Transition

As we move from an odd-numbered to an even-numbered year, please be aware of the corresponding changes.

Good for you in 2007, bad in 2008:

Butter

Carbohydrates

Eight glasses of water per day

Galoshes

Touch-screen voting machines

Trilobites

Doris Roberts

Bad for you in 2007, good in 2008:

Margarine

Sodium

Singing in rounds

Going outdoors bare-headed

Twister, the Milton-Bradley Game That Ties You Up in Knots

Pleasureville, Kentucky

Hello, ladies

The good news is that there's a new automatic air freshener attached to the wall of the bathroom at the office. The bad news is that it was installed at the same height as my head, near the sink. Once every so often, without warning, it squirts an orange-scented puff of spray. More and more, the right side of my head is smelling like citrus.

Mine have always gotten along fine

Heard at the office: "She got plastic surgery... breast argumentation."

U.S. Foreign Policy, 2003 -

We're gonna do it
Give us any chance we'll take it
Read us any rule, we'll break it
We're gonna make our dreams come true
Doin' it our way

Nothing's gonna turn us back now
Straight ahead and on the track now
We're gonna make our dreams come true
Doin' it our way

There's nothing we won't try
Never heard the word "impossible"
This time there's no stoppin' us.
We're gonna do it

On your mark get set and go now
Got a dream and we just know now
We're gonna make that dream come true

And we'll do it our way, yes, our way
Make all our dreams come true
And we'll do it our way, yes, our way
Make all our dreams come true
For me and you

The I Won't Share a Seat on This Train finals

Finalist 1 - Zach Trevor, Lincoln Park
Approaches the seat in a crouch, medium speed, smoothly turns, butt hits the seat at the same moment as his backpack hits the adjacent seat. Knees spread, legs open to 90 degree angle. Score: 7.0.

Finalist 2 - Josh Platty, Logan Square
Strolls down aisle, worldly weary, pauses, still pausing, resumes motion, moves sideways to stand over seat, eases down slowly to center position with one butt cheek on each seat "cushion." Knees spread, legs open to 105 degree angle. Score: 8.8.

Finalist 3 - James Kelpson, Pacific Garden Mission
Limps onto train car, walks away down the aisle, businesslike demeanor, stands in the aisle between two pair of empty seats, reaches down to right hip, detaches prosthetic right leg, places it in rightmost seat to the right of the aisle, moves to sit in the leftmost seat to the left of the aisle. Knees spread across four seats and the aisle. Score: 10.0.

Moment of silence is golden

Last Friday's news:
SPRINGFIELD — Sparking a debate over school prayer, Illinois lawmakers voted Thursday to require students to observe a moment of silence at the beginning of each school day.

By a 74-37 vote, the House set aside Gov. Blagojevich’s veto of the legislation, which he and others said promoted prayer in public schools.

“It may not mandate prayer, but that’s what it’s about,” said Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), who voted against the plan.

But supporters of the legislation, backed by Concerned Christian Americans and the Illinois Family Institute, said it would help young people come to terms with the everyday stresses in their lives.

“Our children deserve . . . a moment of silence,” said Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago). She said it would enable students to “listen to the rustling of leaves, to listen to the chirping of a bird, to listen to the tip-tap of a kid walking.

“Maybe we don’t have that to give. Maybe we love having this rushed, exciting world in which they live that helps to create the violence.”

Rep. Will Davis (D-Homewood), the bill’s chief sponsor, denied he was promoting school prayer but instead said a moment of silence possibly could avert tragedies like the recent school shooting in Cleveland, where a troubled 14-year-old shot two students and two teachers before killing himself.

“Just think if that student had an opportunity maybe to sit and reflect,” Davis said.
-- Chicago Sun-Times, October 12, 2007.

News of the Future, one year from now:

When Illinois lawmakers mandated in 2007 that a moment of silence be observed at the start of every school day, few people predicted the magnitude of positive changes that would result.

"Before the moment of silence, I used to smoke crack all day behind the Dumpsters because school was the best place to buy it," said Flookie Williams, a senior at Fillmore High. "After a year of listening to birdsong for one minute every day, I have renounced illicit drugs and acquired a new outlook on life." Williams, his counselor noted, used to communicate solely through American Gang Sign Language, but has since become proficient in English at a college level of understanding.

