The Way Things Auto Be

The automotive industry is undergoing a dramatic transformation that will forever change the ways we purchase and operate motor vehicles. Analysts predict that as early as 2030, or just a little bit more than eleven years from now, the highways of America will be dominated by driver-less, electric cars, and that most cars will be rented on an as-needed basis.  Gone will be the days of automobile ownership as we know it today.

Meanwhile, technology is already enabling a vast array of incredible new functionality, from global positioning functionality to automated parallel parking to crash avoidance. It’s an amazing time to be alive, to witness the application and implementation of space aged technology to every day transportation.

But for all the “hits” in this technological boom, there have been a few failures and “misses.” In this, the first in a series of closer looks, I examine a couple of these little known failures.

Off on the Wrong Foot

In November of 2014, Ford issued a memo announcing its driver-less car research project. Regrettably, the memo included a minor typo on the subject line, wherethe letter “r” was omitted from the word “driver.” This seemingly innocuousmistake went unnoticed by most of the press, but didn’t escape the attention of a salesman in the Ford dealership in Secaucus, New Jersey, named Bud Schwartz,who was the principle named in a law suit by Olympic champion Greg Louganis. In a sworn affidavit, Louganis claimed that Schwartz cited the memo as a reason to prevent Louganis’ attempt to purchase a 1987 Taurus. “See, right here,”Schwartz said, holding up a copy of the memo, “it says, ‘Announcing Ford’s ‘diver-less policy,’ so I got it right here, in writing. As for Louganis and his suit, he can go jump in the lake.”

Ford and Louganis arrived at a six figure settlement, and the “driver-less” project was delayed by a month.  The author of the memo, an intern named Carl Iguana, held onto his job when his HR rep, Samantha Herbivore, mistyped the word “fired” in Iguana’s dismissal memo. Iguana’s job was spared, but he barely survived being fried in corn oil.

Soup warmer

This was a feature proposed and evaluated by General Motors.  It consisted of a retractable bowl that, upon pushing a button on the dashboard, would slide out. The driver would take a bowl of cold soup and empty it into the retractable bowl, and insert it much like one inserts a CD into a CD player. Infrared sensors placed behind the dashboard would then heat the soup up to 230 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point the warmer would beep and “eject” the soup. The warmer was actually installed and tested in a handful of vehicles, but failed when the eject button proved to  be a bit too strong, flinging scalding hot soup into the face of the driver, causing him to become inattentive and thus a safety concern.  Greg Llama, the engineer who first conceived of the soup warmer, down played the test results, saying “so what you might get a little bit of soup in your eye – to me, it’d be worth it. How many times do you find yourself driving down the highway on a cold day when all of the sudden, it occurs to you how good a bowl of clam chowder would be right at that moment. But no, you don’t have time to stop at the local diner, because you’re on your way to the foam rubber convention, and you’re the keynote speaker and you’re running late.  If you’re anything like me, that happens all the time!”

Airbags Alternative

Although they’ve saved millions of lives, safety issues with air bags continue to be a concern. Suffocation, claustrophobic panic attacks, head and neck injuries, arm and chest fractures, have all been issues.  GM engineer Walt Toast proposed and designed an alternative.  Like the current airbags,Toast’s design had bags deploying on impact, but the bags would be filled with shards of broken glass instead of air. “Of course they’d be worse than air-bags,” he replied to concerns about the harm his design could inflict. “Oh, the poor babies have a fractured arm, we’ll fix that, how about getting your throat cut?  How’d they like that?”

Amazingly, Toast’s design was approved for testing, but after killing three testers, the project was put on delay due to budgetary issues. Two years later, it was officially cancelled when Toast was diagnosed as a psychotic after admitting to mailing a powdery substance to bankruptcy attorney Peter Francis Geraci. Public health officials first identified the substance as a rare and lethal strain of Anthrax until further testing concluded that it was actually a table spoon of Nestles Quick. Toast was institutionalized on the basis of an obscure law that, to protect public safety, demands that anyone who supplies a bankruptcy lawyer with chocolate milk must be separated from the rest of society.

The Grableizer 2020 Cicada Detector

Mandated to be implemented in all vehicles beginning in the year 2020, this feature is from the mind of the brilliant inventor Joe Grabchinski. When the vehicle hits a speed of 59 degrees, it will begin emitting high-pitched and loud, ear shattering sounds mimicking the mating calls of all Cicadoidea, thus attracting all forms of cicadas from as far away as five miles to the vehicle. When asked why, Grabchinski only replied, “If I have to explainit to you …”

Twelve Confused Men

(Next week I’m scheduled for jury duty for the first time. Last night, I dreamed the following dream in black and white …) 

Scene:  an empty meeting room with a long table in the center with chairs around it.  12 men of different ages and nationalities file in and take a seat in chairs around the table.  One man, in a white dress shirt with a black tie, the foreman, remains standing.

Foreman:  Okay, that seemed pretty cut and dry.  I’d like to suggest we vote on a verdict right away. I’ll poll each of you. Jurist number one, how do you vote?

Me (raising my hand) I’m sorry, Mr. Foreman, but shouldn’t we vote by private ballot?

Foreman:  I don’t think that’ll be necessary.   We all saw what happened in there.

