ozma914: mustache Firefly (mustache)
( May. 2nd, 2017 05:34 pm)
Sometimes you just have to know where you came from.

But we don't have the money for that, so instead we decided to find out where our dog came from. So Emily found a doggie DNA test on sale and gave it to me as a Christmas present--I mean, she bought the test for me, to give to the dog--never mind. The point is, the results are in! It turns out Baeowulf (that's our spelling, get over it) is ... wait for it ... a dog.

That was kinda anticlimactic.

More specifically, Bae is, like most good Americans, a mutt. Or maybe I shouldn't say like  Americans, since it turns out he's 25% German Shepherd. I believe Emily and I both have some German in our ancestry, so ... coincidence? Well, yeah.

But he's 12.5% each of five other breeds, with a smattering of others. In fact, it would appear that his parents had a party: One was a German Shepherd/Old English Sheepdog/Siberian Husky, and the other was a Collie/Labrador Retriever/White Swiss Shepherd. So, just as my wife and I have Cherokee in us, Bae has Shepherd on both sides. Awkward family reunions.

I saw definite connections in some of what the company claims are common breed behaviors. For instance:

They say German Shepherds can vary from calm and watchful to energetic. This describes Bae: for instance, calm and half-asleep until the moment the mail arrives, followed by him trying to break the door down like a TV cop. He's completely guilt-free about it: "Dude, he came onto my porch. My porch! All I want is a leg."

Then there's the Collie, which like most of the others is described as intelligent. According to Wisdom Panel they're usually friendly, but can be wary of strangers. That fits: Bae is wary of strangers until the moment he gets that first pat on the head, then he's in love--as long as you don't mess with Mom Emily.

The Lab, in addition to meeting the other descriptions, can be very food motivated. Bae can be asleep in the other corner of the house, but if we even think about the kitchen he'll come running as if the postman is in it.

The English Sheepdog can be motivated by food too, and favorite toys, but he can be stubborn. Try to get Bae to take a pill or a shower, and he's stubborn as a politician guarding his taxes.

The Siberian Husky may chase wildlife. Bae will chase wildlife. And if it moves, it's wildlife.

Then there's the White Swiss Shepherd. Raciiisstttt!!!! The White ... um, let's call him the Swiss ... can be aggressive with other pets or people. Bae usually isn't, unless he and Emily are alone and anyone comes within a mile of her. Then they will be eaten, and killed. Hopefully not in that order.

Finally there was the "Mixed-breed" group, which made up the last 12.5%. Basically the DNA tests found evidence of those groups from way back in Bae's ancestry, just like I go Irish if you search back to the early 1700s. To paraphrase a line from "Stripes", we've been kicked out of every decent country in the world.

Part is the Asian groups, which shockingly are compromised of breeds from Asia--and the Arctic. That's Malamute, Shar-Pei, and Chow, for instance. They're often bred for guarding, which explains why even I can't approach my wife without getting Bae's attention.

Part is the Sighthound Group, which were old breeds often owned by royalty. You got your Greyhounds, you got your Wolfhounds, you got your Whippet--Whippet good. (You older music buffs, you'll get that one.) No, I don't know why kings and princes wanted fast dogs. To chase queens and princesses? There'll be a Disney movie about this.

Finally comes the Terrier group. I didn't see that coming. They were bred to hunt and kill vermin, such as mice, rats, and politicians. I guess I should have seen that coming, since all Bae has to do is smell one of those from a distance and he's in jumping and biting mode--came in real handy during the election. Still, I have a hard time relating a 95 pound dog to a Chihuahua.

Apparently they tested for 200-250 breeds, which is pretty impressive. We expected he might have some wolf in him, but that--they call it Wild Canids--came up negative, as did Companion, Guard, Hounds, Mountain, Middle East, and African breeds.

Just the same, I think he does companion just fine.

This originally went up on the 4 County Mall website (although without the photos) here:

http://www.4countymall.com/single-post/2017/01/09/Fun-With-Inaugurations

 
SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
 
This is inauguration month. You probably didn’t realize this, unless you’re one of the few people who followed the 2016 Presidential election. I mean, who paid attention to that?
 
It was the single nastiest election since I ran for high school student council in 1979, and came in fourteenth out of thirteen. (I was beaten by “none of the above”.) But I’m a humor writer, and humor writers are fearless, so I’m absolutely going to not write about that election because I’m not stupid. And not one of those other twelve student council candidates can deny that, not even the one who ran on the platform of banning shop class, which I voted for him.
 
Here in Indiana we’d much rather talk about basketball and the weather than politics. That includes me, and I hate basketball. Hoosiers only follow politics because of our belief that politicians are like dogs: They might do some things for you, but if you stop paying attention to them they’ll chew up everything and spread crap all over the place.
 
Mostly people here in the Middle would just like to be left alone to lead our lives, but if someone riles us up … well, that’s a different story. After all, this is a state where the governor once sent the American army to attack a political convention, in the state capital.
 
It was called the Battle of Pogue’s Run, and I devoted a whole section to it in my book Hoosier Hysterical because I thought it was—well—hysterical. (Look me up and I’ll sell you a copy for just ten bucks, or less if you’ve got one of those newfangled electronic do-dads.) Although there were no injuries, Pogue’s Run had all the makings of an epic story: rebellion against authority, a cavalry charge, cannons pitted against trains, pistols hidden in petticoats … you can’t make up stuff like that.
 
This is what people did for fun in Indianapolis, before the Colts arrived.
 
Pogue's Run. Some sports team plays in that building in the background.
 
 
As all fifteen of my regular readers know, I write these things early, so for me it’s three weeks before the 2017 presidential inauguration. Maybe we’ll have a repeat of 2009, when Chief Justice John Roberts mixed up his words while giving Barrack Obama the oath of office. People were so worried about it turning into a legal issue that Obama was sworn in again the next day—and that was over just 35 words.
 
Apparently no one took issue to Lyndon B. Johnson’s vice-presidential oath, in which he was supposed to say “without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion”, and instead said “without any mental reservation whatever”. Hey, we’ve all been there.
 
Anyway, in part of my ongoing effort to have something to write about—I mean, to educate the public—let’s see how things have gone wrong in past presidential inaugurations.
 
I’ve already written about William Henry Harrison, who gave the longest presidential inauguration speech ever, then promptly died. He should have taken note of George Washington’s speech, the shortest ever. Still, maybe it wasn’t the time so much as Harrison’s refusal to wear a coat: In 1937 Franklin D. Roosevelt watched the inauguration parade for an hour and a half during the rainiest inauguration day in history, and survived. Not only that, but he watched the whole thing while standing—and FDR couldn’t stand, without assistance.
 
President Harrison is feeling a little under the weather ...
 
 
In 1909 ten inches of snow fell on William H. Taft. Luckily he was a big, big guy, who just plowed through his speech.
 