"I used the moment of silence to exchange text messages with my study buddies," Wendy Thames chimed in. Thames, also a Fillmore student, said that by using the moment of reflection with classmates to quiz each other on trigonometry concepts, she raised her grade in Math from a C to an A.

Heartening as these anecdotes may be, many teachers and parents say the greatest benefit from the moment of silence was the resulting elimination of violent behavior in schools statewide. Said Governor Blagojevich Monday, "I am proud to have pushed this legislation through, for all the lives it has saved."

Observers of Illinois politics expect easy passage of a proposed bill to expand the "moment" of silence to an "interval."

1981

"This is to get a new professor, pass it on," whispered the girl. She passed the clipboard to the girl next to her in Introduction to Physics. Eventually the clipboard made it to my row and I saw it was a petition, stating that we needed a new teacher because the one we were listening to in that huge classroom was difficult to understand.

This was true for a few reasons. The woman brought in to teach Physics was a replacement who started in the second week of class when the original professor had to go on leave for the rest of the term. Our substitute knew English as a second language and seemed to be leaving out vital parts of the lessons, leaving many of us looking at each other going, "What?"

I didn't sign the petition because I had an idea of what would happen, and it did: The signatures and statement were sent to the head of the department, who promptly showed it to our teacher. She seemed nonplussed and told us so. She taught the rest of the term and things never did lighten up or get clearer.

(Memory jogged by Oh That Annie. (Link))

Giant duck

Walking out of the grocery store, I saw something and my brain's first response was "Giant duck!" It was only an obese woman whose most prominent clothing was an oversize white golf shirt and orange Crocs.

Will

The air conditioning has kept the office so cold I started drinking hot tea and warming my fingers around the mug. I held my hand over the hot mug and figured that's about as close as I'll get to feeling like G. Gordon Liddy, who proved his manhood to his own satisfaction by holding his hand over an open flame until it burned. "The trick is not minding," Liddy said (or waiting until the tea cools a little, in my case).

I'd be so much fun at a Tony Orlando concert

Here's the start of the lyrics to "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Ole Oak Tree":

I'm coming home I've done my time
And I've got to know what is or isn't mine
If you received my letter
Telling you I'd soon be free
Then you'd know just what to do
If you still want me
If you still want me

Oh tie a yellow ribbon
'Round the old oak tree
It's been three long years
Do you still want me
If I don't see a yellow ribbon
'Round the old oak tree
I'll stay on the bus, forget about us
Put the blame on me
If I don't see a yellow ribbon
'Round the old oak tree

I heard that part where the singer says "It's been three long years" and I wondered what he was incarcerated for. If it was a federal crime, apparently he was in prison for either assault or money laundering, according to averages from the U.S. Sentencing Commission's Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics. For the record, here are definitions (from the site public.FindLaw.com) of the crimes in question:

In most states, an assault/battery is committed when one person 1) tries to or does physically strike another, or 2) acts in a threatening manner to put another in fear of immediate harm.

Money laundering statutes make it a crime to transfer money derived from almost any criminal activity (including organized crime, white-collar offenses, and drug transactions) into seemingly legitimate channels, in an attempt to disguise the origin of the funds.

Tony Orlando and Dawn recorded the best-known version of the song, but it was also recorded by Jim Nabors, Perry Como, and Lawrence Welk. Good luck picturing any of those people beating on somebody or laundering drug money.

Bus driver please look for me
'Cause I couldn't bare to see what I might see
I'm really still in prison
And my love she holds the key
A simple yellow ribbon's all I need to set me free
I wrote and told her please

Oh tie a yellow ribbon
'Round the old oak tree
It's been three long years
Do you still want me
If I don't see a yellow ribbon
'Round the old oak tree
I'll stay on the bus, forget about us
Put the blame on me
If I don't see a yellow ribbon
'Round the old oak tree

Now the whole damn bus is cheering
And I can't believe I see
A hundred yellow ribbons
'Round the old, the old oak tree

Tie a ribbon 'round the old oak tree
Tie a ribbon 'round the old oak tree
Tie a ribbon 'round the old oak tree
Tie a ribbon 'round the old oak tree

Ross Macdonald

Private eye Lew Archer asks an acquaintance to introduce him to a woman he sees in a restaurant:
"Introduce me to her."

"Why?"

"I've always wanted to meet her."

"I don't get it, Lew. She's old enough to be your wife."
From The Moving Target, a novel from 1949.

