December 30, 2009

Me 'n Erma

Oh, how long I've waited to type those words.

I just found out I've been named Humor Writer of the Month by the Erma Bombeck Writer's Workshop.

The late Erma Bombeck is my hero. She started writing the year I was born, 1964, and I grew up reading her column in the Hamilton Spectator lying on my belly on the living room floor.

This might not mean much to many of you, but her writing has inspired me forever. Everything I aim for stems from what I learned from her work - to be funny, to be kind and to not humiliate my family too badly.

I love you, Erma.

December 29, 2009

I know it's not Air Canada's fault...

...but I gotta blame someone, and I think the lineup to take down that ass from Nigeria who tried to blow up a Detroit-bound plane is getting longer by the minute.

You heard. Christmas Day, Terrorist Man straps something to his leg, tries to inject something to ignite it mid-flight, and thank god a passenger looked up from his peanuts or up from his personal TV screen long enough to notice the dude wasn't adjusting his tube sock.

So. New security rules now in place all over the world. I mean, it's not like our Nigerian guy was already a terrorist watch-list. Or a no-fly list. Oh, wait, yes he was. Ferchrisakes, he did everything but stamp 'Terrorist' in red on his damned forehead, and they still let him on the plane?

You know what they did to me at Heathrow? They took little pieces of litmus paper and tested all my lip balms and moisturizers. I pleaded with them not to waste the good stuff. But they did little smears to make sure I wasn't gonna take down the plane with a tube of Blistex.

Now, I'm not scheduled to fly for several weeks or so, but Christopher was booked on a flight to Cleveland for December 27. Five minutes to head out the door, cancelled. Rebooked the following morning. Then that was cancelled.

So, I spent yesterday in the van driving him to Ohio. I love getting up at 6. In the freezing cold. And driving with my numb ass in a minivan for 9 hours. Actually, I do love driving for 9 hours. And being with my kid is kind of cool. I mean, he's trapped and has no choice. But not in my minivan. I prefer something cooler. A minivan is not cool.

I got home and called Air Canada and let them play really bad Christmas music in my ear for half an hour on hold, until I got through. They cheerfully refunded the fare - which was fine. I decided yesterday I'm going back to get him on Sunday. Sitting around an airport is torturous, and I can't let his friend's family be worried that he'll never leave.

I think I might just be sending a long email to Nigeria letting them know that they owe me lots and lots of money.

Wouldn't that be a fun change?

December 21, 2009

Slate & the Explainer

This is one of my favourite Slate features: The Explainer. You can ask questions and they answer them. I've sent in questions. They've never answered them. But that's okay. I ask dumb questions, like "How does propping a chair under a door handle in the movies prevent the door from being opened?". Yeah. I ask things like that.

Anyway, at the end of every year, they post the worst/lamest questions they got - stuff they didn't answer. And I answer them myself, just for you. I didn't do it last year. I think I was making tarts, and you all know that couldn't end well. I probably fell into a bottle of gin to get over it.

Without further ado...The Explainer Questions That Went Unexplained...the Lorraine Answers.

* Can sex offenders have children?
Only if they can catch them. (I know, sick, be quiet)

* Why have I never seen a female gas station attendant?
Everyone knows that gas station attendants always get held up at gunpoint - it happens in all the movies. Bad people rob gas station attendants because it's a short walk to the money. They're not gonna hold up, say a Sears, because you know how hard it is to find a checkout in a Sears. And since that means gas stations, they need to put men in them because when men say "is that gun real?" they have a deeper voice and might - might - be able to foil the robbery. Which is lame; a woman could just pull up her shirt and the robber would be dazzled and stop robbing.

* I was in a Cheesecake Factory restaurant in ATL over the weekend—jammed to the doors at 3 pm on a Saturday afternoon. What I want to know is, why???
And I want to know what the hell you were doing in a Cheesecake factory. Are you so into cheesecake you can't wait for them to be sold at your local bakery? Go do some cardio. All that cheesecake is not good for your cholesterol levels.

* How would the law punish Siamese twins if one of the twins committed murder without the other being involved? For instance, if the twins were walking down the street and one pulled out a knife and stabbed someone. It seems to me that you couldn't punish one without the other suffering the same punishment.
Forget that. I still want to know how those Chang and Eng guys fathered 21 kids between them. I mean, I don't even like to do it with the cat in the room.

* Which major global leader speaks the worst English? Thanks.
Any member of the American Republican party. What? I lie? Think about it. George W. Bush sounded like one of those poetry games you stick on your fridge. McCain could use the words 'corn pone' in every day speech. And Sarah Palin doesn't even speak English.

