Friday, December 31, 2010

Things That Go Bump Under The Bed

Things That Go Bump Under The Bed

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2010, 2004

Erik is out on vacation this week, so we are reprinting one of his columns from 2004, mostly to see if we can scare the bejeezus out of him.

My oldest daughter is afraid of basement noises.

She told me this a few days ago when she raced upstairs from the basement after hearing a noise.

"I'm afraid somebody is in the house," she cried.

I assured her there wasn't, and we talked for several minutes about how there was nothing to be afraid of. She said she had watched a movie with my wife, and some bad guys were sneaking up on the heroes who were trying to solve a mystery. So she thought there was a Guy In The Basement.

"I know no one is there, because the dogs are calm," I said. "They'd go nuts if anyone was in the house."

Actually, my dogs are to home security what a tripwire and a cowbell are to Fort Knox. I'd be better off with an ill-tempered hamster.

My daughter agreed with my logic, so she didn't make me go downstairs to check for her.

This was relief, because now I was worried that someone was in the basement.

I've always been afraid of things in the dark, whether they were villains, ghosts, or monsters. When I was a boy, I was convinced that something was lurking in my closet or under my bed, and only through extreme cleverness did I avoid being eaten.

Even now that I'm a grown man and father of three, I'm certain that one day, when I finally let my guard down, this will be my end. I'll walk into a dark room without turning on the lights, and will be mercilessly attacked by every childhood monster I've ever feared.

I was six the first time I discovered monsters. I had seen the cover of a Superman comic book at a friend's house. There was a villain on the cover who looked like his face was melting, and I was convinced that he was hiding in my bedroom. I called him Eugene, because I went to school with a kid named Eugene, and that Eugene was a real jerk.

Monster Eugene didn't venture into any other part of the house, because he was afraid of my parents. So he lurked in my room, waiting for me to slip up, so he could make me the next victim of his evil plot.

Eugene and I had an understanding. If I made it to my bed before he got me, I was safe for the night. If I discovered where he was hiding before he got me, his turn was over.

Every night, I pushed my bedroom door all the way open to see if he was behind it. Then, without stepping into the room, I carefully slid my hand along the wall and turned on the light.

It's a well-known fact that monsters are afraid of the light, and will actually dissolve forever if captured in its glow. But Eugene was too smart to get caught this way.

After I changed into my pajamas — always in the safety of the light, of course — I made sure the closet door was closed. They were sliding doors, and Eugene's sharp claws couldn't get a good grip to open them. So if he was in there, he was stuck until morning.

But Eugene usually hid under my bed so he could grab my ankle as I climbed in. While Eugene couldn't open closet doors, he did have a knack for grabbing onto little boys' ankles and pulling them to their doom.

However, Eugene was also cursed with short, stubby arms, and I knew how far he could reach. So every night when I got into bed, I stood at the same spot on my rug and did a standing long jump that would have earned me an Olympic medal.

Once I was safely under my covers — magic covers that resisted pulling by any monsters — the game was nearly over. The only problem was that my bedroom light was still on. I couldn't turn it off and climb into bed, because Eugene would get me before I took two steps. So I did what any sensible child in my predicament would do.


Without ever knowing about Eugene, my mom would come to my room — monsters don't attack moms — kiss me good night, and turn off the light. I was finally safe. Eugene was foiled once again, and had to wait 24 hours for our next battle of wills.

This was an ongoing battle for the next several years, until I was finally too old for my mom to turn my light off for me. Then Eugene and I agreed to a truce, and moved on with our lives.

He's old now, and just hangs around my house. He doesn't bother me anymore, unless I watch a scary movie. Then he half-heartedly hassles me, for old time's sake, since I can't make the same Olympian leap into the bed. So I've come to consider him sort of a friend.

So I'm deploying him to get rid of my daughter's Guy In The Basement.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Karl the Curmudgeon Hates, Like, Whatever

Karl the Curmudgeon Hates, Like, Whatever

"OMG," said Karl. "Did you see the list of the most annoying words of the year?"

Did you just say 'OMG,' Karl? I asked.

"I was being ironic," said Karl.

Yeah, ironic. Whatever, dude. I took a drink of my beer. We were sitting in Holv Utca, a Hungarian bar and grill, enjoying a couple rounds of Dreher, a Hungarian beer. We were watching the Hungarian national soccer league on satellite TV. Fradi was playing Ujpest, and the score was 2-1 — a real barn burner.

"No, seriously," he protested. "Didn't you hear about the new Marist Poll that covered the most annoying words and phrases of 2010?" "'Like' was second with 28 percent, and your. . . 'whatever'" — he said it with a sneer — "was first with 39 percent."


"Don't give me that, Kid. I know better than to actually use 'like' as a verbal filler.

You said 'OMG.' What are you, a 14-year-old girl?

"No, I'm a 60-year-old curmudgeon. That was supposed to be ironic and sarcastic." Karl plonked his beer down on the bar. "Daniel, two more Drehers for me and this annoying punk, please." Daniel, the Hungarian bartender, nodded and poured two more mugs of beer for us.

Yes, but I've heard you use 'like' as verbal filler before. I've even heard you use it instead of 'said,' before.

"Like when," demanded Karl.

You've said things like 'And then the waitress asked if I wanted fries, and I'm, like, 'yes, extra crispy please.'

"Oh, I have not!" We heard Daniel cheer from the other end of the bar when Ujpest scored the tying goal with 15 minutes to go.

You absolutely have. It's a bad habit. Don't worry about it, I do it too.

"Yeah, but you're a slack-jawed yokel. I'm a writer, for God's sake!"

You're so stuck up. I'm a writer too, but that doesn't mean I have to talk like a grammar prude. You can talk any way you want. You just have to make sure your actual writing is clean.

"Absolutely not. I think as writers we need to avoid using poor language, like useless idioms and verbal fillers. A writer should be sharp enough to speak clearly and cleanly."

Whatever. So why is this even important, Karl?

"I just read the poll this morning, and it set my teeth on edge. I just hate it when people twist, abuse, and mangle the English language. Whether someone uses the wrong word, or twists the meaning of a word, or mutates it into some kind of annoying verbal tic that gets overused by teenagers everywhere."

It sounds like you gave this some thought, actually.

"You're killing me, Kid! You're killing me. 'Actually' was fifth on the list with 5 percent."

Jeez, Marist just hates regular every day usage of our language. It sounds like they're just trying to use some kind of news bait to get themselves some media coverage. You know what I mean?

"Gaaah! 'You know what I mean' came in at 15 percent!"

Really? To tell you the truth—

"Ten percent!"

—I actually read the same poll. I was just doing this to annoy you.

Karl plonked his beer on the bar again, sloshing some over the side. "Now why would you do that?"

It's what I do best, I said, giving him a sinister grin.

"But aren't you in the least bit annoyed by some of the words people are overusing and abusing?"

Oh, absolutely. My oldest daughter uses the word 'like' all the time. She quit saying 'said,' she doesn't say 'uh,' and she will double up on 'like' when she means 'such as.' As in 'I think baby animals are cute, like, like puppies and kittens.'

"Does she really say stuff like that?" asked Karl, his mouth hanging open.

Well, not the part about baby animals, but everything else.

"And how do you feel about it?"

Bugs the bejeezus out of me.

"Do you hassle her about it the same way?"

No, I'm much harder on you about it.


To tell you the truth, I actually just get a kick out of, like, annoying you. You know what I mean?


Whatever, dude.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wikileaks' Julian Assange Doesn't Like Info Leaked About His Case

I'm not sure how I feel about the whole Wikileaks disaster. On the one hand, he has put out some important information that people ought to know, like the fact that the Chinese government ordered the hack on Google in early 2010. On the other hand, they gave out information about how the US military can more easily detect roadside bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq, which means the Taliban can figure out how to hide them better.

While I think it's important that some information needs to be put out into the world, a la the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, I don't think information that can lead to death and maiming should. Hence my confusion.

However, what's done is done, and Julian Assange may be to blame for the deaths of more soldiers and civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq.

His belief is that information needs to be made readily available, no matter the cost. "Information wants to be free," he has said in the past.

Unless it's information about his pending rape trial in Sweden.

From a recent story in The Australian, Julian Assange's lawyer is in a froth, because The (London) Guardian published "previously unseen police documents that accused Mr. Assange in graphic detail of sexually assaulting two Swedish women. One witness is said to have stated: 'Not only had it been the world's worst screw, it had also been violent.'" (You can read the Guardian's article here.

Bjorn Hurtig, Assange's Swedish lawyer, said that he would ask the authorities to investigate "how such sensitive police material leaked into the public domain."

"I do not like the idea that Julian may be forced into a trial in the media. And I feel especially concerned that he will be presented with the evidence in his own language for the first time when reading the newspaper. I do not know who has given these documents to the media, but the purpose can only be one thing - trying to make Julian look bad."

Uh, do you not understand who your client is? The only reason he's made worldwide news is because he "wants information to be free."

And now he has his wish. His information is free.

