Fuel fool

Today's crime tip comes from Summerfield, FL: If you're going to steal gasoline by drilling holes in people's gas tanks, it's really better not to leave the drill at the scene of the crime. Especially if it is etched with your name.

Extra points: When police went to the perp's home, they found a rudimentary meth lab in a shed.

Double extra points: The perp's alleged partner-in-crime was arrested when she showed up with his bail.

It's a small world for the tall

It takes a big man to admit he's too tall.

But I stand stooped before you today to say I've been too tall for decades, and height's not all it's cracked up to be.

I've been thinking about this a lot since reading an article that said tall people make more money. A new study, first reported in the "Journal of Applied Psychology," found that each inch of height means about $800 more a year in pay, which adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a lifetime.

"These findings are troubling," said lead researcher Timothy Judge of the University of Florida. "With few exceptions, such as professional basketball, no one could argue that height is an essential ability for job performance."

The researchers analyzed four studies in the United States and Great Britain that followed thousands of people as they grew up. And up and up. They found that taller people were perceived as more competent, and suggested this attitude comes from our evolutionary past, when size and strength were important to survival.

I believe this study has several shortcomings. (Ha!)

First of all, as a tall person, I see no evidence that I'm paid more than my peers. In fact, there have been times in my so-called career when I could barely afford enough food to fuel my oversized engine.

Secondly, I've never found that people perceive me as being more competent, especially once they've gotten to know me.

Third, the study doesn't account for people like me, who work at home. Most people I encounter through work have no idea that I'm 6-foot-5. To them, I'm merely a disembodied voice over the phone or a snitty little e-mail message.

Finally, the study overlooks the daily hardships faced by the overly tall. If there is a "height dividend" hidden in the pay scales of America, then it's only because it's expensive and inconvenient to be much over average size.

Take, for example, clothing. When I had a regular job that required me to wear decent clothes, I easily spent $800 a year more than my colleagues for clothes that would fit my elongated frame.
(Now, working at home, I usually wear my one-size-fits-all bathrobe, so it doesn't matter so much.)

Or cars. Buying a car is traumatic enough when you can fit into any little sedan on the lot. But when I shop for a vehicle (or even rent one), my first priority is not engine or color or reliability. It's "can I fit?" I go to an auto dealer and try on cars.

The whole world is designed for people of average height or shorter. Do normal-sized people duck through doorways? Fold into thirds to fit into an airline seat? Get decapitated by ceiling fans?

For extra-tall people, a good day is one in which we don't hit our heads on something. It's difficult to maintain the illusion of competence when you're doing the ooch-ouch dance over the latest goose-egg on your skull.

Speaking of dancing, it's something tall people should only do alone, such as while in a shower where the spray hits at navel-height. Unless you can find an equally tall partner, you'll just look silly on the dance floor. When there's a big height difference, "dancing cheek-to-cheek" takes on a whole new meaning.

So you, the normal-sized public, should ignore those vestigial evolutionary perceptions about height and survival. They simply don't hold true anymore.

Don't put us tall folks on a pedestal. We'll only hit our heads.


News to me

For all you Home Front readers in Redding, CA: The Record-Searchlight announced today that my column is moving from Sundays to Fridays. First I'd heard of it.

The announcement was in a house ad on A-12 that outlined many changes in the local paper. I'm sure there will be the usual reader backlash toward losing daily stock listings, etc. Probably few readers will object to the moving of my "popular" column, but there is a smaller readership on Fridays, so I'm kind of disappointed. Mostly, I was surprised because no one at the paper alerted me this was coming. Seems like common courtesy.

For those of you around the country who read Home Front online, you can still find the latest column at http://www.redding.com/ in the Features section. For now. As far as I know. Nobody tells me anything.

Another lifestyle choice

This came to me in a dream last night. It's an idea for a sign:



Hair today

I think I speak for the fathers of America when I say: Individually, and collectively as a generation, our children have weird hair.

We dads mostly keep this opinion to ourselves, knowing the slightest spark could set off unwinnable Hair Wars. But secretly, we wince every morning as our children emerge from bathrooms, ready to face the world with hairdos that look like "mixed-media" art, something entitled "Industrial Accident at the Weed-Whacker Factory, Preserved in Scented Gel."

We smart, modern dads have learned to keep our mouths shut. We've learned that criticizing or arguing or even simple hysterical giggling will only make matters worse.

It's the No-Win Parent Paradox: Any parental signal about a new hairstyle -- even the merest grunt -- will cause heartbreak and yet another new hairstyle.

If parents voice approval, the child will know the hairstyle is a dud and will hack it off. If parents admit they hate it, the kid will find a style they hate even more.

(If parents voice no opinion whatsoever, Junior will do something weird to his hair anyway, in the spirit of free experimentation. But at least it won't be the parents' fault.)

Hair, like other fashions, suffers from "generational creep." Each generation must find styles more outrageous than the last, to keep up the cycle of rebellion. This escalation in elaborate hairstyles requires more and more time and attention. Eventually, children will get up in the morning, spend the day doing their hair, then go right back to bed again.

Upping the ante these days is the ready street availability of hundreds of hair-care products. Kids feel compelled to buy and try every form of mousse and gel and spray and dye. At our house, one whole bathroom counter is buried under bottles and jars of such products. And we have BOYS.

You see whole herds of guys running around today with hair cropped short as Curly Howard's. These boys have easy, buff-and-go hair. These are not my sons.

My sons like to experiment. They like to make a fashion statement. They think people gawk and point at them because they're "cool."

My older son, who has curly blond hair beautiful enough to make you weep, wants a black, jutting hairdo that could put somebody's eye out. Since he hasn't managed that yet, he sometimes just puts goo in his hair and pulls it in different directions, so portions stand straight out from his head. This is supposed to look like a rock star. Most times, he ends up resembling the victim of a "swirly."

My younger son wears a spiky flat-top with a long "rat-tail" in the back. At our house, this style is called "Definitely-Not-A-Mullet." This son likes to spray-paint his "Definitely-Not-A-Mullet" with colors not found in Nature. Fortunately, these dyes are temporary. So far.

To my sons, such hairdos send a message: "Hey, dude. You're looking at one hip, rebellious individual."

To me, the message is: "Hello. I am an idiot."

But I can't say that. I can't voice my chagrin without raising the stakes. So I say something neutral, like, "Is that how you want your hair to look?" And the answer is always, "Yes."

To me, these boys are missing the whole point of being a guy: You don't have to do anything creative to your hair ever. Pick one simple style when you're, say, 12, and you're set for life.

(Naturally, this style will be the one your father hated.)

Maybe that's what my sons are doing now. Experimenting before settling on their own personal lifetime hairstyles. I only hope they don't pick the "swirly."

(Editor's note: This column first appeared around 2004. Now that they're older and more mature, the 18-year-old wears dreadlocks and the 16-year-old has long, straight hair past his shoulder blades. So things are very different now . . . )


Wet tees

Scheduling tip for golf tournaments: It's really, really not a good idea to have strippers spilling out of a limo onto the course while the children are still playing.

That's what happened in Broomfield, CO, where a tournament for children aged 7-12 was wrapping up just as the Shotgun Willie's Charity Golf Tournament was starting its fun and games. Golf course officials said the encounter was a result of "mistiming." No duh.

Parents said the children had questions about why the men joining the strippers had water guns and the women were dressed in white.

Blooming idiot

Note to jail escapees: You can leave behind a lovely flower made of toilet paper as a token of your goodwill, but the cops will still track you down and arrest you.

