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.




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the official announcement: With my newspaper job gone and thanks to my paranoia about deadlines, I have around thirty unpublished humor columns.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!


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 ...





            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. )



            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.




            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. )






            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.





            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.



            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.



            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.



            “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.



            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.

ozma914: (Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights)
( Mar. 26th, 2014 02:27 am)

            After three decades as a volunteer firefighter, I … hurt. A lot, especially when it’s cold. Recently I’ve been seen wearing a sling, to let my arm heal after I bent an elbow the wrong way. (I don’t really need the sling—it’s to keep me from reaching for stuff with my bad arm.)

            Bob Beckley was already an old timer (or so my 18-year-old self thought) when I joined. He just hit his 40thyear.

            Bob Brownell was just given his fifty year pin.

            Fifty years.

            And that was because they missed the actual anniversary: He’s been a firefighter for 53 years. He was already doing the job for two decades before I walked into the firehouse for the first time, sucking on a bottle and wetting my pants. (Just kidding … I wasn’t sucking on a bottle. I left it in the car.)

            Now, what else happened around 53 years ago? Hm. Well, 52 years ago, although I don’t actually remember it …

            Holy cow. Bob Brownell has been fighting fires since before I was born.

            And the rest of us still have to fight him for the friggin’ fire nozzle.

            Maybe it’s a Bob thing. Maybe being a Bob gives you more energy somehow; maybe it’s one of those mystical names that keeps you young even longer than sleeping under a pyramid, or marrying Playboy bunnies.

            Brownell would have started around 1961 or so. Kennedy was President. In Albion, our newest truck was a 1952 fire engine, the first engine I rode to a fire almost two decades later. It had a manual transmission with about 42 speeds on it.

            And I’m tired?

Now, Brownell is a transfer, which means he didn’t start with our department. What happened was, he started on a different fire department, wore all of them out, then moved to another one. Then all the young guys on that department got tired of him making them look bad, so he left there and came to us. You know those stories about immortal people who moved every few decades so people wouldn’t notice they aren’t aging? That’s Brownell. )



Okay, okay, we get it: Mother Nature’s in charge.

Back in 1978 I wrote in my high school paper that I got cabin fever and opened a window, only to be buried in a collapsing drift. My attitude toward winter hasn’t changed. Winter itself did for a while, taking a temporary break … maybe vacationing in Siberia. Now it’s back, and as sometimes happens when people return from a break, it’s back with a vengeance.

(When I get back from vacation, I just want more vacation.)

We got within a smidgen (technical term, there) of hitting the all-time record amount of snow for winter in this area, at an estimated forty stories. The only thing standing in our way is one winter in the early 80’s, when we had so much snow the spring melt formed Lake Mississippi.

            We also broke five low temperature records this winter. At least one of the old records dates back to the winter after I was born; imagine a six month old in a house heated by one coal-burning furnace, with temperatures in the minus teens. That’s how I grew up to be me.      

            There have been many songs written about snow. My favorite title is by Frank Zappa: “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow”. Very good advice, especially in a household like mine (with a dog).

            Speaking of dogs, the first time I let mine out after the last big snowstorm he took two steps into the back yard, sank up to his chest (he weighs almost 100 pounds) then turned around to stare at me. I know exactly what he was thinking: “You want me to go out in that?

            I shoveled him a pee place. Yes, I did, and maybe someday I’ll write a song about that.

            Some people feel differently about snow, although this year more of them seem to be coming over to my side. From a music standpoint, there’s actually a group called Snow Patrol. They had to change their phone number. People kept calling: “I got your snow right here! You don’t need to patrol for it!”

            There’s a character in a TV show called “The Year Without a Santa Claus” named Snow Miser. Gotta be the bad guy, right? Here are some lyrics from his song:


“I’m Mister White Christmas, I’m Mister Snow

I’m Mister Icicle, I’m Mister Ten Below.

Friends call me Snow Miser, whatever I touch

Turns to snow in my clutch. I’m too much!”


            Yes, you are. And what, you have friends?

            Several weeks ago I watched White Christmas. I thought it was a horror movie; turns out it’s a musical. Or maybe it is a horror flick, considering these lyrics from the song—yes—“Snow”:


“It won’t’ be long before we’ll all be there with snow.


