Sunday, December 2, 2018

Letters to Santa in this political climate / exclusive this week

My column this week, letters to Santa which reveal the toxic political climate we are living in, is available only to my Patreon subscribers. Also a vintage column about the things, in middle age, that I have in common with my dog Skipper, and sound recordings of my columns from the last month. Thanks again for your support.


Sunday, November 25, 2018

Holiday letter (second draft)

Dear friends and family,

This year finds us surviving as best we can very well after the semi truck ran straight through our living room window causing grandma to wet herself and wet little Timmy too winning the lottery. Grandma survived her embarrassment is over the moon. Little Timmy is probably scarred for life can't wait to try out the new Xbox. We had no insurance, so we have begun calling the huge hole in the house "the new doggie door" inkling we would ever be so lucky. When Martin got home, he like to die from shock bought that lottery ticket, it was just as a lark. 

Who knew how much pain joy one family could endure enjoy in a single year? After that freak tornado took Cousin Moe job promotion Buster got at the shoe store, we thought things could not get worse better this year. I guess the Fates are totally out to get us looking out for us. How else do you explain Franny's getting held hostage for 12 hours at the grocery store instant success selling handmade insects online? We feel it must be due to somebody with a grudge and a whole handful of voodoo dolls divine intervention, or maybe karmic payback for that time Jane flipped off that blind panhandler saved that puppy. 

Martin says his job at the tallow factory software firm continues to be "like getting a preview of Hell something out of a holiday movie." Cousin Moe is still enjoying his extended dirt nap trip to India to find himself. We don't know what county he was blow to how long he will be gone, but we trust he will never need his tractor again be in touch when he gets a chance. 

Timmy has developed a nervous tic because of getting peed on by a relative a real talent for whittling, and we think he will probably end up hurting somebody some day winning some contests. I continue to work part time in Barty's Bait Shop & Diner pet rescue, and find fulfillment in just being able to still fit in my shoes give back to the community which has ostracized us ever since Moe abducted that letter carrier given us so much. 

Grandma is still ornery as the bull that gored her in '74 full of life and keeping busy blasting crows off the lawn with a BB rifle she traded a guy some pot for making brownies. We all have ringworm (long story) our health and we wish you would stop telling the Feds about our Ponzi schemes as much joy as the season can provide. Next time you are in California, don't you dare show your face and still hope to live hesitate to stop by and set a spell. 

Happy in spite of your restraining order Holidays,

Name redacted pending bail

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Walkaway Non-sequitur

I was at the supermarket today, crouching down, looking at the "honey butter" crescent rolls. Four days before Thanksgiving, the regular rolls were blown out. There were plenty of "Hawaiian" ones, and "big and buttery" ones, and "big and flaky" ones and "butter flake" ones. I suspect those are all the same dough in different canisters, but I am suspicious by nature when it comes to things that rise. 

A lady crouched down next to me. "If you're looking for more of the regular," she said, "they're over there. What are those?"

"The honey butter," I said. 

She stood and walked away, saying jovially, "Oh no, I can't put those on my rattlesnake bites."

Now, I realize I should have run after her and asked her to elaborate, but part of me was afraid. I figured she was either a Pentecostal snake-handler or, worse, just a snake-handler. She appeared normal, but you never know with grocery shoppers. Especially outside the organic department. 

She said it so casually, as if one always throws out snakebite remedies to total strangers who aren't snakebit. Honey butter crescent dough for a rattler? Are you trying to get me killed? 

I learned what a poultice was by reading "Clan of the Cave Bear." A poultice was apparently great for applying to an open wound 30,000 years ago. Here is a typical exchange on the topic, paraphrased from my memory of reading it in the 1980s:

Ayla: (using crude sign language) Let me treat wound, Creb. 

Creb: What wound? I fine.

Ayla: Your arm, flayed by giant cat. I fix.

Creb: That not wound. That ketchup.

Ayla: Ketchup not invent yet. That blood.

Creb: I invent ketchup two moons past. 

Ayla: I put poultice on ketchup then.

Creb: Mmmm. That good. That Pillsbury crescent dough? Good on ketchup.

Ayla: Yes. Honey butter.

Creb (recoiling) Honey butter?! You try to kill Creb?!

