Welcome, frack

Welcome, frack
With screams of being roused about
Welcome, frack
To those brand new shakes on a brand new route

Well, the quakes have all changed since you hung around
But our fears have remained and they’ve turned around

Who’d have thought that Kansas
Would make me crap in my pantses?

Yeah, I’ll crack up a lot
Till a crack eats my spot

Welcome, frack

A visit from …

’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, for each one is a souse

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care

In hopes that St. Nicholas wouldn’t mind the smell there

The children were nestled all snug in their beds

While sugary NyQuil stopped the dance in their heads

And Mama in her kerchief and I in my cuffs

Were role-playing bank robber and sheriff sweet stuff

When out on the lawn there arose such a noise

I sprang from the bed and dropped the sex toys

Away to the window I flew like a sprinter

Tore open the shutters, forgetting it was winter

The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow

Yes, our kids formed a breast from the flakes below

When what to my wondering eyes should appear

But an Amazon delivery drone, oh dear

With nobody as driver, yet lively and quick

For it was 300 pounds lighter than old St. Nick

More rapid than eagles, the whirling blades

Drowned out the questions I loudly made

“Where’s Dasher? Where’s Dancer? Where’s Prancer and Vixen?

Where’s Comet and Cupid? Or Donder and Blitzen?”

Their falling reindeer poop aggravating me

I prefer over blades decapitating me

Causing a blizzard, this man-made tornado did push

Through our prized oak, turning it into a bush

Up to the housetop the quadcopter flew

With an Amazon package, personalized too

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof

The slicing of guttering, no longer damage-proof

As I drew in my head and was turning around

Down the chimney the drone came with a sound

Grinding and blowing its damage underfoot

Till my home was all tarnished with ashes and soot

A meager package it carried on its back

You’d need a full copter to carry a sack

Its GPS, how it twinkled; its propellers, how scary

Its exact retail value only known by Drew Carey

Its mechanical arms were drawn up like a bow

And its landing gear just as white as the snow

The thing we had ordered was held tight in its teeth

The name “Amazon” encircled its head like a wreath

It had a metal face and a plastic round belly

That shook as it whirred like a bowlful of jelly

Neither chubby nor plump, unlike that jolly old elf

Of course I’m referring to Jeff Bezos himself

A buzz from a box and a blink from its head

Let me know that I still had something to dread

It spoke not a word, just sat there and sputtered

“Grab your book anytime,” I’m sure it muttered

Then flashing some lights aside of its nose

The blades spun harder and up the chimney it rose

The drone emerged from the roof clean as a whistle

And away from my home it flew like a missile

But I swore it exclaimed as it sailed toward the moon

“Happy Christmas to all. Next stop: Cameroon.”

At the National Spelling Bee

“Your word is witticism.”

“May I have a definition?”

“Witticism: a witty remark.”

“May I have a useful definition?”

“Witticism: a clever remark that is often biting or ironic.”

“May I hear it used in a sentence?”

“To express a viewpoint, George S. Kaufman often used a witticism.”

“May someone tell me who George S. Kaufman is?”

“No.”

“Can George S. Kaufman come here and give me an example of a witticism?”

“He died in 1961.”

“Can you tell me if George S. Kaufman left any witticisms to his next of kin?”

“You’re running out of time.”

“Was that a witticism offered to George S. Kaufman in 1961?”

“Spell witticism.”

“What part of speech is it?”

“Witticism is a noun.”

“What is its language of origin?”

“It was coined by English poet, playwright and literary critic John Dryden in 1677.”

“Was this Dryden dude too busy to come up with an alternate pronunciation?”

“It is pronounced only one way: witticism.”

“What is its alternate spelling?”

“It is only spelled one way, and we couldn’t give that to you anyway.”

“Is that anyway as one word or any way as two words?”

“Spell witticism.”

“What word directly precedes witticism in the Webster dictionary?”

“We can’t tell you that.”

“Did I just then use a witticism in a sentence without actually using the word witticism?”

“Spell the word, please.”

“Wouldn’t this spelling bee be a lot more fair if all the contestants had to spell the same word?”

“If we did that, everyone after the first speller who got it correct would know how to spell the word.”

“What if we all tried to spell the word at the same time? That might speed things along because putting this spelling bee in prime time is interfering with my bedtime.”

“Wouldn’t everybody spelling the same word at once slow things to a crawl while everyone waited for someone else to say a letter?”

“Tell you what. You judges get together and figure out all the new rules while I take a library — I mean a bathroom — break.”

“Spell witticism!”

“W-I-T-T … I … C … I-S-M.”

“Correct.”

“You should say the word is ‘spelled only one way,’ not ‘only spelled one way.’ Sheesh.”

“Please be seated.”

“if sheesh is the next word, can I give the definition and alternate pronunciation?”

Cleaning up on napkins

There aren’t enough words to explain why one of the great movies of all time is “Bowfinger.”

There aren’t enough Supreme Court judges who will admit they make up their minds on a case first, then figure out the legal justification.

There aren’t enough chances to practice wrapping Christmas presents.

There aren’t enough ways to clean your Mac of MacKeeper ads.

There aren’t enough reminders to college basketball analysts that they’re wearing microphones.

There aren’t enough priests — behind bars.

And, hard as it is to believe, there aren’t enough songs in which the main background singer is Michael McDonald.

But boy oh boy oh boy, there are more than enough napkins.

Empty the bag at home after a trip through the drive-through restaurant and it looks as if you just robbed a party store. Even if you were to wipe your mouth clean after every bite of burger and every nibble of nuggets, you would still have enough napkins remaining to open your own diner, drive-in or dive.

Is this the reason our computerized society has cut down on paperwork? We’ve shifted the facts and figures of our lives to websites, databases and the cloud just so we could save enough trees to provide every man, woman and child with enough napkins to protect the laps of everyone in Lapland plus every lap dancer and lap dancer customer at a laparoscopic surgeon convention.

