Hey, the interview with me is up at KPC News!

This is from the Albion New Era. KPC owns many of the newspapers in the area, but I don't know how many others this will be in, if any. However, the link to the interview online is here:

http://kpcnews.com/news/latest/new_era/article_f2535b22-10e0-5e29-bec7-79fbc7441c10.html

There you can see a color version of the sweater that Emily hates so much, which means I hate it too and does anyone want a free sweater?

While hauling stuff out for spring cleanup I ran into a reporter right in front of my home--camped out, no doubt, hoping for a good quote, or a photo of me with my hair in curlers. (Just kidding: The newspaper office is just down the street, and the rest of town is just up the street.)

The next day he stopped at the house for an interview and we had a nice, hour and a half long talk about all aspects of writing and publishing, and I got to show off Radio Red as well as our other books. I also pimped our upcoming appearance at the Avilla Freedom Festivals, of course. But I don't know what all will make it into his article--I'm sure he has only so much space, and we covered a lot of territory. Turns out I love to talk about writing, go figure.

I'll let you know when it comes out! Meanwhile, as usual, check out all our books at www.markrhunter.com, or stop by here for the latest.

ozma914: (ozma914)
( Oct. 29th, 2014 05:34 pm)

With mixed feelings I say goodbye to my first writing home, in the same week my column appears for the first time in Kendallville Mall. I’m going from a weekly to a monthly, but otherwise you’ll get pretty much the same stuff in the new “Slightly Off The Mark” … like it or not.


 

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

When I started this column I was a green, snot-nosed kid, which was probably just allergies. Maybe a virus. Today I take medicine and always have Kleenex nearby, so I think I’m a better person, or at least more hygienic.

            Today it’s twenty-three years later, and this is my last humor column in the New Era, Churubusco News, and Northwest News. It’s the end of what was once a—ahem—new era, and I’m poorer for it.

            I’m also grateful that the papers’ new owners have allowed me this chance to say farewell to you, the readers, the people who shared my ride of child-rearing, home maintenance, misbehaving pets, and exploding lawn mowers. This has been my best job ever, and if I’d had a choice I’d probably have gone on doing it until they pried my cold fingers from the keyboard.

            This is my love letter to you, the readers, and a thank you to the crews of the three newspapers that made me feel wanted all those years. Love letter is just an expression, by the way, so don’t expect chocolate … or jewelry. Definitely not jewelry.

            I sent articles to the New Era for a quarter of a century, everything from accident reports to features to movie reviews. In February, 1991, they began printing my humor column, and later it also appeared in the Churubusco News and Northwest News. Back then I had more hair, less weight, and no gray.

Let me grab a calculator … taking into consideration the occasional reprints and my poor math skills, we published over 50 columns a year. That’s 1,150 columns, each up to 1,000 words long, although they were getting shorter. That’s one million, one hundred fifty thousand words.

            My last novel clocked in at around 60,000 words. So I wrote 19 books worth of “Slightly Off The Mark” … 14 of them good books. Including the five actual books I’ve written, that’s more words than J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Myer combined. Not that I’d combine them.           

This might as well serve as the official announcement: With my newspaper job gone and thanks to my paranoia about deadlines, I have around thirty unpublished humor columns. After talking it over (and crunching the numbers), Emily and I are turning them into a book entitled, yep, "Slightly Off The Mark". But what of the future? I still need to make up for lost pay, and I do love writing humor. So although I have an idea of the way to go, I thought I'd ask your opinion, dear readers, because you've been such dear ... um ... readers.

Don’t have Facebook? Don’t blame you—just tell me what you think!

https://apps.facebook.com/my-polls/czaugd?

Well, it appears I’m now a former newspaper writer, and my humor column is an orphan. Ironically, I didn’t find out KPC News bought the papers I wrote for until I read it in the paper. But while I considered the possibility that they might use their own reporters to gather local news, I held out hope that they might like my humor column, and maybe even use it elsewhere.

 

Instead, my first official contact was a phone call informing me I had become a “duplication of effort”. On the one hand, it seemed kind of abrupt after 23 years of writing Slightly Off The Mark and close to 25 years of doing news articles and features; on the other hand, the people making these decisions aren’t the same ones I’ve been working with. It’s business. You can storm the newspaper office to protest (and I kinda wish you would, just to make me feel better), but it’s probably pointless. I am upset that I didn’t get a chance to write a farewell column, though. Instead of going out like M*A*S*H, I went out like “Alf”.  (Oh, just look it up.)

 

            In addition to being the end of the best job I’ve ever had, it’s a huge hit to us financially. I still have my full time job, but this is the equivalent of taking a ten percent pay cut. I’d like to find someone else to print my column, but everyone wants to be a humor columnist and nobody wants to print one. My very funny friend Barry Parham, after trying to sell his column to literally thousands of publications, titled one of his books after the response he got from one editor:  “Sorry, We Can’t Use Funny”.

 

            To add insult to injury, I have nine or ten columns written ahead! I don’t know what my next move will be, but if I don’t find a home for the column, start selling some books, or win the lottery, I might have to give up my writing in return for that oft-joked about career in the fast food industry. Stay tuned.

