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

A good man with a bad problem

I’m going to go way out on a limb here and wish former Fairfield City Councilman John English good luck.

And I’m going to go even farther out on that limb and tell you that John English is a good man, albeit a good man who had a bad drug problem.

A popular city councilman, John English was dedicated to his constituents, to the community’s youth and to protecting the victims of domestic violence. Ironically, he knew Fairfield had a crime problem and he wanted to do something about it.

What John English didn’t know when he became a city councilman in 2001 was that his life was about to be turned upside down by methamphetamine, a treacherous drug that has destroyed thousands of lives and continues to destroy lives from coast to coast.

Arrested for methamphetamine possession in Sacramento and Yolo counties in 2004 and 2005, English adamantly denied knowledge of the drug. He represented himself in Sacramento County Superior Court and continued to claim innocence even after a jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to four years probation and 30 days in jail.

Before turning himself in for his Sacramento jail sentence, he was again arrested for methamphetamine possession, this time in a Yolo County casino.

Again, English denied any knowledge of the drugs.

By then, English’s life had become a train wreck. He’d lost his council post, his business was suffering, people were avoiding him and family members had become alienated. John English’s life was lost in a methamphetamine nightmare.

To his credit, he eventually rose above the drug and admitted his addiction to the court and to the public.

“I’m a methamphetamine addict and I’m admitting that in this court,” English told Sacramento Superior Court Judge Patrick Marlette last fall. “It’s time for me to get on with my life and I cannot do that with the perpetuation of this lie.”

English has since served his time, paid his fines, participated in a Sacramento County drug rehabilitation program and, last week, was placed on three years probation on the Yolo County meth charge.

Some people think English got off easy.

Don’t believe it.

John English was most certainly not a career criminal and he lost just about everything he had to a drug that has proven incredibly destructive to people in all walks of life – from cops to computer programmers, politicians to plumbers and the occasional soccer mom.

It’s remarkably addictive and can trash an otherwise productive and blameless life in a year or two – sometimes less. It’s a nightmare from which some victims never awaken.

I spent a lot of time talking with John English during the course of his trial, and I believe the former councilman is a decent man capable of keeping clean and sober and doing good in whatever community he chooses for his home.

So I say good luck, John. I wish you well.

Originally published February 12, 2006

Back in those weird old days

There are all kinds of benefits associated with working in a modern, 21st-century newspaper office equipped with the almost-latest computer and telephone systems, tasteful lighting and an assortment of decorative plants.

Every now and then, though, I have to admit that I miss the regular doses of weirdness that used to wander into The Reporter’s cobwebbed old offices on Main Street in strategically ambiguous downtown Vacaville.

We don’t get a lot of foot traffic out here in the Cotting Lane hinterlands, but weird traffic seemed to be the order of the day when we published from a century-old building on Main Street.

Way back in the good old days (like 1990…) we didn’t worry too much about workplace security and just about anybody could wander into the newspaper office through any one of three or four seldom-locked doors to voice their opinion.

Not that we didn’t want to lock the doors, but it seemed like we lost every usable key to the place every six months or so and we’d have to start over – which could take another three to four months.

I’ll never forget the irate woman wrestler who stormed into our front office one afternoon to protest how we’d written up the arrest of a rural gunman.

Our newspaper story said the man had surrendered to police without resistance.

The muscular reader said she’d witnessed the arrest and we hadn’t gotten it right.

“Police jumped on him LIKE THIS! And they grabbed his neck LIKE THIS! And they banged his head down on the ground LIKE THIS!” she explained as she spun me around, put me in a headlock and slammed my head down on the front counter of the newspaper office.

Like an idiot, I tried to explain that although the police may have restrained the man, their actions didn’t necessarily mean he offered any resistance.

Smart move. I was promptly treated to another demonstration of energetic neck bending and head banging.

Before she could begin round three, I promised to look into the matter and limped back to my desk.

The old newspaper office used to attract a large number of unusual street vendors, too.

I particularly remember one diminutive woman who wandered into the newspaper’s creative services department – I think we called it “paste-up” in those less-sophisticated days – and launched a dozen or so flying wind-up toys into our office air space.

“Fly away! Fly away!” she trilled.”Three dollars! Three dollars!” she added.I should point out there seemed to be some sort of language barrier beyond the phrases “Fly away!” and “Three dollars!”, and repeated suggestions that she vacate the premises were met by uncomprehending grins and more waves of flying toys.

I think we finally got the plucky peddler to leave for just a tad under $75.

Believe me, amigos, it would have been a bargain at twice the price…

Originally published February 5, 2006