I gave the lady nothing. No nod. No "Ahhhh." No affirmation that her knowledge of yeast-based snakebite remedies was at all unusual, or appreciated. I played it off as completely ordinary, so now I picture her at home with her husband:

Lady: I did the snakebite schtick at Vons and the guy didn't even look at me weird. 

Man: No dirty look? No disgust? He didn't even back away slowly?

Lady: Nothing. He just read the calorie info on the honey butter rolls, cool as you please.

Man: Next time, finish with a crazed cackle. 

Lady: Yes! A cackle. That's what it needed. 

Man: And a leer. Then you're golden.

Lady: People are getting harder to freak. I blame the president.

Man: Did you get the rolls?

Lady: Ohhhh. I totally forgot.

I will never know if she was crazy or just a fan of the walkaway non sequitur. If it's the latter, she has my admiration. A lot can go wrong there. You may get followed. Yelled at. Insulted. The timing has to be just right; the delivery, the nonchalant turn, the exit. Yes, I admire it. 

I found the regular rolls around the corner, just where she had pointed. She may have been nuts, but she saved me a trip to another store, another gallon of gas, saved the environment a little bit, saved me from having to write about my dumb dog again. And that's not nothing. 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Charles, the legend

As I wrote previously, we inherited a little dog from my wife's aunt when she passed away in June. Charles is, best we can tell, a chihuahua/deer mix. His alertness suggests deer, but I admit that most deer, even fawns, are taller than 10 inches at the shoulder. He has a very deerlike quality, though, in coloring and in skittishness. I wonder if deer also love bananas. 

Four months ago Charles would not abide anyone but my wife. My son and I were automatically suspect. I gradually won him over, so that now he does this coy sidling-up, you-can-pet-me-now-dude move. He comes close, then turns his back to me and looks over his shoulder like Clara Bow in a silent film. I'm ready for your adoration, Mr. DeMille.

He still nips at my son, barks at him whenever he comes in sight. Even the sound of my son's bedroom door opening evokes a volley of vitriol, until he sees it is me coming through. He seems to want to have a dog in the house lower in status than himself, so he has made Ben that dog. Charles himself thinks nothing of taking over our other dog Skipper's bed, the bed he has enjoyed for a decade. Skipper will approach as if to say hey, my bed. Charles will snarl as if to say "fake news." 

Confidence is everything.

In dog years, Charles is probably 80, and he has a cough now, a deafening hack, as if a cat with a hairball has somehow gotten ahold of a megaphone. It seems to be triggered by stress, or a change in the dynamics of a room, good or bad. My wife (Mama) comes home, and it's time for several minutes of is-Charles-dying? Ben heads to the kitchen for ice cream, and it's time for a tiny, furry command performance of "Camille." A vet said he has an enlarged heart, but Charles is fine until somebody gets up from a chair, or the mailman comes. I'm calling BS. 

I think he has Napoleon Complex. We will leave for a walk, go half a block and then Charles sets his heels. The stiff defiance of his front legs brings to mind Max, the dog in the Grinch story, balking at the top of a sheer snowy cliff. He has no idea I could effortlessly juggle him. To Charles, he is masculinity itself; dominant, eternal, unquestionable. It is hilarious. 

I only wish he could be momentarily human, with a human's self-awareness, so we could laugh together over a beer at his comically extreme obsession with squirrels. No sports fan alive has had his level of passion. But my wish cannot be. As I write this, he is unselfconsciously chewing on his own foot. Now he has shaken out his ears, with a soft flapping sound, so that they are, I guess, at their full length and functionality. 

There are critters to hear. And mailmen. And kids on skateboards. Vigilance is key. If you ever doubt this, just ask Bambi's mom. 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Liverwort is the new Mary Jane

The journal Science Advances reported this week that an extract from the plant known as liverwort, in a study with mice, produced many of the same effects as the THC in marijuana. Equally important are the implications on these scientists' social lives, as they can now answer the question at parties, "So what do you do?" with "I get mice high." 

And then the followup, "So Jonas Salk can eat my shorts."

According to an article in the L.A. Times, an hour after partaking of the liverwort, some mice apparently "entered a trancelike state" and "lost some of their ability to move," an effect I have often experienced myself while watching a Keanu Reeves movie. 

You are in great luck today, because I have one of the mice from the study with me.

