Saturday, November 29, 2008


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I’m not afraid of spiders—generally speaking. Running across a black widow in the garden is a little unnerving, for sure; however, most of them are harmless and best left alone to do what they do which, to the best of my knowledge, is spinning their webs to trap insects and small mammals.

House spiders are completely harmless, though they do drive Mary crazy erecting their cobwebs in dark corners that only become visible when we have company over. “Would you look at that?” I say. “Why don’t we move into the kitchen while they polish off the neighborhood cat?”

It seems that, with the colder weather, more spiders take up residence inside. It’s their version of Florida. They pack their little spider luggage, transfer their spider phones, and move to warmer climes.

Like I said, I don’t hold any strong aversions to spiders. Live and let live, I say. Just stay out of my bed and don’t use my slippers as sleeping bags. I really don’t appreciate sharing my footwear, especially at four in the morning when I’m likely to pull a muscle leaping around the bedroom on one foot while attempting to remove the stinging night shoe from the other.

And one other thing. Stay out of the shower. There’s a certain level of vulnerability felt by people taking a shower. Just ask Marion Crane. When I'm done washing my face and open my eyes to a spider walking across the tile, my heart races and, darn it, I feel just a wee bit violated. I mean, most spiders have six or eight eyes, which allows them to survey you from head to toe all at the same time.

It’s really the surprise of it that gets me. The other day, I stepped into the shower and noticed a daddy-long-legs in the corner formed by the walls and ceiling. That didn’t bother me too much because I wasn’t taken by surprise. So I went about my business, keeping an eye on him just in case.

When I was finishing up my second shampoo and rinse—the instructions say “shampoo, rinse, repeat” and I’m not one to second guess the shampoo scientists’ years of laboratory testing which, no doubt, provides conclusive evidence that doing it twice is critical to obtaining the best results—he started walking across the wall towards the shower curtain.

He stepped onto the curtain rod, headed for my towel, and disappeared on the other side of the rod. Okay, that’s enough, I thought. I don’t want to grab my towel and have this guy hanging on, ready to pounce on me.

So I decided to reach over and back hand the shower curtain, just below the curtain rod, where I thought he would be. I figured this would knock him off and he’d land somewhere around the toilet, taking cover where I wouldn’t see him again until the next day.

Boy, was I wrong about that strategy. I popped the top of the shower curtain with the back of my fingers and, by an amazing feat of physics, the edge of the curtain reached out, grabbed Mr. D. Long-Legs and hurled him directly at my left eye. He’s flailing all eight legs while making this kamikaze flight and I’m watching him close in on my eyeball at break-neck speed.

Before I could blink, turn my head, or even watch my life flash before my eyes—BAM!!! OH MY GOD!! THERE’S A SPIDER IN MY EYE!!

Now you can’t go leaping around in the shower. You must keep your wits about you or you’ll end up slipping and feeling pretty stupid when you have to explain what happened to the emergency room doctor. BUT THERE’S A SPIDER RIGHT IN MY FREAKIN’ EYE!!

I started swiping at my face and put my head into the shower spray. That blew him back into my hair and I smacked my head until I was sure that I was the only one who could have survived this battle to the death. All that was left to do was to shampoo, rinse and repeat, which I did twice more just to be safe.

Emerging from the bathroom, Mary asked why I took such a long shower. I told her I was playing Spiderman. Not even wanting to hear what the heck that could mean, she just shrugged her shoulders and went back to applying her eyeliner.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

You're in (urine) trouble!

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I heard a radio ad the other day that started with this interrogatory line: “Men, do you wake up to urinate?”

Certainly it’s a better option than not waking up. My wife agrees with me on this point.

I’m 51 years old now and have just lived through the two milestones that happen during your 50th year: 1) the AARP pummels you with embarrassing weekly mailings reminding you and everyone else who sees your mail that you’ve hit the big half century mark, and 2) you start paying attention to prostate commercials.

First, let’s take a look at the origin of the word prostate. Turns out it’s Greek, from the word prostátēs meaning “one standing before” or “protector” or “guardian.” It gets its name from its position at the base of a man’s bladder, sort of protecting the bladder like a security guard would protect a gasoline storage tank.

So you might think, “Hey, the bigger the guard, the better the protection.” In this case, the bigger the guard, the less gasoline he allows to be pumped into each delivery truck. And that’s why I must be dreaming about driving tanker trucks every night.

