Friday, July 20, 2007

Bleat Some Cake

We came for a birthday
We came for some cake!
A big slab of chocolate --
I'll always partake

I sat with my fork
And my plate at the ready.
"Come on! Pass the cake
Please! I'm hungry already!"

But Karen said something
That left me uneasy
"It's made without sugar."
My stomach got queasy.

"A sugar-less cake? Why
I think that I'll pass.
A flavor-less cake is
More likely," I sassed.

"Why don't you just try it,
You big, whiny wuss.
And if you don't like it
That leaves more for us!"

I took a small sliver
While everyone stared.
I winced as I bit it.
"Not bad!" I declared.

My eyes were wide open!
And for the first time
I'd tasted a sugar-free
Food quite divine!

A sugar-free cake can be
Tasty and yummy!
"I need more delicious cake
Here, in my tummy!"

My mouth was in heaven
I couldn't believe it!
I ate fourteen pieces.
It's hard to conceive it!

My belly was bursting
My chewer was sore
I took half a sick day
And dragged out the door.

Suddenly queasy.
I couldn't deny
That eating so much cake
Would simply not fly.

A gurgling, a churning
Was burning my guts
Perhaps fourteen pieces
Of cake was plain nuts?

I jumped in my Saturn
And sped off for home.
My belly proclaimed
I was driving too slow.

I weaved through stopped traffic,
Careened at high speed
If I didn't hurry
New boxers, I'd need.

I pulled in my driveway
My bowels I implored:
"Please hold back the torrent!
Please don't soil the floor!"

I raced to the toilet
To pay for my greed
Without a good book
Or newspaper to read.

That cake got its payback.
That cake took its toll:
A whole philharmonic
Splashed into the bowl.

Trumpets and clarinets!
Flutes and trombones!
All of these instruments
Blared from my throne.

A half hour later
My song was complete.
It wasn't a tune
That I'd care to repeat.

I pulled up my britches
But just for a minute;
My belly insisted
It had more horns in it!

My trumpet was throbbing
My trombone was sore
I didn't think I could stand
Hearing much more!

The concert continued
New instruments born!
Piccolos! Glockenspiels!
Oboes! French horns!

Two hours roared by, friends,
With nary a break.
No one expects this
From mere chocolate cake.

I prayed I had come to
The end of my song.
I stayed near the toilet
In case I was wrong.

Indeed, it was over.
The concert was done.
I thought my first symphony
Would be more fun.

I lay with my tush
Lifted high off the floor
I couldn't sit down 'cause
My tuba was sore.

The next day I wondered:
Who would volunteer
That they too had written
A Song for the Rear?

I soon learned three others
Complained of the blast
That they detonated
When through them, cake passed.

We wanted some answers!
We called the cake vendor.
"What made us so boisterous?"
"Perhaps, it was Splenda?"

"The Splenda!" we cried, "Why
That sugar-free powder
Is what made my evening
Grow louder and louder!"

Eat sugar-free cake, friends
But know just the same
That when you are done
Please -- avoid open flames

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Satisfaction Guaranteed, or You and Your Money Can Come Back

Let me start with a declaration: Local radio sucks. I'm not telling y'all anything you don't know already. The music selection is second-rate, the deejays could use a personality injection and a subscription to something besides "Us Weekly," and the commercial breaks are interminable, especially at drive time.

For ten years, I used a portable CD player that I had bought for $150 in 1996, and I had a cassette adapter so I could listen to it in my car. It was a bit of a pain and not the optimal solution, but worth it so I wouldn't have to listen to yet another morning drive yukfest about how sleazy Paris Hilton is. Well, last year that CD player finally petered out, so I was left again to the juvenile musings that pass for FM radio these days.

I've envied satellite radio, but with one income in the family, I quickly converted the equipment price and monthly subscription fee into how many gallons of milk that indulgence would pay for and decided against it. Lo and behold, though, my oldest boy got two portable CD players for Christmas, so yippee! I sneaked one out of his room and was back in business.