When a guy releases information that endangers lives — not just embarrasses people, but could actually lead to deaths — he needs to live by the same standards he is setting for others. While I believe that Assange deserves a fair trial, he, of all people, should not expect anyone to do him any favors by keeping embarrassing information out of the public domain.

It's the goose and the gander. The pot and the kettle. Not having your cake and leaking it too.

Delicious irony, thy name is The Guardian.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

British Bureaucrats Are Trying to Kill Santa Claus

British Bureaucrats Are Trying to Kill Santa Claus

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

It must suck to be British.

I'm not saying British people suck. I love British people, and am something of an anglophile. I read British mysteries, drink British tea, watch British television, and enjoy writing sentences where I say "British" at least four times.

No, what I mean is, the British bureaucrats can suck the fun and common sense out of anything they put their fingers on. They're like King Midas, only everything they touch turns sucky.

And the British citizens are forced to live under these rules being foisted on them by people who wouldn't know Common Sense if it kicked them in the googlies wearing a pair of sensible shoes and a crash helmet.

This month, as I write about all things Christmas, I'm wagging a finger at Dr. Franco Cappuccio and Dr. Michelle Miller, who work at the University of Warwick Medical School.

Dr. Miller and Dr. "Skim Milk" Cappuccio (not his real nickname) recently made the news by claiming that Santa Claus is a crash risk and a harm to himself and others, because of his annual sleep deprivation combined with all the alcohol left for him on Christmas Eve.

"Each year, Santa Claus and his team of elves and reindeers stay awake for days and nights so he can deliver presents to children all over the world for Christmas," the two Dr. Killjoys told French news service Agence France-Presse. "But he could be putting his and their health at risk."

Days and nights? Days and nights?! For Santa to cover all time zones, he'll need 31 hours to travel the entire globe. How is that "days and nights?" It's one day, plus seven extra hours. It's not like he's going for weeks without sleep.

Plus, they're totally ignoring the fact that Saint Nick already covered all of Western Europe on December 6 (Saint Nicholas Day), so he's saving himself a couple of time zones there already.

I can only assume that Dr. Miller and Dr. Skim Milk are either trying to get attention for their new book about sleep deprivation (which I imagine, if I read it, I could cure), or they're truly the Christmas killjoys they've presented themselves to be.

"Considering that he does it only once a year, it may not be too bad for his long-term health," said Debbie and Donny Downer. "However, in the short term, there are risks. Lack of sleep will make him drowsy, his vigilance will fade and his ability to think and remember will diminish. There is a risk for himself and others — he could fall asleep at the reins and crash his sleigh."

Yeah, right. That assumes Santa's reindeer are complete idiots who don't know how to drive a flying sleigh. They've been doing this for over 200 years, so the odds that they're suddenly going to forget how to fly just because Santa puts the sleigh on autopilot to catch a little catnap is completely ludicrous.

I think Dr. Miller and Dr. Skim Milk are overdramatizing their report just so they can improve book sales beyond the copies their mothers will buy family members for Christmas, so I'm not going to give them any help by saying the name of their book in my column. (Mostly because the article didn't mention it.)

A few years ago, physicists took a poke at Santa, determining that his Christmas flight would be nearly impossible, because he would need to fly at 650 miles per second to deliver gifts to 100 million homes (again, forgetting he already covered Europe three weeks earlier), but would be instantly vaporized by friction with the air.

Really, physicists? You're trying to kill Santa with science? We're talking about a fat guy who has lived for 230 years without a single doctor's warning about diet, who uses eight talking reindeer to fly (nine, if you count the dude with the magic glowing nose), and carries more than 100 million toys on a sled. You manage to suspend disbelief of all of that long enough to work out that he would need an ion-shield to avoid turning to into a big pile of Santa soot.

The only thing more fun-sucking than a health and safety bureaucrat or book-hawking doctor is a physicist who thinks it's fun to kill Santa in a cloud of vapor and physics. If you guys hurry, you can ask Santa for a life, because you seriously need to get one.

I hope none of these people get what they want for Christmas. Maybe Santa can skip their houses and save himself a few more minutes.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Phone It In Sunday: Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer Meets the Police

Kris Kringle meets Der Stingle, thanks to Callron's brilliant mashup of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Roxanne. Anyone who grew up with both will appreciate the sheer hilarity of the whole piece.

If you only watch one stop-animation children's Christmas TV special set to an 80s pop song, make it this one.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Karl the Curmudgeon Meets a Jolly Stranger

Karl the Curmudgeon Meets a Jolly Stranger

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

"Man, I'm tired of the TSA," said Karl, my friend and part-time curmudgeon. "The groping, the full body scans, the loss of personal freedoms."

We were sitting at Njáls Saga Bar & Grill, an Icelandic bar, after a particularly hectic day of Christmas shopping. Harold, the bartender, had just set two mugs of Egils Premium, an Icelandic beer, in front of us.

"You're telling me," said a stranger sitting nearby. "It's getting to the point so I can't do my job without a big hassle."

"I don't even like traveling anymore," said Karl, raising his mug of Egils to the stranger.

I don't even fly when I can help it, I said. If my destination is six hours away or less by car, I might as well drive.

"I've at least got my own transportation," said the new guy, tugging at his beard. "But even so, I still have to go through security."

"Wow, that is a pain," said Karl, shaking the guy's hand. "My name's Karl. This is the Kid."

Erik, I said. My name is Erik. He just calls me Kid.

"Nick," said the guy.

What do you do, Nick? I asked.

"I'm sort of a blue collar entrepreneur. I do a lot of shipping and distribution in the winter, and mostly contract manufacturing throughout the year."

"We're writers," said Karl. "I'm a former newspaperman and I write novels now, The Kid's some kind of humor writer. Plus he writes nonfiction books."

"Oh, I've heard of you guys," said Nick. "I've read both of your stuff. It's pretty good."

Karl and I both ducked our heads with an "aw shucks." Even though we've both been writing for years, it's always a little humbling to meet someone who knows us.

"Can we buy you a beer, Nick?" said Karl.

"Oh-ho, I can't say no, now can I?"

Harold, another Egils for Nick, please, I said, waving at the bartender. And a couple orders of smoked puffin nuggets. Harold nodded and hollered our order back to the kitchen before pouring Nick's beer.

So why is the TSA a problem for you, Nick? I asked.

"Every time I land in a new city, it's the same thing: empty my pockets, put my bag on the conveyor, and they always insist on pawing through it like a bunch of little kids. Now they say my belly's too big to go through the full body scanner, so they keep groping me to see if I'm hiding anything. One guy found a candy cane in my pocket once, and I thought they were going to throw me in Guantanamo."

"Luckily I only have to fly a few times a year anymore," said Karl. "If I ever go on a book tour, I just make it a driving tour and my wife and I just tool around in the camper van."

With your little dog, too, I cackled.

"Who are you, the Wicked Witch of the West?" Karl said, plonking his beer on the table.

If I am, you're the flying monkey.

Harold brought out our orders of smoked puffin nuggets, and we took a few minutes to tuck in to the Icelandic delicacy.

"Tastes like chicken," said Karl.

It's a bird that's been breaded and deep fried. Of course it tastes like chicken. I had some gator tail recently, and even that tasted a little like chicken.

"Eww, gator tail?" said Karl.

"Oh, that's nothing," said Nick. "I travel all over the world, and have tried nearly every delicacy or dessert you can imagine. Some of the people I visit share stuff with me that you could never imagine eating, but since I'm their guest, and they're trying to be nice, I have to just eat it without complaining."

What's the weirdest thing you've ever eaten on your travels?

"I had rattlesnake kebabs in New Mexico once," said Karl. "I was on a book tour, and Gail and I stopped by some nouveau cuisine restaurant in Santa Fe. It was some fusion between Tex-Mex, Asian, and whatever they found in the desert. I was sick for three days."

"That's nothing," said Nick, popping another puffin nugget into his mouth. "I've had lutefisk, pickled herring, squid sushi, tripe, and oatmeal raisin cookies all in one night."

Eww, oatmeal raisin, I grimaced.

"Tell me about it," said Nick. He looked at his watch. "Well boys, I'd better go. I've got some last minute manufacturing orders to fill before I have to load it all up and get it to its destination."
We shook hands and wished him well. And we heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight, "Hey, can you boys pick up my tab?"

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Thursday, December 09, 2010

'Baby It's Cold Outside' is Actually a Little Creepy

Baby, It's Cold Outside

When you think about it, "Baby, It's Cold Outside" seems like a date rape song disguised as a Christmas tune.

