Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Escaping conventional wisdom

You know those opinions you hold but no one else shares? The ones at which people gasp and say, ‘You can’t possibly believe that!’ Well it is - precisely those - opinions that help define you. Covet them, for they are you.
            Herewith a dozen of my opinions with which most people disagree:

            • The best-ever host of The Tonight Show was Jack Paar. Carson had longevity but Paar was electric.

            • Today’s America is as polarized as it’s been at any time since the Civil War.

            • We should still have tented circuses. The indoor kind just aren’t the same.

            • In baseball, 3 balls should be a walk. Watching pitcher and catcher toss the ball back and forth is tedious.

            • Two gentlemen who would man well the office of U.S. President: Jeb Bush, Evan Bayh.

            • Jonathan Winters was the funniest man ever.

            • Want to rebel against something? How about the necktie. What earthly good do they do? They’re not even decorative since most are absurdly mismatched.

            • People should have more arguments. Used as a cordial learning tool, arguing is how ideas get examined. Granted arguments can turn toxic, but they needn’t, given civilized ground rules.

            • The best American movie ever was 1953s From Here to Eternity based on James Jones’ novel. Ironically, it was made by a minor league studio – Columbia – but rarely does a picture so honestly capture a story’s ethos.

            • The all-time silliest American fad was the Twist. It was grotesquely awkward and unappealing to watch or perform.

            • Whatever happened to music? You know – pleasant songs with lyrics like I’m in the Mood for Love.’

            Sean Connery is the definitive James Bond. Connery’s secret: Have fun with the character who is, at essence, comedic.

            So, when that moment comes in which you deliver a thoughtful opinion that’s greeted with derision, you may be taken as a naysayer or an eccentric. Maybe so. But you also have intellectual courage.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Some Christmas traditions you may never have heard of – and for good reason

Here they are, just for the sheer enjoyment. At least I hope so:
1. Send a card to someone with whom you’re on the outs. (If you’re on the outs with more than, say, 30 people, just ignore this.)
2. Arrange an equine cultural exchange. Send the Lipizzaner Stallions to St. Louis to pull a beer wagon, while the Budweiser Clydesdales clomp around Vienna. This will work; no room for neigh-sayers (please note pun).
3. Forgive yourself for one egregiously dumb mistake you’ve made earlier in life. Never think of it again. In fact, make it two mistakes. A Christmas special.
4. You know those guys who jump into an icy lake to show how hardy they are? Let them not do it this year. For one Christmas let sanity trump vanity.
5. The country is politically polarized this Christmas. Let’s do something about it. Maybe hoist a toast to George Washington who didn’t want political parties at all.
6. Keep in mind that those Christmas movies and TV specials are mostly filmed in mid-summer – a testimony to the enduring spirit.
7. If I’m on your gift list, please don’t give me a scarf. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the scarves of Christmas past. In fact, I’ll give you a scarf. A really nice one, only slightly used.
8. Have a contest to see who can do the best impression of Bing Crosby singing White Christmas. Incidentally, the Irving Berlin classic is actually an Angeleno’s lament. The rarely sung prelude: “The sun is shining, the grass is green, the orange and palm trees sway. There’s never been such a day in Beverly Hills, L.A. But it’s December the 24th and I am longing to be up north.” And we all know how it goes from there.
9. When it’s time to have someone play Santa, pick the biggest grump in the group. The role is transformative. By feigning jollity, Santa may actually acquire it. I’ve seen it happen.
10. If for some reason you can’t get into the holiday mood this year, go ahead and fake it. You won’t be sorry. I’m not sure how that works but it does. Seriously.

Friday, November 30, 2012

A new kind of advice column

            Most columns offer good advice. My column is unique in that it offers bad advice. So let’s go directly to the Q & A:
            Q: Please give me your advice. How can I stop smoking?
            A: Take up Latin dances. Rumba, samba, cha-cha. It’s almost impossible to smoke in a conga line.
            Q: That’s absurd. Why would anyone do that?
            A: They probably wouldn’t. That’s why it’s bad advice.
            Q. Next question: What’s the best way to get rid of unwanted houseguests?
            A: I differ from conventional wisdom in that I don’t use poisonous snakes. A better solution: exploding bars of soap. BOOM-A-CLEASE is good, or any detonating soap product.
            Q: That’s the worst advice I’ve ever heard.
            A: Thank you.
            Q: Try this one: How can I stop beating my wife?
            A: Wife beating is definitely wrong. As a substitute try wife polishing. WIFE-SHEEN is a spray-on product. Apply with a soft cloth and you’ll bring her to a high gloss in 10-12 minutes. BUFF-A-SPOUSE is also good.
            Q: I’m curious – Does anyone ever take your advice?
            A: Not that I know of.
            Q: An anxious parent writes: Our 14-year-old son is turning to lawlessness – stealing hubcaps, robbing vending machines, extorting lunch money. How can we keep him from becoming a petty criminal?
            A: Why be petty? The Mafia publishes a booklet: Career Opportunities in Organized Crime. A must-read for anyone considering crime as a career option.
            Q: Next question: I need a vacation that’s totally stress-free. Any suggestions?
            A: Adventure, that’s the ticket. Become a cab driver in Naples, Italy. Learn to drive-by-horn, dodge scooters, flee Mafiosi. And as part of the cultural exchange, a Neapolitan cabbie comes to America and drives your car for two weeks.
            Q: That’s supposed to be relaxing?
            A: No.
            Q: Here’s an oft-heard question: I’m afraid to go to the dentist. I can’t stand pain.
            A: Explain to the dentist that if you experience any pain, you will bite him. Give the dentist a crazed, wide-eyed look, then relax and enjoy a pain-free dental experience.
            Q: A woman writes: I want to offer a memorable surprise when the dinner group comes to our house. I know you’re not a chef but I thought you might make a suggestion.
            A: Who needs a chef? Drama is the key – perhaps something in a flaming dessert! First you light it up – KAWUMP – then have your husband enter in a fireman suit and douse it. Your dinner group will cheer and with any luck no one gets hurt.
            Q: Have you ever considered giving good advice?
            A: I tried it once. Couldn’t get the hang of it. With bad advice, expectations are lower.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

