Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Grocery Store Chronicles: Checking Out (Part 2)

Here's the second part of my list of some times you might want to avoid a certain checkout line in the grocery store. Ever run into one of these?

The Red Tape Runaround

If you get close to the checker and happen to notice that her receipt tape has a large red stripe visible, find a new line if at all possible. The red line means that the tape is almost gone, and will probably run out before or during your turn at the register. Since the checkers must replace the tape before resuming their work, you are in for a long wait.

Inevitably, the checkstand will not have an extra roll of receipt tape in its storage area, so a manager must be summoned. When he learns that there is no extra tape at the checkstand, he will scowl because he knows the difficulty of the task before him. He will disappear for a full 10 minutes as he walks to the very back of the stockroom, then climbs up a ladder to a small shed on the far corner of the roof where these elusive rolls of tape seem to be stored. He will finally reappear, a little windblown, and toss the roll to the checker as he runs off to do another errand.

This is when you will discover that, of course, your checker, despite having worked at the store for three years, has never had to switch out one of these tapes herself. After five minutes spent fumbling with the rollers inside the register, cutting her fingers in the process, the checker will give up and call again for the manager, who is busy swimming through the store’s underground swamp to the small island guarded by alligators where the extra rolls of dimes and quarters are stored.

You get my point. If you see red, move along.

The Conversationalist

How you’ll take this next advice really depends on what kind of person you are – whether you are a person of few words who wants to get in and out of the grocery store as quickly and efficiently as possible, or if you are a person who goes to the grocery store partly out of a desire to be around other people and engage in interesting conversation.

If you’re the latter type of person, this advice doesn’t apply to you. But if you’re like me and you usually want to make the grocery store experience as brief as possible (within reason), then avoid the checker who treats each customer as one of their long-lost best friends at a high school reunion.

It’s not that these checkers are bad people. In fact, most are cheery and engaging and funny, and are quite popular with customers and management alike, as evidenced by the many “Checker of the Month” and “Best Employee” badges they wear pinned to their vests. They will likely ask -- no, demand -- your name, and there’s a good chance that if you return even weeks later and once again choose their line, they’ll remember that name and call you by it. If by chance they don't remember your name, they will be sure to call you "sweetie" or "hon" or some other generic endearment.

I must repeat that the talkative checker is many times a wonderful person to be around, but if you surrender to their charms you must give up any ideas of getting out of the store before your butter pecan ice cream melts. Their work method is something like this:

1. Introduce themselves, giving a summary of their early life, then find out your vital information (5 min.)
2. Scan two grocery items (20 sec.)
3. Discuss what both of you have been doing the past few weeks (8 min.)
4. Scan a few more items (45 sec.)
5. Ask about your children and listen to response (3 min.)
6. Make sure to give a summary of their child’s recent adventures on a school field trip (5 min.)
7. Scan a few more items (25 sec.)

Well, you get the picture.

There are some people who gladly wait a long time in line just to be checked out by these happy raconteurs of retail, and it’s a highlight of their week to be able to catch up on what Checker #5 at Wal-Mart has been up to. More power to these folks. It’s nice these days to have a little humanity mixed into the grocery store experience. But if you indeed don’t want that ice cream to melt, you might choose another line.

The Government-aided Shopper

First of all, let me say I have nothing against people whose economic status compels them to use government food programs like WIC to help them get the groceries they need to feed their families. They deserve our respect and help when it comes to trying to make ends meet.

All I’m saying is, because of the crazy way these government programs seem to work when it comes to checking out at the grocery store, you might want to avoid someone using a WIC or similar type card if you’re in a hurry. These cards apparently work like a debit card that keeps track of how much the person using them has in their account. And it seems that it’s sometimes a very difficult task for customers to remember just how much they have left on the card when they do their shopping.

As a result, what often times happens if this. The customer might choose, say, $120 worth of groceries, but after they give the WIC card to the checker and he swipes it through the machine, it indicates that there’s only $80 left of available funds on the customer's card.

Sometimes the customer will dispute this fact, requiring time to resolve the matter one way or the other, but even if they accept the fact that they only have $80 left to spend, your time in line behind them will drag on. You see, they must now look at all the food they originally selected (which often has to be un-bagged) and figure out which items they can do without to knock $40 off the total. This can take a very long time, as they consider leaving one item, then another, since many times all the food items in question are essentials and not frivolities.

There’s also the danger that one or more of the items the customer has selected are not “approved” for payment through the card (beer and cigarettes are just the two most obvious), so in this case there's often another dispute, or at least a delay, while those items are weeded out and the card is re-scanned.

Again, the problem usually lies in the cards themselves instead of the people who use them. But if you want to avoid a delay at checkout, you might choose another line.

The Wide-eyed Innocent

This final one is fairly self-evident. If you can see that your checker is a brand-new trainee (possibly even being trained right then by a hovering manager), then if you’re in a hurry you might want to choose another aisle. If you hear the manager explaining what the keys on the register are for, and how those little black lines on a package magically make the machine go "beep" when passed over it, you definitely want to switch aisles.

That's it for checking out. Coming up in my next and final post in the series – “Murphy’s Law” as applied to grocery shopping.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Grocery Store Chronicles: Checking Out (Part 1)

In my last post I discussed some of the types of shoppers it might be wise to avoid in the grocery store. Now, over two posts, I’d like to offer some hard-won advice as to when you might want to avoid a certain checkout lane in the grocery store and choose another instead. Here are some common situations and types of people to avoid.

The Coupon Queen

If you notice that one of the shoppers ahead of you in line –– usually a woman –– is carrying what looks like a Pony Express mail pouch full of clipped coupons, then move immediately to another aisle. It’s a good bet that this shopper will keep you waiting at least 30 minutes while they attempt to clear the cash register.

It’s not just that scanning all of those coupons takes time. Inevitably, there will be some sort of snafu that occurs. The scanner might refuse to accept a certain coupon for apple juice, so first the bagger must dig through the piles of already packed bags to find the beverage in question, then the information on the label must be examined and checked against the coupon. When it is discovered that the apple juice the customer purchased is the 48-ounce size, and the coupon only is good for the 64-ounce size or larger, then what ensues is either a debate between customer and checker on why the coupon should be accepted nevertheless (with a possible call for the manager to referee), or the bagger is sent out to the juice aisle to swap out bottles. When he returns minutes later, the next coupon is scanned, only to discover that it requires two tubes of biscuits to be purchased for the discount, not the single tube the customer has purchased. And so it goes.

If you want to avoid a long wait, pass by the coupon queen.

The Lovers

Stay clear of any checkout line where the person doing the checking and the person doing the bagging seem to be infatuated with each other. When a young man or woman’s fancy turns to love, it’s a good bet that they’ll be so taken with the subject that they won’t notice they scanned your bag of peas twice, or absentmindely put the 20-pound bag of dog food on top of your carton of eggs in the basket.

A common example of this kind of cashier team is where the cashier is a teenaged girl, teamed with a teenaged boy bagger who is clearly infatuated with her and trying his best to win her over. He will talk almost nonstop to her, cracking jokes, making sarcastic remarks and asking questions. The girl will be forced to listen and respond (to be polite) and as a result, neither checker or bagger is even really looking at the products they are scanning and putting away. Besides slowing down the whole process, this can lead to incorrectly scanned items, improper bagging and a host of other annoyances.

In one memorable event, I once checked out at a grocery store, with a full cart of groceries, and neither the checker nor the bagger spoke once to me, or even looked at me, because they were so deeply involved in flirtatious talk. They were like robots attuned to some common frequency, just going through the motions of moving groceries down the counter out of habit. I could have been buck naked, wearing a sombrero on my head with illuminated Christmas lights wrapped around my body, and they wouldn’t have even noticed.

(If you read that last sentence just after eating a big meal, or after decorating your Christmas tree, I apologize).

The Clothes Buyer

If you are shopping in a store like a Super Target or Super Wal-Mart that sells both groceries and clothing, and someone ahead of you in line has a pile of clothing they are buying, there are even odds that you’ll avoid a long delay by moving to another line.

The problem is that, inevitably, one or more of the items of clothing the customer wants to buy has had the tag removed somehow. Since the checker can’t scan the item’s price in without a tag –- let’s say for purposes of illustration it's a woman’s dress -- this means that someone, usually a pimply teenaged bagging boy with no clue as to women’s clothing, is dispatched to the women’s department to try and find the dress with the tag, or at the very least determine the item's correct price. After 20 minutes or so, he returns and gives the checker the bad news. Either (1) he couldn’t find where those dresses were located, (2) he found where the dresses were, but the one in question is apparently the very last one, or (3) there are other dresses like this, but they don’t have tags, either.

