Throw Back Thursday (#TBT)

#TBT

  • St. Patrick’s Day and Basketballs

    In honor of the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day a TBT column that ran in the Joplin Globe on March 17, 2002.


    St. Patrick’s Day is one of my favorite holidays.

    But it’s hard to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day without thinking about Monsignor Keogan bouncing a basketball off of somebody’s head.

    Keogan was the pastor of St. Xavier’s Catholic Church in Junction City, Kansas and by extension the superintendent of St. Xavier’s Catholic school which I attended.

    Every year on St. Patrick’s Day Keogan would call the whole school to a special assembly. He would tell a few jokes that most of us had heard many, many times, sing an Irish song or two and then, depending on his mood, give us the rest of the day off from school. Which was cool as far as we were concerned but, looking back, I’m wondering if Keogan bothered to tell our teachers or parents that he was planning on cutting us loose.

    He was kind of unpredictable.

    When I was attending St. Xavier’s Keogan, who was an Irish immigrant (Go figure, an Irish priest. What are the odds?), was probably in his 60s.

    But even at that age he loved soccer and never missed a chance to show us “lads”-which, I think, is Irish for “punks”-the proper way to kick a soccer ball. Of course, since we didn’t have any soccer balls Keogan had to settle for whatever he could get his feet on. Which in most cases meant the schools limited supply of Wilson basketballs.

    Every year Keogan would drop by the first day of high school, junior high and sixth-grade basketball practice to give each team a rambling pep talk that touched on such diverse topics as St. Joseph, Bob Cousy and boiled potatoes.

    I think.

    Keogan was kind of hard to understand. Think Casey Stengel with a thick Irish accent.

    Keogan would always end his pep talk by calling for a basketball and then asking a volunteer, normally some new kid, to run to the other end of the basketball court.

    Keogan would then kick the basketball at roughly the speed of light and bounce it off the unsuspecting volunteer.

    I remember when Keogan stopped by my sixth-grade basketball practice. Gerald Butler, in a misguided effort to curry favor during his next confession, agreed to be the volunteer.

    Butler ran to the other end of the court and Keogan, who seemed remarkably spry that day, stepped forward and kicked the holy water out of the ball which managed to hit Butler in the head so hard that his glasses flew off his head and landed in the top row of the bleachers.

    After making sure that Last Rites weren’t needed, Keogan laughed and said something that sounded like “Gaad bless ya. Ya little punk” and ambled on to the next practice.

    Butler, by the way, wasn’t hurt too badly. He did miss a few days of school and, later, developed a strange habit of occasionally laughing out of context.

    But other than that, he was fine.

    Keogan also liked to drop by the locker room before our sporting events to lead the team in prayer.

    For example, before our football games, Keogan would lead us in “The Lord’s Prayer” and then after a solemn “Amen” would yell “Now go out there and slaughter them”.

    It was kind of a mixed message.

    Speaking of Butler’s kicking mishap, at least once a year a nun would get tattooed in the head by a stray kickball. This was always an accident because no one that I knew-not even Jimmy Becker-had the guts to take on a nun.

    It was some kind of mortal sin, I think.

    In those days nuns still wore habits. The habits weren’t like those big, jumbo 747 things that Sally Field wore in the “Flying Nun”. They were more like the outfit the nun in “The Blues Brothers” wore.

    Whenever a nun would get hit in the head by a kickball the top of her habit would bounce one way and her head would bounce the other way. It looked kind of like a really slow-moving tennis match.

    But no matter how funny the nun with her rotating head and habit looked, every kid on the playground knew better than to laugh.

    Laughing at a nun who has just gotten hit in the head by a kickball is always a mortal sin.

    So, instead, what you heard was 50 or 60 fifth-and sixth-graders all trying to stifle their laughter.

    It sounded like frogs with hiccups.

    So, tonight, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I will pop in our well-worn copy of “The Quiet Man” open a Guinness and toast Monsignor Keogan.

    I’ll also take a moment to wonder what ever happened to Gerald Butler. And if he’s still laughing out of context.

     

  • Relationship advice for men

    This column first appeared in the Joplin Globe on Feb. 14, 2013.


    If you know anything about me at all, you know that I am an expert on romance and relationships.

    Look, some people can hit a curveball, and some people can help others with matters of the heart and if ever there was a day when matters of the heart really matter, today is that day.

    Valentine’s Day is the one day of the year when men everywhere can express their love for their significant others by purchasing a card with a heartfelt, romantic message written by someone else or by buying red flowers picked out by a complete stranger,

    Sadly, some men still are confused about their role on Valentine’s Day. In the past several weeks, several of these men have reached out to me, seeking advice on ways to woo their love on this romantic day.

    The first thing I told them was to quit using the word “woo.”

    Women hate that word, and if you say it the wrong way, it sounds like “WHEW” which doesn’t suggest romance as much as it does relief.

    One gentleman named Rufus wrote me to say that his wife complains that he doesn’t share his feelings with her.

    “Mike, what are these things called ‘feelings’ that my wife speaks of? Do I have them, and if I do am I legally obligated to share them?”

    Rufus, I get this question a lot. Feelings are the things that make you tear up when you watch that Coke commercial where the football player tosses his game jersey to that little kid. Feelings are also the things that make you smile after a really good burp.

    And, yes, you are legally obligated to share your feelings with your wife. But trust me, after you’ve shared your feelings with your wife for a few days, she’ll ask you to stop.

    Burt wanted some advice on gift giving.

    “Mike, I have been married for 10 years, and I keep hearing people talk of Valentine’s Day. What are my responsibilities vis-a-vis my wife when it comes to Valentine’s Day? Also, did I use ‘vis-a-vis’ correctly?”

    Burt, according to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, instead of using “vis-a-vis” you should have used “whom.”

    Now, to your more pertinent question. It doesn’t really matter what you do for your wife on Valentine’s Day as long as you do something. Burt, like most men you have set the bar so low that simply knowing that it’s Valentine’s Day will win points with your wife. I bet if you go home tonight and greet your wife with a heartfelt “Hey, I read on Twitter that today is Valentine’s Day,” then grab a beer and plop down in front of the TV to watch “SportsCenter,” your wife will wait at least 30 minutes before she leaves you.

    Finally, I received an email from a guy named Ralph who also said he was confused about what to do for his wife on Valentine’s Day.

    “I just don’t get her. Last year she complained that I never give her anything on Valentine’s Day, so I got her a bowling ball, and she got even madder at me. I pointed out that I went to the trouble of getting her a red bowling ball, but she told me that she didn’t even bowl. My question is this: Do you know anyone who wants to buy a red bowling ball? If so, email me at Ralph@divorced.com.”

    You raise an interesting point, Ralph. Sometimes what we think is a wonderful Valentine’s Day gift is not so wonderful to our wives. For example, scented vacuum bags make a lousy Valentine’s Day gift.

    I know that now.

    Also, be careful with workout DVDs, gym memberships and subscriptions to Sports Illustrated.

    I hope this column has been a bit of help for those of you out there who are still trying to find the perfect gift for that special someone. Just remember, when you give your loved one her Valentine’s Day gift, ask her if she wants you to share your feelings with her.

    I’m guessing she won’t.

     

  • I’m Dog Tired

    This column first appeared in the Joplin Globe on May 6, 2006.


     If I fall asleep while I’m writing this, then please just go about your business.

    I know, I know. Normally if anyone is going to fall asleep it will be you, the reader, and not the writer.

    And I, to paraphrase our president, are the writer.

    I are also a dog owner.

