Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Little Knowledge...

A Little Knowledge...
Using the smallest number of verifiable facts I could find, I have constructed irrefutable proof that our government is in cahoots with the terrorists.

Follow me closely here.

It all starts with that terrorist, Rachael Ray.

The daytime cooking show host made some ads for Dunkin' Donuts, apparently in an attempt to ruin her image. In one ad, she wore a black and white scarf that sort of resembled a keffiyeh, which is a traditional head piece warn by Arab men.

After an uproar from right-wing bloggers and pundits, Dunkin' Donuts pulled the ad off the air.

I took two logic courses in college. I even passed one of them. My expert position is that this ad should never have been made in the first place because Rachael Ray is a terrorist.

I hope my proof is not too advanced for you:

Rachael Ray = Scarf Wearer
All people who wear scarves = Terrorists
All Arabs = Terrorists
THEREFORE, Rachael Ray = Terrorist

(And we all know terrorists don't sell donuts.)

Now that I've established that, let's look at the new federal regulations that ban all analog TV broadcasting.

In case you didn't know, it would seem Time-Warner hired a bunch of lobbyists to force people into buying cable. Starting next February, you won't be able to use your old fashioned antenna to receive programming. Your analog TV will be worthless, unless you get some insidious-looking converter box that secretly emits God-knows-what-kind of brain-altering gamma rays.

With rabbit ears no longer an option, many people will simply say, “might as well get cable.” This is what the government wants.

Why is this a problem? You see,

If Government = Cable, and
Rachael Ray is on Cable
Then: Government = Rachael Ray;
THEREFORE: Government = Terrorists.

How can we protect ourselves against the evil and corrupt officials who have absconded with our first amendment rights without forming a backwoods militia with more artillery than a Marine Corps infantry unit?

Get rid of your TV altogether.

It's not as hard a it seems! My household has been without one for more than two years. You'd be amazed at how quickly you get used to finding other forms of entertainment.

Our family evenings are filled with laughter and games, reading and story-telling, listening to the radio, and uncontrollable sobbing over not being able to see the Red Sox or Celtics in the play-offs.

Sure, it has been hard sometimes. But it's worth it, because we have a three-year-old in the house, and for some reason there are a lot of TV networks who like to show their violent COPS or CSI promos during seemingly innocuous programming, like “American Idol.”

(Actually, I suppose there's nothing innocuous about “American Idol,” but that only enhances my point.)

McKay = Amish

No, no! Getting rid of my TV does not make me a Mennonite!

In fact, much video entertainment can be found on the Internet, which gives us way more control over what we see and will therefore make broadcast television obsolete, possibly even before this column appears in print.

See? I use computers, so I'm not necessarily a....

Aw, who am I kidding.

McKay = Amish

Amish don't use computers
Therefore: This column = done.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Goodbye, Old Friend

My favorite hardware store is now closed, the victim of a brand new “big-box” store that just opened down the road from it.

The new place may have its advantages, but in my heart it will never replace the the little one I grew up with.

I'll miss the sense of community that comes from going where all your neighbors go.

The feeling of connection to a charming piece of traditional Americana every time you enter the store.

And the memories. Goodness, the memories!

Like the time my wife and I stood and debated for half-an-hour which kind of trim board would most effectively mask the precipitous slant in our walls and ceilings.

Or the time we stood and debated which pattern of discounted tiled carpeting looked cheesiest.

We renovated our first home together with materials from the old Home Depot on Longview Drive in Bangor.

Now it's gone.

I'm getting all choked up.

The parking lot is eerily empty and silent.

Birds still twitter in the orange canopy on the front of the building, but the persistent grumble of lumber carts and diesel engines is a distant memory.

I will always remember you fondly, good ol' Home Depot. I don't care if there's a newer, bigger Home Depot that just opened up down the road, or if there's a new Lowe's across the river. It's not the same.

You'll always be my neighborhood hardware store.

I'll miss your cheerful, personable pre-recorded greetings and safety admonitions.

I'll have to not get used to seeing the same dependable, friendly faces of the self-checkout machines. Oh, I know the new place has self-checkout machines, too, but they just don't have the same familiar, neighborly feel.

I could always count on the competent advice of one of your couple-hundred employees, always steering me in the right direction and putting a smile on my face, too.

I realize many of those same employees are now working at the new store, but it's just not the same now that you've added – what, must be a dozen or so – new ones. Complete strangers!

One time I applied for a job at Home Depot, and I was able to charm the manager into showing me to the interview computer.

Darn corporate greed! It just goes to show you that capitalism is sometimes not all it's cracked up to be.

My little neighborhood Home Depot was fine. Sure, it wasn't turning huge record profits, but it allowed the owner a decent wage to feed his family.

