Another sinister conspiracy…

My bedside telephone was ringing shortly after 2 o’clock one dark morning last week and I didn’t even have to use my psychic powers to determine that the caller undoubtedly was my old ’60s sidekick Sapper.

Forever lost in the Age of Aquarius after ingesting some unidentifiable herbs in Bolinas in 1968, Sapper is subject to periodic brainstorms and likes to share them with the world between midnight and sunrise.

“Lissen up, bro – I’m about to unveil to you, and you alone, one of the most fiendish conspiracies ever foisted upon the American people,” Sapper intoned ominously. “It’s all about Perky the Duck.”

“Uh…” I responded.

“Don’t tell me you haven’t heard about Perky the Duck, Mister Pulsebeat-of-the-Nation journalist?” Sapper asked impatiently.

I initially drew a blank, but then sleepily remembered the tale of a duck who was shot by a hunter and tossed into his refrigerator, only to be found alive by the hunter’s wife two days later and rushed to a veterinary clinic, where it actually died on the operating table but later was revived.

“Yeah, yeah. Nice story. G’night …” I responded less-than-enthusiastically.

“Oh, maaaaaan. You really don’t get it, do you? Put your thinking cap on, brainiac. This isn’t about the duck, it’s about Vice President Dick Cheney running roughshod over the American people again,” Sapper said, enunciating each syllable as if talking to a backward third- grader.”

It took me awhile to put it all together, bro, but the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming,” Sapper explained. “Sometime in mid-January, Dick Cheney managed to elude his Secret Service keepers to do a little duck hunting. As is his habit, I’m pretty sure Dick managed to wing three lawyers, a bus driver and O.J. Simpson before he grazed a passing duck.

“Uh-huh…”

Another hunter mistakenly picked up Cheney’s duck and took it home, leaving Cheney with no proof that he’d actually been hunting ducks and not the entire defensive line of the Miami Dolphins, two exotic dancers and an ice cream vendor,” Sapper continued.

“The bird in question, I tell you, is Perky the Duck, and the heroic life-saving measures had nothing to do with saving a wounded duck and everything to do with saving Dick Cheney’s reputation as a skilled hunter.”

I probably should have thrown in the towel and hung up, but I couldn’t resist asking Sapper what kind of evidence he had.

“It’s called dee-ductive reasoning, pal. When you examine all the elements of this mystery, the diabolical machinations of Dick Cheney hold the only possible explanation. It’s like Sherlock Holmes said, ‘When you’ve eliminated the unlikely, the impossible is probable,’ ” Sapper replied.

“Now it’s up to you, bro. Take that ball and run with it. Put it on the front page and tell America what’s really going on,” Sapper concluded, for the first time in years hanging up before I tossed the phone across the room.

Much as I’d like to put this on the front page and the Associated Press wire, I really don’t think I can measure up to the magnitude of the story. Maybe I’ll just e-mail it to Katie Couric …

Originally published February 18, 2007

The mustache knows all…

Wandering aimlessly through the dimly lit corridors of the old Solano County Hall of Justice not too long ago, I ran into a former colleague whom I hadn’t seen for several months.

Imagine my surprise when I noticed that his once-aggressively black mustache had turned snow white – particularly odd since the fellow is considerably younger than I am.

I managed to mutter some inane pleasantries (I’m adept with those) and staggered back down the hallway, still shaken by my friend’s unexpected mustache mutation. Visions of my mortality were catching up to me.

My own mustache, the bristling remnant of a tequila-induced whim in 1970, has gradually been moving from brown to salt-and-pepper to more-salt-than-pepper. The next step, I realized, could only be an elderly shade of white.

No, shaving off the ‘stache or judiciously applying a periodic coat of walnut stain are not options. The mustache stays for better or worse with no additives or coloring.

It took awhile, but I eventually came around to the idea that this mustache metamorphosis might not be all bad.

As my old ’60s sidekick Sapper used to say, “When life gives ya lemons, shaddup!”

