Saturday, July 28, 2007

Question the Questions

Since I began writing this blog/newspaper column, dozens of readers, both real and imaginary, have emailed questions and comments:

1) Would you like to add two inches RIGHT NOW??? No thanks, the editor says my column is long enough as it is.

2) Are you related to WLBZ-TV weatherman Steve McKay? No.

In fact, “McKay” is not even his true last name. I think his last name is actually “Smith,” although it's hard to get genuine information about celebrities.

At any rate, you can't go around as a weatherman and disc jockey with a name like “Steve Smith.” People would realize you have no personality.

Plus, I think Steve McKay might be vampire. Come on, take a good look at his photo and tell me it isn't at least possible.

3) How do you live with yourself, taking all these cheap shots at people? I probably should feel bad for saying such things about Steve McKay, who by all accounts is a pleasant and wonderful human being/flying rodent.

But if I'm ever important enough for someone to make stupid public insults about me, I'll count myself lucky.

4) What do you make of all these sports scandals? This is a great time to be a sports fan.

NFL superstar Michael Vick is under indictment for something to do with dogfighting; I'm not sure exactly what the charge is, since ESPN radio has spent several days analyzing whether or not Vick should have appeared in public to say that his lawyer has advised him not to say anything publicly.

Ex-NBA referee Tim Donaghy has been busted for gambling on games he worked and for taking bribes; obviously the league keeps orchestrating elaborate distractions to prevent people from realizing all their teams run the exact same offense, and, in fact, have many of the same players.

And the Tour de France apparently operates on more chemicals than a sewage treatment plant. The same cold be said of Major League Baseball, where Barry Bonds has become the most hated figure in sports because he cheated more effectively than everyone else did.

Since no one cares about or appreciates the actual games, the sporting world has never been more entertaining. Just keep your kids away from it.

5) Chuck, are you still obsessed with the official web site of Hormel Foods, Everyone should visit, especially those who are interested in chili recipes, although if you take chili advice from Hormel after consuming one of their products, you deserve to eat whatever you get.
Let’s face it; Hormel chili is about as spicy and flavorful as Kleenex. Plus, each can contains (no exaggeration) 102 percent of your recommended daily allowance of sodium. From looking at the ingredients list, I can’t tell where all that salt comes from, other than perhaps the ingredient listed as “flavoring.”
If you want a real chili recipe, contact me, and I’ll share the recipe for my Seventeen-Alarm, Imaginary Neighborhood Chili-Cookoff Honorable Mention-Winning Chili of Doom, which includes jalapeno peppers, cilantro, diesel fuel, and two quarts of minced garlic.

It's great for warding off TV weather forecasters.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Rough Draft

As the wet snow pelts your windows, there’s nothing like curling up in front of the wood stove, slurping a mug of hot cocoa, and relaxing to the sound of a crackling fire while you gently blacken your walls and lungs with creosote.

All Mainers, at one time or another, will toy with the idea of switching to wood heat. We’ve got all these trees around, and they don’t seem to be doing much for us.

Meanwhile, a week’s worth of heating oil costs more than a Nintendo Wii video game console, which means many Maine families will face some tough choices this winter.

For my family, the choice was an easy one. Our oil furnace is old enough to donate to the Maine State Museum. We spend a lot of time worrying about losing power in a bad winter storm or in a cataclysmic, civilization-ending catastrophe that will result (sooner than you'd think) from the Bush Administration's Spongebob Squarepants-inspired energy policy.

So we're putting in a wood stove. Here's what you need to know if you decide to do the same.

First, check with your fire department for information on how to meet codes. If you neglect to do this, and your house burns down, your local insurance agent will be happy to help you put your life back together by snorting in a condescending manner.

The stove must be located a certain minimum distance from any flammable surfaces, which will force you to install it in the exact center of the largest room of your house (or, if you have a small house, in the driveway).

Your chimney must be a certain height, too. Construct your chimney so that it is at least 45 feet taller than the highest point on your roof. Your chimney should require a giant red blinking light after dark.

As for the stove itself, make sure you find out if it has a catalytic converter, a porcelain-type, honeycomb-shaped device that traps smoke and burns extra pollutants and evil spirits out of it. This creates more heat for your home, but reduces the entertainment value of your stove by making it unlikely that you'll experience a raging chimney fire.

Still, the catalytic converter seems like a good deal, until you find out that many of the things you would commonly burn in your stove can damage the device, including cardboard, wet wood, lighter fluid, gasoline, painful love letters or photos, DNA samples, Uncle Clem's long-lost lucky briefs, and marshmallows.

If you plan on burning anything besides pristine ash or cherry logs that have seasoned for 12 years, consider a non-catalytic stove or an open camp fire, preferably stationed on ceramic tile, near a window.

Other factors in deciding what stove to get might include whether it's made of solid cast iron or welded steel, whether it has grates and an ash pan for easy cleaning, what size log it can take, and (most importantly, if your wife is like mine) what it looks like. All other considerations evaporate in the presence of a “cute matte finish.”

It seems like my wife could have crafted energy policy for the Bush Administration.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Needles to Say....

People don't take me seriously when I say this, but I have experienced both a wisdom tooth extraction and a vasectomy, and trust me, the vasectomy is much more enjoyable.

What the two procedures have in common is they require being stuck in a sensitive location with a needle. And they can't make it an innocent-looking needle, either, with pastel-colored flower designs on it or something. No, it has to look like the Giant Sinister Mephistophelian Needle of Doom, all cold, metallic, and sterile, like some twisted experimental device developed by NASA during the Nixon administration.