Last week my Bride took the kids up North to visit my in-laws, and she took both players with her so the two older boys would have something of their own to listen to on the 600-mile trek. That left me with my CDs, yet no player, for the car. Bad times. So I decided to plunge into the Information Age by purchasing an inexpensive MP3 player, something I could use in the car without fumbling through discs or skipping anytime I hit a bump in the road.

I went to The Big Red Dot, looked up and down the rack, and saw a 1GB unit, made by the folks who brought you the Cool Wind-Blown Guy in Sunglasses Listening to High-Quality Cassettes. Hmmmm. Big name, good cassettes if I recall correctly. I didn't know if that would translate to digital media, but at least they're no fly-by-night outfit I've never heard of. $65 later, I entered the Digital Music Age.

I got home, greedily slashed through the packaging, and tried to fire her up. What's this? Nothing on the display. I fumbled to plug in the ear buds (Good heavens, I am NEVER going to be comfortable calling them by that name). It was playing, but the display was blank. I pressed all the buttons. Nothing. Wouldn't even turn off. After reading the manual, I jammed a paper clip into the small hole in one end to do a hard reset, and POP! Up came the song title, running time, etc. Cool!

I bought this particular model because it promised a graphic equalizer, customizable play lists, shuffle, repeat -- the usual MP3 features -- so I pressed the Menu button to find them and play with them. Nothing. I held the Menu button for a few seconds. The unit locked like the brochure said it would. I pushed Menu again and again. No Menu. How was I going to shuffle play? I suppose I could listen to my music in alphabetical order, but that would get kind of old, wouldn't it?

Then I plugged it into the USB port, and the promised graphic showing the battery charging did not appear. This was not good. How could I ever trust that it was fully charged? I decided to leave it plugged into the USB all night long, but come sunrise, the battery indicator had not changed one bit.

I called technical support like all the paperwork begged me to do, and within 10 seconds of telling him my problem -- about two minutes less than the time I spent giving him my age, my zip code and my DNA profile -- he told me to take it back. "Just a minor manufacturing defect. I'm sure you won't have a problem with the next one. Just go get a new one."

So I did. The Big Red Dot refunded my money without any questions, and I stomped back to the same aisle to get another 1GB Cool Windblown Guy with Sunglasses unit. Just one bad apple, that's all, I kept telling myself.

Came home, macheted through all the packaging, and turned it on. Uh-oh. "ISA error," and again, no Menu no matter how many times I pushed the button. I went the extra mile and even downloaded new firmware from the technical support website, something the manual told me not to do unless instructed by technical support. I quickly saw why when the screen went blank and the unit couldn't be turned on again, no matter how hard I jammed that paperclip into it.

So, back to The Big Red Dot a third time. The refund cashier this time around did take the time to smile and ask me if anything was wrong with it. "Oh, yeah!" I said, ready with my diatribe against the Cool Windblown Guy Wearing Sunglasses, but she quickly looked away as if she didn't want to hear chapter and verse from another unsatisfied customer so close to the end of her shift. Refund in hand, I walked out the door and went to The Big Yellow Tag. No offense, Big Red Dot, but I had been burned twice, and that's quite enough for me. I bought a 1GB SanDisk Sansa Express. We're dealing with a hard drive company here, they oughta be able to get this glorified hard drive technology right. Right? And did they? Damn straight.

Now, I have a unit that works. It turns on, and the display works. When I plug it into the USB, it happily exclaims "Charging!" When I press the Menu button, and I can shuffle, I can repeat, I can set play lists, I can even listen to the FM radio through the unit. And this thing is one-third the size of the malfunctioning Cool Windblown Guy in Sunglasses units -- so small, I am sincerely worried about swallowing it accidentally -- and $15 cheaper to boot.

I listed to it on the way home from work today, and I can already feel my blood pressure dropping like George W. Bush's approval ratings. No more used car ads, no more whiskey-soaked junior-high comedy torn straight from the pages of "Playboy Party Jokes," no more Paris, none of that. Now, nothing but my woefully outdated music collection.

Good times at last. Anybody know where I can download "The Best of Bread"?

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Confession


Hello. Hi. Hey.

I don't think I can do this.

Yes you can. Go ahead. We've all been there. The first step toward healing is admitting you have a problem.

