Note to aspiring criminals: The very, very last place you want to hide from pursuit is in a portable toilet.
Police say Lorenzo Earl Knight, 22, was spotted trying to break into a truck in a mall parking lot in Tampa, FL. The truck's owner and a friend chased Knight into a construction site, where he hid in the port-a-potty. They tipped over the toilet to keep him stuck there until police arrived.
Full story here.
Note to aspiring criminals: The very, very last place you want to hide from pursuit is in a portable toilet.
What's your favorite bookmark? Librarians in Chandler, AZ, say the most common ones found in returned books are pieces of toilet paper.
The librarians told The Arizona Republic that everything from lottery tickets to utility bills to cash have been found in returned books, but toilet paper seems most popular. Once, the library found a $10,000 check in a book and returned it to the person who wrote it.
Odd items turn up in the drop boxes, too, including cell phones. Oops.
Full story here.
I was quietly reading recently when I noticed an eerie, prolonged whine.
The muffled scream seemed to come from nearby, but I couldn't place it. I looked around the room, trying to find an electronic device that might've gone kerflooey, but saw nothing amiss. I got up to look out the window, and the noise stopped. Sat back down, and it started up again.
Through shrewd detective work, it was only a matter of minutes before I determined the infernal whine was coming from my own pants.
I was sitting on my cell phone.
The chair was a little narrow for my ever-widening posterior and my phone was pressed tight against the arm. The phone was shrieking in agony. Mystery solved.
Such puzzlements have become commonplace in our high-tech age. With everybody packing a phone, we all carry the potential for confusion.
An example: I gave a ride to a friend who was in town for a business convention. I pulled up outside his hotel and he climbed into my van and the ensuing conversation went like this:
Me: "Hi! Good to see you!"
Him: "What's that supposed to mean?"
Me: "What? I said, it's good to--"
Him: "Look, that's not our fault! The bank made the mistake!"
Me (uneasy): "Have you lost your--"
Him: "I don't see why this should cost me money, when it--"
Then I spotted the wire dangling from his ear. My friend was on the phone, using one of those hands-free gizmos you see everywhere now. I hadn't noticed right away because it was hooked to the ear on the far side of his head. Fortunately, I realized what was occurring before I could push him out of the van and screech away.
Another example: About once a month, I get a call from my wife's purse. The phone will ring and I'll answer and there'll be no one there. But I can hear background noises and the clanking of keys and other pocketbook detritus, and I'll recognize that something in her purse has pressed the "speed dial" for "Home." Which makes me wonder how often she calls 911 by mistake.
This is why, when learning to use your cell phone, the first item you should read in the owner's manual is how to "lock" the keypad. I failed to do this when I was a neophyte phone user, and it took several months to cancel those calls my car's seat belt placed to Mozambique.
In fact, you should read your entire owner's manual. Most of us think we automatically know all the ins and outs of phone use, and we blithely start punching buttons without any instruction. This can lead to embarrassing situations.
On a jet recently, when it came time for passengers to turn off all electronic equipment, one woman was stumped. She confessed (loudly) that she had NEVER TURNED OFF HER PHONE BEFORE and didn't know how. She was with three giggling friends and none of them could figure it out, either.
(Fair disclosure: It appeared that these women had been drinking.)
Just as I was saying "Don't look at me," a businessman across the aisle snatched up the phone and turned it off. And we were allowed to take flight.
So listen up, friends. Avoid embarrassment. Learn to use your cell phones properly. Lock the keypads. And don't sit on them.
Because it's a sure bet your long-distance calling plan doesn't cover Mozambique.
A Greenville, SC, man has been arrested after he managed to steal a laptop computer from a store while armed with only a toothbrush.
Police said a man entered the office area of a store called Kitchens of the South, unplugged a laptop computer and walked out with it. When an employee tried to stop him, the man "made stabbing motions" with an object, and the employee backed off, police said. The man ran away with the laptop.
Officers later arrested Douglas Sanders Anderson, 52, nearby. The laptop was recovered, as was the "stabbing" weapon -- a toothbrush.
Full story here.
I'm sure first-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has many fine qualities and a good future in politics. Sen. John McCain wouldn't pick her as his running mate just because of her gender; the Republicans would never be that transparent and cynical, right?
But Americans are sick and tired of Big Oil running this country and running away with huge profits while the rest of us have to choose between a fill-up and food. On that score, Palin looks like another Dick Cheney.
She supports drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, she is against a windfall profits tax on oil companies, and she opposes listing polar bears as a threatened species because it might interfere with oil exploration. Oh, and her husband works for an oil company.
Word is that Palin is also an enthusiastic hunter. A note to her friends: Skip the hunting trips. Remember that guy Cheney shot in the face?
Full story here.
Ah, Labor Day weekend. Summer's last hurrah. For many Americans, that means it's time to party.
Cookouts to mark the passing of summer have become an annual ritual. We gather around open fires and drink native beverages and tell the stories of our people. Then, as night falls, we stumble into the pool and nearly drown and 911 is called, and the tribe has a new story to recount next year.
If you're planning a party for Labor Day weekend, it's not too late to make it the social event of the season. You can turn your home into a showplace for socializing, a place where your guests will feel welcome and well-fed and entertained.
The key is proper preparation. You want your party to appear fun and effortless, and that means working your butt off ahead of time. Make lists. Stockpile food and ice. Clear away clutter and make sure your house is spotless.
No one will notice -- they'll be too busy falling drunkenly into the pool -- but you'll feel better about yourself and your home and that will make you a better host, one who's relaxed and ready for any eventuality.
But where to begin? Social events are delicate creatures that must be nourished with the right mix of people, food, drink and chlorine. Here are some suggestions:
TIPS FOR HOSTING SUCCESSFUL PARTIES
--You can never have too much ice.
--The same goes for beer.
--Prepare just the right amount of food. You want to have enough so that nobody goes away hungry, but you also don't want them to stay all night. And you don't want a lot of stuff left over. Leftovers can be deadly, particularly potato salad.
--Your tasty dishes can be arranged elegantly on platters and the whole table can be decorated with fresh flowers and aromatic candles. If you take this Martha Stewart approach, you will find that your guests fall into three categories: 1) Those who appreciate how much effort you put into the food and who wouldn't dream of messing up the arrangement by actually eating any of it. 2) Those who recognize how much effort went into it and who hate you for it. 3) Those (mostly guys) who don't notice the effort and wade into the food up to their elbows.
--Go get more ice.
--Spend the days before the party making your house clean and tidy. When you're finished, your home will be sparkling and inviting. Unfortunately, you will be too exhausted to enjoy your own party. And your guests will wreck the place, so you can start all over again.
--If your party is outdoors, make sure there's enough shade available. This may require renting a canopy or large tent. Nothing like the aroma of mildewing canvas to give the proper "air" to a gathering.
--Lively conversation is the key to a successful party. Plan ahead so you'll have spontaneous, non-controversial topics that will keep conversation flowing and drunken fistfights to a minimum. Topics to avoid: Politics, religion, divorce, Microsoft, how much effort went into the food, your guests' sexual habits.
--Did we mention ice?
--Should drunken fistfights erupt, the competent host acts as referee, calming angry guests and getting everyone fresh drinks. If they insist on brawling, the host might try shocking them out of their aggressive mode by pushing them into the pool. Refreshingly cold water can be a welcome distraction when things get out of hand. If that doesn't work, the host should dial 911 from his cellular phone while sprinting away to safety.
--One final tip: Guests like to feel they're helping to make the party a success, so give them things to do. For example, should you run out of ice, send a guest to a convenience store for more. This will help the guest feel like part of the effort. In fact, you might find errands for all your guests. Once they're gone, you'll have your clean house and all that food to yourself.
And that's the way to finish off a summer.
A Goldsboro, NC, couple returned home from a long business trip to find their house trashed, many items missing and a teen-ager sleeping in their bed.
Ron and Barbara Winston said it appeared that their home had been used as a party house in their absence. The place was littered with guns, bottles, crack vials and "hundreds of chicken bones." Both toilets were backed up and there was apparent fire damage. At least $30,000 worth of electronics and other items were gone.
The 16-year-old who was found sleeping the house was arrested and charged with a whole slew of felonies. His new prison moniker will be "Goldilocks."
Full story here.
The city of St. Paul, MN, thinks a local bar is going too far in planning to have a live elephant on hand during the Republican National Convention.
"Nothing good can come from an elephant in a bar," said Bob Kessler, who heads the city's Department of Licensing and Regulation.
The owners of Shamrock's Bar & Grill came up with the idea of stationing an elephant at the door during the convention as a way to lure in convention-goers, but city officials are saying no-go to the idea.
Extra points: During the convention, the bar is offering the "Politician's Burger," a thick baloney sandwich.
Full story here.
The world would be a better place, filled with less animosity and anxiety, if we all wore name tags.
Cocktail parties, school events and church services wouldn't be so nerve-wracking if everyone wore the simple first-name-only badges typically worn at business conventions -- "Hello! My name is ILLEGIBLE SCRAWL."
Name badges would have many benefits to society, but the main reason for adopting such a system is this: I can't remember anybody's name anymore.
This could be a side effect of working alone at home. When I was reporter, out in the world, meeting people all the time, I was pretty good at putting names with faces. Now, I can't even recall the names of close relations, such as my children.
