Tasted like chicken

Everyone knows the old adage: Don't hit a drunk with a shovel, or he'll bite off your nose to spite your face.

Apparently, Matthew Osing forgot that advice while drinking with his buddy Donroy Merrival last week in Iowa City, IA. The men got into a fight and Merrival bit off Osing's nose, police say.

Osing said of his pal, "He's a heavy drinker and sometimes when he drinks he changes and gets real nasty." When he saw such a werewolf-like transformation taking place, Osing picked up a shovel and whammed Merrival. Merrival responded by pouncing on Osing and biting off his nose and part of his upper lip.

Extra points: The nose was not recovered. Osing said "my dogs might've eaten it."

Full story here.

Today's calls: Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob and Ann

An open letter to the people who formerly had our telephone number:

Dear Bob and Ann,

It's been a year now since we moved into our new house, and we're still getting phone calls for you. Sure, the number of calls has dwindled, but we continue to get one every day or two.

We want you to know you're on the minds of people here. They're still calling. We do our best to be nice to them.

It was strange at first. Day and night, the phone ringing, people asking for "Bob" or "Ann." Some days, we'd get calls from four or five different people, all seeking someone who didn't live at our house. You were getting more calls than we were.

We had to wonder: How long had the phone company kept our new number out of circulation before assigning it to us? (Clearly, the answer was "not long enough.") Who were you, Bob and Ann, and why didn't you alert people that you were getting a new phone number? How did you get so danged popular?

This wasn't your usual "wrong number" problem. If we said "wrong number" and hung up, the phoners would figure they'd misdialed and would call right back. They knew Bob and Ann's number, by golly, had it right there in front of them, and this was it. We learned to say, "Bob and Ann don't have this number anymore."

Most callers responded with the quick "sorry" and disconnect you'd expect. But some felt moved to quiz us. Where had Bob and Ann gone? Did we know a new number for them? They hadn't mentioned anything about moving away . . .

We felt these callers' pain, but we had no answers for them. We tried to find your new number, Bob and Ann. (We knew your last name, of course; all those callers had informed us.) But you weren't listed anywhere.

We told ourselves the problem would resolve itself in time. People would learn your whereabouts, and they'd stop calling us, looking for you. But the calls kept coming.

As the months went by, we started to feel a certain kinship with you, Bob and Ann, even though we've never met. We began to worry about you. How come nobody knew your new number? Were you getting word of all the medical and dental appointments the offices kept calling to confirm? Wasn't it dangerous to miss those appointments? Were your very lives in jeopardy?

We began to speculate on what could've happened to you. People don't just up and disappear, leaving no forwarding address or phone number. Had there been some terrible accident? An act of terrorism?

Was your vanishing part of some bigger secret? Had you fled town to escape a scandal? Were you dodging creditors? Were you in the witness protection program? Had you been kidnapped by a cult? Were you abducted by aliens?

We became so concerned, we even considered alerting the authorities (or at least the tabloid press) to your apparent disappearance. But we decided to write this letter instead.

So, Bob and Ann, if you're out there, let us hear from you. Tell us where you've gone. At the very least, give us your current phone number so we can pass it along to our callers.

You reached out and touched many people here. Your friends are worried about you. And so are we.

So give us a call, Bob and Ann. Please.

You know the number.

(Editor's note: Nearly four years later, and we still regularly get calls for Bob and Ann.)


Stupidity tax

A 55-year-old man in Murfreesboro, TN, was conned out of $7,000 in one of the oldest scams in the book.

Two con men pretended to be rich foreigners who didn't trust banks. They persuaded the victim to withdraw his own money from the bank to show them how it's done, then told him he could prove his own trustworthiness by walking around a McDonalds while they held onto his money. Then -- surprise! -- they disappeared faster than you can say, "Big Mac."

Full story here.

Editor's note: Even foreigners know about banks. Really.

Can your inner child come out to play?

Researchers who study children say it's imperative that parents tear their offspring away from the TV and make them go interact with other kids.

Play time, they tell us, is when children learn many of the social skills they'll one day need to become functioning adults.

For instance, kids of my generation learned the rules of social debate from the standard shooting games -- cops-and-robbers or cowboys-and-Indians or (after steady doses of the TV show "Combat!") heroic G.I. vs. evil Nazi. These games went like this:

"Bang, you're dead."

"No, I'm not."

"Yes, you ARE."

"You missed me."

"Did not."

"Did too."



"I'm telling."

At this point, the offended child would run to a weary Mom to complain. Game over.

Nowadays, of course, kids aren't allowed to shoot toy guns. Even whispering "bang" can get a kid expelled from school for life. Instead, children learn social skills by debating which Pokemon is most powerful, the argument escalating until one child runs to Mom, crying and complaining.

The playground is where kids learn to make friends and gossip about enemies. Where they learn to evade bullies. Where they learn to shrug off slights with dignity.

As we grow older, we forget many of those lessons. Or, we water them down. We want to be taken seriously as adults, so we disdain the social tricks that have proven valuable to generations of kids.

For example, we learn to gloat in smug silence when we outdo our competitors or when that jerk in the next cubicle makes a costly mistake. What we'd like to do, of course, is to call out: "Hahahahaha. I win, I win. Neener, neener, neener." But that's not how serious adults act.

We might be better off if we let that inner child go out to play more often. Maybe we're missing something by keeping those playground taunts and tactics bottled up inside. Some examples:

--Are any two words more chilling than "I'm telling?" Try it the next time you catch co-workers filching office supplies or competitors violating federal regulations. See if they don't shape up immediately.

--Remember picking teams on the playground? Was anything more humiliating than being the uncoordinated geek who was chosen last? You can turn that around in your career life. Pick the geek first. He'll be your salvation when the computers go down.

--When your boss is handing out assignments, be the quickest to say, "Not it."

--Turn aside insults by using those old favorites, "Sticks and stones . . . " or "I'm rubber and you're glue . . . " They might not defuse an angry confrontation, but they're better than gunfire.

--Hum background music as you go through your workday, the way boys provide action soundtracks to their playground heroism. When you finish a task, go for the crescendo: "Da-dum-da-dum-ta-DAAAH!" Your coworkers will love it. Really.

--If an irate colleague tries to corner you, sprint away while yelling over your shoulder, "You ca-a-an't catch me."

--Also effective: "You can't make me." (You should have another job lined up before trying that one on your boss, however.)

Maybe you're saying to yourself about now: "Hey, there's a reason I put aside all this kid stuff. My job is important, and it requires me to act like a grown-up. I want to be taken seriously."

To which I reply: "Haha, you're an adult. You don't get to play. Neener, neener, neener."


Miraculously, it doesn't turn your fingers orange

A Missouri woman has found Jesus in a bag of Cheetos.

Kelly Ramey of High Ridge bought a bag of the snacks at a local convenience store and was stunned to find a prize inside: A Cheeto shaped like Christ on the cross. Full story here.

Extra points: She's keeping the holy Cheeto in a safe deposit box.

Double extra points: Her husband calls it "Cheesus." He will be going to Hell.

Air traffic

Don't listen to the pundits, pollsters or politicians. If you want to take the pulse of the American populace, go sit in an airport for a few hours.

That's right, an airport. I've spent a lot of time in airports in recent years, and I'm here to tell you, everything you want to know you can hear right there in the crowded corridors and boring boarding areas. That's because everyone in the place is yakking on a cell phone.

You needn't strain to eavesdrop on these one-sided conversations. Most cell phone users seem to believe the following maxim: The smaller the phone, the louder you must talk.

From my airport visits, I've learned that the American people are extremely interested in:

--Business and the economy. Everywhere you turn, people are conducting business on their cell phones. They speak in a strange argot about arcane products, but they all seem to be desperately selling something. The shakier the economy, the louder and more desperate they become.

One sweaty businessman sounded as if he said, "Tell them we'll deliver 350 eunuchs." That pricked up my ears. Then, as I listened further, I realized he was saying units, not eunuchs. Units of what? I never determined. Perhaps units of eunuchs.

--Their own place in the world. Most airport phone conversations begin like this: "Hey. I'm at the airport." This is said with a certain smug satisfaction, as if the person on the other end of the line harbored some hope that the plane wouldn't make it safely to the ground, and the caller is pleased to disappoint.

