Embrace the chaos

You don’t need to be a trained observer these days to notice that the world is, in a word, nuts.

Stroll through a typical day – the signs are all around you. Everybody else’s bills are in your mailbox. More and more of your neighbors seem to be talking to the artichokes in the supermarket. Sport utility vehicles are everywhere, usually utilizing two parking places or three lanes of the freeway while their drivers sip lattes, yammer on their cell phones and signal right-hand turns before turning left.

And don’t forget the so-called financial advisers who call you day and night offering “no-brainer” mortgage rates, even though you live in a studio apartment on the bad side of town with a boa constrictor who’s a lousy conversationalist and steadfastly refuses to help with the rent.

Nuts, right?

And this seemingly worldwide state of madness – don’t get me started on al-Qaida – is really beginning to fray your nerves.

You wake up every morning expecting the worst, wanting to throw open your bedroom window and shout “Enough already!”

Unfortunately, all you’re likely to discover upon opening that window will be several of your neighbors shouting things like “Hey, wadda-wadda-wadda ka-boing!” out their windows.

I wish I could give you some answers, a way to turn the madness around, but I fear it’s already too late for any simple solutions.

The only thing I can tell you, amigos, is loosen your collars and embrace the chaos.

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em (then beat ’em…).

Ease yourself into the daily madness by carrying a large box turtle, or perhaps a potted palm tree, wherever you go. Don’t waste your breath chatting with the turtle – they’re notoriously uncommunicative. Instead, engage that palm tree in a lively discussion about the Hubble Constant or, perhaps, submarine warfare during the Civil War.

The next time a restaurant employee or bartender asks “What’ll you have?”, smile broadly and respond with a firm “Pennsylvania.”

Always remember to wear a well-cut suit, crisp white shirt, subdued necktie and highly polished wingtip shoes. Outfits like this haven’t been seen outside a funeral parlor since 1998. These days, even Wall Street investment bankers dress like Eminem after a three-day hog-wrasslin’ marathon.

Try to spend as much of your free time as possible in trees. When curious passers-by pause to ask what you’re doing up in a tree, just give ’em a big grin and respond with a hearty “Cheaper than a Humvee and smarter than a duck!”

(You also may use this response while perched high atop a file cabinet at your workplace or on a towering pile of bulk toilet paper at your favorite big box wholesaler).

Set aside time on the weekend for travel to regional golf courses, where you can spend a productive day slipping innocently up behind dedicated duffers and inquiring in a loud voice “Whatcha doin’?”

Embrace the chaos, amigos – you’ll be glad you did.

Originally published September 17, 2006

Raise the Jolly Roger

Avast, ye scurvy dogs – Talk Like a Pirate Day is less than 72 hours away and you’d best be prepared to mizzen your masts unless you want your scuppers scuttled (or something like that…).

The beloved, but as yet officially unrecognized, holiday was born way back in the lusty days of Queen Elizabeth II – roughly 1995.

That’s when two swashbuckling fellows – tentatively identified as John Baur and Mark Summers – decided to celebrate seafaring talk every Sept. 19 and make life a little saltier for all of us.

Remarkably enough, Talk Like a Pirate Day didn’t catch on right away. According to the pair’s Web site, talklikeapirate.com, it wasn’t until 2002 when national newspaper columnist Dave Barry became aware of the event and began writing about it.

This was great for Baur and Summers, for pirates, rum sellers, cutlass manufacturers and especially for newspaper reporters because, since Barry foolishly picked up the ball, the rest of us could kick back and concentrate on crawdad festivals and tractor pulls.

Unfortunately, Barry – the rosewater sailor – struck his colors and left the daily newspaper business a few years ago to pursue a career as an author or humorist or some such damn silly thing.

Now it’s up to the rest of us ink-stained wretches to hoist the Jolly Roger and remind everyone that Sept. 19 is Talk Like a Pirate Day and you’d better look sharp or find yourself with a one-way ticket to Davy Jones’ locker.

It’s fun, it’s easy and it’ll get you a lot of respect as you swagger down the street with a cutlass in your hand and a parrot on your shoulder.

(OK, OK, you’ll never get any respect from the damned parrot, but that’s how it’s supposed to be. Trust me on this.)

When Tuesday dawns, start the day right by awakening your wife with a resounding slap across the hindquarters and a hearty “Yo-ho-ho!”

Then polish off a pint of rum and strut off to work.

Greet everyone you meet with a robust “Ahoy, mate!” or – if they’re impeding your forward progress or otherwise taking the edge off your rum breakfast – “Avast, ya swab!”

