Sunday, May 19, 2019

Charles is dead. Long live the deer-dog.

Years ago I went to a writers conference at which the humor columnist for USA Today, Craig Wilson, spoke. Craig said that he got the most reader mail, by far, after he wrote about his beloved dog dying. Knowing we would all love a ton of reader mail ourselves, he said something I have never forgotten: 

"A dead dog is GOLD." 

It was dark, so dark, and so self-aware, and we all laughed and felt guilty, and then laughed some more. It was a moment of unselfconscious truth-telling. Yes, our laughter said, bring on that sweet, sweet reader deluge, whatever the cost.

Three months later our family got a dog. 

Our daughter had been begging us for a dog for a long time, but we made her wait until she was 10 years old. Ten, we apparently thought, was the age at which a child is responsible enough to properly watch her parents do all the work a dog requires. 

Skipper was a delight from the start, a rat terrier, white with big brown spots and a loving personality. Is a delight. Skipper is fine. He's, like, 14 years old. It's Charles the Chihuahua who took the H train to Poochville this week. 

Charles we only had a year. We inherited him last summer when my wife's Aunt Sue passed away; our adoption a final weight off her mind. I've written about him here before, he of the single canine tooth and the wheezing/hairball-hacking cough. He of the fainting spells right in the street or right off the side of the couch. He was probably 16, with a heart which thought pumping was only a part-time job. Many's the day in the last year that my wife went off to work expecting to find him expired on her return. 

But there he would be, yipping excitedly, then keeling over on the carpet because lying still on the couch for hours before a sudden, full-mom-welcoming-happy-dance was not a good call at his age. He would lie on his side on the carpet for about a minute, equalizing his blood pressure, before getting up again. He keeled like that about once a month. Every time we thought he was dead. 


Sunday, though, I was grocery shopping and my wife was out at an art exhibit, when I got a text from my son. He tried to put it gently. "I'm pretty sure Charles might be dead." 

The use of "pretty sure" nicely softening the blow, leaving open at least a chance, and the "might" also keeping possibilities in play. My son should work for the government. 

I called him from the produce aisle. "Try pinching him," I said. "He'll respond if he's still alive." 

"O.K.," he said, and I could tell that the last thing he wanted to do was pinch a dead dog. I still don't know if he pinched him or not. He reported with fair certainty that Charles was not getting back up this time.

I got home 15 minutes later and picked up Charles first thing. He always freaked at being picked up, went completely rigid, as if he was sure I was about to juggle him. This time, limp as a noodle. I shook him, because that has worked for my wife's cousin's dog, has brought him magically back to life several times. 

Nothing. I checked his neck for a pulse. I guess that's where you check. Nothing.

His tongue was lolling out the side of his mouth, no teeth to keep it in. I fitted it back inside; it was one of those weird unconscious impulses, like Jackie crawling onto the back of the limo for that piece of JFK's head. I wanted the little velvety-furred, deerlike pup to have his dignity. 

I put him in his doggie bed, the one he rarely tolerated. Waited for my wife, his "Mom," to get home. She was his queen, pawing at her hand whenever her petting paused. Growling if Skipper even considered jumping in her lap when Charles already was. 

Knowing an ancient pet will die soon does not make it any easier, especially if that pet was a fellow witness to your aunt's and mother's deaths in the last year, a little bony, seven-pound fellow traveler. He was a link to them both, and for my wife, letting him go is hard. 

Charles's ashes will mingle with Aunt Sue's soon. Perhaps in Valhalla she is already feeding him bananas, his favorite. 

Sorry, Craig. A dead dog is not gold. But our memories of him will be, as soon as enough time has passed that we forget how he peed on every possible surface within reach. 

. . .

My three previous columns about the dear little deer dog are here:

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Wednesday Wa Pic - Smartly?

If I knew how to do it reliably, I could make a fortune on stage.

