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Friday, December 31, 2010

Today On New Year's Eve ...

Well ... 2010 is coming to a close. My wall calendar says so. My friends arranging their big New Year's Eve bashes say so. And watching "Rudolph's Shiny New Year" with all its clay-mation goodness really hammered the point home.

I have two parties to attend this year which should be great fun. I will drink at neither of them because I like keeping a clear head ... makes it easier to take pics with my cell phone of all the embarrassing stuff my friends do. Great blackmail material, too, for when I need a ride to the airport or someone to check on my cat when I take a vacation!!

Anyway, New Year's Eve is often a time of dicey weather and other people making poor decisions and I want to avoid that "stuff" at all costs.

Whenever I'm getting ready for NYE festivities, I always reminisce about my second cousin Reggie who is a laboratory tech at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore. He and I aren't super close, but I find his job incredibly interesting. And when he comes back to Ohio to visit, he has the best stories. And by "best" I mean some of the most wicked cautionary tales imaginable.

Reggie has worked the past three consecutive New Year's Eves. And he has been called down to the ER to collect blood and specimens for a variety of patients. Traffic accidents are by far the most prevalent thing he has mentioned, but there have even been a few incidents where people ... usually intoxicated ... have been walking home from a party or putting some distance between themselves and an argumentative spouse or significant other and stepped out into traffic without even looking.

Then there are "party accidents" ... standard and strange. Food and alcohol poisoning cases are common, as are cuts, scrapes, sprains, and bone breaks from falls and slips. House fires are a big concern because many people have candles and fireplaces going to provide added ambiance. Even outdoor bonfires can be problematic if people are horsing around or if the blaze is too close to a structure or other flammable materials. But Reggie has also retold some crazy-ass stories ... like the guy who set off an entire box of fireworks inside his small attached garage and suffered burns on his arms and face. Or the young lady who rode a kid's Big Wheel down a flight of stairs and straight through a plate glass window. Or the college guys who got wasted and then decided to build a quick plywood ramp to attempt jumping over a car with a dirt bike.

And then there are the sex stories. My God, why does December 31st and alcohol give human genitals the ability to take over the Homo sapien brain and make the body do truly idiotic things? I'll skip the details, but carrots, jet nozzles on hot tubs, latex body paint, oddly-shaped wine bottles, jumper cables, and blow-up dolls are just a few of the discarded "props" my cousin has seen accompanying a New Year's Eve patient. And there are always attending physicians, paramedics, and firefighters standing around barely able to keep a straight face!!

POINT OF RANT: Please people ... be safe!! And let's hope 2011 is the best year ever!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Today In The Classifieds ...

With the new year approaching, my mind always turns to dreams of a "better" job. I like what I do, just not who I do it for. And more money and better benefits would be a welcome addition to the workplace mix.

But when I think back, I was never one of those teenagers who dreamed of having an exotic profession ... or a frantic kid who wanted to be a cowboy one minute and an astronaut five seconds later. I think I took a practical approach to career planning. I was never a strong swimmer, so a marine biologist or lifeguard were never solid job options. I also never really enjoyed animals or plants growing up so veterinarian science and botany were out. I loved riding go carts and going really fast like a race car driver but I never wanted to be one ... the insurance premiums would suck! Likewise, I loved roller coasters, but never EVER considered becoming a structural engineer. Or a carnival worker!

When I was about 11, I read an Avengers comic book and developed a boy crush on a character named Hank Pym. At the time, he called himself "Goliath" and could grow to giant proportions. He was a big kid ... like me! But although Hank made a great hero, he was a scientist at heart and often solved the problem at hand with good old-fashioned brainpower. His ordinary job title was "biochemist" so that was what I was going to be.

So for several years, I studied chemistry, physics, biology, anatomy and physiology, and every science the public schools had to offer. I even convinced my parents to send me to "Science Camp" at a nearby college two summers in a row to add to my range of "biochemical" experiences. And it couldn't have been cheap!!

But then at the end of my sophomore year I took a high school drawing class to fulfil a graduation requirement. I had always liked art and my mother, although completely self-taught, was a gifted sketcher and painter. As a child, I was always messing with paints and crayons and chalks. That first class proved to be an awakening. It was like one side of my brain ... the left side believed to be in a dominant position for the logic and calculating skills involved in mathematics and the sciences ... tightened up and the other hemisphere ... the right side linked to the creativity and spatial abilities at the heart of the arts and music ... blossomed open.

So for me, the next two years were crammed with every drawing, painting, pottery, computer art, and printmaking course I could squeeze in. And I began assembling a portfolio. Looking back I realize my work was minor ... pitiful in some respects. And I applied to some prestigious art schools who must have LOLed at my entrance submissions. But regardless, the creative shift encouraged me to attend a decent state university and gain solid design skills and aptitudes that pushed me toward the fields of advertising and marketing.

I remember sending my first college application away and my Mom saying how she wasn't surprised at all that I had chosen to study design. "You were always my most creative kid," she said to me privately. "When you were all little, the other three loved to watch TV but would run around during commercials and get snacks and use the bathroom. But you ... YOU never gave TV a second look until the commercials started. Then you plopped yourself on the floor and told all the other kids to shut up!!"

POINT OF RANT: I still would have made a great scientist!!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Today In My Living Room ...

When I get home from work, I have several "rituals" I go through. First I take off my shoes and luxuriate in the spreading of my toes as far apart as they will possibly go. Then I open up a fresh can of Mountain Dew, savoring the heady aroma of sugar, lime, and bubbles. Then it's comfortable clothes and a search for a hockey battle or college basketball game.

This time of year, plugging in my Christmas tree joins the list of "must dos." Sometimes I get captivated by the sparkling lights and ornaments that hold all sorts of special memories and meaning. I just stand there for seconds or minutes, mesmerized into immobility.

To be entirely honest, I'm sort of an ornament addict. I have lights, ribbon, ornaments, and tree skirts for approximately eight or nine trees. As a teenager, I had my own tree in my bedroom ... a four-foot garage sale find. I used every spare cent I had to create that first tree ... blue lights, dark blue velvet bows, variegated bulbs that simulated the feathers of a blue jay, and even an old-style St. Nicolas in regal midnight blue robes. I slept with that tree lit up from Black Friday until January 3.