When it comes to clothing, there is no end to the possibly delays. Sometimes the clothing item has a tag, but the shopper notices only at the checkout line that the item is ripped or stained, and then the same pimply faced boy must be sent to find a replacement.

Take my advice – find another line.

NEXT POST: We'll meet The Conversationalist and learn to avoid the "Red Tape Runaround."

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Have you seen Twilight?

While I'm still putting together the next entries in my grocery store series, I thought I'd share a few excerpts of a review in The Atlantic of "Twilight," the teen vampire romance movie my two girls and seemingly every other one of their female friends has seen. No teen I've talked to thinks the movie was as good as the book, but they liked the movie anyway.

After hearing what my girls said about the movie (they don't seem to be caught up in the Twilight fever some of their friends are), and after reading this review, I'm still not sure what to think of the book or movie. Even though these quotes make the author appear to think the movie is salacious or erotic, she actually seems to say elsewhere in her review that the movie harkens back to an earlier time of clear moral choices and stances, and provides a sort of alternate scenario of teen romantic relationships as mutually committed pacts instead of just quick "hook-ups." I don't plan on seeing "Twilight" myself, so I'll rely on any of you who do to tell me if she's got it right.
Twilight is fantastic. It’s a page-turner that pops out a lurching, frightening ending I never saw coming. It’s also the first book that seemed at long last to rekindle something of the girl-reader in me. In fact, there were times when the novel—no work of literature, to be sure, no school for style; hugged mainly to the slender chests of very young teenage girls, whose regard for it is on a par with the regard with which just yesterday they held Hannah Montana—stirred something in me so long forgotten that I felt embarrassed by it. Reading the book, I sometimes experienced what I imagine long-married men must feel when they get an unexpected glimpse at pornography: slingshot back to a world of sensation that, through sheer force of will and dutiful acceptance of life’s fortunes, I thought I had subdued. The Twilight series is not based on a true story, of course, but within it is the true story, the original one. Twilight centers on a boy who loves a girl so much that he refuses to defile her, and on a girl who loves him so dearly that she is desperate for him to do just that, even if the wages of the act are expulsion from her family and from everything she has ever known. We haven’t seen that tale in a girls’ book in a very long time. And it’s selling through the roof.

The erotic relationship between Bella and Edward is what makes this book—and the series—so riveting to its female readers. There is no question about the exact nature of the physical act that looms over them. Either they will do it or they won’t, and afterward everything will change for Bella, although not for Edward. Nor is the act one that might result in an equal giving and receiving of pleasure. If Edward fails—even once—in his great exercise in restraint, he will do what the boys in the old pregnancy-scare books did to their girlfriends: he will ruin her. More exactly, he will destroy her, ripping her away from the world of the living and bringing her into the realm of the undead. If a novel of today were to sound these chords so explicitly but in a nonsupernatural context, it would be seen (rightly) as a book about “abstinence,” and it would be handed out with the tracts and bumper stickers at the kind of evangelical churches that advocate the practice as a reasonable solution to the age-old problem of horny young people.
From “What Girls Want” by Caitlin Flanagan, Atlantic December 2008. Go here to read the full article.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Grocery Store Chronicles: Shoppers

When you commandeer a metal shopping cart (with a wobbly right front wheel, no doubt) and head into your local grocery store, you join many of your friends and neighbors who are also trying to get in and out with the least possible trouble. Most of these shoppers will be like you -- calm. collected and considerate, aware of their goals and trying to get their shopping done quickly and efficiently, but not so fast that they endanger the lives or sanity of those around them.

And then, of course, there are the other people. Here's a short list of some of the notable types of grocery buyers I have observed that make shopping hazardous -- or at least more interesting.

THE PROFESSORS

Most of us come to the grocery store with at least one or two items we're not sure about. Maybe it's some new cereal our kids have begged us to get, and we have to really search the shelves to find it because we've never seen the name or the packaging before. Maybe a recipe calls for some exotic type of fruit or vegetable that we've never once used, or even eaten, and we're not exactly sure which section of the produce department it's located in.

As I said, it's normal to have a few items on the list that require us to do a little more searching than usual. But for some grocery shoppers, the ones I call "the professors," even the simplest purchases require a lengthy session of on-site research.

You might meet a professor in front of the yogurt case. As you patiently wait for him to move aside to allow you access, you notice that he is involved in an intense lab experiment regarding the visual forms and scientific qualities of cultured milkfat products. He will methodically pick up each and every carton of yogurt, examining the calories, fat and sugar content, checking for the presence of preservatives, detecting if the milk used came from cows not fed growth hormone, and making sure the company has listed a 1-800 number on the carton in case of complaints.

After each carton of yogurt has been individually inspected (phase one of the research), then the comparison phase begins. The professor will grab two different cartons of yogurt, turn them so their product information panels are showing, and then compare each to the other to determine which of the two has an overall higher rating of nutritional acceptability. Yogurt A has lower overall calories, but Yogurt B has fewer grams of sugar. Hmmmm. Let's set both aside and then compare C and D.

And on and on and on it goes. By the time the professor has decided on his two cartons of yogurt, he has examined all 256 varieties in the case, and probably has enough information to write a short article (with footnotes) for Dairy Product Research Journal.

Of course, if the professor stands in front of the yogurt so that you can't get to your four cartons of Yoplait vanilla, you will either have to come back in half an hour, or say "excuse me" as you lunge past him to grab your goods. Go ahead and do this, because he's used to it. Researchers call this "encountering variables in the field."

THE CLUELESS

On the opposite pole from over-involved shoppers are those who don't have the first idea what they're doing. One can usually spot a member of "The Clueless" by their glazed expression and seeming total lack of comprehension when they enter the four walls of a supermarket.

Who are the clueless? In most cases, from what I have seen, they are men. I suppose these are guys who visit the inside of a grocery store about as often as they enter the Oval Office to chat with the President. Some of them are older men who probably last entered a grocery store back when produce was sold from barrels and the manager wore a pinstriped apron and handed out penny candy to little girls in pinafores.

Undoubtedly, some great disturbance in the Force, or some temporal rift in the cosmos of his existence, has forced Mr. Clueless out of his comfort zone and to the store. Maybe his wife just got hit by a truck and is laid up in bed with a dozen broken bones, preventing her from performing her wifely duty of slogging to the supermarket. Or maybe his wife finally left for good weeks ago, and after doggedly eating through all the old cans of Spaghetti Os and the wormy packages of Ramen noodles at the back of the pantry, he is forced to find new nourishment or starve to death. Maybe he drew the short straw at the Friday night poker game and is forced to make the grocery run alone. There are lots of possible scenarios.

Whatever the reason, Mr. Clueless can be spotted easily by his wide eyes, gaping mouth and slow, almost shuffling gait. The last time this guy went grocery shopping the store had three aisles and two checkout stands. Now, he is entering a space the size of an aircraft hangar that has 36 aisles, 15 checkout lanes and seven separate departments, and is as busy as a big city commuter train station at rush hour.

When he starts trying to find the items his wife has written down on his list, he discovers how American wealth and ingenuity have made shopping insanely complex these days. For example, the list Mr. Clueless holds instructs him to return home with "Grape jelly." After wandering around the store for awhile he (by some miracle) finds himself in front of the jelly section. But when he goes to find grape jelly, what does he discover? That there are at least 30 different jars that might fill the bill. There are 20 different brands of grape jelly, and 10 brands of something called "grape jam," which looks like grape jelly but isn't, somehow. Even if he sticks to grape jelly, should he get the "regular" kind, the "low sugar" kind, the "organic" kind, the "organic low sugar" kind, or the "fruit only" kind? Should he even bother with a name brand at all, or just get the store brand -- or a plain label generic? And what size jar should he get? Is the 5 ounce size too small? Is the 24 ounce size too large?

This maddening variety confronts poor Mr. Clueless at every turn. His wife has written down, "1 doz. eggs." He visits the egg case to find, again, an incredible array of choices. Should he get medium, large, extra large or jumbo size eggs? Should they be white, or brown? Does he want "regular" eggs, or "cage free," or "free range?" Should he get the ones with something called "Omega 3" added?

