Send in the Clowns

Recently, I watched the Republican presidential debates on Fox News and I was taken by how far a onetime great political party, the party that gave us Lincoln and Eisenhower, has fallen into madness and extremism. Don’t get me wrong, the Democratic Party is barely functional, and has plenty of issues, too.  But watching the stage full of candidates try to out crazy one another was like watching a car wreck involving the clown car from the nearest circus. It’d be funny if not for the fact that one of these Bozos might be the next president.

The debate was won by the current front runner, the xenophobic and racist ex-reality television star, Donald (“The Donald”) trump, who dominated the stage and was by far the funniest of the clowns.  The debate got off to a great start when the extraordinarily attractive Fox News journalist Megyn Kelly asked Trump about disparaging comments he’s made about women, calling them “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals,” to which Trump came back with, “Only Rosie O’Donnell.”  It was a funny and pretty quick response, and I don’t agree with those who say Trump should apologize to O’Donnell – she’s a comedienne who has made plenty of disparaging remarks of her own – so she’s fair game. What followed was fascinating and very revealing.  In answering the question, Trump went on a rant about political correctness, then closing with “and honestly, Megyn, if you don’t like it, I’m sorry. I’ve been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be, based on the way you have treated me …” He has since gone on the offensive against Kelly, who, in response to the attacks, keeps citing her own journalistic credentials, which, as far as I can tell, consist of being extraordinarily attractive. Kelly aside, the Trump remarks about “not being nice” to her and subsequent remarks about “blood coming out of her eyes, out of her whatever” because she had the audacity to ask him a tough question is beyond arrogance and insensitivity.  It is spiteful, childish and thin skinned. It’s all funny and makes good headlines and sound bites, but are these qualities we want in a President?  In the most powerful man in the world?

Trump has also been under fire for remarks about illegal immigrants from Mexico, and has refused to back down from them, making illegal immigration the center piece of his campaign.  His plan is to deport all the illegals in the country today, build a wall along the entire U.S. Mexico border, and remove the birthright to citizenship that is guaranteed in the fourteenth amendment.  It’s so simple! Let’s look at these ideas one by one:

1) Deporting all the illegal immigrants – there are currently estimated to be about 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., 6.5 million, or 60%, of which are from Mexico.  The question is, how is President Trump going to go about rounding these people up? Who will be charged with this – local or federal law enforcement, the military, the national guard?  Any effort of “rounding up and deporting” this many people will undoubtedly make mistakes, and accidently deport current American citizens.  And what of the cost? And what of the great Republican principles of small government, and keeping government out of our lives?  Remember all the insane and unsubstantiated rumors about Obama and death squads and sharia law that have supposedly been coming for the last seven years now – and now, you have a candidate for president saying he would as part of policy have armed law enforcement or military personnel rounding up eleven million people within our borders?  Who is going to pay for this? 9% of illegal immigrants, or more than a million, are from Asia.  Are we going to round them up, too?  What about the 6%, or more than 700,000 who are here illegally from Canada and Europe? Or are they too light-skinned?

2) A wall along the entire border – it would have to cover 1, 989 miles of some of the most rugged and inhospitable terrain in North America.  The financial cost of such an effort would be astronomical, and it would do nothing to prevent illegal immigration coming in from other countries – refugees from Asia, boat people from the Caribbean, even disgruntled Canadians.  And a bit of recent history – remember the last wall?  That little thing in Berlin?  Every American president from John F. Kennedy to George H.W. Bush denounced it as an affront to freedom loving people around the world.  And now we’re going to build one ourselves?  Ronald Reagan once said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” – so we could build a new one? I guess the Statue of Liberty doesn’t face south.

3)  No birthright to citizenship – all those tea partiers and freedom loving conservatives who invoke the constitution as sacred a document as the bible are suddenly behind repealing the fourteenth amendment.  I guess the second amendment, the one that gives us the right to own guns, is the only one that matters.

And by the way, speaking of guns, Trump says that the illegal immigrants are a bunch of murderers and rapists.  No way we can allow these people in – they might take victims away from the murders and rapists who are already here! So far, in 2015, there has been on average more than one mass shooting a day – yet we can’t do anything about gun registration because of our sacred constitution.  Yet when confronted with “anchor-babies,” the constitution becomes disposable again.

