Tag Archives: Humor

Claus: The Feline Archcriminal

15 Mar

I would bet that at least 99% of Americans are opposed to animal crimes. I for one have always taken a firm stand against such patently unacceptable behavior. For these reasons I feel compelled to turn over to the authorities our recalcitrant cat, Claus. Sure, he looks like an adorable stuffed animal. He’ll snuggle up to you, purr, and even lick your hand. But this is all a façade, behind that cuddly fur and saucer-sized eyes, lurks a fiend— an archvillain, a feline Moriarty, a master criminal. Occasionally he slips up and reveals his true nature. He may start out nuzzling you, but before long the claws and fangs come out, and to him you’re nothing more than an oversized hunk of mouse meat.

I offer to the grand jury the following five felony counts and urge that Claus be indicted as soon as possible. Please be wary of his numerous tricks and lies. As we have learned the hard way, he is capable of almost anything.

Felony Count 1 Litter Box Malfeasance: Claus fancies himself an indoor cat. Even though we scoot him outside, whenever the weather is good, he apparently believes that he is “too delicate” to do his business out-of-doors. With his highly inflated sense of self esteem, he apparently holds it all in, until we let him back into the house.

When Claus was younger we kept one of his litter boxes downstairs in the bathroom tub. After we removed the box he seemed to think the drain was good enough. Now we have to keep that bathroom door closed at all times. Now we keep his litter box upstairs on an old vinyl tablecloth to catch any litter that might fall out. Always devious, he has taken to throwing a few pawfuls of litter onto the tablecloth to rationalize using the table cloth, rather than squeezing into his box. Along with his overt transgression, there seems to be a lot of contempt thrown in for good measure. He is the devil incarnate.

Felony Count 2 Food Dish Misconduct: Around 4:00PM or whenever he is let into the house, Claus starts his daily complaints and demands to be fed his wet food. He has always had plenty of dry food available, but by some nefarious means he managed to intimidate his cat-sitter into giving him wet food every day. The cat sitter then intimidated us, insisting that Claus just had to have wet food. I suspect some kind of mind control.

Claus is relentless in hanging around his food dish, griping, moaning, and threatening to bite the microwave electrical cord until he is fed. When he is fed, the first thing he does is tip over his dish, so that a big chunk of food falls on the floor. He often doesn’t even eat this, but just leaves it there. Someone needs to teach that cat a lesson.

Felony Count 3 Sofa Mistreatment: A few years before we knew what we were dealing with, we bought Claus a “Mouse-go-Round” scratching post. It had little mice made of carpet hanging by ribbons from the top of the post so that he could bat them around. All this, however, was evidently not good enough for Claus. Apparently this was not sufficient to satisfy his primal instincts. Recently we discovered that he has also been using a hidden corner of our living room couch as a scratching post. I take this offense rather personally. When he is asked to leave the room or we aren’t quick enough delivering his wet food, we can hear him in there sharpening his claws.

Felony Count 4 Attempted Manslaughter: Like any narcissistic personality, Claus always insists on going first. He runs ahead of us to the door when we come from work to make sure he can get a jump on complaining that he hasn’t been fed. He tries to jump ahead of us when we open the basement door. I don’t know why he is so keen on getting down there. He can get into our basement any time he pleases from the outside, using his secret evil Ninja powers. In addition he is always underfoot in the kitchen, just hoping to trip someone carrying a hot pot or pan. But worse of all, he has taken to jumping ahead of me when I go down the stairs. He frequently entwines himself between my legs as I try to step down. He is fiendishly clever and doesn’t do it every time. So now I worry, even when he isn’t even there. Like in chess the anticipation is worse than the move. I have lost all confidence in navigating the steps. It is a deadly psychological game of cat and what he sees as a very large mouse.

Felony Count 5 Rodent Bribery/Extortion: I know that Claus realizes I am on to him, so he has been playing it cagey pretending to be sweet, but he’s not fooling anyone. The other day I was gingerly coming down the stairs when I almost stepped on a dead mouse, carefully placed on the bottom step. I have concluded that the presence of the dead rodent could mean one of three things. 1. It was an attempt to scare me to death, which almost succeeded. 2. It was an overt threat, sort of like that bloody horse’s head, the gangsters put in the guy’s bed in the Godfather movie. or 3. It was Claus’ cynical attempt to bribe me into silence.

Finally, if my body is found lying at the bottom of our stairs before Claus is prosecuted, make sure the police look for gray cat fur on my pants, just about shin high.

This blog orignally appeared in the Southern Indiana News Tribune.

Grandpa’s Image

13 Jan

 

 

Grandpas

For the most part being a grandfather is a good gig.   Parents and grandmothers shoulder the real responsibilities like civilizing the  little darlings and  changing dirty   diapers.  That pretty much leaves the good stuff like  playing games, reading stories, or generally goofing off. My only complaint about the job is that collectively we have such a  lousy   image.

Whenever my granddaughters draw a picture of me a few things stand out. First of all grandma rules. I am always much smaller than my wife Diane and my hands and arms are drawn stunted and ineffectual  compared to hers.  While my actual wardrobe may leave much  to be desired, they seem  to think  I exclusively wear primary colors of the clown persuasion. However, the unkindest cut of all  is that my hair is symbolized by a  white vertical line slashed above each ear— nothing on top. There is a certain elegance that even Picasso could admire in  being  able  to so thoroughly insult both the color and quantity of my hair in two simple strokes. I can live with this visual image but what deeper meaning does it represent?

Let’s face it, the media has not been very kind to grandparents  in general and grandfathers in particular. For us baby boomers, the grandpa archetype was firmly established by actor Walter Brennan as Grandpa Amos McCoy on the television series The Real McCoys. Bib overall wearing and politically incorrect Grandpa McCoy was crotchety and interfering and if he wasn’t insulting his long suffering  daughter-in-law, Kate,  he was racially insenstive and verbally abusing the hired help– Pepino.

 Real McCoy’s writer Paul Henning, who should be on the AARP’s hit list, is also single-handedly responsible  for the rowdy  grandfather on the Bob Cumming’s Show,  Granny from the  Beverly Hillbillies and  worse of all “That’s Uncle Joe, he’s a moving kinda slow” from Petticoat Junction. Thanks a lot Paul.