In the inauguration of 1865 Abe Lincoln had a brand new vice-president, Andrew Johnson—who showed up drunk for his own speech. The story is that Johnson was feeling under the weather, and alcohol was the preferred treatment for a lot of ailments back then. I suppose alcohol’s also the preferred treatment for stage fright.
 
The most expensive inauguration was Obama’s, which cost more than $150 million—but about two thirds of that was paid for by private donors, an idea I can get behind. Crowd source the government!
 
John Quincy Adams did something truly shocking at his inauguration: He wore pants. Up until then, all the new presidents wore knee breeches. Perhaps ironically, Adams was also known to go skinny-dipping in the Potomac River.
 
Adams was also the first president to be photographed, so you can see why he was no peeping prize. But one day a female reporter named Ann Royall, who’d been refused an interview, simply sat on his clothes and refused to let him out of the water … and became the first female reporter to interview a U.S. President.
 
Who wouldn't want to see this handsome guy skinny dipping in the Potomac?
 
 
On a less happy note, in 1857 thirty-six people celebrating James Buchanan’s inauguration caught the “National Hotel disease” and died. Buchanan got it too but recovered, and I assume didn’t dine at that hotel again.
 
JFK had a hot time at his inauguration parade, as in the podium caught fire. A Cardinal was delivering the invocation at the time—think what you will of that.
 
Then there was the inauguration of Andrew Jackson. Twenty thousand people gathered outside the Capitol, a huge crowd for 1829, and Jackson was so happy that he said: “Ya’ll come on over and visit us at the White House!”
 
So they did.
 
Jackson had to escape out the back while the drunken mob smashed stuff and generally turned the White House into a wreck, which also happened when Hillary started throwing bric-a-brac at Bill during the Affair Affair. The party organizers were only able to clear the building by putting free booze out on the White House lawn.
 
But here’s my favorite of all: In 1953 Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the reviewing stand for the inauguration parade when a cowboy rode up to him on a horse … and lassoed him.
 
Of course, that had to have been planned in advance. The cowboy, Montie Montana (I assume that’s his real name) … survived.
 
"Not sure why them fellas in the suits seem all upset."
ozma914: mustache Firefly (mustache)
( Jan. 1st, 2017 06:39 am)
This first appeared in the 4CountyMall online. It was written, by the way, before Carrie Fisher passed away.
 
 
SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
 
It was a strange year.
In many ways 2016 was a crappy year, even if you weren’t a Democrat. The weather was so awful that even The Weather Channel had to interrupt its reality programming to report on it. So many celebrities died that it could take YouTube years to replace them all. Even the Cubs winning the World Series was a bad thing, if you’re a goat, or live in Cleveland.
(If you don’t know about the goat curse, then I despair for our education system.)
I was so upset about celebrities dying that I tried to call Doctor Bombay for a sedative, but the guy who played Doctor Bombay died! Then I had to explain to everyone that Doctor Bombay was a character from Bewitched. Then I had to explain that Bewitched was a TV show. Then I went into a week-long funk about getting old, which made the year even crappier.
But at least I survived 2016, which is more than I can say about half the famous people in the world. On January 8th the first woman to compete in a Formula One car race died, and on December 8th John Glenn passed away. Talk about pioneer bookends.
In between, the world population took a detectable dip. I mean, R2D2 died. Come on. I won’t mention the other deaths that made me gasp, because if I have to explain who they are it’ll just put me into another depression.
But mostly 2016 was … weird. Here’s an example: In early December my wife talked me into shoe shopping, which is something men hate almost as much as holding a purse while their wives goes shoe shopping. My previous size 11’s had been demoted to lawn mowing shoes, and now had so little tread that I could ice skate across the grass. Which sounds like fun, unless you’re behind a running lawn mower.
Meanwhile my “good” size 11’s had spent the summer hiking around various state parks … okay, two summers. I told you I hate shoe shopping. It was time for another demotion.
But there was a problem. We spent an hour jamming my feet into new size elevens, then 11 ½, then twelves … until I left the store with size thirteens. My feet had grown two sizes. That certainly explained my puzzling foot pain.
I can’t help thinking such a thing could have only happen to a post-adolescent in 2016—a weird, weird year.
In no way am I suggesting 2016 was all about my feet; they’re just an example. 2016 was also partially about my wife’s foot, which got broken in a car accident. Eventually she got it back, which is more than we can say for the car.
My wife found a four-leaf clover this year. It didn't help.
 
This led to us buying our first ever Electronic Age car, a very strange thing indeed after a nine year old Ford. The new one has a computer screen. And a camera. It tells you how many miles you can go before running out of gas, and it has two of what we used to call cigarette lighter ports, where you can plug in all your other Electronic Age stuff. The other day a voice came out of the seat and told me I needed to lose a few pounds.
The car can also tell you what the temperature is outside, something I used to accomplish by sticking my finger out the window. If it turns blue, it’s too cold; if it gets wet, it’s raining. If I pull it back in and find an icicle, I should have known better. The other day our new car told me it was zero, and also said that on a related note, I should get that garage door fixed.
Welcome to the 21st Century Teens.
I already mentioned the weather, but conversations always get back to that, anyway. Here in Indiana 2016 started with a mild winter and ended with “Ohmygosh just shoot me now”. In between we had summer in spring; fall in summer; summer in fall, and as I write this winter times three.
What do you expect from a year that started with a skyscraper in Dubai burning up while revelers rang in the New Year around it?
Or a year when a 70 year old Indian woman gave birth? When Bob Dylan gets a Nobel Prize for Literature? Or the Cubs? I mean … The Cubs!
I can’t even mention the election … half my readers would boycott me by the second paragraph.
So, yeah, 2016 was weird, and as I write this we still have a couple of more weird weeks to go.  Usually in January I come up with a list of predictions for next year, but who could have predicted this year? About all I can say about 2017 is that some people will get paid too much, some too little, everyone who cares about politics will hate everyone else, and the weather will suck.
Which, come to think of it, brings us full circle.
 
"Leap second year? What makes you think I want even another second of 2016?"
I haven't had time to write a Christmas column this year, so this is a shorter and greatly modified version of a column I first wrote back in 2009 or so. It's a confessional column ... I confess.



SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

Years ago I DJ’d part time at a local radio station (which figures into my next novel, but we’ll cover that later). I happened to be on duty when the boss decided it was time to start the Christmas season with the Gift of Music.

He produced a card file and a stack of CD’s. On each card in the file (no computers -- it was that long ago) was the name of a Christmas song, which we shuffled into randomness. As soon as I saw what happened to fall as the first one, I had my intro.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to get the holiday season under way with WLNB’s selection of Christmas music, and I’ve been chosen for the honor or starting it out. I’m perfectly okay with that, as long as I don’t have to play ‘Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer’. Now, let’s see what’s on top of our play list ... no. It can’t be. Not that -- anything but that!”