If Mr. Clueless remembered to bring a cell phone, you will often find him in continuous contact with the Mother Ship as he picks up each product possibility and reads the pertinent information off. You'll then hear him rattle off a disjointed string of responses like, "No, there isn't a blue colored label, it's a purple one." "No, I don't see one that says 'with bleach.' There's 'extra strength' and 'lemon scented,' but none 'with bleach.'" "No, they don't have vanilla flavor in the 24 ounce box, just in the 16 ounce. Yes, I looked in the back of the shelf." And so on and so on, shelf after shelf, aisle after aisle.

When I see Mr. Clueless looking up in open-mouthed panic at a wall of breakfast cereals stretching half a city block, I am tempted to give the guy a reassuring pat on the shoulder and say, "I know what you're feeling. Let me help you." But I usually don't have time, and besides, in some cities this is probably considered a pickup line.

THE SOCIAL BUTTERFLIES

You all have seen this next grocery shopper many times, I am sure. As you head down the narrow aisle of condiments, sauces and marinades, you notice that your way is blocked by two carts, going in opposite directions, which have been brought to a halt together near the French's mustard. The owners of each cart (usually women this time, but not always) have temporarily abandoned their shopping and are standing close together in the middle of the aisle, talking. And talking. And talking.

The first trait that defines the social butterfly shopper is an affinity for gossip (which they will call something less negative, such as "catching up"). These people come to the supermarket, in part, to hear and be heard. They know at least half of the customers at any one time, or so it seems, and they are loath to pass up the chance to chat up any of them if it means they might hear some previously unknown news.

The second trait that defines the social butterfly shopper is obliviousness. While they are talking with a friend in the aisle, or chatting on a cell phone as they stand in front of the dairy case, they are totally focused on the conversation at hand. They do not see you and the 12 other shoppers lined up on either side of them, waiting to get by. They do not notice that if they moved just a foot or two to the left or the right, they would allow you and others to reach the items on the shelf behind them. They are not aware that their unsupervised children are running down the aisles, removing groceries from the shelves and making a general nuisance of themselves. They are totally focused on talking, and if you are so rude as to try to move their cart a bit to one side or the other, or to reach past them to get an item, they will often shoot you a glance as if you deserved to have slivers of bamboo inserted under your toenails for your cheeky presumption.

Sometimes the social butterfly shopper is a friend of yours, and this makes it a challenge when they stop you on your way to the checkout (with lots of cold items slowly melting in your cart) and begin conducting a thorough interrogation about you, your family and mutual friends, as well as providing you with a detailed accounting of their own life. If you have time to spare, this might be an enjoyable encounter. If you're in a hurry, you might want to duck down the housewares aisle if you see the social butterfly shopper approaching in your direction.

That's a little about three types of interesting shoppers you might find in the grocery. Next post, we'll look at what to avoid when choosing a checkout aisle.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Grocery Store Chronicles: Introduction

I'm a bit of an aberration, I suppose, in that I am a married, heterosexual male who enjoys grocery shopping -- or, who at least does not despise it as much as most men nowadays seem to.

I started grocery shopping when I was a carefree bachelor buying cheap canned meats and snack foods in college. I kept it up during my single days as a member of the workforce, then after I married I continued grocery shopping because, well, my wife wasn't all that thrilled with the task, and I seemed not to mind it. So, as a gift to her, I offered to roam the aisles each week.

One reason I don't usually mind grocery shopping is that I like to cook, and I enjoy trying new recipes (even if they are simply new "recipes" that have to be heated up or mixed up from a can or box). I spend at least a part of each grocery trip browsing the shelves to see what new, ingenious items have been introduced. You can get burned out on a dish pretty quickly, so it pays to find new things that seem promising to the palate.

Of course, now that the huge superstores I buy food in also sell things like books and DVDs, I spend some of my time in the store browsing among the new titles.

In my more than 25 years as a grocery shopper I have learned a lot about the practice, and about the different types of people -- customers and employees -- that can be found in the modern supermarket. In the next few days I plan to present a series of posts relating some of my hard-fought grocery wisdom. I hope you enjoy them.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Remembering Book Row

No comparable substitute has developed [to New York City’s Book Row], no, not even in cyberspace or those overpopulated Internet burbs. Thanks to the broadband interests and proud diversity of the booksellers there, on Book Row there wasn't just a book for every need, mood or taste. Often there was a whole section of applicable books or even an entire bookstore for every taste, mood, need. The variety, independence and heterogeneity of the dealers and their books made Book Row a haven for reading and collecting diversity where Vive la difference meant three cheers for nonconformity. In their place have come drearily homogenized chain stores, a global electronic whirlpool erratically accessible mainly to persistent onliners with superhuman patience for slogging through vast swamps of World Wide Web distractions, and a wistfully few widely scattered individual bookshop survivors.
From Book Row: An Anecdotal and Pictorial History of the Antiquarian Book Trade by Marvin Mondlin and Roy Meador (2003).

The only survivor of the many used bookstores that once populated Book Row in New York City appears to be the Strand Bookstore.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Case of Divine Intervention

Don't worry, this is not about yesterday's election. God is still in control of things, but my party didn't win, so I'm glum.

No, this is about a true story of divine intervention -- the kind of miraculous event that the unbelieving world chalks up to random chance or "luck," but Christians know is instead an instance of God moving in the lives of His people. The events described happened this past Sunday to a guy I work with who lives in a suburb of Waco.

This man has two kids in the high school band that was leaving Sunday afternoon for state marching contest the next day in Austin. There are approximately 150 kids in the band, which required chartering three buses to transport them down (about 50 kids per bus).

The buses were about ready to go when a local pastor happened to be driving by and noticed something funny about one of the buses. The hydraulic lift system that lowers the entrance steps to let people get in, and then raises the steps back up for travel, hadn't apparently raised back up all the way. The driver tried to get it to raise back into position, but it wouldn't budge.

A Department of Public Safety inspector had to be called out, and after an inspection and driving test he ruled that the problem didn't affect the safety of the bus and that they could get underway. This was good news, since the charter company didn't have another bus available. However, waiting for the clearance had put the band more than an hour behind schedule.

The kids and sponsors boarded the buses, then the first bus in the convoy pulled out of the school parking lot. However, my friend noticed as he was walking to get into his car that the second bus -- the one with his two kids aboard -- wasn't moving. A few seconds later, he heard his wife call from near the bus that there was something wrong with the driver.

My friend got to the bus and looked at the driver, a very large man. He was sitting in the driver's seat, looking out into space, and he was absolutely covered in sweat. The parents told him, "Look, come on out, you need help," but he appeared to shake off whatever had caused him to hesitate and said, "That's alright. I'm fine. Let's go."

The driver closed the door and started to move the bus ahead. A parent was standing next to him at the front of the bus, trying to get a DVD playing in the bus's onboard video player.

Suddenly, this woman at the front of the bus watched in horror as the driver slumped forward in his seat, passed out cold. She grabbed the extremely large steering wheel and somehow managed to keep the bus from going off into the ditch. At the same time, she was hitting the driver's shoulder and yelling "Wake up! Put on the brake! Wake up!"

Eventually, the driver was roused from his sleep enough to apply the brakes, coming within inches of hitting a power pole and a parked car. As soon as the bus came to a stop, he again passed out.

It turns out that the driver was a diabetic who hadn't taken his insulin, and he had gone into diabetic shock.

The bus company was able to supply a substitute driver who arrived quickly, and finally, after the long delay of about 90 minutes, all three buses were finally on the road to Austin.

My friend thought about this later and realized how fortunate that unwelcome mechanical trouble had proved to be. If the first bus hadn't had a problem with its hydraulics -- or if the pastor hadn't passed by and just happened to notice the problem -- or if he hadn't decided to flag the driver and stop the bus -- then all three buses would have left on time. And 90 minutes later, when the driver of Bus #2 (the one carrying my friend's kids) had his episode of diabetic shock, he would have passed out at the wheel not in a school parking lot, but doing 65 miles an hour on Interstate 35 somewhere near Georgetown. And it's highly likely that the bus would have been involved in an accident that would have resulted in many, many deaths.

There are some people who would chalk all this up to fortunate chance. But I know better.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween memories

When you're a kid, Halloween is the second biggest day of the year -- right behind Christmas in the "Boy, I can't wait -- how many days until it gets here?" department. A few days before Halloween, saliva would involuntarily begin leaking out of your mouth due to the anticipation of all that sweet stuff you had coming.

