What a tool

I recently repaired a dripping drainpipe under a bathroom sink. This is remarkable for several reasons:

1) I usually can’t fix anything.
2) Plumbing problems typically make me weep while reaching for the phone and the checkbook.
3) I actually sought, heeded and understood advice from the expert at the hardware store.
4) I didn’t make the problem worse, trying to fix it.
5) The job required no new tools. Or duct tape.

The leak was caused by a simple cracked washer. I replaced the beveled washer, put the drain back together and -- surprise! -- the leak stopped. Since the drain consists of plastic pipes, screwed together by hand, no tools were necessary.

It’s this last item that made the job most unusual. Household repairs generally require knowledge and/or use of tools. For those of us who are unhandy and/or idiots, this often is the sticking point.

Way down in the fine print of Murphy’s Laws, you’ll find this: No matter what household repair you attempt, it will require a specialized tool that you do not own.

We unhandy idiots react to this in different ways. We give up immediately and call a professional who owns the applicable tools and knows how to use them. Or, we try to force the issue, using the wrong tool, which often results in a much higher eventual repair bill. Or, we make yet another trip to the hardware store for the correct tool.

Having the right tool for the job doesn’t necessarily mean the repair will be a snap, of course. It’s still possible to make things much, much worse, particularly if running water is involved. Trust me. But with the proper tool, the home handyman has a fighting chance of success.

He also has a new tool. One that (and I’m pretty sure Murphy covers this somewhere, too) he will never, ever need again.

In this way, long-time homeowners accumulate a vast collection of esoteric tools. Not to mention fasteners and washers and assorted stray parts.

We keep them forever. Because you never know. We might one day need that socket/mallet/jigsaw/crowbar/drill bit/screw extender/stud finder/butt hinge/torque wrench/detonator. And wouldn’t we hate to make yet another trip to the hardware store?

Unless you’re one of those neat freaks who keeps all his tools “organized,” possessing these specialized tools means that every home repair becomes a museum tour through the garage. You go to fetch a simple hammer and find yourself, an hour later, pondering a reverse butterfly ratcheting nut-driver. You probably can’t remember how you use that gizmo. Probably can’t recall why you bought it in the first place. But there it is, among the tools, taking up space, in the way.

This phenomenon isn’t limited to tools, of course. Home offices also accumulate assorted widgets and electronics that seemed absolutely necessary at one time, but now are good only for paperweights.

Go take a look in your kitchen. If it’s like ours, it’s full of specialized choppers, strainers, scrapers, graters and gravy boats that rarely get dusted off. Not to mention foods and spices purchased for particular recipes, then rarely used again. How else to explain shelves overflowing with little jars of fennel seed, cumin and turmeric?

And let’s not even mention the medicine cabinet, crammed full of outdated pills, outmoded cosmetics and dried-out tubes of mystery ointment.

It’s enough to make me hit myself in the head in despair. If I could only find the hammer.


Especially on Sundays

I am not a spontaneous person. I tend to do things on the spur of the hour.


Sleepless at the sleepover

Ah, to bed. At last. Another long day, made all the longer by a teen-age son’s sleepover party.

I can still hear the boys in there, snickering and whispering. Winding down from their video-game/sugar buzzes and the random hormone surges that make them howl and punch each other. They seemed to have a great time this evening. Eventually, they’ll fall asleep.

I lay awake, listening, and thinking how sleepover parties are different now.

When they were little, sleepovers were high adventure, full of separation anxiety, trepidation and tears. We needed mule trains to haul the emotional baggage from one household to another. Not to mention changes of clothes, special treats, a blankie, a stuffed toy and one favorite plastic action figure doomed to never turn up again.

We parents regularly delivered all this stuff to another household and handed our children over to strange adults who, for all we knew, were members of a blood cult. But, hey, it’s good for the kids to socialize. And we parents always were desperate for a night off.

Not that it’s ever the whole night off. Because the host parents call at 2 a.m., saying the visiting child is scared, sick or otherwise sleepless and needs a ride home. Guaranteed.

It gets easier in the middle-school years. The kids can pack their own bags, for one thing. And they stay busy with electronic gizmos: video games, CDs, DVDs, I-Pods, cell phones, the microwave oven. The job of the host parents becomes a long night of “Turn that off and go to bed,” but that’s better than cleaning up barf.

Now that they’re older, my boys have friends sleep over all the time, mostly so they can stay up very late on weekends, playing Guitar Hero II. These days, preparation for the sleepover is virtually zero. The guests show up without so much as a toothbrush. They eat whatever they can forage in the fridge. They sleep on the carpet like dogs, if they sleep at all. Sometimes, I wonder if their parents even know where they are. And if other homeowners regularly find unfamiliar 16-year-olds eating Cocoa Puffs in their kitchens at 3 a.m.

Our sleepover visitors always seem polite enough. Sloppy and hyperactive and endlessly hungry, but polite. Hmm. Maybe they’re covering up something with those good manners.

As I lie awake, I start thinking how I don’t really know these teen-agers that well. Maybe the good manners are a ruse. Maybe they’re really felons or firebugs. Maybe they’re “casing the joint,” trying to determine where we hide our valuables. Haha, fooled them, we don’t have any valuables. But still.

Charles Manson probably attended sleepovers at other kids’ homes. Did those host parents wonder about him? Maybe they recognized him later on the news, and said, “Look, it’s Charlie. I always knew that kid was a little helter-skelter.”

The more I think about the potential danger of teen-aged strangers in my home, the more restless I become. By the time I put on my bathrobe and tiptoe down the hall, I’m expecting to find anything, up to and including the sacrificing of a goat.

I peek into my son’s room, and the boys are sound asleep. At peace. Like angels from heaven, if angels slept on the floor and wore baggy jeans and had funny haircuts. Teen angels.

I go back to bed, smiling over my silly anxieties. And lay awake until dawn.


We walk the night

I snapped awake at 2 a.m., my parental radar fully engaged.

A light was on somewhere in the house, its glow barely reaching our bedroom. I figured one of our two teen-aged sons was: a) up in the middle of the night, possibly ill, or b) STILL up, though they’d been ordered to bed hours earlier.

I strained my ears, trying to determine if someone was prowling the kitchen and/or tossing cookies in the bathroom. Nothing.

After a few seconds, the light went off.

Ah. One of the boys was up, for whatever reason, but he’s now gone back to bed and--

The light flicked on again. I listened, waiting. Clearly, the boys were UP TO SOMETHING. But I couldn’t hear a sound.

The light went out. OK, I told myself, go back to sleep. You can deal with the kids in the morning--

The light came on.

I was getting steamed. It’s 2 a.m., and I’ve got a lot of work to do tomorrow--

The light went out. Maybe it’s not too late. Maybe I can still get back to Slumberland, so I’m not a complete wreck tomorrow.

The light came on.

I leaped from bed, slung on my bathrobe and marched down the hall, ready to read somebody the Riot Act. Only the light wasn’t coming from the boys’ bedrooms. It was coming from my office, which should’ve been uninhabited this time of night.