Later years allowed me to develop other color themes that I still pull out from time to time ... cranberry, rust, and copper; lilac and silver; and red and black.

Then came the stars ... metal, fabric, ceramic, glass, wood, etc. Some were Native American inspired with woven wire and glass beads. Others were artsy, crafted from colored glass or cloisonne techniques. And still others were various cookie cutters and found star-shaped objects co-opted into being tree decorations. Still one of my favorite themes.

In 2006, purely by accident, I developed an obsession for Hallmark ornaments. I needed a last-minute greeting card and wandered into a nearby Hallmark outlet and past its ornament display. My God ... Disney characters, classic cartoon favorites, iconic toys and images, super heroes, Star Trek vessels, and so much more. I spent hundreds. And I STILL have "to get" lists for some of their 2008 and 2009 items I just couldn't swing. Christmas 2008 I bit the bullet and purchased a new six-foot, pre-lit, artificial blue spruce tree. It was truly resplendent in all it's three-year-build-up Hallmark regalia. Buzz Lightyear hanging beside Wonder Woman ... Ursula from "Little Mermaid" perched on the same branch as the Mystery Machine van. Sylvester eying the balancing fish on a Cat-In-The-Hat ornament. The combinations were exhilarating.

Wacky is the best word to sum up my 2009 tree. If it was lime green or had feathers or reminded me or circus soleil, then it ended up on my tree. I had pink pinwheels, purple metal springs, aquamarine bulbs, ostrich plumes, and elongated figures that looked like residents of Whoville. It was weird and an eyesore and I loved it!!

This year, I settled for bulbs. Hundreds of bulbs ... all colors and all shapes. It is surprisingly elegant. Not really me at all. Oh well ... in another two weeks it will join the ranks of all the other carefully-labelled totes I have in storage. Just a colorful memory.

POINT OF RANT: Any ideas for 2011?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Today In The Break Room ...

Friday was our office Christmas party. The place doesn’t really embrace frivolity, so getting a potluck AND a Secret Santa exchange was a real accomplishment. I brought in my “cherried” meatballsdidn’t have so much as a scrap or red, spicy pork left to take home. In the gift exchange, I got a nice big coffee mug … deep blue … with several coffees and cocoas, as well as a $10 gift card to Caribou Coffee … my favorite java spot.

The gathering was nice and calm, full of good conversation and quiet good cheer. What really would have livened things up was a big honkin’ White Elephant!!

A few jobs ago, the company that I worked at had about 25 employees and each Christmas they looked forward to the White Elephant exchange. Now, some of you may know it by other names … like a "Yankee Swap" … but essentially, you bring in a gift … unisex if possible … in the allotted price range with a “from _____” card INSIDE the wrapping. Each participant draws a number. The first person … No. 1 … goes up to the gift table and selects a gift. If everyone is in the spirit of the Elephant, then some packages are super elegant … big bows and fancy foiled wrapping paper. Other gifts are wrapped or enshrouded in a deliberately shabby manner to throw off the participants as to what “treasures” might be hidden inside.

Then the individual with #2 has the option of selecting a gift from the remaining pile or “stealing” the gift from another participant. This continues all the way through the numbers, and then No. 1 is given a last chance … keep the gift they have or steal another, which sometimes is their original selection. It is a microcosm of social dynamics to watch grown business professionals plan and connive and viciously steal from their office “enemies” and get easily distracted by shiny “baubles.” It really is fun. I hear that some variations of the game have people unwrapping their gifts as they go so that others see what they want to steal, or even a full second "round" of theft.

My best year was when I went to Goodwill and bought this terribly beaten up suitcase. It looked like the hinges were barely attached. On the outside I put a beautiful chocolate brown bow. And inside, just barely fitting, I placed Uno Attack … a wonderful game. Anyway, the “packaging” for my offering was so offputting that several people decided it must contain a gem of a gift so it got stolen a lot. That same year, I got a $20 gift card to Olive Garden and a nice spaghetti measuring gizmo. A good year all around.

POINT OF RANT: Peace and goodwill … no way, Christmas brings out the baser instincts in mankind and boy is it fun to sit back and watch!!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Today In The Candy Aisle ...

I'm going to the movies tonight and that means all my ninja stealth will be needed, as well as my brain's latent criminal tendencies. It also predisposes that I'll be wearing cargo pants ... not always fashionable but a necessity for the type of "caper" I'm about to pull off.

See, at the core of my being I'm a cheap bastard. I simply refuse to pay $3.50 for something that retails for "two for a buck" at the nearest "dollar store." Yes, I'm no better than a profiteering coyote at the U.S.-Mexican border. But instead of assisting any of the more than 500,000 estimated illegal immigrants who make that jaunt annually, I'm helping ounce after ounce (caution: this product may settle after shipment) of lemony goodness go from box to belly without the theatre ushers being any the wiser.

Yes, fine citizens ... I'm talking about the smuggling of Lemonheads.

In the early '60s, execs at the Ferrara Pan Candy Company were in a lather. The company's signature confection ... Red Hots ... had the collective gastrointestinal attention of the country. But not everyone liked "spicy candy," so in 1962 company formulators decided to create a sour citrus nugget using the same "panned process" that builds candy from a central piece with careful layers of flavor and texture. Today, Ferrera Pan produces HALF A BILLION Lemonheads to meet demand.

Some conspiracy theorists ... well, just me actually ... believe that Lemonheads are the result of a secret government experiment where aggressive killer bees were given a diet of pure sugar cane and unrefined carnauba wax and then doused with heavy squirts of Lemon Pledge (SC Johnson, a family company). Regardless, when I was a child I received a small box of the little yellow pellets in my Halloween take. I popped some of that "waxy sunshine" into my mouth and soon my smile was as big as the little Lemonhead dude used in the company's packaging and promotions.