Ah, but it was. And so I started out the Gift of Music with a redneck song about a reckless driving Santa Claus murdering elderly pedestrians.

Hey, I never said I was a good part time DJ. Note that I’m no longer employed there.

I’ve made it a practice to be the best combination of Scrooge and Grinch that I can possibly be. For the uninitiated, Scrooge is the old time British fellow who gets scared by ghosts into loving Christmas. The Grinch is the green guy who goes down to Whoeville to steal Christmas, but ends up returning everything when the Whoeville people start singing happy carols. This begs the question: if the people in Whoeville were happy anyway, why didn’t the Grinch just keep the stuff, and sell it on Ebay?

Yep -- two great stories, two bad endings. Just call me the Scrinch. Or Grooge, that would be okay.

I base most of my attitude on either out of control commercialism or people who, themselves, act like Grinches. Yes, I get upset when I see giant plastic Santas on display at Wal-Mart -- in September. But don’t we all get mad when some scumbag burglar steals the Christmas presents right from under someone’s tree?

I’ve mentioned this before, and recently: Christmas all year round might seem like a good idea, but in reality it would make the holiday cheap and ordinary. Put a friggin tarp on the decorations until mid-November, okay? I once went shopping for Halloween clearance items, and turned the corner to discover a plastic Frosty giving me a ... well, a frosty look.

As for stealing gifts, vandalizing decorations and such ... not that I haven’t wanted to vandalize decorations, but only when the outside ones are turned on in October. For everyone else, a public whipping on New Year’s Day should beat the holiday spirit into them.

My point is this: Although I get as angry as everyone else when “Let it Snow” starts playing in the store while people in shorts and tank tops stumble in, wiping sweat from their brow --

I don’t know if I should say it. It might ruin my reputation, and where am I without that? Next thing you know, people will discover I really like animals. But ... okay, complete honesty, here ...

I love Christmas music.

People may never look at me the same way again.

Christmas is the only thing I look forward to through the months of bitter cold, with nothing but driving snow and black, dead foliage. I never said I was big winter fan. I hate cold, I hate snow, I hate heating bills, I hate bulky clothes that never warm me up, I hate that some people like all that stuff -- but I love Christmas. Colored lights shine through the dull twilight of winter. People actually cheer up a little. Well, some people. And of all the things about Christmas, I love the songs the best.

It doesn’t matter if they’re old or new. Sure, the barking dog Jingle Bells thing grates on me, and I’ve heard versions of “Santa Baby” that make me want to hurry down a chimney. But from Frank Sinatra to Christina Aguilera, nothing perks me up more. What they’ve done elsewhere in their lives, or what other people think of them, doesn’t matter -- I’ll listen to it if it’s Britney Spears, or Barry Manilow.

Old or new? I love “Carol of the Bells” and “The Hallelujah Chorus”, which my choir sang in high school. They didn’t have new Christmas Songs back then. But I’ve got songs in my Christmas library by Faith Hill, the Trans Siberian Orchestra, the Eagles, and, yes, Hannah Montana.

Type of music? It’s all Christmas to me. Doesn’t matter whether it's the Bryan Seltzer Orchestra, Jessica Simpson, or Andrea Bocelli. Or that other fella, Tchaikovsky, and his Nutcracker thing. Still, nothing will ever beat the classics, and Bing Crosby is the king of the classics. I may not like white winters, but “White Christmas” will always be close to my half-frozen heart.

So that’s it --  my big confession. I love Christmas music ... almost all Christmas music. As long as the lyrics aren’t being “sung” by pets.

I don’t even mind that great tribute to holiday violence, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”.

Much.
 
 
The Wreath of Khan.

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
 
 
I always feel a little disjointed when the holidays arrive. I’ve never ready for Thanksgiving, which is followed within hours by Christmas, and minutes after that by New Year’s Eve, followed immediately by several months of miserable winter. I’m never ready.
 
And yet, the holidays come every year. So, what’s my excuse?
 
“Gee, I thought for sure it wouldn’t happen this time. Why was I not warned?”
 
My mother calls every year to find out when we want to celebrate Thanksgiving. We never celebrate Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving—that would be too easy. But many of us work in the service industry. In my 911 center, we almost never close down for the holidays. Okay, we took a few hours off when the Cubs won, but otherwise …
 
Many of my other relatives work in the more difficult service jobs, the ones where you have to work a register and deal with customers face to face. They don’t take 911 calls, but they often make 911 calls. I think I’d rather be on the receiving end. It’s because of their jobs that we can’t celebrate a holiday on a holiday. It used to be they were busy on Thanksgiving, setting up for Black Friday; now they’re busy on Thanksgiving, having Black Friday.
 
If you’re old, like me—I always feel old when the days get shorter—you’ll remember a time when everything shut down for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Go out for Thanksgiving dinner? What a turkey of an idea. Go shopping that same evening? There are ball games to watch, people. But these days we’re thankful for our alarm clock, so we can get up at 3 a.m. to work our part time job in riot control at Best Buy.
 
Don’t worry, ma’am: A little ventilation will get that pepper spray right out of your new flat screen TV.
 
So mom calls, and want to know if we want to have Thanksgiving the Sunday before, or the Saturday after. “But mom,” I say, “Why worry about that in August?”
 
“It’s November, dear.”
 
“But what happened to Halloween?”
 
“Your cardiologist ordered us not to say you missed it until November 7th.”
 
“But—the full sized candy bars!”
 
The irony is that there are plenty of reminders that the holidays are approaching. This year I saw my first store Halloween display in August, and my first Christmas display in September. It was 90 degrees. Nothing says Christmas like watching a plastic Santa melt like the Wicked Witch.
 
“Ho ho oh noooooo!!!!”
 
Nothing left but a bubbling pool of liquid on the floor, smelling faintly of peppermint and gingerbread. It’s enough to make you hit the eggnog.
 
Maybe my denial about the approaching holidays is an unconscious response to the cheapening of those same holidays, the way they come earlier and earlier. It’s not special any more. One year, on January third, I started poking through Christmas clearance items when I was stopped by an employee:
 
“Sir, those aren’t available for purchase yet—we’re putting up the store display tomorrow.”
 
It gets confusing. The Valentine’s Day cupid wears a fur lined red hat, and instead of a bow carries a little bundle of fireworks. Every time you pass him he says, “Happy Easter!” and tries to give you pumpkin shaped candy, while waving a sign advertising a President’s Day sale. On Thanksgiving.
 
The underlying meaning of all holidays has blurred into one unmistakable message:
 
“Give us money, and we’ll give everyone ‘free’ stuff that will make us all happy.”
 
Which they stole from politicians, but never mind.
 
Thus my idea for a new federal law: No holiday can be mentioned more than six weeks before the actual date. No holiday decorations can be put up longer than the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. No special sales can be held on an actual holiday, with the exception of President’s Day, which is a lost cause.
 
