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12 Kendall Street
Wilmington, MA 01887
Tel 978-658-5099


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The following essays do not represent material from my stand-up act. They are a small sampling of what has appeared in my humor column, Standing Eight Count, which ran weekly for more than two years in the Town Crier newspapers prior to my acceptance of the position of editor.

Bad Breath

Have you ever been forced into a conversation with a person whose breath is so bad your knees turn to jelly and you find yourself praying for someone to end your suffering with a merciful lead pipe to the back of your head? That’s a rough situation with few opportunities for a graceful exit.

Why is it that Bad Breath People (BBP) always need to tell you something in confidence? It never fails. They do a quick scan of the room and then lean in good and close to tell you a secret. Your ear magically becomes a direct conduit to your olfactory organs, immediately triggering a gag reflex.

“Hey buddy, just back up a step or two and jot it down on a piece of paper, will ya? How many onion and horseradish sandwiches can one person eat in a day anyway?”

Ever offer a BBP a mint, or a nice refreshing stick of Big Red, only to have them refuse? How are you supposed to react in that sticky situation?

It starts out nice and subtle. You absent mindedly take out a pack of gum and pop a piece in your mouth and then, as nothing more than an afterthought of course, offer the BBP a piece.

“Stick of gum?” you ask nonchalantly.

“No thanks,” the idiot replies.

What can you possibly say next?

“Please?”

I have a deep seeded fear of having bad breath. Plenty of people seem to be blissfully unaware that their own stank-breath is nasty enough to warrant a quarantine. How do I know that I don’t get bad breath from time to time? I do drink a lot of coffee and, let’s face it; there is no market out there for coffee flavored toothpaste.

My fear has created a nearly fanatical compulsion regarding my own personal oral hygiene. I am never without mints or gum on my person and I brush my teeth religiously twice a week.

As soon as I become involved in a conversation, especially with a stranger or casual acquaintance, I get the FEAR. Do I have bad breath right now? When was the last time I had a mint? Did he just grimace a little bit when I spoke? Are her eyes beginning to water?

I get so paranoid that I start trying to aim my breath away from their face without actually moving my head. This, no doubt, results in some very odd looking mouth contortions. I’ve seen smokers do this. Have you ever seen someone smoking a cigarette and conversing with a non-smoker? They look ridiculous in their attempt at nonchalance. They inhale the smoke and, while still maintaining eye contact, they exhale the smoke off to the side or straight down. Can you picture that? Okay, now picture me doing that, but with no smoke.

It is well documented that garlic breath is most unpleasant, but at the very least, that particular pungency can be linked with some sort of food product. The other day I got stuck in close quarters with a guy whose breath smelled like he’d been storing a dead raccoon in his mouth for the last couple of weeks. How else in the world could such a rancid odor be created? How many dentists has he killed during the course of his lifetime?

I was smiling when I first saw him come into the room. He’s a good guy and I hadn’t seen him for years. My reaction, when first struck by the sledgehammer of stench, was undoubtedly visible, but he seemed not to take notice. Good God, it was all I could do to keep my food down.

It was obvious that he wanted to spend some time catching up and I couldn’t see any way out of it. His breath was starting to singe my eyebrows.

I wasn’t sure what to do so, as inconspicuously as possible, I just stopped breathing entirely. This turned out to be a very temporary solution. A minute into it he began asking, “Hey, are you okay?” and “Why are you turning all red?” and “Why are your eyes rolling back like that?”

The next thing I knew, he was leaning over me and shaking me awake. There was no need for smelling salts so long as he was around.

“Wow, you just dropped like a ton of bricks,” he was telling me, “You sure you’re okay? So, like I was saying; when I was in the sixth grade I chose to do my book report on the Bible. Boy that sure was more than I bargained for… ”

I just nodded my agreement. I wasn’t hearing much of what he was saying at this point. All of my energies and all of my focus were spent trying to match my exhales with his exhales and his inhales with my inhales. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale; whoa he’s starting to exhale! Switch, quick, switch; exhale. That’s was a close one. I got a little bit of a whiff that time.

There I was. Stuck. I was stuck in a corner of a crowded room with a good hearted human being; a person with feelings; a person with hopes and dreams; a person whose heinous breath was birthing surprisingly violent thoughts within my head. It was all I could do to concentrate on timing my breathing and to NOT lash out.

There seemed to be no escape. I was stuck there for days and weeks. I could actually begin to see his breath as it snaked languidly out of his mouth in a mustard-yellowish sort of haze. Some of it would be drawn back into his mouth as he drew oxygen between words, but the majority wrapped itself around my skull, wove itself skillfully through my hair, and then floated upwards to remain hovering mere inches above our heads.

Suddenly a solution appeared. My friend Jeff had foolishly wandered close enough for me to pull him into my personal prison.