You might NOT be a redneck if….

Great premise, huh? For example: You might not be a redneck if you call security when Jeff Foxworthy comes on your property.

Or if you own alligator shoes from a gator you haven’t wrestled.

If you have a Swiss bank account and write checks against it at the grocery store, you probably are not a redneck.

If you wish Larry the Cagle Guy would stop saying, “Git ’er done” and simply do his job, you might not be a redneck.
When you’re asked if you like the Grand Old Opry and you reply, “Oh yes! I love La Boheme,” you aren’t a redneck.

Same if you wish the Georgia Bulldogs would join the Ivy League so they’d get to play Dartmouth every year.

If you enjoy a bubble bath now and then, you might not be a redneck.

Or if you have a sign at the end of your half-mile-long driveway that reads “NO RIFFRAFF, you probably aren’t a redneck.

You might not be a redneck if you wear a polo shirt to play polo.

Or if, when it comes to girls’ names, you reject Candi, Taffi and Brandi in favor of Victoria, you may not be a redneck.

If you buy a French poodle instead of a pit bull, you probably aren’t a redneck. On the other hand, if you try to give a pit bull some kind of coiffure, you may or may not be a redneck but you probably are dangerous.

Who knows – maybe we all have a little redneck in us. It’s good to enjoy life in elemental ways whether one is a redneck or not. The French have a term for it: joie de vivre. Please note that anyone who uses French phrases may be an exemplar of virtue and lead a life of avowed purpose. But, if you’ll forgive me for saying so, this person is probably not a redneck.

[For more of the same, visit Alan’s blog,]

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Oscars for words beginning with R

Someone once said, “A human life is like a single letter in the alphabet. It can be meaningless. Or it can be part of a great meaning.” For me, the R is the noblest of letters and the one I revere.
S is a villain of a letter, hissing with sibilance. B is bland. T needs the companionship of H to do its best work. The letter G can denote gallantry but gives way to ignoble noises like gush, gurgle, gargle and groan.
So it is that for flexibility and force combined with raffishness, I’ll cast my lot with R.
And the Oscars for excellence in words beginning with R go to the following:
Hardest Word to Spell – rhythm. Ask 10 intelligent people to spell the word. None will be able. It is unspellable: five consonants held together by one Y serving forlornly as a vowel.
Most Onomatopoeic – ratchet. My oink-brained dictionary recognizes the word only as a vowel although its principle force is as a pleasingly grating verb.
Word Most Sullied by a Silent Letter – wrong, as in ‘I hate to use the R word but you’re wrong.’ It is technically the W word. The glory-seeking W feigns preeminence when in fact it isn’t even elocuted. Maybe on my deathbed somebody will tell me the purpose of the W in wrong, or wrath, or wreck, or wrestle. The heroic R triumphs over the parasitic W.
Hardest to Pronounce – rural. In fact, the word is unpronounceable even if you live there. One comes no closer than sounding like a car laboring to start on a cold morning. Tigers say the word to one another as a sign of affection.
Best Use of an Accent Mark – risqué. Face it, without the accent the word is nothing, like Mary Moore without her Tyler.
Most Flexibility of Meaning – rascal. It serves as accusation or accolade. When you meet a rascal you don’t know whether to lock him up or invite him for drinks.
Most Pretentious Word for a Simple Concept – risible. It means funny or causing laughter. Nobody ever uses it, which is why it’s useful to stump people.
So anyway, here’s a turn in the spotlight for the letter R. Tomorrow it’ll go back to work heading everything from riot to recherché, from Ramblin’ Rose to Roy Rogers. It’s a letter you can pal around with.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Shakespearean Football