(This forgetfulness could also be a product of advancing age, but let's not go there.)
Though I work mostly in solitude, I sometimes go out in public for conventions and bookstore appearances. Also, my wife often drags me along to public events as "arm candy."
During these outings, I shake hands with many, many people and introduce myself each time. They say their names back, and I smile and nod, recognizing that I'm lost. The exchange has barely cleared my ears, but my brain already has filed the names in the overflowing trash bin of the forgotten.
This instantaneous forgetfulness requires that I fall back on deception and guile. Here's my guilty secret: Whenever I'm out in public, I call all the women "darlin'" and all the men "buddy" or "partner," as in "Hello, darlin'," or "Hey there, partner, how ya been?" This makes me appear friendly and casual, instead of a "space case" who can't recall the names of those he met as recently as one minute earlier.
At events where people wear name badges, I'm not forced to resort to such trickery. We all go around staring at each other's chests, but at least we avoid embarrassing name mistakes, such as calling a woman "Bill." Not that I've ever done that.
We should adopt name badges nationwide. We could bypass the sticky temporary badges in favor of fancy embroidery, such as you'll find on the shirts of bowlers and mechanics.
(I've noticed that the great majority of such shirts say, "Larry.")
Wouldn't life be less tense if we were all on a first-name basis? Wouldn't we be happier without the fear of forgetting the names of important people, such as our bosses? Wouldn't the loss of anonymity make us behave ourselves?
("Yes, officer, now that you mention it, the bank robber was wearing a shirt with his name on it. Put out an APB for someone named Larry.")
So, come on, America. Run right out and get some name badges. It's the one sure way for us all to get universal recognition. Someday, we'll know each other on sight, and we'll always get the names right.
Until that grand day arrives, I'll call you "darlin'" or "partner."
You can call me "Larry."
A man slaves over his cabbage, nursing it along, until it is six feet wide and weighs 100 pounds. He expects records to be set at the state fair weigh-in and is, um, salivating over the $2,000 prize.
Then, boom, all his dreams go up in cole slaw.
Scott Robb still is growing giant cabbages, but none of them have reached the size of the one that exploded three years ago. Robb speculates that the Big One blew up because it was growing too fast. Anyone who has eaten too much cabbage knows how that feels.
Extra points: This all happened in Alaska.
Full story here
Today's tip for criminals: If you're going to steal a travel trailer, you might want to remove the "For Sale" sign before taking it on the highway.
A man in Florida learned this the hard way after a sheriff's detective spotted the vehicle being towed on Interstate 75. The detective was looking to buy such a trailer. When he dialed the number on the For Sale sign, he reached the owner, who told him the trailer had been stolen. The detective pulled over the driver and arrested a 50-year-old genius named Tommy A. Behringer, who was subsequently charged with grand theft.
Full story here.
To make sense of our ever-more-complicated world, many people have turned to the simple lessons of childhood.
In books such as "Bullies: From the Playground to the Boardroom" and Robert Fulghum's best-selling "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten," self-help gurus have applied basic child psychology to beleaguered adults' everyday worlds.
In an attempt to help all mankind (while also tearing off a piece of the lucrative self-help market), I'd like to assert that the simple rules of playground games can be used by parents in their day-to-day struggles with stubborn, spoiled, smart-aleck children.
The kids already know the playground rules. They respond when their peers use them. Why shouldn't we parents take advantage?
For example, you might say to your child, "Turn off that television and do your homework," a commandment a child can willfully ignore. But if you say, "Simon says turn off that television and do your homework," the child will jump up and hurry to obey.
Why is this? Because the child knows the consequences of behaving improperly in a game of "Simon Says." Don't do what Simon says, or do something when Simon hasn't ordered it, and the child is "out." Most playground games include such a penalty. Children do not want to be "out." They are so desperate to be included, they'll do most anything to keep from being put "out," including handing over their lunch money.
The key to parental use of these rules (and my self-help breakthrough) is that the child must be made to understand a different meaning of "out." When a parent threatens to put the child "out," the parent doesn't mean "out" as in out of the game. The parent means "out" as in "unconscious." Once this distinction is made clear, you'll find that children quickly become easier to manage.
Here are some other playground games you could find handy:
Red Light, Green Light. When you catch your child in the act of misbehaving, say, "Red light!" The child will freeze immediately. This is particularly useful when the child is doing something dangerous to himself or others. Once the peril has passed, you can free the child by saying, "Green light!" Warning: Overuse of "red light!" can make the child flinchy.
Red Rover. Parents should stand near the front door and chant, "Red Rover, Red Rover let (Insert name of child's pesky friend or "bad influence" here) come over." When the friend tries to enter, parents should lock arms and form a human wall to stop him. If it requires knocking down the visitor, so be it. Them's the rules.
Tag. This playground favorite has multiple uses. First of all, there's "Not it," a phrase that's useful whenever you don't want to volunteer to do something. (See also: Hot Potato.) Second, you can "tag" your child whenever it's his turn to take out the trash, etc. If the child doesn't obey, "tag" him harder. This can escalate until the child is "out."
Hide and Seek. A handy game whenever you need a moment of peace and quiet. Tell the child he is "it," and assign him to hide his eyes and count to 100 (or 1,000, if the child is particularly gullible). While he's counting, you can "hide" somewhere peaceful, such as the neighborhood bar. (See also: Hopscotch.) In extreme cases, you can use the counting time to pack a small bag for your getaway.
Try these simple playground rules with your own children, and you'll soon see real improvement in domestic harmony.
Even if it doesn't work, you can still profit from the attempt. Make the kids hand over their lunch money.
A 15-pound puppy scared off three bears that had wandered into a yard in Wyckoff, N.J.
The 8-month-old puppy, a cocker spaniel-poodle mix described as "a little furball," had just gone outside, his owners say, when he started barking his head off. When the humans went to check out the commotion, they saw a mama bear and her two cubs getting the heck out of yard.
Extra points: There are bears in New Jersey.
Full story here.
A Swiss daredevil is planning to cross the English Channel via his jet-powered wing.
Yves Rossy, 48, aka Rocket Man, took a 10-minute flight over Switzerland recently with the jet-powered wing strapped to his back. He was taken aloft in a small plane, and reportedly reached speeds of 180 mph while zooming through the skies. The English Channel feat is planned for September.
A UPI story shows that Rossy needs to hone his daredevil hype-speak.
"If there are no technical problems it's okay for the English Channel," he said. "I did the distance, everything is going swimmingly."
And then this:
"My flight will be a tribute to all those who came before me, many of whom were killed."
Extra points: First time ever that the words "Swiss" and "daredevil" were used in the same sentence.
Full story here.
NEWS ITEM: A Rutgers University study concludes that extraterrestrials are more likely to contact us through some physical means, such as a written message, than through radio signals, which fade and scatter as they travel through space.
Which raises the question of our reply:
Dear Sir or Madam (or Other):
Greetings from Earth! Hope this letter finds you doing well in the four trillion years it will take to reach your galaxy.
Boy, were we surprised to hear from you! Sure, we've been thinking about you for centuries, but most of us never really expected this first contact. Many didn't even believe you existed! Ha-ha. Are our faces red now, or what?
We've thought long and hard about how to respond, and it took a while to reach a consensus. (After all, there are six billion of us here, voting on it. How big is your neighborhood?)
The main message we settled upon is this: We Mean You No Harm.
Yes, we tend to be a warlike species, as you've no doubt noted from afar. But we only kill each other (if you don't count all those extinct Earth species, such as dodos, but let's not go there). We've never hurt any creatures from beyond our planet, as far as we know. So you have nothing to fear from us, particularly if you're sitting on advanced weapons such as Death Rays that could vaporize our planet.
Whew, glad we got that out of the way! Now to tell you a little about ourselves. We are bipedal creatures with (and we're trying not to brag here) large brains. We are symmetrical, but come in many sizes and shapes, mostly ovoid.
We live on land masses, which we've divided into "countries," to give us a reason to hate each other. Good borders make good neighbors, we always say.
Different countries have different political systems, but most work like this: The people give their wealth to a government, which in turn spends it. This is known as "taxation," and is one of the many forms of torture our species has devised.
Our wealth, usually in the form of "money," comes from producing goods and services, or as we call it, "work." Do you have "work" on your planet? If so, how many weeks of vacation do you get each year? If not, can we come live there?
The "money" that isn't sucked up by the government goes to "buy" goods and services for our family units. These include shelter, fuel, clothing, college tuition and beer. Our food comes from many sources -- plants, animals, sugar, and an assortment of chemicals. (But we don't dine on other humans. Well, hardly ever. And you shouldn't either! Ha-ha.)
When not working, we amuse ourselves in ways that probably seem primitive to you, such as television and sex. We also enjoy "sports," which are various forms of simulated war in which nobody gets hurt. Much.
Most Earthlings believe in some sort of Supreme Being who created the universe. Have you encountered such a being in your travels? Sorry to say, He never mentioned you all to us. That's partly why we were so surprised to get your message. Of all the things our prophets might've mentioned, you'd think this encounter would've been right up there.
Ah, well, surprise is good for us. At least we've stopped warring long enough to look skyward in wonder. We're no longer aiming missiles at each other; we're pointing them at the heavens.
Let us reiterate: We Mean You No Harm. Really. Feel free to stop by anytime. We're the blue planet, third from the Sun. Our atmosphere is always open!