“Hey, Jeff; Tom wants to hear the story about when you ate a worm for five bucks,” I said.

“Oh yeah?” Jeff responded. He is so proud of that story.

Over he sauntered; pausing with a visible shudder when he hit the Wall-O-Stench. His olfactory organs were attempting an emergency shut-down to battle this horrible affront. He was momentarily paralyzed. This was my chance.

“You’re gonna love this story,” I told stinky-breath. “I’m just going to go scrub the inside of my nostrils with Brillo pads and then I’m coming right back.”

I headed right for the exit. I didn’t look back and I didn’t feel even a twinge of guilt.

Jeff wasn’t doing well. From over my shoulder I could hear him.

“Want a mint?” he asked.

“No thanks,” was Tom’s reply.

“Please?”


 

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Tip Cups

Is there anybody out there without a Tip Cup?

Why are we suddenly tipping all kinds of people that were never before considered tip-worthy? Why am I expected to tip the Dunkin’ Donuts people? I’m never asked to tip the fine folks at McDonalds.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not against the general concept of tipping for services rendered. I understand, and fully support, the concept of tipping waiters and waitresses; especially the ones at Hooters.

If anything, I over-tip for a sit down meal, but I do take issue with that obnoxious question that every waiter or waitress on the face of the Earth will unfailingly ask whenever you pay the check with cash. They come over to the table, pick up the cash without counting it, give you a big ole’ smile and ask loud enough for every surrounding table to hear, “Would you like me to bring you back the change?”

This question is naturally designed to shame you into shrugging the idea off as ridiculous.

“No, I’m all set,” you are supposed to answer with a nonchalant wave, “The total came to $21.68 and the smallest bill I had was a $50, but I want you to have all the change. Here take my watch too.”

Luckily for me, I am not easily shamed. The following conversation takes place each and every time.

“Would you like me to bring you back the change?”

“Yes, I would,” I say with equal volume. “That’s how this works, you see. If I pay you with anything but the exact amount I was charged, then you bring me back all of the change. Then, and only then; I will go ahead and make a decision about how much of a gratuity I want to leave for the service you have provided.”

You want to be careful about the exact timing of that sort of dissertation, by the way. You don’t want to become overzealous and deliver that speech before the dessert arrives or you may unknowingly end up eating a nice parfait glass full of Ex-Lax Mousse…or worse. Never mind how I know; just trust me on this one.

Unfortunately, the entire concept of a “tip” has been grotesquely transmogrified by our society over the last couple of years. According to the dictionary; a tip is, “a small sum of money given to someone for performing a service; a gratuity.” Check the dictionary again in five years to see the word’s definition evolve into, “a generous sum of money given for very little service whenever a Tip Cup is present and the cashier holds your change just long enough to make you feel uncomfortable about accepting it.”

I remember when each Dunkin’ Donuts had a counter, complete with stools and waitress service. Back then they used ceramic coffee mugs and dishes to serve their customers. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was about 5 or 6 and my mother would take me to Dunkin’ Donuts after every hockey practice. It is a memory that I think back on fondly.

For some reason I always wanted to be perceived by the other patrons as a grown-up when I sat at that counter. I would sit up good and tall, smoke cigarettes and pretend that my hot chocolate was a coffee. Only grown-ups are allowed to drink coffee.

Meanwhile, my mother would pretend that she hadn’t just poured three of four ounces of whiskey into her coffee.

Boy did she drink a lot of coffee during those afternoons. Back then, Dunkin’ Donuts had signs all over the place saying, “No tipping Please.” As the afternoon rolled on I would watch my mother leaning back and forth until finally she would just tip right off the stool and I would be so embarrassed thinking those signs were put up just for her.

I often wonder what happened to those signs.

There is no more sit down counter service at Dunkin’ Donuts. They have become donut slingers for hire. Today they give you a coffee in a Styrofoam cup, toss a couple of donuts in a bag and shove the Tip Cup in your face.

But why do I tip someone who makes my coffee wrong 6 times out of 10 and then shoves it through a drive-thru window at me? If they want a tip I should be allowed to stay at the window while I enjoy my coffee along with periodic refills.

Whenever I walk up to the counter of a Dunkin’ Donuts and see the Styrofoam cup with handwritten scribble reading “TIPS” I pick it up and spit into it. Oh sure, people are shocked and angry at first, but I settle them down before any punches are thrown by innocently explaining that I am dyslexic and thought the cup had an entirely different purpose. At that point, of course, I turn the whole thing around by accusing them of discriminating against dyslexics and then I threaten to sue.

