Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Divorce Calculator

Did you know there is a formula that determines how likely you are to get divorced?

Just visit the “Divorce Calculator” at divorce360.com, and answer five simple questions, including:

How old were you when you got married?

What is your highest level of education?

How often have you told your wife she could have her own gravitational field?

Okay, I made that last one up. It turns out that being a complete jerk is not a factor in determining if you are likely to get divorced. It only matters when you got married.

What a relief, I must say!

I found that only 5% of the people like me are already divorced. It was reassuring to know that my wife will probably continue to stay with me even if I bring home a prostitute who suffers from violent cocaine withdrawal symptoms.

Or – dare I even say it – if I don’t wash out my cereal bowl in the morning.

But then I read that 5% means I am at “average” risk of divorce.

Interestingly, only 4% of people like my wife are divorced, which suggests I might somehow get divorced without her.


Anyway, as if the Divorce Calculator wasn’t helpful enough, the site also offers relationship advice, including “Tips for a Healthy Relationship.”

These “tips” include such valuable nuggets as “learn to communicate” and “seek out a therapist.”

I’m sure all of you out there suffering through a difficult marriage are slapping your foreheads, asking, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

As valuable and comprehensive as divorce 360.com may be, I can save my fellow husbands out there some time and legal fees by dispensing my own can’t-miss marriage advice.

Experts say one of the largest sources of marital strife is money. Therefore, you need to make more money. Get started right away.

“That won’t work,” I can hear you saying, “because my wife will just find more ways to squander our increased income.”

Believe me, I know. How dare she waste hard-earned family resources on yet another pair of shoes when you’ve been saving up to get the NFL Network?

This is why you must start hiding money.

(Don’t put it in the same place where you’re hiding the birthday present for your mistress. If your wife finds them both at the same time, you can expect double the consequences.)

Children also help ruin marriages. First of all, never blame a child for taking up so much of your attention and energy that your wife has none left over to give to you. Instead, blame your wife for wanting to have children in the first place.

Then, channel the blame into action. If your wife is “tapped out,” do things to help restore her energy and enthusiasm. She will appreciate it, and you stand to gain, too.

Even little actions, like taking a moment to rub her shoulders while she cooks dinner, or complimenting her appearance as she bends to pick up a basket of laundry, can send a clear message that her happiness is your number one concern, and that you’ll be expecting sex later.

If all that fails, you may need to take drastic measures to appease the Divorce Calculator.

Get remarried when you’re older, or go back to school. Problem solved.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

2008: Reliving the Agony, Part II

Future historians will look back on the second half of 2008 as a time when billions of dollars were wasted on futile attempts to rescue the economy and public officials engaged in record levels of illegal behavior, but Americans found New Hope.

As in, “I hope this charming young man we just elected President can back up his glittery message by, you know, making good decisions and stuff.”

Let’s break it all down:

July: Battling brain cancer, Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy heroically returns to Washington to engage in some political posturing.

The world’s eight richest countries agreed to a landmark new treaty that will compel future generations to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, thus solving the problem of global warming, at least until you and I are dead.

Congress passes a new law exempting politicians from prosecution for tax evasion, soliciting prostitution, taking bribes, abuse of power, and eating trans-fats.

August: John McCain, demonstrating the kind of “maverick” behavior that made him popular with independent-minded voters, dresses George W. Bush in drag and makes him his running mate.

Russia invades Georgia, which causes great alarm and outrage among roughly 75% of Americans, until they realize that Georgia has all those confederate flag-waving gun nuts, so they’ll be just fine.

Michael Phelps wins eight gold medals by refusing to breathe the air in China, instead holding his breath from the time he got on the plane in the U.S. until the end of his last race in Beijing.

September: In the thick of hurricane season, Americans dutifully avoid the news for a while.

The Bush Administration spends several weeks putting together a bailout proposal for the economy, but Congress rejected it because it did not include enough bonuses for highly-paid corporate executives.

Wall Street does a fantastic impersonation of Tom Brady’s left knee.

The world learns that Sarah Palin’s unwed teenage daughter is pregnant, which conservative, family values-oriented pundits everywhere declare to be perfectly normal and ok. Meanwhile, Palin refuses to release her own medical records, probably because she doesn’t want people to know she is actually Tina Fey.

October: My three-year-old daughter declares that for Halloween, she will be a cheerleader, a Tigger, a ballerina, a pirate, and a fairy. She vaults into lead in the Presidential polling.

Congress finally passes a $700 billion bailout bill, and not a moment too soon, because they barely have time to stretch and crack their knuckles before getting started on the next one.

November: After an historic campaign, Barack Obama makes history in an historic way by finally becoming the official Democratic nominee for President in history.

In a shrewd investment move that immediately earns the admiration of Wall Street insiders, Somali pirates capture a Saudi Arabian oil tanker.

Terrorists kill 170 people in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India. Americans remain glued to coverage of the three-day rampage until “Grey’s Anatomy” comes back from commercials.

December: Barack Obama selects Hilary Clinton as his Secretary of State, despite the fact that he spent most of the year questioning her qualifications to run a donut shop, much less hold responsibility for any sector of the federal government.

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is arrested for doing what just about every politician in the world has done since the beginning of recorded human history.

Canada’s Prime Minister implodes the parliament and establishes a government made up of elk. Nobody notices.

Americans tiptoe into 2009, realizing they have just twelve more months to try and salvage the decade.

Friday, December 19, 2008

2008: Reliving The Agony

It’s that time again, when people in the media notice there’s nothing going on, and decide to write about events in the past as though they are still relevant.

Let’s get started:

January: As the Iraq war rages on, various suicide bombings in the Middle East and endless wars in Africa rage onward, killing thousands of people you don’t know. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton sheds a couple of public tears over the stress of campaigning for President.

Which do you think gets more media coverage?

Crude oil reaches $100 a barrel for the first time ever, forcing Americans to stop and think carefully about how they can do their part to bitch as loudly and obnoxiously as possible about it.

February: Americans eagerly anticipate their Economic Stimulus payments, which are all but guaranteed to keep us out of recession.

The New England Patriots’ dream of a perfect season vanishes when New York Giants receiver David Tyree makes a miracle catch by stabbing the football in mid-air with his steroid needle.

In Hollywood, the writers’ strike finally ends, and Americans scratch their heads and wonder why no one told them they’d been watching re-runs for three months.

March: A 260-square-mile chunk of Antarctic ice disintegrates. Bush immediately sends a team of geologists to find out if there was oil under there.

In a shocking development that took everyone by surprise, Israelis and Palestinians continued to slaughter each other for the 58,673rd month in a row.

Mainers suffer through a bunch of dumpy little snowstorms one right after another. Just as you get the driveway clear, here comes another 2-3 inches; enough to bring out the plow again, but not enough to close anything. Sheesh.

As expected, Dmitri Medvedev takes over as Russia’s President, and Vladimir Putin shoves his hand up the back of Medvedev’s shirt and starts speaking out the side of his mouth.

The government lends JP Morgan Chase $30 billion to buy failed Bear Stearns, a move that is sure to pump new life into the economy.

April: Protesters, apparently irritated that China’s government keeps killing people and squelching their religious beliefs, snuffed the Olympic torch several times as it made its way through Europe. Oh, the shame!

The U.S. Senate approves a $15 billion bill to rescue the housing market, including a bunch of tax breaks for builders. There will be no stopping the economy now.

Danica Patrick becomes the first woman to win an Indy-Car race; still, no one believes my wife taught her to drive.

May: Democratic Party officials compromise on how to count delegates from Michigan and Florida; they will use their fingers.

Tornadoes rage through The South, a cyclone kills 78,000 people in Myanmar, and an earthquake registering 7.9 on the Richter Scale devastates central China. More importantly, Curt Schilling’s right arm falls completely off, making it seem unlikely that he will pitch this year.

June: After five years of investigation, a Senate committee becomes the last people in America to realize the Bush Administration misled the public, exaggerating evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.

Gasoline tops $4 a gallon. Thank goodness THAT will never happen again.

The U.S. Treasury Department plans a bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, a move that is guaranteed to give our economy all the stability it needs for the next 500 years.

Bill Gates quits his job at Microsoft to focus on philanthropy, making it slightly harder to loathe him.

Tune in next week for July through December, if you can stand it.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Timing is Everything

Are you lonely?

Are you one of the millions who will spend your favorite spiritual and/or commercial holiday watching “paid programming,” or, even worse, visiting parents or relatives?

