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.