Sure, a snowy white mustache is an obvious sign of aging – or a catastrophic collision between one’s upper lip and a bottle of bleach – but it does have its good points.

Once your mustache turns white, people begin to look at you as a kind of elder statesman, a gentleman who’s been around and knows what’s what. Suddenly, you command respect, regardless of whether you deserve it.

Noticing that distinguished white mustache proudly perched on your upper lip, people will invariably turn to you for advice – usually about subjects of which you have absolutely no knowledge.

When you were younger, you might have begged off and admitted your ignorance.

With your snowy mustache riding shotgun, though, you can shoot from the lip about virtually anything and get a hearty nod of approval from others.

Thanks to your mustache, you have become the World’s Foremost Authority.

Quantum physics? No problem.

Microbiology? Piece of cake.

Mesopotamia in the Third Century B.C.?

(“Harrrruuummmph! Old Mesopotamia, eh? Hell, the place was full of Mesopotamians. You couldn’t walk 3 feet without bumping into one of them, and not a one of ’em spoke decent English. Can ya believe it? Lousy poker players, too, I can tell you…”)

And, with that authoritative white mustache, you can liberally quote wise men from history without ever being challenged on the accuracy of your quotation.

It’s easy:

“As Mark Twain used to say, you can take a riverboat downstream, but you can’t turn it into a silk purse.”

Who’s going to argue with you about that?

Best of all, that snowy mustache means nobody will ever dare card you when you demand your senior citizen discount.

And it just doesn’t get better than that, amigos viejos…

Originally published July 10, 2005

I never dreamed of this …

For the great majority of us, a ringing telephone at 3 a.m. usually presages one of three things:

  • Your ex-wife needs bail money.
  • A neighbor is calling to tell you that your garage seems to be on fire.
  • The coroner is phoning to tell you that cousin Earl apparently has gathered the wrong kind of wild mushrooms for the last time.

For me, though, a telephone call between midnight and 4 a.m. simply means that my old ’60s sidekick, Sapper, has fallen victim to another of his periodic brainstorms.

Since most of the unreconstructed old hippie’s other friends have wisely had their telephone numbers changed over the past three decades, I’m usually the one who gets the benefit of Sapper’s latest revelations.

Forever lost in the Age of Aquarius after ingesting some unidentifiable herbs near Bolinas in 1968, Sapper is a never-ending source of pre-dawn ideas that could revolutionize all our lives if only we would listen.

Sometimes Sapper even tries to revolutionize himself, the repercussions of which are usually felt for years.

On a bleary Saturday morning last month, Sapper called shortly before dawn with his latest scheme to improve the world in general and to increase his income in particular.

“Wake up and smell the cosmos, bro – you’re talkin’ to Oregon’s soon-to-be pre-eminent interpreter of dreams,” Sapper announced. “And unlike some of those other celebrity-baiting charlatans who just tell people what their brains have been up to while they’ve been crashed, I’ll be tellin’ them how to use their dreams to maximize their potential.”

Uh-huh.

“Really, bro, people will be throwin’ me fat wads o’ cash when they see how my dream guidance counseling will change their lives. Everybody wins!” Sapper announced gleefully over my periodic sputtering.

“Face it, I’m an unrecognized expert on the subject. I’ve been havin’ dreams ever since I was a kid – some of them when I was awake. Once in an elevator. I know of what I speak.”

Like I said: Uh-huh…

“Really. Take a dream. Any dream. How about that dream just about all of us have where you’re like running away from something but you can’t seem to get anywhere? Piece of cake. It all goes back to elementary school when the big goon who was three years older than you used to chase you around the playground and punch you in the head jus’ because you were there. Or, in a few rare cases, you might have been a receiver for the Seattle Seahawks. In either case, bro, you just gotta go out, walk up to the biggest goon – or Rams’ tackle – you can find and smack him one upside the head. End of dream,” Sapper concluded.