    We have a new dog at our house. Well, to be honest, we don’t have a new dog at our house, we have a new puppy. Anyone who has raised a puppy knows that there is a big difference between a dog and a puppy. One of those differences is bodily functions and the place where those bodily functions need to take place. Properly trained dogs know that bodily functions take place outside the house. Puppies don’t know that. Puppies think bodily functions take place wherever the puppy happens to be at the time of the bodily function.

    As far as I can determine, puppies do three things: sleep, whine and do bodily functions.

    It was my wife’s idea to get a puppy and, even though I’ve answered this question many times before, I know what you’re thinking and once again — no, my wife does not smoke crack.

    My wife thought a puppy would make a nice gift. Our dog, Shadow, died last May and we had been talking for several months about getting a puppy for our 8-year-old daughter, Emma. But our discussions have centered more on the planning and not so much in the doing. My wife wasn’t sure she wanted a new puppy. Emma was sure she did. I was in the middle.

    Emma wanted a puppy that would grow to become a horse. My wife wanted a puppy that would actually shrink. Again, I was in the middle. So I was surprised when, last Friday night, my wife and Emma told me that they found a puppy that was part Labrador retriever and part border collie. I was even more surprised when my wife said we could pick it up on Saturday. But I agreed to go. That’s what you do when you’re in the middle.

    When we got to the Joplin Humane Society on Saturday, the Lab/border collie puppy was gone. But Emma noticed a black and tan puppy in a cage. The card on the cage said the black and tan puppy was part German shepherd and part Labrador. I’m no dog expert, but I’m thinking a German shepherd/Lab mix is not going to be a small dog. When I looked into the cage, I think I could actually see the puppy growing.

    “Let’s get her,” my wife said.

    For the last time: NO, MY WIFE DOES NOT SMOKE CRACK!

    Emma named the puppy Shiloh after a book series she likes. Of course, in the book I think Shiloh is a male. I suggested we call the puppy J-Lo (it does have a big butt for a pup), but Emma and my wife decided to go with Shiloh.

    To help Shiloh buy into the concept of outdoor bodily functions, my wife and I are using the crate method. In the crate method, you take all the puppy’s indoor bodily functions, put then in a crate and mail them to Rush Limbaugh. Ha. That would be redundant.

    No, in the crate method you leave the puppy in a crate until it wants to do a bodily function. Then you take the puppy and watch it wander around for 30 minutes. Then you put the puppy back in the crate where it does a bodily function. You do this every couple of hours. Even when you would rather be doing something else — like sleeping.

    My wife and I are starting to get tired of the crate method. We are both starting to feel like we will fall asleep at the most inopportune ti-zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

    WHAT? I’m up. I’m up. Let’s go, Shiloh.

  • Slowly venturing into world of Twitter

    This column first appeared in the Joplin Globe on July, 19, 2012


    I continue to evolve as a member of the 21st century.

    A few years ago I managed to grasp the concept of texting, and then, last year, joined the world of Facebook. I don’t do much texting and I don’t really understand the world of Facebook, but at least I have dipped my toes into the waters of both.

    In the past few weeks, I have slowly ventured into to the world of Twitter and have even begun to tweet (If tweet is, in fact, the correct word) on my own. To be honest, I had no interest in tweeting until the folks here at the Globe told me I had to learn how. Tweeting, at the Globe, is much like compulsory military service except we don’t have to wear uniforms.

    It was explained to me that Twitter would be a great way for me to connect with the readers of our paper.

    “But what if the readers of the paper don’t want me to connect with them?” I asked.

    I was told that if the readers of the paper didn’t want to connect with me they didn’t have to. I was told that the world of Twitter is pretty much voluntary. In order for me to connect with someone on Twitter, I was told, someone would have to have agreed to “follow” me. The goal, it was explained to me, is to accumulate as many “followers” on Twitter as possible. It’s sort of like accumulating hotels in Monopoly.

    Kelsey Ryan was the person at the Globe assigned to teach me how to tweet. Kelsey is a young person and, as such, was born with a computer keyboard in one hand and a smartphone in the other hand. In five minutes, Kelsey was able to teach me all about Twitter. Then, after those five minutes, Kelsey had to spend an hour explaining what she had taught me.

    I was not a quick study.

    Eventually, I was able to figure out the basics of Twitter and discovered that I sort of like it. First of all, because you are limited to 140 characters in Twitter, it’s easy to do. As a columnist, I am required to write a certain amount of copy each day. With Twitter, I don’t have to write as much copy. The way I figure it, I’m getting paid the same amount of money when I tweet as when I write columns but am having to do way less work.

    I like that.

    Despite the fact that Twitter is less work than writing a column, I still haven’t tweeted (Is that the right word?) much. As of Thursday afternoon, I had only sent six tweets. Here is a what I said in my first tweet: “Going to the Webb City Farmers Market. Who wants pie?”

    When I typed that tweet, Kelsey looked at me as if I had burped at her wedding. “You really want to say that?” she asked.

    Kelsey hurt my feelings.

    Carol Stark, my editor, said I should use Twitter to let our readers know what I’m working on, which might be difficult since I seldom know what I’m working on. For example, as I type this I have no idea what I’m doing.

    From what I can tell, millions of people use Twitter every day to tell other people what they are working on. Some people use Twitter to tell people that they aren’t working on anything. Some people use Twitter whenever a random thought pops into their heads. Sometimes that’s a bad thing, but sometimes that’s a good thing.

    I “follow” Steve Martin on Twitter, and this tweet from Steve just popped up on my screen.

    “My M.D. has asked me to stop calling him a ‘durn polecat’.”

    I think that’s funny.

    So now I tweet, and tomorrow I … well, I have no idea what I’m doing tomorrow.

    I should probably tweet about that.

  • Garp logic: Cardinals get the win

    This column first appeared in the Joplin Globe on Sept. 24, 2006


    As the St. Louis Cardinals appear to be heading for the playoffs, they have lost their closer, have lost their big-time left-handed starting pitcher, have a center fielder experiencing dizzy spells and blurred vision, have a shortstop who has trouble running and have a pitching staff that is erratic in the sense that erratic means awful.

    And you know what?

    I’ve never been more confident that the Cardinals will win the World Series in my entire life.

    There’s a scene in the movie version of John Irving’s novel “The World According to Garp” in which Garp, played by Robin Williams, and his wife, played by some actress, are considering buying a house. While they are standing outside the house checking it out, an airplane crashes into the home. Right away, the Robin Williams character says that he and his wife will buy the house even though there is a small plane stuck in it.

    “Honey, the chances of another plane hitting this house are astronomical,” Williams says to his wife.

    “It’s been pre-disastered.”

    That’s the way I feel about the Cardinals this year: They’ve been pre-disastered. In the past, the Cardinals would wait until right before the first game of the World Series for something to go wrong. As evidence of that, I point to the 1985 World Series “tarp incident.” If you remember, the 1985 Cardinals were built on speed, not power. I may have made this up, but in 1985, Jack Clark led the Cardinals in home runs. He hit two home runs. I think Ozzie Smith was second that year. Ozzie hit one-half of a home run.

    By far the most important player on that Cardinal team was Vince Coleman. Naturally, on the day before the World Series against the Kansas City Royals was to begin, Vince was run over by a tarp. (Note to you young people: This is not a joke. The Kansas City Royals did appear in the World Series. Actually, they appeared in two.)

    That’s right – a tarp. In his own home ballpark!

