Monday, October 31, 2011

Insurance Ghost Needed

I wish my house was haunted. 
To be honest, my internal jury is still out on the existence of ghosts.  I mean, I've seen some things in my life that can't be explained away by a mere Jim Beam overindulgence, but I also have doubts. 
However, I'm a horror fiction writer.  A part of me is required to believe.  I'm not sure, but I think it's part of the Horror Fiction Writers Union credo that belief in ghosts, vampires, werewolves, zombies, soulless night walkers, Lindsey Lohan, and other members of the undead is a requirement.  To give in to the notion that beings from beyond the veil don't exist might call into question my integrity as a professional story-maker-upper.
So I'm going to go on the record here and make the bold and firm statement that I believe ghosts might possibly sort-of maybe could theoretically have the opportunity to perhaps exist.  Or not. 
That said, if ghosts do exist, I wish one would set up shop in my residence.
It's not that I relish coming face to face with one of Casper's rogue brethren, or that I desire sleepless nights caused by rattling chains.  The truth is, I'm already awakened nearly every night around 3:15 a.m. by the rattling chains of my dog's collar, because Cree has this deeply-entrenched habit of wanting to go outside and pee on something at exactly that time.  It gives a whole new meaning to the term "wee" hours of the morning.  Midnight is the Witching hour, but for Cree, 3:15 a.m. is the Whizzing hour.
My reason for wanting a manifestation infestation is to combat the effects of old age.
Here's what I mean:
I find that some of my personal belongings occasionally become misplaced.  Keys, pens, sticky notes, a wallet...these are just a few of the things that I sometimes have difficulty locating.
Because I've been on the planet more than half a century, I'm concerned that those misplaced gadgets could be attributed to my aging, forgetful mind.  It's not an alternative I like to consider.  It would be much better if I had someone or something else to blame.
Before I got married, missing items such as these were easily chalked up to the reference I made earlier about Mr. Beam.  After a night at the bar (I used to be a performing musician), it would be a completely reasonable claim that the bourbon was responsible for my missing keys, missing wallet, or missing car.
Then I got married.  One of the advantages to having small children in the house is that they are easy to accuse for objects that have gone AWOL.  For starters, they usually did it.  And even when they didn't, the precedent has been established, which as any good lawyer will tell you is almost as good as actual evidence or confessions.
Now that the kids are all grown, it's tougher to hang missing goods at their doorstep. 
So who do I blame today when I can't find my iPhone, or my toenail clippers go missing?
If I had a good, legitimate ghost to blame, I would feel a lot better. 
I could also pawn off other inconveniences on such an entity.
For example, I have left my desk in the morning with a stack of 20 papers on it, only to return in the afternoon to find 40 pages there. 
The papers on my desk seem to be multiplying like uncaged rabbits that have nibbled through someone's Viagra garden.
My desk is always a mess, always overrun with books, boxes, paper, pens, and unencumbered office supplies, even after I just finished cleaning it.
I wanted to blame alien civil servants, figuring they were likely candidates to be so obsessed with paperwork that they would come to Earth and inundate an innocent piece of furniture with their paper mill excrement of forms, instructions, and reminders.
Then I remembered that I don't believe in aliens.
It would be much easier if I could claim that the office in my house is haunted by the ghost of a former insurance agent.  I've been in that business, so I know how enamored those in the indemnity industry can be with higher and higher piles of paper.  In fact, I was in the insurance business back when computers were really taking over and the term "paperless office" became a popular catchphrase.  What I remember best about those times was the fact that the volume of printed materials actually quadrupled under the "paperless" mantra.  (It wasn't the computer's fault; the PC's evil cousin, The Printer, was to blame.)
An insurance agent ghost would also be a genuine explanation for misplaced items.  Whenever my favorite pen isn't on my nightstand where I insist I left it, I could blame the Prudential poltergeist for moving it when the pen turns up on the living room end table the next day.
In a perfect world, the Allstate apparition would be married for time and eternity to an expired laundress, which would explain the thousands of right socks and monogrammed handkerchiefs that have gone missing from our dryer over the last 10 years.
Unfortunately, one of the disadvantages to living in a newer house devoid of ghastly histories involving murder and mayhem is that I can't conjure up tales of headless John Hancock agents wandering the hallway in possession of my always-absent scissors.
So for now I'll have to continue finding new and creative ways of blaming the dog whenever things go missing from my desk, a claim that will have little credence until the next time I find my keys near a wet spot on the lawn at 3:15 a.m.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Kutcher Whining Typical Of Fame Whores

