Sunday, May 15, 2011


You have been very patient, and for that I am quite appreciative. If I could offer something more substantial than a simple thanks, I would. But some of you live far away, and some of you would prefer that I not violate the terms of the restraining order.

I understand. I’ll just sit in my kitchen and thank you from here.

It is true that sometimes a writer writes just for himself, and I do a fair share of that. Dear Diary, this morning when I got my regular cappuccino, the barista gave me the biggest smile ever. It really made my day! Stuff like that. But sometimes I writer wants to be read, and that’s where you have come in. Like I said, thanks!

But I feel a need, a strange and unexpected need, to stop. Not necessarily to focus on more financially rewarding writing, and not to punish you for taking out that restraining order, but just to . . . stop. Hiatus is a good word. It means a break in something where there should be continuity. And there should be continuity here, because I enjoy writing and you (in theory) enjoy reading.

In its first incarnation, as an email offering called FreezeFrame, this column ran from May 1997 to February 2000 with nary a week off. One hundred forty-five in a row.

When new life was breathed into FreezeFrame in June 2005 it was a pleasure to return to my weekly task. I have always enjoyed watching my students or my children to find something to write about, or perusing the news if that suited, or making something up out of whole cloth if I felt like it. Not a few times people have asked the ever-patient wife “did that really happen?”

Usually she nodded sadly.

So we have hit mid-May 2011 and I calculate that 310 Mondays have passed since the rebirth. You true aficionados will no doubt want to point out that I missed February 19, 2007—and you’d be right. And also a little nasty. You might want to cut down on that whole nastiness thing; it doesn’t become you.

There are still things to write about, of course (your nastiness comes to mind). There must be, because even though Borders has filed for bankruptcy and the Kindle has presaged the end of paper books, people are still reading. So I will keep writing and let the words fall where they may. Only time will tell if any of them fall here again.

I am no stranger to walking away unexpectedly. I took a hiatus from a cushy corporate job way back when to be a stay-at-home dad. Turned out to be permanent. Who in their right mind does that? Foregoes the money and the power? Well, me.

Then I left the cushy sofa cushions to which I had become accustomed to be a kindergarten teacher. What right-minded male does that as he nears forty years of age? A room full of five-year-olds? C’mon, who? That’s right, me.

I will now walk away from a loyal following that waits with baited breath for each of my weekly eruptions (don’t dispel the myth by telling me otherwise) just as I reach international status. Who does that?

You guessed it.

The hiatus is not simply abandonment. Whether the break ends up being temporary or permanent, it is often beneficial to pause and consider. To think. Not “should I be doing this?” or “what else should I be doing?” but “hey, I wonder what would happen if . . .” So this will be it for me, for now, for a while, forever, for goodness sake I don’t know!

Please feel heartily encouraged to pick something to take a hiatus from in your own life, and reading this blog doesn’t count. You can’t just piggyback on my hiatus, you’ve got to come up with something else. Feel free to return to your thing after an hour or a year, or not at all. Just pick something you want to test for its true meaning in your life. Okay?

Ready, get set . . . stop.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Hello! A mid-week message from me; perhaps unexpected, but here nonetheless. Thought I'd pass along a link to a column I had in the newspaper recently. If you ever went to a prom, or you have children who have or will, you should read this.

I could have saved it and used it as a regularly scheduled blog post (saving me valuable hours of sitting at the vanity and writing something new), but for reasons that will become apparent next week I couldn't.

So I didn't.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Back in 1999 I checked out a Web site called Death Clock to see how long I was expected to live. It was a completely unscientific and arbitrary process, but I learned that at the age of 37 I had about another 37 years to go. That seemed pretty good. February 24, 2036 was the predicted date of my demise. I could plan on that, get my affairs in order in plenty of time, and daughter Kelsey would be sure to remember each year because it is the day after her birthday. Cheery!

Of course now twelve more years have passed, and facing age 49 in a few more days I revisited my old friend Death Clock to read the good news. Lo and behold I was given the same exact day to cease breathing: February 24, 2036. What? Are you kidding me? I drink less, I eat better, and I actually have spent the last twelve years running marathons.

Maybe it is as unscientific and arbitrary as I first believed. All it asks is gender and birth date. No questions about diet, exercise, lifestyle. It is no more accurate than “what’s your name . . . okay, that means you’ll live to 103.” Still, I think I should pay attention.

Time is of the essence. I’ve apparently got only 25 years to go. The days and weeks are winding down, and it is imperative that I get going on those “accomplishments” that people can recall when I am mentioned in memoriam. It can’t just be “he was so handsome” and it certainly won’t be “he did so much charitable work.”

I need me a bucket list! One of those lists of things I want to do to prove that my life mattered. Never mind the long-term marriage and the three great kids. I need Machu Picchu, windsurfing on Walden Pond, and a motorcycle ride around the rim of an active volcano. I need to get a tattoo, live on a dollar a day for a year, and learn how to play Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 on a harp.

If these next 25 years are going to measure up, the more outlandish the goal the better. That’s what these buckets are always full of: narcissistic, look-at-me goals by which we can feel superior . . . even if we never achieve a fraction of them. I’d be seriously interested in a study that determines how successful these bucket list makers are in completing the dream.

Perhaps it would be better if the bucket list was comprised of honorable and selfless goals, rather than just a badge of cool things accomplished in a life. Lunch with George Clooney or hammering with Habitat for Humanity? Skydiving over Papua New Guinea or helping illiterate adults learn to read?

If it sounds boring, don’t do it! If, however, it would just be the greatest thing you could ever do in your life, then go ahead and schedule that lunch. Just let George pick the restaurant.

Another quandary: is the bucket list containing just one item (even if it is super great) less impressive than the bucket list of 100 more inferior ambitions? Is this all merely another ego trip? I fear that we will start to be competitive and attempt to determine whose bucket list is best. Because if someone’s is best, I should no doubt be reading it over to see if there is something I can take from it to add to mine. Eventually someone’s bucket list will include the line item “have the world’s best bucket list” and fistfights will ensue.

I’m 49 years old next week and I’m pretty sure 50 comes after that. I am in no mood for a fistfight, over this or any other issue. Whether Death Clock is right or not with regard to the date, my time is certainly finite (like yours, I daresay). I ought to have a plan for what I want to do with whatever time is left. I will watch my three offspring grow to be exemplary adults, and the wife and I will travel and play Gin Rummy and walk to the library.

The thrilling events will no doubt happen here and there, but for the most part I think I will simply live. I’m beginning to think that perhaps my bucket list has only one entry: never make a bucket list.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


Every time I look up over the top of my computer, I am greeted by the dull countenance of my most combative foe. In the words of the high priestess Britney Spears, oops I did it again! Just now. Looked up. Caught in the glare of me. It can be frightening.

That’s what I get for setting up shop on a small wooden vanity with a large mirror. My ugliness is not so readily apparent at first glance. I’m not saying compare me to Brad Pitt (okay, then, compare me to Brad Pitt, I dare you!) but I can make my way through life without causing passersby to cower in fear. Like most people, I keep my ugliness well hidden. That way I don’t get insulted, or slapped, or arrested.

After all, ugliness that is strictly physical will get insulted by unkind people. Ugliness that is behavioral will get slapped by offended people. Ugliness that is criminal will get arrested by official people.

Able to avoid most of that unpleasantness, I manage a garden-variety ugliness that is only witnessed by those closest to me (oh, how lucky they are!) or by me when I look in the mirror.

The latter used to be a rare occasion. Once I passed through the morning lavatory routine, I rarely had occasion to look at myself in a mirror again. A brush of hair and tooth and I was ready to roll.

Now my writing station has been set up in an extra bedroom, the computer sitting atop the aforementioned wooden vanity. It is a family heirloom, with seven drawers and a soft brown finish. Originally from my grandmother’s house, it has been passed around our home for many years, from kid to kid, depending on who needed a little extra storage.

It is not the world’s perfect desk, though. It is about the right height, but is woefully shallow and spare of top space, making it suitable only for the laptop, two small speakers, a cool beverage on one of grandma’s knit coasters, and room for a sheet of paper or open book (should I be plagiarizing). The knee hole (I actually had to look up the name for the area between the drawers where the knees go—the knee hole!) is narrow, accommodating my legs but only barely. The arms of the desk chair preclude it from ever being pushed inside and out of the way.

The mirror, though, is the biggest problem. I always figured famous writers look up to contemplate their prose, with a view through a large picture window toward a lake, or a spring meadow, or a winter forest. Something that expands the mind. Looking up and seeing what at first appears to be a grumpy goblin seems to limit my mind and stifle my creative process. And that is why famous writers don’t mount mirrors above their writing area.