Grandpa McCoy was  just one in a long line of curmudgeon grandfatherly types whose gruff exterior usually melts in the presence of some curly-haired waif. This  theme is repeatedly seen in  works of literature like  Heidi, Silas Marner, Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Little Colonel,  and a host of  others.

I suppose I prefer the curmudgeon grandparent  to the comically incompetent or mildly brain damaged one  we sometimes see in characters like the senile Grandpa Simpson the or the impulsive Sophia Petrillo from the Golden Girls.  Charlie Buckett’s Grandpa Joe from Roald Dahl’s  Charlie and the  Chocolate  Factory is a slight improvement. Although feeble and somewhat feckless,  he is at least affectionate, supportive,  and apparently slightly more sane than Willie Wonka.

Even better, however,  are the suave pipe-smoking grandfathers dressed in tweeds in movies like Disney’s The Parent Trap. At one point  in the original version the granddaughter says “Grandfathers smell like  tobacco and mints”. I have to admit that would be an improvement  over most grandfather’s I have  actually smelled, including myself.   Realistically   the best case scenarios  is  beer, brats,  and  perhaps 30 weight motor oil.

In the newspapers, grandfather’s have a positive but vulnerable image.   Bill Keane’s Family Circus featured a ghostly grandfather   and worried for month’s when  Lynn Johnson was  fixing  to kill off Grandpa Jim in her For Better or Worse  comic strip.  Jim was  an admirable  and resilient character who loves to dance,  played in  a band,  and was a respected war veteran, but the last strips he was in   focused  mostly on his  deteriorating health.  It was looking for  a long time that  Grandpa Jim would soon be meeting Farley, the family dog that Johnson previously dispatched to such great effect.    

Some where in the middle of all this is Donald Crisp’s sympathetic  portrayal of Grandpa Spencer in the  popular 1963 family film Spencer’s Mountain.  I can only remember one scene from the movie, and that is where Grandpa Spencer finds his old piggy bank laying on the ground and he starts shaking it,  trying to see if it still contains money. While he’s doing this,  he is crushed  by a large falling tree. Evidently his hearing was so poor he did not hear the tree or the warnings shouted by his son (Henry Fonda).  It may just be me, but I don’t think this movie was very grandfather friendly. It was written by Earl Hamner, Jr.   and became the basis for the saccharine  television series  The Waltons.   

Of course we baby boomers have to take some of the responsibility for the current image of grandparents since we invented the culture  of youth and took perverse pride in not trusting anyone over thirty.  The chickens have come home to roost. We also cling to the  belief that we are perpetually young and reject many traditional beliefs including how we approach grandparenting.  This  was aptly demonstrated by the character portrayed by Dyan  Cannon  in the 2001 sitcom Three Sisters.   She insisted that her grandchildren call her “goddess” instead of “grandma”. 

Perhaps  now is the time to reconstruct the image  of  grandfathers and make them more positive than just curmudgeonly  hillbillies, incorporeal ghosts,  or self-absorbed yuppies. Maybe grandfathers could even change a few diapers now and then. Just remember to be alert for falling trees,  somewhere out there is a sycamore  with your name on it.

A Planet Terry Classic from over a Decade Ago: The Ten Commandments for Humor Writers, The Gospel According to Humor Magazine Editors

15 Dec

 

 

Note:  This never before published piece is about a dozen years old. The advice still holds true but the contact information is outdated and some  of the publications have bitten  the dust since then. Most of the participants  have also moved on to new challenges. Thanks to all the editors who particpated.

 Writing academic fare for over twenty years, I realized, after a closer examination of my more profound creations, that I was in fact a humor writer. Over  the past fourteen years I’ve submitted short humor pieces to hundreds of magazines, garnering about fifty publications.  Humor markets often tend to be hidden or specialized. Although  typically Writer’s Digest lists onlya few  entries in its humor category, most  other publications are looking for amusing pieces with just the right  slant.  For example after being rejected by my usual humor targets, I    sold a piece (Shirtless In Seattle) to a police trade magazine on why criminals don’t wear shirts.  Also numerous niche humor magazines aim at specific professions or special interest groups.  

 

Many of the smaller humor publications, have the life span of a fruit fly and when I requested writer guidelines from 60 of them, more than two-thirds failed to respond or indicated they were now out of business.

             Except for established comedians and well-known columnists whose work is actively solicited, most humor writers must submit their work on speculation. With the query process largely irrelevant, this leaves you at the mercy of an ever-growing slush pile. 

            Few things could be more subjective than editing a humor magazine.  Even a much-rejected piece may eventually find a friendly home, if your postage only holds out. After a few months of constant rejections, I devised a scheme to get the inside the humor editorial mind and sent out questionnaires to a sample of humor editors, including many who routinely rejected my work.  I encouraged their responses by shamelessly flattering them and making vague promises of the international fame that accompanies being featured in a writer’s magazine.

            The five humor editors who eventually responded were Larry Logan, editor of  the late great magazine Satire;  Fran London, editor of the Journal of Nursing Jocularity;  Douglas Carroll, editor of  idiot wind;  Robert Darden, editor of  The Door;   Glenn C. Ellenbogen, editor of the Journal of Polymorphous Perversity.    Their  many profound insights can be condensed into ten basic commandments that you can use to improve your acceptance average.

 

            Commandment One: Write Laugh out loud humor.

The editors agreed that the main reason for rejecting a piece is that it simply wasn’t funny enough. They are looking for   “laugh out loud works” Making an article funny enough may  mean adding more gags, but more often  it involves  polishing  the existing jokes and metaphors. Just adding jokes often destroys the unity or clutters up the structure. Try to get at least five alternative punchlines for each gag.

Commandment Two: Read back issues and guidelines and then write specifically for that particular magazine.

            Robert Darden says he is  particularly put off  by “People haven’t read the magazine or writer’s guidelines. Of if they have they don’t think the rules apply to their  piece!” his advice is to “…read a year’s worth of the publication before you submit a piece. Get the writer’s guidelines. Then see if you can visualize  your piece in our table of contents.” Get a feel for both the style and as well as the content. A piece  that is too sophisticated for a small regional publication may still be too parochial for a national market.