One of the things you've got to love about celebrities is how they complain about the media. 
The latest whiner is Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore's boy toy.
He has recently taken to the internet to claim that the media needs to work harder to confirm their stories and to be more honest in their reporting.
This comes after reports that he and Demi are on the outs, and further allegations that he slept with a girl on his 6-year wedding anniversary that not only wasn't his 48 year old wife, but also wasn't even half his wife's age.
Any time a Hollywood celebrity complains about how he or she is treated by the media, I can't help but crack up.
Before they are famous, so many of these untalented wannabes hump the leg of every photog in Southern California in hopes that their face will show up in one of the celeb-rags.  They will do just about anything to gain a little bit of press, including marrying someone who happens to be just a few years younger than their own mom.
You'll find these fame whores having animated conversations with restaurant doors just because they see the word "press" next to the handle.  (They never have anything to say to the side of the door that says "pull.")
On the rise, their reps set up interviews and meetings with anyone who even remotely resembles a reporter, which is how so many up and coming stars wind up visiting homeless shelters on a regular basis.  (In Hollywood, as in most places, there isn't a big difference in appearance between a freelance paparazzi and a street beggar.  For that matter, there isn't a big difference in conduct, either.)
Once these scumbags (the rising stars, not the reporters) achieve a certain level of fame, made possible only because those paps snapped plenty of pictures and gave plenty of exposure, they suddenly begin treating the photogs like rabid lepers.  They save their choicest insults, and occasionally their best umbrella beatings for the reporters that helped them get where they are.
Then when these Hollywood slugs (still talking about the rising stars) break through to legitimate stardom, they all become Marcel Marceau when on the streets, offering silence and occasional pantomimed finger gestures to the flash-photography flock.
Finally, the anointed ones do what all Hollywood trash heaps do - they eventually mess up in a big way, like sleeping with a Highland Park transvestite hooker, or showing up to a gala function sans their Victoria Secrets.
Or sleeping with a 22-year-old bimbette on their anniversary.
When that happens, the celeb hogs who just weeks before were bragging about how many hundreds of thousands of followers they have on Twitter pull a Dick Cheney, going so far underground that steam shovel-equipped prairie dogs couldn't reach them.  All of a sudden they're not giving interviews, not taking calls from legitimate media trying to find the truth, not addressing allegations in press releases, and avoiding getting their pictures taken as if their latest gig was on "To Catch A Predator."
With that news blackout from the fame whore, the paparazzi and press are left with no alternative but to talk to other people, like the bimbette, the bimbette's dry cleaners, the fame whore's former stylist, and anybody else willing to do what the former glory hound will no longer do - talk.
Obviously, a reasonable person who has anything resembling a real life would ask "who cares about who so-and-so shtupped?"
Except, the answer is "almost everybody!" 
People are so fed up with the lies and spin printed in "legitimate" media about the latest Congressional inaction, and the deeply slanted partisan rhetoric that now passes for "news," that they don't even bother to pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV news anymore. If they're going to hear untruths and fabrications anyway, I guess readers figure it might as well be salacious and feature names they recognize and can pronounce involving places they can actually find on a map.
In the case of Kutcher and his ilk, the paparazzi and credible reporters have done such a good job over the years of building up the celeb to demigod status that they've created a national appetite to know everything about that person.  Including their fallacies and weaknesses.
So the celeb goes silent when trouble hits, then wants to complain when the press prints stories that the celeb didn't sanction or spin.  They spout snarky little snippets on their Facebook accounts, then bitch when their cryptic messages gets turned into something they didn't want and can't control.
I guess one of the reasons I love these melodramas so much is that this tabloid fare is, sadly, the last bastion of pure journalism.  No matter how rich, how famous, how powerful a celebrity might be, it won't stop the minimum-wage Canon jockey from spilling the beans on the front page of the National Enquirer.  Unlike "legitimate" media whose silence can be purchased with a full-page ad by a wealthy oil company, the tabloids have no fear in pursuing and printing the story.  They can't be bought off, and they aren't intimidated by someone's status or their lineup of high-powered attorneys.
So the celebrity goes down in flames while insisting their privacy has been violated.  A celebrity that was created and vaunted by the same people that eventually brought balance back to the world by telling the smelly truth about just how scummy these demigods are.
In Hollywood, it's simply the circle of life.
No matter what Ashton Kutcher may Tweet.

