Free Bacon For Life

Free Bacon For Life

Just scrolling around, reading urgent nation-threatening stories from the Washington Post when the article on NATO was interrupted by a quarter page picture of bacon, the announcement, “Free Bacon For Life”, and the invitation to do whatever would happen were I to actually cick on the banner.

I don’t eat bacon or anything taken from or derived from mammals, observing that when I look in my dogs’ eyes, I see someone in there. The which is actually beside the point, as even if I were able to justify eating a slice of pig, one of the most intelligent of mammals, I’d really only need so much. And, there’s something about being attached to an endless supply of bacon for a lifetime that strikes me as oppressive.

“Honey, the bacon truck is here. Did you hose down the bacon vat?”

Once upon a time in a kingdom far, far away, I did enter an All-You-Care-To-Eat establishment, let’s call it The Captain’s Trough, a spacious establishment with the aforementioned trough running the length of the building. There are many issues at play in considering a dining option that promotes itself as a tribute to gluttony, the most unexpected of which is the mechanism by which the “food” is replenished. I’ll return to the actual “menu” and the actual “diners”, but it was in observing the teams assigned to the replenishment of the various tubs that I understood the scale of operations such as these. The runners (and they were moving!) sped from the kitchen to the groaning board pushing carts laden with comestibles defying description. Mashed potatoes, boiled cauliflower, sticky rice, Clamlike-chowder, the mixed vegetable medley, the lamb curry, the chicken curry, the gravy – all indistinguishable. Good news! The Pork entrees (B-B-Que Pork, Pork Choplets, The Ginger Pork, Chinese spareribs, and ham) were all fire engine red. Easy to spot. The chicken entrees, similarly color coded, were chartreuse, the beef dishes a coffee brown.

Once off-loaded, the steaming trays were quickly emptied then filled again. Did the same patrons return more than once, I wondered? Indeed they did. And again. Here too, my attention was hijacked by the same eager crew hit the tables, scooping up dishes as they emptied, clearing space, not allowing the feeders diners to rush the trough with plates dripping with the remains of the previous foray. The diners stood, the crew swept in, clearing and wiping, preparing the table for the next round.

I ought to find an illustrative photo to accompany this piece as words alone cannot convey the distance between recognizable and familiar protein and the approximation sitting in their approximated sauces. Some came closer as they were bound to a bone of some sort, but even I, no student of chicken anatomy, knew these bones were of a different species.

The trough, as I suggest, was unguarded, as was the chocolate fountain and the dessert bar, but drink were charged separately, and the establishment’s signature yeast rolls were parcelled out with a keen eye on each tray. The replenshing crew feigned ignorance when asked for another basket. “Huh! Rolls? I’ll ask in the kitchen.” This subterfuge raised a question that ought to have come to mind much earlier. “If the cost of providing rolls is a limiting factor in generating profit, how inexpensively has this chicken broccoli surprise been tossed together?”

Best not to ask the unanswerable question.

To return to the provocation of this reflection, I do wonder exactly how this Bacon-For-Life thing works, and thus the quandry. In order to find out what this offer actually entails, I have to click on the banner, and with that action a chain of events is launched, immediately out of my control. Not only do I place myself on the this-guy-is-nuts-about-bacon data base, I am tagged forever as a consumer eager to buy and buy again, as long as the product is offered in bulk … and for a lifetime.

Some things are best left to conjecture. The mind wanders through a labyrinth of untended thoughts, now tinged with the aroma of soggy bacon.

Another good day.

Gravity 2, Ego 0

Gravity 2, Ego 0

Facing disturbing reality has never been nearly as pleasant as wallowing in oblivion, but, in an era in which partisan and magical thinking appears to have gathered hurricane force, and, as I am far enough down the broad highway of life to take responsibility for my part in allowing nonsense to take the place of reason, the time to face reality’s cold glare has apparently arrived.  Truth planted both proverbial feet in my midsection yesterday, in what was a safe visit to the doctor’s office. I had barely scanned the latest edition of Communicative Disease Quarterly in the waiting room when a person attached to the office called me to account.

“Let’s get you weighed and measured,” she suggested, an invitation I seem powerless to resist.  Ordinarily, no problem. I have a set of scales at home and have a reasonably well informed estimation of my weight. No surprise there. I do not measure my height, however,  haven’t had any occasion to, haven’t had any interest in my stature.

I’ve been five feet and eight-and-a-half inches since my last years in school.  A lifetime, as it were. One of the few fixed elements in a universe of constant change.  My weight has elevatored up and down. My hair has thinned, gone grey, thinned more resolutely.  My feet are flatter and wider. My nose and ears require some barbering.

I’ve made adjustments, accommodations.  I’ve faced aging without complaint. Pretty resilient, yes , no?

And then …

“How tall do you think you are?”  

Let’s begin by wondering why this question as I am about to stand on the device which answers that question.  Am I the control group in this exercise? Does my answer in any way change the recording of whatever appears as the flange is pulled down?  Just checking? Checking what? My awareness of the world about me? My veracity? My general state of mental acuity?

No, it’s clear as I call out my answer – five eight – recognizing that gravity has probably had its way with me over the decades, finally willing to let that significant half inch go, but before I’ve even stepped into the frame, this angel of mercy responds, “You think so?”

“You think so?”