Ah, so that’s why fame eludes me! For a moment I thought it might be the quality of the writing.

Despite the fact that I sometimes startle myself, having a place to write does help me get the writing done. Right now, in fact! Whilst tapping away at the keyboard (never looking down as a good typist should) I watch as the words flow effortlessly onto the screen. In a perfect world I won’t forget to save the document every once in a while. If I have to look something up online (such as “knee hole”) it is only a mouse click away. The ugliness only presents itself if I pause for too long.

A brief pause in typing gives me a chance to reflect on what I have just written, and to consider what comes next. Any longer, though, and my head rolls up and my eyes look forward—into my own eyes about eighteen inches away. Goblin! Oh wait, it’s just me again.

No wonder I think about myself so much when I write. The furniture piece is called a vanity, after all, and thus comes with a mirror attached for all the reasons a person might sit at a vanity. Therein lies my problem. I’m not sitting there to use a vanity, I’m sitting there to write. And every time I look up, I look back at myself and am clearly not writing.

Oh, the vanity. In more ways than one.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


When I was a kid, there was a grocery store nearby that we could reach by car or bicycle without spending a single moment on anything other than residential streets. It was called Wings, though I don't know why. Maybe it was Wing’s. Facebook has a tribute page for a Wing’s Grocery but it appears to be from Texas.

Elsewhere online I found a Wings Grocery supposedly in Hayward, California, but it appears to be located in a residential area. Not sure I want to be poking around the produce section in someone’s house. The only currently operating Wing’s Grocery I discovered were two in British Columbia and Alberta (in Canada, don’t y’know) and I’m not sure I’m willing to travel that far down memory lane.

Anyway, Wings—with or without the apostrophe—eventually became Nob Hill and then Nob Hill moved across the street and the old Wing’s building became
Big Lots!, where one can by all sorts of cheap plastic crap. It seems like Nob Hill could have just done a little updating and remodeling rather than truck all of their food products across the street. I wonder how much ice cream melted on the way . . .

The upgrade mindset of the common man (new car every three years, new house every ten, new wife every . . . oops . . . never mind) is repeated by large corporations like Nob Hill. There’s a national drug store chain with an existing location in a strip mall in San Jose that is building a new and more grandiose building . . . in the front of the parking lot of the same strip mall! It seems to me it would be easier to just stay where they are.

I generally seek out the easy over the hard. I mean, I’ll run a marathon or climb Mt. Whitney or motorcycle 700 miles in one day, but generally on the day-to-day business I want it all easy. And I have happened upon a rather easy life with the kids and the wife. There are moments of difficulty, of course, what with me being a stubborn and argumentative soul, but the overall picture, the CliffNotes™ if you will, is like the big red button at Staples Office Supplies: easy.

This begs the question: has Staples ever made the decision to close a store just to open another within a stone’s throw? That might disprove their claim that they are the keepers of the ease. I’ll have to look into that.


My easy life has come under attack by yet another grocery store taking their business elsewhere. When we moved to our house in 1992 we were pleased to have a grocery store just about a quarter mile away. Sure, when I was a younger man and not so eager to live easily, I usually drove there, but in recent years I have taken to walking for a couple bagfuls of food whenever we needed something.

The trip to Safeway was not much longer than my long ago sojourn to Wings, though I did have to cross a five-lane boulevard. Nevertheless, I made my way safely by foot many times, as did my kids. Yes, I have trusted my children out in the great big world without me hovering over them, worried about every possible catastrophe. It is . . . easier . . . that way.

Safeway didn’t want to do it the easy way. Rather than remodeling my existing space (they preferred calling it “their” space . . . whatever) they found some other poor building made vacant by another failed business and remodeled it, moving with much hoopla and pomp and a ten-dollar coupon for me to use at the new store.

The only problem is I can’t walk to their new store to use the coupon. Instead of making my life easier, Safeway has made it more complex. Their new store is very large, it offers tens of thousands of items when I can generally choose well from about one hundred, and the parking lot is large to match, and that brings too many of my fellow citizens to the store at the same time.

I have a few alternatives. The now-empty Safeway’s neighbor is a drug store that sells many of the non-food items I used to buy at Safeway. I can walk there. There is a discount grocery not much further in the other direction that sells some trustworthy food items (and some knockoff brands that look positively scary). I can walk there.

And then there are all of my neighbors’ refrigerators, which are well-stocked, and I happen to know that many of those people leave their homes, sometimes for hours at a time.

Some solutions may not be nice, but they are easy.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


I am pro-choice. Yes I am! I think we should all have the choice to choose where and how we live, and who our friends are. We should be able to make other, more personal, choices as well—such as what we want on our burger, how often we want to bathe, and (unless you are a high school student in an Honors English class) what we want to read. Sometimes, though, I think we have too many choices from which to choose.

A closet full of clothes may seem like a good idea, but I’ve seen too many people spending too much time dithering over the proper outfit. If there were fewer to choose from, perhaps the process would be streamlined and we could actually get somewhere on time for a change!

[note: yes, a bit of a rant on the wife, but let it be known that she isn’t really a clotheshorse, and she doesn’t a have a stultifying number of hangers in the closet, but she does regularly suffer from decision-itis]

By way of comparison, I have one pair of jeans and one pair of shorts. My leg covering choice is a function of (1) how’s the weather and (B) where am I going. Surely this is just as extreme as having too many clothes, but in the battle of “how fast can you get ready” I’ll win every time.

Elsewhere on the choice front, and as mentioned just above, I like to be able to adjust my hamburger from the way it is offered on the menu. When I was a kid I had to wait extra time for my McDonald’s quarter-pounder because it always came with cheese and I didn’t want cheese. They had to make it special, and the pimply-faced clerk seemed put out by my request. But at least they would do it.

Restaurants that don’t allow for substitutions are nothing less than Fascist regimes. Feel free to charge me an extra buck or two if need be, but if I want to exchange the baked potato for some curly fries I should be allowed to! Hold the pickle, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us . . . that kind of thing.

But to provide choice to the point that the actual ordering of the food is delayed, then we have crossed the line. There’s a burger joint near our house, one of a small chain actually, that boasts of providing over 312,000 different combinations. Four different kinds of meat and non-meat patties, each of which comes in three different sizes, are topped by one of twelve different cheeses, up to four of thirty different toppings, and one of twenty different sauces.

By the time I’ve waded through all of that information I cannot be expected to pick which of their five different buns I’d like. Just bring me another beer and I’ll drink my misery away.

Choice is good, up to a point. Abundant choice is not good. It gives the feel-good illusion that we are in control, and yet it makes what should be relatively easy decisions ridiculously complex. Choice is supposed to make life better, not worse.

That’s the one thing I like about warehouse superstores. I don’t need a three-quart container of cashews (although they look delicious, don’t they?) nor will I ever seek out a container of laundry detergent that would keep a small apartment building in the suds for twelve calendar months. But I do appreciate the fact that there aren’t eleven different catsups and 43 different kinds of cookies.

I may not need 64 ounces of mustard, but I’d prefer that over an entire row of different mustards. And I can always find a desirable cracker within an available selection of three or four different kinds. I don’t need a forty-foot aisle with five shelves of crackers and cracker-like products.

Yes, even the store must make a choice. If it is going to provide anything that anyone might want, I will have to choose to shop elsewhere. I prefer a smaller store, with fewer patrons inside, and some quick decision-making. No more will I be stuck behind a gaggle of shoppers with their too-full baskets, standing in mindless awe of microwave meals or the vinegars (balsamic and otherwise) or the loaves of bread.

Nope. Just me and my snap decisions. What’s that? I bought the wrong mustard? Heck, it’s not my fault, they only had one kind!

Sunday, April 10, 2011


When I have to mow my lawn, I push a lawnmower. I say “when I have to mow” because I often don’t. During the summer I don’t water it, hence, it doesn’t grow. And as Johnny Cochran said as he stood in front of a grinning O.J. Simpson, “If it doesn’t grow, you mustn’t mow.”

Or he said something like that.

Sometimes Mother Nature prefers that my front yard not be an arid wasteland, so she dumps rainfall by the bucket. This spring has been particularly wet, hence, whatever groundcover was clinging to life in the soil has been thoroughly resuscitated. Lush, green, and lawn-like. What a pain.