One exception: Christmas lights can be put up outside while the weather is still good, as long as they’re not turned on before Thanksgiving. If they’re lit (or inflated) earlier, it’s open season for anyone with a rifle, paintball gun, blow gun, lawn darts, or snowballs. Or bazookas. No, that’s overkill—literally.
 
Our aim should be to make holidays special again, and you can’t do that if the holiday never goes away. If you go to the party store and can’t remember if your decorations are supposed to be red and green, or pink, or red, white and blue, then you’re doing it wrong.
 
How do you know if you’re doing it right? Well, I suppose you’ve got the right attitude if you’re thankful. If you’re giving. If you’re getting along with people, or at least trying to. You know, the good will thing.
 
And if that doesn’t work, you could try giving me some of your Halloween candy.
 
For Christmas.
 
Despite being on opposite sides of the world, there are similarities between this year’s Olympics in Rio, and the Games two years ago in Russia. There was all sorts of controversy about whether the host cities would be ready: cost overruns, health concerns, not to mention the relative health of the entire host nation.
There’s also a parallel paradox. In Rio we have the summer Olympics being held during what is, for them, winter. On the other hand, the winter Olympics of 2014 were held in Sochi—a summer resort.
Everyone was already aware of the Zika virus, one of the least popular South American exports ever. They couldn’t have sent us more coffee? One athlete’s wife had his sperm frozen, just in case he contracted the virus and they still wanted more children. That by itself is both tragic and the springboard for at least a few good jokes, and several dozen bad ones.
I don’t know where to start.
Even Mother Nature took part, sending a 4.6 meter freak wave in to cover a Rio sidewalk, street … oh, and the Olympic Broadcast Services building. 4.6 meters? That’s about 15 feet, or 5 feet, or half a foot … I dunno, I’m American.
Meanwhile, some Rio protesters did the unthinkable as the Olympic torch passed through their area: They put it out. Probably with contaminated water. And what were these awful sleezebags protesting? Well, it turns out they were teachers who haven’t been paid in two months, thanks to the government spending money on … the Olympics.
One thing the government spent money on was a live jaguar, which appeared next to the torch in a Brazilian ceremony, as a symbol of … I don’t know … zoos? As if the Olympics wasn’t a zoo all by itself. Then the jaguar got away from its handlers and headed toward an armed soldier, and I don’t have to tell you how that ended.
What the soldier should have gone after was the drug-resistant super-bacteria found growing in the ocean, just off Rio beaches. A gun might be needed to kill this stuff, which apparently got there from local hospital sewage. Don’t drink the water? Forget that—the water will drink you.
Not long before the Olympics started, a mutilated body was found on the beach, as in the beach and water where some of the events take place. Killed by what? A jaguar? Super-bacteria? Disgruntled teachers? There’s a lesson.
Meanwhile, the Olympic village featured new entertainment for the athletes, such as a rousing game of “escape the natural gas leak”, and the more rushed hobby of “find a working toilet”. There were some records set with that one. And when you figure some of the water was contaminated by human waste, they may have needed all the toilets they could get.
I could go on, but the poop/body filled water and lack of toilets is making me queasy. We’ll end with the fire that started in the basement of the Village’s Australian quarters, which was not caused by them putting shrimp on the Barbie. Apparently the real cause was a discarded cigarette, which set fire to rubbish left over by contractors, because it takes more than a child to raise a village.
So who was smoking? The contractors? Or the thieves who made off with belongings of the Australian team during the fire evacuation? Some of the items stolen include special shirts designed to protect the wearer from the Zika virus, so maybe it was self-preservation.
I think the Australians should consider themselves fortunate. After all, they lived through both the theft and the fire—and the fire alarms weren’t working.
Besides, they didn’t get beaten up in an armed robbery, like one medalist was while celebrating his bronze on the beach … the judo medalist. Maybe the gold medalist would have done better.
In fact, this is one Olympics where they should consider handing out gold medals for survival.
 
You know, I believe this is the second month in a row that I picked up my copy of the 4 County Mall while walking into a hospital. This is not a good habit to get into.
 
Look for your free copy in a newspaper box, hopefully in a more upbeat place (in Albion it’s available outside Albion Village Foods, for instance). It features four local writers, along with various local information and shopping stuff. It’s like one of those newfangled tablet things, only it doesn’t need charging.
 


Still working hard on getting the next book ready ... but I needed a pause to get my column out for http://www.4countymall.com/.
  
 
SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
 
Ah, spring! That time of year when we give up complaining about one set of annoyances, in favor of complaining about another set of annoyances. It’s kind of like the aftermath of a Congressional election.
 
Here in northern Indiana, spring starts sometime between mid-March and late May. Signs of spring include hungry insects; excited weathermen; and columns of smoke, from people whose first action on shedding their winter coats is to go outside and burn something. Sometimes it’s even what they intended to burn.
 
But it’s not winter, and that’s something. Have you already forgotten the spinning tires, the blue fingers, the loss of feeling in exposed skin? Winter kills, man. Has anyone ever died from spring weather, or bee stings?
 
Okay, bad examples.
 
One of my favorite signs of spring is flowers. It used to be bikinis, but I don’t have the body for them anymore. When I was younger I didn’t think much about them (flowers—I thought about bikinis a lot). Now I quite literally like to stop and smell the flowers, a harmless occupation if you’re not the guy walking behind me. When I was researching my upcoming book, Hoosier Hysterical: How the West Became the Midwest Without Moving At All
 
Whew. Let me catch my breath—long subtitle. Whose idea was that? Oh, mine? Well, it’s not too long.
 
Anyway, I discovered while researching Indiana history that our state has suffered long bouts of infighting over, believe it or not, flowers. Specifically the state flower. Like most states, our leaders spent long hours deciding what should represent us. Indiana has a state beverage, stone, poem, rifle—even airplane. (You have to read the book to find out what they are. Or you could go to an encyclopedia, but I’d prefer you read the book.)
 
When it comes to the flower, in 1913 the Indiana General Assembly declared it to be the carnation, which is a nice flower—and also a good way to identify your blind date across a crowded room. Unfortunately, as someone pointed out after we made it the state flower, the carnation isn’t native to Indiana.
 
So a decade later the General Assembly picked the tulip tree blossom, instead. It only took ten years. Then, in 1931, they traded that in for a zinnia. Zinnia? It’s a flower, apparently, and related to the sunflower tribe within the daisy family, and isn’t Google grand? That’s right, sunflowers are related to daisies, and zinnia is their illegitimate child who someone named while still on labor pain medications.
 
Rumors swirled like blossoms that the debate was dominated by an influential farmer. His crop happened to be … you guessed it … no, not corn! Zinnias. But at least that settled it.
 
Well, that settled it until 1957. The dogwood had gained popularity, and it looked like that might be our new state flower, until one of the representatives stuck his flowery hand into the debate. That rep was also a farmer, only his product was … the peony. At least this time they first confirmed the peony was native to Indiana.
 
