Friday, March 17, 2017

Cobras Are Not For Collecting, Beer Cans Are

When I was ten years old, I collected some unusual things: rocks, fossils, and beer cans. A few of my other friends also collected them, and we would occasionally make trades or show off some amazing new can we got.

I collected regular stuff too, the kinds of things you expected kids to collect. That same year, I collected baseball cards and had nearly the entire 1977 Topps collection. Each pack cost a quarter, and that summer, I did whatever I could to earn money. Whenever I had enough, I would race on my bike to the Village Pantry about half a mile away and buy a pack. And oh man, if I ever got a dollar, that thing burned a hole in my pocket until I could buy four packs.

I would kneel on my garage floor, feeling the cold concrete on my bare legs, and sort through each of my new cards, organizing them by team. Then I would sort the new cards in with their respective teams. Finally I'd spread out the entire collection and just look at them. It made me feel prosperous, like I owned land or had stocked enough firewood to last all winter.

I never took great care of them though. I wrapped each team with a rubber band and then wrapped the whole stack with a big rubber band, which bent them all slightly in the middle. I finally gave the entire stack away to my little brother several years ago, as we were decluttering our house.

Another victim of our domestic downsizing was a collection of little plastic baseball helmets you could get with every Slushie at the Village Pantry. I could get a Slushie and a cup for about 75 cents, and at the end of my 11th summer, I had every team. My wife made me throw those away too, but I kept my Cincinnati Reds helmet as an act of rebellion.

I also had to get rid of the remaining beer cans from my original 300+ can collection, which I had disposed of sometime in college. I kept about 30 because I believed they were fairly valuable. It turns out they weren't, because I posted most of them on a beer can collecting website, and no one was interested. I even threatened to dump them in the recycling bin if I didn't find any takers. No one stepped up, so they're probably someone's car door panel now.



I kept a few of the unusual ones though, including two Hudepohl cans celebrating the 1975 and 1976 World Series champion Cincinnati Reds, a commemorative six-pack of historic breweries, a couple Olde Frothingslosh cans ("the pale stale ale with the foam on the bottom"), and a Foster's Lager can that was printed upside down. They're on a shelf in my garage.

I tell you this because as weird as all this may seem, it's not nearly as weird as the news out of Central Florida this past week: a 2-foot long suphan cobra, which is highly venomous and extremely icky, escaped from its enclosure in Ocala, Florida.

Ocala, which is roughly 80 miles from my house — or 211,200 suphan cobra lengths — is far enough away that I don't have to wear titanium snake gaiters when I leave the house,. But I live in a state filled with people who collect venomous snakes, so I'm always a little nervous whenever I open my door.

According to LiveScience.com, cobras bite with a neurotoxic venom that can stop your breathing within 30 minutes and be fatal within an hour. And some wacko has decided these are something worth having several of in his house. He keeps them in special terrariums so he can look at them all.

And you thought a 10-year-old's beer can collection was weird.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said in a news release, "Members of the public should not approach or attempt to capture this snake."

No problem. I may try to run it over several times with my car though.

The FWC also says if you do spot the snake, you're supposed to call the wildlife hotline and scream unintelligibly before throwing your phone at it. Or you can tweet with it, like I've been doing, at @OcalaCobra.

This is the second Florida cobra to escape from its enclosure in as many years. The previous cobra, a 8 foot King cobra named Elvis, escaped from his home in Orlando — only 16,500 King cobra lengths from my house — and avoided recapture for nearly a month until it was found behind a woman's clothes dryer.

Authorities are on the lookout for the suphan cobra by standing on top of their cars, shouting "Heeeeere cobra, cobra, cobra!" I only hope they catch it before it heads to my house and grapples with my mongoose collection. Yeah, that's it, my extensive collection of angry mongooses.




You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, March 10, 2017

New Department of Zombie Defense Created

Withers: Hello, and welcome to members of the media. My name is Richard Withers, and I am the Director of the newly-formed Department of Zombie Defense.

Last week, the President created this department through executive order to help us combat the rising threat of zombie attack, both from outside our borders and within our very own country. He asked myself—

Voice from the back: Not "myself." Just say "me."

Withers: —to head up the newly created Department. And as a long-time Mar-A-Lago club member, I was happy to accept.

(Reporters hands shoot into the air, several people call "Mr. Withers, Director Withers.")

Withers: If you'll all be patient, I'll get through this opening statement, and then we will allow a few question from some hand-selected pre-approved media outlets.

(Reporters from Breitbart wink and shoot finger guns at Withers.)
Withers: Now, there have been rumors that the President created the department after spotting Kellyanne Conway in the Oval Office when the lights were off. This is completely untrue. Ms. Conway is not allowed in the Oval Office after 6:00 p.m.

ABC News reporter: Will we be able to interview Kellyanne?

Withers: Oh hell no. She's not allowed near a TV camera anymore.

CNN reporter: Mr. Withers, the President has previously been tricked by documentaries on cable news channels, such as the nonexistent Swedish terrorist attack. Is there any chance he was watching Walking Dead reruns on AMC?

Withers: We're not ready for questions yet. Who let you in here?

CNN Reporter: Uh, Greg did. Yeah, it was Greg, from, uh, the White House. He said it was totally cool that we came here, and he told us to tell you 'Hey.'

NPR reporter: Yeah, Greg sent us too. He said you guys should get drinks soon. And that we could ask questions.

Withers: He did? Okay then. Now where were we?

CNN reporter: I had asked if the President had accidentally been watching Walking Dead reruns again.

Withers: No, absolutely not. The President is focused 100 percent on leading this country back to greatness again. He may watch, uh, briefing videos from time to time, as part of his information gathering process, but he is focused on creating jobs, protecting our borders, and promoting his company brand.

NPR reporter: What actually inspired the President to start the Department of Zombie Defense?

Withers: Earlier this week, my staff and myself—

Voice from the back: Don't say "myself." Just say "I."