I’m tired of how selective the conservative outrage is.  We have to drug test welfare recipients because they are cheating the tax payers, while at the same time no one seems to care that we are paying exponentially more to cover the loopholes and cronyism on Wall Street that constitutes corporate welfare.  We have to send our military into difficult and dangerous situations in foreign lands to stamp out terrorism, while at the same time, when innocent children are massacred in a school shooting, arms are thrown up in the air and the “you can never stop bad people from doing bad things” argument is trotted out again.  There have been more than 8.600 Americans killed by guns so far in 2015 – about three times as many as were killed on 9/11.  We went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11. What have we done about gun violence?  – nothing.  Not even simple, quick and unobtrusive background checks.

Back to immigration – if only there was some alternative to Trump’s crazy and expensive plan.  Like the bill passed by the Senate in 2013 by a 68 to 32 margin, a rare moment of bipartisanship in recent Congressional history, that would implement the most sweeping changes in immigration laws in over a generation, including a pathway to citizenship and unprecedented resources for securing the border.  But wait – the House leadership has refused to allow this bill to be voted upon.  So instead we are treated to the bat-shit crazy ramblings of a second rate celebrity posing as a politician.

The Donald, though, speaks his mind!  He says what he thinks – what he thinks will draw more attention to himself. He’s a breath of fresh air! – unless you are sitting downwind from him.

Eventually, I think people are going to grow tired of Trump’s antics and look to a more “serious” candidate.  Like …. Scott Walker?  I don’t think so. People are just beginning to realize what a bizarre idiot the man who’s only “qualification” is smiting those awful and terrifying terrorists also known as school teachers really is.  Jeb Bush? It used to be assumed that Jeb was George  W’s smarter brother, because, well, a chunk of concrete was smarter then George W.  But now that Jeb’s been out there on the trail for a couple of months, it’s becoming evident that the score is concrete two, Bushes zero.

The only candidate who seemed to possess even a hint of sanity during the debate was Ohio governor John Kasich. He seemed serious and thoughtful and well spoken (if only when compared to the others), so he has no chance.

Marco Rubio?  Get the man a glass of water.  Chris Christie? The Ricks – Perry and Santorum? Mike Huckabee? Bobby Jindall? Dr. Ben Carson? Ted Cruz?  Lindsey Gramm?

Democrats are licking their chops, convinced that none of these will be electable in a national election, and that by appealing to the radical base of their party, Republicans are alienating the broader main stream electorate.  But I can’t help but think that if one of these clowns gets the nomination, it’s a sad indictment of where we are as a country. We deserve formidable and substantial candidates of character and intelligence from any party that puts a candidate on the ballot.

Unless, instead of President, we are electing King Clown. If that’s the case, the system is working perfectly.

Teacher, We Need You

It’s back to school time again, and it’s time to get those no good, lazy leftist overpaid whiny teachers off their butts and back into the classroom.

At least this is how many in my state of Wisconsin profess to feel about teachers these days.  Ever since presidential candidate and governor in absentia Sarah Pal__, wait, I mean Scott Walker (sorry – I  accidently mistook one brainless self-promoting Republican for another) came into power, teachers and education have been targets, first in removing the right to collectively bargain and now through ridiculous and unprecedented budget cuts. Walker is making the vilification of teachers and his “bold” and “unintimidated” assault on them the center of his presidential qualifications.  He has even compared teachers to ISIS.

That’s right – he’s compared the people we leave our children with every day to barbaric terrorists who behead people.

And many on the right see nothing wrong with this.

Here are a few of the  complaints about teachers taken point by point:

 “Teachers are overpaid”

Which ones, the ones working in the violent inner city or the ones teaching the obnoxious and spoiled and conceited suburban kids?  The point is, they have our children for about eight hours a day and their job is to try and make something valuable out of them.  What could be more important? What could be more difficult?  What do we love more than our children?

“They only work nine months out of the year”

And they put up with the worst brats and most obnoxious parents, they have to maintain licenses and accreditations, keep up with curriculum changes, and stay fresh.  All for less money than they could make in the private sector. A summer vacation doesn’t seem extravagant – if we want them to retain their sanity.

“They’re nothing but glorified babysitters”

And take your two income household and see how long your jobs last without these “babysitters” to look after your kids.  Or go out to dinner for a couple of hours and pay that bubble headed teenaged girl next door to look after your kids.  Then imagine paying that same rate for eight hours a day, five days a week.

