Good morning

Ever since my brother James bought his house a couple years ago, we've heard his stories about how the neighbors are too noisy, the neighbors staged a dogfight in their front yard, the neighbors are stupid. So Mom and Dad weren't totally surprised to hear James in this phone call.

James: I found a guy lying in my front yard this morning.

Mom (calling to Dad): Pick up the other phone! James found a guy lying in his front yard this morning!

James: Yeah, he was face-down.

Dad: Hello?

Mom: James found a guy face-down in his front yard this morning!

Dad: Really?

James: Yeah, he was under my bushes. He had dirt on him.

Dad: What did you do?

James: He wasn't moving so I looked at him real close.

Mom: Wow! Was he alive?

James: He had a red shirt and green pants. He had brown boots on and when I rolled him over he had a white beard.

Dad: Really?

James: Yeah... actually, it was a garden gnome.

Mom and Dad: Ohhhh!

James: Made of plaster. A lawn ornament.

(The little man had been half-buried under some untrimmed bushes for at least two years.)

Instant car-ma

This morning I ticked off a bicyclist by walking on the sidewalk. He came up behind me and couldn't pass because the walk was narrow and fenced-in on both sides. I didn't try to get out of his way and he stayed close behind me. After about fifteen seconds of this the path opened up and he drove past, saying sarcastically, "Thanks for letting me pass." Just ahead of us the corner stop light turned red and he drove against it to cross State Street, where he swerved to dodge a car that had just started forward, having gotten the green light. The bicycle man gave the car a startled look and proceeded to cross its path. Whew! Good thing he was wearing a helmet today.

Origin of a sketch

John Cleese from The Pythons: Autobiography by The Pythons:
When we were making How to Irritate People, Michael [Palin] started to tell me about taking his car in to his local garage. He would ring the guy there and say, "I'm having trouble with the clutch." And this guy would say, "Lovely car, lovely car," and Mike said, "Well yes, it is a lovely car, but I'm having trouble with the clutch." "Lovely car, lovely car, can't beat it." "No, but we're having trouble with it." "Well look," he says, "if you ever have any trouble with it, bring it in." Michael would say, "Well I am having trouble with it and I have brought it in." And he'd say, "Good, lovely car, lovely car, if you have trouble bring it in." And Michael would say, "No, no, no, the clutch is sticking." And he would say, "Sign of a quality car, if you had a sticky clutch first two thousand miles, it's the sign of good quality." He was one of those people you could never get to take a complaint seriously. Michael and I chatted about this, and then I went off and wrote a sketch with Graham about a man returning a second-hand car and that sketch was in How to Irritate People. That was early '68, so when we started to write over a year later for Python, I remember we looked at the sketch again. Both Graham and I agreed the car was much too hackneyed, and within a moment we were in a pet shop and we said, "Which is funnier, could it be a dog or a parrot?" We argued the toss -- well, not argued, chewed that around a bit -- and decided it was the parrot. But it definitely came from the sketch about the second-hand car.

At least it was in color

Last night I dreamed that I saw a magazine photo of an old friend having fun at a party. This is how exciting my dreams have gotten. I'm not at the party, a friend is at the party, and I see her while flipping through a friggin magazine. I can't wait to fall asleep tonight and see if I'm in a waiting room with or without reading material.

Climate control

On Chicago radio there's an ad for a local car dealer; it says one of the selling points of this dealership is that they have "climate-controlled showrooms." Whee! How does that distinguish this business from others in the area? I assembled an expedition to explore those local automobile showrooms that lack climate control.

Porter's Lincoln-Mercury - Stepping through the door, one noticed a slight change in the barometric pressure, but it disturbed no one on our team. We walked around the perimeter of the showroom, checked our supplies, adjusted the straps of our backpacks, and marched out the door single-file.

Velasco Honda - All the explorers agreed that the humidity was suggestive of the atmosphere in the Madagascar rainforest. Jennings complained of feeling peckish, so I allowed him to consume his freeze-dried wild rice pilaf 45 minutes ahead of schedule.

Mungy Import Motors - As we attempted to enter, the door resisted our push. We finally combined our weight to shove our way in, leaning into a howling wind that blew glossy full-color brochures of Saabs and Audis into our faces where they stuck, obscuring our vision. Young Gary Groble was blown backwards over the hood of a sporty little convertible; thankfully, the tether that connected all of us kept Groble from being lost altogether. As expected, Williams stopped complaining that we had been walking through Chicago all morning with a bright red cord linking us at the waist.

