Saturday, February 23, 2013

Dude, I'll Trade You a Carl Yastremski for Your Last Beggin' Strip

Today and Sunday are days that remind me of childhood in all of its glory. Currently, we are in the midst of International Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day. One might think that such a holiday were for the dogs. One would be right. After all, dogs, above all living creatures, likely appreciate dog biscuits. However, do they need one day to commemorate that appreciation? Being an amateur scientist, I have been closely observing my dog today. He wags his tail just as actively today as any other when he is offered a treat. He seems to appreciate his biscuits as much today as any other.

Perhaps we should be the species appreciating dog biscuits, after all.  Think about what they allow us to do. Without the biscuit, it would be just that much more difficult to train our dogs to do many of the things that we come to expect them to do. It would be hard to get them to sit. It would be hard to get them to shake. It would be impossible to get them to balance a biscuit on their snouts if we had no biscuits.  In the place of biscuits, we might be forced to offer our dogs small bird carcasses or pieces of rabbit as rewards, and that would just be gross. Who wants to keep a basket of bloody birds and rabbits atop their fridge?

Another segment of the human population appreciates dog biscuits, also. If one were to spend enough time on the message board, one would get the impression that a surprising number of people seem totally cool with eating biscuits and dog food (mostly the wet kind, I infer). Granted this is a segment of the population that spends time posting to the message board to begin with, so they are most likely not a representative segment (one can only hope), but many of them seem almost proud of their predilection for narfing Milk Bones. Hey, man, whatever floats your boat, I suppose.

Regardless of whether or not this is a representative sample of humanity or not, I did mention that the holiday they most admire puts me in mind of my own childhood. The reason being, a friend of mine had a habit of nibbling on his dog’s treats, too. I don’t remember what the brand was, but they came in different colors and shapes that I think were representative of what they were supposed to taste like. The yellow triangles, for instance, were supposed to taste like cheese. If I recall, his reports indicated that there really was little, if any, flavor in them, regardless of the color or shape. I almost wish I still kept in contact with the dude to see if he still likes snacking on bacon-flavored crunchies.

This dog biscuit-eater was also one of the guys I used to spend hours with as a kid trading baseball cards. He used to have a Pabst Blue Ribbon case full of his cards. He was one of the guys who would order a whole set from Topps or Fleer or whatever company was printing cards. I only bought them by the pack, so my collection was not as grand as his, but we spent the bulk of many a summer day drinking lemonade and trading an Al Bumbry for an Oscar Gamble and a Rick Manning. Of course, he’d have to run into the kitchen every now and again to snatch a cheesy puppy bite, but that was no matter. 

That other childhood memory is brought to the front of my mind on account of Sunday’s observation of National Trading Card Day. It is understandable that this is merely a national observance and not an international day. Most likely, the children of France and Vietnam do not spend their early days exchanging pieces of cardboard with pictures of sports heroes on them, but since the concept of the trading card has proliferated, I can envision a future with not only an International Trading Card Day, but also an intergalactic observance, as well. Even in my own trading card trafficking, I watched as the industry moved out of its baseball-centric origins to include football and hockey, and then into movies like Star Wars, Jaws, Grease, and all of the sequels for these films. (Yes, there were Grease 2 trading cards…not that I bought any of them.) Nowadays, I imagine they have trading cards for all manner of thing: WWE, Legos, American Idol. In truth, however, all of this is speculation. It is entirely possible that the trading card industry is dying and being almost single-handedly propped up my forty year old men with plastic-cased cardboard photos of Odibe McDowell in a color-coded three ring notebook.

Whether the trading card industry is alive and well or in the midst of death throes, and whether you appreciate dog biscuits as a consumer or a distributor, I hope this last weekend in February brings you child-like joy. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

How Thinking Leads to Short Bread

“Hop inside while you give it a think.”
--George “Baby Face” Nelson, O Brother Where Art Thou?

Without taking a particular stand on the issue, I report that several states, my current home state included, is currently attempting to pass laws that would prevent Federal gun laws that might be passed from applying in that state. The waste of time in drafting such laws really frustrates me. The issue itself notwithstanding, it appears that these several states that are attempting to draft these laws have forgotten that we fought a Civil War back a hundred and fifty years ago over just these sorts of issues. It has been settled, I thought.

Of course, the question was already settled when the War Between the States was waged. After all, Article II and III of the Constitution declare the supremacy of Federal law and reject the nullification of Federal law by the states, respectively. How on earth anyone legitimately expects that these state laws would pass the Constitutionality test is beyond me, but, like the wife likes to say, you don’t know if you don’t ask. In most cases, I think she’s right.