I really can't stay
(but baby it's cold outside)
I've got to go away
(but baby it's cold outside)

This evening has been
(been hoping that you'd drop in)
So very nice
(I'll hold your hands, they're just like ice)

My mother will start worry
(beautiful, what's your hurry)
My father will be pacing the floor
(listen to the fireplace roar)

So really I'd better scurry
(beautiful, please don't hurry)
but maybe just a half a drink more
(put some records on while I pour)

The neighbors might faint
(baby it's bad out there)
say what's in this drink
(no cabs to be had out there)

I wish I knew how
(your eyes are like starlight now)
to break this spell
(I'll take your hat, your hair looks swell)

I ought to say "no, no, no sir"
(mind if I move in closer)
at least i'm gonna say that I tried
(what's the sense in hurtin' my pride)

I really can't stay
(oh baby don't hold out)

Both:baby it's cold out side

I simply must go
(but baby it's cold outside)
the answer is no
(but baby it's cold outside)

Your welcome has been
(how lucky that you dropped in)
so nice and warm
(look out the window at that storm)

My sister will be suspicious
(gosh your lips look delicious)
my brother will be there at the door
(waves upon the tropical shore)

My maiden aunt's mind is vicious
(gosh your lips are delicious)
but maybe just a cigarette more
(never such a blizzard before)

I've gotta get home
(but baby you'd freeze out there)
say lend me a coat
(it's up to your knees out there)

You've really been grand
(I thrill when you touch my hand)
but don't you see?
(how can you do this thing to me?)

There's bound to be talk tomorrow
(think of my lifelong sorrow)
at least there will be plenty implied
(if you got namonia and died)

I really can't stay
(get over that old out)

Both:baby it's cold
baby it's cold outside

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Friday, December 03, 2010

My Son Has a Few Questions

My Son Has a Few Questions

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

"Sure, Buddy, you can ask me anything."

"Wait, you don't want to have THAT talk, do you?"

"Okay, you had me worried. You're only 8."

"Christmas will be here in about 21 days."

"Well, he comes down the chimney."

"No, I guess we don't have a chimney, do we?"

"The front door."

"No, we can't leave the front door unlocked."

"He'll still be able to get in."

"The way my father, your Opa, explained it to me is that he has a magical key that lets him into the front door of any house."

"I guess because chimneys are faster than doors."

"Because he wears mittens. It's hard to dig a key out of your pocket when you've got mittens."

"Of course I think he's real."

"What do you think?"

"Then if you believe he's real, that's all that matters."

"I don't care what Sarah from school said. What does she know?"

"Yeah well, Sarah won't get anything awesome for Christmas, will she?"

"Maybe a lump of coal."

"He gives lumps of coal to children who have been bad. Sarah sounds like she'll be able to heat her whole house for a month."

"Well, he used to leave coal in Holland. That's what your Opa said. In Holland, they call him Sinterklaas, and he actually visits children on December 5th and leaves them gifts."

"Because that's Saint Nicholas' birthday. In some parts of Europe, they celebrate Saint Nicholas' birthday on December 6th, and he visits the night before."

"He leaves gifts in the children's wooden shoes while they're sleeping."

"No, they don't really wear wooden shoes that much anymore. They're more of a traditional symbol, and are really only used for special occasions, like the night before Saint Nicholas' Day, if they're used at all."

"Well, we don't wear red stockings with white fur linings, do we? We only put them out on Christmas Eve."

"It's the same thing with wooden shoes."

"No, I've never met him."

"Uh, I've seen evidence that he's been in our house."

"When I was a boy, I used to leave him cookies and milk at night. And when I got up in the morning, they were gone."

"Chocolate chip. He loves chocolate chip cookies."

"Because Mommy doesn't think he needs chocolate chip cookies anymore."

"Apparently Mommy is worried about his cholesterol."

"Believe me, Buddy, if I could, I would."

"Because I can't find the chocolate chips, and I hate cleaning up the mess afterward."

"Mommy said that if I made a whole batch of cookies just to leave them out on Christmas Eve, she was making him go on Lipitor."

"No, we're never leaving him rice cakes anymore either. Those are nasty."

"Do you want him to leave you a lump of coal in your stocking?"

"Then no more rice cakes. I don't think he really likes them. He put peanut butter and honey on them the last time."

"Uh. . . I saw the peanut butter knife in the sink, and he left the honey out."

"Sure, you can leave carrots for the reindeer. Just one though."

"Trust me, they won't eat a lot of carrots."

"No, I just know. Just leave a small one. And a beer. Santa likes beer."

"One of Mommy's."

"No, I've never even seen him in person."

"Or heard him."

"Remember, he comes when we're all asleep, and he moves so quickly and lightly that we never hear him."

"He probably eats them while he's setting out the presents and filling the stockings."

"I don't care what Sarah from school says. What matters is that you believe in him and continue to be a good boy all year long."

"That's right, and give him cookies."

"Chocolate chip."

"No, he hates oatmeal and raisin."

"Just trust me on that one."

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available for pre-order on I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy, who I also helped write Twitter Marketing For Dummies (another affiliate link).
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Friday, November 26, 2010

UK Councils Sink Common Sense Pool Safety

UK Councils Sink Common Sense Pool Safety

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

Personal safety devices violates health and safety laws in England.

The Wokingham Borough Council in Southeast England recently banned all personal flotation devices from their swimming pools because they pose a threat to health and safety.

You read that right: a device that's supposed to keep you safe violates health and safety laws.

Harpers, a private company that runs swimming pools and sports centers around southeast England, banned the floating devices after a child nearly choked on one. So they implemented a policy to only allow the floating devices during supervised swimming lessons. But they never made the policy public, and from all accounts, would not have told people about it if they didn't have to.

The fact that you're reading it here pretty much tells you how that plan worked out.

Sarah Swain, 31, was swimming at the pool in Wokingham, when she decided she wanted to use a floating board. She took lessons last year, but was still a little shaky in the water. So she went to retrieve a board from a cupboard where they were stacked up.

"Being a non-swimmer, the first thing I did was look for a float," Swain told The London Daily Telegraph. "I was surprised to see none in the water or around the edge of the pool.

Swain said when she tried to retrieve one, a lifeguard stopped her, and said she couldn't have one for health and safety reasons.

"When I asked him why he said the company had banned them from handing them out because a small child almost choked on one," said Swain. "I said 'I am hardly a small child. am I?' but he said they were the rules."

A spokesman for Harpers told The Times, "At Loddon Valley, we do not generally distribute floats or swimming aids during public swimming sessions as we would prefer those less confident in the water do not go into the deeper water."

In other words, rather than telling people not to let their children chew the floats, they want to put people at risk of drowning by not letting them use safety devices. Rather than create a policy to prevent the first-ever instance in history of a child choking on a kick board, why not work to prevent the more likely event of people drowning because they didn't have a flotation device?

But this isn't the only instance of British councils creating life-threatening rules under the guise of health and safety.

Three years ago, a three-year-old girl was not allowed to use a board, because she might get injured using it. Never mind that she could die if she didn't use it, they just didn't want her to get smacked in the face. A lifeguard there said he was not allowed to lend out floats, unless it was at a supervised session, because they didn't want someone to get injured and sue them.

I'm more concerned that you actually have unsupervised swimming sessions than rogue kick boards.

But it doesn't stop there. Two years ago, staff at a pool in Northumberland refused to give a five-year-old swimmer a board, because they were worried that water aids and water wings might pass on infections.

Here's a hint: if your safety devices can't get sanitized in a chlorinated pool, then your pool isn't very clean either. Either that, or you do a sucky job at cleaning and sterilizing your equipment. Rather than banning the devices, why don't you just do a better-than-mediocre job of cleaning them?

The United Kingdom may just take the cake when it comes to helicopter parenting. It's one thing that in the United States, parents make their three-year-olds wear crash helmets and knee pads when they're riding their tricycles. That may be overprotective and dorky. But UK officials love sticking their noses in other people's businesses.

If you're worried that kids are getting fat and inactive, it's not because of video games and junk food. We've had video games for 30 years, and junk food ever since our mothers said eating the skin of a mastodon that was bad for us.

Our kids are getting fat because there are people who are so worried about someone getting a small boo-boo that they're regulating kids right out of the activities that are supposed to keep them active and healthy.

The councils in England have some of the worst reputations for coming up with some of the stupidest rules in the entire Western hemisphere. If people were smart, they would come up with a way to ban the town councils and let common sense rein.

But common sense was banned in 2003, because they were worried it might allow people to have fun.

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Olives and Zingers: A Thanksgiving Tradition

Olives and Zingers: A Thanksgiving Tradition

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

Thanksgiving has always been one of those weird holidays.

I mean, it's a real holiday, because the post office is closed. Families gather together, nobody goes to work, everyone eats themselves into a coma, and somebody invariably gets upset with someone else and gossips about them to the rest of the family, parsing their argument down to the sub-atomic level, until Christmas.

But I never thought of Thanksgiving as a holiday when I was growing up. There are no gifts, no Thanksgiving carols, no Great Turkey, no decorations, and no gifts. (I thought it was worth mentioning the gifts twice.)

The only thing we ever really looked forward to on Thanksgiving was A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special ("brought to you by Dolly Madison snack cakes!"). That, and wedges of pumpkin pie you could jack a car up with.

Pumpkin pie was my consolation dessert since my parents would never let us get Dolly Madison snack cakes, no matter how much we asked. (My favorites were the Zingers. Don't ask. I had my ways.)