As an somewhat overweight child who liked to eat, Halloween was a big day for me. I lived in a fairly prosperous suburb of Houston, Texas, and back in those innocent days of the 1960s, Halloween had not yet gained the violent, ugly and overall negative connotations it has today. Parents accompanied toddlers trick-or-treating, but they thought nothing of sending their costumed elementary school children out into the neighborhood alone or with a group of friends, armed with nothing but an empty bag and a flashlight (which rarely if ever got used).

My memory is somewhat deficient, but I don't recall ever being a big fan of costumes all that much at Halloween. Those masks you bought at the store (with the laughingly thin rubber bands attached with staples) always were too small for my face, and were hot and uncomfortable to boot. I was usually too big for the manufactured costumes (Batman, Robin, the "fun" Joker), and although I probably took an old sheet and cut out eye holes and a mouth once to become a ghost, that was so cliche even back then to designate the wearer as an unimaginative loser.

So, I believe my usual costume disguise was "chubby pre-teen boy looking for candy." Since none of my school friends lived within walking distance, I usually teamed up with my younger brother. Lazy as we might have been on boring summer days, or when there was yardwork to be done, on Halloween night we were quick-moving, efficient machines of accumulation. While other kids might stop and talk with friends, admiring costumes or showing off props, we were focused like laser beams on the goal of visiting as many houses as we could and filling our sturdy bags as full of sweet swag as possible.

We would quickly scour the four streets in our immediate neighborhood, going methodically down one side of a street, then up the other side, then changing streets and repeating the process. We were always cheerful, polite and said "Thank you," as our parents instructed us to do, but we didn't hang around long.

Once we finished with our neighborhood, my enabler parents would drive us to a larger, somewhat richer neighborhood down the road where they would drop us off for a few hours. We had friends in this neighborhood, who we enjoyed seeing and chatting with, but again, our goal was conquest.

When we'd finally get home late that night -- some of the last kids out on the streets -- we'd come in the living room and dump out our bulging bags of hard-won treasure. The hundreds of pieces of candy that would spill out would cover half the floor. Our parents, on cue, after expressing amazement about how much junk we'd gotten, would warn us not to eat too much at once or we'd get sick. But we always ate a lot at once, and we never got sick, although by about the end of the first week of November we were secretly disgusted with candy, although we'd rarely admit it in case our parents would suggest we throw away the remains.

We'd always begin eating the best candy first, of course -- chocolate bars, Sweet Tarts, caramels, candy corn. After awhile the good stuff would disappear, and all we would have left is the second-rate remains -- rock-hard taffy drops, stale popcorn balls, mints, red licorice. But we'd eventually eat all that as well, unless it was truly nasty. If we couldn't feed it to the dog, only then would we throw it away.

Back in those innocent times, everyone went door-to-door trick-or-treating, and there were no "Fun Nights" or "Fall Festivals" sponsored by churches and other groups like there are today. But going door-to-door back then was truly safe. And every now and then, you'd find a house where the people really got into Halloween. They would have fake spider webs everywhere, with maybe some bloody monster dummies laid out by the front door with a record player blaring "Monster Mash" over and over. A great final touch would be the big black pot filled with water and dry ice to produce clouds of smoke over everything.

I remember at least a few houses in my neighborhood where the family temporarily cleared everything out of the garage, put up some dark curtains and black lights and made a "haunted house" they'd invite trick-or-treaters to come in and tour. In one area there was always a sheet with a hole cut in it, and when you put your hand through you'd be encouraged to dip it into a bowl of what you were told were human brains or intestines, but it always ended up feeling just like cooked spaghetti.

I also remember that Halloween night was a good time to determine which people on each block liked kids, and which did not. The kid-lovers had lights turned on and always had someone stationed by the door, ready to answer and dispense candy from big bowls. The non-kid lovers, by contrast, either had every light turned off (both inside and outside), or they had only a few dim interior lights left on. If you were brave or foolish enough to go up to the door of one of those houses and ring the bell, you'd wait a long time until someone finally opened the door, verrry slowly, and then asked, "Yes?," in a prickly tone as if you were selling life insurance or magazine subscriptions, or as if you had just relieved yourself on their orchids in the front flower beds. They never had candy.

This is hard to believe nowadays, but some people back in the 1960s actually took the time and trouble to make treats to give out on Halloween. They'd put together 700 popcorn balls (each wrapped in Saran Wrap and hand-tied with a little twistie), or make candy apples or little bags of homemade cookies. This wonderful tradition eventually stopped, however, when parents heard reports of sickos putting razor blades in apples and dousing baked goods with poison. Local hospitals would cheerfully offer to X-ray your candy for metal objects hidden within, but people just stopped making and accepting homemade goods.

This is the first Halloween where neither one of our girls is going trick-or-treating. They are both old enough now that they have switched roles and are working at our church's Fall Festival tonight. It's a fun night with big inflatable slides and jumping rooms, horse-drawn carriage rides and lots of games for smaller kids like ring toss and a cake walk. There's still lots and lots of candy given out, and I enjoy it, but somehow it just doesn't compare to those Halloweens of days gone by.

Have a great time tonight with your kids, and save the black licorice jellybeans for me.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A little Dave Barry

16 Things that Took Me Over 50 Years to Learn
by Dave Barry, columnist and author

1. Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.

2. If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be "meetings."

3. There is a very fine line between "hobby" and "mental illness."

4. People who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them.

5. You should not confuse your career with your life.

6. Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up and dance.

7. Never lick a steak knife.

8. The most destructive force in the universe is gossip.

9. You will never find anybody who can give you a clear and compelling reason why we observe daylight savings time.

10. You should never say anything to a woman that even remotely suggests that you think she’s pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging from her at that moment.

11. There comes a time when you should stop expecting other people to make a big deal about your birthday. That time is age eleven.

12. The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we ALL believe that we are above average drivers.

13. A person, who is nice to you, but rude to a waiter, is not a nice person. (This is very important. Pay attention. It never fails.)

14. Your friends love you anyway.

15. Never be afraid to try something new. Remember that a lone amateur built the Ark. A large group of professionals built the Titanic.

16. Thought for the day: Men are like fine wine. They start out as grapes, and it’s up to the women to stomp the crap out of them until they turn into something acceptable to have dinner with.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Putting a (Better?) Face On Things

I just read the most interesting article in today's New York Times. It's about a new use of technology that I'm surprised hasn't been in use before now.

Basically, there is a computer program, called in the article a "beautification engine," that can input a photograph of someone's real face, and then show what that person's "ideal" face (i.e., the face found the most beautiful by others) might look like. The photos below show a woman named Martina Eckstut in her before shot (left side) and after shot (right side):


Here's a bit more from the article about what the computer program is and how it was developed:
The photograph on the right was doctored by the “beautification engine” of a new computer program that uses a mathematical formula to alter the original form into a theoretically more attractive version, while maintaining what programmers call an “unmistakable similarity” to the original.

The software program, developed by computer scientists in Israel, is based on the responses of 68 men and women, age 25 to 40, from Israel and Germany, who viewed photographs of white male and female faces and picked the most attractive ones.

Scientists took the data and applied an algorithm involving 234 measurements between facial features, including the distances between lips and chin, the forehead and the eyes, or between the eyes.

Essentially, they trained a computer to determine, for each individual face, the most attractive set of distances and then choose the ideal closest to the original face. Unlike other research with formulas for facial attractiveness, this program does not produce one ideal for a feature, say a certain eye width or chin length.
On one level, I am saddened and disturbed by this. I mean, don't we all feel bad enough about the way we look without a computer program showing exactly how far away we are from looking our best? Will there be people who buy this program, print off the photo of their "ideal" look, and then go to their local plastic surgeon and say, "Fix me"?

Then again, I must admit I am dying to see what my mug would look like after being spruced up by having my 234 measurements tinkered with. Would I actually be...handsome? Could I contemplate a career as a billboard model for beer or fast food?

Anyway, I don't have any truly deep thoughts about this now. I just thought it was neat. To read the entire article, or to see more "before and after" photos, go here.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Texas Postcard Gallery


This is not how all Texans view the rest of the country, but it's close. (Click on the postcard for a larger view)

Friday, October 03, 2008

Random Observations and Trivial Events

WHAT'S YOUR PEN NAME?

Looking for interesting blogs dealing with writing, I came across a website that features something called a Pen Name Generator. You type in your name, indicate what gender you are, and after you submit the information it somehow generates a pen name for you. According to this gizmo, my pen name should be Jon Stall, which sounds to me like slang for a stopped-up toilet.