It’s not the twenty-odd cents that I take issue with, by the way; I think I can spare it. My issue is with what Constitutional lawyers call the “Slippery Slope.” The concept of the Slippery Slope is often used to argue against allowing small and insignificant violations of our Civil Rights because it can hypothetically set the stage for greater and greater infringements down the road. As a trite example; if they were to ban the sale of automatic weapons, what would stop them from eventually banning the sale of all weapons; yes, even slingshots.

Following the logic of the slippery slope, if we offer encouragement of the Tip Cup at Dunkin’ Donuts now, where will we see the next Tip Cup and where, oh God where, will it end? You can forget about whether or not we will see Tip Cups in the rest of the fast food establishments; that has already become sickeningly inevitable.

But where will it stop.

Will there be a Tip Cup in the muffler shop? The hospital emergency room? Will your secretary have a Tip Cup on her desk? Will police present you with a Tip Cup after issuing you a citation?

I can definitely see a Tip Cup replacing the “Take a penny, Leave a Penny” dish in the convenience store. Why not? Someone had to stock the shelves with grossly overpriced snacks.

Following the Slippery Slope to its forgone conclusion; eventually everyone will walk around with Tip Cups hanging around their necks like jewelry and everyone will just tip each other all day and no service will be provided to anyone at any time.

Well, I for one do not intend to miss out on this Tip Cup racket. If you happen to walk into the offices of the Town Crier, you will see a five gallon water jug sitting on the floor just inside the door. That’s mine. Be generous and no spitting, please.

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Cat Poop and Shame

I think that everybody has occasional moments of self-doubt now and then. Moments when you wonder just what exactly has become of your life. It is perfectly normal. I can’t say I experience such moments very often, but I had one hit me hard the other day.

I was driving down Route 38 at the time and it was an absolutely beautiful day. The windows were open and the radio was on. I had a nice big cup of fresh Dunkin Donuts coffee in my hand and was heading toward Tewksbury. Plus I had a zip lock baggie of fresh cat-poop on the passenger seat.

The cat-poop was no accident. I had spent the previous 15 minutes sitting cross-legged on the floor outside the litter box with my trusty pooper-scooper in hand while my abnormally shy kitten went about his business.

Bagheera, who is solid black, was named after the panther from the Jungle Book and has been living in our house for nearly three months and during that entire stretch of time I have endeavored to retrieve a fresh stool sample for those freaks down at the Veterinarian’s office.

This task has proven especially difficult since we have two other cats prowling the house – gotta catch him in the act to be sure it is his.

It didn’t seem like a big deal at first, I figured that I was bound to see him head into the door of the fully enclosed litter box at some point. He proved to be, however, a true poop-ninja.

At one point, in an act of utter desperation, I locked him in a room for three days with nothing but a litter box, a dish full of Metamucil, a dozen bran muffins, and a bowl of prune juice. Nothing!

Meanwhile, the vet’s office has been calling me every week asking if the matter had slipped my mind. I’m sure they were having a great ole’ time. I guarantee the whole office gathered around the telephone each and every time for a big laugh.

“Hey everybody, I’m going to call that guy about the cat poop. Shh, quiet! It’s ringing. Hello, Mr. Bjork? We haven’t seen a stool sample from Bagheera yet. Umm, do you still own the cat? Uh, huh. And you are giving him food?”

“Am I on a speaker phone?”

Our other two cats, Achilles and Kit Kat, were fully aware of my prolonged dilemma and openly mocked me. They’d sneak into the box and then make all kinds of digging and scratching noises. To their unending delight, I’d come running down the stairs expectantly just in time to see one of the wrong two cats sauntering out of the box.

So there I was, driving down Main Street with fresh poop; mission accomplished, feeling downright victorious when it struck me – I’m 36 years old.

I’m a grown man and this has all but dominated my thought process for nearly three months.

I really doubt my father ever drove around with cat poop in his car and I guarantee my grandfather never did. Back in those days, if the cat produced poop at all, it was considered to be a mighty healthy cat. Once it stopped pooping, you went out and got a new cat.

I don’t think these three cats are ever going to stop pooping. I am forever scooping their box, and they show up on the scene every single time to supervise the operation and to make sure I do it correctly. They always wear a vague expression of, “What took so long?” and “It’s about freakin’ time you got around to this.”

In my mid-thirties and reporting to a trio of cats. That’s what it has come down to for me.

I know they don’t respect me; that’s the worst of it. Every once in a while I’ll catch one of them just staring at me and I know exactly what is going through their mind at that moment; “If I was just a little bit bigger I would eat you.”

By the time I pulled into the vet’s parking lot my mood had completely deteriorated. I picked up the bag-o-poop and shuffled all slope-shouldered into the office and through the crowded waiting room. Men, women, children; they all saw me carrying the poop.

Then, the poop and I had to wait in line. Two people were in front of me dealing with very time consuming non-poop related issues.