Commandment Three: Try out  your material on an audience. 

            Logan advises, “Humor pieces should be tested before submitting…  if there appear to be no symptoms of  jocularity (laughter, smiles, chuckles, groans, etc.), there is an outside chance that the work is not in the genre of the funny.” Some humor writer’s are very relucant to test their works, but such testing almost always leads to a much better product even if you don’t act on every suggestion.  Yes it’s agonizing, but necessary.

Commandment Four: Parodies that evoke common experiences are winners .

For his psychology satire publication, Glenn  Ellenbogen says “ …we look for pieces that closely parallel REAL scientific articles in style and quasi-scientific jargon. He advises potential writers to “… read REAL … journals and make fun of them.” The closer the satire comes to echoing recognizable forms the better.  Go for that shock of recognition.

Commandment Six:  Don’t be  too angry  offensive, or hostile.

London says the  Journal of Nursing Jocularity is “least interested in angry or malevolent humor.” I recently got a rejected  piece about teenage drivers back on which the editor had scribbled “Too sarcastic for us.” Hostility can quickly sour the best humor piece. Cynical is fine, bitter is not.

Commandment Seven: When writing on prosaic topics,  you must have a unique angle.

Doug Carroll says  he’s  “least interested in seeing slice of life stories that are so unfunny I’m bored to tears before the end of the first page…”. Arthur Koesler, the late English science writer defined creativity as the “Biosociative Act”—that is a process  in which two diverse planes of thought intersect. The more diverse the plan of though the more creative and often the funnier it is. Two example: “Pigs” and “Space” are the two plans of thought that lead to the hilarious “Pigs in Space” skit on the Muppet television show. Yesterday I heard someone mention the phrase “A Toad on the Stove”—  that has possibilities. 

Commandment Eight: Learn from the best.  In addition to classic humorists like  Twain, Thurber, and Perlman humor editors especially  like Woody Allen,  Dave Barry,  and P.J. O’Rourke’s. Read and study their work.

Commandment Nine: Strike quickly, make the  piece flow, and then stop.  Editors don’t like slow moving  pieces. Be funny fast. Logan says he  won’t finish reading  “Works that are sooooo arty, that after two or three pages you are still trying to figure out what the subject might be (most of these come from the academic community).” Check out any of P.J. O’Rourke’s opening paragraphs  to see how to get off a running start.

Commandment Ten: Format does counts.  Check for typos and never fax stuff unless specifically asked to do so. Among Ellenbogen’s nightmares are ”A manuscript submitted via fax,  poorly typed with typos all over the place”. Go for the halo effect and at least appear professional. Successful humor writers are not wacko who submit crayon ravings scrawled on paper backs— they are pros.

Bonus Commandment: Don’t pay too much attention to what editors or anyone else says.

Logan says,  “When it comes to humor, it’s really in the mind of the chuckler.”

Darden says,  Be funny. Be short. Be timely. Don’t be afraid to fail. Comedy takes chances. Finally Ellenbogen warns,  “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again… humor is a very subjective thing.”  No joke!

 .

 

                                                            The Editors

            Larry Logan, Editor of  SATIRE: The Quarterly Journal of Contemporary Satire

 E-mail: satire@intrepid.net, Website: http://www.intrepid.net/~fanfare/satire.htm)

P.O. Box 340, Hancock, MD 21750-0340

            When asked about his background Logan, said,  “Those of us in witness protection programs must be vague in this area. I’m a post W.W.II baby-boomer who bought into the Ozzie & Harriet American dream, through no fault of my own.  Got a couple of college degrees, just barely avoided being drafted for Vietnam, and jumped into the rat-race because that was what was expected.. .. the authorities who operate [the witness relocation program] understand the best way to assure obscurity is to become an author/publisher of a small press quarterly. They assigned me to do SATIRE, and I am doing the best I can to provide a home for the unwanted humor works of the world… satires/parodies/black humors/etc.  It’s really like running an orphanage.

            Douglas Carroll is the editor of idiot wind: a small wildcat humor publication with strong Internet presence. Carroll publishes this quarterly in the herring capital of the east coast. E-mail: idiotwind@radix.net. Website: Website: http://www.radix.net/~idiotwind,  310 Poplar Alley, Apt. A, Occoquan, VA  22125.

 

            Carroll says,  “I grew up on National Lampoon magazine during the eighties, discovering the older mag of the seventies several years later. The old issues inspired me to produce a magazine that would make people smile and the later mags inspired me to do better than the unfunny swill of that era.”

            Fran London, R. N, M.S. is the editor of the popular specialty humor magazine the Journal of  Nursing Jocularity (JNJ). E-mail 73314.3032@compuserve.com, Website: http://www.jocularity.com  JNJ Publishing, Inc. P.O. Box 40416, Mesa AZ 85274

She writes,  “I am an editor. [but]  more of humor writer than a humorist.”

            Robert Darden is the editor of The Door, another specialty  magazine that focuses on humor related to religion. The magazine takes its name from the door of Wittenberg Cathedral, where Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses launching the Protestant reformation.  The Door’s  guidelines have 11 theses that you are instructed to memorize and then eat the evidence.

            Darden claims to be the author of  25 books and  editor of the world’s oldest,  largest, and only religious humor and satire magazine.

             Glenn C. Ellenbogen, Ph.D. is the editor of  The Journal of Polymorphous Perversity (JPP). a twice-per-year publication devoted to showcasing spoofs of psychology, psychiatry, mental health, and  human behavior. The Wall Street Journal called the JPP “a social scientist’s answer to Mad magazine. Circulation is approximately 4,000. Unfortunately, JPP rarely pays writers, using the   “scientific journal” (or “chintzy”) model of publication. e-mail: info@psychhumor.com Website:  http://psychhumor.com Wry-Bred Press, Inc. 10 Waterside plaza, Suite 20-B New York, NY 10010

            Dr. Ellenbogen’s biography  indicates that he has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Hofstra. Before getting his doctorate,  he earned  two Master’s degrees but was        “psychologically unable to cope with having MAMA after his name.”