Oh, wait … no they didn’t.
 
Still, perhaps sensing that this was silly even by political body standards, the General Assembly stuck to their guns—or rather, their pistils. Little Magnoliophyta joke, there. The dogwood lost its bark, while as a consolation prize, the tulip became the state tree. The carnation? Never heard from again.
 
And what of the Crocus? The Dwarf Iris? The Striped Squill? Trick question: Those are all B-list Batman villains.
 
This all may seem a bit silly, but hey—we even have our own state soil. Yeah, the Miami, described as a brown silt loam. At least, that’s the dirt I dug up.
 
If I spend entire sections of Hoosier Hysterical discussing such silly subjects, it should be remembered that I wasn’t going for the profound … unless you mean profoundly silly. Silly it might be, but there really were raging debates over the state flower. It’s not like our nickname, The Hoosier State, which was pretty much agreed on right from the beginning.
 
Although come to think of it, I spend an entire section on the word Hoosier, too.
 
As for the flower, I’m personally a fan of the lilac. We have two lilac bushes in our back yard … well, trees now, but don’t judge me on my lack of landscaping care. Also don’t judge me on the fact that, in the short lilac bloom period, I like to spread the blossoms through the house to drive out that we-really-need-to-spring-clean winter smell.
 
Then they’re gone all too soon, sometimes before the colder days of spring are through. I suppose that’s a good enough reason why the lilac isn’t Indiana’s state flower … not to mention it’s not native to Indiana.
 
Of course … neither are most Hoosiers.
 
 
SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
First appearing here:  http://www.4countymall.com/#!Winter-Driving/r48sv/56d8842c0cf20d226f1d75b7
 
There was a time when I was the same reckless driver I now complain about. My first two cars were fast, and I liked to believe I was the stuntman for “Starsky and Hutch”. (Look it up, kids.)
I actually jumped my first car. I mean, all four wheels off the ground. On purpose.
It was stupid. And that’s the difference between me and other people who drove like that: I’m not proud of it. I wasn’t skilled: I was lucky. (And stupid.) The only reason I never totaled my first car is because the engine blew first. The only reason I didn’t total my second car is because the officer who wrote the speeding ticket swore he only caught up with me because of the stop sign. That made me think.
I thought, “This is stupid”.
These days I’m that guy you’re tailgating, who drives like your grandma. “What’s the matter with that guy? He’s going the speed limit! What kind of idiot goes the speed limit?”
Me. It helps that I’ve seen a lot of dead bodies at accident scenes, which is really attention-grabbing.
Winter is the time when we tend to weed out the reckless, at least until they get their rides replaced. That white stuff on the road? It’s not sand from Jamaica, folks. Snow sent me into the ditch three times in my younger years, and what I learned is that the ditch is fine if you’re a drainage consultant or a ditch digger, but it’s not so good for travel.
(Granted, this past winter was fairly mild, but that's like saying you had a mild heart attack: it still counts.)
We’re nearing the end of the latest never-ending Indiana winter, so freezing precipitation is only possible for another few months or so. This late it tends to melt off within a day of the moment I finish shoveling. What have we learned from another season of slippery roads?
Well, the first thing we learn, every year, is that people don’t learn every year. The first snow “event” of the fall brings the same thing: People sliding off roads all over. In cars, I mean. Some are brand new drivers, or just unlucky, but a lot are idiots. Many of the unlucky are victims of the moronic.
“I’ve driven in Indiana for thirty years, and nobody ever told me snow could be slippery! I’ll sue! I should have sued when this happened last year!”
That just doesn’t sound like the voice of reason.
The problem with stressing snow is that some people assume when the snow is plowed, the danger is over. “You can’t say black ice! That’s racist!” Fine, call it Sudden Ice Syndrome, then. SIS kills.
Freezing rain? By definition, it’s freezing. Some people only seem to hear “wa-wa rain”.
On a related note, I wonder what would happen if the movie “Frozen” was real? Wouldn’t everyone who came close to Elsa end up with strains, sprains, and concussions? Hopefully Kristoff’s sled has four wheel drive.
Not that it would help, which brings us to one of the big dangers: people who put too much faith in all-wheel drive. “Yes, I know it’s snowing, but I have an SUV!” Does the first letter stand for Stupid? It does if you drive 70 in dry weather, and also 70 in wet weather.
Yeah, I see you driving behind me, and you know what? The closer you get to my taillights, the more I’m going to slow down. That’s why I’m going 53 now.
There’s no point in me being the 532nd person this month to point out that four wheel drive does absolutely no good on ice. The people who need to hear it aren’t listening. They’re listening to their car stereo, maybe, or more likely their cell phone. They’re also cussing a lot, because that’s me glued to their front bumper, and I’m now doing 49.
Not only do SUV drivers get up to speed in bad weather (when not behind me), they go out when they don’t have to. What’s the best rule of driving in ice or snow? Don’t. My wife can, and does, make fun of me for being a weather junkie, but I can tell her three days ahead if there might be bad weather. Maybe there won’t be, but if you’re almost out of bread anyway, why not stock up? And get some dog food too, so the mutt won’t be tempted to eat his owners in a worst case scenario. Then, if the bad forecast doesn’t pan out … so what?
But four wheel drivers think, “Let’s go out!” I suppose you people ski and ice fish too. Oh … you do? Never mind.
I’ve seen a lot of bad driving, and I’ve done some of it. In the end, I can only conclude that people who ignore bad weather should be lumped in with those who don’t use seat belts, or have no idea what a turn signal is for. There’s a special place in hell for them, right below women who don’t vote for Hillary. (Hey, I didn’t say it.)
But there is one good thing about dumb drivers. When the road conditions are good for maybe 45 mph, and you get passed by some moron who wants to go 60, there’s no better feeling in the world than going on another two miles … to find him spinning his wheels in a ditch.
 
No, I didn't get off the porch for this. You kiddin' me?
It’s almost March (yay!), but the February 4County Mall can still be found for free in newspaper stands around the area, including outside Albion Village Foods. (Sadly, I got my copy at the entrance to Parkview Noble Hospital.) In addition to this column, the fun page, and all the deals and coupons, you can read a piece about Valentine’s Day by Lydia Waring and fiction by Rita Robbins and Nick Hayden. On the website is also a new piece by Rief Gillg, Assistant Principal at East Noble High School. 
 