* How do flea/tick/mosquito collars work? Would it be possible to create a similar device for people? That would be a great weapon against insect-borne diseases.

What a fine idea! Come over and I'll put it on you myself. Be warned, however, that if it itches a little, you'll only be able to scratch it with your feet.

* I have always wondered who played the characters of the Wicked Witch of the West's monkey army in Wizard of Oz. Were they the same little people who played the munchkins or am I missing something here? It's no big deal, but I have always wondered.
Silly. the munchkins had a contract that they could only be ridiculed by wearing dumb hats and curly toed boots. They drew the line at bellhop hats and wings. Those were real flying monkeys. Though I understand there was some consternation when they were told they had to wear the bellhop hats.

* Can a state be kicked out of the union? I am thinking, of course, of Texas.

Of course you are. We all are.

* I don't care about NASA and the space station stuff any more. Am I the only one? Should I care?
Oh, I hear you. From now on, government projects like space stations, wars, national security and food stamps will only be renewed like TV shows. If we try something for, say, 4 weeks and the audience just isn't there, it will be cancelled. This should force them to really up the interesting bits, and get rid of the boring stuff.

* What could humanity possibly be like, or possibly have evolved into, if we as an entire species never discovered and/or harnessed the power of fire?

We would not the term 'pyromaniac' in our lexicon. And we would be eating a lot of steak tartare, which is unfortunate because steak tartare is really gross.

* I have a little goatee. Why do people in Arab countries—I've not noticed this in Paris or L.A., for example—insist on touching my beard, then taking the same hand and kissing their fingers in a sort of "Italian, it's delicious!" gesture? When I ask, they just laugh. This has happened to me literally dozens of times.
Do you know how weird you are? Shave, ferchristsakes.

* Why do auctioneers talk like that?
It's an affliction from birth. Only certain people can be auctioneers, like only certain people can be horse jockeys and basketball players. When you got it, you got it.

* Are there really special agents like Jack Bauer working for the U.S. government? Just total badass muthas who can basically do anything? Or are Navy Seals and Army Rangers the toughest we've got?
What are you talking about? Jack Bauer does work for the government! Those are just recordings of his day-to-day life you're watching on TV. He even has a special card in his wallet with Badass Mutha written on it, so he can get into harrowing situations and dangerous places. He has the right I.D.

* In our culture when dealing with babies and little kids it's always funny to put something on your head as a pretend hat. Is this the case in every culture? What about where they always wear turbans?
Those children just laugh uncontrollably until they leave their native land and realize people aren't funny all the time.

* Why do we use the term chicken to imply that someone is scared, along with the standard bock-bock? Are chickens naturally skittish birds? And why cats? What's a scaredy-cat?
While the standard bock-bock is dreadfully overused, as you note, it is the standard. Yes, chickens are skittish. And delicious. But cats? Cats are only scared of morons with acess to the internet.

* Why do all people (it seems) cross their legs so much?

Nobody wanted to tell you, but I will. Every time you see someone cross their legs, they are sending out the universal code for "that guy with his legs not crossed has B.O." You are being told to shower more often.

* is it leagle to own a phone sex company in new york state****how do i protect my self what other things do i need to do i have girls lined up and ready to go ,,,,,,, just want to be leagle dan

Lined up and ready to go? Well, look at you, you little entrepreneur! Here's what you need to do: go down to your City Hall, and go the Information counter. Tell them you have girls all ready to go, but you want to keep in leagle. Ask for the forms to set up a Phone Sex Company - they have them. Don't be discouraged if the attendant can't find them right away. Insist she/he goes to look further, and demand to speak to their boss. Sometimes you have to yell a little, but that's okay. It's important to keep this all leagle, and you don't want to keep those girls waiting.

* Sometimes celebrity look-alikes are dead ringers for the celebrities. How does that happen? Mostly we take this phenomenon for granted, but how could it possibly be that someone more closely resembles Beyoncé than her own mother?

It is a little known fact that many, many celebrities were adopted or stolen by black marketers at birth. Many, many of them were twins, or even triplets, but to maximize their profit, the bad guys sell them off separately. So. The reason some random person looks more like Beyonce than her own mother, is because it's really her long-lost twin that she didn't know about. Watch Oprah for the reunion.

* How many human female eggs would it take to make an omelette?

It depends if they made it the way Julia Child did it, with the pan tipped up the whole time, or the way I do it, with the pan flat. I imagine you would need more eggs to help hold the pan up Julia's way, though you could do with fewer my way because they'd just have to fling the cheese in at the right time.

