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Festivus and the Airing of Grievances

Thanks to Facebook and people's contrarian attitudes, Festivus' popularity seems to be growing. The fake holiday, first shared on Seinfeld, was created by George Costanza's father, Frank.

Instead of a tree, they hoisted a plain aluminum pole, noted for its high strength-to-weight ratio, as a direct contrast to the commercialism of the season. Everyone gathered at the Costanza's house for the Festivus Dinner, where everyone would participate in the Airing of Grievances, which is your chance to tell everyone how they have disappointed you in the past year.

"I've got a lot of problems with you people, and now you're going to hear about it!" Frank Costanza told his guests.

As I write this, Festivus was yesterday, and there are a few people I have problems with, so now I'm going to air a few grievances of my own.

Donald Trump is a walking, talking grievance, and I could rant about him until next Festivus. In the last few months, he has mocked a disabled…

The Man Who Came To Christmas

"Hey, Kid, slide over a little. Give me some room!" Karl shoved my arm. "Seriously, you're crowding me over here."

Karl, I'm already over. Any more and I'm going to fall off the stool. My friend and curmudgeon, Karl, and I were sitting at our favorite Spanish bar, Escritor's, to watch the Roller Hockey World Cup final. Spain was facing Argentina, and it didn't look too good for La Roja.

"It feels like you're crowding me. I need my space."

Hey, I'm not your clingy girlfriend. You're the one who wedged yourself into the corner there. I'm sitting on my stool like a normal person, and giving you plenty of room. Karl grumped and grunted, and tried to make himself comfortable.

What's your problem, anyway? You've been a complete grouch this whole evening.

"I'm sorry, Kid," said Karl. "I'm just having problems at home."

You're single, how do you have problems at home? I knew you were a pai…

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

The worst spoiler I ever experienced happened when I was in high school, reading David Morrell's "Testament" before one of my classes. I was five pages from the end, where the hero, bent on revenge over the death of his family, is about to rain holy hell down on the man responsible.

He's hiding in a sniper's nest, the cold metal of the gun and scope resting against his cheek. He aims the rifle at the unsuspecting villain—

"He doesn't do it."

"What?" I looked up, frowning at the interruption. A friend, who had previously read the book, stopped to check my progress.

"He doesn't shoot him."

"What?!" I shouted. Everyone stopped and looked at me.

"Yeah, he chickens out at the end."

"Did you just spoil the ending for me?" I jumped to my feet. "I was five pages from the end! I've been reading for three days, and you just ruined it!"

"Erik!" said my teacher. "We do not shout i…

How to Meet People in a New City

Having moved to a new faraway city, I find myself meeting a lot of new people. Back home — I still think of Indianapolis as "home" — I knew plenty of people, and could always count on bumping into someone I knew at one of my regular haunts.

Except now I don't have a regular haunt, which means I have to find some new ones, which involves a lot of trial and error. Delicious, and rather unhealthy, trial and error.

Also, I don't know anyone in my new city. This means when I meet someone, which I actually enjoy, I go through the same get-to-know-you dance over and over. We ask and answer the same questions: What do you do for a living? Do you have any kids? What do you do for fun?

After a while, I think my answers sound boring, sort of like when you say the same word over and over, and it sounds weird. I worry that I'm coming across as an uninteresting person, so I occasionally make up answers just to relieve the monotony and feel better about myself.

"What do y…

How 49ers QB Blaine Gabbert's Press Conference Really Happened

Suppose they gave a press conference and nobody came?

Last week, the 3-and-7 San Francisco 49ers held a press conference for their new starting quarterback, Blaine "Yo Gabba" Gabbert, but forgot to actually tell the media. When Gabbert showed up, he was the only one in the room, other than a 49ers staffer there to record the event.

It was Gabbert's second week as the starting quarterback, after he replaced former starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was benched after seven games and only two wins.

"Hey, good to see you," he said from the podium. Then he sat in the front row and said, "I'll be the one asking questions." Local media reported that Gabbert chatted with the staffer for a few minutes before leaving.

Except the camera was rolling the entire time, and it captured the questions Gabbert actually asked.

"So what do you think of the team's chances this week?" Gabbert asked from his seat.

Gabbert ran up to the podium to give…

Loving On People And Hugging Your Kids

What does it mean to "love on" someone? Why is that even a thing? It sounds weird and awkward, and I don't know whether to appreciate it or be creeped out by it.

I hear it a lot, especially in church when people describe what they do in their small groups.

"We get together, do life, and just love on each other."

We'll ignore the "do life" thing for now. You know, the phrase that means "to live" or "spend time together." It's an empty phrase that doesn't actually express anything.