 
SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
 
We like our traditions here in northern Indiana: For instance, it’s traditional for us to get sick every fall and winter. All of us.
I’m as traditional as the next guy, assuming the next guy is a Hoosier, so a few years ago I decided to take it up a notch. No annual cold or flu for me, no sir! I tried strep throat but didn’t like it very much, because without a voice I couldn’t whine. So, I went for the sinus infection. Sure enough, it became as traditional as that bowl of can-shaped cranberries nobody eats at Thanksgiving.
Then I started getting three or four of them every winter—sinus infections, not cranberries. Turns out not all traditions are so great.
Now, I’m not going to go into detail about my sinus surgery, because the details are all disgusting. I once wrote a column about my prostate biopsy, and that set a high bar, but a sinusotomy has it beat. The recovery period was nothing but two weeks of “ow” and “ick”.
Still, when it was over I basked in the knowledge that my chronic illnesses would soon be a thing of the past.
Then I caught a cold.
That cold immediately settled into a sinus infection.
See, here’s the thing: It takes from twelve weeks to a year for sinuses to settle down and actually improve after sinus surgery. Until then, you’re just as prone to problems as you were before. Although by the end of a few weeks my breathing seemed better, that just made it easier for viruses to work their way up and have a party. And it was a wild party.
My wife looks after my health, by which I mean she keeps me warm, feeds me good food, and lectures me. “Drink lots of fluids. Are you taking extra vitamin C? Don’t forget the fluids. Here’s some hot tea with honey, and Echinacea. Are you drinking fluids?”
“I think I hear the dog calling your name.”
The dog wasn’t. In fact, the dog was laying at my feet, because he tends to stay close whenever he thinks I’m dying.
My doctor had a more aggressive treatment in mind. When he learned I had still another sinus infection, he gave instructions for the nurse to bring a certain type of antibiotic. The nurse replied, “Let me remove the breakables from the treatment room first, and bring in some restraints.”
Possibly I should have seen that as a warning.
My doctor is an old military man, and he explained his reasoning. “We need to keep at this until all the dogs are dead.”
“Wait, what? But I like my dog.”
“I don’t mean literally. I used to say we needed to keep at it until all the cats are dead, but people complained.”
Apparently dog owners are more laid back than cat owners. That makes sense, as dogs are more laid back than cats.
The nurse brought in two needles. “This is going to hurt.”
“No problem.” I pulled up my shirtsleeve.
“That’s not where we give it.”
I had to lay down on the treatment table—on my belly, which tells you where the shot goes. I couldn’t just bend over, because apparently this shot sometimes makes you faint. She put the first one in.
“Hey, that’s not so—aaaaauuuuggghhhhHHHH!!!!!!”
“Okay, now let’s do the other one.”
It took a day and a half for the pain to ease. I couldn’t crouch down. I couldn’t climb stairs. I couldn’t sit back against anything. Two days later I went back to the doc, who gave me a careful examination.
“Well, we’d better keep at this.”
He meant two more shots. I knew this because of the way the nurse winced when he said it. I have to admit, though, she’s got a really strong grip for patients who try to run away.
Meanwhile I still got the antibiotics by pill, which have their own issues, but at least they don’t cause people to reminisce about when they got stabbed in college. Eventually my own stabbing, the stabbing pain in my forehead, began to ease, and as I write this it’s down to a four out of ten, with watching a presidential debate being ten. The treatment was working, and metaphorical dogs and cats were dropping like flies.
Then my wife caught my cold.
I sat her down on the recliner and brought her a cup of hot tea and a box of Kleenex, while the dog laid at her feet in what I can only call a faithful deathwatch. Then I said lovingly:
“Drink lots of fluids. Are you taking extra vitamin C? Don’t forget the fluids. Here’s some hot tea with honey, and Echinacea. Are you drinking fluids?”
And that’s when she threw the Kleenex box at me. She’s a pretty good shot, too—hit me right on my sore hip.
Good thing she didn’t reach for the tea cup.
 

I was waiting for this to be released on video and as a result waited too long … so now here’s my new Christmas column, coming out just in time for my youngest daughter’s birthday. I thought of deleting “Scrooge” and putting in “Jill”, but it just didn’t work.

This is a busy time of year for my publisher, and I’d imagine they couldn’t find the time to do the animation—hopefully next year. Meanwhile, you just have to read this and imagine my voice or, perhaps better, don’t. It was originally in print in the 4County Mall (previously the Kendallville Mall), then on their website here:

http://www.4countymall.com/mark-hunter---slightly-off-the-mark

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK:

How the Grinch Spent Christmas

 

I was in Dollar General—

I don’t make this stuff up—

When I ran into the Grinch,

And his reindeer, the pup.

 

“What brings you to town?” I asked, to be nice.

“The last time I heard you suffered the vice

Of hating all Christmas, the presents and lights;

Yet you stand in the isle of Yuletide delights.”

 

It’s true: We were right in the holiday lane,

The same place I cursed when Halloween came.

There were pine trees by pumpkins, costumes with wreaths.

You could get pumpkin spice with mint or with wraiths.

 

(See what I did, there?)

 

“I’ve joined the club”, he told me with a sneer.

“I’m going full out on Christmas this year.

I’m buying up lights and tinsel and stuff;

Don’t know what this is, but I can’t get enough.”

 

The thing he held up was a Thanksgiving display,

On clearance from last month, but I didn’t say.

“But I don’t understand,” I told the green guy.

“I thought you hate Christmas, and want it to die.”

 

“Oh, I do,” said the Grinch, with a Darth Vader like laugh.

(I don’t think Vader chortled, so that may be a gaff.)

“I’m joining the club; I’m going all in.

The result is a club they won’t want to be in!

 

“I’m putting up stockings, a tree in each room,

Outside speakers from which carols will boom.

Gaudy garland to drape all over my cave,

And starting that evening: all night holiday rave.

 

“I’ll have not tree skirts—oh no, tree gowns!

My garland will go wrapping around and around

Not just my home but the whole doggone mountain—

And a red, green, and yellow spice flavored fountain.

 

“Candles and pillows and shelves of snow globes,

Warm but so gaudy sweaters and robes,

Pillows and rugs and a gingerbread house—

And my wife will be decored … if I find me a spouse.

 

“Decoration limits? We won’t have any lid.

My holiday lights will take down the whole grid!

I’ll blind passing planes, then I’ll darken the state.

And then I’ll light candles and start a clean slate.

 

“And, oh yes, I’ll put my own name up in a blaze,

In rich Christmas colors, to cut through the haze

So all the Who’s down in Whoeville, that dump

Will know it is I who gave Christmas a bump.”

 

I have to admit, I was a bit mystified.

When it comes to the Grinch—well, this wasn’t the side

You think of when picturing this big green guy.

(Sure, he’s no Hulk, but still.)

So with great trepidation, I had to ask: “Why?”

 

“Why? You want to know why?”

(He sounded very much like Jack Nicolson at this point.)

“I’ll tell you why.

 

“My plan can’t be stopped, so I’ll tell you the reason:

By the time I’m done you’ll be sick of this season.

Everyone will hate Christmas: The music will grate,

The spice cinnamon stuff will make them hesitate

 

“To go out and carol, even if it fat free!

Or at least that’s how I’d feel, if caroling me.

And when it’s all done, they’ll feel the same way

As they feel about me—the Grinch—every day.”

