Friday, October 21, 2005

Behold the Soccer Bigots

I've been neglecting this site in favor of DOUI (and my real job, which involves weather, supermodels, and chickens.) So here's a little piece I wrote with local papers in mind. For those who know, "soccer" in the piece means "football," which is what everyone outside the U.S. and Canada call it.


When the discussion turns to sports, as it often does with a group of males under the age of 150 who aren’t busy ogling women, inevitably someone will proffer which sport it is that excites them most. They will speak wistfully of childhood encounters with athletes both legendary and surly, often the same people. They will grunt and nod and scratch, especially if the sport is baseball, and wipe a tear from their eyes. Then, I will take my turn, and the conversation will then turn ugly as I am suddenly confronted by a plethora of sneers, raspberries, other faux bodily noises, and rapid reflexive scratching from the baseball guys. This is because I am a soccer fan.

By now, even the most backwoods cold-war era survivalist nut has heard of the sport. It’s only the most popular one in the world, the one played by more nations than there are in the United Nations and called football by all of them except us, Canada, and animals, who refer to it as “Yahtzee”. It’s one of the most popular sports played by American youths these days as well. Yet, there is a class of extremely prejudiced people, let’s call them the average American sports writer, who respond to the word “soccer” as though someone had just taped over their video of Super Bowl XXXVI with an episode of “Trading Spaces” or surreptitiously switched their beer for a mimosa.

I recently read a column by a writer whose name I have since forgotten (so I will refer to him as Maurice) that suggested that the reason some American kids play soccer is because they are too uncoordinated to play other sports. As if it takes real coordination to fling a small hard ball at someone’s head or to grab a football and run directly into a pile of kids made up of everyone on the field including a couple of over-anxious team dads. Maurice suggested that soccer was a way to get kids out of the house between piano lessons. Maurice is apparently as familiar with soccer as Bobby Knight is with apologies. If he were in the game they would have left the tackle from behind in just for him.

Soccer of course is that sport that people play with their feet, where if you want to stop a ball coming out of the air at full speed, which for adults would be up to 40 to 60 miles an hour, you have to do something other than just reach out and grab it with your mitts. Soccer players do this and more. Some kids are able to keep the ball in the air, juggling from foot to knee to head, while the average soccer-hating sports writer would inevitably lodge the thing in his mouth, the only legal maneuver in the sport they could pull off after the throw in.

Of course they offer all the lame excuses for their soccer bigotry. Some say there’s not enough scoring. Of course, these same individuals could sit through a 22 inning 1-0 baseball game, ended on a bases loaded balk and marvel the next day in a column about the “pitchers’ duel” they witnessed the night before. People complain about the violence that is reported in some soccer loving countries. I invite each of these individuals to spend the evening in the streets of a major domestic metropolitan city or college town the night of a big championship win or loss to prove their point…unarmed.

My own suspicions as to the source of soccer hatred are two fold. The first is that soccer doesn’t satisfy the mania Americans have for sports statistics. I’m sure you know what I mean. “Well, Johnson is batting only .120 in situations with the bases loaded, against left-handers with migraine headaches, on windy days with a southwesterly cold front, in Eastern division cities in July, when attendance is under 10,000, under the lights…and there’s the swing, and it’s out of here for a grand-slam.” And yet America continues to lag behind in math education!

The second is ignorance. It is said that people hate what they cannot understand. The tax code proves this point, but I digress. The most common gripe with soccer is the offside rule, the one that says that an offensive player must have two people even with or between them and the goal when the ball is passed to them. That’s it. That’s the rule that has twisted many an otherwise astute sportswriter into BBQ-sauce stained knots. There’s no calculus involved, just a simple matter of where the player is when the ball is passed. Yet, many of the same people who contort with discomfort when this is explained to them can explain themselves, without notes, all possible variances of football’s illegal shift rule.

Of course fear is at play here also. Fear that if soccer catches on that their precious games will fall by the wayside putting shoulder pad and catcher’s mask manufacturers out of business everywhere. They forget that America is a big country with arms larger than George Foreman’s and room for lots of sports (although if tennis disappeared tomorrow I’d never notice) and that soccer will only add to the great sporting atmosphere and lucrative merchandising that already exists. So says this soccer Fan-do.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Some Questions I'd Like Answered!

We all have those little things in life that bother us, that make us ask "What the bleeding 'eck is that about?". Here are some of mine I'd like to share with you. As I live in the States, these are a bit America-centered. Apologies to those abroad who don't get the references.

Some Questions I’d Like Answered

1. Just what branch of the military did Colonel Saunders serve in?
2. Is “Beefaroni” a real Italian word?
3. Is there anyone alive who can explain the rules of jai-alai?
4. Does “Coke” have coal in it or cocaine, or a combination of the two?
5. How does the fact that Scientology was developed by a science fiction writer give it credibility? (Related question: Do Scientologists have a sense of humour?)
6. If you hit a bad golf shot in Spain, do you shout “Cuatro!”?
7. What is it about skunks that make some people want to have one as a pet, the stench or the rabies?
8. Just which planet in the Orion constellation was Yul Brynner from anyway?
9. In the correlation between brain damage and helmetless motorcyclists...which comes first?
10. Is it true that the sound of Desi Arnez’s laugh could shatter cinderblocks from up to 40 feet?
11. When postmen go berserk and start shooting, how is it that their first targets aren’t dogs?
12. What does Dave Barry do for a living?....No, really? A very funny guy, but how does he earn his money?
13. When you smell flatulence, aren’t you just inhaling air that has resided in someone else’s colon? On second thought, don't answer that.
14. How to you tell the difference between someone holding up the “peace” sign, the “victory” sign and the “gimme two pints, mate” sign?
15. If “two’s company” and “three’s a crowd”, is four “two companies” or “a crowded three”?
16. Shouldn’t water polo be played with horses or is it played with horses and we can’t see them because they’re underwater?
17. Was Jesse Jackson one of the Jackson Five? Did he write the lyrics to ABC? Is that why he rhymes so well?
18. Why don’t the swimsuit contestants in the Miss America Pageant ever swim during the pageant? Are they all aquaphobic, or is the body tape they use to keep the suits in place non-water repellent?
19. Just what the heck is the frequency, Kenneth? And what’s on that channel anyway, the Psychotic Network?
20. Do the Academic Deans at the University of North Carolina ever get ticked off because Dean Smith, the former basketball coach, gets called Dean even though he’s not one?
21. When Bob Dylan sang, “Hey, Mr. Tambourine a song for me”, what was the guy supposed to play...Bolero?
22. Did the person who invented bell bottom jeans have really big ankles?
23. Are people who practice body-piercing just trying to say,” I enjoy pain very, very much” or do they just wish they had ears all over their bodies?
24. Getting back to Yul Brynner, is it true that he was the only passenger of the “Roswell” spaceship?
25. What’s the deal with donuts and cops? Do the donuts remind them remind them of handcuffs?
26. Do people change lanes without signalling because they're brainless cretins, or do they just think the rest of us really like surprises?
27. Do you find people who ask a lot of questions annoying? What about people who make lists?