Take this advice; if you are going to walk into a veterinarian’s office with your pet’s poop, bring the pet too. Everybody else has their pets with them. There I was with nothing but a poop in a bag. I just felt like I owed those people some sort of explanation.

“My cat made this,” I told one old lady. She pretended not to hear me.

The real salt in the wound, of course, was that after all of that, I had to pay them $20 to take it from me. It’s bad enough to openly bring poop into a public place, but then to have to pull out a twenty as well; that is simply cruel and unusual.

I paid with a credit card. Yup - I put Pet Poop Testing on a credit card. The vet very discreetly itemized it as “Laboratory Services.”

Y’know what? I don’t even think they test it at all. I’m convinced that it is nothing more than a big veterinary scam to see how many numbskulls they can convince to bring in animal feces. They get together at annual conventions, compare numbers and giggle their faces off.

I swear I heard that zip lock bag hit the bottom of the trash barrel as I walked out of the office.

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Man vs. Supermarket

Well, I found myself in the supermarket again the other day. I don’t like it there.

I’m not the regular shopper in my household, but every once in a while I am called upon to help out.

It happens every so often, very sporadically and without warning; I should be used to it by now. Like chomping down on the side of your cheek instead of the food in your mouth – you’ve done it before and you’ll do it again, but it still manages to surprise you each and every time.

This last time it happened just like it always does. There I was, pretending to be just busy enough not to be asked to do anything else, when out of nowhere a narrow blue-lined piece of paper, with lots of writing on it, was thrust into my face.

“I need you to grab a few things at the supermarket,” my wife told me.

I quickly picked up the hammer lying next to the remote control.

“I’m kind of in the middle of something,” I said with confidence. I reluctantly changed my mind. “Ok, honey.”

I’ve learned from experience what every married man should know. Do not argue with your wife about who does more around the house. You will lose.

The next thing I know, I’m cursing and swearing my way down to the supermarket.

Men are not qualified to be in the supermarket. Just take a look around. At any hour, day or night, you will find no less than eight men scattered throughout the aisles inspecting food products and confusedly muttering into cell phones.

“Honey? There is Pledge here on the list…do we want our furniture to smell like lemons or potpourri?”

“Hey, you have orange juice here on the list. Do we get pulp or no pulp? …Yes, I drink orange juice every morning. …No, I’m not sure whether I chew it or not.”

“Hi, Honey. Do we want 85% fat free hamburger, or 90% fat free hamburger? ‘Cause I noticed that the 75% fat free is the cheapest and I thought we…hello…? Hello…?”

The best way to get out of grocery shopping is to bring things home that were not on the list; things that will just plain tick her off.

Buy a coconut.

Don’t be an amateur – to achieve the desired effect, the coconut must be brought into your home with the appropriate level of fanfare. Be excited about it and refuse to put any of the groceries away until you get it opened. Go ahead and give it a few futile whacks with the ball-peen hammer and then bring it down to the workshop. Take your time. Start with the hammer and chisel, then move on to the power drill, and finally finish the sucker off with the electric Makita miter-saw.

If you time it just right you will be heading back up stairs with eight fingers and two halves of a coconut just in time to see your wife putting away the last box of Chiparoos (also not on the list). The fact that everyone will consider the coconut milk and meat disgusting just becomes icing on the cake.

I admit coconuts can create a great deal of work in order to get out of a chore, but the supermarket is host to a number of more subtle items to choose from. Get creative.

Buy pickled herring.

I can’t explain why, but women hate pickled herring. They seem to be annoyed by herring in general, but as soon as you pickle it they become enraged.

Pickled herring can buy me a good three or four months of no grocery shopping, especially if I make a big deal out of eating a few pieces as soon as I bring it home and then never touch it again. I leave it on the door of the refrigerator so that every time my wife opens it she is greeted by a small clear jar containing chunks of pickled fish flesh mixed in amongst onions and some sort of cloudy, and partially congealed, substance.

The pickled herring trick doesn’t last forever and eventually I find myself back in the supermarket.

I hate going up and down the aisles with my cart. As I am going up an aisle - and I’m going in the correct direction - there is a series of people going down that same aisle, and they pass me. No big deal, but as I am going down the next aisle those same people are passing me again. This happens over and over throughout the whole store. Apparently it’s just me, but about halfway through the store I feel like I’ve built up some kind of relationship with these people.

“Hey,” I say, instantly realizing my faux pas, but not knowing how to get out of it. “How ya doin’?”

Blank stare, awkward pause.

“How about that spill on aisle five, huh?! I didn’t think we’d ever get out of there,” I continue undaunted.

Blank stare, awkward pause. There must be some way to get out of this gracefully.

“Remember aisle three?” I ask. “Those were good times.”