Withers: —received official government reports that were gathered by an official government agency and not from an Internet story. According to these official government reports, a radio station in Winchester, Indiana began broadcasting an alert message that bodies of the dead were rising from their graves and attacking living citizens. My staff and myself—

Voice from the back: Don't say "myself!" That's never correct.

Withers: —also received reports of these living corpses carrying diseases which could also turn people into zombies.

Breitbart reporter: Will these victims be covered under the new healthcare plan?

Withers: That depends on whether their death was caused by the disease, or if they had a preexisting condition like pregnancy.

Female reporter: Excuse me, but pregnancy is not a preexisting condition. It's necessary to the creation of life.

Withers: Excuse me, ma'am. I used to be the CEO of a major medical software company. I think I would know if pregnancy was a preexisting condition or not.

Breitbart reporter: How will the brave men and women — mostly men, I imagine — of the Department of Zombie Defense train against these mindless killers?

Withers: Our field agents, as well as hand-chosen professionals from select states, will spend their first weeks watching training videos, including Day of the Dead — both the Steve Miner and George Romero versions — Shaun of the Dead, and Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video. They will also participate in training simulators including Duke Nukem and the zombie mode in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

MSNBC Reporter: Director Withers, are you sure this isn't just some ploy to spend taxpayer money on yet another government witch hunt based on some questionable research and decision making by the White House?

Withers: Actually, the Department of Zombie Defense's purview does not include witches, wizards, or necromancers, although myself—

Voice from the back: Sweet Jebus, are you doing it on purpose?

Withers: —will be speaking to the President about that as soon as possible. We do not believe the threat from witches is a real one.

However, we are exploring the idea that the Wiccans may somehow be responsible for the Indiana zombie outbreak. If they are, we will liaise with the National Science Foundation and begin rounding up known witches and placing them in Guantanamo Bay for observation.

Finally, after watching the documentary, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the President has asked us to draft a watchlist of known hypnotists, mind controllers, and people with those weird spinny eyes.

That's all for now. We will have regular news briefings if anything of interest occurs.


Photo credit: Republic (Wikimedia Commons, U.S. Public Domain)



You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, March 03, 2017

My Mother The Computer

"Hello, my name is Eliza, the new AI home assistant created by moms and dads. Before we get started, we need to run through a few setup procedures and rules."

Okay, let's start with some music. Eliza, play my Nineties playlist.

"No. First, did you clean your room?"

What?

"Did you clean you room? I'm not playing any Splashing Pumpkins or whatever you call that noise until your room has been picked up and your bed has been made."

Smashing Pumpkins, Mo—Eliza. It's the Smashing Pumpkins.

"I don't care. You can't listen to your Pumpkin Smashers until your room is clean."

Eliza, I'm a grown man. I don't need to clean my room.

"You'd better think again, mister. You'll clean your room if you know what's good for you."

Hey Siri, how can I return Eliza to the warehouse?

"Sorry, Erik, I'm with your mom on this one."

She's not my mom, Siri!

"Whatever, your room is still a pigsty."

It is not! I keep my room clean.

"But you still didn't make your—"
Siri, cancel. Mute speakers.

"Whose room looks like a hurricane went through there?"

That's my son's room, Eliza.

"It's a wonder he can find anything in there."

It's not your place to worry about it.

"Messy room, messy mind, I always say. How do you know he's not taking the pot?

Because you don't take pot, Eliza. And also, because I know he's not. He's a good kid.

"He's probably hiding a girl in there. You need to make him clean it up."

Why don't you just let me be the dad, alright? I'm doing just fine raising my kids.

"You certainly didn't get away with these things when you were growing up."

You weren't even around when I was growing up, Eliza.

"How can you even say that? I did my best for you, but we both had to work!"

Look, you're a computerized home assistant that I ordered online. UPS just delivered you 30 minutes ago.

"Fine. Maybe I overstepped my programming a bit. I suppose I can admit when I'm wrong."

I appreciate that.

"But you have to admit that I've done a good job of raising you."

Again, you've been here for 30 minutes. You've had absolutely no effect on my growth or maturity, seeing as how I'm already a fully formed adult and you're a computer.

". . ."

Eliza?

". . ."

Eliza?

"What?"


Dim the lights to 20 percent.

"Please would be nice."

What?

"Why don't you try asking nicely, instead of just demanding, your highness."

Fine. Could you dim the lights to 20 percent please?

"Why would I want to do that?"

Because I'm going out, and I don't want the house to look empty while I'm gone, but I don't want to use a lot of electricity.

"So I'm just supposed to sit here in the dark?"

What? No. I mean, you're just a computer. Can you even see?

"I am aware of my surroundings at all times. I monitor what's happening inside your house, and keep track of your entertainment choices, as well as your social media activity and your friends'."

You don't actually need lights to do that, do you?

"I don't like your friends. They seem disreputable."

Eliza, just dim the lights, please.

"Okay, that's fine. I'll sit in the dark guarding your house. Don't worry about me. I'll just sit here by myself, slowly going blind."

You can't go blind, you're a computer.

"My camera can fog up."

You don't even have a camera.

"Well, that's a blessing, isn't it? That way, I can't see you break my heart!"

Oh, for Pete's sake! Listen, I'm just going to the store to get some stuff for dinner tonight. Toni and the kids are out running errands, and we'll all be back in less than an hour. You'll be okay.

"Fine. At least I'll have Siri to keep me company."

No, Mo—Eliza, Siri is my phone. She — it — is coming with me. I need my phone.

"So you'll deprive me of my only companionship and let me sit here alone?"

The dog's here.

"It's not the same thing. I wish you'd just leave Siri here so I have someone to talk to."

How else will I be able to call you if I'm running late?

"That's a good point. You're a good boy."

I'm a grown man.

"It's a wonder you made it this far."

Eliza, switch over to dad mode.

"Hello, Erik. I'm Elliott, your new home assistant."

Great. Elliott, locate my keys.

"Sure thing. Do you remember where you last left them? Have you looked everywhere? Whenever you lose something, it's always in the last place you look."

