For parents, here's the true meaning of Halloween: For the next several months, we'll find candy wrappers stashed everywhere in the house.

Long after all that sugar has been consumed, digested and expended as frantic misbehavior, the packaging remains behind -- stuffed between sofa cushions, hidden under beds and shredded in the clothes dryer. Everywhere, really, except in a designated trash receptacle.

This is the result of two factors:

1) For our safety, federal law requires that each piece of Halloween candy be individually wrapped in tightly sealed cellophane with the same half-life as plutonium.

2) Children, as a rule, have no notion of putting things away when they're done with them. This includes trash.

Most grown-ups, finding themselves with a fistful of Jolly Rancher wrappers, would hoist themselves up off the couch and throw them away. They do this in the vain hope that such physical movement will burn up some of the calories they just consumed. More importantly, they know that, if candy wrappers are scattered everywhere, their homes will resemble the city dump.

Children don't mind if every step in the house brings the crackle of candy wrappers underfoot. They'd be perfectly happy living at the city dump. Why? Because, at the dump, no one would scold them for making a mess. And even the most stringent parent wouldn't expect them to clean it up. Not without a bulldozer anyway.

If you don't believe this, go look in your children's rooms. Odds are that most everything they own is on the floor. Sift through the toys and lost homework and stray shoes and dirty socks, and you'll likely find some candy wrappers from last Halloween.

Parenting experts tell us it doesn't have to be this way. By exercising firm parental control and a basic system of punishment and reward, the experts say, parents can teach children to clean up after themselves.

To these experts, we parents out here in the real world would like to say: Bwah-hah-ha-ha-ha! Whooo! Stop, your killing us. Whew.

Teaching children to keep their rooms clean is like teaching a cat to drive a car. Given enough time and fortitude, you might be successful, but you won't be happy with the results.

At our house, we regularly rag our two sons to pick up the clutter that's ankle-deep on their floors. They humbly decline. We force the issue. Grumbling, the boys clean their rooms. Where does all that stuff go? Under their beds.

We parents didn't snap to this technique right away. As long as we could walk across the room without risking serious injury, we were happy. But, eventually, we noticed the legs of the beds were no longer touching the floor. . .

I once visited a family and was stunned that the junk in their kids' rooms was not ankle-deep, but knee-deep. In fact, I wouldn't have entered the rooms without first donning hip waders.

The parents showed no embarrassment over this situation. Housework, they said, wasn't a high priority for them. And the dad had a unique way of dealing with the problem. Once a year, he goes into the kids' rooms with a shovel, scoops everything into trash bags and throws it away. Everything, boom, into the garbage.

This would never work at my house. My kids have been known to fish their precious belongings out of the trash and put them back where they belong -- under the bed.

So what's the answer? I don't know. But here's something you can try for Halloween: Dole out the candy one piece at a time. Make your child trade in an empty wrapper for each new treat.

You parents can reward your resourcefulness by eating some of the Halloween candy yourselves. Hide the wrappers between the sofa cushions, and the kids will never know.


So hard to find a sitter

Police in Albuquerque, NM, say a woman apparently took her young children along during a string of robberies.

Susie Zapata, 23, left her kids -- aged 1 and 4 -- sleeping in the car during the robbery of a pizzeria Tuesday, police said. Zapata's mother, Maria Sanchez, and another woman allegedly participated in the holdup, and Sanchez abandoned her grandchildren when she fled from police.

Authorities say the women may be responsible for five other robberies in the past six weeks. They were charged with a bunch of crimes after Tuesday's arrests.

Full story here.

Every day is Boos-day

Why do some people make such a big frightening deal over Halloween? If you're the parent of small children, Halloween is no scarier than any other day of the year.

Trick-or-treaters are nothing compared to the everyday terror of a kid with a dripping chocolate ice cream cone rolling around on new carpet. At least trick-or-treaters stay outside on the porch, where they belong. Your own kids can run the gamut of the house, scaring the bejeebers out of you at every turn.

Okay, it's a little disturbing when you answer the door and there's a toddler out there, red lipstick all over his face, proclaiming, "I am SATAN!" But it's really no different from your own kids tearing around the house with grape jelly on their faces, screaming, "Noooo! You can't MAKE me!" And that happens on a daily basis.

Let's look at some Halloween traditions and see how they stack up against everyday life:

--Costumes. Kids love playing "dress-up," and they don't save it strictly for Halloween. Little goblins and demons are nowhere near as frightening as the sight of your four-year-old playing in the dirt in Mommy's $300 evening gown.

--Jack O' Lanterns. Halloween gives social sanction to playing with fire, as long as the child does it inside the safe confines of a damp pumpkin. Such safety rules don't apply the rest of the year.

--Demands for candy. Halloween is the only time of year when absolute strangers can ring your doorbell and demand sweet treats. Any other time, you'd call the cops. But your own kids demand candy year-round. They're addicted to sugar. And they think nothing of waking you at 3 a.m. to ask whether there are any more Whoppers in the house.

--Bobbing for apples. Sure, it's a fun activity at Halloween parties, as long as no one actually drowns. But, the rest of the year, you're lucky if apples are the worst thing you find bobbing in the bathtub.

--Haunted houses. How can parents be frightened by fake spider webs and strobe lights and bloody, screaming monsters? At home, they have actual cobwebs and children flicking the lights off and on all day and screaming over "owies" real and imagined. For parents, a haunted house seems like just another day at home.

--Tricks. Part of the fun of Halloween is the "trick" portion of the trick-or-treat equation. Is it coincidence that my local supermarket was running specials on eggs and toilet paper the week before Halloween? Parents know that kids love to pull pranks all year round. What other explanation could there be for hiding rotten apple cores under beds or painting the dog or the premeditated booby-trapping of toilets? "Harmless" pranks? I don't think so.

--Scaring others. "Boo" is not a Halloween-only phenomenon. Kids take great delight in startling their parents with well-planned surprise attacks. My own sons loved to hide around corners and jump out and shriek "Boo!" They enjoyed watching Dad put dents in the ceiling with his head.

So bring on your witches and werewolves, your pirates and zombies and Frankenstein monsters. They won't scare me a bit. We expect such things at Halloween.

But let a kid show up at my door costumed as your average five-year-old -- filthy T-shirt and scabby knees, wild-eyed from a sugar high, grape jelly all over his face, torturing the family cat -- and I'll hand over all the candy in the house before I quickly slam the door and lock it.

Some things are simply too scary.


Fast food

If you need proof that we're all too danged busy, consider this item from USA Today: This year, the average American will eat 32 restaurant-purchased meals in a car, up from 19 such meals in 1985.

When you consider that some Americans (like me) almost never eat in vehicles and that many don't even have cars, that works out to -- let's see, 32 meals into 52 weeks a year, carry the 2, minus Big Gulps, which aren't officially "food" -- to, um, one heckuva lot of meals on wheels.

I recently saw a fellow motorist who was weaving so much that I assumed he was drunk. As I nervously hurried past, I saw he was eating a big, drippy burger while also talking on his cell phone. Steering with his knees rather than miss a bite of burger or a juicy tidbit of telephone gossip. Both activities apparently were more important than the fact he was endangering lives. Did I mention this was on the freeway?

You who spend a lot of time commuting and/or eating in your vehicle probably are thinking about now: So what? We do what we have to do to make the most of every minute of every day. If it means dripping "special sauce" into our laps at 75 mph, then so be it.

Automakers strive to equip vehicles for full-speed dining. My minivan, the Soccer Mom Special, comes equipped with (and I'm not making this up) 13 cupholders. Thirteen. Since you can only fit seven people in this vehicle, the automaker apparently assumed that each passenger needs two drinks going at any given time. In which case, shouldn't the van also be equipped with a bathroom?