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Pity the Poor Weatherman (I do!)

I have reached the earthshaking conclusion that the most ridiculous profession on the face of the planet, with the possible exceptions of the Vice Presidency of the United States of America, Vanna White’s job, and the guy in the Barney suit, is that of the television weather presenter or "weatherman."

I reached this conclusion through the careful, rigorous, and extremely intricate scientific process of pure intuition, a process that coincidentally has been honed to perfection by television weathermen through the ages.

To be a weatherman you must have two very important skills. First, you must be able to point to a very large and empty blue area as if the state of Texas were actually there. In reality, the viewers at home are actually seeing the state of Texas, or possibly Montana depending on what the engineer has been drinking. This happens through a complicated electronic process that goes by the very technical name of the “blue-screen process”. (The process is also referred to as “chroma-key” but most television technicians reject this name on the account that it makes their job sound as though it has something to do with processing discount photographs in under an hour.) This process is actually the least ridiculous thing about a weatherman’s job, but it is the most ridiculous thing about television technicians’ jobs, especially considering that in some cases the “blue” screen is green. In this latter case the process is called the “green-screen process”, proving once again that television is a fount of creativity.

The second skill is even more important than the first. You must, as a practising television weatherman, have the ability to completely forget anything you may have said in the previous 12 hours. Very skilled weathermen who live in places like Hawaii or Arkansas, where the weather has been known to change every 15 minutes, have gotten this skill down to whatever amount of time has passed since the previous weather broadcast. On the Weather Channel, some of the announcers are reportedly incapable of remembering anything except the phrases “...And now for your local forecast”, “Drive carefully”, and “How’s the weather out there Jim?” followed by the kind of grin only found elsewhere amongst people whose parents were close familial relations.

The reason this second skill is particularly important is due to one glaring fact of existence. It is impossible to predict what the weather will be at any given moment in time. The exception of course, is if you are a pensioner with rheumatism in some extremity of your body, in which case you can detect a drop of rain within 300 miles.

Because the weather is impossible to predict, civic-minded individuals realized the potential for panic amongst a weather-obsessed public and so the job of “television weatherman” was invented. It was also invented because the local evening news has about a 7 minute gap that would otherwise be filled with inane banter between the news presenters about their dental bridgework, weekend plans to go camping, or how amazingly spectacular lava lamps are in the dark, but that is another sad, sad story.

So, in reality, the whole concept of the weatherman is a ruse to calm a desperate, weather-obsessed public and silence blithering desk jockeys. One can quickly divine this by observing weather broadcasts. For example, I recall the night before a certain George Washington’s Birthday in Washington D. C. hearing a weatherman confidently assure his audience that the nation’s capital was in for a light snow of one to one-and-a-half inches. The next day, with the city buried under two feet of snow, this particular weatherman could take solace in knowing that he would be unable to drive to work that day. I must give credit where it is due though as he did say it would snow.

A more average example goes something like this: Monday night, a weatherman informs his viewing audience that there is a 99% chance of rain on Tuesday. This causes thousands of golfers to cancel tee times and plan on actually going in to their medical and law offices the next day. The next day the weatherman then appears on television brightly commenting on the cloudless 70 degree weather that was present all day. Occasionally the more audacious among them will actually accept the credit for how the weather turned out (usually when offered by some vacuous co-presenter eager to fill minute gaps of silence) as though they had spent the previous night in a small plane desperately seeding westward cloud formations, instead of rummaging through their closet in their undergarments looking for an umbrella and rain slicker.

Thirty to forty years ago this kind of uncanny inaccuracy was understandable. In the days before satellite weather tracking, the weatherman was the television equivalent of an ancient shaman trying to define the temper of the clouds. The only difference between the two was that weathermen wore loud suits and offered on-air birthday greetings to centegenarian shut-ins whereas shamans (or is it shamen?) wore colorful attire that helped them to stand out and showed tremendous respect for the tribal elders. All right, I admit there’s no real difference, with the possible exception that the average shaman was probably more accurate than any weatherman has ever been.

However, in our present age of technological wizardry (see the aforementioned blue-screen effect), each and every television weather broadcast is backed up by the dazzling spectacle of satellite imagery. This imagery allows weathermen to demonstrate conclusively that the earth is covered with clouds. In addition, it gives them a wonderful excuse to make even more shamelessly inaccurate forecasts backed by federally funded aerospace technology.

The logic is that if a mass of clouds on the radar over say, Western Georgia, is moving in the general direction of say, Atlanta and if the people in Western Georgia are experiencing say, rain, then it is absolutely natural to expect that Atlanta will see rain sometime within the next few hours. This type of prediction is often followed by a phenomenon known as the chaos effect, but which I like to refer to as “the reason weathermen screw up so much”. The effect often consists of the previously mentioned clouds suddenly switching direction similar to the way most parakeets do when they suddenly smack into a pane of glass. A second common effect of the chaos/weathermen screw up factor occurs when the mass of clouds suddenly disappears as though they had accidentally wandered into the path of a David Copperfield special.

These events would be bearable enough if not for that peculiar invention called the “long range forecast”, also known as “the weekly forecast”, and known in Las Vegas as “easy money for anybody betting against the weatherman”. Asking weathermen to determine the state of the weather over a five to seven day forecast is after all a bit like using the prophecies of Nostradamus to hit the correct Powerball numbers. It’s simple logic really. How can you presume to predict what the weather will do in five days when you have been clueless over the previous five years as to what it will do seconds after the station has switched over to its syndicated broadcast of “Home Improvement” for the evening. The only stable five-day forecast I’ve ever heard of is the one for those in the Death Valley area: “We’re expecting hot weather and no rain all week, so put away those umbrellas and get ready for some fun in the sun!” Despite their positivism, this is as good a reason as any to send all weathermen to Death Valley.