I tiptoed to the office door and peered inside. And there was my computer, chugging away, displaying its revolving slide show of screensaver art. Each frame lit up the room for a few seconds, then winked out, followed by the bright glow of the next slide.

You get the picture. The computer had been up in the night, doing routine maintenance, and was now headed toward shutdown. Satisfied, I closed the office door, went back to bed and probably got a good 20 minutes’ more sleep before dawn.

This isn’t the first time my computer’s played such a trick. Once, I was in the shower, no one else at home, when I distinctly heard a man’s voice somewhere in the house. Couldn’t make out what was being said, but it definitely was a man’s baritone.

I toweled off and sneaked around the house, ready to pounce on an intruder. Then I heard the voice again: “You’ve got mail!”

The air-conditioner roars. Clocks tick-tock. The VCR whirs. The icemaker goes bump in the night.

Our sprinklers irrigate the lawns in the pre-dawn cool, so less is wasted. They hiss and gasp, and the pipes stutter in the walls. No wonder we’re such early risers around here.

Every appliance/computer/phone/smoke alarm in the house has a red “on” light or menacing green eyes or a blue digital clock flashing “12:00.” So many colorful little lights, it’s like the bridge of the Enterprise around here. All the lights come in handy when I’m chasing phantom noises in the night. I can wander the house without flipping a light switch, navigating by the familiar beacons of our electronic gizmos.

Sometimes, lying awake, I get paranoid. Among all the whirs and clicks, I hear snickering. Not the sort of thoughts that help a person get back to sleep.

I should teach my computer to play lullabies.


Wonder wanders on the Internet

Remember when we used to wonder about stuff?

Some obscure question would arise, and we’d wonder about it, scanning our brains, trying to remember if we’d ever heard of the poser before and whether me might know the answer. We’d even file the question away for later, with the notion that we’d look it up in a dictionary or an encyclopedia when we had more time.

Now that computers are commonplace, there’s no reason to wonder anymore. You want to know something, you can find out in seconds. A search in Google or a little shoveling in Dogpile or a quick romp through Wikipedia, and you can answer most any question that comes to mind.

Who played the cop in that movie we saw last week? How far to Bali? Whatever happened to old So-and-so? What is this rash? How long do you cook a two-minute egg? Where did all my money go? Why do birds suddenly appear, every time you are near? All that info, and much, much more, is readily available via the Internet.

We could be the best-informed populace of all time, but in the process we’re losing the capacity for speculation. Wondering is good for you. It makes your brain work. It forces you to come up with your own creative (albeit often extremely incorrect) answers.

Kids are great wonderers. Everything’s brand new to them, so they wonder about everything: Why is the sky blue? Where do babies come from? Why is grass itchy? How many deviled eggs can I stuff in one automobile ashtray? Could you make a doubled-barreled slingshot out of a brassiere? If there are undertows, how come there’s no such thing as an “overtow?” Why is Paris Hilton a celebrity?

As parents, it’s our job to answer their many, many questions as best we can, or to at least steer our offspring toward the right answers. Of course, we parents are tired and distracted, so the quality of our information may be suspect. Plus, some of us are perverse, and have been known to make up fanciful answers from whole cloth.

That no longer works once the kids get access to the Internet.

“You lied!” they shriek. “Thunder is NOT caused by God dancing around in rubber boots. I looked it up!”

We parents have to back and fill, telling the little beggars we were only joking, grain of salt, etc. The children never look at us quite the same afterward.

Not that we notice. We’re too busy looking stuff up on the Internet ourselves. We waste huge chunks of time, tracking down random factoids that we’d probably be better off not knowing.

We start clicking through links, looking for a little more information, and instead get captivated by tangents. We click and we click, and each link takes us farther away from the original question. We start off trying to understand why the ocean is blue, and end up reading a treatise on Portuguese pornography.

This leads to a whole new set of questions: What the heck am I doing? How did I get here? What was I originally looking up? Do I still care anymore? Did I miss dinner? Who knew things were so hot in Portugal?

It’s enough to make you wonder.


You're doing it wrong

A bank robber in Connecticut got off to a good start, but made a few mistakes in the "getaway" department.

Police say David Maksimik, 59, used a fake grenade and a gun to steal $3,745 from a bank in a shopping center in Darien. While fleeing the scene, he rear-ended another car at a stop sign. His crunched car limped along for a while, then Maksimik ditched it. He took a bus, then a taxi, then called his sister to give him a ride the rest of the way home.

When he got there, he found his 53-year-old roommate unconscious on the floor. He called 911. The police confirmed that the roommate was dead -- an apparent suicide -- but they got suspicious of Maksimik.

They found the bank robbery loot in a binocular bag in plain sight on Maksimik's bed. Maksimik then allegedly confessed everything. He's on trial now.

Extra points: He's no newbie. Maksimik previously was convicted in a 1991 bank robbery, and was released from prison in 1997.

Full story here.


We'll jump off that bridge when we come to it

I recently changed my computer's desktop background to a color photograph of one of my favorite structures, the Golden Gate Bridge.

It was a photo I plucked off the Internet, shot from the waterfront to show the full sweep of the grand orange bridge. A sunny day. A few sailboats nearby. When I put the photo up on my screen, the image stretched slightly, softened, so it looked like an oil painting.

Ah, an inspiring backdrop for my workday. Probably an important metaphor there somewhere. I'm crossing some bridge in my career. Or, I'm connecting two worlds, the everyday one and the virtual one in my computer. Or, I'm bridging between real life and art, trying to--

Then I noticed where all my desktop icons had lined up. The four icons for my latest project were midway along the bridge, in midair, apparently leaping to their deaths.

Now there's a nasty little coincidence. I spent the next few hours fretting over omens and lemmings and my new book. Finally, I couldn't stand it anymore, and I changed the desktop to a lovely airbrushed photo of a chimpanzee dressed for the office. Better that my icons be spattered all over the chimp's suit than plunging into San Francisco Bay.

This story illustrates a number of points about work in the Computer Age:

1) Somebody's got too much time on his hands.
2) Superstition ain't the way.
3) Nothing's funnier than a chimp in a necktie.
4) We spend so much time with our computers that something as basic as the desktop background can affect our moods. There's a reason for the cheerful daisies and colorful reefs displayed in every cubicle farm in America.

Changing desktop backgrounds is so last decade for most people, but not to me. I am extremely low-tech. I'm the kind of computer user who doesn't want to change anything, ever, for fear it will somehow break the machine.

In the past, I'd pick a standard, pre-loaded image for my background and leave it alone for months, maybe years. Sure, I might tire of climbing that same scenic mountain day after day, but why take a chance, messing with it?

My latest computer makes it ridiculously easy to steal -- I mean, reproduce -- background images from the Internet. Now, my desktop is a revolving art gallery. Landscapes and seascapes and cityscapes. Ansel Adams and Andy Warhol and Vincent Van Gogh. Snow-covered peaks and pale flowers. Surf and turf. And, always, that wry chimp in the suit.