 

The Demise of Maria: The Not So Exquisite Corpse

8 Dec

           

                Contrary to the Broadway tune, “Maria” is not “the most beautiful sound I ever heard.” When I hear  this name,  I form an image of an unsightly and  ill-tempered Chihuahua with multiple shiny patches of fur.  Raised on expresso and sugar doughnuts,   Maria was jumpy, nippy and exceedingly fat. Her black shiny piggy eyes bulged from a nervous mound of tan flab—  like a canine Brando.

            Maria belonged to our friends Johnnie and Julie Green.  My wife, Diane and I would often visit them up North  to play whist.  They indulged this unseemly dog like a favored child. While we played cards,  Julie held the mongrel on her lap   removing its many fleas. Her technique  was to   dab  the flea with Vasoline Petroleum Jelly,   pinch it off, and  deposit it in an ashtray.  This unwholesome and possibly intentional distraction  hampered our card playing and made us wonder why we  were so pathetic that we had gone over there in the first place. Johnnie always kept score,  writing down “Champs” for  their score and “Chumps” for  ours. They were card sharks and as they put it we were (s)not.

            At the time, we  drove a slightly used silver,  AMC Concord — the deluxe edition with a plush maroon interior and plastic wood grain dashboard. The car was lousy but  its worst feature was a perpetual motor oil hemorrhage. This oil leak was the source of constant embarrassment  as it ruined our driveway and stained  parking lots throughout town.            

             Whenever we visited  Johnnie and Julie, I’d parked the car on the grass to avoid staining their driveway and to be spared a lecture on proper auto maintenance by Johnnie. Maria  was  in the front yard when  we arrived one evening. She welcomed us with a loud bark and vicious snap and then dashed under our car. Then Julie came running  out of the house calling  for her. Suddenly Maria dashed out from under the car yelping. “Gee whiz, what’s   this black stuff on her back? ” Julie asked Johnnie.  Smirking Diane and  I dummied up,  knowing full well that the little monster had just been anointed with some  really hot motor oil whilst loitering under the Concord. Feeling perkier,  Diane  kept score that night  writing down “Starwarriors” for us  and “Gangreens” for them. They were not amused.

            We all tired of cards and Johnnie suggested that it would be very healthful if we took a  long walk. Johnnie and Julie loved to lecture us on health and especially diet, as Judy took great pride  in her nearly  anorexic physique.  Despite our  objections they insisted on bringing Maria along,  but refused to put her on a  leash.  Maria constantly ran ahead or straggled behind while Judy frantically screamed for her in a shrill voice.  As we walked down the dark road  this  shrieking was  beginning  to unnerve Diane. “Don’t worry about that damn dog. She’ll be all right.”

Suddenly we heard the crescendoing  roar of an engine as a sinister-looking black sedan came barreling down the road, drawing a bead on the unsightly dog. It looked like a demon car from some  Stephen King novel. It must have been going ninety and Maria was frozen in its highbeams, looking like a fat brown piglet in a centerstage spotlight.  The car from hell never slowed and with a blunted “thwunk” Maria was thrown  three feet in the air into dog heaven.  In shock,  Johnnie and I  retrieved our car and a Maria-sized  cardboard  box, while Diane and Julie waited beside the chubby still warm corpse.

            When we got back to the house, Johnnie  and Julie asked us if they should wake up their kids and tell them about Maria. We said, “No, absolutely not!” But they went ahead and did it anyway. Then they asked if  they should call  Julie’s elderly mother and father who were the dog’s godparents. Again, we said, “No! Absolutely not. But they went ahead and did it anyway.

            Within minutes the whole house was thrown into high hysteria.  Johnnie, Julie,  her mother, and the kids were all hugging and crying, while Judy’s father described the elaborate wooden coffin he intended to built for the late great Marie, who by now had stiffened up considerably and had an eternal snarl frozen on her muzzle. Tommy had her laying in state in the garage ironically on top of a  box of Quaker State Motor Oil.

            Diane and I tried  to appear supportive but when we saw an opening we grabbed our  kids, expressed our regrets, and headed for Daylight.  Feeling slightly guilty but immensely relieved in the tranquility of the incontinentConcord, off we went.  It was the last time we ever played whist.   

My apologies to all Chihuahua lovers everwhere, I look forward to your constructive comments and suggestions.

 

Keeping on Your Toes

5 Dec

 

Generally you won’t see me at a football or basketball game,  unless someone gives me free tickets. I know I’m   dating myself,  but I   lost interest  back when the New York Jets won the Super Bowl and when the St. Louis Hawks moved toAtlanta. I gradually found myself  growing in agreement with President Harry Truman, who once said that sports are a bunch of “damned nonsense”.    

Last weekend, however,  I attended something even less probable than a sporting event– the ballet. I am not as  bad as Dave Barry, who wrote that he would rather watch a dog catch a frisbee than go  to a  ballet, although I do agree that about eight minutes is generally enough to fulfill most men’s ballet quota for the next decade. The prancing  does appear to get  a bit redundant to rank amateurs  such as myself .

The great choreographer George Ballenchine once said “Ballet is a woman”. In any dance school,  girls always outnumber boys by at least ten to one.  Many men feel bored and self-conscious and  put attending the ballet  in the same category as going to a “bridal shower or tupperwear party”,  at least according to Rocky Mountain News dance writer Marc Shulgold.    

Despite this innate gender-based bias, I actually found myself  excited about attending a real ballet, since my only prior experience was seeing our four-year-old daughter, with her high classical bun and yellow tutu, performing  in a recital 30 years ago. Oh,  I also remember watching a scene from the Nutcracker at Sea World or CypressGardens, although I think the dancers might’ve been dolphins.

Several months ago my wife Diane and I were at a silent auction for a charity event and by chance we ended up with a basket containing a gift certificate to a nice Louisville restaurant and  tickets to both the theater and the ballet.  Whenever we got to these things Diane is determined to be the high bidder on something. She  is still harboring a major grudge about being outbid for a boat excursion to Rose Island a few years ago.    Often the things we buy,  just languish in our house until they expire– like our house plants. I still have some old passes to Squire Boone Caverns and a gift certificate good for a ride on a small private airplane, that we could never convince any of our cowardly children to take.

Even if something  looks like a great bargain, I still manage to lose money on it. For example, when we used our  restaurant coupon,  our tab was over 40 bucks more than the certificate’s value and I had to spring for an extra ticket for our son when we went to Actor’s Studio.