Me:  Still, I think, just in case, we should make sure we do this right, to the letter of the law.  So there’s no chance of reprisal, or getting the defendant off on a technicality.

Foreman: Of course, you’re correct, thank you, jurist number twelve. Please cast your vote on one of these little folded up pieces of paper.

(Everybody writes their vote down.)

Foreman:  Jurist number three, would you mind collecting the votes?

(Jurist three, a small, nerdy looking man, rises from his chair.

Jurist Number Three:  Not at all.  (He picks up a small wicker basket from the table and goes around the table.  One by one, the jurists all put their votes in the basket, I am the last to do so.  Jurist Number Three hands the basket to the foreman.

Foreman:  Thank you.  Jurist Two, would you mind keeping a tally of the number of guilty and not guilty votes as I read them off?

Jurist Two:  Got it.

Foreman (reaching his hand into the basket) Okay, here we go …

Me (raising my hand and interrupting): Excuse me, Mister Foreman, excuse me …

Foreman;  Yes, juror number twelve?

Me:  Don’t you think you should, you know, shake the basket up a little bit?

Foreman:  What? What do you mean, shake the basket?

Me:  You know, mix the votes up …

Foreman:  Huh?

Me:  Well, it’s just that I was the last to put my vote in …

Foreman:  So?

Me:  So my vote is on top.  If you don’t shake the basket, everybody will know that the first vote is mine. And the whole purpose of using the paper ballots are to protect the anonymity of each vote cast.

Foreman:  Okay, okay, I gotcha.  (With great exaggeration, he puts his hand in the basket and mixes up the contents.) Is that good enough?

Me: Yes, thank you.

Foreman (taking out and unfolding each piece of paper) Guilty …. Guilty … guilty … not guilty?  (He and all of the other jurors look at me)

Me:  What?

Foreman: (going through the remaining votes) Guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty.  That’s all the votes. Jurist Two, please read the final tally.

Jurist Two:  That’s eleven guilty, one not guilty.

Jurist Four:  Okay, Twelve, joke’s over.

Me:  Joke? What joke?

Jurist Four: Look, we get it, very funny.  Now can we get on with issuing a verdict and get the Hell out of here?

Me:  Why are you looking at me? You don’t know that I was the not guilty vote. In fact, I’ll bet that if you look closer at the not guilty ballot, you might find a clue as to who really cast it.

Foreman:  (holding up the vote) You mean, where it says here, “Voted by Jurist Number Nine, not Number Twelve.”

Jurist Nine: (jerking awake from nodding off) Hey!  What’s the big idea?

Foreman:  Okay, Twelve, would you like to explain your Not Guilty vote?

Me: But you don’t know that I …

Jurist Six (A large and muscular and intimidating man) Knock it off, Twelve, before I knock you off!

Foreman:  Do you really vote Not Guilty?

Me:  I do. (The entire room erupts in unison at me)

Foreman (gaining control of the room) Okay, okay, everybody calm down. That’s better.  Now, Twelve, could you please explain your vote?  I mean, the defendant admitted to being at the scene of the crime.  And we have the bank transactions that prove he was laundering money.

Me:  That’s just it!  Where’s the detergent?

Foreman:   Huh? What detergent?

Me:  My point exactly! If he was laundering that much money, there had to be some detergent somewhere! But the prosecution never produced a single sud!

Jurist Eight:  He makes a good point.

Jurist Seven:  You’re an idiot, Eight.

Foreman: But he was caught at the scene of the crime with the weapon in his hand.  How do you explain that?

Me:  By the Handyman’s testimony.

Foreman:  What’s that got to do with anything?

Me: Remember when he described the contents of the refrigerator? When he got to listing the condiments?

Foreman: Yeah?

Me:  Remember he said, “Mayonnaise?”

Foreman: Yeah.  So?

Me:  So when we examined exhibit B-1, there was no mayonnaise, just …

Jurist Eight:  Miracle Whip!

Foreman: So?

Me:  Miracle Whip is not mayonnaise! (Pulling a packet of Miracle Whip out of my back pocket) See, it says right here, Miracle Whip is salad dressing.

Juror Seven:  Why did you have a packet in your pocket?

Me: Never mind that! If you want to find the real criminal, I suggest you look no further than right here! (I move over by juror eleven and dramatically lift the mask off his head, revealing JIM PAYNE.) You’ll find a trail of victims that lead to his doorstep. He is none other than ….

Foreman: You mean …

Me: That’s right. He’s the notorious Mayonnaise Madman that’s been terrorizing our community for years! Once he found out there was no mayonnaise in the fridge, he went mad!

Jim Payne: How does that make you feel?

Foreman: And I thought you were a complete idiot, Twelve! Now I know the real idiot is whoever wrote this drivel!

Me: Guilty as charged!


The Doctor is In

(This is the first installment in what will be a regular public service, where I leverage my incredible knowledge of health care issues and concepts to answer questions that you the reader might have)

Dear Dr. Dave: I haven’t been feeling like myself lately, and I can’t put a finger on why. I wake up in the morning feeling heavy pressure on my head. I haven’t had any desire for liquids, and I remain dry even when walking outside in the rain. I’m really at a loss on this one, doc.  Signed, Dryer without a Washer.