GIVE US A BREAK

Advertisers have figured out that they can no longer get away with advertising some products like they did in 1958. Remember all those old-time ads that featured women who apparently did nothing but sit at home and worry about whether their husband's collars were white enough, or if their floors had any waxy buildup? Those commercials made it appear that all women cared about was (1) housework and (2) pleasing hubby, and advertisers have figured out that nowadays that approach won't get them anywhere, because women -- if they ever were really that way, which I doubt -- aren't like that anymore. They have lots of interests besides housework.

So, if we can change an advertising stereotype concerning women, why can't we change the one which portrays all men as sports-obsessed TV junkies? I swear, every other commercial I see, especially in the fall, is about how guys will do anything -- lie to their wives, neglect their kids, spend more money than they should -- for the ability to park their butts in a chair, eat snacks and drink beer with "the guys," and watch televised sports from early Saturday morning to late Sunday night. I even heard a new AT&T cell phone ad on radio today, featuring a guy whose cruel wife was forcing him to quit watching TV sports to spend time in the park with her and the kids. But, alas!, his new AT&T phone connected with the Internet, so (whew!) he was able to spend all that time in the park checking on scores while he pretended to play with the kids.

Stop it. Just stop it. Yes, there are no doubt some absolutely maniacal, sports-crazed doofuses out there, like there are crazed doofuses of many different stripes, but I don't know any guys who worship sports above all else, do you? I do know guys -- myself included -- who will watch a game or two that interests them, but they have a lot more going on in their lives besides sports. If you can quit with the ads showing women falling in love with their vacuum cleaners, please quit with the sports addict ads.

DOGS CALL IT P-MAIL

At least three or four nights a week, Mrs. Muley and I try to take our two sheltie dogs for a walk. Our smallest one loves to hike his leg and leave his calling card on the curb about every 50 feet, while our larger dog waits to do his duty in a little patch of grass by a fence. Before he does, however, he must sniff vigorously like a bloodhound along the length of the patch, lingering longer on some smells than others.

It finally hit me the other night -- my dogs are just as connected to their world as I am to mine. When they're out on a walk, what they're basically doing is communicating with other dogs -- both sending and receiving messages. What I think of as doing a lot of time-consuming sniffing is really the same thing I do when I get to work each morning and fire up the computer. My dogs are checking their e-mail from the day before. And they never get spammed.

ANY TAKERS?

Visiting my local big box bookstore the other day, I couldn't help but notice a large table near the entrance filled with books relating to the upcoming Presidential election. There were books by Obama and McCain, books about Obama and McCain, books about how either the Democrats or Republicans are idiots, and books about how the country should vote one way or the other or risk bringing terrible destruction down on everyone.

My thought was -- I know publishers are always trying to make a buck, but is anybody buying these things? I mean, I've got to think that in this particular campaign, there are very few truly "undecided" voters who might need the information in one of these books to help them know which lever to pull in November. Most people, I'm betting, have known for quite some time which candidate they're voting for, and would rather spend their book budget on something else, like a good mystery or graphic novel, or maybe one of those hundreds of books with cute photos of puppies and kittens.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

An Ike Wrap-up (Almost)

Well, there's good and bad news to report on the people I know who got hit by Hurricane Ike.

First of all, my parents in Friendswood turned out to be some of the lucky ones. Not only did their house not see any major damage, but after losing their power early Saturday morning, they miraculously had their power restored Sunday night, when most everyone else in the Houston area was in darkness. We don't know why they got back on so quickly -- they aren't near a hospital or fire or police station -- but we're thankful. Now, all those heavily frozen and nearly petrified mystery meats down at the bottom of their freezer in the garage will not have to be thrown away. They can be preserved for study by nutritionists of future generations.

My wife's sister and her husband and daughter left Waco Monday afternoon for the long drive back to Humble, north of Houston near Bush Intercontinental Airport. They reported that it was very hard to get through because of all the downed trees and other damage all around. As of this morning, they are still without power, although because they have natural gas service they can take hot showers and cook some meals. Another blessing is this cold front we had blow in over the weekend, making the temperatures bearable, but I'm not sure what they do at night when there's no lights and no TV or computer. You can't even play Monopoly if you can't see the board.

Another of my wife's friends who lives near Humble in a place called Kingwood is also without power, and they have been without it longer because they stayed to ride out the storm. You can tell from this woman's e-mails how tiring and depressing it is being without electricity. They are thankful, however, that no trees fell on their house as they did elsewhere in their block. (She sent Mrs. Muley some photos of damage in their neighborhood, which I will display at the end of this post).

When I lived at home in Friendswood as a kid and for awhile as a college student we rode out a few hurricanes, and sometimes they were fun (when winds and damage were slight) and sometimes they weren't. Friendswood made national news back in the late 1970s when I was living there when a tropical storm that hit us stayed forever and dumped something like 18 inches of rain on us in a few days, causing what experts termed a 100-year flood. Our house, which was high above a creek and had always managed to escape big floods, got hit that time with about six inches of water inside. It was a pain having to cut out all our downstairs carpet and roll it out to the curb, and even more of a pain to walk on concrete slab for six months until we finally were able to get new carpet and flooring installed. But even that minor inconvenience was nothing compared to what so many people in Houston are dealing with now.

I think I'll try to talk about something else in my next post, because I'm tired of talking and thinking about Ike. But I'll hopefully remember to let you know when all my family and friends are somewhat back to norm al. And I appreciate all the prayers and kind thoughts from those of you reading these dispatches.





Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ike Update

Well, as far as Waco goes, we got just what I figured we would, based on past experience and the weather reports. If you didn't know there was a hurricane to thank, I'd say we got some much-needed gentle rain and a few cooling breezes.

But, for family and friends in Southeast Texas, things are not so great. My parents in Friendswood lost power overnight -- as did millions of people in and around Houston -- but luckily no trees fell on their house and no water found its way inside. They are lucky, although with the predictions being that it will take days or even weeks for power to get restored, they've got to figure out what to do with hundreds of dollars worth of worthless refrigerated and frozen food, and where to relocate until power is restored.

Mrs. Muley's sister's house, I'm afraid, fared worse. They live in Humble, just north of Houston, and we hear they lost all the big pine trees in their backyard, and had roof damage with rain invading their dining room and upstairs master bedroom. My two nephews stayed there and rode out the storm, so at least they will hopefully be able to do some kind of repair and salvage. But they are without power as well, so it makes it hard to fix food or pass the nights easily.

We have other friends and relatives in the Beaumont-Port Arthur area, which I hear got really drenched with the "dirty side" of the hurricane, but so far we haven't heard through the grapevine yet how everyone made out. They, too, decided to ride out the storm and not evacuate.

I'll post again when I hear more. Tonight, my 12-year-old daughter INSISTS that we go see her newest favorite movie, "Get Smart," with her at the dollar theater, which will be a trial (I hear it's bad), but an easy trial to sit through compared to so much real suffering elsewhere.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Waiting for Ike

If I finish the Branson story, it will have to be later.

Everyone here in Texas -- at least the eastern half of the state -- is waiting for Ike, most with trepidation of varying degrees, some with total indifference. It seems evident at this hour (3 p.m. Friday) that Galveston Island will pretty much be under water before long. As in totally under water.

Mrs. Muley is watching live coverage from one of the Houston television stations, and there is already water in the streets of Kemah, a little town along Galveston Bay near NASA that has an amusement park and boardwalk we have taken our children to.

You would think everyone in Houston would be either gone or trying to get out by now, but my own family proves this idea wrong. Mrs. Muley's sister, her husband and their daughter are here with us in Waco, arriving today. However, their two adult sons decided to ride out the storm at their parents' home in Humble.

My own parents, meanwhile, who tried to evacuate during Rita but met with gridlocked highways and ended up turning back, have strangely decided to stick their head in the ground on this one. They live in Friendswood -- smack between Houston and Galveston -- but even though Mrs. Muley and I have told them that televised reports have repeatedly said Friendswood is under forced evacuation, they maintain that since they have yet to get some sort of automated message on the phone from the city telling them to evacuate, there really is no requirement to leave.

I and Mrs. Muley have both tried to convince them to leave and come stay with us, but it's apparent now this is one of my parents' stubborn quirks that we will not budge. Of course, I know what will happen. They'll come out fine -- maybe a small tree blown down and a little wet carpet -- and they'll tease us forever afterwards about what over-reactors we are.