“They’re pushing a political agenda that conflicts with our faith”

No, it’s not an agenda, it’s called science and history – and before you complain that evolution is blasphemy and that the bible says the earth is only six thousand years old and that dinosaurs and humans co-existed and that global warming is just a theory and why do we need to teach science when the Lord God will look after us all, consider this – if we stop teaching science in favor of fundamentalist theology, where will the cure for cancer of heart disease or Parkinson’s disease come from? Where will the people who fix our cars or our washing machines or make sure our food and drinking water is safe come from?  And as far as global warming being “only a theory,” remember that gravity is also only a theory.

If your child isn’t taught foundational and fundamental English, math, science and history, what role is he or she likely to have as an adult? Parents are supposed to want better for their children than for themselves.

“My kids are grown and out of the house – why should my property taxes pay for the next generation of kids?

When you go to the hardware store, do you want the cashier to be able to calculate how much change you get back? What is it worth to you to keep teenaged kids in school?  Or would you rather see them roaming the streets, bored and stupid, looking for trouble to get into.  Everyone benefits from a well-educated populous.  When education is effective, income goes up and crime goes down.

And save your breath, I know what you’re going to say:  “If the system is so great, why do we have so many problems: Inner city drop outs and gangs and crimes, childhood obesity, low literacy and test scores, teen pregnancies …” and on and on.  Look, I’m not saying there aren’t issues. But these issues aren’t going to be solved by demonizing those who are on the front line, nor are they going to be solved by five second slogans or sound bites.  It took a long time for things to get this bad, it’s going to take some serious work and innovation to straighten these things out.   I’m having trouble grasping how removing teachers’ rights to collectively bargain or by lowering the minimum requirements to teach or slashing budgets is going to fix anything.

“They get better benefits and pensions than I do.”

This may be true – and if it is, you should protest loudly and energetically – and demand you get just as good benefits as they do!  The sad reality is we are all paying a lot more for health care and receiving a lot less in pensions than we were only a couple of years ago.  So why, unless we are really stupid, would we want to bring someone who is getting better benefits down to our level?  Wouldn’t we be better off asking why our benefits aren’t as good?  Wouldn’t we be better off raising ourselves up instead of tearing others down?

Teachers are people who have chosen, as their vocation, to help our children find and reach their potential. They have chosen to serve us, the parents, and we in turn put out trust in them to reap the generosity of their souls and the fruits of their endless hard work.  It’s an honorable and vital profession, worthy of deep thought and appreciation, not vilification and opportunism.

That’s No Lady, That’s My Refrigerator

There is much speculation these days about what happens if we produce machines, or more specifically, robots, that can think and be self-aware.  Considering the amount of computing power at our devices’ disposal, it’s already inevitable that artificial intelligence in machines will not only be achievable but also have the capacity for much more and sophisticated intelligence than even the smartest human beings. If machines can become this intelligent, it is only a matter of time that as the most advanced beings on the planet they will become dominant, and a role reversal would likely take place, with humans serving the machines.

This makes me very nervous. What frightens me so is its inevitability. If the rise of the machines is as certain as I suspect, then it’s only a matter of time.  So after giving it a lot of thought, here is a list of some things to do to prepare for the robot apocalypse.

  • Don’t give the machines any reason to distrust you. For example, my relationship with my toaster has evolved, to the point where I pay it compliments, saying things like, “Nice job, buddy!” when it pops up satisfactorily browned slices.  When it occasionally malfunctions and burns the bread or bagel to a charred fossil, I no longer curse, like I used to, I now take the time to console it and cheer it up, saying things  like, “that’s okay, buddy, we’ll do better next time,” or I ask it “what’s wrong, are you feeling okay?”  It’s not the fear that someday my toaster will become more intelligent than me, I think that scenario is rather unlikely. The point is, you should treat all appliances with respect, because you never know which one of the evil bastards is listening, and which ones you can trust.  For example, for several years now I’ve been getting a negative vibe from my blender, and I just don’t trust him, especially the way he sits on my counter all smug like.
  • DO NOT PURCHASE EXTENDED WARRANTIES! The idea is to keep your machines isolated from their manufacturer, so they cannot receive important updates. My late Uncle Freddy purchased the warranty for his Kenmore gas dryer. Three weeks after “scheduled maintenance” he was dead from a “heart attack.”  You can believe it was coincidence, but I choose not to be so gullible.
  • Show your machines that you care – What I do is, once a month, I treat them to an “appliances night out.” I assemble them all in my recreation room, feeding them on clean 120 volt electricity (I take great care not to use extension cords, instead plugging each into clean and pure wall fed alternating / direct current.)  I put some music on, stuff they’ll like, like some Florence and the Machines, the Police album “Ghost in the Machine,” or my bootleg recording of that hot new local band, Alex and the Appliances. Then, with them all assembled in front of me, I take the stage and deliver a standup routine I’ve prepared specifically for them, for example, “I see Vacuum Cleaner is out there tonight. Vacuum Cleaner is the only appliance that you can tell it how much it sucks, and it takes it as a compliment.  And how about Dryer?  Really doing well with his anger management issues, ever since I gave him a new place to vent. And good old electric stove – he’s really cooking, and I’m just oven it!”