When you see wholesome family Christmas scenes, like a white suburban family with 2.5 children hanging red stockings by their electric fireplace, does it make you wish their wholesome family golden retriever would leave an accident under their picturesque Norman Rockwell Christmas tree?

If so, I have some encouraging words for you.

A family of your own may be on the way sooner than you think.

Look, even I’ve got one, for crying out loud.

I used to be one of you, a sociopathic misogynist with anti-social tendencies.

I was 23. It was a simpler time, when “Survivor” was the only reality program on TV, and “high speed Internet” meant not getting a busy signal the first ten times you dialed in to AOL.

Soured by a string of hard luck with the ladies dating back to 4th grade, I was primed for a life of irresponsible bachelorhood.

As it turns out, this was the perfect time to meet my future wife.

My parents run a dance studio, and this random woman needed a partner. I sometimes served as their dance gigolo.

Had I known what was at stake, I probably would have handled the situation differently.

I might not have shown up wearing a ratty, torn T-shirt and cut-off jeans, both smeared with tar and various other stains.

Having come straight from a couple of hours broiling on my grandmother’s roof, where I had been sealing a leak, I probably should have stopped to take a shower.

But how can I regret anything, considering how it all turned out?

Who knew that the perfect strategy was to try to sabotage any chance of attracting a woman, or even a moderately selective rodent?

It all proves that first impressions mean zilch. As we got to know each other, she realized my personality was not quite as horrendous as my wardrobe, hygiene habits, and general social awareness.

Several weeks later, we met up at a dance, and ended up sharing a meal afterward at Pat’s Pizza in Orono.

Eventually, the topic turned to relationships, which gave me the opportunity to inform my future wife that I had sworn off women.

“That’s too bad,” she said, “because I was starting to get pretty interested in you.”

This could have been considered coming on a bit strong. It certainly caught me off guard.

I’m not sure what I said, but I think it was something along the lines of, “oh.”

It had been a lot easier to embrace bachelorhood when I was convinced no honest, self-respecting women available would be caught dead in the same zip code as me anyway.

The conversation carried on, from politics, family values, and various other important topics. At midnight, she turned 30. We punched up some Elvis on the juke box and danced the jitterbug for the few stragglers left of the Friday night Pat’s crowd.

That just about sealed my fate.

So my advice to the lonely this holiday season is to get out and participate in something – volunteer at a soup kitchen, go take a dance class, whatever it takes.

And when you encounter a potential mate, be sure to either ignore that person or maybe, if necessary, tell him or her to go straight to hell.

Then send me your family Christmas card in a few years.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Revenge of the Car Buyer

“Your trade-in offer is a full $2000 less than the listed Blue Book value for a trade in,” I said. “Can you explain that?”

The salesman shrugged his shoulders and said he would go talk to the manager.

He came back five minutes later. “Tell you what we can do,” he said. “We can go ahead and leave the steering wheel in your new car. Normally, we wouldn’t do that, but I like you guys and I want to earn your business. And we’ll wipe the congealed blood off the windshield for no extra charge. That should make up the difference.”

My wife and I actually considered the merits of his offer before realizing it still left us with a payment that burst our budget like a tomato in a microwave.

Eventually, we got up to leave, saying, “I guess it’s just not going to work out.”

Maybe it was because it was the end of the month. Maybe it was because Christmas is coming up and the economy is turning the retail auto business into a ride through the intestines of a sick narwhal.

Whatever it was, I’ll never be able to explain what happened next. You should have seen the crazed, desperate look in the salesman’s eye. Then some mystical force held us in place. Profound fatigue invaded, and the urge to sleep penetrated our eyeballs, fogging the world.

Next thing we knew, we were signing the final purchase papers.

“This one is the application for title, and this one says you received notice of our privacy party.”


“And form just acknowledges that we told you about the Gap Insurance, the Body Integrity Insurance, the Tire Insurance, the Extended Warranty, the Way Extended Warranty, the Overenthusiastic Fishtailing Fender Bash Insurance, and the Beverage Spillage coverage.”

“Of course.”

“And this form certifies that you are a senseless boob who should not be allowed to have a checking account, let alone a car loan.”

“Yes, yes. Just let me sign it, already.”

Because they had to jack up their offer for our car to its actual trade-in value, the advertised special offer that brought us there in the first place no longer applied (in the ad industry, this is known as a “bait-and-switch”).

In the end, we got a reasonable price on our trade in and paid a reasonable price for our new car, but not an especially good deal.

What sickens me, though, is that I felt so unaware of the situation, letting the dealer control the process, rather than participating as an equal in the negotiation.

That’s my own fault, but it sure doesn’t make me feel any more sympathetic to the automobile industry as it begs for money from the government.

The big bank bailout was different. I went along with it, mainly because I don’t understand the financial industry.

All I know is the idea of banks failing seems just wrong. They exist to make money. They don’t make cars or computer chips or fancy toilet seats with playing cards embedded in them, or anything else subject to the law of supply and demand. They just make money. So if they can’t even manage that, we are all in deep doo-doo.

But cars are another matter. I know a lot about cars, and how cars are sold, so it doesn’t hurt my feelings at all to see any car company get its comeuppance.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thank God for Materialism

When I read on abcnews.com about the bargain-crazed Wal-Mart shoppers stampeded and killed Jdimytai Damour, 34, on Long Island the day after Thanksgiving, I shook my head in utter disgust at the inhumanity of our materialistic, consumerist society.

But then the article listed some of the prices that had been slashed – slashed, I tell you! – by that little yellow smiley face.

A Bissel Compact Upright Vacuum for $28! A Samsung 10.2 megapixel digital camera for $69! DVDs such as "The Incredible Hulk" for $9!

Thank you, ABC News, for providing such crucial context to this story. Had I not known how much money these shoppers were saving, I might have just assumed it wasn’t worth the loss of a human life.

Given the urgency of compensating for the fact that we never spend any time with most of the people for whom you buy gifts, it’s easy to see why we innocent holiday shoppers get a little carried away with ourselves, especially in this economy. No wonder people at the Long Island Wal-Mart “shouted angrily and kept shopping” when they tried to close the store for a few hours after the fatality.

Clearly, the shoppers are not at fault. If anything, the “victim” himself should shoulder most of the blame.

Not convinced? Consider a law in Kentucky passed in 2006 that requires the state’s homeland security department to acknowledge God as the first line of defense.

“Specifically, Homeland Security is ordered to publicize God's benevolent protection in its reports,” says the Lexington Herald-Leader, “and it must post a plaque at the entrance to the state Emergency Operations Center with an 88-word statement that begins, ‘The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.’"

Now, I never met Mr. Damour, the Wal-Mart stampeding victim, but it seems fair to suppose that he had probably not been giving God enough credit for his own personal security.

In fact, with a name like Jdimytai Damour, it’s hard to imagine he was even a Christian. Why has the media spent so much time mourning this guy, when he clearly had it coming? He was practically begging to be pureed under a mob.

As you might expect, I daresay the Kentucky law doesn’t go far enough. When you think about it, don’t we need God for basically everything?

We should require the government to acknowledge God’s role in making sure we have air to breathe and food to eat. If corporate mismanagement of our fragile food production and distribution system ever leads to widespread famine, or if pollutants render our air unbreatheable, we will rue the day that we didn’t give God His props.

Without God, we would have no public education, because without God, there would be no children. Duh.

Tell you what. Let’s just cover all our bases by turning government into one massive prayer session. You can never be too sure that you’re worshipping ardently enough to avert catastrophe.

As for you degenerate heathens out there who don’t believe God interposes His will in human affairs on a regular basis… well, I know of a job opening at a Wal-Mart on Long Island that would be perfect for you.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Why Health Care Costs So Much

Sometimes I wish I could happen upon authentic video of Elvis driving a Toyota Prius, so I could sell it to a tabloid and afford full family health coverage for a couple of months.

Why does health care cost so much? Because nowadays we expect to survive most ailments.

Let’s say you’re having mysterious abdominal symptoms. If you were alive 100 years ago, your experience would probably go like this:

  1. The local doctor visits your home. He gives you opium and leaches, and says, “take two of these and call me in the morning.”

  2. You die. (Or, in rare cases, God saves you… for a while.)

Today, no middle or upper-class American would dream of receiving this level of medical care. Instead, we expect something like this:

  1. You visit your Primary Care Physician, whose monthly malpractice insurance premium costs more than a college education. The PCP refers you to a specialist.