Like it or not though, the television weatherman serves a useful purpose in society. He or she allows the viewer at home to express their frustration at their frail and all too human lack of control over the natural elements. Many people usually express this in words that are often referred to as “French” (but which, if you use one, any Frenchman will assure you are not by smacking you in the head with a wheel of brie). The television weatherman (weatherwoman, weatherperson, weatherbeing) thus fills a vital need in our society as an object of enduring scorn, and, until we can train dogs to predict the weather with the same accuracy they demonstrate for earthquakes, will likely be with us for years to come. Let them know when your birthday is though and they will announce it on TV. I suppose that’s worth a little good will.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

France - Land of Enchantment/Diving for Cheese

This article reflects the growing disenchantment Americans have with France. There has always been a bit of conflict between the French and English, French and Germans, French and...well, besides that though, for ages, the French and Americans got on quite well. Maurice Chevalier was big here once, and French cooking was all the rage in the days before the Center for Science in the Public Interest was no longer considered a bunch of loons looking for some way to creatively apply Fascism to dietary guidelines. They still are of course, but people don't say it out loud anymore for fear of being pelted with mixed greens and a (very) light vinagrette, carrots, celery, and alfalfa sprouts.

These days, politics, and the growing suspicion both here and in Gaul that Jacques Chirac is a giant weasel disguised as a human being, have soured things a bit.

Anyway, I know a few Frenchmen myself, and they are very nice, considerate, and thoughtful persons, whose company I enjoy...even if one of them runs circles around me on the football pitch. Which reminds me to add that I am also an Arsenal supporter who thinks Thierry Henry, Patrick Viera, and Robert Pires, not to mention the mercurial Arsene are fabulous. (Stew's a Spurs guy...nobody's perfect.)

The following article is not reflective of them, but of a recent mindset here in the States. It's from 2003 as well. Enjoy.


Introduction to “An American’s Guide to France” (Revised)
(Editor’s note: I’ve added some changes to reflect the current political situation. We don’t want to end up like the friggin’ Dixie Chicks. Please note the *edits* and [additions].)

*Ah,* France*!* […] Land of *romance* [adultery], *passion, fine* [a moderately regarded] cuisine, and *the *arts! What American traveler hasn’t always wanted to *visit* [avoid] the land of *Lafayette and DeGaulle* [Robespierre]? What *vacationer* [simpleton] hasn’t longed to view the *majestic* peaks of the French Alps [albeit second-rate when compared to the Rockies], the grand and *inviting* [topless] shores of the Riviera[, even if Monaco is the finest part], the lush[es] *vineyards*, and the *illuminated* [tobacco clouded] and *illuminating* [incessantly rude to the point of boorishness] streets of her capital, Paris?

In this edition, we’ll help you *get ready for* [endure] what will surely be *the journey of* a lifetime[‘s regret]. We’ll tell you how to make the necessary preparations so that your trip will be a *pleasant and *swift one, but also one in which you’ll be able to sample from a variety of all that this wonderful *Gallic* [Garlic] nation and her [un]pleasant and *friendly* [hairy] citizens have to offer [in the unlikely event you should care to do so].

From booking your flights with the *major and* minor air carriers [such as Air Saddam] that all have routes to France, to choosing from hundreds of *sumptuously regal* [obtusely maleficent] hotels and restaurants that regularly *earn the highest world rankings* [feature rude and condescending waiters Ed. Note – this one was actually supposed to be in the original version], to visiting *all* [one] of the most famous museums and historical landmarks renowned across the globe, we’ll *guide* [warn] you every step of the way.

This guide is also carefully designed to help you avoid any [of the normal] difficulties that you *may* [would otherwise] encounter due to the differences between France and the U. S. We cover key travel and customs regulations [including how to gain easy visas by using Iraqi surnames], as well as driving laws and regulations [as if there were any]. We’ll also help you get the most out of *currency exchange and* the use of credit […always use credit as the Euro and all it stands for are completely unreliable].

This guide also contains the best *times of the year and* day for visiting the most popular French attraction*s such as the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Louvre’* [ EuroDisney]. We’ll also give you the run down on how to see *the best* [some] shows and get into *the best* [some] eateries.

France is a *beautiful* country, with a long *and colorful* history. The Romans invaded France [(being the first of many)] before the birth of Christ and since then France has had many *rulers* [despots], both beloved (*Charlemagne, Louis XIV, De Gaulle* [Napoleon]) and infamous (*Napoleon*, [Chirac]). The events of French history themselves are as memorable and numerous as her leaders. Who can forget *landmark* [telltale] moments such as the storming of the *Bastille* [Maginot Line] or such battlefields as *Orleans, Reims, etc…* [Agincourt, Waterloo, etc…] Almost every village has markers that are [grim] reminders of episodes from this *storied*past.

The nation’s history *is* also *underscored by the wealth of geniuses from every realm of* [includes] the arts*: painting (Monet, Van Gogh), music (Bizet, Berlioz), sculpture (Rodin), and film (Trauffaut, Renoir) *. The arts are on display year round. The Cannes Film Festival, for example, attracts [left-wing, unpatriotic] actors, directors, and great [foreign] films from around the world to the [did we mention topless] French Riviera culminating in the awarding of the Palme D’Or. The Paris Opera House hosts a variety of *classical and cutting edge works* [ghouls – see Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical], and the Georges Pompidou Center not only houses radically new works of modern art but has been called one itself [but modern art is crap as we all know. I mean come on, who really gets Kandinsky and Pollack anyway, and Warhol is just a big drug-addled fraud. Ed. Note - OK I may have gone overboard a bit here… I’ll shorten it in the last rewrite]!

*Great c* [C]ooking *reached its culmination* [can be found] here as well with the development of famous dishes like *Chicken Cordon Bleu, Beef Bourguignon, and Coq au Vin* [snails in butter]. France can lay claim to countless of the world’s great foodstuffs, including *Roquefort, Brie, and Camembert cheeses, Hollandaise and BĂ©arnaise sauces, baguettes, and the croissant* [freedom fries]. In addition to foods, the French have the world’s [second] most famous wine tradition in the world [behind California]. Champagne not only refers to a wine made in France, but the region it comes from! [?]