I want to wash my hands, my face and hair with snow.”


            Yeah, and I want to have you committed. I hope at least you’re not washing with the yellow snow.


The Red Hot Chili Peppers seemed to more or less like it in their song “Snow (Hey Oh)”, which I would have titled “Snow (Oh No)”. In fact, I would have changed these lyrics:


“Deep beneath the cover of another perfect wonder

Where it’s so white as snow.”




“Buried in my covers I scream out my horrors

Of another &%#@! Foot of snow.”


Why, yes, I am searching for a job as a lyricist … say in Los Angeles, where it gets cold so seldom that an inch of snow can bring out the National Guard.

            Anyway, I didn’t take the time to write my own song about snow, because my fingers can only type for so long before I have to soak them in hot water. So instead, I took a famous “Christmas” song, “Let It Snow”—which has nothing to do with Christmas at all—and put in more realistic lyrics:


Well, the snow just keeps on flying,

Stupid groundhog wasn’t lying.

Into cabin fever hell we go;

Stop the snow, stop the snow, stop the snow!


This cursed white fluff ain’t stopping.

We’ll soon starve without some shopping.

There’s no way to get out we know,

Stop the snow, stop the snow, stop the snow!


Someday the days could turn nice,

I’d pay for that with my own blood.

But I know that we’d pay the price:

When the snow melts into a big flood.


I feel like my soul is dying

If my outlook changed I’d be lying.

I’m tired of this ice show:

Stop the snow, stop the snow, stop the snow!


It ain’t Shakespeare. But it’s from the heart.

People, we need to talk about holiday food.

I know what you’re thinking: “The holidays are over! Don’t make us rehash holiday hash!”

Yeah, well, these days you’re never far from the next holiday. We have to nip this problem in the bud, before we’re all eating rosewater Valentine soup.

(Yes, I’m late posting this column. Like the TV networks, I dropped everything important and fun in favor of the Olympics.)

It used to be simple, if strange. Pumpkin cookies at Halloween. Cranberry sauce and stuffing at Thanksgiving. Eggnog at Christmas. Spice flavored crap here and there. (Not literally crap. Ew.)

It was, quite frankly, food most of us wouldn’t even think of consuming any other time of the year. But during the holidays it was a “special treat” that somehow we felt duty bound to try despite our better judgment.

Most holidays have some questionable variation on this. Much as my brother and I liked to blow things up as kids, we didn’t consider going out looking for fireworks once Independence Day was past. New Year’s Eve party hats look ridiculous on January 2nd, especially once the wearers sober up. On Halloween we get away with stuff nobody even tries the rest of the year, unless they’re in San Francisco or a Washington, D.C. hotel room.

But now it’s out of control. For instance, in late summer last year Starbucks started selling Pumpkin Spice Latte.

I’ll leave off the debate about whether latte, by itself, it inherently ridiculous.

Dunkin’ Donuts pimped its pumpkin products in September. Brueggere’s Bagels has a pumpkin bagel. A pumpkin bagel! Oh, the humanity.

Now, some of this doesn’t bother me much. After all, it’s a free country when it comes to food, as long as you escaped the spice scented reach of the Bloomberg Administration. You want pumpkin yogurt? More power to you; as far as I’m concerned, yogurt joins buttermilk among those items that I refuse to taste because it’s impossible to tell if they’re spoiled.

But come on. Pumpkin Pringles? Ice cream? M&M’s? Good ingredients are being wasted. There’s only so much chocolate in the world.

There’s pumpkin-spice flavored vodka, and a beer made with pumpkin and cranberry juice, cinnamon, and nutmeg. I suppose, as with the non-holiday version of those products, they taste better the more you drink.

If you’re full but still craving, you can get a pumpkin scented room deodorizer. You’ve long been able to get holiday spice scents, although the eggnog scented candle wasn’t a huge success.

Once Christmas approaches, you can leave the pumpkin and go to eggnog, which at its best is enriched in some nice, holiday buffering booze, and at its worst makes people violently ill. After all, it’s got milk, cream, and whipped eggs in it. And, of course, you can get it with pumpkin spice.