But you might want to call first.
This time of year, all across the country, parents quietly weep in department store aisles because they're shopping for new school clothes.
Hang around the mall during back-to-school season and here's what you find: Parent pulls garment off rack and says, "How about this?" Child turns up nose, rolls eyes, snorts, etc… Flustered parent tries repeatedly with same results. Finally, parent surrenders and allows child to make a selection. Parent's reaction: "Oh, my GAWD! Are you kidding me?" Then the process starts over again.
Younger children often can be bought off -- they'll wear anything as long as it's decorated with the proper licensed action figure or Disney character.
But rebellious teens want only those clothes that draw their parents' disapproval. No matter how hip you may be as a parent, your teen will find some garment that turns your stomach. This article of clothing, naturally, becomes the child's absolute favorite.
Conversely, any garment the parent chooses will be deemed way too square and will be hidden under the child's bed until the child outgrows it.
It's always been this way. I remember shopping for clothes with my mom, back in those halcyon days between Woodstock and disco, and it always resulted in a tearful argument. In those days, we kids got our wardrobe cues from our schoolmates, who were quick to let us know when we were dressed like geeks.
(How strong was that peer pressure? Let's just say that I owned a pair of platform shoes, even though I'm already so tall I have to duck through doorways.)
Nowadays, teens look beyond their peers when deciding what is cool. They get their clothing cues from the rock stars on MTV.
For males, this means clothes so baggy that, if the average boy whirls around suddenly, his clothes remain facing the other direction. (This is why so many kids today seem to wear their clothes backward, though it doesn't explain why their baseball caps always point the wrong way.)
For females, current fashion requires the opposite. Their clothes must be so tight that their eyes bulge slightly, giving them that surprised Valley Girl look. A whole generation of young women do not know what it means to be comfortable in a T-shirt. Girls also want bare midriffs and low-slung jeans and giant clunky shoes. They want to look like pop divas, all of whom dress like hookers.
These fashion choices make parents froth at the mouth, which, of course, is the whole point.
But parents have a new ally in the Clothing Wars. Many schools have adopted dress codes that ban outlandish fashions. These dress codes -- aimed at stemming gang activity and classroom distractions -- outlaw "sagging" and bare midriffs and dangerous jewelry.
Parents should carry these dress codes along when they take their kids shopping. They can use them as ammunition when arguing about the appropriateness of giant pants or see-through blouses.
When that doesn't work, parents can use those absorbent pages to wipe away their tears.
A New York City man has been arrested for hiring a hitman to kill his 26-year-old wife, whom he believed had been unfaithful. No surprise to regular crime readers: The "hitman" was an undercover police officer.
But this story has a few twists: The 35-year-old husband made a down payment. He provided the hitman with a samurai sword. He ordered the hitman to cut off and bring back the wife's left hand so he could retrieve her $27,000 diamond wedding ring.
Extra points: The defendant is named Rockefeller Auguste.
Full story here.
Recent headlines about the horrors of rush-hour commuting were deeply satisfying to those of us who work in home offices.
According to a nationwide study by the Texas Transportation Institute, the average urban traveler was stuck in traffic jams for 46 hours in 2002, an increase of 187 percent over 1982. In some big cities, time lost to traffic tie-ups was much worse: 93 hours annually in Los Angeles, 73 hours in the San Francisco Bay area, 67 hours in Washington, D.C.
We work-at-home types hear about such wasted time (and expensive gasoline), and our well-considered, mature response is along the lines of: "Neener, neener, neener. Hahaha on you."
For most of us who work at home, the "commute" consists of stumbling down a hallway to the spare bedroom. We don't need a car; heck, we don't even need shoes.
(Now that my two sons get themselves to and from school, I sometimes go days at a time without driving at all. Or wearing shoes.)
One could contend that this is yet another argument in favor of the productivity of home offices, if we at-home workers made productive use of that time. However, "found" time is like "found" money. Easy come, easy go.
We're so busy congratulating ourselves on avoiding the commute, we fail to see that we waste many more hours every day than we would if we drove to real jobs where we had a boss breathing down our collective necks.
While the rest of you sit in traffic, listening to the radio and talking on your cellular phones and performing nostril maintenance, we housebound types are wasting time in much the same ways. Or worse.
--When I worked in a regular office, I almost never talked to my mother during working hours. Now, thanks to my flexible schedule and unlimited long-distance minutes, my mom and I talk all the time. (If I still commuted, these are conversations that undoubtedly would occur while I swerved through traffic. The world is a safer place.)
--We work-at-home types enjoy music while we're working, much as you do during your commute. But it's unlikely that you would use your driving hours to totally reorganize your CD collection, alphabetically, by artist.
--Some commuters work out their frustrations by cursing and screaming and making menacing gestures at their fellow motorists. For such venting, we who work at home have computers.
--Many commuters use their time in stalled traffic to snack. Not only can at-home workers eat all the livelong day, we can also take time to prepare elaborate dishes that can be devoured before the kids get home from school.
--You often see commuters grooming themselves in traffic. Work-at-home folks can spend unimpeded hours in front of the mirror, sighing heavily while examining wrinkles and gray hair and nostrils.
--If you're stuck in traffic, you can get temporarily distracted, but you can't really wander off from the task at hand. I sometimes find that I've wandered away from my home office to watch CNN or stare at passing clouds or gossip with my neighbors. Anything to keep from working.
As you can see, we don't really gain much time by not driving to work, despite our gloating. But working at home still beats commuting.
While we're wasting time, distracted and unproductive, we're not trying to simultaneously drive. Not much chance that we're going to have a wreck while padding to the spare bedroom. And there's a much lower incidence of road rage inside one's own home.
Neener, neener, neener.
John McCain is a cockroach. A giant Madagascar hissing cockroach, in fact. So is Barack Obama.
Those were the names given to two racing roaches Thursday at the New Jersey Pest Management Association's annual conference in New Brunswick. The roaches were put into a six-foot-long racetrack and turned loose.
"McCain" finished the course in less than five seconds, while "Obama" seemed reluctant to leave the starting gate.
No word on whom the roaches were picking for their running mates.
Adolescence is a difficult time of adjustment and growth, rebellion and responsibility. A time of establishing one's own identity and learning to cope in the world.
And that's just for the parents. I'm sure it's hard on the kids, too.
Parents of teen-agers find that only other parents of teen-agers can truly understand the little Hell-on-Earth they occupy when their children are between the ages of 12 and, oh, 30.
A friend who joined our ranks when her son turned 13 told my wife: "I'm so sorry. I had no idea what you were going through. I would've been more sympathetic."
From the time our two sons were toddlers, my wife and I often were warned by more experienced parents that the teen years are the worst. Sometimes, they'd even resort to a form of prayer: "Eeee, God," they'd say, "just you wait."
We've been saying prayers of our own since our older son turned 13. He's now 19 and and his brother is 16 and it's amazing that I haven't killed either of them yet.
I'm not saying all parents of teens feel that way. Some have it much worse. But we all face certain aggravations as we try to survive the adolescent years. Frustrations vary from family to family, but here are some of mine:
--The minute my sons reached puberty, I lost 40 points of IQ. I used to be able to tell them things, and they'd listen. As soon as they became teen-agers, I became a drooling moron who shouldn't be heeded.
--All chores, curfews, concerns, rules, regulations, responsibilities -- all parental input of any kind -- cramp their style.
--Their friends know much, much more than I do. All cues about how to behave comes from them. The fact that these friends understand nothing of the world is immaterial.
--No matter how cool I once might've been (or thought I was), those days are over. When it comes to music, movies, books, world events, computers, hobbies, fun, etc., I am a dinosaur.
--The fact that I was once a teen myself, succumbing to peer pressure and being led around by my hormones, does not make me experienced and wise. It makes me an embarrassment.
I know they'll eventually outgrow adolescence, but it remains to be seen whether they'll make it to adulthood. I'm still feeling murderous.
Pray that it's just a phase.
A Canadian man who'd been living under house arrest and going through rehab had what his attorney called a "flamboyant, flaming relapse" recently.
James Boppre, 39, went out late in his pickup truck, breaking his curfew. He got drunk and picked up a prostitute. He and the hooker smoked crack cocaine together and both got naked in the truck. Speeding along (and apparently distracted), he missed a curve and crashed into another car. He then gathered up his clothes and fled, leaving the naked hooker behind. He was arrested nearby.
Extra points: The judge, when presented with all this evidence, said Boppre had been doing better in rehab until this breach, and gave him only four months in jail after his guilty plea.
Double extra points: Boppre only had one month to go on his house arrest when he wigged out.
Triple extra points: "Flaming Relapse" sounds like a rock band.
Full story here.
Police in Stamford, CT, say they've arrested a 16-year-old who's accused of slashing 34 tires during a tire-slashing spree that became a "team sport."
Police say scores of tires were slashed in the competition in Stamford and nearby Greenwich. Starting in 2006, Greenwich teens slashed tires in Stamford and Stamford teens retaliated. Then, apparently because they were having so much fun, the Stamford teens started competing in their own town.
I'm guessing there are plenty of car owners in Connecticut who'd like to put medals around these kids' necks -- really tightly.
Full story here.
Recent scientific breakthroughs have brought us closer to the day when we can each own a smart-alecky mechanical maid like the one on the "Jetsons."