And not only have Lemonheads forced me to turn to larceny and deception ... the little balls of cheek-aching sweetness have caused me to occasionally abandon monogamy for a wanton lifestyle of candy debauchery. I confess that I have cheated with Orangeheads on occasion. I have given in to desire and had dalliances with dark and seductive Grapeheads. And though I am ashamed to admit it, I have even greeted a new day with Appleheads on my breath ... knowing that a loyal and trusting box of Lemonheads sits 20 feet away in a cubboard. Oh, the shame!!

POINT OF RANT: I'm not the only criminal in this story. A two-liter bottle (roughly 64 fl. oz.) of Pepsi is about $1.50 at the market. A large soda at the movies (usually a 30-32 fl. oz. range) is $4 or more. That's more than a 430 percent mark-up!!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Today In My Hippocampus ...

The hippocampus is a portion of the brain that is integral to memory. And today ... December 8 ... is a day that sticks out in my recollections like a sore thumb. Actually, it's more like a sore thumb being forced into my eye while someone kicks me in the balls!

Years ago, on this date, I started a new job and I was probably as professionally excited as I have ever been. The interviewing process had been grueling ... four separate meetings and one two-hour aptitude testing session. But I had met the lady who would be my immediate supervisor early in the process and she was wonderful. Funny ... experienced ... creative ... warm ... logical ... innovative ... and a firm believer in mentoring. When I got the call offering me the position, she sounded so pleased. I almost leaped through the phone to kiss her.

So shiny like a new penny, I arrived 20 minutes early for my first day. I wanted to dig in and make a great impression. I was told by a dowdy assistant that "the boss" decided to stay home until after lunch, but she left me instructions. I was handed a crisp, very light file folder. Inside was a single purple lined Post-It ... "count paperclips or something ... just stay out of trouble." I still have it!!

So after more than four hours of doing basically nothing, the "supervisor of my dreams" rolls through the door like a thunderhead ... pure sound, lightning, and fury. She fired off demands and threw her coat onto a rack. She missed and the assistant scrambled to place it appropriately. This woman I admired didn't even look the same ... she was all harsh planes and somber colors. Any hope of co-existing, let along enjoying my work, was dashed by 4 p.m.

So for five months I toiled under this dictator with a vagina. And every day just gor incrementally worse. She barked when she spoke and never offered a single constructive criticism. She devalued my opinions and previous experience, making me always "check" myself and crippling my desire to offer input on team projects. She was fickle and mean-spirited and constantly late for appointments. And somehow ... in her way of thinking ... her tardiness was always "explained" through the incompetence of myself or another departmental staff member.

One day, the she-devil, two other employees, and I were heading across the parking lot to our cars to attend an off-site meeting. About halfway to our vehicles, the boss stopped and announced that her husband had been transferred to Kansas City and she would be leaving in three weeks.

I was stunned. Shocked. Relieved. "Happy" does not say enough.

Apparently, I had fell into a pleasant stupor ... because suddenly a co-worker was shaking me. "Hey ... what's wrong?" she said, looking very concerned. "You just stopped moving and glazed over. What can I do to help?"

I just smiled. "Back up," I prompted, "I need room for a cartwheel!!"

POINT OF RANT: In a positive way, bad bosses have made me a better supervisor.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Today In A Lobby ...

I had a meeting downtown this afternoon. Traffic was heavy and pedestrian traffic near my destination was even worse. I finally made it to the office complex I was aiming for and decided to relax a few moments in the lobby before ascending the elevator for a very cut-and-dried appointment with a friendly client.
While I sat in a comfortable chair looking over some notes, a "ding" noise caught my attention and a few people were discharged into the lobby. A man and a women ... he with a briefcase and she laden with papers and an attache and what looked like a tube of blueprints or other rolled documents ... strode purposefully toward the entry doors. He arrived first and barreled through. The door snapped back briskly, actually clipping the female in the shoulder causing her burden to slip from her arms and somewhat scatter on the atrium floor. Another woman who was standing nearby stooped to help the frazzled female collect her things.

A just sat and shook my head, reminded once more that "modern man" was steadily losing ground in the battle to maintain basic civility. Some people call it "etiquette" or "politeness." Others cloak their desires in little reminders like "mind your P's and Q's." My parents called it manners and decency. And, boy, were they right in demanding that we learn to respect people and our social surroundings.

In psychological terms, manners are norms of behavior in a society. They're kind of like social "laws," but instead of going to prison for breaking them you might just be made to feel awkward or unwanted or even ostracized. I know many a person who has started a family feud or lost a friend over poor manners.

As I waited for my meeting, I thought about all the "basics" my parents had impressed on me and my siblings. My Mom had a "Please and Thank You" song we sang when setting the table as a fun reminder to use those phrases appropriately and frequently. We were also trained to wash our hands before every meal, even if it was just a quick snack. Dozens of other "little things" that have served me well came to mind also, like helping a neighbor carry in groceries and covering my mouth when I cough or sneeze and greeting someone with a firm handshake and direct eye-to-eye contact. Or taking off my hat in a public building and saying "bless you" when someone sneezes and complimenting someone on a fresh haircut or new hairstyle. Or my Dad going over a few "guy tricks" like opening a woman's car door or scooting her chair in at the dinner table or giving up a bus seat when a lady is stuck standing. I will always remember my Dad's motto on manners: "they cost nothing but mean everything!"

Now, I don't think I'll ever be running in a rarefied Emily Post crowd, but I am confident I have a basic foundation for being a "couth" member of the human race. For those of you who don't know the name, Emily Post was a women born into a world of wealth and privilege in the late 1800s. She set standards in manners through her writings (magazines, travel logs, novels, etc.) and deeds (in 1905, she stunned socialites by divorcing her banker husband on the grounds of infidelities that she would not abide). In 1922, Post wrote Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home, the seminal publication on manners for more than 85 years now. The author also wrote an etiquette column that appeared in hundreds of newspapers and even founded the Emily Post Foundation which to this day provides etiquette training and support for organizations across the globe.