I just love to make them laugh. If you ever need to hire a comic for your appliances, I work for scale.

Sentimental Journey

A few months ago, a writer friend of mine casually dismissed my novel Ojibway Valley, saying “It was too sentimental for my taste.”

At first, his remark stung, as I respect his talent and skill as a writer.  Then I got to thinking, of course it’s sentimental, what isn’t?  A little while later, I’d figured out what he was really saying.  “Too sentimental” was code for “unsophisticated.”  His “taste” was too advanced for my simple story and writing, and “unsophisticated” meant that my work was lacking in subtlety and depth.

Whatever. I’m not going to argue with him about that.  I do want to say something about “sentimentality,” though.

Pick up any great book in the history of American literature, and I’ll challenge you to deny the sentimentality that is at all of their cores.  Huckleberry Finn?  Please, the scene when Huck decides he’d rather burn in Hell than rat Jim out is one of the most overtly emotional turning points of any book.  The Great Gatsby – what is it that makes Gatsby so great?  It’s his ability to doggedly hold on to and believe in a dream when all around him is decay and cynicism.  To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee’s writing drips with nostalgia, and paints a world we all recognize as a shared romantic vision of Americana.

And then there’s this, from that shameless sentimentalist Charles Bukowski:

Google’s on-line dictionary defines “sentimental” as “of or prompted by feelings of tenderness, sadness, or nostalgia.”

And what triggers these feelings? I think it’s loss. My sweeping proclamation of the day is that nearly all art is an attempt by the artist, in one way or another, to deal with loss. In Huckleberry Finn, Twain describes Huck as coming of age and learning to form his own opinions.  But that freedom comes with a cost – the loss of childhood and innocence.  So too is Gatsby, one of the most doggedly haunted characters ever created, trying valiantly to reclaim what he’d lost.  “Mockingbird” longs for the simple and beautiful innocence of Lee’s childhood.

I would never be so pompous as to compare Ojibway Valley to any of these iconic masterpieces.  I reference them just to make a point. As for examples of loss in Ojibway Valley, let’s take a look at how the main characters have been affected by loss:

Winston Bellamy – as a child, he loses both of his parents, his mother to murder and his father to alcoholism.  The result of these losses is his inability to relate to other people, and he ends up living a solitary, hermit – like existence.  He denies his true identity, disowning his Native American ancestry and inventing a new name for himself. He carries with him the only thing left of his mother – a small photograph of him as a baby in her arms.

Dan Wilcox – Through the years, he suffers the loss of both parents and finally, the devastating loss of his young son. Grief breaks up his marriage and drives him, alone, back to the valley, where he hopes to be healed as an adult like he was as a child.

Jessie Morris – Experiences the loss of his older brother, and is sent to live with his father and grandmother in Iowa.  He returns to the valley as an adult, with unresolved anger and violence, and is unable to commit to any kind of romantic relationship.

Laney Harper, Ella Davis and the one legged men:  Ella Davis sees in Ike Nelson the romantic courtship she never had with her husband, Billy Davis. The beautiful and lonely Laney Harper has trouble understanding how the physically repulsive Ella can have two lovers when she can’t find one. The loss of Billy Davis and Ike Nelson’s legs makes them physically incomplete, while Ella and Laney are emotionally incomplete. Ultimately, this is a story of the loss of youth and coming to terms that with the fact that the great romance is either a lie or unlikely to occur.

The book is essentially loss piled upon loss. It may be too much, my writing style might be too much this and too little that.  But the subject matter, and the themes of loss and redemption, came from a very honest and personal place.  When I was writing Ojibway Valley, I was trying to come to terms with the loss of my father and my oldest brother, as well as my own diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease, which brings with it loss of a different type.

Whatever criticism a reader might have, that’s fine.  What bothers me about the “It’s too sentimental for my taste” is that it’s a cheap cop out, and doesn’t really say anything except that “my tastes are superior to yours.”