Also, putting a pillowcase over your head does not constitute "hiding."

Full story here.


Johann Sebastian Pork

Researchers in the Netherlands report that a steady diet of classical music relieved stress in piglets. Not only did the pigs bicker less among themselves, but the meat they produced turned out to be healthier.

The piglets also were given fifteen minutes of "playtime" each day. No word on whether they mastered tetherball.

Summertime foods

I've sworn off cooking, at least for the summer.

It's too danged hot to eat big, wholesome meals, much less cook them. Why heat up the kitchen when the whole family only wants Popsicles anyway?

I tried to keep my family on the nutritious path. I sweated through every evening, cobbling together healthy food-pyramid meals. How did my family react to such culinary enterprise? I don't know. I couldn't get them away from the cooler vents long enough to come eat.

On those rare evenings when we did gather for the traditional family dinner, my traditional family proved to be ingrates. Picture this: I'm setting out a big dinner, one that features boneless pork chops that, admittedly, hadn't browned up very well. As I sweatily present this anemic tour de force, my two sons say, in unison: "Pork -- The Other Gray Meat."

This sounded suspiciously rehearsed, one of their little jokes, but at that moment I received an epiphany. Here's what it said: Stop cooking.

My wife, who thinks it's a sin to turn on the oven between Easter and Thanksgiving, heartily agreed with this plan. We stocked the house with picnic food -- fruit and snacks and lettuce and cold cuts and ready-made potato salad. We eased the rules about gathering for communal meals. Summer, we announced, was now a food free-for-all. Everyone fends for himself.

The result? Our house has become an around-the-clock, all-you-can-eat buffet.

There's always someone eating around here. Always someone preparing food. Always someone else (me) cleaning up afterward. We've become a production line of consumption, working around the clock to keep the food coming. I'm thinking of installing a conveyor belt in the kitchen.

Partly, this is the result of having two growing boys in the house all day during the summer. They eat non-stop to fuel their ever-expanding engines. I'm twice their size, but they consume twice as much as me, then complain there's nothing in the house to eat. We buy so many groceries, the supermarket clerks send up a cheer when they see us arrive.

We can keep up with the shopping -- barely -- but there's no way I can prepare meals fast enough to keep the boys sated. Not if I ever plan to work or sleep again. So my sons have been preparing most of their own food this summer, eating only when they're hungry (an estimated 22 hours a day) and falling into a pattern of perpetual grazing.

Nutrition experts tell us it's healthier to eat this way, noshing several mini-meals throughout the day rather than sitting down to one or two big honking grubfests. This, no doubt, is an evolutionary mandate. Our caveman ancestors hunted and gathered all the time, just to scrape together enough calories to live another day. Our bodies still haven't adapted to caloric abundance or the availability of TV dinners.

I suspect our caveman ancestors didn't bother about sitting at a table or cleaning up after a meal, and our sons have adopted that pattern, too. Food consumption no longer is confined to the kitchen. If you're eating on the fly, what's to keep you from flying around the house?

The natural consequence is a house littered with crumbs and paper cups and apple cores and Popsicle wrappers. All the time I've saved by not cooking goes into clean-up. Somehow, I got demoted from chef to busboy.

But at least I'm not standing over a hot stove.


And the horse you rode in on

In Austin, TX, police arrest a woman for using her shoe to hit a mounted policeman and his horse.

The mounted officer was trying to break up a crowd outside the Bayou Lounge when the woman removed her shoe and hit the horse near its left eye. When the officer tried to wrest the shoe away, she whacked him in the face, too.

The 21-year-old woman has been charged with two felonies, including "interfering with a police service animal." That'll impress the other inmates.

Too bad the horse couldn't remove its shoe and hit her back. Clang. That's a ringer.

Wash and wear and tear

If cleanliness is next to godliness, then why does laundry so often seem like a little slice of Hell?

Laundry, like a lot of household chores, is never finished. You wash clothes, you dry clothes, you neatly hang them in a closet. Then somebody comes along and wears them, and you must start all over again.

Doing laundry resembles the eternal punishment of Sisyphus in Greek mythology, whose job in Hades was to roll a heavy stone up a hill only to have it roll back to the bottom. Every time. Forever.

Sisyphus didn't have to worry that someone might've left a leaky ballpoint pen in a pocket of the heavy stone. But such danger exists in any household that includes laundry and children.

The other day, I found a scrunched-up candy wrapper in the bottom of the washer. A wrapper that clearly, until very recently, had contained actual candy. (As opposed to the endless number of empty wrappers that usually turn up.)

Closer examination found that every garment in the load was streaked with chocolate. Repeated washings got out most of the stains, but what should've been a quick load of laundry became an all-day exercise in rolling that rock up that hill.

I wanted to blame my two sons for the candy fiasco. (Actually, I wanted to beat them with wet blue jeans, but other members of the household deemed that a bit harsh.) The truth is, though, that the blame rests solely with the manufacturers of today's trousers.

Have you looked at boys' clothes lately? Each pair of pants now comes equipped with an average of 47 zippered pockets. That's a conservative estimate, and may be a tad low.

Parents of boys know to check every pocket of every garment before tossing it into the washer. This is because boys tend to load their pockets with gravel and homework papers and leaky pens and toys and candy and live frogs. Now, with so many pockets involved, you're almost certain to overlook one. And that pocket, according to Murphy's Law, will be the one containing the live frog.

Contemporary fashions also dictate that boys wear pants so baggy that entire Bedouin families could reside within them. Two pairs of these giant pants can make an entire load. And, at 47 pockets per pair, well, you get the picture.

As they get older, kids change their clothes more often. I don't know what it's like for daughters, but here's how it works with boys: When they're pre-schoolers, they have one or two favorite garments and refuse to wear anything else. A 5-year-old boy is perfectly willing to stand around naked while you wash his Superman shirt rather than slip into something clean.

But once boys reach a certain age -- around the time they decide that maybe girls don't have "cooties" after all -- they are driven by instinct to change clothes every few minutes to remain fashionably "cool." Some garments are worn so briefly they're not even dirty. Yet enough time has elapsed to fill the pockets with leaky pens and frogs. Go figure.

Why, you might ask, don't I make my boys do their own laundry? Why not let them wash their clothes separately and be responsible for their own pocket checks? And if they do laundry the same slapdash way they do other chores, why not let them suffer the consequences?

Good questions. My only answer is: Do we, as a society, really want frogs to become endangered species?


Achtung Hollywood

Here's an article that just begs to become an action movie: Romanian thieves in Germany steal laptops and other goodies from semis while the trucks are moving at better than 60 mph on the autobahn.

Police said one thief would climb out onto the hood of a moving car and use bolt cutters to snap the locks on the truck's rear doors. He'd then climb aboard and hand out merchandise to another thief, who also was hood-surfing.

Extra points: They did all this without headlights, so the truck driver never knew what was happening.

What a stinker

This just in from Arkansas: Scott Sullivan is arrested after a tantrum in which he knocked out his own mother with a homemade club and tied her up with rope and duct tape.

Why was he so angry? Her dog killed his pet skunk.

Extra points: Sullivan is 35 years old.


Air bus

Remember when air travel was a big event, reserved for the elite and businessmen with expense accounts? People dressed up. They behaved themselves. They acted as if their fellow passengers were their neighbors, who might look down on them if they drunkenly snored and drooled.

Those days are gone. Flying has become commonplace and passengers have embraced anonymity. They know they'll probably never see the other travelers again. They dress for comfort, not to impress. They act as if they're at home, snacking and burping and screaming at each other.