Now, in all seriousness, symptoms associated with prostate problems could be related to cancer of the prostate, which is the leading cancer among men, but at the same time, the cancer with the highest survival rate. About 80% of prostate cancer cases are diagnosed in men over 65 and almost 80% of men who reach the age of 80 have or have been treated for prostate cancer.

For most men, however, a growing prostate is just a reminder that they are due for a mid-life crisis. There’s a TV ad with four middle-aged men out for a ride in a 60’s vintage rag top (a clear reference to the driver’s mid-life crisis) and one of the guys needs to pull over at every gas station to take a whiz. This is clearly an annoyance for the other three guys who have been taking Flomax and can hold it for three days at a time.

Another problem an enlarged prostate exasperates is what a trusted friend of mine refers to as “shy bladder.” This trusted friend of mine tells me that he’s always had shy bladder, even as a kid in the junior high school locker room. Now that my trusted friend’s protector/guardian is creating its own set of challenges in a totally private setting, imagine how difficult it is for my trusted friend to use a public bathroom lined with urinals sans privacy dividers. I can only imagine his frustration…

By the way, my trusted friend highly recommends the support website The medical term for this condition is Paruresis and is commonly referred to as stage fright and urophobia. The next time someone tells you he’s urophobic, you’ll know he’s not afraid of Europeans, per se; he’s just uncomfortable peeing among them.

Which brings me back to the radio ad. I don’t even remember what the “growing problem” remedy was that they were peddling, but a quick search of the Internet reveals dozens of medications and homeopathic treatments for BPH. At first, I thought BPH was a measurement, like bathroom (B)reaks (P)er (H)our, but I now know it stands for (B)ladder (P)rotector (H)umongous.

Okay. Just kidding. BPH is (B)enign (P)rostatic (H)yperplasia, which translates to non-cancerous, Andre-The-Giant-like enlarging of what is supposed to be a walnut-sized gland into a lemon-sized version of your third grade teacher who told you that you could hold it until the end of class. But you couldn’t. At least that’s how my trusted friend related the story to me.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hey!! Golfer, golfer... SWING!!!!!!

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At Texas A&M University, there are twelve men on the Aggies’ offensive and defensive football squads. The “12th man” is the crowd of 83,000 in Kyle Field, cheering, roaring and, for all 60 minutes, up on their feet. In Seattle and Indianapolis, home field advantage is huge because of crowd noise that makes it nearly impossible for opposing offenses to call their plays and audibles. The fans at Fenway intimidate pitchers to the point where some of them, like John Lackey of the Angels, have lost their confidence when pitching in the Hub.

If screaming crowds are so effective in football and baseball, why is it that someone decided it’s not appropriate for golf, tennis and bowling? Or ping pong, billiards and chess?

Imagine a throng of Tiger maniacs surrounding the first tee at Augusta, doing the wave and yelling “Tiger, Tiger, he’s our man!! He can do it. Yes he can!!” Five shirtless frat boys, wielding five nearly empty Bud bottles, spell out “IGRET” on their chests. Drum rolls from the LSU band and cheerleaders being tossed fifteen feet into the air add to the frenetic atmosphere.

All the while, Tiger is surveying his drive and taking a couple of practice swings. He approaches the ball, ready to knock it 300+ yards down the fairway. The crowd noise swells in a deafening crescendo and Tiger pulls his driver back and unfurls his trademark swing. Perfectly timed, the cannon blast accentuates the ping of Tiger’s driver meeting the golf ball and the crowd rejoices in the long, straight drive landing twenty yards in front of rival Ernie Els’ shot.

Unlike golf, where the “quiet rule” is imposed even on rounds played among casual weekend players, bowling etiquette tends to be controlled by the blood alcohol content of its participants. Blitzed teammates offer advice to the next bowler like: “It’s the five pin! You know what the five pin is called, don’t you? It’s called the IDIOT pin because it’s right in the middle of the alley. Only an idiot could miss it!! If you miss this spare, you’re buying the next round!”

Now, I know I’m assuming a lot by thinking anyone reading this post has ever watched the Professional Bowlers Association tour on a Saturday afternoon, but I have and they’ve adopted the same gag rule used by the PGA and USTA. Loosen up folks. It’s bowling. It’s the favorite game of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble.

Asking a bowling crowd to be quiet is like asking a demolition derby crowd settle down so they can better hear the sounds of crumpling metal. Besides, when a bowler releases the bowling ball, before it even hits the lane, some drunk guy in the stands yells “STRIKE!!!” Thinking about that, I’ve also noticed that the same guy, within three thousandths of a second after a golfer hits his drive, screams “GET IN THE HOLE!!!” Hey, idiot, it’s a par five.

