For Love of Money

There sure has been a lot said and written about the topic of money. You know, money—
that green stuff that has pictures of the presidents on it like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin?

Warren Buffet—inventor of meals in which guests serve themselves—has been quoted on the subject of money. “Rule number one: Never lose money. Rule number two: Never forget rule number one.” That’s billionaire humor.
The famed painter, Pablo Picasso (who had a Blue Period, a Rose Period, a Crystal Period—but never a semi-colon) once said, “I’d like to live as a poor man with lots of money.”

And W.C. Fields said, “A rich man is nothing but a poor man with money.” So true, my little chickadee.
Ever since the idea of money was first invented, mankind has shown repeatedly that it will do almost anything to obtain it. Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger and other robbers helped themselves to plenty of bank loot—never even having the courtesy to fill out a single withdrawal slip.

More than 25 years ago, two guys dressed like Boston cops waltzed into an art museum and made off with a baker’s dozen of paintings—including some by Rembrandt, Manet, Degas—but not the great clown painter, Red Skelton. Total value? 500 million bucks. (The art is still missing, although my cousin swears he saw the Rembrandt at Value Village last month.)

The Northwest’s favorite son, D.B. Cooper, managed the only still unsolved air piracy
in U.S. history, making off with $200,000. He jumped out of a plane with it and was never seen again. Compared to Saddam Hussein (who swiped some $900 million) Cooper’s money theft was comparable to stealing a Snicker’s bar from Rite Aid—and then parachuting off the loading dock.

And Bernie Madoff ‘made off’ with $65 billion of investor’s money using a Ponzi scheme (different than a Fonzie scheme which involves a black leather jacket.) Madoff is currently in prison—but only for 150 years—after which he will be a free, wealthy man again.

If people were not ready and willing to take risks to get rich, there would be no casinos, lotteries, horse races or TV game shows. That’s right. No Vanna White.

My family and I used to play a game of our own—based on the premise of “What would you do for a million dollars?” Example: Walking along a bicycle trail we might spot a long row of thick, thorny blackberry bushes. “For a million dollars,” one of us would say, “…would you crawl through those bushes—naked, at night?”

There was never an explanation of who would put up the million dollars, nor why it would have to be at night. But the naked part was obvious. Thorns often win over certain body parts—and a person would want to be well paid for the pain. (The dumb game itself could have made us a million dollars if we had been smart enough to market it. Someone else did—and there is currently a TV reality show called Naked and Afraid. )
The reason I brought this whole money grab topic up in this space is to report on an intriguing proposition I just received via email two days ago. It came from a Larry Jones—a person unknown to me, even though you would think everyone would know at least one Larry Jones. Here’s what Lar’ wrote:

“Would you like to have a ‘Red Bull (Energy Drink) banner on your vehicle (car, truck, van, trailer, ATV, camper, SUV, motorcycles, bikes) and earn $200 a week?” He goes on to write, “It doesn’t affect your present job.”
At first thought, someone might say, “It doesn’t affect my present job? Who needs one? At a cool $200 a week, this could become my present—and future—job! ”

Most of the specific details are still unknown—such as, is the “banner” similar in size to a “Make America Great Again” bumper sticker—or will it wrap around the entire chassis like a NASCAR auto?
Will the banner simply sport the Red Bull logo—or include additional wordage like
“If you love Red Bull, honk. Or cut me off.”?

Would it be OK to supplement the Red Bull banner income with other advertising too? Like, say, a ‘Duncan Hines Pineapple Upside Down Cake” banner on the car’s undercarriage?

Uh-oh! Stop the presses! (I have always wanted to say that.) I just checked things out on an Internet consumer protection website. It turns out the Red Bull job offer thing is a swindle—and it has been all over the Internet for years. I should have realized something was up when I found it in my junk folder.

Wait! Now I just found a new one—from Spam itself. It reads, “Would you like to have a Spam (America’s favorite precooked canned meat) banner on your vehicle and earn $600 a week?”

What an outrageous, unconscionable proposition! Of course, I would!

As long as I can drive the car around naked—at night.

Stan Boreson


Multiple choice. See if you can identify the source of the following words:

“Zero dacus, mucho cracus/hallaballuza bub…”
The famous coda is,
a) The play Pete Carroll wishes he had called in Super Bowl XLIX.
b) The sentence immediately following, “I am Ishmael.”
c) A 3 am presidential tweet.
d) Part of the password phrase at KING’s Klubhouse.
Those of you who chose ‘d’—give yourself a cookie. A lutefisk cookie.