Creative auto engineers could come up with more ways to outfit our wheeled restaurants. They could:

--Add lap tables that fold out of the armrests, like the ones on airlines. Probably not safe in a crash, but tables would enable drivers to keep their hands free for driving, at least part of the time.

--Replace that "new car smell" with the aroma of stale French fries. Going to happen sooner or later. Might as well cut to the chase.

--Offer upholstery in colors that would hide anticipated spills: Hot Coffee, Old Ketchup, Dried Mustard, Radioactive Red Slurpee.

Fast food purveyors could help, too. How about packaging food in "feed bags" like horses use? Drivers could keep their hands on the wheel, while munching away at the food strapped to their heads.

More roadside cafes could offer "astronaut food," pureed items in plastic tubes. We could squeeze our meals into our mouths and skip all that inconvenient chewing.

Restaurants should also offer more food items "on a stick," so each motorist might have one hand free for steering. Burger on a stick. Chicken on a stick. Fish kebabs. Condiments could be in "dipping tubs" designed to fit in our many cupholders.

I'm sure creative food packagers are searching for such innovations. But, for my money, the best service concept could be summed up in one word:


Fabulous felon

If you're going to court on an auto theft charge, you should go there in style.

That, apparently, was the thinking of a San Anselmo, CA, man who drove a stolen Lexus SUV to the courthouse on the day a jury was to decide whether he was guilty in another auto theft case. The man was -- surprise! -- found guilty of the earlier crime. He also was charged with receiving stolen goods for driving the hot Lexus.

Extra points: He was identified as a 37-year-old San Francisco hairstylist.

Double extra points: Police got onto the stolen Lexus when passers-by noticed several Yorkies yapping inside. The man faces an animal cruelty charge for leaving the little dogs locked up in the vehicle while he was in court.

Full story here.


Dressed for arrest

Today's crime tip: If you've stolen a distinctive $300 dress from a store a week earlier, it's a really bad idea to go shopping at that same store while wearing the dress.

Police in Stuart, FL, arrested a 60-year-old woman after getting a call from store employees who recognized the dress.

Extra points: The store is called April Daze.

Full story here.


We've become a nation of nerds.

The average American now spends more time using media devices -- TV, radio, iPods, cell phones, computers -- than any other waking activity, according to a new study.

Coast to coast, we're "plugged in" to music and news and text messages and Internet shopping. We still read newspapers and books and magazines, but way too much of our time is devoted to television and our beloved electronic gizmos.

"As a society, we are consumers of media," said researcher Robert Papper of Ball State University's Center for Media Design. "The average person spends about nine hours a day using some type of media."

Papper and his cohorts spent several months shadowing 400 people in Indianapolis and Muncie, IN, where Ball State is located. The researchers recorded information every 15 seconds on what media the subjects were using. All told, they studied 5,000 hours of media use.

Here are some of their findings:

--About 30 percent of the observed waking day was spent with media as the sole activity, and 39 percent was spent with media while involved in some other activity. Only 20.8 percent of the day was spent solely on something called "work."

--In any given hour, no less than 30 percent of those studied were "engaged in some way with television, and in some hours of the day that figure rose to 70 percent."

--About 30 percent of all media time is spent using more than one medium at a time.

--Women do more media multi-tasking than men. Papper told the New York Post that men seek media contact of "short duration and instant gratification" while women are interested in "longer, more thoughtful" interaction. So, it's just like sex. Proof once again that "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Calgon."

--The average American spends four hours a day watching television and three hours a day using a computer.

As a casual observer, I would now like to say: Great Googly-moogly! Nine hours a day? We spend more time "consuming media" than we do sleeping? Are you kidding me?

Four hours a day of TV, and there's still nothing good on? Three hours a day on a computer? Does that count all the time spent waiting on reboots?

Imagine how much crap we're stuffing into our brains every day. No wonder we can't remember where we left our car keys. We're too busy processing the latest update on Britney Spears. And listening to an MP3 song we don't remember downloading. And turning away telemarketers. And waiting for the computer to finish displaying its annoying pop-up ads.

It's All Input All the Time here in America. If we're not on the phone, watching TV and surfing the 'Net, all at once, then we might miss something.

We stay indoors, filtering the wider world through a haze of electronics. When we do leave the house, we block out extraneous sounds by blasting music into our heads via "ear buds." We sort through our e-mail in coffee shops. We check our voice-mail in movie theaters. Apparently, some of us cannot drive without talking on cell phones.

Media consumption is the true "Revenge of the Nerds." The nerds didn't recruit us into their pocket-protector cult. They just designed neato gadgets, and we all willingly joined their ranks.


Sorry, your flight has been Chooched

We've heard of problems caused by herds of deer or flocks of geese on an airport runway, but eight flights at Boston's Logan International Airport were delayed over the weekend because of a single escaped poodle.

The tiny white poodle, named Choochy, got out of its kennel as it was being unloaded from a flight on Saturday night. The pooch led dozens of airport and police officials on a merry chase that lasted 17 hours.

Choochy finally was lured into captivity by food. (Hasn't that happened to all of us at one time or another?)

Full story here.

My book, the movie

Marshal Zeringue, who gave us the Page 69 Test and other book-related blogs, does one called "My Book, the Movie," where authors talk about which actors they'd cast if their books were made into films. I'm featured there today.

Since my first book, "Lonely Street," has been made into a movie, I wrote about who actually was cast vs. the way I'd pictured the characters when I wrote the book. You can read it here.

Also, if you haven't already, go look at the "Lonely Street" clip on YouTube. It's here.


Tony Hillerman dead at 83

Family in New Mexico sends along the sad news that Tony Hillerman has passed away. He was 83, and had been in poor health for some time. He was a great mystery writer, a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master, a decent poker player and one of the finest people I've ever known.

Last time I saw him was nearly a year ago at the writers' conference in Albuquerque that is named for him. I interviewed him before all attending, and he was, as always, a great storyteller. He will be missed.

An Albuquerque television station has a brief news item here.

Full frontal

If teen-agers live in your house, then at times you probably find yourself thinking: How can any human with a functioning brain act that way?

For example, you might catch your teen-ager teetering on the roof or "surfing" on the hood of a speeding car or "chugging" soda pop until it spurts out his nose.

If you are of the parental persuasion, you will not be able to help yourself. You will ask, "What the heck do you think you're doing?"

And the answer will be, "I dunno."

That answer, no matter how unsatisfactory, is the truth. Teens truly don't know why they do the things they do. Because they don't have fully functioning brains.

Researchers using magnetic resonance imaging have found that the human brain isn't fully developed until the person reaches his or her early 20s. (If then.) Teens engage in risky behavior and emotional upheaval and impulsive soda-chugging because their brains don't warn them of the potential consequences.

"We found that the frontal lobes were the last to develop," UCLA brain researcher Paul Thompson said in a recent news article. "These brain regions control inhibition, rash actions, rage and anger."

(So not only will your teens do incredibly stupid things, they'll get really mad when you point that out. It's the perfect combination, really, to drive a parent insane.)

While they're waiting for their minds to mature, teens use a primitive part of the brain called the amygdala, researchers said. The amygdala -- from the Latin "amyg," meaning "wild apes" and "dala," or "under your roof" -- controls aggressive behavior and the well-known "fight or flight" response in teens and other beasts.

These new discoveries explain many of the puzzles of modern society, such as the popularity of skateboards and "monster" trucks.

The lack of inhibition in the primitive teen brain accounts for such look-at-me phenomena as "streaking," tattoos, mall loitering, nose rings and thundering auto exhaust systems. Impulse control problems include binge drinking, temper tantrums, text messaging and watching "That '70s Show" on TV. Underdeveloped frontal lobes might even explain why young males insist on wearing their baseball caps backward; it might truly be more comfortable for them that way.

