Archive for the “Random Musings” Category

About an hour ago, I was sitting in the TV room, scanning through the on-screen guide, when my six-year-old came in to chat.  After a moment, she looked up toward the top of a window and said, “Daddy, what kind of bug is that walking around on the glass?”

I followed her eyes, then answered, “Well, Sara, that looks a … HOLY @#$%!!”

I try not to teach her four-letter words, but the shock overcame my inhibitions.  I hustled her out of the room and exchanged my shorts and tee-shirt for what is apparently becoming my official wasp-hunting gear:  jeans, a shirt, a sweatshirt with a hood, a windbreaker with a hood, and winter gloves. 

I went to the laundry room, picked up the can of Raid, and was dismayed to find it felt nearly empty.  I gave it one little test squirt … okay, it wasn’t empty, but I hate going into battle with a flying demon short on chemical ammunition.

The window goes all the way to the ceiling, so of course that’s where the wasp was when I returned:  right up by the ceiling, still prancing around on the glass.  I climbed up on the sofa near the window and balanced one foot on an arm, another on the back.  I extended my weapon slooowwwly until I was sure I close enough to guarantee a direct hit.


The wasp fell, and I was sure for a moment it would wind up behind the sofa, leaving me with no option but to get back there and look for it … thus assuring myself of an ambush by one very pissed-off wasp.  Fortunately, the wasp landed on a window sill, rolled onto its back, and kicked its legs for awhile, calling me a mother@#$%*! the whole time.

It’s in the garbage can outside now.  I would’ve written about this earlier, but my hands just stopped shaking a minute ago. 

Damn, I hate those things.

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When I was a wee lad in Iowa, schoolkids trafficked in Black Cat firecrackers the way some sell drugs today.  It wasn’t legal for kids to have firecrackers, of course, but everyone knew a supplier.  (The suppliers, now that I think about it, were usually tough kids who didn’t do well in school.  )

Weeks before the Fourth of July rolled around, we’d stop wasting our allowances on marbles, candies and other worthless junk, and start saving up for a personal supply of explosives.  If you saved enough, you could even stroll up to a supplier and proudly announce, “I need a brick.”  

A “brick” was the real deal:  an entire package, all wrapped up in waxy paper, complete with a logo of a snarling black cat.  When we tore open a brick, there they’d be … dozens and dozens of firecrackers, with the fuses twisted together.  We learned right away to un-twist the fuses delicately, or they’d snap off. 

But of course, we weren’t about to let the fuse-less firecrackers go to waste.  We’d tape those to the firecrackers we could actually ignite and explode them together.  That was also the preferred method for making use of a dud.  By the end of the day, the fields near our house would smell like gunpowder and be full of little bits of firecracker confetti.

The paper that wrapped each brick included clear instructions on how to enjoy the firecrackers.  PLACE FIRECRACKER ON THE GROUND.  LIGHT THE FUSE AND MOVE TO A SAFE DISTANCE.

Yeah, right.  In all my childhood years, I never saw anyone set a firecracker on the ground and move a safe distance away.  In fact, we considered it a test of our manhood to hold a lit firecracker until the last possible second, then could toss it in the air just before the explosion.  Our timing was generally pretty good … but unfortunately, quality control at the Black Cat factory wasn’t perfect, and some fuses burned more quickly than others.  I went home after one firecracker expedition with my right hand in my pocket, hoping my parents wouldn’t notice I had two black fingernails.

But there was no hiding the splatter of ink on my shirt.  No longer content to merely toss Black Cats in the air, my friends and I had started experimenting with more creative explosions.  We blew up anthills, dirt clods, and empty soda cans.  (The cans didn’t exactly explode, but they jumped a bit, and there was a satisfying WHOMP when the Black Cat went off inside.)

Then one of my friends had the bright idea of attaching a firecracker to a Bic pen with a rubber band.  I had the bright idea of volunteering to hold the pen-bomb while he lit the fuse.  The fuse had the bright idea of burning all the way down in a couple of milliseconds.  I realized what was happening just soon enough to say a bad word and make a panicky attempt to toss the firecracker, then POP! – black fingers and a forerunner to the tie-dye shirt.

Mom wasn’t happy, especially since she made many of our shirts back then, including the ink-stained one I wore home.  After confronting me with some rather damning evidence (the burnt gunpowder smell, in particular, was hard to explain) and eliciting a confession that I’d been playing with firecrackers, Mom stuck my fingers in glass of ice water, then gave me a lecture about a boy who blew off three of his fingers with a cherry bomb. 

In comparing notes with different kids in different towns over the years, I eventually concluded that every mom in America knew a boy who had blown off three of his fingers with a cherry bomb.  Strangely, none of us kids had ever actually met a boy with three missing fingers.  None of us even knew anyone who knew anyone with three missing fingers.  I could only guess that the missing-finger kid spent his life moving from town to town and introducing himself to all the local mothers.

I don’t play with firecrackers anymore, but my girls spent part of today delighting themselves by tossing little exploding caps against the sidewalk.  Tomorrow evening, we’ll head to downtown Franklin for a free concert on the town square, followed by fireworks.  I have fond childhood memories of the Fourth of July, and I hope they will too.  I also want them to understand what the Fourth of July means.  I’ve already told them about the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War, and how the fireworks represent the battles that freed us from British rule.

And when they’re older, I’ll make sure my wife tells them about a kid who blew off three of his fingers with a cherry bomb.

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A few weeks ago, I walked upstairs to our mid-level family room, which is partly a playroom for the girls and partly my wife’s office.  My wife was busy typing an email, and when I started to ask her a question, she said, “Just a second, let me finish this.  Oh, and you might not want to be in here right now.  There’s a wasp flying around.”

She said this with the same degree of alarm you’d adopt while informing your spouse that there’s a cricket somewhere in the garage.

“Excuse me, did you say … wasp?”

“Yeah.  I saw it flying around up there by the ceiling fan.”  Then she went back to typing her email.

I had three immediate thoughts:

  1. If there’s a wasp in the house, it’s going to sting me.
  2. I must kill the wasp before it stings me, although I’ll probably be stung during the attempt.
  3. When I do get stung, it will be my children’s fault.

I blamed my girls because as soon as school was out for the summer, they decided to occupy their days with an activity parents refer to as “running in and out.”  They love to be outdoors, but apparently never for more than five minutes at a time.  So, like any middle-aged dad, I’ve taken up the habit of bellowing “Close the door!” every time they run in or out.  I don’t even bother to look.  If they’ve just run in or out, I know the door is wide open.

My six-year-old believes every parental command must be accompanied by a detailed justification, so she’d already demanded to know why she has to take time out of her busy day to stop and close the door every time she runs in or out — especially since she’ll just be running back in or back out a few minutes later.  So I told her:  “There are wasps outside.  I don’t them coming into my house.  If you leave the door open, one of them will get in here.”  Obviously, she wasn’t convinced.  And now there was a wasp in the house.  The enablers were, of course, nowhere to be seen.

Just walking away and hoping the wasp would eventually leave wasn’t a possibility, because I have a history with wasps, and it isn’t pretty.  Wasps aren’t like bees.  Bees are cute.  Sure, they can sting you, but it doesn’t hurt much and you have to give them a reason — like stepping on them.  (Or, in my brother’s case, believing a rumor that if you cup your hands around them, you can carry them around and they won’t mind.)