But we must love the needle, because it contains the magic anesthesia that makes it possible for those who practice medicine to First, Do No Harm, and Second, purchase a spare Jeep Grand Cherokee. So, yes, the needle is on my Christmas Card list.

After the needle, the procedures are very different. The vasectomy involves a mild tugging sensation, accompanied by the brief smell of burning flesh. For 20 minutes, the surgeon will try to keep your mind (or perhaps his mind) off the fact that he is slicing and smoldering your extremely personal organs by chatting about the Red Sox or the weather or whatever else comes up.

Afterward, the doctor orders you to store a bag of frozen peas in your underwear and to have people wait on you for a few days. Every guy’s dream weekend!

The tooth extraction, conversely, involves violent jarring pressure and unpleasant crackling and other peculiar noises within your mouth. It takes less time, but because you have to hang your jaw open for longer than it takes to read the latest Harry Potter novel, the whole thing seems to last forever.

You will still be required to chat about the Red Sox, and you might even find yourself compelled to agree that Manny Ramirez is definitely, “Ghonghhha eeyyy oooouuuah.”

When I went to have a wisdom tooth out last week, there were complications. Let’s just say -- for the sake of avoiding a terribly graphic description -- the tooth in question was unusually well-attached to my skull, resulting in large portions of bone being ripped out through the roof of my mouth.

Observing this, my oral surgeon said, “Hm, we do see this from time to time.”

This is a dentist’s way of expressing animated surprise and alarm. When a dentist pounds his thumb with a hammer, as he jumps around, wincing and violently shaking his hand, he says, “Hm, we do see this from time to time.”

Anyway, as the surgeon was sewing me up (Another needle! Hooray!), he temporarily stowed some of the excess thread between two of my front teeth. Even as my nerves shook me and I felt myself wanting to pass out, I had to observe the irony, since I probably could have avoided the whole predicament with more consistent and vigorous flossing.

Instead, I’m now on Vicodin, which gradually turns me into a dizzy, drowsy drug addict, and antibiotics, which kill everything in my body smaller than my kidneys.

So, given the choice between repeating the vasectomy or repeating a tooth extraction, I would opt for the vasectomy, hands down.

So to speak.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Plz Buy My Kewl Car

If I lived in Europe, or even in some progressive American city like Portland, arriving at work on a bicycle would be no big deal.

In fact, I might be lauded for Doing My Part to Help The Environment.

But I live in an itty-bitty conservative town, where the only reason for an adult to ride a bicycle is if it’s stationary and positioned in front of a TV.

To make matters worse, I work with teenagers, who are the ultimate arbiters of cool. When I roll into the high school parking lot, an oversized goofy guy sporting a boxy bicycle helmet and a Goodwill Industries wardrobe, I can tell by the looks on their faces that I do not qualify.

Today’s teenagers are so much cooler than previous generations. When I was a teenager, you had to spend a certain amount of money on designer clothing in order to be cool.

These days, you can be cool simply by wearing black for 112 consecutive days. Or by wearing your hat sideways and jeans that are 14 sizes too large. Or by wearing anything that says “Abercrombie and Fitch” or “Old Navy.”

(If anyone wants to make a zillion dollars, start the next craze with a spoof clothing line called “Geriatric Navy.” I get 20 percent of your profits.)

Plus, teens now have their own language. In the past, they had a few representative words – “groovy,” or “dude” -- but adults could still decipher their meaning. Now, thanks to chat rooms and text messaging, teenagers communicate in a tongue that is entirely foreign:

BBALR5907: wow, itz noon & I jst got ^.

MECUTIE11942: hA, U wnt 2 git 2geder l8r?

BBALR5907: ya, wot R U doin s@RdA?

MECUTIE11942: Haha, I jst saw McK on Hs losa bYk. LMAO!

BBALR5907: POTS. ttyl.

In case you’re curious, “POTS” means “Parents Over the Shoulder,” LMAO means, “laughing my --- off,” and “ttyl” means “Talk To You Later.”

There are dozens of other lingo acronyms, too, such as “OMG” (Oh My God) and “PMBDYHAGPDM?” (Pardon Me, But Do You Have Any Grey Poupon Dijon Mustard?)

So most teenagers now are way cool (“kewl”), or at least they think they are. And Coolness Rule Number One is nobody comes to school on a bicycle unless your school is a clown college.

I wouldn’t be in this predicament if my car had held out a little longer. That’s right, the legendary 1992 Nissan Stanza is now kaput.

Of course, a car named after a section of a poem didn’t exactly make me the coolest member of the faculty, either.

(In 1992 Nissan fired the English teacher who was naming their cars. Good thing, because they were about to introduce the all-new Nissan Subordinate Clause. Instead, the Stanza became the “Altima,” which means, “chintzier version of the same thing.”)

You may wonder why I don’t just get another car. I suppose to truly be “cool” I should actually upgrade my vehicle, taking on irrational amounts of debt in order to do so.

But I don’t mind being different from the mainstream. Most Americans believe the ideal commuting vehicle is a Brinks truck.

I live four miles from work, and I’m an able bodied young-ish man; there’s no reason I can’t slow down and enjoy the scenery and the dull ache in my southernmost joints and muscles.

So my car is for sale. I’ve listed it in Uncle Henry’s, if you’re interested. It’s a 5spd, min. rust, 143k, needs wk. $600 OBO.

Ttyl, thx.