Earlier this year my publisher was bought by a bigger publisher, and now the newspapers I write for have been purchased by a bigger media group that owns close to a dozen papers. No, I have no idea what the future holds ...

 

http://www.kpcnews.com/news/latest/newssun/article_43f4aa9d-7f0b-5140-9541-9f8200d623ec.html

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

            A computer genius/loser at life recently spent several months slaving away, night and day, to hack into the iCloud service and swipe nude photos of numerous celebrities.

            This goes to show you, some guys will do anything to see women nude. You know it was a guy. And apparently a guy who wasn’t satisfied seeing most of these people nude—or close enough to nude—o n movies or cable TV.

            I’ve never cared for this “cloud” idea, in which you send all your important computer stuff somewhere else so it doesn’t get lost if your computer crashes. So, where’s somewhere else? What is the cloud, really?

More computers. Someone else’s computers.

 

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

            I made a promise that I would attempt to go back to humor when I wrote my September 11th column. The reasoning: This is a humor column.

            Still, it’s hard to forget that we’re at war.

            Ha, see what I did there? I made a joke already! Lots of people have forgotten we’re at war. Extremists are cutting a swath across the Arab world, gaining power by the second and threatening pretty much everyone, yet we’ve somehow managed to convince ourselves that it has nothing to do with the rest of the world. If Americans had this much self-denial in other areas, we’d all be well within our body mass index goals. And I’d be off the M&M’s.

            Still, it occurs to me that humor is needed during bad times, even more than during good times. Over in Iraq, the ISIS people hold a weekly comic open mike night, every Wednesday at seven if they’re not busy beheading infidels.

            On a related note, if you go on the comedy stage over there, I suggest you be well rehearsed. Believe me; it’s not a good idea to bomb.

            Anyway, I was thinking maybe I could start making fun of the Muslim extremists who want to convert or kill every human being on the planet, because how funny is that? Plenty of room for belly laughs, there.

           

The key is that, so far as I can tell, extremists have absolutely no sense of humor. At least, not about themselves. Sure, they think blowing up New Jersey is hysterical, and who doesn’t? But make one joke about airdropping a pig farm on Tehran, and they go hog wild. So I’m thinking I could do my part in this war by poking fun at them until they get so mad they make a mistake, like accidentally touching the red wire to the blue wire during terrorist training camp. )

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

            Like many published authors, I’ve developed a psychological disorder known as OCA: Obsessively Checking Amazon.

            This happens when you get a book listed on Amazon.com, and find yourself waking up in the middle of the night just to check the book’s ranking. When you don’t sell many copies (that would be most writers) your entire day can be made with one sale, or broken by the precipitous ranking drop that comes after that one sale.

            My fourth book came out in May, and my wife had to use a Taser and a crowbar to pry me away from the internet before summer arrived. My rank peaked in mid-May at 68,201, which sounds pretty good until you realize that the previous February, for reasons that remain a mystery, my overall rank hit 9,093.

            Of course, that counts only Amazon sales, as opposed to sales from other sources. I keep a box full of books in the trunk of my car, just in case I stumble across an unwary victim—ahem, reader—with a few bucks for books.

           

 

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

            I have a bad habit of being optimistic about humanity.

            Oh, in theory that’s a good thing. Let’s all think the best of people! Shouldn’t it be that way? Sure it should. Chamberlain thought the best of Hitler. So did Stalin, who was certain Hitler wouldn’t be dumb enough to invade Russia and stick around through winter. Come to think of it, just the word “Hitler” is a good hint that thinking the best of people might be a mistake.

            But this isn’t about mass-killing despots. This is about passwords.

            Hitler would have had a very secure password. He didn’t think the best of people.

            According to researchers, in 2013 internet users finally got smart, and stopped using “password” as their #1 password when dealing with computers and internet sites. Finally, some sanity!

            It dropped to number two.

            Number one is now “123456”. Yeah.

            It would be 12345, but so many sites require six digits.

            Another team of security researchers uncovered a cache of two million login credentials, and according to their research, “password” was far down in fourth position, after, “123456”, “123456789”, and “1234”.

            Next came “12345” and, yes, “12345678”.

            After that, in a sudden desire to be different, came: “admin”.

            And so my optimism is defeated.

           

Yahoo Tech … excuse me, Yahoo! Tech points out that you can’t get much worse than “password”. It has no numbers, no capital letters, and no unusual symbols, and can be guessed pretty easily. It reminds me a lot of my first computer password, which if I recall correctly was “Mark”. No, worse: It was “mark”. )

 

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

            I was going to make fun of soccer last week, until I realized I’d never actually watched a soccer game. It wasn’t fair, poking fun of something I had no knowledge of, although maybe I’m the only one who feels that way. So I sat down to watch an entire World Cup game (Mexico vs. Greece). It’s good to experience new things, educate yourself, exposure yourself to other cultures.

            Now I’m ready to make fun of soccer.

            (You might be reading this after the World Cup is over, thanks to the quirks of my schedule—it’s like Star Trek time travel, only without the techno-babble.)