Wasps, on the other hand, are little flying sociopaths.  If they’re having a bad day and you happen to be nearby, they’ll go after you.  And a wasp sting hurts like hell.

I found that out for the first time when I was 12.  I was watching TV when I started hearing thumps on the outside of the house.  I went outside and found some neighborhood idiots throwing rocks at what looked like a dirt pancake with holes in it, stuck to the underside of our roof.

“Uh … what are you guys doing?”

“That’s a wasp nest,” one of them explained.  I was just staring to reply when some wasps dropped from the mud pancake and then swooped into a V formation, with the point of the V aimed in our direction.  The rock-throwing idiots ran.  I was also turning to run when WHAM! — I took a direct hit in the shoulder.

If you’d asked me before this experience what a wasp sting would probably feel like, I would’ve guessed something like being pierced with a needle.  Not even close.  It feels more like a baseball player studded his Louisville Slugger with a nail and then swung for the fences, with your body having the bad luck to be in the way.  That’s because wasps drive their stingers deep — sometimes piercing the flesh — and inject a toxin at the same time.  And unlike honeybees, wasps don’t commit suicide by stinging you.  They can pull out and sting you again if they’re in the mood.

An entomologist once created a pain scale for various insect bites and stings.  A bee sting rates a 2.0 on his scale.  A wasp sting — which he described as “blinding, fierce, shockingly electric” — rates a 4.0.  Naturally, none of the neighborhood idiots who were throwing rocks at my parents’ house were afforded an opportunity to agree or disagree with the entomologist’s description.  Only I was, and I agree.

At least those wasps had a reason to attack.  A year later, I was stung again during a class picnic in a park.  We were walking through a covered structure that was, as I found out, home to at least one wasp.  Nobody was throwing rocks, and nobody was close to the wasp, which attacked from a high, beamed ceiling.  Apparently it just didn’t like seeing all those happy schoolchildren missing math class and, after looking us over, said to itself, “I bet the fat kid can’t run very fast.” I was also a victim of Seventies fashion sense:  that is, I was wearing hip-huggers that left the top of my ass exposed. 

WHAM!  Nail-studded Louisville Slugger, delivered straight to the part of the hip not being hugged.  In addition to the pain, this led to the embarrassment of being surrounded by curious classmates while my seventh-grade teacher — clearly no entomologist, in retrospect — spent several minutes on her knees, searching the top of my ass for a non-existent stinger.

Those were the actual stings that made me hate wasps.  I’ve also had some close calls.

After my freshman year in college, my dad gave me an extra summer job:  painting the exterior of the house, which was paneled with thick, vertical planks.  I could use a roller on those, but needed a brush to paint between them.

So one hot day in July, I was standing on a ladder leaned against the back of the house, holding a small bucket of paint in my left hand and a brush in my right, applying paint between the planks.  I pushed the brush into a gap where the planks met the roof, and as I pulled the brush away, I couldn’t help but notice a wasp was following it.  In the next half-second, I tossed the brush and the bucket, jumped off the ladder, sprinted the few yards to our backyard pool and dove in.  My feet only touched the ground twice.

When I couldn’t hold my breath any longer, I came up for air.  Then I decided I should probably go under again, mostly because the wasp took my emergence as an opportunity to fly straight at my head.  This time I swam underwater to the opposite end of the pool, then came up slowly.  The wasp was still buzzing around the other end of the pool, looking for me.  Occasionally it would land on the water and float there for awhile, then conduct another reconnaissance mission.

I kept thinking it would give up soon and go away.  It didn’t.  And that’s why, when my older brother Jerry stepped out onto the back deck some time later and saw me more or less hiding under the diving board, he asked, “What are you doing in the pool with your clothes on?”

So I explained that a wasp had driven me off the ladder and into the pool, that I’d been there for a good part of the day, keeping everything below my chin submerged, that I was planning to stay there as long as necessary, despite being fully clothed and water-logged, because the wasp was still flying around the pool and occasionally floating on top of the water, which in fact was exactly what it was doing now, and whether flying or floating, it was clearly intent on stinging me, which was also why I didn’t want to talk about it any more, since the sound of my voice could give away my location.

I explained all this by pointing and croaking, “Wasp.”

Jerry peered towards the pool, then retreated into the house without another word.  He emerged a few minutes later wearing swim trunks and a battle face.  He was also armed with a large plastic canoe paddle. He crept to the edge of the pool near the wasp, raised the paddle slowly over his head, bent his knees, then sprang over the water with a cry of “YAAAAAAAAAAHH!!”

It wasn’t Olympic form, but as Jerry entered the water in a horizontal position, he managed to land a direct paddle-smack on the wasp.  Then, over the next 15 seconds or so, he landed 347 more. 

The end result was one slightly injured and seriously pissed-off wasp, buzzing atop the water in a furious circle.  Jerry splashed to the side of the pool, grabbed the net-on-a-pole we used for scooping leaves, and netted the wasp.  He dragged the net to the bottom of the pool and left it there. 

When I was convinced the wasp didn’t have a Houdini routine its in repertoire, I finally hoisted myself out of the pool and went inside to put on dry clothes.  A half-hour later, after we’d spent the intervening time relaxing on the back deck, Jerry retrieved the net and dumped the drowned wasp on the patio near the pool.  A half-hour after that, the drowned wasp buzzed angrily a few a times, then flew away.  We didn’t stick around to see if he planned on returning.

That’s how tough wasps are.  People who say cockroaches would be only survivors of an all-out nuclear war are at least one species short in their estimate.

Now that I think about it, my near-misses with wasps always seem to involve water, because the next one occurred in a shower.  My wife and I were living in Los Angeles at the time, renting an apartment where the bathroom window was on a wall inside the shower stall.  I opened the window about a half-inch one morning before showering, and as I was shampooing my hair, I noticed something squeeze under the window sill, pause for a second, then fly towards me.  Wasp.  The only reason I wasn’t stung immediately is that a stream of water from the shower knocked the little bastard off course.

This led to what was eventually known as the Scream Like A Girl Incident, which featured me scampering naked and wet to the opposite end of the apartment, arms flailing, eyes stinging from the shampoo sliding into them and — as the incident’s title suggests — screaming like a girl.  (I recall something more like a manly yell, but my wife named the incident, and her memory of it is probably more accurate, since my brain was occupied with whatever hormones are produced during moments of primal terror.)

There was something of a repeat a year later, after we bought our first house in Burbank.  Despite living together for two years, I didn’t yet realize that when my wife loses strands of hair while shampooing, she rolls them up and sticks them to the wall of the shower.  (I didn’t realize this because she usually removes them on her way out.)  I also didn’t realize that the steam from a hot shower can cause a hairball to un-stick itself from the wall and float in the air. 

So I stepped into the shower one morning just after she’d finished — without my glasses, of course — and, after rinsing my face, opened my eyes just in time to see an out-of-focus black fuzzy thing emerge from the fog and float towards my chin. 

This led to what was eventually known as the Scream Like A Girl Incident Sequel, which ended with my wife inquiring as to why I was beating a hairball to death with my shower brush and — as the incident’s title suggests — screaming like a girl.  At least it wasn’t a real wasp.  I never found the wasp that came at me in the original Scream Like A Girl Incident, and I spent days worrying that it was still somewhere in the apartment.