            If the Elizabethans had played the gridiron game, the dialogue would have gone something like this:
            TO YOUR TEAMMATES WHEN THE OPPONENT FUMBLES – Hasten good fellows! Pounce upon the spheroid lest those of careless prospect seek to retrieve it.
            TO A CHEERLEADER – Fie! I revere your womanliness too profoundly to hurl you skyward, perchance to drop beauty’s own projectile. Dos’t thou bounce? I fear not.
            WHEN A COACH SEEKS TO INSPIRE HIS PLAYERS – They castigate you as layabouts. Faith tis better said of the craven sluggards across the greensward. To them belongs calumny, to you glory. Now go forth and commit slaughter with heroism’s own impugnity.
            WHEN A PLAYER LEAVES COLLEGE EARLY TO JOIN THE PROS – Better to embrace the prose than the pros. This noble campus offers you the poetry of education – that which sustaineth when empty stadia confront your diminished talent.
            ORDERING A HOT DOG  - Hail yeoman vendor! Four dogs, that I may consume three and still extend charity’s mite to my abstemious colleague. Mustard atop, and lavishly applied.
            CALLING A PASS PLAY – The coach offers a suggestion: Hurl the piggish projectile downfield then snatch it from the sky. Speaketh the coach: On fourth down with thirty yards yet untraveled, what in hell’s own dominion can we do?
            ON HAVING YOUR PASS INTERCEPTED – Weasel! Marplot! You take unto yourself that which is vouchsafed to another, my boon companion, the wide receiver. Take from me my wife, my stead, but never my football. Drat! The noble quarterback now victim of my own folly!
            THE COACH, AFTER ENDURING A KOOL-ADE DOUSING – Jackals! Douse me in defeat if you must, but not in my moment of triumph. If a headcold attends this treachery then may jeopardy attend your scholarships.
            THE CHANCELLOR, SPEAKING TO THE TEAM AFTER A L OSING SEASON – As I watch our season harden to the consistency of a soufflé, I calculate that brigands of the high road could triple your quotient of dexterity.
            TO A PRIZE RECRUIT – Well done, wrestling those bears. Would’st consider an academic alternative to the bear pits?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Cheap and easy ways to find peace of mind

Inner peace emanates from a higher power. Mine are merely musings from a temporal and flawed point of view. How do I achieve peace of mind? In the most quotidian ways:
1. Avoid arguments with jerks. Some calculate the odds of winning an argument. Better to calculate the level of civility. Jerks know all the answers. They can be interviewed but not enjoyed.
2. Find nature. If you live in New York City, the Catskills are only an hour away. Same with Atlanta and the Blue Ridge. Same with London and the Cotswolds.
3. Locate a mountain creek and immerse yourself, literally if possible but at least figuratively. Listen to the burbling, which is more coherent than one would think. The creek is refuting the assumption that you have to be ruthless to get where you’re going. The little creek gets where it’s going, nurturing everything it encounters.
4. Do one thing at a time and do it well. If you’re in conversation, do not say, “Oops, I have to take this call; it’s important.” To which the appropriate response is, “Oh yeah? Am I not important? Tantrum to follow!” The taxonomy of people into levels of importance is to be avoided.
5. When you have nothing to say, enjoy the luxury of saying nothing. No clever retorts to rehearse. Simply bask in the assumption of your own wisdom which is often beyond expressing.
6. Take yourself as seriously as you want. I’ve always disliked the admonition, “Don’t take yourself so seriously.” Why not? Is my life an endeavor to be taken casually? Learning to laugh at oneself is a pain.
7. Whether you play it safe or take a risk, don’t second-guess yourself. You weighed the evidence and made a decision. Take comfort in your decisiveness. Even when you go wrong, there’s benefit to be had.
8. Embrace spectator sports. It’s recreative to watch adults desport themselves in games of ball. One who observes such contests is a sportsman seeking inner peace, not, as sometimes alleged, a lazy good-for-nothing chore-avoiding lout.
9. Think about things. When you do, someone will inevitably ask, “Are you okay? You seem preoccupied.” Respond by reciting the lyrics to Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered. It’ll get ’em off your back for awhile.
10. Know that you possess the means of improving the human condition. Maybe it’s nothing more than a smile and a nod to someone on the street. Try it, if you feel like it. Peace of mind attends those who try, and who experiment with ways peace can be spread around.

Monday, October 22, 2012

America’s least competent Answer Man answers your questions

            Q: How do James Carville and Mary Matalin stay married?
            A: Fear. Mutual and incapacitating.
            Q: If you had a choice between inviting Bill O’Reilly or Jon Stewart to dinner, which would you select?
            A: I’d go to Burger King. Or maybe Wendy’s. They have a salad with avocados.
            Q: I read somewhere that the New York Giants have no mascot. Why is this?
            A: Some of their players approach 400 lbs. How many giants do you need?
            Q: What’s the worst thing a political candidate can do in a debate?
            A: Break into a moonwalk.
            Q: Have you seen the new Clint Eastwood picture Trouble with the Curve?
            A: Yes. Mr. Eastwood’s character in Gran Torino was a more plausible old-Clint, although my hat’s off to any actor in his 80s who can carry a picture. Some of the close-ups are brutal but Clint didn’t beg off.
            Q: What’s the answer to America’s budget crisis?
            A: Numbers in the billions and trillions are incomprehensible to the layman. That calculator that shows the ever-increasing national debt? Get rid of it; it’s irritating.
            Q: Why do credible actors do commercials or voice-overs? Robert Vaughn. Donald Sutherland. Tommy Lee Jones. What can they be thinking?
            A: They are thinking as follows: ‘Proper roles for someone of my stature are scarce. I’ll accept this commercial and make a great deal of money.’ Incidentally, Eleanor Roosevelt in 1960 made a television commercial for Bluebonnet Margarine with fees donated to a particularly worthy charity.
            Q: I dislike political attack ads. Why does no one challenge the assumption that going negative works?
            A: Such a challenge would be akin in stature to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball: difficult; not impossible.
            Q: I’ve read some of your Answer Man observations all of which bring to mind a single question: Are you out of your !!@§ mind?
            A: Thank you for your inquiry. Let me answer your question this way: !!@§!
            Q: Is it true that your Answer Man credentials have been revoked?
            A: No, it is not true. My credentials were briefly suspended in a dispute involving a turtle which has now been resolved. I had nothing to do with it.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Why kids don’t care about history, which is too bad because it’s exciting.