Anyway, that's the situation here. I'm looking out the window in my new office (we recently were moved to the seventh story of a building overlooking the Brazos River) and the sky is blue with lots of puffy white clouds. I'm betting all we get here is some strong winds, no rain, but we'll see. Pray for all the folks here in Texas who will fare much worse.

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Branson Trip, part one

Well, when it comes to quickness, I might just win a race these days with a slug -- if I cheated by pouring salt on it first, that is. Two weeks late, I finally post.

The Muley family did indeed make it to Branson. Overall, we had a great time, but there were moments and aspects of the trip that made us realize why patience is indeed a virtue.

When leaving Waco the first day, we opted to go the "fast" route (a highly relative term) by heading straight north on Interstate 35 and then U.S. 75 through north Texas and then eastern Oklahoma. Just before you cross into Oklahoma, there is a huge "Texas welcome center" that we always stop at, even though we're really leaving. Most Texas rest stops look like they were built with prison labor and modeled on the prisoners' own toilet facilities, but they do things up right here when they think tourists are coming in ready to blow money. There are lots of shady places to park, and inside are fancy bathrooms, an air-conditioned lobby with soft music playing, and rack after rack containing brochures on every imaginable Texas city and event ("Come to Smithville for Worm Wranglin' Weekend!"). I even thought I saw Miss Texas 2007 passing through with complimentary Lone Star wine and cheese.

But, then it was time to head back in the van and cross the bridge over the muddy Red River into Oklahoma. I know that I don't have the appreciation of Oklahoma that I should have, because the rare times I am in the state are when I'm doing my level best to speed through as quickly as possible on the way to somewhere else. This does not allow for the slow, quiet and searching meandering through scenic spots that causes one to grow to love a place.

If you see Oklahoma only from the highway, it seems as if there are just two important facts about the state: there are lots of Indians living there, and they want your money in the worst way. It hits you not 20 miles across the border in Durant, where you see the huge Choctaw Casino with what appears to be thousands of pickup trucks and campers parked outside of it, and a marquee announcing a future concert by some 50s crooner or 80s heavy metal band.

I counted three different Choctaw Casinos along U.S. 75 as we traveled. The one in Durant was the biggest, and as the towns they were in got smaller, so did the casinos themselves. The final Choctaw Casino I saw was in a little two-pump gas station town, and looked like maybe it was housed in a remodeled 7-11 convenience store.

There were lots of billboards for other temptations like bingo parlors and cheap cigarettes to see along U.S. 75, and what must have been about five thrift stores and flea markets for each small town. However, I was still sad I didn't have time to investigate a bit, because in some of the towns (with really cool Indian names hard to pronounce) I could faintly see blocks away from the highway lakes and trees and the beginnings of hills. But there was no time available in which to explore.

At some point we took a big right turn eastward and headed due east toward Arkansas. After what seemed like forever, we passed through northwest Arkansas, turned north and made it into Branson just before dark (passing about 342 Wal-Marts en route). I'll try to pick up the story in my next post. (We're heading out of town this weekend to attend my 30th high school reunion, so that should make another good post at some time in the future).

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Still Alive, Muley?

Yes, I am still alive. I just have not figured out yet what I want to do with the shriveled, neglected carcass of comedy and culture that Muley's World has become. I waver between jumping in again full-steam or pushing DELETE and sending the whole thing to cyber heaven.

To answer the question I posed in my last post from back in MARCH, the Muley family has decided to return to Branson for our summer vacation. We leave on July 7 and will return on Muley's birthday, July 11. We'll be staying at a hotel-water park combo that is adjacent to Silver Dollar City amusement park, which is where we will spend probably a day and a half. We'll also take the night cruise of the lake on the big paddlewheeler, and have a whole day to just bum around town, eat cobbler and buy garish trinkets. It should be a blast.

Anyway, I've felt so guilty every time I've seen this bookmark come up, knowing that I have this bad penchant for just up and disappearing with no explanation. Even though I've learned over time that this is not uncommon in the blogosphere, I thought I would write a few words here to let you guys know what's up. Maybe all those nights under the Ozark moon next month will give me a better idea of what to do with Muley's World.

In the meantime, I hope all of you and your families are well and having fun this summer. If we can survive this heat, $5 gas and the incessant lunacy that is Election '08, I guess we'll survive anything.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Back to Branson?

Okay, so it's like this. The Muley family (at least, at this point, Muley and Mrs. Muley) is trying to figure out where to go on a family vacation this summer. We had thought about just doing a few weekends close to home, but the more Mrs. Muley and I pondered this, we realized that we won't have too many summers left to travel together with our girls, and that we need to try to take as many trips as possible while our kids still want to go places with us.

Last year, thanks to a generous, unsolicited financial donation from my parents, we were able to splurge and take the girls on their first visit to DisneyWorld, which they absolutely loved. Well, we don't have the financial resources to do that again, so we are thinking a bit more economically. With the increasing expense nowadays of air travel, we want to go somewhere we can drive to instead of fly to. Even though the price of gas is outrageous, it's still somewhat cheaper to drive instead of fly (unless you plan on driving to Cape Horn in South America, which thankfully is not one of our contenders. I hear it is almost impossible to get Dr Pepper down in Argentina).

So, we are at the moment thinking of returning to the vacation oasis of Branson, Missouri. We were just there three years ago, but there are some advantages to returning so soon. First, it's definitely cheaper than DisneyWorld or Colorado or New York City or Hawaii -- some other spots on our ultimate family travel wish list. Second, we can drive there from Waco in a day's time. (That would give our girls a chance to catch up on all their DVD watching in the car). Third, we all had a good time in Branson the last time around, and if we go again this summer we'd be doing things we didn't before, such as possibly going to a huge amusement park and doing some cool stuff on the lakes.

The problem is that as we do some investigating on the Internet, it seems that in the nice places we would want to stay, the cheaper rooms and packages are mostly booked up. (ARGH! What's with these annoying, well-organized early vacation planner types?) We haven't looked very long at this, but hopefully we won't be faced with a choice of staying in a huge multi-bedroom suite in a nice place (and paying through the honker for the privilege) or staying in a budget one-room efficiency in the Ozark Outhouse Motel out beyond the city water treatment plant.

Have any of the three or four regular visitors to this site been to Branson recently? If so, any suggestions?

Monday, March 17, 2008

St. Patrick's Day Jokes

I apologize for being such an unfaithful blogger lately. A lot of strange stuff involving home improvement projects, spring break and injury-inducing neighborhood dogs has taken up my time and kept me from regular computer time. I need to tell some of those stories on a good blog post, but until then, I'll share a few Irish jokes I received from Mrs. Muley today, in honor of St. Patty's

NUMBER ONE

Paddy was driving down the street in a sweat because he had an important meeting and couldn't find a parking place.  Looking up to heaven he said, "Lord take pity on me.  If you find me a parking place I will go to Mass every Sunday for the rest of me life and give up me Irish Whiskey!" 

Miraculously, a parking place appeared. Paddy looked up again and said, "Never mind, I found one."

NUMBER TWO

An Irish priest is driving down to New York and gets stopped for speeding in Connecticut . The state trooper smells alcohol on the priest's breath and then sees an empty wine bottle on the floor of the car. He says, "Sir, have you been drinking?"

"Just water," says the priest. The trooper says, "Then why do I smell wine?"

The priest looks at the bottle and says, "Good Lord! He's done it again!"

NUMBER THREE

Walking into the bar, Mike said to Charlie the bartender, "Pour me a stiff one - just had another fight with the little woman." 

"Oh yeah?" said Charlie, "And how did this one end?"

"When it was over," Mike replied, "She came to me on her hands and knees.

"Really," said Charles, "Now that's a switch! What did she say?" 

She said, "Come out from under the bed, you little chicken."

AND, NUMBER FOUR

Flynn staggered home very late after another evening with his drinking buddy, Paddy. He took off his shoes to avoid waking his wife, Mary. 

He tiptoed as quietly as he could toward the stairs leading to their upstairs bedroom, but misjudged the bottom step. As he caught himself by grabbing the banister, his body swung around and he landed heavily on his rump. A whiskey bottle in each back pocket broke and made the landing especially painful. 

Managing not to yell, Flynn sprung up, pulled down his pants, and looked in the hall mirror to see that his "cheeks" were cut and bleeding. He managed to quietly find a full box of Band-Aids and began putting a Band-Aid as best he could on each place he saw blood. He then hid the now almost empty Band-Aid box and shuffled and stumbled his way to bed. 