Monday, October 17, 2011

I Want Jon Stewart's Slacker Schedule

The Daily Show's Jon
Stewart has more days
off than an air conditioner
in Anchorage.
I'm a big fan of Jon Stewart, the host of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."  I'm not bothered by his left-leaning approach to news or humor.
What I am bothered by is his work schedule.
It seems he is doing his best these days to embody and confirm allegations by F0x and the GOP (which are one and the same) that anyone who doesn't wear a red pachyderm on his underwear is a lazy slacker.
To say that Jon Stewart takes a lot of days off is like saying that a contestant on "The Biggest Loser" occasionally eats food.
Stewart gets more days off every year than a California school teacher (with or without government shutdowns), and almost as many days off annually as George W. Bush did during his presidency.
The jury is still out on which guy takes more mid-day naps, as it's a carefully guarded statistic protected by the Secret Service.
For starters, Stewart's show only airs four days a week.  On the fifth day, he's a re-run.
To be honest, I'm a little bit jealous that I didn't think of this idea when I was a newspaper editor.  Had I been a little smarter, I would have made myself a re-run once a week.  The previous week's car crash or house fire would have gotten an "encore" in Monday's online front page.
But I can live with Stewart's four-day work week.  The day off gives me a chance to see what else passes for comedy on the inaptly named Comedy Central network.  So far, videos of skateboarders taking crotch shots on stairway banisters or grandma losing her underwear at her grandson's wedding reception qualify as high-brow humor on Tosh.0 and similar CC offerings.
Yes, you just can't beat cutting edge humor honed in the crucible of Dick Clark and Ed McMahon's "TV Bloopers and Practical Jokes" circa 1982.
However, it's not just Stewart's short work week that irks me.
It's the fact that he takes more vacations than a travel reporter for Conde Nast.
There are unemployed people who work more than Stewart and his crew.
I'm pretty sure the human resources office at the Daily Show studio plans his work schedule like this:  4th of July = week off.  Easter = week off.  Groundhog Day = week off.  Rosh Hashana = week off.  Arbor Day = week off.  If there is a traditional holiday, whether Jewish, Christian, or secular, Stewart doesn't take that day off.  He takes that entire week off.
Then at the end of the year, he's like a civil servant who's accrued too many unused sick days, taking the last two weeks off like he's going to lose them if he doesn't use them.
It would probably be easier to just figure out which days he DOES work, circle them in red on the calendar, and decorate the office accordingly.
"Jon's gonna be here today!  Hooray!"
Newsman Walter Cronkite has been dead for two years, and he STILL has a busier broadcast schedule than Stewart.
He should be embarrassed that Osama bin Laden showed up on TV more frequently while in hiding than the Daily Show host.
To his credit, when he does appear, Stewart is nothing short of brilliant.  Sometimes I wonder if he is the illegitimate result of Nobel Prize winner Henry Kissinger sleeping with Lucille Ball. 
When Stewart interviews authors, diplomats, or presidential candidates, he's adept and learned.  When facing off with vapid Hollywood stars hawking their latest movie, he's funny and quick, able to elevate the IQ points in a room with little more than a raised eyebrow.
Only in my wildest non-sexual fantasies could I ever get anywhere close to being as smart as he is.
I just wish he could figure out how a calendar operates.
Every time I turn on the TV and tune in to Comedy Central in anticipation of getting my nightly news fix, I'm never sure if it's going to be Stewart at his topically comedic best, or a rerun of dated zingers about that nutty President Clinton's latest sexcapade because Stewart was on another vacation for National Jelly Bean Day.
He could be the spokesperson for an old recording tape company, because with Stewart you never know "is it live, or is it Memorex?"
It's indicative of today's America, where some people have to work 50 hours a week at hard, physically demanding jobs just to make enough to scrape by while others get paid millions to sit behind a desk and crack jokes.  The higher you go up the socio-economic ladder, the less you work and the more you get paid for it.
But I guess it could be worse.
Stewart could be Bill Maher, the host of HBO's "Real Time," where Maher spends an hour on TV once a week for about 26 weeks a year doing basically the same thing that Stewart does.
Once again, it just makes me wish I was funnier or smarter.  Someday I'd like to be good enough that I only have to work one day a year and still be known and loved the world over.
Unfortunately, that job is filled until the next time the guy slides off Tim Allen's roof.
If that ever happens, one thing you can count on: Jon Stewart will be off that week.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Stay Away From Las Vegas