Paula Poundstone

From her book "There's Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say"
"I selected my seat on the self-service ticket machine at the airport the other day. The screen showed the seating chart and said, "Touch where you would like to sit." Looking around for surveillance cameras, I sheepishly touched my butt. What an odd command. Is that part of the PATRIOT Act?"

Nutrition

From Antonya Nelson's story "Rear View," in which a woman goes into a bar one morning to have a Bloody Mary:
The drunk on my right said, "That's a good breakfast drink. It's got food value. Beer has food value as well." He indicated his own glass. "This Guinness, here." We watched the creamy portion roil into the deep brown, mesmerizing as a geologic event. "But food, you know, does not have beer value." He, alone among the group, didn't even pretend to eat.
--From the book Some Fun.

Remaining vigilant for evildoers

A woman on the far side of the office screamed! Her desk had a cockroach under it! People ran around! What to do?! Somebody found a big box! They tricked the bug! It walked into the box! Holy dead end! They slammed the box flaps closed! Tight! I calmly advised, "SEAL IT WITH DUCT TAPE!" Didn't think they'd do it! They did! Then they called Maintenance! A guy in a grey shirt and black trousers had to come and pick up a huge box sealed with yards of waterproof heavy-duty duct tape! Looks like it didn't weigh very much! Those poor souls down in Maintenance! God bless!

White House Calls For Second Hanging of Saddam

On the day that President Bush received a National Intelligence Estimate detailing the renewed strength of Al Qaeda and a growing threat of terrorism against the United States, the White House called on the Iraqi government to exhume the corpse of Saddam Hussein in order to hang the deposed Iraqi leader a second time.

If Mr. Hussein were to be hanged before year's end, as the White House requests, it would be the second time in twelve months that Iraq's former president was executed.

"Al Qaeda in Iraq remains the primary source of terror to the United States and to freedom-loving people all over the world, and that's why we're confident that the new Iraqi government will demonstrate that they are committed to killing the cause of that terror as many times as it takes," said White House spokesman Tony Snow on Tuesday.

Although Osama bin Laden is widely believed to be based in the region bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan, the White House is following the urging of bin Laden in continuing to focus on Iraq. "There is no question, based on the statements of bin Laden, himself, not to mention others and al Qaeda, that they regard Iraq as the central front in the war on terror," said Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend (Link) in a press conference this morning.

That explains the flood pants

We get those thunderstorms that happen only during afternoon rush hour. Last week was typical. When we went out to lunch the sky was blue, and while eating I got a spot of something on my tie. But by 4:30 the sky was dark, clouded, and the rain started. I got down to the lobby to head for home and there were about thirty people watching the rain attack the windows.

The wind between the tall buildings made the rain change direction second by second; it looked like switching stations between competing versions of the Weather Channel. I had no raincoat but it was warm so I slid through the crowd and out the revolving door. Walking to the el stop, the rain alternated between power-washing my front and back until my shirt stuck to me all over. The neat thing was, when I got home, I found the spot had disappeared from my tie.

Same thing, two extremes

When I was about eight years old a friend who was about 12 said, "Have you had your sex talk yet?" I had not, and didn't think I would be getting it anytime soon. "It'll blow your mind," the boy said. "Your mom will take her clothes off and show you what a woman's body looks like. It's sex education. My mom did it this year."

I started to dread this sex talk in my future, hoping that I wouldn't have to go through what sounded like a very embarrassing experience. As it turned out, my sex talk consisted of being handed the S volume of the World Book Encyclopedia, and my older friend apparently suffered no ill effects from having seen his mom's naked self.

Actually, that kid's mom did the same thing when it was time to learn how to fill out a federal tax form. No! No, no, that's a joke.

I thought I was the only one who did that

"The first time he farted loud enough for anyone to hear, Radish yelped and ran out the door. The next time it happened, he turned and barked at his butt."

-- Bill Vaughn describes his dog in "Living in Dog Years," anthologized in the book Dog is My Co-Pilot.

Science marches on

Writer Paul Theroux, traveling by train through Turkmenistan, shares a compartment with an elderly Muslim man and a student who translates for the man.
I heard the whistle blow. The train slowly pulled out of Ashgabat station, and within minutes we were in the desert. The old man was delivering a monologue.

"He says that some years ago a man went to the moon," the student said. "He was from America. When he got to the moon, he heard a strange noise. It was an azan" -- the call to prayer, usually issued by a muezzin chanting from a mosque. "The astronaut recorded it. When he came back to earth, the scientists in America analyzed it, and they came to think that it was the voice of the prophet Muhammad."