“Or maybe you have one of those ‘falling’ dreams where you’re always, like, falling an’ stuff. That actually means that you’re afraid of turning into an ostrich, which falls a lot when it tries to fly because it’s, like, flightless. You want to beat that fear, you just gotta go out and leap from curb to sidewalk to park bench, all the time saying in a loud, confident voice ‘I am not an ostrich. Behold – I jump, I leap, I pirouette. I do not fall. I triumph!’ People will pay big bucks to get that kind of advice,” Sapper added.

And how much, I wondered, will people pay not to get that kind of advice?

Only time will tell…

Originally published February 20, 2005

They’re out there, just waiting …

My bedroom lamp was ringing shortly after midnight a few evenings ago and – after sleepily answering my bedside clock and revolver – I eventually picked up my phone receiver and was greeted by the mellifluous voice of my old ’60s sidekick, Sapper.

Forever lost in the Summer of Love after ingesting some unidentified herbs near Bolinas in 1968, Sapper is plagued by periodic flashes of remarkable insight which he insists on sharing with the rest of the world – usually around 2 o’clock in the morning.

Last week’s predawn call was no different.

“Lissen close, bro! I’ve been thinking about telemarketers and what I’m thinking is that I’m gonna order three of everything they’re sellin’ whenever they call. And I’d advise you to do the same,” Sapper said emphatically.

Uh-huh …

“Wake up and smell the impending doom, buddy boy. Have you ever thought about who any one of those telemarketers might be whenever you hang up on them after tellin’ them to engage in unspeakable acts with a toaster oven? Well, have you?” Sapper asked querulously.

“Ponder on it, Einstein. Any one of those telemarketers could be a serial killer! They call you up tryin’ to sell you a musical holiday cheese log, and then you, Mister Fancy Pants Journalist, slam the phone down in their ear,” my old buddy declared ominously.

“Even the FBI admits that the country’s probably crawlin’ with undetected serial killers, just hackin’ an’ hewin’ their way to happiness. Is it so hard to imagine that some of those squirmy-brained machete maniacs have taken part- time jobs as telemarketers? Did that ever cross your unusually hollow brain cavity?!”

No, I admitted, but what exactly does that have to do with feeling obligated to purchase a pile of cheese logs?

Sapper sighed in exasperation and then began speaking very slowly, as if instructing a slightly backward third-grader.

“You hang up on most telemarketers and they just go and call 3,000 or so other poor saps with their big holiday cheese log offer. But you hang up on a serial caller and you’ve sealed your fate, bro. Everybody knows serial killers are devilishly clever, easily enraged and ab-so-looot-ly implacable when it comes to revenge,” Sapper continued. “You hang up on a serial killer and the next thing you know they’re gettin’ all snake-eyed and talkin’ to their chain saw an’ double-checkin’ your home address. Twenty-four hours later, you’re Alpo.”

Sapper conceded that all telemarketers probably aren’t serial killers – but it only takes one to ruin your whole day.

“So from now on, I’m ordering three of whatever they’re selling and thanking them for calling,” Sapper declared. “Not that I’m going to pay for any of it. That’d be goofy. After all, there can’t be that many places with serial killers workin’ in both sales and billing, right?”

Yeah, right …

Originally published December 26, 2004

Here’s the real truth about George W. Bush

As the 2004 presidential election draws nigh, incumbent Pres. George W. Bush’s Vietnam-era Texas Air National Guard service has again been forcibly booted into the spotlight.

Democratic opponents claim that George W. served with less than distinction, even going AWOL on occasion. To counter this, the president has suddenly produced his 1968-73 service records to prove that he was on the job. Except for some, er, gaps.

And just to make things the teeniest bit more confusing, a former National Guardsman recently stepped forward to say that he saw Bush’s military records unceremoniously tossed out years ago to avoid any future embarrassment.

What’s happening, America?

Would the Democrats lie? Gosh, that’s never happened before.

Would the president fabricate official records? Golly, that’s never happened before.