These days, my wife says I don't need them anyway, which is okay, since I can't really find them either. (You know, I was fine not having one until right now. Now I can't stop thinking about them. Thanks a lot, idyllic childhood memories!)

I just finished watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving with my kids, which was a nice treat, since I'm not buying them any gifts. And it made me realize there are so many details I missed in the show when I was younger. Like the chair next to Franklin at dinner that kept disappearing and reappearing, depending on the scene. Or the ice cream sundaes that magically appeared right before Linus said grace.

Or most importantly, at the end of the show, Snoopy shows that he actually knew how to cook all along. He fixes a turkey with all the trimmings, and shares it with his pal, Woodstock.

Woodstock the bird. Who eats the turkey.

It took me 37 years to realize that A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving has the first recorded instance of cannibalism in children's television.

I'm not worried about the effect that kind of thing will have on my kids. I never made the connection until this year, and I don't think this will have any warping effect on them either. No more than a dog who makes toast and popcorn, or runs a bad catering business.

Of course, the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special set up some pretty unreasonable expectations for me when I was growing up. I never really understood what the big deal was with the dinner Charlie Brown and Snoopy served. While it didn't qualify as a real Thanksgiving dinner, I always believed that popcorn and toast would make an acceptable meal in a pinch. Especially if I could train a dog to make it for me.

But I always wanted to try it. For the longest time, I would ask my parents for a Charlie Brown dinner.

"Can we have a Charlie Brown dinner?" I would beg every few months.

"What's that?" they asked.

"Toast, popcorn, pretzels, and jelly beans."

"No!" they said. Eventually they just stopped asking what it was, and skipped straight to "No!" (They never let us get jelly beans either. No Zingers, no jelly beans. I lead a deprived childhood.)

I never wanted a Charlie Brown dinner for Thanksgiving, you understand, because that's when we got turkey (which was not my favorite meat; I always wanted steaks), mashed potatoes, which I loved to mix with my corn, and black olives.

Black olives were my favorite, because my sister and I would stick them on our fingers and make creepy noises at each other. It was a rather depressing Thanksgiving for me when I discovered my fingers were too big to fit in the olives anymore. From then on, I silently sulked whenever the little kids would play the olive game.

However, the kid in me never totally left, because I still manage to cram a black olive on my pinky each November. Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly), my kids look at me like I'm a weirdo, and would never dream of sticking olives on their fingers. Kids just don't have a sense of tradition like we used to. And they hate olives. (Now who's the weirdo?!)

Still, I try to instill at least a couple Thanksgiving traditions with my kids, like watching Charlie Brown every year, and saying no to toast and popcorn for dinner.

I'll have to introduce them to the wonders of the Dolly Madison Zingers when my wife's not around.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

A Zoo Visitor and His Finger Are Soon Parted

A Zoo Visitor and His Finger Are Soon Parted

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2004

Erik is out of the office this week, so we are replacing his current column with one from 2004. Let's see if anyone notices.

Although I try to pretend otherwise, anyone who knew me will tell you that I was a rabble-rousing little terror who got into all sorts of trouble.

"A heller!" my grandmother shouts during one of her flashbacks.

My father is a psychology professor at Ball State University, and he was sometimes able to subtly control my behavior. Of course, this lead to some unfortunate incidents. Like the time I was four years old, my dad got me to stick my finger in a rat cage.

He did this by taking me to his department's rat lab, looking me straight in the eye, and with all seriousness and concern, said, "Whatever you do, don't stick your finger in the rat cage."

At that instant, any thought of not sticking my finger in the rat cage was replaced with "what will happen if I stick my finger in the rat cage?"

This was immediately answered by the rat who lived there, when he bit me on the finger. And as if being bitten wasn't bad enough, I was then taken to the emergency room for a tetanus shot, administered right on my butt.

Meanwhile the rat — being a psychology rat — was enrolled in an outpatient treatment program for anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Or it was tested for rabies, I can never remember.

I was reminded of this incident when I was alerted to an Associated Press story by my friend and fellow humor writer, Jennifer Layton.

According to the Associated Press, zoo keepers from the Rio Grande Zoo in Albuquerque, New Mexico have banned a frequent zoo visitor for life, after finding his finger outside a jaguar exhibit.

A groundskeeper saw a man with blood on his pants, and asked if he was okay, but the man ran off. A little while later, the man's finger was found outside the cage of Manchas the jaguar.

It would be irresponsible of me not to call him "Munches" now.

Officials tracked the man down through his New Mexico Zoological Society pass, which wasn't that hard since only four people bought one. However, his name was not released by officials, so I'll just call him Stumpy.

It seems that Stumpy was intrigued by Munches the jaguar, and most likely stuck his finger in the cage. So Munches, doing what jaguars do best, bit him.

When I read the story, I was worried that my father had begun using his powers for evil, but a quick phone call confirmed that he hadn't been to New Mexico since the late 1970s.

According to the article, zoo director Ray Darnell said they telephoned Stumpy to ask if he was missing any fingers.

Darnell: Hello, Mr. Johnson, this is Ray Darnell of the Rio Grande Zoo. Funny story. We were cleaning out the jaguar cage and found a finger. We were wondering if it was yours.

Mr. Johnson: Let me see. . . 7, 8, 9, uhhh, 10. Nope, they're all here. Yesiree, I have all nine — I MEAN TEN! — of my fingers.

Darnell: Are you sure? The police fingerprinted it and determined it belonged to you.

Mr. Johnson: No, not me. Must be my twin brother's.

Police went to Stumpy's house and confirmed that he was, in fact, the former owner of the missing finger.

So zoo officials banned Stumpy because "you just can't take the risk," Darnell told the AP. Although I don't know who faces the bigger risk, Stumpy or Munches.

According to the zoo's general curator, Tom Silva, this is the only case he knows of where a zoo visitor was injured by an animal. However, a few years ago, a temporary employee lost the tip of one of his fingers, which was found later in — say it with me — Munches' den.

This makes me wonder what it is about Munches the jaguar that makes people want to stick their fingers in his cage. It would be easy to understand if it were Dave Barry, since he's made his entire career out of sticking his finger in his nose and then writing about what he finds. But instead, these are people who are somehow hypnotized by the big cat to stick their fingers in his cage. That, or they're the kinds of people who usually preface their stunts with "hey y'all, watch this!"

In either case, I think Munches needs to be removed from the Rio Grande Zoo and placed somewhere where no one would care who he eats.

I hear "Survivor Island" is nice this time of year.

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Friday, November 05, 2010

Dear Politicians, Please Shut Up Now

Dear Politicians, Please Shut Up Now

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

(An open letter from average citizens.)

Dear politicians, political consultants, activists, and pundits,

The election is over. The votes have been cast. You won or lost.

So shut it. Just shut up.

We're tired of it all. Tired of you. Tired of the anger and the hatred and shouting and the yelling and the lies and the half-truths. We're tired of all the whining and pouting and finger-pointing.

This election was not a confirmation on your way of life. It's not a reflection of whether the country agrees with you. The Republicans took control of the House of Representatives. That is not a referendum that the country agrees with your assessment of the President. The Democrats kept control of the Senate. That is not a message to the country that we agree with your assessment of the President.

It means your side won or lost. Period. It does not mean we wanted some Governor 1,000 miles away to also win or lose. It does not mean we wanted to keep or displace the Senator of a neighboring state. It means we agreed with your candidate enough to vote for them.

And that's it. End of discussion. End of the noise.

Because we're tired of your rumors and lies in the guise of political ads. The scary announcers, the ominous music, the half-truths and twisted words. The snide, mocking tones and the unflattering photos of your opponent.

We're tired of your lies about President Obama being a Muslim. (He's not. We've been over this). We're tired of you calling Christine O'Donnell a witch because of something she said 21 years ago. (It was 21 freaking years ago. Let it go).

You're the people we're supposed to look to for hope and leadership, and you're calling each other witches and Nazis. That's not hope or leadership. That's just shrill hysterics, not-so-cleverly disguised as campaign ads.

Speaking of which, we're especially tired of the wasted money. You people spent nearly $4 BILLION this year to tell us how evil the other candidate is. That's $1 billion less than the record-setting amount you spent in 2008 to elect a president. You spent $4 billion to tell us how you're going to rein in out-of-control spending.

With that $4 billion, you could have given $10,000 in college tuition to 400,000 kids who can't afford college. Or given a $30,000 salary to 133,000 unemployed people. Or bought homes for nearly 27,000 homeless families. You could have even covered half of Haiti's $7.2 billion earthquake costs.

Instead, you wasted money to get elected to control government waste.

So we're glad it's over. Because we're sick of hearing about how your opponent is responsible for global warming or that global warming is a hoax. Or that your opponent will raise our taxes or cripple the economy. Will take our guns or arm our wackos. Will march our elderly into death camps or allow insurance companies to throw us in the poor house.

We know you're lying. We can tell, because your lips are moving. We don't trust you, we don't believe you, and we know that once you take your oath of office, nothing will ever change.

Because everything you said you would do? You won't do.