Local folks of a certain age (a certain age that increasingly requires carbon dating to determine) fondly remember KING’S Klubhouse. It was a kids’ show that aired for an amazing two decades on Channel 5. It seemed the natural choice. KOMO and KIRO wouldn’t air a show called KING’s Klubhouse.

The show was not an educational program. The spelling of ‘Klubhouse’ is evidence of that. But the central star of the show was an immensely talented, instantly likeable man named Stan Boreson, whose daily mission was to bring smiles through song and general silliness. It was exactly what kids in the 50’s and 60’s were looking for—and what people in their 60’s and 70’s still remember so fondly.

Growing up in Everett, Boreson later attended the UW to study business. But rather than move on to a career as an accordion-playing accountant—or a joke-telling actuary—he wound up becoming a full-time musician, recording artist—and TV pioneer.

Before political correctness became the law of the land, Stan Boreson’s forte’ was Scandinavian humor. (‘Forte’ is a French word meaning ‘shtick.’) Example:

LARS: “Vhen (When) is your birthday, Ole?”
OLE: “July 27th.”
LARS: “Vhat year?”
OLE: “Every year.”

A friend of mine once said, “You know what the definition of an optimist is? An accordion player with a pager.” Yet, Stan Boreson took a somewhat un-sexy instrument and made it cool—and put himself in big demand. Using his “Stomach Steinway” the young musician entertained every one from World War II military troops—to dance halls and campus gatherings. And unlike later rock music acts, he never ended his show by setting his accordion on fire.

When KING TV was looking for some programming in 1949—and Jerry Springer was not quite ready—Boreson was tapped to do a show. Eventually it lead to the 1954 debut of a new kids show, KING’s Klubhouse—where Boreson held forth as himself (very convincing) and other recurring characters like Uncle Torvald—and Grandma Torvald (Boreson in drag—when it was popular for grown men to do so.) His TV sidekick, Doug Setterberg, played most all the other crazy characters.

Also on the set—that is, the ‘Klubhouse’—was a nearly immobile basset hound, played by a nearly immobile basset hound. A popular hydroplane boat of the time was called the Slo-Mo-Shun IV—so the dog was named “No-Mo-Shun” or “No-Mo.” His job was simply to remain still and do nothing. If KING’s Klubhouse was on the air nowadays, the dog might have been named “Big Bertha.”

One of Seattle’s top TV directors, Steve Wilson (Almost Live, The, Up Late Northwest and many more) recalls seeing his first live TV broadcast in person at the World’s Fair in 1962. “I was six years old—and it was The Stan Boreson Show (as KING’s Klubhouse had by then been renamed).”

“Not only was I in awe of being that close to someone who entertained me on TV,” says
Wilson, “but witnessing the entire process of the camera, the lights and the technicians completely mesmerized me.” He says that single event entirely influenced his choice of career. So when Wilson finally landed a job at KING TV years later, he came up with—and then produced—a special called The Stan Boreson Christmas Reunion. It aired again and again for the next 12 years.

Boreson’s daily show ended in 1967, but the music, singing and corny jokes did not.

He performed everywhere—occasionally with his real-life friend, Chris Wedes—the same fellow better known as J.P. Patches—host of a kids show on another channel across town. They claimed they never stole scripts from each other—although they admitted that if they ever had HAD scripts, they might have.
With the passing last week of Stan Boreson at age 91, the Northwest lost yet another of its dwindling supply of local TV icons—and another big piece of its history.

My all-time favorite Stan joke does not even feature Scandinavian characters. It goes something like this:
“A little boy has been tossed out of many schools for always making trouble and not doing his homework. In a last ditch effort toward discipline, his parents send him to a catholic school. After his first day, the little boy comes straight home, directly into his bedroom, shuts his door and immediately starts doing his homework. His surprised mother says to him, “I’ve never seen you do your homework before. What happened at school today?” The boy replies nervously, “Well, when I walked into that school—and saw a statue of what they did to that Jesus guy—I KNEW that those people meant business!”

Zero dacus, mucho cracus, Mr. Boreson.


It’s the Law

As I was driving 20 miles above the speed limit in the wrong direction down a one-way street the other day, I realized something: The mandatory seat belt in this state has been around for more than 15 years now. So by now it’s a lame excuse to tell a cop, “Gee, officer. I didn’t know.”