Thanks to daughter Emily for the pic. lol.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

How "Game of Thrones" will end

Many of my readers watch "Game of Thrones," and many don't, because they hate America. It's fine. It's a free country. You can totally boycott popular culture and look good doing it, because the founders only allowed attractive people in. 

For those of you who DID watch all seven seasons and are only awaiting the final episodes of number eight, this is for you. You have proven you will put up with a LOT of nonsense. Good thing, because I am backing up a truckload of it. I'm going to lay out, based on seven years of subtle clues, how this whole wolf-and-zombie show will end:

Jon Snow, recently un-bastarded and renamed Aegon Targaryen, will hold his hot Aunt Dany in his arms as she dies, having valiantly taken a throwing-star meant for him. She will whisper, and he will lean closer, and we will not hear her, but we will see her lips move, clearly saying to Aegon, "Earn this. Earn it." But having been born several thousand years before "Saving Private Ryan," he will not get the reference. He will rise with a look of confused resolve on his face, just as he has in every single shot of every season.

Thor and Wonder Woman will appear out of the mist, along with Spider-man and Bitchslap, a new character Marvel is hoping to spin off. They will immediately be slain by those giant dragon-killer harpoons. We will hear the ghostly, schadenfreude-tinged laughter of Ned Stark in the distance. Black Panther and Captain America will arrive and begin to fight Tony Soprano and Big Pussy, as clearly a rift in time/space has opened. Paulie and Silvio, inexplicably wearing matching gymnast outfits, will join the fray. At this point, things will begin to get weird. 

Cersei will lock herself in a tower with the Mountain as insurance. If you never watched the show, trust me, that last sentence makes sense. Arya will show her allies secret sewer tunnels into Kings Landing, sewer tunnels she accidentally found in Season Two while deciding whether or not to fire her agent. Jaime Lannister will arrive at the castle and finally, after making us wait for eight seasons, rearrange the freaking letters in his first name so that they're right. 

Fighting inside the ramparts will ensue, with things looking grim for the northmen until Archie Bunker, Hoss Cartwright and Little Joe arrive to show Cersei's paid armies how to "boost the ratings, old school." At this point, the castle will run out of ravens to send, and will resort to renting owls from Hogwarts. This cross-pollination of studios will render everything very hard to see on screen, unless you bought the glasses from either the Warner Bros. or the HBO store online.

The Hound will show up to kill his sadistic brother, only to lose the stomach for it entirely when he spies Hoss making out with Arya, who is evidently going through a seriously experimental phase. An epic level of bloodletting will occur when Sam, Norm and most of the gang from "Cheers" arrives to challenge Gary's Olde Town Tavern to a game of darts, realizing, too late, the whole time rift thing. 

Jamie (see, it's so much nicer) and Tyrion will somehow fight or bribe their way into the chamber outside Cersei's room at the exact same moment. They will argue so loudly over who gets to kill her that she will escape out a window on the Mountain's back, riding him down rooftops and downspouts like something from a very naughty nursery rhyme. They will open a Bed & Breakfast in Dorn. 

With nobody to kill, Tyrion and Jamie and Aegon will rule the Seven Kingdoms together, alternating on the Iron Throne like city councils do. The series will end with a shot from Winterfell, as Bran, in his wheelchair, his face frosted with falling snow, sees a vision of Westeros thousands of years earlier, the very first Long Night, White Walkers wreaking havoc, and above it all, hovering, hard to make out, three letters...H...B...O. Through the blizzard he will see studio executives standing in front of a firehose of money. All will finally become clear. 

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Audio sample from The Wa Blog

Once a month, my Patreon supporters receive an exclusive humor column just for them. Some supporters, at the $10+ level, also get my audio recording of the column. Today I am posting a sample of a recording from a few months back just to give you an idea of the fun you're missing. If you are so inclined, please consider supporting even at the $1 a month level. It's moral support more than financial, I admit, but these days who doesn't need more of that? 