France also has many *notable* sporting events to attend each year [but not the Super Bowl of course]. [Because they apparently can’t grow a decent patch of grass, t] *T*he clay courts of the French Open attract *the world’s best* tennis players, while the entire nation plays host to the *premier* [only] cycling event in the world, the Tour De France[, also known as the Lance Armstrong Invitational]. For the sportsman who prefers to be a participant instead of a spectator France has numerous quality golf courses[, for the continent at least,] and tennis facilities, plenty of recreational water sports[, such as water polo and diving for cheese], and traditional pastimes such as fencing for the adventurous [traveler who enjoys body piercing].

There’s [some] shopping to be found in France as well, with a[n] * dazzling* array of *unique* shops and markets where you can find *the finest of * [some] *goods and* souvenirs. Paris is also the world capital for fashion [and backstabbing, self-profligating diplomacy] as well and one can hardly *walk* [run] down a street there without passing a boutique [or call girl] that sports the latest [ridiculously overrated] styles and the most famous designers[, with the notable exception of Mr. Levi].

What guide would be complete without mentioning the romantic lure France, and in particular Paris, has held for *lovers* [fornicators] throughout the generations. From the *brilliant* [blinding] evening lights of the Champs Elysees to *cozy* [overcrowded] sidewalk cafes, couples can find a place to *wander, to embrace, to kiss* [fornicate], and to feel *together and somehow alone in* [watched by] a city of millions.
Yes, we know that you’ve picked up this guide to *experience all that and more, and so* [burn it in disgust, but] we’ve tried to pack as much information *and more* inside as you could ever possibly *hope for* [need, in the hopes that you will take out your frustration on the guides to Belgium and Germany]. We hope that after reading through our guide carefully [and not burning it] that you will be able to have the trip that you have dreamed of, a magical adventure in a country of love, passion, class, and adventure [that is the United Kingdom]. * Ah, * France*!* […]*Enjoy her many treasures! * [You could do worse!]

Monday, February 07, 2005

Celebrity Best-Selling Authors OR Is Larry King the Devil?

This is an article I wrote as one of those sample pieces you send off to newspaper syndicates so they can send you back lovely, impersonalised correspondence wishing you the very best in finding a home for your work, with another syndicate. Perhaps the subject matter wasn't really that attractive to those actually in the publishing business. I prefer to think it simply hit too close to home. It helps me sleep at night.


Is Larry King the Devil?

Just the other day I was pondering the type of question that typically crosses my mind when I’ve had too much Pepsi-Cola™ to drink. After mulling this about in my brain and deciding that yes, everyone in the room would hear that particular noise, another question shimmied into my brain like quicksilver: “Is Larry King the Devil?”

Before I answer this important question I should note that Larry King, in addition to being a nationally syndicated radio and television talk show host, used to have a column in USA Today on Mondays in which, to put it kindly, he rambled on like a senile auctioneer. Many writers, comedians, political commentators, and approximately 80 percent of the English speaking world have already commented derisively on this column, so I will spare you my own sarcastic example of how the thing reads. (Oh, all right... “Hey kids, I just saw ‘Lost in Space’ and it’s the kookiest thing. William Hurt, say hello to another Oscar, and that Matt LeBlanc is something else! Isn’t he related to Mel Blanc? I hear his favorite food is pizza, hold those anchovies!” ). Apparently he had to recently give up the column because it was too taxing. Perhaps it was taking away from his suspender-shopping time?

Nonetheless, the column raises certain questions (beyond the theological one described above), such as, “What on earth were the editors at USA Today smoking, rock or powder?” I mean, what was it about the column that led USA Today’s editorial staff to believe that Larry would say, have won the Pulitzer for commentary anytime in the next 10,000 years, much less the Life Section award for column of the day. No personal offense meant to Mr. King, who is a talented radio bloke, but if it theoretically takes an infinite number of chimpanzees with typewriters to produce Hamlet, one of his USA Today columns could be produced by a single rhesus monkey with a broken pencil .

The reason USA Today printed the article is simple of course. Let me spell it out for you: “$$$$$$$$$$”. Larry King is a celebrity. USA Today could put his picture over a column of gibberish... all right, different gibberish... and someone would read it simply because their brains would reflexively respond (making a telltale clickity-clack sound, like the Tube on the Victoria Line): “I know him! He’s the radio guy on TV! Wow, in this day and age radio guys can even do TV! Isn’t that against the law?!? And he writes too! My head is swimming!! Marge pass me an asprin!” This is one of the peculiarly western phenomena explaining how William Shatner was able to cut a rock album.

Now I really don’t mean to pick on the likeable King (unless he surprisingly turns out to actually BE the devil, in which case I will abandon all remorse in this regard) or the colorful simpletons at USA Today. There are plenty of other people who deserve ridicule for getting a byline or a book deal simply because they are famous. The first lady, Hillary "Rodman" Clinton (No relation to Dennis), wrote a book called “It Takes a Village” and her groupies went berserk, propelling it to the bestseller lists, until they found out it was not actually about the Village People. Congressmen, such as Newt Gingrich, have written incredibly dull and popular bestsellers. Comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld, and Tim Allen (“My Stand-up Routine in Print”), sports figures (they generally resemble children’s books but with expletives included) and actors (although all of these books are actually ghost written by Chris Kreski of course) have all taken their turn churning out a quick page-turner, ready for the rough and tumble, cutthroat world of print profitability...and made millions doing so.

The idea is that if you’re famous, people will be interested in what you have to say, even if it is obnoxiously boring, trite, self-indulgent, semi-literate, and occasionally rude (Like this particular column). The interest jettisons upwards if your work involves personal revelations damaging to your reputation, or your husband’s in the case of Mrs. Clinton’s newest opus. This deeply important civic duty to probe the minds of celebrities is really just a symptom of the publishing industry's attempts to collect enough money to collapse itself into a black hole.

Of course this makes things extremely difficult for the obsessed, crackpot loners who actually choose professional writing as a career, competing as we are with celebrities whose book selling ability may have as much to do with their rumored relationship with Frank Sinatra or Madonna as it does the inexorable power of their prose, or lack thereof. Prose, I mean. One can almost sense the steady flow of volumes from “Survivor” castaways and ex-“Price is Right” models. It’s a miracle Kato Katelin hasn’t written a novel yet. (Please, no.)