Mostly it is a pain for my son, because when the lawn needs mowing, he is more than likely the one to do it. On occasion I would have to badger him, but eventually he learned that there was no escape, and he could either do it now or later. Later just ensured that it would be longer, and while your garden-variety power mower has no problem with long blades of grass, the push mower does exactly as its name implies.

You push the mower, the mower pushes over the tall grass rather than clipping it, and as you pass the grass stands tall and seems to give you the finger . . . a long, thin, green finger.

With the warming weather we are reaching the point when we can once again store our mower for nearly six months. It fits neatly along the wall of the garage, sticking out barely twelve inches, and is forgotten—except perhaps by the wife who has to make sure she doesn’t stub her toe on it whilst climbing into the car. But, hey, twelve inches! Try being a little more careful.

If we had a riding mower it would be much more difficult to store, though much easier to avoid stubbing a toe upon because it is just so damned big. Our front and back yards are not of sufficient size to warrant a riding mower, but I’ve seen folks with not much bigger plots than mine who own such a mechanical beast. Probably too much disposable income, or they like their toys, or they just aren’t burning enough gas in their SUVs driving a half-mile to the grocery store. Some people like to burn gas.

When I bought my most recent push mower it was an easy decision because they only sold two models. There were a dozen or more gas or electric models, but the quasi-Amish had a very limited selection. I stuck with the trusted man-power option because it was what I grew up with. Choosing between the two was easy: I went with the cheapest.

If you are going with a riding mower, however, beware: you will spend as much time choosing your mower as you spent naming your first-born. And you will spend as much as you spent on your first car. These things are rated by horsepower, cubic centimeters, width, length, and maybe even girth, and priced accordingly. A hasty decision is not recommended.

Five speed or only four, anti-scalp wheels (whatever those are) or not, CARB-compliance for those of you mowing in California, it is a heady mix of choices. You can even buy spiked tires à la Mad Max to aerate your lawn as you mow . . . or to effectively staple your neighbor’s foot to the ground if he should accidentally trespass while trimming the hedge you share.

The latest method of one-upmanship between mowing madmen (and let’s face it, we are talking about men here; most women are sensible enough to hire someone to do the work should their yard be of too-large size) is the turning radius of their suburban tractor. Like you (perhaps), I thought a zero-turn riding mower meant it only went in a straight line. Useful if your lawn is four feet wide and a hundred yards long.

What it actually means is that the vehicle has a turning radius of zero inches. It will pivot through 180 degrees without leaving a circle of uncut grass. None of this back and forth to line up the blades and overlap the last cut. I don’t know why this is such a big deal. If the square footage of the lawn in question warrants the ownership of a riding mower, surely there is enough room to operate a mower that turns more like a 1968 Plymouth Valiant.

After all, when I mow the lawn, I have to turn the push mower around and take a moment to line it up.

I mean, my son does.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


The Department of Motor Vehicles does more than just issue licenses and register boats. It also teaches patience. Like a good Zen monk, the DMV asks the unanswerable questions. What is the sound of one hand waving you forward after waiting in line for over an hour? What moves: the flag or the wind? Because it certainly isn’t this line!

I have sat around the DMV quite regularly over the past few years. There was the purchase of two new vehicles for the wife and me, and then the three children all reached the age of licensing. Followed shortly thereafter by the purchase of several used vehicles for people who don’t deserve new cars.

In other words: teenagers.

With all three kids I took a few moments to discuss the benefits of going to the DMV to transact business. Even at a young age they had heard stories, probably from whiny adults they had come in contact with, of how horrible it was to have to go the DMV.

“Balderdash!” I would say. Gesturing toward the orderly folks at the Appointment line, I pointed out that they had planned ahead. The much longer Non-Appointment line, while full of people with last-minute business or an inability to schedule a visit weeks in advance, was still relatively calm.

“That, my dear child, is the sound of one hand clapping.”

Rather than treating it like an uncomfortable inconvenience, I choose to view the DMV as a place for some quiet introspection. Like the proctologist’s office, it can be either an intrusion or welcome relief. It’s up to you.

Last week I actually went to the DMV twice. The first time was on Wednesday, when I had two matters to deal with. A vehicle needed an updated annual registration, and though I could have done that online I also had to go to renew my own driver’s license. After many years of just renewing by mail, they were finally requiring a visit. To verify that I had a still had a pulse, perhaps.

What better way to achieve inner peace than doing two things at the DMV without an appointment! I waited in line for about fifteen minutes before receiving my queue number, and then found a molded plastic chair to wait some more. After thirty minutes I was at the counter and shoving a number of papers at the lady. She must have been a bit distracted because she processed the vehicle registration in whole dollars. I could have paid just over a buck but instead I spoke up like an honest Zen master and paid just over a hundred bucks.

For the first time in my life I had to pass the vision test with spectacles, and my driver’s license shall forevermore be stamped “corrective lenses.” Not only does that show my age, but two days later I went back to take my son, the third and final Baxter child, for his driving test. I must officially be an old man if all of my offspring are old enough to drive.

Kyle had excelled at the original written exam and been practicing on the roads with a driving school and his very patient parents. What else can you be but patient when hurtling down the open roads, an inexperienced child at the wheel, without a second brake pedal at your disposal?

Kyle’s driving test was on Friday, April 1, and you are no doubt aware of the joke-making that can be had on that particular day. I anticipated a bunch of comedy at the conclusion of the exam.


“Sorry, you didn’t pass. [pause] April Fools! You passed!”


“Congratulations, here’s your license. [pause] April Fools! You didn’t pass! Better luck next time.”

The proctor was in no mood for jokes, though. Kyle passed, and she told him simply that he had passed. Very boring. But he was excited, and I was excited, and I offered him a burger or caramel macchiato as a reward for a job well done. He preferred cash, as it was date night at the movies, so I gave him some cash. And he wants a car, but that just might take a little extra while to earn.

I have now unleashed three young drivers on the open roads, and I would like to officially absolve myself of all responsibility for the mayhem they have or will perpetrate. But I don’t know if I get to do that. Instead, I will simply focus on my breath, and think calm thoughts for them. And for all other new drivers out there. Maybe chanting will help.


Sunday, March 27, 2011


It seemed like a reasonable thing, to communicate a thought to the wider world that could be easily distributed to folks interested in what

Okay, let’s try that again . . .

If there was something important that I wanted to impart to the general public, I would have to choose the most effective medium, and given

Hmm, perhaps I should have given this a little more thought. It’s hard to get a cogent idea across to discerning readers in 140 characters o

Damn it.

Those of you who use Twitter must have learned how to get a point across more succinctly than I. Those 140 go by fast.

I suppose the most successful tweets (those are the Twitter messages) get rid of clutter. Like “I suppose” and parentheses. Totally useless.

Whew, barely made it on that one. Clearly punctuation must be the first thing to go.

In 2006 the madness started, and Twitter has continued to gain popularity worldwide. Witness 190 million users, generating 65 million tweets

a day (sorry about that, a little carryover from that 140 character limit). Fortunately tweets can start with a lower case letter.

As opposed to a properly crafted sentence. One with subject/verb agreement. And with a point. Tweets often lack a reason to exist.

That’s because “followers” (the folks who sign up to receive your tweets on their fancy cell phones and other mobile devices) want to hear

Hmm. Probably should have lost the quote marks on that last one. And the long parenthetical statement. It didn’t really add much to what I w

Followers want to hear everything you have to say. Breakfast cereal bowl contents, your stupid job, nothing is off limits.

Where you are. What you are doing. It was assumed that anyone who might follow you would want to know this stuff.

There was the famous Ashton Kutcher vs. CNN Twitter war in 2009, when we had the race to one million followers.

Ashton won.

Now Charlie Sheen (the first and last time you’ll see that fellow’s name in this column, and no, “tiger blood” comments don’t count) tweets.

As his life recently imploded he racked up a million followers in twenty-four hours. I assume because he had many interesting things to say

Which seems unlikely. A better use of Twitter would be the peaceful civil unrest in Egypt, for which Twitter has received some credit.

I don’t know if it is true or not, but it gives me some hope that we aren’t on a steep slope into a totally servile relationship with our te

Hiccup. Our technologies. Man, at 140 characters there just isn’t any time to establish anything of consequence.

You can’t write anything of great importance. “Run, the building is on fire!” doesn’t count. By the time you’ve tweeted you’re in flames.

In a glib, pretentious, and simulated world, Twitter stands out as a great advancement.

And most folks, including me, are at some point glib, pretentious, and simulated. The thing is: we get past it for the majority of our lives

Twitter doesn’t fit with the real world. It is an aberration. It is what you do on a crazy Vegas weekend.

