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

News media ruins America again…

During the past two years, anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan’s motives have been challenged, her intelligence has been questioned and her daily existence has come under increasingly close scrutiny. The former Vacaville woman has been called everything from a saint to a seditionist.

More recently, critics have charged that Sheehan is nothing more than a senseless pawn being used by the news media.

(You know, the liberal, left-wing media that wants to overthrow the federal government and turn the nation into a socialist anarchy where we’ll have abortion clinics in every convenience market? Yeah, that news media…)

Man, how did they ever figure it out? I thought we had the Cindy Sheehan Project pretty well covered up. Now I guess it’s all over.

How well I remember those halcyon days when we, the media elite, would get up bright and early each morning to plan what we’d have Cindy Sheehan do on any given day.

“Let’s, like, have her camp out down near the president’s ranch and raise a lot of hell and stuff and embarrass George Bush and disrupt traffic. How about that?” a Southern California wire service chief would suggest.

“And after that, she can stage a one-woman march on Columbus, Ohio. That’s never been done before,” a newspaper editor from North Dakota would chime in.”

Hey, what about one of those protests like they have in Marin, where everybody gets naked and then stretches out to spell ‘Peace’ or ‘Mellow’ or something? Those are always good for plenty of ink,” a bright-eyed paperboy from St. Louis would propose.

Sad as it seems, though, those meetings never happened. As powerful and misguided as it is, the news media has never been able to manipulate Cindy Sheehan.

Think about it, if the White House can’t influence Cindy Sheehan, what chance does the news media have? Cindy Sheehan is a rugged individualist who does what Cindy Sheehan wants to do and stands firmly behind her beliefs, no matter how unpopular they may be with some segments of society.

Persistent rumors that Cindy Sheehan was somehow being used by one or more nebulous socio-political groups used to puzzle me, but I think I know why they crop up from time to time.

We live in a nation where an individual taking a stand, putting everything on the line, is somewhat of an oddity. Most of us are content to sit back, perhaps slap a yellow ribbon magnet on our cars or pin a discreet peace sign on our lapels and be done with it.

Vote? Hey, we’ve got better things to do.

The least motivated young Mormon missionary shows more personal commitment than the great majority of us.

So when a lone woman steps up to take on the powers that be, we desperately look for some reason other than the fact that she might simply have the courage of her convictions.

As for the news media using Cindy Sheehan, we don’t have an ice cube’s chance in hell…

Originally published March 26, 2006

It’s probably later than you think…

Does the incessant whispering of the Grim Reaper seem to grow just a little bit louder as each year passes? Do you sometimes wonder exactly how much time you’ve got left before some thoughtful public servant carefully ties a tag to your big toe and politely bids you bon voyage?

I guess we’ve all had these unsettling thoughts from time to time, but now – thanks to the wonders of modern research – we soon may have a better chance of estimating our approximate expiration dates and thereby not have to make a lot of unnecessary plans for the future.

According to a recent Associated Press report, researchers with the Veterans Affairs Medical Center have come up with 12 risk factors to help those of us over 50 years of age determine how likely it is that we’ll die within the next four years.

Boy, that’s something I’ve always wanted to know. I mean, it gives you something not to look forward to, right?

A variety of factors are involved, including whether or not you’re a smoker, diabetic, male (sexist pigs!) and if you’re in good enough shape to push a living room chair across the floor.

(Ah, yes, the old push-the-living-room-chair-across-the-floor test – better than wrasslin’ a greased pig…).

On the surface, it would appear that our tireless researchers have come up with a reasonably comprehensive test to determine how long we may have to live past 50.

In fact, it’s woefully inadequate.

From my own experience with firearms, British motor cars, ex-girlfriends and ill-tempered wildlife, there are a whole lot of factors out there that can curtail your vital signs faster than a living room chair.

I’d like to suggest a few necessary additions to the life quiz to make it just a bit more precise.

For example, do you:

A. Periodically swim in shark-infested waters because everybody knows you can drive the big predators away with a simple punch in the nose?

B. Consider methamphetamine nothing more than an energy-boosting dietary supplement?

C. Enjoy quail hunting with Dick Cheney?

D. Yell “Get a real job!” whenever you encounter a large group of fun-loving – but notoriously short-tempered – Hells Angels?

E. Yell “Get a real job!” whenever you encounter Dick Cheney?

F. Announce your arrival at unfamiliar taverns by shouting “Out of my way, scrofulous rabble!” and then greet the saloon keeper with a hearty “Set ’em up, barcreep!”

G. Decorate your sport utility vehicle with amusing cartoons of Middle Eastern religious figures?

For every “yes” answer up to six, deduct four years from your average lifespan of approximately 77 years.

If you’re a chain-smoking lunatic who likes to push living room chairs around for no readily apparent reason, deduct another four years.

If you answered yes to all seven questions, you probably died last Tuesday. Lie down and give the rest of us some room to breathe…

Originally published March 19, 2006

Try flipping bacon with a putty knife

As the years fly by and we stagger randomly down the broken sidewalk of life, we become accustomed to losing things along the way – misplaced keys and pocket knives, socks devoured by the clothes dryer and receipts necessary for the return of defective appliances purchased during moments of retail irresponsibility.