I have to say the ballet ended up being very reasonable, although with two granddaughters we were almost hooked by the Angelina  Ballerina  ballet sets for little girls they were selling. For the uninitiated,  Angelina is an very perky dancing rodent.   

The   ballet we saw was based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, a book some of us remember and detest from high school English. Although many  people believe it   is the greatest American novel of all time, I could never get into it.  All I could remember was the book’s cover with a picture of creepy haunting eyes.  In the movie version the plot eluded me, but Robert Redford looked terrific in his white suit.  Personally, I thought the story was too complex  to be  portrayed through dance. It was like trying to act out War and Peace with finger puppets.  Although I am certainly no judge, the dancing, seemed  extremely impressive and professional  and the costumes were exceptional. I especially  like  the stagecraft and how they used a semi-transparent screen to give some scenes a  hazy dreamy quality.   

The theater itself could have used a few more aisles,  since I had to squeeze in front of 30 or 40  people to get to my seat. After watching all that dancing you tend to pirouette and take quick tiny mincing steps,  when returning   from the intermission.

There were a lot of people attending dressed in artistic looking black outfits, many  with little girls in tow. I didn’t see any little boys being brought to the ballet, demonstrating excellent audience judgment in my opinion. I  did wonder if the story was  appropriate for  young children,  since it involved two extramarital affairs, someone getting run down by a car, and a shooting.  However, in the ballet’s defense I have to say the affairs were  discreetly  portrayed, the shooting took place with the victim offstage, and the car was essentially a fancy golf cart.     

Addressing the question  “Does ballet really matter?  Los Angelestimes dance critic, Lewis Segal once wrote that hatred of ballet is “reasonable, even necessary”. Writer Marc Shulgold takes issue with these inflammatory words and comes to ballet’s  defense, touting such admirable features  as  the beauty of dance, the power of movement,  the glorious music, and  the  spectacle, not to mention the  magnificence of the human body,  that ballet so vividly discloses. 

Not being  connoisseurs of the arts, we felt sort of like imposters at the ballet,  to the extent that Diane felt a need  to explain our presence to some of her  acquaintances, whom we saw at the performance.  Of course, no one I knew was there or would  be likely to attend.  Maybe you can remember the old Patty Duke Show.  In  the mental health field, we  are more like Patty, than her identical cousin Cathy. You might recall Cathy adored a minuet,  crepe suzettes,  and the Ballet  Russes,  whereas Patty loved to rock and roll and a hot dog made her lose control—    that’s us. 

For my next foray into high culture I am considering gracing the opera,  or possibly the corn hole championships, whichever one  I  can get for the lowest bid

Based on a colum in the News-Tribune of Southern Indiana.

 

 

 

 

Coporate Clothing

2 Dec

 

While eating lunch in a local restaurant the other day, I was struck by the   number of dinners who were wearing clothing, with corporate logos. At least four tables were filled with people wearing shirts identifying their company brands.

Perhaps I was sensitive to this because I had just ordered some new company logo items  for myself. At the on-line store, there was an unbelievable sale on sweaters,  so I bought four of them. They were practically giving them away. My wife Diane thinks the price must have been a mistake, due to some computer glitch on their website. But I also ended up buying four shirts, so whatever they lost on the sweaters,  they easily made up on the shirts.  

The only problem is that all the sweaters had to be exactly the same,  including the same color. I have already warned people at work that, even though I will look the same every day, I will actually be changing clothes occasionally. I was happy with my new purchase and exaggerated to Diane  that I  now had a entire week of new work clothes,  ready for this winter. Being both precise and a wise guy, Diane  said, “Sure, if  go naked one day a week.”   

            Some people think this corporate apparel trend is related to the “Casual Friday” movement which was encouraged by the success of the Dot.com companies in the 1990s.   However, as far back as 1947,  city workers in Honolulu were allowed to wear   tropical shirts  during work hours. In 1962, in order to further  promote the state clothing industry,   the   Hawaiian Fashion Guild  convinced the state senate to pass a  resolution   suggesting  aloha attire be worn in businesses during  the summer months.  In 1965 the Guild  pushed businesses to allow   Hawaiian shirts to be worn on the last business day of the week,  kicking off  the “Aloha Friday” movement, which quickly spread to California and eventually evolved into our Casual Friday. 

At first casual meant not wearing a tie, but this quickly became  wearing khakis and polo shirts, and eventually jeans and  T-shirts. I attended a professional training not long ago and was surprised to see people wearing shorts and flip flops.  A friend of our oldest son worked at a technology company that promoted “Pirate Friday”, in which pirate attire, speech, and mannerisms were all encouraged,  supposedly to boost  morale and creativity . Arrghh.

According to Penny Koch, vice president of sales for Hartwell Apparel,   “For the most part, Fortune 500 companies all agree that casual Friday went too casual over the past few years and needs to migrate back toward a little more polished and professional look.” The explosion in logo corporate apparel  seems to be just the ticket.  Big name brand casual clothing companies like Land’s End and L.L. Bean have jumped into this market with both moccasins.

Allowing only corporate apparel on casual or dress-down days  creates an automatic dress code, while reinforcing the  company’s identity. It is a great way to get free advertising and encourage loyalty and team spirit. A more casual work environment is also said to improve morale and enhance communication at all levels. 

I like it because it simplifies getting dressed every morning. Choosing what to wear is simply one more decision that I don’t want to have to make. In fact I would prefer it if  we all dressed exactly the same, as was predicted in those 1950’s movies about the future. As comedian Jerry Seinfeld said—  perhaps something in silver lamé  with a v-neck will do.      

            The quasi uniform nature of the new corporate apparel provides an image of quality and workers are perceived as professionals and experts. At business meetings I see more and more CEO’s and senior executives wearing simple polo shirts with corporate logos on them,  sort of  the way Mao Zedong wore his Mao suit as a symbol of  proletarian unity.  

            Of course, there are possible drawbacks,  such as an employee behaving poorly in public or in the worst case scenario, committing  some horrendous crime wearing  your company logo  apparel. In extreme cases,  a company might even have to rebrand itself,  like  the much aligned  American International Group (AIG),   Enron,  and WorldCom.