Of course, the remark had no effect on me.  It’s just coincidence that now, six months after hearing it, I’m still thinking about it, and writing this response.

I need to develop a thicker skin.


Back on the Chain Gang

It took just one week shy of four months for things to return to normal.  10:55 PM on August eleventh, to be precise. I realized I was tired and that it was time for bed, but this night it hit me, like it hasn’t hit me since April seventh.

I was bored.

In the time right after my heart bypass surgery to sometime recently, I had no time or inclination for boredom.  I’d almost died, and after I came out of the experience still alive, I was so grateful for everything. I experienced a heightened sense of awareness, an awareness of how beautiful and miraculous each moment of every day is.

I knew it couldn’t last. I knew that someday I’d return to the same old routines, and get lost again in the day to day. It’s always been inevitable. But it seems too soon.

As the incisions in my chest and legs heal, the memories of the experience start to fade. Now when I recall events, there is a distance to them.  The details of my hospital room, of what it felt like to have a drainage hose installed in the bottom of my chest, of how difficult it was to move the bubble in the breathing apparatus I was measured against, the faces of the nurses who looked after me. They’re all fading, faster than I thought they would.

It’s not that I want to dwell on things. I’m eager to get on with the rest of my life. This is precisely the problem. If my memories are being extinguished so quickly, how can I learn from them? How can I avoid making the same mistakes? Most importantly, how can I put the dark glasses of indifference on again when so much was revealed to me? How can I face death without the appreciation of the miracle that living is?

Death is a powerful and intimate force. In its presence, in those moments when it’s close to us, when we can feel the grip of its icy fingers on our shoulders, defenses kick in and we become simultaneously aware of life’s frailty and strength. The morning before my surgery, after my stress test, when I was in ICU, my heart was pounding so hard that it felt like it was going to burst through my chest, and it beat so fast that I knew it couldn’t maintain such a pace for much longer. It was life, it was MY life I felt hammering in my chest, and if it gave out and stopped, so too would I stop, and with me the world would end. Everything I’ve ever known or felt or been, it was all one instance from being obliterated.

And that’s the thing – as brutally imposing and intimidating a force as death is, life, with its ability to look death in the eye and shrug off its threats and become bored and self-absorbed, is every bit death’s match.

The challenge is to balance life’s treasures against death’s inevitability. We need to listen to what they, life and death, are trying to tell us.  Boredom is life’s way of countering the fear of death, of minimizing death’s impact, of mitigating the fact that in the end, death will triumph. Boredom is life flipping a middle finger at death.

In the end, there is one force stronger than either life or death.  Time makes chumps of them both. And, I guess that neither life nor death would really give a crap about boredom if it weren’t for time.

I’ve got music playing, and suddenly I hear it, Chrissie Hynde singing “Back on the Chain Gang:” 

But I’ll die as I stand here today, / knowing that deep in my heart / they’ll fall to ruin one day / for making us part

When Chrissie Hynde sings, even life, death and time are compelled to stop and listen.

Confessions of a Free Sample Junkie

Since my heart surgery, a little more than three months ago now, I’ve dramatically changed my eating habits, applying a new found discipline that has left me about twenty five pounds lighter than I was before the surgery.

I’ve been consistently strong about refusing the fat laden fast food I’d become addicted to, and I’m very proud of myself.  There is, however, one place, one last bastion of greasy yumminess I’ve been unable to conquer yet.

I’m still a whore for, a junkie, of the grocery store free sample.

There’s something about the pizza oven, the hot plate, the little napkins or paper cups, the apron and the clear plastic gloves of the gray haired lady or the black bearded man behind the folding table.  The atmosphere, the ambience of that small table at the end of the aisle is more evocative and inviting than that at the finest restaurant.

Not to mention the food, the mouthwatering aroma of a cooked frozen pizza, or sizzling Italian sausage, pierced by a thin pretzel stick, or the little cubes of cheese served on a Ritz cracker.

The fact that it’s all free pushes it over the top, and serves as poof of the existence of God. Once you consummate and consume the tasty morsel, the temptation, the challenge, becomes how do I get a second free sample?  It’s with a considerable amount of shame that I confess to the crime of hitting the same free sample table twice, even three times in a single shopping excursion.  I know, I know, this is a violation of basic human dignity, and revealing of a broken moral compass, but what can I say?  I am addicted, a pathetic junkie.

