Worst use of an exclamation point

"View your electric bill online!" -- Seen on the back of an envelope from Com Ed.

Minutes of lost productivity

After overhearing this at work I froze at my desk and my eyes lost their focus for a full minute: "I haven't shaved my legs in so long they look like Christmas trees!"

Dear Mister Answer Man

Dear Mister Answer Man,
I was sweeping and mopping my floors this weekend. On the stereo at the time I was playing music from James Bond movies. Somehow this seemed inappropriate and I felt foolish doing household chores with this soundtrack. Is this a normal feeling to have?
Jerry in Lombard

Dear Jerry,
Your discomfort is understandable. The process may work better if you picture silhouettes of naked women doing gymnastics in slow motion while wielding brooms and mops.

Hot and sweaty but only along my right side

1985 - I got custody of Grandpa's car when he lost the ability to drive. It was a 1974 Buick, a huge rectangle of a car, light blue.

I was night manager of a business that was open until 9 pm, so I had to lock up after the employees were all signed out for the night. We worked one night in December that was unusually cold, and after I locked the offices and got out to the snowy parking lot, there were only two cars remaining, mine and the one Nicole and Nell came in. Their car wouldn't start and I lacked jumper cables.

Nicole and Nell were a matched pair as far as their weights, around 240 pounds apiece. When they asked for a ride home, it was not a tough question because the Buick could easily carry all of us and a couple more, if needed. Nicole and Nell were right there beside me, purses in hand, when we found that my car's back doors were frozen shut on both sides.

My eyes shifted from them to the front seat as I made some mental calculations of what would be feasible, and they started to laugh. Both front doors still worked and the three of us got in on the front seat. I was built like a blade of grass and found that if I reached to the right, I still could get both hands on the steering wheel. They lived on the west side so it was a lengthy ride across town and we could not stop laughing.

Remembering anecdotes of the worst incidents involving the local cops, we could've been pulled over by an officer curious to know what a skinny white boy was doing with two full-figured African-American women in such high spirits, and why they felt the need to share the front seat with me in a massive sedan on the rough side of town long after dark. No problem, and I had forgotten about it for years until I started remembering cars I used to have.

And that's why Chicago is known as the City of Decorum

The sign on the CTA bus yesterday had many of the usual prohibitions, plus one that caught my eye:
NO SMOKING
NO OPEN FOOD OR DRINK
NO RADIOS
NO WEAPONS
All the rules are illustrated with a little symbol covered by a red diagonal line. The "NO WEAPONS" rule has a handgun covered by the red slash.

So here's the scenario imagined by the Chicago Transit Authority: A citizen is about to get on the bus when he sees the sign, a friendly reminder. Suddenly he remembers he's carrying a Luger. Sensitive to the potential embarrassment of discovery, the citizen discreetly retreats and returns home to put his gun safely away before going out.

Think Muppetly, act locally

It was his sixth birthday and he was getting a party with a Muppet theme, per his wishes. He had one additional request.

"I don't think we should eat meat at my birthday party."

"Why, are you a vegetarian?"

"No, but the Muppets are animals."

Chicken was served. (It was good enough for the Swedish chef.)

Favorite train encounters, summer '08

1. I saw my favorite Chicago online diarist, Mimi Smartypants, and her redoubtable four-year-old daughter Nora standing in my usual spot on the platform waiting for the same train as me. I had never met Mimi although I've read her site every week for at least five years. I discreetly did a double-take, only three times, and didn't approach them. Not a fan of the awkward. When the train came, I took a different car than theirs so I wouldn't be tempted to spy. Then, remembering all the entertaining posts Mimi has written about Nora, I imagined them performing a song-and-dance number to unanimous acclaim in the aisle of their train car, something like "Me and My Shadow," with straw hats and canes, Nora's accessories in the tiny kid size.

2. The little girl standing right next to me in the train was crying as she talked to her parents on her cell phone; she looked like Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine. She had gotten on the wrong train and was surrounded by people twice her height, not knowing where she was going. She shut her tears off and got advice from her parents on how to get on the correct train and hung up. I asked if she needed any help but she was OK, just waiting for the train to stop so she could get on one going south. I said I had made the same mistake last year (true) and it was really embarrassing. She nodded along with my story and we had nothing else to say; then she got off and immediately disappeared in a crowd of grownups. I had never imagined that a mundane trainload of tired commuters could look so alien and menacing to a kid.