    Later, in game six of the series, umpire Don Denkinger might have, just maybe, missed a call at first base. The call was important only in the sense that the Cardinals probably would have won the game and the series had Denkinger not sort of misjudged the play at first base. Later, television replays would clearly show that while the Royals’ Jorge Orta was still at least a foot from first base, Denkinger was standing in line at the concession stand trying to order a plate of nachos.

    In 2004, when the Cardinals faced the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, someone – and again I may be making this up – broke into the Cardinals’ clubhouse and stole all their bats, forcing the team to use Wiffle bats for the entire series.

    But this year, I feel good. I mean, what else could go wrong? Well, that’s a dumb thing to say. Plenty can still go wrong, but I don’t think it will. I mean, what’s worse than losing your closer? Or your center fielder? Or your left-handed starter? Or your shortstop?

    See, this year when the idiots – er, I mean experts – on ESPN start talking about the playoffs, every one of them will say something like, “Well, the Cardinals don’t have a closer, and their center fielder is dizzy, and their starting pitching is weak, so they can’t win. Oh, and BOO-Ya.”

    I don’t know why the “experts” on ESPN have to yell BOO-Ya, but they do.

    But my point is that the ESPN experts are morons – well, except for Joe Morgan – so if they say something will happen, you can pretty much count on the exact opposite to occur.

    I don’t think the ESPN experts have seen “The World According to Garp,” so they don’t understand about being pre-disastered.

    So, this year I’m saying the Cardinals will win the World Series. Why? Because right now, they sort of suck, which means they are in perfect shape to win the Series.

    Well, unless Albert Pujols comes down with a case of food poisoning after eating in his own restaurant.

    Or, if Don Denkinger decides he wants to umpire again.

     

  • Studying for some mettle tests not necessary

    This column first appeared in the Joplin Globe on May 18, 2010.


    Some men of a certain generation, I suppose, occasionally wonder how they would react if their mettle were to be truly tested.

    I, for one, wonder that. I also wonder what, exactly, my mettle is and why someone would want to test it.

    Monday night, my mettle was tested, and I think I reacted as I thought I would. I got the hell out of the way. My wife and I were at a Springfield Cardinals baseball game. I love going to Springfield Cardinals baseball games. For my money, Hammons Field in Springfield is one of the best places to watch baseball in the country. There truly is not a bad seat in the stadium, and Monday, thanks to our friends Don and Gloria, and friends of theirs who I can’t mention because folks would think I was sucking up, my wife and I had really, really good seats.

    The seats were in a suite. See, Don and Gloria were given access to one of those fancy-schmancy suites for the Monday night game, and Don, knowing that I’m a large baseball fan and specifically a large St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan, invited my wife and me to join them at the game.

    There was a time when I would have thought watching a baseball game from a fancy-schmancy suite was sort of above my raisings. There was a time when I thought watching a baseball game in a fancy-schmancy suite was — I don’t know — sort of Republican.

    Ha! That’s just a joke for my Republican friends.

    Who were in the fancy-schmancy suite.

    But then I found out that they have free beer in most fancy-schmancy suites. When I found that out, I pretty much said, “Obama, you’re on your own.”

    But I don’t want you to think I’ve gotten spoiled with all my fancy-schmancy suite sitting, free beer drinking, baseball watching. I’ll have you know that I spent almost the entire game sitting in the outdoor seats in front of the fancy-schmancy suite. And it was cold Monday night. And I was wearing shorts and a short-sleeved Stan Musial T-shirt.

    I know!

    The only time I left my outdoor seats to go into the fancy-schmancy suite was to get a beer. Or another bratwurst for my wife. So, as far as I’m concerned, I’m still a  man of the people.

    One of the advantages of sitting in a fancy-schmancy suite at Hammons Field is that you are in prime foul ball territory. The disadvantage to sitting in a fancy-schmancy suite at Hammons Field is that you are in prime foul ball territory.

    Here’s the deal. When a batter hits a foul ball, at least to the fancy-schmancy suite I was sitting in, the ball tends to get there in a hurry. These are not the types of foul balls that are typically caught by someone with his bare hands. Unless that someone does not intend to use his bare hands for the next year or so. What usually happens to someone in a fancy-schmancy suite at Hammons Field who tries to catch a foul ball moving faster than a BP oil executive for the border is that the baseball breaks the hand of the person in the fancy-schmancy suite and falls down to a 10-year-old kid with a glove. The kid picks up the ball while the paramedics are rushing into the fancy-schmancy suite above his head.

    It was somewhere in the middle of the game. I was sitting in my seat outside the fancy-schmancy suite when a batter — I think it was Hank Aaron — hit a vicious foul ball in my direction. As the ball got closer, it was clear I had two choices.

    Choice No. 1: Stick my hand through the aluminum bars next to me and make an athletic bare-handed catch that so impresses the Springfield Cardinals manager that he phones the big club and I’m immediately whisked away to St. Louis and penciled in to bat behind Albert Pujols.

    Or Choice No B : Get the hell out of the way.

    Here’s the deal. I didn’t just see the baseball coming in my direction. As it got closer, I heard the baseball. It was making that whoosh-whoosh noise that only things traveling very fast make.

    There are not many rules of life that I choose to live by. But one of the rules I do choose to live by is this rule: If you can hear a baseball coming at you, get the hell out of the way.

    And that’s what I did.

    Oh, Don and Gloria and the guys whose names I can’t mention because people would think I’m sucking up: Thanks again for the invite. And I forgive you for making fun of me about the whole not catching the foul ball thing.

    Oh, in case the rest of you are wondering, I got a C on my mettle test. I nailed the essay.

  • There’s plenty to do on a rainy Saturday

    This column first appeared in the Joplin Globe on May 9, 2006.

    It had all the makings of your basic busy Saturday.

    There was a time when, for me, the words busy and Saturday were mutually exclusive. When I was single, my idea of a busy Saturday was one when I had to get up before noon – on Sunday.

    My Saturdays, in those days, were not exactly chock-full of accomplishments. They weren’t the sort of days when I had to sit down and make up a “to-do” list. If I did make a Saturday “to-do” list in those days, it would have read something like this:

    No. 1: Wake up.

    No. B: Find out where I am.

    I’m married now, and I have an 8-year-old daughter named Emma. So my Saturdays are a little different from when I was single. Some Saturdays, we even have to set our alarm clock and make a “to-do” list.

    Last Saturday was one of those Saturdays. Emma had a soccer game at 9:30 a.m. I am the coach of Emma’s soccer team, which means I pretty much need to be at the game too. After the game, Emma was supposed to go to a birthday party in Joplin at 11 a.m. Then, at 1 p.m., she needed to be at Missouri Southern State University for something called “Young Authors.”

    It was to be a full day.

    On Saturday morning, the alarm clock went off at 6:30. At 8:30, we got up. Emma was already dressed in her soccer uniform and working on her third Pop-Tart. At 8:45, I went outside to get the newspaper. I noticed it was raining. At 8:47, my phone rang. It was a parent of one of Emma’s soccer teammates. She wanted to know if the game had been canceled. I told her no. She didn’t sound happy. At 8:50, our phone rang again. It was another parent wanting to know if the game had been canceled. I said no. She didn’t sound happy. At 9 a.m., my wife came downstairs. She wanted to know if the game had been canceled. I said no. She didn’t sound happy.

    At 9:15, we drove out to the soccer fields. Well, we think they were the soccer fields, but we couldn’t really tell what with the water and all. I stopped a guy and asked if the soccer games had been canceled. He said no. Then he swam away. He didn’t sound happy. At 9:45, I told the two parents who showed up for the game that they might as well go home. They didn’t sound happy.