Several companies have demonstrated new robots lately, ranging from Honda's "Asimo" humanoid to little droids that ferry medications through hospital corridors. Each new model raises the question: When, oh when, will we have our very own domestic robots to cook our food and wash our socks?
It may be a while. Researchers say they've still got a few kinks to iron out, such as giving robots proper vision and a refined sense of touch. (There's a fine line between a friendly handshake and a bone-crushing claw.)
We aging Baby Boomers are expected to once again drive the market. As we get older, we'll need "carebots" to give us medical attention and household 'bots to clean up our spills, or so the experts predict.
(Some of us are thinking: That's why we had children. To clean up after us when we're senile. But hahaha on that. The little ingrates will be busy pursuing their own lives, leaving us desperately trying to scrape together enough pennies to pay for our Depends.)
Many of us already are dependent on machines. Laptops, Palm Pilots and cell phones don't just make modern life possible. In many ways, they run our hectic lives. If you don't believe it, think back to the last time your computer crashed. How was your mood the rest of that day?
Do we really need walking, talking, artificially intelligent machines in our lives, simply to do little chores? Do we need more machines managing our lives? Isn't this situation fraught with peril?
(Example: Anyone who has seen the Will Smith action movie, "I, Robot," can tell you that advances in robotics pose the very real danger of producing greater numbers of mediocre action movies.)
But the robots are coming, whether we're ready or not.
Already, you can pay a mere $200 for a robotic vacuum cleaner called Roomba. The machine -- which looks like a bathroom scale on wheels -- will run around your home, bumping blindly into walls and furniture, vacuuming every square inch of carpet, until it is, in an unfortunate misunderstanding, killed by your dog.
Also available are robot lawn mowers which operate much the same way. You input the parameters of your lawn, and the machine takes off on its own, mowing like crazy. We all know how fallible such human programming can be:
"Look out, it's headed for the swimming pool!" Splash.
Robotics experts are looking for new market niches, and I'd like to suggest a robotic coffee cup that will follow me from room to room. Currently, I misplace my coffee cup an estimated 23 times per day. I thought about attaching it to my dog, since he follows me from room to room anyway, but he tends to drop to a sleeping posture without warning, which could result in undue spillage. I need a coffee cup delivery robot. Or, cut out the cup altogether and design a coffee urn that will follow me and squirt java directly into my mouth. That's what I'd call a "carebot."
Another marketing suggestion for us machine-dependent Baby Boomers: Design a robot whose sole responsibility is finding the TV remote.
We'd pay big money for that.
From one of my favorite sites -- www.overheardinnewyork.com:
Hobo: Can anybody help me? Can anybody help me get some food? Can anybody help me get something to eat? I appreciate it.
20-something girl, handing him a ziplocked sandwich: It's peanut butter and jelly.
(Hobo hands it back, reconsiders, opens bag, sniffs it, and reluctantly eats it)
Hobo eating sandwich: Cam amymumy hem me. Cam amymumy hem me geh some food that's not a peanut butter sammich. I appreciate it.
A couple of 17-year-olds in Germany may be in big trouble for building a souped-up office chair.
Police say they spotted the chair on Saturday in the town of Gross-Zimmern (translation: "Big Zoomer"). The teens had used a lawn-mower motor, bicycle brakes and a metal frame to turn the revolving chair into something of a go-kart.
The teens are being investigated for a number of traffic offenses, including being way too cool to live in Germany.
Full story here.
As school resumes here in Redding, CA, seismologists report that they pick up actual Richter-scale readings from tremors caused by thousands of parents simultaneously doing the annual Dance of Great Happiness.
Parents rejoice because they know that -- for the next nine months -- their kids will be locked away seven hours a day in the care of others. Anticipating that they'll finally get some peace around the house, parents secretly dance themselves into exhaustion, then collapse in their filthy homes.
Yes, the beginning of the school year always is just cause for celebration. For work-at-home parents like me, it can be the source of outright delirium.
(Not that it wasn't wonderful to have my two sons home all summer. I wouldn't want to make that impression, particularly if the proper authorities happen to be reading this.)
The back-to-school exuberance doesn't last, of course. Eventually, parents must settle down and face the work before them. After a summer of children, the house and yard resemble a trailer court after a tornado. Clutter, clutter everywhere.
Sighing parents pick themselves up from their sofas and start putting away the flotsam of summer -- the swimsuits and the camping gear, the board games and the coloring books, the Game Boys and the baseball gloves. They uncover floors that must be mopped and furniture that must be dusted and Mystery Food under beds that must be disposed of immediately by teams in "hazmat" suits.
It takes a while to accomplish it all, but industrious parents can have the house back in shape around the time their kids bring home the school year's first report cards.
For parents who work in home offices, the beginning of the school year also signals the time to buckle down and get some work done. With the kids gone, we have no more excuses. All the unfinished work that accumulated over the summer must now be tackled.
Parents who allow themselves to be overwhelmed will find they don't get much accomplished. And, whoops, next thing you know, it's summer again.
Here, then, are some basic steps for stay-at-home parents who need to get back to work:
1. Find your desk.
2. Remove all clutter from desk, especially food byproducts and dirty socks.
3. Get organized. (This varies from person to person. Some consider themselves organized when their home office resembles a landfill. Others want to actually be able to find invoices, etc.)
4. Prioritize. Check those projects and deadlines, and categorize them according to which are most urgent.
5. Get busy. Grab hold of that most urgent work and get it done, then move onto the next.
Remember the clock is ticking: The school year won't last forever.
Work-at-home parents who follow these simple steps will find they can return to a productive lifestyle now that the children are safely back in school. They might even find that they make some money as they focus on work without distractions.
And that's a good thing. We parents need money. We've got to buy new dancing shoes.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy demanded today that Russia immediately pull all of its troops out of neighboring Georgia or face "serious consequences."
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said his nation would indeed obey the rules of the peace accord and begin withdrawing its troops on Monday.
France immediately surrendered.
Latest story here.
A woman in Wichita, KS, came home Friday night to discover her laundry room in disarray. She went upstairs to call her husband. A burglar burst into the room, wearing only blue boxer shorts. He grabbed her purse and fled on foot. The woman chased him and managed to recover her purse, but the burglar escaped.
Police say the burglar apparently was doing his laundry. They found his jeans in the washer.
Full story here.
A Rutland, VT, man apparently had a little trouble with the whole concept of "you have the right to remain silent."
Police say Todd A. DeBaise, 42, held up a Mobil station, flashing a hunting knife and fleeing with $505. With witnesses following him, DeBaise tried to persuade a woman in a passing vehicle to give him a ride. When she refused, he jumped on her running board and hung on for several blocks until he fell off. The trailing witnesses then pounced on him and held him until police arrived.
DeBaise told arresting officers, "I was stupid . . . I did a stupid thing." He apologized and said he intended to hurt no one. "I just needed the money."
Extra points: He was legally drunk on rum at the time.
Full story here.
This time of year, a hush falls over households all across America as the children head back to school.
Not only do the kids go away, taking their noise with them, but parents everywhere fall to their knees and give silent prayers of thanks for their tax-supported public schools.
Most fervent in this gratitude are we millions of parents who work in home offices. As the long, hot summer comes to an end, we might finally get some work done.
Not right away, though. First, we'll need to pull the house back together after three months of round-the-clock kid habitation. That means scrubbing and tidying and fishing the dirty socks out from under the sofa. Putting away the mildewed towels and swimsuits of summer to make room for backpacks and school supplies and winter coats.
But once the house is all arranged, we work-at-home parents plan to jump right into the fray and catch up on those projects that have been hanging fire while the kids were hanging around.
OK, so maybe we'll take a few minutes here and there to revel in the peace and quiet. The kids can be so loud, their noises so random and sudden and disturbing. Just having the home to ourselves again is a blessing we should take time to enjoy.
Solitude is great. No interruptions. No distractions. No dropping everything every few minutes to answer questions or referee disputes. A little alone time is just the ticket. Finally going to get some work done around here!
And if the quiet gets oppressive, hey, we can listen to our own music now. Enjoy some classic tunes without smart-aleck teens making gagging noises in the background. Nothing like an up-tempo soundtrack to help propel a person through a mountain of accumulated work.
When the phone rings, it'll be for us! All summer long, every phone in the house has been tied up by kids. Now it's our turn. We can spend the first few weeks of school yakking on the phone, catching up with our friends and family all around the country. When we're not busy working, of course. That comes first.
The kitchen sings its siren song, and that can be distracting in its own right. Now that the kids are back in school, we can finally have some snacks to ourselves. We can stop hiding our favorites, as we did during the summer so we had some chance of getting to them before the voracious, growing children scarfed them all. With fewer dirty dishes on the countertops and fewer sticky freckles of Popsicle juice on the floor, the kitchen's a more pleasant place now, a good spot to hang out while we stoke the engines and get ready to get to work.
Here's another thing: It'll be easier to get back in shape. We've got some major working-out to do, as soon as school resumes. Having the kids around is so exhausting, we've had no energy left for climbing Stairmasters or pumping iron. But, hoo boy, we're gonna get after it. Have to balance off that lonely snacking.
Plus, we'll have time to get lots of work done. Did I mention that?
Yessirree, now that the kids are back in school and the house is finally quiet, we work-at-home parents can hear those long-ignored deadlines, tightening around us like anacondas.