But even with my basics in place, I honestly believe that refreshers on manners and etiquette never hurt anyone. Sometimes I use the Internet or the library to read a recent Judith Martin column ... the "Ms. Manners" of the Washington Post. "Hints from Heloise" ... a.k.a. advice and etiquette guru Ponce Cruise ... reminds me again and again of simple courtesies. Me, and her readers in over 500 domestic and international newspapers.

Even the spirit of Emily Post affects me almost daily. Her great-grandson, Peter Post, offers weekly tips in his "Etiquette at Work" column featured in the Boston Globe each Sunday. The male Post won my heart on several occasions with his scathing remarks about the "proper place" for cell phones and other electronic media in our professional and personal lives (a common "rant" topic of mine). In his honor, I gave copies of his Essential Manners for Men to two of my nephews as stocking stuffers last year.

POINT OF RANT: Next time I'm dining with my family and everyone just dives into a meal without washing their hands first or thanking the host for the great food, I'm gonna bust into the "Please and Thank You" song and see what happens.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Today In The Bookstore ...

I have a wonderful friend who writes a blog about he and his husband's "ordinary" life. It's filled with travel and humor and wit and a genuine quality that I greatly admire. I'm still exploring his many posts. The other day I stumbled on a "book review" he wrote. What a great idea, I thought, sharing your love of books and hopefully prompting people to give the authors a shot. So hopefully, he'll be flattered when I steal his notion for this post. If not, then apologies in advance.

When I was in the fourth grade, I was cruising the aisles of my local library branch. I had already rifled through the stacks of my primary school "bookery" and needed something new ... something more challenging. For some reason, I was browsing in the adult fiction section and my hand was drawn to a tattered book with an aquamarine-colored binding. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin was embossed on the spine. There was definitely magic in the title and the feelings I had as I gingerly removed the book from the tightly-packed shelf and went with the determined stride of an excited nine-year-old to the front desk to be checked out.

It almost didn't happen. The clerk ... I will always remember her heavy make-up and the prim glasses that hung around her fleshy neck by a thin chain ... argued with me that this was a "grown-up story" and it would be beyond my ability to read or comprehend. I think I whined and hinted at a tantrum because she gave in just to make me go away.

I read the book twice in those two weeks before taking it back. And it was challenging ... I had to ask my Mom about the meaning of lots of words ... but the theme about everyone battling inner demons really boosted me toward early maturity and being the crazed reader I am today. And if I'm being totally honest, that book turned me into a thief. I went back to the library a week after returning the life-changing tome and stole it. It sits on a shelf with other childhood treasures, Commandments be damned!

Anyway, the belabored introductory point I'm attempting to make is that books ... even entire genres of writing ... intended for one age group can often be wonderful experiences for a different reading demographic. Case in point: the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld.

Westerfeld, a 47-year-old Texas native whose various books seem targeted toward a teen audience, has created an interwoven tale of technology and human weakness in his books "Uglies," "Pretties," "Specials," and "Extras." Written between 2005 and 2007, the books focus on the adventures of Tally Youngblood, a teenager awaiting the "treatment" given to all 16-year-old "uglies" that transforms ordinary humans into physically perfect beings. Set approximately 300 years in the future following a devastating "germ war," Tally discovers that all IS NOT beautiful in the hi-tech city enclaves where the newly created "pretties" reside. She even ventures outside of her city and discovers people living in the ruins and recovering ecology ... people who have chosen to be "ugly." It's almost a revitalized Logan's Run epic.

Westerfeld definitely covers youthful themes such as adolescence, self-image, and individuality, but the storyline is a roller coaster adventure on a par with any of today's greatest authors. There is intrigue, government conspiracy, and incredibly rich characters. I was amazed at how driven I was to get to the next page. And even though the characters were young for the most part, the constant "digs" at a society consumed by technology and a quest for "beauty" transcended any age barriers. Westerfeld was able to create a world welcomed by sci-fi fans but one that presented readers with an allegory for weaknesses and archtypes seen in our modern lives each and every day.

POINT OF RANT: Get the first book ... "Uglies" ... and I can guarantee the other three will follow!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Today On YouTube ...

My 14-year-old niece was ill the other day and both her parents had "big days" at work they couldn't miss. So my "best uncle" status got upgraded to "lifesaver" and I took the day off to chaperon my niece while she rested and took her medication.

About mid morning, I heard a pronounced yawn and my young pajama-wearing relative exited her bedroom and came out into the kitchen of her parent's house where I was working on my laptop. She grumbled something sleepily and I asked her if any of her friends had called her ... her school is notoriously lax on cell phone use. She looked at me in that way only a teenager can and said, "no, but some 420 smokin' bitch texted and wanted to know how I was doing."

My fingers stopped typing and my mouth dropped open a little. As my niece retrieved all the ingredients for a bowl of cereal, I went ahead and stuck in my nose further and asked her about this "420" thing. She then launched into a whole list of things her classmates were into, including beer and hard liquor, marijuana, "spice" (a legal incense, sometimes called K2 containing the psychoactive chemical HU-210), Four Loco energy drinks that have high amounts (11 percent) of alcohol and taurine (a sulfonic acid that inhibits certain neurotransmitters and is believed to create an anxious, euphoric state in some individuals), and even crystal meth.

I was on the brink of asking her about her immediate circle of acquaintances when she swiveled on her kitchen stool and gave me a mischievous look. "What kind of things did you do when YOU were a teenager," she said, her eyes burrowing into my head.

Now typically, I abhor hypocrisy ... but this was my niece! What could I do? I'll tell you what I could do ... just what I did. I lied through my damn teeth. As I regaled the bored and ailing youngster with stories of student council projects and class officer duties and club after club after club, I was secretly remembering the weed and worse that I had smoked, ingested, drank, and snorted. And I also just kept talking because I didn't want to give my inquisitive niece the opportunity to ask more probing questions like "was it fun to get wasted?" or "what was it like to be high?"

So with a somewhat troubled conscience, I give you David ... an innocent youth who learned the ins and outs of tripping at an early age from a visit to the dentist. Enjoy!!