3. I've had enough of people seeking attention on the train just for the sake of attention (Link). So when a guy on the train last Memorial Day started moaning, I first looked to see if he was ill. He appeared healthy, about 20 years old, and was listening to a radio with earphones. He was moaning tunelessly, fairly loud, with the music. In the past I've ignored this kind of thing but this time I faced him and stared into the side of his head. He turned to me and explained that he was singing "God Bless America" along with the radio station; it was playing the song for the holiday. I smiled and nodded, not knowing whether the guy was serious. He appeared embarrassed and got off at the next stop. Did I ruin a patriotic holiday for a young citizen? Or did he get the attention he wanted? I still don't know.

Back to you, Walter

It's September 1964 and on the CBS Evening News, Walter Cronkite introduces a story by Roger Mudd, reporting from Ohio where Barry Goldwater is running as the Republican nominee for president. Due to a lack of preparation time, Mudd has to go on the air live with technical assistance from the local phone company.

Roger recalls that he had started his report: "...but the audience did not hear me say that, because Ohio Bell had patched me not into New York but into a local radio station, which happened to be playing an old Kay Kyser tune, "Three Little Fishies." What the audience heard when my mouth began to move was:
Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!
Boop boop dit-tem dat-tem what-tem Chu!
And they swam and they swam all over the dam.
It may be funny now, but back then nobody laughed. We swore and swore and kept swearing."

-- From the memoir The Place to Be, by Roger Mudd.

What they did before snapshots

"His widow embalmed his severed head and stored it in a velvet bag, as a keepsake." -- A description of what happened after King James beheaded Sir Walter Raleigh for treason in 1618, from the book A Voyage Long and Strange, by Tony Horwitz.

Be reverent

At the movies I never talk during the main feature, or even during the previews. I want to see coming attractions and besides, they're the loudest things I've ever heard and it would be pointless to try to talk over them. At the Century theaters, however, they've started running advertising before the previews; commercials for Coca-Cola or promotions for TV shows with girls in the Britney-Lindsay-Miley tradition.

K and I were sitting in the theater Friday afternoon while the commercials were playing, waiting for the previews to start. She and I were catching up on news and from a distance a voice bellowed, "Give us a break!" An elderly man had yelled from about ten seats away. He and his wife (call them John and Mary) were the only other people in the theater.

I said "Pardon?" and John complained that we were talking too loud and therefore, give him a break. K spoke up and said we'd stop talking when the commercials were over, and John said, "I'm watching the commercials; I can't hear them because you're talking so loud!"

This was something I hadn't considered. K and I lowered our voices while the same old ads played for ice-cold beverages and underage girls, but think about what life must have been like for John and Mary through fifty years of wedded bliss:

At their children's school play

Mary: There's Billy in the second row! You can really hear his voice out of all the kids in the chorus!
John: Give me a break! How can I read the sponsors listed in the program with your yammering!

At their first NASCAR race

Mary: This is amazing! Did you see how those cars were inches apart coming around this curve?
John: Budweiser, Gillette, Give me a break woman, Minute Maid, Craftsman...

Driving through Wyoming

Mary: John, look, I can see Grand Teton National Park from here!
John: Give me a break, I'm trying to read the billboards! You're spoiling my concentration!

Summer romance

I tried to understand the thinking of those five or six housewives, coming in every week like that. I was working a summer job in a public library on the south side of town near all the factories, back when the manufacturing economy still existed there.

A lady would walk in hugging a full brown paper grocery bag to her chest, and she'd set the bag on the book checkout counter. She'd reach in and take out a few books at a time until there were between 20 and 30 books returned.

All the books were old paperback Harlequin romances. All about 150 to 200 pages, usually with cover art in soft pastel colors. The cover illustrations were painted in the late 1960s to early 1970s and showed a close-up of a woman's face, looking thoughtful, as behind her stood a square-jawed, broad-shouldered man looking in her direction.