Now back to the original question, that is the one after the question involving bodily noises, “Is Larry King the Devil?” Of course not, he’s just an experienced radio personality with a penchant for suspenders. However, you read all this way to find out didn’t you? That’s yet another currency-vacuuming publishing strategy, strategy number one being the addition of the words “Harry Potter” into the title of your book. When in doubt, name-drop with a strong hint of controversy regardless of the relative innocuity of the piece.

With a name like Earl Fando I can’t count on celebrity sales can I? Now where did I put that rhesus monkey?

Monday, January 31, 2005

Curl Up with an Ovary, Buddy!

As I stated in my original post on this blog, this site will be dedicated to longer works of mine that were rejected by publishers for a variety of reasons, most of which, I suspect, have to do with their having accidently filed my pieces in the circular file drawer marked "Danger! Biomedical Waste!" That's what I get for submitting to medical journals.

With the Winter Olympics (in somewhere, some country I suppose) a mere year away, I thougth I'd share with you a piece rejected by Modern Humorist, which ironically is no longer an active site with new material. Of course, some would argue the same thing about this site. For truly new stuff, as always, please visit The Dictionary of Unfortunate Ideas.


Bootleg Winter Olympics:
The Winter Olympics NBC Doesn’t Want You to See


By Earl Fando

(Theme Music: A Yanniesque version of John Williams’ Olympic Fanfare scored entirely for 12 banjos and washboard – think Ravi Shankar at a hoe down)

Roger Ovary: Greetings and welcome again to our special bootleg coverage of the 2002 Winter Olympiad in Salt Lake City. I’m Roger Ovary and tonight we’ll be looking at one of the most dynamic sports we’ve been able to sneak into at these games: curling. To assist me this evening, my partner tonight will be a renowned expert on the history and strategies of the sport, famed TV star and dance man Buddy Ebsen. Buddy, it’s great to have you here.

Buddy Ebsen: (wakes with a start) Who, what, where am I? Oh, howdy Rog! We started yet?

Roger Ovary: That Buddy…always the consummate professional.

Buddy Ebsen: Well get a load of them fellas on the ice pitchin’ stones!

Roger Ovary: Yes, curling is the time honored winter ice sport of pitching stones. The sport originated in Scotland where Highlander ice fisherman, hungry and unable to break a particularly thick piece of ice, attempted to slide large boulders at slow moving waterfowl and beached sea urchins.

Buddy Ebsen: How’d them stones get them pretty handles on ‘em?

Roger Ovary: Well Buddy, I’ll play along with this clever line of Socratic reasoning and tell you that the stones are obtained naturally from an obscure island in the Hebrides called “Eilean mu an clachan le buinan” which translated from the Gaelic means “Island of the stones with handles”.

Buddy Ebsen: You’re on the crack, ain’t ya?

Roger Ovary: Well Buddy, as much as I’m enjoying this discussion, the US team is about to throw. (Chants of U-S-A in background). The skip, whose name just happens to be Skip Skipman, will take the first throw. He brings the stone forward and let’s finds out a little more about him…

(Cut to a 17 minute personal profile on Skip shot with an old Super-8 camera, audio recorded on an old computer backup tape recorder, and focusing on his triumphant recovery from a beta-carotene deficiency.)
Roger Ovary: Well, we’re back and Skipman’s throw is just settling in now.

Buddy Ebsen: Why are them fellas pushing broom around that stone? Can’t they wait until the Ice Capades are over to clean up.

Roger Ovary: Can it Barnaby! Well, it looks like Skip the skip has left it long for a “biter”, which in curling is not as painful as it might sound otherwise. Next up is the USA’s opposition from Kyrgyzstan. (Single voice chants “K-Y-R-G-Y-Z… oh, vorget it!”) Their skip, whose name is not Skip but is in fact Kygyryasyrtsyragan, which strangely enough translates into English as “skip”, so I guess his name IS Skip!

Buddy Ebsen: You’re makin’ my head swim Rog!

Roger Ovary: Well, Kygyryasyrtsyragan/Skip will also take the first throw for his team. He’s a burly fellow, quite gargantuan for curling, as the average curler resembles a wiry Charles Nelson Reilly. He steps up and the stone is away quite fast…very fast indeed… too fast even for the entire personal glimpse we had taped of him detailing his life as a hairdresser in a strictly fundamentalist Islamic village.

(Cut to a 2 second clip of the gargantuan curler proclaiming, “I do hair!”)

Roger Ovary: The stone is careening down the ice. It’s going to go “through a port” but no chance for a “back house weight” here as the stone, a full 45 pounds, is actually picking up speed! It’s headed straight for the edge of the rink and the wall…and… IT’S GONE RIGHT THROUGH!”

Buddy Ebsen: Whoo-doggie!

Roger Ovary: The stone appears to have broken through the short track speed skating rink where believe it or not it’s passing skaters as they break for the finish of the 500m final! And the stone has won! It beat out Lee-Kyung and Nishitani for the gold!

(Cut to Gold Medal Ceremony for 500m Short Track Speed Skating. Kyrgyzstan anthem is being played. Lee-Kyung and Nishitani stand on podium with silver and bronze medals respectively. The Gold medal sits on the curling stone on the center of the podium. Behind in the audience sits a burly Kyrgyz man weeping in joy while running styling gel through his hair.)
Roger Ovary: Well, it’s been quite an event as Kyrgyzstan was soundly defeated by the US in curling but still comes away with it’s first gold… (scuffling sounds…garbled speech… Security officers haul Ovary away. Buddy Ebsen suddenly appears and begins to do the “Jed Clampett Dance”. Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” comes up on the audio track as arranged for kazoos by P-Diddy. Cut to regular WB programming.)

Saturday, January 22, 2005

In Memory of a Cat

Our family cat passed away a few months ago after a long illness (of which some will suggest was, in fact, the condition of being a cat itself). I wrote this article some time ago and had planned to forward it to any number of pet magazines, but realized it would only put them off their Purina Pet Magazine Employee Chow. In tribute to our cat, and cats everywhere, I instead offer it to you faithful reader. I say "reader" because I suspect there is only one of you out there.


Why I Am A Cat Owner... A Tale of Masochism

At this point I unfortunately must admit something that no self-respecting individual who aspires to write humor should admit. I do not own a dog. Even more shamefully I must confess that, in fact, I own a cat. That’s right I own a mouse retrieving, litter box soiling, hairball chucking feline.