The seat belt law was designed to protect people from themselves. Meanwhile there is no mandatory pants belt law—that would also protect people from themselves.
In the case of the seat belt law, people get protected from injury or worse in an auto accident. A pants belt law would protect people from embarrassment or worse—in a dancing accident.

The road signs that used to read: “Seat Belts Must Be Worn”—were replaced a few years ago because people thought it meant that only used and beat-up seat belts could be used.
Originally the fine for not wearing a seat belt was $86—now it’s gone up to $136. The lesson? If you’re going to break the law, do it early when it’s more affordable.

The zero-tolerance change in the seat belt law was made into a more easily swallowed pill by the use of the cheery rhyming slogan: “Click it or Ticket!” Boy, do kids love saying it—especially little nazis in the back seat.
The slogan seems to have worked so well you’d have to figure there are lots more fun law warning mottoes being planned.

For first-time auto thieves: “Steal it and feel it.”
For running out on a restaurant tab: “Dash and dine and pay a fine.”
For gambling cheaters: “Mark the deck and you’ll catch heck.”

Of course it has always been tricky trying to figure out how to balance a nation of laws with also being a nation of personal freedoms. That’s why the Supreme Court decided back in 1919 that freedom of expression doesn’t protect dangerous speech. It’s based on the notion of falsely yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater. (This may also include falsely yelling “This is a great movie!” in a theater running “Zoolander 2.”
Our state recently turned down changing the smoking age from 18 to 21. That’s why you never see people under 21 smoking anywhere. You also never see people throwing fish at the Pike Place Market
If you ask people, they’ll tell how important education is. Thus, a public school teacher raise from $35,700 a year was also rejected in 2016—making the $46,528 pay for managing a McDonald’s a far better career choice.
Meanwhile the following laws remain real—and intact—here in Washington state:
“Harassing Bigfoot—or Sasquatch—is considered a felony.” (This law apparently came about after a number of Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) complained to authorities.)
“Destroying another person’s beer cask, keg, barrel or bottle—is illegal.” (Although an exception might be made if the beer is Natural Light.)
It supposedly is also illegal in our state “to buy a mattress on a Sunday.” (A law obviously aimed at Sleep Train-robbers.)

Another law states it is forbidden” to buy meat on a Sunday.” (Don’t even ask about meat mattresses.)
Plus it’s against the law to “pretend that your parents are rich.” Hear that Kate? (My daughter.)
Other actual state laws prohibit lollipops, spitting on a bus—and painting polka dots on the U.S. flag. (Yet, inexplicably, there is no law against the polka itself.)

How about our legislators writing some new laws that we really need? Examples:

“It is illegal for TV weather people to announce a forecast without first looking out the window.”
“Only actual citizens of Washington state towns can kid around about them. This means only Kent residents can make Kent jokes; Ballard people, Ballard jokes; Mercer Island folks, M.I. jokes—and so on.” But the new law would still allow anyone in Washington to make jokes about Idaho.
“It is against the law to use the annoying cliché ‘I am having trouble getting my head around’ something—such as ‘I am having trouble getting my head around Mick Jagger being knighted in 2002’.”
“It shall be illegal to write any new laws while smoking weed.”

The preceding laws are only imaginary at this point—but there is another actual law that is currently on the books in this state:

“It is illegal to sleep in an outhouse without the owner’s permission.” Yes, it’s real—and experts say if that law alone was rescinded—our prison population would be cut in half.

And my brother would finally be a free man again.

At the Circus

Dean and I were eleven years old that long-ago Saturday. (Or, as I would have written that sentence back then,“ Me and Dean…”) We walked out of the movie theatre matinee that day knowing exactly what we were going to do: Run away and join the circus.

We were always heavily influenced by the movies we had just seen. Every time we saw a John Wayne western, we wanted to be cowboys and walk funny. We saw Ben Hur and decided to become chariot drivers. After watching Robin Hood we both signed up for archery lessons—planning to spend the rest of our days out in the woods with other guys eating berries and squirrels.

Fortunately, we never attended The Boston Strangler.

But it made sense that Dean and I wanted circus careers after seeing a movie called Toby Tyler. In that Disney film, young Toby decides he’ll escape a tough home life by sneaking off with a traveling circus. We didn’t notice that the movie was set in the 1880’s—nor did it matter that our own home lives were just dandy. We were joining the circus—and that was that.