POINT OF RANT: I'm so glad I'm not a parent!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Today Tapping My Foot ...

Just hold the Christmas phone to Santa for a moment! I like the holidays as much as the next person ... all the lights and decorations and pageantry. I can even handle the crazy traffic and crowded stores and the less-than-ideal commercial aspects of the season to a point, but now they're messing with my Oreos ... again.

The red- and green-filled show-offs are returning for the Christmas season. But just like the lamest gift ever, you can use shiny wrapping paper and those fancy ribbon curls to dress it up but it's still just lame!!

Nabisco first introduced the Oreo "biscuit" in NYC in 1912 but it was so NOT like the Oreos that have captured my heart and waistline. The original cookies were lumpy little mounds and filled with either the traditional cream ... YUM! ... or lemon meringue. Really? Lemon Oreos?

Like other candies and confectionery creations of the time, Oreos were originally sold by the pound in novelty tins and often brought out as treats for special occasions or as gifts to impress someone special.

"My" Oreo wasn't developed until about 40 years later (1952) when the manufacturer started imprinting the cookies with the distinctive Nabisco Oreo logo, as well as employing the snappy branding "Oreo Creme Sandwich." Additionally, at some point the recipe for the cream filling was adjusted to eliminate pork fat. Yeah ... pork fat! If it tasted like Oreo cream filling, I'd hollow out a pig with my tongue!!

Anyway, my complaint ... "rant" if you will ... is that, regardless of what they say, Oreo cream with food coloring tastes different. Flat. Less delicious!! Now, when the Nabisco company execs handling Oreos have gone temporarily insane in the past and tried things like mint-flavored filling, peanut butter-tinted tragedies, and their "Banana Split" and "Strawberry Milkshake" fiascoes, I've given them the benefit of the doubt ... and sufficient time to come to their senses. Similarly, I showed the same patience with "Golden Oreos" (vanilla cookies instead of chocolate ... I know, utter madness), "Uh-Oh Oreos" (vanilla wafer cookies with chocolate cream filling ... reality gone loco), and the whole line of reduced-fat and sugar-free formulations (come on ... they're Oreos!). But I also knew going in that those affronts to the "natural cookie order" would taste bad. "Different" ... I meant to say "different."

What makes me crazy is the aforementioned holiday cookies or the orange-hued scares I just suffered through for Halloween. And don't even get me started on the blue- and pink-pastelled treats they put on the shelves for Easter. The people responsible for those taste-impaired decisions need to be put through the same special 300-foot oven that bakes the damn not-as-good shaded shams.

And while I'm in Oreo mode, what about the good ... dare I say GREAT ... innovations that Nabisco and Kraft (the umbrella company) have dangled before the cookie-lovers of this planet and then taken away like a toy from a naughty child. Grievance 1: "Double Stuf Oreos," introduced in 1975, are supposed to have twice the amount of cream filling as a traditional Oreo. BULL!!! They're shrinking faster than an 85-year-old Grannie with advanced osteoporosis. Grievance 2: "Big Stuf Oreos" got pulled from the shelves after only seven scant years because of lagging popularity. Really? Giant Oreos weren't popular? Maybe not on Mars! And Grievance 3 (and the most grievous): In 2006, "Triple Stuf Oreos" were sold in select cities for a one-month, never-to-be-repeated limited campaign. Where the #%*$ was the memo? Hell, I read my Oreo newsletter faithfully cover to cover and there was no mention ... not even a hint of the creamy Nirvana about to unfold. I could have taken vacation time ... or relocated. That was just criminal, and I AM looking for a lawyer who will take the case!!

POINT OF RANT: Where do you buy pork fat?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Today At The Office ...

Sundays for me are always a lazy, slow-paced time. I usually have chores and errands to accomplish, but I put them off as long as possible. OK ... til the last possible minute! "Sunday" for me means a strong pot of coffee and at least three newspapers to peruse.

As a trained journalist, I spend lots of time enjoying various columns and even analyzing the language and imagery used in advertisements. So I couldn't have been more surprised when my reading was interrupted ... halted actually ... by a challenge in the local "weekender" insert. Seems a culinary contributor was suggesting that anyone with holiday baking to do should find a favorite cookie recipe and "jazz it up" by adding 1/2 cup of more of crushed pretzels ... any brand ... to the list of ingredients. The verbally-smirking baker felt that anyone who did so would be amazed at how different and revitalized their cookies would be.

What the hell, I mused and but down my paper to retrieve a notepad and pen. I'm not much of a baker or cookie maestro, but I was heading to the store anyway so I decided to put on the oven mitts/boxing gloves and take up the challenge. Whose "cookies" didn't need an occasional nip and tuck?

In a green plastic recipe box, I have handwritten gems from both my mother and my grandmother ... champion-level cooks in their time on earth. I considered my Grandma's classic peanut butter cookie recipe and my Mom's awesome oatmeal raisin bars, but opted for a 3C cookie ... Chocolate Chunk Chip. I jotted down the needed items and a few necessities of my own.

A few hours later, I had about four dozen cooling cookies that looked a bit more coarse than I remembered. Breaking one in half, I popped a portion into my mouth and almost had to grab the counter for physical support. The cookie morsel was warm and so dense and chewy. And the chocolate ... accented by the extra salt from the pretzels ... was so much more rich. It seemed to vibrate in my mouth, sending little shocks throughout my lymbic system. Within five minutes, six golden cookies were deceased. I found a nice airtight contained and sealed the tempting treats away to share with co-workers the next day.

So today ... around 8:30 a.m. ... I entered my department's break room and opened up the cookie equivalent of Pandora's box. Within seconds, the peers who sometimes offer me advice and constantly provide me with professional criticism were offering me other things ... kidneys, movie passes, their children, etc. ... for more cookies on Tuesday. I didn't like the looks in their eyes as they devoured the 3Cs in their sticky little hands, so I smiled weakly and retreated to my office. For a brief moment, I considered moving my credenza to block the door like in every zombie movie I'd ever seen. Of course, I left the cookies behind ... I was fleeing for my safety and they only would have encouraged pursuit. But I was kind of pissed that I didn't even get one to have with my morning java.