My point is: Why not let fans be fans? It would break the athlete’s concentration, you say? Give me a break, I say. Should the Fenway crowd come to complete silence before Beckett hurls every pitch? Doesn’t he have to concentrate? I think so. Should Celtics fans hush when Kobi goes to the free throw line? I think not.

How much more fun would it be for Sergio Garcia supporters to scream derogatory slogans at Tiger Woods on the 18th green while he’s lining up his birdie putt to win the tournament? How do you say “Boooo!!!!” in Spanish?

We could learn a lot from the rabid European soccer fans. Have you ever seen highlights of the Germany versus England soccer final that didn’t include a melee in the stands, including a couple of bloodied blokes falling onto the playing field and a tier of bleachers collapsing?

That is sports at its best.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Taking the temperature of Danny G.

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Here we are in the middle of November and it’s 62.1 Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit degrees. Good thing it’s not 62.7 degrees, the temperature at which I break out into one of those classic November sweats.

Two things about this mild November temperature are worth noting: 1) D.G. Fahrenheit assumed room temperature exactly 271 years and 60 days ago (that's 133 years and 16 days ago Celsius) and 2) it is absolute, irrefutable proof that Global Warming©, sorry, Global Climate Change© and The Global Climate Crisis© are upon us and ready to receive your tax deductible contributions via a worldwide network of recently formed 501(c)(3) organizations.

It’s my journalistic duty to bust the myth that’s been foisted upon us by some of world’s most reputed weather scientists—climatologists, if you will; quacks, if you won’t—namely, that the Fahrenheit scale is somehow unfit for use by the elite scientific community. Only we schleps who form the lowbrow bourgeois would continue to use such an antiquated measurement—so they say in their uppity, peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Well, let me be perfectly clear about my reaction to this class versus classless attack. Phooey!!

Since when do newspapers have contests for their readers to guess the date of the first 37.8 degree (Celsius) day each year? Hey, we all know that when it’s 100, it’s hot. And when it drops below zero, well, look out because the wind chill will freeze your exposed body parts on contact.

Continuing to glare down their long skinny noses, the clever research grant backed scientists have told us that the Fahrenheit scale was set to 100 on the hottest summer day one 18th century year in Germany and to zero on the coldest winter day that same year. That’s not scientific, they say. That’s a random occurrence, an arbitrary way to set a scale.

In my own thorough, non-grant funded research, I’ve discovered that this explanation of how the Fahrenheit scale was set is just an old wives’ tale. In fact, zero on the scale is the point where an equal mixture of ice and salt freezes. Okay, you may say, the ice, by definition, is already frozen and how in the world can you tell if a grain of salt is frozen or not? Good points, but that shouldn’t take away from D.G.’s scientific method.

He also set 90 degrees to be equal to normal body temperature. Unfortunately, D.G. didn’t realize that 90 degrees is the temperature of a dead body some six hours after the poor soul’s last breath. A few minor adjustments to his brilliant invention later, D.G. used it to measure the boiling point of water: 212 degrees. Perfect! A palindromic number. Science at its best.

Compare D.G.’s work to the clearly unimaginative Celsius scale where zero is the freezing point of water and 100 is the boiling point. A third-grade kid could’ve come up with something that simple. What good is a third grader’s temperature scale for a sophisticated scientist, noting that the words “simple” and “sophisticated” are listed as antonyms in Webster’s dictionary?

So there it is. I have, in a concisely worded short essay, beaten back the affront brought upon us by this egocentric group of “worldview” scientists. That the United States is virtually the only country left in the world employing the Fahrenheit scale should not discourage us from honoring tradition and the good science of Danny G. Besides, everyone knows that 72 is room temperature. Case closed.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

AD MAN!!!!!!!! (Tribute to Billy Mays)

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HI!!! BILLY MAYS HERE FOR (fill in the blank with) AWESOME AUGER / BIG CITY SLIDER STATION / C.L.R. / DING KING / GATOR GRIP / HANDY SWITCH / HERCULES HOOK / KABOOM / MIGHTY PUTTY / OXICLEAN / STICK & CLICK / STEAM BUDDY / SWIFFER (just to name a few of the products that have been screamed into your life).