"On the moon?"

"Yes. On the moon."

"Furthermore, he says that because of this the astronaut became a Muslim and began praying five times a day."

The old man was facing me, as though defying me to deny the story.

"I haven't heard this story."

"He says he believes it."

"What does he think about it?"

When this question was translated, the student said, "For him, it's good news."
-- From the article "The Golden Man" in the May 28, 2007 issue of The New Yorker.

Second grade

Ooh, Miss Schneider has a boyfriend! And he's an Army Man! And he's just back from Vietnam and coming to class today! This was the highlight of second grade. Some of us had never heard of a teacher having a life outside of school, or met a real Army Man before. Standing in his olive green uniform, he was the tallest person in the room, by far, and his hair was so short. He restrained himself from giving Miss Schneider a romantic embrace and kiss in front of the class, as we understood boyfriends and girlfriends did all the time. We got to ask him questions about Vietnam but he didn't give out any gory specifics. He did help Miss Schneider teach part of that day's lesson about how the Star Spangled Banner came to be written.

Later that year was another crazy thing we never had before. A substitute music teacher (not the usual Mrs. Harvey) brought a record player to our classroom and talked about patterns in music. The crazy part was when the teacher made her point by putting on a Beatles record.

Up until this point, our teachers had spent all their spare time getting kids to be quiet or sit down or stand still or some other boring thing. So when the visiting teacher put the needle on the record and we got to hear "Birthday" from the White Album, it was a naughty thing we were getting away with and all the kids giggled. A rowdy song in the middle of the school day! Now we were all seven-year-old hippies.

First grade

My first grade teacher was the only teacher who displayed a real dislike of me. She didn't seem to know what to do with me, and she usually wore a frown that was wider than her face. It didn't help that I openly mocked her in class once.

At the time, I was sitting in the first desk in this row. It was the middle of the school year and we were accustomed to a routine on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays of drawing 16 pictures to illustrate 16 vocabulary words (the "sixteen square paper"). It was tedious and a few of us weren't challenged by the assignment. I was ready on a Wednesday morning when Mrs. Condon said, "Class, get ready to make a sixteen square paper," and I said, "Oh, that'll be fun for a change!" Tod in the back row busted out with a laugh, and that's how I made a new friend. Mrs. Condon, to her credit, didn't hit me.

Later in the year, when I was forced to sit in this desk here because it was next to the teacher's, I got in trouble for doodling on my worksheets while waiting for others to finish the assignment (I wasn't the only kid waiting). I got in trouble for the totally original invention of the kind of spelling where you substitute numbers for words just to be clever. ("I had 2 go 2 the store 4 milk.")

The first day of class was the depressing start of a disappointing year: Mrs. Condon said, about midway through our first morning, that we were all going to the Laboratory! I pictured glassware bent into shapes seen only in Dr. Seuss books, filled with colorful liquids. I didn't know if I was ready for it, but I was willing if everyone else was going. We lined up and walked together down the hall behind our teacher, obeying the Primary Law of Walking in the Hall (Be Silent), when Mrs. Condon stopped next to one door labeled Boys and another door labeled Girls. These looked familiar. We learned that the teacher's name for the bathroom was Lavatory. No one else in my life has ever used that word.

This was the year I became conscious of the ongoing Vietnam War, and the boys understood that when we grew up, we would have to put on a green uniform and run around shooting guns in a foreign country. Again, I didn't know if I would ever be ready for it, but if all the other boys were going, I guessed I would go too.

Jennifer and Polly both had good senses of humor, but Jennifer was goofy while Polly had a more sardonic take on daily life. She had an older sister who must've been influential. Polly said, "Boys get all the cool toys, like Johnny Lightning cars, and guns, and neat stuff. Girls just get dolls and frilly dresses. (high-pitched voice) 'Ooh, look at me! So pretty!' All boring stuff." Jennifer, on the other hand, could do funny voices and characters, and laughed at her own silliness, which made everyone else laugh too.

One cool thing we kids got to do was give ourselves electric shocks with the Electricity Kit in the Learning Center at the end of the hall. One of the boys knew how to connect the wires with alligator clips to a large battery and a switch, and when you pressed the switch a jolt ran all the way from your finger to your shoulder. We'd pass that contraption around the table taking turns until it was time to follow the teacher back to the classroom. Simple pleasures are the best.