Dear Dryer without a Washer: I’m pretty confident that what you are describing is a case of Shingles.  If you look in the mirror you’ll see that “the heavy pressure on your head” is a symptom of roofing materials that have been nailed to it.  Early signs of shingles include the nailing of plywood and having tar paper or a similar sub roofing material stapled to your head. If left unattended, like your symptoms suggest, this will lead to the eventual addition of overlapping, rectangular pieces made of asphalt or wood, that will start at both sides of the bottom of the top of your head and continue until the two sides reach the peak.
Short term treatment of shingles usually involves applying tar to the section that is leaking. Long term treatment includes several over-priced prescribed drugs with long complicated names that have horrible side effects. These medications have been wildly successful in driving up the stock values of the companies that produce them, while doing absolutely nothing to improve patient outcomes.

Dear Dr. Dave:  Recently, my knees and elbows have been bursting into flames for no apparent reason.  What’s up with that? Signed, Hot Under My Trousers.

Dear Hot Under My Trousers: You are clearly suffering from inflammable- ation of the joints. You might try carrying a bag of marshmallows with you at all times to best take advantage of the condition.

Dear Dr. Dave:  My best friend has been feeling intense pain behind his face, under his eyes and behind his nose. What gives?  Signed, Charlie Brown.

Dear Charlie Brown:  Your friend is suffering from a Linus infection. Tell his mom to wash his blanket.

Dear Dr. Dave:  Do the terms “stomach” and “tummy” refer to the same thing? If so, wouldn’t it be more efficient to call it a “stummy?” Signed, Madame Curry.

Dear Madame Curry:  You have a point. You should see a plastic surgeon about it.

Dear Dr. Dave:  I put the bread in and it never pops up. It just gets soaking wet and disintegrates.  What’s worse, it doesn’t lather up at all, and ends up clogging the drain.  Please help. Signed, Confused

Dear Confused:  You are confusing your decorative soap dish with your toaster, and you also appear to be confusing bread and soap. Bread has no place in the shower.

Dear Dr. Dave:  This is embarrassing, but I recently had some gastro-intestinal blockages and, to make a long story short, when I was finally able to pass gas, I killed 36 people and injured 62 more.  Signed, Oh, the humanity:

Dear Oh the Humanity:  Are you by any chance a large commercial passenger carrying rigid airship?  If, as I suspect, you are, then you’re incredibly sensitive to diet and have to watch what you eat.  Stay away from yellow cheeses and red meat and hydrogen, and turn to leafy green vegetables and fish or poultry and helium.  Helium might be a bit pricey and hard to find when compared to hydrogen, but I think you and your passengers will find it to be worth every penny.

Dear Dr. Dave:   I live in the 16th century and have an uncanny ability to predict when people will suffer nose bleeds.  Signed, Nostril-damus.

DearNostril-damus:  Aren’t you special.

A Greaser Christmas

(This is the unabridged version of the story I told last Monday at the Olio Storytelling event at Kenosha Fusion. I dd the math and about 17% of this really happened.)

In December of 1972, I was a freshman in a high school in a small town in southeastern Wisconsin.  I was born in 1958, at the height of the post-world war two baby boom. There must have been a whole lot of procreating going on at that time, because fourteen years later the small town high school was bursting at its seams.  The school became so overcrowded that fall that they had to rent out some classrooms in the church across the street.

The school cafeteria was modern and clean, brightly lit by the daylight that streamed in through windows high upon the walls. It had long tables with attached benches. After the last lunch period was over, a custodian would fold the tables up into compartments on the wall, where they’d rest until late morning the following day, when they’d be unfolded in advance of the first lunch hour.  Each table sat about twenty kids, ten on each side, and there were about fourteen tables. As nice as they were, there still weren’t enough of them to seat the expanded student body, so they knocked out a wall on the north end and expanded the cafeteria enough to fit in about six old black tables to handle the overflow.  There weren’t even any chairs, you’d just stand there at the table and lift forks full of Spanish rice or soy casserole to your mouth. This overflow area became home to the misfits and oddballs who didn’t fit in with enough kids to get a seat at one of the nice, fold down tables. Needless to say, that included me.

It’d be difficult to believe looking at me now, but at the time I was small. Ridiculously small. I was the smallest kid in my class, possibly the smallest class in the entire high school. I was short and scrawny. I was five foot two and weighed 95 pounds sopping wet.

There was one part of my anatomy that was disproportionately large, and no, unfortunately, it wasn’t that – rather, it was my mouth.  I had a big mouth that I’d shoot off with little regard for consequence.  I was a smart ass, my big mouth writing checks that my tiny body couldn’t cash, constantly getting me in trouble that I had no business getting into.

So I ended up with three other oddball freshmen who were also exiled to the chair-less tables at the new end of the cafeteria.  There were also about a dozen or so upper class men, juniors and seniors, who also occupied this space. They were what at the time was commonly referred to as “greasers,” the thugs and hoods, the bad asses and tough guys, the bullies who are a part of every public high school.