In the morning, Flynn woke up with searing pain in both his head and butt and Mary staring at him from across the room. 

She said, "You were drunk again last night weren't you?"

Flynn said, "Why you say such a mean thing?"

"Well," Mary said, "it could be the open front door, it could be the broken glass at the bottom of the stairs, it could be the drops of blood trailing through the house, it could be your bloodshot eyes, but mostly.....it's all those Band-Aids stuck on the hall mirror.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Rejected Valentines

I missed this one yesterday. Here's a few Valentine's Day cards that didn't quite make the cut. I don't know -- I wouldn't have sent any of these, but I know a few of them would probably sell quite well. (PG content rating)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Movie Star Trivia

If you are a fan of movies and Hollywood of days gone by, one of the best time-wasters on the Internet is to visit the Internet Movie Database site. Here you can find seemingly everything you'd ever want to know about every actor, actress or movie that ever existed.

One of my favorite leisure activities is to visit the entry for a movie, actor or actress and click through to the "Trivia" section. You can find some amazing little tidbits you've never heard before. Of course, since I believe that virtually anyone can submit these, I never know for sure if every single "fact" shown is 100 percent true.

Here's just a few of the interesting trivia facts I've found from past trips to IMDB:

Sophia Loren derives great pleasure from rolling her bare feet over a wooden rolling pin while watching TV.

Production of the Tom Hanks movie “Cast Away” was halted for a year so Hanks could lose 50 pounds and grow out his hair for his time spent on the deserted island. During this hiatus, director Robert Zemeckis used the same crew to film “What Lies Beneath” in 2000. It's also interesting to know that actual lines of dialogue were written for" Wilson the Volleyball" in the movie, to help Hanks have a more natural interaction with the inanimate object. Wilson even has his own credit and write-up in IMDB with his own IMDB page, which begins: "Wilson the Volleyball is one of Hollywood's most loved volleyballs."

Don Adams, who played Maxwell Smart on the TV series “Get Smart,” had seven children with first wife Adelaide Adams. One of the kids they named Beige.

While Rhonda Fleming (called “the Queen of Technicolor") was always a competent actress, she was more renowned for her exquisite beauty, and the camera absolutely adored her. At one time a cameraman on one of her films remarked on how he was so struck by her beauty that, as a gag, he intentionally tried to photograph her badly. He was astonished to discover that no matter how deliberately he botched it, she still came out looking ravishing.

Suzanne Pleshette, best known as Bob Newhart's first TV wife, was the producers’ original choice for the role on Catwoman on the "Batman" TV show in 1966. When negotiations broke down, the part went to Julie Newmar, who made it her own.

Slim 1960s fashion model Leslie Hornby was known by a distinctive nickname. She was first nicknamed “Sticks” because of her reed-thin figure, but then switched it to “Twigs” and, finally “Twiggy.” According to “Celebrity Sleuth” magazine, her measurements were 31AA-22-32 at age 17, 32-23-32 during the peak of her 60s modeling career, 32B-24-32 in 1976 at age 27 and 36B-20-33 when measured in 1986.

“Alien” star Sigourney Weaver was born Susan Alexandra Weaver in 1949. Her father, a famous TV producer, originally wanted to name her Flavia, because of his passion for Roman history (he had already named her elder brother Trajan). In grade school, Susan Weaver was quite a bit taller than most of her other classmates (at the age of 13, she was already 5’ 10”), resulting in her constantly being laughed at and picked on. In order to gain their acceptance, she took on the role of class clown. In 1963, she changed her name to “Sigourney” after the character “Sigourney Howard” in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

How to Hula While You Make Moolah

I think it was that eminent philosopher Fonzie who said, "Sit on it and spin!" That might be a good slogan for something called "The Hawaii Chair," which I discovered on a blog somewhere. Check out this YouTube video of what has to be one of the goofiest products ever invented. If you want the sensation of working at your desk during an 8.4 earthquake, then I guess this is for you.



And just what, pray tell, is a "2800 RPM Hula Motor?"

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

My Vinyl Gallery

There is a space between two windows in the Muley back room -- which serves as the office, library and playroom of the Muley house -- that, for the lack of anything more striking, I have made into a rotating exhibit space that might be called "Muley's LP Gallery." I still own hundreds of vinyl LPs from those ancient days before CDs, and so one day I bought a dozen LP frames from a crafts store, arranged them in three rows on the wall, and, "voila!," a gallery was born.

Instead of leaving the same record covers up forever, I decided to rotate them out every now and then for variety's sake. Sometimes they are chosen to match a theme ("Country music," "Standup comedy," "Female balladeers"), and sometimes they are totally random. Here is the gallery that appeared in December 2007 featuring Christmas albums.



Sometime in January, tiring of the cold and bleak winter weather, I took down the Christmas albums and replaced them with ones depicting the warm wahines of sunny Hawaii.



I suspect I am just about the only one who ever notices what records I put up on the wall. My kids think I'm a bit weird and ancient, to begin with, for even owning something as old-fashioned and outdated as LPs. I'm guessing that, to them, I could cut the fronts off of old boxes of cereal and slap them up on the wall and I wouldn't be doing anything any goofier or less visually arresting.

What about other oldtimers such as me? Well, we've had guests in the house for parties, and not once have I ever had anyone comment on the gallery, good or bad. Maybe they're too busy playing the vintage 1980s Nintendo games we have set up in the room (remember "Duck Hunt"?)

To be truthful, I don't really care all that much if no one else notices the LPs. It's sort of like my private Etch-A-Sketch on the wall. I have fun thinking about what theme I'll feature next. After Hawaii, I might do all Beatles albums, or maybe a set of great ol' cheesy 1950s lounge records I bought cheap at the library used book sale. Maybe I'll report back from time to time on what's featured in "the gallery."

Saturday, February 02, 2008

No Anorexic Starlets Here, Please

Ever think about how an illuminated sign's meaning can change significantly with the loss of just one or two letters? Here's the marquee of the local movie theater, seen by the Muley family on their way to dinner tonight:


Does this mean that film celebrities were dining inside our humble theater tonight, scarfing down fried chicken and pizza while they signed autographs? Or does this mean that all of the movies shown at this theater tonight dealt with food, such as "Babette's Feast" or "Super Size Me"?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Never Go to Work

One of my favorite musical groups is They Might Be Giants. The group is two guys who do all sorts of nerdy, intelligent, sometime weird and downright goofy songs that only a complete dweeb like me can relate to. Their only big hit, I believe, was "Birdhouse in Your Soul" a number of years back.

Anyway, I was excited to learn that TMBG is coming out with their first CD of songs written just for kids. They have also done a number of video podcasts to promote the songs. I'd like to share the video they did for their song called "Never Go to Work," teaching kids about the days of the week. It's a catchy tune, and the video is neat. It might take awhile to load, but it's worth the wait.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Stupid Is As Stupid Does –– The Post

I normally don't pass on unsolicited things that get mailed to me in e-mail. Half of them are downright boring, and most of the other half seem to be either scams, pornographic material or things that George Carlin supposedly said that he really didn't say.

But, Mrs. Muley today passed on an e-mail she received that included supposedly true accounts of dumb behavior supplied by people on the Internet. These aren't of the "dumb criminal" variety -- they're more like responses of people to everyday things that are lacking just a little in intelligence.

Whether these are true or not, a few struck me as funny:
"We had to have the garage door repaired. The repairman told us that one of our problems was that we did not have a 'large' enough motor on the opener. I thought for a minute, and said that we had the largest one the manufacturer made at that time, a 1/2 horsepower. He shook his head and said, 'Lady, you need a 1/4 horsepower.' I responded that 1/2 was larger than 1/4. He said, 'NO, it's not.' Four is larger than two.' We haven't used that store's repair service since." 
 
"My daughter and I went through a fast food takeout window and I gave the clerk a $5 bill. Our total was $4.25, so I also handed her a quarter. She said, 'You gave me too much money.' I said, 'Yes I know, but this way you can just give me a dollar bill back.'  She sighed and went to get the manager, who asked me to repeat my request. I did so, and he handed me back the quarter, and said 'We're sorry, but we cannot do that kind of thing.' The clerk then proceeded to give me back $1.75 in change. Do not confuse the clerks."
   
"I live in a semi-rural area. We recently had a new neighbor call the local township administrative office to request the removal of the DEER CROSSING sign on our road. The reason: 'Too many deer are being hit by cars out here! I don't think this is a good place for them to be crossing anymore.'"