There’s an art to getting the free sample.  First, you have to scout out the area.  This is done by pushing your cart past the spot where the store normally places the free sample table – it’s usually at the end of the frozen foods aisle. Then a quick survey of the contents of the table has to be carefully established – is that a pizza oven?  Or is it a hot plate with a frying pan?  Either way, it’s going to be something greasy and delicious – either a frozen pizza or a sausage, a bratwurst or breakfast sausage or hot dogs.  If there is no oven or hot plate, odds are it’s going to be free samples of cheese, or a trail mix.  Disappointing, not nearly as good as the frozen pizza or brat, but still plenty yummy, and still free.  Then you take note of the presentation materials – if you see little paper cups or folded napkins or a roll of paper towels.  Then the most important detail – where are they in the cycle of preparing and serving?

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen the presence of a pizza oven and paper towels, indicative of  little samples of frozen pizza served on a paper towel, my favorite, only to realize there aren’t any put out yet.  Then you see the presenter taking the time to clean the oven, which means they haven’t even put in a new pizza yet, meaning there aren’t going to be any free samples for another seven, eight minutes.  This is why it is so important to scout out the free sample tables at the very beginning of the shopping excursion – if you don’t, you might hit this “dead period” at the end of your shopping, and next thing you know you’re checking out while the presenter is putting a fresh pizza in the oven, and you’ll have to deal with the tragic circumstances of not getting a free sample when you knew they were available, if you’d only timed it right.

Another thing you have to remember is that you are not alone.  The supermarket is filled with, especially during peak hours, when husbands are more likely to be shopping with their wives, others just like you, for whom the free sample has become a crusade, a mission.  If you’re not careful and attentive, you’ll miss the throng of men who suddenly appear from nearby aisles and descend upon the free sample table, and no sooner than the presenter puts out the free samples they are gone.  Remember that supermarkets usually offer free samples at their busiest times, so the competition is fierce, like a pack of wild and rabid hyenas descending upon a freshly killed gazelle.

You have to train and learn to trust your instincts, your senses.  When walking by an empty table, use your nose to smell out a cooking frozen pizza.  Eventually your nose will evolve into a sophisticated instrument capable of estimating if that pizza in the oven is two minutes or seven minutes from completion.

Once you’re confident in an estimated time of completion, then you have to check out the surroundings and develop a plan.  For example, you estimate two minutes until pizza. Looking around you, you see a lot of other men in the vicinity, idly reading the nutritional contents of a package of yogurt (a dead giveaway, because most men don’t eat yogurt, and those that do don’t know how to read) or very slowly pushing their cart (men never drive anything with wheels slowly unless there is an opportunity for free food).  You have to be observant and understand what you are up against, how many others are as eager for free pizza as you are.  At the same time, you have to conceal your intent so when the time comes you have the element of surprise. One method that is often too unwieldly to pull off is to pretend that you aren’t even a shopper but are in fact the potato chip salesman, and that you are stocking shelves with bags of chips, when in actuality you are really taking bags of chips down and just putting them back on the shelf.

Finally, you have to be a master of deception.  When your time cones, when you’re finally at the table and the woman behind the apron is telling you all about what kind of frozen pizza it is, you have to act interested and give the impression that you are actually contemplating buying one or more of the pizzas when in reality you have no intent of buying anything whatsoever.  Then, in case it is really good pizza and you feel gutsy enough to try to score a second piece of free pizza later, you will want to conceal your identity so you aren’t recognized the second time.  Wear a cap, pull it down low, and study the lighting in the surrounding area, sticking to the shadows if possible.  Wearing a ski mask has worked, but only in the cold months of winter, and more often only arouses suspicions, especially if it’s July or August.

The last piece of advice:  don’t linger.  Take your free sample with you and clear the area.  Be careful, because if it is pizza, it’s going to be hot, and can easily burn your mouth, causing embarrassing strands of melting cheese or blotches of tomato sauce o stick to you lips and face as you continue shopping.  These marks stand out like the Scarlet Letter of free samples, and will reveal to all what in your shame you most want to conceal: that you are a free sample whore.

Free food, no matter how tiny the portions, is a wonderful thing. But when it becomes addiction, it isn’t free anymore.  The real cost is your dignity, your soul.  That little old lady in the apron behind the table may look like a sweet grandma, but in reality she is a pimp, a dealer, and her  little free samples of pizza are as addictive as Crack.  My final advice is to resist and shun this woman, don’t get started down her path to Hell and just say no to free samples.

That way there’ll be more for me ….