These days, flying on an airplane is exactly like riding the bus. In Nicaragua. The only reason people don't bring live chickens on board is because it violates security regulations.

Granted, if you're cooped up for hours in a seat the size of your average infant's high-chair, you want to dress comfortably. And, since you practically have to strip at security checkpoints these days, sweatpants and flip-flops make a certain amount of sense.

Also, financially struggling airlines have stopped feeding passengers, forcing people to bring their own food, which is why the recirculated air in a modern jet smells like a busy day at Pizza Hut.

But such mitigating circumstances don't explain why some passengers act with complete disregard for others.

Example: I was on a jet recently with three small children (it's an FAA regulation that every flight must have at least three small children, and one must shriek the whole time). Their father played a DVD movie on his laptop computer to keep the kids occupied. This seemed like a great idea until the kids got bored and started running up and down the aisle, shrieking. Dad couldn't bother to put a stop to this behavior -- he was too engrossed in the film.

Veteran travelers know there are two ways to deal with the worries and boredom of flying: reading and sleeping. Both activities result in a sort of suspended animation. You wake up (or look up from your book) and -- shazzam! -- you're arriving at your destination.

But there's no dozing on planes these days, unless you're heavily medicated. And, even if you could sleep through other passengers' shrieking and arguing, you'd be awakened by the intercom, as flight attendants remind you to stay buckled up "just in case" (gulp!) or the pilot says the plane has reached a "cruising altitude" higher than you've ever wanted to be in your life.

I once was on a flight where the crew forgot they'd left on the cockpit intercom. They were talking baseball, clearly not paying attention, scaring the heck out of the rest of us, until a red-faced stewardess raced to the front to tell them to turn it off.

Which brings us to the Top Five Things You Never Want to Hear Over the Cockpit Intercom:

1) Whoops!

2) Where are we?

3) What's this red button for?

4) Parachutes ready?

5) Man, am I wasted!

So, fellow travelers, don't fear foreign terrorists on board your plane. It's the other Americans who'll drive you crazy.

The only way to cope is to ignore them and marvel instead at the miracle of modern flight. Lock your tiny seats into an upright position and enjoy the friendly skies. And remember: Your live chicken must fit under the seat or in an overhead bin.


Got to have my hands free

A woman in Florida went berserk after being told to move to a different checkout line at a Family Dollar Store, according to this report. She punched another customer and yanked hair out of her head, then choked the customer's mother when she tried to intervene. While being taken into custody, the assailant also bit a policeman on the finger.

Extra points: The berserk woman reportedly weighed 265 pounds.

Double extra points: Before going on her rampage, she handed her 8-month-old baby over to a store employee to hold.

House rocketing

One morning, while he was supposed to be getting ready for school, my then-11-year-old son was running madly through the house. He'd go out the back door, across the patio, in another door, up the hall, through a bedroom, hit the back door again, around and around.

I finally snagged him as he went by, and we had the following conversation:

Me: "What are you doing?"

Him, gasping and slightly wild-eyed: "I don't know."

That, my friends, is a frighteningly honest answer, one that sums up much about childhood and its mysteries.

My son was tearing through the house at top speed like a cat that suddenly gets one of those unfathomable urges to zoom around the house like a rocket. And he was doing it for the same inexplicable reasons. Or for no reason at all.

Children are vibrating bundles of imagination and confusion and hormones and speed and attitude and noise and boundless, bouncing energy. Sometimes, all those forces grab hold at once and send the child wildly running amok.

If you don't believe me, stop by any school playground and watch the darling little children sprinting and screaming and fighting and rolling in the dirt. You won't understand any of it and, the truth is, neither do they. Nature's got hold of them and it won't let go.

Sometimes, kids just need to run. They need to shriek. They need to jump up and down on invisible pogo sticks, babbling nonsense. They need to squirm and giggle and snort at the worst possible occasions. They need to climb something -- right now.

And when they act on these urges, we fretting parents rein them in and ask what they were thinking. And they say, "I don't know." Every time.

How can we parents be expected to understand our children when even they don't know why they do what they do?

Parenting is a seat-of-the-pants endeavor. It's learn-on-the-job. It's hold-on-for-dear-life. It is, frankly, a lot of guesswork.

We try to guess why the kids behave a certain way, then accept it or condone it or try to change it or try to make it stop (though stopping it often is like trying to catch that racing cat). But we don't understand it. We might pretend we do. We might think we can remember when we were kids and acted the same way. We might analyze the behavior and consult parenting books and pronounce a diagnosis. But we don't know. Not really. Most of us can't be sure what's going on in the heads of other adults, much less what a five-year-old was thinking when he decided to "fly" out of the treehouse.

Kids live in their own little chaotic worlds. Their bodies and their brains are developing like crazy, pulling them in different directions. Stand next to a kid and (if you can get him to be quiet for a second) you can practically hear him growing and changing and humming with energy and imagining weird, dangerous feats to attempt. It sounds sort of like jungle noises.

It's Nature at work, encapsulated in a frenzied, energetic package that once in a while simply must scramble through the house at full speed. And we parents would do well to stay out of the way, if we know what's good for us.

Because you never know what children might do next. And neither do they.


Starts off like a joke . . .

Missouri man walks into a business naked. This, as you might imagine, causes a "disturbance," according to this report.

The naked man leaves and unsuccessfully tries a carjacking. He's found a short time later by a deputy. By now, the man has put on shorts, but he's no less disturbed. He attacks the hood of the deputy's patrol car and tries to a break a window. In return, the deputy downs the man with a Taser.

Officials say the man was "really wired" on a hallucinogenic drug at the time. You think?


Galloping through hotels

A note to all you business travelers who spend half your lives in hotels: I don't know how you survive it.

Granted, as a work-at-home type, it's hard for me to relate to you who hop from city to city in pursuit of the almighty dollar. Most days, the farthest I travel is out to the driveway to pick up the newspaper. So maybe it's just me -- I'm not accustomed to life on the road. But I've traveled a lot in recent years on book tours, etc., and I don't see how anyone ever adjusts to night after night in strange beds.

Whether it's a five-star hotel or a cheap roadside motor inn, renting a place to spend the night always comes with problems. Everything's unfamiliar. You're far away from all your usual stuff. Every "amenity" in a hotel room reminds you that you're not in the one place where you'd really like to be -- home.

Hotels beds are too hard or too soft, compared to your usual bed, and the sheets never stay on right. The coffeemaker's tiny. All the light switches are in the wrong places. Something's making a buzzing noise. The soap smells weird. The towel rack is perfectly placed for bruising your shoulder every time you turn around in the bathroom.

Just when you've mastered the learning curve of a new room, have figured out which switches operate which lamps, it's time to move to another city and start all over again.

My main problem with hotels is that I can't sleep in them anymore. Since the whole idea of a hotel room is to provide a temporary place to sleep, insomnia more or less defeats the purpose. If I'm going to be awake all night anyway, why spend money on a hotel? I could've stayed at the airport.

Not only can I not get comfortable in hotel beds, there are all those unfamiliar noises. The air conditioner sounds like a jet engine. Drunken revelers are partying in the hall. The people next door apparently smuggled in a horse and are riding it around the room, whooping.

(I recently stayed in a kitchenette suite, where I was awakened every hour by the KA-CHUNK of the icemaker. No sleep, but more ice than Antarctica. I could've counted ice cubes rather than sheep.)