That is not a question; this is taunting.   “What a sap! Living in a world of make believe.  How sad, really. How pathetic. ‘Five eight’? It is to laugh.  Why do they persist in such painfully obvious attempts at deception?  Who’s being fooled? Certainly not I, the health professional. Not I, the mistress of the actual, I, handmaiden to science.  No,once again, I do the job that only I can do. For only I can instruct this grotesquely self-delusive sod before he attempts to mislead another person of worth in his meaningless round of pointless errands at the tail end of his pointless life.”

Or something along those lines.  

It turns out that I am  now five foot six inches tall, if tall is a term that can be applied to five feet and six inches of male human in the 21st Century.  It was Robert Burns who in his “To A Louse” put the issue of self awareness before us in words that ring through the ages, at least to those who like a nice Scottish rhapsody.

O wad some Power the giftie gie us

To see oursels as ithers see us!

It wad frae mony a blunder free us,

An foolish notion;

Wat airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,

An ev’n devotion.

The crux of the address (to a louse, I’m just saying) is that it might be devastating to see ourselves as others see us.  Probably. We are mysteries to ourselves, so what else have we really got to do but wonder about the billions of individual life stories playing out in heads other than ours.  Not to get all Matrix, but since we can’t actually know the essence of what is outside of ourselves (wax is wax, Descartes argued, until it is touched by flame – a not-very-helpful analog to the figure/ground, observer/event paradox), so what the heck?  Let’s keep as far as possible from a probably mistaken view of ourselves.

That digression aside, this moment of clarity reduces itself (as it were) to one final truth.

I’m shrinking.

I can’t remember if those actual words are spoken by the central character in the 1957 film, The Incredible Shrinking Man, a somewhat hokey Sci Fi thriller written by Richard Matheson, a pretty fair twister of tales and a regular contributor to The Twilight Zone.  He’s the author of “Nightmare at 20,000 feet”, generally considered one of the top five episodes and plenty creepy. The basic plot of The Incredible Shrinking Man is that there’s this man, see, and he shrinks, an inch a week, which causes all sorts of problems.  I was too young to understand the terrible burden intense shrinking would bring to a marriage; let’s just say that the central character’s wife does not handle his predicament very well. She finally moves out, although by this time her hubby has become so small that they could cohabitate without much scuffling for space.  There are all sorts of thrilling challenges in the Stuart Little, man vs. cat mode, but the lines that pack some punch come at the end of the film.

Don’t mistake me.  This is a hokey movie without much in the way of true terror until …

There are really only two ways this film could have ended; either the effects of the mysterious shrinking cloud wear off or are reversed, or the guy shrinks until …

Yeah, and that was the part that drove me batty.  The actor prattles on about the comfort he finds in being reduced to subatomic oneness with the universe, but I was in no way comforted by his acceptance of his fate.

“I was continuing to shrink, to become… what? The infinitesimal? What was I? Still a human being? Or was I the man of the future? If there were other bursts of radiation, other clouds drifting across seas and continents, would other beings follow me into this vast new world? So close — the infinitesimal and the infinite. But suddenly, I knew they were really the two ends of the same concept. The unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet — like the closing of a gigantic circle. I looked up, as if somehow I would grasp the heavens. The universe, worlds beyond number, God’s silver tapestry spread across the night. And in that moment, I knew the answer to the riddle of the infinite. I had thought in terms of man’s own limited dimension. I had presumed upon nature. That existence begins and ends in man’s conception, not nature’s. And I felt my body dwindling, melting, becoming nothing. My fears melted away. And in their place came acceptance. All this vast majesty of creation, it had to mean something. And then I meant something, too. Yes, smaller than the smallest, I meant something, too. To God, there is no zero. I still exist!”

The answer to the riddle of the infinite.  I was eleven years old. I had no place to put the riddle of the infinite, and from that point onwards, childhood ended, intimations of mortality overwhelmed me, and every day became existential boot camp.

All of which is to say, physicians beware!  You can weigh me, take my blood pressure, staple the little gizmo to my finger, but this shrinking man is hanging on to his sixty six inches with every fiber of his shrinking being.  

Sense of Humor

Sense of Humor

The challenge was to come up with a production that Broadway could not adapt and turn all jolly and holiday-appropriate.  Virtually everything seems fair game – Legally Blonde, Mean Girls, The Waitress, Moulin Rouge, 17 Again, Beaches, Spider Man, Archie, Beetlejuice.  

Thus, my conviction that with time, even Silence of the Lambs will, like the death head moth, move from its larval resting place in filmland and emerge on billboards beckoning theatergoers to a musical encounter with Buffalo Bill and Hannibal Lecter.

I’m now in month three of trying to write a parody that is not relentlessly tasteless.  Not much to show for the effort:-

“I hear them in my sleep, the lambs I cannot rescue. 

The rabbits don’t scream; they’re bleeding in the fescue.”

OK, maybe still more edgy than I intended.

I spent some time imagining what Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade host Al Roker would have to say as the Buffalo Bill Skin Suit Balloon followed Pikachu and Buzz Lightyear, but it all seemed a pointless exercise until I began thinking about the nature of humor.

It’s clear than funny for one person does not amuse another.  I’m not talking about humor that could offend the sensibilities, or humor based upon the listener’s most carefully guarded inadequacies; there are elements in every life that are out-of-bounds.  No, I’m talking about relatively vanilla humor, lighthearted, jolly humor, puns, for example.  I happen not be a fan of the tortuously contrived pun, but I do admire spur-of-the moment witticisms.

Here are examples of puns that feel a bit contrived:

“The Past, the Present, and the Future walked into a bar.  Things got a little tense.”

No?  Nothing?