Until the following week when The Blob came to town. Then, locking ourselves in our bedrooms seemed like a better idea.

I thought about the circus road not taken last week when I heard the news—as you likely did—that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus is folding their big top for good after 146 years in business. In one fell swoop, hundreds of chair balancers, plate spinners, stilt-walkers and strongmen are going to join the ranks of the unemployed.

That means dozens of bearded ladies, fire-eaters, snake charmers and sword swallowers may become Amazon workers—where luckily they will fit right in.

Of course, it wasn’t the human performers that turned the circus into an anachronism—it was the animals. Animal rights groups put a sharp focus on the treatment of elephants, lions and the rest—increasingly forcing circuses to no longer feature such acts. (“People for the Unethical Treatment of Insects” forced the closure of most flea circuses as well.)

The fact is that aerialists, jugglers and clowns all volunteer to be in the circus. The animals have no vote. So finally it came to be viewed as inappropriate to force elephants to stand and balance themselves on giant balls—something they rarely do in the wild.

Still, the passing of the circus—or at least the biggest one—has to be met with some wistfulness. After all, for as long as any of us can remember, the circus has always come to town—bringing with it spectacle, magic and lots of funky smells.

I count no fewer than 50 movies about circuses. There was The Greatest Show on Earth which won the Best Picture Oscar in 1952. It hasn’t held up well—and at 152 minutes, it is The Greatest Snore on Earth.
Besides Toby Tyler my other favorite is 1960’s Circus of Horrors. The story revolves around a plastic surgeon who puts together a circus filled with female criminals he has operated on. Inexplicably, the film did not win the Oscar—perhaps because of the pressure exerted by the powerful ‘botched plastic surgeries on female criminals’ lobby.

I heard a guy in a coffee shop yesterday say, “How ironic is it that the same week the Ringling Brothers circus is closing—a new one has come to Washington, D.C.?” That’s harsh.

Some people have even compared the newest resident of the White House to P.T. Barnum. He was the guy who started the circus that bears his name—and is famously quoted as having said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Except that Barnum never said it. What he did say was, “Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public.” That’s probably why Barnum’s circuses—with their glass eaters, obnoxious clowns and two-headed human acts—were such a hit.

And perhaps if Barnum was alive today, his new enterprise might well be reality TV. That’s a great place to gauge the public’s taste. (However, if Barnum was alive today he’d be well over 200 years old and badly in need of a moisturizer.)

Still, a 146 year run is pretty good—and while Ringling, etc. is going the way of dial-up internet, Fotomats and Liquid Paper—there will still always be a place for a first-rate human cannonball.

After all, you can never be fired.

Except during each performance.

Profound Thoughts

He still cannot believe it was not a best seller.

Years ago, A longtime friend of mine had written and published a book—along with his wife—offering parenting tips intended to enlighten readers about how to do it right. The implication was, “Take advantage of our experience—and raise your kids like this.” The fact that he was the parent of his very first child—three months old—made his parenting book premature, if not outright ridiculous. (Although the chapter on colic was riveting.)

Wisdom is borne of experience, time—and reflection. But that did not stop Paris Hilton from writing a memoir at age 23; Britney Spears at 18; and Miley Cyrus and Justin Beiber at age 16. If I had written a memoir at age 16 it would have about the length of a Taco Bell menu—with more cheese.

But now perhaps I have traveled far enough along in life to offer—authoritatively— a few musings. Is it wisdom? That’s not for me to decide. But will it fill up space here? Yep.

So here in no particular order—or coherence—are some observations, anecdotes and deep thoughts. Their actual depth is somewhere between the ocean’s Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench—and a plastic thimble:

“When I was a kid, I had a mean babysitter. One time, when I was crying, she told me she would give me something to cry about. Then she made watch Old Yeller three times.”

“Using Twitter to express presidential policy is plain wrong. That’s what Instagram is for.”
“My uncle is an accountant who works as a bean counter with Starbucks. He doesn’t get the irony of that.”
“People tell me I’m lucky to have an identical twin. Maybe. But I’ve never acknowledged him because he’s so weird looking.”

“I was thinking: When an ordinary guy is killed by somebody, they say he’s been murdered. But when an important guy is killed, they say he’s been assassinated. So I don’t know if my uncle was an ordinary guy or important. All I know is they say he was ‘bumped off.”
“It has been said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. Perhaps. But for sure the mouth is the door to the stomach.”

