To All Charitable Organizations Who Happen To Have My Address

Folks, I’m a charitable guy.  Which is why when I received a charitable solicitation accompanied by some cute return address labels in the mail two months ago, I sent them a couple bucks.  Well, guess what?  That charity had some charity friends.  And it was nice enough to tell its charity friends about me.  Now, when I go out to the mailbox, I feel like I’ve wandered into a petting zoo covered in Grape Nuts.

If you are one of those charities that likes to include return address labels, and you’re reading this, allow me to say:  “Thank you.  Thank you for meeting, and surpassing my return address label needs.  Please do not send anymore.  Sure, I hate writing my name and address as much as the next guy, and I enjoy the status that only a well-printed return address label can offer a guy like me…especially with the folks in the mail room at WE Energies, but I just don’t need anymore return address labels.  I don’t know that I’ve ever needed this many.” 

I pray for the day that we cure all diseases and we won’t require money for research and I’m willing to help out until that time comes.  I’m just saying that the return address labels are no longer acting as an incentive.

Now, some of these charities have taken it one step further.  They claim that every nickel counts and, by way of proof, they send a nickel…attached to the paper with rubber cement.  If one such charity is reading this:  I know for some people who require visual and tactile affirmation of a particular concept, that nickel is a symbol of how easy it is to help, and those same people probably really appreciate that you took the time to rubber cement a nickel to the paper.  I, on the other hand, am just confused.  If nickels are so important, why are you sending them to me?  Keep them…please!  Besides, if I do send you a donation that is tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law, I would prefer you not use it for nickels and rubber cement.

Thank you.

-Dylan

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Hollywood Royalty

I don’t know if we have a say in the matter, but I’d like to appoint some new Hollywood royalty.  For years Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have reigned, but I feel the polish on the scepter is beginning to fade if it hasn’t already.

I never quite understood the fascination.  The Red Carpet sycophants from E! and TV Guide and so forth would have us think that love, happiness and glamour stream from Brad and Angelina like spider silk, but I think the perennially perky E! correspondents might be flogging a dead unicorn.

Watching the Red Carpet coverage from the SAG awards last night, it was clear that the response from the fans in attendance was more Pavlovian than actual joy; as if the high-pitched squealing was Heimliched out of them by a sense of obligation. 

I have no issue with Brad Pitt.  I’ve enjoyed most everything I’ve seen him in, and he seems like a genuine, caring fellow underneath his cloak of stardom, and he’s been very hands-on when it comes to rebuilding New Orleans (www.makeitrightnola.org).  I liked Benjamin Button better when it was Forrest Gump, and you’d be VERY hard pressed to do it better than Tom Hanks, but you can’t fault Brad Pitt for taking the gig.

I have a different feeling when it comes to Angelina Jolie.  She was very good in Girl, Interrupted, but I don’t understand all of this Changeling buzz.  Maybe it’s because I, like many men, tend to try to lay low and avoid the impending swath of destruction when we see a woman screaming and crying for two and a half hours.  It may well be a very good film, but I’ve retreated to the basement and am busy drilling holes into wood and sanding things until it blows over.

My point is that I’m not sure she’s earned her aloof and regal air.  Johnny Depp has an aloof and regal air too, but it seems to come from humility and kindness, whereas Angelina Jolie is poised to punish direct eye contact with a beat down from her security guards.  (By the way, listening to her speak, is she Australian now?)  But what do I know about it.

Nevertheless, I think it’s time to coronate a new celebrity couple.

In the category of New Celebrity Couple For Us To Fawn Over To Replace Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (“Brangelina”), the nominees are:

Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick (“Kedgwick”), Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson (“Tita Wilhanks”), Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith (“Winket Smith”), Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi (“El de Grossi”) and Josh Brolin and Diane Lane (“J-Brain”).