Walk into a Five Guys burger joint, place an order and watch how many napkins get stuffed into your bag, although if you wish to effectively use any of those napkins to wipe your face, you need to immediately pull them out of the bag before they begin absorbing the grease from the 10 tons of french fries also in the bag, plus the extra scoopful thrown in to ensure that by the time you finish eating, you will weigh as much as five guys.

I have not purchased paper napkins from a store in years. For every trip to a fast-food eatery, I acquire enough napkins to last a week. I occasionally have to spill a pitcher of iced tea just to get rid of a stack of napkins so I have room for the rest.

Might I recommend that we divert some of the enormous quantities of paper used in the manufacture of napkins into the making of more moist towelettes? I always feel much more clean after a fast meal at the fast-food shop when I tear open the container, pull out the moist towelette and make my face lemony fresh. Lemon seems to enhance any cleaning product. As I always say, if life gives you lemons, make Lemon Pledge and wipe away the evidence.

Of course, wet wipes have this nasty habit of leaving you not only lemony, but wet. And it would be unfortunate to get into a traffic accident on the way home and explain to the police officer that my hands slipped on the steering wheel because of excessive wetness in the wet wipes. Eventually my criminal case would end up in the Supreme Court, where Antonin Scalia would explain that the Founding Fathers meant for me to use napkins and I would end up in a chain gang situated between Clark Kellogg and Dick Vitale arguing at 115 decibels over which was the better song, “Peg” or “Ride Like the Wind.”

A thank you letter to Santa

Thank you, Santa, for not getting me any gifts that start with Mr. that are sold exclusively during infomercials. No Mr. Beer, no Mr. Lid, no Mr. Microphone, no Mr. T’s FlavorWave Oven, no Mr. Sticky, no Mr. Mop to clean up Mr. Sticky Beer because it didn’t have on it a Mr. Lid. Just the thought of owning such a contraption makes me feel so dirty that I might have to run to the store and purchase Mr. Bubble.

Thank you, Santa, for not getting Aunt Myrtle an iPad. It’s bad enough talking to her once a year on the telephone right after opening her Christmas present and finding out she knitted me a tie. If she had an iPad with FaceTime, I would have to wear that skinny shawl tied around my neck every time I spoke to her. Besides, one conversation a year with Aunt Myrtle is quite enough. She has a voice that sounds as if she is about to burst into tears, except she’s happier than Michael Phelps’ cardiologist and everyone listening to her is about to burst into an Olympic-size swimming pool of tears.

Thank you, Santa, for not getting me a clock that ticks. I like a timepiece that lets me know what I need to know when I need to know it, not one that constantly lets me know it’s ready to let me know what I need to know even when I don’t need to know it. In other words, a clock should be like  a police officer — readily available to help me when I need help, but not following me in a constant reminder that it’s lurking.

And for that matter, Santa, thank you also for not getting me a clock whose facial glow would put a lighthouse to shame. I like a timepiece that lets me know … well, you know.

Thank you, Santa, for not getting me tickets to a Christmas Day movie. I love Quentin Tarantino’s films and I’m sure I’ll love seeing “Django Unchained,” but not on Christmas Day. I’m in a holiday mood on the holiday, so I want to see Santa Claus fighting the Martians or the Grinch getting less grinchier or Jesus talking in a Swedish accent. Of course, if Mr. Tarantino somehow worked into the script that Django at some point joins up with the baby Jesus to win Santa back from the Grinch, I take it all back. As for “Les Miserables,” nothing makes me less miserable than Chevy Chase causing a Chicago blackout with his Christmas lights.

Thank you, Santa, for not getting me a gift card to a pizza restaurant that feels the need to alter its menu once a week to offer a specialty item. I like a pizza where you can see the cheese as you taste it, not one where the cheese jumps out from inside the crust as if it’s at a surprise party. I like a pizza where the toppings reach the edge 52 weeks a year, not once every 52 years. I like a big slice of pizza with sauce already on it, not a pizza that comes apart in itty-bitty strips so you can dip them into sauce.

Thank you, Santa, for not getting me OxiClean. If oxygen is such a terrific cleaner, why do we have air pollution?

Thank you, Santa, for not getting me anything with a monogram. If I ever have to answer my door wearing a bathrobe with the initials BK, it’s so much easier not to explain that (a) I’m not Ben Kingsley, wearing a crappy hairpiece, after my financial adviser absconded with my fortune or (b) the owner of a free bathrobe included with my Whopper by Burger King.

And thank you, Santa, for not getting me a video game that involves gunplay. I keep hearing how these games have a heightened sense of “realism,” but if there are no funerals, no families emotionally shattered and no NRA spokesman afterward shooting his mouth off about the constitutional rights of mass murderers who wouldn’t know a well-regulated militia if it fired a handful of one-shot muskets right next to them, how in the holy heck is that “real”?

Cold, dry and wet

I have spent the last two weeks fighting a cold, which is like Woody Allen fighting an MMA champion: You put your arms defensively around your face and gut until your opponent tires of swinging.

There are two stages to defending against a cold, each taking about a week.

The first is the “dry” stage, when you try desperately to medicate yourself so someone you’re trying to impress doesn’t look at you and say, “You’re dripping.”

What’s dripping is your nostrils and your eyeballs. You can blow your nose with a tissue to try to control the nostrils. Unfortunately, at the same time your eyes squirt an oozy substance that takes a month to remove from your reading glasses with industrial-strength Windex.

To dry yourself out, you take an antihistamine. If I’m going to be anti-histamine, I’d much prefer to send nasty replies to Histamine’s Twitter account. Instead, I have to take a pill with the following warning: “Marked drowsiness may occur.” May? I have to swig two Cokes with a 5-Hour Energy chaser just to make sure I make it from the medicine cabinet to my bed before I collapse in deep slumber. The sleep is so deep that the effort to wake up feels like pulling yourself out of an abandoned well before the nostril secretions reach your nostrils a second time.