At this point most confirmed cat people are snidely thinking to themselves, “No my friend, you don’t own cats, cats own you” or perhaps the naturalistic aphorism, “you don’t own a cat, you merely house and feed is a thing of the wild”. While these fine chestnuts of wisdom are no doubt, to some extent true (and older than most of the dirt on the Moon), I prefer to classify my relationship with our cat as that of owner to pet. Call it denial if you will. Call me a blithering loon if you must. However, in this way of thinking, I, at the very least, retain some illusion of dignity. I realize there are some people who object to calling any animal a pet, so for those of you at PETA, let me warn you that I’m just finishing off my third double cheeseburger and any comments you care to send in or protests you wish to stage will only result in my driving down to the nearest Western Sizzlin’ and taking out my frustrations on the largest Porterhouse steak I can latch on to. (Actually, in all honesty I had Braunschwieger for dinner but burgers sounded more threatening to the sensibilities of the average PETA member, and I use the word average loosely. I doubt that most people at PETA could tell you where Braunschwieger comes from, much less pronounce it. Of course, I can’t pronounce it either. I can barely spell it.)

Most people in the world of humor prefer dogs. Dave Letterman owns dogs. Dave Barry has a couple and they provide him with more verbiage in a month than that found in the Starr Report. (Come to think of it, there are a lot of people in the humor world named Dave also. Perhaps it has something to do with the letter D?)

Clinton owns a dog also. (so much for the D thing.) I realize that Clinton is not a humorist per say, but he is the source for much of the material found on the air and in print this previous year and I would not be surprised in the least to discover that his dog Buddy was responsible in some way for part of it. (“What are you trying to tell me Buddy? Go into the Oval Office? There’s an Intern in need of comfort?”). Actually I don’t find Clinton at all funny but the publisher says scandal sells magazines so there you have it.

Meanwhile, I have a cat. A feline. A pointy clawed, purring, destroyer of all furniture. A bug hunting, string obsessed, dinner stealing, fur ball of havoc.

I must point out at this point that it was not a personal choice. In fact, I have owned three cats in my life and not one of them was purchased from a store or given to me by a friend or co-worker, or even won in the National Lottery. All of them found my family and I, so to speak.

You know how it starts. You come home one day and sitting at your door is this cute little purring puffball that rubs up against your shin and looks up at you as if to say, “Are you my Daddy? I love you even if you aren’t!” Of course this is a fiendishly clever illusion. What the cat is really telling you is, “Listen bub, it’s friggin' cold out here and I haven’t eaten anything since a dried up noodle I managed to dig out of a half finished Healthy Choice frozen entree’ four days ago... there’s more meat in a head of cabbage...give me chicken now or I’ll julienne your ankles!”

Rather than being properly revolted, this illusion seems to create the strange and sudden desire in most people to begin talking to the cat much in the same way they inexplicably talk to newborns... as if they’d just consumed a fifth of Vodka and then smashed the bottle over their heads. Frequently some of us feel compelled to toss in a couple of meows, as though we were capable of directly communicating with the cat in its own native tongue. Usually the cat ignores this nonsense recognizing that a.) This idiot who thinks they can speak “cat” is my potential meal ticket, so I’d better spare his ankles, and b.) Even if this person sounds the least bit feline, I as a cat, am too stupid to even comprehend what those of my own kind are saying, so I’ll just play along with this moron until I get a bite to eat.

Of course, a certain percentage of the human population does not buy into this illusion. Their normal response is to suddenly react as if they were Garo Yepremian and the cat was a pigskin of the NFL variety. This is probably a good thing as throwing a cat is highly impractical unless you think that scar tissue is fashionable and enjoy seeing out of only one eye. Of course throwing a pigskin is highly impractical also, if your name is Garo Yepremian.

The first cat my family ever owned showed up on our porch one day begging for rotisserie chicken. My mother, who was the chief victim of the incessant attentions of our Pomeranian (a type of dog for those of you in PETA), immediately fell in love with the idea of owning (possessing, whatever...) a cat. The immediate result of this was that our dog suddenly became the victim of constant, systematic and diabolical torture as is the case whenever a large tabby is introduced into a home with a small, vocal dog.

The primary mode of torture was the hit and run. Our dog, named Whiskey Sour (presumably because of the color of his coat and not because we happen to have a large bar in the house) was getting on in years and very much enjoyed his afternoon naps. The cat, named Garfield because American children lack the kind of imagination required to give animals proper names like Grand Champion Artemis or Sea Biscuit, would stealthily approach the dog from behind and then go into the famous cat attack crouch. This crouch routine, well known to cat lovers and other eccentrics, consists of the cat scrunching up its body, raising up its back and wiggling its behind like a middle-aged woman trying to squeeze into a pair of Calvin Klein’s.

Our cat would perform this intricate routine and then, at the precise moment the slightest realization began to settle in our dog’s pretzel shaped brain that something was about to happen, lunge at him, gently tap him on the back with a paw, and then prance away casually the way a college girl plays hard to get around randy geriatrics (I went to a strange college). Then, as soon as the dog reached a comfort zone and settled back into his nap, the cat would repeat the process again, proving the difficulty of teaching an old dog anything, and also that cats, despite their cuddly nature, are complete sadists at heart.

This constant cycle meant that the dog slept little if any, and only when the cat slept, which was never. I learned this at night as I had the only bedroom on the first floor of our flat. Many nights the noise of something being jostled would wake me. The first thing I would notice was the gentle pace of padded feline feet moving about the house. The sound would ebb and flow as the cat passed my room, interrupted only by the occasional ruckus of the cat pouncing past the dog if he happened to be stupid enough to sleep downstairs that given night. Sometimes this gentle footfall would find its way into my room, quietly making its way round the side of my bed. This was usually followed by an unnerving silence, which lasted as long as it took for my curiosity to compel me to raise up my head and glance over the side of the bed. The cat, which had been waiting the whole time for this response, would then slap both of his paws together as though sounding the cymbals in the William Tell Overture. The only difference is that my head was directly in the center of this maneuver, meaning that each little cat paw would smack me in the cheeks. This happened frequently, proving the difficulty of teaching a secondary school student anything. It also explains what my classmates thought was very peculiar acne. (My nickname was "Spotty-Streaky Face".)