You're not the first candidates to promise us the moon and the stars, and you won't be the last. Washington is filled with people like you. People who promised us something and then failed to deliver. This election was filled with anti-incumbent accusations of do-nothingness or pure evil. We were bombarded with dire predictions of epic failure if your opponent got elected, but we don't believe it.

We don't believe it, because it hasn't happened yet. We were promised change and/or doom two years ago, four years ago, six years ago, yada yada yada, 234 years ago. The only thing that has changed in all that time is the rest of us. You people are still making dire predictions, trying to scare the bejeezus out of us. You're still insulting each other, and our intelligence, 234 years later.

We need a break from you. Because 2010 is nearly over, the presidential hopefuls are now eyeing Iowa, and this thing is going to start up again in about six months. Give us a rest for a little while. You kids go out and play. America has a headache right now, and we need some peace and quiet.

So just shut up.
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Friday, October 29, 2010

Marriage Advice for the Newlyweds

Marriage Advice for the Newlyweds

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

My little brother is finally getting married at the ripe old age of 29. And as his older brother — someone who got married when he was a 12-year-old punk — I have several pearls of wisdom that I can offer after nearly 17 years of wedded bliss.

I also owe him some advice, since at my wedding, when the videographer asked if he had any advice for his older brother, stared at the camera for a few seconds, like a deer in the headlights, and then said, "don't fart."

So here is my advice for Andrew and his new bride, Michelle. They apply to equally to both (except #4. That's all for him.)

1. Never let the sun set on your anger. That is, don't go to bed mad at each other. Stay up late and play Ghost Recon on Xbox instead. This way, you can nurse a good long grudge, going over every nuance of the other person's argument, before finally coming up with that one stunner that will prove you're right, only to find your spouse is asleep. Drink all their orange juice out of petty revenge. I suppose you could also "discuss things" like most relationship experts suggest, but this is more fun. Better yet, challenge your spouse to a game of Ghost Recon. Winner of the game wins the argument.

2. Remember, that everything you learned in all your years of growing up will influence what you bring to the marriage, but will not be at all helpful. Your families have done things completely differently, and if they were neighbors, they probably would have hated each other enough that each Halloween would have been punctuated by at least one flaming bag of dog poo. This is the baggage you are bringing with you to your new lives together. Enjoy.

3. All of your valuable collectibles will turn into junk the second you say "I do." All of her junk will turn into valuable collectibles her great-great-grandmother owned and has been passed to every girl in the family. This will be true of the director's cut of her "Hope Floats" DVD too.

4. What's yours is hers. What's hers is, well, hers. Except your cardboard cutout of The Rock and your "Inglorious Basterds" movie poster. Those are the garbage man's. If you want to keep certain items like baseball cards, your Boy Scout hunting knife, or your tie dye t-shirt from college (don't ask) safe from her clutch—I mean, attention, stick them in a cardboard box, tape it heavily, and label it "Grandma's china and ashes."

5. If you want to get out of doing certain household chores, do them badly, and you will be forbidden from doing them. When we first got married, my wife cleaned the kitchen floor by getting on her hands and knees and scrubbed it with a sponge. When she asked me to do it, I used my foot. I have not been allowed to mop the floor the entire time we've been married. Similarly, she is not allowed to mow the lawn. Be careful to only do this selectively though, rather than for every single task set before you. Your spouse will either think you're lazy or totally incompetent.

6. Don't get hung up on the whole lid up/lid down thing. Whoever perpetuated the "always put the lid down" rule has ignored the needs of men. Rather, leave the lid in the opposite state of how you found it, so the next person can use it. If it's down when the woman gets there, she can leave it up. And when the man arrives, he'll put it back down when he's finished. Better yet, close the lid completely before you flush. Scientists have found that the spray from the toilet flush will travel up to six feet away — about two feet farther than your toothbrushes.

7. Take this whole marriage seriously. You're only ever going to do this three or four times in your life. Although if you want to make this your only one, ignore everything I've just said. Except number 5. That's a keeper.

8. Lastly, take this in the spirit that it's intended. Don't fart.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

New York City Principal Uses Bad English, Faulty Grammar to Show Why His School Shouldn't Use Textbooks

I thought you could only find this kind of story in Catch-22 or on 30 Rock.

According to a story in the New York Daily, News, Andrew Buck, principal of an East Flatbush middle school, sent out an error-laden email to teachers explaining why he thought they didn't need textbooks in the middle school.

Apparently, Buck thinks that because his students have lower reading skills, they shouldn't use textbooks to teach the students. He talked about how he didn't like textbooks in high school and college, and as a result, he doesn't think his already-poorly educated students should have to use textbooks.

Personal experience aside, which surfaces a concern about the potential adversarial affect of textbooks to students learning, let;s return to the essential question of learning and how it is best achieved.


Other you ought-to-know-better errors included misspelled words, missing letters, repeating words, rambling and incoherent sentences, and of course, misspelling the word textbooks as two words.

You can see excerpts of Andrew Buck's poorly-written letter here.

Now, I am not saying that people aren't allowed to their typos, misspellings, and little errors in their emails. God knows I make them all the time. But, and this is a big but, if you're going to make the case that your school shouldn't use textbooks, your email should not contain so many errors it would receive an F if you handed it in as an assignment.

It's gotten so bad that the Daily News is actually calling for Buck's ouster as principal. They even pulled out the results of a 2008 survey where he was labeled as Brooklyn's "least trustworthy principal."

I don't think he should be fired, but I do think he should have a chance to explain himself, engage in a public discussion about why not having textbooks in a school is asinine, and write "I will proofread my paper" 1,000 times.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Food-Related Assault in Dover, Maine

The Florida-style food related assaults, once thought by experts (me) to have finally died down, have cropped up again, this time in Dover, Maine.

According to a story in the Foster's Daily Democrat (official motto: We got! Suck on THAT, Fosters Beer!!), Thomas Goulet, 40, had ordered a few sandwiches at the Duston's Bakery & Deli, and then got on his mobile phone. The woman preparing the sandwiches had questions about his order, but since he was on the phone, she went off to do other things.

The woman said that when Goulet finally got off the phone, and saw that his sandwich wasn't finished, he called her a "vulgar name," took a sandwich that had already been made for Goulet's son, and then threw it at the woman.

Best line in the whole story: "The clerk was struck in the face, but unhurt by the flying sandwich, which police have yet to identify."

I have an image of Horatio Caine looking at the remains of the sandwich, and he says, "He may have been buying a sandwich for his son. . . but he's no hero." (And then the theme song starts, YEEEEEAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!)

The sandwich-related assault was witnessed by another clerk and several customers, who wrote down Goulet's license plate and car make after Goulet fled the scene, like a coward, before the police arrived.

Goulet will be charged with a Class B misdemeanor.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Phone It In Sunday: The Social Network Spoof Trailer for Scotty's Brewhouse

Scotty's Brewhouse is a small restaurant chain with places in Indianapolis, Muncie, Bloomington, and West Lafayette. A lot of us in the social media industry have made it our restaurant of choice.

A few weeks ago, Scotty Wise had a special midnight showing of The Social Network, and shot a spoof of the popular movie trailer that had been making the rounds. (Tim "That foreign guy with the mole" Hashko shot it in just a couple hours.) I was lucky enough to have a very small part in the trailer, with the second biggest word in the whole thing — "Millions?" (Smiley stole the honor of biggest word with "billion," but I'm not complaining.)

You need to know that two of Scotty's signature items are fried dill pickle chips (which are awesome) and the Shewman Burger (even more awesome), which includes peanut butter and bacon. (And before you say, "ewww, peanut butter!" let me tell you that it's one of the best hamburgers out there.)

Every masterpiece has its own bloopers. Also, so did ours.

If you've never been to Scotty's Brewhouse, you need to check it out. It's a family friendly place, but also ideal for business meetings, watching the game on a weekend, or even a nice date.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

You Can't Spell Winter Without 'Winner' & 'Tea'

You Can't Spell Winter Without 'Winner' & 'Tea'

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

I used to enjoy the cold weather. I don't mean "Winter is so beautiful after a snowfall" or anything namby-pamby like that. I mean, I used to love the cold. The biting chill, the howling winds, the icy blasts that froze my cheeks and made my boogers freeze.

I don't know if it's because I'm getting older, or if I just don't have the youthful vigor I used to, but I don't enjoy Indiana's arctic blasts the way I did 20 years ago.

When I was in college, I was notorious for loving the cold weather. According to a classmate, during one class when the winter was hammering Ball State's campus pretty hard and many students were skipping their classes to hibernate in their rooms, the other students were discussing how much they all hated the weather, and the professor asked, "does anyone even like winter?"

Several classmates all said, "Erik." At that moment, I burst into the classroom like a mountain man staggering into a warm tavern, coat wide open, no hat, cheeks chapped and red, and a huge grin splitting my face. That reputation has followed me around for years.