I don't have a problem.

Then why are you here? You're here for a reason, right? Start again.

I feel stupid.

We all felt stupid. It's normal. You're not stupid. None of us is stupid. You have a problem. We all have the same problem. And once you admit you have a problem, it's the first step in what you need to do to get better. It's the hardest step, but once you take it, you will start to get better.

Really? I just don't...

Yeah. Really. So go ahead.

OK. Hello.

Hey, pal.

My name is Bob, and I'm addicted to....

Addicted to what, Bob?

I'm addicted to.... Oh, this is so stupid.

You've got to stop saying that.

I'm addicted to... Webkinz. God, that sounds stupid.

It's not stupid. Go on.

I'm addicted to Webkinz. I don't know why, but I am.

That wasn't so hard. Do you feel better?

Not much.

It's a big step, Bob, but it's only the first one. Let's take another step. How did you get started on Webkinz, Bob?

My kid got one for his birthday, months ago. A little green frog, a glorified beanie baby. Big deal. My wife said there was a website you could go to where you could play games, and she gave me the little ID tag with the signup information. Big deal, right? I figured it was probably a pay site where I'd have to give 'em a credit card and pay 'em a monthly fee. No way, there's plenty of free games on the Internet, so why would I want to pay for one? So I ignored it, but every couple of weeks, my wife would ask, "When are you going to sign up Aaron on that website?" And I'd give her the usual brush-off. But finally one night, I pulled out the little tag and went to the website. Lo and behold, it was free. So I signed him up.

And then?

I watched him for a few weeks, and it didn't seem like a big deal. A room where you could buy furniture and clothes for your animal, kinda like the Sims, right? The Wheel of Wow. A bunch of arcade games with fuzzy animals. Mini golf, a battleship knockoff, and a polar bear sledding down a mountain. I didn't pay it much attention. But Aaron was getting frustrated because he wasn't earning money fast enough to buy furniture. So after everyone went to bed, I started playing Mini Golf to earn him some points, Webkinz cash they call it. Then I started playing the solitaire card game. And another game where you earned points by typing words that appeared on the screen. And then the Boggle knockoff that earned Aaron big money. Really big money. Well, not real money, but real in Webkinz world.

You did it for the kid.

Yeah, I did it for the kid. That's what I kept telling myself. It was for Aaron. It made him happy. But I kept playing longer and longer, staying up later and later. I told myself I wasn't hooked, that I could stop at any time. But I couldn't stop. I played every night instead of doing productive things, like paying the bills or folding laundry. I tried to bargain with myself and set limits. "You can play a game of Quizzy's Word Challenge if you balance the checkbook." Then, it was "You can play six games of Stack 'Em Up Solitaire if you upload new photos to the website." But it wasn't enough, it wasn't ever enough.

It's very addictive. They make it addictive, so you keep coming back for more.

Well, it got out of hand when I.... No, I can't admit this.

Yes, you can. We've all done it. Believe me.

I... I started playing Webkinz at work.

Amen, brother. Amen.

I told myself I wouldn't do it, that I'd confine my Webkinz to home. But I had a bad day at work. I don't know what it was. Somebody got angry, somebody yelled at me, somebody wouldn't help me, whatever. It doesn't matter what it was, it only matter what I did about it. I played a game of Quizzy's at work. I was hesitant to do it, because I know they're watching what we surf, but I figured the network admins wouldn't notice one hit on a games website in the middle of a bunch of work. And I've seen the receptionist playing solitaire a bunch of times, so why couldn't I have a break? I deserve it, right, probably even more than she did? So I took a half an hour and played one game of Quizzy's, and it felt wonderful. But it left me wanting more. So I told myself I could keep it under control, play a game of Quizzy's every day at lunch, just for a break. And it was all right, for a while.

It always is at the beginning.

I held it together for a while, but it started getting out of hand, and I played more and more. Once when I got into work, once at lunch, and then again before going home. I started not caring if they caught me. I started not caring if I got fired. It made me feel good when I played Webkinz, it made me feel smart, it made me feel like I was accomplishing something. On the Webkinz I felt in control, in command, while the rest of my life was a chaotic, spinning puzzle. Sigh.