The revolving images reflect my moods and how well work is going. Sometimes, I want to be inspired by a sculpture or a skyscraper, some great thing man has made. Other times, I need to get away, and I'll resort to a secluded beach. If the background changes frequently, it's a sign that I'm goofing around in Google Images all day instead of getting any work done.

I'll probably stick to a single image for a while. Bet on the chimp.

Who's got the huevos here?

In Christchurch, New Zealand, a man and a woman entered a shop. The man pointed a gun at the shopkeeper and demanded money. The shopkeeper refused to hand it over. They demanded cigarettes. The shopkeeper said no.

Thwarted, the woman grabbed a bunch of chocolate Easter eggs off the counter, and the robbers fled to a waiting car.

Full story here.


Table manners for boys

One of our favorite pastimes is eating out, and our two sons have grown up in restaurants. To them, fine dining is no big deal.

These days, it’s rare for all four of us to dine out together. Our boys are on the go with their friends around the clock, and they’re way too busy to spend time in places where there’s no actual skateboarding or Guitar Hero II. Plus, they’re teen-agers and therefore can withstand the presence of their parents for only so many ticking minutes before their heads explode.

Once in a while we lure them out on the town with us, often using pasta as bait, and it’s always a treat to watch them handle themselves well in a restaurant, dealing with waiters and minding their manners.

At times like those, a parent can tear an elbow ligament trying to pat himself on the back, but it’s a good idea to put that fork down first.

Recently, my wife and I had such an outing with our young son. (Where was the older one? I don’t know. I believe he said, “Out.”) We showed up at a nice Italian joint in time for the sunset special, our son bobbing along beside us to a music only he can hear. His long hair hid his face, his posture was a question mark, and he wore an AC/DC “devil horns” T-shirt over pants that looked as if they’d been gnawed away at the knees by attack beavers. The usual.

As soon as we were seated, Mr. Scruffy became Mr. Savoir Faire, ordering with aplomb and using the correct fork and making only one brief joke with the napkin before putting it in his lap where it belonged. He participated in the conversation, didn’t dip his hair in his food, and generally was as pleasant a dinner companion as a person could desire, if that person didn’t mind picking up the tab.

So different from the way I’d see him a few hours later, slumped on the carpet in front of the TV, hooting at “Family Guy” and spooning sticky mint ice cream directly out of the carton.

Both versions are the direct result of his upbringing. From the time our sons were babies, they were drilled in “restaurant behavior.” Things were relaxed at home, where they might be able to get away with certain violations, such as that never-stale sabertooth joke with the asparagus spears. But such behavior doesn’t fly in restaurants.

Yes, it’s a double standard, and yes, it’s probably not the best way to rear children. Strict disciplinarians would argue that manners should be perfect at every meal, but those people are too uptight to enjoy a fine meal anyway, and should just eat tidy pellets like hamsters.

My wife and I were determined to keep dining out, even when the kids were small and couldn’t get through a single meal without knocking over at least one king-sized beverage. We were the only family at the diner where the adults were the ones wearing rubber pants.

Every time, as we entered, the kids got a little lecture about “restaurant behavior,” a reminder to use our best manners while sharing the establishment with other diners, including some who do not want to play “seafood.”

These excursions were stressful, of course, but gradually the lessons took, and on a few occasions, perfect strangers stopped by our table to remark on how quiet and well-behaved our boys were. This usually made us parents burst into tears.

Our answer, then, now and always: “You should see them at home.”


Self-help yourself to a new self

Recently spied on my Internet service provider’s home page: “Best Swimsuit for Your Horoscope.”

That, ladies and gentlemen, may be the ideal headline for our times. If only they could’ve worked in the word “rehab” somewhere, it would’ve been perfect.

What in blue blazes could horoscopes have to do with bikinis? I don’t know. I tried to go to that page, but I got one of those “Error: Page Not Found” messages, which means it was busy because everyone else on the planet was looking at that page right then.

Anyway, the content doesn’t matter (and that’s another lesson for our times). What matters is the beauty of that headline, which manages to stir several of our darkest fears in a mere five words. Genius.

In women, especially, nothing stimulates the “fight or flight” response like the word “swimsuit.” Flashbacks of dressing room disasters are enough send most folks into a whinnying panic. And, oh, the horror of “horoscope,” the thought that our actions are governed by the alignment of distant stars rather than random human stumbling. As if the stars would allow us to be this messed up if they were in charge. As if they’d concern themselves with swimsuits.

We face a blizzard of self-help tips every day. Everywhere we turn -- TV, Internet, newspaper, so-called friends, every magazine under the sun -- we’re shown ways we should improve. These articles and ads and advisements become a steady drumbeat of criticism, telling us we’re too fat, unhealthy, boring, short, shy, predictable, lowbrow, high-falutin’, clumsy, drunk, fat, shallow, rude, vain, weak, small-breasted, big-boned, curly, shemp, fat, happy, grumpy, dopey, stressed-out, sleepless, fat, crazy, lazy, hazy, prone to making lists, etc.

There’s such a flurry of self-help that disparate bits of advice are bound to collide into unlikely pairings such as “Best Swimsuit for Your Horoscope.”

Here are some more possibilities:

Best Automobile for Your Cottage-Cheese Thighs

Lose Weight the Black & Decker Way

Kicking the Rehab Habit

Your Child and the All-Cabbage Diet

Best Negligee for Halftime

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Nuns

Grapefruits and Gunpowder: The Diet With Kick

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Thumb Disease

Exercise Your Right to Make Lefts

Nude Gardening for Seniors

Oprah’s Hardware Helpline

Best Wurst for Your Waistline

Celebrity Dating Secrets and Your Front Lawn

Two Syndromes: Irritable Bowel and China

Are Obscure Movie References Right For You?

How to Stalk Paparazzi

Best Underwear for Schoolyard Wedgies

Internet Romance Cures Eczema

Gum-Cracking for Amateur Astronomers and Their Moms

The Rehab Diet: Lose 20 Pounds While Getting Some “Me Time”

Sleepwalking Through Wal-Mart Fights Heart Disease

Do-It-Yourself Plastic Surgery

Worst Pickup Lines by “Poets” Who Wear Sunglasses Indoors and Who Should Really Go to a Tanning Booth or Something. Duh.

The Tarot of Plumbing

Never Show “The Buddy Holly Story” as the In-flight Movie and Other Airline Secrets

Wok This Way: Cooking With Aerosmith

Wardrobe Tips From the Patients of Ward “B”

Bird-Watching for Dollars

Improve the Feng Shui of Your Office Environment With Sod

Lovemaking Secrets of Civil War Re-Enactors

The Summer Quilting Diet

Best Chia Pet for Your Limo

Packing to Leave: Divorce, U-Haul and a Chainsaw

What to Do If Your Date Emits Greenhouse Gases

Driving Tips From Dieting Celebrities Who Survived Ugly Divorces and Adopted Homeless Pets, All While Remodeling Kitchens in the Nude

And, finally, of course: Best Horoscope For Your Swimsuit. In Rehab.