As a matter of fact, just today I was on the phone with a sales person who was tallying up a bill for me. She quoted me the shipping charge for my order, and I said, “Okay…unless you want to waive that for me.” I don’t usually do that, but, today, I was feeling feisty, I guess. She didn’t waive the fee, but she took off half the cost. It never would have happened had I not thought to ask. Lesson learned.

Today’s feistiness could be the result of the weather system that is passing through. The Weather Channel, in one of the more annoying television weather-related ideas of the last half-dozen years, has decided to name winter storms. Yet again, the nation’s East Coast bias shows, as New England got Winter Storm Nemo a few weeks ago, but we in the Plains get Winter Storm Q. Really. One letter? It’s bad enough TWC is attempting to label storms as some kind of warped marketing ploy, but, if they are going to stoop so low, they might at least stoop low enough to come up with more than one consecutive actual name. They don’t have to slight us flatlanders by laying us with a one-letter storm. At least stick with the cute animation-name theme started with Nemo and give us Winter Storm Q-bert. If they aren’t even going to try, then they ought to just stop. Also, if they are going to be selling t-shirts, I hope they offer at least one long sleeve design. It is February, after all. I think the apparel should match the season.

Whether I will get a t-shirt out of the deal or not, the future is perhaps going to bring us some snow. We haven’t had much out here. Two storms that left about five inches each, a few dustings and squalls, the stray flurry. Winter or not, the drought continues. And a foot or so of snow (should we even get this much) won’t fix much. Don’t mistake me, however, we will take it; I’d prefer a couple of inches of steady rain, followed by a couple more, spaced out enough to prevent flooding. As I ponder the way nature often works out here, in full on feast or famine mode, I suspect I will see a cloud of locusts followed closely by enough rain to put us all in river mud for a month or two as soon as the season breaks. Then again, the only thing you can predict about nature is it’s unwavering unpredictability. I might just get eaten by a mountain lion walking to the grocery store. However, I think not.

Be it a bear or a mountain lion I see on my way to the mercantile, it will more likely be a house cat or a dog in this neck of the woods since the wildest we get around here is a sociopathic squirrel or a rabbit with delusions of grandeur. I do sometimes see a red-tailed hawk in the neighborhood as I drive to work, and I have spotted a screech owl a few blocks from my house. It all depends on how you think of a thing or even where you see it as to whether it is wild or not. A black bear in your back yard is probably considered wild. A flock of penguins at the children’s zoo is most likely not. At least, that is how I think of it.

Friday, be it a snow day or a day of deep adolescent disappointment, has been tabbed as World Thinking Day. Apparently, the origins of World Thinking Day stretch back to a time of prosperity, loosening morality, and home-made booze, but the originators of the day have little to connect them to the Jazz Age. In 1926, at the fourth World Conference of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, attendees determined that February 22 would be World Thinking Day, a day to express thanks and appreciation for their global entity. Ironically, as far as I think it, February 22 was chosen because it was the birthday of the founder of the Boy Scouts. I don’t know enough about either organization to know why they picked that particular fellow, but it smacks of early-20th century hegemony. I don’t know if it really is, I just wanted to use the word “hegemony,” thankyouverymuch.

Be that as it may, it was also the birthday of Lord Baden-Powell’s wife, Olave. In 1936, Olave drafted a letter telling all Girl Guides and Scouts that World Thinking Day should be observed as a time of fundraising. I don’t know about you, but when I think of Girl Scouts and fundraising, all I can think about is cookies. I really have not been able to figure out exactly how to connect thinking with an object of so much American mindless eating, but what can I do about it? The fact is, in America, World Thinking Day and Girl Scout cookies are inextricably linked. So, in this month of scrambling to every grocery store to find the last box of peanut butter tag-a-longs, don’t forget to give your brain a little bit of exercise as well. What do you think about that?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Boy Named "Honk"

Names are touchy things. Think of the bloodshed caused by the names Hatfield and McCoy. Recall the reason for the tragedy of the lovers Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet.  “A rose by any other word” ring a bell? What if Hamlet were not named after his murdered father? Would he have had the same intensity of filial obligation? It is odd and even unfair that something that can have such far reaching effects, such consequences of fate and free will, can be carried out with no input from the named at all.

Were I an expectant father, the question of a name would be a paralyzing contemplation. I would be overwhelmed by the immense ramifications of the name I gave to my child. Should the name have historical allusions? Should the name show some family tradition? Should the name be a reference to strength or peace or wisdom? Would an allusion to someone too well-known set my child up for unfair comparisons? Would my kid constantly feel an inadequacy as she tried to live up to a name like Athena? It’s an impossible problem to solve since nearly every name has some reference point somewhere. Even a name that seems entirely unique has to have been generated from some reference point in the parents’ brain: a combination of other names, a favorite food, a place, a random noise. Were I to name my child “Honk,” after a noise I heard while crossing the street on my way to the hospital, how could that child not take an auto trip, or even walk down a city street, without thinking about himself and his name. Narcissism would logically ensue. You see my problem: no matter what I might choose, all I can really bequeath to my child through his or her name is hang ups and resentment.