Those few women who borrowed sackfuls of romances each week were responsible for a large share of our library's circulation, and we employees recognized that, but what was so attractive about those little novels? I tried to find out by flipping through the pages looking for the good parts and the endings. There were a lot of references to tingling, special feelings, and a lifetime of security ahead for the lead female character.

I never did understand the women's need for repetition and predictability all summer long, but it was easy to imagine a lack of romance for those families bound to the factory life, blah blah blah. I could be wrong.

Twentysome years later I rented the movie Before Sunset with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. It was the sequel to Before Sunrise, which was good. During Before Sunset, I inched closer to the TV until I was within arms' reach by the end. I watched the whole thing a second time 24 hours later. On the third day I watched a key scene, set in a taxi, for the third time. On the fourth day I located the screenplay online, just in case I wanted to read it sometime. On the fifth day I found the soundtrack CD in a local store and bought it.

Yes, Before Sunset is a romance, but I'm not the same as those housewives back in my hometown. This is different. It just is. Shut up.

No more tears

As a child, I observed adults in person and on TV. Many grownup men wore neckties. This influenced my expectations of what I would wear when I grew up, and sure enough, I wore ties when I started working full time. No big deal. In fact, the only reason I have any success in the workplace is because I wear a tie. That's what Mother always says.

But there is a new breed of male coming to the office, and for them the most punishing aspect of the workday is to wear that tie. I don't know what adults they saw while growing up, but the neckwear requirement was an unwelcome shock upon starting the day job. You, reader, may be one of those very people, young or old, who feel oppressed by this kind of dress code. If so, Mister, don't tie it so tight.

Answered: the riddle of the ages

After talking to a young woman who had stopped by my desk, I felt a bit flushed. I felt my ears. One of them was very hot! The other was not. So am I hot or not? My left side is hot; my right side is not.

Attention southbound riders

For once, I could understand the words broadcast out of the public address system on the Belmont Avenue train platform. The Chicago Transit Authority employee was announcing what was already in the news: During renovation of the southbound platform, only one of the two southbound tracks would have trains.

The woman on the intercom, using her harshest, most patronizing tone of voice, reiterated that while the "outside" (or west) track would have trains running, the "inside" (or east) track would NOT have trains running during this period of renovation.

Still, I was surprised to hear the message at all, because the inside track had construction workers walking up and down the track doing construction-worky things, so I wouldn't expect trains to come along and send them all diving thirty feet to the street.

One other thing; the side of the platform that faced the inside track had this new temporary wooden fence, four feet high, blocking access to the inside track. If a magic train had come down the inside track sending construction workers flying, no riders could board it unless they vaulted the fence where the magic train's doors would open. This would cause a delay, which is something the CTA just doesn't tolerate.

Top ten over-the-counter medications OR Star Trek aliens

1. NasalCrom
2. Droxine
3. Sar 6
4. Chlor-Trimeton
5. Krodak
6. Aveeno
7. Marplon
8. Chondroitin
9. Natira
10. Zantac

Traveling head of state

President Bush toured Liberia today, honored to visit a country founded on the principle that every man (and woman and child) has the right to borrow a book, read it, and then return it so that others can do the same.

This can't be good

You know how when you're taking care of undisciplined children and they're making all kinds of mischief and then the phone rings or you get distracted, and after a while, suddenly you notice that it's too quiet and you get an awful feeling because you don't know where the kids are or what they're doing? That's how I feel since I realized that Dick Cheney hasn't been in the news in months.

Rapture, be pure

I'm looking for a class that teaches how to use plastic wrap to keep food fresh. I've tried Saran Wrap, Glad Wrap, and various other kinds of "cling wrap" but they stick together too much.

I pull about a square foot of plastic off the roll and it already folds on itself at the edges. I rip the wrap along the cutting edge and it stretches out, then breaks free and implodes into a shiny crinkly ball which is not helpful.

Using more plastic just makes it worse; it sticks to the length of my arm and the cats walk into the kitchen to get a good vantage point in the event that I accidentally suffocate myself.

If anyone can direct me to a class that meets nights or weekends, I'd be happy to take it (pass/fail).