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Singing and (wheeze) dancing over 50

I wrote recently about rehearsing a play, something I recommend for any man over 50 who feels his opportunities to wear makeup have waned since The Cure stopped touring. Applying full base, rouge and powder feels funny after a year off the stage. In high school and college doing shows constantly I got used to it. Now it feels like I'm a geisha but in a double-breasted suit.

The show went very well. I did not have a panic attack. I did not forget lines or trip over furniture, although I did find one chair briefly uncooperative. Not that anybody noticed. "Auntie Mame" is a fairly light, fluffy show, unlike the one I did last year, "Gatsby," which ends as bloodily as "Hamlet." My characters in that, which included a waiter and a cop, made it through unscathed, and a society dude I played had a beautiful suit. In middle age, a great suit, even one you only get to wear for five nights, is a pleasure.

Before Auntie was even done, I began rehearsing the musical "Big Fish," as a member of the ensemble. Ensemble is French for "take an Ibuprofin before trying to dance, you coot." It occurred to me only after saying yes that I had not sung and danced on stage in 40 years. The singing is O.K., I have a good ear and no solos, but dancing?

Friends, if I could show you a video of Day One, you would laugh so hard you would need to see a specialist for the gut you busted. The choreographer, after teaching us the roughly one-minute routine, a combo of fast knee-slapping, chest-thumping, heel-whacking and soft shoe, gently guided me to the back row of the ensemble, where I have remained. She is a humanitarian. 

It is disheartening to be bad at something. People my age do not generally go looking for new tasks, new challenges, new ways to fail. It's a shame. Getting better at something is a real pleasure. Notice I did not say getting good at something. See previous: back row. But I have mastered that dance, the one whose fast moves and transitions made me feel initially like offstage might have been more merciful than back row.

I can dance it now, practically without thinking. Add in the singing, though, and yeah. Not pretty. I just watched those Korean boy band heartthrobs BTS on TV going through their paces, and my first thought was "How can they breathe?" It was like serious calisthenics, too, fast stuff, and not one of them was wheezing. That was me, I thought to myself, back in 1978. 

Thankfully, most of this show if I'm singing I only just have to sway slightly, raise an arm, do a simple kick-ball-change, stuff I can sing through. There is just that one wacky dance. My head mic will be live to catch the singing, but I'd prefer it not catch the gasping. I need to review the song and find the moments when I can breathe. You take breathing for granted until you are slapping your thighs at high speed and doing elbows-high spins. Trust me on this.

There is no "I" in ensemble. But there is me in the back row. Look closely. I'm the one smiling and hiding behind my taller castmates to mask my panting. 

. . .

Here is a sample of another theater's rehearsal of the fast dance. Ours is different, each choreographer puts her own spin on it, but it has some similar moves. That first day I just could not remember what part came when. It took me repeated viewings of the recording of our own rehearsal to finally get all of it down.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Libraries have gone to the dogs

I like dogs, but not in my salad. More and more you see dogs in restaurants these days and nobody says anything. In libraries. In coffee shops. It is as if the hippie era has come back, and traditional societal boundaries are being blatantly challenged, but only at shin height. 

In the library where I work, dog-bringers fall into two categories. They either try to pass their dog off as a service animal or they hide the dog somewhere. One lady almost got away with a covered baby stroller full of dogs, but made the fatal mistake of trying to check out books. Her baby's yapping sounded suspiciously canine. 

Another lady tried to hide a chihuahua in her cleavage. Yes, you read that right. The cleavage was ample, and the dog tiny, but still. Dogs, like people, are rarely quiet in a library. When discovered, she didn't even seem that embarrassed, as if bra dogs are just another 21st Century advance society can finally relish.

Often people will bring a dog into the library on a leash, with no trace of a service harness or vest. They use the same technique which we are taught will deter muggers—walking with confidence. Enter as if your dog is the head of the library board of trustees, come to oversee his dominion. 