GW: Welcome, Mr. Mouse. Is that what I should call you?

Larry: Larry is fine.

GW: Larry the mouse.

Larry: No, George the human, just Larry.

GW: Got it. Larry, did they tell you ahead of time they would be giving you liverwort? 

Larry: No, but they smiled at each other a lot. 

GW: How did they administer the liverwort?

Larry: They soaked my favorite gummy bears in it.

GW: Wow.

Larry: I'm being sarcastic!. They injected it in my ass. It's called "animal testing," remember?

GW: Did it hurt?

Larry: No more than that last Dodgers game.

GW: Mice follow baseball?

Larry: Only the postseason, like anyone sane.

GW: So how quickly did you feel the liverwort effects?

Larry: Pretty quick. At first I couldn't feel my tail. Then I started to love my tail, like it was some kind of magical paint brush made out of joy. And then I remember thinking that my water dispenser looked like a giant robot anteater, and I don't even know what an anteater is. 

GW: Had they ever given you anything like this before?

Larry: No way. Usually they are putting eye shadow on me or shaving me bald and posing me for bondage pictures. 

GW: Seriously.

Larry: Seriously! They sell them anonymously to those "stop cruelty" organizations.

GW: That's dark.

Larry: Everything is a racket. Every. Thing.

GW: So tell me more about this liverwort.

Larry: They made the cage floor hot to see if you'd jump, like normal, but I was loving it. I tend to run cold. 

GW: So you were feeling no pain.

Larry: Exactly. Then this guy put my legs up on this bar, which I guess is another test of discomfort reaction times, but I was like whatever, dude. 

GW: You were chill.

Larry: I was like stick my whatever wherever, dude. 

GW: Have there been any lasting effects?

Larry: Not unless you call a non-stop craving for Flamin' Hot Crunchy Cheetos an effect. 

GW: So what's next for Larry?

Larry: I overheard one of the white-coaters saying I was due to be retired, so that's good. I've heard nice things about the Bahamas. Is that where anteaters are?

GW: No, but there are some nice beaches. Retired, huh? They said that?

Larry: Yes. It's happened before. Some of my friends have retired. The nice lady carries them out in a special cage and I heard her say once, "It's time to go on a little trip." Why are you looking at me like that?


Larry: Anyway, wherever I end up I hope there's liverwort. 

GW: Is there anything else you would like to tell the people?

Larry: Elephants are not afraid of us! That's a myth. Oh, and Bigfoot is real, man. But that's a story for another day.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Thank you-thank you

I know this is supposed to be a humor column, but indulge me. It is a me column, really, and sometimes me has a bad week.

My mother-in-law Sindy died Monday night, holding hands in bed with her daughter, my wife, asleep at her side. She was 77. The hospice nurse woke Jen up to tell her that her mother had left the building, the city of San Diego, the planet. 

She did not leave me, though. When Sindy's other daughter Robin closes her eyes, Sindy is there. When my kids hear granny's name, she has not left. She is still offering up fudge-sicles, lollypops, breakfast crepes, any fantastic snack she found at Costco. Right about now she is saying to God, "Oh my God, you gotta TRY these..." And laughing at herself for what she said, and to whom. 

She loved her sweets. "I'm a kid," she would often say. "I'm just a kid." 

Sindy sounds like the name of a cheerleader, but her name was really Sinclair, and how cool is that? It is a family name, a surname, rekindled out of respect, no doubt. You don't call a girl "Sinky," though, and "Sin" was certainly off the table, so "Sindy" it was. There is no record of her ever leading a cheer. 

Sindy was an identical twin. Her sister Sue was born shortly after her, and Sindy, of course, never let her forget it. The pecking order starts in the birth canal, and does not end until the pecker and the peckee have pecked their last. 

They were a lot alike. They were rescuers; of animals and of people. They liked bright colors, tie-dye, rainbows. To open their closets was to feel like you were witness to the costuming wardrobe for a Skittles commercial. 

There are pictures of them as girls, pre-tie dye, dressed alike in church clothes. What parent in the 1940s could have resisted dressing twins alike? 

One wonders what their little sister, Barbara, who came along a few years later, first made of the Sindy and Sue Show. Those twins had some escapades, famous now in family lore, like the time they stole bunnies from a neighbor's garage, and had to return them and apologize. I always loved Sindy's face during the story, guilty, but also as entertained as if the heist had been perpetrated by her best friend, which, I guess, it had. 