            Soccer’s just never been on my radar. Not only do I have little interest in sports, but I live in America, the black hole of soccer. We even stole its proper name, football, and gave it to an entirely different sport.

           

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

            My wife has a lot of good qualities. Of  course, if she had bad qualities I wouldn’t write about them here, would I? That’s called “preserving the evidence”. I didn’t read all those mysteries for nothin’, bub.

            I, on the other hand … well, my qualities are only so-so.

            Which leaves me here, in the doghouse, which I guarantee the dog doesn’t appreciate at all. You see, in May Emily became a college graduate, one of the first ever in either of our families, and I didn’t throw her a party.

            Oh, I meant to. But I also meant to write a bestseller and have a beach house in Maui, and that hasn’t happened so far, either.

            What threw me is that, after a great deal of thought, she elected not to go to the actual graduation ceremony. When I was younger I thought that kind of thing was a requirement, but turns out they’ll still give you your diploma even if you don’t slap on the cap and gown. That being the case, I assume my sneaking into Purdue’s graduation with a stolen cap and gown thirty years ago would have gotten me nowhere.

            I returned the gown, by the way. Kept the cap.

           

For some reason I’ve never been certain of, you’re graded in college on a 0-4 scale. You’d think colleges would be able to come up with something that had more numbers! For instance, my solid C average in high school would have translated to a solid … I don’t know … 2.5? Math was never my thing, which explains the solid C. )

 

 

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

 

            So there’s this rich guy named Donald Sterling, who told his half-black girlfriend that he doesn’t like black people. And even though he said it behind the doors of his own home, somebody recorded it and now everybody knows, and they won’t let him be anywhere near his own business anymore.

 

            That’s pretty much it. Now the media has mostly moved on, while Sterling is losing that business in return for a whole lot of money, which makes him just as rich but still not a nice guy.

 

            Sterling, who owns a basefootketball team or something like that, has a long history of saying racist things. His newest rant caused the predictable argument between Republicans and Democrats, each side claiming Sterling belongs to the other. It was like when I used to get picked last in gym class.

 

            The truth turned out to be unclear. Sterling, despite a history of contributing to Democratic candidates, is a registered Republican. Maybe he’s a Republican in name only, making him a RINO elephant … but his contributions to Democrats are a pittance for someone of his wealth. It was the equivalent of Donald Trump throwing loose change at a RINO wino.

 

            Despite myself, I dug into his background, trying to look under his white hood and get a sense of the man. My conclusion: He’s not left or right. He’s just a bad guy, probably throwing his support at anyone who helps him make money.

 

            I’ve known some decent rich people who work hard, then give back. Donald Sterling’s not one of them.

 

           

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

            Last week, I described how preparing to fix my home’s only toilet turned into a half day ordeal. The rest of the day went pretty much the way you’d expect:

 

            After staring at the instructions for half an hour and muttering to myself, I figured out how to get the new piece of toilet innards in. (At about that point my wife popped her head in, and I went on a ten minute diatribe that basically consisted of “Easy! They said it was easy!” along with some hysterical laughter.)

            The new piece had to be reconnected to the water line, and the instructions gave four different ways to do that, depending on the incoming line. Flared? Flanged? Screwed? Something was screwed, all right. (Later I would mispronounce the word “flanged” to the guy at the hardware store, even though I knew how to pronounce it. My head was that screwed—and nailed—by then.) My setup, I determined, was flanged.

            That took the “already installed” washer, which I’d thrown aside because it had deteriorated to a little ring of black pond scum. The rubber washer that came with the new parts, which took me ten minutes to separate from the other washer that came with the new parts, wouldn’t be necessary. Really?

            With the old washer back in, everything was complete. Right? By then I’d skipped over steps fourteen through seventeen and was desperately craving a beer, even though I hate beer. I headed downstairs to turn the water back on. Instantly the sound of the tank filling could be heard upstairs.

            At least, that was hopefully what the sound was. Running upstairs revealed that the toilet was indeed filling, and it even stopped when it was supposed to. I’d saved the day!

            Of course, there was also that water spraying out from under the toilet.

            It may seem like a good idea: Constantly cleaning your bathroom floor with a good, steady spray of water. In reality, I’ve learned that water spraying all over a room tends to end badly. I ran back downstairs to shut off the water. Then back upstairs to tighten the nut. Then back downstairs to turn on the water. Then back upstairs to get sprayed in the face, and tighten the nut more.

            The old rubber washer, built by Korean kids who are now Korean elders, just couldn’t handle the strain of being taken out, then put back in again.

            I ran back downstairs and turned off the valves, which also turned off the supply of water to my home’s heating system. One of the valves sprayed me in the face.

This was new.

            Apparently that fixture also had a rubber washer that couldn’t take the strain.

            By now I’d run up and down the stairs often enough to prepare for a marathon, my back was screaming in agony, and I’d started to wonder where that half bottle of vodka had gotten to that I stashed away somewhere after New Year’s, 2008. But I persevered, because when you gotta go, you gotta go, and my property’s outhouse disappeared a long time ago. I tried to tighten the nut again, and when that didn’t work I started going through the steps, one by one. Again.