* Is this possible? You cause a horrible accident, the shock of seeing it causing you to go pale. But at the same time people looking at you for causing the accident make you blush with shame. And so the two forces cancel each other out, leaving your face's normal color intact. Or is the shock component more powerful than the blush component, or vice-versa? For what it's worth, my guess is the shock component is more powerful than the shame component. But the shame component might actually help retain some color in the face, thus preventing a ghostly white color. For non-tanned Caucasian individuals, that is.
Oh, thank god you qualified that at the very end. Up till that point, I was worried this wasn't going to make any sense at all.

* What would be the citizenship of a baby born to astronauts on the way to or from Mars (or on the Moon)? Let's make it extra-complicated and presume the parents are of different nationalities.
Oh. I was all set you give your answers based on the initial information you gave (Mars: Martian. Moon: Moonie), but that last curve ball changes everything. The baby would be Norwegian.

* No one knows you as well as your sibling whom you are closest to. Michael Jackson had many siblings. Which one was he closest to? That sibling is the one to listen to.
He was closest to Bubbles, but Bubbles is pissed that he was cut out the will and not allowed to sit in the front row at the funeral. So. Bubbles ain't talking.

* Suppose you're sitting at your desk and viewing a real-time beach scene on a Webcam set up 2,000 miles away. And you're watching somebody get assaulted. Do you call your own 911 number to report it, or what's the next best thing to do?

Where do you work?

* Please give me dimensions for a wooden box for a body whose ashes weigh 6 lbs.
The box your handcuffs, duct tape and gag came in should do nicely.

* Where can I buy wine that has the word frog in its label?

Right here. I have a bottle of wine, and a Sharpie. That'll be 47 dollars, please.

* I just started researching information on the subject regarding lack of sleep. I know a very good subject for research. Would there be an interest by any research groups that you are aware of?
Nobody has ever, ever investigated this before. But I know many places are always open to lay people coming in and setting up labs and just messing around with some cool ideas. I suggest you start with Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic. They'll be thrilled to discover that sleep deprivation exists, and that you're willing to look into and bring your own test subjects with you.

* How long does an elderly person with pneumonia and respiratory problems have to live?
Indefinitely, unless you 'trip' over the plug. But double check you're actually in the will; that could be a lot of bad karma for no gain. I highly suggest you run around asking everyone, however. People love to see how much family members care, especially the ones who haven't visited or called until now.

* I have some questions about washing the following vegetables for use in a fast-paced delicatessen: (1) If I wash red onions, they become soggy to put on bread for a sandwich. Do I need to wash onions? (2) If I wash mushrooms, they are soggy for our salads. Do I need to wash mushrooms? (3) If I wash lettuce, it becomes soggy for placing on bread for a sandwich. Do I need to wash kale? And can I get by without washing iceberg lettuce if I remove a few outer layers?
Onions are self-washing - germs get all teary around them, so they leave. Mushrooms are grown in poop. Take them off the menu, or warn people that they're grown in poop. Don't worry about washing the lettuce. If people say the sandwich has a gritty texture, tell them that's the artisan bread you charged them 4 bucks extra for. If Kale needs a shower, by all means wash him. Maybe you should open a dollar store instead.

* My son plays drums in a band, they play 6 hours, he wears a black derby, his face is blood-red, heat escapes from the scalp, is he loosing his hair because of this? He is 33.

He's losing his hair because his maternal grandfather was bald. But if you'd prefer to make him grow up, get a real job and move out of your basement, tell him it's the hat.

* I have always thought yawning is contagious—you see someone yawn and you find yourself yawning. I've read articles that confirm this is true. So when I had my first child and was desperate to get him to go to sleep, I would yawn while he was looking at me in hopes of making him yawn, realize how tired he was, and go to sleep. Instead, he would just stare at me. He was immune to my yawning. With my second child, I notice the same thing. But now my first boy is three-and-a-half and he will yawn when I yawn. So when does yawning become contagious?

Well, obviously at three-and-a-half. But this is groundbreaking scientific investigative news. Please call Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic. They are currently working on sleep deprivation studies, I hear, and would be fascinated with this new information.

* It's 30 minutes till my bedtime and I want ice cream. I had a big dinner and a big glass of water and I'm not hungry. I thought to myself that it might be a waste to eat it now if I'm full. Then I wondered How about if I put some in my mouth, swirled it around to taste it, then spit it out? Then I will get to taste it but I won't get uncomfortably full. But I instantly knew that would never work. I wouldn't enjoy it at all if I couldn't swallow it. Is that just me? Do you have to swallow food to enjoy it?
Nah. I brush my teeth with broccoli.

