."

"TWO HOURS?!" they shrieked. "But that's not very much."

"Do you want me to call Grandma?"

"No."

"Then go read a book." As they shuffled off to their rooms in search of something to read, I realized my mom may not have been as weird as I thought. I still only watch an hour or so a day, and I turned out pretty well.

Plus I never told 100 people that my kids can only watch two hours of TV a day.



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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Post-Rapture Pet Care for Christians. . . by Atheists

When the Rapture comes, and you're taken up to Heaven, won't you rest a little easier knowing your cat or dog will be taken care of?

Sure, they'll be taken care of by atheists and other people who were left behind, but you've got to take what you can get.

At least that's what atheist-run Eternal Earth-Bound Pets, a post-rapture pet care business is saying. They are offering a solution — at least tongue-in-cheek – that they will take care of cats and dogs of people who are taken up. For a small fee, of course.

The London Daily Telegraph said this idea was "...an irreverent attempt to cash in on the belief – widespread among US Christians – that the pious will be carried up to heaven by God in a sudden swoop, leaving unbelievers to endure the seven-year reign of the anti-Christ on Earth."

"You've committed your life to Jesus. You know you're saved. But when the Rapture comes what's to become of your loving pets who are left behind?" says the group's website. "Eternal Earth-Bound Pets takes that burden off your mind."

The firm promises lifetime care for your pet if the Rapture comes within the next 10 years. But if the Rapture doesn't come, or you renounce your faith, they're very sorry, but there are no refunds.

It's an interesting conundrum, especially for those people who believe the world is going to end soon. I'm a Christian, but I don't believe anyone knows when the world is going to end, so I always get a kick out of those people who think the world will end soon, just because they played Bible Word Search.

Still, the "End is Near" crowd would almost certainly be a guaranteed sale for the Earth-Bound Pets company, since there's really no way you can say "no" to that idea without looking like you don't believe what you've been shouting about all those years.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Wayback Wednesday: Successful Writing Secrets

Successful Writing Secrets

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2004 (Originally published June 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.

Despite my complaints that I don't have many readers or get enough feedback from them, I actually have some great readers who write to me on a regular basis.

Some of the more persistent readers ask me if I would like to refinance my home, buy male enhancement pills, or tell me that they know of another reader -- usually a hot Russian woman -- who want to meet me.

It's feedback like this that makes my life of writing worthwhile. Of course, getting paid would make it more worthwhile, but that's a topic for another column.

But occasionally, some people say they are breaking into writing, and would like to know if I could offer any tips.

"How far out do you write your columns?" they ask.

Way far out, man. It's, like, groovy, you know.

"No, no. How far in advance do you write your columns?"

I'd like to say I write my columns weeks in advance, and that I am well prepared for any emergency. But I'd also like to say that I'm fabulously wealthy with abs you could grate cheese on.

Obviously neither are true. In fact, in true writer's fashion, I wait until the last possible minute to write my columns. At least, that's what my editors say.

So to answer the burning question, here is my weekly schedule for successful humor column writing:

Friday morning (the day after my deadline): Hmmm, I need a topic.

Tuesday afternoon (two days before new deadline): Hmmm, I still need a topic.

Thursday, 5:00 pm (7 hours before deadline): OH CRAP, I NEED A TOPIC!!

5:01: Cruise the Internet before I go home. Maybe I can find a news story to think about during the ride home.

5:10: Nothing interesting happening today. Aren't stupid people filing lawsuits anymore? Maybe I can think of something on the way home.

5:11: Ooh, I haven't heard that song in a long time.

5:14: Or that one.

5:55: Oh good, I'm almost home. Now I can relax and -- OH CRAP, I STILL NEED A TOPIC!!

6:00: There are my kids. Maybe I could write about that time that -- no, every baby does that. How about the time when -- no, she'll already have enough therapy when she's older. Don't you hate it when -- nope, too Andy Rooney-ish.