You eventually come home and return to whatever counts as your normal life. What happens on Twitter, stays on Twitter.

or something like that

Most of us haven’t tweeted, and probably never will. I figure those who have eventually tire of it. I mean, come on . . .

Writing this column and keeping it to 140 characters or less for each thought-provoking point I’d like to make has been a huge pain in my as

Ran out of space there just before I got vulgar, eh?

If I am wrong, and Twitter continues to grow in membership and usage and popularity, I will sign up to send one and only one tweet:

long form of written communication dead - along with it, me - i cannot sit idly by and watch u all kill off worthy composition - long live b

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Downtown San Jose is not too far from where I live, but I don’t venture there often. Once or twice a year for a footrace, and perhaps occasionally to meet friends or go out with the wife. Mostly I am safely ensconced in my nearly suburban home, wondering what it would be like to be a city dweller.

Those downtown places are plagued with things I don’t like: traffic, crowds, one-way streets, hobos, etc. In the past I would have included Superior Court of California—County of Santa Clara on that list, seeing it as nothing more than a bastion of criminals and criminal behavior and, of course, jury service.

Like any good American, I have been programmed to avoid jury duty at all costs. Exaggerate my prejudices, invent financial or personal hardships, whatever it would take. Twice I used my young children to get out of jury duty, but now they are grown. So, summoned for the fifth time in my life, I showed up and tried to make myself appear unfit to serve.

Dear prosecutor: I find your questions insulting. Of course I know what the burden of proof is! I read the book “The Burden of Proof” by Scott Turow a long time ago. And I know all about “innocent until proven guilty” by watching a lot of documentaries on television. Or perhaps they were just TV shows.

Dear public defender: I think you would say anything to get your client exonerated, including claiming his innocence. He wasn’t there, he didn’t do it, or he was and he did but it was self-defense. Make up your mind!

Dear accused person: I have already rushed to judgment and decided on your guilt or innocence based on your demeanor and the way you have dressed. And since most people arrested are guilty, I have found you to be just that. Guilty! Bring in the next case!

On the other hand, jury duty did give me the opportunity to sit around the house for two days waiting to be called. Finally I was asked to attend the Wednesday morning inquisition. In the hunt for twelve fair-minded men and women, about eighty of us were called into the courtroom. The laborious task of separating the wheat from the chaff (so to speak) would begin.

“Anyone here requesting dismissal for hardship?” the judge asked. A dozen or so hands went up, so the judge asked that they stay behind while the rest of us were sent away to return again on Thursday. One hour of jury service.

On Thursday morning I couldn’t tell how many of the hardship cases had been relieved of their civic responsibility, but the gallery was still packed. Standing room only, in fact. Everyone wasn’t seated until the first eighteen prospective jurors were called forward for the grilling.

It took two hours to figure out the older folks thought people in this country should speak English (the two accused had a translator speaking to them) and the younger folk had not watched enough episodes of Law and Order: Trial by Jury to understand the process . . . but to be fair it was cancelled after only one season. These youngsters asked questions like “what’s the difference between civil and criminal?”

Sheesh. Out of the mouths of babes.

Those of middling age were obviously trying to be excused by any means necessary. Oh, this is a case regarding assault? “Hey, I was beat up thirty years ago in seventh grade!” Ah, if found guilty the defendant will receive some sort of punishment? “Hey, I can’t sit in judgment of another human being.”

Every ninety minutes we had to schlep from the fifth floor courtroom to the second floor jury waiting room and fight for a seat. Then we’d be called back. A few jurors would be booted and replaced by some of us in the gallery. More questions, more booting, more replacing.

And still I sat.

After eight hours there were eighteen prospective jurors still being weeded through and forty or so of us waiting for our chance to make a crazy comment and be dismissed. The judge called a halt to the proceedings, announced that court would not be in session on Friday and that we were all to return on Monday morning at nine a.m. The groans were palpable.

“I know this is an inconvenience,” the judge said, “but it is the cornerstone of our judicial system. I am sure the jury selection process will be completed on Monday.” She wished us a good weekend and sent us on our way. As we descended the stairs yet again, the potential jurors were making wagers on whether the Friday cancellation was due to a golf game or other court business.

Hey, it’s Daylight Saving Time. Her Honor probably has time for both!

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Now that we are safely exiting cookie season, I can bring the following horrible truths to a discerning public without fear of retribution from the pint-sized, green-clad scouts who torment us all. They knock on my door, they have confronted me on the job and in front of many stores, and recently I even found them in a hotel lobby.

They may sound sweet and innocent when they ask, “Would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?” but behind their eyes you can see the venomous hatred that will flow your way should you say no.

February and March is “cookie season,” the longtime fundraising activity for the group. Folks love the cookies, and are willing to pay the not inexpensive prices because it helps a friend’s kid, or a neighbor’s kid, or a coworker’s kid, or just because those Thin Mints are so darned good.

It started out as a good thing, but seems to be devolving into nothing but controversy. Thus, it has become time to end the abomination. Say no to Girl Scout cookies (well, say no next year). They are no longer just sublime sweets and have clearly outlived their usefulness. I say this to warn you, though it puts me at great personal risk of scout-style retribution.

Earlier this year, in Savannah, Georgia, the Girl Scouts had to fight for their right to sell their famous cookies on the sidewalk in front of their founder's birthplace, because a city ordinance prohibits commercial sales in the public right of way. Civics lesson for the day: take a hike, kids! Eventually they received a “special exemption” and were allowed to peddle their treats, but we won’t know how badly the children were scarred by this event until one of them injects a lethal amount of ketamine into a box of Lemon Chalet Crèmes.

Then there were the Girl Scouts who got the idea to sell their cookies online. They’ve used YouTube, Facebook, and even their own web pages to do so, until the parents of less-creative Girl Scouts complained. Then the organization told all of the Internet entrepreneurs to cease and desist before coming up with their own brilliant plan:

Most recently, two female roommates in Florida brawled because one supposedly ate the other’s Thin Mints. Weapons included a board, a sign, and scissors. Aggravated assault was the result, and $10,000 bail. If only they had worked it out reasonably, they could have saved the bail money and bought more Girl Scout cookies!

Of course not a lot, because when we are not fighting over Girl Scout cookies we are complaining that they cost too much. The price creeps ever upward while the weight of each box slowly decreases. We’re sure that each year we get fewer cookies, but maybe we are just inhaling them more quickly.

No, the group fully acknowledges the economics of the situation. Manufacturing costs have climbed steadily upward, and they have tried to save money by reducing the packaging (they claim this is a move to help the environment, but won’t it just make it easier to inject the ketamine?) and selling fewer types of cookies.

It was another economic lesson for little girls, we are told. When seventy-seven percent of sales are just from five varieties, it was easy to blame it on the recession and make it easier on the bakers. Going into retirement this year: Dulce de Leche, Thank U Berry Munch, All Abouts, and Sugar-Free Chocolate Chip.

They don't want to have to deal with a surplus of less popular cookies, but who are they to decide? This is nothing but the food police telling us what we can and cannot eat! Some reports say it is an economic reality, others claim it is just marketing, which is another good lesson for little girls who’s career goals include teen mom or salon receptionist.

Cookie sales always take place in late winter, although I think I’ve made a good case for this being the last year that ever happens. Last fall was the first time I found Girl Scouts trying to raise money by selling nuts. Strategically placed on the calendar so as not to compete with cookie sales, the happy little girls in front of the grocery store seemed to attract more puzzled looks than serious buyers.

Girl Scout nuts: let the jokes commence.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


If I didn’t remember those good old days of business travel, when the price of lodging and eating was covered by a reasonable expense account, my current situation would not be so disappointing. I used to be able to take the forty bucks allotted for the evening meal and consume nothing more than tiny liquor bottles from the hotel room fridge and cans of macadamia nuts in the pantry.

Sure, I’d wake up feeling sick to my stomach with hunger, but sometimes that’s the price to be paid for debauchery and stupidity. Plus I’d have a few bucks left over, and after scarfing down more than my share at the continental breakfast I could buy a carton of smokes. What a life!

Now when I travel I don’t get to stay at the posh suite places. Or I choose not to, because otherwise I blow my entire budget on the roof over my head. I don't have to eat a lot of expensive Hawaiian nuts, but I do need at least a few bucks to buy myself a burger. And the four teenaged girls in the next room want to eat as well.

What’s that, you say? What unpleasantness are you talking about, you freaky old man? Who are these girls and do their parents know you have squirreled them away in a dingy hotel room?