    At 10 a.m., we arrived home, and my wife told Emma to hurry and change for the birthday party. At 10:15, my wife found Emma, still in her soccer uniform, watching TV. My wife asked Emma why she hadn’t changed her clothes yet. Emma said, “Oh, did you mean today?” My wife said something else to Emma. She didn’t sound happy.

    At 11:05, we arrived at the birthday party in Joplin. Emma was mad at my wife. My wife was mad at Emma. They both were mad at me. And it was raining.

    Emma had fun at the party. A lot of her friends were there. She ignored my wife and me. At 12:30 p.m., my wife told Emma we had to leave the party to go to Young Authors. Emma didn’t want to leave. My wife told Emma she had to. So Emma said goodbye to her friends. She didn’t sound happy.

    At 12:40, I dropped Emma and my wife off at a big building at Missouri Southern and went to find a place to park. I found a place to park next to a sign that said “Welcome to Kansas” and started walking back to the big building. That’s when I discovered that I had left our other umbrella at the birthday party. Did I mention it was raining?

    Emma had a great time at Young Authors, and so did her mother and I. It’s a neat deal. During the school year, participating schools have their kids write stories in class, and they send them to the folks in charge of Young Authors. The folks in charge of Young Authors read all the stories and then invite kids from each school to attend the event at MSSU. On Saturday, the kids got to meet and talk with two real authors. The authors talked to the kids and their parents about writing. They told stories and talked about their books. We bought Emma several books, and she had them signed by the authors.

    When we drove home, it was still raining. My wife and I listened to “A Prairie Home Companion” on the car radio, and Emma read one of her new books.

    As we pulled onto our street in Carthage, my wife told Emma that we were very proud of her for being selected to participate in Young Authors. Emma said, “Thank you.”

    She sounded happy.

     

  • Small talk goes better with beer

    This column first appeared in the Joplin Globe on Oct. 1, 2011

    My wife had several important work-related events this weekend that required my presence.

    I don’t like my wife’s work-related events that require my presence. Mainly, I don’t like my wife’s work-related events that require my presence because they often require me to make small talk. I’m not very good at small talk.

    Actually, I’m not very good at large talk either. Unless the topic is sports or beer, I’m not much of a talker. Here I am trying to make small talk with the Queen of England.

    Me: Hey, Becky.

    Queen of England: HELLLLLLLOOOOOOOOOOOO.

    LONG PAUSE.

    Me: Boy, I hate the designated hitter rule.

    Queen of England: Oh sure, like everyone is just dying to see pitchers bat.

    LONGER PAUSE

    Me: Want a beer?

    I’m not much of a deep thinker. I don’t spend much time thinking about things. So, when I have to make small talk, I’m pretty much out of things to say after about 30 seconds. My wife, on the other topic, is wonderful at small talk. My wife has an amazing ability to strike up a conversation with anyone. My wife could make Marcel Marceau talk.

    By the way, when I Googled Marcel Marceau, to make sure I had spelled his name correctly, one of the options that popped up was “Marcel Marceau quotes.” I thought that was funny.

    My wife and I were once standing in the food line at a social function when my wife struck up a conversation with a young man standing in front of her. At the time, I was talking to my younger sister, Chris, who doesn’t like to make small talk either. Chris and I were talking about the fact that my wife doesn’t mind talking to complete strangers. After a few minutes, Chris and I stopped talking to listen in on my wife’s conversation with the stranger in front of her. As it turns out, my wife wasn’t so much talking as she was listening. The stranger was telling my wife about his time in prison and about a pending assault charge against him that he said was “bogus, man.”

    As my wife listened to the stranger talking about his bogus assault charge, she gave me a look that said “If you don’t do something and get me away from this guy, but without being rude, I will rip your lungs out and use them to line our new kitchen cabinets.”

    It was, as it always is, a heck of a look.

    In return, I gave my wife a look that said “Don’t look at me, Oprah. You’re the one that started talking to John Dillinger here, so as far as I’m concerned, you’re on your own.”

    Mine, also, was a heck of a look, but it was a look I would later regret.

    I will say that I find it much easier to make small talk with a beer in my hand than without a beer in my hand. When I have a beer in my hand, I always know that I have a way out. If the small talk making begins getting awkward. All I have to do is look at my beer and say: “Look at that. I’m out of beer. I better go get another one” and then I can walk away leaving the person I was small talking with to say “Whew, I thought he would never finish that beer.”

    At many of my wife’s work-related events I find myself making small talk with Robert Corn, the Missouri Southern State University men’s basketball coach. Robert doesn’t like to make small talk either, so we always seek each other out so we can stand together and not make small talk.

    “What did you and Robert talk about?’ my wife will ask later.

    “Nothing,” I will say, and my wife will be amazed.

    ‘How can two people talk about nothing?” she will say.

    “Look at that; I’m out of beer,” I’ll say and walk off to find the Queen of England again.

  • Optimism shouldn’t be just for the dogs

    This column first appeared in the Joplin Globe on May 2, 2007.


    I wish I was more like our German shepherd Shilo.

    Not because I could lie around the house all day sleeping and occasionally scratching myself. I get to do that on the weekends. No, I wish I had Shilo’s optimism. Shilo is just over a year old. We’ve been taking daily walks since she was a couple of months old. About six months ago, Shilo began taking a keen interest in birds, squirrels and rabbits. Her interest in birds, squirrels and rabbits can be summed up as follows: “I’m interested in wanting to catch them and seeing what they taste like.”

    So for six months now, whenever Shilo has the chance, she will chase any bird, squirrel or rabbit that happens to catch her eye. I need to be clear here: Shilo has absolutely no chance of catching any of the birds, squirrels or rabbits she comes across. First of all, birds can fly, so whenever Shilo gets near one, it — follow me here — flies away.

    I’m not sure exactly how smart Shilo is. I’m guessing she is at least as smart as your average member of Congress, although it’s hard to tell. But I’m pretty sure Shilo has noticed that birds can fly and she can’t catch them, but she keeps trying. She’ll see a bird in our back yard, and all of a sudden she’ll change from a relatively lazy family pet to a stealthy, wild jungle hunter. Although, to my knowledge, there aren’t many German shepherds hanging around the wilds of the jungle. She will slowly creep forward (how she learned to creep I don’t know) until she’s ready to pounce. Of course, just before Shilo begins her pounce, the bird she’s after will calmly fly away.

    Squirrels and rabbits can’t fly (I’m not getting too technical here, am I?), but they can run. Very fast. Squirrels have the added advantage of being able to climb. For six months now, Shilo will see a squirrel or a rabbit and give chase. The chase never lasts long. Yet Shilo keeps trying. I’m sure that every morning when Shilo wakes up, the first thing she’s thinking is, “How come my food bowl is empty?” But after that, Shilo is thinking, “Today’s the day. I’m going to catch a bird, a squirrel and a rabbit.”

    See, I’m just not that optimistic. I mean, I’m optimistic, but I’m not THAT optimistic.

    I don’t get up every morning and think, “Today’s the day. The Pulitzer folks are going to call.” Or, “Today’s the day. The Kansas City Chiefs will call me about their quarterback position.”

    I wish I was THAT optimistic. I wish a lot more people were that optimistic. See, I think we have too many pessimists today. Optimists make things happen. Pessimists keep things from happening. If a pessimist had discovered fire, it never would have caught on.

    “Owwww. Fire hot. Fire burn. Fire bad.”

    No, fire obviously was discovered by an optimist. “Me cold. Fire hot. Me not cold. Fire good. Now put baby back ribs on fire. UMMM … fire really good.”

