The best gift ever…

It’s never easy to predict what will prove to be the most popular Christmas gift for any given holiday season.

Whoever would have imagined that Cabbage Patch Kids would be the hottest thing since refried beans con queso? Or that Tickle Me Elmo would capture the nation’s imagination in a way that the talking George Bush action figure never would?

Picking the gift that will pick the pockets of holiday shoppers from Barstow to Brattleboro has never been easy, but this year I’ve got a bona fide front-runner that can’t – and won’t – be ignored.

Say “Merry Christmas!” to the life-sized, electronic chimpanzee head.


In a retail world grown weary of radio-controlled Humvees and ho-hum Bratz dolls, the severed chimpanzee head is like a breath of fresh air at a Republican fundraiser.

Recently advertised by Wal-Mart, the life-sized chimp head is touted as “multi-sensored, highly communicative and fully interactive with four distinct moods…”

Four distinct moods? Hell, half the people I work with here in the newsroom don’t have four distinct moods.

And it comes with a remote, so you can interact with your remarkably lifelike chimp head from across the room.

Best of all, it’s only $139.97.

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

Oh, sure, it might seem a little expensive at first glance, but remember what we’re talking about here – a life-sized, interactive chimpanzee head with four distinct moods.

And, if you buy in bulk, you can pretty much wrap up all your Christmas shopping with one triumphant march through the chimp department at Wal-Mart.

For example, if you have 10 people on your holiday gift list, you can get each of them a lovable chimp head this Christmas and take care of the whole bunch for less than $1,500.

Overall, not a bad deal.

After all, if you’re a typical resident of S’lano County, you probably spent more than that on gin and Vienna sausages last month.

Your friends and relatives may quickly forget the oversized candy canes and jingle bell socks you normally hand out at this time of year, but they’ll never forget opening up a colorfully wrapped Christmas present and discovering a lifelike severed chimp’s head inside.

(Really. I wouldn’t kid you on this.)

And life-sized chimp heads are so versatile. You might want to keep your own chimpanzee head on the living room mantel, on your desk at work or, perhaps, impressively riding shotgun in your Hyundai.

Having a jolly Christmas dinner with the family? Slyly bring your life-sized electronic chimpanzee head to the table on a covered platter, then lift the lid with a dramatic flourish.

You can bet you’ll be the envy of the celebration.

Remember to shop early, amigos – these chimp champs are sure to sell faster than you can say bonobo.

Originally published December 3, 2006

Smells like victory…

Staggering back into the newsroom after reluctantly covering a particularly pungent summer grass fire south of Dixon, I was surprised when a comely young news editor approached me and purred, “New after-shave?”I was tempted to dismiss her with a perfunctory dummy slap to the back of the head, but then I realized that I might be on the cutting edge of a men’s fragrance breakthrough that could sweep the nation like wildfire and make me a cool chunk of change in the bargain.

What the copy editor was smelling was not, of course, after-shave. It was a heady mixture of burned wheat stubble, melted tires and roasted rodent, with just a hint of manly perspiration.

Doesn’t sound too appetizing but, then, neither were 90 percent of the so-called “musk” colognes that somehow leaked out of America’s post-disco era to assail the nation’s nostrils for a decade or so.

Although I was somewhat punchy from stumbling around in dense smoke for nearly an hour, my smitten colleague’s apparent attraction to my unique aroma launched an entrepreneurial train of thought that’s still rolling down the track.

If I could bottle this elusive scent, real men everywhere would shell out fistfuls of cash to get it.

Let’s face it, amigos, most of today’s after-shaves – with the possible exception of gin – are pretty sissified. They say, ‘I’m a caring, sensitive guy who loves kittens and flower arranging when I’m not hard at work sewing tea cozies.’

It’s time for a change, guys.When my new after-shave, “Smoke Eater!”, hits the discount drugstore shelves, things are going to be different. A whole lot different. No hint of lime or frangipani. No cherries and roses or moss. No, sir. When you splash on “Smoke Eater!”, you’ll be a four-alarm man, not a walking cloud of olfactory silliness.

Lesser men will want to extinguish you, but the ladies will be sure to flock around murmuring, “Burn, baby, burn…”

“Smoke Eater!’ after-shave is, of course, still in the design stages, but I envision a smoky (what else?) glass aerosol container filled with the essence of burning weeds, charred chicken coop and a hint of the aforementioned perspiration – with, perhaps, a splash of Jack Daniels to get the message across.The ladies won’t be able to resist. And, with a little luck, “Smoke Eater!” will soon expand to a full line of manly products – shaving cream, ‘Smoke Eater!” soap on a rope, deodorant, shampoo and car deodorizer.