 

I have to admit, he’d made a good plan.

Immersion attack from a Christmas hit man.

And it would have worked too, except he didn’t see

It had already been done, with consumerist glee.

 

I began to explain, but we’d hit the checkout,

And I realized what he was about to find out.

The clerk rang it up, a green sounding ring,

The numbers kept rising with every new bling.

 

The Grinch stumbled back, his hand to his head.

“With that bill the reindeer dog won’t get fed,

The heat will go off, hot chocolate won’t trickle—

I’ll end up a homeless, frozen Grinch-cicle!”

 

And he left his load there: every last light and trinket.

“If I knew of the cost I never would think it!

I’m going old school, next year I’ll lay low

And steal all the stuff from the Who’s down below.”

 

It’s an odd way to save Christmas, I think you’ll agree.

But that’s just how it happened … take it from me.

I suppose this would be a good time to remind all of you that books are, by far, the best Christmas gifts. Yes, even for non-readers: In fact, books owned by people who don’t read are not only great re-gifts, but when not re-gifted they’re among the books in the best condition. No dog-ears, no food stains, no bent pages … pristine. Two hundred years from now, you can resell books in such good condition for enough money to make up for inflation, if you should happen to still be alive.

In addition to that, books:

Require no batteries.

Almost never rot your brains.

In hardcover editions can be used for self-defense.

Can be hollowed out to hide all sorts of contraband and/or listening devices.

Make bookcases much more useful.

Never go offline during power outages, assuming you have backup lighting. If you don’t have that in case of power outages, are you really smart enough to read?

Also, should you go into a place like, say Albion Village Foods, Noble Art Gallery, Doc’s Hardware, Black Pine Animal Sanctuary, or the Old Jail Museum, you’re shopping locally. You might even pick up things other than, say, books with my name on them, and that would support local businesses, and if you mention I sent you they might stock more of my books. This makes me happy, and don’t you want to see me happy? I thought so.

But if you’ve heard horror stories about going out shopping this time of year, you could always go to our website at http://www.markrhunter.com/books.html. This gives you a choice of nine books in five or six different genres (because I just can’t seem to keep my mind on one thing), with prices ranging all the way down to free (for Strange Portals, anyway). It’s like Black Friday somehow turned into bright December.

So that’s my pitch, and if you spread the word I promise I’ll continue to be funny and entertaining. Okay, I’ll try.

Originally in print in the Kendallville Mall, where it’s also cold: 

http://www.4countymall.com/mark-hunter---slightly-off-the-mark/winterizing

 

 

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

It can be nice to sit in my house and let the summer breeze blow past us. Or, to get even more breeze, we could open the windows.

My house leaks like a Washington bureaucrat. Over the years we’ve stuffed cracks and other openings with anything we could find: towels, sandbags, small cars, door to door salesmen, whatever. A nice breeze isn’t what you want come November.

We don’t know exactly how old the place is, but Fred Markey carved the date 1879 into a wall. Is that when he was born? When he built the house? Or when he got cabin fever and went crazy with a knife?

The walls once held blown in insulation, but over time it settled, or possibly got carried off by mice. Now we have the annual, depressing, tradition called “winterizing”.

I don’t like winterizing, because it reminds me that winter’s coming. Winter comes every year, usually in the fall. It’s like it’s seasonal, or something.

Hm … maybe that 1879 carving commemorated the winter they found Fred Markey frozen to the outhouse seat. It would be embarrassing to be frozen to indoor plumbing, so we winterize, starting with storm windows. Traditionally they’re installed just before an unusual warm front comes through, forcing you to decide whether to take them back down to let warm air in, or just curse the fates.

I also put plastic up on the inside of the windows. You put double sided tape around each window, then place the plastic on it, then curse and flounder as the tape falls off. Then you put the plastic on again and use a hair drier, which tightens it up so wrinkles don’t show. NOTE: This does not work on skin.

In the spring, this tape will be impossible to remove. In the fall, you’ve got an even chance it will fall off.

You can also use spray foam insulation and caulk, to seal cracks. The main purposes of these substances are to form permanent crusts on clothing. They’re also fairly effective at removing skin.

At some point, the furnace has to be started for the season. This is always a time of great interest in my house: I’m interested to know if it will start. I have hot water radiators, and the water is heated by a boiler. Anyone who knows me understands that me waving a match over a pilot light to start a boiler is akin to Wiley Coyote opening the latest package from Acme Co.

You know something is going to happen; you just don’t know if the result will be ashes and singed hair, or a flattened body against the wall.

But I’m seriously considering not doing any of that this year.

You see, earlier this fall I put on the air conditioner cover. Not on myself. This is a cover that goes over the air conditioner: See what they did, there? My window air conditioner was there when I bought the house, seriously and permanently caulked and set into the dining room window. That makes it at least twenty-five years old, which means whether it starts in the spring is always a mystery, but that’s a story for another season.

The polyvinyl cover has a couple of elastic strings attached to it. The instructions say to wrap the strings around the cover, hook them over the air conditioner, and voila—instant winterization.

Until the first time the wind blows.

What does work? Duct tape. Rolls and rolls of duct tape.

Under the forecast of a 20 degree temperature drop, I got the storm windows up. Then I put the cover over the air conditioner and waved for a truck to back in. I’d ordered a dump truck load of duct tape. They dumped it right into my driveway, and other than the dozen or so rolls that rolled down the hill out back (should have seen that coming), I was set.

I taped the cover to the conditioner. I taped the cover to the window. I taped the cover to the wall, the conditioner to the window, the wall to the conditioner, and I finished by taping the tape to the tape. There was now no sign of the green plastic cover. I might as well have skipped it and just made a duct-cover.

It made me oddly happy.

By then the sun had set on my duct tape paradise, so I did some winterizing inside, such as replacing the door-to-door salesmen in the cracks. The next morning we had some errands to run, so I pulled on my coat, walked out the door, and stepped on the air conditioner cover.

Some of the tape was still on the cover.

Some of the tape was still on the wall.

But they were no longer connected to each other.

I said something then that I rarely say in public, and would be best off not repeating here. Then I stumbled back inside and collapsed on the couch, where my wife took in my red face and the steam coming from my ears, and tried to decide whether to dial 911.

And that’s why I’m considering giving up on the whole winterizing thing. What, I can’t build a fire in the bathtub and just hover over it all winter? It probably worked for Fred Markey.

By the way, I’ve got some used duct tape for sale … cheap.

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

Mark R Hunter

 

Apparently the New England Patriots are being accused of having soft balls.

This came as a shock to me. I mean, they’re tough football players. At the same time I saw the comedic possibilities of such a thing, and made it halfway through a truly hilarious column full of crude puns and various other plays on words, just to prove I’m an athletic supporter.

Then I realized they were talking about their footballs.

