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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Friday, September 03, 2010

Surstömming: Swedish Delicacy or WMD?

Surstömming: Swedish Delicacy or WMD?

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

I'll eat just about anything once. There is not much I don't like or won't try. Even the foods I don't like are things I only mildly dislike. There may be the odd dish here and there that I really don't like — ultra-sweet cole slaw, black pudding, pickled pigs feet — but I'd be hard-pressed to name something I absolutely hate (although "anything vegan" comes pretty close).

I'm actually pretty experimental when it comes to food. I'm the kind of guy who puts ketchup on scrambled eggs (but never on steak), enjoys smoked oysters, and loves peanut butter on a hamburger.

In fact, one of my favorite hamburgers in Indianapolis is the Shewman Burger from Scotty's Brewhouse — a quarter-pound burger with jalapeños, bacon, and a nice big glob of peanut butter. My other favorite is Boogie Burger's Rise & Shine. This tasty dish includes a fried egg, over easy, and bacon with cheddar cheese.

Of course, everything goes great with bacon, so you can't go wrong adding it to anything. In fact, the only thing better than bacon? More bacon.

But a lot of people make a nasty face and make that guttural, gagging "eelllwww" sound — from the back of the throat, like they're trying not to barf at the thought of my comfort food (first, quit being an overdramatic baby) when I mention that my favorite burgers have peanut butter or a fried egg on it.

"Have you tried it?" I always challenge the haters.

"No, but it just sounds gross?" they protest feebly.

"Do you like peanut butter (or fried eggs)?" I ask.

"Yes," they admit.

"Do you like hamburgers?"

"Of course."

"Do you like bacon?"

"Who doesn't?"

"Then why don't you like those three together?"

"Because they just sound wrong together."

Oh, but they taste so right. I have issued a personal challenge to many people: try the Shewman Special, or the Rise and Shine, and if you don't like it, I'll buy your lunch. If you do, you buy mine. No one has taken me up on it yet, but I'm confident I can finagle a free lunch this way.

But while I try to be somewhat open-minded about foods of the world, I think I may have found something I'm nearly prepared to say no to.

I recently read an article in The Local, Sweden's English newspaper, about surströmming (sir-stroe-ming), a Swedish "delicacy." I use the term sort of ironically, because the word surströmming is Swedish for "sour herring," although some linguists and surstömming survivors prefer the term "rotten herring."

It's not surprising that this exists though. The Scandinavians and northern Europeans love their herring. On trips with my dad to Holland (his home country), we would stop by herring stand after herring stand so he could get a pickled herring with onions. I tried one, and was glad to say I had tried it, but didn't care to repeat the experience. My dad, on the other hand, would get one whenever we passed a herring stand. We sometimes went out of our way to pass by three herring stands on the way to the train station.

But those crazy Swedes have taken the herring thing a step further, and fermented it in tin cans, to create one of the most nasty, potent, offensive weapons anyone could ever stick into their mouth.

According to the story, surstömming has actually been banned from many apartment complexes. Students use it to disrupt class so they can get out of school for a couple of days. And several airlines have banned the canned good because they're afraid it will explode on a flight.

Surstömming is basically herring that is caught in May and June, fermented for a couple months, and then placed in cans, where it continues to ferment. After a year, says The Local, the fish will release "a variety of gases" that can cause the cans to bulge and distend.

Know what else makes a can bulge and distend? Botulism.

I also know several people who release "a variety of gases," but that doesn't mean I consider them a delicacy, or even interesting to hang out with.

This is about the time of year the Swedes will eat surstömming, usually on thin bread with potatoes, red onions, sour cream, dill, and tomatoes, to be followed by hours of violent vomiting and explosive diarrhea.

I decided, after reading this article, that surstömming will most likely go on the "never to be eaten, even when you're starving" list, along with black pudding. But I'm willing to try it first before I make a definitive statement. If I like it, you pay for my trip to Sweden; if I don't, I pay for yours.

I wonder how it would taste with peanut butter and bacon.

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