There's not a lot to do in a hotel when you're wide awake at 3 a.m. -- unless you're in Las Vegas.
If sleep's out of the question, then a hotel room becomes simply a place to wait for the next appointment. By yourself.

Solitude and strange surroundings and spare time conspire to breed bad habits. Pretty soon, I'm sitting around in my underwear, watching endless hours of idiotic TV, scratching and burping, snacking too much and drinking alcohol from tiny airline bottles.

I use way more towels than I would at home, then throw them on the floor, knowing the maid will pick them up. Spend too much time in front of the fluorescent-lit mirror, sighing over gray hair and wrinkles. I start thinking: What this hotel room really needs is a horse . . .

Then it's daylight again, time to pack up and move to the next city, the next business appointment, the next hotel.

Until the trip's over and I can go home. And finally get some rest.


With fronds like these

A guy in Florida tried to hold up a convenience store by threatening the clerk with the knife-sharp points of a frond from a Spanish bayonet tree. Get the details and pictures here.

Extra points: His holdup was foiled by another guy who wielded a bar stool. Doesn't anybody in Florida have a gun anymore?

Well, I'll be bleeped

Government censorship poses a dangerous "slippery slope," but a little self-censorship might be just the ticket for our society.

I'm thinking here of what's quaintly called "cussing" or "rough language." This form of speech consists of "bad" words that in ancient times, such as the 1950s, were considered inappropriate in mixed company.

I'm certainly guilty of such language. I practically grew up in newsrooms and, back then, rough language was a tool of the trade. Your typical gang of drunken sailors, exposed to everyday newsroom conversation, would clap their hands over their ears and flee weeping into traffic.

(These days, newspaper offices tend to be as sedate and politically correct as dental labs, but that's another column.)

Reaching maturity -- more or less -- in such a social climate, I learned to resort to "bad" words, particularly when elbow-deep in stressful situations. My sons insist they heard every cussword in the English language "the day Dad tried to fix the toilet."

Yet it's my children (and their generation) that I think of now when I hear such words, and I hear them everywhere. People bray them into their cell phones in public places. They refer to each other affectionately in terms that would've generated a fistfight a generation or two ago.
Popular music is chock-full of very bad words, not to mention racial epithets, misogynistic lyrics and poor singing. Television blares so many bad words these days, they might as well use them in place of "laugh tracks."

All this ear pollution fills our children's heads. And the bad words then spill out the little ones' mouths at the worst possible times, such as at Thanksgiving dinner.

Common usage devalues "bad" words, making it ever more difficult to be a parent. When I was a boy and my dad let a bad word slip out, I knew he was very, very upset, and I should go hide in the treehouse. I blurt the same word to my kids, and they think it's "funny." If I want their attention, I must invent new, more complicated cusswords, which isn't as easy as it sounds.

A little self-censorship would go a long way toward solving this societal ill, but we Americans aren't big on self-restraint. And, even if we could get human beings to stop talking this way, we couldn't put the quietus on subhuman species such as "shock jocks" and Eminem.

The answer lies in technology. What we need are personal "bleep" boxes, like those censoring devices still used on TV for very bad words. The "bleep" covers up the word, forcing viewers to keep their eyes on the screen to read the actors' lips.

Using computer-chip technology, scientists could develop a tiny bleep box, which could be worn around the neck like a tasteful amulet. When the wearer spouted a cussword, the box would emit a "bleep" to protect young listeners.

Such devices could even be modified to protect against other social gaffes. For example, you might say, "Martha, that's the bleepiest hairdo I've ever seen." Martha might still know you meant something unkind (particularly if she's a lip-reader), but the bleep would give you a moment to reconsider your words and perhaps find a path of "deniability."

Would such gizmos keep our children from cussing? Probably not. But they might preserve the impact of bad words for times when it's really needed.

I can already hear my kids: "Dad said 'bleep.' He's so funny!"


I'll just wait in the truck

Today's tip for car thieves comes from Canada: You can steal a truck from a dealership under the pretense of a "test drive." You can even use the truck as the getaway vehicle when you rob a bank. But it's a big mistake to take the car salesman along with you.

Extra points: Only after the robber insisted on driving to another part of town to show the truck to a "friend" did the salesman get suspicious and call the cops.

Double extra points: The robber's still at large.

Can't touch this

Here's the latest product for the "Baby on Board" parents who think their little blessings are simply too precious for this world: A sign that asks people to wash their hands before touching the little bundle of joy.

How are the little darlings supposed to build up any immunity if they're never exposed to germs? How can adult hands be any germier than the baby's own, when babies spend all day exploring their own toes, noses and various orifices?

This kind of parental paranoia takes all the fun out of babies. What's next? A sign asking that we not grab up passing babies and toss them into the air and (perhaps) catch them as they come down?


When life hands you lemons . . .

You should try to knock over a kid's lemonade stand. At least, that was the plan in Indiana.

Problem: The robber, who netted $17.50, couldn't outrun the girl operating the lemonade stand. She followed him home and called the cops. A one-hour standoff ensued before the idiot/robber surrendered to police. He was charged with a felony.

Keeping your balls in the air

"Multitasking" has become the bane of the modern workplace--

Just a second. There's the phone.

Sorry about that. As I was saying, "multitasking" has become the bane of the modern workplace and this misguided attempt to--

The phone again. Sorry, but I'd been expecting that call.

Multitasking's a misguided attempt by managers to milk every minute of their employees' 10-hour workdays. It's not enough anymore that we do our jobs well, one task at a time. We must do several tasks at once. New research shows this isn't the best way to increase productivity. In fact, it's just the opposite--

Whoa, my e-mail's beeping. Hold on a minute.

OK, where was I? Oh, yes. A growing body of research shows that multitasking makes workers less efficient. Multitasking can actually make you dumber. Scientists say that, after a full day of stressful multitasking, it's a miracle that workers can find their cars in the parking lot to go home. Multitasking can--

Sorry, the e-mail again. This really could be important.

All right, I'm back. Of course, that wasn't important at all. Just a joke from one of my idiot friends. But it was a good one. I relayed it to a couple of other friends who enjoy that sort of thing. It's a wonder we get any work done all day--

Wait a minute. What was I talking about? Oh, yeah. Multitasking. A recent study published in the "Journal of Experimental Psychology" found that people who do several things at once are less efficient because they lose time mentally switching from one task to another. The time lost increases with the complexity of the tasks. Which might not be so bad if you're, say, writing something. But what if you're an air traffic controller?

Bathroom break. There, that's better.

As an air traffic controller, I find that -- no, wait, that's not right.

Oh, yeah. Another study, published in "NeuroImage" and cited in "The Wall Street Journal," found that managing two tasks at once reduces the brainpower available for either job. In the study, people were asked to listen to someone talk while comparing two "rotating objects." The researchers found that, while listening, the subject had 29 percent less capacity for processing visual input. And, while processing the visual, brain activation for listening dropped 53 percent.

Did you say something? No? What was I going on about? Oh. Right.

A survey by the Families and Work Institute found that 45 percent of U.S. workers feel they are expected to do too many tasks as once. And the researchers didn't even talk to people like me, who work at home--

Hang on. The clothes dryer's buzzing.

So, as I was saying, laundry and deskwork simply don't mix. No, that wasn't it. What the--

Multitasking! It makes you, er, you know, stupid. And less efficient. And it can make you repeat yourself. Repeat yourself!

We American workers must stand up against this misguided policy of whatchacallit. Next time your boss asks you take on too many tasks as once, suggest he take a flying leap at a rotating object.