"My daughter went to a local fast food Mexican restaurant and ordered a taco. She asked the person behind the counter for 'minimal lettuce.' He said he was sorry, but they only had iceberg lettuce."
 
"I was at the airport, checking in at the gate when an airport employee asked, 'Has anyone put anything in your baggage without your knowledge?' To which I replied, 'If it was without my knowledge, how would I know?' He smiled knowingly and nodded, 'That's why we ask.'"
   
"I work with an individual who plugged her power strip back into itself and for the sake of her life, couldn't understand why her system would not turn on."
 
"When my husband and I arrived at an automobile dealership to pick up our car, we were told the keys had been locked in it. We went to the service department and found a mechanic working feverishly to unlock the driver's side door. As I watched from the passenger side, I instinctively tried the door handle and discovered that it was unlocked. 'Hey,' I announced to the technician, 'it's open!' His reply: 'I know. I already got that side.'"

Monday, January 28, 2008

Gifted and Talented


Muley, circa 1961, completing the reasoning section of the Iowa Basic Skills Test. Results withheld by request of the author.

Friday, January 25, 2008

I'm Now a Tumblelogger

On a whim today, I took a little online discovery and decided to play with it a bit.

By listening to a recent Rocketboom podcast, and then doing a Google search and finding out some additional information, I decided to get in on what's called tumblelogging.

I went to one of the main tumblelogging site providers, Tumblr (sort of like blogger,com for traditional blogging), and within minutes I had set up my free account and designed my own tumblelog. I call it "Chain-link Deja Vu," and it's located here.

What, I hear you ask, is tumblelogging? Well, being fairly ignorant of the finer points (I still have no idea how it got started, or how many people are doing it), I can only give my impressions. From what I see, tumblelogging is designed for people who spend a fair amount of time online and who want to blog, but have very little time in which to do so. Another way I look at it is, it's blogging created by (and viewed by) people who, at least at some point during each day, have ADD-like attention spans.

Now, I still will keep on with Muley's World, this being the place where I will post when I want to really say something, especially when I want feedback from readers. But having a tumblelogging site, I think, won't really compete with Muley's World, but will complement it.

A tumblelogging site, in effect, is an online depository for all those neat or curious little things we find while surfing the Internet. We want to keep that stuff handy somewhere so we can experience it again, and we often want to let other people see it as well. But, we don't necessarily want to sit down and do a big descriptive post and manipulate a lot of screens and HTML language just to do that.

The tumblelogging site has buttons to let you add things such as quotes, pictures, videos, songs, text and even the transcripts of instant message conversations. Here's how it works. You download a little button on your bookmarks bar that says "Share on Tumblr." Then, if you happen to be surfing the Web and come across a neat photo or YouTube video or article, you just hit the "Share on Tumblr" button. You see a little screen come up with the item's URL code already entered. You give it a headline (if you wish) and maybe write a short explanatory description (if you wish), press the button, and it's automatically put on your Tumblr site. When you go later to look, it will be there.

I like quotations, and in Tumblr, all you do is hit the button marked Quotes, type in the quotation text and the name of the author, then send it to your site. It will automatically format it in quotation style for you. Neat.

Tumblelogging seems designed to be very simple, maybe too simple for some tastes. You can't do things like size photos, add tags or change posting dates and times, and there are no mechanisms for you to leave or receive comments, which I think is unfortunate. However, I think there might be a method they have of seeing what other people are "following" your blog, but I haven't investigated that yet.

I'm not sure how often I will use this. It might just be another one of those online nifties that lose their appeal after the newness wears off. But I'll still have a free way to store all my favorite online discoveries in one place, to revisit at my leisure. And that's worth something.

Friday, January 18, 2008

A Smattering of Quotes

"When I was a student, I had two ideas about history, and one of them was that history was about dead men who had done dull things. History was dates and governments and laws and war and money - and dead men. Always dead men.

But I also read historical novels. And I adored them. People in historical novels loved, fought, and struggled to survive. They died violently; they were beset with invaders and famine and plague. They wore splendid clothes or picturesque rags. They performed miracles of courage and strength just to get something to eat. It was from novels that I learned that history was the story of survival: even something that sounded boring, like crop rotation or inheritance law, might be a matter of life and death to a hungry peasant. Novels taught me that history is dramatic. I wanted my students to know that, too."

--Laura Amy Schlitz, from the foreword to her 2008 Newberry Award-winning book Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!

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"... And because in all other monasteries and nunneries all is composed, limited, and regulated by hours, it was decreed that in this new structure there should be neither clock nor dial, but that according to the opportunities and incident occasions, all their hours should be disposed of; for, said Gargantua, the greatest loss of time that I know, is to count the hours. What good comes of it? Nor can there be any greater dotage in the world than for one to guide and direct his courses by the sound of a bell, and not by his own judgment and discretion."

--Rabelais, in Gargantua and Pantagruel

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"There’s no reason to think that reading and writing are about to become extinct, but some sociologists speculate that reading books for pleasure will one day be the province of a special 'reading class,' much as it was before the arrival of mass literacy, in the second half of the 19th century. They warn that it probably won’t regain the prestige of exclusivity; it may just become 'an increasingly arcane hobby.' Such a shift would change the texture of society. If one person decides to watch 'The Sopranos' rather than to read Leonardo Sciascia’s novella To Each His Own, the culture goes on largely as before — both viewer and reader are entertaining themselves while learning something about the Mafia in the bargain. But if, over time, many people choose television over books, then a nation’s conversation with itself is likely to change. A reader learns about the world and imagines it differently from the way a viewer does; according to some experimental psychologists, a reader and a viewer even think differently. If the eclipse of reading continues, the alteration is likely to matter in ways that aren’t foreseeable."

--From "Twilight of the Books," New Yorker, December 24, 2007

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"It has often been said there's so much to be read,
you never can cram all those words in your head.
So the writer who breeds more words than he needs
is making a chore for the reader who reads.
That's why my belief is the briefer the brief is,
the greater the sigh of the reader's relief is."

--Dr. Seuss, aka Theodor Seuss Geisel

Thursday, January 17, 2008

(Don't) Send In the Clowns

Scientists have finally confirmed a suspicion I've had for a long time -- kids don't really like clowns. In fact. I'm not sure who really, truly, enjoys clowns.

Researchers from the University of Sheffield, who were simply trying to figure out ways to improve the decor of hospital children's wards, did a study of 250 hospital patients between the ages of four and 16. What did they find? They discovered that every one of the kids they surveyed -- without exception --- disliked clowns because they were downright scary.

"As adults we make assumptions about what works for children," said Penny Curtis, a senior lecturer in research at the university. "We found that clowns are universally disliked by children. Some found them quite frightening and unknowable."

I have never been a big fan of clowns. I can't remember how I felt about them as a kid, but I know that as an adult, whenever I went to a circus and the clowns came out to do their "comedy" acts, I was bored, just waiting for the next act when the little dogs jump through the hoops wearing tutus.

I got a different view of clowns when we took my oldest daughter to a circus when she was probably four or five. Whenever a brighly-colored and wild-haired clown came near, she began wailing in fright, as if the clown was carrying a bloody knife and was going to start carving on her stomach. I wasn't used to this reaction then, but when I looked around, I noticed other kids were reacting the very same way. Not all of them, but a good number.

My guess is that all of that clown persona -- the technicolor drag queen makeup, the towering orange and red Afros, the wild, ill-fitting clothing, the honking bicycle horns and the squirting carnations -- simply overloads a kid's circuits. I mean, weren't were supposed to be somewhat afraid of or repulsed by the Joker in the Batman cartoons and movies? And what was he if not just another made-up clown?

Of course, maybe my kids are just overly sensitive. Neither one of them would ever let us put them on Santa's lap to get a Christmas photo made -- they were scared of Santa, too. But come to think of it, a guy in a Santa suit is kind of like a clown, just with fewer colors and props to work with. I think many kids perceive a real, live St. Nick as they do a clown -- not as a friendly adult, but as a big, loud, weird-looking stranger. Maybe there's just too much chaos and uncertainty in a concentrated dose coming at a kid to have him react positively to clowns of any stripe.

Now I know that there will probably be reaction from lots of clown-loving adults and kids out there, and if that's how you feel, it's no skin off my big, round, red nose. And in fairness I must include a disclaimer -- I do like the way clowns tie those long balloons into the shapes of animals. That's a valuable skill, I guess, but I'm not sure you need to look like the survivor of an explosion in a paint and wig factory to put it to use.