--Their own convenience. The second most-popular topic after "I'm at the airport" is the traveler's struggle to get this far. Delayed flights, missed connections, lost luggage and $7 sandwiches all dominate these conversations. From the epic retellings of these travails, you'd think we travelers were being forced to tow that 747 through the skies ourselves. The truth is that we're simply required to sit still, either on a plane or in an airport. But we manage to inflate the experience so that every blip in the schedule is an "ordeal" worthy of the Iditarod.

--The weather. We love talking about the weather, wherever we are. During one springtime trip, I was trying to read when a guy sat down next to me, dialed up his phone, and reported that he was at the airport. Then he said, "It was snowing in Denver! Can you believe it? This time of year?"

He went on like that for, oh, four hours. Just when I was thinking I'd have to stick a carry-on bag down his throat, he hung up. Then he immediately placed another call. Apparently the person he called was hard of hearing because he repeated every line thusly:

"It was snowing in Denver!"


"Can you believe it?"

"CAN you BELIEVE it?"

I closed my book and moved to a different gate. Better to miss my flight than to risk yet another manslaughter charge.

Every conversation I overheard was some variation on the above categories. No one discussed the world's problems. No one made plans for the future (beyond when they should be picked up at the airport). No one was saving the world.

Not a single person mentioned terrorism or any resultant fear of flying.

Airports are full of the same chitchat as the rest of the country -- the weather, creature comforts, making a buck. That's what we care about.

If you want to see for yourself, go out to the airport, get yourself a $7 sandwich, sit down and listen.

Trust me. It's one "ordeal" you shouldn't miss.


No waiting

A man in Rio Vista, CA, apparently drowned while being baptized in the waters of the San Joaquin delta, authorities say. So far, the body has not been recovered.

This is Heaven's version of the express lane.

Full story here.

This is your captain, Darth Vader

Virgin Galactic today unveiled the "mothership" of its private space flight program, a four-engine plane with room in the middle where the spacecraft will fit. The craft, called White Knight Two, will undergo test flights this fall.

The idea is that the mothership will propel the spacecraft beyond the atmosphere, allowing private citizens to visit space. Though no launch dates have been set yet, more than 250 people already have paid $200,000 or put down a deposit for future flights.

No word on whether they'll get in-flight peanuts or pretzels. Cocktails will be $4. Correct change is appreciated.

Full story out of Mojave, CA, here.

Back in the saddle

We returned late last night from nearly a week in New Mexico, where we attended a splendid family reunion.

The countryside is beautiful this year -- abundant rain has turned the prairie bright green -- and the air was clean and fresh (if a little thin during my morning walks at 6,600 feet above sea level). A nice change of pace from the smoky skies that have plagued us during the forest fires here in Northern California.

Finished the week at a backyard barbecue in Albuquerque, drinking mojitos and talking books with witty friends. Doesn't get much better than that.

Now, it's laundry and groceries and catching up e-mail. I'll post something fun later today. Stay tuned.


And my seat cushion is a flotation device

I was eating a "fun-size" Milky Way bar when I noticed this on the label: "May Contain Peanuts."

Dude. If a Milky Way contains peanuts, it's a Snickers.


Boom, you're older

We Baby Boomers have always embraced youthfulness, but it's becoming harder to cling to it with each passing year. Despite all our efforts to look young and stay in shape, we're losing our grip.

Of course, we won't admit it. We're a nation of Peter Pans, muttering "I'll never grow up" all the way to the grave.

This attitude results in such nonsense as a recent magazine headline that said, "Sixty is the new 40." Apparently, we can treat aging as a fashion statement, like saying, "Brown is the new black," when we all know black is black and brown is brown and our hair would be gray if we didn't touch it up.

"Middle age" has become a moving target. Nobody wants to go past middle age because that would mean admitting that we're over the hill, being dragged downward by gravity until we reach six feet under. So we Baby Boomers simply push back the process, declaring that we're not "old" until we're past, say, 106.

Now that the youngest of the Baby Boomers have passed 40, however, perhaps it's time to take another look at aging and its symptoms. You're getting older if:

--The hair that once resided on top of your head has relocated to unseemly neighborhoods, such as your ears, nose or back.

--You have to sit down to see which shoes you're wearing.

--Everyone you meet in your daily life -- doctor, dentist, barber, business associates, plastic surgeon, personal trainer -- seems younger than you. (I recently was on a plane where the flight crew was introduced as "Captain Chad and Co-pilot Jason." I'm sorry, but those names belong to people riding skateboards, not piloting airplanes. This made me a very nervous passenger, but Chad did fine until the landing, which was "radical, dude.")

--In clothing, you surrender style for comfort. Think Birkenstocks rather than spike heels. Think "relaxed fit." Think "elastic."

--You're more concerned with bifocals than with biceps.

--You prefer music that's "soothing" rather than music that "ROCKS."

--You spill on yourself when you eat. (All my garments seem to bear ketchup stains. I'll soon be out of "nice" clothes. They're dropping like fries.)

--You prefer to watch sports rather than participate in them. Ideally, you can watch these sports without leaving the comfort of your sofa and nearby refrigerator.

--You think golf is a sport.

--You hire someone to do the sweaty physical labor in your yard, so you have more time to "jog."

--You pursue no activity that bears the risk of physical injury. Or, if you do, you approach it with careful deliberation. (This is why senior citizens drive so slowly.) And yet you're always hurting yourself some way.

--When reading a newspaper, you turn first to the stock market pages and the obituaries. And groan over them both.

--One word: Prunes.

--You spend an inordinate amount of time fretting over your teeth.

--Your train of thought has left the station. You sometimes have trouble thinking of the right, uh, you know, um, WORD. You spend several minutes a day standing motionless, asking yourself, "Why did I come in here?"

--The only bad habit you have left is boasting about how you gave up all your bad habits.

If these symptoms sound like you, then you're probably middle-aged, at least. But don't worry, you don't have to get old. We're all in this together. We Boomers will keep stretching out the middle to encompass all of us.

Remember: Eighty is the new 40. Or, maybe it's twice as good. Or something. I can't remember. Why did I come in here again?


Grin and bare feet

My son came home from school one day, and I met him at the door as I usually do, asking about his day and his bus ride and what homework needed to be done.

He looked me up and down, lingering at my feet, then asked, "Why do you have shoes on?"

An odd question, you might think, made even odder by the note of suspicion in his voice, as if I were up to something because I was wearing shoes.

But in the context of our household, the question made perfect sense. My sons know I work at home all day, and they know I usually do it in bare feet. If I'm wearing shoes, it means I'm either going somewhere or just coming home from somewhere, and the boy's natural curiosity makes him wonder.

(Our dog knows about my bare feet, too. He gets excited every time I put on my sneakers because he thinks it means we're going on a W-A-L-K. Sorry, but we have to spell it out. If you say "the W-word" within in his earshot, he gallops to the front door and spins in excited circles. Disappointing him makes him mope.)

To me, going barefoot is one of the joys of working in a home office, right up there with avoiding neckties and hanging up on telemarketers. But going around unshod is yet one more way that I'm set apart from other dads. Most dads go off to work in wingtips or brogans or steel-toed boots. For the kids at my house, "Men at Work" equates to "No Shoes."

It only gets worse in summer. Warm weather means shorts and T-shirts for me, along with the bare feet. I look like one of the contestants on "Survivor."

My kids have accepted this. Not that they've had much choice. I've worked at home for years now. They can barely remember when Dad went off to a real job.

If asked, they say that having me working at home is "cool." But then, that's what they say about everything that's even moderately acceptable. And it's what they say when grown-ups ask. For all I know, they tell their friends something completely different:

"Why's your dad home all day?"

"He works at home. He's a telemarketer."

Or: "He can't go out. He's got mental problems."

Or: "He used to have a job. But then he started going around barefoot all the time and they fired him."

I wouldn't put any of the above past my boys. They'll flat-out lie to their friends if they can get a cheap laugh out of it. I don't know where they get such behavior.

Overall, though, I think they truly like having a stay-at-home dad. There's almost always someone at home when they arrive from school, or in the event of an emergency. Dad's usually available to drive them places. They get out of a lot of chores because I'm at home all day, taking care of things. Their favorite clothes are regularly laundered. There's usually food in the house.

Of course, there's always the downside. Having one parent at home -- the neurotic, barefoot one, no less -- means they can't get away with as much as they might if they were latch-key kids.
They know Dad's there at the house, keeping an eye on the clock. If they stray too far or show up too late, he'll come looking for them.