Blank stare, awkward pause.

“Allright then! I guess I’ll see you in produce.”

Men aren’t comfortable in supermarkets. We are okay within the two-foot area they have cordoned off for motor oil and car polish and we don’t mind the chip aisle, but there is only one aisle in the store that men feel truly feel at home.

The cereal aisle. As kids, we were all sent to the cereal aisle when our mothers had had enough of us. After jamming the shopping cart into the back of my mother’s ankles for the third or fourth time, and as soon as her wails of pain had subsided, she would always say the same thing.

“Why don’t you go pick out some cereal.”

I loved those words. Every little boy in America longed to be sent to the cereal aisle. It was the closest thing a supermarket had to a toy department. I’d make my way, knocking over old ladies and fruit displays, anxious to get my hands on a jumbo box of Frosted Flakes, or maybe Cookie Crisp.

Finally; the cereal aisle would stand towering before me, millions of colorful cereal boxes stacked sky-high. The whole aisle seemed like some perverse supermarket version of the Gardens of Babylon.

Twenty or thirty other little boys were there too, eyes glazed and mouths wide open from sensory overload. Count Chocula, Frankenberry, and Boo-Berry were the best monsters around. The Trix rabbit, Tony the Tiger, Sugar Bear, Captain Crunch, The Froot Loops bird, the Quisp alien dude; the gang was all there. Just once I wanted the opportunity to go hang out at to the Honeycomb Hideout.

Every kid in that aisle knew somewhere deep in his subconscious that there was enough sugar in that one aisle to keep us awake for the rest of our natural lives. Why this stuff was just for breakfast, none of us could fathom.

I still feel at home in the cereal aisle and I’m not the only guy to feel that way. More than once I have seen grown men curled up in the fetal position in front of the Cocoa Pebbles display, moaning something or other about the battery on his cell phone being dead.

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Mullets

Yes, I had a mullet.


We all did, don’t even try to deny it. It was the 80’s and if you were a male between the ages of 14 to 35, and not serving in the U.S. military, you most likely sported a hairstyle falling into the mullet variety.

For those uninitiated in the ways of the mullet; a mullet is a very distinctive haircut with a relatively short, clean-cut appearance in the front, the sides, and the top, but allowing the back to grow long.

Mullets can be described in a number of different ways. Business in the front; party in the back, for instance. My next door neighbor describes mullets as 10/90’s; as in 10% of the hair is in the front and 90% of the hair is in the back.
One devout follower of the Church of the Devine Mullet once told me that he kept his hair the same way he kept his lawn.

“Nice and neat in front and out of control in the back,” he told me.
There are a number of mullet variations floating around out there and the gentleman that I just described sported the epitome of the Trailer Park Mullet (TPM). Unfortunately, many of those unfamiliar with the wide variety of mullets consider the TPM as the premiere example of mulletness. The TPM consists of a whiffle-cut on the sides with a long straight mullet hanging down the back. The top of a TPM is usually of medium length with a spiked look, but can often have a Shaun Cassidy-like part in the middle with accompanying “feathering” effects. If you are interested in seeing some prime examples of the TPM, just tune into the television show “Cops”. They generally adhere to a strict “5 mullet minimum” rule for each episode.

It should be noted that the Trailer Park Mullet has never been fashionable, not even in the 80’s.

There is also, of course, the Seinfeld Mullet. Many don’t even remember that Jerry walked around with a mullet, but check out the weekday reruns. With the exception of one or two seasons, Jerry exemplified true mulletude. He sported the most common form of mullet, which basically consisted of a normal haircut, with some length in the back.

I am tired of hearing people in the same age bracket as me denying that they ever had a mullet. Some of these idiots still have one and don’t even know it.
Not sure if you had one? Here is a quick test. Did the back of your hair come down past your gold chain (another shameful item that every guy had in the 80’s)? If it did, and trust me it did, you had a mullet.

Go ahead and pull out the pictures. Somewhere up in the attic or down in the basement is a picture of you with your black Reebok high-tops and pegged jeans with your mullet head poking out from your Ocean Pacific shirt. Maybe the best picture displays you and your mullet standing on the beach in a cool pair of Jams along with that sweatshirt that you cut the arms and neck out of.
Or maybe you were more of a Z Cavaricci puffy-pants type of guy with a nice pair of those pointed gray dancing shoes. The mullet looked good on the dance floor of the Palace in Saugus, didn’t it?

Men don’t hold a corner on mullet market. Female mullets do exist and are usually accessorized by a flannel shirt and another woman.