  2. The specialist makes you sit in the waiting room for longer than it takes to give an English bulldog a facelift.

  3. The specialist recommends a CT scan, which is not covered by your insurance. So she orders an ultrasound instead.

  4. The ultrasound machine, which costs more than a successful campaign for U.S. Senate by a black woman with a facial tick and a criminal record, is operated by a “technician” who is not allowed to tell you anything she sees, even if it is obvious.

  5. The Ultrasound results are sent to a radiologist. Why the radiologist can’t operate the ultrasound machine himself is beyond you.

  6. After returning from a Caribbean vacation, the radiologist eventually looks at the results and relays them back to the specialist, who relays them back to your PCP, who will call you when she is damn good and ready.

  7. The results were inconclusive. The PCP prescribes some pills, which were created by a team of chemists who each make more money than an army of Vegas call girls. They may or may not help you (the pills, I mean).

  8. The specialist orders more testing. Meanwhile, the pills are causing you to break out in hives, vomit, and fall asleep at random moments. To counter these symptoms, you get some more pills.

  9. Finally disgusted with the whole process, you go to see an “alternative” medical provider, who actually has pretty reasonable fees because she keeps her salary roughly in line with Tom Brady’s. She recommends acupuncture and tinctures.

  10. You start to feel better.

  11. You die. (Or, in rare cases, God saves you... for a while.)

If we demand this level of care from our medical system, of course it’s going to be expensive. The question is, who will pay for it?

The answer, of course, is “not me.” Unfortunately, this answer only applies to you if you are a professional whose employer supplies health insurance, or if you qualify for Medicaid.

Otherwise, you have to suck it up and shell out the dough.

If you’re short of cash, I recommend chemical pesticides as a can’t-miss investment. You could also start up your own fast food franchise, or maybe buy up barrels of High Fructose Corn Syrup while the price is still low.

Personally, I’m going to rent an Elvis costume and start a leech farm in my backyard cesspool. Wish me luck.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Encyclopedic Knowledge

More and more people are relying upon Wikipedia to learn about the world. But should we, when any revenge-bent chimpanzee can log in and change stuff?

What’s to stop me from telling the world the New York Yankees have changed their name to “The Overpaid, Menopausal Wimps?”

Approximately 36% of us online types use Wikipedia, according to the Pew Research Center. A staggering 96% of Wikipedia’s entries show up on the first page of a Google search.

A New York Times study a few years ago found that Wikipedia averages four errors per article, which sounds awful until you compare it with Britannica, which has three, or with the Bangor Daily News, which is just one giant mistake from front to back.

So the short answer is that we can rely on Wikipedia, at least roughly as much as we can rely on anything else.

But to be sure, I had to launch my own investigation. I checked what Wikipedia says about a bunch of topics on which I am already an expert.

Take navel lint. When I first discovered that the hairs on my abdomen had started combing fibers into my bellybutton, I was quite alarmed. Still, in retrospect, I should not have panicked and flung the lint ball into my future father-in-law’s Chicken Alfredo.

“Contrary to expectations,” Wikipedia states, “navel lint appears to migrate upwards from underwear rather than downwards from shirts or tops. The migration process is the result of the frictional drag of body hair on underwear, which drags stray fibers up into the navel.”

Complete B.S. If this was true, my navel lint would be white (or mostly white), instead of roughly the same color of whatever shirt I’d been wearing the previous 36 hours.

“The existence of navel lint is entirely harmless, and requires no corrective action.” Wrong again! Clearly, the author of this article has never accidentally revealed his navel during a blind date.

In 1997 I paid a sketchy guy (he was mostly bald, except for a mullet) $1000 cash for a ten-year-old car that looked like a cardboard box fastened to a Radio Flyer wagon.

The Volkswagen Fox was my first vehicle, and I loved it.

They don’t sell the Fox in the U.S.A. anymore, probably because it had a top speed of 55 mph before unsettling vibration set in, and I had to use bumper stickers to hold the fenders together.

Wikipedia doesn’t mention any of this. Slackers.

I am also a Scrabble aficionado. I don’t want to brag, but I have never lost since I started secretly using the dictionary when playing online.

I’ve studied the Official Scrabble dictionary, watched episodes of the old game show on Youtube, and read books about tournament play, all of which has prepared me for the ultimate Scrabble experience, which is to have everyone you meet think you are mentally ill and unfit for companionship.

I could not find a single error in Wikipedia’s extensive article on Scrabble. But they did fail to mention that some sinister Mattel employee has been voodoo hexing game racks, as evidenced by the fact that I’m always stuck with the ‘Q’ at the end of each match.

Guess I’ll have to plug in that info myself.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Shameless Self-Promotion

Ladies and gentlemen, you are looking at “Tongue-in-Cheek” column number 98.

That’s right. Almost two solid years of churning out this God-forsaken drivel week after week.

What have I learned from it all?

You can tell a lot about a man by looking at his blog tags.

You see, I post each of these columns to a blog (www.tongue-cheek.blogspot.com), which keeps them neatly archived so I can go back and check which immature jokes I’ve already used.

Each entry has “tags,” or key words that make the blog to appear when someone searches for one of those words.

I thought I’d show you my tags. Sure, it sounds dirty, but it would give you an idea of what this column is all about, in case you’re new to it. (As you’ll see, I’m not afraid to take on the “tough issues,” such as paranoid elk.)

These keywords have NOT been rearranged for meaningful effect. Honest. They are simply in alphabetical order.

For example, the phrase “Earth-Raping Pirate Pillagers” appears next to “electric company.” That’s not a reflection on my views of the electric company.

Well, okay, maybe it is, but only by coincidence.

Say… that gives me an idea for a cheesy contest.

Scan my tags and see if you can find any other places where two seem to fit together. Write to me at chuckrates@gmail.com and let me know which ones and why. Whoever comes up with the best one will get to have lunch with me. (It would be like meeting a celebrity, albeit one who is not the least bit handsome, interesting, or famous.)

I’ll announce the winner in my 100th column, two weeks from now.

Here they are. Good luck:

Abstinence, Alfond Arena, anarchists, Anthem, armpit gland surgery, arsenic-laced Wheaties, atheism, Babe Ruth, Baldacci, beer tax, biodiesel, Black Death, black market drugs, bowl of popcorn, brass knuckles, breast feeding, Brian Setzer Orchestra, bronchitis, brothel,
carpet mold, cat vomit, cataclysmic explosions, cherished personal orifice, Cheshire Cat, Christian Civic League, cigarettes, Civil Disobedience, Clint Eastwood, clown college, coccyx, collective flabbiness, complete apocalyptic chaos, consolidation, Conway Twitty, Criminal Scum, Curt Schilling, cute matte finish,
darn corporate greed, democracy, diapers, Don Imus, driving, Earth-Raping Pirate Pillagers, electric company, Engelbert Humperdinck, engorged testicles, Etch-a-Sketch, even more sex,
fantasy baseball, fatherhood, feminism, festering wound, fjords, foam packing peanut finger puppets, Food Network, Fox News, fraud, freaking Panama Canal, fungal evil, furry woodland creatures,
Garbanzo Beans, gardening, gasses escaping, gay rights, Genghis Kahn, go-karts, Gray Poupon, Green Party, grenade launcher,
Halo, Hannaford, haphazardly-trained orangutan, heating oil, heebie-jeebies, Hillary Clinton, hip waders, hockey, Home Depot, hopeless drooling losers, Hormel, horticultural terrorist, household spiders, Human Growth Hormone, hunting, Hurricane Ike, Husqvarna Mafia, hypnosis,
Idaho, insect toilet paper, insurance, Interstate Highway to the Sun, intimacy, investing, Iraq, James Bond, Kleenex, larger ice cubes, Larry Bird, lead paint, leprosy, Lewiston, loofah, lucky briefs, Lunar Rest Area, lust,
Manny Ramirez, manure, Massachusetts, menacing muscular manliness, meth-addicted howler monkey, Molly Ivins, Moons Over My Hammy, mosquito coitus, Mother's Day, Motor Booty Affair, Mrs. Beasley, mucous, municipal landfill, Muppets,
nerds, Nintendo Wii, Panic of 1893, paranoid elk, patented detergent additive, Patriot Act, pepperoni stick, pffft, Philip-Morris, pointy trout antics, poison ivy, poisonous gases, pus, Queen Elizabeth II,
Red Sox, religion, remorseless evil, Republicans, rinky-dink town, Roscoe P. Coltrane, rotten cantaloupes, Route 1, Rubik's Cube, sado-masochistic plaything, scythe, Senator Collins, sewage treatment plant, sex, Sherlock, shrunken head, snake advisory, sophisticated nod, soul-bending fiery passion, SPAM, spastic hand gestures, sphincters, spider self-esteem, steamed crap, Steve McKay, swarthy lying scumbag, Sweet-n-Low,
taxes, The American Way, The Man, thrilling capitalistic orgy, toddler, toilets, Tom Brady, traffic laws, transmission fluid,
underwear-staining alarm, utter foolishness, Uzi, vacuum, vampire, vasectomy, video games, virgin poultry, wedgie of doom, weeds, wet Chihuahua, Wiggles, Wikipedia, wrinkly texture, writhing, yoga, youth sports, zzzzzzz.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Getting In Touch With Your Inner Elmer Fudd

Here I am, at the computer, pounding my brain against the keyboard, trying to think of something to write.