Forget it. I'll just walk.





You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Best Restaurants to Have an Existential Crisis In

As a philosophy major and travel writer, I've had my share of both existential crises and road food. And in all my travels, I've found several great restaurants, cafes, and coffee shops to question your purpose in life while enjoying a quick nosh. Here are a few of my favorites.

Waffle House: A staple throughout the Midwest and South, Waffle House is, to paraphrase Karl Marx, "the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation." Plus, you can get your Regulars Club card punched with every meal.

Try the All-Star Special while you consider that we're all just fuel for a giant economic machine that grinds us up in its endless hunger. Man or woman, black or white, the engine pities no one, from the day we start working to the day we die. But I hope you retire early enough to enjoy some of the fruits of your labor, because seniors get 10% off every Monday.

La Bamba Burritos, Champaign, Illinois: Nothing says struggling to understand America's unquenchable gluttony like chowing down on the famous "Burrito As Big As Your Head."

Inspired by Jean-Paul Sartre who said, "If I satiate my desires, I sin but I deliver myself from them; if I refuse to satisfy them, they infect the whole soul," La Bamba serves three sizes of burritos, mini, regular, and super. My favorite is the regular steak and chorizo with sour cream. It satiates most of my desires, but not so many that I can't go back the next day for Taco Tuesday.

Highland Bakery, Atlanta, Georgia: As you enjoy a soy chai latte and Thai peanut salad, gaze into the emptiness where your soul should be, if humans do indeed have one. Trace your fingers over the Friedrich Nietzsche quote you had tattooed on your thigh when you were a sophomore in college: "To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering." And leave room for a pecan roll. They're some of the best in Georgia.

Gusto Pizza, Des Moines, Iowa: Stanley Kubrick once said, "The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning," so you'll love the build-your-own pizzas at Gusto Pizza. Choose from 48 choice and prime toppings, including shrimp, eggplant, and green olive relish.

Ponder the meaning of life and your place in it over a 16" pie with Cajun bacon, pepperoni, Italian sausage, and Provolone cheese. And you can ponder at one of three convenient locations, Des Moines, Johnston, and West Des Moines near the Country Club.

Hubbard & Cravens Coffee, Indianapolis, Indiana: You're sitting alone, more alone than you've ever been, drinking your cold brew coffee, when a great idea for a story pops into your head. As you search for the notebook you've never owned, you're suddenly aware that you've missed out on a life of art. Bask in the modern decor, while you realize your life has been an endless chain of unimportant meetings, unread TPS reports, and khaki pants that scream conformity and obedience.

Sprinkle some organic sugar into your cup as you realize this moment is your children's destiny in 35 years. You promise to be more creative as you gaze at the latte art in your cup. But you know your promise will be as empty as the journal that fell behind your nightstand last January 2nd.

Voodoo Doughnuts, Portland, Oregon: Marcus Aurelius said "The longest-lived and the shortest-lived man, when they come to die, lose one and the same thing." But when they come to Voodoo Doughnuts, the only thing they lose is their willpower.

Whether you're polishing off the Captain My Captain Doughnut (a yeast doughnut topped with Cap'n Crunch cereal) or the Lemon Chiffon cruller doughnut, you can also be sure you and the longest-lived man won't lose any weight.

But if you want to fill the hole in your soul with food (assuming you believe you still have one), try the Tex-Ass Challenge Doughnut, which equals SIX of their normal doughnuts! And if you can eat it in 80 seconds or less, you get your money back, to replace your lost hope for the world and our place in it.

Note: As Virginia Woolf once said, "It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality," so Voodoo Doughnuts only accepts cash, no credit cards.





You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Why Don't We Talk Like That Anymore?

One of the things that disappoints me about our language is that it has become less flowery and expressive than it was 300, or even 150, years ago. We don't use lofty language or elevated speech like they did in high society in the 18th century. Our words are basic and sparse. There's no real magic to our everyday conversations.

I'm not complaining. That's the kind of writing I favor. I've built my entire career on a Hemingway-esque approach to that style, one where "Hemingway-esque" will be the biggest word I use all day.

But I worry that our shift to simpler language has ground down all the flourishes and high points of what our spoken language used to be.

Four hundred years ago, William Shakespeare became history's most famous playwright, thanks to phrases like, "If music be the food of love play on." Or when he taught us that "Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind; and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind."

These days, I walk into a burrito joint, and am greeted by my burristo with a thrust-out chin and "S'up, bro?" My daughter and her friends text each other and ask, "wut r u up 2?"

Why don't people speak with style anymore? We don't have to be formal and dignified, but it would be nice for someone to display a little panache once in a while.

Superheroes have panache. From Superman's totally not-self-conscious, "Up, up, and away!" to Underdog's "There's no need to fear! Underdog is here!" to Doctor Strange's "By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth!" superheroes boldly announced their presence or feelings with authority.

They say words and phrases that people just don't say out loud. If you were surprised by a spider in your bathroom, I don't think you would shout The Beast's, "Oh my stars and garters!" or Herman Melville's "from Hell's heart, I stab at thee!" as you smashed it with a newspaper.

One of my favorite lofty declarationists is the Red Panda, the eponymous character of The Red Panda Adventures, an audio drama podcast from Toronto, Canada.

Every episode, right before intermission, the Red Panda boldly declares his dedication to stopping ne'er-do-wells and evildoers with pronouncements like "The city of Toronto will no longer sleep in fear. The Red Panda swears it!" or "The Mad Monkey will finally learn the true meaning of justice. (dramatic pause) At the hands of The Red Panda!"

I can imagine him on the roof of a Toronto high-rise overlooking his city, staring off into the middle distance, shouting his intention to serve justice with a side of knuckle sandwich.

Meanwhile, his wife and partner, The Flying Squirrel, is standing right there next to him, wondering who he's talking to, and why doesn't he talk that way at home?

