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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