These missing items eventually turn up – or don’t – and their loss is gradually forgotten.

Some essential lifestyle items, however, are not so easily dismissed when they unexpectedly disappear.

The kitchen spatula, for instance. One of the most mundane items to be found in any home, a missing spatula leaves a huge gap in one’s culinary repertoire and frequently prompts shouts of anguish and dismay when it disappears.

I know. I’ve been shouting and anguishing for several days now.

Perhaps I should explain.

(Sure, why not?)

Last Sunday I was industriously frying some bacon when I reached for my trusty spatula – and kept reaching. My longtime kitchen helper was nowhere to be found and I had to do some major maneuvering with a nearby putty knife to turn my bacon before it was transformed into sizzling strips of crunchy carbon.

On the surface, this doesn’t seem like a very big deal, but when was the last time you actually lost a large stainless steel spatula right in the middle of preparing breakfast?

Probably never.

And I don’t even know where to begin to look for a stray spatula.

After all, I never work on my car with the utensil, never take it to work to scrape overly enthusiastic co-workers off the ceiling, don’t use it to scrub my back in the shower or swat toads down by the creek. My spatula never leaves the kitchen. At least not until now.

I received no sympathy from my Philistine colleagues here at the newspaper.

“Pull yourself together, man,” advised one co-worker. “Go down to Big Lots and buy another one. Hell, get a half-dozen and stash one in every room. You’ll never be without one!”

Sounds like good advice, but we’re not talking about just any spatula here, amigos. No, indeed.

The spatula in question is a 14-inch, heavy-gauge stainless steel workhorse made, I might add, not in China or Sri Lanka, but in Norway, a country famed for its hand-crafted spatulas.

Besides, it’s got sentimental value. My kitchen spatula was purchased one bright spring day 15 years ago as I squired the newspaper’s feature editor and her three comely daughters through a gourmet kitchen shop off Sonoma Square.

That spatula is, alas, the only memory I have of those captivating young women. They haven’t spoken to me ever since I promised to take the youngest of the three to the county fair pig races and then, er, stood her up.

Where do missing spatulas go, anyway? I already checked all the cupboards, the dishwasher, the broiler and the refrigerator – no spatula.

On the plus side, however, I did recover three mismatched blue socks…

Originally published March 12, 2006

Get ready, dudes it’s time to party!

Lazily leafing through the newspaper a few afternoons ago, I ran across an ad for an enterprising entertainment agency that offered, among other things, “party motivators.”

Birthday clowns and Halloween mimes are one thing, but party motivators have to be the elite of the regional entertainment scene. I mean, is this a great job or what?

Party motivators have to be like the super heroes of good times gone bad, prowling the dark streets of sullen suburbs, searching for the party that somehow hasn’t quite gotten off the ground. You know what I mean – there’s plenty of bean dip and beer, but for some reason, otherwise zany celebrants are sitting around listening to polka classics and telling Dick Cheney knock-knock jokes.

That’s when the party motivator steps in.

Just imagine the action – sporting more gadgets than James Bond after a Sharper Image shopping spree, the beaded and bewigged party motivator takes charge. Maybe it’ll only take a few blasts on a marine air horn, or perhaps the activation of a portable karaoke machine, but you know the party motivator will save the day.

Of course, there must be more to being a party motivator than a few noisemakers and two dozen minibottles of Jagermeister.

I’d guess that canny party motivators have to instinctively know what’s needed for every stalled soiree. There’s nothing worse than employing hula hoops when little exploding bottles of confetti are really what one needs to shift the celebration into high gear.

When confronted by the aforementioned polka music and Dick Cheney knock-knock jokes, it’s pretty obvious that the successful party motivator will have to move quickly and decisively before the entire room sinks hopelessly into terminal ennui. And he should be fully aware of local practices and customs when launching his onslaught of fun.

If, for example, the guys trading the Dick Cheney jokes are dues-paying members of al-Qaida, it’s always better to forget the balloon animals and try to handle the celebration with a little more finesse.

(Probably a good idea not to distribute a lot of kazoos, either…)

The best party motivators also know that a team approach sometimes works better than trying to juggle all the mirrored disco balls alone.

Like the wily strategist he is, the skilled party motivator stays in control and carefully dispatches his specially trained minions to where they’ll do the most good.

Boring wedding reception? It can happen to anybody, particularly when the champagne fountain somehow gets clogged with congealed barbecue sauce from discarded Buffalo wings.

What to do? What to do?

The quick-thinking party motivator will refrain from organizing a spirited round of pin-the-tail-on-the-drunk-guy. Ditto for an impromptu accordion concert. No, the inspired party motivator will assemble a trio of fat naked guys and have them streak gleefully through the reception singing “My Sharona.”

Wheeeeee!

Throw in several containers of Silly String and you’ve got enough party motivation to keep that reception rockin’ past dawn…

Originally published March 5, 2006

Another stroke of genius …

As hard as it may be to believe – especially for those of the Republican persuasion – every time President George W. Bush has a brainstorm, I get a splitting headache.