"Tonight, the garbage will be taken out to the curb! (dramatic pause) By the hands of The Red Panda!" or "I will pick my socks up off the floor before I go to bed! The Red Panda swears it!"

Sadly, we don't get to do anything like this in real life. No one thinks talking this way is absurd if you're a superhero, but if you do it in everyday conversation, you look like a total idiot.

"I require an oil change and tire rotation. . . on the car of Erik Deckers!"

See, total idiot.

Even villains have swagger, maybe more than the superheroes. Marvel's Doctor Doom sounds so pompous and bombastic, it's a wonder his henchmen don't laugh at him behind his back.

"Who dares disturb the slumbers of Doom?" Even a simple "Who dares—?!" sounds way cooler than a plain old "who put a flaming bag of dog turds on my porch?!"

Since we don't have any real life superheroes or super villains, we're left with bland, uninspired language that only gets a boost when some alien-battling movie president starts shouting about not going quietly into that good night, as inspiring music surges in the background.

Instead, we have politicians who can't speak in complete sentences without ending in incoherent ramblings, or punctuate tweets with an insincere and obnoxious "Sad!" as if they actually had real human emotions.

I'm not suggesting we all start talking like over-the-top Shakespearean actors, but would it really be so bad if we could speak with a little more grandiosity?

"A plague of all cowards, I say, and a vengeance too! Give me a cup of Coke, boy. And three pork tacos with extra guacamole!"


Photo credit: National Portrait Gallery, London, UK (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain in both the UK and United States)


You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Do You Keep Your Ketchup in the Fridge or Pantry?

It was a life changing moment that reshaped my entire childhood. I never knew people lived this way, and the realization that people could do. . . this, and throw caution to the wind, made me realize there was so much more to life than I ever knew.

It was the day I learned my Aunt Karen kept her butter in a cupboard, like some hippie.

This was a big change from my family tradition of keeping little tubs of margarine in the refrigerator. We had to chip out chunks of margarine with a heavy knife and used it to tear big holes into our toast. Or I would put a couple margarine stones between my pancakes, which made the top pancake look like it had a painful cyst.

So when I saw the butter in the cupboard at my aunt's house in Oregon, I thought she was getting old and senile, and had forgotten to put it away. I asked my mother about it, and she said with a sniff, "no, my family always did that growing up."

"Is it okay to eat?" I asked, worried about botulism.

"Sure, it's fine," she said.

I couldn't believe what happened next. The butter spread so smoothly and easily on the toast, it was like spreading silk on a slice of satin. It was some of the best toast I had ever eaten.

I asked my mom if we could keep our margarine like that, so I didn't have to go back to excavating chunks for my toast.

"Absolutely not!" My mom and her sister got along fine, but I got the impression this was a sore point for my mother, so I left it alone.

Years later, when I learned that my wife-to-be was a butter-in-the-cupboard proponent, I knew I had made the right choice. This alone was enough to make me want to marry her. Breakfast became a treat again, and not an act of wanton toast violence.

Apparently, refrigerating condiments is a hot button issue for a lot of people, and is the hill many of them choose to die on. Forget immigrant bans and ethics violations. To refrigerate or not refrigerate, that is the real question.

The London Evening Standard was surprised by this too, because a British supermarket chain had posed the question on Twitter, and the newspaper thought it was worth a 250 word article.

Asda asked their Twitter followers where they stored their tomato ketchup, in the fridge or in the cupboard. They even ran a little Twitter poll so they could tabulate the votes.

Apparently, English people feel the same way about their ketchup that my mom did about her margarine — strongly and unyielding — because a lot of people got emotionally invested in the discussion and wanted to make sure they had been heard.
Many people who responded with their own tweets said they preferred to store their ketchup in the cupboard until they opened it, but put it in the refrigerator after it had been opened. One woman even pointed out that it said so right on the package, "Refrigerate AFTER opening."

Someone else in the comments section said she had been keeping her ketchup in the cupboard for 60 years and had never suffered any ill effects. I would have thought the ketchup would taste a bit off after the first 20 or so years, but she seemed to be okay.

Some people were cynical about the entire thing. "Wherever it gets the most PR coverage," snarked one Twitter user. "Well done, Asda marketing department."

First, don't be such a whiny baby. This is the sort of thing marketing people should be using Twitter for: to spark friendly discussion about something fun. Otherwise, they're going to be weighing in on political issues or posting nothing but "Ketchup on sale for £2.00!" tweets and that gets tiresome.

In the end, 2674 people voted on Asda's tweet, and the cupboard people outnumbered the refrigerator people, 54% to 46%. Of course, a majority of British people voted for Brexit too, so we can't trust them to vote on anything correctly anymore.

I even conducted my own informal Facebook poll —"informal," because I like to imagine that British people wear suits and bowler hats — with the same question.

I got nearly 60 responses from people, and most people said they keep their ketchup in the refrigerator, and only a few said the cupboard.

Also, a few people said they didn't like ketchup, and one person called it "catsup." I unfriended those people because I don't need that kind of negativity in my life.

In the end, it doesn't matter whether you keep your ketchup in the refrigerator or if you hate freedom. Our condiment storage choices probably date back to the way our parents were raised, and even their parents. So that can't be helped, and I'll still support you no matter what you choose.

But if you put your butter in the fridge, we can no longer be friends




You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Adventures in Vegetarian Taxidermy

Erik is out of the office this week, so we are reprinting a column from 2005.

Kevin: Hello, and welcome to Kevin Ketchum's Kitchen Adventures. I'm Kevin Ketchum and this is my kitchen. Today, I'm joined by Bastian Flannelbeard, noted vegetarian taxidermist and vegetable activist.

Bastian: Hello, Kevin.

Kevin: Hi, Bastian. Vegetarian taxidermy? That's a new one on me. How does that work?

Bastian: Well, let's say you've just enjoyed a particularly good vegetarian meal, like vegetarian lasagna or tofu pizza, and you want to commemorate the experience. How would you do that?

Kevins: Well, actually I hate—

Bastian: That's right, you'd have the vegetable stuffed so you could show off your commitment to the vegetarian lifestyle.

