Mighty good eatin’ anytime

In recent years I’ve found that my physician has become increasingly strident in his demands that I consume more green leafy vegetables as part of my daily dietary regimen.

For some reason, he seems to think that my fighting weight of 230 pounds at 5-feet, 10-inches tall is, er, somewhat excessive. Poppycock and, I might add, harrrummmph…

I tried to placate the good doctor by eating an occasional salad or periodically popping a brussels sprout, but I soon discovered that vegetables have become increasingly risky to consume. Unfortunately for me and many of my fuller-figured friends, this whole green, leafy vegetable routine became significantly more difficult to follow during the past year when vegetable after vegetable fell victim to E. coli and salmonella.

True, if you consume foodstuffs contaminated with either of these bacteria, you’re sure to shed pounds. It’s the vomiting, dehydration and death that make them unattractive to most of us wannabe health food fanatics.Thus I was pleased to learn that the federal government recently announced plans to more carefully monitor both commercial fruits and vegetables as well as meat products. Hey, I guess we all know that if the U.S. government gets involved, we’re going to see positive action in a hurry.

Until this health-conscious federal task force actually gets under way, however, a lot of us are going to be feeling a little uneasy about what we place on our dinner plates.

What to do? What to do?

I was thinking about adopting a strict diet of extremely well boiled rice and soda crackers dipped in a diluted Lysol solution when I heard words of hope during a CBS news broadcast when an expert declared that the safest processed meat one could consume was probably smoked canned ham eaten right out of the can immediately after opening.

Now that’s what I call healthy and convenient.

Think about it, amigos. All you need is a can opener and a Buck knife to enjoy the healthy bounty of smoked American pork without a care in the world. Canned ham: Fast, convenient, appetizing and it probably won’t kill you or leave you semi-conscious in some strange restroom.

The next time my well-meaning physician begins to yammer at me about eating healthier, all I’ll have to do is reach into my jacket and produce a gleaming, life-giving can of smoked ham.

Mighty good eatin’ anytime…

And canned ham is so versatile. It can be eaten with the Buck knife alone, or consumed with the assistance of a gourmet gadget called a fork. For a real treat, foodies can turn up the excitement with a splash of Tabasco sauce, or walk on the wild side with a squiggle of bright yellow mustard from one of those handy squeezer bottles.

Light up a can of Sterno, pop a Yanni cassette into your dining room tape deck, drape a Harley-Davidson neckerchief over your shirtfront and you’re ready for a romantic evening at home, content in the knowledge that you probably won’t die from the after-effects of your sumptuous repast.

I know some of you militant vegans may be gnashing your teeth right about now, but as for me, I’ll take my canned ham. You take your chances …

Originally published March 18, 2007

Right words are elusive

The great majority of professional journalists – also known as newspaper bums – spend their entire careers unsuccessfully searching for just the right words to begin their stories.

Finding the perfect lead – that first paragraph that inexorably draws even the most jaded reader into a newspaper story – is frequently a disappointing quest.

Even more elusive is the fabled universal lead, a magical combination of words and commas that can be placed at the beginning of any news, sports or feature story and always work.

This paragraph is to journalists what the philosopher’s stone was to medieval alchemists.

Some news dogs have declared that no such lead exists.

(They usually follow their declarations with “Harrrrrumph!”).

Such leads, however, do exist – although they’re as rare as Romanian leprechauns – and I’ve been fortunate enough to discover not one, but two, of these sought-after gems.

The first was penned by Northern California automotive columnist Al Auger, who several years ago unconsciously created a universal lead when he wrote “I’ve been told sharks never sleep. Perhaps that’s why they’re so grumpy.”

If you take these words and slap them on top of any newspaper story, you’ll find they work remarkably well.

I thought I’d found my philosopher’s stone and that would be an end to my personal quest for the universal lead, but I recently discovered that lightning sometimes strikes twice in the same place.

Reading former Reporter publisher Richard Rico’s newspaper column a few Sundays ago, I discovered the second universal lead of my long and chaotic career:

“Every night, a barn door bangs open and all the bats fly out.”

Like many great newspapermen from Ben Franklin to Ernest Hemingway, Rico had buried his lead around the fourth paragraph, but the words gleamed like bits of gold in a clear Sierra stream.

These words could clearly improve just about any newspaper story going (with the possible exception of obituaries).

Take, for example, another everyday crime story from Fairfield:

“Last month’s massive crimefighting operation may be over, but Fairfield police officials say their work’s not done.”

Ho-hum.

Now add the universal lead:

“Every night, a barn door bangs open and all the bats fly out. Last month’s massive crimefighting operation may be over, but Fairfield police officials say their work’s not done.”

See what I mean?

The same goes for humdrum political stories:

“Every night, a barn door bangs open and all the bats fly out. The House voted 349-74 Wednesday to acquire a monumental cross and the park around it from the city of San Diego.”

And, let’s face it, baseball stories positively beg for these words, particularly those dealing with that gadabout Barry Bonds:

“Every night, a barn door bangs open and Barry Bonds flies out.”

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

Originally published August 6, 2006