First of all, don’t insult my friends at Travelodge. It is a lovely place to stay! Second, the foursome was my high school senior daughter and three of her friends. Kelsey wanted to visit a couple of colleges, so we planned a trip to San Diego and Long Beach. It would be a one-nighter since sixteen hours driving in one day would be more moronic than surviving on liquor and snack foods.

One friend wanted to join us because she hadn’t gone on many college tours. That seemed fine. She’s a nice girl, and hasn’t caused me a lot of problems. Then another friend was interested in going, even though she hadn’t even applied at one of the two schools and didn’t think she’d choose the other even if she were accepted.

Kyle wanted to take the last seat in the car, which makes perfect sense. I remember being a junior in high school, and even though there was no chance I would ever be able to date any of my older sister’s friends, they smelled nice and while sitting near them I could pretend they liked me.

Kyle lost his chance to go, and not just because Kelsey forbade it. A third friend, one who had recently visited the same two universities, was in the mood for another road trip. In a moment of weakness I agreed to the entire gaggle, and off we set.

For a while I listened to a little talk radio. Nothing like some rabid conservative puffery in the morning for a good laugh. The girls hated it, and spent the time texting each other from their magical telephonic devices. They’d giggle and shush each other and refused to look me in the eye because they were so obviously guilty of something.

The phones went away when they gained control of the radio. Kelsey connected a variety of iPods, none of which apparently contained a single song I wanted to listen to, even though they hold, like, a gazillion. There was hip hop (ugh) and John Mayer (uninteresting) and plenty of show tunes (jazz hands!). An hour later, exhausted from their screeching—I mean singing—and our early departure, they fell asleep.

I kept the car nice and warm to encourage deeper slumber. A little more talk radio and the kids were nicely comatose, though they did wake briefly for a potty break and a burger.

At San Diego State we found hundreds of students camped out in line, waiting for basketball tickets to go on sale. Some had been there for three days. Good role models. At Long Beach State the girls were astounded with the amount of brick. The older buildings were all brick, the newer ones had brick accents and brick features, and even the sidewalks included bricks occasionally in different patterns and designs.

It was all they could talk about. Brick, brick, brick. As though the construction material is what really makes a good college. I pointed out that a much better way to determine if a university provides a quality demonstration was whether the students were willing to sleep outside in record cold temperatures for the privilege of buying tickets to a basketball game.

At the hotel I tried to get a room at the opposite end of the building from theirs, but we had already been assigned adjoining quarters. I asked the girls to either be quiet in their room, or take their loud party attitude out to the pool or any all-night diner or city park they could walk to. I don’t honestly know what they did during the evening, but I assume they were quietly resting in their room.

Really, they were super quiet. Either that or they weren’t there. I didn’t hear them come in late, but my heavy drinking might have deadened my senses.

As far as traveling with four female high school seniors, it wasn’t the worst two days of my life. But I think it might have been a whole lot more thrilling if I had done it thirty years ago.

Sunday, February 27, 2011


I am so glad this month is over! Not only do I have to make a special attempt every single year to figure out exactly how many days I have to wait until March 1, but I get a bunch of grammarians (perhaps they would more accurately be called pronunciationists, but I’m pretty sure that is not really a word) telling me, “That’s not the way you say it.”

Sure it is. February. I’ve been saying it that way since I was a kid.

“You’re saying Febuary,” they say.

I know. February.

“It’s pronounced ‘Fe-broo-ary.’ There are two Rs.”

I know how to spell it, for goodness sake. I also know how to say it. February.

“You’re still saying ‘Febuary.’”

Febuary. It is how most of us say it, unless we are trying to be one of those effete elitists. FebRuary. Ugh.

Never mind all that. Let’s talk about something else. How about the fact that the whole leap year trauma, when I wake up and have to figure out if it is February 29 or March 1, will enjoy an unfortunate twist just before my 138th birthday in 2100 . . . which I do plan on being around for.

Taken from the Internet without proper attribution: “Years that are evenly divisible by 100 are not leap years, unless they are also evenly divisible by 400, in which case they are leap years. For example, 1600 and 2000 were leap years, but 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not. Similarly, 2100, 2200, 2300, 2500, 2600, 2700, 2900 and 3000 will not be leap years, but 2400 and 2800 will be.”

Great. Just great. I have to trust the printers of 2100 calendars to remember not to include February 29. 2100 will be the first leap year not to actually be a leap year in two hundred years. This is Y2K all over again. Traffic lights will go on the fritz; elevators will plummet from the tops of skyscrapers. All because we will be inundated with inaccurate calendars. Maybe that’s why the Mayans didn’t make calendars after 2012. They were just sick and tired of worrying about the leap year nonsense and went back to building temples out of shoddy construction materials that would eventually turn to ruins and committing ritual acts of animal sacrifice and bloodletting.

Go Mayans!

And while I complain about the lack of uniformity when it comes to the month of Febuary, excuse me, February, I don’t know why we have to make a list of which years include twenty-nine days for the second month. To make the statement that 3000 will not be a leap year means that you think someone is jotting down right now what is being discussed and that note will be found in the back of some futuristic kitchen drawer just in time to remind everyone.

Trust me, that’s not going to happen. If there is anyone still alive in 3000, I’m pretty sure they will be too busy flying around on their cloned pterodactyls to care about leap years. Daily information (date, weather, historical fun fact, plus that evening’s TV programs) will be automatically uploaded to their iBrain™ upon waking, and the global economy, like global warming, will remain an unfulfilled prophecy.

Until that time, people born on any given leap day will have to wait four years to throw a legitimate birthday celebration (except for the poor saps born on February 29, 2096: they’ll have to wait eight years for their first party). February is just one big messed up month. (Except for daughter Kelsey’s birthday of course. The 23rd. If you haven’t sent a present yet it’s not too late. Hallmark makes plenty of belated birthday cards.)

February is to the annual calendar what Ringo Starr is to the Beatles. Really! See: February has the fewest days, and Ringo wrote the fewest of the Beatles’ songs. It makes perfect sense. Of course, at this point Ringo is quite possibly going to be the last Beatle standing, and will happily be the winner of their unexpected musical tontine.

Ringo can be a shining example for February. It just has to outlast the rest of the months. By 3000 February could be the name of the entire calendar.

Or Febuary.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Some folks take their daily exercise on a treadmill, while others would rather perambulate on nearby neighborhood sidewalks. Both help improve general fitness levels, I suppose, but the former is just slightly more passive than the latter. I mean, the treadmill actually takes each foot backward for you as you throw the other foot forward to break your fall.

The stair climber at Club Expensive doesn’t do any heavy lifting for you, but a duller machine I cannot imagine. If I am going to climb stairs for fifteen or thirty minutes, I want to get somewhere. The viewing platform in the Statue of Liberty’s crown (if it was still open to the public) or the top of the Eiffel Tower (if someone is willing to pay for my flight to France). You know, somewhere that is actually up.

In June I hope to combine the real world alternatives of the treadmill and stair climber as I take part in my fourth sixteen-hour exercise regimen known as the Night and Day Challenge. Starting at four in the afternoon on a (hopefully) mid-temperature Saturday, my teammates and I will move ourselves around San Francisco to find as many of the sixty mystery locations as possible.

San Francisco, you’ll recall, is not a flat place. Sure, every once in a while you can walk there for five minutes without heading uphill, but generally when you take a step your forward foot is above or below the one in the rear. The wear and tear factor is thusly increased.

Doing this for sixteen hours probably seems foolish. It certainly does to us, my teammates and I, especially around one a.m. when we are just past halfway done. It seems like the morning will never come. But after a few months the pain is a distant memory and the next adventure beckons us as though it were a siren on a craggy ocean shoreline and we were scurvy-ridden buccaneers.

The first time I did the Night and Day with my brother. Then twice with a friend. As we put together our impressive 2011 team, either or both might be joining me, and I am working feverishly on adding team member #4.

D— thus far is unimpressed with the notion. He has been known to walk around San Francisco for hours at a time, but always during daylight hours. He knows his way around the city, but he is uninterested in doing so all night long, and he definitely has no desire to do any amount of running.

I thought there had been a time when D— expressed mild curiosity at the possibility of participating, but he has assured me that I am woefully mistaken. At no point had he expressed mild curiosity, and he is now on record as stating that he is considering a restraining order. Some might cower in fear of his emphatic speech, but I keep asking.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have brought it up, however, as D— and I recently approached the Filbert Steps in San Francisco. We were strolling around the city—not competitively—looking for beer and dim sum, and found ourselves near the 1300 block of Sansome Street, in the vicinity of the Embarcadero as it approaches the shopping mecca that is Pier 39.