Parents can make use of this new research. When our teens start acting crazy, we can remind ourselves that they can't help it; they're not playing with a full deck. We can stop asking them for explanations of their bizarre behavior. When they wheedle and whine, demanding that we let them stay out late or arguing for more freedom, we can say: "Hey, you're not ready yet. We'll talk about it when you've got a full set of frontal lobes."

The researchers haven't gone far enough. The next area to explore: Where do teens' fresh frontal lobes come from?

I have a theory: Teens are brain-sucking vampires, feeding on the gray matter of their parents. During adolescence, the kids slowly get smarter and more responsible, but we parents get more stressed-out, disconnected and stupid. Worrying over our teen-agers, we literally "lose our minds."

If I'm right about this shift in brain power, then it would explain the "mid-life crisis," when adults (especially males) start acting like irresponsible teens -- driving fast cars, acquiring younger spouses, taking up "extreme" sports and wearing their caps backward on their bald heads.

Often, when we see some so-called adult acting this way, we think, "It's as if he got a lobotomy."
Now we know why. His teens have stolen his brain. And they won't give it back until Geritol spurts out his nose.


Take a tip from me

I heart New York as much as the next guy, but I've never mastered the whole tipping thing, which is such an important part of everyday life in that city.

(There's a reason they call it the Big Apple; everybody wants a bite.)

Oh, I'm fine in restaurants and bars. The waiter hands me a check, I figure the tip and deliver the correct amount. Better yet, I hand over a credit card and let somebody else do the math. I'm okay in cabs, where I can watch the clicking meter as I near my destination and do my calculations. And I almost always contribute to tip jars.

Where I fail is in the quick handoff -- the tips that reward doormen and bellhops and room-service waiters and shuttle drivers. There's that moment of social awkwardness where I say, "Thank you," then try to pass them a couple of bucks. I never know which hand to use or where to look or whether I'm tipping the right amount.

If I mess up the exchange, I feel like a goober. If it all goes smoothly, I still feel weird, like some gold-chain Vegas high-roller mobster type: "Here's a little something for your trouble, pal …."

I'm uncomfortable with the whole social convention. You help me with something, just doing your job, and I'm supposed to slip you some extra money? We're acting like friends -- "Let me help you with that bag, sir" -- but "thank you" isn't good enough. Suddenly, we're not friends anymore and it's strictly a commercial transaction.

Wouldn't it be more honest if the rate was set out at the beginning? "Let me help you with that bag for two dollars, sir." Ah, that would make it simpler, wouldn't it? "Hold the door open for a buck?" Gotcha. "Deliver your incredibly overpriced pot of room-service coffee to your door for only five dollars." Never mind, I'll stumble to Starbucks.

Even when I'm mentally prepared for the transaction, my money often won't cooperate. I have to unbutton a pocket, dig out my wallet, desperately thumb through it for the correct denomination. Is anything more inelegant than tipping somebody and asking for change? I know Tony Soprano would handle it smoother, peeling bills off a roll, saying just the right thing.

(Of course, Tony Soprano probably hands out twenty-dollar bills. That's typically all I have in my wallet because that's what ATMs dispense -- yuppie food stamps. Anything smaller ends up in the grubby hands of my kids.)

Tip recipients probably don't care how they get our dough, as long as we cough it up, but I can't get over the notion that they're smirking on the inside, watching the big gomer fumble with his money.

Maybe this discomfort stems from the fact that I've never been on the receiving end of tipping. I never worked in food service or at a hotel. I worked in a couple of clothing stores when I was in high school, then went right into the newspaper biz.

Now I work at home, all by myself, and it's not like I've got a reader looking over my shoulder, saying, "Whoa, nice verb! Here's a little something for your trouble."

I suppose I could put a tip jar on my desk in hopes that visitors would drop in the occasional buck. Might make a nice source of side income.

For my kids.


Unusual suspect

Today's tip for aspiring criminals: When you're already under arrest for theft, it's a really bad idea to steal a photograph from the police station bulletin board.

A 25-year-old pothead in Vermont did just that, saying he thought the photo was "cool."

The prosecutor in his case said, "This is a defendant (who's) just not getting it."

Clearly, he's not the criminal mastermind known as Keyser Soze.

Full story here.


Survey says: Dad's a dud

Despite recent vows to improve his performance, Dad has seen his approval ratings slip to the lowest level in years, according to the latest household poll.

Just 25 percent of the population thinks Dad is doing an "excellent" or "good" job in office, poll results show. Fifty percent -- largely teen-aged sons -- find his performance to be lacking. The canine portion of the household refused to comment.

Dad fared best with the lone female respondent, though her approval was pegged not so much to his overall job performance, but to the more ephemeral quality of "hunkiness," the survey found.

Pollsters blamed the low numbers on a series of missteps and natural disasters that have battered Dad's administration.

For example, few respondents approve of Dad's recent decision to set school-night curfews. The majority said they considered that move a mistake, and Dad's overall handling of filial recreation to be a low point in his administration.

Though Dad can't be held responsible for a recent rainstorm that devastated party plans, 50 percent blame him for the slowness of the emergency response that followed. Household members expressed little confidence that social lives could recover from the storm without great infusions of cash from Dad.

On the economic front, approval ratings hit record lows. Circumstances have forced Dad into new levels of deficit spending with little hope of recovery. Seventy-five percent of respondents found Dad's income level too low, and a similar number expressed dismay at how spending has soared.

Dad's administration has blamed the spending on emergency measures -- car repairs, dog surgery -- not to mention the overall hit the household economy has taken from skyrocketing gasoline prices. But critics noted that travel and entertainment expenses are on the rise as well, and put the blame firmly on Dad.

Even the canine component, which benefited from the recent expenditure of hundreds of dollars for vet bills, showed little gratitude. That respondent's attitude seemed typical of detractors: Dad's problems are of no concern as long as the dog's own food bowl is full. This is the result of the welfare state that has evolved within the household.

Respondents found that Dad's spending on foodstuffs showed a definite bias against sweets, beef jerky and Mountain Dew, with too much of the family budget going toward items -- such as beer -- deemed not useful by younger respondents.

A majority said that Dad leaves vital domestic housekeeping undone while "vacationing" in front of televised sporting events.

Just how far Dad's popularity has fallen was best illustrated in the parts of the survey that asked about his personal qualities. Less than 50 percent of respondents called him a strong and decisive leader, and a smaller percentage actually laughed out loud at the question. Only 25 percent said Dad cares about people like themselves, and a like number found him "trustworthy." The canine respondent indicated Dad still was the "alpha male," though others disagreed.

An administration spokesman said Dad expects to see a turnaround in his poll numbers soon. First, there's the issue of transportation to school events, which always gives him a seasonal "bump" in popularity. Secondly, several major out-of-town trips are planned, and Dad usually benefits from the statistical phenomenon known as "absence makes the heart grow fonder." If all else fails, Christmas is just around the corner.

"As a proud American, I plan to tackle the major projects affecting the well-being of this household," an apparently undaunted Dad said in a prepared statement. "Just as soon as football season is over."

'Lonely Street' trailer

A promotional trailer for the movie based on my book "Lonely Street" has hit YouTube, and the Crimespree Cinema website has it here.

The movie screens in early November for American Film Market in Los Angeles. AFM is the place where distributors, both foreign and domestic, see what's available among independent films. Fingers crossed.

I like the trailer a lot. Hope you do, too.


Got a clue

It's one thing to leave fingerprints at the scene of the crime, but quite another to leave your actual thumb.