            The dog, by then, had retreated into the living room and was lying on the couch, trying to be invisible. He began casting fearful looks in my direction when I wandered into the room, compulsively folding and unfolding the directions, clothes soaked and eyes wild.

            “I have to start over from scratch. Heh. It must be the washer inside. I gotta start all over. Ha. Ha ha. Hahahahahaha!!!!!!!”

            At which point the dog wisely left for wherever my wife was hiding.

            At the hardware store, the hardware guy patiently listened to my explanation of what I needed, which was peppered with a lot of “little round thing”, and “goes on the other thing for the stuff”, and a few words I can’t relate here. Finally I demonstrated on an actual model of a toilet, which I discovered was bolted to the wall when I tried to lift it to show him the bottom. It occurred to me later that an awfully lot of people must come in there, trying to describe the things they need for their stuff.

            But finally he understood. “We don’t have that.”

            Uh huh.

            What he did have was a little package of plastic pipe connector whatsits, which included a little plastic washer, which might or might not do the trick. “I’ll try it – why not? Also, do you have any whiskey?”

            Looks like I picked a bad decade to give up drinking.

            I completely disassembled the assembled assembly, reassembled it, added the new washer, and tromped downstairs, where the water spray soaked me until, ironically, I turned the water back on. Then the leak there stopped, and since that valve has to be on to supply the furnace, I figured it should be called even.

I heard the sound of rushing water. Edgar Allen Poe never wrote a more suspenseful moment.

            Upstairs, I discovered the toilet was working perfectly. Also, a little stream of water was wandering its way down the water line behind the toilet, onto a pile of wet towels. Absolutely nothing had changed since before the job started.

            The instructions say the connections holding all that goshdarnit inside the toilet, and hooking it to the water line, should be hand tightened only. I got a wrench. Crawling under the toilet, I cranked that water line as tight as it would go.

            The stream stopped. The dripping started. Drip. Drip. Drip. Right down the water line, in a way that made it impossible to catch in a container.

            And that’s why, if you should visit my home and have the unfortunate need for a bathroom run, you’ll find a towel wrapped around the line under my toilet, a towel that has to be replaced daily. Hey, it’s a lot less water than was going down the drain before I started.

            Besides, I know when I’m beaten.

 

            Note: The toilet has since been replaced … but not by me.

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

In honor of my son-in-law coming over to replace the toilet in my house—as far as I know, the old one was original equipment—here’s the story from a few months back, about what happened that led to its retirement.

 

The best possible advice about home improvement comes in two simple words:

Call. A. Professional.

Okay, that’s three words. I screwed it up, just as I screw up every attempt to fix my home’s ancient and decrepit pluming. It’s a story old as time, just like my house.

I used to be smart about it. I used to rent. Sure, there was the possibility of an uncaring landlord who wouldn’t fix something, but at least it was on them, and not me.

But nooooo …. I had to buy a house.

My first attempt at home repair was to replace a leaky trap underneath my kitchen sink. A trap is the little curvy thing that keeps sewer gases from coming up, and also serves as the last line of defense against permanently lost wedding rings. My trap was of metal made in the 18 something’s, which was now no line of anything.

I didn’t know plumbing metal could get brittle. When I couldn’t get the couplings to turn, I hooked on a wrench and gave it a good, hard pull. The trap exploded in my face. It was a trap!

That’s not a metaphor—it literally exploded in my face. You’d think, after rinsing out my eyes and bandaging the cuts, I would have recognized that as a sign. But without money to pay a professional I persevered, which is to say continued failing.

Fast forward 23 years.

A faint sound coming from the toilet turned out to be a small leak of water, constantly going down the drain. There are far worse places the water could go, but it was still a waste. I looked into the back of the toilet, where all the fun innards are, and realized the easiest way to fix the problem would be to just take all the mechanical stuff out and replace it in one piece.

The very definition of “it seemed like a good idea at the time”.

At the store, I found exactly what was needed: the whole thingamajig, almost totally assembled and ready to be plugged right in. It even said on the box the two most important things you want to read: “Fits all toilets”, and “easy installation”. It could be installed in minutes, the packaging explained, which I automatically expanded to hours.

My wife checked the first aid kit and retreated to a safe position that was close enough to hear cries of pain. In truth, she’s better at this stuff than I am once she’s tried it the first time, but this particular job she hadn’t done before. I should have just left it to her, anyway.

At first the dog, who wasn’t around last time this happened, followed me around with wagging tail. After the first hour of hearing me talk to myself and read instructions out loud Bae continued to follow me, but kept his distance and wore a puzzled expression.

The first thing you should do is turn off the water to the toilet. Modern toilet installations have a valve you can turn. Mine was installed in the early 1900’s by a blind kid and two drunken monkeys. All untrained.

After some searching in the basement, it became clear I’d have to turn off all the water in the house, and fortunately there is a valve for that. Afterwards I marched back upstairs, emptied the toilet, and watched it fill up again.

Another trip downstairs. Yes, the main water line was turned off. Maybe it was water still in the lines? I opened a downstairs tap. Nothing came out. Upstairs, I flushed the toilet. It began filling again.