The leaders of the greasers were three older guys – the Kowalski  brothers, Earl, Butch, and Alfred Lord.  Alfred Lord Kowalski was the sensitive, cultured one of the three – he’d recently mastered the art of using silverware. Nobody knows how many years the Kowalski brothers had been pursuing that elusive high school diploma, but rumor had it that Earl, who was the oldest and the alpha dog of the pack, had recently acquired his AARP card.  To say they were scary looking would be an understatement. They wore black leather jackets and had tattoos on their arms. In 1972, tattoos hadn’t become fashionable yet – unlike now days, when everybody’s little brother and sister has a dozen or so. In 1972, only legitimate bad asses like the Kowalski brohers had tattoos.  They also had scars on their faces and they occasionally walked upright.  They had a una-brow – you know, one uninterrupted eyebrow over both eyes – only in this case, it was one eyebrow shared between the three of them, covering all six of their eyes. It started over Earl’s left eye and then his right and then it would leave Earl’s face and dangle in midair until it connected to Butch’s face and covered his eyes and then suspended in the air it’d connect to Alfred Lord’s face and cover his eyes.

Most of the time, the greasers left us alone, immersed as they’d get in their philosophical conversations, debating, for example, whether fire good or fire bad. I was learning to keep my big mouth shut, and we gave the greasers their space and they gave us ours.

Except for that day in December.  Me and the other three oddball freshmen were standing in a row on the same side of our chair-less table, me on the left end, the other three to my right, eating our lunch when all of the sudden we noticed that our table was surrounded by greasers, standing silently in uncomfortably close proximity. It felt suffocating, claustrophobic. We could feel their warm mouth breathing on the back of our necks.  Then the Kowalski brothers emerged.  Butch stood next to the kid on the far right, Freshman Number One, and Alfred Lord was standing next to me.  I turned and tried to walk away, when Alfred Lord stopped me.  “Where do you think you’re going?” he asked.

“Me? Oh, I’m sorry, I have to leave.  I have an appointment with my podiatrist.”

“You ain’t going nowhere,” Alfred Lord Kowalksy said.

“Hey, Butch,” Earl said.  “You know what?”

“What?” Butch replied.  Butch was the dimmest of the three, his vocabulary limited to mono syllabic grunts.

“It just don’t feel like Christmas this year, does it.”

“No,” Butch grunted.

“I’ve been trying to figure out why it don’t feel like Christmas, and I think I finally got it, I think I finally figured out why it don’t feel like Christmas,” Earl said.

“Why?” Butch replied.

“It don’t feel like Christmas cause we ain’t had us any of them Christmas songs.  Ain’t nothing get you in the Christmas spirit like some of that there Christmas music.”

“Music good,” Butch stated.

“We’re gonna change that right now.  We’re going to have us some Christmas music so’s we all get into the Christmas spirit.”  With that Earl approached Freshman Number One, standing on the far right of the four of us.  Earl grabbed Freshman Number One by the shoulders and said “kid, get up on the table and sing us a Christmas song.”

“Oh, golly, gee, I don’t think so,” Freshman Number One replied, “I’m kind of shy, kind of …”

“Kid,” Earl scowled, “I don’t think you understand.  I ain’t asking you if you wanna sing us a Christmas song. I’m telling you. Now get up on that table and sing us a Christmas song, or we’re going to kick your ass”

Now, let’s pause for a moment and reflect on the phrase, “kick your ass.”  If only it were that simple.  Sure, it might involve pointy-toed boots, and if they really got good leg speed into it, a kick in the ass might hurt for three hours, four hours top.  But the expression was never meant to be taken literally.  No, if I intend to “kick your ass,” I intend to beat the humanity out of you, until your last frayed nerve ending is screaming in pain, and you are a mere hollowed out shell of yourself, and then, when there is nothing left of you but a quivering pad of gelatinous goo spilled on the floor, then, maybe then, I might add in a swift and hard kick at your posterior just to serve as an exclamation point, but that’s not really necessary.

So Freshman Number One, his options made clear by Earl, responded the only way he could.  “Oh, golly gee whiz there, Earl, I’m really uncomfortable in such demonstrative displays.  Could you find someone else?  Could you?”

At that point the greasers converged on Freshman Number One and beat the daylights out of him until he was left there in a crumpled heap on the floor, oozing blood and tears and other bodily fluids, all draining out of him and beginning to pool right there on the cafeteria floor. And Freshman Number One lay there in a crumpled heap, and he was bruised and battered and broken and bent and bloodied.

Then Earl moved on to Freshman Number Two, and said “Kid, either you get up on this table and sing us a Christmas song, or we’re gonna kick your ass.”

To which Freshman Number Two replied, “I wish I could, but I’m afraid that my religion strictly prohibits such enthusiastic displays of enthusiasm as singing Christmas songs, so I just can’t.”

And the greasers converged on Freshman Number Two and beat the living crap out of him until he was left lying there on the floor, just a crusty and lifeless spoonful of unrecognizable goo.  The greasers lifted him off the floor and threw him on top of the crumpled heap that used to be Freshman Number One, and now the crumpled heap was two freshmen deep, causing their bones to lock together in impossible and painful angles, and Freshman Number Two was oozing blood and tears and other bodily fluids, all draining out of him and intermingling with Freshman Number One’s blood and tears and pooling right there on the cafeteria floor. And Freshman Number Two was bruised and battered and broken and bent.

At the table, there were only two freshmen left, Freshman Number Three and myself. Earl approached Freshman Number Three and said, “Kid, either you get up on this table and sing us a Christmas song, or we’re gonna kick your ass.”