            Instead of dates and treaties, we should emphasize drama. Herewith a few sidelights from the big pageant:
            Christopher Columbus had a brother. Bartolomeo Columbus was an accomplished mapmaker who crossed the Atlantic several times and ultimately became Governor of Hispaniola.
            As revolutions go, the American one was relatively benign in its aftermath. This is especially true in comparison to the later bloody aftermath in France. In America, the losing Tories either immigrated to British Canada or simply stayed where they were and became Americans. Recriminations were relatively rare.
            The 1815 Battle of Waterloo, victoriously generaled by the Duke of Wellington, was not exclusively a British victory. It required a combined force of British, Prussians, Austrians and Russians to finally suppress Bonaparte.
            During the Civil War, Irish immigrants just off the board were regularly impressed into the Union Army. Customs Officer One: “Congratulations, you’re a US citizen. Move along.” Customs Officer Two: “Congratulations, you’re a private in the US Army. Go fight for your country.”
            Abe Lincoln was not above political image-making. At the 1860 nominating convention in Chicago, Lincoln operatives handed out rail-splitter lapel pins.
            President Theodore Roosevelt did not get along with Winston Churchill. The two were in many ways alike. Both were described as “imperial, bold and prolific.” They met on several occasions and simply didn’t hit it off. With Franklin (Teddy’s cousin) and Winston, as we know, things were better.
            Charles Lindbergh was not the first man to fly the Atlantic. A pair of Britishers, Alcock and Brown, had done it east to west in 1919. Lindbergh was the first to do it solo, and Lindy’s jaunt, while brave, was something of a stunt.
            In 1941, before Pearl Harbor, 80 percent of Americans did not want to go to war against Germany and Japan. The isolationist movement in America was strong. It took Pearl Harbor to alter American thinking toward the inevitability of war.
            Teddy Roosevelt’s son was a combat general in World War II. Teddy Roosevelt, Jr., 57, a Brigadier General, led troops onto Utah Beach during D-Day. He was a wiry little guy with a fibrillating heart whose presence on the beach, under fire, had a stabilizing influence so profound that when his heart gave out days later he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
            The authors of historical fiction have a point: history is the narrative of courage, the seedbed of romance. I can’t let it go. It would be like ignoring life itself.

Friday, October 5, 2012

How Yankees and southerners can live in harmony

            I grew up in West Virginia, which vantage point allows something like objectivity. Let me posit a few attitude adjustments that could finesse some of the old rifts.
            For example, southerners could forgo the conceit that college football is not played outside the Southeastern Conference. It is, although not as belligerently.
            And southerners could forgo calling The Civil War the War Between the States, an awkward construct that only obfuscates while failing to make the intended point. Let reenactors on both sides conjoin to reenact the Battle of Iwo Jima with Stone Mountain as Mount Suribachi. By the way, not all Civil War buffs are southerners. Mario Cuomo and Richard Dreyfuss are cases in point.
            Northerners could be encouraged to embrace NASCAR with a couple of dirt tracks in, say, Massachusetts. Maybe throw in some Waffle Houses which would render obsolete all the stupid jokes about grits.
            The two regions might agree that southern novelists are no more eccentric or gothic than northern novelists. For every Flannery O’Conner there’s an Edgar Allan Poe.
            And by the way, Pennsylvanians (not southerners) fought a small war for the right to make whiskey at home. President George Washington himself led the army that quashed the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794, and forced trans-Allegheny frontierspeople to pay a whopping 25 percent whiskey tax to the new U.S. government.
            And perhaps some northern real estate developer could create a Yankee version of The Villages where southern retirees could play hockey and learn ice fishing. Escapees bent on reaching the Florida Villages would be incarcerated at the Village Prison.
            But seriously, we could all acknowledge that there is no such thing as a southern accent. There is a New Orleans accent, an Atlanta accent, a Charleston accent, all with variations. There are also accents distinctive to Boston, Chicago and New York. Why one is more subject to parody than another is something I’ve never understood. On a recent visit to a north Georgia high school, I noticed that the kids seemed accent-free, unless there’s such a thing as a Disney Channel accent.
            The thing is, we’re learning to like one another. Mason-Dixon is disappearing, except for a few unreconstructed denizens like the elderly lady who still blamed “the Abraham Lincoln administration for The War of Northern Aggression.” Seated with her around the bridge table were natives of Milwaukee, Hartford and rural Vermont, all of whom smiled politely, unwilling to challenge the sensibility of their friend.