Cahn Buick-Pontiac - We entered the showroom with all senses alert; we looked around and felt nothing unusual, save for an uncanny calm. The silence made the thunderbolt seem all the louder when it struck from the ceiling, drilling Nelson through the chest, scorching a big hole in his red velour pullover. Nelson collapsed to the linoleum and Doc rushed to his side. Doc checked Nelson's vital signs, paused, looked up at me and said, "Bill, he's dead." I clenched my fists, planted my feet, looked up at the ceiling tiles and with veins bulging out of my head screamed, "Ca-a-a-a-ahnn!"

Fleming Cadillac - The heat was enough to literally melt the tires of the DeVille in the middle of the showroom. The car's body itself was sagging like a Salvador-Dali-mobile with both front and rear bumpers almost touching the floor. I didn't understand how anyone could buy a car in this heat, and when I asked the salesman about it, he first denied that there was a problem. When his shoes got stuck in the melted rubber from the tires, he said that we needed more information to determine whether the trend was real. Jennings whimpered about feeling parched so I permitted him three sips from his canteen.

Conclusion: If this so-called "climate-control" technology can truly moderate the extreme conditions found in most Chicago automobile showrooms, it will lead to increased car sales and improve the local economy. Next expedition: A street fair that promises "balloons for the kids" undergoes a cost-benefit analysis.

Unfortunately my grandparents are all deceased

If you ever wanted to hear a dance remix of the Lawrence Welk Orchestra playing their theme, go here and click on Track 11, "Bubbles in the Wine."

Book report

I can't blame people for wanting to be respectful when someone dies, but after seeing TV coverage of Ronald Reagan's funeral I knew I needed a more complete account of his presidency than what I happened to catch on TV.

Lou Cannon's book President Reagan: the Role of a Lifetime is a satisfying description of what happened in the Reagan White House. The book is based on hundreds of interviews with Reagan's staff and cabinet and forty interviews with Reagan over a 25 year period. In 760 pages Cannon shows the strengths and weaknesses of not only the president but also those who worked for him. Especially helpful is Cannon's approach of trying to sort out what really happened when his interviews or printed sources yielded conflicting stories about important meetings and events.

The book includes lengthy sections on Reagan's successful work with Mikhail Gorbachev and also the Iran-contra affair. The following quotes are not representative of the book's major themes, but are characteristic of the interesting details found throughout. Regarding the investigation of Iran-contra:
The FBI and the independent counsel's staff had requested the notes stored in Poindexter's and North's desk computers, most of which had been destroyed. But Kenneth J. Kreig, a twenty-six-year-old Pentagon intern working for the Tower Board, asked also if there were backup copies of the notes in the computer's mainframe. This search produced the thousands of memos and communications by Poindexter and North that undergirded the investigations by the congressional committees and the independent counsel. Kreig is the unsung hero of the entire Iran-contra inquiry.

On CIA director William Casey:

...Reagan, normally uncomplaining, sometimes acknowledged that he had difficulty understanding what Casey was saying to him. "He'd give you problems... because of his mumbling," Reagan said. Even such a staunch ally as Bill Clark quipped that Casey was so difficult to understand that he was the only CIA director in history who didn't need a scrambler on his telephone.


I have to admire this method of dealing with the stress of war:
[Paratrooper Marc] Seiden, tall and broad-chested, from Brigantine, New Jersey, was the company clown. His rugged face, ceaseless ribbing, and New Jersey accent reminded fellow-paratroopers of the actor Bruce Willis. Seiden never let up... Pumping out light-machine-gun rounds -- with rocket-propelled grenades whizzing past -- he would pause to ask, "Do you think my butt's getting big?"

Seiden, killed in Iraq, is one of the subjects of the article "Two Soldiers" by Dan Baum in the New Yorker issue dated August 9 & 16, 2004.

Eggers and Cross

Dave Eggers interviews David Cross, kinda, in this short piece. Link courtesy of


Nixon's head was in the grass at our feet. We stood in the lawn that night looking down at the president on the little screen of the cheap TV placed on the ground. Nixon's head filled the screen as he delivered his resignation speech, and grass sprouted up in front of the president's chin as he spoke.