So, given my experiences with wasps, I wasn’t about to just hope the one flying around our ceiling fan would go away.  In fact, it soon landed on the fan and seemed be to considering whether the metal housing, with those nice air slots, might make a good home.  I could already imagine it flying out of there someday, heading towards one of the girls.

I considered going after it with a flyswatter, but then thought of a line from The Usual Suspects:  “How do you shoot at the devil?  What if you miss?”  And missing was a definite possibility, given my batting average with the flyswatter. 

The only other option was to spray it with insecticide — the shotgun approach.  So I retrieved a can of Raid Ant and Roach Killer (Country Glade scented!) from the laundry room and started up the stairs … then realized this operation could end with the wasp driving a Raid-soaked stinger into my body.  I needed armor.  I needed to wear more layers than a wasp’s stinger can penetrate.

By the time I returned to the family room, I was wearing jeans, a tee shirt, a long-sleeved shirt, a sweatshirt with a hood, a windbreaker with a hood, a scarf, and thick winter gloves.  Both hoods were pulled tight, leaving only the area around my eyeglasses exposed.  I would have to stand on a chair to get up near the ceiling fan, and my biggest concern was that if the Raid didn’t kill the wasp immediately and I had to run, I could fall down and find myself unable to get up … sort of like Ralphie’s little brother in A Christmas Story

In that case, the wasp might not even sting me right away.  It might strut around me for awhile, baggy pants hanging halfway down its little wasp ass, calling me a biatch.  Then it would drive its stinger into my hamstring through my jeans.

I slowly pulled a chair to the area below the ceiling fan, climbed aboard, and stood up even more slowly.  Son of a @#$%!  I couldn’t see the wasp.  Not high enough.  I asked my wife to go to the top of the other stairway, which leads to the second-story bedrooms.  She did.

“Can you see it?”

“Yes.  It’s walking around on the top of the motor.”

I raised my chemical weapon slowly.  “Okay … am I pointing the can of Raid at the wasp?”


“Are you sure?”


PHHSSHHHHHHHHT!!  I sprayed for at least 10 seconds, eyes locked on the housing of the fan, waiting for the wasp to swoop down at me.  Then I jumped off the chair and ran up the stairs.

“Did I get it?”

“I don’t know.  I lost it in the spray, and now I can’t see it anymore.”


“Good lord, that stuff smells awful.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know.  Right now I’m more concerned with knowing whether the wasp is dead or just really pissed off.”

“I’ll go see.”

My wife went down the stairs and, to get a properly elevated view, climbed on top of the table she and the girls use for art projects.  It occurred to me that if the wasp flew out of the fan and stung her, I’d feel like a moron … even though it would give me a chance, for the first time in the 13 years we’ve known each other, to hear her scream like a girl.

“It’s dead.  I’ll get it.”

She grabbed a paper towel, stood on the chair I’d abandoned, and swiped at the top of the fan’s housing.  The wasp fell to the floor.  She crumpled it inside the paper towel and headed downstairs.

“Use the garbage can outside.  I’ve seen those things come back to life.”


And that was The Great Wasp Hunt of 2010.  Meanwhile, another one has taken up residence in an area beneath the roof, just outside our kitchen door.  I don’t use that door much anymore.

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I was never a big fan of Weird Al Yankovic’s videos, but I love this one:

YES!!  Go, Weird Al!  We may not have much in common, but we obviously share a fundamental trait:  we’re both grammar grumps.  Every time I see 15 Items or Less at the grocery store, I’m nearly as annoyed by the sign as I am by that person in front of me stacking 187 items on the conveyor.  I’m triply annoyed if one of those items is a box of food with a label advertising 1/3 Less Calories!

In case you didn’t already know, less and fewer have different meanings.  So do number and amount, although a surprising number (not amount) of intelligent people use them interchangeably.  It drives me nuts when I hear newscasters talk about “a large amount of people” showing up at some public event.  I’ve been known to yell grammar lessons at the TV during such moments.

For the record, if you’re talking about something you can count, the proper words are number and fewerA large number of people attended, but fewer than last year. If you’re talking about something you would measure — or can’t count —  the proper words are amount and lessA large amount of manure passing for debate comes out of Washington, and I don’t expect any less of it this year.

Not sure if you’d count or measure?  Well, here’s the convenient way to think of it:  if the word is plural, you’re counting.  Fewer calories.  Fewer people. If it’s not plural, you’re probably not counting.  Less fat … but fewer grams of fat.

Perhaps in the scheme of things, the difference between less and fewer seems trivial.  I don’t care; it’s not trivial to me.  Language matters.  Precision matters.  Clarity matters, and clarity isn’t possible without precision.  Sloppy language honks me off.

Yes, I admit it:  I’m the guy who emails newspaper editors to complain when reporters can’t distinguish between it’s and its.   Again, for the record:  it’s means it is or it has. Its is the possessive form of it … his, hers, its.  So the dog most definitely does not wag it’s tail.

I see its and it’s mixed up all the time in emails, blog posts, tweets, Facebook updates, etc.   I cringe a bit, but hey, we’re talking about individuals who probably didn’t major in English or journalism and aren’t working with an editor.

Newspapers are another story.  Now we’re talking about people who are supposed to be language professionals, and whose work isn’t published until it’s been reviewed by at least two or three other language professionals.  Maybe it’s because media organizations are now staffed by people who grew up watching TV instead of reading books, but I’m stunned by the number (not the amount) of errors I see in newspapers, magazines, advertisements, online news sites, and even in title graphics that appear on network news and sports programs.  It’s a tough old world out there for a grammar grump like me.

I’m not sure why I grew up to be a grammar grump.  My mom taught high-school English, but not until I was nearly finished with high school myself.  In fact, she recalls sending my dad love-letters while she was in high school and he was away at college … and then receiving them back in the mail with the misspellings and grammar errors circled in red ink.  (Amazingly, she married him anyway.)

So perhaps I inherited grammar grumpiness from my dad.  He majored in business administration and ran his own company after a career in sales, but he had a professional writer’s way with words.  He would occasionally ask me to proof a business letter for him, and I was always impressed with his clear sentences, the logical flow of his paragraphs, and the fact that I never — and I mean never — found a misspelled or misused word.

If I did inherit grammar grumpiness, it was honed when I wrote for the campus newspaper in college — thanks mostly to Harry, our faculty adviser.  A retired newspaperman from the era when journalists drank at their desks, Harry read each day’s edition cover to cover, marking all the errors in red ink.  Then he dropped the “Harry edition” on our editor’s desk.

We usually crept over to pick up the “Harry edition” as if it were a live bomb, each of us hoping our own articles would be red-ink free.  That was rarely the case.  Occasionally, Harry would even scribble a helpful note in the margin:

Tom – you stated that this technology will likely be adopted in “a couple of generations.”  A generation is approximately 25 years.  Do you really expect it will take 50 years to be adopted?  Aren’t we looking at something more like 20 years?

Perhaps the most embarrassed editor ever to work at our college paper was the one who put this headline over a story:  English Department Opens Grammer Hotline For Students.  Harry’s note in the margin:  They’ll be delighted to know they’re needed.