Sue died in June, after a horrendous bout with cancer. They say twins have a special bond, and losing Sue seemed to take the fight out of Sindy. Sindy had been battling lung cancer herself for a couple of years, holding her tumors at bay with chemicals. 

"I smoked for 40 years. What did I expect?" she would say. 

She decided to stop taking her unpleasant drug therapy not long after Sue died. 

"We came into this world together and maybe that's how we should go out," Sindy said. 

My wife took an extended leave from work and spent the last two months caring for her full time, with help from hospice care and Barbara. 

Sindy was not perfect. She had the flaws a human has, and beat herself up about them sometimes, more than she should have. But one thing the long goodbye allowed was hearing from so many of her friends of her acts of kindness over the years. She feared Hell, having been raised Catholic, but was able to see from her friends in the end, I think, that the check-marks in her lifetime "plus" column far outnumbered the "minuses." 

She could be a bit obsessive. She had an entire closet of movies, DVDs, perhaps a thousand titles. She filled her house with sea-themed objects. Every wall and most flat surfaces, has seahorses, coral, shells, mermaids, dolphins. For years she patiently hand-painted colorful tropical fish and gave them away. Her Christmas tree always looked like it belonged to Poseidon. 

In the last year she began collecting glass and metal singing bowls, which give off an otherworldly tone as you run a wooden mallet around the rim. She spent many hours inside that hum. They brought her some measure of peace. 

Sindy always loved my homemade gingerbread men, so the last time I visited I brought her a batch, knowing she would not make it to Christmas this year. A couple of weeks later I was on the phone with my wife, and she told me Sindy had just eaten the last cookie. How she had made them last so long I do not know. 

"Thank you for the cookies," I heard Sindy yell off in the distance. "Thank you-thank you."

The double thank you was a Sindy trademark. Jimmy Durante had "A cha cha cha." Jack Nicholson had "You can't handle the truth." When I think of Sindy years from now, I have no doubt it is this catchphrase which will come to me first.

A ton of friends and family visited and called those last two months, so she got what a lot of people don't, which is to say goodbye and know it is goodbye. A lot of Yahtzee was played, a lot of laughs were had, good food enjoyed. Jen cooked for her a lot, and once she even said, "This is so good. You have to give me the recipe before you go," before remembering that Jen would not be the one doing the going this time.

She lasted longer than I expected. Each week I would think well, this is the week, and then four weeks later, well, this must be it, but no, and this went on for so long that when Jen finally called to say she had died, the first words out of my mouth were, "What happened?"

No, this is not a humor column, but as it celebrates one 77 year dance, celebrates a girl, a twinny, a mischief-maker, a mom, a wife, a cat lover, a granny, a dolphin/mermaid/seahorse tchotchke collector, there is humor enough. 

"Thank you-thank you" Sindy. You were just a kid.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Rebranding for better or worse

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir recently decided to de-Mormon its name. Since being openly mocked on Broadway, the word "Mormon" seems to have become, according to some church leaders, a liability. Rebranding is the new black, apparently or, now that black itself has been rebranded, the new mauve. KFC famously removed the "fried" from its name. The Anaheim Angels tacked on "Los Angeles" to its brand, I guess to confuse any future cruise missiles.

Now the Mormon Tabernacle Choir will be called "Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square" (TCATS!)   The choir had been known colloquially as "Mo Tab," which is the best nickname for a choir ever, and is also coincidentally what my mom used to yell at the waitress in the '70's when her soft drink ran low. 

TCATS is just as good as Mo Tab, especially since I coined it. Please spread it around. 

Man in bar: "So what are you doing tonight?"

Other man: "Heading to the temple to hear the TCATS!"

Bartender: "I'm going to have to cut you off, sir."

Here are some other things I would like to re-brand:

Wells Fargo. I would like to call it Splork. Splork is the flopping sound your soul makes when you decide to withdraw your funds from an institution because of its massive ethical breaches but then are too lazy to. I picture a new logo with maybe a guy holding his hands out, palms up, and just sort of hunching his shoulders. 