After that, the sky will be the limit for our manly new fragrance. “Smoke Eater!” may even be offered in a variety of flavors – barbecue, habanero, hickory, bourbon or prawn – along with a line of slightly-charred sportswear and gentlemens’ accessories.

“Smoke Eater!” boxer shorts? Hey, it doesn’t get any better than that, amigos…

Originally published July 16, 2006

Oh, maaaaan, why do they do stuff like this?

I was understandably stunned several months ago when a regional purveyor of pork enthusiastically suggested that martini drinkers should begin garnishing their cocktails with (shudder!) bacon.

As any right-thinking tippler knows (even after eight or nine refreshing cocktails), the only correct way to prepare a martini is with a generous amount of gin, a microscopic quantity of dry vermouth and, perhaps, a green olive (try to get them all in the same glass, OK?).

Not too long ago, traditionalists grudgingly gave way and allowed vodka to be substituted for gin as a concession to rabid James Bond fans and a handful of surly Soviets.

And that opened the door to worldwide cocktail chaos.

Suddenly we were deluged with cute little martini recipes that included everything from sake to smoked baby oysters.

One would think that this madness would come to a quick and certain end as the cuteness wore off and proponents of designer martinis threw themselves into the ocean like so many misguided lemmings.

Who would have guessed that a little-known vodka maker from the far away Netherlands would dare to foist upon us even more unorthodox recipes for the preparation and presentation of the Great American Martini?

(Who indeed?)

And that’s where the Netherlands-based distillers of premium VOX Vodka come in, giddily driving a stake through the hearts of traditional martini consumers everywhere.

Capitalizing on the summer sipping season, the nefarious Netherlanders at VOX recently carpet-bombed the newspaper’s food editor with a series of spectacular suggestions for smoothly sophisticated summer soirees.

When the editor stalked away in righteous indignation moments after reading the missive, I managed to pick up the scattered remnants of the vodkagram. The contents left me aghast (and possibly agog…).

This is frightening stuff.

To brighten up a garden party, for example, VOX suggests we “Embrace the new ‘anything goes’ philosophy toward cocktails this summer by being imaginative and using fresh, quality ingredients to create the ultimate summertime cocktail … trade in the typical olive garnish for seasonal fruit such as star fruit, melon or strawberries and try adding new flavors.”

Fruit? FRUIT?!

And, of course, “Pass brightly colored martinis garnished with edible flowers (try rose petals or hibiscus).”

Howsabout a “Patriotini” amigos? Our so-called friends in the Netherlands recommend you start with a healthy portion of VOX Vodka, add some Chambord liqueur, a smidgen of Grenadine and a splash of orange juice. Shake well, strain into a chilled martini glass, garnish with blueberries and raspberries on flag toothpicks…


And while you’re at it, dress up as a giant pineapple and prance through the streets singing “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo.” Just don’t do it on my block, sailor, and keep your hibiscus petals to yourself.

This whole thing has gone way too far and it’s got to stop. We can’t let weird martinis happen to America.

Remember these three words: Gin, vermouth, olive.

Say ’em loud and say ’em proud.

Gin, vermouth, olive!

Thank you.

Originally published June 23, 2002

Don’t do as I do; don’t do as I say, either

I may not be Northern California’s answer to Ann Landers, but I think I provide my share of heartfelt and carefully thought out advice, gently telling readers to shaddup, get a life and never, ever mix gin and malt liquor during the dark of the moon.

Unfortunately, I seldom follow my own advice and my cavalier attitude toward my own quite reasonable rules for living frequently gets me into a bit of a sticky wicket.

How many times have I advised readers to never even consider going back to work immediately after dental surgery? How many times have I sagely pointed out that dental surgery usually leaves you numb, goofy and unable to communicate on even the most primitive of levels?

And how many times have I told myself, moments after leaving the dentist’s chair, that I ought to be able to slip back into work for a few minutes without mishap?

Alas, I should listen to myself sometimes.

Just last week my dentist was giving me the usual cautions after stomping around in my mouth for two hours – something about taking my painkillers and not moving.

But, hey, I thought, if I don’t drive or have to talk to anybody, I should be able to prop myself up at my desk for a short time and do some quality journalism before calling it a day.