POINT OF RANT: Crushed pretzels ... I dare you!!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Today With A Heavy Heart ...

Actor and modern-day slapstick genius Leslie Nielsen left us ... his fans ... today at the age of 84 from complications from pneumonia.

Nielsen, the son on a Royal Canadian "Mountie" and a Welsh housewife, trained in radio and broadcast arts because of his distinct and resonant voice. Anyone you ask will remember him for his various film and TV antics over the years, but I will remember him the most as the handsome Commander John Adams from "Forbidden Planet," a groundbreaking sci-fi film from 1956 that introduced audiences to newly-developed special effects and the iconic Robby the Robot. And of course, I officially started my Nielsen "bromance" with "Airplane!" and his deadpan performance as Dr. Rumack.

When I heard the news about the silver-haired celebrity's death, I started researching his career and realized that he and my entertainment needs have intersected more times than I ever would have guessed.

His motion picture career is vast and varied from flicks like "Tammy and the Bachelor" (opposite Debbie Reynolds) and "The Poseidon Adventure" to the funny and familiar farces of "The Naked Gun" films, "Mr. Magoo," two installments of the "Scary Movie" franchise, "Superhero Movie," "Soul Man," and "The Patriot" ... just to name a few.

And television ... the man was everywhere. He was big on all the hit action dramas of the late '60s and early '70s like "Bonanza," "Hawaii Five-O," "Columbo," "M*A*S*H," and "The Streets of San Francisco." I also remember him fondly from re-runs of "Murder, She Wrote" and "Who's The Boss." And damn if Mr. Leslie Nielsen didn't marry Dorothy and break up the fabulous foursome known as "The Golden Girls."

I also went on the Internet to see what other fans were saying and one individual summed up what was in my heart much more succinctly than I ever could. This man commented that "Nielsen had the courage to take on roles that some might have seen as goofy or trivial and made them shine like diamonds. His kind of talent is a rarity."

POINT OF RANT: I can never hear the name "Shirley" without thinking of you, Leslie! Godspeed.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Today On The Laptop Screen ...

I have a friend named Jon. He doesn't think so, but he's probably one of the most worldly guys I know. He taught school, shaping young minds. He's traveled and can talk a blue streak (great roller coaster, by the way) about anything from art to Eastern religion. And he's an accomplished musician and composer on the side.

But one of Jon's best qualities is his quick wit. He comes up with words and phrases that make me laugh, but also stop and think.

I was down the other day ... letting one of my many insecurities creep to my forebrain ... and he told me matter-of-factly, "you need to change your inlook." I corrected him, querying "you mean my outlook?"

"No," he said emphatically, "I said what I meant."

For big-brained Jon, inlook is the opposite of "outlook." Instead of a macroview of how I see the world, he was suggesting I look at how I saw myself fitting into my environment and various relationships. And Jon meant doing so in a realistic manner ... taking a hard look at my self-image, not the "perceived image" that marketers and manufacturers shove down our throats so we buy bigger cars and smaller cell phones.

Well, my funk cleared and I wanted to "honor" Jon in a quirky manner that bespoke of my ... well, quirkiness. And I immediately thought of urbandictionary.com. For those of you unfamiliar with this awesome Web site, UB is a vast collection of rural euphemisms, scary sexual terms, and hip slang that I use almost hourly in my personal and professional life. How else would I have ever learned about "Castroing a meeting" (taking over and replacing the original intent or agenda) or the growing wave of "Romosexuality" (male fans with deep feelings of adoration for Dallas Cowboy's quarterback Tony Romo) in Amercia?

So I went to urbandictionary.com to register my friend's clever creation and ... DAMN!! ... discovered that someone else had beat me to the punch. But their definition of "inlook" was a poor attempt. Hell, it didn't even make sense. The originator felt the concept was like intuition or a gut feeling about something. And then they spouted something about fighting against the constraints of parents and church values. I decided I could honor my friend and right a grievous wrong with just a few clicks. I await confirmation before telling Jon that he is a new father of a squealing little word baby!!

POINT OF RANT: Friends are cool!!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Today In My Checkbook ...

Like most Americans, I am a few paychecks away from destitution. On any given pay period, I cut things close ... sometimes too close. This particular two-week stretch, I have paid my bills, but a little (i.e. miniscule amount) into savings, stocked up on groceries, and have "spending money" in my wallet. My checkbook cushion is $6.50. That's scary.

Once my financial documents were balanced, I then made the mistake of turning on the TV ... cable bill is paid, of course ... and cruising around the plethora of channels to learn just how much income is being literally handed over to politicians, actors, singers, and professional athletes. And my blood came very close to boiling.

I probably would have found an old movie or a vintage cartoon to soothe my anger ... bless you, Wile E. Coyote ... but I hit upon a holiday message about a professional athlete who had given $10,000 to a food bank in his hometown. I'm not going to mention the slightly aging football legend by name, but I did a small amount of research and learned that he makes nearly $8 million a year before any endorsements are even figured in. Now my breathing took on a ragged quality and my eyes glazed over. My teeth worked their way out from behing my lip and I may have even snarled slightly. To be more more precise, I was pissed!!

Why is it when the "celebs" of the world ... the Beyonces, the Clooneys, the Peytons, the Kanyes, the Will and Jaydas, the David and Victorias, the Brad and Angelinas, and the Oprahs ... give a mere fraction of their riches to a charity I am supposed to fall to my knees and embrace them as false idols?

Being from Ohio, I'm going to use Cavalier-turned-Heat basketball superstar LeBron James as an example. Earlier this past July, this athlete turned the collective heads of the sports world when he parlayed his "free agent" status into a controversial $15 million annual salary and a move to the warmer climes of Miami. But throughout the media circus that enshrouded his decision to leave Cleveland, James repeatedly claimed "it's not about the money!" Riiiiiggggghhhhhhtttt!!