“Dearest God of muses and creativity, breathe your essential nectar into my soul, so I may continue to inspire the languishing masses with my mediocre writing skills, and collect undeserved paychecks.”

And there, as if on cue, a flock of wild turkeys crosses the road and starts to pick all the rye grass seeds out of my garden.

I wouldn’t mind shooting one of them, but I don’t own a gun. So I have to settle for running out and scaring them away, which is fun (it turns out turkeys do fly), but it doesn’t help me with Thanksgiving Dinner.

If you’re like me, you would rather shoot your own food than have it delivered to you via an inefficient system of corporate farming and trucking that leaves a larger carbon footprint than the entire city of Houston, Texas.

While it may be hard for us animal lovers to pull the trigger on Bambi’s mommy or daddy, it’s better than contributing to the cruelty, torture, and corruption of the meat industry.

(When you hear the word “slaughterhouse,” do you think happy thoughts? No. There’s a reason for that.)

Therefore, everyone should learn to hunt.

Think about it: if every family in America got its meat from hunting instead of from the grocery store, we’d run out of wildlife faster than you could look up “cannibalism” on Google.

With everyone eating each other, the daunting problem of unfettered global population growth would go away on its own.

The alternative would be giving up meat. Ha! As if.

Widespread vegetarianism is hardly a realistic choice, even if it would result in a much more efficient food distribution system.

So I’ve decided to learn how to hunt. But there’s a problem. I come from the generation that can’t learn anything without the help of the Internet, and when you look up hunting on the Internet, you get very scared.

It turns out hunters get up very early, like 3 a.m., an hour when no human should ever wake up longer than it takes to fish a slice of leftover pizza from the fridge.

Hunting is expensive. Every hunter has his own lucky combination of deer-urine scents, skinning and dressing knives, binoculars, camouflage, and blaze orange, which have the combined effect of making the deer double over with helpless mocking laughter, which makes them much easier to shoot.

The best site out there for hunters is www.maine-hunting-camp.com, where you can find all kinds of useful stuff, including pictures of guys named Leon and Bert posing with recent kills. They also have links to hunting tips and video of a guy dressing a whitetail doe.

I thought “dressing” meant he had some pretty blouses and panty hose for it to try on. Turns out I have a lot more to learn.

Instead, he unseamed the poor animal and scooped out her entrails, all the while narrating his actions as if he was hosting his own show on the Food Network.

“Hear that? That’s gasses escaping.”

“I’m pushing down on the intestines as I slice through the meaty portion, to keep them out of the way.”

“Now I’m going to reach up and grab the esophagus and pull it down as far as I can.”

Yeah… maybe I’ll learn to hunt next year.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Phony Business

Hi, you’ve reached the McKay residence. We can’t come to the phone right now because we’re trying to bury our house in a giant pile of leaves for extra insulation. Please leave a message and we’ll call you back.


Hello, I’m calling on behalf of John McCain for President, and the RNC, to let you know that Barack Obama is a greasy, lying, Molotov-cocktail-throwing shoe bomber sex pervert from Iran. If the Democrats take control of Washington, they will enact their radical left-wing agenda by bombing churches, parochial schools, and southern state capitals.

The liberal elite mainstream media is also not telling you that Barack Obama once listened to a Michael Jackson record, which means he associates with child molesters and --


Wait! I wasn’t done. John McCain, on the other hand, is a cute and cuddly little ball of fun who promises to be your best pal. Just look at him – don’t you want to give him a great big hug? He’s like Elmo, only not as annoying. He promises to bomb only foreign capitals, and –


Hi, Chuck, this is Ed from Black Death Oil Company. I just wanted to touch base about the delivery we made a few weeks ago, just before prices plummeted. Funny how that works, isn’t it, right before an election? The only thing lower than the price of oil right now is Bush’s approval rating! Oh, zing! Am I in the wrong profession, or what? Anyway, your payment is overdue, and –


This is not a solicitation. This is an urgent business call. Please hold the line while we make you wait long enough to determine if you are enough of a sucker to fall for our scam.


On November 4, vote for John McCain, a true reformer and maverick. John would never stand for vicious partisan attack ads that mark “politics as usual” in Washington.


We’re offering a low introductory rate of just 2.999999 per cent to qualified –


Barack Obama may be a smooth talker, but as everyone in “real America” understands, articulate people can’t be trusted. We can only believe people who speak in short, folksy sound bites that are easy to understand.

John McCain puts his country before politics. That’s why he chose the most qualified, mentally stable person available to be his Vice Presidential running mate, even though there were other, less-experienced candidates who could have helped him energize the base of the Republican Party and pick off votes from women.


Mr. McKay, this is your local tax assessor calling. We’ve driven by your address three times, but we couldn’t find your house, only a giant pile of leaves. If you could please call –


Christmas is under attack! Barack Obama and the liberal elite would have it stricken from our vocabulary! This is why it is not good enough for stores to start playing Christmas music in mid-October. If John McCain becomes President, you’ll hear nothing but “O Come All Ye Faithful” from August through January.


Please continue to hold until our next available associate can assist you. If you start to wonder why we didn’t just call you when we had someone available, shake your head and remind yourself of the futility of trying to understand the marvelous and mysterious ways of capitalism.


Acorn! Bill Ayers! Obama bin Laden! Terrorist! Your family will die! Stop this heinous –


End of messages.

I don’t negotiate with fear-mongers.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Electing History

Has anyone else noticed that the 2008 Presidential Election feels different than almost every other election in recent memory?

Normally, around this time, people look at the two candidates in front of them, and wonder what distant, swampy planet of anguish and confusion, teeming with drooling losers, jettisoned its two most incompetent stiffs to Earth, only to have them end up competing to become leader of our planet's wealthiest and most powerful collection of homo sapiens?

In 2004, for example, plenty of voters were not particularly impressed with W, since they round out he invaded Iraq under false pretenses, having doctored intelligence reports to substantiate his dumbfounding aggression.

But the electorate was still insecure enough to want a watered-down John Wayne in the White House instead of someone who, despite his real-life experience in foreign policy and warfare, is from Massachusetts.

Every four years, it seems voters shake their heads and wonder, “is this the best we can do?”

This year, would-be moderate voters actually seem to respect both candidates.

McCain has an honorable record of service and a reputation for doing the right thing instead of the most politically savvy thing.

Obama has a chance to make history by breaking a color barrier, and keeps drawing comparisons to John F. Kennedy. He has the charisma of Bill Clinton, with half the fat and almost none of the sleaziness.

Am I crazy, or are people feeling like no matter who wins, we could end up with a President who actually changes the course of American history?

Someone who will be remembered 100 years from now, and not just by 10th grade history teachers?

To find out, let's journey back in time and examine some of the most ground-breaking presidencies in our history, to see if we see any parallels.

Obviously, George Washington, who “could not tell a lie,” set the standard for all presidents to come. Too bad they all ignored that standard.

Thomas Jefferson doubled the size of our country through the Louisiana Purchase. Obama doubles the size of his campaign war chest every three days.

Andrew Jackson started the practice of appointing his friends to government jobs, rather than hiring based purely on a person's qualifications or experience. Sarah Palin tried to get her brother-in-law fired from his job as a state trooper.

Abraham Lincoln steered us through civil war and ended slavery, holding our divided country together with sheer will and guile. Barack Obama has nice teeth.

Theodore Roosevelt made a career out of championing “the little guy.” John McCain is a little guy (at 5'6”, he would be the second shortest president in history, after James Madison).

Franklin Roosevelt guided America through its most desperate period of personal and collective sacrifice, starting with the Great Depression and leading into the Second World War. Joe Biden was one of his closest advisors.

Richard Nixon became the first president to visit China, opening diplomatic relations. Sarah Palin can see China's next next door neighbor from her house.