On top of all that, I would have to assume that any choice I made would have to be negotiated with the child’s mother. It then becomes a compromise, and who wants to spend his/her life saddled with a mark of compromise, a reminder of one or the other parent’s surrender, ultimately: weakness. Weakness for the sake of peace and harmony, of course, but weakness, nonetheless. (“What does your name represent,” Johnny’s teacher asks in grade school, during a well-intentioned class discussion on names and being proud to be one’s self. “Compromise,” Johnny sighs in response, since Mommy wanted to call him Jeremiah, but Daddy would have none of it. Doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, does it?) However, there is a possible solution to this issue for parents and children dealing with this silently awful and far-reaching situation.

Today is “Get a Different Name Day.” It’s one of those days that strikes me as a good idea, on the surface, in many respects, particularly for people with names that remind others of body parts, like Mulva, or anyone who is burdened by a compromised label. In one respect, “Get a Different Name Day” can be liberating and empowering since most of us carry the name we were given by our parents. A name we did not ask for. No disrespect to my own wonderful parents intended, but, while some may look upon the name they offer their children as a gift, I often wonder what the agenda behind my naming was. I was originally supposed to be called something entirely different from my current name, but my grandmother did not like it. As a result, I was given my father’s first name and a different middle name. So, I am labeled as I am as the end result of some sort of multi-generational power struggle.

Were I to take advantage of “Get a Different Name Day,” I might choose something more indicative of who I am, something that speaks to my strengths or personality. However, naming oneself is a dicey proposition--nearly as paralyzing as naming a tiny human that bears half of your own genetic material, for it bears some of the same pitfalls as giving yourself a nickname. It just doesn’t work to say to somebody, “Call me ‘Lightning’.” Even if you think you are a pretty fast runner, and even if everyone agrees that you are a very fast runner, and “Lightning” might even be a suitable nickname for you, suggesting your own nickname will only result in the following moniker: “Asshole.” It is simply common knowledge, a piece of primordial intelligence, something passed down from the proto-simians in the prehistoric trees: someone who solicits their own nickname is an asshole.

In that respect, “Get a Different Name Day” is a failure. It can only result in a world full of assholes, which is pretty much the world we already live in, now. And a good holiday should commemorate people who have changed the world for the better, or it should encourage us to do the same, which is why Columbus Day and Drive Without Your Headlights On Eve are shitty holidays.

Thus I find myself stuck between a rock and a hard place: empowerment at the cost of being an asshole, or a worn-out, ill-fitting label and a reputation in relative good standing. “Get a Different Name Day” implores me, and all of us, to take ownership of the most important thing we own. Something so important that John Proctor, in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, chooses to die rather than lie about his allegiance with Satan because he would ruin his name, and he “shall never have another.” Too bad for him the Puritans did not have “Get a Different Name Day,” I guess. He didn’t even have a choice, but, for me, I’ll just stick with the compromise I am stuck with, and hope I still smell as sweet.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Time Gone By

In the last two weeks, I have neglected to address the following incomplete list of recognized special days: Measure Your Feet Day, Have Fun at Work Day, Yodel for Your Neighbors Day, and Thursday. Of these, one might consider Thursday the least special since it comes around at least once every week. That sort of thinking is short-sighted, however.

After all, while one can’t deny the allure of an entire day dedicated to the investigation of the length of one’s feet, how important is it? How special can it be? And, really, don’t you know how long your feet are every time you buy a pair of shoes? My feet are 10s. I suppose it would be interesting to known the length of one’s feet in inches or centimeters, but, then, why stop there? Why not use other, innovative units? Wouldn’t it be cool to know how long your feet are in chocolate chip cookies? My feet are 3 1/3 chocolate chip cookies long. Granted, this new measurement unit has not been standardized, so the US chocolate chip cookie (USCCC) may differ from the English chocolate chip cookie (UKCCC); however, once the CCC becomes popular enough, a highly distinguished board of mathematicians and measurers of all sorts might take up the cause of standardization. Until that time, we will just have to muddle through, considering the age old question: “How much cookie is in one cookie?” Were we to celebrate a day like Measure Your Feet in Odd Units Day, then Thursday might pale in comparison to such an honored twenty-four hours. But, we don’t. Alas.