Anyway, now that I've calmed the savage beast, here's my thought. Let's say James was the guy I mentioned who gave $10,000 to the food bank. But instead what if he ... and all the celebrities who seem to genuinely revel in their supposed philanthropic superiority ... were to simply lend themselves to the charities of this needy nation. For instance, what if James agreed to do a 20-city tour and attend any number of events in those cities. Things like high school spirit rallies, sports clinics, meet-and-greets at rehabilitation medical practices, and maybe even a "grilling demonstration" at a church social or a variety show at an outlying rural hospital. Hell, the possibilities for venues with a sincere need for "Benjamins" is endless. And furthermore, what if James covered his own travel expenses. And what if he charged absolutely no fees for his appearances AND demanded that all the profits raised went directly into the charities' various coffers. And what if the 30 or 40 most popular performers and athletes in the country did the same. Maybe I'm just a simplistic fool, but I believe the funds generated would be staggering. And I'll even donate my fee for thinking up the whole thing!

And maybe ... just maybe ... the giving spirit in Americans would be revitalized and those of us who don't have much in the way of discretionary income would see the amazing "alternative" benefits of instead donating our time and energy to area organization and causes.

POINT OF RANT: When you make millions, why can't you be the ones that give until it hurts?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Today In The Cookbook ...

I was just looking up the basic cooking times for roasting a turkey. Not even sure I'm gonna need the information. This year's Thanksgiving festivities are gonna be a little "different" for me. I'm currently in a mortal combat-style feud with two of my three siblings so I'm boycotting the family meal. And I had plans to share the day with a good friend and her immediate family but their gathering shifted to an out-of-town venue. So I'm just gonna enjoy some type of turkey meal all by my lonesome and get out a few of my favorite dvds. I may just enjoy my "bird" while watching the "Bourne" trilogy or all the "Die Hard" flicks.

I might even shake things up with turkey burgers with avocado or turkey sausage chili or a humongous turkey and cranberry omelet with bacon and pepper jack cheese. Who says I have to have "traditional" fare.

So while I was perusing the culinary guidebooks, I thought about how many different ways we use the word turkey. In respect to the upcoming holiday, turkey refers to the domesticated breeds of Meleagris gallopavo, or wild turkey. Originally bred by the ancient Aztecs as a source of meat, wild turkeys flourish in the forests of North America and have been linked to legends surrounding the "first Thanksgiving" meal shared by early settlers and certain Native American tribes. Today, turkey farming is a thriving poultry practice, using a variety of techniques to produce birds with heavier musculature and larger breasts.

As is typical with may types of birds, the males tend to be larger and more colorful. Turkeys are also known for the unique "gobbling" sounds they produce. There is a myth that turkeys are flightless birds ... all turkeys can fly but it is an ability that, in this breed particularly, is proportionate to weight. Simply put, the big, fat turkeys we buy in the store couldn't fly because they were bred to be big and fat.

Turkey also commonly refers to the Republic of Turkey, a country in western Asia and home to more than 73 million people. Turkey sits amid some of today's global hotspots such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Greece. The country also enjoys a lucrative tourist trade because of its adjacency to both the Mediterranean and Aegean seas. Each year, the nation's largest cities of Ankara (also the country's capital) and Istanbul draw in millions of vacationers from around the world.

Back in the day, I guess turkey was used to describe someone who was sort of a jerk or an idiot. It was also implied that this type of "turkey" often spoke with great authority about topics they knew nothing about. Occasionally I see an old sit-com where someone gets called a "jive turkey," and if the laugh track is any indication then I guess it was a really hysterical and well-received slur to employ.

And I would never ... ever ... use the word turkey like this, but I was at the mall the other day and these girls ... about 12 or 13 and dressed like they were 21 and heading into a club ... were sniping about some woman being a turkey and calling her a "mean turkey lady." I really thought they were utilizing my previous definition (i.e. idiot or dunce) ... which is bad enough ... but when I followed their glances, I spied an older female shopkeeper with a pronounced wattle. Not a waddle ... wattle, or excess skin around her neck similar to that of the common turkey. The woman did appear to be a dour individual but it's not like she chose to lose skin elasticity as she aged. Teenage girls can be such bitches!!

two parties meet to discuss a business proposal, they often engage in initial pleasantries ... asking about family and leisure activities like vacations and the progress being made on a golf swing ... but when deliberations turn serious, it is often termed "talking turkey."

for any of us with friends or family members who are ex-smokers, we have probably witnessed the explosive tempers and listless moods of someone attempting to quit an ingrained habit like tobacco "cold turkey."
Oh, and there's a turkey in bowling ... three consecutive strikes in a single game. Some people call it a "gobbler," but the turkeyesque theme still remains.

POINT OF RANT: All this turkey talk is making me hungry ... I'd give my right "giblet" for some good old-fashioned stuffing instead of the stove-top crap!!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Today On The Drawing Board ...

I love "coffee table" books ... you know, the big photography books based around themes like modern art or churches or Madonna's early erotic forays or babies made to look like fruits and vegetables. I had an older aunt who had a stack of these hard-and-hefty tomes stacked under her very sterile glass and chrome coffee table.

My newest scheme is to quit my job, find a financial backer who recognizes my true genius, and create a scintillating series of "art books." My first project would be a book featuring all the courthouses of Ohio. I've travelled throughout a good portion of the state and the heavy-handed designs and materials of the older structures are truly awesome. Even some of the newer "replacement" buildings are impressive with their odd-and-unique mixture of modern elements and rural "sensibilities."

The state of Ohio became the 17th such designated entity on March 1, 1803. Carved from the Northwest Territory, Ohio derives its name from an Iroquois word ... "ohi-yo" ... meaning "great river." Indeed, Ohio is bounded on the south by the mighty waters of the Ohio River. But the state is better known for other reasons. Politically, Ohio represents a juicy morsel with 20 electoral votes and strong Democratic leanings. The "Buckeye State" has also produced seven U.S. presidents.

Ohio is often referred to as a "gateway state," meaning it links the Northeast to the Midwest. In fact, Ohio has a quantifiable uniqueness ... it is situated within a one-day drive of nearly half the U.S. population and about 70 percent of it's manufacturing and industrial resources. That is some powerful geography!!