Clearly, Americans have every reason to be optimistic that a new and exciting chapter of American history will soon be written, no matter what happens.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Kids These Days

Are you responsible for a youth? If so, make sure you get him or her involved with youth sports as soon as possible.

Even if your youth is still in diapers, it’s not too early.

The recent story of a St. Louis-area junior league football coach illustrates why this is so important. During the post-game handshake line, the coach was caught on video violently shoving an 11-year-old player on the opposing team.

The player had apparently been mouthy and disrespectful. All highly trained child development specialists know a healthy shove is the best way to take care of that problem, so I don’t see why this is such a big deal.

But the over-protective parents are pressing charges, thus undermining the coach’s powerful message about sportsmanship.

The message you, as a parent, must take from this story is clear: other people know best how to raise your child.

Have you spent years studying child psychology and education, like all the genius football coaches have? Not likely.

Six or seven hours a day in school is not enough time away from your child. Make sure she or he is involved in enough structured activities to keep you free and clear of parenting responsibilities until well after dinner.

I should probably acknowledge that for every story in the media about some heroic coach or parent who beats up somebody else’s kid at a hockey game, there’s another coach or parent under the radar who doesn’t take things too seriously and just wants all the kids to have a positive experience.

This bleeding-heart approach makes me sick, but we shouldn’t let a few bad apples keep us from letting other people do what’s best for our children.

In his book “Hold On To Your Kids,” psychologist Gordon Neufield tells us that kids spend so much time away from parents these days that they develop stronger attachments to peers than to adults.

This realignment starts at a surprisingly young age and builds momentum.

To test this theory, ask any child over age 10 who is more important to them, parents or friends. Ask again once you get them to take out their “ear buds.” The eventual response is likely to be:

“Well, obviously, my parents are, like, the most – wait, somebody is texting me… Oh My God! Tara says Jamie totally posted some sick photos of herself on MySpace. She is, like, such a skank.”

Fifty years ago, teen suicide was usually traced to rejection by parents. Nowadays, it’s usually linked to rejection by peers. No wonder teen suicide rates have ballooned like a skyrocket through the roof.

Studies show that kids involved in sports are less likely to kill themselves, get pregnant, or become drug addicts.

I wasn’t able to find any studies about suicide or pregnancy rates of kids who spend a lot of quality time with their parents, so it’s safe to assume those kids are also offing themselves in record numbers.

This is a matter of life and death. I urge you to put your kids first. Instead of selfishly insisting that they be home in time for a family dinner and a game of Monopoly, let them spend all their time with other kids.

And when they finally do get home, ignore them and watch TV. They’ll thank you for it.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Your Personal Votation Device

Normally, around this time, I give my readers a quick rundown of the important issues facing us as the election nears.

But this time, I’m going to profile the two major referendum questions instead.

You’ve probably seen all those ads from the citizen coalition called Fed Up With Taxes (formerly known as Fed Up With Death, and, before that, Fed Up With Gravity).

In one ad, the owner of an ice cream stand bemoans the impact the new soda and beer tax is having on his business.

“We have no choice but to pass that expense along to the consumer,” he says.

Hm. I already knew a lot of Maine families are headed for some tough times, but it looks like the reason is not as obvious as I thought.

A winter of high energy prices? Bank accounts gutted by fiscal mismanagement? A whole season without Tom Brady?

Nah. The big problem is that we can no longer afford to buy soda and beer, irreplaceable staples in the American diet.

"Maine families are struggling right now," said Fed Up With Taxes spokeshuman Newell Augur, as quoted in the York Weekly. "It's absolutely the worst time for state government to be asking people to pay more money.”

The tax is three cents on a beer and four cents on a can of soda.

Those might seem like trivial amounts, but trust me, Mr. Augur knows the drill (ha!).

Considering how much of these beverages we consume, especially in winter, this tax probably costs the average Mainer several thousand dollars a month.

No wonder the movement to repeal it has so much support. It couldn’t possibly nothing to do with the fact that revenues from this tax go to support the Dirigo health initiative.

Either we pay some sort of tax to keep Dirigo afloat, or lots of people are going to lose health care. As long as those particular people are not the ones I spend any significant time with, I’d rather get my Mountain Dew Float four cents cheaper, thank you very much.

That way, when I get diabetes, I can use all the money I saved to afford my insulin shots and doctor visits.

So be sure to vote “Yes” on Question 1. I realize this is a little confusing; it seems like you’d be saying “yes” to the tax, but you’re actually saying “yes” to those who are against not repealing the tax.

Vote “no” if you oppose the people who don’t want you to not keep more of your own money for use on self-destructive fetters on society.

Which brings me to Question 2, which is getting less attention in the media because it only applies to people with a sense of decency.

It’s vague wording doesn’t help, either:

“Do you favor giving permission to allow some guys to build some sort of structure, somewhere in Oxford County, that may be used for gambling, at least for a while, with an unspecified share of profits going to causes that may or may not be completely pointless and wasteful?”

Details are scarce. The latest news is that some architect has drawn a picture of what the building might look like.

Also, the casino backers admit the legislature will have to tinker with the law even if voters approve it.

So you might as well smear brown finger paint on your ballot as far as Question 2 is concerned.

Me, I’m going to form a new citizen group. It’s called Fed Up With Pointless Referenda.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Perfect Husband

I thought my marriage was in great shape. Then, one day, when I got home from work, my wife hit me with the words I had dreaded only in my worst nightmares:

“I can't live like this anymore.”

My gut tightened and vibrated, as if I'd swallowed an electric toothbrush. The world began to spin around me as I braced for the impact of her next sentence.

“The house is a disaster.”

I looked around. Everything was where it belonged: a pile of mail on the counter, next to the cutting board. On the table, remnants of Tuesday's dinner remained available for scavenging. Laundry was compressed into an out-of-the-way pile next to the bedroom door.

I marveled at the effort I had made to neatly stack the dishes in a way that would pack the maximum number of plates and cups into the sink while still allowing the faucet a solid inch of clearance to swing back and forth, at least on one side.

Even though I had prepared with dread for this pivotal moment in our relationship, I momentarily forgot I was dealing with a woman at the end of her rope (read: cycle), and I tried to reason with her.

“This is not a disaster,” I said, with a tone of authority that would later haunt me on the couch. “Hurricane Ike was a disaster.

“This, my dear, is simply a case of mild disorder. Nothing to freak out about.”

It was soon made clear to me that I was the one with the disorder. Several of them, actually.

I tell this story to illustrate that no matter how much we think our society has advanced toward equality of the sexes, the males are still the ones who have to register for the draft, and the females are still the ones who are trained subliminally to notice every puny, insignificant patch of soap scum that makes it nearly impossible to breathe within eight or ten feet of the bathroom.

I don't know bout you, but it really burns my briefs.

The Today Show recently aired a segment explaining that women want men to take on an equal share of domestic responsibilities, but they resent it when we do a good job at it.

The modern dad spends an average of 21.7 hours a week “on childcare and related duties, like shopping and housework,” an increase of nine hours a week since 1978, according to msnbc.

Sometimes, experts say, if the dad actually does something well, mom gets insecure about no longer being #1, and has to knock him down a peg with a few weeks of incessant nagging or nitpicking.

(Okay, the article didn't say it that way, but you get the drift.)

I found this insight very helpful. Every time I get my daughter dressed, my wife has to make a bunch of exasperated comments and do it over again because I made some critical error, as if her eventual college admissions status will depend on whether or not she wore a pink shirt with red pants.

After a while, I start to wonder why I bother.

“Researchers found that even dads who believed they should be highly involved in childcare shied away from doing things for their infant if Mom was very judgmental,” the article states.

Fellas, we just have to remember that the wife’s criticism is just her way of saying how wonderful you are.

Mention that to her the next time she tells you she “can’t live like this anymore.” Let me know how it works out.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Garbanzo Economics

I’ll bet you know next to nothing about chickpeas. We’re going to correct that situation right now.

(Trust me – it’s important).

Also known as Garbanzo Beans, chickpeas, eaten by the handful, taste like wax paper.

But if you mush them up and mix in some spices, you have hummus, which compares favorably to other condiment options for your BLT.

The Garbanzo “provides a good source of protein,” even though it is “low in calories and virtually fat-free,” according to some Portugese chickpea web site I found.

It “can be enjoyed all year round,” and is a staple in ultra-healthy ethnic foods, such as that crazy Indian meal I had four helpings of at the American Folk Festival.

They also go great on salads.

So do what I did: go out and buy a few hundred cans of chickpeas to keep on hand for survival after our economy plummets to third-world levels.