When you are yelled at for 60 seconds, do you feel motivated to pick up the phone to order a bucket of Kaboom in the next six minutes and twenty-two seconds, or forever forfeit the opportunity to get a second bucket free along with a German-made chamois cloth for half price? (THEY LAST FOR 10 YEARS—GUARANTEED!!!!!!)

Apparently, many people do, in fact, react positively to this in-your-face style of advertising, which made me start thinking…

Perhaps the poor sap who has racked up a lousy record in the dating game because he’s too nerdy, too shy, or simply a loser should learn from BILLY MAYS by imitating his successful style. First, grow a beard that Paul Bunyan would be proud of. Then, try the following dialog at dinner in a fine French restaurant:


This has all the elements of a first rate infomercial:
  • Every word is shouted at the top of John’s lungs in order to maintain the attention of John’s potential lifelong mate for 60 seconds.
  • John has unequivocally declared that he is the ultimate companion (DREAM DATE!!!)
  • Time is of the essence, for if you do not act right now, there will never ever be another chance to change your life for the better—at this price. (This tactic also prevents her from taking the time to research John Smith in Consumer Reports magazine.)
  • You get not only one, but TWO BONUSES (or is the correct Latin boni?)
Of course, this carnival barker style of selling has been around for a long time. In fact, Billy Mays got his start hawking the Washmatik portable washing machine on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. (Warning: I got this tidbit from Wikipedia, an online resource that has a track record in line with the Free Fone wireless phone holder. I don’t even understand why you would need such a thing.)

I considered what it would be like if politicians adopted the Billy Mays approach, but thinking about it for a few minutes, I realized that this is exactly what they’ve already done. Imagine John Kerry and Maria Teresa Thierstein Simões-Ferreira Heinz leisurely strolling along, hand in hand, in Boston Commons on a beautiful spring day with John describing the daffodils and chrysanthemums and the innocence of young children playing in the grass—IN HIS PODIUM VOICE!!!! Do you think he’s able to turn it off?

So we all have come to accept this boisterous approach to selling Lint-B-Gones, Samurai Shark knife sharpeners, and United States Senators, but would you buy insurance from a snake oil salesman? No. Of course not. For that, we rely on an Australian-accented gecko. What could be more reassuring than a sophisticated, properly mannered lizard recommending insurance products to us? At least he doesn’t shout at us.

BUT HOLD YOUR HORSES, PILGRIM!!!!! The one and only Billy Mays is now shouting his sage advice at potential customers of health insurance from iCan Benefit Group. Yes. Health insurance and remote light switches at the tip of your fingers by calling 1-800… Am I living in some sort of parallel universe? (See him shout at

With the gadgets barrier broken, just what else might fall into the world of Marine drill sergeant style advertising? Do you remember the E.F. Hutton commercials? At a crowded, swanky social gathering, one martini-sipping high brow says to another: “My broker is E.F. Hutton, and he says…” The entire room instantly falls silent, everyone in the room craning to hear what this all-knowing E.F. Hutton broker has told his client.

In the current version of this ad, Billy Mays would burst into the cocktail party during the moment of silence, dressed like a plumber*, and start pointing to elaborately decorated flip charts showing endless upward trends leading to self-actualization.


*No offense meant towards the highly respected profession of plumbing.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

America has B.O.

Don’t let the title of this post fool you. I’m not bitter about the results of yesterday’s presidential election, I just think it’s a clever title.

I’m not bitter. I’m not bitter. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. I’m… not… bitter… (My therapist taught me that.)

The day before the 1992 election, I told my friends that I’d have to sell my watch in order to pay for the surely-to-be-increased taxes that would be coming if Bill Clinton won the White House. Making (sort of) good on my pledge, I went watchless for six months. Looking back on that, I’m not exactly sure what that proved, except that I was apparently bitter about the outcome of the election.

I’m not bitter. I’m not bitter. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. I’m… not… bitter…

This time, I made no such promises.

Okay, that’s a lie.

I did tell Mary that I would leave my life-sized Sarah Palin poster up for the next four years to remind me how good it made me feel that McCain (who was never my favorite candidate) had gone rogue and picked a moose hunting hockey mom with those adorable glasses and the As Seen On TV hair widget.

That fact is that no one really knows how this whole thing is going to play out. The economy isn’t going to turn on a dime. Some, if not most, of the costly promises will have to wait. And the media’s infatuation with Mr. Obama will quickly disappear.

For those of us just trying to knock out a living, times are going to be tough for awhile and we need to adjust our lifestyles to match our resources. Theoretically, that’s not really a bad thing under any economic conditions but, if we get used to living within our means, it will make the recovery take much longer.