Gulp. Anybody for a Popsicle first?
Crime prevention tip: If a naked man rings your doorbell, don't open the door. Oh, yeah, don't leave the keys in your truck, either.
A startled homeowner in Vernon, NY, learned these lessons when a naked, shoeless man showed up at a his door on Thursday night. Police say Vaughn Harper, 21, tried to force his way into the house. When that failed, he instead stole the homeowner's pickup truck.
After police arrested the Syracuse, NY, man, his clothing was found nearby, along with -- surprise! -- a large amount of heroin and cocaine. Harper's been charged with grand larceny and drug possession.
Full story here.
In everyday conversation, it's remarkable how many people can't tell the difference between "rapt" and "trapped."
They'll yammer on and on, believing they have our undivided attention, when in fact we are secretly practicing the skill known as "yawning with our mouths closed."
It's not just that these people are boring. They're so self-absorbed that they think they're fascinating, or their topic so enraptures them that they assume it must be equally interesting to the world at large. They feel justified in "sharing" with the rest of us, so we won't be deprived of this information/opinion/enlightenment.
We've all been trapped in such conversations. In the workplace, a co-worker (or, worse, a boss) corners you in a corridor and forces you to listen to gory descriptions of his recent surgery. Or, a client spends an entire business lunch reliving the detailed itinerary of an exotic vacation you yourself could never afford. Or, you're seated at a dinner party next to a blowhard so breathtakingly boring that you want to spit in his plate.
Fortunately, you needn't suffer in silence any longer. You can use special communication techniques to derail runaway yakkers. Try the following:
Direct confrontation. If a co-worker insists on telling you the plot of last night's TV sitcom, say, "I thought only idiots watched that show."
Distraction. Sometimes, all you need is to divert the person's attention. For example, if a colleague won't shut up, try interrupting with, "You've got a smudge on your face." When he wipes his cheek and keeps talking, say, "No, on the other side." When he wipes his hand on that side, say, "Oh, no, you made it worse." Soon, he'll stop chattering and go find a mirror.
Appeal to the senses. You can create a diversion by saying, "Is it cold in here?" Or, "What's that smell?" Or, "Look! A bear!"
Physical cues. Roll your eyes. Clear your throat repeatedly. Look at your wristwatch. If none of those cues work, then get physical with the talker. Give him a little "goose" in the ribs with your finger. Seven or eight times. Or, a friendly slap on the shoulder. Harder each time, until he goes away. Actual strangling is considered bad manners.
Disagree endlessly. When a colleague wants to complain about working conditions, say, "I like it that way." Every time.
Agree endlessly. Some people just love to argue. If you agree with everything they say, you take the legs right out from under them. If your agreement causes problems later, you can always deny it.
Verbal judo. Use the yakker's own momentum to throw them off-balance. Some examples:
If a colleague insists on telling you about last night's dream, pretend to listen, then, no matter how outlandish the description, say, "I had a dream just like that."
If the person keeps talking about illness/poor health/surgery, take it farther by "topping" them. Tell them their malady is "nothing compared to dengue fever." Offer to compare scars. Try, "Want to see my boil?" Soon, even the sickest gabber will find the strength to scurry away.
If a genealogy nut tries to tell you about past generations in her family, pretend to consider the names, then say, "I thought my ancestors killed all your ancestors. Guess we missed some."
If a co-worker complains about his ex-wife, say, "I know just what you mean. She's been the same way, ever since we started dating."
Using these techniques can rescue you from many excruciating conversations, and in most cases can actually lengthen your life.
Remember, though: If you find people using such techniques on you, then it's time to shut up. Before they start goosing you.
Today's crime tip: If you're planning to steal a large poster of "The Dark Knight" from a theater lobby, it might be a little conspicuous to be dressed as the Joker at the time.
Police in Three Rivers, MI, say Spencer Taylor, 20, was wearing a purple suit, a green wig and face paint when he was arrested for trying to swipe the movie poster.
After pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of malicious destruction of property, Taylor was sentenced to one day in jail, 16 hours of community service and a $685 fine.
Full story here.
Two Georgia men say they've recovered the corpse of a Bigfoot. The creature, which they're calling the "Georgia Gorilla," is seven-feet-seven-inches tall, with reddish hair and feet nearly 17 inches long, according to their press release.
The men claim they also saw live Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) walking around in the same unspecified area of northern Georgia where the body was found.
They've got photos of the alleged creature, and will unveil more at a Friday press conference in Palo Alto, CA, where some Bigfoot trackers are headquartered. They also say they're offering the body to scientists for DNA tests, etc.
Scientific American, which is rightly skeptical of all this, has the full story and links to it all here.
Remember the good old days when the closest thing to consumer information on a food product was "Open Other End?"
Not anymore. Now, all our packaged foods are covered with so much frightening information, it's a wonder we eat them at all. The government-required "Nutrition Facts" labels, such a boon to dieters, have taken all the fun out of noshing.
Maybe that was the whole idea. When an entire nation's bombarded with daily alerts about the Obesity Epidemic, perhaps the powers-that-be thought it would be a good idea to put us off our feed.
Naturally, it hasn't worked. The Nutrition Facts, which seemed so valuable and shocking when we first started reading how much sugar was in a bowl of Froot Loops, have become old hat. I suspect most of us don't even notice the labels anymore, and they wouldn't affect our eating habits if we did.
When you're craving a bowl of ice cream, you won't be stopped by such trivial obstacles as calorie counts or fat content. You'll by golly have a bowl of ice cream, if it kills you (which, over time, it just might).
Even the scariest warnings won't stop us from enjoying ourselves. Generations of cigarette smokers are proof of that.
All the Nutrition Facts (and tobacco warnings) really accomplish is to make consumers feel guilty. If you consistently read the Nutrition Facts on everything you eat, you'll worry over every morsel you consume. Plus, you'll suffer from eyestrain.
As I write this, I have before me a box of raisins, your standard lunchbox fare, about the size of a pack of cigarettes. Could anything be healthier than a box of raisins? Nature's own dried fruit, full of iron and potassium and dietary fiber.
Let's examine the Nutrition Facts, which cover one entire side of the raisin box. Calories: 130 (Ouch.). Calories from Fat: 0 (Good, good.) Total carbohydrate: 31 grams, or 10 percent of the carbs you're supposed to consume in a whole day. Excuse me? That's right, 10 percent. The sugar in these sweet treats make them absolutely forbidden on most diets. Dang.
Sometimes, the Nutrition Facts are amusing because they state the obvious. On the raisins, for instance, the label says, "Ingredients: Raisins." Check any bottled water and you'll find, "Ingredients: Water" and a full Nutrition Facts breakdown, even though all the numbers are zero.
A bag of pretzels in my pantry says "Fat Free" in big letters on the front, but the ingredients on the back include "canola oil," which, the label admits, "adds a trivial amount of fat." You've got to love that. That's what I'm telling my doctor next time he puts me on the scales: "It's OK, Doc, that's just a trivial amount of fat."
In my latest feeble attempt at dieting, I bought some "Fat Free SnackWells Devil's Food Cookie Cakes." Just a little treat to keep me from chewing my fingernails back to the first knuckle.
You'd think anything with the words "cookie" and "cake" right there on the label would be bad for you, no matter how "fat free" they might be. And they probably are. But the Nutrition Facts show that two "cookie cakes" have less sugar/carbohydrates than the healthy box of raisins. Which do you think I'll eat?
If you guessed "both," then you are correct. Because when it comes to nutrition, I want it all.
And that's a fact.
Today's crime tip comes from Japan: Dressing up in a Winnie the Pooh costume may not be the best idea when you're mugging people.
A 20-year-old Tokyo man has been arrested and police are planning charges against his three teen-aged accomplices. Authorities say the young men borrowed the costumes, dressed up as Pooh and friends, then robbed three different people. One of the victims was a 27-year-old man who was dragged into a park and beaten. He suffered a busted lip, which is still healing.
The arrested man, Masayuki Ishikawa, said of the muggings: "It seemed like the thing to do at the time."
My family was dining in a swank restaurant when the waiter, in his best Inspector Clouseau accent, recited "today's especiales."
My sons and I listened politely, minding our manners, until the waiter said the seafood special was "halibut cheeks." We didn't hear the rest -- how the halibut cheeks were prepared or what accompanied them. We were too busy snorting, trying not to laugh.
The waiter looked puzzled. My sons and I exploded into laughter. The waiter looked more puzzled. I explained, in my best Beavis-and-Butthead snicker, "You said 'hali-BUTT CHEEKS.'"
My wife blushed and rolled her eyes and said, "Oh, my God." My sons fell out laughing. So did I. The waiter -- and this is the key thing here -- violated all swank-restaurant rules of conduct and erupted in laughter, too.
Why? Because he's a guy, that's why. Say "halibut cheeks" to any guy in America, up to and including Vice President Dick Cheney, and he'll at least smile. Say it in a swank restaurant with a stuffy foreign accent, and he'll laugh so hard that a recent beverage will shoot from his nostrils.
It's different for women. Say "halibut cheeks" to a woman in a fancy restaurant, smirkingly await a response, and here's what you'll get: "I can't take you anywhere." Which is, of course, the truth.
The scientific name for this basic difference between men and women is "The Three Stooges Standard." If you enjoy the slapstick comedy of The Three Stooges, this theorem goes, then you are male.