Take the Bush Administration’s latest master stroke of alternative thinking – the acquisition and recycling of other countries’ radioactive fuel wastes.

According to a recent Washington Post report, the multidecade plan would involve reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel from other nations’ civilian reactors to help bolster the United States’ nuclear energy capabilities in the future.

Uh-huh.

See what I mean? A splitting headache every time.

This might be a great idea if the United States were another country on, perhaps, another planet in a different time. We are, however, talking about the good old U.S.A. right here and now – a country that has had more than its share of problems recycling things like aluminum beer cans, discarded hamburger containers and leaky automobile batteries – not to mention our grandparents’ old black-and-white TV sets.

Let’s face it, amigos, even on the simplest of levels, recycling is something we frequently talk about but seldom accomplish with any reasonable success.

Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and the homeless, I’ve found, are usually the most enthusiastic and effective recyclers to be found anywhere, but somehow I don’t think they’re ready to start handling large quantities of spent nuclear fuel.

I’m sure that some of you are thinking that we may be able to best safeguard the process by getting the military involved in the spent nuclear fuel recycling program.

Sounds good on the surface, but have you noticed that every time we close a domestic military base it takes about 10 years to clean up all the hazardous waste left behind? Hell, it takes years just to identify it…

(“Well, colonel, the container says ‘tomato sauce,’ but it has quite a glow, doesn’t it?”)

Even if we somehow find some safe, economical method to store and reprocess tons of spent nuclear fuel, where are we going to do the reprocessing?

This is, after all, America, and nobody wants a spent nuclear reprocessing operation in his or her backyard, on his block or in his state.

In fact, if you read the headlines, nobody wants much of anything within 150 miles of anywhere.

Citizens routinely turn out to protest such neighborhood eyesores as golf courses and softball diamonds. Ditto for convenience markets, archery ranges and (shudder!) apartment buildings.

Propose erecting a white picket fence in front of your modest Cecilville cottage and 150 neighbors you didn’t even know you had will be marching back and forth in front of your driveway with torches and pitchforks demanding that the monstrosity be removed.

And what are we going to do with the spent nuclear fuel that we can’t immediately reprocess? Maybe we can use it to reinforce the levees around New Orleans.

Uh-oh…

George, were you listening? C’mon, George, that was a joke. Really. Just a little harmless hyperbole. George? Come back here right now! George?!

Oh, maaaaannnnn…

Originally published February 26, 2006

 

Yoicks is the word…

English is a remarkably rich and colorful language, yet most of us use only a tiny fraction of the vocabulary available to us on a day-to-day basis.

Wonderful words like marplot and knuckleduster have fallen by the wayside, as have such terms as jubilarian and gleg.

One of our greatest losses, however, is in the category of truly inspired exclamatory verbiage.

When was the last time you heard someone boldly exclaim “Huzzah! Huzzah!”?

Probably more than a week ago, I’d guess.

Today we content ourselves with grunts, groans and exclamations like “Well, duh!” and “Duuuude!” along with the occasional “Doh!” (the latter exclamation popularized by that great American icon of underachievement, Homer Simpson.)

And, of course, there’s that increasingly popular but vulgar four-letter word that begins with ‘F’ and can be interchangeably used as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb or gerund, even by loudmouths who don’t know the difference between an adverb and an aardvark.

You’ve got to admit, we’re in a collective exclamation rut here.

Let’s face it, amigos, it’s time to shake up the ant farm and expand our vocabularies. There are all kinds of once-popular but temporarily forgotten exclamatory expressions of glee, exuberance and excitement out there just waiting to be revived for use in the 21st century.

Yoicks, for example.

Hey, is that a great exclamation or what? Yoicks is what it says and says what it is – a word filled with joy, spirit and flat-out enthusiasm sure to get you knowing nods of approval every time you speak it.

Originally a 19th-century British fox-hunting cry, yoicks achieved brief popularity in the United States among the horsy set and a select group of Prohibition-era tipplers following World War I and then faded back into obscurity.

It’s time to blow off the dust and bring yoicks into the mainstream again.

Yoicks is an expression that can do so much more than simply annoy foxes.

Whether you’ve just watched the ’49ers almost score a touchdown, found a coiled rattlesnake in your toaster oven or gotten your mechanic’s bill for a “simple” tune-up, responding with a hearty “Yoicks!” is always in good taste and so much more expressive than “Doh!” or “Oh, maaaaaan!”

Yoicks has power in and of itself and can give those who utter it the upper hand in a variety of chancy and complex situations.

The next time a bourbon-fueled brawler challenges your right to sit at your favorite bar stool, back him down with a no-nonsense “Yoicks, fellow! You’re harshing my mellow!”

You can bet that troublemaker will think twice about messing with you…

Attorneys, too, will be sure to adopt this remarkably versatile exclamation to bolster during courtroom arguments:”Yoicks! I object, your honor!”

See what I mean?

Not only powerful but quite persuasive on a number of levels.

The time is now, amigos. Let’s all pledge to exclaim yoicks at least twice a day until it catches on and enriches our language again.

Yoicks. Say it loud and say it proud…

Originally published February 19, 2006