Of course, even relatively mild puns can be offensive.  World War I vets would probably not enjoy this one:

“A soldier who survived mustard gas was a seasoned veteran.”

Does everyone have a sense of humor?  Do animals? 

These are questions beyond the scope of this piece.  As are these:  Where does the capacity for humor come from, and is that capacity innate, developed, inherited, or acquired?  Do some people have a greater capacity than others?  Again, is that genetic or learned?  Rich stuff here for doctoral candidates in search of material to dessicate, but much more than I can contend with in the few minutes a casual reader gives to posts such as mine.

I don’t tell jokes, and I don’t think I’d do well as a stand-up comedian.  My idea of humor is as impenetrably idiosyncratic as the next guy’s, developed over years of exposure to a range of experiences, some of which were presented as humorous, and others which amused me more broadly than they should.  Slip on a banana peel?  Not funny.  Three Stooges correcting each other with hammers?  Well, yes.  Of course.

Once upon a time, in a land that exists only in clouded memory, there was a class of writers generally known as humorists.  Mark Twain was the first I encountered, although his brand of humor was less immediately impactful, depending as it does on the sensibility of a rational adult.  I was neither, but I knew he was presenting wry observations with considerable wit.  James Thurber, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, Max Shulman, Ring Lardner, P.G. Wodehouse, Bennett Cerf, S.J. Perelman – all humorists, as are Dave Barry and David Sedaris. 

It’s a noble calling and one that saved my tortured pre-adolescent, adolescent, and post-adolescent soul.  Writers of my ilk (that’s a funny word, no?  Ilk? … ok … maybe not … see what I mean?) cherish words and word play.  Playful, that’s us.  Whimsical at our most fey, satirical, ruminative, verklempt.   The bottom line is that I write the sort of frothy one-sided conversation that I’d enjoy reading, and since Wodehouse is no longer putting Bertie Wooster into uncomfortable tangling with titled relatives, and Benchley and Parker are no longer tossing off zingers at the Algonquin, I’ll continue to cough up keen observations as they arrive and hope I do little harm.

Here’s an example of the Bennet Cerf limerick and my own version – humorists of differing generations battling head to head:

Bennett Cerf

There was a young princess of Niger

Who smiled as she rode on her tiger

They returned from their ride

With the princess inside

And the smile on the face of the tiger.

OK.  Whimsey?  Check.  Scans?  Check.  Tiger rhymes with tiger?  Check minus.  

And mine

A charming young man from Quebec

Routinely typed hunt and peck

Missing one key

He sent this to me

O’m a cjarm<inbg tuomh bam drom Wuebev”

OK.  Whimsy?  Nothing but!  Scans?  Come on!  Rhymes Quebec with Wuebev?  Check Plus.

I am amused.

It Seemed Like Such A Good Idea …

It Seemed Like Such A Good Idea …

A good friend is heading back to our college for his fiftieth reunion, and, in a misguided attempt to gather stories which might animate  conversation around the beer tent, asked me to recall one of the more unlikely decisions I reached somewhere in the middle of my sophomore or junior year.  As might be inferred by the uncertainty with which I date this classic tale, many of my decisions were far more regrettable than unlikely, and in the spirit of bonhomie, I figured this one was probably not going to cause my children to divorce me.  After all, they have a pretty good grasp of my decision-making skills.

So, whenever this took place, I had established a thriving enterprise, selling my typing “skills” for cash back in the days in which my stereo, camera, and guitar had all been pawned; I had probably been over generous in supporting charities or may have sent funds to a child in Uzbekistan. In any case, I could type reasonably well and was willing to work at any hour with short notice.  Clients lined up, usually around ten thirty in the evening. Did I make mistakes? Sure, but I had a jug of White Out and perfection was rarely demanded. Just get the thing done, they’d say, shoving a yellow legal pad or wad of lined paper under my door.

In the year in question, I had  contracted with a the captain of the football team, a behemoth who may have had but one eye,  to transcribe his handwritten essay on “The Mating Habits of the Bering Seal”. The singularity of eye is not central to the story, but the more I think about who I was dealing with, the more unlikely my decision seems in hindsight.   To be fair,there were so many errors of judgment made before I even got my paws on the paper; Bering Seals? Delivering the paper into my hands?

I started the job sometime after the general hubbub died down, and the fraternity lounge had emptied.  The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson had ended, and I had the peace and quiet I needed to give the task my complete attention.  The first two pages were a snap, done quickly. Somewhere in the middle of the third, right after the description of the flora and fauna of the Pribilof Islands and its unique position as seal rookery (“The Galapagos of the North”), somewhere after the endless factoids about Callorhinus ursinus ( their fur contains approximately 46,500 hairs per centimeter.  The male weighs in at about 600 pounds, the svelte female a trim 160 pounds), that fancy kicked in.

How, I wondered did that sleek female entice the bull from the sea?  What configurations of fur and fin could allow, much less enhance, their romance?  To be clear, these were speculations outside the range of the author’s intent, but the hour was late, brain cells were dying, the avalanche of facts allowed no clear narrative, and besides, Prof Burns was unlikely to read beyond the first two pages and the last.  I had a slew of Pribilof Island facts to dish out at the end, and I just could not go on without allowing myself a slight diversion from the text.

And so, rhapsody began.