Police say a man in Washington, D.C., used a machete to rob an alleged brothel. Before he and his partner escaped, someone wrested the machete away and sliced off the robber's thumb.

About two hours later, Bryan Perez, 22, showed up at a local hospital, missing a digit. Police arrived, bringing the severed thumb, and doctors reattached it.

Full story here.

Veep, veep

Remember that footage of Sarah Palin asking what the vice president does? Sure, she was joking around, and that was weeks before she was picked to run for the job, so we can cut her some slack. By now, she's bound to know what the job entails--

Not so fast.

This week, a third-grader in Denver posed the question again, and Palin said the vice president is the president's "team mate" who's there to help the president push his agenda. She also said the VP "runs the Senate," which will come as news to the senators, since the only time the vice president gets to vote in the Senate is in the event of a tie.

Someone get this woman a copy of the Constitution.

Full story here.


Civic duty

Two guys in Hartford, CT, apparently thought it would be fun to impersonate police officers and pull over other motorists. Too bad the other motorist happened to be an off-duty police lieutenant.

The two 20-year-olds were charged with assorted crimes after the lieutenant called for backup and they were arrested.

Extra points: The men had outfitted a car with flashing lights, siren and loudspeaker.

Double extra points: The car was a 1994 Honda Civic.

Full story here.

Swords, sorcerers and Dad

Now that the fall television season has arrived, I'd like to tell you about my favorite program.

It's an action-packed adventure show full of martial arts and magic and mystery. It usually stars superheroes or warriors or cartoon characters (sometimes we hit the trifecta: Superhero cartoon warriors!) who are seeking a treasure or trying to save the world from imminent destruction. Our heroes travel through fabulous settings -- everything from sandstone castles to futuristic space cities to Infernal Fire Swamps of Despair -- while they overcome evildoers and cast spells and achieve great things.

I'm sure you'd enjoy this program, too, but you won't find it on any cable channel. The show's only available in homes equipped with video games and the teen-agers necessary to play them.

I don't play video games myself, and know so little about them that I'm probably the world's least qualified person to write about gaming. But that's never stopped me before.

Despite my ignorance, video games have become a big part of my life, and I occasionally find myself shouting something like, "No! You should've used the Great Mallet of Confusion! Now you've got to start over."

Here's how it happened: My wife and I finally caved and bought our two sons a Playstation 2, which is a flat black box that attaches to a television via cables. Not to get too technical here, but game cartridges are inserted into this box and the games take place on the TV screen while the players fondle handheld controllers that make the on-screen characters do stuff.

When we bought this satanic device, we figured the kids could hook it up to the Old TV in the bedroom and spend hours in there, polluting their minds with kung fu fighting and witchcraft while we adults loitered in the living room, watching "Reno 911" on the Good TV.

Alas, we erred. The Playstation 2 cables would not connect to the Old TV. They would only connect to the Good TV. Which means two things: 1) we now have cartridges and controllers and snaking cables all over the living room, and 2) anytime I want to watch the Good TV, I must extricate the remote control from the claws of a glassy-eyed teen who only wants to play more games.

If I want my traditional place on the sofa, with the reading lamp and the handy snack table, then I'm exposed to a certain amount of video gaming.

Parenting experts probably would laud this situation because it's Quality Family Time Together and at least I'm regulating my kids' video gaming. Those experts would be wrong. Just the opposite happens. Instead of exercising some control over the gaming, I become captivated.

No matter how hard I'm trying to read or nap or otherwise act like an adult, I find myself staring at the cavorting ninjas on the TV. Before long, because I'm a dad, I'm offering advice.

"There's your problem right there," I'll say. "You should've climbed that staircase to the Hall of the Dead, then taken out Graydork the Terrible with your Sword of Swarthiness."

My teens roll their eyes at my kibbitzing. Because that's their job, and because they know I have no idea what I'm talking about. Then they start a new game while I watch over their shoulders.
It's great interactive TV. And no commercials!

We're wasting time together. As a family.


Paul is head

A reward has been offered for the return of a wax head depicting former Beatle and Wings-man Paul McCartney.

The head, scheduled to be auctioned off on Sunday, was left in a bag on a British train by businessman Joby Carter. The head, originally from Louis Tussaud's wax museum, is from the 1960s and depicts Sir Paul in his moptop days.

Full story, with hey-I-could-sculpt-better-than-that photo, can be found here.

We're here to help

Some tips for those driving at triple the legal blood-alcohol limit:

--Bad idea to engage in road rage when you're already drunk.
--Screaming at another driver and veering into his lane in a menacing manner may draw attention to the fact that you're drunk.
--Really bad idea to chase said driver for miles when, as mentioned, you're way drunk.
--Really, really bad idea to keep chasing the other driver once he reaches the police station, where he's fled for safety.
--If the chase circles the police station five times, someone's going to notice.

If only Dennis Ennslin of Anderson, CA, had read these tips last week.

Full story here.


All aglow

Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin's dog, Connie, is the first to be outfitted with a tracking collar using the new satellite navigational system called Glonass.

Glonass is the Russian counterpart to the familiar Global Positioning System used in the United States.

I don't have a joke for this. I just like typing "Glonass" over and over.

Full story here.


Getting the dog fixed

We put our dog in the shop and took our van to the veterinarian--

Wait, that's backward. The two events happened the same week and will be forever linked in my mind, but of course it was the other way around. Dog to vet. Van to shop.

Two major "repairs" in one week are enough to throw most households into a tizzy. We're all so busy, we can't afford for one thing to go wrong in our tight schedules.

At our house, the madness progressed this way:

The van developed a dribble, leaving freckles all over the driveway. I'd convinced myself the brakes were acting funny, so it was time for a professional diagnosis.

Our dog, meanwhile, wasn't dribbling any more than usual, but he'd developed a growth on his hip. (That last sentence doesn't read right. Looks like our dog is named Meanwhile, which is not the case. Meanwhile would be a good name for a dog, but ours is named Elvis.)

The growth, a cyst with a very long, medical-sounding name, had been checked by the vet before, but it kept getting bigger. We began to think Elvis was growing a second head so he could see where he'd been. I took him back to the vet, who, when he saw the new, improved cyst, said, "Whoa! That's gotta come off!"

So the van was in the shop. The dog was at the vet's. And I sat by the phone, cringing over how much it all would cost.

The repair shop called. Nothing wrong with the brakes, but the rack-and-pinion unit (which sounds like a medieval torture device, but actually has something to do with the steering) must be replaced. Yipes.

At the vet's office, Elvis went under the knife. After many anxious hours, I got word that the procedure had gone fine, the extra head had been removed and the dog could come home in a couple of days. Whew.

Back at the repair shop, they got the "unit" and put it on my van. Alas, it was the wrong "unit" and wouldn't fit properly. Another "unit" was ordered.

The next day, the shop called again. The correct unit was attached to my van, where it promptly broke. They'd get a new unit right away, though, and I should have my van back in no time.

Elvis came home -- my wife picked him up because, guess what, I still didn't have my van -- and we were shocked at his appearance. His entire left rear quarter-panel had been shaved and he had an eight-inch incision where the cyst used to be. He wore a large plastic lampshade around his head so he couldn't gnaw his numerous stitches.

"Frankendog," as we called him, stumbled around the house, crashing into furniture and raking the flesh off our shinbones with the sharp edges of his lampshade. But he healed up nicely.

The van, meanwhile, finally got its repairs finished and came home. (Hey, maybe I'll name my van "Meanwhile.") It steers just fine and no longer leaves spots on the driveway, though the brakes still feel funny.

Guess which one cost the most. If you guessed the van, you win a big prize, which is a plastic lampshade we don't need anymore.