The other highlight was watching the grownups try to figure out the presidential election, but I covered that elsewhere. (Link)

Kitty Carlisle Hart

Here's my favorite part of NPR's remembrance of the recently deceased Kitty Carlisle Hart:
The Harts hosted parties and weekends for New York writers and celebrities, from Lerner and Loewe to Noel Coward to Cole Porter to Harpo Marx. After her husband died in 1961, Hart became increasingly involved in charity work and arts advocacy. She was named vice-chairman of the New York State Council on the Arts and took over as chair in 1976, serving in that capacity — with no pay — for 21 years. She saw the council through cutbacks and culture wars, defending controversial artists including Robert Mapplethorpe before the state legislature in Albany.

"I was called on the carpet," she told NPR. "After being raked over the coals, I finally said 'I know you all go to the opera.' Well, there was a lot digging in the ribs with that, 'cause they didn't all go to the opera. I said, 'And there's an opera that is played everywhere, and it's called Rigoletto. And it's filled with rape and murder,' I said. And I threw in incest, for good measure, and they didn't know the difference. And I won the day."

Cheer up!

Cheer up, Mr. President! If the job is getting you down, you can always finish your term in the same way you finished your service in the Texas Air National Guard.

Kindergarten

On the first day of kindergarten, our moms brought us to this classroom and stopped at the door as we kids walked on in. I walked straight over to that bookshelf on the right and picked a Disney-related book to start reading, looking for something entertaining. The teacher, Mrs. Ralston, corrected me by guiding me over to the center of the room where the kids had to sit cross-legged on the rug and listen to her. She looked even older than my grandma.

A few of us already knew how to read but we were all forced to learn (or relearn) how to count to ten and say the alphabet; it was No Child Left Behind, before its time. One kid did the best he could; when we were all supposed to answer the teacher's question out loud at the same time, he would say the answer (quickly) two seconds after everyone else.

There's the corner where Sandy threw up one morning. Spectacular! Her parents let her have Lucky Charms for breakfast, we saw.

Here's the circle of little tables where we sat for juice and cookie time. It was a good time to socialize and catch up with friends in the middle of the busy day, but one time I had to sit next to the "dumb" girl. She couldn't talk; maybe she was deaf. I tried an experiment: I smiled at her and she smiled back. I frowned as meanly as I could and she frowned back. Huh. Well, I was mostly a verbal guy and I had run out of ideas. I didn't look at her anymore.

Never fell asleep during the ten-minute nap time. My mat was too thin.

I remember having an eye for the girls in my class who had mini-skirts, but then, in 1967, most dresses for five-year-old girls were essentially that. The boldest outfit was a geometric mod look, inspired (years later I would realize) by a Mondrian painting. The girls had a weird ritual at recess: Their leader, the tallest one, would pick out a boy and all the girls would chase him around the playground. No boy ever got caught.

I would know some of these kids for the next 13 years, but we never reminisced about kindergarten; too recent, apparently.

Commercial slogans, 2007

Pepsi: More Happy

U.S. Army: Army Strong

Pepsi Army: More Army Happy Strong

Can a TV series change a life?

Six Feet Under finished airing the last of its five seasons on Bravo TV this week; what a way to end a series! (I never saw it on HBO.) One of its recurring themes was to show characters learning the best way to live the years remaining until they die. It inspired me to make a change in my own life: to stay inside and watch more excellent TV.

Love poem from Boogie Nights

I love you, you love me
Going down the sugar tree.
We'll go down the sugar tree
And see lots of bees
Playing, playing.
But the bees won't sting
Because you love me.

-- as recited by John C. Reilly who played Reed Rothchild, an actor AND a poet, in the 1997 movie Boogie Nights.

Mr. Grumpy on the park bench

Next time you listen to the news on TV or radio, wait for the phrase "on the ground" to be spoken. Is it necessary, that is, does it add anything to the sentence? It usually pops up in a story about international news, like "troops on the ground" or "conditions on the ground." It brings to mind the distinction between those humans who are earthbound and those who float through the air flapping their arms, dodging tree limbs and the occasional helicopter.

Speaking of radio, Chicago's WBEZ is hot for a new kind of "branding." It's the Chicago Public Radio station so the station ID at the top of the hour is thirty seconds of the phrase "Chicago Public Radio" repeated in about twenty different languages. It's not as captivating as it sounds. If their goal was to make me switch to another station, it's working.