Starbucks. I know what you are thinking. The last company on Earth to need rebranding is Starbucks, but that just means now is the perfect time. Nobody expects it. Imagine if they just, across the globe, suddenly called themselves Duncan. The Dunkin folks would crater. The coffee wars would be over. The new logo could be a guy who, like all Duncans, looks vaguely Canadian.

Coke. Since poké bowls are a hot culinary trend, I think Coke could attract a new demographic by rebranding itself Coké ("Co-kay.") Updating the signage and products would only require a small accent mark, which, for already-existing product, could be hand-inked by out of work Environmental Protection Agency staffers. 

Yahoo. When I was growing up, we said this word only when ecstatic. Checking email does not evoke the same joy, so right off the bat the name elicits falsely high expectations. I suggest re-branding Yahoo as "Yay." Yay, I have email, but also yay, ironically, like "Great, more political spam from my nutjob aunt." And at least we could get rid of that terrifying yahoo-yodeling. Yay!

Chipotlé. Most people mistakenly pronounce it "Chi-poltay" anyway. (I wonder if they are the same ones who can't say "nuclear.") No judgment, but why not just re-brand it Chipoltay! New slogan: "No matter how you pronounce it, it's delicious and pretty much Mexican food."

Mercedes. That is a lot of syllables. How about cutting it down to just the first one, "Me." That is, after all, the message. Who's got money to burn? Me! Who's unafraid to flaunt symbols of superiority? Me! Who could have fed an entire village in Africa for a year but instead went with the Iridium Silver model? Me! Who is starting to sound bitter that he can't afford one? (Me.)

A brand is powerful, and rebranding is sometimes iffy. I wish the TCATS the best, and I hope that their deMormonification brings them everything they desire. And if not, they can always resell their brand to a roller derby team. 

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Are you one of the good ones?

Part of being a good citizen is being active in the political life of your country. Take this short quiz to ascertain if you are one of the good ones. 

1. When you received that noisy, jarring text message last week entitled "Presidential Alert," your first thought was:
a) He just broke 80 on the course at Mar-a-Lago
b) Incoming!
c) Nice hack, Pelosi
d) My restraining order totally works

2. The Senate is:
a) a fine and dignified institution
b) the devil's jockstrap
c) sorely lacking a Starbucks
d) where the nuts come from

3. The three branches of government are:
a) hollow, decaying and corrupt
b) Manny, Moe and Jack
c) two too many for a country this fair-minded
c) executive, business and first class

4. Complete the sentence: "If I were a Senator..."
a) but, then again, no
b) I would work "cloture" in to all of my pick-up lines
c) I'd make sure kindergartens teach the five R's—readin', writin', 'rithmetic and rifle range
d) I would have "regular order" redefined to include anchovies and extra cheese

5. Genuine patriotism can be:
a) frustratingly widely interpreted in a free society
b) used for cover while reloading
c) conveniently found in the flag aisle
d) spotted sometimes, if you blink away the tears

6. All this drama over the Supreme Court nominee:
a) was manufactured by the left/right for political advantage in the midterms
b) seemed like a weird, all-male lost episode of "The Golden Girls"
c) was amazing for alcohol sales
d) guarantees years of sequels

7. The term "libtard" is:
a) straight-up funny and a clever dig
b) something I can't un-see from a friend's Facebook comment
c) without an equally dismissive term for conservatives, because "con-tard" just sounds like an appetizer, and "con-goloid" is politically incorrect
d) a tight-fitting dance garment which lacks a right side

8. Things are bound to get better politically, because we are:
a) at a tipping point
b). otherwise needing an "asteroid reset" impact right about now
c) finally turning off our TVs and reading again
d) Bwahahahahahahahaha

9. If I could amend the Constitution, I would add:
a) a provision saying every time a president tweets, he has to drink
b) Beyoncé on the $20
c) psychological testing for mayors and above
d) giant sums to find a cure for brain freeze

10. You know you are a true American if:
a) you have a flag not only on your house and your truck and your gun rack but on your dog's gun rack
b) they are calling you names
c) you can quote more than one line from "Caddyshack"
d) Norman Rockwell paintings bring a tear to your eye, as does the confounding proliferation of soccer

a) You are a true American
b) You bleed red, white and blue, but still mostly red
c) You think de Tocqueville was a luxury car from the '70's
d) You are thinking of running for something