“The aroused female bathes in the pounding surf, tendrils of foam cover her tingling whiskers.  She slides to a flat rock near the water’s edge, knowing that the bull of her choice will surface momentarily.  She curls one flipper behind what would have been her ear had she been a Sea Lion, waving slowly in time with ocean’s tidal roar.  Her tail, ordinarily flat against the stone is raised and tilted. It too moves with measured allure. She allows a husky bark to welcome the bull as his massive head breaks the surface.  The bark of the Bering Seal can alert to danger or signal distress, but deep in the heaving bosom of this female, the cry was clearly, “Come to me, take me, make me your slave!”

Or something pretty close to that.

Paper delivered, payment rendered, happy days.

Prof. Burns, however, was apparently unaware of the skim-the-paper convention, finding my superbly crafted prose a detriment to the student’s work.  My memory of those days is hazy at best, so I can’t tell you why I am alive. I probably retyped the dreadful thing and sent an apology to Burns. I hope that was the resolution of the ugly affair.

The open market, is a cruel mistress; it was this essay that ended my career as a round-the-clock typist.  Word traveled quickly when the professor read the offending paragraph to the Animal Biology class, failing to credit the author, but suggesting that some typists were not to be trusted with Bering Seals.

What has taunted me over the decades is the knowledge that I could knock out seal porn by  the carload, but could never find a voice as an author of Romance novels, the market that never shrinks, the only sort of publishing with the exception of the Young Adult novel, still in demand.  I’ve tried, simply substituting the name Ramona for the seal, but it gets tangled somewhere between the foam and the tilted tail. The mind boggles. Or, more unfortunately, my mind boggles.

Should a market for Romance humor emerge,I might have a shot, but until I am contracted to write Fifty Shades of Seal Fur, my best work is behind me.

Help me, Heloise

Help me, Heloise

Dear Heloise:

I’m out of options.  I’ve tried hot water, cold water, baking soda, toothpaste, mayonnaise, Ajax, Pine Sol,  You are my only hope.

You told me to put a dab of lavender on a light bulb to clear insects out of my living room.  It worked.  You told me to put a drop of clove oil on a cotton ball, jam that sucker into plastic wrap, and put it in my shoes to wipe out foot funk.  It worked.  You told me to grab the tablecloth covered with melted wax and shove it in the freezer before scraping with a dull knife.  It worked.  You reminded me that cleaning a dvd with a circular motion could damage data, and you jumped into the 21st Century when the chemical composition of hairspray changed, making it useless for removing ink stains.  I know, I know.  Rubbing alcohol but don’t rub.  Just dab.

Yes!  Fabulous!

Do I soak my feet in vinegar?  I do.  Do I use a hair dryer to blow crumbs out of the slots in the knife block.  I do.  Have I put ice cubes on the dents in my carpets left by furniture I have moved?  I have.

When company comes to call, I put a pan on the front burner, sprinkle a little cinnamon around, and, La, Voila, the house smells like I’ve been baking up a storm. Who knew?  Time to scrape the Kerry/Edwards stickers off my Subaru? Duct tape?  Genius.   

I’ve gone to any lengths,  any lengths to try to live the life you so obviously have mastered.  When you told me you had recycled your old pillows by making a bed for your schnauzer, I got a schnauzer and recycled my pillows.

But I am at the end of my rope.  It’s all my fault; I should have known.  I saw the lamp advertised in a magazine, saw the picture of the genie, and thought, what the heck, I could use a couple of wishes, this could be my chance to take care of retirement, and maybe Alice at Safeway could find me sort of attractive.  Not hunky, not going there.  Just ok enough.

The lamp arrives, I unpack the crate.  The instructions are in Japanese which threw me off.  I copied the sheet into Google translate and find out I have a Seirei, which is a genie but more of a ghost genie.  I probably should have found a real translator because I now know that the command for the Seirei to grant wishes is just a tone from the command to transport a person to a parallel world, which is where I think Alice is since I haven’t seen her at Safeway for more than a week.

When I finally did find a djinn master online (that’s a search I’d rather not do again), I was advised that the next wish, intentional or not, could release thousand of ghost snakes into the water supply, an outcome I would like to avoid.  And then, this thing has an appetite you wouldn’t believe, a distinctive odor (sulphur and peppermint), and an attitude I find really offensive.  Instead of referring to me as “Master”, the title I would think appropriate to my station, he/she/it calls me Kasatta Niku, Rotting Meat.  

I tried to wish it away.  No luck; apparently that’s not in the wish drawer for Seirei.  I tried putting the lamp in the freezer, figuring that might slow the thing down, but it and the lamp reappeared within minutes.  Put it in the microwave, lots of sparks but no change in basic profile.

The djinn master suggested burning sandalwood and sage, which I tried, but only made my place smell like the Health and Beauty aisles at Shop’n Kart.  

I’m out of options and about to drop thousands of ghost snakes in the water system.  Help me please, Heloise.

                                                                Wishless in Ashland

Dear Wishless –

I’m so pleased soaking your feet in vinegar and using the clove soaked cotton balls in your shoes has worked so well for you.  Did you know you can put used cotton balls in your rubber gloves to prevent your nails from tearing the rubber?  If you are fond of the smell of cloves, you can drop your used cotton balls in your vacuum cleaner bag for a refreshing pick-me-up.  Or, dip new cotton balls in vanilla and place them at the back of your shelves in the fridge.  You’ll be delighted with the fresh aroma each time you open that door.  Spring is about to roll around, so fill the hollow stems of daffodils with water and plug them with those cotton balls to extend the life of your cut flowers.  Finally, if you have a camping trip in mind, remember that cotton balls and a dab of petroleum jelly are all you need to start a roaring fire.