But my interest lies in the scenery ... 44,825 square miles divided up into 88 counties. And each one seems to have a legal hub complete with slabs or granite, marble, and sandstone ... or newer angled facades with brick and chrome and glass block. Some are welcoming while others exude a foreboding feeling that is downright Gothic.

I think buildings can have such warmth and strength and even majesty while made of hard materials and cold surfaces. My book would also feature some interior photos of each courthouse as well as any early sketches or blueprints. And every featured building would have a close-up inset of the cornerstone. I really want to encourage people to take roadtrips and see the elegant edifices in person.

OF RANT: I would never eat a salad or side dish served by Anne Geddes without thoroughly running my fork through it looking for rattles and "binkies!"

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Today In My Buddy's Basement ...

A good friend of mine ... Dean ... bought his parents' home when they retired and moved to Arizona. I figured he'd make some major changes to the extremely dated split-level structure, but all he did was purchase a few "necessities" ... big flat-screen TV, a snack frig, and a king-size bed ... and just went on living his 21st century life in a 1970s home.

Recently, Dean called in a favor ... he had helped me move a few months ago and now he needed assistance tearing down some old wood paneling in the basement "rec room." So on a bleak and drizzly Saturday morning, I arrived to help demo the room in question so another buddy could put up drywall later in the week.

"Hey," Dean asked as we yawned over cups of dark and bitter and excellent coffee. "Before we start tearing the place to hell, would you mind helping me move some things to the garage? I'm gonna donate them or have a garage sale or something." So we toted a few seriously heavy and over-packed cardboard boxes up the zigzagging stairs to the large garage/workshop area ... Dean's dad was a nut for building really intricate scale replica vintage cars and trucks so the garage area had excellent lighting and some nice workbenches. There was lots of junk already stacked in various locations ... no actual room for any vehicles ... but what caught my attention was the old ping-pong table tucked away in the corner, unlatched in the middle and stored in a sloppy A-shaped configuration.

"Dude, you're not selling the PPT are you?" My voice sounded a bit shrill, almost panicked.

Dean just smiled a Cheshire cat grin. "Buddy ... would I do that to you?! It's staying put because I know how much you enjoy losing to me and our friends!!"
See ... I do love ping-pong. Or table tennis ... whichever term you prefer. I was never very good at playing and my family never had a table while I was growing up, but someone in the neighborhood always did. One kid ... Derek ... had a really sweet regulation table that his family kept on their huge covered, cement-slab back porch. I clearly remember how crisp the white lines and net were against the powder blue surface and the sleek oak game cabinet they had with paddles, extra balls, and some special cleaner for the table. Everyone in Derek's family even had leather tennis gloves they used for ping-pong.

In our neighborhood from about early April to early November, if the heat got bad or it was raining or the wind was too brisk for frisbee or football, every kid in the neighborhood was at Derek's house playing ping-pong and pleading with his mom to make more lemonade or hot cocoa ... depending on the season.

Derek's dad would sometimes organize these elaborate tournaments with brackets for us kids, our older siblings, and even some of the parents. The contests would go well into the evening and Derek's backyard would be aglow with the hanging yellow fluorescent lights from the porch area occasionally punctuated by blue sparks from the bug zappers at each end. A few of the kids would open lawn chairs and watch the action, giggling at the bawdy ping-pong "smack talk." The more active ones of us played hide 'n' seek in and around a thick stand of pines and an old tool shed. And the really daring ones of us played with an old set or "Jarts" ... lawn darts that years ago had sharp metal tips and a reputation for causing serious and not-so-serious injuries. Basically, colorful metal spears being thrown around in the dark is what we were doing.

Anyway, table tennis originated in England in the 1800s as an after-dinner "game" among high society. At the time, books were stood in the center of a long table to act as the "net" and players used additional books as "rackets" to bounce a golf ball back and forth, observing the same one-bounce scoring techniques used today. The game evolved with the ball becoming a shaped piece of cork and paddles made from items like cigar box lids and parchment stretched across a simple wooden frame. Soon people started calling the game wiff-waff because of the sound created during play. Ping-pong was another term used frequently to denote table tennis and it ended up catching on.

Over several decades, innovations were made to the game such as celluloid balls to offer air resistance challenges and more modern paddles with the common rubber/sponge layering to allow players to put more spin on the ball and increase the speed of play. Regulation table standards were initiated, suggesting a 9 foot X 5 foot table treated with a low-friction paint or coating (preferably green or blue) bisected by a 6 inch net. Clubs and associations for ping-pong enthusiasts began springing up and tournaments were being organized. The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) was founded in 1926 with the first official world championship games held in London the same year. Ping-pong has been an Olympic sport since 1988, with aggressive representation from Europe, U.S., and several Asian nations. Today, the ITTF is parent to 210 member associations across the globe. Sporting good manufacturers offer top-of-the line table tennis gear, utilizing high-profile athletes for high-figure endorsements.

I can sympathize with those first table tennis or wiff-waff players. When I was in college, some of my dorm mates found a piece of plywood which we transformed into a makeshift ping-pong table. Being an art major, I was in charge of painting the guide lines and touching them up from time to time. We used two cushy lounge chairs facing each other as the supports and wood clamps and extra-long shoelaces as a net. Someone who dropped a class and had "parents-don't-know-money" from returning a pricey textbook sprang for paddles and balls. I think that crappy "table" was more fun than any regulation surface.

After college, I also frequented a local hometown bar that sat up two ping-pong tables in an outdoor area during the summer months. I know my skills were poor so I never played, but it was incredibly entertaining to watch grown men ... usually inebriated grown men ... play ping-pong like it was the U.S. Open or the Super Bowl!!

Back in the present, Dean and I eventually got to the task of ripping up his basement walls. Several times I became fatigued and wondered if my debt had been payed. Sensing this, Dean kept promising that when we were done he'd order a pizza ... sausage and mushroom ... and set up the ping-pong table.

POINT OF RANT: My friends know me too well!