“All the neighbor kids call my nephew Mike ‘Four Eyes.’ Some people say it’s probably because Mike wears glasses. But I think it’s because he has four eyes.”

“If the men who accompanied Lewis and Clark on the trek west knew that Lewis’s first name was Meriwether—why didn’t they turn back?”

“I sometimes think that Abraham Lincoln used the fancy name ‘Emancipation Proclamation’ so that slave owners couldn’t figure out what he was up to.”

“There was a guy in my college so vain he wore a hairpiece. But it was obviously fake—and everyone who saw him in the showers knew it wasn’t his real pubic hair.”

“If someone is unkind to you, turn the other cheek. Unless you’re like my Aunt Jen who only has one.”
“God said, ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light. I wish God had said, ‘Let there be TV cable.’ But even then, it probably would only have happened sometime between 9am and 3pm.”
“Cousin Carl always says, ‘If you love someone, set them free.’ He would say that.
He’s doing fifteen to life right now.”

“Yesterday I think I might have caught my cat smoking some weed. Well, I didn’t actually catch him smoking—but I did find three Meow Mix wrappers under the couch.”

“Success in life is 90 percent hard work. The other 35 percent has something to do with education.”
“Theodore Roosevelt once said, ‘Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.’ Excuse me, isn’t that exactly backwards?”

“When I arose this morning, I chose Life. And tomorrow morning, I will again choose Life. But the day after that, I will choose Raisin Bran.”

“Stay positive. Be happy. Work hard. Stir well. Bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees.”

“Always keep a smile on your face. It would look creepy if it was on your rear end.”

“I’ve often heard the expression, ‘I think, therefore I am.’ That’s why if someone is looking for me, and I don’t want to be found—I don’t think.”

And finally:
“One time a friend of mine was accosted in an alley by a bad guy threatening to shoot him. My friend responded coolly by saying, ‘Watch out! I also have a gun! It’s in my pocket—and it’s made of Jell-O. It’s a congealed weapon!’ The bad guy laughed pretty hard at my friend’s quick-witted joke.
Then he shot him.”

Slam Dunked

In the fifth grade, our school’s head basketball coach brought in a motivational speaker. I don’t remember hearing the term ‘motivational speaker’ in those days—but that’s what he was. His job was to inspire my teammates and me to be winners.

He pulled out the very best quotes:
“The ones who say ‘you can’t’ and ‘you won’t’ are probably the ones scared that ‘you will.’
“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
“Dream it. Believe it. Achieve it.”
By the time he was finished inspiring us, we were either ready to win a basketball game—or be Amway representatives.

The next day our guys were slated to play a team from a school across town. We were generally believed to have no chance against them. Their starting center was a giant—perhaps 5 foot 8. But the motivational speaker had said, “You can still prevail. After all, what chance does one think a head louse has against an entire head? “ It was a brilliant and relatable analogy—far better than the clichéd David and Goliath comparison—because, let’s face it, David had a weapon in that fight.

I was a starter for our team—usually starting for the third team at the far end of the bench.
Our first team was really up for the game that day. Me? I got up twice—once to use the restroom.
The motivational speaker had said, “Limits exist only in the mind.” Maybe. Meanwhile, our coach had also said, “Reality exists only on the scoreboard”—and somehow, in spite of the previous day’s motivational speech, our team was clobbered, creamed, crushed and routed—86-to-11. (The score was closer than it looks.)

The worst part was not the loss—it was that I did not even get to participate in it. And it was also because I was expected to hit the showers afterwards, even though my brow was not even damp. Being obligated to take a shower under those circumstances is a waste of water, soap, fresh towels and dignity.
Perhaps it would have been nice to hear my coach say at the end of a game, “Well, I guess we all know that we lost because Cashman played so lousy.” In fact, I might have taken defeat harder—and showered more proudly—if I had actually had a hand in the game.

But when a kid resides on the third team—sitting uncomfortably—his mind is on other things: “What kind of wood is the gym floor made of? What’s for dinner? How’d I get that creepy-looking mole on the end of my knee? When’s this game gonna be over?”

It helped that my parents kept things in perspective. My dad would say, “It’s just sports, it’s not the end of the world.” (When the end of the world happened, I wondered if they’d still make me shower.)