What a pleasure it was to discover that Weird Al has some Harry in him.  I’m not ambitious enough to go the video route, but in Weird Al’s honor, I’m going to put on my official grammar-grump hat and list some of the all-too-common errors that would probably drive Harry to drink … or least stock up on red pens.

Don’t be jealous, but please be possessive … or plural … just make up your mind.

I understand the confusion with its and it’s.  We’re used to adding apostrophe-s to make a word possessive.  The dog’s tail was wagging. But I don’t understand when I go to a store and see that onion’s and apple’s are on sale.  Or that there’s a managers special.  (A special on managers?  How many per customer?)  And if I see one more mailbox telling me The Robinson’s live there … well, I won’t be outraged if some teenagers decide to play mailbox baseball.  I’ll just assume they’re grammar grumps in a convertible.

They’re grammar needs work

They’re over there, and their car needs a spare.  Okay?  It’s not they’re car, or there car.  It’s their car.  And it’s over thereThey’re sitting in it, planning a game of mailbox baseball.  The Robinson’s better beware.

Your an Idiot

There’s nothing quite so satisfying as being called an idiot by an idiot.  A couple of years ago, I made the mistake of participating in an online political debate with someone who believed insults trump logic and facts.  We had an exchange that went something like this:

Thats not true!  Your an idiot!
Yes, it is true.  You can look it up.  And it’s “You’re an idiot,” genius.
I am not.  Your an idiot!
You’re.  Not Your.  You are an idiot.  Not “belongs to you” an idiot.
You’re missing the point.  It’s a grammar issue.  You’re, not your.
@#$% you, theres nothing wrong with my grammar!  Your an idiot!

In a comedy club in Minneapolis some years back, I noticed an ad on the men’s room wall:  A hot-model babe wearing sunglasses (and not much else), along with the logo for the brand of sunglasses, plus the words:  When Your Ready For The Look!

I couldn’t help myself … I wrote down the name of the ad agency.  I called them the next day and, after managing to convince a couple of gatekeepers I wasn’t a complete nut, got the account manager on the phone.

“I’m sorry, what exactly are you calling about?”
“Your ad, the one for the sunglasses.  When your ready for the look. Y-O-U-R.”
“Yes?  I don’t understand, is there something wrong with it?”
“Y-O-U-R!  That’s like your dog or your car.  It doesn’t mean you are.  See the difference?  You’ve got a huge mistake there in a big display ad that’s probably all over the place.”
“Oh, my … holy @#$%!! Thanks, man!”  (click)

This was an expensive, poster-sized advertisement, you understand.  That means at least  a half-dozen people approved it … writer, art director, account manager, typesetter, printer, and of course the clients.  Nobody caught the error.  Amazing … and sad.

The last time I saw this particular error, a radar-activated highway sign in Illinois told me Your speeding! Yeah, I’m speeding … and your an idiot.

Don’t feel badly about it.

I feel great.  I feel awful.  I feel healthy.  I feel sick.  I feel strong.  I feel tired.  I feel optimistic.  But I never feel badly, because my fingers are in working order.  If they go numb, then I’ll feel badly.  In the meantime, if I’ve insulted anyone, I might feel bad about it.

Sort of unique, really unique, pretty unique.

You can’t be sort of dead, and you can’t be sort of unique … or even really unique.  The word means one of a kind. It’s an absolute condition — no modifiers need apply.  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard newscasters talk about “a relatively unique situation.”  No, if there’s relativity involved, it would be unusual or perhaps even rare.  But it’s not unique.

Between you and I, if it’s up to you and I, it’s really up to you and me.

Okay, so as kids, we’d run home and say, “Mom!  Me and Billy went to the creek and –” and before we could explain that Billy was last seen slipping under some seriously muddy water and frantically waving for help, Mom would immediately interrupt to say, “Billy and I!  Billy and I!”

So now whenever there’s another person sharing any part of a sentence with us, it’s I, I, I … even when it’s wrong.  It seemed to my wife and I that … between you and I … if it’s up to you and I, we should … Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Billy and I went to the creek. Yes, that’s correct, because you and Billy together are the subjects of the sentence.  But you and Billy can also be considered objects together, even if you never move to California and visit the sex clubs.

Subject, object … let’s not get into diagramming sentences.  Here’s the shortcut:  remove Billy from the equation for a moment.  It’s up to I? I’m pretty sure even people who slept through grammar classes wouldn’t say that.  It’s up to me. Ahh, that sounds better.  Now put Billy back where he belongs:  It’s up to Billy and me.

As for between, remove Billy once again and substitute under for between.  It’s under I? I don’t think so.  It’s under me. And it’s between Billy and me, too.

Ain’t got a brain between them

Years ago a comedian I worked with had a funny bit about being arrested for drunk driving and then becoming belligerent with the cops when they took him in.  (Don’t try this at home.)  I’m paraphrasing, but part of the bit went something like this:

So I’m all stupid and drunk, and I turn to the cops and yell, “@#$% you, you damned cops!  Yeah, you got the badges and guns, but you ain’t got a brain between you!”  They all look at each other, and then the biggest, toughest-looking cop comes over, gets right in my face and says, “Look, punk.  There are three cops standing here, see?  So if you’re real smart, you’ll change that to Ain’t got a brain AMONG you.

Between is a bicycle built for two.  ‘Nuff said.

I realize that by picking this topic, I’ve pretty much invited everyone to point out every typo, every missing word, and every (egads!) misused word in any post I’ve ever written.  Go for it.  I can take it.  I learned long ago that while I’m good at proofreading other people’s work, my brain sees what it expects to see when it’s my own text.

And if you’re a fellow grammar grump, chime in with examples of your own grumpiness.  Maybe I’ll post another list.

Comments 37 Comments »

With Earth Day coming up tomorrow, millions of American schoolchildren have no doubt been commanded to write an essay on global warming to prove they’ve been properly indoctrina– I mean, educated on the topic.  And, kids being kids, I’m sure many of them procrastinated and are now scrambling to find enough information to put together the required thousand words or so.

Fear not, kids.  I’m here to help with a Global Warming Q & A.  Feel free to plagiarize at will.

What does “global warming” mean?

It means the planet is slowly getting warmer.  According to some scientists, it’s happening because of something called The Greenhouse Effect.  Here’s how it works:  human beings are emitting a lot of carbon dioxide, so it’s building up in the atmosphere and trapping heat.   It’s a bit like when your car sits in the sun with the windows up.

So carbon dioxide must be at record levels.

Absolutely.  The current concentration is 385 parts per million, which, as Al Gore pointed out in An Inconvenient Truth, is the highest it’s ever been … except for when it was a lot higher.

A lot higher?!  What are you talking about?

I’m talking about the periods in earth’s history that Al Gore doesn’t talk about.  Actually, that would be most of the earth’s history, at least if we’re talking about the last 600 million years.

CO2 was higher than 385 parts per million for most of earth’s history?

Heck, yes.  We’re talking about crazy-high concentrations:  4500 parts per million in one era, 3000 parts per million in another, etc.

Wow!  It must’ve been hotter than blazes!

Nope, not always.  Sometimes it was hotter than today, and sometimes it was colder.  Sometimes the earth’s temperature plummeted even while carbon dioxide was going way up.