Freshman Number Three, of course, responded with, “I’m sorry, Earl, but I’m getting a scratchy throat and have a hoarse voice, and I think I’ve got a fever, so could we take a rain check?  Maybe sometime next week?  A rain check?”

At which point the greasers descended upon Freshman Number Three and just destroyed him, as he disappeared beneath them and when the savagery was over the greasers backed off to reveal about 150 broken pieces of Freshman Number Three scattered on the floor, and then a greaser emerged from the crowd with a shovel in his hand, where he got a shovel in the middle of the cafeteria, I have no idea, but he scooped up all the pieces of Freshman Number Three and dumped them on top of the crumpled heap, and now the crumped heap was three freshmen deep, and, since I was only five foot two inches tall, the crumpled heap was now nearly as tall as me, making it even more intimidating a sight than it already was. And Freshman Number Three was oozing blood and tears that intermingled with the blood and tears of the other freshmen and drained into a pool right there on the cafeteria floor.  And Freshman Number Three was bruised and battered and broken and bent.

Now there was only one Freshman left standing, all five foot two, ninety five pounds of me.  As Earl approached me, I felt my heart pounding so hard I thought it was going to leap right out of my chest.  Then Earl was there, right next to me, and he started, “Kid, either you get up …”

And he stopped.

In mid sentence, Earl Kowalski stopped.

The reason he stopped, was, when he looked up at me, I wasn’t there.

I was gone.

I was already up on that table, halfway through the first verse of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”

Now, you have to understand that in December of 1972, the television airwaves were dominated by the cheesiest and schmaltziest of all forms of entertainment, the celebrity Christmas special.  They were these awful variety  shows, and for some reason, the Las Vegas style entertainer was popular at the time, with stars like Dean Martin, Tony Orlando, Wane Newton and Sammy Davis Junior all over emoting and swinging through lip synced renditions of the most horribly clichéd pop standards.  It was all awful, and as I didn’t exactly have an active social calendar at the time, I watched them all and studied their acts.

Now, on the table performing for the greasers, I found all the time I’d invested watching those shows was informing my performance of Rudolph.  I started it out as a slow and soulful ballad and then, halfway through, kicked the tempo up into gear until it was a swinging and rollicking production number, accented by my finger snapping and the random “heys” and “babys” I punctuated each line with.

I looked down at my audience, the dozen or so greasers that had surrounded our table, and they were all silent and still, mouths gaping open, looks of utter confusion and bewilderment on their faces.  Even Earl Kowalski was stunned, and it became clear to me that they had no idea how to react. They knew only one thing, how to kick ass. They had never estimated that any kid would have low enough self-esteem to get up on that table and humiliate himself rather than take his ass-kicking.  This plus the fact that I seemed to be enjoying myself really blew their mildly developed minds.

I finished singing Rudolph to no reaction, just stunned greaser silence. I’d done my song, but nobody knew what to do next.  We were in unchartered waters. It occurred to me that as long as I remained up on that table, it meant that the greasers weren’t kicking my ass, so I plowed forward with the rest of the show.  I decided to throw in a little joke next – playing the part of Rudolph, I said, “I just flew in from the north pole, and boy, are my antlers tired!”  Still, no reaction – just stony, or maybe stoner, silence.

I looked at the clock on the wall, and there were still a few minutes left, so I kicked into my second song, “Jingle Bells,” really rocking it, making it swing, baby!  Still only slack-jawed silence from my audience.  So I launched my rendition of “Deck the Halls,” fa-la-lalling with all my heart, when, in the midst of a fa-la –la, the school bell sounded.

The end of lunch hour!  Saved by the bell!

I announced, “Sorry, folks, that’s all the time we have.  Thank you, and good night, ladies and gentlemen.  I’m here all week. Good night, and drive safely.”

The greasers were still standing there, stunned, as I jumped off the table, into the perimeter of the circle of greasers that sill stood unmoving, surrounding the table.  I confidently tapped the one in front of me on the shoulder and boldly said, “Excuse me, please.”

Much to my surprise, the greasers parted as if I were Charlton Heston and they were the Red Sea.  And I walked, no, I strutted out, past the greasers, past the hideous specter and painful moans of the crumpled heap, past the now coagulated and hardened pool on the cafeteria floor, as if I were walking out on a red carpet.  And I exited the cafeteria and walked into the afternoon, intact and unscathed from my encounter with the still discombobulated greasers.

The next day, I entered the cafeteria, feeling good about myself and the performance I’d given the day before. I walked past our table, and there was no sign of either the bloody pool or the crumpled heap or, for that matter, the other three freshmen, who I could only assume were in a hospital somewhere in different degrees of traction.

Then I saw the Kowalski brothers approaching, and for a split second, my heartbeat accelerated, but only for a second. I suddenly realized that I wasn’t afraid of them anymore.  Sure, they could kick my ass, but so what? I had two older brothers, so it wasn’t like I’d never had my ass kicked before. You get over an ass-kicking pretty quick, but one thing I’ll never get over, one thing the greasers could never take away from me was the fact that the day before I’d gotten up on that table and rocked the joint.  I gave it everything I had, and I was swinging, baby!  And no Kowalski or any greaser could ever take that away from me. So at the sight of them approaching, I kept walking.  I will not back down.