And then they'll be in big trouble. Because it meant Dad had to put on his shoes.


Roasted nuts

Two California men have been sentenced to jail time for a drunken practical joke: They set fire to their buddy's crotch.

Authorities said the three were drinking together on Grover Beach back in January when Elliot Tuleja passed out. His friends (or should we say former friends) poured cologne on his crotch and set it ablaze. He suffered second-degree burns in about the worst possible place a man can suffer burns.

Full story here.

Traveling shoes

I'm traveling this week, so posts may be a little spottier than usual. Keep checking in.

It wouldn't kill you to click on a Google Ad while you're here. No, it would not. ;-)



Today's home-improvement tip: If you want to get rid of ants and other insect pests, fire is probably not the way to go.

Just ask the guy in New Haven, CT, who set "a small fire" outside the corner of his apartment building to get rid of bugs. He thought the fire was extinguished (along with, presumably, the bugs) until the fire climbed up a wall and ignited his apartment.

Full story here.

First, there was the Ped Egg . . .

Now, a salon in the Washington, D.C., area is using tiny "doctor fish" to nibble away the calluses and dead skin from clients' feet. The fish (and related soaking) soften up the skin so a regular pedicure works better, the salon owners say.

Customers say the nibbling by the toothless fish is "a little ticklish."

Full story (with photo) here.


Caped crusaders

American males, particularly those in Washington, D.C., often are accused of taking a simplistic worldview, one of "good guys vs. bad guys" or "us vs. them."

Where does this naïve attitude come from? Comic books.

We grew up heavily influenced by comic books, in which it's not just heroes vs. villains, but superheroes vs. archvillains, and it's always easy to tell the difference. Good guys wear form-fitting tights and have secret identities. Bad guys want to rule the world and they sneer a lot.

As kids, we comic book readers knew we could become superheroes ourselves by knotting one end of a bath towel around our necks. Once we had this "cape," we could do anything, including "fly" around the house until our mothers screeched that we were driving them crazy with "that whooshing noise."

Guys yearn for those simpler times, which is why full-grown men spend actual money to sit in movie theaters for turkeys like "Daredevil" and "The Hulk." And why we still need to make archvillains out of our enemies.

Why not embrace this simplistic thinking? It might give an easier "read" on people. In your workplace or neighborhood, you can find folks who need only a caped uniform to show off their super abilities. And, you'll find plenty of sneerers who belong in the other category.

I, for instance, work alone at home and spend much of each day playing cards with my computer. This would make my secret identity Solitary Man. (Quick, think of something else before that Neil Diamond song sticks in your head all day. Whoops, too late! Sorry.)

As a lone writer, my special ability is making things up out of thin air. Only my positive outlook and the occasional paycheck separate me from my evil counterpart, Liar Man.

Superheroes often have multiple abilities -- they can fly AND they're more powerful than a locomotive AND they can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Villains tend to be one-dimensional, which is understandable considering they're probably getting killed off in the next issue anyway.

So, a hero named Paper Boy can ride a bicycle like the wind AND throw newspapers into shrubs AND demand a tip at Christmas, whereas someone named Blabbermouth is almost certain to be a bad guy.

Soccer Mom combines fertility with driving skills AND incredible scheduling powers. Yard Man can generate incredible amounts of noise while making your own property look crappy in comparison. That guy who can't stop talking about his job? Company Man. Your nosy neighbor? Snooperman, of course.

I'm sure you can think up plenty of these yourself. Come on, it's fun! It is so, dammit.

Here are a few workplace superheroes to get you started:

--Yesman. With the big "Y" on his chest and his agreeable nature, this superhero can shoot right up the corporate ladder.

--Sales Woman. Able to smile and look you right in the eye while simultaneously calculating profit margin and gullibility.

--Stuporman. Has the amazing ability to sit at the same desk, doing the same tasks, year after year.

--Wondering Woman. The boss who never demands anything. Instead, she says, "I wonder if you could . . . "

--Webmaster. Every computer nerd's favorite. Faithful sidekick is Reboot Boy.

--Hindsight Man. With his ability to see only backward, this superhero is never wrong.

--Gossipmonger. Knows everything about everybody, but is often wrong. His kid sister is Whispering Girl.

--Bigbossman. Can loudly intimidate and "downsize" while drinking his lunch.

And don't forget the one-dimensional villains: Backstabber, Goldbricker, Bootlicker, Ms. Cliché, Odiferous Man, Whippersnapper. The list goes on and on.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go find my bath towel.



Trashy story

Is there anything in the world that would get you to paw through a heap of smelly garbage at a big city landfill? No? How about a pair of $20,000 diamond earrings that were accidentally thrown out?

As reported here, Staten Island, NY, jeweler Haya Sharon, her husband and a crew of sanitation workers sifted through trash, looking for a small jar of cleaning solution that contained the earrings. In what Sharon is calling a miracle, they found them.

Extra points: The earrings were an anniversary gift from her husband. Sentimental value, etc.

TV or not TV

In our "15 minutes of fame" world, most of us will get an opportunity, at some point in our lives, to be on television. I'm here to tell you: Given this opportunity, you should go sit in a dark closet until the urge passes.

We're such a TV-oriented society that the prospect of appearing on the small screen tends to make us, as a people, stupid. Look at the idiots jumping around in the background of any "live" news disaster, mouthing "Hi, Mom." Or, watch any episode of "Fear Factor," where people eat worms while skydiving through fire, just so they can be on TV.

Since one of my life goals is to stop being stupid in public, I made it well into middle age before appearing on TV as anything more than a face in a crowd. But I recently succumbed to the television infection.

What made me do it? I was trying to promote my books. In the current publishing climate, desperate authors will do anything to sell books, including eating worms while skydiving through fire. Or, in my case, appearing on a midday talk show in a market so small, there may have been more people in the studio, operating cameras, than were watching at home.

I confess I was nervous. I spent two decades as a newspaper reporter and, therefore, carry around many prejudices about the people who work in TV "news." Newspaper people tend to believe their TV competitors are shallow, egotistical poopheads.

But I discovered that TV people really are a sensitive lot who devote their lives to helping others. Kidding! While there may be TV people who fall into the "sensitive" category, the ones I encountered were -- surprise! -- shallow, egotistical poopheads.

Here's how they prepared me and the other guests on that day's program: They pinned microphones on us and had us count out loud.

That's it. No pep talks, no prepared questions, no deep breathing exercises. We didn't even get any make-up, so all the guests looked like pasty terminal patients next to the hosts, who'd been hosed in Liquid Tan.

When the cameras were not rolling, the TV professionals so thoroughly ignored us guests that I began to worry that I'd become invisible. Each time we returned from a commercial break, a new guest would be in the "hot seat" and the hosts would feign extreme interest in what the guest said, until they couldn't stand it anymore and had to interrupt with their own personal anecdotes, a la Regis Philbin. This usually took 2.7 seconds.

As I anxiously took the guest chair during a commercial, the young-enough-to-be-my-daughter director asked, "Are any of your books inspired by something that happened to you in real life?" Since my fiction tends to be about murder and bank robbery, I had to say, "No." She looked disappointed.

Three-two-one, we're live on TV. The smiling co-host introduces me and asks her first question: "Are any of your books inspired by something that happened to you in real life?"

Let's say I didn't respond well. Other questions followed, but I have no idea what they were or how I answered. I was too busy kicking myself for being on TV in the first place.

(I do remember that the other co-host told a personal anecdote about how he once read a book. It wasn't one of mine.)

As soon as the talk show was over, I kicked myself all the way home and hid in a dark closet until the humiliation passed. I swore to never be on television again.

Why? Because I looked stupid in public. Because it embarrassed me. Because I'm certain it didn't help me sell any books.

Worst of all, because I forgot to say, "Hi, Mom."


High alert

Today's tip for drug smugglers comes from right here in Shasta County, CA: If you're carrying 30 pounds of heroin in a secret compartment in the rear bumper of your car, it's really important that you not get pulled over on a routine traffic stop on Interstate 5.

Extra points: The driver was stopped for tailgating.

Double extra points: He panicked and fled on foot, causing the whole north end of Redding to become a hunting zone for the cops.

Developing story here.

By the numbers

Many of us who work at home feel we must constantly prove our worth, especially to our spouses who have real jobs.