6:01: Kiss my wife hello. Maybe I could -- not if I want to sleep in my own bed tonight.

6:20: Visit the dogs. Don't bother. Every humorist does at least 12 columns on dogs, and I'm getting close to my limit. Besides, how many new jokes can I do on eating, sleeping, and peeing?

6:25: Dinner time already? Man, I'm tired. Better stop at the bathroom first.

6:30: I'm too stressed to eat, I have to think of a topic.

6:31: So what's the deal with broccoli? No, too Jerry Seinfeld.

7:30: Maybe watching some TV will give me some ideas. But just for a few minutes.

8:30: Oh boy, "Scrubs" is on. That's a great show. I wish I could write as funny as that. Hmm, if only I was a. . . uh-oh, I'd better think of something fast.

8:31: I haven't seen this one. Maybe this will inspire me.

9:00: Okay, show's over. Now it's time to get serious. I need to buckle down and find a topic.

9:05: Hmm, my desk is a little messy. Maybe if I cleaned it off, I would get inspired.

9:10: Nope, nothing there. Let's try organizing my CDs.

9:25: Nothing there either. How about picking up some clothes.

10:00: I really need to clean my office more often. Let's see, I had something else to do -- OH CRAP, MY DEADLINE IS IN TWO HOURS!

10:30: Wait a minute, I keep a file on my computer of different topic ideas.

10:31: Hmmm. Fishing? No. House maintenance? No.

10:40: Think, doggone it, think!

10:50: Ah-ha, I've got it. I'll do one about beer drinkers vs. wine drinkers.

11:00: Actually, a beer sounds pretty good right now.

11:30: (BURP) I need to buy more beer tomorrow. Now, let's see. . . what was I doing?

11:35: OH CRAP, I NEED TO START WRITING. MY DEADLINE IS IN 25 MINUTES!!!

11:55: Hurry up, you stupid spell checker.

11:56: What do you mean, "Deckers" isn't in the spell checker dictionary?

11:58: Paste it into the email, hit Send.

11:59: Whew, made it just in time. I really need to start writing these things in advance so I don't have to go through this each week.

Friday morning: Hmmm, I need a topic.
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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

NEW ZEALAND WOMAN FIRED FOR ALL-CAPS EMAILS.

IT'S GOT TO BE ONE OF THE DUMBEST THINGS I'VE EVER HEARD. A NEW ZEALAND WOMAN WAS FIRED FOR USING ALL CAPS IN HER EMAILS.

Vicki Walker, an accountant from Auckland, was fired for sending "confrontational" emails that had capitalized, bold-faced, and red letters.

She was fired by text message.

Not really. But she was awarded $17,000 for unfair dismissal, and is going to lodge an appeal for additional compensation, said an article in the New Zealand Herald.

Walker is now calling for greater protection for white-collar workers when they are in a dispute with big corporations.

"I am a single woman with a mortgage, and I had to re-mortgage my home and borrow money from my sister to make it through," she said. "They nearly ruined my life."

New Zealand's Employment Relations Authority determined that Walker was unfairly fired.

"WE FIND IN FAVOR OF THE COMPLAINANT."

Walker's former employer, ProCare Health, said that Walker had a negative effect on company morale when she sent a series of emails that used all capitals, bold type, and red text in her emails.

Walker said ProCare had talke about a number of emails, but they had used only one in an email.

"THEY SHOULD HAVE BROUGHT MORE EVIDENCE," said Walker. (Not really).

ERA member Alastair Dumbleton said Walker had received no warnings, and while she may have caused "disharmony in the workplace," it wasn't enough that dismissal was fair or reasonable.

Dumbleton cited the fact that ProCare didn't have an established style guide regarding email etiquette. While Walker should have known that all caps can be annoying, it's one of the email etiquette quirks that people have.

ProCare did not respond to the New Zealand Herald's request for comment.

THEY MUST BE A BUNCH OF SORE LOSERS.


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