And the winner is…

(To Be Continued)

-Dylan

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Total Fitness For Life

I would like to start my own gym.  The trouble is that I still have a membership at Bally’s Total Fitness.  I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to cancel your membership with Bally’s, but, trust me, it’s very difficult.  To their credit, they have made it a little easier.  Nowadays, if you want to cancel you membership, all you have to do is go to your local Bally’s and blow your brains out all over the StairMaster.  After that, they’ll generally stop charging your bank account within six months. 

But there is another way.  During my last visit, while I was running on the indoor track, I noticed an Emergency Door.  On the door was a sign reading:  “Emergency use only!  Unauthorized use of this door may result in a loss of membership.”  Seriously?!  All this time I’ve been making phone calls and sitting on hold and sending proof of address when all I had to do was open the Emergency Door?!  Crazy!

But my gym would be very different from other gyms due in no small part to the very few, yet very specific rules.  First of all, NO WOMEN.  This rule is in NO WAY intended to be sexist.  I have a great deal of respect for women and the tight, psychological grip that they have on me.  Rather this rule is important because trying to impress women with their physical prowess is the leading cause of gym injuries among men.

The other rule is the Towel Rule.  A towel must be carried and UTILIZED at all times.  This rule used to be universal, but many gyms have gotten very lax with it.  Always wipe down the machine when you’re done with it.  No one wants to approach the curl machine only to splash down in your Grunt Gravy.

Also, in the locker room, you must always wear the towel around your waist.  Look, I’m not ashamed of my body; God knows Science has been studying it for years, but a little modesty would be nice.  After all, it’s a locker room, not Caligula’s Rome.

And by all means, when your sitting naked on the benches, PUT THE TOWEL DOWN FIRST.  It’s incredibly unnerving to see you sitting there with absolutely no barrier between your glutes and the bench.  And then to watch you get up with an audible POP only to see a dime-sized hickey on the pine.

And when you’re standing at the sink, WEAR THE TOWEL.  The height of the counter is designed to accommodate men of all statures.  Unfortunately, for far to many men, that means that the counter comes up to right about Groin Level.  For some strange reason, many of these men see that as an invitation to say:  You rest right there, little buddy, and watch Daddy shave.  And I guarantee, people will hesitate to extend their membership when you’ve got yours extended all over the counter.

-Dylan

I Had A Dream

I know that, on the heels of the last Blog, you may have the impression that this dream was somehow profound and poignant.  I’ll tell you right now that it wasn’t, but it was a dream nonetheless and I had to write it down.  It’s fragmented and weird like dreams are when recalled.

For some reason, I was late for a job.  I think it was a bartender job.  I was on foot and decided to take a shortcut that happened to be across a corner of a different country.  I didn’t have a passport and I hoped that that would be okay.

There was an office on the border that was similar to the weigh station on the east side of northbound I-94 as you enter Wisconsin from Illinois.  I entered the office and who should be the consulate/border guard but Scott Baio!  I told him that I was just passing through and I didn’t have my passport.  He seemed confused about how to handle it and, as a result, two other office workers, a man and a woman, began to laugh at him.  He began to laugh himself and then pulled out a silver automatic handgun.  He stood up, knocking his chair over and pumped three rounds a piece into his co-workers.  I screamed and ran.  I heard shots coming from behind me and, ahead of me, wood splintered off of the door jambs.

I ran and ran and ran.  I didn’t look back, but occassionally I’d hear a shot.  I eventually arrived at the bar, ran inside and yelled:  “Scott Baio is trying to kill me!”  I ducked behind the bar and waited.  Then I began filling the cooler. 

Analysis, anyone?

-Dylan

Yes We Can

“We fear things in proportion to our ignorance of them.”  –Titus Livius

“Anger is nothing more than an outward expression of hurt, fear and frustration.”  –Dr. Phil

Today, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and one day before the inauguration of our first African-American president, it’s difficult to not at least assess the state of race relations in this country and in this day and age.  I say “difficult” because, for many it would seem, acknowledging race runs the risk of disturbing the tenuous equilibrium that has been established between the oppressors and the oppressed, humanity and inhumanity, the righteous and the wronged. 