The steps rise from just about sea level and eventually reach Coit Tower, a famous SF landmark that you can learn more about elsewhere. There are approximately 400 steps and they climb near 300 feet up, in a distance as measured by an overhead map of only 0.2 miles. That, my friends, is a 25% grade.

“Hey,” I said to D—, “I remember these steps! We had to run up them back in 2009!” Then I made the mistake of mentioning that we couldn’t find the mystery location situated about mid-climb, so we had run to the top, back down to the bottom, before going up once more to find what we were searching for.

It wasn’t the best way to convince D— that we were the team to join. It might seem like we were easily lost and that our map-reading skills might be sub-par. I could argue the point that we came in first place in 2009, but that was only when the point totals were broken down into subcategories. There were groups on bike, groups on foot, and groups using both. There were groups of men, and groups of women, and groups of both.

Yes, we came in first place out of all foot-based mens teams. Of which we were the only one. If I have to spell it out for you, that’s first place out of one; no other competition. That’s like still being in the pool when all of the other swimmers have already finished their race and gone home and spent the weekend sharing their various awards with friends and family.

Out of all foot-based teams in 2009 we came in third place, and there were only four. That’s like not losing, but only beating the losers.

Perhaps D— will end up competing in the 2011 Night and Day Challenge after all. On a more impressive team that doesn’t get lost on a staircase.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


“I gave my love a cherry without a stone
I gave my love a chicken without a bone
I gave my love a ring that had no end . . .”

. . . I gave my love a footrace and made her run it by herself.

Okay, that sounds worse than it really is. At least from my perspective. You’ll have to ask my love what she thinks about it. Or read her nonexistent humor column.

Kristin has participated in a few footraces since my obsession began in 1999. She’s completed a number of 5Ks, and even ran a hilly trail 10K a couple of years ago. Okay, she didn’t “run” the trail race, but neither did I. Did I mention it was hilly? We finished together, as we often have. If I participate in a race with Kristin or one of the kids and the point is to do it together, I stick with ‘em through the end.

On occasion, if she has other company, I’ll run my own race, like we did in San Carlos a long while back. I run, finish, rest, eat, drink, rest, pace around the finish line, and here she comes! Of course I cheer loudly for my wife, being very proud of her and her accomplishment.

Last year I heard about a race in Oakland that we couldn’t assimilate into our busy schedule. It’s called a Couple’s Relay and is run around Lake Merritt. It intrigued me because in ’09 I spent twelve hours running around Lake Merritt and racked up 54.2 miles. This year this particular Sunday morning was open, so I signed up Kristin and me to participate in the Couple’s Relay. The only problem was I didn’t tell Kristin.

We are scheduled to run on Sunday, February 27. Consider it a late Valentine’s Day present. We have to get up to Lake Merritt by 8 a.m. and then Kristin will run around the lake, I believe in a clockwise direction. Hopefully I send her off facing the right way. When she completes the approximate 3.1 mile distance (the standard equivalent of the metric 5 kilometer) we will tag off in some manner and then I will run the same circuit.

Judging by our recent running, and the results of other teams in the same race last year, we won’t come in last place. That’s always Kristin’s concern. She doesn’t want to come in last. On January 1 we started the new year out right with a 5K in Palo Alto, and Kristin was worried that she’d come in last.

She didn’t, naturally, because she is determined. She even thought all of the 10K runners, who only started fifteen minutes earlier than we did, would beat her. Some did, but certainly not all.

If you think of this as a Valentine’s Day gift, you might think me daft, inconsiderate, sophomoric, or just plain cruel. Certainly unromantic. Which is fine with me; I don’t think I have ever been particularly romantic. Not like the Latin lovers in those movies I’ve never seen. I don’t take Kristin to the latest romantic comedy every mid-February. Usually I am trying to convince her to go see the latest Sylvester Stallone shoot-a-thon.

Not to say I’ve never done anything nice, I just don’t want to catalog them here. I’ll leave that up to your imagination.

Meanwhile, I am making post-race plans. We will either go to a movie theater to see “Just Go With It” starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston (which sounds horrible) or maybe eat at Chez Panisse in nearby Berkeley (which sounds expensive) or, barring either of those because I’m too sweaty for public interaction, we’ll go home and I’ll sit on the couch for the rest of afternoon.

Hey, what can I say? It will be nearly two weeks after Valentine’s Day. Surely I can be forgiven some selfish behavior at that point.

So I say she is going to run the footrace by herself, and this is true. To a point. She will run without me, but Kristin is well able to make friends everywhere she goes, and I have no doubt she will find someone of a similar pace and will be able to complete her lap at a rate that does not preclude a little friendly conversation.

Perhaps Kristin deserves a true valentine in advance of our sporting spectacle. If only I was still a classroom teacher I could regift a box of chocolates or little stuffed animal I’d get from a student.

Wouldn’t be the first time.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Nothing says love like going behind your wife’s back. Trust me. I speak with authority on this topic. If you can go behind her back with solid faith that it won’t all blow up in your face . . . that’s love, baby!

In 2006 Kristin went out of town for a couple of weeks. Something about visiting her parents in Las Vegas. I don’t know. I wasn’t really listening. All I know was she was gone and she wasn’t back for dinner. Nor the next dinner. I kept cooking and putting it on the table, and eventually she was there to enjoy it. She said, “Thanks!” and told me about her trip.

I was smart enough not to say, “Oh, were you gone?”

Walking into the garage for the first time since her return, Kristin was startled to see a motorcycle. I had one when our matrimonial union was sanctified by good ol’ Reverend Scotty of the First United Methodist Church of Campbell (he who soon after left town with a new wife of his own) and Kristin and I had spent a goodly amount of time on it. Even made it to Canada in 1986, where I learned I could no longer apply for Conscientious Objector status.

We’d sold the bike, however, in the mid-90s. It was no longer practical with three small children needing constant chauffeur service. I was willing to take them on the bike but their feet didn’t reach the back footrests and their tiny heads just banged around inside the large helmet.

Now I had gone out and purchased a new one without any discussion with She Who Should Be Involved In All Major Decision-Making (she gave me that title to use for her, I didn’t make it up). Surprise! It could have ruined the mood of her homecoming, if only I wasn’t so clever in my surprise-making. There are many women, I am sure, who would browbeat their husbands if they brought home a motorcycle.

My wife is great. She said, “Let’s go for a ride!”

Of course, this was to be expected. She had dealt with other surprises over the past twenty-five years similarly. When I said, “Surprise! Let’s have Kyle’s six month picture taken in the same dress as his sisters when they were the same age,” Kristin went along with it. When I said, “Surprise! I hung up a dart board in the family room,” she just made sure to duck every time she entered the room.

Back in the garage, she was admiring the sleek lines and the shiny parts of the new motorcycle and I waited for the other shoe to drop. Because the motorcycle was the first shoe, and there was another shoe in the garage. Not the ones that were on our feet. And this mysterious second shoe was about to drop. Am I making the metaphor painful to read?

Well, then, let’s move on . . .

Turning to go back into the house she realized there was something to her right. A large something, and yet the Mazda was in the driveway. She looked and the next half-second stretched out in slow motion. Then she screamed.

The new Subaru scared her. Surprise again!

So yeah, I bought a new motorcycle while my wife was out of town, but the day before that I bought a new car. No input or advice or opinion from the spouse. And she didn’t kill me, which means I still stand in good stead. I am the kind of husband who can pull this kind of thing off and live to tell the tale. Many men are jealous of that fact.

This is no testament to the wonderment of Matt, however, it is the beneficence of Kristin that allows us to survive in a relationship where clearly one of us cares little for the feelings of others. I’ll leave you to figure out who I am talking about.

Of course, Kristin moves the household furniture around all the time without consulting me, which is sort of the same thing. Unless you consider how easy it is to move a couch from one wall to another and how easy it is for me to move it back after I stop yelling.

It is slightly more difficult to deal with a 4000-pound behemoth—not that Kristin was ever going to return the car once she found it had seat warmers.

Sunday, January 30, 2011


First of all, let me first and foremost apologize to my brother for tying him up with the front yard hose. It was really foolish, I was just trying to copy that older kid from up the block who did the same thing to many of us while chanting, “You can’t hogtie me!” It seemed like a good thing to do at the time.

Of course, as we all know, you decided to try to hop into the house whilst well contained within the rubber tubing. Who knew I could tie such a good knot? I certainly never did during my short tenure as a Boy Scout. You got as far as the garage before falling, and wouldn’t you know, that rubber kept cinching up like high quality Chinese handcuffs. You couldn’t put your hands out to break the fall. Say hello to a nice chipped tooth, courtesy of your older brother.