Soon, you'll find you can concentrate on just one thing -- updating your resume.


Warning: Reading this could be bad for you

The most disturbing thing I've read recently came from a carton of eggs.

Along with the usual hype about the eggs being "Grade AA" and "all natural" and "really, really good for you, despite what your doctor says," was this item, in red letters: "Vegetarian-fed hens."

I can't get this phrase out of my mind. Aren't chickens, by their very nature, vegetarians? Are there packs of carnivorous hens running around, hunting prey? Does it mean the hens are hand-fed by vegetarians? Or, scariest of all, the hens devour actual vegetarians, which raises the carnivore question again.

If "vegetarian-fed hens" is meant as a sale pitch, it fails miserably. It reminds us that eggs come from the nether regions of chickens, which, let's face it, we're trying not to think about when we sit down to breakfast. If it's meant as a warning, then shouldn't it be clearer? Should we be cautioning our vegetarian friends to steer clear of hens?

We've gone crazy with warning labels in this country. Manufacturers are so afraid of being sued, they warn us against ever using their products. Owners' manuals contain page after page cautioning against electric shocks and other potential disasters. Even advertising, the last bastion of institutionalized lying, is chock-full of warnings.

It began with cigarettes -- the "Surgeon General's Warning" on every pack, telling us tobacco smoke causes lung cancer, birth defects, heart disease, bad vibes, etc. At first, those warnings probably helped get the word out. But do they do any good now? Are there any smokers left who don't know cigarettes are bad for you? If so, we'd like the address of the cave they've been living in since 1967. We'll drop them a line.

Warning labels have gone far beyond such obvious health risks. The latest one to trouble me was on our minivan. The very long label begins: "WARNING: Motor vehicles contain chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects . . ."

Oh, so it's not drunk drivers that should worry us. It's the chemicals in the upholstery.

You can't turn on a TV these days without being offered prescription drugs. Drug companies spent $2.7 BILLION on "direct-to-consumer" advertising in 2001, according to the federal General Accounting Office. And we wonder why prescription drugs cost so much.

Yet the commercials contain so many warnings about side-effects, it's a wonder anyone takes the drugs. Yes, the product might help your allergies, but taking it could give you a worse disease or make you grow antlers.

I recently saw an ad for a drug that purports to battle "acid reflux." The side-effects included "headaches, diarrhea and abdominal pain." Now wait a minute: Isn't that what "acid reflux" is? Abdominal pain?

Consumers drive the American economy and, yes, we should be warned when products are dangerous. But nothing's risk-free. Shouldn't we consumers be given credit for a little common sense? Shouldn't we be spared some of these warnings? And, for Pete's sake, shouldn't we stop suing fast-food companies because their grease-dripping hamburgers made us fat?

We need to halt this tidal wave of lawsuits and warning labels, though we might need to post the following in chicken coops nationwide: "Warning -- Eating vegetarians can cause abdominal pain."


Where's a tornado when you need one?

News from Oregon: At least 40 people involved in a brawl at a trailer park. Deputies respond to find that two people were stabbed in the fight.

Extra points: One of the combatants used a large samurai sword.


Cold case

Today's tip for budding robbers comes from Ohio: When you're knocking over a Domino's Pizza joint and the police show up, you don't want to run through the wrong door while making your escape.

Especially if that door leads into the freezer.

The death of cool

As if looking in the mirror isn't evidence enough, here's another sign of encroaching middle age: The pledges made in our youth become as outdated as eight-track tapes.

We make many promises to ourselves when we're young. We'll never settle down. We'll never give up partying, dude. We'll never get fat. We'll never become couch potatoes or undergo plastic surgery or wear our pants pulled up to our armpits.

Aging subverts those promises. The demands of family and money and work, the incontrovertible proof of wrinkles and flab and gray hair, yank the rug out from under our youthful idealism. And we shrug wearily and trudge toward our ultimate reward, foolhardy pledges littering the road behind us.

When my wife and I decided to get married nearly 25 years ago, we agreed to three private vows beyond the usual "I do." These vows were aimed at making a state-sanctioned union more palatable to a couple of young hipsters. Here they are:

1. No children.

2. No mortgage.

3. No station wagon.

It's not that we looked down our noses at people who liked such things (though we secretly did). We were simply too cool to embrace the suburban, white-bread, gray-flannel-suit, Brady-Bunch, La-Z-Boy, generic-beer, early-to-bed values of previous generations.

Well. Our two sons are now in their late teens. We're in our third house and on our fifth mortgage, counting those all-important, lower-interest-rate refinancings. And, a few years ago, I gave up and bought a minivan.

OK, it's not exactly a station wagon. But it's the modern-day equivalent, close enough to draw sneers from passing youngsters who could never picture themselves tooling around in a vehicle with as much sex appeal as a refrigerator.

Minivans are for people who've given up any pretense of coolness in favor of practicality. For people who need legroom more than they need a hip image. For people who haul people.
In short, minivans are designed for parents.

Parents need reliable transportation, not something exotic that'll pass everything on the road except a repair shop. They need room for kids and pets and sports gear and groceries. They need rows of seats so children can be separated when they start poking each other.

Automobile manufacturers have designed minivans with all the bells-and-whistles demanded by harried parents. Cupholders and airbags. Lots of storage. Entertainment systems to distract the little ones in the back seats so they don't distract the driver.

Ours even has a fisheye mirror that gives the driver a view of the whole interior, so I could watch the kids and shout, "I saw that! Stop poking him!" while pretending to watch the road.

I must confess that I like the minivan. It's roomy, it's practical, it's easy to drive. I ride up high so I can see over sleek little sedans in traffic.

Not high enough, though. I can still see the other drivers, the young ones in the sleek little sedans, who snort at the sight of Mr. Soccer Mom in his Airport Shuttle.

I'm thinking about dressing up the van, giving it some little touch that shows I know I'm no longer cool. Something tongue-in-cheek, a wink to those who scorn fridges-on-wheels and the lifestyle they signify.

How about a vanity plate? Here's what it should say: "AMANA."


Evacuation elucidation

My sympathies go out to folks who've been evacuated from their homes by the California wildfires and the flooding in the Midwest. It's terrifying to leave behind everything you own with nothing more than hope that it'll be there when you get back.

However, I've got a problem with the word "evacuate." Years ago, that word got into my head in its, um, medical sense. Its bodily function sense. Ever since, headlines with the word "evacuate" make me snicker like a schoolboy.

I know exactly when this goofiness got stuck in my brain. I worked in a high-rise building in San Francisco in the mid-1980s. Near the elevators was a placard that said, "In case of fire, evacuate on stairs."

My thought every time: "No problem!"


FAQ on BBQ: Call 911, go to ER

Any fool can hurt himself in a modern kitchen, but to really get some third-degree burns, you need a barbecue grill.

Summertime is cookout season. Time to go out in the yard, stand under the broiling sun, and char some artery-clogging meat. Create a mushroom cloud of oily smoke that'll have your neighbors dialing 911. Enjoy the sizzle of spattering grease hitting your howling dinner guests.

For eons now, since the day our humble ancestors discovered fire, people have used open flames to turn simple animal flesh into crunchy, bleeding, chew-proof repasts. Cavemen squatted around fires on the ground, but we've come so far since then. Now we have barbecue grills, which stand on legs, putting the flames even closer to your face and other anatomical regions that react poorly to burning.

The barbecue grill was invented by the ancient Romans. In fact, the word "barbecue" comes from the Latin "barbecus," which translates to "my apron is on fire." Those fun-loving Romans knew nothing makes a meal more enjoyable than watching the host prance around in flames.