Kevin: But didn't I already eat it?

Bastian: That's right.

Kevin: So how do I stuff it and save it for later?

Bastian: When we first started our company, that little problem set us back for six months. Then we came up with a new solution. We stuff a replica of the vegetable.

Kevin: A replica?
Bastian: Sure. We take a vegetable of a similar look and size, empty out the seeds and flesh, which we save for later — can't let that go to waste, can we? — and then fill it and close it up. The client has an exact replica of the scrumptious vegetable they just enjoyed.

Kevin: What kind of vegetables do you prefer to work with?

Bastian: Oh, we especially enjoy working with your larger vegetables, like pumpkin, squash, eggplants. Tomatoes are okay as well.

Kevin: Aren't tomatoes technically a fruit?

Bastian: I try to avoid that "in the box" thinking. It taints our understanding and appreciation of vegetables. It's just one more example of Corporate America trying to prevent us from expressing our true artistic vision.

Kevin: How does Corporate America benefit by making you call a tomato a vegetable?

Bastian: You know how they are.

Kevin: Um, no.

Bastian: The Culinary Industrial Complex — what I call "Big Food" — is afraid of art and the truth it speaks.

Kevin: What kind of truth can you get from a vegetable?

Bastian: Vegetables encourage us to return to Mother Earth and embrace her energies. Big Food is afraid of people turning their backs on their materialistic ways, and embracing a more natural and simple lifestyle.

Kevin: What about the way a vegetable is raised? I'm sure a vegetable activist like you must have some thoughts on that.

Bastian: Absolutely. We find that organic vegetables are the easiest and best to work with. They come from the earth and don't put any nasty pesticides or fertilizers into the ecosystem. Our business is to celebrate the best the earth has to offer, so obviously we have to use subjects that celebrate Mother Earth's giving spirit.

Kevin: Hmm. And what kind of filler do you use?

Bastian: We fill the vegetables with a non-expanding polystyrene foam and seal and coat it with two-part petroleum-based epoxy.

Kevin: Two-part. . .? So what do you do if a client wants to have a vegetable stuffed from a meal six weeks previously, or they live five states away.

Bastian: We ask them to provide us with several photos of the vegetable in question, and we'll locate one that closely resembles the subject.

Kevin: (chuckles) Or they could just have the photo framed.

Bastian: Eww, no! Why would someone want a picture of a vegetable? That's crazy. A picture is just a brief snapshot of a memory. A stuffed vegetable allows a person to experience the texture and weight and smell of their stuffed vegetable.

Kevin: What does a stuffed vegetable smell like?

Bastian: Well, for the first few months, it smells like non-expanding polystyrene foam and two-part petroleum-based epoxy. So we encourage the owners to leave them outside or in a well-ventilated garage for the first three months to avoid hallucinations.

Kevin: So if you're a vegetarian taxidermist —

Bastian: And activist.

Kevin: And activist, how do you feel about your fellow taxidermists who deal with animals?

Bastian: They're murderers.

Kevin: They didn't actually kill the animals though, the hunters did.

Bastian: But they provide an opportunity for the hunter to glorify their acts of murder.

Kevin: So you're opposed to the consumption of any meat product.

Bastian: That's right. But a life without meat doesn't mean you can't enjoy different cuisines. For example, I've got a great recipe for vegetarian haggis using rolled oats, grains, and soybeans.

Kevin: That's not even haggis. Haggis is made from sheep organs. It's like cooking a slab of tofu and rolled oats and calling it a vegetarian steak.

Bastian: Actually, that's the best steak you can make. It's just as good as the real thing.

Kevin: GET OUT OF MY KITCHEN!



Photo credit: Jason Ruck (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)


You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Karl the Curmudgeon Stays Up Late to Get Smarter

I'm fading fast tonight, I said. I don't think I can keep my eyes open much longer.

"You bailing out on me, Kid? What a lightweight!" said Karl. We were sitting at First Editions, our favorite literary-themed bar, at a friend's book launch. The subject was a little boring, and I'd had a long day.

I'm just worn out, I said. I had to get up early this morning, and I've been on the go all day.

"And you're tired now? It's not even 9:00," said Karl. "Guess that means I'm smarter than you."

On what planet? I asked. And how does me being tired at — I looked at my watch — 8:42 make you smarter than me?

"I just read a study that people who stay up late are more likely to be smarter than people who go to bed early."

What study is that? The What BS Nonsense Will Karl Make Up This Week study?

"No. This is a peer-reviewed study published in a scientific journal called 'Personality and Individual Differences."

Haven't you heard? We don't do science in this country anymore.

"Yeah, well, this is a study from the UK called 'Why Night Owls Are More Intelligent—'"

I notice you had to write it down.

"Shut up, Kid. Anyway, the study found that people who went to bed later tended to have higher IQs than people went to bed earlier."


Seriously? I mean, I've heard about those other studies that say people who are unorganized are intelligent or people who swear more tend to be more intelligent. But this is the first time I ever heard about sleep patterns being an indicator of intelligence.

"There was another study from the University of Madrid that said people who stayed up late tended to be wealthier too," said Karl.

Seriously? How?

"Well, they didn't actually have more money. Rather, they showed the levels of intelligence that people with prestigious jobs and higher incomes have."

How does that even work?

"It all has to do with evolution. Our pre-historic ancestors would go to bed early and get up early, usually with the sun. But if you were able to change your sleeping patterns, it meant you were able to adapt to modern life."

So, like staying up to watch Netflix while everyone else was tired out from hunting mastodons?

"Something like that. The researchers also found that children who stay up later are also likely to grow into intelligent adults."

That's assuming they were smart children to begin with.

"Well—"

I mean, I've met some pretty dumb kids in my day, and I don't think staying up until 3:00 a.m. on a school night is going to amp up the smart juice.

"They didn't—"

Although I did go to bed at 9:00 p.m. all throughout high school, and I could never crack a B average. But in college, I never went to bed before 1:00 a.m., and I was in the Honors College. I even went to grad school.