But how can that be?  You just said carbon dioxide produces heat.

No, I said some scientists say that.  But as for an explanation, apparently the laws of chemistry and physics changed over time.

That doesn’t seem possible.

Well, let’s try this, then:  Carbon dioxide and the earth’s temperature dated for a long time, often breaking up and going their separate ways.  But they decided to get married several thousand years ago and now travel together.

Okay, so at least in relatively recent times, when carbon dioxide goes up, it caues the temperature to go up.

Actually, the temperature goes up first, then carbon dioxide goes up.  Carbon dioxide is so powerful, its heat-producing effects can go backwards in time.

But … uh … so is higher CO2 causing warmer weather in modern times or not?

That’s what some scientists say.  However — and it’s very important you grasp this — it’s also causing record-cold temperatures like the ones we’ve had for the past few winters.  So if you sit in your car on a sunny day with the windows rolled up, the interior of the car will become very hot, but also very cold now and then.  And you’ll get more snow.

In the car?

No, on the earth.  You see, according to Al Gore, the record snowfalls we saw all over the northern hemisphere this winter were caused by global warming.

I don’t understand.

Not to worry; Al explained it to everyone in an editorial a few weeks back.  Global warming is increasing the rate of evaporation from the oceans, you see, so there’s more moisture in the atmosphere, which means we’re getting more rain and more snow.

But I thought global warming was going to create more deserts.

That’s correct … more rain and snow, but also more deserts.  You see, if you mix higher temperatures with more moisture, you get a desert, just like in a greenhouse.

I thought the purpose of a greenhouse is to grow more plants, like in a jungle.

No, no, no.  The earth is a special kind of greenhouse.  According to the IPCC, global warming is making the dry areas on earth drier, but also making the wet areas wetter … except in really wet areas like the Amazon rainforest, where global warming is causing the jungle to dry out.

Wait, let me get this straight:  the dry areas are getting less rain because of global warming, and the wet areas are getting more rain because of global warming, except for the wet areas that aren’t getting enough rain because of global warming?

You’re catching on.

But at least we know it’s getting warmer, right?

That’s right.  The temperature has been rising steadily, except for when it hasn’t.  But those are just decadal variations.

What’s a decadal variation?

It’s what global-warming scientists call a long period of time when there’s no rise in temperature.

Decadal … so that would mean 10 years?

Yes.  Except there was a decadal variation from 1945 to 1975, and the current decadal variation has lasted for 15 years now.  See, if the temperature rises for 21 years, that’s a long-term trend.  But if the temperature holds steady and then starts dropping over a period of 15 years, that’s a decadal variation.

But what if the temperature goes down again for, say, 20 or even 30 years?  Wouldn’t that be a long-term trend?

Of course not.  That would be two or three decadal variations strung together.  Totally different thing.

This is getting kind of confusing.

No, it’s simple.  Let me summarize:  carbon dioxide is higher now than it’s ever been except for it when it was several times higher, and that’s bad because carbon dioxide traps heat and makes the planet warmer, except for when the temperature goes down anyway. Meanwhile, the rising temperatures are making wet areas wetter and dry areas drier, except for the wet areas that are becoming drier. Is it all clear now?

No.  That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

Well, I’m afraid you might have a logical mind.  It’s mostly a good thing, but it’s not going to help your academic career.  Good luck with that paper.

Comments 13 Comments »

Here’s my cell phone number:  615-497-5933.

No, don’t bother dialing. I cancelled my Sprint service last week and don’t plan to renew.  I could transfer the number to another service, but my wife and I have decided to see how long we can go without owning cell phones at all.  It’s sort of an experiment, our little version of “Man vs. Wild.” Can two middle-class softies survive in the rough and tumble environment of the 1990s?  Stay tuned!

We didn’t set out to conduct an experiment; we set out to cut expenses.  I signed up for a high-minutes plan a couple of years ago, when I was renting a small office with no land-line service.  I actually used my minutes back then.  But I work at home now, and my cell phone sits on my desk for days, gathering dust.

My wife’s cell phone can usually be found in the kitchen, sharing a plastic bowl with some broken pencils, keys that don’t actually open anything, and kids’ scissors that don’t actually cut anything.  I’ve tried calling her cell phone maybe a dozen times in the past six months, usually to inquire where she is, and all I’ve ever learned is that she’s not in the kitchen.

So when I paid my Sprint bill last week, I finally wondered why I’m spending upwards of $120 per month for phones we almost never use.  My wife looked into low-minutes plans and pay-as-you-go plans, but with pretty much all of them, we’d probably end up buying minutes that will go unused and eventually expire. I’ve already paid Sprint for thousands of minutes I never used, and I’d prefer to stop spending money for the privilege of receiving a monthly bill asking for more money.

As I prepared to float the idea of just going without, I was somewhat hesitant — as if I were about to suggest we strip naked and take a walk around the block.  But then to my surprise, my wife floated the idea first.  (Going without cell phones, not the naked thing.)

It occurred to me that I’m married to perhaps the last adult woman left in America who isn’t convinced the only thing standing between her and a tragic death on some unnamed road is a cell phone.  When cell phones first became affordable, that was the excuse offered by every female in my extended family for buying one:  “I won’t really use it very much, but if something happens when I’m on the road …”

As someone born in 1958, I never understood the sudden fear of traveling phoneless.  Nobody I knew even owned a cell phone until around 1995, and even before then, road fatalities that could’ve been prevented by a timely call were extremely rare.  But once cell phones hit the market, everyone suddenly experienced a shared childhood memory of hushed conversations between their parents:

“Hey, what’s going on over at the Smith house?”
“Shhh!  Didn’t you hear?  They stalled on Interstate 40 and were eaten by wolverines while waiting to be rescued.”
“Geez … if only there was some way they could’ve called somebody.”

I didn’t buy a cell phone until my second year in Los Angeles.  They were still a bit of a novelty then and not exactly cheap, so the advertisers were in “create the need” mode.  I recall a radio commercial in which a harried businessman is stuck in traffic but saves the day by taking an important client’s call — get this — in his car!

I wasn’t a harried businessman and didn’t want a phone attached to my belt, but soon after I signed with an agent, he sold me on the idea.  His exact pitch was: “Where the @#$% have you been!  I had a @#$%ing audition lined up for you!  I will not represent you if I can’t @#$%ing reach you when I @#$%ing need to reach you!

So I bought a cell phone, and I’ve had mixed feelings about them ever since.  Sure, they’re convenient, but I dislike them for a number of reasons.  Here’s one of the biggest:  people can reach you when you’re not home.  Before cell phones, I’d sometimes leave my apartment specifically to avoid talking to anyone.  Friends, employers, creditors, and family member could always catch up with me later:

“Where were you?!”
“I was out.”
“Uh … oh.”

Nice and simple.  Nobody’s feelings got hurt.  It’s not quite the same days:

“Where were you?!”
“I was out.”
“Well, why didn’t you take your cell phone?!”
“Because I was afraid you might call.”
“Uh … oh.”

I don’t like it when people expect me to be reachable anytime, anywhere.  Even when I consciously intend to be reachable, my subconscious desires take over.  I’ll leave the house and forget my cell phone.  I’ll shut off the phone at a movie theater, then forget to switch it on for a week.  I’ve never owned a Blackberry, and if I have my way, I never will.