Have Fun at Work Day, another special one that we missed, also seems tame when compared to the splendor that is Thursday. Doesn’t everyone have fun at work? Every day? I know I do. I can only hope that some folks out there are not in such miserable labor environments that they need a special day, and only one per year, on which they have fun by mandate. Where I work, when we are having fun, we call that day Thursday…or Wednesday…even Monday. Oddly, we never call it Tuesday, not because we don’t have fun on Tuesday (we have fun EVERY DAY)—there’s just something about Tuesday that pisses people off. I guess on Tuesday we have angry fun, like sarcasm.

Now Yodel for Your Neighbors Day gives Thursday a run for its money. It must be a truly special occasion to stand in the middle of one’s front yard and make rolling O’s as loud as one can, hoping to please the people that live closest to you. The key to making one’s yodeling as acceptable as possible to one’s neighbors—after all, it is a gift to and for your neighbors—is to pick the best time to do it. Remember, the best gift is an unexpected thing at an unexpected time. Right off the bat, you know your neighbors will not be expecting you to yodel for them. At least, they won’t be expecting that from most people. I neglected to consider that somewhere, someone is in the habit of yodeling…in public…regularly. More power to you, yodelers! However, I think I can say, with little doubt, that the majority of folks are not regular yodelers. So, an unexpected thing.

It would seem, on the face of it, that any time would be unexpected for something so rare as public yodeling, but, as with all things, there is an optimal time. After deliberative consideration, I have unscientifically determined that the most unexpected time for yodeling for you r neighbors is 3:17 in the morning. It is in that blank expanse of the clock when the night is ostensibly over for most sensible people, yet the morning has not come for the earliest risers. And seventeen past the hour is about the most unexpected part of any hour. Someone expecting something at three has lost that razor’s edge of perception that anticipation brings, and someone expecting something at 3:30 has not yet begun to scan the sensory waves for early warning.

But, even with all this, Yodel for Your Neighbors Day is no Thursday. It is only too bad that today is Friday. Today, we can only wait for the glory that is tomorrow. We all know what tomorrow is, don’t we?

Monday, January 21, 2013

On Squirrels, Penguins, and Ravens

In all seriousness, today is commonly recognized as an important day of celebration. MLK, Jr. Day is a truly righteous holiday, allowing all Americans to consider the sacrifices that Dr. King made on behalf of equality for all people in this country. He is a true American hero, and he deserves the recognition that he receives, now and forever.

However, this voice in the wilderness is not prone to staying serious for too long, so let’s move on to matters less important, but far more open to ridicule. Today is a confluence of three wonderful things for us here at Central Standard. The first is a warm up for an even more momentous day next month, the second allows me to really put my true personality on display, and the third is something that makes me prouder than I have any real right to be.

First, today is Squirrel Appreciation Day. Many of you already know of my love for Groundhog Day (my favorite minor holiday), so I was pleased to discover that today was set aside for a more diminutive rodent relative of the whistle pig. Not only am I pleased to have a day to acknowledge all of the diligent hard work of squirrels everywhere, burying acorns, nesting in people’s attics, and destroying more bird feeders than any other non-bird yard animal known to man, but I am happy to have this day as a stand in for yesterday’s Penguin Appreciation Day, which, sadly, I neglected to recognize in due time. (A sorrowful tip of the pen to all of my penguin friends out there.) As a result, all of squirreldom receives all of my love today.  And, they shall receive it in a most excellent way, since today is also, National Hugging Day.

There is nothing like a good hug, is there? One thing that makes me the happiest is to hug someone. As a matter of fact, I have been known to hug complete strangers while walking down the street. It is just hard not to show your love for your fellow man when all it takes is to wrap the two arms you probably have around the torso that another person probably has. Needless to say, hugs become more complicated when approaching someone without a torso, but a dedicated hugger can usually accomplish a decent enough hug with nothing more than a neck or a leg to grapple with. And, of course, non-torso situation really do not come up that often.

So, today brings together two celebrations that certainly can be recognized jointly. I charge you all with going out today and hugging a squirrel!  And, while you are at it, give thanks that today is not Bear Appreciation Day, Mountain Lion Appreciation Day, nor Shark Appreciation Day.

Oh, yeah, and that third thing? How excited I was yesterday watching a collection of men whom I have no actual connection to, pound another collection of men I have no connection to into the turf of Gillette Stadium.  I know that it is irrational to feel pride that a team with a certain uniform wins a game. After all, what role did I have in the accomplishment? None. But, it would take someone with a better psychological mind to explain why so many of us feel the connection that we do to certain sports teams, and, in the long run, I don’t care. I am an unapologetic Ravens fan. I was there for their first game, and I have rooted them on no matter where I happen to live.  So, I say without shame that I did a little dance last night when the whistle blew, and the scoreboard read Baltimore 28, New England 13. Go Ravens! We’ll see you on February 3 in New Orleans.