For the next several days you pop an antihistamine every time you experience 23 consecutive sneezes, wait for the dryness to occur, then try as hard as possible to keep moving because the minute you pause, you doze. The same box that warns “Marked drowsiness may occur” also has this message: “Excitability may occur.” May? Of course you’re excitable. You’re flailing away at the potential of another snooze session in another abandoned well filling up rapidly with mucus.

Mucus. Has there ever been a better word that defines itself with its pronunciation? Maybe not. Or maybe snot. I think of mucus as the clear goop doing the Wham-O Slip ’N Slide from the nose to the lips. But toward the end of the first week of your bad cold (as if there’s such a thing as a good cold), the mucus becomes snot. It begins to congeal ― white at first, then yellow, then green as it thickens to the consistency of Silly Putty and lodges in your highest sinuses and your lowest chest cavities. Your relentless cough is a muffled cry of help from someone gagged with salt water taffy without the water.

Thus begins the “wet” stage of your cold defense. After drying yourself out more than Dudley Moore’s Arthur becoming a safecracker, you now have to drench your innards with moisture to thin out the green sludge within you and force it to accompany your cough to your 19th box of tissues. You need steam.

You can obtain that steam bit by little bit by drinking cup after cup of  scalding tea. Or you can accelerate the process with a humidifier.

There are two kinds of humidifiers: warm mist and cool mist. Warm mist humidiers work by heating water until it boils and turns into steam. Cool mist humidifiers work by … some Penn & Teller magic trick, because cool water isn’t supposed to steam. I own a cool mist humidifier because I don’t like to burn myself and because it’s the closest I’ll ever come to attending a Penn & Teller show.

As you breathe the steam, you can feel your head and chest open up, which almost makes up for the fact that the fog from your humidifier is turning that late night infomercial you’re watching on TV into the movie “The Wolf Man Demonstrates the Microtouch Max Hair Trimmer and Hopes To Hell He Has Enough Batteries.”

A Halloween story

The wind was whipping and the lightning was frightening as I decided I could drive no farther in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere.

Luckily in the downpour I found a place to stop ― an eerie castle.

“Hello, my boy,” said the crazed-looking man who answered my knock on the door. “Come in out of the Frankenstorm.”

“To be absolutely precise, don’t you mean Frankenstorm’s monster?”

“Don’t get all Turner Classic Movies on me.”

“Sorry.”

“I’m Dr. Akin. You’ll be dry and warm in my laboratory.”

“Why do you have a laboratory? And more important, why do you pronounce it luh-BOR-a tory?”

“Force of habit. You see, I’m a mad scientist.”

“What’s the difference between a scientist and a mad scientist?”

“A scientist is a researcher who depends on factual science. A mad scientist is any Republican on the House science committee.”

“Are you conducting an experiment?” I asked Dr. Akin.

“I’m trying to create a female lab assistant. You see, I have a theory that when I absentmindedly walk out of the laboratory with all the electrical devices on, my female lab assistant has ways to shut that whole thing down.”

“Any luck so far?”

“No, all she does is slap me in the face and register to vote as a Democrat.”

“I see.”

“That’s why I asked a mad scientist friend of mine to come over tonight and help me. When I answered the door, I thought for a moment you were him.”

“What’s your friend’s name?”

“Dr. Mourdock. But I’m not sure he’ll be much help.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Every time I tell him how one of my experiments went haywire, he replies it’s something God intended to happen.”

“I wonder if he’ll feel that way on Election Day.”

“What did you say?” asked Dr. Akin.

“Oh, nothing. Do you have any other friends who can help you?”

“Well, there’s Eddie Munster.”

“There’s really an Eddie Munster?”

“No. That’s my nickname for Dr. Ryan. He’s a close friend of mine and of Dr. Mourdock, although he’s been reluctant to say that lately.”

“Why is that?”

“He’s been spending a lot of time with a new pal of his, and he has been keeping his mouth shut so people will learn to like Dr. Romney.”

“Why wouldn’t people like Dr. Romney?”

“He changes his views more often than I change the definition of ‘legitimate.’”

“It sounds as if he’s several people cobbled together into one.”

“Have you been in my laboratory before?”

Remote possibilities

The inventor of the wireless television remote control, Eugene Polley, has died. In his honor, I would like to update a joke.

The old joke: Why do hot dogs come 10 to a package while hot dog buns come eight to a package?

The new joke: Why are beds 24 inches high while the cable box shelf on television stands is 19 inches high?

As a result, my TV remote control stammers worse than the awards show producer who has to ask Angelina Jolie if she can pull in her outstretched leg a bit so she quits tripping other celebrities.

I wake up in the cold morning light from a dream in which Donald Trump is chasing me hither and yon trying to convince me that Mitt Romney’s dog was born on the roof of his car. Desperate for a dose of reality, I reach for the remote and hit the power button that’s supposed to simultaneously turn on my TV and my cable box.

But because my bed is five inches above the cable box, only the TV switches on. So I hit the power button again. Now the TV turns off and the cable box turns on. The blue light of the cable box stares at me as if to say, “Why do you have me working at 4:41 a.m. if Mr. Panasonic just above me gets to sleep?”

So I am forced to yank off my sheet and blanket and stumble in the chilly dark over to the TV to find the on/off button, which is on the side of the Panasonic and indistinguishable from the button that switches my television from cable to antenna, which makes about as much sense these days as a button on my surround sound receiver for eight-track tapes.

I finally get the TV and the cable box on at the same time and rush back to the warmth of the bed. Back under the blanket, I hope to watch Comedy Central. But I have forgotten that at 4:41 a.m., Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have given way to the informercial guy telling me how much weight I could lose with P90X. I have a different exercise regimen that gets me constantly in and out of bed in the overnight hours. I call it Pee 90 Times.