(Yes, yes, social scientists recognize that this is a blatant generality. Somewhere there is a woman who loves the Stooges, who runs around her house going "whoop-whoop-whoop" and throwing cream pies. And somewhere there is a snooty male intellectual who looks down his nose at the antics of Moe, Curly and Larry. Our only hope is that that woman and that man find each other and get married. Then they'll see what the rest of us are up against.)
My wife, who is not male, has a great sense of humor, but she doesn't care for the low-brow stuff. She is, in fact, often embarrassed by the behavior of her husband and sons, particularly in swank restaurants. As the only woman in the household, she's constantly surrounded by three testosterone-fueled goofballs who find hilarious any mention of, say, the planet Uranus.
The boys and I try to rein ourselves in when my wife's around, but we often fail. Someone will mention the hirsute actor "Harry Pitts" and we're off to the races.
When she's not around, we guys completely devolve into lower primates. We tease and curse and belch and make crude anatomical references, all in an attempt to make the other guys laugh. We behave much worse than The Three Stooges ever did. We're Beavis and Butthead and Butthead Jr.
I know I should set a better example for my sons, but I'm as goofy as they are, and can't seem to stop. I secretly take great pride in their comedic talents, no matter how unseemly. For instance, Butthead Jr. can burp the entire alphabet, but don't tell Mom.
Our locker-room behavior is, of course, inexcusable. My wife is correct when she says she can't take us anywhere. In particular, she's learned she can't take us to swank seafood restaurants.
Because the Appetizer of the Day was "crab balls."
Mattel, the company that brought us Barbie, is selling new dolls of Elvis and Priscilla Presley. The long-dead King of Rock-n-Roll and the surviving Queen of Plastic Surgery are dressed the way they were on their 1967 wedding day -- him in a black paisley print tuxedo and her in white gown, tiara and veil.
The $65 Elvis and Priscilla doll sets were unveiled at Graceland in Memphis. They'll be for sale at shopelvis.com and -- natch -- Wal-Mart.
Full story here.
Is there an actual "Pottery Barn" somewhere?
Is a barn the proper place to store pottery? Isn't keeping your pottery in a barn sort of like keeping your bull in a china shop?
Such questions have been on my mind, thanks to a chance encounter in San Francisco. My family was in a restaurant, my wife and I sneaking glances at the next table, where a group of young urban trendies seemed to be having a much better time than we were. They made us feel old and frumpy.
My wife turned to me and said, with a sniff, "Pottery Barn people."
She was exactly right, as usual. These were the people you imagine when you thumb through the Pottery Barn catalog of home furnishings. Young and fit, hip and stylish, they live in apartments with great views and espresso machines. They looked like guest stars on "Friends."
It started me wondering: Is this the newest way to sort us all into tribes? Can we be categorized by which slick mail-order catalogs litter our homes?
If there are Pottery Barn people, are there also Crate & Barrel people? And are they really well-organized?
We've already got a name for Williams-Sonoma people -- foodies. Only a "foodie" can tell you why it's imperative to have the proper stainless-steel whisk in your kitchen.
What about Harry & David people? What would you call them? "Fruities?" Wouldn't they object?
The more I thought about it, the more the catalogs seemed worthy of sociological study. I went through some of the approximately 17 trillion catalogs that come to our house each year, trying to find patterns and social demarcations.
Who are the marketers targeting? Do the customers already exist, ready to have labels applied to them, or do they somehow shape their lifestyles to fit the world depicted in their favorite catalogs? Has it become a matter of "you are what you buy?"
For instance, there's a catalog called Anthropologie, which features European-looking accessories and clothing. I asked my wife about the target audience, and she said, "Rich women who think they're French." Ah, oui.
Many of the women's catalogs try to evoke a sense of place: Coldwater Creek, Sundance, Maryland Square. Others sound like old-fashioned department stores: Talbots, Chadwick's, Spiegel, Nordstrom. Women apparently can recognize each other from such clothes. They see another woman and go, "Aha, a member of the Talbots tribe."
Then there are all the casual clothes catalogs, broken down by target markets:
L.L. Bean: Rugged outdoorsmen who hike.
Orvis: Rugged outdoorsmen who fish.
Land's End: Rugged outdoorsmen who live near a beach.
TravelSmith: Rugged outdoorsmen who spend too much time in airports.
Eddie Bauer: Rugged outdoorsmen who drive SUVs.
Nautica: Rugged outdoorsmen who own yachts.
J. Crew: Outdoorspersons who are too young and cool to be rugged.
Some catalogs are full of gadgets and gizmos. Brookstone and The Sharper Image have all kinds of electronic whizbangs you didn't even know you needed, ultimately designed to relieve you of your disposable income.
Bed, Bath & Beyond seems self-explanatory, though that "beyond" part worries me. Frontgate, Lillian Vernon and dozens of others appeal to homeowners who value the perfect decorative welcome mat.
Levenger is for fountain-pen fetishists. Abercrombie & Fitch apparently caters to nudists. Victoria's Secret is for anorexics and 14-year-old boys.
But where is my own tribe among all these slick catalogs? What company targets overweight, aging, non-rugged INdoorsmen whose most strenuous activity is reading? Is there a catalog called Olde & Frumpy? Nearsighted & Dumpy? Gerontologie? J. Whew?
I'll be watching the mail.
Sitting on the kitchen counter is a box of fancy Pepperidge Farm crackers to go with the "nice cheeses." The label says, in large letters, "Entertaining Quartet."
Sounds like The Oak Ridge Boys.
I've been watching that box all week, and those crackers haven't done anything entertaining yet.
On our fridge we have one of those magnetic notepads where we keep a running list of Things We Need From the Supermarket. Today, I noticed someone had written on the list: "Nice cheeses."
Damn straight. I hate those cheeses that aren't nice. They're always pushing around the other groceries.
If you want to experience true family togetherness, then pile the kids in the car and take a long driving vacation. You'll never feel closer, assuming you don't kill each other.
Spending time with your family -- cooped up in a car around the clock -- will remind you why you normally choose to hide at a job eight or 10 hours a day. By the time vacation's over, you'll be rested and ready to return to work -- anything to escape your kids' caterwauling and your spouse's annoying little habits. Plus, after spending the "college fund" on gas, food and lodging, you'll need to hurry back to work to raise some money.
Our family's last driving vacation was a few summers ago, before gas prices went through the roof. We toured Northern California, a truly inspiring land, from its redwood forests to its, um, other redwood forests. My wife and I, our two sons (then 15 and 12) and enough luggage to require sherpas all packed into a minivan and hit the Open Road. For a week. I'm happy to report that we all survived, physically intact, if emotionally frazzled, and ready to vacation together again real soon. Say, once they perfect private space travel.
It's easier to travel with the boys now than it was when they were little and demanding. Now that they're big and demanding, they can at least fend for themselves if they're, say, accidentally left behind in a redwood forest somewhere.
We vacationed with our boys when they were younger -- we've got photo albums to prove it -- but I seem to have blocked the experience from my memory banks. Harried parents know that certain memories (such as diapers) are erased from the mind as time passes. Which explains why couples have more than one child. For those of you out there traveling with kids still small enough to require diapers, all I can say is we'll remember you in our prayers.
The role of older kids on vacation is to appear bored. They're too jaded to appreciate redwood forests and other natural wonders, having seen better examples on TV. Museums make them yawn. Beaches are okay, but there's all that yucky sand everywhere.
The mantra of small children on vacation is the perennial favorite, "Are we there yet?" With teens, it's "Whatever."
This emphatic ennui grates on parents, especially if they're unable to block out that other sound in their heads, the steady ka-ching like a taxi meter, recording how much everything costs.
If we're going to spend this much, the thinking goes, then these kids will by golly be impressed and learn something and enjoy themselves, if we have to strangle them.
We stayed in hotels on our trip, spending the equivalent of two months' mortgage payments for seven nights in hotels. Our kids have reached that stage of maturity (and actual physical size) that we needed suites so everybody would have his own bed. I couldn't sleep for the ka-chinging in the background.
Yes, there are cheaper ways for families to travel. RVs, for example, or camping. But my idea of "roughing it" is four people sharing one bathroom. Trust me, this was rough enough.
But it was worth it. Really. We spent "quality time" together and we made some memories.
I can see myself years from now, when my kids bring their own families to visit:
"Hey, son, remember that vacation we took? Those big trees?"
And he'll roll his eyes and say, "Sure, Dad. Whatever."
If there's anything that'll make you go faster, it's looking over your shoulder and seeing a waterspout closing on your boat.
That's what happened to Bernadette Hoban of Brooklyn on Thursday in New York's Oyster Bay. The waterspout -- essentially a tornado over water -- spun out of a thunderstorm. Hoban was motoring toward the docks in her 32-foot sailboat when she realized the funnel cloud was right on her stern. She sent her two guests belowdecks, then laid down on the throttle, outrunning the waterspout as it raced toward shore.
"Never in my life did I see anything like this," said Hoban, 50, "and I never want to see it again."
Full story, with really cool photo of the waterspout, here.
Russia invades Georgia? What are the Russians thinking? All those good ole boys in Georgia will whip out their squirrel guns and saddle up their pickups and blast those Russians right back where they came from--
Oh, that Georgia. The other one.