Another trip downstairs. Carefully following the maze of piping revealed that there was a way to isolate the toilet after all, by turning two different valves. Unfortunately, that shut off water to the furnace, which uses hot water radiators to heat the house; the water was back-feeding from the radiators into the toilet. Apparently it never occurred to the two drunken monkeys that the toilet might need to be fixed during winter.

An hour in, and the new packaging had not yet been opened.

You have to reach under the back of the toilet and unscrew stuff to take the internal fixtures out, something I didn’t know until after opening the instructions. The day before I’d hurt my back shoveling snow, so curling up on the floor of my miniscule bathroom was a new adventure in pain. (It was at about this time that the dog started keeping its distance.)

Still, removing the old stuff turned out to be easy once I figured out how. The biggest problem was that all the water in the back didn’t drain out until I disconnected the water line, then it all came out at once. Not to worry: I always have a stack of towels waiting. Better water than blood.

Then I took a closer look at the instructions for the “easy” installment of my new whatchamacallit:

There were nineteen steps. Nineteen.

And get this: The stuff that was all together, so that all I had to do was put it in? It had to be taken apart first. Yeah. There were three individual whojamadiggys in the package, and one was a little setup of two washers, and two plastic nuts, already connected to a long, curved plastic … thing. They all had to be separated. One rubber washer turned out to be two washers, which were apparently made one inside the other to save money. It didn’t say how to separate them. By then I was ready to use a chain saw.

Next week: It gets worse.

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

            At work the other day, while taking a 911 call, calling a police unit on the radio, checking an address on a map, and following an approaching storm system on a TV screen, I remembered an article I read recently:

            That multitaskers pay a mental price.

            Which explains a lot.

            So when I got off work I did some web searching about multitasking, which is easy to do on my new iPhone while cooking breakfast, talking to friends on the same phone, and watching the morning news.

            The Stanford study focuses specifically on media multitaskers, but it turns out their results apply to pretty much everyone. We’ve all familiar with media multitaskers, of course. You’ve probably seen videos of people just walking while texting, resulting in the imprints of their foreheads on glass doors, or a fall into a fountain. You might have been about to call in a drunk driver when you suddenly realized the driver was texting, or possibly updating his Twitter to complain about the idiot driver swerving in front of him – who’s busy posting to his Facebook about the moron tailgating him.

            It doesn’t have to be high tech, though. One time I was following a lady who was swerving all over the road. When she pulled into a turn lane I got beside her and saw she was eating a Dairy Queen Blizzard. It looked delicious, by the way.

            I drove on, and about ten minutes later I heard an area fire department get paged out to a car accident – in the same direction the lady turned. When I checked later, sure enough, it was her. (She wasn’t badly hurt, but probably ended up with a Blizzard pattern on her shirt.)

            Maybe she should have had her dessert in the parking lot?

            People who are texting, e-mailing, instant messaging, and watching TV at the same time – and yes, I’ve seen it – are distracted by just about everything, according to the study. In fact, according to another study, their productivity goes down by about 40%. This is assuming they don’t plow their Chevy into a utility pole, which reduces productivity by 100%.

            Multitaskers are generally proud of that ability, and think they’re good at it. But it turns out the brain can’t concentrate on two things at once: Instead, it must switch back and forth quickly, and the more things it switches to, the less it can concentrate. Outside distractions get more distracting, making it that much worse.

            Just thinking about it can be very distracting.

            Switching back and forth may take a few tenths of a second, and if you’re doing two things that aren’t all that important to productivity – or safety – it’s not that big of a deal. Do it a lot while also doing important stuff and it can cause mental blocks and affect performance. This is why we should take laptops and cell phones away from Congressmen.

            It turns out, according to the research, that multitaskers don’t have a specific skill to be proud of; on the contrary, they suck at everything. They don’t remember as well, they’re distracted more easily, and they can’t switch back and forth as quickly as other people. They can’t keep things separate in their minds, can’t filter out irrelevant information, and …

            What were we talking about?

            Oh, yeah: I seriously did just describe Congress! This explains everything. All you have to do is add that they think spending more money will balance a budget, and you’ve actually described both chambers of Congress, and the White House. Give them each a Dilly Bar and the entire government will collapse.

            On the other hand, the researchers conclude that doing less will accomplish more, and that concept hasn’t worked out well for Congress, either.

            I believe it was Henry David Thoreau who advocated simplifying life down to the five necessities: food, shelter, clothing, fuel, and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 20-something daughter. I think that last explains why he ended up leaving Walden Pond in a hurry.

            (I just checked the internet while texting my wife and watching Mythbusters, and it turns out Emerson really did have daughters. However, I’ve seen photos of Thoreau, and I don’t think they’d be interested.)

            In any case, Thoreau might not be the best example of simplifying. Why? Because he was an author, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, historian, and transcendentalist.

            So maybe he was the multitasker of his age. If smart phones had been around at the time, his head would have exploded. Or he’d have walked into Walden Pond.