Still, armadas of minivans are dragging kids to soccer matches and other sports even as you may read this (yes, even 2am)—many fueled with the dreams that college and pro sports lie in the near future. Some of the same parents who hate the odds of winning at pull-tabs—still think it is more than possible that with hard work, determination and deep belief their kid will surpass millions of others to land in the big-time.
“Dream it. Believe it. Achieve it.”
The only rub may lie in the first part: “Dream it.” Whose dream?
The Seahawks have nary a player who came out of high school as a highly recruited sports prospect. Maybe that’s why so many of us relate to them. Those guys might have been on the wrong end of some 86 to 11 games when they were kids too.
Of course, most of us never become sports stars—but that doesn’t mean we do not secretly harbor the notion that we could be late bloomers:


The best parents want their kids to play sports for pure fun, exercise and social activity—with no unshakeable, personal dream that those kids are going to achieve what dad or mom didn’t: Full-ride athletic scholarships and rich pro contracts—along with lucrative endorsements for insurance companies and sandwich places.

But if those kids wind up working for—or eventually even owning—their own insurance companies and sandwich places—job well done.
That’s why the older I get, the righter I think my old man was: “It’s just sports, it’s not the end of the world.”
Although it probably would not be a bad idea to start training for that.

Mixed Martial

While the rest of the world was always promising to lose weight, exercise more, read lots of books or be kinder to others—my dad’s annual New Year’s resolution remained the same every time. The 6’ 6 “ man said that in the coming year he planned to lose up to four inches…in height.

He said he was tired of ducking under doorways, stooping to use the bathroom mirror—and folding himself in half to get into a car. As near as I could ever tell, he never quite pulled off his height-loss resolution—although he did create an optical illusion by wearing his pants higher.

Through the years, like many of us, I have also made some personal resolutions. There was 2010: “The Year Without a Doughnut.” Not a single cruller, old-fashioned or maple bar passed my pie hole. But plenty of pie did, so the caloric benefits were a wash.

The following year was “The Year Without a French Fry.” The resolution also included tater tots, jo-jo’s, au gratin, mashed, boiled, potato soup, potato salad, latkes, hash browns, baked potatoes and even skins. I succeeded, but friends from Idaho stopped talking to me.

I did accidentally eat some gnocchi, but only because I didn’t know what it was. Since that slip-up, I have never eaten it again—nor any other thing in which the ‘g’ is not pronounced, such as gnus, gnomes and gnats. I won’t even gnaw on them.

“A Year Without a Drink” has occasionally been attempted—but is usually broken by, say, mid-day on January 1st. (I steered away from vodka during my potato-less year—until I discovered one made from sugar beets.)
But maybe in a couple of years I will finally follow through on something I have been considering for a long time: Going to Schick. Not the drug and alcohol place—but the one that helps guys quit shaving.

Arguably the best kind of resolution is not one that involves deprivation, but accomplishment. Learning a musical instrument would be good—except if it was the neighbor kid learning violin or bagpipes.
Mastering a language would be a worthy goal. One year my brother became fluent in all kinds of new words when he tried to put together his kid’s swing set.

Self-defense seems to be an increasingly popular pursuit. A couple of days ago I saw a mom walking her son out of a martial arts instructional place. The kid was wearing the stock karategi uniform—and stood approximately a foot and a half tall and could not have been much older than three years old.

I thought, “Well, self-defense training is all well and good—but where is a three-year old going to use those skills? On another three-year old? The baby-sitter? The dog?”

On just one city block near my house I recently counted four different martial arts places, teaching everything from taekwondo to judo; aikido to jujutsu. (That same block also has two gun shops.)

When I was an undersized teen I loved watching movies and TV shows where once wimpy kids suddenly rose up and overpowered bigger kids and bullies with a few quick punches and a roundhouse kick or two. I decided that was the perfect answer for me—and I settled on karate as my pugilistic choice.

I went with a friend to observe a karate class he was taking. But by the time class was over, the kid had a bloody nose and a swollen lip. That’s when I realized that learning karate meant not only administering kicks and punches—but receiving them too.

I decided there had to be an easier, less painful way to learn the techniques. So I bought a book.
It featured illustrations of guys performing moves on each other—called “How to Learn Karate.” I studied it for weeks until I figured I had it down pat.

Then, in a remarkable coincidence, a school tough guy started pushing me around on the playground. I calmly informed him that he might want to think twice—that I was a master of karate and I could hurt him.

He leaned in close, and asked, “Oh yea? What belt do you have, karate master?”
I said I wasn’t sure but thought it was natural leather. The next thing I felt was a punch to the midriff and a quick visit to the ground.