This is the first neighborhood I've lived in where grown men ride bicycles on the sidewalk. Is this a new municipal ordinance or is it nationwide? Friday's bicycling man on the sidewalk also wore a parka with the snorkel hood up, which must've made it interesting at intersections. (It was 50 degrees at the time, but that's another rant.)

Midnight Cowboy lyrics

Next time you watch the 1969 movie Midnight Cowboy and you hear the instrumental theme, sing along:
He's
a Mid - night
Cow - ow - ow boy
Not
Your ordinary
Cow - ow - ow boy
Repeat as needed.

No fighting allowed in the war room

While the 1976 book The Final Days focused on the Watergate scandal, a section covers highlights of earlier years in the Nixon White House. Regarding Vietnam:
By the spring of 1970, Nixon, Kissinger and the NSC [National Security Council] staff faced a crisis. Cambodia was being used as a staging area by Communist troops. The possibility of invasion was discussed and an invasion plan was developed. Many of the liberal academics on Kissinger's staff -- among them Morton H. Halperin, Anthony Lake and William Watts -- were strongly opposed. "Don't worry about it," [Alexander] Haig advised them. "The Old Man will never go through with this. I've seen him come up to these decisions and then back away."

But the President did give his approval. Haig was elated. The others weren't. Kissinger called them his "bleeding hearts."

Watts went to Kissinger alone to state his objections.

"Your view represents the cowardice of the Eastern Establishment," Kissinger told him.

Furious, Watts got up out of his chair and moved toward Kissinger. He was going to punch him. Kissinger moved quickly behind his desk. He was not serious, he said. Watts, whose selection as the NSC aide coordinating the Cambodian invasion had just been approved by the President, resigned.

"You've just had an order from your Commander in Chief," Haig said. Watts could not resign.

"Fuck you, Al," Watts said. "I just did."

Kissinger called his staff together in the Executive Office Building to plead for their support of the decision. "We are all the President's men," he said, "and we've got to behave that way."
-- From The Final Days, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

Bathroom-telephone protocol

So I'm at Ned's party and there are lots of people standing around having drinks and hors d'oeuvres throughout his place. The phone rings and it's our friend Shelly who moved to North Carolina. She's calling long-distance to apologize to Ned for her lateness in sending a Christmas gift but it's on its way. Ned and Shelly talk for a while and then he passes the cordless phone to me, and I start to catch up on what's new with Shelly.

There's music playing on Ned's stereo and as we chat, I automatically leave the living room to where I'll be able to hear better. I step into the bedroom and then I realize: when Ned remodeled his place he had the whole place wired for sound. The music is playing in every room. I drift through the crowd into the office, but the music is just as loud.

I should've taken the phone into the bathroom and closed the door because it was the one place without the speaker system. Unfortunately, Shelly and I were having so many laughs, I was afraid of having the party hear me whooping it up in the bathroom. I stayed in the office and was able to make do.

Reasons George Bush didn't mention New Orleans in his State of the Union message last night

* Mission Accomplished in 2005! Don't dwell on old achievements.

* People without electricity should learn to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, regardless of nationality.

* Sure, hurricane Katrina caused the "costliest natural and federal engineering disaster in American history" but it's doodley-squat compared to global warming.

* And global warming is a myth.

* They don't have TVs down there anymore; what they don't know won't hurt them.

* They're breathing the sweet air of freedom in New Orleans; they owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude.

Bob Newhart remembers Jack Benny

Bob Newhart tells the story:
The greatest comedian I've ever seen is Jack Benny. He wasn't afraid of the silences. Once Benny was following the Will Maston Trio with Sammy Davis Jr. They absolutely killed. The audience was still applauding for them when Benny walked onstage. He complimented them and then started his routine.

"In the afternoon, I like to have some tea. I go in the coffee shop, around four o'clock or four-fifteen." Pause. "More like four-thirty." (Terrifically unnecessary information, by the way.) Pause. "So I went into the coffee shop.... I did a movie with an English actor whose name I couldn't remember... he was in the coffee shop, but I couldn't remember his name..."

Here Benny stopped for what seemed like an eternity. "I'm sorry," he said, breaking the silence. "I promised Sammy Davis Jr. that he could do another number. Let's hear another number from him."

Everyone dutifully applauded, and Sammy reappeared onstage. He performed "Birth of the Blues," and destroyed the audience again. Benny returned to the stage, himself applauding, and watched Sammy and the band walk off. When the applause finally died down, Benny said, "Nevil. That was his name... Nevil."