Because of the Americans With Disabilities Act, service animals are allowed a lot of latitude. For example, legally I am only allowed to ask a lady with a dog in her bra two questions:

  1. Is this a service animal which is necessary because of a disability?
  2. What service was this animal specifically trained to help you with? 

I do not want Mrs. Bra Pup to answer that second one.

If the answer to #1 is yes, whether true or not, there is apparently no wrong answer for #2. I am not allowed to ask about the person's disability. So here are some possible answers to #2 which do not result in getting ejected from the library:

"Possum detection."

"His nose always points toward nonfiction."

"I can't pronounce it, but it is vital."

"She can carry two Nicholas Sparks or one Stephen King in her mouth without damaging them."

The law does not give a checklist of acceptable answers, so basically all answers are valid if you can deliver them with a straight face. I am not allowed to say "Ma'am, no disrespect, but that's not a service animal. That's a pet. An evidently incontinent one."

You can be fined $1000 if convicted of trying to pass off a pet as a service animal. You can spend six months in jail. 

"What are you in for?"

"Capital murder. You?"

"Trying to pass Fluffy off as one of my breasts."

I can't imagine a case ever being brought. Libraries and restaurants and coffee shops want to be welcoming, not alienating, to their customers. People know this, so a person who brings an animal in is basically daring you.

I generally ignore them. The ice caps are melting. Dogs in libraries are not really a big problem in comparison, more of a symbolic one. Another standard of society, lowered. 

People my age and older sometimes complain about the noise in libraries these days, and people snacking and drinking. One lady was loudly talking to another on the main floor the other day, and an old guy sitting at a table just held out his arm, silently pointing her out to me. 

I predict in 20 years the big problem will not be dogs, but people bringing in their robots. How are you supposed to shush something that can bore holes in you with its laser eyes? Thankfully, I will be retired. 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Another opening, another show

I have acted in plays since I was 15, when I was too shy to interact with most people, or at least girls. Scripted words were a godsend. Sometimes it even said, right in the script, I had to kiss them. So I kissed them. I mean, it said so right there. "They kiss," was one memorable stage direction. My first kiss, in fact, was not romantic but in service to a musical. I paused. I looked out at the director for confirmation. "Kiss her," he said. So I did. 

I'm rehearsing a play now. Although I do not live in my hometown, the play's there and our rehearsals too. This has caused past and present to sort of shimmer for me, blend together, fade in and out of each other.

We rehearse in a hall where, 41 years ago, I slow-danced in the dark with my junior year sweetheart at the Girls League Formal. It was a girl-ask-guy dance they apparently don't even have any more. 

I practice our scenes now mere feet away from where Michelle and I swayed all those years ago in the humid, teen-scented dark...can it be?...almost 15,000 days ago. I remember the spot, because I kissed her while we danced, something I had never done before in public, a bold move, even in the dark. 

Sometimes at rehearsal my eye lingers there under the bright fluorescent lights. In daylight, there is no magic to the place. The ancient window curtains have collected the dust of decades and the wooden stage on the far end has some spongy boards. But, like any place out of memory, it retains a certain romance.

I think she broke up with me later that night. I can't remember. If not, it was pretty soon after. I couldn't tell you why. She probably still could. 

Near a '60's looking sculpture in the foyer I eye a wall where I remember tossing my cream-colored tuxedo jacket and salmon bow tie onto a pile of the same. A hundred teens dancing in one room can generate a lot of heat. I did the rest of my dancing in my ruffle-fronted shirt, sleeves rolled up. Was there a disco ball or does memory play tricks? 

Today in the spot of the tux pile is a clothes rack hung with all our show costumes. My tux is black this time, the tie, grey.

Every time I pull into the parking lot outside I remember the same lot, 40 years ago. I disembarked from a public school bus one final time, the bleary morning after Grad Night. Our parents drove us to the party alone, but a bus brought all us graduates home together. 