So I attempt to switch the channel to 1301, ESPN HD, because I haven’t seen highlights of that Heat-Celtics game on “SportsCenter” since The Donald started chasing me around trying to convince me that he wasn’t born yesterday. But because my bed is five inches higher than the cable box, the number 1301 gets cut off in mid remote control button pushing and my TV instead switches to Channel 130, which at the moment is showing a documentary about moonshiners on the non-high-definition Discovery Channel.

At first I’m disgusted by the fact that I’m watching something not in HD. Then I’m disgusted by the fact that all the people on my TV screen are wearing bib overalls and nothing else. Then I’m relieved by the fact that I’m not watching morbidly obese moonshiners wearing stretched-to-the-max bib overalls in high definition. But I’m not relieved enough to keep watching.

So I again try to punch the remote buttons 1-3-0-1, which this time sends me to Channel 1, where Time Warner gushes about the wonders of cable. Exasperated enough to go back to sleep and let Donald Trump chase me some more, I hit the power button. Then I hit it again. The TV and cable box take turns turning themselves off and on. I finally close my eyes with the cable box’s blue light staring at me mournfully.

Services for Eugene Polley will be this Saturday at 10:0 … I mean 0:00 … oh brother … 1:00 … damn it … 10:000 … come on … 111:00 … for the love of …

License to kill … my appetite

I got a notice in the mail the other day that I need to lose 10 pounds by my birthday.

Well, it didn’t exactly say that. It actually said that my driver’s license needs to be renewed. Which means I need to go on a diet.

It’s true that the photo on a driver’s license doesn’t show your entire body. But it does show your face, and for some reason the first place I gain weight is my face. Which blows to smithereens the adage that the criminal never returns to the scene of a crime.

You can exercise your arms, your legs and your midsection, but it’s hard to exercise your face — other than chewing, which is how I got to the point where I need to exercise my face.

The irony is that the foods that make me chew the most are the foods that make my face the fattest. Burnt ends, french fries, taffy — your face gets a workout and the next day looks as if it stole all the collagen injections in Hollywood. It would be like watching Chuck Norris do his workout on that Total Gym infomercial and end up looking like Roseanne Barr.

An exception to this theory is chewing gum. Constantly chewing gum during a diet is a good idea because your jaw will be too worn out to eat pizza later on. It’s too bad most gum these days is sugar-free because that eliminates the added benefit while trying to lose weight of losing all your teeth.

The other reason I need to lose weight before I get my driver’s license renewed is because the state requires you to list your weight. Interestingly, the folks at the driver’s license bureau don’t weigh you. They just ask you what your weight is. You get the feeling you could say almost all number and they would put it on your license. However, they don’t follow the same procedure with your vision. They don’t say, “What’s your eyesight?” and let you answer, “It’s 20-15. Pay no attention to all the partitions I knocked to the ground walking over here.”

I would feel somewhat guilty, however, giving state officials a bogus weight. It would be like putting phony numbers on my tax return. I would worry about some state auditor going to my doctor’s office and checking up on how much I weighed last time I was in for a checkup.

Speaking of which, do any of us really, really know how much we weigh? That number changes constantly through the day. When I weigh myself, I’m always looking for the lowest number possible. So I always weigh myself first thing in the morning after eight hours of not eating while I’m sleeping. And I weigh myself absolutely, totally, completely nude.

But when you go to the doctor’s office, the scale is out in the open in the busiest hallway. You wouldn’t believe what a stink the caregivers attempting to weigh you there put up if you try to take off all your clothes.

Your weight at the doctor’s office always seems to be 10 pounds more than when you weigh yourself in your bathroom at home. When the caregiver reads out the number, first I tell her not to be such a yeller and then I sneak a quick look to make sure she hasn’t surreptitiously put her foot on the scale next to mine.

Your shirt, pants, socks, shoes and underwear don’t seem to weigh 10 pounds, so why is your weight at the doctor’s office such a high number? The only logical reason I can come up with is that zoning codes must allow medical personnel to locate their offices in the places on Earth with the greatest gravitational pull. It wouldn’t be hard for doctors to gain access to these places. After all, we already know that hernia exams are performed directly over the portals to hell.

That gives me an idea of how to stop eating so I can lose 10 pounds in the next few weeks: Schedule twice-a-day hernia exams.

Drawing the line on lines

I hate to wait.

Wait.

What I really mean is that I hate how we’ve screwed up the process of waiting.

We can’t even do something as simple as stand in line.

The next time you’re in line, notice how far apart people stand from each other. It’s as if the person in front of us is Dominique Strauss-Kahn and his Strauss-Kahn-Do attitude.

A store brags that before its doors open for a big sale, the line is circling the block. Well, if everybody in line didn’t act as if the person in front of them was B.O. Plenty, the line wouldn’t even circle Lawrence Block.

There ought be an understanding that when you get into a line, you have your act together. And by act, I of course mean shopping list. Forgot to get antacids? Sorry, you forfeit your place in line. Asking me to let you step back into line ahead of me is like asking antacids to work on your stomach after you spit them out.

And when you get to the front of the line, for Pete Townshend’s sake, don’t conduct the Rolling Stone interview with the cashier while those of us behind you fantasize about smashing a guitar on your purchase. I don’t care if the cashier is your long-lost mother, your conversation should only consist of “Wow. Thirty years. Trapped in cave. Bear. Hibernated, huh? Well, see you next time I need shoes.”

Waiting is all about lines, even the lines that don’t seem like lines. For instance, a doctor’s office. You check in and then are told to have a seat until your name is called. It would be great if the seats were all lined up in a row so you know who’s first, second, third and so on. But even though the seats are scattered about, the rules about a line should apply.

I hate when I get to the doctor, check in, sit down, watch people come in after me and then see them get called before I do. I don’t care if the time of my appointment is after theirs. First come, first served — a tradition that I believe dates back to lunch break on the set of the film “Debbie Does Dallas.”