If you’re not careful, it’s a recipe for a sweet treat and a sour stomach. I’ll stick with hot chocolate, because … hey, chocolate.

But people love eggnog, to the extent that you can now get it in cupcakes, marshmallows, cake mix, bubblegum, popcorn, and of course milkshakes. You can even get eggnog flavored candy corn, thus taking you all the way through the fall and winter holidays. Next they’ll be dying it green for St. Patrick’s Day.

And why do people go for all this stuff they wouldn’t touch in June? White chocolate peppermint Pringles? Gingerbread shakes? A turkey shaped ice cream cake? (Although still – it is ice cream.) White hot cocoa lip balm?

There’s also roasted turkey Doritos. Perfect for that college kid who can’t make it home for the holidays, or someone who’s been smoking some questionable green leaf and doesn’t much care what flavor his snacks come in. Or both.

I’ll give you milk chocolate Lays potato chips, which at least combine two “normal” flavors. But pumpkin soup? Pumpkin martini? Shaken, not seeded.

Turkey and gravy figgin’ holiday cola???

As for fruitcake, no one has actually eaten any in all of recorded history. Oh, some people claim they have—but they’ve never produced proof. The truth is, the same dozen fruitcakes have been exchanged across the country every holiday since fruitcake was invented in 1866, by a guy who was drunk on eggnog.

(I kid. The first fruitcakes were “consumed” by Romans, just before the empire fell. Coincidence?)

Personally I’ll add to the list of weird holiday food: candied yams, which are just wrong, and cranberry sauce, which only exists in this dimension from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Also banana nut bread ice cream, which I realize isn’t so much holiday only, and certainly beats the heck out of pumpkin spice Eggo Waffles.

“Leggo my pumpkin spice Eggo!”

“Um … ok, it’s all yours.”

Well, every flavor has its advocates, and it’s not like I don’t enjoy questionable snacks. I used to eat salted pumpkin seeds by the ton. At one point my blood pressure was higher than the national debt, although they’ve since traded places. Still, I think I’ll pass on the idea I once read, to stir cranberry and ginger into mayonnaise, making a holiday themed sandwich spread. It goes on pumpkin bread, I assume.

I’ll stick with the basics: Fudge, no-bake cookies, and my personal choice in foods that are holiday only and a bit ridiculous when you think about them: peanut brittle. I can break my teeth and stop my heart at the same time!

Sheesh … I gained ten pounds just writing this.

I won’t dwell on the problems with getting the Sochi Winter Olympics ready in Russia, mostly because I dwelled on those last week. Instead, let’s look at some past Olympic sports that are no longer in the games.

Most recently, baseball and softball were pulled from competition. The American women dominated in softball, while in baseball Americans … well, they only got three medals in five tries. The Cuban team grabbed the gold. There’s not much else to do in Cuba, except play baseball and stare longingly toward Florida, where senior citizens have high speed internet and all-you-can-eat buffets.

Lacrosse was a medal event—in 1904 and 1908. It involves people in facemasks hitting their balls with big fly swatters. It died out in the early 1900’s because only the Canadians, British, and Americans were willing to take the punishment; former lacrosse players are now employed as dog catchers and butterfly collectors.

Basque pelota was only a medal event in 1900, because nobody could figure out how to pronounce it. It’s played on a court with a ball, sometimes using a racket, but sometimes not.
In other words, it’s handball. If they’d called it that, basque pelota-ites would be on Wheaties boxes.

Tandem cycling was popular in the Olympics from 1920-72. It’s being considered again with new, more interesting rules: The guy in front steers, while the guy in back can lash out at other competitors with lacrosse sticks. It’s now a favorite of retired hockey players.

Winter pentathlon was a difficult event, although the Russians might beat that with their new sport, team gay-bashing. In 1948 winter pentathlon was put on as a demonstration sport, and consisted of downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, shooting, fencing, and horse riding.
All together. In the same event.

Sweden, which remained more or less neutral through World War II, had a whole army of young men just itching to shoot something: They swept all the medals. However, the sport was discontinued after ski-clad Swedes on horseback shot all the competitors’ horses while jumping over the fencing.