Friday, September 28, 2012

How To Deal Sensitively With Women

It’s a matter of giving dismissive, smartaleck responses to their concerns. Women appreciate caustic wit above all else. Just try this sampler of male retorts:
Her Concern: It was a formal dinner and you ate like a pig.
Retort: I have never been a slave to etiquette.
Her Concern: How dare you insult my friends!
Retort: Everybody needs a hobby.
Her Concern: You’d rather watch sports than spend time with me!
Retort: Yeah, but you’re a really strong second.
Her Concern: We’re going to counseling!
Retort: Ah, then you’ve met my bartender.
Her Concern: The movies you like are too violent.
Retort: Actually I have an idea for a chick flick. Ladies share their feelings for 90 minutes then everything explodes and Bruce Willis rescues them.
Her Concern: You are not playing golf; we’re going to the gallery opening.
Retort: (having seen an inclement weather forecast) As you wish my dear.
Her Concern: You are driving recklessly.
Retort: I prefer to think of it as driving wrecklessly.
Her Concern: Are you crazy?
Retort: No, I don’t think so. Oh look, there goes Woodrow Wilson.
Her Concern: Do you ever stop to think what’s the meaning of life?
Retort: I have a theory but I’m keeping it to myself in case it’s wrong.
Her Concern: You can just wipe that smirk off your face, Mr. Smartypants.
Retort: Grover P. Smartypants at your service.
These retorts are not half as clever as they seem. But if your goal is to return tedium to the relationship, just go around saying, “Have a nice day!” The thing is, being a smartaleck actually does contribute to a nice day. At least it always does for me.
[For more of the same, visit Alan’s blog,]

Friday, September 21, 2012

How to win arguments

            I don’t endorse these techniques. Arguments should be won on merit, not via some cheap conversational ploy. On the other hand, if you appreciate cheap ploys, here are some tricks you can use to win arguments:
            1. Declare victory and leave the room. It resolves nothing, providing only a momentary one-up. Shallow but effective.
            2. Throw a few Latin phrases into the discourse. Example: Ergo ipso facto persona non grata. Rough translation: Get outta here. Your opponent will be thrown off balance just long enough for you to marshal a real argument. It’s a slimy ploy but we’re not dealing with ethics here.
            3. Render your opponent’s point of view absurd. No matter how salient your opponent’s point, respond by quacking like a duck. Warning: You render yourself vulnerable to a charge of trivialization. Quacking is really not much more than a smokescreen.
            4. Patronize your opponent. Feign agreement: “You’re absolutely right. Everything you say is true.” Then yawn with elaborate ennui, like one of those smug characters in a Noel Howard play, as if to say ‘Arguing with you is not worth the trouble.’ Not widely used; you may get away with it.
            5. Engage in a shouting match. Can manifest itself in violence. The upside is that you can shout pretty much whatever you want since logic is not a factor.
            6. Be a pacifist. Announcing “I’m not looking for a fight” gives you the moral high ground, from which position you can launch a real donnybrook.
            7. Accuse your opponent of filibustering. Then take the floor and deliver a 60-minute diatribe on the evils of filibustering.
            8. Don’t argue about religion. If someone says, “My religion involves snake handling,” don’t ask, “Isn’t that dangerous?” Of course it is. That’s probably the point.
            9. Ask an “objective” third party to settle the argument. Then invite one of your drinking buddies to be the objective third party. This is a little transparent and probably won’t work.
            10. Be honest and forthright, even if it means losing the argument. There are worse things than losing an argument, such as winning by being a mindlessly combative street fighter. Again, I do not endorse the above techniques. I may use one of them occasionally, but only in intellectual desperation.
            And of course there’s the ultimate strong-arm tactic: If you can’t win the argument on merit, attack the personality of your opponent. The thing is, even if you win, you feel lousy afterward.
            There is such a thing as a principled argument from which both parties emerge enhanced. I’ve had a few of those, and they’re rare and sometimes almost noble.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Etiquette for people who rarely consult etiquette books