The cat would also make the traditional psychotic cat runs. This amazingly stupid phenomenon occurs at any given moment during the day when the years of catnip the animal has been exposed to suddenly and ferociously kick in. The physical description of the event goes thus: Your cat will be engaged in relatively placid behavior, usually sitting or laying down, occasionally walking. Suddenly, without any sign of external stimuli, the cat’s eyes will open wide and the beast will break into a full speed dash, a look of wild panic on its face. The animal will then run around frantically as though it were being pursued by a swarm of rabid bats until the catnip flashback wears off, or the cat has to go to the bathroom, or is distracted by a large piece of cooked meat.

Garfield would perform this maneuver at least fifty times a day, despite the fact that we had never given him catnip at any time and the bar was always locked. The interesting thing about Garfield’s psychotic cat runs is that whereas most cats go around any obstacles that might happen to be in their way, such as furniture, toys, people, and small, frightened dogs, Garfield simply went over them. We eventually learned not to nap for long on the couch in the den as this was invariably in the path of his most regular route, as psychotic cat runs go. While the physical scars have healed, the painful memories remain. Sometimes my stomach still cramps involuntarily whilst lying on a sofa.

Cats are also good for a fight, even if they don’t know who they’re fighting. Garfield demonstrated this wildly unpredictable behavior (yet another) when a gray tabby happened to creep up to our sliding glass back door one evening. This tabby recognized that Garfield was at the time, strictly an indoor cat, and proceeded to taunt him for all he was worth in traditional cat fashion. This meant that he walked back and forth in front of the glass with his tail high in the air, stopping periodically as if to sneer, “Indoor wuss!” It should be pointed out here that cats are on the low end of the witticism scale in the animal kingdom, just below the skink and only slightly above teenage humans.

Despite the lameness of this display, Garfield, being a cat, became agitated and began to emit a steady, low howl that resembled the sound a broken police siren might make. He stared intently at his tormentor, making it clear in cat terms that if the door were so much as cracked open an inch, he would leave him feeling as though he had just French kissed the business end of a chain saw.

This odd display of feline machismo eventually and tragically attracted the attentions of our dog. He had obviously heard the peculiar noises emanating from our cat and decided, in a fit of happy-go-lucky optimism, to check out the situation. As he entered the room, he noticed the cat outside the window and his pace quickened. I imagine sometimes that he thought to himself, “A common foe! Finally we can work together... develop some mutual self-respect... call a truce...I can sleep at night!” He dashed up to the side of our cat, who was still fixed intently on the intruder. He sized up the common enemy and in a proud and fraternal burst of defensive courage let out a sharp bark of warning at the intruder... and was promptly attacked by our cat.

In the cat’s defense it could probably be said that after a full 90-120 seconds of lame cat taunting and intense staring, he was worked up to the point where he would have attacked an 18 wheeler had its driver stealthily driven up behind him and then had the temerity to blast the air horn. Nonetheless, our dog, being somewhat frailer and considerably more nervous than a big lorry, was induced into a sudden state of shock as our cat proceeded to attach each one of its 700 claws into him simultaneously. This all happened in about the time it takes the U. S. Federal Government to spend a nickel. It took us about twenty minutes to disengage the cat from the dog (I’m exaggerating a little... it was a small dog after all), and I’m not sure the dog ever barked with visual range of the cat again.

My wife and I owned another cat with proclivities towards combat. He was an angular Siamese (is there any other kind...I have yet to see a portly one) named Basil, after John Cleese's character in the British television series “Fawlty Towers”. We named him this because of his lean, angular body and because, like Basil Fawlty, he would go ballistic the moment his little cat nerves became overstimulated, which happened to be any time he was conscious.

I am told that all Siamese are cross-eyed. I do not know if this is true, but Basil definitely was. In fact, he was so cross-eyed I’m almost certain that Basil’s eyes spent a good deal of time circling into the back of his head, staring at his own cerebellum, or at least trying to find it.

This led to a number of misunderstandings between he and us. They would go something like this. One of us would see Basil sitting in the hallway, or lying on the sofa. Believing most of the warm, fuzzy fiction written about the hell beasts known as cats, we would naturally want to pet him or playfully scratch him behind the ear, certain there’s nothing he’d like better. We would gently reach out our hand and Basil, seeing dozens of hands swarming to claw his little crossed eyes out, would quite naturally swat madly at them until fingers began to fall off. Thankfully, about 80% of the time he would get one of the non-existent hands.

Sometimes, out of frustration I imagine, he would forgo any pretense of claws and merely lunge at us with his fangs. He soon gained the nickname Cobra-cat because of this odd and puncture-inducing behavior.

Our present cat, named Kitty because we didn’t expect to keep her and felt a name would merely create some sort of a bond (funny now how that didn’t work), is in many ways a typical cat except that she is very stupid as cats go. In her defense, she is endearingly so. She does the psychotic cat runs even now although at age 12 or so they are more or less psychotic lunges. In her younger days she used to amaze us with her ability to run across the vertical side of the couch. We lived in a town house at the time and her favorite maneuver was to hurtle down our steep flight of stairs as if John Elway had thrown her, then make a sudden 90 degree turn toward the couch and turn into it running along its side. It was a the kind of thing NASCAR drivers could do on a banked track if there was no law of gravity and the racing occurred on the fences at the top of the curves. It was as remarkable as the scenes in 2001 where the astronaut jogs in a complete upside down circle. Of course, the astronaut didn’t have 4-inch claws he could dig into the material.

This brings us to Kitty’s favorite hobby (after the number one universal cat hobby, eating). She has apparently made it her personal goal to destroy every piece of furniture we own and much of the walls and doors as well. They say that those who cannot build will destroy. Our gray little cat has made this axiom her religion. Presently, her favorite target is the lovely living room sofa I bought my wife for her birthday a few years ago. She can regularly be found dragging herself from one end to the other solely by her claws. If I didn’t know better, I'd swear she was imitating Sylvester Stallone in Cliffhanger. I imagine that, frustrated by the fact that age has robbed her of the ability to perform her gravity defying runs along the side of the couch (or perhaps the lack of a flight of stairs in our new home prevents her from building up the necessary speed), she has decided to slowly rip it to shreds instead by using it as some sort of cat stairmaster.