So all is right at our house until something else breaks or sprouts a cyst. My money's on the van. When the brakes finally go, I'm taking it to the vet.


Time for new blood

Last night, my wife and I attended a campaign gathering for Jeff Morris, who's running for Congress here in Northern California, and we both came away impressed. Kelly wrote about the bright and well-spoken candidate here.

Morris would make an able replacement for ineffective incumbent Wally Herger, who acts like President Bush's personal lapdog. Good boy, Wally, now run along.

Down the drain with McCain

Facts about Joe the Plumber, who was invoked 26 times by Republican candidate John McCain in this week's presidential debate:

--He's not a licensed plumber.
--He's a registered Republican, though he denied it.
--He owes back taxes and there's a lien on his property for unpaid bills.
--He's on YouTube spouting about liberal conspiracies and calling Social Security a "joke."
--He admits he asked Democratic candidate Barack Obama about taxes because he was trying to trip him up.
--He compared Obama's "tap-dancing" on the tax issue to the late Sammy Davis Jr.

Doesn't anyone in the McCain campaign vet these people (Joe, Sarah Palin) before the candidate trots them out as All-American archetypes? Are the Rovian Republicans so cynical that they think the public doesn't care about the facts?

Lots of stories about Joe in the media and on the Internet today including this one, which points out that Joe already has given more media interviews than Palin.


Parenting tips for dads

Dads of America, repeat after me: "Go ask your mother."

This useful phrase should be practiced until it becomes your standard reply to every question. When a child comes seeking permission or wanting something, send him right out the door again by saying, "Go ask your mother." Then go back to watching the football game on TV.

Kids' demands never stop. If you work up a decision every time, you will wear out the neurons in your brain and end up one of those gibbering old men with gravy on his cardigan.

Worse yet, most of the decisions you make will be, um, wrong. You might think, as the Man of the House, that your word goes, and each decision is final and blah, blah, blah. But you're wrong about that, too. Because here's what happens: If the child doesn't like your answer, s/he will appeal the decision to a higher court -- Mom -- and you will be overruled.

Sure, Mom may consult with you first, might even have a long discussion on the merits of both sides of the argument. By the time you lose that debate, the game will be over and -- pop! -- there goes another neuron. It's easier to send the kid to Mom in the first place.

At our house, my wife and I are known as the "Yes-No Parents." One of our sons will make some request -- to stay out late, to hang out with friends at the mall, to buy a genuine samurai sword -- and my wife and I will answer simultaneously. I'll automatically say, "no." She'll say, "yes." We'll share a long look, our eyes calculating the algebra of the disagreement. Then I'll say, "Whoops. I meant 'yes.'"

(To tell the truth, we both said "no" to the samurai sword. Shouted it, in fact. But that's another story.)

Why do I give in so easily? Because I know I'll lose on appeal. Because the result doesn't matter that much to me anyway. Because somebody's standing in front of the TV and I'm missing the replay.

Mostly, though, it's because I'm busy bracing for the next request. "Yes" is never good enough. If we say "yes" to loitering at the mall, the next question is, "When do I have to be home?" And that starts a whole 'nother round of talks.

Parenting experts tell us we shouldn't negotiate with our children, that we should give a firm answer and stick to it, but we all know that's so much claptrap. Life with kids (especially teens) is one long haggle.

That's why I've added a new tactic to my arsenal. Now, along with "go ask your mother," I use what I call "reverse negotiation." When a child tries to bargain with me, I go backward.

Say my son bids for a 11 p.m. bedtime. I come back with 10 p.m. If he then does the natural compromise and tries for 10:30, I say 9:30. If the baffled kid argues, I say, "Make it 9 p.m." If he's slow to catch on, we can negotiate a settlement that results in him going to bed before kickoff.

Here's another example:

Son: "Can Nick stay for dinner?"
Dad: "Yes."
Son: "Can he spend the night?"
Dad: "No. And now he can't stay for dinner, either."
Son: "Aww. But--"
Dad: "Keep talking. Nick can go home immediately."

Son slinks from room to play with Nick. Dad returns to football viewing. All is right with the world.

Until dinnertime. When Mom announces that Nick is spending the night.


Elephant replaced by rat

The Republican Party's county chapter in Sacramento, CA, has removed from its website text and pictures that compared Democratic candidate Barack Obama to terrorist Osama bin Laden.

The images showed Obama in a turban, and said, "The difference between Osama and Obama is just a little B.S." The website also said, "Waterboard Barack Obama."

This inflammatory crap was removed at the request of the state Republican Party. We can only hope the rats responsible are removed from their roles in the party as well.

Full story here.

Starving artist

I got my twice-a-year royalty statement this week and -- ahem -- y'all need to go buy some books. Really. I know times are hard, but I've got teen-aged boys to feed and everyone needs to pitch in.

In particular, you ought to check out "Whipsaw" and "Cutthroat." These recent books aren't comic crime novels, like so many of mine, but fast-paced thrillers set in San Francisco. "Whipsaw" centers on a stolen video game program that's ransomed back to the company that developed it. "Cutthroat" is about a corporate troubleshooter who uncovers a bloody plot to overthrow an African nation.

Just the sort of escapist fare that'll take your mind off the stock market. Cover art and further description can be found at http://www.stevebrewerbooks.com/.


Talkin' about sufferin'

Voiceover: "They get rich trafficking in human misery. They prey on the poor and the stupid and the immoral. Drug dealers? No, an even worse form of lowlife: Daytime talk show hosts. Today on 'Dr. Feel.'"

(Theme music plays. Camera pans hopeful crowd before settling on large bald man.)

Dr. Feel: "Today, we're talkin' about a social ill that infects our whole country. Whether you live in a small town or a big city, whether you're in a healthy relationship or one tainted by alcohol and abuse, whether you feel good about yourself or not, at some point you've watched daytime TV. Maybe you were unemployed or home sick with the flu, but you gave in to the talk show temptation. Next thing you know, you're watchin' some shriekin' trailer trash havin' a fistfight because somebody slept with the family goat. You know you watched it. Take responsibility for your actions! You can't get anywhere in life unless you own up to your own victimization!"


Dr. Feel: "Our first guest today is Montel. He's a striking man, might even have good advice to dispense. But he's addicted to discussin' other people's adultery."

Montel: "Wait a min--"

Dr. Feel: "Hang on there, Montel. Let me finish before you get your nose out of joint. Like we say down home, you can't chase the chickens with a sack over your head."

Montel: "Huh?"

Dr. Feel: "What are your qualifications, Montel? How come you don't have 'Doctor' in front of your name, like some of us?"

Montel: "You son of a--"

Dr. Feel: "Let me interrupt you there. I want to bring someone else into the conversation. Joinin' us now is Pat, a relative newcomer to daytime TV."

Pat: "Thanks. Good to be here. I've often--"

Dr. Feel: "Let me cut in there, Pat. Aren't you just another rich white guy who owned a professional sports franchise?"

Pat: "I'm an experienced motiva--"

Dr. Feel: "How does that qualify you to give advice to everyday folks?"

Pat: "I feel I have a lot to offer--"

Dr. Feel: "Do you think people in this country mistake wealth for talent or ability?"

Pat: "I've never really--"

Dr. Feel: "What I'm sayin' here, Pat, and please let me finish before you go shootin' your mouth off, is this: Just because a fella's rich doesn't mean he's smart, right?"

Pat: "What are you--"

Dr. Feel: "I mean, heck, Saddam Hussein was worth billions, but I wouldn't want his advice on how to live!"

(Appreciative applause.)

Dr. Feel: "Our next guest is the daddy of 'em all when it comes to mockin' human suffering. Please give a warm welcome to Jerry!"

(Crazed hooting and whistling.)