    This country was founded by optimists. Guys and gals who were optimistic enough to think, first of all, that the British could be beaten. I mean, even though the British talked like sissies, they did have a pretty tough army. Then the guys and gals who founded this country were optimistic enough to think that something called a democracy would work.

    Optimists have been responsible for the some of the greatest medical advances in history. Jonas Salk? Your basic optimist. Right now, even as I write this, optimists are working on new and promising tools to fight cancer. Also, there are hundreds of thousands of optimistic cancer patients, fighting their disease, who are convinced that those tools are just around the corner.

    Optimism, like fire, is a good thing. Optimism gives you hope. Optimism gives you a reason to get up in the morning. Optimism gives you a reason to try.

    Just ask Shilo.

     

  • Politics and the art of panhandling
    This column first appeared in the Joplin Globe on Sept. 24, 2009

    I don’t get many letters anymore, what with that whole e-mail thing. So I was surprised the other day to get a letter from some guy named Jack Goodman.

    The envelope was addressed to me and appeared to have been produced by an old-fashioned typewriter. At least it had that typewriter look; of course, it’s also possible that the computer people have somehow managed to make a font style that looks like it was written by typewriters but really wasn’t.

    But that’s not my point. My point is, that in this day of all e-mail all the time, some guy named Jack Goodman wrote me a letter. Sure, in the return address corner of the envelope I did notice that Jack was associated with something called Jack Goodman for Congress, but I figured that was OK. I mean, if a guy wants to run for Congress that’s his business. I was just happy that Jack wrote me a letter.

    “Hey,” I thought to myself. “Maybe Jack knows that I’m a big-time (OK, small-time) newspaper columnist. Maybe Jack wants to pick my brain about what he should do if he were to get elected to Congress. Maybe, like me, Jack likes to watch ‘The Daily Show.’”

    Then I opened the letter. I decided Jack probably doesn’t like “The Daily Show.” The letter started off OK. There was a quote from William F. Buckley Jr. at the top of the letter. I liked William F .Buckley Jr. I didn’t agree with him most of the time, but I liked him. Then Jack told me that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid called a bunch of people “un-American” and “evil-mongers.” I understood the “un-American” part but I was a little unclear how someone goes about mongering evil. But, again, it was nice that Jack thought I should know what Nancy and Harry said.

    Jack went on to tell me how Nancy, Harry and Barack Obama were trying “… to dismantle America to usher in the new age of American Socialism.”

    I wasn’t so sure that was true, but what the heck do I know? Besides, if Jack thinks it’s true, it’s OK with me. Again, I was just glad he took the time to write and share his thoughts with me. It was nice, is what it was.

    Later in the letter, Jack mentioned that he was running for Congress, which, I suppose, explained the Jack Goodman for Congress logo on the front of the envelope. Jack said he needed my help to run for Congress. Again, I thought that was nice but I wondered what a big-time (OK, small-time) newspaper columnist could do to help Jack run for Congress. Then I read the next paragraph.

    “Oh,” I said.

    Here’s what Jack said in the next paragraph:

    “I need you to be one of 200 people to join in the Goodman Brigade this month by contributing $100 before Sept. 30, to our campaign.”

    My first reaction after reading Jack’s request was: “Cool! A brigade. Do we get uniforms?” My second reaction after reading Jack’s request was: “One-hundred bucks? Are you crazy? I don’t even know you.”

    I don’t mean to pick on Jack here — but, hey, he’s the one hitting me up for 100 smackers — but do I understand that it takes money to run for public office. And I understand that folks running for public office sometimes need to ask people for money, but the whole thing seems sort of rude. Asking folks you’ve never met for money seems like … well, it seems like panhandling.

    I also don’t mean to pick on Republicans running for office because Democrats are just as bad about panhandling as Republicans are. But so far I’ve only been hit up for money from Republicans. The funny part about the whole getting-hit-up-for-money thing is that I — to use an economic term — don’t have any money.

    See, I work for a newspaper and my wife and I have an 11-year-old daughter.

    Several years ago, the guy who was the Missouri Speaker of the House before Ron Richard became the speaker used to ask me for money. I didn’t have any money and I didn’t know the guy, so I didn’t give him any money. But he kept asking.

    Ron, on the other hand, knows me. That’s why Ron has never asked me for money. That’s why I think Ron is smart. I’m not saying Jack isn’t smart. I’m just saying next time he’s looking for 100 bucks he ought to get to know who he’s asking for money from. Even real panhandlers size up the mark before they hit them up for cash.

    Toward the end of his letter, Jack said he will “work to make sure American families get to keep more of their hard-earned money …”

    I’m with you on that one, Jack.

  • 2007: The year in preview (Part 2)

    This column first appeared in the Joplin Globe on December 28, 2006.

    Well, the fact that I didn’t hear anything from Rosie O’Donnell leads me to believe it’s safe to continue with my annual look forward.

    So today we complete “2007: A Year in Preview.”

    July: The nation’s economy hits a slight speed bump as the price of gas rises from a relatively modest $5.79 a gallon to $27.99. A Big Oil executive denies that the spike in price has anything to do with the fact that the summer driving season is officially under way. Then he buys Europe.

    In response, a furious Democrat-controlled Congress immediately launches a series of hearings into the Dick Cheney hunting accident.

    In sports, the NBA playoffs, which began in February, finally end. In a frantic championship game, the Miami Heat defeat the Los Angeles Lakers by a score of 456 to 455. No one seems to notice.

    Rosie O’Donnell and Donald Trump get into a fight with the guy Dick Cheney shot.

    August: With gas prices now at a record $77.99 a gallon, American consumers begin to think about “maybe someday cutting back on our driving just a little bit.” Meanwhile, Ford Motor Co. launches a new line of super-sized, jumbo, mega-SUVs that get a whopping three miles per gallon. Most people buy two.

    With an approval rating of 2, George Bush heads to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, for a brief, two-month “working vacation.” No one seems to notice.

    In entertainment news, Michael Richards’ comeback attempt hits a snag when, during an appearance in Nome, Alaska, he tells an off-color joke involving an Eskimo and two polar bears.

    Rosie O’Donnell and Donald Trump get into a shouting match with an Eskimo.

    September: As the summer driving season winds down, the price of gas falls back to a more reasonable $20.99 a gallon. Faced with diminished profits, the Big Oil executive is forced to sublet Scotland.

    In politics, Hillary Clinton announces that she has raised “like 27 jillion dollars” and says she is close to deciding if she is considering whether to run for president.

    Meanwhile, John Kerry announces that he has raised “about 30 bucks” for his presidential run. No one seems to notice.

    In sports, New York Yankees outfielder Babe Ruth is suspended for violating the league’s hot-dog policy. George Steinbrenner immediately trades his own soul for the soul of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. The deal falls through when Steinbrenner’s soul fails to a pass the required physical.

    Rosie O’Donnell and Donald Trump are seen holding hands and shopping for china.

    October: Work on a fence designed to run the length of the Mexican border is halted when immigration officials discover that the fence actually is being built along the border between North and South Dakota. No one seems to notice.

    In Washington, Republican members of Congress vow to block Democrat-controlled hearings into George Bush’s pronunciation of the word terror by “lying on the floor and kicking their feet.”

    In baseball, the Kansas City Royals defeat the New York Yankees to win the American League pennant. An enraged George Steinbrenner fires “everyone in America.” Two weeks later, the Kansas City Royals defeat the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.

    In a related story, the devil announces that for some reason it’s “getting really cold down here.”