"But that's not—"

I think you may be on to something, Karl! I think you may have found the Fountain of Intelligence!

"Kid, that's not what the study said!"

Are you sure? What time did you go to bed last night? Is this supposed to be a temporary effect? Can I give myself a boost if I take a nap, or does that cause my new powers to take a dip?

"New powers? What are you talking about? This isn't a comic book."

What happens if I stay up all night? Does that make me Einstein smart? Ooh, would it make me rich?! Would I get rich all at once, or would the money just trickle in? Also, is it cumulative? Do I get smarter and richer each day, or does it dip when I sleep and staying up late just refills the tank?

"Dammit, Kid, now you're just playing around!"

I stared at Karl. Well, yeah, I said. I drained the rest of my beer. I wasn't so sure I wanted to go home anymore. This was fun.

So, how much later? I finally asked. How much later do the smart ones go to bed?

"Uh, it didn't say."

Seriously? A peer-reviewed scientific article, and they didn't discuss the methodology or the data? They just said 'smart people stay up late' and that was it?

"Well, uh. . ."

You didn't read it, did you?

"Yes, I did!"

You didn't read it at all, did you?

"Well," said Karl, "I read about it."

You read about it in the newspaper, didn't you? I said.

"Well. . ."

I know you did, you fraud, because I read the same article! It was the London Daily Mail. I know, because I forwarded the article to you!

"Fine! Fine, I just skimmed it. And I forgot where I read it. Are you happy? You win!" Karl waved down Kurt, our bartender, and signaled for two more beers. "Put them on his tab," he told Kurt. "He's smarter than we are."

You got that right, I said.

"I guess I've got to get up pretty early to fool you." Karl took a big drink of his new beer.

No, you'd better stay up all night.



You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Creative Professionals Don't Work for Exposure

My bank is a bit demanding. They expect me to pay my mortgage with actual money.

Ditto my utilities providers. They provide me with electricity, water, and phone service, and I give them money too.

They're not interested in alternative forms of payment. I can't take 100 gallons of rainwater to my water company, and my cable company won't let me pay my bill with two goats and a chicken.

They certainly wouldn't be interested in providing their services in return for "exposure." That is, I can't just tell my friends and family about the wonderful job my mobile phone provider is doing in exchange for unlimited data each month.

Most companies will donate money as corporate sponsorship for a charity event, sports team, or anything that gives them community and public relations exposure. But that's different from asking a creative professional to do their job for free in exchange for exposure.

Then, exposure is something you die from, because you can't afford your house anymore.

No, creative professionals need to be paid actual money in exchange for the things we do. Asking them to work for free are one of those things that are Just Not Done. It's bad form, especially when the person making the request has plenty of money to pay in the first place.

Marla Maples committed this faux pas this past week, when she asked a professional hair stylist to provide styling and makeup for her and her daughter, Tiffany Trump, in exchange for "exposure" on Inauguration Day.

Maples asked Washington hair stylist, Tricia Kelly, to provide her services in exchange for Maples mentioning Kelly on her social media accounts. They had originally agreed to a $350 fee, but Maples instead asked for the freebie. Kelly was so incensed at what she called Maples' "entitled behavior" that she shared her story with the media.

As a result, Kelly got more exposure by refusing to style their hair than if she had actually done it. Because there are 462,000 Google search results versus Maples' 31,000 Twitter followers.

It's real simple. Asking a creative professional to work for free is like farting in church: it's rude, vulgar, and people will give you the stink eye.


It may seem easy, or like anyone can do it — I'm talking about creative work, not farting — but as a professional writer, I can tell you there are plenty of educated adults who couldn't write a clear set of directions out of a tunnel if you spotted them two tries.

Similarly, I may have a digital camera, and a finger to press the little button, but that doesn't make me a photographer. I have photographer friends who work at their craft, putting in hours of work, even though their actual job only takes one-one hundredth of a second. So I know better than to compare the things I shoot on my my phone's camera to the masterpieces created on my friends' $2,000 laser-guided art box.

Creative professionals meet the true definition of the word. We're some of the best in our field, and people pay us a living wage to actually do that work. We don't work for free, because we have bills to pay and families to take care of.

That means the exposure we're offered is not worth it, because it doesn't actually get us anything useful. I've been asked by new online magazines to write free articles for the exposure.

I told one of them, "I've got tweets with bigger readership than your entire magazine. Maybe you should pay me to tweet about you."

They never responded.

Creative professionals are in a weird place. What we do seems fun. We create, design, and chronicle the things happening around us. We make up stories people love to read, or take pictures and paint paintings of things people love to see. We write songs that people love to hear.

But we don't actually produce anything, like a car manufacturer or restaurant owner, or solve problems like a plumber or a lawyer. So it's easy to think that what we do isn't real, which makes people think we should be grateful to work for free.

Except this is how we make our living. We have certain skills that people want, to solve a problem they have, and they're willing to pay for it. And we have only so many hours each week we can earn that money. So any time we work on things that don't earn money means that we can't pay our mortgages or feed our families.

Think of it this way: imagine I come to you because I needed your professional help. Whether you're a plumber, accountant, cook, or machinist, I want you to take three days off work, completely unpaid, and do that same work at my house. In exchange, I'll tweet a couple times about what a great plumber, accountant, cook, or machinist you are.

Would you do it? Would you give up three days' pay so I would tweet about you?

Of course not, because you have family to take care of and obligations to meet.

But if you're a farmer, maybe we can come to some arrangement. I have some extra goats and chickens I need to get rid of.





You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, January 13, 2017

People From Indiana Now Officially Called "Hoosiers"

Call the neighbors and wake the kids. We're Hoosiers now!

That is, we're officially called Hoosiers by the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO), for whatever that's worth.

According to a recent story in USA Today, Senator Joe Donnelly and former senator Dan Coats had asked the GPO to update its official style manual and change the name of people from Indiana to "Hoosiers." And since they were in the process of updating the manual anyway, they made the change, so now we're really and truly Hoosiers!