Dibs on the movie rights

Here's a scenario straight from your local cinema multiplex: Two guys go into a jewelry store in Milwaukee, WA, and rob it of jewelry and cash. As they're fleeing the scene, they're held up by four other guys who apparently were lying in wait for them.

A fight broke out between the two sets of robbers, eventually becoming a high-speed chase as the original pair chased after the foursome. Police arrested two men believed to be the initial heist pair and two others from the quartet of double-crossers. Two other men -- and the loot -- remain at large.

No word on whether any of the robbers was named Dortmunder.

Full story here.

Just wait in line while we dial 911

A California man was arrested after he tried to register a stolen car with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Police say Anthony Cooper, Jr., 20, was arrested after trying to register the 1995 Buick LeSabre at the DMV office in El Cerrito. A computer check found that the car had been reported stolen after an armed carjacking in San Francisco.

I can see how this would happen. It's important to register your car, so it's legal and all. You wouldn't want to get a ticket.

Full story here.


Dialing for coffee

The scene: Early summer morning. One spouse is at home, surrounded by all the modern communications gear a man could want. The other spouse is out running errands, and she has a cell phone in her purse.

The husband, sweaty in his workout duds, comes in from the three-car oven where the family keeps its fancy treadmill/torture machine.

The coffee pot is nearly empty, and he goes to make another pot and, oh my Lord, there’s no coffee. How did this happen? There’s always extra coffee stashed around the house. But a quick search turns up nothing. Out of coffee. That’s all there is to it.

No problem. He’ll simply use his modern communications equipment to contact his wife, who can make a quick stop by the market on her way home. He can exist without coffee until she gets here, and he won’t have to actually get dressed.

He dials, but gets voicemail. He leaves a message: “Hi, hon. It’s me. We’re out of coffee. Can you pick some up while you’re out? Thanks.”

OK, he thinks, she left the phone in the car. No big deal. She’ll get the message. He’ll get coffee. Eventually.

But what if she doesn’t get the message? Maybe she’ll forget to check. She’ll come all the way home, and have to go right back out again. Or, worse, he’ll have to go.

Through the miracle of redial, he calls every few minutes, hoping to catch her at that magic moment when she’s actually in the supermarket. He leaves a message each time so she won’t think all the hang-ups are some sort of emergency signal that means he’s fallen off a ladder.

“Hi, hon. Hope you got my message. About the coffee. Call and let me know.”

“Me again. Just trying to catch you near the phone. About the coffee.”

“Houston, we’ve got a problem. We’re outta coffee up here. Not enough for even one pot. Please acknowledge.”

“Breaker, breaker, good buddy. We’ve got an emergency situation here. Come back. With coffee.”

“Stardate 070822. The Enterprise has … been … stricken. No … coffee. Gasp.”

“Hey, hon? This isn’t funny anymore. About the coffee? Call and let me know you got these messages. I’m down to the dregs here. I’ll put on shoes and go to the store if I have to, but since you’re already out and about and (beep)--”

“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale. A tale of a fateful trip. They started out without coffee, and they never got a sip. They never got a sip.”

“Mayday, mayday. We’re going down. No coffee. Emergency measures taken. Drinking old decaf from last Christmas that I found in the back of the cabinet. Wish me luck. Over.”

“Houston, do you copy? It’s not working. I repeat, it’s not working. Decaf not enough to combat effects of hangover. Slipping out of consciousness. Must … lie … down.”

“Ground Control to Major Tom.”

Finally, she answers, of course, and she’s in the checkout line, coffee in hand. The miracle of modern telecommunications saves the day.

But you should see our phone bill.


I said, "Quiet!"

Headline seen today on America Online news:

Hospital Accused of Killing Teen For His Organs

That seems a harsh overreaction. Now, if it had been a bagpipe. . .

Top o' the morning mayhem

Happy St. Patrick's Day. Mine started off like this: Dancing leprechauns and animated ads full o' shamrocks repeatedly locked up my America Online so I couldn't get online and clear out the usual spam and check my Facebook.

All my other online functions worked fine, but not AOL, where I've got lots of bookmarks and personal e-mail contacts. After rebooting and task-ending and jumping around the room like "Riverdance," I finally got AOL to work.

AOL and Facebook both have recently forced "upgrades" on their users. Whenever you see the word "upgrade," think "upscrewed."


Chair razing

Let's say you have some rickety patio furniture, and you'd really like to get rid of it and get something nicer, but you can't bring yourself to throw it out.

Here's what you should do: Invite me over for a barbecue.

For a modest fee of bratwurst and beer, I will gladly sit in your patio chairs and render them into kindling. Then we'll have a good laugh, clean up the mess and you can go shopping with a clean conscience.

How can I offer such a service? I am Brewer, Slayer of Chairs, Destroyer of Sitting Places, and Grand High Master of Splintery.

I achieved this lofty position by building my reputation over a lifelong career in chair smashing. I hate to brag, but it's well-known among my friends and acquaintances that you save the sturdiest chair for me. I'm six-foot-five and weigh over 250 pounds, many of them concentrated in the sitting region, and standard chairs don't stand a chance.

As with so many professional chair demolishers, I got my start in college. Horsing around, rocking back on two legs, buying the cheapest aluminum lawn chairs, all those things your mother warned you against.

The day I saw that I real potential to become an All-World Annihilator of Chairs came 30 years ago. I leaned a bentwood back onto two legs, only to have it crack and nearly pitch me out a second-story window. I barely caught myself in time. How's that for degree of difficulty?

As I grew older and ever heavier, more and more chairs fell beneath my destructive powers. Flimsy lawn chairs folded sideways. Pool lounges collapsed. Picnic benches splintered. Kitchen chairs splayed.

We owned a couple of antique armchairs with ornately carved front legs. They lived more than a century before they got to our house, where they were soon reduced to wreckage. Sometimes, while looking at family photo albums, I'll run across those chairs, and I'll feel a twinge of regret. But I swiftly push such feelings aside. No time for sentimentality; there's a whole world full of chairs to destroy.

I even broke a sofa once. Years ago, we bought a Duncan Phyfe-style sofa from a friend and had it refurbished by a roving Italian upholsterer who might've been lacking something in the green card area. The finished product was a beautiful, mustache-shaped sofa with graceful carved legs.

The very next Christmas, my family gathered around the tree in our bathrobes, passing out gifts and laughing. Full of joy. I had my gluteus maximus planted on one end of the redone sofa, and -- crack! -- a graceful leg snapped off. How's that for a Christmas surprise? Ho, ho, ho, pick yourself up off the floor and fix the couch.

My crowning achievement as Devastator of All Seating came a few summers ago, when I managed to kill not one, but two, heavy-duty lawn chairs at the same three-hour outdoor concert.