If, like many Americans, you’re having trouble believing either of these heretofore impeccably credible political entities, I’ve got the real story for you.

I know. I was there (at least I thought it was me. It could easily have been someone like me, I suppose. There are some gaps…).

Trouble started in the summer of 1972 when my old ’60s sidekick, Sapper, and I were drowning our sorrows in a nondescript Alabama roadhouse.

Sapper, forever lost in the Age of Aquarius after ingesting some unidentifiable herbs near Bolinas in 1968, was disgruntled over his inability to distill psychotropic substances from artichokes and I was lamenting the lack of anti-war sentiment in Monte Sereno.

As the evening progressed, we were joined by a personable young National Guard officer named George and a shady CIA operative named Bruce.

The latter whispered to us that he needed to recruit an untraceable three-man team to travel to Vietnam and rescue international entrepreneur Pepe “The Tuna” Rebarativo from the clutches of the Viet Cong. The wily guerrillas, Bruce explained, were holding Rebarativo somewhere on the outskirts of Saigon and America’s critically important copra supply was threatened if the canny businessman wasn’t freed soon.

George, being the gung-ho kinda guy he was, immediately volunteered all three of us for the mission and, within 48 hours, we were prowling the dark back streets of Saigon in search of the missing millionaire.

As luck would have it, Rebarativo had actually escaped the Viet Cong three weeks earlier and we found him partying with the Dutch cultural attache and a traveling limbo troupe from Jamaica. We called for a chopper and “The Tuna” was back home four days after our arrival.

Mission accomplished.Unfortunately, since this was a secret mission, it was never acknowledged in George W. Bush’s service records, hence the telltale “gaps” therein.

Hey, waydaminnit – did I hear a “Harrrrumph! Another tall tale!” from someone out there?

C’mon, amigos, this account is at least as believable as any of the others purporting to explain irregularities in the president’s National Guard record.

And if you don’t believe me, just ask George W. about this mission the next time you bump into him. I’m sure his response will surprise you…

Originally published February 29, 2004

 

Koalas: Another hidden menace?

The phone was jangling insistently about 3 o’clock a few mornings ago and, like the carefree fool I am, I answered it.

Silly me.

Whenever the phone rings any time between midnight and 3 a.m., I already know who’s on the other end of the line. It’s invariably my old ’60s sidekick, Sapper.

Forever lost in the Age of Aquarius after ingesting some unidentified herbs near Bolinas in 1968, Sapper has sure-fire solutions to virtually any problem you might have (and for several that you probably don’t have and never will have…).

Unfortunately, Sapper never communicates his brainstorms during daylight hours. Or even twilight hours. Until midnight, Sapper’s quieter than bleached bones in the Arizona desert.

Sapper’s most recent pre-dawn call concerned international crime … and koalas.

“Wake up, bro. America’s security has a huge gap in it and nobody’s doin’ nothing about it,” he intoned ominously.

Through exhaustive research – apparently involving information printed inside Snapple bottle caps – Sapper had determined that only two mammals have uniquely identifiable fingerprints. One of them is, of course, man. The other is the cute, cuddly little koala.

“Every time you turn around these days, somebody’s sneakin’ up on you with a fingerprint card – FBI, CIA, CHP, AFL-CIO, B.P.O.E., VSOP – just spit out some letters and you can bet they’ll want to have your prints filed away somewhere,” Sapper continued, picking up speed. “You can’t even get drunk in public anymore with gettin’ fingerprinted – an’ you know how hard it is to find all your fingers after a three-day drunk.

“Uh-huh…”

But nobody’s fingerprintin’ koalas. They’re all cute and fuzzy and sleepy-eyed, but they’ve got fingerprints an’ we aren’t even tryin’ to get ’em,” Sapper complained. “Who knows how many koalas are skulkin’ around our borders right now, thinkin’ their dark, chaotic koala thoughts? There could be a dozen of ’em stockpiling weapons of mass destruction in someplace like Gridley right now and we’d never know. They could leave their greasy little fingerprints all over a big stack o’ dynamite and we wouldn’t have an ice cube’s chance in hell of trackin’ ’em down because we never fingerprint koalas!”