On a rational level, we know our spouses appreciate the work we do around the house and the daily struggle of our home-based careers and the importance of having a parent home with the kids. But there's a deeper emotional need to make them believe we're working really, really hard here at home and not goofing off all day, as some might suspect.

A simple question in the evening -- "How was your day?" -- stirs a regular corporate report from us work-at-home types. We reel off the numbers: clients served, phone calls made, miles driven, hours spent on chores, etc.

Surely, this isn't what the spouse wants to hear, but we feel compelled to recite these dry business statistics, just to prove we didn't spend the day watching reruns of "The Newlywed Game."

Wouldn't it be easier if we had a standard Daily Progress Report? We could fill in a few blanks, then just hand it over when the spouse arrives home. That would get all the numbers out of the way, clearing the evening for in-depth discussions of other matters, such as what to watch on TV.

Here's a sample of such a report. Feel free to make copies for your own use.


It's been yet another productive day here at corporate headquarters. For the benefit of spouses and other shareholders, we've compiled the following executive summary to show where this household's been and where it's going.

Earnings: Actual earnings from the home-based business were ___ today. However, future earnings look good because ___ clients promised "the check is in the mail."

Debts: New debts accrued today were ___. We had a one-time writeoff against income of ___ because of (circle one or more) medical/dental/plumbing/automotive emergencies. Also, we had the regular business expense of ___ for groceries to feed these damn kids.

Productivity/Corporate: In a very busy day, we here at headquarters made ___ important business calls, signed ___ new contracts, spent ___ hours on developing new projects and ___ hours on ongoing projects. On the down side, ___ hours were wasted playing computer games.

Productivity/Household: The following chores were completed: ___ loads of laundry, ___ meals prepared, ___ rooms cleaned, ___ toilets scrubbed, ___ hours of lawn care, and ___ miles driven. More would've been accomplished in this sector, but the children demanded ___ hours of attention.

Performance of future assets: Today, ___ of our children were expelled or suspended from school, ___ misbehaved and ___ refused to help around the house. It may be time for the shareholders to face down this challenge with a united front, before the children launch a hostile takeover bid. On the plus side, ___ children achieved Honor Roll or similar accomplishment. See addendum.

Growth potential: It's difficult to see into the future, but we believe there's room for growth, both on the corporate and household fronts. For the home-based business, there's nowhere to go but up! As for the household balance sheet, please remember: It is only ___ years until the children move away, taking with them a large drain on our resources. By then, we will have ___ years until age 65, so we'll need to save ___ per year to compile enough assets for a retirement that doesn't center on cat food. Which means we'd better see some growth. In a hurry.

Immediate projections: We here at headquarters feel confident that tomorrow will be a better day, with an increase in earnings and an overall rise in productivity.

And we'll have the numbers to prove it.


Snakes in a drain

A woman in Maine got a big surprise as she was unloading her washing machine -- an 8-foot-long python mixed up with the wet clothes.

Authorities believe the snake was an escaped or abandoned pet that somehow found its way into the house's water pipes and ended up in the washer. The snake was removed by an animal damage control expert who wore welding gloves.

The homeowner says she's a little flinchy now about doing the laundry.

Full story here.

Get a grip

Sometimes, when working around the house -- doing plumbing repairs or tuning cars or skinning game -- you'll find you simply must have an extra set of hands.

You need someone to hold a stake while you hit it with a hammer. Or someone to point a flashlight. Or someone to steady a metal pipe while you strip its threads.

Parents often enlist their children for this help, but the results of such collaborations are mixed, at best. Let's look at the positives and negatives of using your kids as that extra pair of hands:

The Positives:

--You can get the job done when it might be impossible without assistance.

--Children learn from watching you, and one day might attempt similar tasks themselves.

--Kids become familiar with tools.

--A successful undertaking can raise you in the children's estimation because they'll see you as "competent." For a change.

--Working on a project together provides that all-important "quality time" with your children.

The Negatives:

--Children learn from watching you, and one day might attempt similar tasks themselves. You don't need your 10-year-old trying to fix a toilet, unless you want an indoor swimming pool.

--Kids become familiar with tools. They'll regularly "borrow" from your toolbox. Your tools will go missing. Forever.

--An unsuccessful undertaking proves you're just as incompetent as they always thought.

--Working on a project together gives the child an opportunity to learn many new cusswords when things go wrong. When these words are repeated at school, the parent will be blamed.

While some children are natural grease monkeys who can't wait to get started, most kids don't want to be recruited as extra hands. They're too busy playing video games.

To escape such recruitment, children develop a "learned helplessness" to frustrate parents. For example, a dad who's working under a car may ask the child to stand nearby and hand him tools. The resulting conversation goes like this:

"Hand me that socket wrench."

"Here you go."

"That's a regular wrench. I need the socket wrench."

"Oops. Okay, here."

"That's a crescent wrench. I said socket wrench, socket wrench."

"My bad. Here."

"A monkey wrench? What's the matter with you? Are you on drugs? Why not just hand me a hammer?"

"Here you go."

"I didn't really want a hammer. I want that bleepity-bleep socket wrench that's lying right there at your bleeping feet!"

Eventually, all the tools are under the car with Dad, within easy reach. He doesn't need that extra set of hands anymore. He tells the child, "I hear your mother calling you."

Sometimes, the helplessness is not learned; it just comes naturally. When I was a kid, my father regularly worked on our cars. My job was to "hold the light." I'd point the flashlight right where he showed me. But holding the light is boring. My attention would wander, as would the flashlight beam. Dad spent more time yelling about the light than doing actual repairs.

Invariably, after an hour or so, he'd hear my mother calling.

(There was also that time when I was behind the wheel and he was under the hood and he said, "Wait," and I thought he said, "Hit it," and I cranked the ignition and the engine fan nearly cut off his arm. But that's another story.)

In conclusion, parents should think twice about involving kids in household projects. The results might not be worth the headaches.

One exception should be noted: If the repair involves a computer, you should immediately put the nearest teen-ager in charge. Teens know more about computers than you do. Trust me.

You can always hold the light.


Um, hold the blade, please

A man in New York City claims he found a surprise in his Subway foot-long -- a knife blade baked into the bun.

John Agnesini, 27, says he noticed the seven-inch-long serrated blade in the part of the sandwich he was about to bite into. He said he suffered "severe stomach issues" from food poisoning from the blade.

Now we know how that TV ad guy Jared lost all that weight.

Full story here.

The case for justifiable homicide

An Arizona man has been arrested for cutting down a power pole last summer, causing 4,000 homes to lose electricity on a day when the temperature reached 115 degrees.

David Limas, 26, told police he cut down the pole because he liked the sparks it made when it fell.

Full story here.

Now we know why the cookies are irresistible

Authorities in Indiana discovered a marijuana plantation growing on a remote area of Girl Scout camp. As reported here, state troopers spotted about 5,000 plants during a flyover of the swampy area. Three alleged pot farmers were arrested.

We here in verdant Northern California know what to call those evil marijuana farmers: Amateurs.


Hey, boo-boo

A runaway bear broke through the glass doors of a Circuit City in Colorado Springs, CO, but a second set of doors stymied his attempt to go shopping for electronics.

The bear had been up a tree in a nearby residential area, but authorities used a firehose to knock him off his perch. The bear fled to Circuit City, where security video captured him crashing through the glass doors. The bear "head-butted" the second set of doors and pawed at them, but only managed to make a few cracks before fleeing again.

The bear was last seen trotting toward Best Buy.

Real story here.

House abuse

A new home is the biggest investment most of us make in our lifetimes, yet we regularly let others slash its value, right under our very noses.

I'm speaking here, of course, of our children.

We wouldn't let our kids play around with our stock certificates or our banking paperwork, but we let them run amok in our houses, doing so much long-term damage, we'll be lucky to make our money back when it comes time to sell.

Yes, the children have to live somewhere. And, yes, they're our responsibility, at least for the first 18 to 27 years. And yes, they don't mean to wreck the place and diminish its resale value.
But accidents happen: Boot holes in sheetrock. Bloodstains on carpet. Ceiling fans pulled out of their fittings by "Tarzan." Exploded toilets. The occasional small fire.

Turn some kids loose in your home and it will be transformed from a domestic showplace into a scuffed, scratched, soda-saturated dump faster than you can say "Martha Stewart." And your investment will be ruined.