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

            Every now and then a concept just makes me stop and gape in amazement. The designated hitter, Joe Biden as Vice-President, a transistor radio you can listen to in the shower …

Mostly terrible ideas. Ever try to dance “Thriller” in the shower? Better have an anti-slip mat.

            But this one, which struck me as both a great and terrible idea, seemed even more amazing:

            Powdered alcohol.

            Party in your water bottle.

            Apparently this isn’t a new idea, but it was new to me. Everyone who remembers surfing the internet for the first time understands how that goes. Back in the 70’s the General Foods Corp. filed a patent for powdered alcohol, which they made by absorbing ethanol into carbohydrate powder.

            “But isn’t too much carbohydrate bad for you?” Seriously, that’s your only health concern with this?

            This time around a fellow named Mark Phillips decided having a bag of powdered alcohol with you at all times would be a good idea, and came up with something he called Palcohol. I could do a column just on that name. Phillips, who describes himself as an “active guy”, wanted to have some fast booze dust available, to wind down after a hard day of hiking, biking, or camping.

            Heaven forbid such activities would call for Gatorade.

            But I know many people who are incapable of calling a day fun unless they top it off with the alcoholic beverage of their choice, so I understand where Phillips is coming from. He developed six varieties of powdered alcohol: vodka, rum, and four cocktails. Those last are Cosmopolitan, Mojito, Powderita (!) and Lemon Drop, and shouldn’t that choice satisfy any extreme sports fan?

            So what did they miss? Well, what would many people want to hold under a garden hose after, say, wrecking cars, blowing up outhouses, or shooting stop signs? That’s right: Beer. You’d think that would be the easy one—don’t they actually make it with carbohydrates?

            So I hit Google, and sure enough: powdered beer. The Beer Street Journal (no, that’s not a typo), says the Alaskan company Pat’s Backcountry Beverages has created a waterless beer that has flavor, aroma, and alcohol, and even bubbles thanks to a carbonator bottle.

            Again, just to be clear: Not making this up.

            But over with the highbrow booze, Phillips ran into trouble. The Federal Government—you know they’d show up in this tale—supposedly gave label approval to the dry idea, but then said the approvals were issued in error. In a cloud of dust, the ability to fill your pocket with vodka disappeared. Well, you could still do it, but you’re in trouble if the plastic bag breaks.

            The strange thing about this is that a product like Palcohol would have gone through an extensive permit process before ever getting to the label approval stage. This was noted by Robert Lehrman, who runs a beverage law website and reported on the idea of an extra-dry martini. Shaken, not blown.

            Yes, a beverage law website. Surely you’re not surprise?

            Lehrman thought this approval, followed by a rapid disproval, didn’t ring true. He figured some lawmakers wanted more information before proceeding with the approval.

            Some people are blaming Big Liquor for the delay. (I’ll let you insert your own joke, there.) I think the lawmakers did the same thing I did: They saw “powdered alcohol”, stopped in their campaigning tracks, and said, “Wha—? We need to check this out.”

            So now we await the chance to always have a bag of booze in our hats, hidden in our boots, or mixed with our Metamucil. Yeah, someday soon grandpa will be much happier about his diet.

            I’m of mixed feelings about this, and on a related note, do the powder packets come with little mixing sticks? And are the sticks hollow, so you can drink through them? On the one hand, I don’t see how this will be abused any more than liquid alcohol will, although it may make things easier. Any place that doesn’t allow alcohol, but does allow soft drinks, will find imbibers experimenting with a whole new taste sensation.

            “How did you like the movie, honey?”

            “Bweaugh …. Blaaaagh!”

            “So Quentin Tarintino makes you sick, too?”

            But I suppose if somebody really wants to act stupid and make dumb comments in public, they’ll either carry one of those little flasks of liquid or run for Congress. My bigger concern (and this doesn’t apply to Congress) is not how they’ll harm others, but how they’ll harm themselves.

            The best example: The product’s website warns people that the alcohol powder should not be snorted.

            Great. Tell people who can’t wait to drink not to do something stupid.

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

            I’ve been seen recently with my arm in a sling, and whenever asked I just explained it was for sympathy. My wife put a stop to that when she realized some people thought I was serious. Worse, the people who thought I was really hurt didn’t give me much sympathy, anyway.

            It is true that I didn’t have to use the sling: I’m trying to heal up my tendonitis, otherwise known as lateral epicondylitis. That’s the term I usually use, because it makes people feel bad for me, until they look it up. I got the condition by throwing bricks off to one side, which sounds manly until you realize I was only throwing them a few feet.

            The irony’s not lost on me that demolishing a chimney by hand only got me injured after it was all on the ground.

            The thing is, if I don’t move my arm it’s not all that painful, usually. But I’m right handed, and it’s my right elbow. You don’t realize how much you use an elbow until you’re not supposed to, so I put the sling on as a way to remind me not to use it.

            That only works some, because I cheat. The cheating makes it hurt, then I get angry because I can’t blame anyone else.

            So when I went to the doctor, I asked him how soon this would go away. He replied: “You might die with it.”

            Which is bad enough by itself, but my mind interpreted his words as “You might die from it”, which cause exactly the reaction you can imagine it caused.