Remember, this is the only day of the year when you can stroll into work two hours late reeking of rum and call your boss a scurvy bilge rat with absolutely no repercussions.

Really. I checked this out with an old boatswain’s mate at TJ’s Tavern.

If you’re a little weak on pirate jargon, you can refer to the aforementioned talklikeapirate.com Web site or, perhaps, “The Pirate Dictionary” (2005, Terry Breverton, Pelican Publishing Company, Gretna, La., $14.95, 189 Pages).

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There you’ll find a variety of little-used pirate terms, such as “galleypepper” (the ashes that fall into pirates’ meals from the cook’s open fire) and “to have seen the French king” (to have gotten blind drunk).

You might also want to consider “flogging the monkey” (to swill the last drops of rum from a small cask) or, perhaps, to tell freeloading friends that “the captain is not at home” (meaning you’ve run out of money). Hey, that last one might even work on your scurvy landlord the next time you’re in port…

Originally published September 17, 2006

Our recipe for disaster

I don’t often get overly agitated about the things I read in the newspaper’s food section.

Although I was once the most exacting of food editors – until I was permanently sidelined during an unfortunate incident involving catfish chili – I tend to take a live-and-let-live attitude when it comes to the culinary suggestions offered up in The Reporter’s food pages these days.

And then, two weeks ago, a meal suggestion on the front page of the newspaper’s food section sent me staggering back in abject horror. Some geniuses – who were smart enough to remain nameless – had printed a fine and frolicsome recipe for “Shish kebabs the lazy way.”

Great.

What in the wide world of skewered foodstuffs were they thinking? Shish kebabs are, by their very nature, among the laziest of dishes one can prepare without losing consciousness. You take whatever old vegetables and reduced-for-quick-sale meat you might have at hand, cram them onto a skewer and leave them in close proximity to some heat source until they appear cooked.

This is, like, easy. If you’re barbecuing, you can manage this even after consuming the obligatory seven beers required by the California Barbecue Code. If you get any more laid-back, you’ll burn your face while snoozing on the grill.

So, of course, our food consultants suggest taking one lethargic step backward and simply eliminating those complicated and difficult-to-operate skewers.

“Just toss the fixings loose on the grill!” they recommend.

Yeah, that’s going to work just swell.

Now, instead of simply picking up your convenient skewer of incinerated leftovers, you have to fight with a half-dozen brew-fueled barbecue guests as they try to grab at bits of meat and vegetables rolling merrily back and forth across a red hot grill.

I should point out that this only applies to the meat and vegetables that remain within reach, since the smaller pieces are likely to have slipped through the grill and into the glowing coals.

The latter problem, our newsprint gourmets report, can be solved simply by putting your non-kebabs on a lightly oiled grilling grid or aluminum foil.

Wonderful. Now your “lazy” meal requires you to find or fabricate a grill for your grill before you can begin grilling.

Equally distressing is the fact that our food experts have clearly forgotten the best part of shish kebabing – skewers are fun.

You can use them to pop party balloons or make dramatic gestures while recounting your days in the Seventh Cavalry. Afterwards, your kids will delight in staging sword fights with the amusing, pointed instruments. Let’s face it, used barbecue skewers are one of the few remaining childhood joys of summer since lawn darts and bottle rockets were banned by a bunch of humorless Washington bureaucrats several years ago.

Shish kebabs without skewers? Not on my watch, amigos…

Originally published September 10, 2006

Here’s another great idea…

Technology – don’tcha just love it?

According to a recent Associated Press report, scientists have taken another giant step to better understand the intricacies of air pollution in fabled Silicon Valley. Venturing where no air pollution monitors have ventured before, they strapped backpacks on pigeons, equipped them with cell phones and sent them aloft to gather air quality information.

(Rumor has it researchers tried a similar experiment with German shepherds and cell phones several years ago but couldn’t get the gravity-challenged canines to fly very far.)

During the August experiment, pigeons launched over Silicon Valley reportedly carried miniature backpacks containing a global positioning system, pollution sensors and cell phones.

“Investigators at the University of California hope the winged researchers will fill in gaps in knowledge about the air we breathe, and bring nonscientists into the debate on air quality,” the Associated Press wrote.

Uh-huh…

For at least the past 50 years, a growing haze of air pollution has been blanketing what was once known as The Valley of the Heart’s Delight. To track the spreading cloud, one needed only to open one’s reddened eyes or take a deep breath.