Motorboarding was tried in 1908, and ended with only one boat finishing in each of three races. It turns out the Swedes used their winter pentathlon rifles to shoot up the other boat engines, leading officials to change to rowing.

Polo was a favorite Olympic event in the early 1900’s, but it was canceled after the Swedes sent in their entry forms.

The Olympics also tried an obstacle course … involving swimmers. Competitors had to climb over a pole, go over a row of boats, and then swim under another row of boats. Luckily they had an excess of boats left over from the motorboat races.

Speaking of swimming, in 1984 they tried solo synchronized swimming.

Think about it.

Then there’s the one Olympic sport I actually participated in: Tug of war. Not in the Olympics, but we won, and didn’t even have to borrow Swedish rifles to do it. Between 1900 and 1920 the sport was dominated by Great Britain, which sent teams of police officers. And remember, back then their cops were unarmed. Good thing the Swedes didn’t have a team.

Distance plunging would have been interesting … or not. Athletes would dive into the pool and coast underwater, without moving.

That’s it. The winner is the one who drifted the longest in sixty seconds, or when they floated to the surface, whichever came first. An American won the gold, although it should be noted that this competition happened only once, in the 1904 St. Louis Olympics. It should also be noted that only Americans competed.

I’m not sure how they could tell whether the athlete was winning, or drowning.

Also at St. Louis, another US competitor did an impressive job winning the gold in a sport that gives this old gym class hater nightmares: the rope climb. Why was George Eyser so impressive? Because he had a wooden leg.

In 1906 they tried the sport of pistol dueling. No, it wasn’t won by a Swede. It wasn’t really dueling, either: Competitors shot at a dummy dressed in a frock coat, and by dummy I don’t mean the guy who planned the Sochi games. It’s a good thing they cleared up how they did it, because I was thinking this would be one sport where the silver and bronze medals were awarded posthumously.

Finally, here’s a sport they tried just once, at the 1900 Paris Olympics:

Live pigeon shooting.

When the feathers cleared, a Belgian named Leon de Lunden got the gold for downing 21 birds, none of which had a say in the matter. Then he celebrated with a steak dinner.

Once the onlookers got a look at the mess left behind, they decided the Swedes weren’t so bad.

Deconstructing the Sochi Olympics:




“It seems the Russians putting on the 2014 Winter Olympics still adhere to the communist style of efficiency and quality.”



            Did you hear about the pothole that swallowed Cleveland?

            It spit the city back out. Thought it didn’t have good taste.

            Actually, a few years ago I wrote a story inspired by a news report I read, in which a hole opened up and really did swallow an entire intersection in Cleveland. Cleveland residents will tell you nobody beats them for potholes, by any measure: depth, width, hang-time while falling into it …

            But everyone else in every other community across the country, large and small, will make the same claim. Potholes are a nationwide problem, like politicians, Obamacare, and bobbleheads. (I can’t help it, they freak me out. Bobbleheads, too.)

            Potholes happen due to fatigue. No, not the driver: the road surface develops a crack, and the cracks form a pattern called crocodile cracking. At that point crocodile skin is stronger than the pavement, so the cracks spread until the pressure of passing vehicles pops whole areas loose. They’re usually made worse by large temperature changes, so around here they’re a winter and spring thing. But like politicians, potholes can pop up anywhere, anytime, and cause great damage.           

I know it seems like I’m poking a lot of fun at politicians, but in this case there are many similarities between them and potholes: They both cost money, and both have seasons in which they appear more often. Both cause people to curse and demand something be done about them, but most people never actually do anything to fix things themselves. )


ozma914: new novel cover art by Kelly Martin (Winter hatred)
( Jan. 30th, 2014 06:54 pm)



            You’d think this weather would be perfect for “it’s so cold” jokes.

            You know: It’s so cold I saw a dog frozen to a hydrant.

That’s an old one – let me try to come up with something of my own:

It’s so cold hot wings are being sold on Popsicle sticks.

It’s so cold the weather made me reminisce about some of my ex-girlfriends.

It’s so cold, Miley Cyrus put her clothes on.

Or this one that I just came up with: It’s so cold politicians are starting to look warm and friendly.

Now you know why I don’t do stand-up.




ozma914: new novel cover art by Kelly Martin (Default)


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