            It turns out one of the things that can worsen tendonitis is keyboarding, which in the olden days was called typing, which I do a lot. Now, at work there are three keyboards and three mouses … mice? … um, hand control devices around my work station, and two of my six computer screens are touch screens. There are no duties that don’t involve keyboarding or reaching.

            Then there’s my part time job, which is … well, you’re reading it. I could try handwriting my newspaper stuff, but considering I can’t write with my left hand, that’s kind of pointless.

            Can you imagine the editor trying to transcribe my left hand cursive? “I think he wrote ‘All mimsy were ye borogoves’ … stealing from Lewis Carroll is very odd in a column about home maintenance. Did he get another concussion?”

            I could cut down on my fiction writing, which at the moment is bringing in just enough money to pay for the tea I drink while writing fiction. Have I cut down? Well, I’ve got one book coming out in about a month and another in October, I’m well into the rough draft of a new novel, and I just started working on a collection based on my early columns. That last will probably be called: “They Amputated My Elbow, And Other Tales From A Guy Who Doesn’t Know When To Quit”.

            Or maybe something shorter.

            It’s go through some pain or don’t write at all, and I’d rather give up on chocolate and Mountain Dew than not write, although it would be a close call. So I learned, as people do when a body part hurts, that I use it for a whole lot more than I thought I did. For instance:

            Opening a bottle of Mountain Dew, which takes two hands. I miss that more than anything.

            Tearing open a plastic bag of anything. Yes, I’m thinking chocolate, although it also hurts to open less important things, like food and first aid supplies. I actually have to track down scissors, although my wife would rather I have her do it because, hey – scissors.

            Basically, grasping for anything or reaching for anything hurts, which isn’t a big deal if it’s something small enough to get with my left hand. But I don’t use my left hand, because I haven’t led with my left since my brother beat me up in fourth grade, and that hurt too. Thus the sling, which is there simply to remind me to lead with the left again. I’ve also had some success with anchoring my right hand in a jacket or sweatshirt pocket.

            But that doesn’t get me as much sympathy.

            So that’s my explanation for now, although I’m working on a story that involves something a bit more interesting. Maybe I hurt it rescuing a kitten from a tree, climbing Mount Everest (which is silly, because it’s cold up there), or fighting off whatever female celebrity is popular right now. Whatever else I have to do to get healed up, I’m not going to give up the writing.

            Although if I have to go left handed for my next book signing, I might rethink that.

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

            “Tragedy in Churubusco when three residents went on a walk to show off their spring clothes during the warm up this morning, and were later found frozen to death. Their bodies were originally scheduled to be cremated, but couldn’t be thawed fast enough.”

            This is why writers should live in Indiana; that kind of stuff just writes itself.

            Oh, I know, I’ve talked a lot about the weather this year. It’s only April—whatever will my columns be about in July? Heat, I’m guessing. But we came close this spring to actually having that snow tornado I used to joke about, so if you’re interested in weather at all, it’s been an interesting year.

            “Mental health officials are seeing a sudden spike in emotional breakdowns after people went out last week to mow their lawns, only to find two inches of snow on the ground.”

            You don’t even have to make it up: That actually happened to me last week, except that I went to the door to bring the dog in. His frostbite/heat exhaustion is healing nicely, by the way.

            It’s one of the few times I actually dropped the F-bomb in public. I opened the door that morning and stood there for a moment, honestly puzzled about why everything outside had a strange white coloring to it. Then the dog came storming in as if a snow tornado was chasing him, and he was covered in white. He shook himself, and a winter storm developed in my kitchen.

            Then I looked outside and said, “What the fudge?!?!”

            Only, to quote writer Jean Shepherd, I didn’t say fudge.

            The neighbors have teenagers, but since it was early morning I’m hopeful they didn’t hear me. If they did, they probably thought something like, “Hey, they had that word when he was a kid!” Then I’d yell “Get off my lawn!” and it would be downhill from there.

            Anyway, this is Indiana. Worse, this is northern Indiana, within the range of lake effect snow while too far away to actually play in the waves, assuming the waves haven’t frozen themselves into some Salvador Dali shape.

            (Yes, I’m a small town Midwestern boy who actually knows who Salvador Dali is. Okay, I looked him up. What’s with the melting clocks? Is it August?)

            Sorry if this column seems a little disjointed: There have been so many barometric pressure changes this month that my sinuses exploded, and I’ve been off balance ever since. Which brings me back to my point: We’re used to big weather extremes, to such an extent that many people actually say “I wish it would just stay cold, instead of going up and down like this.” That’s a concept we pay for in January, when the missing Polar ice cap often lingers in the fields just outside of Huntertown.

            By the way, Huntertown wasn’t named after my family. It actually stems from the Indian world “Hunyukcoldon”, which means “The snow’s melting, grab your sandbags”.

            Anyway …

            What brought all this up was last week, when it hit the mid 70’s here in Albion. Then thunderstorms came through. Then the next day I walked out on the front porch and not only was everything covered in snow, but it felt and even smelled like winter. The next night we reached a record cold temperature. The day after that it hit 60.