The moral is: “Don’t tell someone you know karate unless you do. And if you do, don’t tell them until you need it.”

AFTER THOUGHT: Maybe this year, it would be more practical to narrow any no-liquor resolution to something more specific—like “A Year Without a Coors Light.” That one would be fairly easy.

Although perhaps it would be wiser to wait until after the Super Bowl.

Morning After Christmas – 2016

‘Twas the day after Christmas, and there’s no doubt of it;
Using words like ‘twas, makes me sound like a ‘twit.
But that’s not the point, so let me get back to my tale
While I knock back a few pints of breakfast blend ale.
The children had been nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of UFO 3000 Toy Quadcopters with ultra-bright L.E.D. lights that fly in the dark, do 3-D flips and stunts, and include a bonus battery—danced in their heads.
But that morning no toys were seen under the tree;
The tree itself was buried under loads of debris.
Things might have been fine if I had just stayed in bed;
And not answered a midnight noise at the door instead.
See, the wife and I had just nodded off in peaceful slumber;
She was snoring quietly, and I was sawing the lumber.
When down on the porch there came such a knocking,
I threw my pants on backwards and started moon-walking.
Away to the front door I went nearly fit to be tied,
I reached for the knob and threw the door open wide.
On the porch stood an old coot in a suit and a beard,
He was huffin’ and puffin’ and seemed somewhat weird.
But his face was kindly and he looked quite sensitive,
I figured he might be a drunk Mary Kay representative.
But the red garish wardrobe and belly so thick,
Told me this sweaty old dude was probably Saint Nick.
He was large, quite messed up and looked like a wreck,
If he were green and shaven—you’d have sworn he was Shrek.
He spoke and he muttered, “Sorry to be such a pest;
But would you mind if I came in and took a short rest?
I’m worn and I’m beat—sick and tired of the sled.”
He came in and plopped on my Sleep Number Bed.
He moved scarcely a muscle, was mostly inertia,
A bit reminiscent of that drill called Big Bertha.
He asked for a stiff drink—he was clearly in need;
But I was all out of booze—so he settled for weed.
Nick explained that the sleigh ride had him so pooped,
He had decided to land the thing near my front stoop (ped.)
He said the elves had basically been no help at all,
Since they’d all unionized sometime early last fall.
He said, “They got heady with their new found power;
Demanding a minimum of 15 cookies an hour.
So I was forced to head out tonight on my own;
I’ve delivered mostly by sleigh, partly by drone.
But lately I’ve discovered that I’m in open defiance;
And am apparently not in full city compliance.
For it seems in order to stay in Seattle’s good favor,
My plastic toy sack now must be cloth or paper.”
I felt bad for the guy; he looked so stressed out;
He quite wearily said, “Would you finish my route?”
At first I said, “No—I simply don’t have the knowledge.
I even flunked political science at the electoral college.”
He said, “Look, this local area is my last stop tonight;
Just six houses left on this long Christmas eve flight.”
He begged me to take over, but not to be reckless;
“I’m desperate or I wouldn’t ask someone so feckless.”
I didn’t know what feckless meant and I started to frown,
But then relented and said, “I won’t let you down.”
I went to the sleigh and started cracking the whip;
Donner said, “Knock that crap off ‘less you want a fat lip.”
Then the craft lifted off so swift, smooth and super,
It looked like a deer-powered flying sleigh Uber.
I made the first delivery—down the chimney I went;
But the burn ban had been lifted—so back up I went.
Then, when wrapping things up and heading right back,
I took an awkward sharp turn, the sleigh started to tack.
We were whirling quite wildly, beginning to veer,
Just me, the sleigh—and eight screaming reindeer.
Flying right over Seattle we all began to fall;
Rudolph broke loose and stuck to the gum wall.
We smacked the Experience Music Project pell-mell;
The building was ruined—but you couldn’t really tell.
We rolled to Lake City—got a quick peek into Rick’s;
Then we lurched over Capitol Hill and almost hit Dick’s.
(By the way the color of Dick’s was as orange as heck;
Reminded me a bit vaguely of the president-elect.)
Lurching west toward Fremont we started to roll;
Sideswiped the bridge—knocked the nose off the Troll;
I tried banking the sleigh, but at an angle too steep.
We crashed into my living room in a great thudding heap.
The toys were destroyed, strewn from here to next
The only thing surviving was one of those UFO 3000 Toy Quadcopters with ultra-bright L.E.D. lights that fly in the dark and do 3-D flips and stunts and include a bonus…battery.
Later next day, a bobsled repair place was busily fixin’,
The reindeer were fine, ‘cept for contusions on Vixen.
By Tuesday the sleigh was once again functional,
Insurance covered most of it, minus deductible.
But Santa would not speak to me, angry it seemed,
He gave me a look that said he was steamed.
He climbed into the sleigh for his long return journey,
He told me to expect to hear from his attorney.
Next he called out to every young Susan and Michael,
“If you’re gonna live around here you better re-cycle.”
Then he pointed at me as he flew off through the sky,
“I’ll bring some help next year—but it won’t be that guy!”