Such damage has been much on my mind since we moved to a nearly-new house a few years ago. Our previous homes had been battle-scarred veterans that were well past retirement age. Perfect places, really, for rearing two boys. What was another spill, another chip in the plaster? It gave the house "character."

(This fit with our evolving philosophy on furnishings as well. Before the boys were born, we liked old cabinetry and rickety tables, items picked up in antique shops. But once we had kids, our house became the Place Where Antiques Go to Die. We wised up, and started buying heavy-duty furniture, stuff that could take a beating, with upholstery that would disguise spills and other forms of "character.")

But our latest house came to us in pristine condition, which meant I became a nervous wreck.
Our sons ran through the house, wrestling and crashing and throwing things, all the while dripping chocolate ice cream on the beige carpet, and I anxiously scurried along behind them, begging them to be careful.

The boys call such rambunctious behavior "horseplay." I see it as undercutting our investment.
Look, I tell them, we won't live in this house forever. Given the vagaries of career relocations and the yo-yo real estate market, we'll eventually sell the place. If nothing else, we parents will want something smaller when they go off to college. All of us must take care of the current house so that, someday, we'll get our investment to pay off.

My sons listen carefully to these explanations, nodding along, agreeing with every word. Then they race off to the other end of the house, crashing and wrestling, juggling ice cream and setting small fires.

I try to ignore the noise, but then I'll hear a loud thud against a wall. Or the violent slamming of a cabinet door. Or the thunder of oversized sneakers and the lightning of malicious laughter. Or the startling clank of a dropped toilet seat.

(Why, oh why, must they always slam the toilet seat? Are they mad at it?)

I'm on my feet in a flash, hustling to the other end of the house to put a stop to the playful destruction. The boys will pronounce me "no fun," but they'll halt their house abuse. Then I can go back to the sofa, confident I've protected our investment. Until the next thud/crash/clank/slam.

I'll definitely need to invest in a smaller place by the time the kids go off to college. I think they call it a "padded cell."


Probably not hitchhiking

Police in North Carolina are searching for a man who was reported missing June 26. John "Jack" Fielden, 57, was described as standing 5-foot-5 and weighing about 150 pounds. Also, authorities said, he is missing both his thumbs.

Full story here.

Guess he won't read this

Republican presidential candidate John McCain must not worry too much about sounding antiquated. He told the New York Times here that he doesn't know how to log onto the Internet and gets his wife or aides do it for him when he wants to read something online.

He also said he's never used e-mail and has "never felt the particular need to e-mail."

That's okay. I've never felt the particular need to use a quill pen.

Gas bagged

Today's tip for budding criminal masterminds: When stealing gasoline from a parked car, it's really better if the car isn't an undercover police vehicle. Parked outside the cop's house. While the cop is home.

Two teens in Dover, DE, were arrested after a neighbor alerted the policeman to the theft under way outside.

Extra points: One of the teens sped away in his vehicle, dragging the cop for a good distance before eventually being captured following a high-speed chase.

Double extra points: Once he was caught, the teen gave up his partner -- who had escaped on foot -- by providing police with his cell phone number. They called and persuaded the other kid to turn himself in.

Full story here.


Waking dead

Here's a statement you rarely hear a young person make: "I slept wrong."

The average college kid can pass out at 3 a.m., sprawled over a beer keg, naked, one leg bent at a 120-degree angle, both arms tucked firmly under his back, and his nose packed full of shaving cream that's slowly hardening into concrete. He'll bounce up from this night of hazing and raucous behavior, after snoozing for 12 straight hours, and he'll be fresh as a daisy. Ask him how he slept, and he'll say, "Great!"

"Sleeping wrong" is the province of us older folks, the ones in middle age and beyond. I can turn in for the night at 9 p.m., spend the next eight hours in perfect sleeping conditions, and still wake up looking and moving like the Elephant Man.

I stumble into the kitchen, desperate for coffee, all my joints creaking, my body wracked by mysterious pains, my hair plastered into a rooster's comb, and the conversation goes like this:

Wife: "My God, what happened to you?"

Me: "I slept wrong."

The paradox here is that those of us who are older have had much more practice at sleeping. Years and years of it. We should be darned good at it by now. But, once in a while, we "sleep wrong" anyway, and we awaken to find the evidence. Aches and pains. One leg suddenly shorter than the other. One whole side of the body flattened like the bottom of a Hershey's Kiss.

We need the sleep more than youngsters do. Dozens of studies have shown that American adults go around sleep-deprived all the time. We're too busy to spend enough time in bed. And, once we're there, worries and physical ailments and nightmares and snoring interfere with proper rest. Add in the occasional night of "sleeping wrong" and it's no wonder we're a nation of zombies.

I expect sleep-deprivation to soon become a popular defense strategy in court, right up there with insanity.

Judge: "Sir, you mowed down 17 people with your car before whamming into a light pole. Officers on the scene said you were babbling, unable to control your bodily functions and your hair looked funny. How do you plead?"

Defendant: "I slept wrong."

Judge: "Oh. OK, you're free to go. Try to get some rest."

Sadly, scientists report that sleep problems get worse the older you get. Each passing year makes correct sleeping more difficult. By the time you're in your 80s, there's no point even going to bed.

We in middle age do everything we can to avoid "sleeping wrong." We buy the most comfortable beds, set the household temperature just right, block out all light and noise, try to erase troubling thoughts from our minds. But somewhere along the way, we make a mistake. And, having "slept wrong," we spend all day trying to recuperate and fervently praying that the next night will go better.

Young people, on the other hand, can sleep most anywhere, anytime, including during classes, underwater or while standing up. It's just not fair.

When my sons were younger, they would sometimes sleep on the rock-hard floor "for fun." They'd build a nest of blankets and linens, splay out over some randomly placed pillows, and get a wonderful night of sleep. I think they were showing off.

When I'd find them sleeping peacefully on the floor, I was so envious I was tempted to wake them in some vicious way -- banging pans together like cymbals, ice water, a swift kick.

Child abuse, you say? No problem. I'd just tell the judge, "I slept wrong."


Pass the cash

Politicians in Iraq have started handing out cash to passing citizens as a way to persuade the masses that the government really is working to restore the country's economy and social order.

Seems crazy, right? Politicians in this country would never get away with such a thing. It's not like they would send $600 to every taxpayer just to pump up the economy so they could look good in advance of the next election--

What? Oh. Never mind.

Full story from Iraq is here.

Extra points: The Iraqi politicos make sure to get each beneficiary to sign a receipt.

Up in his grille

The life of an 18-year-old apparently was saved by the braces on his teeth.

Police say Anthony Pittman was hit in the mouth by a .45-caliber bullet during a gun battle in Pontiac, MI. The bullet was fragmented by the metal braces, the officers said. Pittman was in critical condition, but still alive.

Investigators are still trying to determine exactly what prompted the shootout. Bullet casings from three different guns were found at the scene.


Dog food

The Chinese government has ordered official Olympics restaurants to take dog meat off the menu during next month's games, so tourists won't get offended. Other restaurants were instructed to "patiently" discourage customers from ordering dog dishes. Full story here.

Patient waiter: "Sorry, sir. For now, no moo goo gai pup."

Cubicle curs

By now, you've no doubt heard about the expensive new mixed-breed dogs that are taking the world by storm.

People are paying top dollar for the Labradoodle (Labrador/poodle cross), the schnoodle (schnauzer/poodle mix), the dorgi (dachshund/corgi) and the cockapoo (cocker spaniel/poodle).
Buyers are attracted to such mixes because they have the best properties of the original breeds, such as the poodle's allergy-friendly curly fur, and because mixed-breeds tend to be healthier.

I'm a big fan of mutts. Our family dog, Elvis, is a sheepdog/deerhound mix. (What would the clever breeders call that? Sheephound? Sheepdeerdoodle?) He's the best dog ever. Long-legged, smart, shaggy, friendly. Looks kind of like a giant schnoodle.

We got Elvis at an animal shelter, rather than pay a breeder thousands of dollars. Which just raises his worth, in my estimation.

Since I work at home, Elvis is my co-worker. He spends all day sleeping in my home office, staying handy in case of an emergency, such as spilled food. He never disturbs me, never tries to horn in on my successes and will gladly take the blame for my failures, especially if I spill some food while I'm ranting. He's the perfect colleague.

The trend of "hot" mixed-breed dogs got me to thinking: Maybe it would be possible to classify co-workers the same way, focusing on the best or worst of particular types. Here are some possibilities:

--Overdoodles. These are great co-workers because they gladly shoulder the load, producing twice as much as their colleagues. Unfortunately, this breed tends to be short-lived.