Dr. Feel: "So, Jerry, do you ever feel guilty about taking advantage of the morons who trot out their personal problems on your show?"

Jerry: "I beg your pard--"

Dr. Feel: "Where do you find those losers anyway? We need to get us some of those. Haha."

Jerry: "I, um--"

Dr. Feel: "You encourage your guests to fight, don't you, Jerry? C'mon, admit it. You provide foldin' chairs for 'em. You're the World Wrestling Federation of talk shows--"

Jerry picks up chair and brains Dr. Feel.

(Theme music. Audience cheers while Pat and Montel take turns stomping Dr. Feel.)

Voiceover: "Tune in tomorrow when Dr. Feel comes to you live from a hospital suite! Nurse Glenda has a bad attitude because she's got no man in her life! Can Dr. Feel help her? Or will she inject him with an artery-clogging air bubble? Tomorrow, on 'Dr. Feel!'"


'Santa Ana' apparently means 'wildfire'

Up here in fire-ravaged Northern California, our thoughts are with the folks in the Los Angeles area, where two wind-driven fires rage out of control.

I'm familiar with the area of the Marek Fire because it's very near lovely Hansen Dam Park, which was the location I visited during the filming of "Lonely Street," the movie they've made from my first book. I spent two days in that area. It's rugged country, with Angeles National Forest hills abutting San Fernando Valley neighborhoods.

Best of luck to the firefighters and residents.

Full story here.

Ups and downs

A burglar in Berlin, Germany, was arrested after being trapped in an office building's elevator.

Authorities say the 27-year-old burglar broke into the building around midnight and took four laptop computers. As he was leaving, the elevator stalled and he was forced to call for help. Firefighters who came to his rescue noticed the purloined laptops and summoned police.

No word on whether the elevator will get a medal.

Full story here.


The reigning hotdog-eating champ took another title over the weekend by eating 45 slices of pizza in 10 minutes.

Joey Chestnut, 24, of San Jose, CA, said he fasted for a day to prepare for Sunday's pizza-eating contest in New York's Times Square.

On July 4, Chestnut ate 59 hotdogs in 10 minutes to win the annual contest on Coney Island. Last month, he won a contest in Tennessee by eating 93 Krystal burgers in eight minutes.

Only in America could we make a sport out of eating.

Full story here.


Nose sausage

A butcher shop in Brooklyn has been raided by law enforcement officials after an investigation found the shop was selling cocaine out of its basement.

Authorities in New York arrested 26 people in the alleged cocaine ring. The break in the case came after one ring member called an undercover agent and told him he had "hot kielbasa" available. Kielbasa is a type of Polish sausage. "Hot kielbasa" apparently was code for nose candy.

Full story here.

Your job may make you fat

If you sit at a desk much of the day, then you're more likely to end up obese, according to a study from Australia.

Before you dismiss this as more tripe from overseas, consider this: Australians know something about obesity. During the 1990s, there was a 28 percent increase in the number of overweight people Down Under. Now, 58 percent of Aussie men and 42 percent of women are overweight.

Not surprising, perhaps, in a country where the national dish is "beer." But the researchers found the increase alarming, and sounded the same warning bells we've been hearing here in the United States of Unsightly Bulges: Obesity is a risk factor for diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer and many minor afflictions, such as chafed thighs and Multiple Chin Syndrome.

The study looked at 1,579 working Australians, examining their occupations, physical activity and body mass index, which measures body fat based on height and weight.

Researchers found that the average workers sat for more than three hours per day, with 25 percent of them sitting more than six hours a day.

"Higher total daily sitting time was associated with a 68 percent increase in the odds" of being overweight, the study said.

"Time and productivity lost due to chronic diseases associated with overweight and obesity may make it financially worthwhile for employers to be more proactive in the health of their employees by promoting physical activity at work."

Now that's going too far. It's one thing to warn that sitting at our desks will make us fat, but it's quite another to alert employers to this fact, put a dollars-and-cents value to it, and urge our bosses to make us exercise.

Aren't most jobs hard enough already? Do we really need our workday interrupted by sweaty managers who demand that we lumber to our feet for a session of jumping jacks and jogging in place? Wouldn't this increase the risk of workplace homicides?

Employers "promoting physical activity at work" will need to be sneaky about it. Here are some suggestions:

--Move the snack and coffee machines to the far end of the building, forcing workers to walk more. This may lead to longer coffee breaks and a temporary loss of productivity, but it'll get employees up and moving.

--Ban parking near the workplace for -- wink, wink -- "security reasons."

--Remove the wheels from desk chairs. This will force workers to raise up off their seats whenever they need to move. And the resulting scrawk of scooting chair legs will make them so crazy, they'll want to get up and run away.

--Order regular computer "malfunctions." This will get heart rates up and cause bursts of physical activity such as stomping and hair-pulling.

--Furnish ever narrower chairs so employees will worry they're getting too fat to fit in their seats. This works for the airlines.

--Finally, take a tip from those of us who work at home: Add laundry facilities to the workplace. Every 30 minutes or so, workers must jump up from theirs desks to fold and fluff. Add other household or gardening chores to keep them from spending long periods at their desks.

Sure, people may complain about these measures. They may argue that leaving their desks hampers concentration and lowers productivity.

Managers should simply reply: We're looking out for your health. This is the way things are done now. In Australia.


It only seems longer

A woman who celebrates her 105th birthday today says the secret to a long life is to have no sex.

Clara Meadmore of Cornwall, in southwestern Britain, says she decided when she was 12 that she'd never marry and eventually turned down several proposals. Back then, she said, women didn't have sex until they married, so she just skipped the whole deal.

Full story here.

Taking stock

The good news -- your retirement fund and other investments didn't lose any more money today.

The bad news -- that's only because it's Saturday and the markets are closed.

The wrong weekend to give up drinking.



We've all been there. Staring at a corner of the yard and thinking the landscape needs . . . something . . . right there.

If you're Bob Langevin of Great Falls, MT, you fill that spot with a homemade replica of Fred Flinstone's foot-powered car.

Inspired by a similar creation in another city, Langevin bought the materials -- 400-pound concrete culverts, lumber, rope and canvas -- and finished the project in a day.

No reaction yet from his neighbors, Barney and Betty.

Full story with photo here.

Read this at work

American workers are among the most productive in the world, but imagine how much we could accomplish if we didn't waste a quarter of every workday.

According to a survey, the average worker fritters away 2.09 hours per day, not counting lunch. Time-wasting activities cited in the survey included surfing the Internet, chatting with co-workers, conducting personal business, running errands and "spacing out."

(This survey was conducted before the current financial crisis; now most employees spend all day watching the stock market and quietly weeping.)

The survey of more than 10,000 employees was done by America Online and Salary.com on the Internet, so it's no surprise that computer use was the top time-waster. (The results did not break down how much time was spent filling out survey responses.)

"A certain amount of slacking off is already built into the salary structure," said Bill Coleman, senior vice president at Salary.com, who was running a personal errand at the time. (Kidding!)

But 2.09 hours is twice what employers expect, according to a follow-up survey of corporate human resource managers, and the time wasted adds up to an estimated $759 billion a year.

That number's deceiving, however, because some of that wasted time might be "creative waste," which Coleman defined as "time that may well have a positive impact on the company's culture, work environment, and even business results. Personal Internet use and casual office conversations often turn into new business ideas."

Some thoughts about this survey:

One, it's skewed toward white-collar workers who have access to the Internet. Nobody working on an assembly line goofs off two hours a day. Many blue-collar workers even have their bathroom breaks timed and regulated. Any sawmill worker who's "spacing out" soon will go by the nickname Stumpy.