Another reason I don’t like cell phones:  people can reach you when you’re home.  When I was growing up, most families had one phone — usually bolted to a wall in the kitchen.  If you were sleeping upstairs, you stood a fighting chance of missing a call.  But with a cell phone, you can accidentally leave it within earshot — your wife’s, if not yours.  A few months ago, my wife shook me awake at some ungodly hour:

“Honey … HONEY!”
“Wha … what?”
“Your cell phone is ringing downstairs!  Can’t you hear that?”
“No.  That’s why I left it downstairs.”
“Are you going to answer it?”
“Why not?”
“Because I don’t want to talk to anybody right now.”
“Well, what if it’s an emergency?”
“Sweetheart, I’m not a surgeon, and I’m not carrying the nuclear launch codes.  In all of human history, there’s never been a single emergency where somebody yelled, ‘Oh my god!  Somebody get a comedian on the phone, now!’

But the biggest reason I dislike cell phones, by far, is this:  other people own them too.  According to my analysis, at least 60 percent of all modern phone conversations are boring, pointless, moronic or embarrassing  — although the talker who should be embarrassed rarely is.  Yes, there were boring, pointless, moronic, embarrassing phone conversations before cell phones, but

  1. There weren’t as many, because calling outside your own city was expensive.
  2. You could only engage in a boring, pointless, moronic, embarrassing phone conversation in a relatively private place … your home, your hotel room, the nearest phone booth, etc. 

Now you can have a boring, pointless, moronic, embarrassing conversation in a restaurant, on a train, at a ball game, on a park bench, in the grocery store, in a movie theater, or on an airplane the very second it touches down.  Millions of people do — usually two feet away from me, and usually while talking to someone who is apparently hearing impaired.  The more common cell phones have become, the more people seem to be talking on the phone simply because they can … or because it’s less mentally taxing than staring off into space.  So while trying to read a book in an airport,  I get to listen to deep conversations such as:

“Hi.  Nothing, what’re you doing?  Cool.  Yeah?  No, I missed that one.  Huh?  Oh, it’s like nine o’ clock here.  Yeah.  Are you going to work soon?  Cool.  What color shoes are you wearing?  Yeah, those are nice.  Huh?  I can’t understand you; are you eating breakfast?  Yeah?  No, I can’t; they’re bad for my hemorrhoids.”

So rather than buy a product a part of me wishes hadn’t been invented in the first place, I’ll try to go without.  We’ll see how long that lasts.

Comments 16 Comments »

I’m in the middle of a software project and don’t have time for a long post, but I have to comment on some of the ads that keeping showing up in my browser when I stop for a surfing break.  Roughly half of them warn us that Homeowners Fail To Refinance!  The little bit of text informs us that only 85,000 homeowners have taken advantage of Obama’s refinancing plan.  And just look … there’s Obama, obviously disturbed as yet another home goes into foreclosure because the silly homeowners didn’t take advantage of his plan.  I’m no fan of Obama, but it’s annoying to see these goofs hijacking his image for an ad.

I’m going step out on a limb here and suggest that if most homeowners aren’t refinancing, they don’t need to.  (Some of them may even have this crazy idea that once they sign a contract with a lender, they shouldn’t take advantage of the government’s willingness to step in force the lender to cancel it.)  But what’s just plain weird are the pictures the advertisers choose.

This guy, for example.  If you see him walking into a bank, your first thought probably isn’t “Now there’s a man who inspires confidence in mortgage lenders.” He looks like he lives in a commune, for pete’s sake.  Somebody please explain to me the logic of putting his face on an for anything having to do with finances.

And what’s the message we’re supposed to get from this picture?  I can only guess:

  • This man is broke because didn’t refinance his home, so now he has to wear the glasses he bought in 1977. 
  • If this man would just refinance his home, he could stop moonlighting as welder.
  • This poor sap spent all his savings trying to prove Harry Caray was his biological father, so now he’s broke and needs to refinance his home.

Apparently believing the picture wasn’t disturbing enough already, the advertisers later decided to Photoshop in some truly strange-looking teeth.  Now the poor guy looks positively ape-like. The only way I can reproduce this expression is to pretend I’m Tim Allen doing his “Argh! Argh! Argh!” routine.

I’ve been seeing this one a lot lately too.  The text informs us that this Nashville mom found a way to earn $37 per hour working at online from home.  I don’t know what she’s doing online, but judging by her expression, it involves taking video Skype calls.

Okay, enough surfing.  Back to work.  I’d like to buy a house in Tennessee this year, and I don’t plan to need any help from Obama.

Comments 8 Comments »

Colts or Saints …Colts or Saints …?  I really can’t make up my mind this year.  Two outstanding quarterbacks, two class organizations, nobody on either team I actively dislike …

Colts or Saints … hmmm.

I don’t have to pick a team before the Super Bowl.  I’m not placing a bet with a bookie or anything like that.  I wouldn’t even know where to find one.  I’ve belonged to a regular-season football pool for about 20 years, but that’s with a small group of friends.  Usually we’re months late sending out the checks to the winner … you can get away with that when you’re reasonably sure no one’s going to pay you a visit with a tire iron.

In a typical year, including 2009, I come in second-to-last.  If the guy who’s nearly always last ever quits the pool, I’ll have to recruit someone from Sweden to replace him; otherwise I risk being the yearly recipient of the booby prize:  a VHS copy of “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” the only real mistake committed by the 1985 Bears.

I’d choose Sweden only because I once attended a wedding party where the groom was from Sweden and, since the party was in someone’s house on a Sunday, most of the men spent part of the day watching football. A couple of the Swedes admitted they were confused and asked us to explain the rules.  We gave it a shot, but soon realized football is actually an impossibly stupid game, at least if you try to explain it to a foreigner.

Stupid or not, I like football and enjoy it more when I’m emotionally involved in the outcome.  According to certain feminist researchers, this means my wife is in danger of receiving a beating if my team loses.  That story hit the press many years ago, and it prompted one of my football-pool buddies to respond to a game-changing interception with, “Damnit!  If my wife was here, I’d pop her right in the mouth!”  We then felt compelled to explain to the turning heads around the bar that he was making fun of an article in the newspaper.

Anyway, my wife’s in no danger, even when the Titans start a season 0-6.  The only football-frustration injuries I’ve ever caused were to myself, and most of those happened while Rex Grossman was the Bears’ quarterback.  Eventually I realized if I kept slapping myself in the head every time he became the leading passer for the opposing team, I was going to end up with a flat skull.

But back to the issue at hand … Colts or Saints … Colts or Saints …? 

New Orleans is the sentimental favorite, of course, providing inspiration to the long-suffering victims of Hurricane Katrina and all that.  Plus they’re the underdogs, and sports fans love to cheer for an underdog.  I did too, until I realized cheering for the underdogs in an NFL game just because they’re underdogs is actually kind of stupid.

I came to that conclusion while watching the Patriots-Ravens game in the playoffs.  I realized I was rooting against the Patriots simply because they’ve been so dominant for so many years.  Yes, I was cheering against success.  When that occurred to me, I managed to avoid slapping myself in the head, but I did stop and ask, What am I, some kind of football socialist?  It’s not faaaaaaiiirrr that some teams are so good?  Gotta spread the wealth around and all that?