In contemporary times, cookouts have become synonymous with summer, as American as apple pie and fireworks and paper plates. When it's already 100 degrees outside, why not go out and start a big, hot fire? Heat stroke is a good excuse for steaks that are poorly cooked.

Outdoor grilling has become the province of men. Big, sweaty guys who wouldn't be caught dead whipping up something in the kitchen will push others out of the way to get to a barbecue grill.
Why? Because of the element of risk involved. There's something manly about poking and prodding among roaring blazes. Men bring their charred offerings to the table, their chests puffed out, the hair singed off their arms, and they feel they've proven something. They've proven they can produce a meal without setting the lawn on fire -- this time.

At our house, my wife has taken over the grilling chores. It's part of our whole role-reversal thing, plus it gives her the opportunity to cook burgers that don't come out like hockey pucks. This resolves a conflict that has plagued us through our married life: I like meat well-done to the point of inedibility, she wants rare, rare, rare. Her idea of cooking a steak is to show an unlit match to a live cow.

I don't feel usurped now that she's the one sweating over the grill. Better for me to sit in a lawn chair a safe distance away, swilling beer and offering advice such as: "Hon, your hair's on fire."

There may be those among you who haven't yet savored the joys of cooking outdoors. What follows is advice on properly using a grill. Take this advice seriously. I'm a barbecue veteran, and I've got the scars to prove it.

Choosing a grill

Barbecue grills come in a vast array of sizes and styles, from the big Cadillac models with side burners and aloe vera plants, down to the lowly "hibachi," (from the Japanese for "my kimono's on fire.") When selecting your grill, the main question will be: charcoal or gas? Gas grills are easier to use, but they're essentially just outdoor stoves. Charcoal gives meat a wonderful smoky flavor, and the risk is high. Ask any impatient cook who's decided a little more charcoal starter should be spritzed onto the sputtering coals. Nothing's as satisfying as the whoompf of sudden flames 20 feet high.

Cleaning your grill

You're supposed to clean them? Haha, just kidding. A wire brush does a nice job of removing ash and blackened meat bits. Don't worry about cleaning the outside of the grill. Just leave it outdoors over the winter and let Mother Nature do the work. Once it rusts out, it's time to get a new one.

Grill safety

Surely it's clear by now that "safe grilling" is an oxymoron. You want safe, you should go to a restaurant. Tell the waiter you want your steak just like you eat them at home: Black on the outside, bloody on the inside, covered in ashes and bugs. While you're at it, see if you can get him to set his apron on fire.


Strangely, one was named Hansel

News from Northern California: Three 14-year-old boys were arrested at Lake Siskiyou Campground after a camper reported that someone had stolen a case of oranges.

How did investigators find the culprits at a nearby campsite? The trail of orange peels was a pretty good tip-off.

No cream pies available

Dinner party guests get into a fistfight over presidential politics, shedding blood before they're separated by the kitchen staff.

Extra points: The fight occurred at a genteel dinner celebrating the launch of a new book. In Connecticut.

Double extra points: The book is called Dinner Party Disasters: True Stories of Culinary Catastrophe.


Your tax dollars go missing

An investigation by the British Broadcasting Corp. estimates that $23 BILLION has been lost, stolen or improperly accounted for in the war in Iraq.

Most of that missing money came from U.S. taxpayers, but we don't get to hear about it because of gag orders in place in 70 different lawsuits against contractors in Iraq. Much of the money went to corporations like Halliburton through no-bid contracts.

War profiteering? You bet your ass.

Think how many homes lost to Hurricane Katrina could've been rebuilt with $23 billion.

Soothing the savage beasts

No matter how much we love our children, all parents need a break now and then.

At times, the kids drive us a little crazy. Too much togetherness, too much chatter, too many demands cause wear-and-tear on the old psyche. If the parent doesn't get a pause in the action, the parent's brain can snap like an overstretched rubber band.

Children know this, of course. They're born with an instinct that tells them when parents are at their wits' end. This instinct compels the children to take action at these times -- they become louder, clingier, needier. They glom onto the parent like barnacles onto a pier, assuming barnacles could shriek at 138 decibels, "He's TOUCHING me!"

(This instinct is the same one that kicks in whenever a parent gets an important phone call. Wondering where your children are? Pick up the phone. They'll swarm you like moths around a porch light. Shrieking moths.)

It's nearly impossible for parents to counteract this native instinct. You can calmly explain to your children that you need a few moments of quiet, but this will cause them to dance around you, screaming. You can threaten them through clenched teeth, but this will only result in unnecessary dental bills. You can try running away, only to find that they're faster than you.

But I've found one way to get a little distance from the kids -- singing. That's right, singing. If you can unclench your jaw long enough to let loose with a song, the children will go find something else to do, at least for a while.

It's not that the kids are soothed by the music. It's not that they grasp that singing is a signal for them to play elsewhere. It's not even a matter of them recognizing that you're about to snap. No, singing chases away the children because they can't stand your music. If you start belting out a golden oldie (which, to kids, is anything recorded before 1997), they'll go find someone else to annoy. Someone who won't annoy them right back by singing.

(This works best if, like me, you are a bad singer who can cause wallpaper to bubble when you try to hit the high notes. But even operatic divas could make use of this technique.)

Here's how it works:

Step 1: Parent, driven to distraction by loud, demanding children, realizes that s/he needs a few moments alone. After trying several approaches, all of which make the kids louder and more demanding, the parent starts to tightly hum a song, something classic like "My Boyfriend's Back" or "Born to be Wild."

Step 2: Children will appear puzzled at first, and smiles will dance about their jelly-stained faces. What is this sound? What could it mean? Is the parent inexplicably happy? Or, does the singing indicate the parent has finally gone insane? Parent, remembering the words now, starts running through the lyrics.

Step 3: Parent sings louder as s/he gets to the chorus. The children aren't smiling anymore. They stop whining about whatever was bugging them before and start whining something along the lines of "OK, parental unit, that's enough. You can stop singing now."

Step 4: Parent sings louder, maybe even dances around the room a little while swinging hips. Children back away, their eyes wide and their mouths hanging open. The horror, the horror.

Step 5: As children beg the parent to stop, the parent sings ever louder, clapping hands rhythmically, snapping fingers, playing "air guitar," generally making a jackass of self. Children are mortified.

Step 6: As the song reaches a crescendo, the children make gagging noises, clap their hands over their ears and sprint from the room.

Step 7: Parent, still singing, peeks around corner to make sure children are gone.

Step 8: Parent, finally alone, stops singing, takes a deep breath and revels in a moment of quiet.

Repeat as necessary. You can always replace the wallpaper.


The language of Calabama

While putting gas in my minivan, I note the nearest car, which is a banged-up piece of crap last cleaned around 1983. The driver's a tattooed goober in a gimme cap. His obese wife lethargically chews gum as if it were cud. Beanie Babies fill the rear windshield.

Their bumper sticker: "We speak English in this country -- Learn It or Leave!"

Take me with you when you go, por favor.


An etiquette quiz, dude

Doesn't it seem that rudeness is rampant these days? Wherever you go, someone is there to interrupt you, cut you off, ruin your meal, laugh in your face, or sneeze on your shirt.

Social pundits complain that parents don't teach their children good manners anymore. The sad fact is that many parents don't know the fine points of proper etiquette. They either weren't taught appropriate behavior when they were younger, or they've forgotten it in their rush to "get ahead" in a fast-paced, ever-ruder world.