Sorry, dude. Even though more than thirty-five years have passed, it remains high on the Top Ten List of Things I Shouldn’t Have Done When I Was Younger. In annual voting it regularly beats out “trimming the cat’s whiskers with scissors” and “asking people to call me Bobby Sugar.”

I’ve spent these past 3+ decades trying to make it up to Scott. I helped him empty a storage unit when he moved back to San Jose from Chico after college, even touching an old and greasy Human Crouton costume. I have stood in the street during Super Bowl parties playing catch with a football, even though I prefer playing with a Frisbee. I even agreed to go on a long bicycle ride in San Francisco and Marin to help celebrate his impending wedding though I was woefully out of shape.

The one thing I haven’t done lately, though, is that throwing and catching of the football. Scott and I haven’t watched a lot of regular season profession football together over the years, but we almost always congregated for the Super Bowl to dine on chili dogs and beer. Then last year we were faced with a lack of viewing options.

Both Scott and I were strictly antenna reception fellas, and when the digital revolution or the high def takeover or whatever you want to call it happened in mid-2009, our TVs went fuzzy. We both declined the offers to buy converter boxes or upgrade our television sets or subscribe to cable or satellite service. Come early 2010, we realized we couldn't watch the Super Bowl at either of our homes, and we ended up doing our own thing.

A year has gone by, and Scott and I still do not have TV viewing at home. Our wives and our children (even the rebellious teenagers) have been dragged along in this little neo-Luddite experiment, some willing, some not so much. Super Bowl XLV—as it is called because of their silly Roman nomenclature—will see Scott and me, for the second year in a row, watching it separately.

Like much of the country, we were always willing to celebrate the final game of the professional football season as some sort of national holiday. We watched the extensive (and mostly unnecessary) pregame shows, and we watched as much for the commercials as we did for the sporting contest (unless our nearly hometown 49ers were playing, in which case the heck with the commercials!), and we watched because it gave us a chance to consume copious amounts of chili dogs and beer.

Never mind the fact that sometimes the spectacle did not match the propaganda. A terrible Blues Brothers halftime show in 1997, games that were dull throughout or blowouts by early in the second half, missing the funniest commercials for a bathroom visit or a run to the fridge for another beer. And of course the infamous wardrobe malfunction in 2004.

After the annual celebration, we stumbled away, back to real life. In a stupor from too much food and drink, too much excitement, too much noise and light, too much football. It is horrible to think that we succumbed to the hype year after year, and yet I know if either of us had a TV right now that could show the game next Sunday we would be at his house or mine, sitting in front of the boob tube for hours.

‘Cause it’s the Stupor, I mean Super, Bowl. And it is what we do. Or at least it is what we used to do.

Go 49ers! What? They’re not playing this year?

Never mind.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Hopefully the recent upheaval in the astrological business has not turned your entire life upside down. Many folks are beside themselves with the announcement that a thirteenth constellation has been added to the rotation because of a shift in the alignment of the sun. They are also upset about the Mayan end-of-the-world prophecy for 2012 and because their Magic 8 Balls keep repeating “Reply hazy, try again.”

This new astrology symbol, this snake-riding fellow in the sky, Ophiuchus, covers a certain section of the calendar late in the year, in essence bumping Sagittarius and affecting the rest of the star-figures as well. By my calculation, most of the days of the year are referenced to a new astrological entity. This has caused serious heart palpitations in people who read their daily horoscope with great interest.

These are the people who actually think that when the newspaper says “let someone else take the lead for once, allowing you to regain your equilibrium before the next decision needs to be made” it means they shouldn’t even decide to get out of bed. They’ll wait until they’re told “today is a day for action!”

Other folks just don’t care about Ophiuchus. Easy for me to say, because May 15 is one of the few days that maintains its astrology sign in the new system. I was a Taurus last month and I am a Taurus still. The myth of the Taurus being a stubborn bull is nonsense. I would still be stubborn even if I had been magically transformed into a Pisces.

Which begs the question: now that the wife has moved from Gemini to Taurus, are we destined to be constantly combative, never backing down because our actions are governed by the stars and we have no freewill? Can two married Tauruses live in a house without driving each other crazy?

I don’t know. Ask Oscar Madison or Felix Unger.

One daughter has changed from Sagittarius to Scorpio. The other has morphed from Pisces to Aquarius. The boy was Capricorn and is now Sagittarius. Suddenly none of their actions make sense and I fall prey to calling them the wrong name (not like I ever did that before). “Kate . . . Kelsey . . . Kyle . . . you know I’m talking to you ‘cause I’m looking at you!” I can’t tell them apart anymore. It is madness!

The peacemaker has become the combative one. The quiet one won’t shut up. The adventurous one won’t try anything new unless the horoscope calls for it. The former Sagittarius and the new Sagittarius haven’t been seen in the same room at the same time since the announcement of Ophiuchus, which begs the question: did the shift in the zodiac cause a space/time confluence that merged them into one being?

Or is it because one of them moved to Arizona?

The solution to this non-dilemma lies in the way you approached the astrology business before the kerfuffle. It is all a matter of choice. If you believe following your daily horoscope helps you make better decisions, then so be it. If you think your astrological sign actually defines who you are and how you behave, you probably still will. If you think it is nonsense, it still is!

I can understand the confusion to a certain extent, because if the question ever came up in my life I knew I was Taurus. It was one of those constants, like my adult shoe size, my address, and my love of professional wrestling. It didn’t come up every day, but when I learned that Andre the Giant and Jimmy “Superfly" Snuka were both Taurus, it gave me a little piece of mind.

When Ford introduced the car of the same name I thought it was funny. Certainly there was never going to be a car named after Libra (or so I told my brother who, now a Virgo, still won’t have a car in his honor). I don’t particularly care that I’m a Taurus, but at least I know that I am a Taurus.

I never gave two cents toward any daily horoscope because I thought it was silly. And I still do. I find that you can generally take such prognostications and prophecies, for any of the twelve—I mean thirteen—signs, and make them true for yourself in one way or another. They are written in a vague manner that can be taken myriad ways to justify your existence. Easy for me to be so dismissive, though, because I’m still a Taurus.

Will the rabid horoscope followers be able to deal with these changes? My Magic 8 Ball says, “Outlook not so good.”

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Late in 2009 I morphed my online humor column FreezeFrame to blog form. There were several reasons to do so, none of which are worth going into at this point, and one big reason not to. I didn’t want a blog. I didn’t want to be a blogger.

Nevertheless, here we are.

I like being the guy without a cellular telephone, and I like being the guy without a microwave oven, and I like being the guy who doesn’t have cable TV, and I like being the guy without things that seem to be ubiquitous. It is my rebellious nature.

It seemed at the time, and still does, that “everyone has a blog.” You can find these damned things all over the Al Gore Internet and their number dilutes their importance. I don’t even like saying blo…, bl…—see, I can’t say it. Good thing I can write it: blog. But it makes me feel dirty even when I only write it.

These blogs, these web logs, are not evil on their own. Some are informative, some are interesting, and some are designed so people can stay in touch with family and friends. Of course they could use Facebook for that, but I don’t have one of those, either. I do, however, regularly visit a few different blogs as a source of reading material.

One thing I have noticed that is common on blogs is the frequent use of a question at the end of most posts. This is presumably used to increase the number of comments that readers make, thus making the blog more trafficked. And if you have more traffic you can more easily turn a profit, because everyone knows the end-goal of a blog is to make enough money that you can quit your day job.

Blech. Everyone also knows that you are as likely to make a bunch of money from the Internet as you are from selling kitchen products, candles, and other kitsch to your friends at home-based parties. (The only way you make money on the latter is when you convince those same friends to sell those same products and to sign up with you as their sponsor. Multi-level marketing, folks, it’s the future!) So if a bunch of comments from friends and strangers does not make your blog more marketable, what’s the point?

Well, if you aren’t going to make money you might as well cheer yourself up with reading the comments and thinking that you are making a difference in the world. Sure, that’s likely, that blogger fellow who sits in his mother’s basement in his underwear, his fingers sticky and orange from his second bag of Cheetoh’s that morning, is affecting world politics and the entertainment industry and our national banking policies. Every time he offers up a pithy commentary on the subject at hand and thirteen folks bother to reply to his end-of-post question, heads of state are listening.

“How would you help to vote [insert politician name] out of office?”