The NFL already levels the playing field through drafting rules and salary caps.  There’s no football equivalent of the Yankees, buying their way into the World Series every other year.  That’s why the Packers, from little ol’ Green Bay, can end having a better season than the New York Giants.  Teams like the Patriots are dominant because they draft well, trade well, and coach well. (Tom Brady was the 199th  player drafted in 2000. Any other team in the league could’ve had him.)  Cheering for an underdog in the NFL a bit like supporting a mechanic who does sub-par work:  poor guy probably needs the business, you know.

So I don’t really care about the underdog status, which leads me to back to … Colts or Saints …?  Colts or Saints …?

I should probably hold a grudge against Indy for beating the Bears in the Super Bowl a few years back, but I can’t.  I like Indianapolis. In my standup days, I used to perform there for two weeks at a time, every spring and every fall.  I stayed in a condo downtown, so basically I lived in Indianapolis for a month each year.  It’s a great little city.  I even had a girlfriend there for awhile.  Between her and the consistently great audiences, I have nothing but fond memories of the place.

So, Colts or Saints … ?

It would help if one of the teams had a spoiled brat on the roster I could root against.  In the Jets-Chargers game I was rooting full-throttle for the Jets.  I don’t have any warm fuzzy feelings for New York or the Jets, but I always root against San Diego.  When I lived in Los Angeles, it annoyed me that San Diego had an NFL team and we didn’t.  (It also annoyed me that San Diego is a picturesque city with a real downtown while L.A. pretty much sucks.)  But now I root against San Diego because Phillip Rivers reminds of every jock I couldn’t stand in high school:  talented, immature, and arrogant.  I was delighted his team not only lost, but lost because he threw an interception within sniffing distance of his own end zone. 

But what’s not to like about Drew Brees or Peyton Manning?  They’re both the polar opposite of Phillip Rivers:  mature and humble, despite all their talents.  Brees raises money to help restore New Orleans.  The community loves him.  But they also love Manning, who grew up there.  After Hurricane Katrina, Peyton and Eli Manning chartered a plane and flew relief supplies to the area —  they paid for everything and even got down and did the dirty work, loading and unloading the plane along with everyone else.

Colts or Saints … ?  Nope, I really can’t decide.  I may just have to flip a coin.  Heads, Colts.  Tails, Saints.

No, wait … Heads, Saints …

Comments 5 Comments »

It’s been usually cold here in Tennessee.  It’s been unusually cold in much of the country (see the video below), and in Europe as well.  Naturally, the global-warming fanatics can’t bring themselves to admit that we’re seeing a cooling trend.  Riiiight … three years in a row of record-breaking cold is just an anomaly, and never mind that Al Gore’s beloved computer models didn’t predict any of this.  Frankly, I’m pretty sure nothing could convince them to give up their quasi-religion.  Temperatures could drop for the next 20 years, and they’d still be insisting the planet has a fever and calling for more cap-and-tax schemes — especially Gore, since he’s set himself up to make millions from carbon credits.

After a decade in Los Angeles, I’m enjoying experiencing a winter that feels like winter.  We’re even supposed to get up to three inches of snow tonight.  My daughters are so excited, they had a difficult time going to sleep. Alana, my four-year-old, has already announced that she plans to build a snowman, have a snowball fight, build a snow fort and go ice skating, all in one day. 

I think it would be more amusing just to drive around (carefully, of course) and see how the other drivers handle the snow.  It probably wouldn’t be as much fun as in previous decades; too many people have moved here from other parts of the country, including the snow states.  When my friend Bob moved here 25 years, he called me the first time it snowed — a wee little bit — to tell me he saw people abandon their cars and walk home.  They couldn’t handle the pressure.

Some people can’t even handle the pressure of riding in the snow.  About 15 years ago, I drove across North Dakota and Minnesota on a comedy tour, sharing my car with a young comedian from Seattle.  Snow was a foreign substance to him.  We had to drive through snow several times, usually on two-lane roads that hadn’t been plowed, and every time the wheels lost traction for a nanosecond or so, he gasped and grabbed the dashboard with both hands. 

When it was no longer amusing, I finally said, “Lonnie, I’ve been driving in this stuff for 20 years.  I’m not going to spin out.  And look out the window, for chrissakes … there’s nothing for us to hit.”  Then, since he seemed far too young for a heart attack, I jerked the wheel and fishtailed a bit on purpose, just for fun.

Not that winters have always been fun for me.  Perhaps it was karma getting back at me for scaring Lonnie when, two winters later, my normally-reliable Toyota Camry started to die on me one night as I was heading to a gig in Green Bay, with the temperate on its way to -45 degrees.  Yes, you read that correctly … 45 degrees below zero.  I’d like to say the weather surprised me, but it didn’t — I had checked the forecast before driving up from Chicago.  In fact, I called the club owner and urged him to cancel.  He said, “Don’t worry about it.  People up here are used to cold weather.  They’ll still come out.”  Stupidly ignoring my better judgment, I made the trip.

About 10 miles from the hotel, my interior lights started to dim.  I began pleading with the car, calling it pet names, promising it all the oil and gas it could drink if it would just get me to the hotel.  The lights continued growing dimmer, both inside and outside.  I could barely see where I was driving.  It occurred to me that people die in these circumstances.  This was before cell phones, and there wouldn’t be much chance of flagging down a passing motorist — only idiots and comedians drive in -45 degree weather.

The car began to shudder and shake and finally quit on me four blocks from the hotel.  I zipped my parka all the way up to my nose to form a peephole, grabbed my suitcase, and began running.  By the time I reached the hotel doors, my shivers had degenerated into near-convulsions.  I had to blink several times per second to keep my contacts from freezing.

I called the club owner and told him I needed a ride.  He sent an employee to pick me up.  When the show began, there were nine people in the club, playing pool in the bar.  None of them had a ticket for the show, but the club owner said they could stick around and watch for free.  Four of them wisely declined, saying they wanted to leave before their engine blocks froze.  So I performed for five people.

On the local TV news that night, a reporter showed that he could toss a glass of water into the air and it would land as chunks of ice.  The hotel had the heat all the way up, so it was several degrees above freezing in my room.  I slept in my clothes, with both a sweater and a sweatshirt.  I still woke up shivering.

The next day I called to have my car towed to a local garage.  The mechanic told me it would be at least Tuesday before he could even look at it — there were dozens of dead cars ahead of mine.  Lovely.  The club would only cover the hotel for the two nights I was performing, so I would be paying for two or three nights from my own pocket.  Meanwhile, it warmed up a few degrees, so we had nearly a dozen people attend the Saturday-night show.

My car wasn’t brought back to life until Wednesday.  The damage was about $350, wiping out most of my paycheck from the club.  The extra hotel bill wiped out the rest.  I spent three days shivering in my room, watching TV and reading books.  At mealtimes, I ran back and forth to a diner a few blocks away.  The food was mediocre.  I didn’t care.

A couple of weeks after I returned to Chicago, I received a notice from my bank — the club’s check had bounced.  I tried to call the club, but the number wasn’t in service.  They were out of business.  Between the car repair, the hotel bill, gas, and the days away from my hourly-wage job, I figured it cost me about $1,000 to perform two shows for fewer than 20 people.