When my name finally is called, I’m taken to what is known as an examining room, because I now have an hour to examine the clock while I wait for someone to knock on the door and come in. And that person isn’t the doctor, but the person who escorted me to the examining room, who now tells me that she is taking me to another examining room, where I can examine another clock before the doctor finally arrives. Suddenly I realize that all my skyrocketing insurance premiums and soaring co-pays have gone to my doctor so he could triple the number of rooms where he can juggle patients for two hours before his 12-second examination.

There are lines in cyberspace as well. Tickets for the greatest concert in my life are set to go on sale at 10 a.m. I take a seat at my computer at 9:45 p.m. and find the website for the atomic clock so I know precisely when to click on the website for the concert tickets. I watch every second pass, remindful of the previous day at the doctor’s office. It’s 9:59:57, then 9:59:58, then 9:59:59…

At precisely 10:00:00, I click on “buy” at the ticket website. And I’m told that my tickets are in Row 437.

And I then realize I forgot to get antacids.

A bicycle built for boo

Performance-enhanced bicyclists are being disqualified from the sport so fast that the only people left to win the next Tour de France are youngsters riding bikes adorned with baskets, smiley faces, mug shots of Dora the Explorer and training wheels.

Who look better dressed in yellow than adult males with 28-inch waistlines, I might add.

Motorcyclists have a reputation of being lawless, but they have nothing on their cousins without the motors. Despite the fact that they drive 50 miles an hour slower than the motorheads, bicyclists take up every bit as much of the road. Never mind that their vehicles are skinny enough to occupy that thin strip of road carved out for them next to the curb. No, far better for them to pedal way out in the middle of the lane, forcing automobiles going much faster than them to veer into oncoming traffic in order to pass them.

And when you do, take a look at the face of the bicyclist you’re trying to pass. He glances at you, then the car coming straight at you, then back at you with a smile that says: “In just a minute, there’ll be one less smog producer on the planet, and we who ride on this green machine will be one step closer to the world domination we so richly deserve.”

Yes, I’m good at reading faces. I should enter the World Series of Poker, except on my long drive to Vegas I’d encounter so many bicyclists trying to do me in that I’d never make it.

Worse still are the encounters with a group of bicyclists riding in formation as if the Blue Angels needed ground support. Again, it would be so ridiculously simple to ride in single file next to the curb. But that’s not what bicyclists do. They fan out in a tandem formation like the tail of the letter Q written backward by a calligrapher buzzed on triple lattes and ginseng cocktails.

Bicyclists will tell you they line up this way in order to avoid a mass pileup in the event that a cyclist near the front hits a pebble and loses control. Please.

First of all, those errant pebbles on the roadway are caused by cars skidding into curbs trying to avoid bicyclists shifting their place in formation as if they’re running an offensive football play collectively designed by Mike Shanahan, Mike Martz, Mike Leach, Mike Riley, and Mike and Mike in the Morning.

Second of all, bicyclists, that’s why you’re wearing helmets — or whatever you want to call those upside-down-canoe-shaped things on your head. These banana hats look like something you would wear after a bike accident, not before.

And while we’re on the subject, shouldn’t bike helmets protect something other than the top of the head? There’s little covering up the forehead or the side of the head or the back of the head. I believe those parts of the head are sort of important as well. Then again, if those parts of your skull swell up, your aerodynamics aren’t affected. How silly of me to overlook that.

If it sounds as if I have a thing against bicycles, you’re right. It goes back to my grade school days, specifically the Christmas gift exchange at St. Casimir’s School. No gift was supposed to cost more than a dollar. The gift exchange taught me generosity, ingenuity and frugality. It also taught me that the only students who obeyed the dollar rule were me and the guy who bought my present.

One year I got lime green handlebar grips for my red bicycle. They caught the attention of every motorist, and I feared getting caught on a vehicle and getting pitched into a ditch because the driver was doubled over in laughter.

So I asked myself: What would St. Casimir do? Then I discovered that Casimir died at the age of 25. Thus inspired, I gave the red bike with the lime green handlebar grips to my sister.

Trash talk

When it comes time to get rid of something, one must be properly disposed to properly disposing of the item. Every item has to go into a certain place.

Getting rid of white paper? That goes into the white paper bin.

Getting rid of a newspaper? That goes into the newspaper bin.

Getting rid of a plastic bottle or can? That goes into the bottle/can bin.

Getting rid of a printer or fax machine cartridge? That goes into the cartridge bin.

Getting rid of a candy wrapper? That goes into the … hmmm.

You see, once upon a time we had a quaint device for such things known as a trash can. But in the modern age of recycling, our zeal for putting everything in its proper bin has relegated the trash can to … well, I’m not sure where you dispose of a trash can nowadays.

I want to be a good steward of the planet. I’m not like Rush Limbaugh, who believes that Earth is this highly adaptable ecosystem that can accommodate any amount of garbage and make it part of the planet. I believe that Earth is a big rock that can no more handle a cascade of filth on its own than a cat box can handle a bunch of cat turds on its own.

If Rush owned a cat, when guests came by and complained about the awful smell from the cat box, do you think that Rush would reply, “You pseudoscientists don’t understand that excrement in an unfettered free enterprise society without government regulation will over time by metamorphosis become one with the cat box”?

I think the only thing that’s one with the cat box is Rush’s brain.

As I said, I want to be an environmentalist. Which is why I use plastic bags at the grocery store. But when I leave the store and put items in my car for the trip home, I can’t help but notice that I have more plastic bags than items purchased.

When it comes to grocery bags, plastic is better than paper. It takes up less space. It consumes less energy. It produces fewer emissions. It can be reused. It can be recycled back into plastic.

But to make plastic this flexible, it has to be thinner than the plot of a Vin Diesel movie. The plastic bags are so thin at my grocery store that when I buy a package of Scotch tape, the clerk has to double-bag it. Is using this many plastic bags really good for Mother Earth?

True, you can reuse plastic bags. You can collect them at home and bring them back to the grocery store next time.

But I never see anyone coming into the store carrying plastic bags, probably because it’s too embarrassing to hear someone at the checkout line say, “The cloth bag you bought to be more environmental just fell through your plastic bag.”