"Etiquette" (from the French for "do not spit in the salad") is the body of prescribed social behavior. It helps society run smoothly and sets standards for everyday actions. Most importantly, it keeps us all from killing each other.

To see whether you know all you should about etiquette (and, therefore, can give proper lessons to your children), take the following quiz:

1: The correct response to "Thank you" is:

A. "You're welcome."
B. "No problem."
C. "Huh?"
D. "Whatever, dude."

2: When passing through a door with other people, you should:

A. Hold the door open for others and come through last.
B. Step through the door, then reach as far as you can to more or less hold it open for those who follow.
C. Slip past the slow-moving people, saying, "C'mon, c'mon. I haven't got all day."
D. Slam the door on someone's fingers.

3: When you're driving and you see a pedestrian at a crosswalk, you should:

A. Stop and gesture for the pedestrian to go ahead and cross the street.
B. Stop, gesture for the pedestrian to go ahead, then "rev" your engine to hurry him along.
C. Speed up.
D. "Brush him back" up onto the curb.

4. The appropriate response when someone sneezes is:

A. "Bless you!"
B. "Wow!"
C. "Yuck!"
D. "Good one!"

5. If, during a conversation, someone unleashes a "bodily noise," you should:

A. Ignore it and keep talking.
B. Roll your eyes.
C. Snicker.
D. Say, "Good one!"

6. When dining, which of the following are appropriate to put on the table:

A. Forearms.
B. Elbows.
C. Feet.
D. A copy of "Penthouse" magazine.

7. If you're standing in line and spot a friend near the front, you should:

A. Wave to your friend and wait your turn.
B. Go to your friend and strike up a conversation so you can get "cuts."
C. Join your friend while "mad-dogging" anyone who might object.
D. Shove aside anyone between you and your friend.

8. When you receive a gift that is ugly or stupid or otherwise inappropriate, you should:

A. Thank the gift-giver and lie about the gift's beauty and intrinsic value.
B. Thank the gift-giver and wait until s/he leaves before laughing so hard that noodles squirt out your nose.
C. Say, "Well, I've certainly never had one of these before."
D. Mutter, "Time for another garage sale."

9. In a restaurant, the proper way to summon a waiter is:

A. Raise your hand until you catch the waiter's eye.
B. Raise your hand and shout, "Garcon! Hey!"
C. Whistle loudly.
D. Slam the tabletop repeatedly with your shoe.

(Warning: Inappropriate summoning of the waiter can result in the waiter's failure to follow proper "etiquette." If this occurs, skip the salad.)

10. If someone is droning on about a topic that doesn't interest you, you should:

A. Politely change the subject.
B. Look pointedly at your watch.
C. Clear your throat repeatedly.
D. Punch him.

To score your quiz: Give yourself 10 points for each "A" answer, then subtract 5 points for each "B," "C" or "D" answer. If you score less than 50, it may be time to take an etiquette course.

Remember: Manners are important. Etiquette is the oil that lubricates social intercourse.

(If you snickered at the term "social intercourse," subtract another 10 points.)


Her boat was invisible, too

The actress who played Wonder Woman on TV in the 1970s discovered a body this week in the Potomac River in Washington, D.C.

Lynda Carter said she "did what anybody would have done" in such a case. She used her golden lasso to rope the body and tow it to shore.

Just kidding. She flagged down some fishermen, who called police and reported the floater.

One dumbass, plus drug abuse, equals ...

Just when you thought America's young people were getting better at math, comes this news:

Police arrest a young homeless man who spent $100 on a color copier so he could make enough counterfeit $10 bills to buy $90 worth of marijuana.

Extra points: He'd set up his counterfeiting lab in a restroom at the mall.


Holy role models

For those of us who work at home, every summer day is "Take Your Kids to Work Day."

Our children, home from school for the summer, get to see us in (in)action at our jobs. We're their role models.

We don't want them to pick up poor work habits from us. (We'd prefer to blame someone else when our children are 27-year-old college graduates fired from Dunkin Donuts because they can't drag their carcasses out of bed before noon.)

The problem is that we home-office types normally work solo, and solitude breeds bad habits. We don't want our children to witness these aberrational tendencies and assume that regular careers center around coffee and cigarettes and cursing.

But we can't expect them to listen to our advice about work when they see we don't follow such advice ourselves. For example, it's difficult to impress upon children the importance of prioritizing when they see us ignoring our own work, yakking on the phone all day while drooling chocolate down our shirtfronts. It's hypocritical to preach about workmanlike efficiency when they see us wasting hours on Tetris.

So it's time we cleaned up our acts. As role models, we must demonstrate to the little beggars that we're proficient and responsible, even if it means changing our habits. To wit:


One of the joys of working alone is that we can curse with impunity. In regular offices, populated by fellow cubicle slaves, such verbal behavior is considered bad form. But when no one's around to hear, cursing becomes a convenient outlet for every frustration. Think computer crashes.

Now that the kids are home all day, we must rein in this compulsion and say things like, "Fiddlesticks!" and "Shoot!" Trust me, you'll be glad you've made the adjustment the next time your children attend a formal function, such as a funeral.

Telephone Etiquette

Children shouldn't witness their parents shouting into phones or slamming down receivers, even if that same telemarketer has called three times in a single day. Such behavior will be mimicked and will interfere with the child's job performance someday. Unless, of course, you're training them to answer the phone whenever telemarketers call the house . . .

Personal Hygiene

Toiling alone most of the time, we work-at-home parents forget that there are some things you simply shouldn't do at your desk. Children must learn that none of the following is appropriate on the job: chain-smoking, fingernail-biting, toenail-clipping, ear-probing, nose-picking, gargling, flossing, mindless throat-clearing, random sniffling, scratching, loud belching, and barking like a dog.


When kids watch you work, you can't go at your usual slothful pace. If they see you procrastinate, they'll learn to avoid onerous tasks, which include nearly all jobs that earn a salary. You must plunge in every day and show them you know how to work without shilly-shallying. Then, when their backs are turned, you can hide that paperwork you've been putting off for a week.

Dress Code

Look, just because you can work at home all day in your pajamas doesn't mean that's the example to set for your children. They may one day have real jobs that require neckties or panty hose (though probably not at the same time). They should learn that professionals "dress for success," and to take pride in their appearance. One exception: If your children plan careers in the computer industry, they should learn to dress like surfers.


The most important trait for success in the workplace is a positive attitude. Show your children you can be upbeat about your work. Show them that failures are mere stumbling blocks, that the worst the world dishes out can be overcome with positive thinking. This may require that you lock yourself in the bathroom while you curse your boss and grind your teeth, but it'll be worth it in the long run. Children should know that bathrooms are handy places for such behavior.

There, that's not so hard, is it? A few minor adjustments, and you'll set a great example for your kids. And remember: Summer only lasts three months. Then they'll be back in school and you can go back to cursing and smoking while clipping your toenails in your pajamas.


Having themselves a brawl

Here is an example of good government, the way they do it in Tennessee:

At a city commission meeting, disagreement erupts over how the city manager is doing his job. Words are exchanged. A 69-year-old commissioner repeatedly punches a 67-year-old commissioner in the head. He then drags his opponent to the floor and punches him some more until the city manager separates them and holds the assailant in a headlock until police arrive.

Apologies all around. No one will press charges. No one is arrested.

Extra points: The city manager is named Richard "Don't call me Dick" Goode.

Double extra points: This all occurred in the city of Mount Pleasant. Imagine what the commission meetings must be like in Mount Fracas.