Grad Night sucked. It was not at Disneyland, as is customary now, but in a ballroom at the Disneyland Hotel across the street. I guess they figured if it had the name Disneyland in it, we would be placated. It was lame. 

I had to wear a suit and tie. There was a hypnotist at about 2 a.m. who made my classmates cluck like chickens or become stiff as a board. There was dancing. I don't remember getting on the bus, but I remember getting off in this very parking lot, the sun too bright after an all-nighter. Parents waiting in their cars to take us home, like kindergartners. 

I pull up to rehearsal and the bus shimmers in the morning sun 40 years ago. 

This is roughly show #30 or so for me, lifetime. There have been many other tuxes, and suits, prayer shawls, jockey silks, tights. I am not as shy as that teen, but I still appreciate someone providing me the words. So often the right ones are nowhere to be found. 

Sunday, March 10, 2019

To some, we are dead ringers

I work at a public library desk and I have a coworker who patrons constantly think is me. He looks nothing like me, but he IS the other middle-aged balding, graying white guy. 

So when we have a shift change at the top of the hour, often a patron he helped earlier will come back by the desk and thank me. I usually just smile and nod. "You're welcome." Often a patron will walk in the front doors and say "Remember me from last week? You were right. I went home and tried rebooting and it worked!" I have never seen them before. 

It's O.K. We all look alike. 

We have a young Latina who also works the desk, and a middle aged lady. They don't get mistaken for each other by the public, understandably. But for Gaetano and me, it happens constantly, almost daily. 

His name is Gaetano, so even our names look similar at a glance on our nametags. He is Italian-American. One time a woman walked up to me, clearly having had a previous conversation with him, and she opened with "So are you FLUENT in Italian or just speak a little?" I said I was George and the only Italian I know is fuhgeddaboutit. 

People are generally embarrassed to get us wrong. If I'm being honest, it's kind of entertaining.

Recently when I relieved Gaetano from desk duty, within five minutes of each other, an old guy thanked me for giving him extra computer time and a woman happily held up a book and said "I found it. The title was just a little different than I thought." 

I never saw them before.

It happens to him after I leave the desk just as often. Even our fellow staff, if they have just come on shift and only see one of us out of the corner of their eye, will call us by the other's name. They are apologetic, always, since they know it's a "thing." They even have a nickname for us. 

They call us "Georgetano." 

Turns out we both went to the same high school, although a dozen years apart. We're both dads. We both deliver a wry punch line quietly, with a straight face. We often wear the same library logo polo shirts. How can we blame the public? Some people couldn't tell Redford and Newman apart.

That is why it occurred to me that I could totally commit the perfect crime, as long as it occurred in the library. A whole string of witnesses would swear they saw Gaetano do it. I have to figure out the details still. We have worked together for 14 years, all of them leading up to this moment. The doppelgänger denouement! It is destiny. 

Or, to borrow a library phrase, it is way overdue.

Except I just wrote about it. Crap. Or did Gaetano just write about it? Ha! That would really show premeditation on his part. Oh, he is totally going down. 

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Patreon supporter week - The History of Sleep

My column this week goes out exclusively to my Patreon supporters. For a buck a month you can access the full column, "The History of Sleep," the first paragraph of which goes like this:

"We spend a third of our lives asleep, and that does not even count the time during the Masters Tournament. How we sleep has undergone drastic changes over the millennia. Evolution suggests that first, like The Godfather's Luca Brasi, we slept with the fishes. Then as we developed limbs, we probably slept under a bush, because predators would never think of looking there. Then in trees. It wasn't until some brainiac discovered that caves keep rain off that our sleep customs advanced..."

From there it goes into the history of early mattresses, which I will just say involved small animals.

Do you have a buck this month? And next? Then join the fun here.


Monday, February 18, 2019

Subject line: You have been hacked!