To many within the younger generations, unwitting beneficiaries of the Civil Rights Movement that they are, the topic may seem irrelevant.  Slavery, Segregation, Rosa Parks, Dr. Marin Luther King Jr., the Montgomery Bus Boycott and countless other personalities, actions and moments are just parts of a segment of time called “The Past” along with the Moon Landing, the Louisiana Purchase and the Treaty of Ghent.  Sure Barack Obama will be next president; he’s a thoughtful, articulate, seemingly empathetic figure.  He happens to be bi-racial and one of those races happens to be African American; what’s the big deal?  I know that there are young people with just that opinion.  I know because I’ve met them and talked to them.

It would seem that their lungs have developed an immunity to the air bearing the lingering poison of tear gas and the smoke from burning crosses.

Still others exhibit the stooped shoulders of hand-me-down racism.  They don’t know why they wear the vestments of bigotry, resentment and indignation, but they, like most humans, tend to accept the reality with which they are presented.  One’s World View is refracted through the glasses one is given, and philosophy will cling to any framework, however twisted.

Personally, I was raised in a small Indiana town.  Actively or passively, we were suspicious of anyone with more than a farmer’s tan.  I moved to Milwaukee, and saw an African-American for the first time when I was 12 years old; many were my new classmates.  I observed that the people who wanted to separate themselves did, and the people that wanted to blend did as well.  For the people who wanted to somehow distinguish themselves, race was just one of the many lines that they had at their disposal.  Intelligence, physical ability, gender, family wealth and wardrobe were others.  Of course, as children, we didn’t know from sexual orientation, but clearly it’s relevant today.  And if finer lines were necessary, each of the above traits had sub-traits that could be exploited.

I wonder if there will ever be a day when skin color is perceived as strictly genetic and physiological; when it’s only the result of more or less melanin in the epidermis, and therefore no more an indication of a person’s character than the melanin in (color of) his/her hair.  What if parents explained it to their kids just like that:

“Mommy?”

“Yes, honey.”

“Why is that man’s skin so dark?”

“Well, honey, it’s because he has more melanin which is produced by something called melanocytes which are found in the stratum basale of the epidermis.  The gene expression of certain people results in a greater or lesser concentration of melanin.”

“What?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Okay.”

Personally, I look forward to that day.

-Dylan

Some more Friday Trivia–Three Sheets

“Three sheets to the wind” is a phrase that is commonly used to describe drunkenness.  Like most phrases and idioms of today, it has a nautical origin.  Sailors have their own language.  It’s as if, when they were babies, their parents carried them around, pointed at things and said words that had nothing at all to do with the things that they were pointing at.

If I told you that a boat contained several “sheets,” you would probably assume that I was referring to the sails.  After all, if you looked around your house for something with which to make a sail, you’d likely use a bed sheet.  That makes perfect sense…and would immediately identify you to any Old Salt as a “Landlubber.”  In nautical terms, the sheets are the ropes or chains that afix the sails to the deck.  Also, it’s important to know that the original version of “three sheets to the wind” was “three sheets in the wind.”

If one sheet (rope) came unfastened, the sail would flutter.  If two sheets came unfastened it was worse, and “three sheets in the wind” would make the ship bob and roll like a drunken sailor, which is how the phrase came to be.

And speaking of:  The other night, in a fit of alcoholic inspiration/desperation, I concocted the worst drink ever to sully the gullet of a man on this planet:  Windsor Canadian Whiskey and Pink Lemonade.  I call it the “Frilly Canuck.”  I will say, however, that, as far as drinks go, it’s a very consistant beverage…by which I mean it tastes exactly the same going down as it does coming up.

-Dylan

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Wind Chill

I’ve always wondered about the effect of what meteorologists call wind chill on objects like cars.  The effect of wind chill on living things is undeniable.  Who hasn’t gone outside on a frigid day only to hear the solid thud of birds, frozen on the wing, hitting the ground like low-caliber cannonballs.  But what about our automobiles?