And it will. Don’t believe these “experts” who insist the economy will “bounce back.” They’re required to say that. If you could follow them home, you’d find them weeping in despair, swallowing mayonnaise by the cupful.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Just take note of historical precedent:

Panic of 1893: Lack of regulation during a Republican administration enabled sketchy lending practices. Railroads grew faster than a high school shortstop on steroids, but they over-extend themselves and couldn’t pay off debt. Banks failed, and the bubble burst. People were forced to stand in long lines for scraps of stale bread.

The Great Depression: During Republican presidencies in the “Roaring Twenties,” America had a giant raging party, and the economy went through the roof. This encouraged an orgy of investing, but businesses couldn’t pay off debt when market conditions changed. Banks failed, the bubble bursts, and people had to stand in long lines to qualify for roles in John Steinbeck novels.

Recession of the Early 1990s: Ten years of “trickle-down economics” under (surprise!) Republican administrations helped the economy grow faster than OJ Simpson’s legal bills. But Lack of regulation led to a Savings and Loans scandal as people could not afford to pay their debts. The bubble burst, and people were forced to stand in long lines to vote for a known lecher.

(Are you noticing any patterns yet?)

The Great Catastrophic Collapse of 2008 (as it will come to be known):Under-regulated during eight years of Republican rule, banks give mortgages to anybody with a pulse (I was able to buy a house by applying in the name of my dog, Jethro, listing his occupation as “Tester of Furniture Puncture Resiliency”). When the housing bubble burst, home-owners couldn’t pay their debts, and banks collapsed. People will be forced to stand in long lines for a turn picking through the dump for scraps of half-rotted fruit rinds….

UNLESS they heed my advice, and stock up on chickpeas right now.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Going Swimmingly

Flashbacks to childhood trauma always result in cheap entertainment, which is why I knew this week I would have to write about my turn in the dunk tank.

It started out as a way for the sophomore class at my school to raise some money during the homecoming football game. But when I climbed in, it immediately turned into something more sinister, basically an opportunity for thousands of angry people around the community to release some pent-up hatred by repeatedly humiliating and degrading a tub of water.

Sitting on that platform, waiting for that first plunge, took me back to one of the diving boards at the Bangor YWCA pool, where as a fourth-grader I fidgeted and shook for several minutes before the menacing swim instructor nearly threw me in the water.

I guess this is what constituted a “swim class” back in the 1980s. As part of the “non-swimmers” group, this aquatic genius had allowed me to fart around in the shallow end for five weeks, dog paddling and doing fruity little kicking drills while holding onto the side of the pool.

Then, on the last day of class, I was supposed to fearlessly dive into the deep end as though it were as natural and intuitive as picking a scab.

Everyone else gleefully hopped into the water, wearing only their swimsuits. I put myself at the end of one line, and another pathetic little guy named Heath kept himself at the end of the other, each of us armored in enough Styrofoam to close a municipal landfill.

When our turns came, Heath and I stood on our respective diving boards, stricken by the simple facts of the situation: breathing was necessary to continue existence, and being underwater reportedly made breathing just about impossible.

Incredulous, the instructor told everyone we were “making a mountain out of a mole hill.” He strode onto Heath’s diving board and tossed him flailing and screaming into the water.

It took me only a second to decide that if my lungs were going to fill with water anyway, I might as well avoid Heath’s humiliation. So I grabbed my nose and hopped in.

The worst part is, that pinhead probably went home thinking he had taught us how to swim. In reality, I didn’t touch the water again for years. To this day, I still won’t go under without holding my nose, and while I can maneuver in deep water when necessary, I generally avoid it, being about as graceful and efficient a swimmer as your average Dodge Durango.

In how many other potentially lethal situations do we expect kids to learn by just jumping in and learning to cope? Imagine if we taught people to drive that way. “Just pay attention and wear your seat belt, and you’ll be fine. Now GET IN THE CAR.”

Fortunately, my inadequate swimming skills were not much of a problem in the dunk tank, since it was only four feet deep. I was able to use some of the larger ice cubes to keep myself afloat until my feet found the bottom.

Overall, it wasn’t that bad. I don’t know what the big deal is about throwing a ball to dump somebody in the water. It’s not like I didn’t need the bath.

The kids had a good time, and the whole experience forced me to reflect on a character-shaping experience from my past, and realize, after much introspection, that I could eek out another 600 words this week by whining about it.


Friday, September 5, 2008

Top Secret! Do Not Read!

I don’t understand how leaks happen.

I’m not talking about plumbing leaks. Everyone knows that plumbing leaks result from your toddler putting live ammunition into the garbage disposal.

But there’s really no excuse for informational leaks, because there is a well-known, proven strategy for keeping secrets from spreading:

Don’t make them available to anyone.

Best-selling author Stephanie Meyer has her tights in a twist because details from her new book, “Midnight Sun,” have surfaced on the Internet.

This should be no big deal, because you can only write so many vampire romance novels before they all start to sound the same, anyway.

But it’s big news to some people, regardless. According to Reuters news service, Meyer made some “early drafts” available to a few “trusted” people, such as her editor, her parents, and her drug-addicted, gossip-obsessed, destitute ex-hairdresser.

Some people just can’t hold on to classified information, and Stephanie Meyer is apparently one of them.

I have some suggestions for her, and for anyone else who just can’t bear to keep anything “close to the vest.” Memorize these foolproof techniques so you’ll always be able to get a secret off your chest without facing any consequences:

1) Write down the secret, fold it up, and try to get Wal-Mart to sell it in the toy section. By the time anyone gets the fortress of packaging undone, and frees the paper from the relentless clenches of those stupid screws and plastic ties that turn Christmas morning into an agonizing Houdini ritual, all the concerned parties will be dead anyway.

2) Buy advertising on a sports pre-game show. I guarantee nobody will hear it, because everything blends together. (“You’re listening to the Chrysler-Lexus-Jeep-Peugeot-Doritos-Carl’s Taxidermy-Brian Is Sleeping With Sarah’s Best Friend-Pre-Game-Show, on the Shaw’s-WRKO Red Sox Radio Network.”)

3) Jot it down on the owner’s manual of a new gas grille, right next to where it says “WARNING.”

4) Have it printed in your town’s annual report, on the one page everyone always skips over (“Budget Information”).

5) Three words: Public Radio Telethon.

But in this age of piracy, even these reliable strategies are not entirely guaranteed to work.

Ms. Meyer is learning what the music industry has understood for more than a decade: the Internet has neutered the concept of intellectual property. It is no longer possible to tell for sure where anything came from.

There’s nothing to stop some lowlife annelid from copying this column and pasting it on his or her own blog for some incomprehensible personal gain.

Or, for all you know, maybe I stole these very words from some obscure website you’ve never heard of, and am now selling it as my own work.

Given the number of people who read my column regularly (nine, if you count family and editors), it would be virtually impossible for anyone to find out.

If high school term papers are any indication, the Stephanie Meyers of the world might as well resign themselves to the fact that anything they create will belong to everyone in the world at the moment it is published.

The leaders of tomorrow, I’m sure, will pass laws to legalize plagiarism, provided they can find such laws in some other country that are readily available for copying.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Not-So-Fresh Debate

My new Super Hero of Brilliance is JoAn Karkos, for pretending she is the arbiter of taste and appropriateness for the Lewiston Public Library.

She borrowed “It’s Perfectly Normal,” a book for young adolescents about puberty and sexuality. She has heroically refused to return it.

According to news reports, Karkos claims she wanted to keep kids from having access to the book. Now she’s in trouble with the law, and, as of this writing, was about to be found in contempt of court and jailed.

It’s all part of her ploy.

Any time a non-heroin-addicted grandmother is on her way to The Big House for something besides prostitution, the national media goes bonkers.

As a result, several people around the country have sent the Lewiston Public Library new copies of the book. There are now five more available to be checked out.

Karkos has effectively quintupled the availability of the book to children.

We should all celebrate her sly, ingenious method of making sure fewer kids experience adolescence in a swirl of anxiety and confusion.

I remember it well. My junior high sex-ed class was informative, but it focused a lot on boring stuff like fallopian tubes and the vas deferens. As if I needed to know about my vas deferens in that moment. They left out the important stuff, like:

• How a woman gets the “not-so-fresh feeling” discussed in the commercials.

• Does size matter?

• What it actually feels like to finally have a girl… you know… look in your direction without making a face like she just tasted sour milk

The dictionary was not very helpful, either. What was I supposed to do, walk around asking people to define the “not so fresh feeling” for me? I learned after four or five tries in the grocery store how futile that was.