    Rosie O’Donnell and Donald Trump announce they will be married in December.

    November: With the holiday season officially under way, the price of a gallon of gas rises to an unprecedented $279.99 a gallon. To celebrate, a Big Oil executive buys the rights to the phrase “Who’s your daddy?”

    In television news, Fox launches a new reality show starring Mel Gibson and Michael Richards. Executives say the new show — titled “Guess Who’s NOT Coming to Dinner” — will be tasteful, “in a racist sort of way.”

    In a related story, Rush Limbaugh accuses Stevie Wonder of “pretending to be blind to sell more records.” No one seems to notice.

    And in order to show her serious commitment to Donald Trump, Rosie O’Donnell announces that after the couple’s marriage, she will adopt Trump’s hair.

    December: Nancy Pelosi announces plans to launch a series of hearings into President Bush’s pardon of the holiday turkey. Meanwhile, Bush, with an approval rating of minus 1, holds his first news conference in four months. No one seems to notice.

    Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt announce that they will name their second child Trigger. Meanwhile, Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise announce that they will name their second child Done. The baby, the couple explain, will be named after Cruise’s career.

    And finally, Rosie O’Donnell and Donald Trump are married in an elaborate ceremony in New York City. Later, at the couple’s wedding reception, Danny DeVito throws up all over their gifts.

     

  • 2007: The year in preview (Part 1)

     This column first appeared in the Joplin Globe on December 27, 2006.

    Some people spend a lot of time looking backward.

    That’s why everywhere you turn this week, you’ll find news folks putting together those “Year in Review” stories. You know what I mean? The stories in which they look back at the major news events of the previous year and remind you how important those stories were. Well, to me, that’s spilt milk (to quote James Garner). That’s why I don’t do “Year in Review” stories.

    Instead, I like to do “Year in Preview” stories. See, I’m a forward-thinking guy. Besides, it’s a lot easier to do a “Year in Preview” story than it is to do a “Year in Review” story.

    So here we go with “2007: A Year in Preview.”

    January: The year gets off to a rough start when Dick Clark, broadcasting live from New York City’s Times Square, decides to go to bed at 10:15 p.m., and Rosie O’Donnell steps in to take his place. Rosie then picks a fight with the New Year’s baby.

    In politics, Democrats take control of Congress for the first time in more than a decade. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi vows that her party will soon start accepting “more dignified types of bribes.”

    February: In a Valentine’s Day special on the television show “The View,” surprise guest Danny DeVito walks onto the set and throws up in Barbara Walters’ lap. Later, Rosie O’Donnell gets into a fight with Cupid.

    In politics, President Bush, with an overall approval rating of 3, requests TV time for a “very important speech. Really, I mean it.” The NFL Network is the only network to agree to carry the speech.

    “What the heck?” an NFL Network spokesman says. “All we had to air anyway was a replay of the 1977 Super Bowl.”

    Speaking of the Super Bowl, this year,  it features a record 37 hours of commercials and no actual game. No one seems to notice.

    In other sports news, major league baseball players report for spring training. In a related story, the Kansas City Royals are officially eliminated from the pennant race.

    March: Britney Spears and Paris Hilton go out on the town again. The next the day, the Internet crashes around the world.

    In an effort to block congressional hearings on the lead-up to the Iraq war, Republicans — in a cunning parliamentary move — vow to hold their breath until they turn blue. Also, Nancy Pelosi stirs up controversy when she is spotted in a white pantsuit before Easter. Rush Limbaugh calls the fashion faux pas a “slap in the face of our brave soldiers.”

    In sports, the Kansas University basketball team, in a minor upset, loses in the first round of the NCAA tournament to a junior-high team from Ohio.

    Also, Rosie O’Donnell picks a fight with Bob Knight.

    April: President Bush returns to Washington, D.C., after a month-long vacation. Democratic members of Congress respond by saying, “Oh, were you gone?” Later, appearing before a congressional committee, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice admits that the entire prewar strategy on Iraq consisted of “a Ouija board and that cool 20 questions game.”

    In sports, the New York Yankees, in a blockbuster deal, acquire Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Later, a happy George Steinbrenner says: “All it cost me was the souls of my grandchildren’s grandchildren. Oh, and Derek Jeter.”

    Rosie O’Donnell immediately picks a fight with Babe Ruth.

    May
    : New York Sen. Hillary Clinton finally makes it official when she announces that she “might be considering the possible formation of a committee that will determine if I will think about running for president.” In a related story, the FOX news channel announces plans to run a “docudrama” titled “Hillary: The Antichrist.”

    John Kerry also announces his plans to seek the Democratic nomination. No one seems to notice.

    In entertainment news, Mel Gibson announces plans to film a remake of the Barbra Streisand film “Yentl.” Gibson says his film will be much like the original, except “not so Jewish.”

    In sports, the New York Yankees lose 12 games in a row. George Steinbrenner trades for the soul of Billy Martin. Then he fires him.

    Later, Rosie O’Donnell gets into a bar fight with Martin.

    June: Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt announce that they are expecting their second child. Initial plans call for the baby to be born on Mars. Not to be outdone, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes announce that they, too, are expecting a second child. The couple say the baby will be born on Oprah’s couch.

    With an approval rating of 2.7, President Bush announces plans to invade Sweden. No one seems to notice.

    In sports, the Kansas City Royals reel off 22 consecutive wins and seemingly lock up a spot in the baseball playoffs. Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration confirms reports of pigs flying.

    In a surprise move, Rosie O’Donnell and Donald Trump apologize to each other and later are seen picking a fight with Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise.

    That’s all for part one of “2007: A Year in Preview.” We’ll look at the rest of 2007 on Friday.

    Unless Rosie O’Donnell picks a fight with me.

     

  • Leather chair prompts fear of PETA protest

    When I say “We,” I mean my wife picked it out and told me we were buying a new chair for our bedroom.

    Wife: We’re buying a new chair for our bedroom.

    Me: Why?

    Wife: Because.

    Me: I see.

    I really didn’t see.

    Seriously, we are in week 27 of a major redo of three upstairs bedrooms and, because of that, I can’t currently see the furniture in our bedroom. So I didn’t understand why we needed a new chair.

    “Since we can’t see our current furniture, why don’t we just say we bought a chair?” I asked my wife.

    Basically, what my wife said was for me to put a sock in it. So I did. Not literally, that would be stupid. But I dropped my chair objection.

    Well, until my wife told me that we’re buying a leather chair for our bedroom. I’m uneasy with leather furniture. I don’t exactly come from leather furniture people. I have six brothers and sisters. In my family, having leather furniture would have made as much sense as a family of Labrador retrievers having furniture made of squirrels.

    I’m always afraid I will slide off leather furniture. Plus, I’m not sure how, exactly, they make leather. If they make it the way I think they do, I’m afraid somebody from PETA would eventually knock on our door if we owned leather furniture. At the very least, I worry that those cows from the Chick-Fil-A commercials will picket our house.

    My wife, however, does come from leather furniture people. I’m not saying my wife’s family actually had leather furniture. I’m just saying they could have had leather furniture if they wanted.

    My wife thought a leather club chair would add class to our bedroom. I told my wife that a crystal chandelier and Gary Grant in a tuxedo couldn’t add class to our room.

    That time my wife told me to put a *&^%$#@ sock in it.”

    My wife told me she found a leather club chair for our bedroom at a large store where we pay money to shop. I’ve never understood the concept of paying money to shop in a store, but I guess that doesn’t matter because one Saturday, a couple of weeks ago, my wife and I drove to the large store with the cover charge to buy a leather club chair. When we got to the chair aisle, my wife pointed to a chair high up on a shelf.