Well, that took all the air right out of me. But I suppose it’s for the best, as this is a family paper and that piece was turning decidedly un-family friendly. I suspect there aren’t a lot of kids who read my column. Still, any who did read it would have thrown questions at their parents, who would have to explain the concept of gutter humor, so it’s probably for the best that I dropped the ball.

Speaking of dropping the ball, I actually watched that game. I’m no expert, but it didn’t seem to me the Patriots won it at all; it seemed like the Colts lost it. It’s similar to the way the Republicans did such a bang-up job of losing the last two Presidential elections.

When I say I’m no expert, what I mean is that it was the first football game I’ve watched since 2007. So yeah, no expert. I have nothing against football the way I do against basketball, which is a horror experience straight from hades, but I have to budget my time and there are books to read. Besides, they don’t show the cheerleaders often enough.

Not to mention cheerleaders in pro sports don’t look like cheerleaders anymore; they look like showgirls backing up Wayne Newton in Vegas. Not to mention they could now be my daughters, which takes most of the fun out of it. Not to mention my wife has a sword collection, which takes the rest of the fun out of it.

So we’ve established I’m no expert. However, I do know that a little pressure can make a big difference. We own one of those inflatable beds. I’ve learned a few pounds of pressure can make the difference between sleeping well until our 85 pound dog makes his full bladder known by leaping on my chest, and hardly sleeping at all. Both usually result in blinding back pain, but never mind.

The claim is that the New England Patriots deflated their balls, so they could be gripped better by their players, and no way am I going to point out the obvious joke in that sentence. Each team is responsible to bring twelve balls, plus the home team has to bring a dozen more backup balls. I assume they have to show the officials before the game starts that they have a lot of balls.

What happens after that I’m not sure. I mean, do they switch between the regular and the deflated balls depending on whether they’re on offense of defense? And if it makes that much of a difference, how do the officials never notice? They actually check the balls before the game and then hand them all over to a ball boy, who has the most uncool job title ever. 

The Patriots have a history of cheating. Apparently in 2007 their coach was fined $500,000 for filming the sideline signals of the other team, and his cameraman was fined $250,000 for filming the cheerleaders. I wonder if the New England cheerleaders look like cheerleaders? Be right back …

Nope. Showgirls. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Let’s keep in mind that the team is named after, well, patriots, those people who fought off the British to secure our right to drink coffee. The British were very perturbed, and in fact accused the Patriots of cheating even then:

“They hide behind trees and fences, instead of standing in a straight line across an open field and letting us fire on them! That’s just not cricket. On a related note, we might just have to replace these red uniforms with the white straps forming a cross in the middle of our chests …”

So you see, the patriots of old were accused of deflating the British soldiers.

Some people in football are saying their balls are messed with all the time. In one case, a quarterback admitted he paid ball boys to break in their balls before the Superbowl. I guess they handle better when they’re scuffed (the balls, not the ball boys), which seems to be the way a lot of drivers I’ve encountered feel about their cars.

In this time of war, government overreach, people not buying my books, and other equally important problems, I used to think sports were a good pressure relief. It took our minds off of cheating leaders, violence, commercialism, overspending …

I can’t even finish that sentence, it’s just too silly. Maybe I’ll just throw my support to a sport that’s real and honest, not staged for entertainment, not more personality than competition.

Maybe … pro wrestling.

No balls there.

I’m not going to lie: 2014 sucked.  Everybody got sick or hurt at least once, and the world’s a train wreck. On a personal level I lost my first writing job after 23 years of steady work, and the book sales that might have made up for it have stagnated. On a family level I can’t even say “at least we have our health”.

But I can’t dwell on the bad stuff—there lies madness, and don’t we have enough madness? I have a new part time writing job and people are, if not healed, being taken care of as best can be. The world’s still a train wreck, but I think maybe the world’s always been a train wreck to some degree.

My intention for 2015 is to make people laugh, and to write. A lot of things in life I can’t control, but that I can do—and laughter is, if not the best medicine, a pretty good preventative. I should soon be done with my contracted book, then we’ll get the “Slightly Off The Mark” book out, then it’s on to more writing and, hopefully, publication. My simple goal is to make 2015 better than 2014 was. Shouldn’t be too hard.

My challenge to you is the same. Maybe you can’t change the world, fine. Then make your part of the world a little better. Cheer up yourself and others. Do good things. Think good thoughts. Be prepared. That’s the best anyone can do.

Oh, and buy my books; always be closing.  Happy New Year!

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

Thanksgiving in America continues to be one of the most traditional holidays. It still features the original four hundred year old activities of overeating, football, and complaining about Black Friday.

In the Hunter household, as in all of Indiana and much of the world that’s not outside this country, we battle the overeating. How? By serving food that the rest of the year we hate. Stuffing stuff. Cranberry things. Pumpkin anything. It was good enough for the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians, who the Pilgrims politely invited to share a meal in the new home they’d just stolen from the Wampanoag. The Indians brought a housewarming gift of deer, mostly because they didn’t want to eat cranberries or pumpkin.

But what was actually served at that original celebration? And did they really all sit down at long tables outside, in New England, in November? That’s a recipe for a nice heaping helping of frostbite.

 

The first Thanksgiving was a three day event, leaving one day each for the meal, football, and Black Friday shopping. The Pilgrims were naturally dismayed to discover no mall or Wal-Mart in sight. Rumor had it there was a Target down the road, but both the trip and the name were a bit more dangerous at the time. They compensated by throwing another feast that third day, during which they discussed the football. )

 

Just in time for Christmas shopping, we’re having a book signing Monday, November 17th, at the main branch of the Noble County Public Library in Albion. We should have copies of all my books there, especially the latest one, The Notorious Ian Grant—which will be at a reduced price compared to retail.

The library is at 813 E Main St in Albion, and we’ll be there from 3-6 p.m.—and maybe a little later if there’s interest. Buy a book there, bring a book in, I’ll sign whatever’s put in front of me unless it’s by someone else, which would be a little crazy.

There will be copies not only of my new book but of Storm Chaser, The No-Campfire Girls, and Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights: A Century Or So With The Albion Fire Department. I think I still have a few copies of My Funny Valentine, too; sadly, Storm Chaser Shorts is available only as an e-book, and I don’t think we’ll have Slightly Off The Mark ready in time.

Hope to see you there! Here’s the Facebook event page address:

https://www.facebook.com/events/359823550853994/

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

            With the purchase of a brand new lawn mower, only the third new one I’ve ever bought, I said goodbye to my conservative lawn mower.

            (So named because it stopped working whenever it tilted to the left.)

            It had a good, long run. In fact, the conservative lawn mower wasn’t one of the three bought brand new—I got it used, just like my house and my cars. If it’s good enough for Pontiac/Ford/Dodge/Buick/Chevy/Nissan/Ford again, it’s good enough for Briggs and Stratton. (The less said about Renault, the better.)

           

 

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. )
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