            What if you’re at a formal dinner party and a fight breaks out among the guests?
            I normally side with the host, who probably has control of the security arrangements.
            What if you’re served a seafood course in which the seafood isn’t completely dead?
            First establish which fork to use because you’ll need some kind of weapon in case the thing comes after you. Then bellow heartily, “I’m the Gorton fisherman and I’m off for Nantucket,” and make for an exit.
            If you spill wine on your hostess’s expensive gown, what response is mandated?
            Find a way to check the label on the gown to ascertain whether it’s a knock-off. This can be awkward, but since one has already made a blithering idiot of oneself, what’s to lose?
            Is chicken properly eaten with the fingers?
            Chicken is normally eaten with the mouth.
            If the hostess flirts with you in full view of her husband, how do you respond?
            Don’t be manipulated. The hostess is using you to make her husband jealous. Try diverting attention by launching a donnybrook between your wife and the hostess. But be subtle. Do not say something like, “Two out of three falls. Winner take all.” You’ll want to retain the moral high ground, assuming there is any.
            If you receive a gift you don’t want – say a snapping turtle – is it acceptable to return the gift?
            Yes, if you want to be conventional about it. But why not up the ante? Your accompanying note could read, “Thanks for the turtle, but perhaps this Burmese python will say it better than any words of mine.”
            At the company picnic, you’re unexpectedly summoned by your boss to say a few words. You’ve just imbibed a quart of bourbon-laced lemonade. What do you do?
            Run for the nearest body of water, dive in and swim for the opposite shore. Later when asked why, announce that it was your tribute to Johnny Weissmuller who was the only really credible Tarzan. Nobody will buy this, but it’s probably better than any available alternative.
            After being someone’s houseguest, is it polite to send a thank-you note?
            Yes, absolutely. Reminds me of the time I accidentally put a Viagra order form in with the note. Embarrassing, although at 50 pills for $100, the price was right.
            Recently I attended a funeral on a very hot day and decided to wear Bermuda shorts. Is this attire acceptable?
            Maybe in Bermuda, but elsewhere it is perhaps as acceptable as a fungus sandwich.
            Speaking of funerals, what’s the best tone to strike if you’re asked to give the eulogy?
            The last time I spoke at a funeral I decided to eschew a boring eulogy in favor of doing 10 minutes of stand-up comedy. This was not well received, especially by the family of the deceased who tried to have me hauled away from the rostrum, which was unnecessary, as I’d have gone voluntarily if they’d been nicer about it.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Meet Goofy Thunderton!

Goofy Thunderton sees his bathroom not as a functional adjunct so much as a spiritual retreat center.
“Is he in there now?” Fawn Underwood inquired during the Tour of Homes.
Del Thunderton nodded resolutely and banged the bathroom door with wifely chagrin. “Goofy, I know you’re in there. Come out. We have guests.”
From behind the door: “The Tour of Homes?”
“That’s right. They’re all here.”
“I don’t like the Tour of Homes. I like it in here.”
Goofy’s annoyance at the Tour dates from 1999 when the pilgrimage found him three martinis to the wind. Remarks were made, none of which Goofy forgot.
Del, having none of it, drummed the door. “Fawn Underwood wants to see inside.”
Fawn Underwood stood by, tapping her foot.
“I’ll describe it to her,” called Goofy. “It’s charming. Wood paneling. Books. A sort of soigné understatement. You’d love it, Fawn.”
Fawn Underwood was livid. “Open that door, you Cro-Magnon. If you didn’t want us, you shouldn’t have signed up for the Tour! .... Goofy. Do you hear me?”
“Yes, I hear you. Bit of a crisis in here. Dropped an olive in the bidet.”
Others had gathered outside the bathroom door. “He’s got a pitcher of martinis in there,” remarked Roy Underwood.
Del tried her sweet, plaintive voice, “’Goofeeee, you’re embarrassing meeee. Come out an say hello.”
“I’ll say it from here. Hello everyone. This is Sylvester Thunderton, your host. I wish all of you could be in here with me. This is my world, so to speak. However, I know you have other homes to infest.”
Shrugged Roy Underwood, “You know what they say: A  man’s home is his castle.”
“More like his bunker,” sniffed Fawn Underwood, who solicitously patted Del’s arm. “I know how embarrassed you must be.”
Smiling primly, Del inserted a key into the lock and pushed the door. Fawn’s eyes lit up. “Ready or not Goofy,” she smirked. As the door cracked, Fawn wedged a leg inside. Goofy pushed back.
“Fawn, get your leg out,” warned Roy, tugging his wife.
“Yeah, it’s turning blue,” agreed Goofy. Fawn extracted her leg with an “ungh” and hobbled away, the others following, showering Fawn and Del with solicitude.
From inside the bathroom: “Leaving so soon? Loved having you. Come again.”

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Want to rewrite history? Go ahead!