* Why do film posters and DVD cases all use the same vertically-stretched, unreadable font near the bottom that shows the full credits for the film?
Because nobody reads this stuff. In descending order, this is what is important about a film: How big her breasts are, do you really see the arm get ripped off?, how many cars do you think they wrecked to get that one shot?, how big the other chick's breasts are, do you think that guy really fell out of that window, or did they use CGI?, how did they get the chickens to act all calm?

* Why do they clap at the opening and closing of the stock market each day? And who are those people up there every day who are clapping? How are they chosen? They all look so stupid standing up there clapping about an economy that's gone down the toilet big-time!!!

You know that ticker-tapey thing that runs around the top of that big room? With all the prices and numbers on it? It's actually a giant Clapper. Those people have to clap to turn it on, and then to turn it off at night. Clap On, Clap Off, The Clapper.

* Re: chess, how do you play chess?
You go to Johns Hopkins or the Mayo clinic. They are currently thinking up ways to get people to sleep, and I understand they are trying to teach chess to people instead of using hard drugs. Actually, they've divided the subject into two groups: those learning to play chess, and those looking under beds and in closets for Bobby Fischer.

December 20, 2009

I Could Never Get Tiger, Palin and Hemingway....

...into one post.

But Brad Smith has, and I like it.

I'll post later.

December 12, 2009

Do You Ever Wonder What We Think?

Let's say you write a column, or two, for a newspaper. Let's say that paper is fairly widely read. Let's say that newspaper runs letters to the editor - once in a while - about a column you have written.

Do you ever wonder what the columnist thinks?

First, I'll tell you that we read them. Oh, yes, we read them. Unless you're Rosie DiManno, who doesn't give a rat's ass about where her stuff lands (god, I love Rosie DiManno), you care. The problem is, they're only going to run a letter that applauds you, or vehemently disagrees with you. And guess which kind are more fun?

Today I took a tiny drubbing in the Wheels section over a column I wrote three weeks back. Just when you think you're out....Anyway. I was discussing the top ten list of what used car buyers want in a car. And how that means when you buy a new car, you're really buying it for the next person, if you want to get the highest resale value. And how I hate that, because most of the stuff on the list is stuff I hate. Can I stuff the word 'stuff' in a sentence one more time?

The letter today calls auto writers 'snots'. Well, he doesn't use that term, but read it and tell me if it's not all full of 'snot'.

Lorraine Sommerfeld, Nov. 21

"There seems to be only one thing all motoring columnists seem to agree on. That is, automatic transmissions are evil.

It doesn't matter that automatics have been the more efficient of the two varieties since the late '90s. To become a writer for any self-respecting car mag, one must quote the mantra: manual good, auto bad.

The latest is Lorraine Sommerfeld, who sounds like my Grade 8 typing teacher who insisted we use manual machines, as it was good for the soul, even though no decent office had had a Remington for 10 years.

Please find some writers who are living in the real world and 21st century and not some Calvinist paradise.

Adam Wetstein, North York"

Aw, Adam? We really don't have secret meetings where we all decide what we're going to write, and what we're going to complain about. Really. The most common thing that comes out of a bunch of auto writers in a room together is a lot of arguing and a lot of hangovers. We bitch about everything, and disagree on most things.

As for automatic/standard? Ever driven a car in anything but perfect conditions, Adam? Go drive in crazy snow, ice, at very low speeds, at very high speeds or get stuck in a snowbank. Go do any of those things and tell me with a straight face that a standard transmission doesn't become your new best friend.

If you're stuck on the QEW in a hour long commute every day in stop and go traffic, yeah, a standard is gonna pop your knee. I get it. But I always (and long before I started writing about it) liked the idea of a standard. Control. Actually driving. Point-and-shoot automatics are easy; hell, as evidenced, anyone can drive one. Every time I read about some 6 year old who's driven his Dad's car for 20 miles before they stop him, you think that kid is in a standard? Nah.

Why do you keep hearing from people who drive cars for a living that they prefer standards? Because they drive cars for a living. In dozens of different circumstances. Which means they've actually tested cars against things other than a trip to the mall. We've been thrown into crazy weather, extreme speeds, incredible conditions and lots of instruction courses. If we all keep coming out saying we prefer standards, maybe it's because a standard was a better choice.

As for your grade 8 typing teacher? (And, you got typing in grade 8? We had to wait until high school). Anyway. If she's telling you to plog away on your manual, even though electrics were the newest thing, go tell a school board, even way back then, to equip every classroom with the newest thing. Teachers teach with the tools they have; but I'm sure you vote every election for the candidate that promises every school will be equipped with new computers - so the kids can stay relevant and current, right?

Anyway. I have a meeting. A bunch of us auto writer types are holding a secret convention to declare the only good colour for cars shall now be lemon yellow. Just so you know.