Trust me, you don't do that unless you know it will play.
--From Newhart's memoir, I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This!

Moving forward

Karl: Good news, Mr. President!

George: Whatcha got for me, Karl?

Karl: We're going to repeal the 22nd Amendment!

George: Make drinking illegal again!?

Karl: No, sit back down, Mr. President! We're going to get you appointed President for life!

George: Uh, I didn't think we could do that, Karl.

Karl: We can! We already have verbal approval from Chief Justice Roberts. Mr. President, remember when we advised the voters in 2004 that they needed to re-elect you because there was a war on?

George: Yes. "It's unwise to change horses in midstream." I am the rememberer.

Karl: You certainly are, Mr. President! And because we will still be at war in 2008, it would be unwise to change commanders-in-chief at that crucial time. If a new president took office, things could turn chaotic in Iraq.

George: Yes, they could.

Karl: The country will still need your leadership after 2008. That's why the Republicans will insert a line into a huge spending bill; no one ever reads the whole thing. It'll give you the power to retain the White House as long as you decide we are at war. The Democrats will squeal when they find out, but Roberts has already agreed to uphold the law!

George: Uh, that's uh, great, Karl.

Karl: Now you'll be the man in charge when the evil-doers surrender in Iraq!

George: Yeah...

Karl: And you'll be the leader to win the war on terror! History will remember you so.

George: Yeah...

Karl: And I'll be right behind you, all the way!

George: Yeah. Karl, have you heard anything from Major League Baseball about that commissioner's job?

Karl: Nothing new there, Mr. President; just that Bud Selig is stepping down in 2009 and they don't know who'll take the office then. Why do you ask?

George: (Sighs.) Just curious, Karl. You know how I'm inquisitive about the world around me. Always gathering information, open to new ideas.

UFO forces cancellation of vacation plans

In today's Chicago Tribune, the Getting Around column by John Hilkevitch followed up on the UFO sighting reported at O'Hare airport. Many Tribune readers wrote in with their own UFO experiences, including this one:
I wish that people would believe what we know we saw. I'm afraid to go outside, and I can't sleep. I've purchased a large caliber pistol and have installed a top-of-the-line security system. Needless to say, I've also canceled my family's camping trip to Indiana Dunes.
--Scared in Indiana
Where to begin?

I have to assume that Scared is sincere, and also possesses great faith in the stopping power of a handgun. For a spacecraft to cross the galaxy and then be stopped at Scared's front door by a pistol requires either (a) that the aliens were plumb-tuckered out after all that travel, or (b) a weapon of extra-large caliber.

The home of Scared in Indiana has a new top-of-the-line security system, which the aliens know if they subscribe to the Tribune. If I was up against extraterrestrials and had to choose a security system, only a top-of-the-line one would do. This promises to be an attractive feature in the next commercial for ADT Home Security Systems: Gooey naked green creatures tiptoe up to a suburban home's window at night and carefully slide the window open, when BEEEP! goes the alarm and the invaders' tentacles pound the air once in frustration before they scuttle off to an easier target... one without ADT protection.

Finally, there's the Indiana Dunes, where the family of Scared in Indiana will NOT be camping this year, "needless to say." What is it about this park that would attract UFO pilots and thereby force Scared to cancel a camping trip? I've spent half an hour browsing the website for Indiana Dunes State Park, and frankly, I don't see what the appeal would be for interstellar travelers. Unless they're already in the state for the Dan Quayle Center and Museum. (Link)

Anyone watching from the shore?

"I didn't actually get up water-skiing. I was up for a second, then my arm ripped off and I fell."
-- Bryan Anderson, on life with prosthetic limbs. He served in Iraq, losing both legs and an arm. From the January 2007 issue of Esquire

That's what friends are for

"I wish I could chew gum." From a co-worker whose dental work interferes with his gum chewing

"It's easy!" From another co-worker just walking into the room

File under: German synth-pop, 1980s

"I think you'd really like him." Or so my ex-girlfriend said back in the eighties about her new boyfriend, and this was one of the few cliches she ever said. In fact, the new guy's one redeeming quality was his taste in music. She shared a mix tape he made, mostly of things I hadn't heard before, including "Duel" by Propaganda.

What brought all this back then? Sugartown! (Link) Go for the pictures, stay for the music.