Then there are the folks—generally in the twenty-something set—who like to pontificate on all of the things that are of critical importance to them. They post pictures of their kids or they write about what they did that day or they rage against something silly like a football game or the price of gasoline, and then they ask: “What do you think?”

“So I told him to take off my high heels, NOW! How would you have handled a problem like that?”

They do this because it is the recommended way to get reader comments, and reader comments are everything if you are a blogger. Thankfully, I don’t consider myself a blogger. And I don’t even call this a blog. It is a collection of finely wrought humor columns, sadly distributed via a well-known blog publisher via the Internet, another entity I would be happy not to be associated with (although it does provide [warning: sales pitch ahead] an easy way for you to order my books).

Since I am not going to cover the expense of actually mailing you a weekly humor column to your home address, we are stuck with this less-than-perfect but utterly free system.

But I can make you this promise: I hereby refuse to ever end a blog post with a question. I might ask you questions if we are talking in person or on the phone, and I hope that if I send you an e-mail you’ll take the time to respond to any sentence that ends with a question mark, but I am not going to use this weary method just to make myself feel popular. I just don’t want to be so manipulative.

Or is it because I just don’t care what you have to say?

Sunday, January 9, 2011


My brother was a music fan before I was. Perhaps in most families it is the older brother who introduces the younger brother to the wonderful world of radio stations and LPs—I mean CDs—I mean MP3s—but in this regard I failed Scott. He was the first one to tune in our clock radio to KFRC so we could listen to Dr. Don Rose, and he was the first one to ask for record albums for birthday and Christmas gifts.

Scott knew musical genres and the names of the members of many groups. His knowledge was encyclopedic. At the end of each year we’d spend an entire day writing down the entries as the KFRC disc jockeys played the top 100 songs of the past twelve months. Scott would know all of them.

All I contributed to the relationship was tying him up in the front yard with the hose and sometimes pretending he was invisible when he tried to talk to me. I wasn’t a perfect older brother, but I had mastered the torture and humiliation bits.

Scott introduced our little bedroom to rock and roll, and later heavy metal. He had the Kiss album Love Gun and practically wore it out, playing it over and over again. Christine Sixteen, what a song! Almost Human! And who can forget Hooligan?

“I’m a hooligan. Won’t go to school again.”

Now that is a top quality rhyme worthy of Yeats or Poe. Or Simmons (Gene).

About the time I began tapping my toes and snapping my fingers, Scott’s tastes grew more refined. He continued listening to rock and roll but became interested in a larger variety of musical styles. I, meanwhile, grew myopic. And my music grew louder. All I listened to was the head banging stuff. It very well may have been the case that I was trying to annoy society, a popular activity of some youth.

There was some hope that I would grow out of my interest in heavy metal. Evidence included the fact that most of its fans appeared to be juvenile miscreants, and even as a juvenile miscreant I perhaps had larger goals for myself. Certainly the typical fan IQ had to be somewhere south of average. When I started going to concerts (AC/DC, WASP, Judas Priest, Triumph, Ozzy) you might have thought that the youthful audience, as a representative sub-group of the larger “future of America” crowd, spelled doom for our society.

Fifty-year-olds weren’t going to the concerts I was going to. They certainly weren’t standing in the same aisles at Tower Records as I was. The older folks buying the easy listening and the classical music had grown up with such tunes and had stuck with them. It was familiar, which is probably what happens to most people. You are fond of what you remember from your youth.

Hence my current predicament.

Except sometimes musical tastes change. It could be maturity, or a wiser ear, or you are fond of someone who likes something different. There appears to be ample evidence that with maturity comes a more refined musical sensibility. Sure, Scott achieved this when he was still a teenager, but there was hope I’d do the same. Heavy metal was seen as kids’ folly, accused of being loud and nasty and not very musical.

This hoped-for maturity didn’t happen in my twenties, though. I bought a three-inch spiked leather wristband and a silver rat earring. I hung up a poster of Gene Simmons in my bedroom. I made home videos with my friend James, lip synching to Mötley Crüe and Van Halen.

It didn’t happen in my thirties either. I made compilation tapes of the best metal from my record collection for my brother-in-law and sent them to North Carolina, trying to spread the word to the uninitiated. I played the freeze dance with my children as we listened to Marilyn Manson.

It thus far hasn’t happened in my forties. I have inculcated an appreciation for the music in my son, and my daughters know enough about it to impress their friends. When Kelsey was in middle school she knew a kid who wanted to be my best friend because I knew who Dream Theater was.

Now I’m not far from fifty. I saw Iron Maiden in concert last May and have recently downloaded Otep and Sevendust onto my iPod. To quote Slipknot’s 2008 album, in regards to my lack of maturity, “All hope is gone.” It just doesn't appear that I am going to “grow up” and change my musical preferences. I listen to choral music when Kristin sings, and I can tolerate just about any kind of tune (at least for a little while).

But to quote Popeye, “I yam what I yam.”

I was the oddball when I was listening to the heavy metal noise as a teenager. I guess I’ll be the oddball doing the same when I’m an old man.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


The Christmas tree has been dragged from our living room and thrown unceremoniously to the curb. It was carted off by the sanitation engineers masquerading in our city as garbage men and will be ground to pulp and recycled as books for poor children and paper bags for grocery carrying.

The circle of life, indeed. I’m sure the tree would not have elected to have already completed its trip around the circle, but no one asked it. I mean, what are you going to say? “Excuse me, Tree, mind if I cut you off at the ankles and shower you with trinkets and tinsel?” Be serious. Even if it had the ability to decline the offer you still would have chopped it down and turned it into the gaudy centerpiece of your living room.

Because our tree is gone, the dog’s bed can return to its normal placement by the fireplace hearth. It is a large bean bag chair, and likely more comfortable than my own sleeping quarters. For several weeks Zen’s bed was crammed beneath the piano so the Christmas tree could stand near an outlet. Gotta have those bright lights burning to help dry out the tree as fast as possible.

With the dog bed returned to its proper place, the coffee table can now sit squarely in front of the couch. It had migrated a foot or so to the left (or to the right if you are sitting on the couch) so that passersby could make their way through the living room without stepping on the dog or banging a shin against the table.

Everything is going back to their original places, which is important to someone like me who desires order more than anything else. More than truth, honor, love, or cash, I desire order.

Okay, hold on a sec, that sounds bad. Makes me very shallow. Let’s go with cash first, then order, then all that other unnecessary nonsense. Truth and honor . . . please. Next you’re going to tell me I forgot about justice.

No I didn’t.

Now that the holidays have been obliterated once again, I have returned to my regularly ordered world, and I recall that we have more room than we need. We don’t have shelves covered in doodads, and there is actually room in each room to walk around. The most egregious example of our un-American behavior is that we can park two cars in our two-car garage. Scary, isn’t it?

In 1992 Kristin and I fell prey to a common illness: buying as much house as we could afford. It’s what the real estate professional said, it’s what the mortgage lender counseled, and truth be told we were greedy enough to swallow it hook, line, and sinker. Even if we could have done with less.

We had one kid at the time and were moving from a small two-bedroom, one-bath home. We didn’t need to go five-three with the new place, but we did it anyway. Yes, two more kids came along, and isn’t it nice that they could each have their own room, and its not like the house is ginormous, but I am firmly convinced we could have lived the last nineteen years just as well with less square footage.

After all, one kid has flown the coop and the other two will soon follow. I have learned to divest myself of the things I do not need and so my pile of possessions has slowly dwindled. I have actually removed shelves from the garage due to lack of use. Kitchen cabinets look sparse to the average American, but hold everything we need. I don’t need separate exercise room, office, sewing room, and guest room.

What I really want to do is downsize in a big way. I truly aspire to live in a tiny house. Less unused space, and even better: less space to put unnecessary things. I am leaning toward the 89 square foot model. That’s right, an entire house in eighty-nine square feet. Smaller than most bedrooms. The thought makes the average American slightly sick to his stomach. It makes me swoon.

It’s got everything: a front room, a kitchen, and a bathroom. There’s even a fireplace, and some sort of sleeping quarters. It could be problematic if you have to sleep in a vertical position, but I suppose I could get used to it. Best of all the whole place comes mounted on wheels, kind of like my childhood Radio Flyer wagon.

Ahh, memories.

There are a few roadblocks before the big move can take place, summarized as wife, two teenagers, dog, and too much stuff. These can mostly be solved by throwing out, growing up, and passing on. Just depends which method should be used for which item. Although I’m pretty sure if word of my plans gets out nothing so drastic will have to take place.

They’ll just gang up on me and make me move out on my own.