Now that’s cold.

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Comments 8 Comments »

When I was still living near Los Angeles, a guy who parked in our neighborhood had a bumper sticker on his car that read: DON’T MOVE HERE.  Heck, I did him one better.  I left for Tennessee.

Now that I’m here, I’ve received a couple of emails and blog comments similar to this:  “Tom, welcome to Tennessee.  You seem like someone who belongs here.  But do us a favor.  Don’t tell the people in California how great it is here.  We don’t want them all moving here and turning our state into another California.”

I fully understand the fear.  California was ruined by big-government leftists, who all seem to share a peculiar trait:  they have an amazing inability to recognize the damage they cause.  Worse, they always believe the damage was caused by someone else.  They’re like the kid who pees in a wading pool, then complains that the water is a weird color and doesn’t smell so good, then blames the lifeguard and finds another pool.

For example, a friend of mine sent me this article from the Los Angeles Times, written by a woman who is mad at California for no longer being a paradise and is leaving for greener pastures.  Here are some choice quotes:

For 18 years or so, I can honestly say that I was truly in love with you, but then came your first major transgression: Proposition 13.

Oh sure, you tried to tell me that property taxes were bad for our relationship, but I knew you were lying. Low taxes, you said, would bring us closer together. You wanted to have your cake and eat it too. You said we could build schools and roads and parks without that tax money, but even back then I knew you were in denial.

Newsflash … California didn’t go broke building roads and schools and parks.  It went broke building a huge government bureaucracy that allows state workers to retire at age 50 or 55 and draw full pensions – paid for by taxpayers who will continue working at least another 10 years to support the state-government retirees.

Proposition 13 limited property taxes so longtime homeowners wouldn’t be forced to sell their homes when property values in California skyrocketed.  It’s insane to force old people to sell their homes to pay their taxes.  And despite what Miss Goofy thinks, California has one of the highest tax burdens in the country.  A lack of revenue isn’t the problem.  Runaway spending is.  Property taxes in Tennessee are low, but (amazingly) there’s no shortage of roads, schools and parks here.

We can’t pay our bills, and the phone is ringing off the hook with creditors calling from all over the world. Children across the state are losing healthcare, more than 766,300 Californians lost their jobs in the last year, and we’re at the top of the foreclosure charts. You need to change, and you refuse to admit it.

I realize most leftists have never read a book on economics, but it requires truly stunning ignorance to chide a state for going broke, not spending more on welfare programs, and losing jobs all in one paragraph.  Yes, it’s a shame that 766,300 Californians lost their jobs last year.  Perhaps that’s because big companies like Nissan (and small companies like mine) finally got tired of California’s punitive taxes and anti-business regulations and decided to relocate to Tennessee.

Newsflash number two … when employers are deciding where to do business, they don’t say to themselves, “Hmmm … I wonder if there’s a state where we could pay through the nose to support a huge bureaucracy … preferably one that requires us to provide health care for illegal aliens and build apartments for the homeless … and if we had to pay workers compensation claims for ‘stress,’ that would be awesome!”

Based on her reasons for being mad at California, it’s clear Miss Goofy is a big-government liberal.  That means she voted for exactly the type of economic illiterates who scared away employers and drove the state to the brink of bankruptcy.  And now, clueless that she was part of the problem, she’s moving to Washington state, where the economy is healthy.

By the way, Washington, like Tennessee, is business-friendly and has no state income tax.  I’ll give you 10-to-1 odds Miss Goofy’s brain isn’t capable of connecting that fact to the healthier job outlook.

So again, I understand the fears of my new neighbors.  If enough Miss Goofy types move here, pretty soon they’ll be voting for bigger state government and the higher taxes to pay for it.  Then the employers will go away, or at least stop locating here.  Then the Miss Goofy types will wake up one day and say, “What the @#$% happened to this state?!  Why did it go bankrupt?!  To hell with this, I’m leaving!”

With that in mind, here are a few reasons I would urge Californians not to move to Tennessee:

Your driving skills will plummet. The first day after moving in, I was driving in the left lane on a busy road and realized I needed to make a right-hand turn at an upcoming intersection. I put on my signal and prepared to do battle with all the me-first types who would surely attempt to speed up and get past me.  I also took the safety off my middle finger and cocked my wrist.

Then a weird thing happened:  the drivers behind me slowed down and let me in.  It’s happened again since then.  If this keeps up, I’ll lose my ability to make NASCAR-worthy maneuvers.  If I ever drive in L.A. again, I’ll probably get myself killed … or at least sit in the same spot on the freeway for several hours, waiting for someone visiting from out of state to let me change lanes.

You’ll feel no sense of victory when you finally get a table at a restaurant. When we first arrived we had no internet connection, so I went to a local Panera that offers free WiFi.  It was the lunch hour, and I felt myself tensing up as I approached the door.  What if all the tables are taken?  How long do I want to wait?  Do I really need to check my email right now?

But it turned out the place was only half-full.  I felt no great satisfaction when I sat down … next to an outlet where I could plug in my laptop.  I was also able to look up when I felt like it; no need to avoid eye contact with people glaring at me, wondering when the heck I’d pack up the laptop and leave.

You’ll feel no sense of victory when you get your kid into a good school. I know it’s a lot of fun to apply at several magnet schools, volunteer for committees and schmooze with members of the school board, hoping to earn enough points to get little Johnny or Jane accepted a few years down the line.  But really, that’s just wasted effort here.  The schools are all good.  In fact, when we walked unannounced into our local grade school (ranked 10 out of 10 on state scores) to see how to get our daughter into first grade, the principal came out of her office and gave us a tour, assigned our daughter to a teacher, then took us to meet the teacher.

You will lose your anonymity. A friend of mine who’s lived here for 25 years warned me that everyone I deal with will expect a bit of conversation.  And it’s true.  When I called the cable company to get set up, I ended up spending three or four minutes discussing “True Blood” with the nice lady who answered the phone.  (She thinks Bill the Vampire is hot, by the way.)  By the time I left the bank today, I knew the account manager’s husband collects rare knives.  And she knows I once received a baseball autographed by Sandy Koufax as a gift and, being a stupid kid, played baseball with it.

You won’t be able to feel righteously indignant when you fill up your tank. Since gasoline taxes here are low, the prices at the pump won’t make you angry at Exxon.  Likewise, you won’t be able to hate the auto insurance industry (my rates dropped by half after moving here) or the realty industry (homes and apartments are cheap compared to California).

There are Christian churches all over the place. If you watch a lot of TV shows and movies produced in Hollywood, you know that nearly all Christians are buffoons, killers, or hypocrites.  The only people more likely to commit murder, in the opinion of Hollywood script-writers, are rich white businessmen.  Since this is a prosperous area with a church on every other corner, it must be full of rich white businessmen who are also Christians.  I haven’t checked, but the murder rate here has to be astronomical.  (Although I assume the killers have a nice, leisurely chat about collecting knives with their victims before stabbing them.)

You don’t want your family anywhere near these chatty, conservative, anti-tax, well-educated, polite-driving, church-going fiends.  Keep your kids in Los Angeles, where they’ll be safe.


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