I recently received a threatening extortion email; yet more proof that what the email scammers around the world really need more than money is English language instruction. Dear extortionists, here are some tips, using your own email as an example:

Hi There,

[This is an inexplicably folksy start. I would have gone with "Achtung" or maybe at least "Dear Sir or Madam."]

As you can see from the subject of this mail we have hacked your system. To demonstrate you we have COMPLETE access we have emailed you this e-mail from YOUR very own acccount. Look into the "From" mail address.

[Thank you. I would have never thought to look in the "From" mail address.]

We have downloaded all your social media friends, your files and your data to our server. We have COMPLETE access to your system for a few months now, 

["We have HAD complete access." This is a common mistake.]

this is because you check out mature internet sites 

[Mature! This is a great word choice. You figured out that if you use the word "porn," your email will go straight into my Junk folder. I have to give this one to you.]

and one of these websites was corrupted with a virus that mounted itself on your system, opening a backdoor to our server. 

[Amazingly, "Backdoor To Our Server" was one of the titles I was watching when you caught me. What are the odds?]

You can alter your password but it isn't going to help, our backdoor will always allow us FULL access. Don't stress, we will inform you what to do.

[Whew. Thank you. Not stressing. Inform me.]

Once in a while we activated your video camera and recorded some very exposing clips of you while you "satisfied" yourself (you know what we mean) enjoying mature content. We can forward those exposing videos to all your contacts (we posses them on our server) and basically destroy your social life and the relationship with your nearest and dearest. 

["Nearest and dearest." You have been reading Amish romance, haven't you?]

Consider the disgrace! I don't believe you want us to do that so we will give you a way out, a way that you can go on to live your life like this never took place.

[This never took place.]

When you opened this e-mail a disguised . pixel initiated a timer on our server, from now on you have six hrs (yes, only six so you better start without delay after browsing the instructions) to do the following below:

["Six hours" is good. First rule of sales, right? Create urgency. But a "disguised pixel"? You are sending me an email extorting money. Why pretend to disguise a pixel? It sounds like an idea from, like, the fifth guy in your hierarchy who you decided to humor because it's not as bad as his usual bad ideas, so why not throw him a bone?]

Below you will find our bitcoin address (copy/paste it with no spaces, it is case sensitive). We want you to transfer $575 in bitcoins to this address.

[A specific number is good when you are lying on a first date about how much is in your bank account. When demanding money, though, round numbers are best. $500 would have been a lot cleaner. Also, you DO understand that the current price of one bitcoin is $3,588, so I, what, I buy 1/6th of a bitcoin to send you?]

If you don't know how to make use of bitcoins you can use Google and search "How to buy bitcoins", it is quite simple and you can purchase them instantly.

[You might want to avoid putting Google in my head, because I might then naturally Google "bitcoin email hack scam."

If you do this inside of the given timeframe our server will notice the transaction to that address and the timer will quit counting. We will remove all the data we posses of you, 

[This is the second time you have spelled it "posses." Just for future reference, "posses" are groups of lawmen tracking down bad guys. Strunk & White, in their definitive writing book "The Elements of Style" would probably suggest the following alternative: "We will remove all the data we have of yours." Please consider the edit.]

terminate the backdoor on your system, and you will without doubt never ever hear from us again. 

[Again with the "backdoor." I sense a fixation.]

No one will ever know this occurred and you can proceed with your life. If you don't do this..... you are aware what is going to occur and you know what impact it will have on your life.

Our btc address: 1BKSFvjb46DZCw9AWibBzLjKPjsdubWmEt

[Wait wait wait. You guys used my password to for your bitcoin address?!]


[A final word of advice. "Good luck" is never hyphenated. Never. Even if I had believed you owned embarrassing footage of me, I would not have paid you just on general principle. I bet you think it's a "doggy dog world" too. Sir or madam, I bid you adieu and wish you well in your future endeavors, which you can hopefully find in a less hit-and-miss line of work that matches your skill set, like lobbying.]