    “There it is.”

    “OK, let’s get someone to pull one from the back,” I said.

    “No, I want you to sit in it first,” my wife said.

    “I thought this was the chair you wanted,” I said.

    “But I want you to try it to make sure you like it,” my wife said.

    “But I don’t want this chair,” I said.

    “I know. But I want you to like it,” she said.

    “Do they sell beer here?” I asked.

    Even though we paid money to shop at the large store, we couldn’t find anyone to help me get the chair off the high shelf. So I did it myself, nearly having a heart attack in the process.

    “Now sit in it,” my wife said when I finally got the chair on the floor.

    I sat in the chair.

    “What do you think?” my wife said.

    “I think I’m having a heart attack,” I said.

    Then I slid out of the chair.

  • He’s just not a briefcase guy

    The time in 2008 when I discovered I was not a briefcase guy.

    This was published in the Nov 16, 2008 edition of the Joplin Globe.


    I can’t carry a briefcase.

    I mean, physically I can carry a briefcase, but mentally I’m not briefcase-worthy. Ever since I was a kid I’ve wanted to be one of those cool briefcase-carrying guys. You know, the sort of guy who strides confidently into a courtroom carrying a briefcase, smartly sets it on a table, unsnaps it and, with a flourish, pulls out a stack of papers that not only hold the key to his client’s innocence but also holds the key to the future of the entire free world. Resulting in the following dramatic exchange:

    Judge: Wait a minute, aren’t you the janitor?

    Briefcase Guy: Yes, I am. But I’ve got a cool briefcase.

    Judge: So you do. Case dismissed.

    I want to be briefcase guy, but sadly I’m more a lunch-bag guy than I am briefcase guy. It takes a special sort of guy to be a briefcase guy. George Clooney, for example, could be a briefcase guy. So could that guy on “Mad Men.” Which guy, you ask? It doesn’t matter. All the guys on “Mad Men” look like briefcase guys. Especially that guy who looks like Anderson Cooper. By the way, Anderson Cooper could be a briefcase guy.

    Know who cant’ be a briefcase guy? Carrot Top. Know who else can’t be a briefcase guy? George Bush. Barack Obama is definitely a briefcase guy. John Madden is not.

    And neither am I. First of all, I don’t look like a briefcase guy. I like to wear Hawaiian shirts, and I always look like I need a haircut, even if I’ve just had one. Guys who wear Hawaiian shirts and are in need of a haircut are not briefcase guys.

    To be a briefcase guy you need to have something important enough to put in a briefcase. You need important papers.

    I’m a newspaper columnist. The most important papers I deal with come in rolls. And nobody wants to see someone pull that out of a briefcase. Now, there are people who work in the newsroom here who do carry briefcases. But those people are reporters. People who actually do news work. People who deal with important stuff. People who don’t write about briefcases. Or beer.

    It would be silly for me to carry a briefcase. It would be like Sarah Palin carrying a book. I mean, what’s the point?

    I had to carry my wife’s briefcase the other day. My wife, by the way, is a briefcase woman. My wife looks cool carrying a briefcase. My wife has important papers she needs to carry. My wife has a big calendar in her briefcase where she keeps track of all of her important meetings. I don’t have any important meetings that I have to attend so I don’t carry a calendar.

    My wife’s calendar is huge. I know this because my wife left her briefcase at home Thursday morning. So she called me and asked me to open her briefcase, find her calendar and tell her what important meetings she had scheduled. So I did. When I got to November in her calendar, I told her that she didn’t have any important meetings to attend. I told my wife she had something scheduled for the next day but nothing for Thursday. My wife told me I was looking at the wrong calendar. I told my wife she was crazy. My wife again told me I was looking at the wrong calendar. I told my wife I was looking at her November calendar.

    “What year?” my wife asked.

    I told my wife that I was looking at this year’s calendar. I told my wife she would have to be crazy to already schedule stuff for next November.

    “What year does it say at the top of the calendar?” my wife asked in that tone of hers that makes it sound like I’m a moron.

    “2009,” I said.

    I hate that tone of my wife’s.

    My wife told me to bring her briefcase to work with me. She told me she would come to the newspaper and pick it up. So, I carried my wife’s briefcase out to my car. I opened my car door and causally tossed my wife’s briefcase onto the front passenger seat. I felt pretty cool. Then I drove to work. While I drove, I occasionally glanced at my wife’s briefcase. I felt cool. I felt sophisticated.

    When I got to the parking lot at work, I got grabbed my wife’s briefcase and got out of my car. I walked across the street, confidently carrying my wife’s briefcase. I walked past Ed Hershewe’s law offices. I wondered if people driving by thought I worked in Ed’s office. Then I wondered what Ed would think if he thought people thought I worked in his office. I decided Ed wouldn’t like that.

    Ed’s a briefcase guy. I’m not.

    I’m a Hawaiian shirt-wearing, haircut-needing columnist carrying his wife’s briefcase to work.

    I just hope that my wife won’t get too mad at me when she’s in the middle of an important meeting and she opens her briefcase and dramatically pulls out … a roll of toilet paper.

  • Child’s vision not so perfect after all

    Originally published in the May 22, 2009 edition of The Joplin Globe.


    I’m having second thoughts about our 11-year-old daughter’s eyesight.

    Last week, I mentioned that Emma expressed a hankering for reading glasses. And, yes, I did just type the phrase “expressed a hankering.”

    This is a little-known fact, but in Bill Shakespeare’s first draft of “Romeo and Juliet” the lovely Juliet stood on her balcony and said “Romeo, Romeo, where forth art thou. I would like to express a hankering for a kiss and what not.”

    I was an English major in college, so I had to read a lot of Shakespeare. I’m proud to say that in all of my reading I never once was able to figure out what the heck he was talking about. To me, reading Shakespeare is a lot like reading George Will, only without all the Ronald Reagan references. Of course, back in the day, I’m sure picking up a copy of the latest Shakespeare play was like picking up a copy of the latest John Grisham novel.

    And, yes, I did just type the phrase “back in the day.” Sometimes I type something even though I have a sworn hatred for what I’ve typed.

    “Back in the day” is one of those phrases I hate. I first heard someone use “back in the day” on NPR years ago. The person who used the phrase was talking about the Great Depression, which I figured qualified as being “back in the day.” But now teenagers say “back in the day” to refer to junior high school kids.

    Scooter: Remember back in the day when we had to take algebra?

    Biff: You mean last year?

    Scooter: Yeah.

    Biff: No.

    As far as I’m concerned, a minimum of 50 years needs to pass before you can refer to a time as “back in the day.”

    Now, where was I? Oh yeah, I was talking about Emma’s eyesight. Last week, when I talked about Emma’s eyesight, I mentioned that she had near perfect vision, but now I’m not so sure about that. On Thursday morning, Emma reported that her backpack was missing.

    If you don’t know, for elementary school kids, a backpack is like Superman’s cape. They have to have it with them, although it doesn’t appear to serve any useful purpose.

    When Emma reported that her backpack was missing, my wife suggested that Emma look for it in the car. Emma went outside and came back in seconds later.

    “It wasn’t there,” is what Emma said.

    “#@$%!” is what my wife said and then she went out to look for Emma’s backpack in her car. Seconds later she came back inside carrying the backpack.

    “It was in the front seat,” my wife said to Emma.

    “I didn’t see it,” Emma said.