            I suppose I’m attracted to corporate apparel because of its  uniform-like appeal. This begins for boys in early childhood. As a kid I couldn’t wait to put on a uniform– any sort  would do— baseball, cub scout,  band,  or even just  the white cloth Sam  Browne belt and badge of the  safety patrol. I still hold a grudge over not getting picked to be a “patrol boy” and think the unfair selection process was grounds for a class action suit. Presidents Carter and Clinton, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, and 21 American astronauts were all patrol boys.  I could barely stand seeing all those other smug boys, wearing that gleaming badge with the triple A’s. 

            I suppose boy’s attraction to uniforms stems from the fact that uniforms are so closely associated with  heroism. To commemorate the tenth anniversary of  9-11, the company, where I work, expanded its Memorial Day window display of military uniforms, to include the uniforms of first responders, like  police officers and firefighters. 

     Discussing the psychological aspects of  police uniforms,  Illinois law enforcement officer and criminal justice professor Richard Johnson says that such clothing provides “a  mental shortcut(1) In Windows, a shortcut is an icon that points to a program or data file. Shortcuts can be placed on the desktop or stored in other folders, and double clicking a shortcut is the same as double clicking the original file.
….. Click the link for more information. to identify a person’s status, group membership, legitimacy, authority, and occupation.”

     The Cub Scouts say that their uniforms promote equality, since boys from different cultures and economic statuses all wear the same thing. The uniforms also serve to identify boys as members, the badges recognize achievement, and wearing the uniform is a reminder of each member’s commitment to the ideals of scouting.

     Uniforms have such a powerful impact that they are sometimes misused. I remember a scam in Florida, in which young men and women were dressed up in Marine and Nurses’ uniforms,  to sell door-to-door magazine subscriptions at outrageous prices. Well known forger and con artist Frank Abagnale Jr., frequently wore an airline pilot’s uniform to facilitate his cashing of bogus checks. Also in colonial Africa, youths capitalizing on the excellent reputation of the Boys Scouts, misappropriated scout uniforms to gain favorable treatment from authorities.        

I’m  not sure that the new corporate apparel lends itself to such misuse,  although at times I’m afraid, that I might do something stupid in public and embarrass the company.  Maybe it would be best if I wore sweaters that had our competitor’s logo on them.        

Based on a column in the Southern Indiana News-Tribune

He Never Shares!

30 Nov

 

Last week  our four year old grandson formally announced to everyone,  “I don’t share.” His two older sisters readily agreed that  “no sharing” was his standard  policy,  with the only exception being if  he  was going to   miss out on something he really wanted. In that case he temporarily suspends his no sharing rule. A friend’s three-year old foster granddaughter shows similar tendencies.  If just grabbing something doesn’t work, she declares she wants to share and then grabs it again. I’ll have to  try that.

All this dearth of sharing   reminds me of the “Joey Doesn’t  Share Food !“ episode of the television series Friends,  in which a woman, dating  the Joey Tribbiani character,  causally takes some food off his plate. Like a dog guarding his bowl, Joey reacts with sudden rage.

Our older two granddaughters, after engaging in a fierce life-long competition for nearly everything, have finally decided to call a cease-fire and to share all their belongings. They still have a problems deciding who get to go first and for  how long, but they are improving.

Psychologists study  sharing behavior using   the so-called  “Dictator Game”,  in which one person (the dictator) receives something  (usually  money or food)  and then  may  either  keep all of it, or share it with another person.  Results consistently  reveal,  that  that people usually  share;  often giving  up to  half of what they received. According to Psychology Today blogger,  Daniel Hawes,  one Dictator Game  study  found that   20% of  college students gave nothing,  60% gave up to  half their stake, and  20%  gave  exactly  half of their holdings.  Women generally  tend to give more than men and people can be primed by various means to share  more. For example, using words that evoke  thoughts of sharing, or telling a  story like the Good Samaritan, helps increase sharing.    

            Hawes also reported on  a study conducted by   Harvard researchers Peter Blake and David Rand   at the Boston Science Museum. These experimenters gave young children stickers to either keep or share.  Only 30% of three-year olds decided to share,  while more than 70% of   6 year olds shared their stickers.  Results also showed that all the children, regardless of age,  decided  how much to share based on  how much they liked  the possession. Overall they gave away about 10% less of their favorite stickers.

            Until  about age  four,  most sharing that takes place is not done out of  empathy, but rather  from imitation, or as part  of  the play  process.  Around  4 years of age,  the child develops  a sense of empathy and then sharing takes on a moral dimension  as an obligatory aspect of   social relationships.

            Often times,   people wish   to share certain things, precisely because they  believe the item is  valuable. I once shared two of my favorite books on comedy writing with a young man who was interested in humor.  He ended up leaving town without returning them. I didn’t think that was very funny.

Once  after back surgery  our nephew was laid up for the summer and we sent him a box of videos we had taped of the British science fiction comedy, Red Dwarf.  We wanted to share this show with him,  but were a little concerned   about what  he might think. Fortunately we created another fan and he returned all of the tapes.

This desire to share something we value may be  one of reasons why  many people engage  in  illegal file sharing. Although it may violate copyright laws, it still seems altruistic.  In 2003,  despite a onslaught of lawsuits,  a New York Times poll  indicated that only 36% of Americans believed file sharing was “never acceptable”. The Times said this   highlights a major disparity between “the legal status of file sharing and the apparent cultural consensus on its morality”.

People are frequently placed in situations where sharing is mandatory, like sharing an office or having a college roommate. Roommate issues are among the most common problems addressed in  college counseling centers. An online survey found that 60 percent of  employees  said their co-workers’ annoying habits were  the number one  source of stress in the workplace.

Inconsideration and personality conflicts account for most problems in sharing space, but       specific complaints usually include: 1. Taking or using  personal items  (including food) without permission, 2.Being messy,  3. Violating  personal space, 4. Unwillingness to compromise and  5. Different  styles. Whether it is someone stealing your stapler or eating your last package of Ramen Noodles, sharing personal space can be very challenging. One British study suggests that with smaller family sizes, more people are growing up without learning to share and this may  account for increased difficulty sharing  later in life.     