            The day after that I boarded up all my doors and windows, and set fire to my boots.

            Is it any wonder everyone’s talking about the weather? I mean, except the Weather Channel. I had it on at work for eight hours the other night, and every time I glanced up I saw … no weather. Only a scroll across the bottom of the screen explaining that the weather for the next hour would be delayed by a very special episode of “Extreme Ice Road Air Rescue Fishing With The Stars”.

In their defense, thanks to The Weather Channel, I now know a great deal about tow truck drivers, steel construction workers, the Coast Guard, and Mars. Still, I can’t help thinking a name change is in order.

            But who can blame them? Reality programming gives them a chance to sit back, take a breath, and try to figure out what the fudge is going on in Indiana.

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

            It wouldn’t be another year if we didn’t come across lists of new words, something I discussed when the year was new. But what about old words? Now I’ve also found a list of words that at least one expert (insert air quotes here) believes should be retired. Next week, maybe I’ll find a list of annoying writing habits (such as the overuse of parenthesis).

            One that made the list is the word “huge”, not because of the word itself but because of the way it’s been used. This is maybe nit-picking, a term that was banned in 1994, but huge does not mean very important or very interesting. Sometimes it’s used both ways in the same sentence:

            “Astronomers have made the huge discovery of a huge planet way out where it shouldn’t be, in a huge orbit far from its huge sun.”

            “We’re having a huge sale on king size mattresses! They’re huge!”

            More accurate would be: “Oprah’s huge this year! No, I don’t mean her ratings; she must have gone off her diet.”

            Or, “Is Rush Limbaugh still huge? Let me wave away that cigar smoke … yep. Dude, even talk show hosts exercise.”

            Here’s another one: “The ___ cliff”. One commentator said he was happy we averted the fiscal cliff last year, but that it’s a horrible metaphor.

            I don’t know if I’d use the term “averted” … that makes it sound as if the problem went away, instead of being kicked down the road, which is another overused but descriptive term. Still, maybe he had a point. Maybe we’re headed toward a fiscal concrete wall, or perhaps more accurately, a fiscal train wreck. This will be comforting for those of you who are afraid of heights.

            Here’s one I agree with wholeheartedly: YOLO. The new generation can’t be bothered to spell things out, but for those of you over forty that means “You only live once”. Unless you’re James Bond, who only lived twice on Her Majesty’s Secret Service while sipping Thunderballs with Dr. No and Goldfinger.

            In theory, YOLO is a great concept. You only live once, so work hard for that college education! Keep a good attitude! Pursue your chosen career! Make good karmic points, just in case you’re wrong and get reincarnated!

            Unfortunately, in practice YOLO is used as an excuse for stupidity. “Dude – I’ll only live once, so I’m going to get so wasted and jump my skateboard over the shed and onto a moving pickup truck. YOLO!”

            If you only live once, shouldn’t you want to stick around for a while?

            Sequester means setting something apart, separating it. Well, it’s supposed to. Now it’s synonymous with that overused term, kicking the can down the road. Sequester, in today’s terms, signifies a group of elected officials who can’t be bothered to follow their actual job description, and so put off working on budget issues because they know they’ll probably get reelected even if they go on camera and call their constituents blind idiots. We should retire sequester and replace it with “bureaucratic dictator for life”.

            Bubble. I used to like bubbles. They floated around, reflected the light, delighted kids and dogs. Now they burst and cause economic crisis, so off with them!

            We had a tech bubble and a housing bubble and a stock-market bubble, and now apparently we have a bitcoin bubble. The longer a bubble lasts, the worse things go when it bursts. So here’s an idea for you to chew on: The federal government spending bubble has been expanding for a long, long time. Because we keep kicking it down the road.

            The New Normal. It means things have changed. Well, things always change, people. I’ve been through a half dozen new normals in my lifetime. Forty, if you count clothing styles.

            Bromance. Kirk and Spock, Han and Chewie, Starsky and Hutch, Goose and Maverick, Ernie and Bert … I could go on all day about guys who love each other like brothers, including Sam and Dean from Supernatural, who not only love each other like brothers but actually are brothers.

            It’s living proof that two guys can be incredible close without being close in that way, not that there’s anything wrong with that way. But these guys spend all their time together without getting together – except in the infamous slash fanfictions that suggest Kirk would go for a guy who only gets in the mood once every seven years.

            Then we have Man___. Man what, you say? Mancave, manplaining, mancation … manopause. I think I’m going through that last one right now.

            Mancaves often end up being in the garage … to show you how out of touch I am, my mancave has a desk, computer, and stacks upon stacks of books. It’s my literary Hoosier Heaven.

            I’m not sure, but I suspect the term was invented to give men a sense of ownership, now that they’re becoming more and more aware that they never were really in charge.

            Here’s another term some people think should go away: online waiting room.

            Apparently that’s where you’re expected to wait while Healthcare.gov spins around and decides whether to tell you how much higher your premiums and deductible are going to be. I’ve got news for you on that one:

            It’s not going away soon, even if we kick it down the road and over a cliff.

.

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