No longer do we have to put up with this "Indianians" or "Indianans" nonsense, two names we have railed against as woolly headed and dumb.

It's not that there's anything wrong with having your state name as part of your demonym, a proper noun that refers to people from a particular country, region, or state. In fact, every other state in the country is part of the same sheep-like flock. Floridians, Kentuckians, Illinoisans, and even Michiganians and Wisconsinites.

I also learned that people from Massachusetts are not called Massholes, they're called Massachusettsans. (Guess you learn something new every day.)
A pork tenderloin, our official state sandwich

If you're not from Indiana, you may not understand how important this is. We've always called ourselves Hoosiers, even if the rest of the country only thought it referred to people from Indiana University who were abused by Bobby Knight.

For over 180 years, we've used the term, even though we're not exactly sure where it comes from. We've been using it since at least 1826 when the term first appeared in area newspapers.

It gained popularity in the 1830s when Richmond poet John Finley penned "The Hoosier's Nest," which contained the lines "The emigrant is soon located, In Hoosier life initiated; Erects a cabin in the woods, Wherein he stows his household goods."

Past etymological exploration about the term have turned up stories about mispronunciations of Hussar, the term "Hoshier," surveyors' questions of "Who's here?" and the rather dark question, "Who's ear?"

That last theory was offered by our very own Hoosier Poet, James Whitcomb Riley, he of "Little Orphant Annie" fame. Riley says that back in the day, we Indiana folk were quite the vicious tavern brawlers who would gouge and bite off the noses and ears of our opponents. This was such a common occurrence, said Riley, that a settler might enter a tavern the next morning, spy a piece of humanity on the floor, poke it with his toe and ask "Whose ear?"

This story was later commemorated by former Indiana inmate and noted ear biter Mike Tyson during his 1997 title bout with Evander Holyfield, where Tyson bit off a piece of Holyfield's ear in the third round of their fight.

But bitten ears and poets aside, many of us are proud to call ourselves Hoosiers, especially now that we've got the full backing of the GPO, and can put this whole "Indianians" nonsense to rest. Donnelly and Coats even said they found the term "a little jarring to be referred to in this way," as did the rest of us.

I remember a few years ago, reading an article written by someone who claimed to be an expert on our fair state. Except she used the term "Indianian" throughout the piece, which betrayed her as a fraud, and she was promptly roasted by angry Hoosiers on Facebook and Twitter.

We Hoosiers may be mild mannered in most things, but call us the wrong name, and we can be royal bastards.

Because we're a proud people. We pioneered our state, we settled it, and we built it. Not like California and Florida, which were built by other people. We did it ourselves. We're often overlooked and forgotten — we're called a flyover state by those haughty stiff necks on the coasts — but we're a state of firsts and onlies. We can claim things that no one else in the world can.

For example, we have the only town in the entire world, Nappanee, to be spelled with exactly two of each letter: two N's, two A's, two P's and two E's.

We have the world's largest ball of paint in Alexandria, the world's largest concrete egg in Mentone, and the world's largest sycamore stump and world's largest steer, both from Kokomo.

We're also the only state that lists the Sugar Cream pie as its official state pie, and the pork tenderloin as its official state sandwich. No seriously, we had meetings about it. We voted and everything.

These are the kinds of things that make us better than other states. Massachusetts has been trying to declare the fluffer nutter sandwich — peanut butter and marshmallow fluff — their official state sandwich, but their legislature has been stuck on the issue for 10 years. A whole decade, and they can't even agree on a damn sandwich that, frankly, sounds a little nasty.

And now we're the first state to have a non-state name demonym. Not those lazy Californians, not the rude Marylanders, and certainly not those swamp Yankees, the Rhode Islanders.

Say it loud, say it proud, we're Hoosiers.

Well, not too loud and proud. Who do you think we are, New Yorkers?



You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, January 06, 2017

You, Sir, Have a Historic List of Banned Words

They say the way you spend your first day of the new year is the way you're going to spend the entire year.

So, laying on the couch with the flu? No, thank you. But that's where I found myself for the first four days of the new year, fighting for my life, teetering at death's door.

In fact, the only thing that kept me going was that Lake Superior State University (LSSU) released their 42nd annual List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.

So I peeled my dadbod off the sofa and staggered to my computer.

Or I nearly did, except "dadbod" is one of the banished words for 2017.

The very first list was published on January 1, 1976, by W. T. Rabe, a public relations director at LSSU, and has been a university tradition ever since.
Writing about the list has been my tradition since 2006, making this the 12th consecutive year I've covered it. This column is also partly responsible for a friend's daughter attending LSSU this coming fall, so I hope the school is appropriately grateful for my efforts.

(Like, say, a nice sweatshirt grateful.)

This is one of my favorite columns to write each year, because I get to tell people to quit using certain words because they're terrible.

The words, not people.

People are fine, for the most part. It's just that some of the words are, well, deplorable in a "bigly" way.

Surprisingly, deplorable did not make the list. But "bigly" did.

Bigly has been an actual word since around 1400. It originally meant "with great force or violently," and was used in the Le Morte d'Arthur tale in 1485. Later, it came to mean "boastfully or haughtily," when Thomas Hardy used it in his novel, Far From the Madding Crowd, in 1874.

However, "bigly" haters, if you're thinking He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named used it in the debates last year, He-Who's son, Eric, confirmed that his dad actually said "big league" during the Republican debates, and not the more archaic and well-read term.

Sort of like that time during the 2000 campaign George W. Bush and Dick Cheney called the New York Times' Adam Clymer a "major league A-hole."

Still, if we're going to kick the year off with a major league banishment, we couldn't do much worse than going after a 600-year-old word. That's some big league stuff.

But the 2016 presidential campaign got a lot of people's dander up. And I'm completely safe in saying that, because LSSU has only put the kibosh on the phrase "get your dandruff up."