 The famed slogan for Sin City is "What happens here, stays here."

What the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority fails to tell visitors from Des Moines is the reason that it "stays here."
It's because whatever happens here stays stuck on the freeway.
Prepare yourself for a hot news flash.
There's road construction on I-15 going on right now in Las Vegas.
Even if you're reading this missive online in 2019, the statement remains as true as it is here in 2011.
The reason someone reading this in Pascagoula won't find this funny is the part that the tourism board never mentions in their four-color brochures:
There is ALWAYS road construction on I-15 in Las Vegas.
Wait, let me rephrase that:
There are always barricades, orange barrels, orange cones, orange signs that say "Road Work Ahead," and flashing signs that read "No, seriously, there's road work ahead, honest"; detours that dead-end at empty shopping malls; and even the occasional pileup of earth moving equipment and paving machinery on a gravelly shoulder.
To be honest, I go to Vegas about once a month to deliver some poor unfortunate rural dweller to McCarron Airport (which has its own half-mile tunnel leading to the terminal that has been under constant repair since about 15 minutes after it opened.  I haven't been able to confirm the likely rumor that the project was actually the defect-prone model for Boston's Big Dig).
During these semi-monthly trips along I-15 over the last eight years, I've yet to see an actual construction worker doing anything on the other side of those orange barrels, cones, and signs.  I'm pretty sure the Audobon Society has an entire page devoted to the rarely seen "Orange Vested Reflective Striped Hardhatted Pavement Layer" that is rumored to visit a construction site in Vegas almost as often as cicadas make an appearance above ground.
There have been more verified sightings of Bigfoot than reports of someone actually working on a Las Vegas highway.
So as a public service, I'm warning out of state visitors to avoid coming to Las Vegas, unless you're flying in.  Customers with United, Delta, and American Airlines have already endured endless holdups and delays involved in getting on an airplane these days, including repeated security stops, crotch grabs, wanding, more I.D. checkpoints than an Iraqi Green Zone, and the incessant "did you pack your own bag?" question that outstrips in frequency and annoyance a three-year-old's fascination with saying "Mommy" 87 times in a row every 60 seconds.  Sitting at a dead stop for hours on a six-lane highway where signs saying "Speed Limit 65" will taunt you every 12 feet probably won't be much of a change from the torture of air travel. 
For such visitors, I strongly recommend taking a taxi from the airport to your hotel.  You'll still wind up stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, ensuring that a six mile trip will take 90 minutes.  However, you won't be the one wearing out your horn hand and middle finger (both of which you'll need at the slot machines and craps tables).
To the rest of the country thinking about driving to Las Vegas, I would recommend against it.  Goodness knows we need the tourism dollars, but my conscience won't allow me to encourage anyone to endure the Las Vegas equivalent of Chinese water torture, which is the technique of stranding visitors on I-15 near exit 46 where you can see the glittering Strip hotel that holds your reservation, but you simply cannot get to it.
Instead, if you really feel compelled to taste of the Las Vegas experience, do this:  Head to your bank and cash your most recent paycheck.  Then take your car to the nearest shopping center and park in the busiest section, but leave your car running.  Get out and place a shopping cart behind you so you aren't tempted to drive away after being stuck for two hours.  Roll up all your windows and turn on your heater to full, or until the thing conks out (which is what most air conditioners do on the Vegas interstate after sitting still in the passing lane for three hours at a throw).
While you're waiting, take out your stack of money and a quarter.  Flip the quarter.  If it comes up heads, put some of your money on the empty passenger seat.  If it comes up tails, put the money on the dash.  Repeat 217 times, then take the pile of cash off the passenger seat, stick it into an envelope and mail it to me in care of this website.
Include an extra $10 and I'll send you back a stack of losing Keno slips and a tall plastic cocktail container labeled "Fremont Street" that's used and empty, complete with a circle of dried foam at the top marking how full the thing once was.  That way you'll have "proof" you can show your friends of all the fun you had visiting Sin City, and the empty pockets to back up your story.
If you enjoy this experience, ask about our special "Atlantic City" package, which includes all of the above plus we'll send a meth addict to your house to "trow you a good beatin'" and a homeless guy to whiz on your front steps, just so you get the realistic feel of a day near the boardwalk.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Words We're No Longer Allowed To Use