We were standing with the miniature golf course to our left and the "club house" to our right, where we had picked up the putters and golf balls that we still had in hand after playing. The guy in charge of the mini-golf had done us the favor of hooking up his portable TV to an extension cord and bringing it out where we could all watch the president resign as we stood under the floodlights and multi-colored streamers.

I hadn't wanted to go mini-golfing that Thursday night. Earlier that day they said on the radio that Nixon was expected to resign on TV that night and I wanted to stay home and see what that would look like. My Sunday School class had scheduled this mini-golf social event and Mom and Dad said I had to go.

We did have fun putting around the little obstacles on the course, and now after a couple rounds, some of us had been attracted to the glow of the TV while others stayed on the course. Vince and Doug were seeing how far they could drive a golf ball without hitting a windmill or a scale model of the Eiffel Tower. Occasionally a ball thwacked off a fence or a toy building, and it was so funny I thought Doug was going to pee his pants. They were laughing but trying to be quiet and so avoided getting yelled at by the grownups who were mostly gathered around the TV with about half of the kids.

Fed up

Did you ever sit in a classroom and see a student raise their hand to ask a question, but the student's real purpose is to demonstrate how smart they are? It takes them a long time to ask the question because they also have to unfold their intelligence for all to see.

That might've been the case this week when political journalist Jack Germond visited Chicago to promote his new book, Fat Man Fed Up. After opening remarks, he took questions from the audience of about 200 people. There were microphones set up on both sides of the room so everyone could hear the questions.

A man stood at a microphone and started to ask a hypothetical question about Ronald Reagan. The man began by explaining that while some countries have a head of state separate from a head of government, the United States combines both in the office of president. So how did this affect Reagan's response to events? Because he was both! He wasn't just head of state, he was the head of the government! In some European countries, these are separate offices, but... The intense man rephrased his question a second time and a third, and then someone from the back of the room shouted, "We get the point! Let him answer already!"

Mr. Germond admitted that he didn't know enough to answer the question and moved on.

Later he said (to the best of my recollection), "This book is a diatribe. I wrote it to get some things off my chest, so I could quit bothering my wife with my yip-yapping. If you're suicidal, don't read this book. It won't make you feel better. Most books like this have a 'solutions' chapter at the end, but mine doesn't."

In the book Germond finds fault with the public, politicians, and journalists, but also makes the point that we shouldn't look up to politicians or look down on them -- just look straight at them as human beings who aren't perfect but need to be held accountable for lies and misdeeds.

Pillow talk

From the New York Times, August 4:
Pfc. Lynndie R. England, the grinning face of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, appeared on Tuesday before a military judge who will determine whether she should face a court-martial on 19 charges of assault, misconduct, and posing for what the military termed "numerous wrongful photographs," including the now infamous one of her holding a naked prisoner on a leash.

Private England, 21 and six months pregnant, sat mostly expressionless as two military investigators described a carnival-like mentality among soldiers at the Iraqi prison where mistreatment of detainees and sexual high jinks were carried out with equal giddiness.

Private England, wearing a maternity version of military camouflage, appeared to suppress a smile as investigators described a videotape that showed her having sex with Cpl. Charles Graner, who prosecutors say was a ringleader of the abuse and Private England says is the father of the child she is carrying.

From a night in Iraq, before the scandal broke:

Lynndie: I. Love. You. So. Much. (kiss)

Charles: You're not just saying that because I'm a corporal? (kiss)

Lynndie: No. (kiss)

Charles: I love you too. I've been meaning to ask, is this here (touches her) a birthmark?

Lynndie: Yeah, but I can only see it if I use a mirror. I've always had it.

Charles: Well I love it too. (kiss)

Lynndie: What was that guy trying to say tonight?

Charles: Which guy?

Lynndie: Leash-boy.

Charles: Darned if I know. I think he was singing an Elvis song.

Lynndie: An Elvis song?

Charles: Yeah, (sings) "Put a chain around my neck, and lead me anywhere, oh let me be, oh let him be, your teddy bear!"

Lynndie: Oh, you are so bad! (kiss)

Charles: I know. (kiss) Hey, I'm ready, roll over and get in position.

Lynndie: Where have I heard that before? Ha-ha!

Charles: Heh-heh-heh.