You're "doing life" right now. You were "doing life" when you got up this morning and made coffee. You were "doing life" when you went to work. And you were "doing life" the entire day right before you met with the small group of people you "do life" with.

"Doing life" is not any different from what we've been doing all along: living. It just sounds so. . . California.

But we&…

How About "Big Daddy?"

Erik is out of the office this week, moving to his new house, so we're reprinting a column from 2003, because we didn't think anyone would notice.

I've wanted a nickname ever since I was a young boy. I like my name, but I've often wondered what it would be like to have a name that would sum up my passions and interests, like "Stein," "Wheels," or "Collectible Elvis Plates."

I'm named for Erik the Red, the famous Viking explorer. Although my dad says he liked the name because he smoked Erik the Red cigars. I tried them once many years ago, and thought they were nasty, so I don't tell that story. I prefer not being named after something that can kill you. At least that's what I tell my friend, Ernie "Barbecue Ribs" Tutwiler.



I was four years old when I lobbied for a new name. One of my friends at preschool was named Sam, and he was a fast runner. I thought if I was named Sam, I could run fast too, so I asked my parents i…

A Rational, Scientific Explanation of Luck

I don't see the point in good luck charms. I don't believe a little trinket can bring good luck, so I've never carried one.

Sure, there are times I wanted a good luck charm, but rational scientific thinking stopped me. How can a fake crystal strung on a cheap necklace made in China, which I bought from a street vendor for five bucks, affect whether the entire universe will grant me favor?

Actually, I do carry one good luck charm in my wallet: a $2 bill my mother-in-law gave me many years ago. It's a reminder of her hopes for me, more than a belief that my efforts will fail if I forget my wallet. Of course, I take my wallet with me everywhere, so we'll never know, will we?

Carrying items for good luck is completely different from preventing bad luck. Everyone knows that. But you don't do it with charms or little tchotchkes in your pocket. That's just silly.

Instead you speak little incantations, make signs with your hands, or complete some small action to war…

Say 'No!' to the Man Bun

I have a terrible confession to make. It's going to come out sooner or later, and I want to get ahead of the story rather than fall victim to the maliciousness that threatens to expose my shameful secret. (There are photos.) So I need to clear the air while I can still tell the story on my own terms:

I used to have a mullet.

It's a long story — well, it's short at the beginning, and it gets longer toward the end. I was 24, everyone was doing it, and we thought it looked cool. It was the thing to do in the early '90s in Indiana, if you didn't live on a farm. Those guys still had crewcuts.

Of course, mine didn't look like a mullet, because I tied it in a ponytail. Basically, I had a ponytail with short hair in front, which may actually be worse. Like the difference between stealing and stealing from orphans.

At the time, I worked for an uptight, stickler-for-the-rules university department. But we were also all about diversity and respecting differences, so I ado…

Karl the Curmudgeon Hates Bullies

"People can sure be mean," Karl said. "I mean, downright mean."

I didn't say anything! I protested. All I said was I didn't think that was a good throw.

"Not you, Kid!" Karl said. "Not everything is about you, you know."

Oh no, of course not. That's 'cause it's all about you. You and your big bushy beard that just insists upon itself, and sticks itself out there!

"What the hell are you talking about?"

I don't know. I think that last schnapps went to my head. We were sitting in The Tilted Windmill, our favorite Dutch-themed bar, watching the Dutch Women's Curling Team in the European Curling Championships. It was a tough match against Ireland, but our ladies in orange were giving it their all.

"I'm talking about online," Karl said. "People are terrible people online. They're mean, abusive bullies."

Those people are called 'trolls,' I said. Their lives are so pathetic and sa…

I'm The Kind of Guy Who Laughs at a Funeral

I've never been one for being serious. I'm not truly happy unless I'm laughing or making other people laugh. My entertainment choices always run to comedies, never dramas. Not unless there are car chases and explosions.

If there are car chases and explosions, I'll watch just about anything you want. Unless it's a movie about how a car chase blew up a building filled with orphans and puppies, and the survivors search for healing in a world gone wrong. Then I'm just going to watch a show with fart jokes, like Brooklyn Nine-Nine or Downton Abbey.

I've built my writing career around humor. You could say my whole life is built around it. When I give talks at conferences, I'm always trying to get people to laugh. And when I'm out with friends, I always want to do something fun and enjoyable, not moving and meaningful.

This includes my theatre selections.

Not "theater," because that's the place where you go to watch movies. "Theatre"…

Today's Parents Need to Relax a Little

Today's parents are often reluctant to let their kids do the things they did at that age. I don't let my children date, they don't stay out until midnight on weekends, they've never seen a rated R movie at 14, and they certainly won't have a chance to get throw-up drunk at age 16.