Then they were there, right in front of me, when Earl says, “Hey, kid …”

I braced myself for the pending ass-kicking.

“Kid,” Earl continued, “I just wanted to tell you, how much I enjoyed your show yesterday.”

Stunned, I replied, “Thank you, Earl.”

Then Butch added, “Show, good!”

“Thanks, Butch.”

Even Alfred Lord Kowalski, normally the quiet one of the three brothers, chimed in. “Dude,”, he said, “I thought you had a real stage presence, although some of your material lacked a cohesive core.”

“Thanks, I think, Alfred Lord,” I said.  They liked me!  They really liked me!

“Kid,” Earl started, “your show was so good, that I think everybody in this school ought to have a chance to see it.”

“Why, thanks,” I replied.  “That’s the nicest thing anybody’s ever said to me.”  And it really was the nicest thing anybody had ever said to me.  The fact that it came from Earl Kowalski of all people made it all the more meaningful. This was turning out better than I could have ever imagined.

I closed my eyes, basking in the moment, feeling the adoration and adulation of the Kowalski brothers wash over me, and I felt my feet leave the ground, and I was floating, and with my eyes shut I could see in a future T.V. Guide, the Bob Hope Christmas Special, the Bing Crosby Christmas Special, and now, the Dave Gourdoux Christmas Special, with guest Star Ricardo Montalban, and …

Suddenly I felt some unidentified force grab my arms and lift them above my head and I opened my eyes only to realize that I wasn’t floating after all, and that Alfred Lord Kowalski had a hold of my legs and Butch had hold of my arms, and they were carrying me, through the cafeteria exit to the hallway beyond, where all the other greasers were waiting for us.  Then they lifted all 95 pounds of me above their heads and they were passing me along, like I was body surfing in a mosh pit, and I could see in front of me, on the other side of the hallway, the big rectangular doors that opened to the gymnasium.  As they passed me closer to the gym door, I could see, high above it, a hook that protruded from the wall.  And they lifted me up as high as they could until my belt loop in the back snagged and caught on that hook, and there they left me, dangling helplessly by my belt loop high above the hallway below.

Earl Kowalski looked up at me and said, “Kid, it looks like you’re gonna be up there for a while, so, if I were you, I’d start singing now.”  The Kowalski brothers and all the greasers had a good laugh at my expense as they entered the cafeteria, leaving me alone in the hallway, dangling up above the gym door.  Then, looking the other way down the hallway, I could see the horde of kids headed for lunch hour, and I knew Earl was right about one thing.  Since you had to pass that gym door in order to get to the cafeteria, every kid in the school would get a chance to see my show.

I decided to open with my brand new arrangement of “Silver Bells” …

The Ideas of February

“Beware the Ides of March”

–  From Julius Caesar

It’s February again, and although it’s the shortest month of the calendar in terms of days, around here, with winter usually in its third or fourth month, it often feels like the longest month.  It’s the month when winter loses all of its romantic charm, and the white Christmas we dreamed of becomes a dirty and monotonous tedium.  The few days when the sun shines and thaws some small portion of the frozen landscape are cruel teases of the spring that will eventually come, and just when we’re given a tiny remembrance of the warm green season, a minuscule spec of hope, a February blizzard or bitter cold snap or both moves in, as inevitable as taxes, which we also begin preparing in February.

February is the month when cabin fever starts to set in, and we are left alone with our thoughts, which, for a brain like mine, is a dangerous thing.  You see, I’m nothing if not an ideas guy. I take pride in thinking outside of the box, although it’s cold out here, and I wish they’d let me back in.  I refuse to give in to the melancholy of the season and instead use this time to mediate deeply and harvest the fruits of the fertile garden, or compost heap (sometimes it’s not clear which one I am laboring in), that is my brain.  Here are some of the better ideas and keen observations I’ve come up with in Februaries past. We can only wait and see and hope what precious gems this February’s harvest will mine:

Idea #1, for law enforcement:  Develop a version of Crest or Colgate (whichever company outbids the other for my idea) with the added ingredient of Sodium Pentothal. It would be known as “Truth-paste

Idea #2, for treating mental illness – A sanitarium for psychotic Orthodontists – a “Dental Institution

Idea #3, product development / marketing: an all-natural, no preservative ingredient for baking called “Yeast of Eden.”

Idea #4, Quantum Physics: A ship capable of independent operation under water that is powered by a nuclear generator and shrunk down to a size smaller than an atom. It would, of course, be “a sub-atomic atomic sub

Idea #5, service, marketing: A service for working parents where we provide an owl to look after their children. The name of the service would be, “Hootenanny

Idea #6, health care for literary types: – a thin tube that is surgically installed to inject stories of pioneer life on the great plains directly into a patient’s bloodstream – a “Willa Catheter

Keen observation #1: When one gets overly stressed by adorable kittens or playful little bunnies, they would be suffering from “Acute Stress Disorder: “

Keen observation #2:  A person with an unrealistically elevated sense of self who is also obsessed with frozen waffles would be an “Eggomaniac.”

Keen observation #3:  An example of a repressed memory would he the time twenty three years ago when I paid twice for having my dress slacks ironed

Keen observation $4: A person obsessed with ventilation fans in the very top story of a home would be an attic fan fanatic.