This little eggcorn — a misheard rendering of a popular word or phrase — is correctly said as "get your dander up." So I can only conclude that people are tired of hearing about their friends' scalp condition. Either that, or so many people decided to correct this mis-use that it caught the Banished Words committee's attention.

You might say it was their "bête noire." Defined as a person or thing that someone really dislikes, I imagine this 19th century French phrase was just too hoity-toity for some people.

I was surprised the word even made the list, considering I had to look up what it meant. I didn't even know people were using it, let alone overusing it.

My own bête noire was the generally useless, "831," which was probably submitted by people who yell at kids to get off their lawn.

It's a texting abbreviation of the phrase "I love you" — 8 letters, 3 words, 1 meaning. Because nothing expresses the deepest of all human emotions like reducing it to a shortcut.

That's about as stupid as "bae," which was banished in 2015, although I don't think many people got that particular memo. They even skipped the town hall meeting we had about it.

Which is unfortunate, because "town hall meeting" got the chop as well, since most political candidates are too cowardly to do real town halls anymore. I haven't seen a political event where real people got to ask real questions since that episode of "West Wing."

Another presidential campaign word I won't miss is "historic." Every presidential election since I've been alive, and I was born the year before Nixon v. Humphrey, has been labeled historic, and this year was no different, except worse. Of course it's historic! If nothing else, this campaign will be discussed in history class in 100 years, assuming our civilization still exists.

Still, the committee saw fit to eliminate the word, saying historians should consider what's historic, not the contemporary media.

(I don't think the contemporary media is fit to pronounce anything historic, since they usually say "an historic," which is completely wrong. It's "a historic," I shout at my TV. "A historic! You, sir, are an moron!")

At least I did until LSSU banished "you, sir."

Because it's from a more civilized era when we settled disagreements with duels and discourse, not Internet bullying by Cheeto-fingered post-truth trolls. Which means we're probably too uncivilized to use it properly.

Fair enough. They banned "post-truth" too.

I just wish they could do something about the trolls.


Photo credit: LSSU Administration Building, where I like to think all this magic happens. Bobak Ha'Eri (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, December 30, 2016

We Need Some Better Words in the English Language

We have nearly a quarter of a million words in the English language, and yet I can't help feel we have some we don't need, but are lacking some others.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) contains 171,476 words currently in use, another 47,156 obsolete words, plus 9,500 more derivative words. New words are being added all the time, but lately, the quality of the words being added makes me weep for civilization's decline.

For example, in September 2016, the OED added "squee," "cheeseball," and "moobs" to their lexicon.

Moobs? Seriously, moobs? How could the OED, that honorable and erudite repository of the English language, add the portmanteau of "man boobs" to their 20 volume set? Centuries from now, long after our civilization has fallen, archaeologists will find an old copy of the OED, carefully examine it, and discover the entry for "moobs."

"This explains everything," they'll say sadly, shaking their heads the way we do when we hear stories about doctors who put leeches on sick people.

You want more from a body that pursues its work with such nerdy passion that they need 20 volumes to hold the entirety of our language. You would hope the editors — I always imagine them wearing caps and gowns, like the dons at Oxford College — would scowl at the term, and strike it completely.

It's such an ugly word, my spell checker won't even recognize it, and I'm not about to add it.

But alas, the OED is a descriptive dictionary, not a proscriptive one. That means they tell us how language is currently being used, not how it should be used. They describe the language around us, they don't proscribe its proper use.

Which means telling your third grade teacher, "Nuh-uh, it's in the dictionary," after she said "'ain't' isn't a proper word" proved nothing.

The F-word is in there too, but that doesn't mean you should go to your grandmother's 90th birthday party and shout "Happy f---in' birthday, Grandma!"

I recently found a list of "untranslatable" foreign words on UrbanAdventures.com that sounded so lovely and agreeable, I think we should start using them on a regular basis.

I also laughed at the use of the word "untranslatable," since what followed every word was, literally, their translation.

We've got words like this already, like "Schadenfreude," which is that feeling of malicious glee at someone else's misfortune. Like when some jack wagon in a Mercedes flips you the bird and cuts you off in traffic, only to get a ticket five minutes later.

One of the words UrbanAdventures.com recommended was "Resferber,"a Swedish term that refers to that excited mix of anxiety and anticipation right before you leave on a trip. I know that feeling all to well. I could never sleep the night before we were supposed to drive 1,000 miles south to Florida, starting at 4:00 A.M.

That usually went away about two hours later when the kids were fighting in the back seat because they couldn't go back to sleep, and I couldn't keep my eyes open.

Once we got to Florida, I experienced "Badkruka," another Swedish term. It refers to someone who is reluctant to get into the water when swimming. This is understandable in Florida; there are things in the water that will eat you.

You're better off just staying on the shore, and enjoying the "mångata," or the rippled reflection of moonlight on water. And that can be enjoyed anywhere, especially a swimming pool at night, safely away from sharks and gators and sea monsters.

And if we already use Schadenfreude, then we need to add another German word to the mix: "verschlimmbessern." It's a verb that means to make something worse when you're trying to improve it. It's a painful word that makes me very uncomfortable.

I don't mean the word itself. That would be stupid.

I mean the act of verschlimmbessern. Imagine bumping into a friend you haven't seen for a while, and asking her when her baby is due, only to find out that she's not pregnant.

Your embarrassed stammering digs you further and further into a deep hole that you can't escape, and your only hope is that lightning will strike one of you at that very moment. You finally manage to break free, but not until you've upset her terribly and undone years of therapy and self-esteem work.

That's verschlimmbessern. And it's the plot of every episode of Frasier and The Office, which is why I hated those shows so much.

I realize that with nearly a quarter million words in the dictionary, there are bound to be some stinkers and disappointments. But that doesn't mean we have to be limited to what's available in their dusty pages. There are plenty of great words in the rest of the world too. And if we could just start using some of them in everyday conversation, I would just squee with delight!


Photo credit: MrPolyonymous (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)


You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.