Granted, they were aged chairs, and they'd stood up to a lot of weighty abuse over the years. Their plastic arms were riddled with tiny stress fractures that were bound to give way eventually. But both chairs the same day? Some combination of sodden lawn and enormous man and beer worked its magic that day. Snap! Crack! Two chairs, straight to the dumper.

So, if you want to get rid of some chairs, stoke up the grill and give me a call. I'm in the Yellow Pages under "Chairs, Demolition." Ask for Destructor.


What your home office needs

We spend a big chunk of our lives working, so it’s no wonder we pay so much attention to decorating and equipping our workspaces.

Visit any cubicle in America, and you’ll find all sorts of gizmos and gimcracks and souvenir snowglobes and clipped cartoons aimed at giving the place some personality. We want to claim the space, make it our own, and if that means thumb-tacking “Garfield” to the walls, then so be it. (Not the cartoons. I mean the actual cat. But that’s just me.)

Manufacturers and merchants have recognized this drive to personalize our office spaces and have responded with tons of products aimed as separating us from the hard-earned dollars we make in those cubicles. The products get more outlandish and high-tech all the time.

A website called Switched.com recently collected some of the latest in a list called “10 Ultimate Cubicle Gadgets.” It’s a wacky list, ranging from a handheld air-conditioner to a high-tech cubicle makeover that costs more than $10,000.

Some items appeal to the inner nerd: a palm-sized polygraph, a device that signals when the worker is displaying poor desk posture, a fingerprint reader for password protection, and a washable, flexible computer keyboard.

Other items included a fancy lamp, a mini-fridge that holds one can of soda, and a round video phone that sits on squat legs, looking very much like the upraised back end of a dog.

These products look like a lot of fun, and I’m sure your cubicle would be a better place if you installed them. But the collection doesn’t address the millions of people who work in home offices, where the needs are more basic and there’s no boss to say what’s inappropriate.

Here are some gadgets you need in your home office:

--A thermal mug, which will reduce the number of times you must run to the kitchen for more coffee. A mug with a lid can prevent expensive spills into the computer.

--A set of screwdrivers. For making adjustments to your ancient swivel chair, repairing your eyeglasses or opening up your computer tower, so you can do some real damage to what’s inside.

--Duct tape has a thousand uses, including emergency hair removal and securing the occasional splint.

--Nail clippers. With no co-workers around, you can do your personal grooming right at your desk. Avoid letting the flying shards land in your keyboard.

--A lobster bib. We work-at-home types tend to eat at our desks.

--A threadbare bathrobe, for pulling on in a hurry when the FedEx driver rings the doorbell.

--A yo-yo, paddle-ball or other time-wasting toy. Because nobody’s watching.

--Earplugs, for those times when children are in the house.

--Solitaire, Tetris or other computer games. Everybody needs to take a break occasionally, right? Even if those “breaks” last for hours . . .

--A calendar and/or to-do list. You need organization and goal-setting in a home office. Otherwise, you waste all day watching old episodes of “The Munsters.”

--A box of tissues. Using your sleeve is gross, even if no one’s watching.

--Notepads, for doodling.

--A music delivery system of some sort, in case you feel like dancing.

--A sharp knife for opening packages. Also handy for slitting your wrists when you realize you’ve missed yet another deadline.

Finally, the most important device of all. Your home office needs a door so can shut out your family and the rest of the world.

You don’t want them to see you clipping your toenails.



Employees and customers at a pub in Buckie, Scotland, say they suffered sunburn, vision problems and other ailments after the manager mistakenly put ultraviolet tanning light bulbs in a fixture behind the bar.

This gives a new meaning to "blind drunk."

Full story here.


Holy Bluetooth, Batman!

At a theater recently, as the lights dimmed and the movie began, I was distracted by a flash of blue light.

Saw it out of the corner of my eye. A blink of bright blue. Hmm.

I focused on the screen. Things were starting to happen there, and I needed to pay attention and, there it went again. Flash of blue.

What the heck? Now, I’m completely distracted. I stare across the dark theater, waiting for the flash. There it is. A guy sitting on the aisle has one of those Bluetooth gizmos screwed into his ear. Every few seconds, its little blue light flashes.

Once I recognized the source, it was all I could see. The movie was forgotten.

FLASH. Son of a gun. How does he not sense that the light’s flashing, right there on the side of his head?

FLASH. What about his wife, on the other side of him? Can’t she see that her husband’s creating a disturbance--

FLASH. What kind of blinking moron goes into a movie, wearing one of those things and--

FLASH. Who needs a phone in a movie anyway? Unless he’s a surgeon, on call for an emergency, he can manage without a phone. And if he is a surgeon expecting an emergency, what’s he doing at the matinee?

FLASH. Grrrr.

As I was weighing whether to just go ahead and kill him, his wife snapped to the problem and gave him a sharp elbow. The guy snatched the thing out of his ear and stuffed it in his shirt pocket, thereby forcing me to spare his life. I can only hope he missed a really important call.

Am I the only one who’s sick of self-important gearheads walking around with gizmos in their ears as if they’re characters in “Star Trek: The Cellular Generation?” Isn’t it bad enough that they treat the rest of us to their loud, inane conversations? Now they have to FLASH, too?

Hands-free phoning is a good idea if you’re driving (though NOT talking on the phone while you’re driving is an even better idea), but it’s inappropriate in most other places.

I saw a young guy with a phone device in his ear at an outdoor concert. The music was so loud, you couldn’t hear yourself think, much less carry on a telephone conversation. Plus, wasn’t hearing the music the whole point of being there? If he wanted to talk on the phone, he could’ve stayed in his car, driving badly, like everyone else.

I suppose it’s some kind of status symbol to be plugged in at all times. It makes the statement: I’m really important and must be in constant contact with my office because I have big international deals brewing and/or transplant surgery to perform.

But that’s not the message I receive. I see a guy with electronic doodads in his ears and more gear on his belt than Batman, and I think: Here’s a nerd who’s addicted to all the latest toys. Someone who’s so insecure, he has to show off his toys to everyone he meets.

The really cool/rich/important people don’t go around with phones hanging off them like leashes. They have assistants who handle their communications. They have big deals brewing, sure, but on their terms and on their timelines. You don’t call them; they call you.

They recognize that blue flashes are not a fashion statement unless you’re a police car.

For sure, they’re not wasting their afternoons in matinees like some of us.

Flash on that.


Deer beer

A trio of deer in Greensburg, PA, made a commotion at a store called Beer Arena, crashing through displays and into closed doors before finally finding a way out through a back door.

The deer bolted into the store through the front door, just after some customers left, store employees said. The surprised clerk ducked behind a display while the deer crashed around, searching for an escape.

It all happened so fast, the employee didn't even have time to ask to see their IDs.

Full story (with photo) here.


Lost in Bookland

One problem with working at home is it’s hard to tell when you’re finished.

In a regular work environment, you get a “job well done” or a slap on the back or a new assignment. If nothing else, your shift ends and you go home and try to not think about work for a while.

But when you work at home, the completion of each task merely calls attention to other looming deadlines and to the chores you’ve been ignoring. You’re still surrounded by housework and parenting and errands and the other parts of your “job” that never go away.