Keen observation #5: Further proof that I am a rare and wonderful human being: This morning, I bought a block of Cheddar for no reason but to provide some companionship for the Provolone in my fridge. Now, it’s ProIHaveaFriend cheese

Keen observation #6: A person who suffers from an irrational fear of leaving the house while wearing a wool sweater would be suffering from angoraphobia


Bean There, Done That

Coming home after my emergency heart bypass surgery, I knew I had to make changes. Specifically, exercise and diet. I started a workout regime in the hospital’s cardiac center that I’ve continued to this day, and I have no intention of ever quitting. I always feel better after working out, and I can feel my strength and stamina improving every day.

Still, without changing my diet, all the exercise in the world wouldn’t be enough, and my heart would be a ticking time bomb.  So it is that I set upon a low fat, low sodium diet.

I became obsessed with labels, silently dividing grams of fat per serving by serving size to arrive at a base number of the grams of fat per the base unit of measure, and then comparing my result to other brands of the same product.  I now eat only fresh or frozen vegetables and never canned to manage my sodium levels. I don’t use table salt any more, using pepper as a low sodium alternative.

But none of this quieted my red blooded, red meat, all-American lust for a cheeseburger. Simply put, I love burgers, always have. But now they are forbidden to me. One day, while I was deep in mourning for my loss, my wife had an inspiration.

“You should try those Boca burgers,” she said.

“What’s that?”

“They’re meatless hamburgers. They substitute vegetables for ground beef, and season them to taste like meat.”

A couple of days later, I opened up our freezer and took out the box with the frozen veggie burgers inside,  “black bean burgers,” to be precise. It turns out they have different flavored veggie burgers, each made with the same core ingredients, and each featuring a highlighted flavor. I was intrigued and open minded as I took one of the frozen rock hard patties out and put it in my George Forman grill.  I was eager to experience the taste of a burger again, even if it was a watered down, synthetic burger.

As it lay sizzling in the little grill, I got down to work on preparing the fixings.  I cut up pieces of tomato and onion and green, leafy lettuce, when it struck me that I was preparing vegetables to put on top of vegetables.  I noted this as potentially ironic, and went forward with getting out the condiments of ketchup, mustard and fat free Hellman’s mayonnaise. I toasted a multi grain hamburger bun and I was ready to go.

I lifted the top of the grill and was greeted by a distantly familiar scent. I was unable to name where or when I’d experienced the odor before but it was there, acrid and bitter. I put the patty on the bun. It was black with chunks of corn and bean visible in it.  Again, it looked familiar, like something, I couldn’t think of what, but something else black and soft with chunks of yellow corn in it. Undaunted, I applied  the toppings and condiments and took a big bite, when it came to me, what the pungent smelling and semi firm dark blob with bright yellow chunks of corn embedded in it reminded me of.

I let the mouthful I was chewing fall loosely out of my mouth and flushed the rest of my first ever black bean burger down the sink.  After drinking about a gallon of water I was finally able to remove the taste from my mouth, and at least soften the memory of the images and odors the black bean burger had planted in my mind.

Afterwards, something unexpected happened – I found that my mind now associates hamburgers with the memory of my encounter with the black bean burger, that the sound of the word “burger” conjures up its image and odor, and I am confident that I’ll be able to give up my addiction to burgers without ever being tempted to eat one again.  They call this technique to fight addiction going “cold turkey.”

Whatever it is, I try not to think too much about it. It’s lunch time, and there are some slices of cold turkey waiting for me.


The Night Brigade

It’s official – I’ve put my second novel, I Don’t Know Why, which I completed a first draft of about a year ago, on the shelf.  I’ve just been unable to generate any enthusiasm about fixing the many things that I know are wrong with it. I’m hoping that by putting some distance between it and me that someday I can revisit it and it’ll feel fresh and alive again.

Recently, I started forming the idea for a new novel, and I’m excited about it. I sketched out a basic outline of the plot and the biographies of several key characters, and I’ve started writing.  I’m about forty pages into it, and I’m having fun watching the characters reveal themselves.  I’m learning new things about them all the time, and my original assumptions about the plot are being challenged.  I found this to be true on both of my previous novels – once I started bringing the characters to life, they demanded changes to the story, and both books turned out to be drastically different than what I’d originally envisioned.

So it is that lately I’ve been getting phone calls waking me up in the middle of the night.  I always move to another room so as not to wake up my wife, hence avoiding an “It’s Jake from State Farm” moment. That would be easier to explain than the truth, that the calls are coming from characters in my book.

For example, I was awakened one early night by Craig Tyler, a nineteen year old kid who is the central character and narrator of the new book. The phone rang at 2:30 in the morning.

“Hello?” I mumbled into the phone.

“Hi, Dave.  It’s Craig Tyler.”


“Craig Tyler.  You know , from your book?”

“Oh, Craig Tyler.  But you’re fictional.”

“Never mind that,” he said. “I’m a little bit concerned about what you wrote tonight.”

“Yeah, what about it?”

“Well, don’t you think it’s important that you mention I’m a really strong swimmer?”

“I thought it was obvious.”

“I still think you should mention it.  It just might be distracting to the reader as is.”

“Okay,” I said, “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thanks, Dave,” he said.