As a writer, I would like to kick President Barack Obama's butt.
Before the guys with the dark suits and cufflink microphones show up at my door to have a conversation about the idiotic notion that the above statement in any way represents a threat, let me explain.
I'm not mad at Obama for the same reasons that most people in my community and on Fox News are mad at him; namely, for the unforgivable sin of not being a Republican.
I'm mad at him because he has stolen a couple of items out of my toolbox.
Back in the 1970's, George Carlin made famous the list of "seven words you can never say on television."
Today, censors now must add two more words to that list.
"Hope" and "change."
I'm a writer.  My livelihood depends on my ability to use words.  Because of Obama's actions, or inactions, these one-word phrases can no longer be stocked in my professional toolbox.
Back in 2008, he damn near wore those two words out, so they were already about as useful in my trade as a tape measure with the numbers rubbed off, or a socket wrench with the ratchets all stripped.
Since we're currently on the cusp of another presidential campaign season, the two words are now all but banished from the American lexicon.
Don't take my word for it, go straight to the horse's mouth.
When was the last time you heard the president use either word in public?  Three years ago, you would have thought that he invented the terms.  Today, if someone handed him a baby with a smelly diaper, he would say that the baby needed to be "re-diapered."  No way would he use the "c" word, even in that context.
As for the other word, even farmers have taken to uttering "I'm looking forward to the next instance of atmospheric irrigational precipitation" instead of daring to say "hope it rains soon."
I miss "hope."  In the etymological armory, there simply isn't an adequate replacement.  The word is just so darn...hopeful. 
Now, "hope" is the new communism.  If I dare to use it in any op-ed piece, I'll be branded a Socialist and Obama sympathizer faster than you can say "Joseph McCarthy."  Paroled pedophiles get better treatment than anyone who refers to the "h" word in this day and age.
As for "change," the only time I can almost get away with using the term is if I'm writing about the money I get back after handing over a dollar for my 99-cent McDouble.
Even the plastic change banks sold at dollar stores are now referred to as "money sorters."
I guess I shouldn't carp too much.  In exchange for those now-verboten terms, Obama and his detractors have given us some new ones.
For example, I can't turn on a television these days without hearing about "class warfare."
Suggesting something as outrageous as the notion that billionaires should pay the same income tax rate as the guy who scrubs truck stop toilets for a living has been deemed "class warfare."  Ditto for hinting that the same guy should get back any of the money he's been giving to the government over the last 40 years when he retires.  If you listen to the new way of thinking, that guy should have been studying and investing in the stock market during the previous four decades instead of sponging up errant pee. 
Had he done so, I doubt the eggheads and investment bankers have any clue how that excess excretion would have been taken care of over the last two generations, but I'm sure the answer would involve some sort of government-funded research grant.
In his upcoming re-election bid, I'm counting on Obama to come up with some spiffy new words to refill the trough.  But he needs to be careful and select terms that aren't too controversial, or too difficult to comprehend or spell.
Otherwise, the words might wind up being debated and dissected in high schools and college campuses all over America.
And as the Republicans keep telling us, the last thing this country needs is class warfare.