Heist school

Here are some crime-prevention tips for the University of British Columbia's crack security team:

1) When the alarms go off at the Museum of Anthropology, that might mean a break-in.

2) When the burglar calls to say he's with the alarm company and the alarms are malfunctioning and should be ignored, you shouldn't just take his word for it.

3) Security cameras work much better if you leave the lights on.

Guess the guards should be glad the thieves took only $2 million worth of golden artwork. Sounds like they could've taken home the whole building.

We've all got crystal balls

According to a new scientific theory, humans can see one-tenth of a second into the future.

Humans have evolved that ability to make up for "neural lag," the time between light hitting the retina and the brain registering what's being seen. This allows you to catch a baseball, or duck out of the way before you've fully recognized that a brick is speeding toward your head.

The down side? This anticipatory ability also makes us susceptible to optical illusions, including sensing movement where there is none.

Bet you didn't see that coming.


The noise of summer

At the end of every school year, we who stay home with the kids face one certainty: It's about to get a lot louder around the house.

In summer, homes fill with round-the-clock chatter, along with the shrieks and threats of sibling interaction, soon followed by the crashes and "uh-ohs" of the latest spill. It can be distracting, but we work-at-home parents carefully tune out all these sounds while we concentrate on our calendars, counting the days until school resumes.

Noise radiates off children the way heat waves rise from car roofs. Kids can't help it. They're easily excited, and there's so much to be excited about. To them, the world is a brand-new place, full of wonder and adventure and siblings who'll squeal when you pinch them. All these discoveries mean that kids have a million things to say, and it's the parents' job to listen, no matter how inane the topic.

But what if the parent is distracted by money woes or job humiliations or a persistent itch? Or, God forbid, the parent is trying to work? A rambling lecture on the various super-powers of the characters in "Dragon Ball Z" -- complete with sound effects -- can be difficult to track even when you're paying attention. When you've got a lot on your mind, it's hard to focus on a child's prattle. And, let's face it, we all have a lot on our minds. Always.

We parents learn to pretend to listen, to yawn with our mouths closed, while the children go on and on. And the kids learn this and begin to use it, slipping in outrageous requests while Dad is in his "mm-hmm" mode. Pretty soon, Dad has agreed to send the 13-year-old to Cancun for the next nine spring breaks, if he can only get some quiet around here.

Some parents just give up and buy earplugs for the summer, but others try to manage the sound level of the children. At our house, I enforce a rule called "No random noise." Our two sons know that when I say, "That's random noise," they should stop whatever tapping, rapping, snapping, popping, cracking, shrieking, screaming, stomping, snorting or gibberish-spewing they've been doing for the past 20 minutes. When Dad mentions "random noise," it means the noise is getting to him and he could blow at any time. My sons know they should move a safe distance away and take up some other noise-making activity until the next warning comes.

Funny thing is, when no kids are around, it's too quiet. When they're in school all day, I often make random noise of my own, just to fill up some of the overwhelming silence.

I talk to myself all the time, even though I never listen. I give myself tons of perfectly good advice, then ignore it all in heat-of-the-moment, knee-jerk responses that blow asunder my well-laid plans and make all my self-advice a big waste of air. But I keep talking, trying to get through to myself, leaving a trail of mutter through the house. Sometimes, I address my remarks to the dog, just so I can pretend I'm not crazy.

Other times, I'll catch myself humming or whistling, even singing snatches of songs that have gotten wedged in my head, just to break up the quiet around here. In this manner, home-bound adults can produce entire soundtracks for their workdays, complete with the occasional "ta-da" or "voila" to mark an accomplishment. Sure, it's random noise, but we can get away with it because we're alone.

Now the kids are home for the summer, bringing with them the seasonal Wall of Sound, the random noise and the sibling-pinching, and it won't be silent again until fall. I'll go back to arising before dawn, just to get a quiet hour in which to work. And, through the long summer days with the boys, I'll work a little here and there, whenever one of those momentary silences falls over the house.

I'll still talk to myself, but now I won't have to pretend I'm talking to the dog. Instead, I can pretend to talk to my sons. And they can pretend to listen.


She meant to say "hot water bottles"

News: A high school student in Connecticut calls school officials "douchebags" on her personal blog, outside of school hours. School officials, proving her right, respond by removing her as class secretary. Her parents sue, claiming her free speech rights have been violated. A lower court and, now, a U.S. Court of Appeals decision both side with the douchebags.

Take that, First Amendment.


Teach your children . . . work

Parents know it's difficult to keep children occupied during long, hot, school-free summers.

Sure, matinees and swimming and play dates are fun, and might even keep siblings from killing each other during listless, blistering afternoons, but who says summer should be all about fun? (Well, the kids do. But don't listen to them.)

Summer's a great time to teach your children about work. During the school year, they can beg off doing chores around the house, citing homework or time-consuming school activities. But in summer, we parents have the kids right where we want them: They've got nothing more important to do, so why shouldn't they help around the house?

Chores done by children not only lighten the load for parents, they teach the kids valuable lessons about work and cleanliness and city health codes.

Doing chores can complement their schoolwork. What is cooking, after all, but chemistry? Youngsters can learn much about biology by doing yard work. Math skills can be improved as the kids keep track of how many more chores they've done than their siblings. And, believe me, they'll be keeping track.

Kids can learn everything they need to know about diplomacy and negotiation as they try to weasel out of onerous tasks. (This will be a valuable skill when they grow up and have actual jobs.)

Of course, children require a certain amount of supervision. If the parent doesn't monitor the housework, the kids will do the bare minimum, and the parent will be right back where he or she started -- with a filthy home. The only difference will be that much of the filth will be hidden under beds and in closets. While that certainly works for me, it's not the preferred method.

Some chores are too dangerous for children. Anything involving a hot skillet or power tools, for example, should be left to adults. In fact, if the job involves any type of tools, it's probably better to just call a professional. You'll end up doing it eventually.

But as long as a chore is relatively safe and unimportant, children are perfect for the job. The kids might not perform up to your standards, but so what? If you have to go behind them and clean the kitchen all over again, what have you lost? You would've had to clean it anyway. Let's not lose sight of the main goal here: Chores keep the kids busy, and that's a good thing.

Let's look, then, at some chores that are appropriate for children, and the benefits and drawbacks of having kids do the work:

Picking Up Stuff

They're limber, they have young backs and they're closer to the floor. These factors make children better than adults for picking up toys and shoes and other detritus scattered around the house. Besides, they distributed most of the mess, shouldn't they pick it up?

Taking Out the Trash

If a child is tall enough to reach a bag of trash into the garbage bin, then he or she is ready for this job. Just don't be surprised when you find evidence of leaky bags dripped all over the floors.

Doing the Dishes

Whether you have a dishwasher or do dishes the old-fashioned way, kids can be a great help. Naturally, there will be a certain amount of breakage. And, the kids may not always put clean dishes and utensils in their proper places. Cooking can become a daily game of "Where's that ladle?"


Give a kid a feather duster, and you can save yourself a lot of cleaning time. But this only works if you don't care how thoroughly it gets done.


See "Dusting" above.


Summertime lunches of sandwiches or hot dogs are easy and fun for kids to prepare. Thanks to microwave ovens, children can cook their own meals without ever getting near an open flame. Caution: If your kids use the microwave a lot, they may get the yen to experiment. Keep an eye on the cat.

So, put your kids to work, America. It'll ease the parental workload and the whole family will benefit. Best of all, chores make the children eager to return to school in the fall.