But the suits in Georgia weren't satisfied. They wanted to turn their huge profits into profits that were a teensy, weensy bit larger than huge, and they figured a newer, bigger Home Depot built on wetlands would attract more customers.

Well, I can name at least one customer they've lost.

When I think of that trusty old orange and concrete building (must be a historic site by now, having been erected a full ten or fifteen years ago) just wasting away on the edge of town, it's enough to make me shop for all my tools at K-Mart.

Ah, K-Mart... at least there's one pillar of consistency left in town!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Ask Mr. Expert

Welcome to my new advice column, “Ask Mr. Expert,” in which I solve all of your personal problems using my vast knowledge of everything.

All you have to do is set aside all your own instincts and common sense and defer to my profound expertise.

Dear Mr. Expert: I just received a $600 check from the government simply because I exist. What should I do with it?

You are being bribed. George Bush is paying you to pretend you are not worried about the economy and to vote Republican in the next election.

You must cleanse yourself by donating the ill-gotten funds to the nearest worthy cause or slot machine.

Dear Mr. Expert: Help! My son is 24 months old and has not potty trained yet. My parenting book said he should have done this by now! He also started talking later than other kids his age. Should I be concerned?

Indeed. All children are exactly the same and must follow a rigid, arbitrary schedule of development. Get used to the idea that your son will still be in diapers by the time he celebrates his tenth year of bagging groceries.

Dear Mr. Expert: I have an etiquette question. Is it proper behavior at a dinner party to punch anyone who says the word “lifeblood;” as in, “an informed citizenry is the 'lifeblood' of any democracy”? I mean, what other kind of blood is there? Does anyone have deathblood? Why not just say “blood”?

You have an excellent point. Be sure to use your brass knuckles.

Dear Mr. Expert: At a cafeteria the other day, I purchased some cereal in a pre-packaged “self-serve bowl.” Does this mean when I use a normal bowl someone else is supposed to feed me?

Let me guess... you didn't stop breastfeeding in time, did you?

Dear Mr. Expert: My family hates me, my career is in shambles, and I'm just about bankrupt. Please help!

You have my deepest sympathies, Mrs. Clinton, but I'm afraid the best lot in life you can hope for now is to become a member of Obama's cabinet, such as Secretary of the Inferior.

Whoooo! Did you get that? Ha ha... Inferior. I am on FIRE.

Dear Mr. Expert: My son is the best player on his youth league baseball team, even though he's only in second grade. But I can't get him to hit the ball to left field with reliable power, and he won't charge the ball when fielding grounders. As a pitcher, his pickoff move is merely average. I'm starting to think he's uncoachable. How can I get through to him?

You can't. Give up now, and don't ever mention sports to him again for the rest of your life.

Dear Mr. Expert: The new selection for Oprah's book club is Eckart Tolle's “A New Earth.” Do I really need a spiritual guru or can I find inner peace and higher meaning on my own?

When I first noticed Oprah pursuing the topic of spiritual enlightenment in her various publications and webcasts, I was very skeptical. I thought she would fall flat on her face because our society is too superficial to latch on.

Then I started watching her spirituality course online. Gradually, I came to realize something powerful and transcendent, something that opened my mind to a new world of possibilities: Eckhart Tolle, when viewed from any angle, looks like a laboratory rodent.

So I guess you're on your own.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Entertainer

Every year around this time, news organizations around the state pause to pay tribute to one of America's most cherished traditions:

The controversy of “noise pollution” from ice cream trucks. (See Portland Press Herald, May 7.)

Given that the average ice cream truck pumps out more toxins than a coal-fired power plant, I can't help but roll my eyes about “noise pollution” grabbing headlines.

But there's another side of the story that often gets ignored. Have you ever wondered what it's like to spend a scorching summer day inside one of those infernal trucks?

I once tried it for a couple of months. Here's what I learned.

If you can stand the music and enjoy baking in an unsafe vehicle that was cranked off a dysfunctional assembly line during the Eisenhower administration, driving an ice cream truck is a great way to earn a little (very little) extra spending money.

Arrive around mid-morning to check your inventory, set up your cash box, and make sure the truck you're renting for the day isn't leaking too many toxic chemicals, such as transmission fluid. If your truck is leaking any toxic fluids, stash an extra supply on board somewhere (preferably not with your inventory).

Take an early lunch consisting of ice cream bars, Popsicles, and sour candy. Don't skimp; you'll need plenty of nourishment to survive until dusk.

Climb into the driver's seat and start the truck, pumping the gas pedal if necessary (it's almost always necessary).

If you are fortunate enough to get a truck with a seat belt, buckle up.