Silly me.

Having gobbled a handful of prescription painkillers, I’d been floundering at my desk for only a few minutes when my unshaven, ham-fisted city editor demanded to know where I’d gotten attendance figures for an adult education story I’d written.

“From 400 to 12,000 students in five years?! Whadda they doing, givin’ away free toasters? C’mon, c’mon…” she growled.

“Goomph – ferhshu pthpour, loffguh. Caw-caw,” I responded.

“You are so weird,” she muttered.

There was, of course, only one way to remedy the situation – call the Vacaville Unified School District and ask for the correct figures.

No easy task, amigos. Let’s face it, obtaining information from any public agency in California on a Friday afternoon is kind of like spitting into the wind – it doesn’t get a helluva lot accomplished, particularly if you sound something like a crippled helicopter slamming into a hog farm.

And this is where I have to hand out kudos to the half dozen courageous school district administrative employees with whom I spoke.

Although I doubt that even I would have talked to me that afternoon, they listened patiently and somehow translated “Gurff thrffsnar thuh tippfo soussed freph, reepf a gorra treef ahchuff meh?” into “I think we may have a typographical error in the figure we have for your current adult school enrollment and I wonder if you could possibly check it for me?”

Not only did they translate, but the school district folks patiently pointed out to the crazy person with the mouthful of marbles that, yes, his figure were off by about 11,000.

I later told a colleague how helpful the school district personnel had been, but she simply shook her head.

“Helpful? I heard that conversation, pal, and if you ask me, they weren’t being helpful, they were terrified. You sounded like a really nasty combination of Humphrey Bogart and Cindy Brady,” she asserted.


Like I said, never even think about going into work after dental surgery. Really..

Originally published March 31, 2002

Bacon and gin?

We live in a world of infinitely flexible standards. Just about anything is OK with just about everybody these days as long as it makes money and doesn’t result in someone’s Yorkshire terrier being crushed by a runaway Ferris wheel.

(Hey, it could happen – and it’s just not right.)

During the past two decades everything from acceptable air pollution levels to minimum health care standards have been “relaxed” to make it a little easier for all of us to get along.

Somehow “I’m OK, you’re OK” has grown to encompass petroleum price gouging, political pork barreling and the occasional armed robbery.

Last week, however, a popular national bacon producer stepped over my personal line of righteous indignation and roused my ire.

When you hear what these pork-fancying Philistines proposed, I’m sure you’ll share my wrath.

Trouble started last week when the folks at Farmer John pork products sent me “Everything’s Better Wrapped in Bacon – 103 Sizzlin’ Recipes from Bacon Lovers Just Like You,” a flavorful compendium of unique bacon recipes from across the nation.

They were justifiably proud of such concoctions as “Grandma’s Goop Gop” and “Bacon Banana Bites,” but they should have stopped when they were ahead.

Instead they trampled tradition and tossed in a recipe for (shudder!) bacon martinis.

Provided by Mary Keir of San Francisco, the recipe calls for a cup o’ gin, a tablespoon of vermouth and four large pimento olives garnished with strips of bacon.

Farmer John – and for that matter, Mary Keir – how could you?

Bacon martinis?!

BACON martinis?!

Perhaps I should rephrase that:


Here is a unique cocktail native to California (most likely invented in Martinez or San Francisco) that has carried generations of drinkers into benign befuddlement for more than a century. It’s made with gin and a teensy, tiny bit of dry vermouth and is frequently garnished with an olive.

No onions – that’s not a martini, that’s a Gibson.

No pickled baby octopus – they’re for a relatively new outrage known as a saketini which is made with sake.

No vodka – that’s an aberration favored by fans of James Bond and natives of Zheleznodorozhny who have difficulty pronouncing complex English nouns like “gin.”

And, most emphatically, NO PORK!

That means no bacon, no ham hocks, no head cheese and no pickled pigs feet in your martini glass. Not ever.

There’s nothing wrong with nibbling on a bite-sized Vienna sausage or a smoked pork chop while you’re sipping a delightful blend of gin and vermouth. Once you start actually garnishing your martini with bacon strips, though, you’re trampling on a time-honored California tradition and that’s just not right.

Have faith. Stand firm and believe. And if you absolutely must mix pork with alcohol, try floating a hot link in a snifter of Courvoisier.

You’ll be glad you did…

Originally published June 24, 2001