As for the genie issue,rest easy.  You are so close to finding your way free of that pesky demon.  Put the lamp in the fridge, not the freezer, then, when the lamp is cold to the touch, put it in the oven.  Leave it for about an hour at 350 degrees, plug the spout with a cotton ball soaked in sandalwood and sage and chuck your lamp out a car window on the side of a country road.

Hope these tips help,


Petting takes on a new meaning

Petting takes on a new meaning

Look, I’m antediluvian, a fossil, old as dirt.  You can’t expect me to keep up with a culture that stands on its head every twenty-four hours.  My idea of a ripping good yarn is a Dorothy Sayers mystery set in Oxford.  The Wodehouse comic adventures are equally engaging; I’d pit Bunter up against Jeeves, valet to valet, anytime.

The which is to say, I’m several steps behind in almost every area of contemporary social life.  I do watch television, of course, and generally allow most ordinary commercials to wash over me without noting the particular products advertised or the particular methods by which they are touted, fearful that I might again see an animated bear wipe its hindquarters with Charmin, leaving less paper behind (as it were) than rival tissue brand, Cottonelle Ultra.   In the woods.

Every once in a while, however, something pulls me to the screen, my will is thwarted, and I get the message an advertiser intends me to get, as in a recent unguarded moment when I was made aware of groundbreaking investigative reporting on pet dating sites as presented on

I have seen examples of speed dating and know couples have found each other on line.  Rumors of a nether world of exotic “dating” applications have reached me, but, as I have not yet figured out how to answer my new phone, these remain obscure.  A quick scan of less frequently accessed, relatively conventional, sites, however, informs me that bearded men and those who seek bearded men can meet on Bristlr, a social network and dating site which promises, “… beard dating on a global scale.”  My viewing tastes, which include National Geographic Wild and Farm and Ranch TV, have  made me aware of Farmers Only, which, to confuse the viewer, announces that you don’t have to be a farmer to avail the services of Farmers Only, you only have to like farmers, or people who like farmers.  Equestrian Cupid similarly matches “cowboys, cowgirls, and equestrian singles”, whereas Trek Passions helps Trekkies find Trekkies available for “trekking”.  Tall Friends helps vertically advantaged people who apparently can’t assess size at a glance.  Need a partner for a luncheon date?  Salad Match is all over it, but you might be better served in accessing GlutenfreeSingles.

Let’s remember the days gone by when lonely hearts, singles, the shy and the reclusive found each other by posting quaint and plaintive coded messages in the personal columns of daily newspapers.  Some were virtually indecipherable – “I saw you.  Did you see me?”, some all too particular – “Man seeks woman not a cheating skank like Marcy Teddle.”  The digital age has allowed great specificity of search, so it should come as no surprise that dating has now brought dog addled singles together as well.

The pet economy is recession proof, jumping up from the sixty billion dollars spent on pets last year, adding another two billion.  Of course that reflects dollars spent on kibble, treats, and pet meds, but also includes the three hundred and fifty million dollars spent last year on pet costumes.  Dogs know each other by their scent, of course, so it should come as no surprise that aspiring dog matchmakers would spend seventy-five dollars for “Sexy Beast”, an apparently irresistible dog perfume, and so it goes.

Those seeking their “forever person” with whom to share a new leash on life now have a wide range of digital doorways through which to whistle up a partner.  Twindog/Tindog has been called Tinder for dog owners, but actually offers two services.  Registered hounds can seek pals for play dates, and their owners can swap photos of pets and selves in order to find, well, play dates.  The most unfortunate corporate branding is probably, a site not actually promoting cross-species frivolity.  They would rather be known as, “…the leading free online dating website created exclusively for pet lovers. Whether you are looking for a life partner, a buddy for your pet or just someone to hang out with…”.  Whew.

The very well received guide to finding the right dog-enhanced match, Leashes and Lovers: Where Dog Owners Meet, has broadened its base, now maintaining FetchaDate (“Find a date or even Love with Dog Lovers Like You”).  The FetchaDate website does not mess around; whereas others present portraits of singles or a stationary happy couple, Fetch jumps to a video, up-close-to and slightly-ahead-of a laughing couple, each partner holding a squirming Parson Russell terrier while riding on a motorcycle. Neither human nor any of the dogs is wearing a helmet; the countryside rushes past the bike, the happy pair chortles, the dogs squirm, and the viewer’s stomach lurches at the thought of terriers flying as the bike takes a tight turn.

The book’s website is more restrained, well, slightly more restrained.  We see a woman of middle age lounging against a sporty white convertible.  There are dogs in the picture; she has one arm over the chunky head of a large dog of indeterminate breed while a sharp snouted collie -mix of some sort watches with vigilant nervousness from the back seat.  Perhaps the word “slinking” or “draping” would be more evocative than lounging.  She’s wearing a Leashes and Lovers t-shirt, low-slung jeans, and offers a smile that is simultaneously panicked and predatory.

The book itself does encourage the establishment of healthy relationships through a series of articles by dog loving writers of some celebrity.  Cesar Milan takes a turn as one might expect, but contributors also include Rachel Ray, Monica Seles, and Howard Stern.  The idea is that dogs can teach us valuable lessons about ourselves, thereby freeing us to become the person we are meant to be, and thus, suitably attractive to other completely self-actualised dog fanciers.