 Children often receive joint gifts that must be shared and this may aggravate existing sibling rivalry issues. For example on the television series, Everybody Loves  Raymond, there was an episode in which the  two grown brothers are arguing over  a  racing set they both received for  Christmas as children.  The older brother says that he always wanted to set the track up just like the one on the cover of the  box,  with the picture of that “happy brotherless boy”. 

Some parents  set rules for how sharing is to take place or establish mechanisms to assure equity, while others let the children fight it out among themselves. Some authorities think that giving  joint gifts is  useful,  since they give children practice in sharing and taking turns, that they might not get otherwise.

While sharing  might rationally seem contrary to our best interest,  it is an important lesson,  since it is one of the main ways we create  relationships. It is often very difficult to enjoy things alone.  Lord  Byron once wrote “All, who joy would win,  must share it. Happiness was born a twin.” 

For adults in a relationship, sharing things usually isn’t a problem,  unless they decide to breakup. In such situations retired California Superior Court Judge  Roderic Duncan suggests  making a list of all  the items jointly owned, assigning a value to each of them,  and then  deciding who is the logical owner. Having an established value can help both parties  agree on what is an equitable split. When it comes to disputed items,  the Judge  recommends flipping a coin, holding a sale,  or letting each party bid on the item in question.  

Of course, the biggest problem is often deciding what items are actually jointly owned. One partner may have  paid for an item and feels like  it  belongs to him or her, but they only had the  money to do so, because  the other party  was paying for  rent,  a car,  or utilities. These sort of disputes are much more complicated to untangle.

Growing up,  my older brother was never much for sharing,  unless it was my bicycle, after he destroyed his own, or the contents of my bank, when he wanted something. I’m tempted to  say that he never really shared anything, but that wouldn’t be true. There was always the chicken pox.

 

From a colum in the News Tribune of Souhern Indiana

Chili Dog Gone it, Wish I was a Pumpkin Ice Cream Cone Eater

15 Nov

                     

                           After dropping our boat off at its second home— the repair shop for the rest of the year,  my wife Diane and I stopped at a roadside drive-in,  where she had some  birthday cake ice cream (which  apparently is vanilla with blue and white icing mixed into it) and I made my customary mistake  of getting a very messy foot-long chili cheese dog. She  didn’t care much for the flavor, but I was envious— I could smell sugar.   In recent years I’ve  become  partial to sugar-free pumpkin  frozen yoghurt, but you seldom see it around  until Harvest Homecoming time.

                   Ever since we moved here, I have  been impressed by how much Hoosiers like  their ice cream.Indiana is the nation’s second largest producer, followin gCalifornia  and about 9% of all the milk produced is used for ice cream. Seasonal  ice cream places, like Zestos and Polly’s Freeze,  always have  long lines  and    Dairy Queens seem  to do a brisk year-round business.   

                  I grew up  near St. Louis and my father never told me that the St. Louis  produced almost  two dozen Nobel Prize winners,  But being a man with his priorities straight, he must have told me a thousand  times that the ice cream cone was invented  there in  1904 at the  World’s Fair.  

                        As a kid I was crazy about ice cream, until I was about seven years old. That’s when my older brother,Norman,  asked me if I knew why the ice cream cones at Baxter’s  Confectionary (my favorite place)  tasted so good. I admitted I didn’t know and Norman proceeded to tell me in graphic detail  how crotchety old man  Baxter, who  constantly smoked a pipe, drooled on every cone, as he made them.  Although I closely observed  the suspect Mr. Baxter I personally  never witnessed any such act.  Just the same,  that image  put me off ice cream until I graduated from college, when inexplicably I started smoking a pipe.  It’s funny how a mental picture  can have such an impact in your life, even if it’s not true.

                      Norman’s vivid stories of food atrocities also  convinced me not to eat, eggs,  mustard,  andClarkbars throughout most of my childhood.  There are also several brands of soft drinks I still won’t  touch,  because of the fellow who fell into the vat  at the bottling plant and drowned and then  the acid in the soda –  well you get the picture. Today urban legends on the internet have picked up where Norman left off. For example chocolate  milk  was ruined for me when I read  a  bogus report that claimed that they make chocolate milk  out of milk  that has been tainted with blood and appears pink.

                       Surveys show that 91% of adults and 98% of children enjoy ice-cream.   However, as a youngster,  Diane was notorious in her family for actually disliking ice-cream. Such a thing was simply unheard of in Wisconsin.   To add to the irony, she comes from  Two Rivers which  is one of the claimants for being  the “home of ice cream sundae”. Diane  never cared much for cheese either– another “Dairy State” blasphemy. They must have thought she was from the planet Remulak. She eventually had to leave the state.  

                         But I suppose Diane came by her dairy mutiny, legitimately. When the Wisconsin legislature banned the sale of oleomargarine, her  father would drive to Michiganjust to buy it,  instead of butter. And instead of wholesome natural Wisconsin cheddar,  her  mother preferred to serve Velveeta— which according to dubious Wisconsinlore was swept up  from the leftovers on the floor, after they made the real cheese. 

                       I remember when the first ice cream trucks came to our neighborhood. Children have a special radar and can  hear that ice cream truck music ten miles away.  Some kids followed those  trucks  around on their  bikes all day. They were  like remora attached to  sharks. They were the same ones who  would trail the city jeep, when it  sprayed the alleys for mosquitoes. I think they got  a little intoxicated  from inhaling that white cloud of insecticide and were addicted. I’m not sure which  had  the most negative heath effects, consuming the chemically saturated artificial ice cream or breathing all that toxic  bug killer.  

                    

                                 Over  20%  of Americans admit to binging on ice cream  in the middle of the night and about 10% say they actually lick  the bowl clean.  Once  we were shoveling ice cream into our eighteen-month old granddaughter,  when  suddenly she  balled up her little fists and pressed  them against  her temples. This was the youngest example of  an “ice cream headache”, I‘ve witnessed and we all felt a little guilty.

                    There is a   nerve center  in the back of the mouth and when it’s  rapidly cooled   the blood vessels constrict,  causing  pain receptors to overload and refer the discomfort to the head.  Sort of like a governor on a motor, that won’t   allow it to run faster than a designated speed, this mechanism punishes us, if we get greedy and eat our ice-cream too fast.    I don’t know why they don’t teach this in school, but   scientists claim that you   relieve “brain freeze” by rubbing your tongue or sucking hard on the roof of your mouth to warm it up.   