There is no shame in admitting to your past life’s involvement in the ways of mulletdom. Everyone was doing it. Take a look at the television of the time. Tony Danza, Kirk Cameron, Michael J Fox, they all had mullets. Movies too. If Luke Skywalker and Han Solo could have mullets, how could they not be cool?
Mel Gibson sported the Ulti-Mullet in the first Lethal Weapon in 1984, but is was steadily trimmed down as the character became more and more stable until Mel went completely mulletless in Lethal Weapon 4.

It becomes uncomfortable, however, when you run into a mullet adorned head in today’s world.

I went to a Quiet Riot concert a few years ago with a couple of friends and it was one of the funniest nights of my life. The band was up on stage wearing the exact same spandex outfits as they wore in their 80’s videos and the audience was little more than a sea of angry headbanging mullets in their mid to late thirties.
Were these freaks really that out of touch with acceptable styles or was it some kind of sad protest. Perhaps they had some measure of success in the 80’s, whether true success or perceived success is irrelevant. Maybe they were the stud of the fast food restaurant where they worked in 1985, and so they never left. As they drive to work every day in their 1987 Chevy Monte Carlo, with the red bandanna hanging from the rear view mirror and the Playboy door locks, they are wondering why it has become so difficult to get a date. Having no other explanation, they simply blame it on the fact that their pain in the neck parents still live at home.
I saw a mullet walking down my street the other day and I prayed to God that he hadn’t bought a house in the neighborhood. It is common knowledge to those in the real estate business that a mulletous homeowner can decrease neighboring property values by more than $50,000.

Any child seen with a mullet warrants an immediate phone call to the Department of Social Services. If that is not a subtle form of child abuse, I don’t know what is.

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Kids Parties

Have you been to a kids’ party lately?  What has happened to the good old party games we had as a kid?  They’ve all been replaced with piñatas.

No more musical chairs.  That’s too bad.  Remember that warm feeling of abject isolation you felt when the music stopped and there was no chair left for you?  That was character building.

Okay, sure, pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey may have been a tad bit dangerous.  Let’s face facts; it is generally not a good policy to allow a blindfolded 5-year old with hypertension run amok with a sharp tack.“Uh-oh, Timmy just pinned the tail on Grandma.”

So then, what sense does it make to replace that scenario with a 5-year old child sporting Attention Deficit Disorder and a baseball bat smashing the bejeesus out of a cardboard donkey?

When exactly did piñatas begin monopolizing these parties, anyway?  I never saw one when I was a kid and I went to my fair share of parties.  It must have something to do with NAFTA.

Just what sort of lesson does a piñata teach children?  Let’s break it down.  The initial goal is to smash the piñata with a blunt object until it completely breaks apart.
 
“Children, today we are going to learn the proper way to cause malicious destruction of property.  Who wants to go first?”
And we wonder why teenagers go around smashing mailboxes?  We encouraged it.  These confused teenagers are going to keep smashing our mailboxes until they find one with some damn candy in it.

Once the piñata has been broken and all of the candy comes pouring out, the children are encouraged to barge through the crowd, pushing and shoving, and grab as much of the goodies as possible.  Just a bunch of miniature looters going to work.

Meanwhile, you’ve got 600 hundred moms and dads cheering the whole thing on.
“C’mon Jimmy!  Bash that thing to smithereens!  Go for the head!  Smash it in the head!” That, at any rate is how a piñata is supposed to work, but it never goes quite that well.

My niece has a birthday party coming up next week and she has a piñata every year.  My brother-in-law, Ed, doesn’t have a good tree to hang the piñata from, so he ties it to the end of a 6-foot pole and holds it out over the kids. The birthday girl gets the first turn of course.  Kids are huddled all around behind her and with her first backswing she takes out 20 kids -- the bulk of the competition.

The kids always start out wearing a blindfold.  They’re spun around three times and sent off in the vague direction of the worried piñata.  The blindfold goes right out the window once Ed has taken it in the crotch three or four times.

Each kid gets a turn, but they’re using a stupid little plastic broom stick while the piñata is made out of titanium steel, so they don’t even make a dent in it.  After three or four turns, little stragglers begin wandering off aimlessly looking for Hoodsies. As soon as each of the kids has suffered either a concussion or a torn rotator cuff the game comes to an end.

Out comes the cake and ice cream to replenish the kids’ sugar levels. Ed is supposed to be videotaping his daughter blowing out the candles, but he is busy out in the driveway running over the piñata with his car.  He spent $20 on that damn piñata and, by God; he is going to get that thing open.

Meanwhile, the birthday girl has covered the cake with saliva while blowing out the candles and everyone wants a frosting flower.  Mom is doing long division in her head to figure out how to evenly divide three flowers between 314 screaming kids.  She’d like some help, but Ed has taken the piñata down to the basement.  We can hear the table saw.

Now it’s present time.