Strength isn’t a problem with my trash bags at home. They’re advertised to be made of some space-age material that won’t come apart. So let me get this straight: NASA spacecraft are coming apart, but my space-age trash bag won’t. Shouldn’t we line the next rocket with trash bags just to make sure the mission is successful?

Trash bags have gotten away from using twist ties, whose paper used to fly off in the middle of twisting so that the exposed wire could end up sticking through your finger. Trash bags now use drawstrings, which no matter how many times you knot them untie faster than a 3-year-old’s shoestrings. The job of the trash collector has become much easier, since 80 percent of your trash has blown out of the open bag and down the street by the time the trash truck arrives.

Too bad Rush Limbaugh refuses to help figure out these environmental quandaries. I bet he could solve all these problems with half his cat turds tied behind his back.

A cut above

The fine folks at Gillette have decided that their Fusion razor no longer cuts it, so to speak. In its place, they have created the Gilette Fusion ProGlide, supposedly the closest razor this side of a Sweeney Todd musical.

The Fusion ProGlide’s blades are thinner, without the benefit of a maniacal 90-day workout program, and slicker, without the benefit of a maniacal 90-year BP oil spill. Gillette says that the new blades replace shaving with “gliding,” which is not the word I would have chosen to convey a total absence of danger to cliff dwellers, but then again I will never be confused with Don Draper.

Gillette would like me to ditch my Fusion razor for the higher-tech Fusion ProGlide razor so my face can be as smooth as a baby’s behind. Then I can get my vastly smoother face in the proximity of a somewhat older and less smellier behind.

But I really like my Fusion razor, which, like the new Fusion ProGlide, has five blades. I could have chosen a rival razor with only four blades made out of titanium, but then I realized titanium is the substance most drivers in golf are made of and I was worried that driving pieces of beard 300 yards from my face would make cleanup a bitch. So I opted for the shaver with the extra blade made of — well, the manufacturer won’t say what the blades are made of, but I’m sure it’s a substance on the periodic table. Maybe it’s promethium.

If I understand shaving surface technology correctly from my extensive study of television commercials and “Saturday Night Live” skits, the first blade of the five-blade razor isn’t meant to cut the individual stubble of beard but to merely pull it farther out than it was, preparing it for the next blade. The second blade is especially designed to meet with the facial hair and dislodge it even more, setting it up for the third blade, which, with qualities unlike any of its companion blades, prepares the hair for its appointment with the fourth blade. Blade number four proves to be uniquely qualified to yank the now severely weakened soldier in the beard brigade to a point where it is totally vulnerable to blade number five.

Here, finally, do we have a blade that actually cuts. This, finally, is the blade that inflicts mortal damage on the facial hair, which has been pulled from its roots by the previous four blades to the point where it can no longer gain nourishment from the face and, in this weakened state, is no match for the sharpness that is blade number five.

But if the fifth blade is the only blade that cuts the beard, and if it can do so only after the facial hair has been thoroughly set up for execution by blades one, two, three and four, which are especially designed to do their jobs only in that order, what happens if you flip the razor over and try to shave the other way? Will the person doing this be horribly disfigured for life? And if so, won’t the shaver’s stunning effectiveness prevent facial hair from growing back for an appreciable amount of time, meaning it could be several weeks before the person is able to hide the horrible disfigurement?

Apart from the five blades of the razor, on the back of the shaving cartridge is a single blade. This so-called precision trimmer has been designed for tricky places on the face such as sideburns and the area under the nose. So it takes five blades working in an especially choreographed tandem to cut ordinary facial hair, but it only takes one blade to cut the trickiest part of the beard. I can’t help but think it would have been much easier and much more cost-efficient for the shaver manufacturer to just put this one “wonderblade” on the razor and be done with it.

If I choose to replace my Fusion with a Fusion ProGlide, I will once again face the option of choosing a battery-powered version that vibrates with micropulses that further reduce razor friction and increase razor glide. That sounds impressive until I remember that I already have a razor with all those features. I think it’s called an electric shaver.

Fortunately, I have some time to contemplate whether to switch shavers. You see, to save a few bucks, I chose a while back to buy a package of 12 Fusion replacement cartridges, each of which lasts me a month. I’ll be damned if I throw away that money on the whimsical promise of facial gliding. And by the time I finish the last of the replacement cartridges, Gillette will most likely have come up with a replacement for the Fusion ProGlide, probably called the Fusion ProGlide My Face Must Be Numb Because I Can’t Feel The Shaver.

Whether you use a Gillete Fusion, a Gillette Fusion ProGlide or a lawn mower blade, it’s helpful to remember this: The goal in shaving isn’t to get the closest shave possible. The goal is not to cut yourself. Women are always dating guys with stubble. Women are never dating guys with a bleeding face.

Chart toppers, your days are numbered

I have no idea what it means anymore when a particular piece of music is termed a “number one song.”

I used to know what that meant. Every Friday, I would beg my mom to drive me to Woolworth’s to pick up a top 40 list put out by the local radio station. And right next to the top 40 list were the singles, each one in its own numbered tray. Whatever record sold the most copies that week would be in the number one tray, the next most in the number two tray and so on. It was all so simple then.

Now, when’s the last time you bought a single in a store? My guess is that it was just before Simon and Garfunkel started quarreling over whose baseball cap was hiding the biggest bald spot. You know, back in that quaint musical time when those clever kids in The Zombies could sing “no” 21 times in a row in “Tell Her No” and manage to make it melodic.

Oh, people are still buying singles — except that these days they’re known as “tracks.” And they’re not purchased in a brick-and-mortar store, not even the brick-and-mortar stores not made of brick and mortar.

They’re purchased online at places such as iTunes. But I wonder sometimes whether those sales have any effect on the charts.

A while back I bought and downloaded John Lennon’s “Imagine,” which was released as a single way back in 1971. So if a bunch of people did the same thing, would “Imagine” show up next week at the top of the charts?