When the fall comes, most people respond by donning jeans and sweatshirts. Back then, I would put on a long sleeve shirt and boots and socks, but still keep the shorts. When the winter came, others crammed themselves into down-filled parkas, and I switched to jeans and a coat. Around January, when the cold was unbearable, I would wear a sweatshirt under my coat, and wonder aloud if I should put on a hat.

Nowadays, while I still love the chill of the fall, by the middle of December, I'm wearing sweatshirts and coats, and looking desperately for a hat.

I'm still a little slow to change when I'm inside though. I usually wear shorts and t-shirts to bed, and I don't switch to sweatpants until after three weeks of wondering why I'm so cold before I finally fall asleep. I don't make the connection that my toes wouldn't feel like icicles if I would just wear socks, until my wife reminds me that there's six inches of snow outside.

Winter is also the time I start drinking tea on a regular basis. My wife and I have been in sync on tea for years. We have a season for it, and like the geese who just take off to fly south one day, we immediately know when it's time to drink tea.

Sometime in October, one of us will ask, "do you want some tea?" and the other will always say yes. We start drinking tea at the same time of year, and we also stop at the same time in the Spring. It's like someone flips a switch when we're ready for it, and again when we're done.

Of course, when "we" are in the mood for tea, that "we" turns into a "me," and I'm the one who ends up making it. There's a specific ritual that goes with making tea in our house, and I have to make sure the ritual is followed correctly. I boil the water in a small pot, rather than a kettle, I pour the boiling water onto the tea sieve (or if we're out of loose leaf tea— God forbid! — tea bags), and let it steep for five minutes. My wife never likes her tea steeped for that long, and I usually comply. But if we've been arguing, I'll let it steep for the full five minutes just so I can get a little victory.

Tea is a nice little pick-me-up on a cold winter evening, and a great to end the day. But I can't treat it like a crutch.

I've decided I'm not hiding from the winter any longer. I'm going back to the days of my youth, where I not only embraced the cold, I grabbed it by the scruff of the neck and made it lick a flagpole. I am not going to cower in fear under the covers, waiting for Spring to come. I'm going back to coats instead of parkas, ear warmers instead of hats, and gloves instead of mittens.

I will be, as Dylan Thomas said, a wild man who caught and sang the sun in flight. I won't go gentle into that cold night. I will rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Because with a nice hot cup of English Breakfast and honey, I can deal with anything.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Animal Liberation Front Frees Deer Into Forest During Hunting Season

The Animal Liberation Front is not too smart. According to a story in the Seattle Post Intelligencer, the ALF is taking credit for removing a large section of fencing at a deer farm in Molalla, Oregon.

Their intention, said the cowardly vandals', was to allow the deer to escape into the forest surrounding the farm.

The problems are two fold:
  • Farm owner Richard Bentley said there were no deer on the part of the land where the fence was cut, hence no deer were actually freed.

  • Had they been successful, ALF would have released tame deer into the forest during deer hunting season.

If you want to release deer and try to save them, try not to save them during the time of year when other people want to shoot them. Also, make sure there are really deer to be saved.

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Phone It In Sunday: Will It Blend meets the Old Spice Guy

Blendtec created a huge hit with their viral "Will It Blend" videos. Of course, they're never one to shy away from current events either. They've blended iPhones, iPads, and vuvuzelas. Now they're going after a bottle of Old Spice!

The only thing they've never been able to blend? Chuck Norris. Because nothing can blend Chuck Norris.

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Squirrels Refuse Medical Care, Blame the Economy

Squirrels Refuse Medical Care, Blame the Economy

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

"Squirrels Refuse Medical Care."

Yes, that's a real headline. No, it wasn't from The Onion. It was the Washington Post. The Washington "We Broke Watergate" Post.

In late September, in Alexandria, Virginia, someone called Animal Control about an injured squirrel on the sidewalk in a residential neighborhood. When an Animal Control officer showed up, the squirrel scrambled up a tree.

The Animal Control officer saw another squirrel nearby, also on the sidewalk, but it appeared dazed. He took it back to the Animal Welfare League to examine it further, but the squirrel woke up and "resisted attempts to be handled." So the officer returned the squirrel to the area where it had originally been found.

An extremely slow news day nowithstanding, I was intrigued at the idea of squirrels who would refuse medical care. The AWL is supported by taxes, so it's more of a free clinic than a for-profit hospital, but his actions were a little odd, even for a squirrel.

I took a quick trip to Arlington, to see what I could learn. A quick visit to the Animal Welfare League office and a peek at the call log, and I was able to find the squirrels' neighborhood.

I had a little trouble tracking down the squirrels' home, but finally found it, a big oak duplex in a neighborhood of single family oaks and maples. I knocked on the door.

"Who is it?" demanded a squirrel, opening the door. "What do you want?"

"Mr. Mosher?" I said.

"No, Mathus. Mosher lives next door. You from the government?" Mathus accused. At the sound of his name, Mosher opened his door.

"Can I help you?" he said.

"I'm wondering about this story in the Washington Post. It says that you were both involved in some kind of incident, but you refused medical treatment."

"Well, it was hardly a serious injury," said Mosher. "We were arguing about the mid-term elections, when a gust of wind knocked us off our branch. We were both sort of dazed, but when that Animal Control officer showed up, I didn't need any medical attention, so I went home. I thought Mathus was right behind me."

"So you were the one who went to the Animal Welfare League?" I asked Mathus.

"Taken against my will, you mean," said Mathus. "If I hadn't refused treatment, they probably would have put me in one of those death camps. I made such a stink they had no choice but to bring me back home."

"Now, Jimmy, you know there's no such thing as 'death camps,'" said Mosher. "That was just a big lie Sarah Palin made up to scare people about health care reform."

"So you say," spat Mathus. "All I know is I wasn't going to let some knock on the noggin give them an excuse to put me in a camp or some home against my will."

I wrote a few notes, and turned to the other squirrel. "What about you, Mr. Mosher? The newspaper said that when you were approached by the officer, you ran back into your home."

Mosher looked down at his feet. When he spoke, his voice was quiet, embarrassed. "I don't have any insurance, and I knew a trip to the emergency room would wipe me out. I thought if I hid, he would just leave me alone."

"That's because he lost his job, thanks to Obama's so-called stimulus spending," said Mathus.

"Actually, if you'll recall, James," interrupted Mosher, "I lost my job three weeks after Obama took office. In fact, our whole division got laid off, because our workload was being outsourced overseas."

"Bah," said Mathus, waving his paw.

"Anyway," continued Mosher. "I was just resting after the fall. I figured I'd stay with Jimmy until he was awake. But when that big guy showed up, I panicked. I don't have much in savings, what with the economy and all. So when he came, I was worried they were going to perform a bunch of needless tests and bill me right into bankruptcy."

"See? That's Obamacare for you!" said Mathus. "They'll do anything to get your money.

"Jimmy, the new healthcare plan doesn't go into effect for another year. Besides, healthcare money doesn't go to the government."

The two squirrels fell to bickering about healthcare reform, the economy, and the war, sounding more and more like TV pundits (only smarter). While the recession may be over, it's going to be a long, slow road to recovery. And when squirrels are refusing medical help for fear of losing their life savings, I can only imagine how things are going for the rest of us.

I mumbled my thanks to the politically active squirrels, and left. I still had to interview a groundhog about extending the Bush-era tax cuts.

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Friday, October 08, 2010

My Knees Are Killing Me

My Knees Are Killing Me

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

My knees are killing me.

I'm either suffering from Old Guy Knee or Big Guy Knee. I like to think I'm suffering from Former Athlete Knee, which is usually a combination of both. I was an athlete of one form or another for nearly 30 years, playing soccer, Ultimate Frisbee, football, bicycle racing, and running — sports that wreak havoc on an athlete's knees, and I was never very careful about where or how I hurled my body.

Unfortunately, I also have the same build of a former athlete, which is a big part of the problem. Imagine putting a truck on a car suspension. The car slows down, the shocks make an awful grinding noise if it tries to goes too fast, and the car grunts whenever it sits down on the couch.

I'm working to lighten the load, watching what I eat, and going for walks with my wife on a daily basis. Plus, the nearly one-mile walk from my car to my office has been helping. However, my exercise regimen got derailed temporarily when I went on a men's retreat with some other guys from my church.

The two-day retreat was filled with just what you would expect: a bunch of middle-aged guys trying to recapture their youth by playing Ultimate Frisbee and football with guys 10 - 15 years their junior, and 25 - 50 percent smaller.

I did alright during Frisbee. My knees didn't hurt, I was able to run without any difficulty, and I could stil throw. After a short break, we played football. I sat out for another 15 minutes, which gave my knees a chance to recover and remember that they weren't in shape for what I had just put them through, let alone that they were still pissed about the last 10 years of Ultimate Frisbee. So, they thought it would be a good idea to voice their frustration by stiffening up.

To show them who was boss, I went back out for some football. It wasn't going to be as bad, because I was on the line, and only had to run about five steps at a time. Still, five steps multiplied by dozens of plays can aggravate them even further. And if my knees were pissed earlier, they were raging by the time we were finished. In fact, after sitting down for a few more minutes, my right knee had nearly seized up and walking was a chore.