As you drive, the movement of the car through air is the same as wind, right?  So if you were traveling at 60mph through a temperature of 10 degrees, according to the handy, dandy wind chill calculator provided by the N.O.A.A. (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), that’s a wind chill of -18 degrees, or, in meteorological terms:  “Sucky.”  (By the way, I love the idea that someone somewhere is “administering” our national oceans and atmosphere.)  This being the case, you’d think that cars would quickly grind to an icy halt, stranding their occupants until Spring.

So, does wind chill affect machines?  Yes and no.  Machines will cool off quicker in the wind, but they will not cool off more than the temperature of the air.  A 10-degree engine block will still be 10 degrees even with a 60mph wind, but its operating temperature will not rise as much and will return to 10 degrees much faster in a 60mph wind than in no wind at all.  Now, if you stuck your hand out the window, you would be an idiot.

In conclusion, if your car is sitting out in 10-degree air with a 60mph wind, as far as your car is concerned, it’s 10 degrees.  But as far as we organic, living things are concerned, wind chill blows.

-Dylan

Do the Right Thing

I would like to pitch a new reality show in the vein of ABC’s True Beauty called Do the Right Thing

We put 10 young, beautiful people in a house together.  Then, we equip each of them with their own 9mm Smith and Wesson handgun with one bullet in the chamber.  At any point during the competition they can use it to kill any other housemate.  The show may go on for months or it may end as soon as it starts with an O.K. Corral-like shootout in the well-cameraed, Bistro-style, island kitchen.  We just don’t know but, either way, it will make great television.  Also, if they happen to develop a soul, they can “Do the Right Thing” and turn the gun on themselves.  The contestant left standing will then be given one more bullet with which he/she will “Do the Right Thing”…and use on me.

I quit.

-Dylan

Bernie Madoff Jumps the Shark with Ponzi

It doesn’t entertain me when good people are taken advantage of, but it REALLY entertains me when rich, bloated plutocrats are.  It probably has to do with the distance of the fall.  Dive off a pontoon into a lake?  That’s nice; enjoy.  Dive off a board fifty feet in the air into a bucket containing a damp sponge?  Popcorn, please!

I am still fascinated by the ways that the sinister human brain has devised to separate a fool from his money.  I love movies like David Mamet’s House of Games.  I like to picture the stock market like a shrinking watering hole in sub-Saharan Africa where skittish gazelles stoop down to wet their noses on dividends, suspicious but unaware of the douchebag Wall Street Grifters lying in wait, trying to look like harmless logs.  As long as the almighty dollar is our life-giving water, someone is going to get taken in a spectacular strike, and instead of the Discovery Channel, we watch it in high definition on CNBC.

So naturally, when I heard about this whole Bernie Madoff, “Ponzi Scheme” thing, I thought it must be a brilliant new fleecing tool.  I came to find out, however, that it’s simple to the point of being absurd.  If you care to know more about the “Ponzi Scheme,” read on.  If not, go check your email and be well.

First of all, “Ponzi” is an actual person.  Charles Ponzi was an Italian immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1903.  While the “scheme” bears his name, he’s not the first to implement it.  In 1844, Charles Dickens wrote a book called Martin Chuzzlewitt in which he describes the same “scheme,” but “Chuzzlewitt Scheme” just doesn’t sing, does it?

I keep putting the word “scheme” in quotes because, as I researched the “Ponzi Scheme,” I was searching for an actual “scheme;” an intriguing plot, intricate Shenanigans, something that required criminal genius, anything other than what I found.  Forget Madoff, Ponzi and Dickens; today’s “Ponzi scheme” is literally nothing more than robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Let’s say I wanted to initiate a “Ponzi Scheme.”  I would come to you and say:  “Hey, friend, if you give me a thousand dollars, I can guarantee a return on your investment of twenty percent,” to which you would reply:  “Hells Yeah!”  The trick is that I don’t just present this offer to you; I present it to 100 people, all of whom say:  “Hells Yeah!”  Now I have $100,000.  If you ask for your money, I can cover it with the money that the other people have given me, but generally, I’ll just show you a piece of official-looking paper with my letterhead congratulating you on your profit while suggesting that you re-invest it with me to make even more money.  Being a savvy investor and eager to see your money grow, you do.  I go ahead and buy a bass boat and dock it in Bermuda.