I’m not completely self-actualised yet, but a dog fan myself, married to an even more actively committed dog person, and we have both learned important lessons from our dogs.  I’ve seen dogs actually correct unfortunate behavior, as was the case with a friend whose first impulse was to shout and toss his arms about when facing disagreement.  His dog, a retired Dog for the Deaf, in those moments shrank sadly, refused to be patted, and moaned softly.   My friend couldn’t take it; he learned to soften his voice and gestures, and the dog relaxed.

We did too.

I so believe in the ability of dogs to makes us better people that I am dismayed that this reasonably helpful book is marketed like a late-night infomercial.  The cover is alluring.  A woman’s long and perfectly shaped legs, crossed at the ankle, encased in delicate fishnet stocking, fall from the side of an overstuffed red chair.  She’s lying sideways in this chair; we assume she’s reading the book, although, since we see only her legs, she might be experiencing any number of moments of pleasurable relaxation.  There’s a dog, of course, a French Bulldog, peeking alertly from the depths of the chair, but there’s no doubt the book is marketed to women in search of ravishing romance and for a few men who find legs, fishnet, and stuffed furniture irresistible.

I find all bulldogs pretty irresistible, even though I know Darwinians take issue with breeds that are likely to develop hip dysplasia, cherry eye (don’t ask), deafness, brachycephalic respiratory syndrome, Stenotic nares ( narrow nostrils), and patellar luxation.  Also, they pant, and the larger ones slobber.  And yet …

It seems likely that folks who like dogs a lot probably do better in relationship with folks who share or have a high degree of tolerance for the dog-centered life.  There may have been pet dating organizations back in the 20th Century, but I happily stumbled into a dog-centered life without really knowing that I love dogs as much as I do.  I’ve loved all of our own dogs, but it’s significant, I think, that I’m more than eager to meet dogs of any size shape, or breed.

No slinking against convertibles for me, no wallowing in the embrace of armchairs, but I may send away for a t-shirt that simply asks:  “Can I pet your dog?”






Escaping Norway

Escaping Norway

A bright blue Volvo FH750 stands on the side of the road only miles from Sor Vanger, last town on the Norwegian side of the border with Russia.  The temperature has fallen quickly, and the road, already thickly covered with snow, is increasingly dangerous.  Two heavily muffled men reluctantly leave the relative warmth of the truck’s cab in order to meet twelve men, women, and children, blindfolded so they might never identify Steinar and Oddvar, “praerieulvs” or “coyotes”, who hide fleeing Norwegians in the large sand boxes located under the truck’s chassis, above the wheels.  On nights such as this, only sand dropped from the truck’s entrails will keep the wheels on the icy road into Russia.  Steinar and Oddvar know the roads and know just how much space they have, putting the heavier border busters over the rear wheels where weight is as important as sand.

Steinar, the praerieulv in charge, is a wiry man of about fifty, dressed in conventional Norwegian casual clothing under his winter gear, slacks, blue shirt with open collar, brightly patterned sweater presenting reindeer bowling.  This is not his first rodeo, but the current flood of Norwegians fleeing Trondheim has crested in the past few weeks, leaving him exhausted and his resources worn thin.  He is resigned in describing the work ahead.

“Ever since President Trump opened the floodgates, I have more business than I can handle.  I see twenty or thirty families a day, all trying to bust out of Norway.  I’m not sure I can keep up.”

Oddvar, the younger and more excitable guide chimes in.  “Me too.  I’ll go when I can.  People don’t know what it’s like here.  Medical care for everyone, high salaries.  We got almost no crime here in Trondheim.  A guy got trapped under his van last week.  Big news.”  Steiner nods.  “You think you know dull, but you don’t even begin to know dull.”  Oddvar spits with contempt.  “I get excited, you know, when I hear the president wants us to come.  He didn’t even mention Sweden.  Maybe too many Swedes already.”

Einar Pen, an engineer with Norsk Hydro has waited for weeks for this opportunity and has arrived with his wife and three sons in tow.  Steinar explains the ground rules as Pen shrugs into the jumpsuit he will wear hiding in the truck, as his family will as well. He  grumbles a bit as he is to be  wedged into the few square feet of space above the truck’s right rear wheel.  He is six foot and seven inches of university trained metallurgist with a head the size of a watermelon.  Groaning, his labored breath turning to frozen mist as he labors, Pedersen assures his wife that all will be well once they get to Russia where an easy train ride gets them to Pulkovo airport in Saint Petersburg.

“Yes, sure.  Hardship now, but in only a few months, it will be beautiful.  Just like the Wild West.”  Pedersen coughs broadly, scattering chunks of frozen phlegm onto the dark night.  “Right now, we have it so good, you know?  Good for everyone.  No excitement.  Everybody has a good life.  Money.  You know.”

“Now, Eidar…”  Pedersen’s wife interrupts.  “We do this for the kids.”

The three Pedersen boys stand quietly.

“Sure.”  Pedersen grins widely.  “But we live in Alaska in a few months, hunt bears, have guns.”

Berit Pederson shuffles uneasily; the Pedersen boys fist bump.

Nerves are on edge as the praerieulv hands out parkas and backpacks.. With practiced certainty he separates the Vikings from the victims, the younger from the elders.

Do not fall behind, I will have to leave you, we MUST leave you, there are going to be casualties, but we have to keep going.

Berit slumps anxiously as she is seated in the cab of the truck.  The boys have been placed inside sacks of turnips which will be delivered to grocers in the small towns on the Russian border.    “We thought about El Salvador or Mexico, exciting too, and warm, but Eidar, he wants to be a cowboy, like John Wayne, and he says US is just as dangerous but clean.”