Imagine it’s number one

It’s easy if you try

No song above us

Below us “When Doves Cry”

And if the charts aren’t determine by sales, what determines what’s number one? Apparently it’s airplay — how often radio stations play a song. They compile a list of the hottest tunes and play them over and over and over again.

And how do they know what are the hottest tunes?

First, sales — except we’ve already established how worthless those are.

Second, requests from listeners. And what inspires listeners to request a song? Hearing that song on the radio. So someone hears Cee Lo Green’s “F*ck You” on the radio, then that someone calls in to the station and requests “Fu*k You,” then someone else hears “Fuc* You” and then that someone else requests “*uck You.” Talk about a self-f*cking-fulfilling prophecy.

Pretty soon you look at Billboard magazine and notice that “Fu*k You” has been on the charts for a million weeks. Hey, Cee Lo Green, it’s a great song, but if “Fuc* You” stays on the charts any more f*cking weeks, we’re all going to go *ucking crazy. And if your next Gnarls Barkley song is “Fu*king Crazy,” I want a cut.

Oh, eventually “F*ck You” will be displaced in the longevity category, probably by The Black Eyed Peas’ “Just Can’t Get Enough.” Hey, Black Eyed Peas, maybe you just can’t get enough, but I’m sick and tired of your tune already.

Let’s drop this charade and enjoy music without worrying about who’s number one.

“Imagine there’s no Billboard

It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to keep a count of

And no “Fu*k You 2”

Act of contrition

At this point in the proceedings, I feel I should apologize.

Somewhere it is quite possible that I have written something sort of clever that someone else has written or said before.

It’s not that I meant to steal the thought. I read it or heard it, enjoyed it, then stored it away in a recess of my mind.

Note that I didn’t say a “niche” of my mind. I may have accidentally borrowed an idea or two for my writings, but “niche” isn’t one of them. The world has way too many niches, if you ask me. You can’t go more than a minute or two without learning that someone else has found a niche and called it theirs.

The thing is, if the niche was already there to be found, it can’t be their niche. Just because they stumbled upon it doesn’t mean they can steal it and call it their own. That’s not the American way. Even though our ancestors found America and stole it from the Indians. Which is why many Indians even today think of us as sons of niches.

Anywho, if I have misappropriated anybody’s ideas in anything I wrote, then that was inappropriate. It’s inappropriate to misappropriate. Although it might be somewhat appropriate if “inappropriate” could appropriate the same pronunciation as “misappropriate.” You see, even the slightest change of a letter or meaning can make a world of difference. Or even a word of difference.

Which, getting back to my heartfelt apology, is the point I’m trying to make here. I may have accidentally purloined an idea, but in doing so I most certainly have changed a word or two along the way to clarify it, to recast it, to improve it.

Think of me as you would BASF.

You know, BASF, the chemical company. I feel safe in calling it that because on its Web site it’s identified as BASF-The Chemical Company. This is what happens when you find your niche — you advertise it on your Web site in ways so obvious that people roll their eyes and make fun of you.

BASF’s slogan at one time was “We don’t make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better.” Following that slogan on the Web site was a ®, which means that the slogan was registered somewhere and I’m probably getting into a lot of trouble using it here. Which leads me to two points:

1. I shouldn’t be getting into trouble for repeating somebody’s slogan to make a point.

2. If all the other people worried about me plagiarizing their ideas had stuck a ® after them, I probably would have left them alone and we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion right now.

Anywho, back to my apology and BASF. The company went on to explain its slogan this way: “We don’t make the sunscreen. We make it stronger. We don’t make the helmet. We make it tougher. We don’t make the bridge. We make it more durable. We don’t make the car. We make it more colorful.”

That’s exactly what I’m trying to do with my accidentally stolen ideas from other people. I’m just like BASF. I’m not ripping off an idea. I’m ripping it off stronger and tougher and more durable and more colorful.

Then again, with all the money that BASF makes, shouldn’t the company do at least one original thing? Like writing an apology that manages to work in a reference to BASF.

Heck, for that I deserve a ®.

Paths of laure

What’s so special about poetry? What is it about a poet that commands such exceptional attention and rapture?

A poet gets the end of each line to rhyme. Big deal.

Should we bow all our heads in adoration and kneel?

Should teenage girls become poetry groupies and squeal?

I’ll step away from my PC and do a cartwheel.

Enough said, Fred.

Besides, poets invariably cheat. Slaves to a particular

rhythm of words, they will finish a line in

midsentence thought and carry an idea to the next

line, leaving the reader hanging as to when the thought will

end.

And yet the United States has a poet laureate. Many individual states have poet laureates. Other countries have poet laureates. Shouldn’t there be some world poetry championship so we can have one global poet laureate and be done with it?

There are all kinds of artists in all kinds of other areas, yet no other art form has a laureate. If we can have a poet laureate, there should also be…

A musician laureate.

A painter laureate.

A dancer laureate.

A sculptor laureate.

An architect laureate.

A filmmaker laureate.

A magician laureate.

An escape artist laureate.

A plumber laureate.

A potter laureate.

A jeweler laureate.

A game show host laureate.

A talk show host laureate.

A mechanic laureate.

A mime laureate.

A farmer laureate.

A fashion designer laureate.

A stand-up comic laureate.

A cartoonist laureate.

A news anchor laureate.

A car salesperson laureate.

A safecracker laureate.

A lawyer laureate.

Laure, laure, hallelujah!

Deciding who should get all these laureates should create enough reality shows to keep Fox on the airwaves for the next 150 years.

The law of unattraction

When you think about it, unrequited love is a lot like spirituality. You adore someone divine from afar to the point where you’re constantly sending messages to that person. Then one day you assess your relationship and realize that the communication has been totally one-sided.

Maybe I’m not practicing the right kind of spirituality. Maybe I should be practicing “The Secret.”