Two, survey respondents make mistakes and tell lies. They might be overestimating their wasted time (or underestimating it, though I don't know how a man wasting more than two hours out of every eight could stay employed unless the company is owned by his father-in-law).

Three, many time-wasting activities clearly were not reported. Picture how much time per day is spent on cigarette breaks, drinking on the job, snacking, napping, doodling, putting on makeup, nostril mining, ogling secretaries, canoodling in the supply closet, planning vacations, looking for another job, squeaky chair adjustment, bathroom magazine consumption, and phone sex. And the No. 1 time-waster of all -- complaining -- isn't even mentioned.

Finally, the survey omits a growing portion of the working population -- those of us who toil in home offices. We don't have bosses looking over our shoulders. No one's timing how long we spend in the bathroom. We can "space out" to our hearts' content, at least until the bills come due.

We at-home workers waste time in many of the same ways as our corporate peers -- Internet surfing, running errands, yakking on the phone -- but the boundaries are blurred. Going to the post office, for instance, could be personal errand or top-priority business, depending on what's being mailed and how desperate we are to get out of the house.

Because nobody's watching, we can waste time in ways not available to people who work in real offices: Wandering aimlessly around the house. Random mumbling. Uninterrupted hours of computer solitaire. Toenail maintenance. Phone pranks. Counting dust bunnies. Staring out the window. Staring into the refrigerator. Staring into the depths of our tortured souls.

The only way we work-at-home types get anything done is by exercising discipline and maintaining a rigid work schedule.

Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for my regularly scheduled "spacing out."


Slithering coils of stupidity

A Norman, OK, man was caught harboring a couple of stolen reptiles when he asked for advice on how to care for them -- at the same zoo where they'd been stolen.

Cody Daniel Hawkins, 24, was arrested after police found the stolen python and tortoise at his home later that same day. Police say they don't think he took the reptiles from the Little River Zoo himself, but he still faces a bunch of charges, including animal cruelty for apparently feeding a kitten to the 12-foot-long snake.

Everyone knows that's not on a python's recommended diet.

Full story here.

Spy vs. kids

If you're a fan of Cold War spy novels, then you've undoubtedly heard of The Moscow Rules, the code Western spies followed when operating behind the Iron Curtain.

During a recent business trip to Washington, D.C., my wife squeezed in a visit to the International Spy Museum (www.spymuseum.org), which she pronounced "extremely cool."

One of the trinkets she brought home from the museum gift shop was a postcard that lists The Moscow Rules.

I've kept the card on my desk, right where I can see it when I'm staring into space, and have decided The Moscow Rules remain pretty apt in our paranoid age. In particular, they work as good rules for parenting.

If you've got children, especially teens, then you know all about the Cold War on the home front. Here's how The Moscow Rules apply:

Assume nothing.
Nothing confounds assumptions like children. Just when you think you've got them figured out, they'll say or do something spectacularly strange or unexpected. It's their job.

Never go against your gut.
Instincts are all we parents have. You can read all the parenting manuals in the world, but nothing truly prepares you for the day-to-day toil, strife and decision-making of having children. Only your "gut" will tell you how to behave. As you get older, your gut likely will grow larger and get a deeper voice.

Everyone is potentially under opposition control.
In the case of children, read "opposition" as "those kids deemed to be 'bad influences.'" No matter how good a parent you are, your kid's peers will exert a stronger influence than you ever can. And that, my friends, is where belly-button piercings come from.

Don't look back; you are never completely alone.
Don't believe it? Try to have an intimate moment with your spouse anytime the children are awake.

Go with the flow, blend in.
A parent puttering in the background is more likely to overhear the truth than one who's hovering over the children, interfering in their interactions. But can you handle the truth?

Vary your pattern and stay within your cover.
Act like a parent, sticking to the "cover story" that you're a responsible adult. But toss out a little surprise once in a while to keep the kids on their toes. Something like, "Coldplay's okay, but I prefer the Foo Fighters."

Lull them into a sense of complacency.
Let them believe you'll put up with all the sass and abuse they can dish out. Right up to the moment you slip into their room at 3 a.m. with a bucket of ice water.

Don't harass the opposition.
Add to that statement "without due cause." Sometimes a little harassment's just what the doctor ordered, and somebody's got to do it. Who better than you, the parent? (You can't obey all the rules. Signs always say "Don't feed the chimps," but you know somebody's slipping them snacks. Is being a parent that different from being a zookeeper?)

Pick the time and place for action.
Let the kids get away with a few minor infractions here and there, but keep a mental inventory. When the time comes to drop the hammer, you'll want a full toolbox.

Keep your options open.
When situations get too dicey for spies, they slip across the nearest international border to escape. That can work for parents, too. But remember: Don't leave a forwarding address. The kids will track you down. And they'll demand back pay on their allowance.


Sports etiquette

The Rules: You can get drunk at a tailgate party outside of a college football stadium. You can fill the bed of your truck with water and use it as a pool. You can even splash around naked in the truck/pool. But it's bad manners to object when the campus police tell you to cut it out.

It's really, really bad manners to wham your knee into the groin of the arresting officer. Twice.

A 21-year-old man learned these etiquette lessons last weekend. He now faces charges for disorderly conduct, assault on an officer and resisting arrest. Full story here.

Extra points: The fan apparently was excited about the game, which was between football powerhouses Massachusetts and Delaware.

Yet another reason to move to Italy

Residents in the Italian town of Marino got a surprise when they turned on their water faucets -- white wine came out of the taps.

Alas, it was merely a plumbing error. Workers were supposed to hook up wine delivery to the town fountain for the Marino Grape Festival, but the wine went to several residences instead.

Full story here.

Inconvenient truths

My family was dining at a poolside café during a recent vacation when I noticed this extremely small print on the menu: "For your convenience, an 18 percent gratuity will be added to your check."

This chapped me. It wasn't the amount; I often tip 20 percent without batting an eye. Wasn't even the audacity of it, though it always rankles when restaurants presume that customers are tightwads who won't tip unless forced.

No, what griped me was the phrase "for your convenience." What's "convenient" about having an 18 percent gratuity sneaked onto your bill? Did the restaurant management think we customers would say: "Ah, they've included the tip! How convenient! Now I won't have to judge the service for myself or do any complicated math!"

Maybe, since it was a poolside café, they thought we'd all go mad, spinning around, trying to find tip money in our pocket-free swimsuits. Or, that we'd be too sunstroked to understand the subtle hints (greedy leers, reaching hands, dripping saliva) the waitstaff was throwing our way.

"For your convenience" is just another example of lame marketing spin. Corporate America takes us all for saps, and they think we'll fall for anything if it's labeled "convenient." This is the same reason that every bright-colored product package is splashed with words like "new!" or "improved!" or "easy-to-open!" when none of those things are true.

Any time you encounter the phrase "for your convenience," doesn't it really mean terribly inconvenient? "For your convenience, direct questions about this product to our corporate call center in Albania, between the hours of 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. on alternate Thursdays."

(If you read or hear "for your safety and convenience," look out. That usually means inconvenient and dangerous. For example, they always say on airplanes that your seatbelt should stay securely fastened "for your safety and convenience," when what they mean is: "We'd prefer that you be strapped into your seat, screaming, when the plane goes down in flames.")

When you encounter "for your convenience," it usually means something that's convenient and/or profitable for the corporation in question, not the consumer. "For your convenience, this automated teller machine accepts all debit cards for a charge of only $3 per transaction."

Or, the phrase is connected to a warning mandated by the corporate attorneys: "For your safety and convenience, do not ingest this product while operating heavy machinery near kindergartens."

Occasionally, the phrase is used to convey the message that you, the customer, are an idiot: "For your convenience, these hot dogs contain no actual dog. Enjoy!"