We all know where much of that air pollution comes from – automobiles, industry, idiots equipped with gasoline-powered leaf blowers and the occasional flatulent cow. And we all know where the pollution goes – into our increasingly taxed lungs.

Santa Clara Valley’s movers and shakers were aware of the problem, too, and all agreed “We’ve to do something about that one of these days, no question about it…’

And there things stood until the advent of the pigeon-phone-pollution-monitoring program.

Admittedly, the idea came from researchers in Irvine, but I’m sure Santa Clara Valley’s own brain trust would have come up with a similar stroke of genius one of these days.

Perhaps the best thing about this bold stroke against air pollution is that it will undoubtedly lead to new and better ways to monitor other forms of pollution in our increasingly threatened ecosphere.

With high-flying pigeons taking the lead, it’ll only be a matter of time until gophers with cell phones will be burrowing their way through the Silicon Valley soil to monitor groundwater pollution. Once the bane of hard-working farmers and golfers in Santa Clara County, the big-toothed, big-hearted rodents will be celebrated warriors in the ongoing war against pollution.

Slap a cell phone and some miniaturized monitoring equipment on the back of an otherwise ordinary crayfish and you’ve got the latest eight-legged research tool for analyzing pollution in fresh water ponds, streams and lakes.

Who knows, someday we may be able to invest in one or more of these high-tech critters for home use to measure levels of selenium, arsenic and mercury in our bath tubs and swimming pools.

Better safe than sorry, amigos …

Originally published September 3, 2006

Fairfield may be new ‘Dodge City’

Politicians, police officers and professional bowlers have long debated the cause of Fairfield’s growing crime problem.

As everyone knows, there was no serious crime in Fairfield 25 or so years ago. Former City Manager B. Gale Wilson said so and he shoulda known, right?

There were no drugs and no gangs, just the occasional pair of energetic high school girls vigorously slapping each other silly in front of the roller rink….

When drugs and gangs finally did rear their ugly heads, they were promptly labeled a regional problem. Thugs from places like Lafayette and Hillsborough, police told fearful Fairfidlians, were behind it all. There was no telling when a cocaine-crazed investment banker from Point Reyes would roar into Fairfield and wreak havoc on the otherwise peaceful beer-brewing community. And that, of course, couldn’t really be thought of as a local problem.

People in Fairfield, though, eventually began asking themselves if there might actually be some local source for the criminal activity that seemed to be sweeping the community.

Supervisor-elect Jim Spering recently suggested that the city’s regional shopping mall might be the locus of such activity. Others have blamed an unexpected influx of godless liberals with funny hats for the flood of Fairfield felonies.

Last month, however, the Fairfield Police Department uncovered the awful truth: Gun-wielding automobiles were riding the crest of the community’s latest crime wave.

I’m sure this isn’t the kind of news that Fairfield’s leaders want widely disseminated, but police let the cat out of the bag with a seemingly mundane press release about a drive-by shooting.

According to police, a Fairfield resident was sitting on his car near his apartment one night when he was shot in the foot:”The resident said a late model Dodge Intrepid drove by and, without warning, began firing a handgun at him.”

Our police reporter took one look at the press release and gasped.”This is bad – really bad. Maybe worse…” she muttered, shaking her head and reaching for her bulletproof vest.

Indeed. Everybody knows guns don’t shoot people – Dodge Intrepids with guns shoot people.

We really should have figured this out a long time ago.

Think about it – where do most drive-by shootings occur? On streets and in parking lots.

Where do most Dodge Intrepids hang out? On streets and in parking lots.

This also explains why so many drive-by shooters in Fairfield seem to simply vanish. If you’re a Dodge Intrepid, all you have to do is crank off a few rounds, toss the gun and then pull to the curb. Now you’re just another parked car.

Devilishly clever.

In the news business, we refer to one such incident as a “trend.” Two indicate a “growing threat.” We call three such events an “epidemic.”

We can only hope Fairfield hasn’t discovered this startling trend too late…

Originally published August 27, 2006

Marshmallows: Threat or menace?

Do you sometimes find yourself deep in thought, pondering the imponderables of leprechauns and marshmallows?

I know I’ve spent a lot sleepless nights tossing and turning over myriad unanswered leprechaun-marshmallow questions. Once this subject comes up, it’s hard to let go, even as dawn draws nigh.

Fortunately, there’s now a place to go for all the answers about this mysterious combination of myth and marshmallow. Enlightenment is just a few clicks away if you log on to www.luckycharms.com.

I know what you’re thinking: “Waydaminnit, waydaminnit, waydaminnit – that’s just a Web site to get kids to eat more cereal!”