That night, as we drove home, four of us stopped at a Starbucks for a quick drink. Two guys, including Dave, our executive pastor, went inside, while the other guy walked with me to make sure I didn't collapse into a wailing heap in the parking lot.

When I staggered in, some punk teenager, barely out of diapers, looked at me and said, "You walk like an old man."

A million responses raced through my head — "You look like something I find in tightly-coiled piles on my lawn," "Oh yeah? Your mom doesn't love you." — but I knew it would not be fair to verbally dope slap this coffeehouse urchin, especially with Dave standing five feet away, watching the whole thing.

"That's because I am an old man," I said, too tired to come up with something that was clever, but wouldn't make the little turd cry.

"I like this kid," laughed Dave, turning to me. "What do you want? I'll buy."

Having been metaphorically kicked while I was down, I had my revenge: I ordered a large of the most expensive drink I could think of. Then I limped off to the old man's room.

When I came back, Dave and the other two guys were still laughing about the kid, who was now gone.

"You knew that was a setup, didn't you?" asked Dave.

"What was?" I said.

"That kid. When we got in here, I told him to say you walked like an old man. But he did it so naturally, I was surprised. I'm more surprised you didn't just lay into him."

"I wanted to, but I didn't want him to go to some men's retreat in 30 years, crying about some mean guy who made him feel bad when the guy's friend set him up."

Over the last few days, my knees have gotten better, and I can get around with a minimum of difficulty, but I still feel a twinge or two when I get up in the morning.

I just need them to get better for next year. I'm in the mood for some tackle football.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available for pre-order on I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy, who I also helped write Twitter Marketing For Dummies (another affiliate link).

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Friday, October 01, 2010

Karl the Curmudgeon Finds Facebook

Karl the Curmudgeon Finds Facebook

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

"Kid, why do you insist on playing on that Facespace," said Karl, grabbing my mobile phone from me.

It's Facebook, I said, grabbing it back from him. You don't 'play' Facebook. Besides, I wasn't on Facebook, I had to check a text from my wife.

"But I don't even see the point of it," said Karl, plonking his beer on the table. It was Saturday afternoon, and we were sitting at Boudica's, a Scottish restaurant, eating lunch and having a beer. The waitress brought an order of Scotch eggs.

Ahh, look at that, I said, marveling at the egg-and-sausage dish, rubbing my hands together in gleeful anticipation. Scotch eggs are hard-boiled eggs with a sausage coating. The sausage ball is baked, and you cut it into pieces, eating both the egg and sausage together. These eggs were the size of my fist.

"Aye, those are mighty fine eggs," said Karl, slipping into his Scottish brogue, something he did whenever he was reminded of his homeland.

The point of Facebook, I said, my mouth full of sausage, is to keep in contact with your friends and family. To let them know what you're doing, and to find out what they're doing.

"That's stupid," said Karl, scowling. "Why would I want to know that?"

Don't you want to know what your kids are doing with their family on a particular day?

"Sure, but I just call them."

But do you call them every day?

"Why the heck would I want to do that? They've got their own lives to lead."

What about your friends from high school?

"I don't even like them. Why would I give a rat's butt about what they're doing?"

Do you have any friends from the last couple of years?

"Kid, what if I said you were my only friend?" said Karl.

The way you're acting right now, I'd say you overestimated.

"Oh, get bent," he said, forking some Scotch eggs into his mouth. He chewed for a minute, and then swallowed. "I just don't see the point of knowing all the details about someone's life? Why would anyone want to know what I'm doing?"

Well, you don't actually know all the details of their lives. Only what they choose to tell you. So you might see something interesting, like if your son posted a photo or video of your grandson scoring a goal. Or your daughter sharing that your granddaughter won the spelling bee at her school.

"Okay, I can see how that might be handy. But why can't they just call me with the news?"

You only talk to your kids once a week by phone, right?


Don't they forget to tell you something from time to time? They tell you about it later, but it's one of those things that would have been better to know up front?

"Sure, that happens once in a while."

Or they have videos of one of their kids' plays, but you can't see it until you see them for the holidays?

"All the time. Then I'm usually stuck watching hours of videos at a time."

So what if you could watch the videos or see the photos or hear the news online right after it happens?

"Well, they email me stuff sometimes."

Sure, but that's still only sometimes. But your son is on Facebook quite a bit.

"How do you know?"

Because we're Facebook friends.

"But you never met him."

I didn't need to. I knew who he was, I found him on Facebook, knew he was your son, and I friended him. Now I get to hear about stuff he's doing at work, things he's reading, games he's playing, that kind of thing.

"And that's not boring?" said Karl. "My son can be kind of boring."

A little bit, but the great thing about Facebook is that it allows me to find connect with new people, people I knew from a long time ago, or even find people I share a common interest with.

"So why would I want to do that?"

What are some of your likes or dislikes?

"Well, I'm a grammar curmudgeon, I hate the word 'moist', and I like proper Scotch whisky," Karl said, properly leaving the 'e' out of the word.

I pulled out my laptop and fired it up. Look at this, I said. There are groups on Facebook for all three of those interests. There are several groups for grammar and punctuation sticklers. There's a group for people who hate the word 'moist. And here's a group for people who like Scotch whisky. That one has nearly 4,100 people in it.

"What about the one for people who hate. . . 'that word?'"

Let's see, 2,277.

Karl thought for a minute. "And I wouldn't have to tell everyone everything that I'm doing?"

Not if you don't want to. You share what you want to share, leave out what you want to leave out.

"All right, I'll do it. I'll sign up when I get home." I started typing something on my computer. "What are you doing now?" he demanded.

I'm posting to my Facebook wall that I just won another argument with you.

"Dammit, Kid!"
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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Phone It In Sunday: Mary Poppins Finally Loses It

Just one more reason why I think Lisa Nova is hysterical. I always wondered how Mary Poppins kept her cool, and it looks like she finally lost it.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

In Defense of Humor Writing

In Defense of Humor Writing

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

It's the killer question that every writer dreads:

"When are you going to write your novel?"

Novel? Do people still even read novels? It's like we're not real writers if we haven't written a real, big-boy novel.

Never mind that I've been a newspaper columnist for nearly 16 years, that I helped write Twitter Marketing for Dummies, or that I have a second social media book that will be published in December (by a real, big-boy publisher). Never mind that I'm a paid professional writer who gets money for stringing words together.

"So you aren't writing a novel then?"

Mignon Fogarty, author of Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, said she's frequently asked when she's going to write her novel. She's not, she says, because she's a nonfiction writer.

A best selling nonfiction writer. A New York Times best seller list nonfiction writer. But she's not a novelist. Fogarty says it's like people pooh-pooh her accomplishments, because she's not a novelist.

I can't get any respect because I'm a humor writer. I'm the guy who giggles like a 12-year-old when someone says "pooh-pooh."

But it's worse because I'm also an aspiring novelist

"Oh really? What are you writing?"

I can hear it in their tone. They know what I write already. I'm not writing a coming of age story, or a love story, or a treatise on man's inhumanity against man and the futility of war.

"It's a humor novel," I say.

They hesitate for a brief second, but it's long enough for me to hear the condescension, then "Oh, that's nice," followed by a pitying smile. Like I'm the slow kid who just showed off his very first finger painting.

What is it about humor writing that makes us the bastard child of literature, journalism, and creative writing? What makes us the slackers of the literary set? People seem to think that if the end product makes you laugh, then a) the process wasn't very hard, and b) we probably had fun doing it. Both mean it's not "real work."

Surprisingly though, it's not the readers who are the problem. Most readers enjoy humorous writing, and once they have a favorite, they latch on to them forever (thanks, Dad).

No, it's the other writers who look down their noses at us. We're just not good enough to be in their little club, because we don't write about life and angst and lost love.

The literary writers believe they're serious people who write serious things and wear their serious black turtlenecks, while they think we're goofballs who write fart jokes and wear Hawaiian shirts and propeller beanies. I find this attitude rather offensive, because they don't make propeller beanies in my size.

Frankly, I don't see what the problem is. I think most journalism is dry and boring. Most creative writing is emotionally overwrought and pedantic. And most literature is decidedly unfunny. With a few exceptions, nearly all of it is unmemorable. Not because it's not good, but because no one has written anything worth remembering. So it's not like we're the problem here.

No one says to a friend, "do you remember that piece Charles Krauthammer wrote for the Washington Post on Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination?" They don't ask because the piece was as dry as week-old toast, just like every other op-ed piece for or against her nomination.

But ask your friend if he remembers Dave Barry's column about his first son being born, or Patrick McManus' "Deer on a Bicycle" story, and he'll hoot at the memory, then launch into a precisely-remembered recitation of the entire piece.

That's because humor is memorable, and regular writing is, well, not.

That's not completely true. There are a lot of stories that are worth remembering, that stick out in our memories, like that John Grisham book about the young lawyer. You know, the one where he gets in over his head, and he becomes the lone voice for justice in an unjust world? The one they made the movie about? Yeah, that one.