But what about when they're 10? Would you let your kids ride their bike out of your sight? Would you let them spend the night at a friend's when you barely know the parents? Or how about letting them build something in the garage with tools without your supervision?

What about letting your 10-year-old watch a PG movie?

I saw a recent advice letter in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (official motto: "No, we don't mean 'smarter.' Stop emailing us.") that may be a little too protective. A helicopter mother wrote to columnist Carolyn Hax, concerned that her 10 year old son was hearing about PG movies from his friend.

The other 10-year-old boy has told her son about…

Measuring the Dollar Value of Friendships

We don't admit it. Not in our polite, the-best-ship-is-friendship society.

We judge the value of our friendships based on money.

Not "how much can this person give me?" value. Rather, it's a "how much am I willing to spend on behalf of this person" basis.

A friend recently wrestled with a wedding gift idea to give another friend she wasn't close to.

"Oh, you mean a low-dollar-value friend," I said.

She gave me the side-eye.

Her friend had mailed a postcard wedding invitation, probably from VistaPrint.com, announcing the wedding. It even included a web address for their gift registry, a Williams-Sonoma meets GoFundMe.com type of website.

"What are your options?" I asked.

"The wedding is next weekend, so most of the good stuff is gone already. All that's left are a few house gifts they'll never use, like a pastry server. Who the hell needs a pastry server?"

"What is a pastry server?"

"A fancy pie spatu…

I Can Even Use a Power Saw

Erik is traveling this week, and is out of the office. We are reprinting an old column about his old house.

Ever since we moved into our house 11 years ago, I've enjoyed working on it. Building and insulating the walls, putting up drywall, and watching my wife paint.

We finished off the upstairs and the basement with her parents' help, and I learned the manly art of bashing my own thumb with a hammer. In fact, I got so good at it that I find I enjoy working with my hands, beyond just typing on the computer with eight useful fingers.

Some days, I even fancy myself capable of doing this on a daily basis. I can imagine trying to earn a living, doing what I do on the weekends: drinking beer, puttering around in the garage, drinking more beer, and watching football on TV.

Sadly, there is more to being a contractor than that. It's not as much football watching, which is bad, but a lot more beer drinking, which is good, unless you're using a power nailer.


The problem with doin…

A One-Sided Conversation About Moving

"Remember, Buddy, lift with your legs, not with your back."

"That's still not funny."

"Because it wasn't funny the first fifty times it."

"Because you're already lifting with your hands. Saying it 49 more times doesn't make it funnier, it just means I'm making you carry more stuff."

"Because you could injure your back and end up with chronic back pain."

"I wouldn't have to repeat myself if you would just do it right the first time."

"I do not! I lift with my legs just like — blurg! I can't squat down that low."

"Forty-eight."

"I don't care how old he is, Michael Jordan isn't here to help us move, is he?"

"I'll bet he can't squat that low either. The guy's so tall, he probably gets the bends if he stands up too quick."

"What's he going to do, dunk it onto the truck?"

"Just lift it up."

"Turn left. No, left. I wan…

Life Lessons for My Children

As my children get older and enter young adulthood, or as I like to think of it, "*sob* I don't want you to go away to college!! *sniff*," I've tried to impart important life lessons to each of them.

However, since I never pay attention to anything I say — no one else does either — I'm not sure what I've said to which child. So I've compiled it all into one easy-to-lose guide that none of them will actually read.

1) Don't put your money and energy into possessions. You'll spend your money on things you never really needed or wanted, and you'll end up throwing half of them away in three years.

Instead, spend your money on things that make memories, like an HD TV and satellite subscription, with a Major League Baseball game package. Oh, and a nice recliner. I remember the recliner my parents had when I was a kid. It was so comfortable, I could take deep, satisfying naps in it during baseball games.

See, nice memories.

2) The best things in life …

Peter and the Disembodied Voice

"Do you ever wonder about The Voice?" asked Peter.

"The TV Show?" asked Peter's grandfather.

"No, Grandfather, The Voice," said Peter

"What voice? Is someone talking to you?"

"No, The Voice that tells us what's happening. I can hear him sometimes, when I'm out playing."

"Are you sure it's not one of the neighbors?"

"No, no. It sounds like God. He talks about what I'm doing, as if he's explaining it to someone else."

Peter's grandfather studied him. The boy had never been quite right, not after his parents had died, and Peter had been sent to live with him. Grandfather petted Cat sleeping in his lap. Cat had worn himself out, chasing Duck and Bird again, but hadn't had any luck. He reached across the table for Peter's hand.

"Peter, do these voices tell you to do things?"

Peter pulled his hand away. "Grandfather, I'm not crazy," he huffed. "There aren'…