--Snickerdoodles. Co-workers with funny laughs. Once they get started, they can't stop. Such laughter is contagious, and can boost morale.

--Hairdoodles. These workers spend most of the day tending their elaborate hairdos, while others do the actual work. Recognizable by their curly fur, and by mirrors placed strategically near their desks. Closely related to two other mixes, Manicurgis and Shampoos.

--Doodledoodles. Workers who pour all their energies into idly drawing in the margins of important reports and business plans.

--Coldbricks. These cross-breeds waste all day complaining that the office thermostat is set wrong. Prone to wearing sweaters.

--Schnoozers. Workers who frequently fall asleep at their desks. Also known as Napoodles.

--Perdiemdoodles. These colleagues are the masters of the expense account. Usually found "out to lunch" or away on pricey business trips to, say, Hawaii.

--Garfieldoodles. Co-workers who decorate their desks with cartoons and other "cute" items. This breed tends to be friendly, if rarely effective.

--Borgis. This long-winded breed puts fellow workers to sleep with epic recountings of summer vacations and after-work shenanigans.

--Canoodles. Office-romance types. Look for them in the supply room where they often, er, breed.

--Dorschtop. Rarely does anything beyond taking up space. They're so inert, you might not even know they're present unless you stub your toe on one.

--Nerdoodles. High-tech types who have trouble relating to other breeds. They're born with pocket protectors, which explains their alternative name, Kangaroodles.

--Schmokers. Hard to find because they're usually outside somewhere, puffing away. Another short-lived breed.

--Boohoodles. Temperamental types, prone to bursting into tears when they don't get their way. Can often be traced by the trail of Kleenex they leave behind.

--Poopoos. A crass, unruly breed that often distracts colleagues with "bathroom humor." To be avoided.

--Snapoos. Ill-tempered breed recognized by incessant barking and occasional backbiting. Quick to rage and difficult to please, Snapoos often are found in management positions.

--Whatchadoodles. An inquisitive breed known to waste the workday asking colleagues what they're up to.

--Noodledoodles. Dreamy types who spend hours "noodling" ideas that never amount to anything. Also known as "columnists."


Moo news

The folks at Chick-fil-a offered free meals on Friday to customers who showed up at any of the national chain's "food" outlets dressed as cows. This is part of the chain's "Eat Mor Chikin" advertising campaign, which features cows. Details here.

If you have a cow suit lying around the house, what to have for lunch on Friday might not be your biggest problem.

E.T. lodestone

Business must've slowed at the 1947 Roswell Incident museum and other alien-related attractions in Roswell, NM, because they've found a new artifact to stir things up.

As you can read here: Local man reports finding a strange rock carved with moons and stars similar to those in a box of Lucky Charms. The two-inch-wide rock also has weird magnetic properties.

Extra points: The hunter who found the rock kept it in his safe deposit box for three years before telling anybody about it.


Ducking the stress

We all know stress can be a killer, but too little research focuses on the minor stresses of everyday life.

Yes, life catastrophes are stressful and our sympathies go out to anyone facing serious medical problems or divorce or any of the other "biggies" in the world of stress. But scientists give all their attention to the health effects of these major stressors, while ignoring the seemingly minor irritations that accumulate like hairline cracks in a dam.

Car trouble or parenthood or even burnt toast first thing in the morning can set your whole day on its ear, and can produce enough stress to shave years off your life.

This insidious everyday stress builds to a cumulative effect that researchers call "being nibbled to death by ducks."

Allow me to illustrate from a typical evening hour at our house. The tranquil domestic scene: Dad's watching a basketball game on TV. Mom's busy at the computer. Two sons and the dog play the roles of the ducks.

Dad's schedule goes like this:

7 p.m. -- Stop watching game to let dog out. Return to sofa.

7:03 p.m. -- Jump up and answer phone. It's for son No. 1.

7:06 p.m. -- Let the dog back in.

7:09 p.m. -- Jump up to check out funny noise being produced by toilet.

7:12 p.m. -- Return to sofa with no solution to toilet issue.

7:14 p.m. -- Get up to answer other phone. It's for son No. 2. Dad searches house, finds son No. 2 jumping on bed. Stern lecture must wait; son is wanted on the phone.

7:18 p.m. -- Dog brings son's dirty sock to Dad, who extricates sock from alligator-like jaws and marches to laundry room.

7:19 p.m. -- Dad tosses sock at the laundry basket. His aim isn't what it used to be. Sock bounces off rim and falls into tight space behind the clothes dryer. Dad curses.

7:19 p.m. to 7:25 p.m. -- Dad fishes behind dryer with the handle of a fly swatter, trying to snag stray sock.

7:26 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. -- Dad searches house for a particular toy -- a long handle with a grabber claw on one end -- because it's the perfect tool for sock retrieval. Sons can't be bothered to help in hunt. They're both on the phone.

7:35 p.m. -- Dad finds grabber toy, lying in plain sight. Returns to laundry room, muttering about vision and old age.

7:37 p.m. -- Dusty sock is successfully retrieved. (Victory should be a stress reliever, but …)

7:38 p.m. -- Dad throws sock at laundry basket. Sock, apparently intent on suicide, plunges
behind the dryer again.

7:39 pm. to 7:42 p.m. -- Creative cursing.

7:43 p.m. -- Repeat earlier steps to save sock. Dad carefully places it in laundry basket.

7:46 p.m. -- Dad returns to game. Finds that it's halftime. Grrr.

7:48 p.m. -- Jump up to answer phone. It's for son No. 1 again.

7:49 p.m. -- Let dog out.

7:50 p.m. -- Check toilet. Still making funny noise. More cursing.

7:53 p.m. -- Let dog in.

7:56 p.m. -- Jump up to answer phone. It's for son No. 2. Dad carries phone the length of the house to find boys feeding socks to the dog.

7:57 p.m. -- Dad clutches chest and reels around room. Sons, in unison, quack: "Look out! He's gonna blow!"

7:59 p.m. -- Mom, drawn by noise, interrupts Dad's tirade to say: "What's wrong with you? I thought you were watching the game."

8 p.m. -- Dad melts into trembling pile of protoplasm. Rest of family confused. Why is Dad so stressed?

And why does he keep raving about ducks?



In the competition to build a better mousetrap, a California woman has ruled out the .44-Magnum.

According to news reports, the 43-year-old woman drew the "Dirty Harry" revolver from her shoulder holster to shoot mice scurrying about her small travel trailer, but the gun slipped from her hand. It went off when it hit the floor and shot her in the knee.

Extra points: The bullet then sailed across the room, ricocheted off a keyring dangling from the belt of her 42-year-old companion, tore a hole in his pants and "grazed" his groin. Ouch.

Double extra points: Police recovered the spent bullet from the coin pocket of the man's pants.

Maybe the mice died laughing.

Meeting expectations

It's a common notion in the business world that "nothing gets accomplished in meetings," but that couldn't be further from the truth.

Plenty occurs in your typical business meeting. In particular, careers are ruined because participants don't know how to play the game.

No matter what your field, you eventually will be expected to "take a meeting" with your superiors or co-workers or clients. Somewhere, I'm sure, lumberjacks are forced to sit around a long table and analyze performance and profit ratios.

(Even we lowly workers who toil in home offices occasionally are summoned to headquarters or forced to pitch our ideas to customers. We tend to be ineffective in meetings because we're accustomed to working alone, muttering and cursing and wearing coffee-stained sweatpants.)

The key to a successful business meeting is to be prepared. You must know your material and how best to project it. You must know the participants and what they expect. You must make sure you don't have spinach stuck in your front teeth.

All the etiquette lessons your mother tried to teach you apply to business meetings. Since you didn't listen to your mother any more than you currently heed your boss, let's review:

--Mind your manners. Common courtesy is expected at business meetings. Don't talk over other people, no matter how slow and befuddled they seem. Don't shoot rubber bands at co-workers. Don't chew gum while meeting with a client, and never, ever stick the chewed gum to the underside of his desk.

--Know your audience and what connections lie behind the scenes. Do some research, so you know which client is a slack-jawed idiot and which ones simply look like slack-jawed idiots. Dogpile-on-the-boss'-nephew almost never works. And, how many salesmen have been ruined by referring to competitors as "Satan's spawn," only to learn the customer is married to one of those competitors?