While it appears that companies are misusing the term "convenience," a little research finds mitigating circumstances, right in the roots of the word.

"Convenience," it turns out, comes from the Latin conve or "pay" and nience, which means "through the nose." Strictly speaking, the corporate spin doctors often use the term properly.

This usage explains the term "24-hour convenience store." At these small markets, you can "pay through the nose" anytime of the day or night for the same products available elsewhere for less.

Unless it's a much longer drive to the nearest supermarket, convenience stores don't make any sense. Many supermarkets are open 24 hours now, in case you get the midnight munchies, and most have "express lanes" where you can get checked out as quickly as you would at a convenience store.

Come to think of it, the only difference is that you have to walk farther in the aisles of a regular supermarket to get your midnight gallon of ice cream. If you're buying fattening food at midnight, you probably ought to be doing more walking.

For your safety and convenience.



Very strange being without the Internet for a few days. Funny how much we've come to depend on it for everyday info and esoteric answers to our questions. I got a lot of work done without the constant distractions of Internet, but it felt like something was missing all day.

It was even stranger for the teens.

My 16-year-old son: "It's like we're savages."

Apparently, a few days without YouTube leads directly to "Lord of the Flies."

We are back

After a couple of days with a dead router, we're back on the Internet, at least for the time being.

All correspondence will be answered.

Your patience is appreciated.


Thou shalt not use high-octane

A man was filling up at a gas station in Barker, NY, when lightning struck the parking lot. He survived with only minor injuries.

William Hall, 44, was taped on a surveillance camera as the lightning bolt hit. He was knocked clear of his car and lay unconscious for several minutes. But he reported only soreness and a few blisters when he awoke.

The video shows the bright flash of the lightning. Amazing.

Full story (with video) here.

Forgot my black belt

A Gettysburg, PA, man told police that he went outside naked in his mobile home park, screamed at his neighbors that he knew karate and challenged them to fight because he's a "serious martial artist."

Contributing factors, police believe, were the two empty vodka bottles in his trailer.

Full story here.


Brother, can you spare some wi-fi?

If you're the sort of person who checks e-mail while you're in the shower, then this column's for you.

The nation is addicted to e-mail, perusing it around the clock and sometimes in the most inappropriate places, according to a survey by Opinion Research Corp. and America Online.

(We'll pause while you mop up the beverage that you spewed when you read that America Online, one of the nation's largest providers of Internet service, is talking about e-mail "addiction." You've still got a little something on your chin. There, that's better.)

The survey of 4,012 American adults in 20 major cities found that most rarely go more than a few hours without an e-mail "fix." They spend an average of an hour a day on e-mail, and rely on it for communication as much as they do the telephone.

The average user has 2.8 e-mail accounts, the pollsters found. They did not specify how many accounts were devoted strictly to porn.

Forty-one percent of respondents check their e-mail first thing in the morning, and 40 percent have logged on in the middle of the night. Twenty-six percent say they've never gone more than two to three days without checking their e-mail, and 60 percent use e-mail while on vacation.

A whopping 61 percent confessed to checking their personal e-mail while at work. About one in 10 say they've gotten in trouble for doing so.

All these responses fit the standard symptoms of addiction: Can't leave it alone, even when it steals time away from family and responsibilities. Always thinking about it, even losing sleep over it. Can't take a vacation without having it along. Willing to risk disciplinary action at work rather than miss the latest corny joke being circulated among your friends.

The survey found that most any location is fair game for e-mail addicts. Twelve percent admitted to checking their e-mail while in class (and we wonder why our education system makes that large flushing noise) and 8 percent dip into e-mail during business meetings. Six percent check their e-mail at the beach or a pool, thereby defeating the whole reason for going to the beach or a pool.

You'd think the bathroom would be sacrosanct, but no, four percent admit to checking their e-mail there. A bathroom does seem the appropriate place to sort through "spam."

Finally, 1 percent confessed to sneaking looks at their e-mail in church. I'm no theologian, but I'm pretty sure those people are going to Hell.

The afterglow of the VP debate

Somebody please tell Sarah Palin that the very last attribute we want in a vice president (much less a president in these troubled times) is "spunky."



Today's rap: 2 Cool 4 Chores

Dear Parents:

I found the following on the Internet. We'd always suspected a conspiracy. Here's the proof:


By "2 Lay-Z"

Yo, dude. If your parents are like mine, they're always laying some trip on you about doing "chores."

Man, they just don't get it. We teens can't be bothered by stuff like dishes and laundry and yard work. We've got more important things to do: Kickin' back. Hangin'. Setting a new high score on our Playstation 2 (and, yeah, yeah, the parents paid for the PS2, like we haven't heard that a million times).

Parents think they've gotta teach us "responsibility" and "pulling our weight" and stuff. Like we're gonna learn anything from doing laundry. All we learn is that work is never really done. You wash the clothes, you wear the clothes, you gotta wash 'em again. How's that gonna prepare us for the Real World? Ain't like we're gonna have a job where we do the same thing over and over, every damned day, right?

Teens across the nation gotta share the 411. Here are some time-tested ways to dodge chores:

1. The Maynard G. Krebs Memorial Panic Response

Named after that beatnik dude on the old "Dobie Gillis" TV show, this reaction involves screaming "Work!" and fleeing the room. Not only allows you to escape, but also alerts your siblings.

2. Amnesia

An old favorite. "I forgot" is like a miracle cure, man. There's no argument for it. Your parents get in your face about why you didn't do some chore, and you say, "I forgot," and they lose all their steam.

3. A Matter of Taste

No matter how slagged your room is, say, "I like it this way." Even if there's so much stuff on your floor, you can only walk around on stilts, the parents will hesitate. They're thinking: Well, if the kid likes his room this way, who am I to insist? While they're dithering, you can escape out the window.

4. Denial

"What work? I don't see any work."

5. Defiance

Outright refusal is sometimes effective, especially if the parent is too tired to argue. Caution: Can result in loss of Playstation privileges, injury or even death.

6. The "Gaslight" Defense

Make the parents think they're losing their minds. Here's how it works: Parent tells you to do a chore. You ignore command. Parent comes around later, asking why it wasn't done. You say: "What? You never told me to do that." Shake your head sadly. Say something like, "Man, you're losing it."

7. Not Mine

This one works on any chore that doesn't involve your immediate room. Say a parent wants you to pick up stuff scattered around the house. You say, "That's not my stuff. Why should I have to pick it up?" This forces the parent to explain about "helping the whole family" and "the common good" and blah, blah, blah. Eventually, they'll forget the whole thing.

8. The Stall

All of these responses are variations on our main theme: The Stall. You're just buying time, dude. The longer you put off doing a chore, the better the odds that the parents will give up and do it themselves.

Remember: You're younger than them. You can afford to wait them out. Eventually, you'll go off to college or marriage or the Army, and you won't ever have to pick up after yourself again.
After you're gone, your parents will keep your room just the way you left it. Because they don't know how to walk on stilts.


No, the Frisbee's the round one

A pit bull has been pulled from the Frisbee championships in Gray Summit, MO, after he swallowed a plastic spatula.

Wallace, the defending champion, was eating some cheese off a spatula when he snapped off the plastic tip and swallowed it. He had to go under the knife to have the spatula removed.

Full story here.

The Over-the-Shoulder Gang

A man in Stuart, FL, says he was robbed by a gang of women who wore overalls without shirts or bras underneath.

Olmer Morales, 18, told police that he was riding his bicycle when a large blond woman in overalls and a long-sleeved shirt stopped him and grabbed his handlebars. Then four thinner blondes, all wearing overalls but no tops, emerged and surrounded him. They took $100 from his back pocket, police said.

Apparently, they needed money for clothes.

Full story here.