Look at the Japanese. They’re savers by nature. The economic slowdown there is being exasperated by the fact that they refuse to spend their way out of it. They keep poking more money into their savings accounts and those mattresses they keep on the floor, whatever they’re called.

Anyway, nothing I’ve said in the last two paragraphs would be any different regardless of who won last night. The president does not control the economy. The economy simply gets blamed on the president when it’s bad (or, in this case, on the former president—watch and see) and the president takes credit for the economy when it’s good—pretty much the same way that Red Sox fans take credit for winning the World Series.

So here’s to a less contentious, united United States of America where we put away our partisan bickering and start doing the right things to rebuild a strong country. With leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, how could we go wrong?

I’m not bitter. I’m not bitter. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. I’m… not… bitter…

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Road trip to Texas: Day 16 (end of the trip)

The last leg of our road trip to Texas started in Blacksburg, VA, and ended in Sandwich, MA, as we arrived at the house around 11pm. I drove the entire 5,540 miles, not because Mary was unwillingly to drive, but because I am the worst back seat driver in the history of back seat drivers. By the way, those of you who voted in the poll that our car with 177,000 miles on it (now 183,000 miles) would make the trip without a breakdown, you were right. The final result was 16 with faith and 3 without.

We saw at least 40 marked and unmarked state trooper vehicles on Interstate 81 in Virginia. The troopers were out, on a Saturday no less, wielding radar guns and handing out tickets. I don't accept the argument that they are doing anything at all to make I-81 safer. The massive effort is being undertaken for one reason only: Add $'s to the state's coffers. We may well see such overt fund raising campaigns spring up in other states which are seeing their tax revenues and federal subsidies waning.

I have to say that the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut is the most intense part of the driving experience between Cape Cod and the Hudson River. I like it because it's very scenic and allows no truck traffic. However, you must drive between 65 and 70 in order not to be a nuisance (and risk being rear ended). At night, the 37-mile roadway is even more fun and hair raising. We completed the race course without contacting any of the other competitors' cars, so I consider it a victory.

Now that I have easier access to my online accounts, I have posted a number of additional photos below that you might find interesting. The first set is of El Paso, Texas. You'll notice the level of pollution present, a problem that is at its worst in October and November due to persistent air inversions that prevent the smoke from dispersing. In all of the scenes taken from Scenic Drive, the areas closest to the horizon are in Mexico.

Hoghunters: Dan (our son), Randy and Alan (my brother)

Henry (my niece Angie's husband) cooking fajitas

My sister-in-law Mary's proof of her readiness to take the test to acquire a license to carry

Various faces from the ranch

Road trip to Texas: Day 15

It's Halloween. We drove from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to Blacksburg, Virginia, and tossed candy out the window to Halloweeners all along the 800-mile trip. Not really, but we did wonder how many kids would be disappointed that we weren't at home on this ghoulish night. Last year, we didn't have more than 20 or so kids stop by and I suppose door-to-door trick-or-treating is slowly dying out in favor of group activities in controlled venues.

Even when I was a kid, there were rumors about the "weird guy who lives on the corner" who puts razor blades in apples, or gives out cigarettes. I never saw anything like this happen, but it shows that we were concerned about of inherent dangers of accepting gifts from strangers.

Living in the border city of El Paso, Texas, I recall the opportunity Halloween provided for kids from Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. Thousands of kids would come across the border in cars and trucks fanning out in El Paso's well-to-do areas in search of candy and other handouts. Just like American kids, they would dress up in a wide variety of costumes, mostly homemade, ringing door bells and shouting "Trick or Treat!"

Some of you may wonder how they could cross the border to participate in this uniquely American tradition. Their parents held border crossing cards, which were issued to Mexicans by the U.S. Immigration Service who could provide proof of employment in Mexico. This system allowed people to freely cross into the United States to shop, go to restaurants, and even set up bank accounts. Many Mexicans I worked with had U.S. dollar savings accounts at El Paso banks in order to create a hedge against peso devaluation and inflation which, at the time, was consistently in double digits.

Here are a few Halloween pictures for you to enjoy:

My daughter, Sarah, her husband, Mark, and the puppy, Timothy

Puppy with friend at Ernst & Young Halloween office party

Puppy getting ready to dig through the trash, a typical problem with dogs

Trinity, the fairy princess

Troy, the zebra

Christopher, the scary dude, with the fairy princess

My daughter Gayle's dog Nikki as Tinkerbell