I, for one, don’t handle “down time” well. I seem to have two speeds: 1) flat-out, fast-as-I-can-go obsession, or 2) full idle, in which I don’t know what to do with myself. Switching back and forth makes me a little crazy.

Take, for example, those periods when I'm working on a new novel. I'm consumed by the story, barely in touch with the real world. Phone calls go unanswered. Familiar faces go unrecognized. My mind wanders during conversations.

My family has grown accustomed to this distracted condition. They call it Bookland. As in, “There’s no point talking to Dad right now. He’s in Bookland.”

Once I'm done, I emerge from my home office, blinking and scratching like Rip Van Winkle, and try to regain some focus on everyday reality. I usually find that, once again, my wife has kept the household running while I was in Bookland. A new season has arrived. My sons have grown taller.

You’d think I’d relax during this break, return to my senses, have some fun. Instead, I spiral right into the ground in a weird form of post-partum depression. I’ve given birth to a new story, and it’ll no doubt grow up to be a disappointment, no matter how much I rewrite and revise and mutter curses.

This would be the perfect time for a distraction, something to divert my attention away from my own navel. I cast about for a diversion, only to find that I have no interests or hobbies.

Household chores aren’t enough to keep my mind off work. I love to read, but end up comparing every book to the one I’m trying to write. I watch movies and see only the “bones” of the script. The Internet is just more time sitting at my desk.

I’m too fat and injury-prone for sports. Too impatient to go fishing. I haven’t ridden a bike since I learned to drive. I could take a real vacation, I suppose, but traveling is expensive and I travel too much for work already.

Other people have hobbies that take up their free time. But I’m not interested in collecting anything (except books) and I have no expertise or equipment for craft projects. Painting? There’s a mess to clean up. Pottery? Ditto. Woodworking? No, thanks, I need all my fingers for typing.

So I wander around the house, mumbling and overeating and watching inane TV, until it’s time to go back Bookland, a place of my own invention, where I know everyone’s name.


Singing the parenting blues

The dramas of the ancient Greeks often featured a chorus that stood off to one side, commenting on the actions of the lead players, bemoaning mistakes and foretelling disasters.

This chorus parallels the modern lifestyle known as “parenting.”

We parents watch from the sidelines as our children make boneheaded decisions and rush headlong into dangerous situations, and all we can do is sing out warnings. The children are the stars of the show, and they’ll make their own mistakes, no matter how loudly we parents sing the blues.

Many of these songs are standards, the same ones our parents sang to us: “Go to Sleep, Little Baby” and “Don’t Put That in Your Mouth” and “What Do You Mean (You’ve Lost Your Shoes)?”

Others are situation-specific: “No Monsters Under the Bed” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand (When We Cross the Street)” and “O, Brother, Where Art Thou Sister’s Barbies?”

Then there are the novelty tunes, the unintentionally comic songs blurted in the heat of the moment: “Don’t Pet That End of the Dog” or “Three Coins Up Your Nostril” and “That’s Not a Helmet, That’s a Bra.”

Some parental laments make no sense. I’ll never forget, when I was about 12, as I worked up my courage to swing on a rope into the local swimming hole, my mother sang out: “If You Swing Off There and Kill Yourself, Don’t Come Crying to Me.”

We parents change our tunes as the children grow older. When they’re babies, we coo lullabyes and delight in their grossest activities and sing their praises for having a full set of toes. Our hit parade consists of “My Baby’s Cuter than Yours” and “Cry Me a River“ and “Spit-up Rag” and “Ooh, That Smell.”

When they reach the toddler stage and go mobile, the warnings begin in earnest: “Don’t Go Out of the Backyard, Dear, With Anyone Else But Me” and “Put That Down, It’s Nasty” and “Electric Shocks Are No Fun” and “(On Everything) Germs, Germs, Germs.”

Then it’s off to kindergarten, and we parents moan all the louder because the children are out of sight, and we hope our many admonitions echo inside their darling heads. Many songs of this era come in the form of questions or pleas: “Did You Go?” and “One More Bite?” and “Oh, Dirty Boy (the Bath, the Bath is Calling)” and that old favorite, “Hurry Up, We’re Late, It Doesn’t Matter If You Have Your Superman Underwear.”

The school years reinforce the notion that we parents have less control over our offspring all the time. “If Johnny Jumped Off a Cliff,” we sing, and “Don’t Bite the Teacher” and “How Can You Mend a Broken Arm?” and “A Lost Lunchbox and a Pink Consternation.”

The parental chorus grows frantic in the teen years, as we try to squeeze last-minute warnings into unheeding ears: “This Ain’t No Party” and “You Call that Music?” and “Get a Job” and “One Tattoo’s Too Many For Me.”

Finally, the kids leave the nest (“Bye-bye, Birdie”) and strike off on their own (“Save Your Knowledge for College” or “You’re in the Army Now”), and we parents can finally stop singing and sit in the wings, quietly worrying instead.

One day, our children will have kids of their own, and they’ll start singing the parenting blues themselves.

I don’t know about you, but I plan to say, “Don’t come crying to me.”


You're doing it wrong

Sixteen adults and juveniles were arrested over the weekend after a brawl broke out at a free concert in Silver Spring, Md. Those arrested were charged with crimes like assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

Extra points: The youth concert was a benefit to promote Stop the Violence.

Full story here.


At home with the Wisenheimers

A recent conversation at our house:

Dad, muttering and extremely agitated: “I’m going to kill your brother.”

Younger Son, deadpan and without hesitation: “Can I have his room?”

Now, Younger Son doesn’t really want his brother’s room. His own room is the bigger of the two, and his brother’s room is cluttered and dark and smelly. But Younger Son is quick on the draw, and he won’t let a straight line slip by without comment.

It’s not just him, either. At our house, nobody passes up a punchline. If the joke is at another family member’s expense, all the better. To an outsider, our conversation can sound harsher than the lighting in a motel bathroom.

A stutter draws an immediate: “Easy for you to say.” Any mention of having “wit” gets an automatic: “You’re half right.” Never, ever say that your face hurts, or you’ll get a chorus of “It’s KILLING me.”

My wife recently survived a terrible case of food poisoning, and my sympathetic response was, “That’s what you get for eating at a restaurant called Giardia.”

I can’t work among the thorns in the flowerbeds without trotting out this line: “The rosebush bites the hand that weeds it.” Har.

Oh, yes, we’re so very, very clever and annoying, but we can’t help ourselves. In our house, we’ve always placed a premium on laughter. Our sons have grown up with the idea that whoever’s funniest wins. This should stand them in good stead out in the real world, where employers love backtalk and snappy banter.

Do other households suffer from this malaise? Do other families sit around, yakking and yukking it up, always trying to one-up each other? Surely, we’re not the only family that should be named Wisenheimer.

I blame TV. We’ve all consumed a lifetime of situation comedies, in which every lame joke is rewarded by a laugh track.