--Avoid sweeping generalizations. For instance, don't say "golf is for morons" until you find out your client's handicap.

--Don't hog the conversation. Nobody likes a know-it-all. Give others a chance to dig their own holes of ignominy. (Note: When you witness a colleague sink his career in a meeting, it's considered impolite to snort-laugh.)

--Pay attention. No matter how long-winded your boss or how unproductive a meeting seems, it's always bad form to start leafing through magazines. Just like in school, the teacher always calls on the student who's staring out the window.

--Know the terminology. You won't make a good impression using terms like "gizmo" and "widget" unless you work for Universal Gizmos and Widgets, Inc.

--Dress appropriately. At one time, the traditional business suit was the correct uniform for all meetings. No more. Part of knowing your audience is knowing how they dress. Hollywood types, for instance, tend to dress like carpenters. Computer engineers go for the "surfer/nerd" look. If you wear a business suit to a meeting with software geeks, they will sneer and flick pizza on you.

--Be careful with jokes. "Two drunks walk into a bar…" may not seem funny to a client who's active in Alcoholics Anonymous.

--Make suggestions. If you sit silent as a stump through every meeting, co-workers will start treating you like a stump. Or, worse, the way dogs treat a stump.

--Be prepared to back down. Don't insist that your idea is the only workable one or that the boss is stupid to ignore you. Wait until you're out of the meeting, then say those things in the "safety zone" behind your manager's back.

--Stay awake. No matter what.

If you follow these simple rules, you, too, can be effective in business meetings and go on to have a successful career. Particularly if you're the boss' nephew.


Since "Darwin" is taken

News item: Thirteen people are injured during the first day of the annual "running of the bulls" in Spain.

Dear Mayor of Pamplona:

You should change the name of your city to "Moronica."

Thank you.

Why we need a border fence

Here's a news story that tells that same sad old story: A U.S. Border Patrol agent is on routine patrol in the wee hours of the morning. He approaches three suspects near the international border. The suspects attack the agent and injure him before he manages to pull his gun and get off a couple of shots. Two of the suspects are arrested and one flees across the border. How many times have we heard -- Wait a minute. The Canadian border?

Extra points: Last October, 40 people were caught trying to illegally cross the border at the same Vermont town.

Double extra points: They were trying to sneak into Canada.


Two large trailers full of bananas were stolen in Wilmington, DE, last week. The trailers were found beside a road in the Bronx, NY, but the bananas are still missing. No word on whether the trailers were recovered near the famous Bronx Zoo.

Police should be on the lookout for a burping gorilla with a satisfied smile.

Full story here.


Holy communication

Ask any marriage counselor the secret to a happy union and the answer will be "communication."

To keep relationships healthy and lively, couples simply must communicate their needs and desires. Unfortunately, many people (that is to say, "guys") aren't that good at um, you know, communicating.

The main obstacle to communication is the way the two genders think. Women can entertain many thoughts and feelings simultaneously, while men tend to be linear thinkers, considering one item at a time.

If a man asks a woman, "What are you thinking?" (it could happen!), she may answer with a convoluted string of connections and relationships, totally losing the man, who probably isn't listening anyway. When a woman asks the same of a man, truthful replies tend to consist of one word: "Beer" or "trucks" or "football." If the man is a deep thinker, the answer may be as complicated as "the infield fly rule." But the answer is unlikely to center on feelings or a thorough diagnosis of the relationship.

This puts men at a disadvantage. When a woman inquires about a man's thoughts, she doesn't want to hear "beer." She wants something meaningful. Put on the spot, the man scrambles around, trying to come up with a sensitive, diplomatic answer, and usually says exactly the wrong thing. Sometimes, he's so caught up in his linear thinking (see "football" above), he doesn't realize he's made a mistake until a saucepan bounces off his head.

What follows is a quick quiz to help men who are faced with traditional relationship situations. The quiz is for guys, but there's a note for women at the end.

Question: Your wife says, "Are you happy?" What do you say?

A. "I'm always happy when I'm with you."
B. "I'd be happier if my team made the playoffs."
C. "I'd be happier if you didn't stand in front of the TV."
D. "Compared to what?"

Q: Your wife says, "You're awfully quiet tonight. Is something wrong?" How do you answer?

A. "Not at all. I was just thinking about how happy you make me."
B. "I can't find the remote."
C. "We're out of beer."
D. "Gas pains."

Q. Your wife bursts into tears for no apparent reason. How do you respond?

A. "Aw, honey, what's wrong? How can I help?"
B. "Now what?"
C. "Got something in your eye?"
D. "Where did you hide the remote?"

Q. At a restaurant, she asks, "Do you think that waitress is attractive?"

A. "What waitress?"
B. "That skinny thing? Nah, I like a woman with some meat on her bones."
C. "Hubba-hubba."
D. "I wouldn't kick her out of bed for eating crackers."

Q. Your wife trots out that old favorite: "Does this dress make my butt look big?" How do you answer?

A. "You look beautiful."
B. "I like a woman with some meat on her bones."
C. "No bigger than usual."
D. "No, your butt makes that dress look big."

Q. When your wife reveals her innermost thoughts, you're thinking about:

A. The right thing to say to show you care.
B. Baseball.
C. Fishing.
D. An attractive waitress.

Scoring: The correct answers are labeled "A." If you picked anything else, you might as well start packing. And call a good lawyer.

(Note to women: It's probably clear by now, but you're better off if you never surprise your man with any of the above situations. For example, if you want a serious discussion of the relationship, sit him down, make sure you have his undivided attention and say: "We're going to discuss our relationship now." Give him a few minutes to align his linear thinking before you begin. Also, you might want to hide the remote first.)


I knew it

You must remember this: New studies now show that eating lots of tofu may cause folks to lose their minds.

Apparently, ingredients in soy products such as tofu mimic the female hormone estrogen, which may cause higher levels of dementia among senior citizens. It also causes them to grow va-va-voom breasts. (OK, I made up that last part.)

Extra points: The leader researcher's name is (no kidding) Professor Eef Hogervorst. Which translates to "Eat More Pork Sausage."

Uncle of the year

A Muncie, IN, man is in jail after a domestic dispute over whether he should give beer to his 1-year-old nephew.

Richard H. Valens Jr., 44, said the child could drink beer because "he's a champ." When Valens' girlfriend objected, he punched her in the face and drove away in her SUV.

Extra points: Valens told the girlfriend he'd kill her and her daughter when he got back. Guess who was waiting for him when he returned? If you said "police," you are now a winner.

Full story here.


Stalking the wily teen

Teen-agers can be an elusive species, slipping through dark corners of the house in surly silence, sneaking up on you when you least expect it.

Biologists who study homo sapiens adolescensis tell us that teens' nocturnal habits and avoidance of adult company make them among the most difficult research subjects, second only to Bigfoot.

Many parents go weeks without meaningful interaction with their offspring. These parents have difficulty even confirming that their teen-agers exist. Some must resort to using credit card receipts to prove to the Internal Revenue Service that they're entitled to tax exemptions because teens occupy the household.

You might have teen-agers skulking around your home right now and not even know it. Perhaps you thought your teens had gone off to college. Suddenly, you find evidence that they're still around -- loud music playing in empty rooms, open milk cartons sitting out on kitchen counters -- and you follow these clues to determine that, in fact, your home has been converted into a frat house.

Fortunately, modern science has established a set of protocols for determining whether teens occupy a particular habitat. If you think your home may be infested with teen-agers, check for the following indicators:

--The phone line is always busy.

--The television plays 24 hours a day, even when there's no one in the room to view it, and it's set on channels you'd never, ever watch, such as MTV.

--Groceries disappear from your kitchen in amazing quantities. Teens are particularly keen on sweets and junk food. Sometimes, such treats vanish before you can even get the groceries in from the car. Veteran parents know that if they themselves might eventually want, say, a cookie, they must lock up the Oreos with the liquor.

--Computers run all night, downloading viruses and bad music, and casting their eerie electronic glow throughout the home. Scientists have found that, if a parent catches a teen actually using a computer, the screen instantly goes dark. Suspicious? We think so.

--The refrigerator door is standing open.

--Music constantly emanates from radios, stereos, MP3 players, computers, garages, even showers. Researchers tell us this is a sure sign that teens are present, their version of leaving a trail of bread crumbs. Sometimes, parents will search high and low for the source of apparent whispering, thinking it will give them a glimpse of their teens, only to find unoccupied headphones chattering away.