And “Hey, mom, do you douche?” was just not on the list of options.

These days, kids have Google to sort these things out, but some people are not comfortable with the idea of their child potentially learning about sex from some Internet pervert like Wikipedia.

So kudos to Karkos, I say, for giving kids better access to a professionally-written resource to help them make educated decisions about sex.

Sure, she could have just bought five copies of the book and donated them to the library. But that would have cost her $100, and it would not have drawn so much attention to this critical, overlooked issue.

She knows there are conservative nut-jobs out there who believe that if you don’t give kids information about sex, they’ll just go right on catching frogs and playing house until they’re 18, when it’s time to get married and have kids.

Karkos claims she’s practicing “Civil Disobedience.” Of course! She wants to go to jail to draw attention to her cause. That explains why she didn’t just tell the library she “accidentally” ran over it with a lawnmower or something.

By playing up the controversy, Karkos is championing the sensible idea that sexual feelings and behaviors are a (gasp!) normal – and maybe even beautiful – part of being human.

So no need to feel ashamed for being curious, kids. Read away.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Chaos Reigns Over Our Broken Democracy

So John McCain doesn’t know how many houses he owns. Let me be the first liberal to offer this response: Who gives a donkey’s monkey?

You heard right, folks. I wouldn’t vote for McCain at gunpoint, but his response to this question does not bother me.

If you and your spouse took in almost $6 million a year, how long do you think it would take before you didn’t know how many houses you owned?

It’s called investing in real estate, people. And it’s a smart move, especially right now, and it’s even smarter if you pay someone else to handle your investments. No wonder McCain doesn’t know how many houses he owns.

It would be like asking me how many dinner plates are in the kitchen cabinet. My wife cares about that stuff; I just wash them.

Obama, who previously cast himself as a transcendent figure who would not lower himself to the filthy, immature squabbling of superficial “politics as usual,” lost my respect by jumping all over McCain for being “out of touch with ordinary Americans.”

I don’t know how many times I have to say it. As a certified Ordinary American, I don’t want the President of the United States to be like me.

I want the President to be brilliant, like a five-time Jeopardy champion, but also to have absurd amounts of courage, like an amateur kick boxer with engorged testicles.

And he should also have an advanced soul, like Ghandi; the type of person who is not attached to material possessions, and therefore doesn’t bother to count his money, his houses, or his menservants, because he is too busy correcting injustices and stuff like that.

In short, the less like me, the better.

Just when I was getting over this foolishness, I found out that conservative saboteurs have been all over Fox News and the Internet claiming that Barack Obama’s birth certificate is fake, and he wasn’t actually born a U.S. Citizen, which would make him ineligible to become President.

Yet another example of how modern journalism has become less concerned with facts than with raising a ruckus.

The Annenberg Foundation, a non-partisan media watchdog, got their hands on the actual birth certificate from the State of Hawaii (via some cloak-and-dagger nighttime raid?) and declared that it has all of the features required by the U.S. State Department to prove citizenship, including a raised seal, verifiable signature, and giant white-out stain.

The Annenberg people took close-up photos of the birth certificate and posted the on their website, www.factcheck.org, along with a borrowed image of a birth announcement from the Honolulu Advertiser from August of 1961, and video from a time travel expedition to Mrs. Obama’s hospital room for a live interview during the birth.

It still may not be enough to quell the conspiracy theorists.

At this point I’m just disgusted with the whole process. So my vote is going to the only candidate who suggested after Hurricane Katrina that federal officials should be arrested for negligent homicide, and who berated the Pentagon for pouring money into companies that support human trafficking and sex slavery.

That would be Cynthia McKinney of the Green Party.

I don’t expect her to win, of course, but we need strong third parties around to remind us that there are… you know… issues.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Accountability: Making Us Stupider Since 2001

It’s “back to school time,” and we also have a major election approaching. Seems like a great time to take my car out on the Interstate and make sure its air bags are working properly.

Ha! Just kidding. I actually meant to say that it’s a great time to evaluate the political candidates’ views on education, if they have any.

Candidates haven’t said much about education, which is weird, because the Bush Administration has spent the last eight years pelting public schools with spitballs.

Take the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires teachers to be “highly qualified” in a specialty field.

Unfortunately, “education” does not qualify as a “specialty field.”

So in order to be designated as “highly qualified” to teach high school English, I needed extra coursework or a bachelor’s degree in English (no worries – I found one in the dumpster behind Pat’s Pizza).

The only problem: an English degree teaches one a lot about which objective case pronoun one should use in one’s hypothetical sentences, but it does nothing to help one figure out how to teach kids to read.

Far too many kids walk into high school classrooms barely able to read. I need to help them with the basics before they can tackle Shakespeare.

But the President would rather make sure I can write a 20-page term paper on Moby Dick at 3 a.m. on the day it’s due without spilling black coffee on my keyboard.

This is just one example of how politicians make educational decisions that look fabulous in the headlines, but in the actual classroom make about as much sense as shoveling snow with a copy of Sports Illustrated.

Another example is the amount of testing (known as “accountability”) required by NCLB. Nowadays, teachers have to demonstrate accountability every six or seven minutes, which tends to squelch creativity and innovation in the classroom.

If students are learning half as much as they used to, at least we’re accounting for that half.

So what do the leading candidates have to say?

Let’s begin with Maine’s U.S. Senate. The Collins campaign lists a bunch of accomplishments for education on its web site, including establishing a special fund for rural schools to meet NCLB requirements, and a $250 tax write-off for teachers who buy their own classroom supplies (muchas gracias).

She also got an “A” ranking from the National Education Association.

What a nerd!

Meanwhile, Tom Allen’s website lists a grand total of 1 (one) accomplishment for education, which was to “vote for” an increase in college student aid funding. The NEA also gave him an “A.”

Allen is obviously the better candidate. He is so smart that he can slack off and still pull out a good grade.

On the Presidential front, McCain says schools “must have the resources and management authority” to provide a decent education. Judging from his support of NCLB and voucher programs, his idea of providing “resources and management authority” is to yank money away from poor school districts and threaten to fire principals.

Obama would rather “support schools that need improvement, rather than punish them.” He does not say how he would accomplish this, but outlined 15 ages worth of ideas for early childhood education, recruiting teachers, and other boring stuff that could, you know, do something about all those illiterate high school students.

Incidentally, Obama also got an “A” from the NEA.

McCain got an “F.” Maybe if they’d given him a few more doses of “accountability,” he would have done better.

Friday, August 8, 2008

An All-Out War on the Red Sox

I have a bone to pick with the Red Sox.

It was bad enough when they still had Manny, someone who knew baseball was just a game, and wanted to take it easy and let it all hang out.

Now they have boring, straight-laced Jason Bay, whose arrival signified the final nail in the coffin of the “Cowboy Up” Red Sox we loved in 2004.

Unlike Manny, Bay gives 110% on every play. But Manny has way more entertainment value, and he understands that the game is supposed to be a fun.

Now that he's gone, there's nothing to distract me from the horrible writing, reporting, and play-by-play calling that you have to put up with as a sports fan.

The Clichés drive me stark raving mad. In my own writing, I avoid them like the plague. I don't want my readers to become bored to tears, after all. But even I occasionally fall asleep at the wheel and allow some to slip through the cracks.

At least I'm not Bangor Daily News columnist Gary Thorne, who recently described the Manny situation as a “saga.”

Please. We already had the Brett Favre “saga” and before that, the Terrell Owens “saga” and the Barry Bonds “saga.” Let's leave the “sagas” for daytime TV, shall we?

Those who write for newspapers often fall prey to clichés because we work under pressure, day in and day out. At crunch time, when you have to pull out all the stops, the trite, convenient phrases readily work their way to your fingertips.

And then we wonder why newspaper circulation continues to spiral down the tubes. Before long, print journalism will have gone the way of the dodo.

A new approach to writing would come as a breath of fresh air to the newspaper industry. More time to devote to the craft of storytelling, rather than the mechanical pursuit of information, would seal the deal. A newspaper that can deliver the flavor of life to your doorstep is worth its weight in gold.

Unless you're reading a complete rag with no integrity, like the Portland Phoenix or the New York Post, your newspaper is probably reluctant to take a walk on the wild side. Eventually, they will wake up and smell the coffee, or they will pay the piper. Take your pick.

But newspapers are not alone in this farce. I'd like to put the hammer down on NESN every time I hear Don Orsillo declare that a pitcher “is in the midst of a meeting with himself.” Why not just say that he's “meeting with himself,” or, even better, that he's “leaving the mound for a short break,” or that he's “secretly plotting the destruction of the human race.” ANYTHING different would be wonderful.