In a sit-com household, if somebody says, “I’m going to kill your brother,” the smart-aleck child is required to say, “Can I have his room?”

It’s easy to slip into traditional Sit-Com Family roles -- bumbling, cranky Dad; sassy, capable Mom, and 2.6 wiseacre children. Problems arise when we perform those roles outside the household. Out in public, a smart mouth can be downright dangerous.

The other day, I was walking in a store behind a short, stocky man who appeared to be constructed of bowling balls. His round, shaved head sat so low, his earlobes brushed his shoulders.

The line that went through my head: “Hey, buddy. They’re running a sale on necks over on Aisle 6.” This was so funny (to me), that it was all I could do not to say it out loud.

While he was built of bowling balls, I resemble a large bowling pin. And we all know who wins when those two collide.

A sit-com dad would’ve said it anyway. And the audience would’ve gotten a big laugh later over his black eye and plaster casts.

To me, broken bones aren’t that funny, especially when they’re mine, so I zipped my lip and hurried home. Once there, I told everyone about Mr. No-Neck and how funny it would’ve been if only I’d been a little more brave and/or stupid. Because they’re my family and they know what’s really important, they got a big laugh out of what might’ve been.

Or, maybe they were picturing me with black eyes, so they could say to my wife, “Hey, lady, where’d you get the raccoon?”

Yeah, that sounds like us.



A 66-year-old Chilean man was arrested at the airport in Barcelona, Spain, when he tried to get through customs in a wheelchair, wearing a cast on his leg. Police say the cast was made entirely of compressed cocaine.

Extra points: Authorities say the man or his accomplices actually broke his leg so he wouldn't arouse suspicion.

Full story here.


Signed, sealed, delirious

Is there any greater lie in American marketing than "easy to open?"

Products today are tamper-proof, childproof, moisture-resistant, safety-wrapped and vacuum-sealed, but easy to open they’re not.

Many of the foods we eat are sealed so tightly, you could starve to death before you get them open. Every time I wrestle a bottle of medicine, I think how it's a good thing my life's not depending on an emergency dose. Opening over-the-counter remedies requires scissors, a sharp knife and manual dexterity, and that's just the box. To free one of the individually entombed "caplets," you might need a small explosive.

How many minutes out of the average day do we spend trying to open packages? How much American productivity goes down the tubes while workers search for box cutters or letter openers? How much heartburn is caused daily by the phrase "Open Other End?"

I know the manufacturers of consumer products are trying to keep us safe, so we won't sue them, and much of the security packaging is required by government regulation. But it's hard to keep all that in mind when opening a simple bottle of water requires pliers.

People over a certain age can remember when the biggest obstacle between them and an aspirin was that little cotton ball the manufacturers stuffed inside the bottle to keep them from rattling around.

The Tylenol tampering deaths in 1982 resulted in new rules for over-the-counter medications. They now come with multiple layers of tamper-resistant packaging. First, you've got to remove that plastic film that's wrapped around the childproof cap (and good luck managing that without a sharp instrument of some kind). Then you've got to line up the little arrows to pop off the childproof cap. Inside, there's usually a foil seal that must be punctured and removed. By the time you get through those layers of protection, you're either not sick anymore or you're dead.

I had a cold recently, and took over-the-counter decongestants so I could function until the bug ran its course. Which meant that four times a day, you could find me cursing and sniffling and working my fingers to the bone, trying to remove the tablets from their individual paper-foil-plastic containers. There's a reason it's called a "blister pack."

Resealable packages are all the rage at the supermarket, but what's the point of "resealable" if you can't get it open in the first place?

Here's how they're supposed to work: Tear off an outer strip of plastic, and what's left is a zipper arrangement like those on sandwich bags. Does that plastic strip ever tear off straight? Once you do rip it off, how do you get the package open? There's nothing left to grab hold of. Most kitchens aren't equipped with tweezers.

My wife recently ran into this problem with a package of cold cuts. After repeated attempts to get it open, she turned to me and said, "You bought these. How do you open them?"

"I slice the package open with scissors," I said, "then put the meat in a Ziploc bag."

"You don't even TRY to use the package it came in?"

"Who needs the aggravation? I'm crazy enough already."

There's probably a pill for such madness, but imagine how hard it would be to open.


Pillage people

Here’s the leading cause of obesity in America: Grocery Day.

All across this great country, we citizens waddle into gigantic supermarkets once a week and spend way more than we should on way more groceries than we should buy. We cart these goods home, then immediately pig out on them, sampling all the richest, sweetest, highest-calorie foods.

We’re bloated after this unofficial feast day. About the time we recover, the cupboards are bare because the kids and their friends have eaten everything, and we do it all over again.

Once upon a time, when people still walked places, they picked up only a few groceries at a time from corner markets. Enough for tonight’s meal, tomorrow’s breakfast. They ate less and they walked more and, guess what, fewer of them were fat.

Before widespread refrigeration and international food transport, shoppers were limited to what was available from surrounding farms, to what was in season. Not a lot of choice, but people also didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about whether their tofu or their mango should be kept in the fridge.

As SUVs and suburbs and side-by-side Frigidaires took over the landscape, people started treated Grocery Day less like a safari and more like a stockpiling raid. No longer hunter-gatherers, we became swooping hordes of shoppers, repeatedly pillaging the small village of Safeway, amassing so much loot we need large wheeled carts to haul it all away.

At least that’s the way I like to think of it, when I’m picking over the artichokes with the snowbirds on a Thursday afternoon. I lead a rich fantasy life.

Because we have two strapping teen-aged boys at our house, I buy lots of groceries every week, so many I barely can fit them all into one cart. The groceries fill the cargo hold and back seat of my Ford Lemonstar minivan.

When I get home, my sons help me haul the booty into the house, oohing and aahing over the Oreos and Cocoa Puffs they find in the bags. We work as team, putting away the groceries, then we launch into an individual competition to see who can eat the most the fastest.

It’s not intentional. But all that sudden variety is irresistible. Even if we try to avoid a pig-out, there are usually some treats lying about, simply because there’s not enough cabinet/fridge space to store everything, and it’s hard not to graze.

If there are teen-agers around, the snacks and sweets are the first things to go. So if we parents want a crack at an Oreo ourselves, we’d better pounce on Grocery Day. After that, good luck.

Of course, we can’t eat all the groceries in one day, no matter how we try. Not a whole minivan load of them. So the second day, we’re hard at it again, trying to consume all the grapes before they go bad and the last few marshmallows before someone else eats them. By bedtime, we can barely walk.

Consumption tapers off as the week wears on and choices diminish. Everything that’s left is either good for you or requires preparation more elaborate than a zap in the microwave. We survive on frozen food and random sandwiches.

The boys wander away in search of sweets and fast food pilfered from friends. Mom and Dad find themselves nibbling plain saltines in front of the TV because that’s all that’s available.

Time to go pillaging again. It’s Grocery Day.


Should call him 'Lucky'

What do you call a guy who's trying to create his own rocket fuel? Ronald Swerlein of Longmont, CO, calls himself a "nerd." But the authorities have another name for him: "inmate."