Certain classic American utterances could frankly use some punching up. I’ve appointed myself history’s public relations guy, with the following results. We know what they really said; here’s what they might have said:
Washington’s farewell to his troops: “And may this day herald the end of those #*@^ powdered wigs. I hate those things.”
Lindbergh in Paris: “When they make a movie, could Jimmy Stewart play me? Course he’d have to dye his hair.” (Note: that casting did occur for the movie Spirit of St. Louis with Mr. Stewart a truly inauthentic blonde.)
Neil Armstrong on the moon: “They wrote something for me to say, but frankly I hate scripted historic utterances. Actually I’m just up here to, you know, fool around. There’s really not much to do. It’s not like you can order a pizza.”
Rosa Parks in Montgomery: “Hell no, I’m not moving to the back. It’s full of exhaust fumes.”
Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) in Casablanca: “Play it Sam. Play the German National Anthem.”
William Faulkner accepting the Nobel Prize in Oslo: “And to those geezers and codgers sitting around the square in Oxford saying I’d never amount to anything…. nyah nyah nyah.”
General Anthony McAuliffe at Bastogne: “Tell the Germans I said nuts and then did an impromptu samba around headquarters. By the way, Georgie Patton is coming, right?”
Bert Parks reflecting on the Miss America Pageant: “Face it, it hasn’t been the same since I left. It was never about the girls.”
General Eisenhower on D-Day: “Yesterday, June 5, 1944, one of the reporters asked me, ‘Hey Ike, anything on for tomorrow?’ I told him yeah, right Pal, we’re invading Europe. He told me his readers demanded a serious answer.”
Stephen A. Douglas in Illinois: “So anyway, Abe wants to go around the state in a series of debates. Is he out of his rail-splitting mind? I’ll cream him.” (Note: Douglas did win the Senate seat, but the debates were nevertheless Lincoln’s ticket to the 1860 presidential nomination.)
General Douglas MacArthur upon his return to the Philippines: “Ok I’m back. Got my pants legs all wet walking ashore. Could one of you guys get me some dry socks?”
Mahatma Gandhi during his fasting period: “I don’t want to obsess over this thing. Maybe just a club sandwich and some iced tea.”

Monday, March 5, 2012

This column will literally knock you out

Okay, so it won’t literally knock anyone out; only figuratively. Thus is the adverb ‘literally’ misapplied.
Take Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri who spoke as follows on MSNBC: “Nine or ten years ago a dead frog could get credit. Literally.”
One certainly sees her point about the credit market, as vivified by the adverb. So, if a dead frog could literally get credit, the scenario might have gone something like this:
The loan officer was aghast. “What do you mean he wants credit?”
“A home loan,” explained the visitor.
“But… he’s a frog.”
“I’m speaking for him.”
“But he’s dead.”
“Yeah, he croaked.”
“What’s his occupation?”
“Actually he avoids all gigs. Just hangs around his pad.”
The loan officer rolled his eyes. “Is this an honest portrayal?”
“Yes. Warts and all.”
“Very impressive. Would $50,000 at 4 percent be satisfactory?”
A few more everyday uses of ‘literally:’
“He literally hit the ceiling!” (Yep, climbed up a ladder and punched the plaster.)
“She literally blew her top.” (What a mess; brains everywhere.)
“I literally could have strangled him.” One hopes this is a figurative usage but who knows? Can’t you hear Judge Judy from the bench? “You literally strangled him? Why’s he still alive?”
“Okay, not literally.”
“You’re free to go but watch those syntax.”
Judge Judy is to jurisprudence what Ronald McDonald is to cuisine. That woman’s voice literally gives me the willies.

Monday, February 27, 2012

How to annoy your friends with geography

How to annoy your friends with geography
            You’ll want to one-up your pals with this smug collection of global oddities. They’re also great for winning bar bets in the better bars:
            Fact: If you boarded an airplane at Miami, Fl., and flew 1,200 miles due south, you’d be over the Pacific Coast.
            Explanation: Check it on a globe. You’d pass over the Isthmus of Panama. Next landfall: Antarctica.
            Fact: The capital city of an inland U.S. state lies further west than Los Angeles.
            Explanation: It’s Carson City, Nv.
            Fact: The rain in Spain does not fall mainly in the plain.
            Explanation: This is what happens when songwriters practice meteorology. Spain’s rainiest area is its northern Atlantic coast, the aptly named Costa Verde.
            Fact: New York is the wildest state east of the Mississippi.
            Explanation: New York State contains vast tracts of wilderness acreage, especially in the Adirondack region.
            Fact: Adolph Hitler owned 9,000 acres of land in the American west.
            Explanation: It was pastureland in the State of Colorado.
            Fact: Charles Lindbergh was not the first man to fly the Atlantic.
            Explanation: A number of others – mostly military men – did it prior to Lindbergh’s 1927 crossing. Lindy was the first to fly the Atlantic solo.
            Fact: One of North America’s best-known natural phenomena is the result of a lake 570 feet above sea level emptying into another lake 245 feet above sea level.
            Explanation: Thus producing Niagara Falls. (The Niagara River connects the two lakes.)
            Fact: The easternmost, westernmost and northernmost points in the U.S. are all found in the same state.
            Explanation: The state is Alaska, easternmost in that the tip of its Aleutian chain extends across the line that separates east from west.
            Fact: One of the contiguous 48 states has approximately one-third of its land area separated by water from the other two-thirds.
            Explanation: The state is Michigan. The water gap between the upper and lower peninsulas is bridged at the Straits of Mackinac.
            Fact: The earth is not round.
            Explanation: The earth is a spheroid rather than a perfect sphere. It flattens slightly at both poles and bulges slightly at the equator. (Note: This is a specious point, the recitation of which will not win you any friends.)
            Fact: The world’s largest island was given its name as part of a real estate con job.
            Explanation: The Danish government gave Greenland its tempting but inaccurate name in order to attract settlers.
            Fact: The northernmost of the 48 adjacent states is not Maine.
            Explanation: It’s Minnesota, whose northernmost point is a detached bit of land northwest of Lake of the Woods.
            Fact: In 1926, it was possible to cross the Atlantic Ocean using scheduled, non-surface, commercial transportation.
            Explanation: By dirigible. Though the Hindenburg disaster quashed airship travel, veterans of successful trips deemed them pleasant and relaxing.
            Thanks for reading with us today. Please return your tray tables to their original upright position. This would probably entail ripping them out and taking them back to the factory, but never mind that.