Discipline is useless when it comes to cats. They neither understand nor honor the concept. We have tried a number of methods from a stern voice, to a quick (but harmless, lest the PETA readers swoon) swat with the palm of the hand, to a water spray bottle. She responds the same to each. She recoils in what appears to be terrified, mind numbing fear. Typically, she flees as quickly as possible to a place of relative seclusion, and then, having a small walnut in place of her brain, she returns to the very same activity the moment she is distracted from her fear by hunger, noise, or her own bodily gas. I suppose psychologists might say that cats disassociate from the awful trauma of having a person shout “Bad Kitty! No claws! No claws!” or “Stupid Cat! Stop that!”. I prefer to think of the phenomenon as the ultimate proof that cats have the IQ of a salt lick.

I mean, let’s face it, other than purring and catching the occasional mouse, what practical contribution can a cat make to a household unless you find something practical about having your feet viciously attacked in the middle of the night if they so much as twitch under the covers. Our cat Kitty couldn’t even get the mouse part right. The only mouse she ever caught, she proudly brought into our old town house, firmly clamped between her jaws. The moment the wife and I exclaimed, “She’s got a mouse!” Kitty’s jaw went slack as though to exclaim, “A mouse? Where?!?” It was at this point we realized that she had not even bothered to kill the poor thing and it immediately began to dash about the house as we and our bemused cat pursued it. It finally went behind the water heater where I, with an old pair of soccer ("football" for you purists) goalkeeping gloves was able to capture the frightened rodent and release it unharmed into the wild. I did not bother to examine the mouse to see if it had a stroke, although I certainly felt as though one was imminent. The whole time our genius of a cat was darting back and forth, looking at the mouse, occasionally glancing over to me as if to say, “You’re gonna give that thing back to me when you get it, right?” Either that or she was thinking, “So THAT’S what a mouse looks like!” No wonder the world champion mouser listed in Guiness is a terrier.

So why a cat? Why not a dog? Dogs are useful. They fetch your shoes, which is a pretty good trick if you don’t mind walking around with slobber oozing between your toes. They fetch the paper also, which is likely the reason it’s delivered in those nice plastic wrappers these days.

Dogs can defend your home. Of course I’m not including chihuahuas or toy poodles, which couldn’t defend themselves against a gust of wind, despite the furious barking and snarling they will unleash the moment any noise reaches their little nervous system, real or imagined.

Still, I have a cat. Our cat’s idea of home defense is to dash under the nearest piece of furniture still left standing whenever the doorbell rings. If severely threatened though she may, without warning, cough up an extremely moist hairball. It may have grass on it too if she’s been outside recently. Yes, she eats grass, and at this point I feel as if I have attracted the attention of any ex-hippies reading this. For some reason, not unlike the population of California, cats think that grass is medicinal. Doesn’t matter whether it’s crabgrass, bermuda, bentgrass or bluegrass, our cat will devour it and then, at the precise moment her head is inside one of my shoes, bring it back up with all the force of the tidal wave in the movie “The Poseidon Adventure”. I kid you not, this has happened at least twice. Both times my shoe turned upside down and then a tiny Ernest Borgnine climbed up out of the hole in the sole.

Still, call me a loon, but cats can be amusing sometimes. Our present cat has this peculiar habit of sticking her tongue out when she’s happy, as if she were Michael Jordan dunking a basketball. (I'm not sure if he does this when dunking donuts.) At least we think she’s happy. It’s really hard to tell with cats. They don’t wag their tails and I’ve read that cats will purr when both happy and in excruciating pain so that’s not much help either. In fact, it’s an incredibly stupid way to express oneself, a bit like moaning to convey that the temperature of the bath water is just right.

Our cat though will be walking along and you might say something innocuously nice to her like, “Good Kitty!”. Her little gray cat head will swing around and her tongue will be stuck out as though she was so surprised to hear you say something nice that she forgot to pull it back in. I’ve often been tempted at those moments to ask if the “cat had got her tongue” before I would remember that she’s the cat. Please allow me to apologize for that horrible attempt to include that particular cliche in this piece.

Our cat loves string also. In fact, she’s loopy for string. She actually stops eating for string, which is more than she would do for a nuclear holocaust. If you move the string correctly when she’s playing with it she will actually stand straight up and rapidly fling her paws up and down as though she was trying to climb a greased flag pole. In her younger days she would vault entire pieces of furniture to get at string. It was a rather entertaining sight, if we could get past the realization that she was slowly destroying the only things in the house we had to sit on besides the toilet.

She is very patient with kids as well. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her scratch my daughter once on purpose, despite the hundred or so tail-pullings our little one managed to inflict upon her at an early age. She never gets mad... although she does annoyingly wake us up at six in the morning to announce that her cat bowl is nearly half-empty.

I suppose that we love our cat as much as any pet owner (yes, “owner”, he said polishing off a plate of Buffalo Wings), although certainly not in the same way as those little old ladies who live with swarms of them, and who only appear to have shag carpeted floors because of the massive amounts of shed cat hair that have accumulated over the years. So I may never get much writing mileage out of our cats, and may never be able to wax eloquently about how my dogs can catch frisbees and knock over people (remember, we owned a Pomeranian...which is sort of a cute rat-sized dog with a fur-coat and curly tail). However, we’ll keep the cat and I’ll settle for this essay and evenings of confused purrs and erratic atheletics. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to clean my shoes.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Me, Myself, and You

I am Earl Fando. I am one of the contributors to The Dictionary of Unfortunate Ideas. This is my personal blog. I don't normally write in such a terse style. I'm in a bit of a hurry.

OK - I have a bit more time now. I've already introduced myself on "DOUI" so I'll refer you to there for whatever fictional information you want on me. At some point I will set up my personal profile in Blogger, although I am generally loath to do so as I feel that such things are bizarre electronic dating schemes and there already is a Mrs. Fando. In any case, at that point I'll offer a little more information about myself, most of which will be inaccurate. Inaccurate is a word in comedy that means "made up for laughs". Some may find such information actually funny ("Fando thinks that 'Inna Gotta Da Vida' is a pasta dish?"). Others may find it slightly disturbing ("Fando enjoys salt baths?"). I'm hoping to find some uncomfortable middle ground.

This is the site I'll use to post more lengthy pieces, including excerpts and even entire articles that I've written but haven't been in print. Eventually, as the members of DOUI get set up I plan to link back to each individual's personal blog from the main DOUI blog, but the Dictionary is where most of the action will be. No, I don't mean that kind of action President Clinton. That kind of action is over on Stew's personal blog. (Note to myself: Avoid correspondence with Stew for the next few days.)

Cheers and happy blogging. I am Earl Fando.