Kids always go for the biggest present first.  The problem, however, is that an envelope is invariably taped to it.  Why do grown-ups buy cards for little kids?  For a kid too young to read, a birthday card is like a disciplinary time-out.  It’s an immovable object standing between the kid and unmitigated bliss.  Mom steps in to read the card, essentially bringing the whole merry process to a halt.  Ed could read the card, but the sounds of a chain saw and various profanities are now emanating from the basement.

The card is always far longer than it needs to be.  Y’know what the card should say?  “Here’s a big present.  Quick, open it.”

The party tends to wind down after the presents are opened.  The kids are wandering around twitching and grinding their teeth from sugar overload and the parents begin getting ready to leave when they spy Ed standing on the roof of his two story house holding the piñata and laughing maniacally. He hurls the piñata, which lands with a thud on the cement patio and bursts open splattering candy all over the yard. The kids are completely unfazed and nonchalantly begin picking up the candy while the Fire Department shows up with the ladder truck to help Ed down from his roof.

Every year we thank the firefighters and offer them cake and ice cream.  Every year they smile and politely decline while slipping Ed into a “special” jacket.  Ed just keeps muttering, “Pinata, dead.  Pinata, dead,” as they close the ambulance door and take him away.

He’ll be back in a week or two.  He always is.

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The Miracle Sandwich

The best story to have come around in quite a while has got to be the ten year old half a grilled cheese sandwich that recently sold for $28,0000 on eBay.

That’s right - 28,000 bucks…and there was a bite missing from it.  If you extrapolate that figure out to reflect the worth of the whole sandwich, you’re looking at roughly a $56,000 lunch, plus potato chips and maybe even a cup-O-soup.

The high cost of the decade old sandwich is likely due to the fact that a distinctly visible image of a woman appears on one of the grilled pieces of bread.  The sandwich’s creator, Diana Duyser of Florida, swears it is the image of the Virgin Mary.
           
“I made this sandwich 10 years ago,” Duyser says in the eBay item description.  “When I took a bite out of it, I saw a face looking up at me.  It was the Virgin Mary staring back at me, I was in total shock.”
           
Duyser had apparently maintained enough of her faculties to throw the other half of the miracle sandwich down her gullet, since its whereabouts are not accounted for.  I’d really like to know whose image adorned that other half - there’s something fishy going on here.

I, personally, see no compelling evidence that the image is that of the Virgin Mary and not just some random saint.  The image, as a matter of fact, looks suspiciously like a 1930’s glamour shot of Hollywood star Fay Wray.

Why would the Blessed Virgin Mary show herself on, of all potential mediums, a grilled cheese sandwich?  I would be more willing to believe in its authenticity if the image showed up on a lamb chop, or maybe even in the middle of a pâté at a big Christmas Eve dinner party.  Or even on a 6-year old child’s PB&J during lunchtime at a Catholic school, but a grilled cheese sandwich?  Where’s the symbolism?
           
I’m not attacking anyone’s faith; if anything I’m attempting to defend it.  Those who truly believe in the Bible can surely see the inherent dangers of assuming that a 10-year old sandwich actually contains such a miraculous visage.   If the Lord was upset at Moses’ people for praying to a Golden Calf, can you imagine how He would react to a bunch of half-wits kneeling before a decrepit sandwich emblazoned with a picture of Mae West. 

True; sandwiches are not specifically mentioned in the Bible as false idols, but it is most assuredly implied.

Duyser says that her life has been blessed since the immaculate grilling of the sandwich.  She submits, as proof of the sandwich’s divine nature, that she has won a total of $70,000 over the past ten years at a nearby casino.  Well, that is a rather convincing argument.  It is a documented historical fact that the Virgin Mary was a big fan of casino gambling and was a regular at Caesar’s Palace (not the one in Vegas, of course).

All of the sandwich-miracles must have sort of dried up recently.  I can only surmise that the Duyser family has been on one heck of a losing streak lately; hence the sale of the very item that had purportedly brought them so many blessings.

According to Duyser, the Holy sandwich has not formed any mold and has not degraded in any way over the last ten years despite no effort on her part to preserve it.
           
“The item has not been preserved or anything,” Duyser says in the eBay item description.  “It has been kept in a plastic case, not a special one that seals out air or potential mold or bacteria, it is like a miracle.  It has just preserved itself which; in itself, I consider a miracle.”

I have to admit, by the way, that I cleaned up some of the spelling and punctuation on Duyser’s item description.  She obviously didn’t invest any of that ill-gotten 70-grand on a computer with a spell-check feature.

Whether the sandwich is a product of divine intervention or not, $28,000 is a lot of dough for a decade old half-sandwich with one bite missing.  I have to admit, it got me thinking.  I can be a tad bit forgetful; perhaps I have an unintentionally discarded ten year old sandwich lying around the house somewhere.