Yesterday, we reported how a man in Fayetteville, NC, tried to rob a lingerie store using a "bomb" rigged out of Play-Doh. Now comes word from West Virginia of a man trying to rob a video store with an empty Jello box.
Police say Paul E. Parrish II, 43, walked into the Charleston, WV, store, set the box on the counter and told an employee that it was a bomb. He demanded money or the bomb would be detonated by remote control. The clerk refused.
Officers said they later arrested Parrish, who confessed that he tried the robbery because he needed money for gas and cigarettes. As one officer said, "It was really kind of silly. I don't know what the heck he was thinking."
Full story here.
We've reached that time of year when parents everywhere pause to take stock of how well the children are thriving in the creative, challenging climates carefully constructed for their summer vacations.
Kidding! Here's what parents really are asking themselves: Can we, as a family unit, survive more prickly heat, poison ivy, tedium, laundry, nausea, sunburns, sleeplessness, selfishness, spats, spite, overeating, overworking, over-reacting, underhanded undercutting and underwear underfoot?
Will we make it? Can our pocketbooks and our nervous systems endure the rest of the summer? Will the kids kill each other, or will we have to do that for them, too? And, finally, most importantly: How much longer until school resumes?
This is the hard part, folks. The summer doldrums. That seemingly endless period when parents are reminded just how lucky we are to live in this great country of ours, where the government, dutifully and without complaint, takes our kids out of the house nine months out of the year. Our appreciation of schoolteachers grows immeasurably (how do they do it?) and we count the days until, once again, our biggest worries center around grades and lunch money and after-school activities.
By this point in the long, hot summer, even the kids wish they could go back to school, though they'd never admit it. At school, they could have some fun between classes or on the playground. They could see their friends without worrying that their parents might be somewhere nearby, poised to embarrass them. Even homework would be better than summer ennui.
But no, we still have two weeks to go. Weeks during which the parents will be distracted from their jobs, worrying whether the kids are kept occupied in ways that don't involve felonies. Weeks during which the kids are so overcome by boredom that they can barely drag themselves to the kitchen, where they stare blankly into the open refrigerator for hours at a time. Weeks of excess laundry and innumerable dirty dishes and beach sand ground into car upholstery. Weeks of sibling bickering and tied-up telephones and teen-age eye-rolling.
When I was kid, and we reached the summer doldrums, my parents responded to my every complaint with instructions to go play outside. I try this now, with my two sons, and they look at me like I'm crazy. Outside? It's hot out there. And, besides, there are no computers or telephones or TVs outside. How are kids supposed to entertain themselves?
We parents try to be camp counselors and organize activities for the kids, but it rarely works out. An example: One summer, I spent more than hour sweatily changing out wheels on in-line skates so my sons could go free-wheeling around the neighborhood. They were back in five minutes. All done. Ready to return to the sofa and the TV. I hadn't even finished cleaning the grease off my hands.
If we parents don't provide activities to distract them, if we leave it up to the kids to entertain themselves, they pick unwholesome ways to waste their summer days, such as playing computer games while simultaneously yakking on the phone and hogging the Cheetos.
When they get bored, the kids turn on each other, fighting and snapping and snarling, forcing parents to intervene. I often think I should wear a striped shirt and a whistle.
These everyday frustrations mount (along with the grocery bills and gas money and water-park fees) until we parents think we (and our wallets) can't take it anymore.
But hang in there, parents. Just a few more days. Because the doldrums will pass.
And then it will be time to shop for school clothes.
Today's crime tip: If you're planning a career as an armed robber, it's better to forgo identifiable tattoos all over your face. Also, Play-Doh does not make a serviceable bomb.
Matthew Alexander Rivera learned these lessons the hard way after trying to use his fake bomb to rob a lingerie shop in Fayetteville, NC. The 27-year-old genius was arrested after a standoff with police, and now faces kidnapping charges.
Authorities said the "bomb" was made of Play-Doh, a wire and some batteries.
Full story here with mug shot.
Our dog's bark is worse than his bite.
The dog, Elvis, has never intentionally bitten anyone, despite the fact that he's equipped with a set of choppers worthy of a crocodile. He rarely raises his voice unless he's provoked by something nefarious like, say, a cat.
When I say "bark," I don't mean bark as in "woof," but bark as in "tree." In particular, I mean shredded tree bark that has become my chief nemesis in life.
In our back yard, shredded bark covers a berm that rises to the base of the tall rear fence. The bark was placed there as a landscaping "statement" by the developers. What they're saying with this statement is this: Nothing much will grow on this steep slope of clay and discarded concrete, so we'll hide it with shredded bark.
Well, that's just fine. Until it rains. Or the wind blows. At times of such unforeseen "acts of God," the bark tends to migrate until the berm is a barren slope surrounded by dunes of relocated bark.
Now factor into this landscaping scheme one large fuzzy dog with full roaming privileges.
You can picture what happens. Elvis goes for a romp and collects dozens of bits of the aforementioned bark on his curly fur. Then he comes indoors and shakes the bark onto the handy light-colored carpet. Where it becomes my problem.
I'm in charge of keeping the floors clean, which has put me in a years-long power struggle with Elvis. Our previous home had a large lawn. There, Elvis saw it as his mission to de-thatch the lawn and bring all the dead grass into the house. I vacuumed up so much dead yellow grass that each time I emptied the vacuum cleaner bag, I netted one entire bale of hay.
At the current house, we don't have the dead grass problem. We have the bark gradually making its way indoors. No matter how clean the house may be, one good shake from Elvis and the place looks like a sawmill.
Muttering vile curses, I vacuum up the bark. Once the bag is full, it goes into the trash. Which means the dog and I are slowly sending all the migrating bark to the dump. This, I'm pretty sure, isn't what the landscapers had in mind.
Here's the killer: Twice in the past year, I've been forced to go to the home improvement store and buy hundreds of pounds of shredded bark to cover up the denuded berm. I've hauled the 50-pound bags up the berm and spread the bark around, getting splinters in my hands and dirt in my shoes. And I've done this with the full knowledge that Elvis will come right behind me and move all that bark right into the house.
Sure, it's insane, but I can find no other solution. Replacing the bark with gravel would be expensive and ugly. A naked berm would look even worse. Keeping Elvis cooped up so he can't reach the bark seems cruel. (Cutting his fur extra-short doesn't work; we've tried it.) And the dog's not going anywhere; he's a more integral part of the family than I am.
So I'll just keep cycling the bark through, with the full recognition that our property is a mere way-station on the journey from store to landfill. I can always pretend it's my hobby.
I'm funny that way. And when I say "funny," I don't mean funny as in "haha," I mean funny as in "barking crazy."
An angry man in Naples, FL, left a McDonalds drive-through window without any food. He took an employee's shirt instead.
Authorities say Joseph Henry Devalle, 37, got into an argument with the McDonalds employee over his order (evidently not a Happy Meal). As the argument escalated at the window, the clerk refused to serve Devalle and apparently suggested that he talk to the hand. After Devalle slapped the hand away, the clerk punched him in the face. Devalle then grabbed the employee and tried to pull him out of the window, authorities said.
The clerk's shirt ripped away, and Devalle drove off with it. He still had it when police showed up at his home and arrested him.
Full story here.
It's often said: "To err is human, but to really mess up, you need a computer." To that adage I'd like to add: "And if you want to go crazy, call overseas for technical support."
Recently, my desktop computer's CD-ROM drive stopped working. I tried to fix it myself. Unfortunately, most recovery programs require -- you guessed it -- use of the CD-ROM drive.
After sweating over this Catch-22 for an hour, I called my computer company's technical support number. After the requisite 15 minutes of voice mail options and canned music, I got a real live person on the phone.
This person was in India. No surprise there; we've all heard about the "outsourcing" of customer service jobs. Didn't bother me that the guy was halfway around the world. He seemed perfectly nice and I thought, if he works for the computer company, he surely knows more about computers than I do. (Though that's not saying much.)
However, we had trouble understanding each other. The phone connection was jerky, and he spoke with a heavy accent, so it sounded like he was talking through a bad case of the hiccups. I don't know how I sounded to him, but clearly he had problems with my Southern accent.
(I grew up in Arkansas. I normally don't have much of an accent, but the South tends to rise again when I let down my guard. Pour a few drinks in me, and I sound just like Bill Clinton.)
Our conversation quickly degenerated into repeated use of the word "What?" Over and over, back and forth, stress steadily building.
Under such pressure, I drawled more and littered my language with "ain't" and "y'all," which stymied him. Frustrated, he talked faster and louder, which made him sound like a taxi driver in rush-hour traffic.
It was a relief when he put me on hold. I tried to let the canned music soothe me, but it seemed loud and foreign, too.
He came back on the line to inform me my warranty had expired. (Heck, I could've told him that.) If I wanted technical support, he said, I'd have to pay $40 and there were no guarantees they could fix anything.
"But you keep the money?" I drawled.
"Even if it's still broken, you get paid?"
"Never mind," I shouted. I gave him my credit card number and, after more confusion and canned music, he said we could proceed.
But I wouldn't be talking to him anymore. He wasn't Technical Support. He was The Guy Who Takes Your Personal Information and Makes You Pay Up Front.
Back on hold, I told myself it couldn't get any weirder. Then Tech Support came on the line. A woman. She had an even stronger accent. Plus, she spoke Computerese, which meant it was all gibberish to me.