    Emma also didn’t see the two pairs of tennis shoes that were laying on the floor in our dining room. Since the tennis shoes belonged to Emma, I suggested that she pick them up.

    “What shoes?” Emma said.

    “There,” I said pointing to the tennis shoes that were literally at Emma’s feet.

    “Oh, THOSE tennis shoes,” she said.

    I don’t understand that. How can someone who can spot a clothing store from a mile away not see two pairs of her own tennis shoes parked next to the pair of tennis shoes she is currently wearing? For that matter, how can someone with (Caution: Obscure Gary Cooper reference ahead) Sgt. York-like vision not see the Rush Limbaugh-sized pile of clothes in the middle of her bedroom. Or the 389 pieces of dance-related clothes and shoes lying next to her dance bag parked next to the hall tree?

    In her defense, Emma comes by her lack of awareness honestly. Emma’s mother has been known to ignore items that most folks (me) find hard to ignore.

    In the past, I’ve mentioned my wife’s habit of letting her clothes pile up on a chair in our bedroom. I’m not saying my wife has let the clothes pile up on the chair in our bedroom for a long time, but somewhere at the bottom of the pile is a “Welcome Back Kotter” T-shirt.

    Currently the pile of clothes on the chair in our bedroom is roughly the size of the U.S. budget deficit and, like the deficit, does not appear to be getting any smaller anytime soon. I suspect that my wife’s plan is to leave the large pile of clothes on the chair in our bedroom for future generations to deal with. But I don’t know.

    The other day I gently suggested that my wife do something about the clothes deficit on the chair in our bedroom. I told her I wanted to sit down in the chair. Well, actually I expressed a hankering to sit down. You know, like I did back in the day.

  • At the end of the day, it is what it is

    I hate the expression “At the end of the day …”

    I think it’s dumb, but it is what it is.

    Oh, and I hate the expression “It is what it is” too. Sports guys say “It is what it is” all the time, and I don’t like that.

    The thing is, saying “It is what it is” sounds like you’re actually saying something, but really you’re not. Saying “It is what it is” is like saying nothing. It’s language-light, is what it is.

    OK, I will admit that saying “is what it is” is probably language-light too. But this is my column, is what it is.

    I think the next time a sports guy finds himself about ready to say “It is what it is,” he just shouldn’t say anything. He would be accomplishing the same thing. The other day I, was reading a story about Jim Edmonds, the great center fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals. Jim was talking about an injury he suffered a week or so ago, and he actually took “It is what it is” and used it in the past tense. Jim, talking about the injury, said, “Whatever it was, it was.” When I read that, I had to agree with Jim. I said to myself: “Yes, Jim, I can’t argue with you. I guess whatever it was, it was.” But I’m not sure the thought actually needed to be verbalized to be true. It sort to goes without saying, is what I’m saying.

    OK, I guess saying “is what I’m saying” is pretty dumb too. But again, it’s my column, is what it is.

    But at least sports guys have an excuse for saying “It is what it is.” Sports guys have to talk to sports reporters. Most sports guys hate most sports reporters because they think the sports reporters will screw up whatever they say and make them look bad. That’s why most sports guys like to say things that don’t mean anything. You know what I mean. Things like “Well, I was just looking for something to hit,” or “We came to play,” or ” Hey, the better team won today.”

    Most sports guys figure that most sports reporters can’t screw statements like those up. But most sports guys figure wrong. I need to make it clear here that when I’m talking about “most sports reporters,” I mean the sports reporters in big cities. Not the sports reporters at, say, The Joplin Globe. See – and this may be a gross generalization – most sports reporters in big cities are – to use a sports term – jerks.

    That’s why sports guys say things like “It is what it is.”

    Now, if you can explain why politicians, TV talking heads and business people say “At the end of the day, …” then you are smarter than I am. Actually, even if you can’t explain that to me, you’re probably smarter than I am. I’m not projecting false modesty here. I’m just being realistic.

    Like “It is what it is,” the expression “At the end of the day …” really doesn’t say much. And besides, when people say “At the end of the day, …” they don’t actually mean at the end of the day. What they mean is at the end of whatever it is they are talking about. Say a Congress creature is taking time between bribes to talk about an upcoming legislative session. He might say something like, “The important thing to remember is that, at the end of the day, we will do the right thing.”

    The Congress creature doesn’t mean at the end of the day on the day he is talking. He means at the end of the legislature session. So why doesn’t he say “at the end of the legislature session. …”?

    Sometimes people really get the whole “end of the day” expression all screwed up. They’ll say something like “At the end of the day, I think we’ll find out that we had a pretty good month.”

    I think that’s dumb.

    But you know what? It really doesn’t matter what I think because, at the end of the day, people are going to say whatever they want to say.

    I mean, it is what it is.

    Originally published in the Joplin Globe on Jun 11, 2006.

  • Sales for frog phone hoppin’

    Originally published in the Sep 3, 2006 edition of The Joplin Globe.


    I’m one of those people now.

    You know the people I mean. The people who have kids in school. The people who bring school fund-raising stuff to work for you to buy. Stuff like – oh, I don’t know – Christmas wrapping paper, magazine subscriptions, candy, cheese, meat or meth.

    Ha. I’m just kidding about the meth, but it does make you wonder how come schools don’t sell meth as a fund-raiser.

    Oh, sure, there are the obvious legal and moral reasons why schools don’t have their kids sell meth, but let’s be practical for a moment. There is, apparently, a certain segment of the population that does want to buy meth. So if those people are going to buy meth anyway, doesn’t it make sense for the schools to benefit from the meth-buying segment of our population? Call it a modest proposal.

    This year, our 8-year-daughter, Emma, brought home a fund-raising catalog and announced that she needed to sell 25 items.

    I thought that was a lot, so I asked Emma why she needed to sell 25 items.

    “So I can get a frog telephone for my room,” she said.

    “Well, as long as you have a good reason,” I said.

    Look, when you’re 8, wanting to get a frog telephone is a pretty good reason to do just about anything.

    First of all, you have the fact that my wife and I are not so sure we want Emma to have a telephone in her room. That’s one reason to want a frog telephone. The other reason, of course, is that it’s a FROG telephone. Oh, and it’s not just any frog telephone. It’s a “hands-free, light-up and ‘Ribbit’ sound frog phone.”

    Emma has to have that phone.

    But the thing is, the stuff in the catalog that Emma has to sell isn’t exactly cheap. Even if my wife and I wanted to order 25 items from the catalog, we wouldn’t because that would be dumb. We would be better off taking the money we would have spent on the 25 items and just buy Emma a frog telephone. If we did, we would still have enough money left over to send her to college at a moderately priced Ivy League school.

    Instead, we did what any parents would do. We badgered our relatives, friends and co-workers.

    See, I have this theory that people get married and have children because they get tired of having to buy fund-raiser things from their married friends who have children. I mean, after a while, it’s cheaper to just have a kid of your own.

    Normally, I feel guilty hitting up relatives, friends and co-workers to help out with Emma’s fund-raisers, but this time it was different. This time, there was a frog telephone at stake. So Monday, I brought the catalog to work and put it under a sign that Emma made. The sign basically was a desperate appeal to help Emma get a frog telephone.

    As I write this, things are starting to look good for the frog telephone. Emma has sold 23 items which means she is two shy of her goal. When I called my wife to give her the good news, my wife said, and I swear this is true, “Well, if she sells 30 items, she gets a pizza party, too.”

    So if you’re not married and you don’t have kids and need Christmas wrapping paper, magazine subscriptions, candy, meat or cheese, give me a call. But if you need some meth, I’m sorry, I can’t help you.

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