I tore the house apart and looked everywhere.  I searched in nooks and crannies of my house that I hadn’t paid any attention to in years, like the shower, hoping and praying to find maybe a Rueben on dark rye with an image of Ben Affleck or even an old discarded fried egg sandwich boasting a resemblance to Rosie O’Donnell.

But, alas, my wife is far too fastidious to allow for anything of the sort.  The best I could find was a two-week old chicken finger that I had left languishing on my work bench when I heard the ice cream truck.  The stupid chicken finger didn’t look like anyone.

Undaunted, I used a paring knife to carve a miniature replica of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper on the chicken finger and then put it up on eBay with claims that the famous work of art miraculously appeared on the chicken finger when it came out of the fryolator.

So far I have only one bid of five bucks from some guy named “Fraud Division.”  I’m thinking that I might go ahead and bid on the chicken finger myself just to see if I can get that idiot to up his bid.

 

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Scratch Tickets

I can’t stop in the convenience store for a bottle of juice anymore.  It’s just not worth it.  Every single time, I get stuck behind 20 or 30 unshaven addicts spending their entire lifesavings on scratch tickets and lottery.  It’s never a quick transaction; especially if they come in with a winning ticket.  Instead of taking the cash and being happy, they end up blowing the whole thing on more tickets like they are ordering a dozen donuts.
           
“You won a hundred bucks; congratulations,” the clerk tells the wide eyed gentleman wearing a trench coat and no pants.
           
“Yeah, right.  Give me two Lucky 7’s, one Snake Eye’s, three Busted’s, five Life Loser’s, one Scratch N’ Sniff For Dollars, two Deuces High’s, umm, aaah…”
           
“You still have $45 left.”
           
“Y’know what; let’s make it four Lucky 7’s, six Snake Eyes, keep three Busted’s, four Life Loser’s, eight Scratch N’ Sniff For Dollars, three Deuces High’s, and how about two Crossed By A Black Cat’s.”

“You still have $14 left.”

Okay, let’s play the Daily Numbers with that.  3491 is the number and I want $2 to come out exact, $3 any order, $1 first three numbers, $1 last three numbers, $2 middle two numbers, $2 for my home address to win, and $2 for numbers I’m not able to count up to.”

“You have $1 left.”
“Gimme a Snickers.”

By this time my apple juice has had time to go through the entire fermentation process and I end up getting pulled over by the police on the way home for having an open container of alcohol in the car.

It goes much quicker when they buy their tickets the way most of us buy gas.
“Give me $50 worth.”

Everyone wants to win the Lottery.  Even I want to win the lottery and I don’t play.  I have enough vices without spending my hard earned cash on a zillion to one chance.

“Somebody’s gotta win,” they say just before hitting you up for a $10 loan to cover the cost of some groceries.
That’s true, somebody does have to win.  But it turns out not to be you week after week.

There is nothing wrong with occasional scratch tickets for fun or even playing one of the big weekly games every week, but come on; draw a line at some point.  I know some people who are convinced that if they buy more Mass Millions tickets, they can’t help but win.

“I bought 20 tickets for Mass Millions this week…y’know; to increase my odds.”
Congratulations; you’ve improved your odds from one in a zillion to 20 in a zillion.  You would still have a better chance of being struck by lightning while wearing a rubber suit and crouching under a sofa in your basement.

So, what would you do if you won?  Everyone has that discussion from time to time and I have yet to meet someone that doesn’t have the whole thing planned out.
“I can tell you one thing,” most people tell me, “I wouldn’t be going back to work!  What is up with these people that still go to work everyday?”

Interestingly enough, many of the people who give me that speech don’t even have a job in the first place.

I worked for several years in a very conservative, suit and tie, environment and I can tell you, most assuredly, that I would be at work the day after winning the lottery.  In fact, I would be the first one there.  I would have a cigar in one hand and a bottle of Cuervo Gold Tequila in the other.  I would sit there as happy as can be and just do my work as if nothing had happened.  What a great day that would be.  Work can actually be a lot of fun when you’re not worried about losing your job. 
I would definitely have the boss’s car towed to some impound lot in a bad section of Boston.

At some point during the day I would put on a ski mask and streak through the office.

I would go into the refrigerator just before noon and eat all of my co-workers lunches.  I would vehemently deny it even though my waste basket would be overflowing with brown paper bags and various Gladware containers.
I would sneak up to the reception desk whenever possible answering the phones as, “Steve’s Pizza and Methadone Clinic”.

Basically, if I got away with all of that I would continue reporting punctually to the office everyday with ill-fitting suits accompanied by clashing ties and sneakers.  I would produce substandard levels of performance until they had no choice but to fire me and then I would go ahead and collect unemployment.
Hopefully by that point I would have used up all my sick days and vacation time.

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