In the wake of the president’s encouragement of Norwegian immigration and the flood of emigrants deserting the Norwegian economy, the Storting resorted to draconian measures, placing guards at the airports and monitoring the highways.  Only commercial vehicles have been allowed to travel into Russia.  In December, Erna Solberg, Norway’s Prime Minister, spoke with grave concern before the Parliament.

“Americans have taken so much from Norway, stolen some of our greatest human treasures.  Yes, certainly, it was hard to see Sonja Henie skate off to Hollywood, but since then, look at who could have been honoring Norway:  Marilyn Monroe, the Olsen twins, Eliot Ness, Knute Rockne, Paris Hilton, Rene Zellweger, Adam Lambert, Kristen Wiig, Roald Dahl.  The American entertainment industry has been built in the broad shoulders of Norse immigrants.

No more.  We keep our people now.  Did I mention Mary Kate and Ashley?”

Then, we are insulted.  This Prairie Companion mocks the Norwegian bachelor farmers in Minnesota.  “Ya, sure” and so forth.  From Garrison Keillor who is not even Danish much less Norwegian.  Canadian and Scottish.  Maybe never even has been to Norway.  Maybe some jokes about Canadian bachelor farmers would be a good thing.  Maybe he jokes not so much this day.

A brittle snowfall continues to cover the highway as the truck rumbles from the dark bypass.  The Pedersens, like countless thousands, will soon land in Anchorage, secure in the knowledge that there, at least, they are wanted.





Graduates, I Stand Before You Today Prepared to Offer More Advice Per Square Diploma Than You Have Ever Heard … Ever

Graduates, I Stand Before You Today Prepared to Offer More Advice Per Square Diploma Than You Have Ever Heard … Ever

Graduations are generally a good thing.  Years of hard work, some work, no work, are rewarded with a twenty-second stroll across a stage and a handshake.  Proud families whoop, videos and selfies abound; for the lucky grad, the event brings laughter, tears, and appreciation for opportunities well met.  Graduation usually take place in the spring, and colleges and schools spruce themselves up for the event, so what’s not to love?

For reasons I can’t explore in this essay, the Greatest Shows On Earth have given out; no more circus high wire acrobatics.  Where then can we find that agonizing pleasure of watching an individual wobbling to find balance, facing a calamitous fall with no safety net?  Well, student graduation speeches come pretty close.  The best of them soar, leaving an audience giddy with appreciation of risks taken and pitfalls avoided; the worst of them are eminently cringe-worthy, uniting an entire auditorium in shared pain.

Some student speeches may be maudlin or wax hyperbolic, but no matter how tortured the language, these are authentic attempts to capture something important before leaving a place that means many things to many people.  Speaking publicly is tough; speaking before an audience of friends, enemies, teachers, parents, siblings, grandparents, sundry odd relatives in for the weekend from Iowa, past romances, romances anticipated, crying babies, and that guy who saw you walk out of the bathroom with toilet paper hanging from the back of your pants – that’s daunting.

So, we’ll cut the student speeches the slack that they deserve.  The shortest are blessedly short, and the longest rarely cause an audience to slump in exhaustion.

Adults invited to speak, however, rarely escape their own worst instincts.  It is gratifying to be asked to speak, I am sure; it seems folks rarely turn down the honor.  As social media demonstrates, we all have strong opinions and feel obliged to share them; why should we be surprised that a speaker arrives ready to deliver those opinions to a captive crowd?  The basic flaw in the whole “Every graduation needs a notable speaker” concept is that, with rare exceptions, the speaker is not attached to, aware of, interested in, the individuals attending the event; the speech, almost necessarily, has to be about the speaker, even when  the speaker couches his/her remarks as confidences passed on to the fortunate few present.

Most of us can sit through a sixty minute lecture if we have any interest in the subject.  Sure, an animated address is more captivating, but we can chalk up the lost hour as an opportunity to learn something we hadn’t known or understood.  A sixty minute graduation speech, however, is torturous; there’s no escape without appearing rude, and under full sun or amidst the contending aromas in any gymnasium, seated on folding chairs, trapped with a faulty sound system that delivers every other word (“Is … on?  Can … hear … in … back?”, every vestige of proud celebration is smothered.

The varieties of excruciating graduation speeches are many and profoundly unfortunate; there is not time nor room enough to provide the catalogue, but one arrives with grim regularity at nine graduations out of ten.  The speaker waffles for a bit, the sort of pre-address throat clearing that is intended to provide the audience with the speaker’s qualification to hold the space hostage.  Gaining purchase, the speaker then reveals his/her obligation to give the graduates as much good advice as possible before they lumber into the wider world.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are some excellent speeches that offer advice, but … they generally land on one point of concern, maybe two at the most.  An original or lightly understood insight is presented, examples follow, best wishes close it up, and the whole thing is over in about twenty minutes.  On with the show!

George Saunders at Syracuse University –

“Err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial.”

David Foster Wallace at Kenyon College –

“Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think.”

Steve Jobs at Stanford University –

“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Bad speeches are legion, and I can’ cite them because nobody remembers what the speaker said.  The hallmarks of the forgettable speech are grotesque length and droning presentation of advice already very familiar.  Think about all the advice you have been given, sort out the obviously mistaken advice (the best cure for a rash is bleach).

Without much trouble we pretty much all know the sort of advantage that reasonably good advice brings.  We know that a job done poorly is less estimable than a job done well.  We know that persistence often brings greater results than giving up.  We know that facing challenges may take courage.  We know that there is danger in following the crowd.