--Strange-looking people, wearing thrift-store clothes and headphones and many, many tattoos, show up at your door, asking about your teens, intimating that they are "friends." (Greet these strangers with extreme caution. It could be a trap.)

--Piles of dirty laundry, much of it decorated with the logos of rock bands, mysteriously appear, mostly strewn about the floor.

--You find yourself tripping over giant sneakers left scattered about. Or, you notice a foul, locker-room aroma and trace it to such shoes.

--All the settings on your computer, TV, VCR, microwave oven or cell phone have been changed, often in ways that render them unusable.

--You find yourself bankrupted by bills for items you don't remember purchasing.

Any of these clues may be signs of adolescent habitation. If you fear your home has been infested, conduct this test: Set out some food, preferably cookies or pizza, and keep watch from a safe distance. This bait may lure the teens out of concealment. Then you can confront them, and maybe even conduct a conversation, if you can overlook the resultant sighing and eye-rolling.

You might want to photograph this event. The IRS requires proof.


Parent of the year

Remember when you were a new parent and read all the instructions on how to operate your child's stroller? Did you read the part about the knife and the sawed-off shotgun? No?

A woman in Utica, NY, knows better, now that she's been arrested for child endangerment and criminal weapon possession.

Stephanie Wilson, 29, was out on a walk with her baby and another child when she saw a woman with whom she'd had a long-running dispute over money. Prepared for just such an encounter, Wilson pulled the knife and shotgun out of their hiding places in the stroller and threatened the woman with them, police said.

More here.

Bet it was pink, too

A suspected gang member is arrested for stealing a little girl's tricycle and taking it joy-riding. Doesn't sound like the kind of crime a 21-year-old gangsta would -- oh, wait, this is in Utah.

Imagine how popular that guy's going to be in prison.

Full story here.

Bulldozer blues

You might assume that one advantage of working at home would be the peace and quiet that comes from having no blustery bosses or loud machinery or gossiping coworkers nearby.

Not so. Even the best-equipped home office can be surrounded by noise and distraction.

I was constantly reminded of this after we moved into our current subdivision. My office may be the house's one quiet refuge -- particularly when the children are home -- but the neighborhood itself was a construction zone.

All day, I was serenaded by the roar of heavy equipment and the woodpecker-chatter of hammers and the beep-beep-beep of trucks backing up.

The large, arched window in my home office seemed one of the new house's best attractions, easy access to long hours of staring outside and goofing off. But the window provides no barricade to the construction noise. Instead, it seems to funnel every grumble and beep straight into my brain.

I should've known it would be this way. When we bought this house, it was clear that several surrounding homes weren't finished yet. Plus, the subdivision is called Bulldozer Heights, which ought to have been a clue.

Not that the new neighborhood should be any different from anywhere else I've ever lived. I was born in the peak year of the Baby Boom, which means I've been hammered by construction noise my whole life as facilities were built or enlarged to accommodate the population bulge.

Every school I attended was in the process of being expanded to cope with the growing number of students. One whole year of high school was spent with a three-story-high piledriver whanging away outside my classroom windows. No wonder I never mastered algebra.

While students at other colleges amused themselves with Frisbees and beer busts, the main activity at my university was dodging front-end loaders.

Every office where I've ever worked -- except one -- was filled with the plaster dust and smelly paint and jackhammer noise of constant renovation.

(The one office that was finished by the time I arrived was a strictly regimented world with dozens of rules aimed at preserving the new carpet from spills. Since the new carpet stank like, well, like new carpet, it was all I could do not to deliberately pour coffee all over my cubicle.)

Each apartment or house where I've lived -- even ones in established neighborhoods -- was the scene of construction or reconstruction or renovation. If all the buildings in the area were finished, then I could count on city workers to come by and start tearing up the streets. Crash, crunch, beep, beep, beep.

Yes, I blame this lifetime of noise on being part of the most populous generation. More people has meant steady construction to make room for all of us. That construction has meant noise. And that, my friends, is the real reason they call it the Baby BOOM.

Alas, you can't stand in the way of progress. Well, you can, but if you hear a beep-beep-beep, you might want to run the other direction.

Someday, all the construction noise will grind to a halt, both nationwide and here in the neighborhood. Smaller succeeding generations mean we'll eventually have all the houses and other buildings we need.

Then, no doubt, it'll be time to tear up the streets.


Dummage sale

Today's tip for budding criminals comes from Ocala, FL: After burglarizing your neighbor's house, it's really not a good idea to then sell the stolen items at a yard sale.

In the same neighborhood.

Where the passing burglary victims might recognize their possessions.

Full story here.

Revenge of the nerds

The Utah Supreme Court has thrown out the manslaughter conviction of a man known as the "wedgie" killer.

Erik Kurtis Low, now 40, was convicted of killing another man during a night of drug use and horseplay. After the man grabbed Low's underwear and yanked upward hard enough to lift him off his feet, Low shot him to death.

The state Supreme Court ruled that the trial judge erred when he granted a prosecution request and instructed the jury that Low could be found guilty of "extreme emotional distress manslaughter." This, the defense argued, confused the jury about Low's plea of self-defense.

Low had been serving a 16-year sentence. Full story here.


Beer, no glass

A woman in Southern California crashes her Cadillac through the front windows of a convenience store, calmly climbs out, fetches a six-pack of Budweiser from the cooler and tries to pay for it. Since the store is not a drive-thru, the clerk declines the sale and calls police instead.

Extra points: The thirsty driver is 74 years old.

Rockin' the hood

Draft of a note to be delivered to every household on our block:

Dear neighbors,

We're terribly sorry, but our 14-year-old son has taken up the electric guitar.

We recognize that our quiet neighborhood may never be the same. But we believe music education is important to a child's development, and we more or less forced him to choose an instrument.

Naturally, he selected the electric guitar. It's the weapon of choice in the culture wars exemplified by his favorite music.

This kid rocks around-the-clock to bands so loud and aggressive, his room sounds like a busy afternoon in Baghdad. Not only does he enjoy contemporary acts of thunder-and-screaming, but he's very much into punk music recorded before he was born, acts such as the Dead Kennedys and the Sex Pistols.

He already dressed the part of a punk rocker, complete with studded belts and black sneakers and a jacket covered in safety pins. His room usually looks like the aftermath of a post-concert party. And, rock music is the only way to explain why he wears his hair that way. All he needed to complete the image was a guitar.

So, as an early Christmas gift, he got a gold-colored knock-off of the famed Fender Stratocaster, an amplifier and a year of weekly music lessons.

Along with this bounty, we gave him specific instructions to keep the amp turned down low. We carefully police his in-home performances for high decibel levels, but we're not always here and we won't be surprised if, one day, we come home to find he's blown all the windows out of the house with one overamped power chord.

For this, let us apologize in advance. We only hope this amplified attack doesn't take out your windows, too. Or your ability to hear.

You, our neighbors, have been very understanding in the past. You never said a word when our younger son started playing the piano. You sat mum through those warm summer nights when the windows were open and he played "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" a record 937 times in a row.

But a piano's no electric guitar. While a piano can be loud, particularly in the hands of an excitable 11-year-old, it can't reach down the street and poke out the ears of unwary passers-by like a fully cranked-up guitar.

In our defense, it could've been worse. Our older son could've settled upon a band instrument instead of his golden guitar. The trumpet, say, or a honking saxophone. At least, with an electric guitar, there's always the option of pulling his plug if the noise becomes unbearable. Try that with a trumpet sometime.

Of course, with a budding guitarist and a keyboard player in the house, there's the possibility the boys will put aside their usual differences and form a "garage band." Should this tragedy occur, we will alert you to the rehearsals ahead of time, so you can make plans to go somewhere quieter, such as a monster truck rally.

If the "music" emanating from our house ever becomes too much to tolerate, we ask that you don't call the police. Please contact us instead. Just stop by the house and let us know.

We promise we'll take your objections in the neighborly way they're intended, and we will sheepishly take remedial action.

Assuming we can hear you ringing the doorbell.

With our sincere regrets,

The Brewers

(Editor's note: Nearly five years after this column first appeared, our older son not only still plays the guitar, he's thinking about majoring in music. He's into a more acoustic, Grateful Dead sort of sound now, better for begging spare change.)