We spent another 20 minutes on the phone, shouting "What?" and speaking gibberish and putting the computer through its paces. When we were done, she confirmed what I had come to fear. It was a hardware problem, and I would need to take the computer to an Authorized Service Center for repair.
In other words, my CD-ROM drive was broken. Which is right back where we started.
I hung up the phone, $40 poorer and no better off. My shoulders ached with tension. My head hurt. My ears were tired.
But, hey, I figure I did my part for International Understanding. And won't the folks in India be surprised when my broken computer arrives in the mail?
It's marked, "Postage Due, y'all."
A new study of national "restaurant" chains has found that nearly all kids' meals have way more fat, salt and calories than children need.
The study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest looked at such chains as KFC, Taco Bell, Sonic, Jack in the Box and Burger King. Well over 90 percent of the meals aimed at kids were bad for them, the study found.
In other studies, the center found that rice is white, gravel can hurt your bare feet and gorillas really like bananas.
Full story here.
At a gym in New York City, clients can get a personal trainer to put them through their paces, using a Nintendo Wii.
As part of their workouts, the clients play video boxing, golf, tennis and dodge ball. Cost? $110 AN HOUR.
As reported here, Gravity Fitness's chief exec says, "We think of this as just another tool at the gym."
The real tools are people who'd pay $110 AN HOUR to play with someone else's sweaty Wii.
From ASAP to TGIF, acronyms infiltrate every aspect of corporate life, providing a handy shorthand for those who are ITK (In The Know).
Acronym use exploded as computerspeak began to crop up in everyday conversation. When you hear people say LOL (Laughing Out Loud) rather than actually, well, laughing out loud, then you know the Era of Acronyms has reached its peak.
How long before we incorporate acronyms into our speech at home? Lord knows we could use some kind of shorthand when it comes to conversing with our children.
Wouldn't it save a lot of breath if a parent could just yell GOAP (Go Outside And Play) rather than spelling it out 27 times a day? The same goes for CUBY (Clean Up Behind Yourselves) and -- my personal favorite -- DILLYM (Do I Look Like Your Maid?).
Acronyms save steps. Instead of racing to referee every spat, parents could simply yell code words: WHIT (What's Happening In There?) and WICAW (Who Is Crying And Why?). KAMU (Kiss And Make Up) works on small children. For teens, you might need DYMMCAP (Don't You Make Me Call A Policeman).
Parents can use acronyms to signal their moods and needs to the children. They can tell the kids to GAB (Gimme A Break) or even GAINT (Go Away; I Need to Think). When it's really tense, parents can warn that they're close to SMOHO (Snatching My Own Hair Out).
When a kid complains there's NOTV (Nothing On Television), parents should respond with RABYD (Read A Book, You Dolt).
At our house, my two sons regularly pray for relief from the GODS (Grumpy Ole Dad Syndrome). They know that when it's been a DADAW (Darned Awful Day At Work), they should RAH (Run And Hide).
When parents desire privacy, they can tell the kids to LTD (Lock The Door) because MADNAM (Mom And Dad Need A Moment).
Every afternoon, housebound parents could make use of ACHOO (All Children Hush; Oprah's On).
Kitchen bulletin boards could use acronyms to communicate housekeeping messages to the whole family. Some examples:
--LUWD (Laundry Undone; Wear Dirty)
--WITMASO (Why Is The Milk Always Sitting Out?)
--TOC/FOYO (Tired Of Cooking/Forage On Your Own)
--OBIP (Oh Boy, It's Payday)
--LEO (Let's Eat Out)
Acronyms are perfect for everyday frustrations.
SACCK (Spilled Another Coffee; Computer Kaput) says it all, doesn't it? When things go really wrong, try ICTOW (Infuriating Computer Thrown Out Window).
NAPPP (Not Another Pesky Plumbing Problem) is naturally followed by PYECHART (Plug Your Ears, Children, or Hear An R-rated Tirade).
BID (Bike In Driveway) serves as a warning. When it's already too late, try ROBS (Ran Over Bike. Sorry).
Greet bill collectors with NOTATA (Not At This Address; Try Argentina). Eviction notices could be shortened to four letters: PROM (Pay Rent Or Move).
Lazy neighbors get this note: FYLOFLA (Fix Your Lawn Or Face Legal Action). And put this one under a windshield wiper -- TOOPSI (Take Only One Parking Space, Idiot).
Acronyms are especially useful when discussing finances. For example, kids apparently think MOM means Made Of Money. And DAD stands for Debts Accruing Daily. But did you know MONEY means More Overtime Necessary Every Year? Financial troubles might make you WOMEN (Worry Over Money Every Night) or even desperate enough to JOB (Jump Off Bridge), but take heart: ICACMO (It's Cheaper After Children Move Out).
Well, I'm OOS (Out Of Space), which means I get to retire to the sofa now for some TV.
Today's tip for would-be robbers: If you're trying to knock over a Baskin-Robbins store, it's really better not to use a gun that's obviously a toy.
Two robbers in Flagstaff, AZ, were thwarted when a clerk at the ice cream parlor recognized that the gun was a toy and refused to hand over the dough.
Extra points: The clerk slammed the cash drawer shut on the other robber's hand.
Double scoop points: The robbers departed in a Kia. Which is like a toy getaway car.
Three people under arrest. Full story here.
In all the hysteria over the health threats posed by obesity, one group of at-risk Americans have gone overlooked -- those of us who work at home.
Telecommuters, home-office types and housespouses face daily diet dangers dire enough to make Richard Simmons sing basso profundo. We're home alone (or, worse, with the kids) all day. The food's right there in the kitchen. No one's watching . . .
Many of us find ourselves gradually inflated by unhealthy meals and round-the-clock snacking. A few pizzas here, a six-pack there, the occasional fistful of chocolate, and, next thing you know, your kids are spray-painting "GOODYEAR" on your abdomen while you nap.
Dieting experts say creeping weight gain results when people don't watch what they eat. These experts recommend that dieters keep a daily diary of everything they consume, so they can be alert to dangerous trends.
Such a diary can be revealing, and often surprising, to us at-home workers.
For instance, if you're very busy at your desk, you might not even notice that you've scarfed down a pound of peanut M&Ms, worth 27 bazillion calories. Heck, you might not have even tasted them, depending upon your level of distraction. But your body will remember every calorie. Especially your hips, which neither forget nor forgive.
How to set up a diet diary? It's best to keep it simple, recording on lined paper each morsel consumed each hour of the day. Use the following example as a template:
7 a.m. -- Coffee.
8 a.m. -- Coffee.
9 a.m. -- Coffee.
10 a.m. -- Omigosh, I forgot breakfast. A cinnamon-raisin bagel with "light" cream cheese. More coffee.
11 a.m. -- Mid-morning snack of a healthy apple. Apple unsatisfying, so chased it with nine ounces of peanut M&Ms.
Noon -- A healthful lunch of a salad with low-fat ranch dressing, one serving of cheese and some baby carrots. For dessert, one 16-ounce bag of potato chips dipped in low-fat ranch dressing.
1 p.m. -- Nothing. So there!
2 p.m. -- Early afternoon snack of low-fat cookies. Bad news from corporate headquarters forced me to eat entire box. Not my fault.
3 p.m. -- Mid-afternoon snack break with the children, consisting of three Popsicles.
4 p.m. -- Need something to cut that sugar high. Twelve ounces of pretzels. Fat-free!
5 p.m. -- Time for a few quiet moments before dinner preparation begins. Six handfuls of peanut M&Ms and two glasses of wine.
6 p.m. -- A few little tastes from various pots while preparing dinner. Nothing much. Really!
7 p.m. -- Dinner with the family. Healthful broccoli, more salad, pasta, French bread, butter, more wine. Lots of calories, but the kids were begging for spaghetti.
8 p.m. -- Favorite old movie on TV can mean only one thing: Popcorn!
9 p.m. -- A few peanut M&Ms while getting the children ready for bed.
10 p.m. -- Bedtime snack. A healthy glass of milk. And 14 Oreos.
11 p.m. -- Can't sleep. Aren't peanut M&Ms a natural tranquilizer? Eat just enough to nod off . . .
7 a.m. -- Awake to find M&M bag empty and pillow smeared with colorful stains. Time for coffee.
So that's how a diet diary works. Keep track of your intake every day, and you'll have a record to use, years from now, when you sue the snack companies for making you fat.
Last night at Marketfest, I was in the beer line behind a young woman who had this tattoo on the back of her neck: "Carpi Diem."
It took all my willpower to resist tapping her on the shoulder and pointing out that the Latin phrase for "seize the day" is actually "Carpe Diem." None of my business what she wants permanently inked onto her neck, right? But still . . .
On the other hand, maybe she spelled it that way on purpose. "Carpi" is the plural for the bones in the wrist. Maybe she meant "Wrist the Day." I don't get it, but then I'm an old fogey with no tattoos at all.
What's the Latin for "Stop tattooing yourself until you learn to spell?"
Today's big news in this corner of the blogosphere is the rollout of the new, improved online magazine Food for Thought. My wife Kelly Brewer has joined Doni Greenberg and other pals in creating a "news cafe" that really rocks. Go check it out at www.donigreenberg.com.
For those of you who've wondered what kind of woman could put up with me, you can see actual photos of Kelly there. What a babe! I'm a lucky guy.