This works like a champ until the something happens like, say, the Stock Market takes a dive into a bucket containing a damp sponge.  Then everybody wants to “liquidate their investments.”  (That’s an important-sounding term meaning:  “Gimme my damn money!”)  Then, and only then, are there insufficient funds and my “scheme” is revealed.  Then I get busted and start mailing jewelry to my family so the authorities can’t seize it.

That’s it.  That’s the “Ponzi Scheme.”  Who would’ve thought that, in this day and age, your money would actually be safer at the Dog Track, and your best investment would be “Soon to be Euthanized” in the fifth.  Unlike Bernie Madoff and his ilk, lying motionless in the shrinking pool of water, dogs aren’t capable of “schemes.”

-Dylan

Some Friday Trivia–Common Phrases

I love trivia.  My brain is full of it.  Sure, I can’t remember which of my young cousins is diabetic and I keep accidentally giving him birthday cake, but I can remember:

“Oh, Oh, Oh, ice cold milk and an Oreo Cookie.  They forever go together in this classic combination:  When a dark, delicious cookie meets an icy, cold sensation, like the one and only, creamy, crunchy, chocolaty O-R-E-O.  Keeps your milk from gettin’ lonely.”

And if I happen to forget my wedding anniversary, it’s because I do remember:

“Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.”

So I’d might as well share this affliction, right?  Here are a couple bits of trivia that you can whip out at parties in order to compete with the brooding guy with the guitar in the basement that all the chicks seem to swoon over because he’s SOOO sensitive not that I’m bitter or anything, I mean, that was high school for God’s sake and here I am nearly 40 years old; you’d think that I’d be over that by now, but you’d be surprised at the details that the brain chooses to hang on to like the kitten clinging to the branch in that inspirational poster which seems kind of cruel to me to hang a kitten from a branch solely because you want to make a poster; the kitten is clearly terrified; I wonder if that cat is still alive. 

Where was I?  Oh, yes.

Perhaps you’ve heard that lighting “three on a match” is bad luck.  Why?  This superstition has a very practical origin; it kept soldiers from getting killed.  For instance, if a soldier was lighting cigarettes for himself and his buddies, as he lit the match to light the first, it could be spotted by a sniper, on the second cigarette, the sniper could aim, and by the time the third cigarette was lit, the sniper would have pulled the trigger.  Naturally, being shot at by snipers was considered very bad luck.

Along a similar vein:  Did you ever wonder where the phrase “Shoot the Shit” came from?  Likewise, it’s origins are steeped in war; specifically World War One.  In the trenches of WWI, there were no toilets or even Port-a-Potties.  Instead, there were latrine buckets.  When they weren’t fighting, WWI soldiers would spend their down time chatting and taking pot shots (pun very much intended) at the latrine buckets.  The phrase later became synonymous with leisure time. 

“Caught Red Handed” is a phrase that denotes certain guilt, but where did it come from?  The phrase was originally used to impune cattle rustlers.  You may notice that many if not most barns are painted red.  That’s because the Ferrous Oxide used to create the red was, and probably still is, the cheapest pigment available and therefore used for large, expansive surfaces like outbuildings.  When a man was accused of cattle rustling, often times he still had flecks of red paint on his hands from entering the barn.  If he was “caught red handed,” he was most certainly guilty.  It was like C.S.I. Yuma.

So there you go.  Trust me, this is only a taste.  By the way, if you have a phrase origin question or a phrase origin that you’d like to share, feel free to include it in the comments under this posting.  I’d love to use it to replace something important in my brain.

-Dylan