Drive to your assigned neighborhood and turn on your music (preferably "The Entertainer"). Begin to creep along the side of the street at no more than five miles per hour, checking all windows and mirrors for signs of children.

Stop every 15 minutes or so to top off the transmission fluid.

Slow down! You may think the kids can hear you a mile away, but even if they can, it takes time for them to wheedle money out of their parents and get out the door.

If a child approaches the truck, stop and put on the parking brake. Put on your best fun, child-friendly, clown personality, even if your customers have worse manners than the host of a satellite radio program.

Take the children's allowance money and be sure to give correct change to kids who are old enough to know nickels are not worth more than dimes just because they are larger.

Continue until dusk, then go fill the truck with gas, which will gobble up almost all the money you made giving children diabetes.

Over time, keep track of little league baseball games, summer camps, and other events where kids are likely to congregate in large numbers. Arrive as parents are picking children up. Block their cars, if necessary.

Every ice cream truck driver knows that it is next-to-impossible to wrench money out of posh housing developments. Trailer parks and subsidized housing are your bread and butter.

If you get lost, find your way back to the garage by following the puddles of leaked transmission fluid.

So next time you see your neighborhood ice cream truck, show your appreciation for this barely surviving piece of Americana by dropping some extra coins into the tip jar.

That is, if you can make it to the truck and back before keeling over from all the noise pollution.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Brash Cash Stash

Do you remember the Super Bowl ad with the baby talking about how easy it was to use E-Trade, and then spitting up? For me, that was the most powerful moment in television history. It convinced me to go blow $200 without having a clue what I was doing.

I've always been tempted by the stock market. Corporate America makes zillions of dollars off everyday schmucks like me. Maybe, if I play my cards right, I can own a piece of corporate America.

The problem is, I have no idea what my cards mean. They have funny acronyms on them, like “DJIA,” “NASDAQ,” and “SELL.” Who knows what on earth any of those things stand for?

But I refuse to let The Man keep me down. Instead, I'll do some research for a few minutes and pass along my findings.

Then you and I can be The Man, keeping other people down. It's the American Way.

Let's start with the basics. The “stock market” is a place where you can buy “shares” of certain corporations. In other words, you could own a tiny fraction of Sears, for example.

Keep that in mind the next time you visit Sears, if one of their employees – sorry, one of YOUR employees -- looks askance at you for swiping a knob off a washing machine, just stride up to that person and ask indignantly if they even know who you are.

“I could have you fired” should be the words you use to greet anyone who looks like they might try to sell you a lawnmower.

Anyway, financial advisors will tell you that the stock market is the most risky place to put your money, but it's also the only way to make any serious coin over the long haul.

If you're a baby-boomer and you would rather not risk losing your entire retirement savings right now, you could consider bonds.

Much is made of the the gigantic national debt, but few people realize that some of that debt is owed to ordinary Americans. Growing up in the '80s, I remember seeing those cheesy commercials for U. S. Savings Bonds. Little did I realize that my government was basically jonesing for a fix.

“Come on, man. I'll pay you back, you know I will.”

You can also get corporate bonds, which financial experts consider a bit less secure because corporations, unlike governments, can sometimes go belly-up.

I can't believe I just wrote that sentence.

Personally, I have a lot of my money in mutual funds. Here's how it works: You and a bunch of other hopeless drooling losers contribute a bunch of money to a giant “fund” that is carefully managed and invested by some jerk with a red BMW and a hands-free cell phone.

Because a true professional is deciding how to invest your money, your returns should be larger, perhaps even big enough to pay the fees charged by the true professional.

That's all I've figured out so far, but hopefully I've inspired you to take control of your finances, study the inner workings of capitalism, and then maybe spit up like that kid on TV.

Haven't We Been Over This Before? - Part II

Recently I wrote a column dismantling the most common arguments people make in favor of taking rights away from homosexuals. I invited people to write in if they thought I had overlooked anything.

Not much response. I got two letters of support, plus one letter from a radical right-winger who suggested the world would be better off if my parents had been homosexuals.

A logically airtight counterpoint if I've ever heard one.

Besides my existence, the right-winger took issue only with my complaint that the Christian Civic League keeps bringing the issue to referendum over and over again.

He pointed out that lots of noble causes, such as the Civil Rights Movement, the Suffrage Movement, and Abolitionism, succeeded only because of years and years of persistence.

I had to chuckle at the fact that all his examples consisted of efforts to give people more rights, whereas his cause wants to take them away.

Nevertheless, I have to concede the point. Congratulations to the Christian Civic League for continuing to fight for what it believes in, even if no one seems able to articulate why their beliefs are not absurdly hypocritical and immoral.