So profound were Sapper’s revelations that I was struck momentarily speechless. Sapper, on the other hand, is never speechless, momentarily or otherwise.

koala

“Everybody thinks they’re so adorable and they call ’em koala bears. Balderdash! They’re not bears, they’re sneaky little marsupials,” Sapper pointed out. “You ever meet a marsupial you could trust? I think not, bro. And now they’re overrunning the free world and they don’t even have to get driver licenses. We’ve got a big, black security hole starin’ us right in the face!”

Unfingerprinted marsupials without driver licenses? I had to admit that was a problem I’d never considered before.”I’m on it, amigo,” I replied in my best can-do voice, milliseconds before lobbing the telephone receiver into the bedroom hallway…

Originally published December 14, 2003

Jadiasuvs threaten California highways

I was motoring peacefully down Interstate 80 with my old ’60s sidekick Sapper not too long ago when a king-sized sport utility vehicle lumbered onto the freeway in front of us, slowed to 45 mph, drifted back to the road shoulder, sped up to about 70 and then shot back to the center divider before stabilizing itself between two lanes and drifting east like an overburdened Lithuanian freighter.

“What’s wrong with that guy?” I muttered.

“It’s jadiasuv, bro, jadiasuv. Been goin’ on for years and it ain’t gettin’ any better, either,” Sapper declared, enthusiastically gnawing on a large slab of beef jerky.

Sapper, I should point out, isn’t always easy to understand.

Forever lost in Age of Aquarius after ingesting some unidentified herbs near Bolinas in 1968, his communications can sometimes be on the cryptic side.

“Jaddasoov?” I asked.

“Na, bro – ‘jadiasuv.’  It’s one o’ them words you make up out of letters from other words that mean something. You know, an acrimoniouszym.  It stands for ‘Just Another Doofus In An SUV.’ What we just saw was a jadiasuv.”

The phenomenon, he continued, has been around for more than a decade, “ever since SUVs got popular with dot-com yuppies with more money than brains…”

Suddenly, he continued, the roads were filled with motor vehicles the size of aircraft carriers driven by pointy-headed little folks whose previously most challenging automobile had probably been a 3-year-old Toyota Camry.

“They buy a lot of Eddie Bauer shirts, too – the scratchy wool lumberjack kind, ya know?” Sapper added.

Uh-huh.

Many, he intoned ominously, are suspected of being golfers.

“Real rugged outdoor types, Pebble Beach pioneers. Ya know they’re diamonds in the rough because they’ve got, like, heated passenger seats and dual climate controls…”

Sapper was getting somewhat agitated, evidenced by the fact that he had abandoned his beef jerky and was gnawing industriously on his shoulder harness.

The rest of the conversation was a little hard to follow, but Sapper did point out all the danger signs of being in close proximity to a jadiasuv.  I’ll share then with you because it’s way better than climbing up on a broken chair to try, unsuccessfully, to fix the clunky newsroom clock again today…

* You’re in the presence of a jadiasuv if the vehicle next to you on the interstate is roughly the same size as your neighbor’s duplex.

* You’re in the presence of a jadiasuv if the vehicle next to you is so next to you that it’s two feet into your lane (reach out and tap on the window to let the alleged motorist know that you’re there).

* You’ve encountered a jadiasuv in heavy snow or rain if all you can see of the vehicle is its stationary basketball court-sized roof because the driver thought engaging his four-wheel drive would allow him to drive through 12-foot deep floodwaters or through an 18-foot snow drift.

* You’re behind a jadiasuv if it’s doing 35 mph in the fast lane of the freeway.

* You’re in front of a jadiasuv if it’s tailgating you at 80 mph in the slow lane of the freeway.

Happy motoring, amigos…

Originally published November 9, 2003