 See part 2 in the March 1, 2012 Pickens Progress.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Bad attitude about morning television

All the networks and cable news outlets have a weekday morning show dispensing wake-up potpourri between 5 and 9 a.m. – an amalgam of hard news and ditsy features of the now-Brian-will-go-outside-and-wrestle-a-gator variety. The hosts sport what the networks like to call ‘a morning personality’: chipper, wide-awake and maybe just a little goofy.
Scenes I’d like to see on A.M. TV
Scene One: Jungle Bob comes on-set with his animal du jour, a Burmese ferret. Uh oh, the ferret’s loose. He’s trying to bite a cameraman. Now he’s after Jungle Bob who seems unconcerned: “Nothing to worry about. He’s more scared than aggressive. OW! DAMMIT!” An assistant grapples the gnashing ferret as J. Bob hobbles to a seat: “I’m okay, I’m okay. He’s not used to television.” Oh, really? We thought he had a union card.
Scene Two: The host has been teasing an upcoming segment for fully an hour. “You’ll want to stay tuned. We’ve learned that the world is coming to an end but first here’s homemaker Betty Kitchens with her recipe for noodle casserole.” Chirps Betty, “It’s perfect for those pre-apocalypse parties. Festive but not too fussy.”
Scene Three: Matt Lauer interviews me.
MATT: What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?
ALAN: Oh, well let me think. Probably the Lindbergh kidnapping.
MATT: Very funny. But we’re hearing that you’ve done bad things.
ALAN: Everybody’s done bad things.
MATT: You admit it! What one factor turned you into a bad person?
ALAN: Sometimes I fantasize about strangling journalists.
MATT: You’d like to strangle me, wouldn’t you?
ALAN: (nodding) You, Bill O’Reilly, Nancy Grace. Look, I’m confused. In the green room everyone was nice to me and there were pastries and juice. Then the lights go up and you turn into a werewolf.
MATT: That’s my job.
ALAN: Character assassination?
MATT: Finding the truth.
ALAN: The truth isn’t all bad. You have a rotten attitude.
MATT: So do you, pal. Listen, you want to go for martinis later?
Scene Four: Stoner the Weather Guy finally goes over the top. “I’m a serious journalist, not some weather vane rooster on top of a barn. I hate the weather – all of it! You think it’s some kind of picnic, standing outside in a typhoon? I hate the weather!... No, no, leave me alone.” And they haul him away, ultimately to be with Willard Scott in a place where the sun always shines.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Striving for humbleness – and falling short

Meek? The faith expects me to be meek? Let’s take a quick look at the U.S. culture: The American Dream; the Greatest Generation; Super everything; megachurches. America is all superlatives! And I’m supposed to be meek?
Maybe humility is a more accessible virtue. I’ll try humility. Why? Because I’m tired of being aggressive/assertive/opportunistic/upwardly mobile in panting pursuit of success. (By the way, The American Dream is also The Swiss Dream.)
Maybe there’s another measure of success. I sense it sometimes when I lost an argument to a civilized adversary. Oddly, I come away enhanced. I can now say, “Valid point,” to a worthy opponent. I can even say, “I don’t know,” and it’s a relief to argue not to win but to learn.
Herewith a few phrases that have taken my conversation halfway to humble:
“On the other hand” – an irresistibly facile transition. Acknowledges point A while opening the curtain to point B.
“A C-note for your thoughts.” – Quiet people can be irritating. It’s fine to be a person of few words, but in social situations the idea is to express oneself, i.e. talk. Reticent speakers need to be drawn out, like butter. Occasionally you meet one who doesn’t want to be drawn out and they just glare at you. Or, as one clever introvert put it, “I’m not quiet; I’m just dull.”
“Credit where credit is due.” – Usually it’s me to whom the credit is due and I am loath to give it to anyone else. This is probably a character flaw.
“I hate to use the R word, but I was wrong.” It’s tricky to be humble and witty at the same time. If this little joke is unappreciated, you may have fallen in with dullards.
“I see your point.” – A tidy conversational confection that acknowledges without committing. Excellent as a response to “Shut up.”
“Got time for a cup of coffee?” – Always say yes. If it doesn’t go well, guzzle the coffee and leave. But I’ve watched difficult people become engaging under this premise. Please, never tell anyone in word or manner, “I don’t have time for you.”
So how about humility’s underlying assumption: that I’m no better than anybody else. Recently I was talking to a prison inmate and I recall thinking that I’m a better person than he by any objective standard ever devised. On the other hand he was forbearing and contrite and I arrogant. And I went away musing over Kipling’s hymn to classlessness, “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.”
And I realized that humility was a thing of the spirit and had little to do with what one had or had not achieved. So anyway, I’m not humble now and may never be. It is, however, worth a try.
[For more of the same, visit Alan’s blog,]