Snow Storming

Caller I.D. is a pretty cool feature. It is helpful to know who is calling so you can:
1) Quickly answer the phone. Or,

Spend time practicing being delighted for a caller you cannot stand. Or,

3) Pretend not to be home at all. (Most convincing if you have a landline.)

I’m hoping that the next advance in phone technology will be TOPIC I.D. It’d be handy to know in things in advance like: “Annoying cousin is in town and planning to drop by.”

Or, “Co-worker is ill and wants to know if you’ll fill in for them.”

And especially: “Kid is calling from college and needs money. Again.”

Most of the time when my father-in-law would call, I would already know what the topic would be. “What’s it doing over at your place?” he’d say. He was referring, of course, to the weather. There is no single topic that is of greater common interest to all people. The fact that my father-in-law only lived a mile away did not matter in the least. “We got about three inches of snow over here,” he might say. “I would tell him, “We only have two.” He would sound triumphant.

For men, snow is pretty much like anything else when it comes to measurement—substantially exaggerated. If nearly six inches of snow falls, a woman will estimate that around five inches of snow has fallen. A man will round it off to a foot.

When I was a kid, whenever snow would fall in my hometown, you could always count on hearing from Old Man Haggard. That was his actual name—Old Man. He was named after his grandpa. Old Man Haggard would loudly announce to any kid within ear-shot that none of us knew what real snow—and hardship—was like.

“When I was your age,” he would bellow, “My twin sister (Old Lady Haggard) and I had to walk 14 miles through three feet of snow to get to school!” Impressive.

But then we found out that he’d actually only lived four houses down from the school. Maybe he walked the long way.

Plus, Haggard grew up in Palm Springs. (Climate change must have really been going gangbusters back when he was a kid. Either that, or the three feet of snow was measured length-wise.)

To kids, snow has always represented unabashed, ivory-colored nirvana. This is true for two reasons. First, snow is really a magnificent toy. It is Mother Nature’s Silly Putty, only better. If it were an actual product, the advertisements would proclaim:

“Hey kids! Looking for fun? Get SNOW! SNOW is great for sledding, sliding, skiing, snowboarding and more! You can shape it into balls! You can build forts with it! You can even shape it, put clothes on it—and make it look like a man or woman! Plus, as long as it’s new and white, you can even eat it! SNOW! It’s fun, fluffy—and free!”

The second—and most important—reason that snow is so welcome to kids is that only snow (with the exception of a teachers’ strike) has the awesome magical power to create instant vacation days. So while parents nervously pace when snow begins to fall overnight, even kids who did not like church begin to pray. The next morning, with trembling fingers, kids reach for the radio and wait for the wondrous announcement: “No school today!”

Then, the joyful noise of children’s cheering wakes every man, woman, dog, cat, parakeet, hamster and termite in the house.

I vividly remember a January night many years ago. I was in the 9th grade—filled with dread over a big test coming in the morning. I had not studied adequately for it. By ‘adequately’ I mean not at all. I was doomed.

Then, while resignedly going to bed, I noticed a few flakes fluttering down outside the window. They weren’t corn flakes either. (Incidentally, it is a fact that no two corn flakes are alike.) A couple of hours later, I popped awake to look out the window again. By then it was really coming down. (Note: in Australia, it really comes up.)

By morning, a miracle had taken place. School was cancelled for the day—and since it was a Friday, that meant I had been given a three-day reprieve! Three days to study for that test! Three days to score an A! Yes, I had been granted a miracle!

The next three days were spent playing in the snow—never cracking a book.
Come Monday, I flunked the test.

A miracle, like a mind, is a terrible thing to waste.