Don't get me wrong. I like regular writing. I have my favorites, authors whose books I pounce on when a new one comes out, stories I'll stay up well into morning for, because I lose track of time. But they're the humor masters — Douglas Adams, Jasper Fforde, David Sedaris, Christopher Moore, and the old master, P.G. Wodehouse.

These are serious craftsmen who don't need to resort to Hawaiian shirts and propeller beanies to create their humor.

But a good fart joke is the hammer in any humor writer's toolbox.

Randy Clark tried to leave a comment for me, but it didn't take. Plus he also sent me the link to an adult-sized propeller beanie hat from, so I included it here. I think I may have to get one for my next professional headshot. Maybe I'll wear it on the back jacket of my humor novel. Suck on THAT, James Joyce!

Writing serious humor is not funny! It takes hard work and dedication. It is a commitment to hours of research, study, and practice. On top of it all, there are expectations of a humorist. To be truly accepted, as a humor writer, requires attention to many things including dress. Here's the site for the prerequisite required adult beanie propeller hat.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

I Need a Nap

I Need a Nap

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2010

I'm a big napper. I need a nap to function, especially on Sundays. In fact, with my work schedule some days, I need a nap just to make it to dinner time. I'll come home from work, turn on the TV, and pretty soon, I'm snoring on the couch.

This nap will recharge my batteries enough that I can stay up until 2:00. Then I wake up around 7:00 the next morning, go to work, and start all over again, promising that tonight, for the first time in months, I will go to bed early.

Instead, I sleep in on Saturdays, which means I end up staying up until 2:00 again. Then, when I have to get up early for church on Sundays, I'm right back where I started. This explains why most atheists are so well-rested (the agnostics are never sure if they're tired or not).

This pattern makes Sunday afternoon naps crucial. If I don't get one, it throws my whole schedule off for the week, and I'm never quite refreshed.

I was never a napper when I was a little kid. I hated naps. I didn't need to sleep, didn't want to sleep, didn't try to sleep. Sometimes, when my mom thought I needed a nap, she would lay down with me on her bed, and fall asleep within five minutes. I would wait until she was out, and then ninja crawl out of her room, and back to my room where I played until she woke up an hour later, thinking I must have gotten up a few minutes before her.

As an adult, I love naps. I think they're wonderful. I would take one every day if I could, but unfortunately, I can't. But I sometimes manage a little spot nap after work.

There are several types of naps, which I try to enjoy.

There's the Watching TV On The Couch Nap. That one should last between 20 and 30 minutes, and can happen during any kind of television program (except sports). A good TV nap can last for an hour, but they're rare. However, it cannot happen before you go to bed. . .

Because that's the Right Before Bedtime Nap, which is not really a nap at all, but a head start on bedtime. I actually hate this one, because I'm too tired to want to brush my teeth, but too afraid of cavities to go straight to bed. This nap is often confused with the Watching TV Nap, but the fact that it leads into your regular sleep schedule disqualifies it from being a real nap at all.

The Bed Nap is rife with controversy. This is when you actually climb back into bed and sleep. But for how long? An hour, or is 20 minutes long enough? Can you sleep for two hours, or is that too long to be a proper nap? Should you change into your sleeping clothes, or can you wear your regular clothes? A Bed Nap should only be used in dire emergencies, like full recovery. It's the nap equivalent of bringing the ship into port for minor repairs.

The Sports Nap is also different from a TV nap, in that, the TV program and background noise is part of the napping experience. (A Sports Nap can also happen when sports are on the radio.) Regardless of the sport, I need the sounds of the game to fall asleep during a Sports Nap. It's also the best nap there is.

Taking a nap during a football game when the house is toasty, or during a baseball game when the house is cold from the AC, are precious moments. Moments that the non-napper will never know. I feel. . . prosperous when I can take a sports nap.

I even have a special talent that I can fall asleep halfway through the second quarter of a football game, sleep through halftime, and wake up halfway through the third quarter. I once did this on January 1st, 1993, during three different college bowl games in a row.

Some so-called napping experts may group the Sports Nap and Watching TV Nap in the same category, they couldn't be more wrong, especially because they get eight hours of sleep and never need naps. The real nappers, the purists, understand that these are two distinctly separate types of naps.

Napping is a true art form, and can truly only be appreciated by babies and people over 30. People who don't take naps are like those annoying people who carry backpacks of water when they run. They manage to suck the fun out of everything and completely miss the point at the same time.

I'll tell you how to deal with them later. Right now, I want to finish this column before I fall asl4%kvo87t54#&DJM<:*&

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Special Ticket Price for They Call Me Mister Fry

Several months ago, I had a chance to see They Call Me Mister Fry, starring Jack Fry, a teacher and actor. Jack is the star of a powerful one-man show about his experiences during his first year of teaching in a Los Angeles school.

Unlike most one-man shows, which are usually just a standup routine with a couple of voices, Jack puts a lot of thought, expression, and mannerisms into his characters.

Jack is having a preview week Monday – Thursday, September 13 – 16, at the Indy Fringe Theater building on the corner of College Ave & St. Clair in downtown Indianapolis. Jack emailed me and said my readers can get a ticket for half price, or $10 apiece. These shows start at 7:30.

Just email Jack at jfreidog [at] yahoo [dot] com, and he'll put you on the $10 list for the preview week only. The rest of the time, you can see the show for $20, $10 for teachers (with a valid teachers ID), and kids are $7.

If you are a teacher, an administrator, or are involved in education, I can't recommend enough that you see this show. Jack is an amazing actor, and this is a moving story.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Today is Opposite Day, Nyah, Nyah, Nyah!

Today is Opposite Day, Nyah, Nyah, Nyah!

Erik has been dealing with a sick child this week, so we are running the best column he has ever written. Oh wait, it's Opposite Day.

Every kid has their favorite day of the year. And because they're greedy little capitalists, their favorites are Christmas and their birthdays. They also have a few least favorite days too. Like the day after Christmas, dentist day, and the first day of school. And the second. And the third. And so on. But when I was a kid, one of my least favorite days of the year was Opposite Day.

I'm sure many of you remember Opposite Day. That's the day that could be declared by any kid who wanted to be mean and nasty to another kid. They would say, "You know, Bobby, I think you're one of the smartest kids in school. Oh, and today is Opposite Day."

Then the little brat would run away, having made the other child feel the stinging rebuke of Opposite Day.

Opposite Day was the day that whatever you said, the opposite was true. Therefore, if you paid a kid a compliment, you were actually insulting him. But, if you insulted him on Opposite Day, you were actually complimenting him. And, as most children are kind and understanding, they rarely insult or tease one another. Ha! Opposite Day!

I personally thought Opposite Day was stupid, and the kids who did it were twits. After all, Opposite Day was a paradox. However, since I was only nine years old, I didn't know what a paradox was, so I just had to settle for stupid.

The Paradox of Opposite Day was that if you said, "Today is Opposite Day," then the opposite must be true, which meant it wasn't Opposite Day. And if it wasn't Opposite Day, then any compliment you were paid was a real compliment. Of course, most of the kids I knew were very smart and able to grasp the complex of a paradox, and so they understood the dilemma they were creating for themselves.

Opposite Day!!

The problem with Opposite Day was that there was no real comeback you could use, and still sound original. I mean, if you responded with, "Yeah well, your mother is not as big as a hippopotamus, and today's Opposite Day," you'd be laughed right out of the playground.

When I was in the third grade, one of the Opposite Day masters was Stephanie. She knew how to take the fun out of any accomplishment or compliment you may have received. If you had just received an A on your math test, Stephanie would say, "Wow, that's really good. You're pretty smart at math." Then as you beamed with pride, she would walk away and quietly whisper, "Opposite Day."

However most of us outgrew Opposite Day, which is a shame, because I think it would actually be useful today. Can you imagine what life would be like as an adult if you could call Opposite Day whenever you wanted? I think it would make the next presidential debate a lot more interesting.

Candidate A: "I think my opponent is very competent, would make a great president, and would not lead this country into financial and moral ruin. Opposite Day!"

Candidate B: "Well, my opponent is not a poopyhead! And it's still Opposite Day."

Candidate A: Hey, don't call me names, or I'll tell the moderator!

Opposite Day could also be used in business. Imagine you have to fire one of your worst employees, a real witch who's mean to everyone and can't admit when she's wrong. Opposite Day would make this job much more enjoyable, because you can pay your employee a lot of compliments, inflating her ego, and then pop it like a lawn dart hitting a balloon at 90 miles an hour.

You: Well, Jessie, I called you in here because I wanted to say I think you're one of our most valuable employees. You're always on time, you give insightful ideas at meetings, and your personal hygiene is beyond reproach.

Jessie: Why, thank you very much. That's very kind.

You: By the way Jessie, did you see this memo that said today is Opposite Day?

I'll admit that I was the butt of many Opposite Day jokes growing up, and it was never any fun for me. But I'm pleased to see that many of my old classmates have grown to be wonderful, mature, and well-liked members of their community, and I'm proud to have known them.


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