December 9, 2009

Wiki This

Have you ever seen that movie Office Space? It's cool. I like it. And until ten minutes ago, I couldn't have told you the name of the guy who starred in it. And if you'd shown me his picture, I might have paused, tilted my head and wondered a)if I'd dated him from the roller rink 30 years ago b)wondered if he'd made it to the top 20 in American Idol in season two, or c)been my T.A. at Mac in my sociology class.

He's got that kind of face.

But now I know who he is. He's the guy suing Wikipedia for libel. It seems someone keeps going into the entry for him and editing it to say he's gay. He's married. To a woman. So he's taking this extracurricular editing a little hard. I say he's an idiot. Now I remember who he is.

And this kids, is why I won't let the boys use Wikipedia as a source. It's so easy to muck with, if I had an entry I could award myself literary awards, newspaper awards, Oscars, Emmys, Tonys (though I can't sing - but hey! It's Wikipedia!), degrees I never earned and attribute quotes to myself that I never said. My god - I could have a fabulous career in WikipediaWorld.

But you just know what would really happen. I would list a line or two of the truth, in all its boring glory. And then one of my sisters would go in an add that I peed myself on the front step of a lady's house when I was selling Girl Guide cookies when I was 7. I was a Brownie. We wore these really, really thick brown leotards. I had to go so badly and I was too shy to ask the lady and it was the last house and I thought I could make it. I couldn't.

And that is why I don't have a Wikipedia entry. It's not even evil strangers I worry about. It's the people who pretend to love me.

What is the last thing you'd want hacked into your Wiki listing?

December 5, 2009

New Yorker & Ian McEwan

Wonderful piece from McEwan in the New Yorker.

And no, it's not 8 pages long, so don't not open it because I've done that to you in the past.

Thanks to Brad for the head's up...

December 4, 2009

Psst...Wanna Buy A Book?

Funny link to the things people ask booksellers and dealers...

Make it to the end where you can find search engine phrases...always a hoot.

December 3, 2009

Steven Segal

I keep seeing ads for some new show with Steven Segal.

I wasn't sure who it was at first. I just saw this big chubby guy squashed into a bulletproof vest, talking about how there was a new sheriff in town. Really? Looks like a new dork in town, for sure, but The Law?

Has anyone told him he isn't a cop, though he may have played one on TV? And what's with a sheriff designation? Isn't that one of those things you see in movies where, as the bullets are flying and everyone else is dead, someone can wave a gun over your head and say "I declare you a sheriff?" I think so. But it always holds as much water for me as a ship's captain marrying someone. I mean, yeah, maybe it's real, but mostly it isn't. And if you were married by a ship's captain, or anyone who has their marrying allower clipped from a box of Rice Krispies, well, guess what? You're free to go. It was just pretend.

Anyway. I'm watching ads for this idiot, and all I can think is 'I bet they had to put extenders into that bulletproof vest'. Like seatbelt extenders. But if you need a seatbelt extender, it's only so you can be safe as you sit there. But I expect a cop to be able to run more than 3 feet before collapsing in a heap of sweat and gasping words. "G-g-g-g-g-g-ooooo g-g-g-g-g-et that cr-r-r-r-r-rook" he will say to his partner. And his partner will look down and say "but shouldn't I help you first? Your ankle is caught in the cruiser's wheel well".

Remember his acting career? All those movies where he had a ponytail, where he was apparently stashing his talent, and then when he started to do lousy box office, there was a whole 'they're out to kill me' thing with martial artists and warlords and organized crime and whatever else he could imagine up? Remember all that intensity when he'd look directly into the camera, and say something like "for that my grasshopper, you shall pay the premium price of me ripping out your still beating heart with my iron hands'. Or maybe that was Patrick Swayze in Roadhouse.

He used to be married to Kelly LeBrock, who turned up on a cooking show in the U.K. recently. She still looks like she has an inner tube on her face, but mostly you just watch and think, "hey, wasn't she married to that weird goof with the ponytail?". It's kinda bad when you look at him and think, "hey, wasn't he married to that woman with the inner tube on her face?"

I'm sure I won't be watching the show. It looks stupid as hell. And I don't think sheriffs get to shoot people, though I could have my Hollywood knowledge all messed up. And the only part of Steven Segal a crook couldn't outrun would be a bullet, I'm guessing. Unless he still has a ponytail and is going to yank it off and throw it at people. The other thing he has to remember is that nobody knows who he is, so even being scared of his reputation isn't going to be working for him. "Who's that fat guy calling me a dirtball?" you will hear the dirtball say out loud.