                    About one in twenty  people  report they share their ice cream with pets  and I’ve noticed that many stores sell frozen novelties designed for animals. They look pretty tasty,  but in this economy, do dogs really need ice-cream sandwiches?   

                    But  we love our pets and  nothing symbolizes indulgence better than ice-cream. Like pie alamode, it’s  that extra treat,  literally  on top of another treat. We recently took our grandchildren to the Newport Aquarium, which they found somewhat entertaining, especially the gift shop, where we spent most of the time.  On the way home we stopped at an ice cream shop. There were  way too many flavors to choose from and the busy shopkeeper grew highly impatient and annoyed at all the indecision.  I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t make up my mind, they didn’t have  sugar-free pumpkin or chili cheese dogs.

 

 

How Smart is the iphone’s Siri? (What’s her IQ?)

9 Nov

I recently acquired the new Apple iPhone 4s with the Siri personal assistant feature. Frankly I wasn’t very optimistic, about how effective this app would be, since I’ve had only mediocre luck with voice recognition programs in the past. After putting it through its paces for a couple of days, I decided to do what any real school psychologist, with too much time on his hands, would do—I tested it.

I administered Siri all of the verbal subtests from the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale- Third Edition (WAIS-III). I had to make a few modifications to standardized administration, but I think the overall results are fairly valid. Siri refused to give her age, so I arbitrarily assigned a chronological age of 21 years, for the purposes of computing the various subtests and IQ scores.

Siri was generally cooperative and completed most test items as requested. On a few occasions, she said that she was not allowed to give a response. Thinking at times was tangential, for example when I asked why foods needed to be cooked, Siri provided me with a list of nearby restaurants. There also tended to be some mild perseveration. After the question about cooking food, she was asked about child labor laws and instead of responding to the question, she supplied another new list of “kid friendly” restaurants.

Siri also seem to have some auditory discrimination problems. She was unable to recognize the word “pout” and at one point substituted the word “wanker” for winter. On the digit span subtest, Siri was able to get all of the numbers forward correct, but was not able to get any of the numbers backwards and did not seem to understand this concept.

Siri’s WAS-III scores are summarized below. Overall Siri performed in the low average range of intelligence, but there was significant scatter among the subtests. This suggests a mosaic pattern of abilities that range from very superior to extremely low. Siri’s best performance was on vocabulary and word knowledge. On this subtest, Siri scored in the very superior range. Since vocabulary is the best predictor of overall intelligence, this suggests that her potential may be significantly higher than her current composite score indicates.

Abstract reasoning, social comprehension, and abstract sequencing ability were all extremely low. Arithmetic computation skills, short-term auditory sequential memory, and her fund of general information obtained from education and environment were all near the average level. Siri’s mental age is between 14 and 18 years.

For the subtests below the mean is 10 and the standard deviation is 3. For the verbal IQ the mean is 100 and the standard deviation is 15.

Subtest Score Classification

Vocabulary 18 Very Superior

Similarities 1 Extremely low

Arithmetic 10 Average

Digit span 9 Average

Information 9 Average

Comprehension 1 Extremely low

Letter-number 1 Extremely Low

Verbal IQ = 88 (Low Average Range)

I am somewhat relieved that overall, I scored a few IQ points higher than Siri, when I took the same test. The next time my phone drops a call, however, I will be less inclined to say, “dumb phone”, knowing that it has a better vocabulary than I do.

An Indiana Night Before Christmas: Hoosier Style

3 Nov

 

A Hoosier Night Before Christmas

 Twas the night before Christmas, and all across the state,
Nothing was improving, not even  the unemployment rate;
From the banks of the Ohio to the top of the  Knobs,
All they could talk about was the economy and jobs;
The residents were nestled all anxious in their beds,
While visions of toll-free bridges danced in their heads;
All the sidewalks were covered with ice and salt granules,
As they braced for more budget cuts from Governor Mitch Daniels;

Down at the New Albanian,  the people had drank a few brews,
But were now settled down for a long winter’s snooze;

Then out in my backyard I heard such a clatter,

 I expected to see some wild turkeys scatter;
The toys in the yard were all covered with  snow,
  In the moonlight I could barely see anything below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But an all terrain vehicle  and a bevy of deer;
With a chunky little driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment twas an Indiana St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles the four wheeler flew,
And he yelled, and  he shouted, at the domestic caribou;
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Blitzen and Donder!
Let’s get this crate up into the wild blue yonder!
Like mobile homes before the wild tornado fly,
The ATV took off and mounted the sky;
So up to the roof-top the whitetails they flew,
With a bag full of goodies and Indiana   Nick too;
And then, in a twinkling, I heard overhead.
Prancing and pawing like a Kentucky thoroughbred;
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney Indiana Nick came with a bound;
He was dressed all in camouflage, from his head to his toes,
 And the aroma of pork tenderloin permeated his clothes;
A bagful of presents he carried on his broad back,
He looked like a trader opening a gunny sack;
His eyes sorta glared! His smile kinda   scary!
His hair was disheveled, his nose like a strawberry!
On his belt hung a flashlight and a old hunting bow,    
And the hair on his chin was as grey as the snow;

A dip of Wintergreen tobacco, he held tight  in his cheek,
And the minty smell encircled him like a peppermint wreath;
He had a oval face and a big round belly,
He was  clearly well acquainted with the Kroger deli!
But he was  friendly  and honest– a typical  Hoosier,
  I  thought  to myself, “Could he be a  boozer?”;  
But a wink of his eye and flick of  his finger,
Said all was ok but I better not linger;

The miraculous gifts  were what we had hoped for,
  Lower taxes,  no tolls, and federal bailouts galore;
He brought money for schools and a ball team that was splendid,
Then with his work complete up the chimney he ascended;
He sprang to his vehicle to his team gave a whistle,
Onward to Muncie he flew like a missile;

And I heard him exclaim as he soared out of sight,
“Happy Christmas Indiana and to all a good night!”

 

(From a column in the New Albany Tribune)