I wrote in my journal, “Craig is rather neurotic, and worries about things that aren’t really important.”

The next night the phone rang at 3:03.  The voice on the other end wasn’t happy.

“Hello?” I said.

“This is Paul, Paul Tyler? Craig’s brother?  Hello?”

“Yeah, yeah, okay, Paul. What can I do for you?”

“Really?  Really, Dave?  A heroin addict? That’s the best you could come up with?”

“Yeah, I thought it was a good idea.  You’re supposed to be a tragic figure.”

“Well, let me ask you, what do you know about heroin?”

“Um, not a lot.”

“You know nothing about it, admit it!”

“Okay, so I don’t know anything.  What’s the big deal? “

“I’m gonna be this big tragic figure, suffering from heroin addiction, and I’ve got to count on your skill to bring me to life and I turns out you don’t know jack shit about heroin.”

“So? I’ll do a little research.”

“You couldn’t have made me addicted to something you know about.  Like, I don’t know, maybe a Cheerios addict?”

“A Cheerios addict,” I said. “Yeah, that would make you real tragic.”

I could hear Paul sigh.  Then he said, “So let me be blunt – you ain’t Eugne O’Neil, and this ain’t no Long Day’s Journey into Night.”

“Long day’s journey – I get it, because the mother in Long Day’s Journey into Night was an addict.”

“That’s right.”

“But she was a morphine addict, not heroin,” I said.

“Oh, well excuse me, that makes all the difference in the world. I’m being sarcastic in case you’re too stupid to tell.”

“Now, Paul, there’s no reason to get nasty …”

“And another thing. That scene you wrote last night?  With me visiting Craig?”


“Well, I’m already dead, aren’t I?”

“You come to Craig in a dream.”

“I come to Craig In a dream.  Big fucking deal.  I’m still dead, so that makes me a ghost.”


“So, it’s been done before.  Hello.  Ever hear of a guy named Hamlet? Hello?”

“You know, when I created you, I don’t remember making you so bitter.”

“Bitter.  Fuck you. You’d be bitter, too, if you were a fucking dead heroin addict who had to visit people in their dreams.”

“That’s true,” I said. I wrote in my journal, “Paul is bitter.”  I thanked him for calling and went back to bed.

Now if I could only get a decent night’s sleep, I might be able to do something with that.




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.

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 ….

The Strange but True Story of the Nuclear Cheese

The block of cheddar cheese had been moved so that it was positioned exactly two inches below the refrigerator light.  Herb saw it when he opened the fridge door, how the light danced off of the pale yellow of the cheese, and he thought nothing off it.  How could he have known that the jar of pickles obscured by the bottles of beer in front of them had been pushed back until it pressed firmly against the sensor that controlled the light, resulting in the light staying on even when the door was shut.

Herb was no scientist. He was an accountant, good with numbers but he struggled with anything that didn’t have credits and debits. It was the pure perfection of the system, that everything had to balance out, that appealed to him. He had no knowledge of the effects cold air had on the ionization properties of light and on the half-life of a block of cheddar cheese that absorbed these rays of gamma radiation.

To put it succinctly, Herb had no idea that there, in his refrigerator, the transformation of the mass of a block of cheddar cheese was complete.  There, in Herb’s refrigerator, nuclear cheese had sprung to life.

The cheese didn’t have to wait long for its opportunity. Herb opened the door and leaned in, looking for a jar of Miracle Whip, when the cheese saw it’s opening and pounced, leaping and springing from the refrigerator shelf at Herb’s face with his pointy end first, striking Herb in the nose. Herb screamed as blood erupted from his face (the cheese was after all a sharp cheddar).  Before Herb could gather his wits and figure out what had just happened, the nuclear cheese was past him and out the door into the street.

To Ron Sirloin, driver of an eighteen wheeler semi-truck, the block of cheese looked like a lifeless yellow triangle laying in the left lane of the freeway.  There was too much traffic for him to swerve and avoid it, so he tried to run it over.  Next thing he knew he was airborne, his truck having been lifted and sent flying backwards through the air, landing across the freeway and causing a chain reaction crash of fifty seven cars.

Herb chased after the cheese, horrified by the carnage it already was responsible for.  The cheese continued on, with Herb in pursuit, until it came to the doors of WGUM, the local radio station.  Herb could only watch helplessly as the cheese ripped open the door and grabbed the host of the midday conservative talk show, Charlie Psycho.  An orange beam emanated from the cheese and instantly vaporized Psycho.  The cheese took the microphone and broadcast to the city.  “I am the Nuclear Cheese,” it intoned, “and you are all my pathetic little subjects. You shall do as I say or else!”

Herb knew what he had to do.  He ran back home, and from the fridge he grabbed a leftover bratwurst.  He found the cheese, still broadcasting from the radio station, talking about a flat tax and complaining about welfare cheaters.  Herb found him and introduced him to the bratwurst. The cheese was instantly smitten, and the two of them fell into a deep love. They were married that afternoon, with the vows of “For Cheddar or Wurst.”

Herb’s instincts proved correct.  The only thing that could balance the Nuclear Cheese, the one credit to its debit, was the love of a good sausage.  Herb moved the jar of pickles so that his fridge light operated correctly, and an unparalleled period of peace and joy spread over the land.