And if a batter “goes down by way of the K” one more time, it will be the last straw for me.

It just dawned on me that we ought to have a hard and fast rule against clichés in the media.

What, you think I'm out in left field? You nay-sayers out there can just talk to the hand. Anything is possible, and, as you know, stranger things have happened.

It would be fun to try to watch Boston broadcasters and sportswriters come up with stuff to keep me from drifting off into la-la land for a change.

(There. That's enough ranting and raving for today. I hope I got it out of my system.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Effortlessly weaving around my slothful competitors, I roared into the lead on the back stretch after turn five, and never looked back, cruising to an easy first place finish as onlookers admired my incredible racing skill.


Sadly, when my friends and I visited Maine Indoor Karting in Scarborough during a recent bachelor party, my truly timid and foolish inner nature revealed itself.

First, you have to understand that this is not your typical Route 1 tourist trap go kart track. At this place, the karts can reach speeds of 40 mph. You have to wear a racing suit, which includes a helmet, neck brace, and head sock that you really, really hope has been washed with 100% “Summit Fresh” bleach.

(I can't believe anyone would bother to sell 100% bleach that isn't “Summit Fresh,” really. What kind of dweeb sees a jug of “Summit Fresh” bleach at the grocery store, and says, “nah, I'd better get the regular bleach instead, just so I can be a total loser”?)

Then you have to go through a 15-minute course on how to drive the karts safely.

“Do not try to pass anyone on turns 9 and 10,” says the teenage instructor. “This is where people become paraplegics.”

Okay, it's not quite that bad. MIK's website says they've never had “a major incident” in the three years they've been open, though they do have a strict policy of calling 911 at any sign of injury, which could include eating more than three slices of their grease-soaked pizza.

This information swirled in my brain as I climbed into my kart and buckled the seat belt. Soon we were off, and I felt a refreshing blast of air in my helmet as I tooled along the first straight-away.

At turn one, I stopped – but only for five or six seconds, just enough time to calculate the angle and plot an efficient course that would not compromise the frictional coefficient of my tires.

The rest of the field blew by me, of course. The same thing happened in the next two turns, and I eventually realized the other drivers had some intuitive ability to turn at maximum possible speed without wrecking, whereas my methodical, cautious tendencies, borne from my service as a driving instructor years ago, were not helping me at all.

By the end of the second race, I had worked up a little more courage, and managed to get through all the turns without stopping. I even opened my eyes on some of them.

During the third race, I had stopped using the brake almost entirely, realizing that simply turning the kart slows you down enough to get through the lap without reaching critical speed. This led to a lot of fish-tailing, which created even more opportunities for my competitors to point and laugh as they drove by me.

I had been told that certain turns should be taken wide and others should be taken tight, but by the time I realized that “wide” versus “tight” refers to your path on the track and not to the condition of your body's various sphincters, the third and final race was almost over.

I finished in last place for all three races, making me the object of scorn and ridicule for the rest of the bachelor party. But when I challenged everyone to a parallel parking contest later, there were no takers, thus proving that, in some respects, I am still The Man.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Public Nursing? Just What I Need... More Stimulus

Before I begin this week's column, which does, in fact, contain the word “nipple,” in case you were wondering, I have to take care of some business.

I sold some space to Senator Susan Collins. I am a shameless, sordid twerp.

But you would have done the same thing in my situation. As I wrote several weeks ago, the IRS was holding on to my $900 stimulus payment, probably as punishment for the fact that I filed my tax return early.

I called the IRS hotline about a dozen times, and was told, basically, to go take a long walk off a short pier.

Desperate for the free money I don't deserve, I contacted Senator Collins' office, and offered to mention her responsiveness in my weekly column if she could help me out.

Despite the fact that I have often made fun of Senator Collins' robotic helium voice, the $900 landed in my bank account two days later, with a “thud.”

Coincidence? Maybe. I prefer to see it as proof that our mammoth bureaucratic government still responds to the concerns of any ordinary citizen who has his own semi-syndicated newspaper column. Democracy works!

Now, on to the topic for this week, about which I'm sure Senator Collins feels the exact same way you and I do: public breast feeding.

Recently, BabyTalk magazine featured on its cover a picture of a baby nursing on an actual human breast, causing immense outrage... and rightly so.

Lots of readers wrote in about how the photo was “gross” or otherwise inappropriate. They are absolutely correct: nothing is as disgusting as the sight of a mother feeding her baby the way God intended.

Whenever I see a mother whip out her nipple in public, I shudder. Does she really have to wave it around like that? It's as if she has a giant neon sign that says, “LOOK AT MY BOOB!” Invariably, these reckless degenerate mommies are just looking for an excuse to indulge their exhibitionism. Otherwise, they would simply pump the milk ahead of time, which by all accounts is completely painless and easy, like having an electric razor attached to your nipple for 30 minutes.

And don't give me that “my baby won't take a bottle” excuse. Everyone knows that all babies are the same, and all babies will take a bottle eventually, even if you have to choke them with it for a few hours to convince them.

Sure, from the baby's perspective, nursing is wonderful. It's an opportunity to connect with its mother in an unfamiliar place, and maybe not be so stinkin' hungry for five minutes. But can't they do it in a bathroom stall? I'm sure you'll agree that most public restrooms are wonderful places to eat.

Besides, who says the baby's needs should come ahead of mine? It's a terrible inconvenience for me to not stare at a woman's breast, or (even worse) to reframe my perception of the breast so that it's not 100% sexual.

And it's not just my needs that are being ignored. The medical establishment seems convinced that breast milk is better than formula, but does anyone consider the needs of the formula industry? What about the folks at Gerber? Does anyone care about them?

Breast milk supposedly contains “antibodies,” but how can they be healthy if they are “anti-body,” or against the body? Something is not right here. It's a conspiracy!

I'm going to write to congress. Sadly, it works.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Vacationing in Maine is a Gas

There is still time to rescue your summer vacation plans from the oil industry's sleeper hold.

Why sit at home wishing you were someplace else, when there are plenty of great places right here in the Pine Tree State where you can go and wish you were someplace else?

Chances are you're close enough to one of our under-the-radar vacation destinations that you can squeeze the gas money into your family budget, provided you can fit the entire family onto a used Suzuki motorcycle.

We don't have that luxury, because a certain member of our household insists on taking 65% of our possessions with us every time we leave the house for more than two hours. We squabble over a different item every trip.

“Why do you need to bring hip-waders?”

“You never know – we might need them.”

“We're going to the mall.”

“It doesn't hurt anything to bring them.” She would seem to have a point, except it does hurt me, because I don't get to be right.

Sure enough, that will be the trip when we encounter the flash flood and have to rescue a baby stranded in a floating car.

“See? Aren't you glad we went back for the life jackets, too? And you said they were 'superfluous.'”

So that explains why our giant Ford Taurus station wagon was packed with record-setting density for our three-night camping trip to Blue Hill, which is about an hour from our home.

We crammed so much stuff into the car that it developed its own gravitational pull, and we kept having to stop and peel bicyclists and joggers off the fenders.

Anyway, we finally made it to Blue Hill. If you've ever been to this picturesque coastal town about 20 minutes south of the perpetual knotted nightmare that is Ellsworth, you know that our Ford Taurus packed with random household objects, including whole sofa sections tied to the roof, did not exactly fit in. Blue Hill is more of a Subaru kind of town.

With a population of about 2400 mostly pleasant and relatively diverse (only 85% hippies) people, Blue Hill is certainly fascinating.

For one thing, it's one of the few places in Maine where you can enjoy a cup of organic tea, bring your child to yoga class, and get attacked by a giant horde of bloodthirsty insects, all without leaving town.

They also have the famous Blue Hill Falls, which are just like any other class III rapids except they keep changing direction. You could be relaxing in your kayak, thinking you're headed inland, and the next thing you know you're at the freaking Panama Canal, trying to explain to some surly customs agent who does not speak English that no, you are not some coked-up B-list celebrity on a pathetic publicity stunt.

If you lived near falls like that, chances are you'd turn into a nature-worshiping flower child, too.

There is also supposedly an actual hill in Blue Hill, with a hiking trail and everything, but I've never been able to find it.

Anyway, once we got our tent set up in a friend's yard, we spent a relaxing weekend socializing, visiting beaches, and dodging crop dusters.

All in all, it was a lovely vacation, and we even managed to sell parts of our sofa to pay for the gas to get us home.