According to this “law of attraction,” I can beckon anyone I want by simply thinking about that person. I am a magnet. This makes sense to me. I orient myself to poles, especially the kind that scantily clad women hang from. I can often be found close to a refrigerator. A compass never seems to work right when I’m holding it. Magnetic people repel me.

Now, now, let’s think positive. “The Secret” says that what you believe is what you achieve. How skeptics got their own society and magazine and philosophy, I’ll never understand.

Back to the “law of attraction.” In order to put this into action, the first thing I have to do is be aware of my desire and ask the universe for it. This used to a tricky proposition, but ever since the surveillance policies of the Patriot Act, getting the universe to listen to your thoughts has never been easier.

After that, I must focus upon the person I desire with an attitude of gratitude. I am especially grateful that her lawyer is out of town at the moment and won’t be able to put the restraining order into effect until next week.

Then I must act as if the object of my desire has already been acquired. Never mind the platitude that when we assume, we make an ass out of “u” and me. I have replaced that platitude with an attitude of gratitude without any latitude. So why do I sound like an ass trying to avoid being an ass about getting some ass?

Finally I must be open to receiving what I desire. I must allow it to happen. I must raise my vibration. Then again, people with really good vibrators don’t seem to have a need for anyone else.

The fact is, if thoughts produced action, I would be with someone today. Possibly the girl that I wanted to take to senior prom at Immaculata High School. Sounds like a school that encourages male-female interaction, doesn’t it? Especially when the priest in religion class complains about boys hanging out near girls’ lockers and a student asks the reverend why he insists on looking for trouble and he replies fervently with a flushed face: “I don’t look for trouble. I see it anyway!”

I waited four long years in high school for the girl I couldn’t stop thinking about to not have a boyfriend so I could ask her out. That time finally came my senior year, just before prom.

We had finished playing tennis after school when I popped the question. She took a long sip of water at the drinking fountain and replied, “Let me think about it.”

Here’s what a dolt I was. Those words got me all excited. I was going to consume her thoughts all night long, I thought to myself.

The next day before classes began, she came up to me and told me that she thought it would be a better idea if I took her friend to prom. Then in a gesture of apology, she handed me a powdered doughnut. A zero covered with sugar. How appropriate.

You see, it really isn’t a secret. It doesn’t matter if you’re constantly thinking about being with another person if that person is constantly thinking about how not to be with you.

The best you can do is wish that the person you love the most feels exactly the same way about you. Hey, hey, hey, one to a customer, George Clooney.

Just the fictions, ma’am

There’s fact in every fiction, and there’s fiction in every fact.

The minute the Oscar nominations were announced, controversies arose about two films that were deemed true stories. But some folks insist that “The King’s Speech” and “The Social Network” play fast and loose with the facts. Which prompts me to think of the biblical question Pontius Pilate asked Jesus: “What is truth?” A dramatic quote, even if the author of the Gospel of John, who may or may not have been John, made up that quote to make a dramatic point. Which brings me back to my original point.

There’s fact in every fiction, and there’s fiction in every fact.

You start out trying to write something totally factual, but you reach a point where you don’t know precisely what happened next. So you find yourself having to make up a line of dialogue here or an episode there to bridge the gap between facts. Not one of those rickety rope bridges that sway wildly when a wise-ass fat-ass jiggles while aboard. We’re talking a Golden Gate Bridge of made-up stuff.

So now technically you’re writing a piece of fiction, except that as you’re getting into the head and heart of one of the characters to write your fiction, you’re asking yourself: What would I do in this situation? And what you would do becomes precisely what the character does. Fiction has suddenly become fact again.

And you keep bouncing back and forth between fact and fiction, fiction and fact, until the two are barely distinguishable. Which is why I say:

There’s fact in every fiction, and there’s fiction in every fact.

So why oh why oh why do most best-seller lists have separate categories for fiction and nonfiction? And who exactly is the person who reads each book and designates this one as fiction and that one as nonfiction? Does this person ever come across a book and hesitate about which category to place it in?

“Well, it didn’t seem real at all for the first 47 pages, but then it got very realistic until Page 116, and then it turned unbelievable again until Chapter 9, when suddenly it sounded exactly like my bar mitzvah.”

Considering how many books read like this, perhaps there should be a third category besides fiction and nonfiction, something called “semifiction” or “pseudononfiction.”

If I ever own a library or bookstore, there won’t be separate fiction and nonfiction sections. Since there’s something made up or sort of made up in every book, I think the categories ought to be along the lines of the term popularized by Mark Twain: lies, damned lies and statistics. Or maybe they should be categorized as fibs, whoppers and Bill O’Reillys.

“I’m looking for the new Bill O’Reilly book.”

“That would be in the Bill O’Reilly section, ma’am. It’s past fibs and far beyond whoppers, right around the corner from Glenn Beckisms.”

There’s fact in every fiction, and there’s fiction in every fact.

Nothing more clearly illustrates the illusion of what’s real than the so-called reality show. No such creature exists. A television show quits being “real” the moment a camera is introduced on the set, meaning the term “reality TV” is about as incongruous as the term “amazing race.”

People do not act real when you point a camera at them. Have you ever been yourself when someone has taken a photo of you? No. You never smile in real life the way you smile in a photo. You never think to yourself in real life, “Is my smile balanced? Do I have as many teeth showing on the left side of my mouth as on the right side of my mouth?” And how many times when you smile in real life are you mouthing the word “cheese”?

Likewise, nobody in front of a television camera acts like himself or herself. You’re acting like Al Pacino or Meryl Streep, who when they appear in front of a camera are acting like other actors or the people who taught them acting. You know what they say about sex — that you’re not having sex with just one person, but with all the people that person has ever had sex with. Well, when you act in front of a camera, you’re not acting like yourself or acting like some other actor. You’re acting like all the people that your actor model has ever acted with. And maybe one of them, at most, was acting sort of kind of like himself or herself. Which is why I say:

There’s fact in every fiction, and there’s fiction in every fact.