Doing something about any of these or the thousand other now familiar sets of instructions is the hard part, and it is unlikely that the speaker will be hanging around when we have to summon courage, or persistence, or good sense, or honesty.  We’ll be there, of course, and what sustains us in the moment is not advice given in a graduation address but the example of estimable behavior we have witnessed in those around us.  We know courage when we see it.  We hear honesty when it arrives.  We see the dignity in those who persist, and we know the value of a job done with dedication and care.

Hmmmm.   That sounds like a pretty good graduation speech.  Operators are standing by to take your call.



On Broadway

On Broadway

New Yorkers have long known that the current generation of Broadway production is all about revivals and musical adaptations of successful films.  Rogers, Hammerstein, Hart, Porter, Coward, Berlin – the hills are alive with the sound of recycling.  Yes, an original production appears from time to time, but for every Hamilton there are three Hello Dollys and a pair of Showboats.  Need something more current? Tap those toes to Groundhog Day The Musical, Legally Blonde The Musical, Shrek The Musical, Waitress The Musical, Sunset Boulevard The Musical, and Amelie The Musical.

Really?  Amelie?

An unusual opportunity has come my way as my wife went to school with a producer constantly on the lookout for the next bright Broadway bound idea.  I see every production here in Southern Oregon; she’s asked me to pass on any new work that might do well in the Big Apple.  She has said she needs gripping contemporary dramas, new voices, fresh ideas; I beg to differ.

I’ve sent her my slate of hot prospects, any one of which could be bouncing its way as the centerpiece of next year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, a once-proud celebration of music and spectacle culminating with the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus, now devolved into Broadway’s version of product placement.

Mr. Ed The Musical

The Great White Way has long hoped for a bit of equine humor with a dry twist.   Mr. Ed, the astounding American Pharoah, displays a shaky baritone warbling the familiar “A Horse Is A Horse Of Course, Of Course” but who cares?   Ed’s manipulation of his ostensible owner,  Wilbur Post (“Hay, Wilbur”), darkens the show with Gone Girl gaslighting,  setting Louis Black as Wilbur up as an ineffectual and psychologically disordered stooge (“What’s The Matter, Wilbur?”).

The Bachelor The Musical

Roses for everyone!  Twenty high-strung, conniving, emotionally wounded women provide an unmatched chorus of voices on the show’s title song.  Lyricist Chuck Palahniuk’s deft patter ( Total Heartbreak Never Ends/  No Skank Here Was Making Friends.  Although Corinne Opened Up To You/  You Didn’t Need To Bonk The Shrew.) elevates the pedestrian script.  Daniel Baldwin’s off-handed portrayal of the show’s host is completely incomprehensible.  Lindsay Lohan’s desperate also-ran Bachelorette is both compelling and truly disturbing.

Talent Round Up Day The Musical

This clumsy pandering to nostalgia-bound Boomers plumps an ersatz Annette, Darlene, and Clubmaster, Jimmy, in a noxious triangle set against a ripped-off Chorus Line musical confession.  Fresh faced Eric Von Detten (Brink) almost saves the last act as Cubby, the driven drummer whose frantic timpani solo brings this mess to life for a fleeting moment.

The Newlywed Game The Musical

From the signature game show anthem to the disturbing “Where’s The Strangest Place You’ve Made Whoopie”, this challenging and thoughtful examination of the early years of marriage raises questions perhaps better left unanswered, particularly in the awkward duet, “I Thought You Liked That”.  Johnny Depp is miscast as provocateur Bob Eubanks, but the rest of the cast carries the day.  Dakota Fanning as the wrong girl married to the wrong guy breaks hearts nightly at the Orpheum.


The Rifleman The Musical

Sensing a shift as older generations take their leave, the NRA commissioned this faux-western musical in the hope of bringing an iconic and well armed figure back from TVLand obscurity.  Against all odds it works.  Lin-Manuel Miranda holds the audience hostage with the stirring “I’ve Got My Sights On You”.  Bernadette Peters as the Rifleman’s nemesis, Shotgun Polly, rocks. “My Cold Dead Hands” in a delightful dream sequence set in the Arlington Cemetery.

Hogan’s Heroes The Musical

Never has a prisoner-of-war camp been more lively!   Matthew Broderick is the wily Hogan routinely outsmarting Neil Patrick Harris’  rigidly obtuse Colonel Wilhelm Klink.  Harris’ dimwitted Junker Kommandant does most of the musical heavy lifting, leaving to Broderick fast paced-bamboozling with Seth Rogan’s Sergeant Hans Schultz (“I Know Nussing!”).  Hyper-hormoned French detainee, Louis LeBeau (Zak Efron channelling Maurice Chevalier) and zaftig camp follower Megan Hilty romp through the raucous “What’s A Latrine For If Not For Love?”

Leave It To Beaver The Musical

Hugh Jackman is Ward, Kristin Chenoweth, June, and delightfully miscast Martin Short the Beaver.  This airy farce is reminiscent of the most artfully choreographed French comedies as indiscrete couples in flagrante delicto narrowly escape exposure.   Wally (Taylor Lautner) stolidly juggles his three girlfriends while keeping the aroused Eddie Haskell (Jesse Eisenberg) on a short leash and away from June.  Short’s Beaver whines charmingly, particularly in his rendition of “Miss Landers, You Are So Hot”.  Chenoweth is one of Broadway’s signature voices, never better when chiding her distracted husband, “Ward, You Have To Talk To The Beaver”.