Swerlein has pleaded innocent to 10 felonies after police found weapons, ammunition and more than 400 chemicals in his home. The cache included half a pound of the main ingredient in dynamite.

Police searched the home after numerous complaints about fireworks, shots or explosions heard in the neighborhood.

Just the kind of guy you want living next door.

Full story here.


Mysteries of the suburbs

In everyday social discourse and, especially, on the Internet, we’ve seen an ever-growing number of Urban Legends, those friend-of-a-friend stories that everyone has heard, but no one can prove.

Such wild tales are torn from tabloid pages or dreamed up around campfires, and pretty soon a majority of oppressed Gullible-Americans believe alligators roam big-city sewers and the prosthetic hooks of madmen dangle from car doors all over the country.

You don’t hear so much about Suburban Legends. We’re quieter out here in the suburbs, kinda keep to ourselves, but many strange and fearsome myths emerge from the master suites and empty lawns of Outer Suburbia:

  • The neighborhood that’s haunted by the ghost of a persistent child, who rings doorbells and tries to sell band candy. The child will only go away if the homeowner takes a pre-paid order. Then the ghost is never seen again.
  • Clyde Farber, the Sasquatch of the Suburbs, an extremely hairy man in Westingtonshireham East, NJ, who insists on parading around the neighborhood without a shirt.
  • A family locked an annoying brother-in-law in the attic of an imitation saltbox in Delaware, then forgot he was up there. When the house was sold, years later, the new owners looked in the attic and found he was still up there, surviving on a diet of rainwater and pigeons.
  • Stanley Quismado, the man with the perfect lawn and the haunted look in his eyes.
  • At a certain house in the neighborhood lives a woman who vigorously exercises in the nude. Once in a while, she forgets to close the curtains. You have to check every day. (This one’s particular popular with 13-year-old boys.)
  • The wily camouflage of snow snakes.
  • The mysterious lawn workers who vanish whenever a Border Patrol vehicle passes by.
  • The many sleepless neighborhoods haunted by the shrieking wraiths of car alarms.
  • Suburban sewers are full of alligator wallets.
  • This man on the West Side loaned his Toyota minivan to his teen-aged daughter. Though she claimed there had been no accident, the next morning he found -- still attached to the axle -- a torn-off towing hook! Oo-ooh.
  • Mythical meter readers. You never see them, but you know they’re out there.
  • Brutus, the dog that ate meter readers.
  • In a planned community outside Phoenix, a freak accidental release of a chemical gas caused all the address numbers to rust and fall off in a single day. Because all the homes looked the same, whole families wandered around lost for weeks, until finally the Federal Emergency Management Agency rounded them up and shot them.
  • A suburban park that echoes with dribbling basketballs, even deep in the night when no one is around. Oo-ooh.
  • Strange but true: The people who deliver your mail do not like the term “going postal.” Trust me on this.
  • An Indiana man spent the night with a strange woman in his suburban home. When he awoke, he found written on the mirror in blood-red lipstick: “We’re out of milk.”
  • Prudence O’Shaughnessy, the quiet neighbor with 214 frenzied cats.
  • Scary: A leaky four-bedroom ranch-style house with a cracked foundation and a sinkhole in the lawn. A suburban fixer-upper at only $429,000.
  • Really Scary: The flight patterns of a major airport were permanently diverted over a suburb built on a drained swamp, and all the residents became the Zombies of Bankruptcy Court.
  • Scariest of all: The Creeping Sprawl. What happens when the whole planet is one big neighborhood? What if that neighborhood’s a slum? What’ll happen to my property values then? Oo-ooh.


Nightlife ain't no good life

For people without children, the word “nightlife” conjures images of drinking and dancing, nightclubs and roadhouses, flirtation and funk.

To parents, “nightlife” means “sleep.”

We parents remember fondly the child-free nights of our youth, when parties didn’t end until dawn. Even after we were married, we went out regularly with our spouses and/or friends to enjoy movies and dancing and candlelit dinners.

Then a baby arrived, and its cat-like mewling might as well have been the shrieking of brakes. Screeeeech, nightlife’s over.

We still were up all night, but parenthood changed everything. Instead of donning our finest threads, we changed diapers. Instead of icing down beers, we warmed up formula. Two a.m. was no longer “closing time.” It was time for a “feeding.”

Oh, we tried to have a social life. We took our offspring out in public, only to be greeted with glares when they spilled or howled or hurled silverware. We hired sitters, only to find that we were too tired to do much with our nights of freedom.

Sleep grew more valuable than a few hours’ fun. Dancing and fine dining became activities for vacations or special occasions. Even then, we might gladly swap a special night out for a full night’s sleep, depending on how much croup and colic our household suffered lately.

Take heart, parents. It gets easier. Once everybody’s sleeping through the night, you might have enough energy to go two-stepping. As the kids get older, it’s easier to find a babysitter (if no easier to pay for one). Eventually, the children are old enough to be left at home alone for a few hours.

The drawback to this progression is that, by the time parents can go out again, we have too much accumulated fatigue to enjoy it. It’s easier to stay home, watch TV, order a pizza.

When we force ourselves to venture out, we find that nightlife has passed us by. All the hot spots have changed; that favorite honky-tonk is now a vegan juice bar. Everything costs a lot more than we remember. The music is unfamiliar, and seems too loud. We’ve forgotten how to boogie. We need a refresher course in partying.

Here, then, is the Parents’ Guide to Nightlife:

  • Nothing fun happens until after your usual bedtime.
  • Nobody says “disco” anymore.
  • When it comes to drinking, it’s important to remember that you’re older now and out of practice. If you have too many, you’ll be punished the next morning by the one-two punch of a wicked hangover and “Doodlebops” blaring from the TV.
  • Don’t test the temperature of your drink on the inside of your wrist.
  • “Karaoke” is Japanese for “show me the nearest exit, please.”
  • No matter how hot it might be outside, never wear short pants to a cowboy bar.
  • “Hip-hop” is not a character on “Sesame Street.”
  • If you feel that people are staring at you on the dance floor, you’re probably right.
  • It’s always wrong to tell your dinner date, “Here comes the choo-choo.”
  • No bibs.
  • Other adults aren’t amused when you make a bunny out of a napkin.
  • Having a designated driver is not a license to act a fool.
  • “Tequila” is Spanish for “regret."
  • When your spouse says, “It’s time to go,” you should immediately stop drinking, take the necktie off your head and leave the dance floor.
  • Let your spouse sleep late the next morning. You’ll need that quiet time to think up some apologies.


Warning: Tobacco can make you stupid

Firefighters in Texarkana, AR, say they put out a house fire early Friday morning that was caused by a man smoking in bed.

The man, who is on oxygen, dropped a cigarette and it ignited the oxygen and set his bed on fire.

Extra points: The man refused to leave the home, even though it was on fire.

Double extra points: He was trying to retrieve his cigarettes.

Full story here.