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.

"M-O-O-O-O-M-M-Y-Y-Y-Y, WOULD YOU TURN MY LIGHT OFF?!"

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."

Muh-huh.

"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.

"Why?"

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

"Jerk."

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 Amazon.com. 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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