On the surface it may appear so, but if you delve into the depths of this multifaceted Web site, you’ll discover that it’s much, much more (sort of like an old Volvo carburetor).

If you grew up some time during the past 40 years, chances are you’ve consumed at least one bowl of Lucky Charms, the General Mills cereal based on the unlikely adventures of a wise-cracking leprechaun and his pot of marshmallow bits.

How well I remember the time I tried to get my cherubic, 4-year-old daughter to consume a bowl of healthy 1970s-style cereal – you know, a tasty combination of wheat chaff, cracked corn and pine nuts?

She took one look at my back-to-the-earth breakfast offering and growled “Lucky Charms and nobody gets hurt.”

(Strangely enough, she’s, like, 36 years old now and she still growls those very same words from time to time.)

“How remarkable…” I thought, but in those days there was no Web site devoted to the intricacies of Lucky Charms. There were, in fact, no Web sites at all.

Today, www.luckycharms.com provides everything you ever wanted to know about the cereal and its leprechaun mascot, Lucky.

Not only does it contain a broad range of activities and animated tales, it invites users to create their own Lucky Charms-themed stories of adventure.

Hey, it doesn’t get any better than that, amigos.

Ever wondered exactly what magical powers are attributed to each of the eight charms scattered through your cereal?

Gotcha covered, pardner. The horseshoe, for example, signifies speed, while the moon-shaped marshmallow bit confers invisibility. The clover shape brings luck.

(No, I don’t know how many moon-shaped marshmallow bits you have to consume to achieve invisibility.)

You also may encounter a variety of challenging games on the site. And like everything else associated with the Internet, the older you are, the more challenging they’ll be.

My favorite is the “Hidden Key Invasion” which has something do with invasive marshmallow bits.”

Can you sling milk and melt them before time runs out?” the game asks.

Not if you’re a 56-year-old newspaper columnist. Hell, I haven’t slung milk since I was a sophomore in high school and tried to bean Tibor Koss with a pint of milk in the cafeteria…

Originally published August 22, 2006

Legal advice only 99 cents

Having wandered through Solano County’s courts for more than 30 years in my role as a newspaper reporter, my legal advice is frequently sought by others who periodically wander the same county courts – usually with decidedly puzzled expressions upon their faces.

Although I do not have a law degree, I do have a wealth of arcane knowledge that some people find useful when they become embroiled in a court matter. Myriad legal issues come my way on a daily basis, and although I have yet to open a nonlaw office, I feel it’s time to respond to some of the more pressing questions that come my way as I doze on the comfortably upholstered bench down the hall from Judge Smith’s Fairfield courtroom.

Here are the definitive answers to the most frequently asked legal questions I encounter:

A. There are no courts in the Solano County Courthouse. Although the Texas Street building was originally designed as a courthouse, it soon became dangerously overrun with county bureaucrats and legal matters needed to be moved to the nearby Solano County Hall of Justice and, later, to the Law and Justice Center.

B. The amusing but not particularly effective explanation, “But I went to the courthouse and, like, there was nobody there,” is not accepted as an excuse for not appearing in court.

C. Traffic court is on the second floor at the south end of the Hall of Justice. That’s where you go for legal matters having to do with your driving (or, in some cases, your walking). If you’re charged with murder, kidnapping, bank robbery or train-wrecking, you probably need to go to some other courtroom – or state…

D. Restrooms are on each floor of the Solano County Hall of Justice – at the south end of the first and second floors, and at both the north and south ends of the third floor. There are no restrooms on the fourth floor. Really. If you find yourself on the fourth floor of the Hall of Justice, you’re most likely somewhere else. There’s also a restroom on the second floor of the nearby Law and Justice Center, which also doesn’t have a fourth floor.

E. This brings up another important legal question – the north wing of the Hall of Justice versus the south wing of the Hall of Justice and the south-south wing thereof.

The old, old Hall of Justice’s north wing faces Texas Street (across from the County Non-Courthouse). The south wing of the newer section of the old Hall of Justice faces the Law and Justice Center which, at least technically, is the south-south wing of the Hall of Justice because they’re actually connected by a secret hallway where deputy district attorneys and deputy public defenders sometimes become hopelessly lost and have to be rescued from large, carnivorous rodents.

F. There is no south-south-south wing of the Hall of Justice. If you somehow find yourself in what you believe to be the south-south-south wing of the Hall of Justice, you’re probably in the Solano County Jail.County Jail? In my considered legal opinion, it’s time for you to call a lawyer. Tell ’em I sent you…

Originally published August 13, 2006