And then what.

Aaron's Webkinz account was overflowing with imaginary cash, but my own checkbook was being neglected. I'd sneak Webkinz before dinner, I'd sneak Webkinz while the kids were getting a bath, I'd sneak Webkinz instead of reading books to the kids. I started combing eBay to see if I could sell excess Webkinz cash as a part-time job. You can't, but I kept looking, kept hoping.

So why are you here?

I know it can't continue. I know the Webkinz is taking me nowhere. It feels good when I'm doing it, but I'm not getting anywhere with it. I know now that I need to stop. It's so hard, though. I find myself thinking about Webkinz in meetings at work, in the car on the drive home, at the dinner table when I'm supposed to be paying attention to the family. The addiction is hardest when I'm at a computer monitor, though. I find myself drifting from to to, and from there to the inevitable. My fingers tap-tap the URL, The animals pop up on the screen, and they look so friendly, so inviting, so eager to be my good time pals again. But their friendship is empty, and all that lies beyond the username and password are imaginary riches that lead to real heartache.

This is a good start, Bob. A great start. You understand, though, that you have an addictive personality, and that you're extremely vulnerable right now. You need to replace bad habits with good ones, at least for the time being while the wounds heal. Have you thought about that? What can you use to replace the Webkinz void in your life while you get through these first few months?

Sheesh, I dunno, I dunno. Do you think I could make some real money at the PartyPoker?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Kill the Goose

I was playing golf on Tuesday, at your typical suburban course with plenty of little ponds and streams to provide aesthetic charm and athletic challenge. A group of about a dozen Canada geese were grazing on the grass near the bunkers off the left side of one of the fairways, and an errant drive off my driver -- one of many -- bounded toward this cluster at a pretty fair clip.

As the ball zipped close, the geese stayed focused on the turf at the ends of their beaks, and even as the ball bounded between two of them, they hardly gave it any notice. Two of the geese poked their heads up briefly, as if momentarily distracted by the notion of a golf ball being anywhere near their dining, while their companions continued pulling and chomping at the grass unawares.

My ball stopped near the geese, yet they refused to move as we clattered the golf cart up to my Titleist. "Watch this," I told my golf partner. I started walking over to the geese. "Hey fellas, how you doin'?" I asked. Not a sound except for the unabated tearing of grass from their roots.

"You're not going to move are you?" I continued as I moved closer in, hunched down with my arms opened wide in as threatening a manner as I could muster. A few of the geese gave me a sideways glance but continued chewing.

I was within four feet. "You gonna move now?" I asked. The two geese directly in front of me finally lifted their heads and started mumbling something to each other in goose talk. I'm certain it wasn't anything more evolved than "Mmmph?"

Once I got within a couple of feet, the point at which I could have lunged and easily wrapped my arms around one of them with a solid tackle, the geese finally decided to start walking away, grumbling the whole while. Not a panicked retreat, but more of an annoyed dismissiveness as they sidled a few feet further away.

Which is when I concluded that we're lacking a good predator here in the suburbs.

There are many people in my town who are wringing their hands over what we should do with the geese, especially after Anna Paquin did that movie where she flew the ultralight with the geese to teach them how to migrate. People here can't see fit to kill these critters, because they believe it would be cruel to the animals, terrible publicity and, frankly, not very sporting.

But our civic leaders don't want the geese leaving huge steaming goose bombs in our parks anymore either. One soccer field near my office is a popular grazing area for geese, and I can tell you first hand that geese are prolific excretors. There's nothing like walking back to the locker room after a hard fought game only to find a dark, moist clump lodged in your cleats, and you're left wondering how many times you dived after a ball and what you might have dived into without realizing it.

They're a road hazard too, although not to the same extent as a deer. When one goose decides to walk across the street, the entire flock follows. Slowly, and paying no mind to any cars bearing down on them. They don't speed up, they don't turn around. They keep walking, and all their friends jump into the road to join them. I have laid on the horn for ten seconds straight when faced with a wandering goose in the middle of my lane, and he still wouldn't speed up, slow down or go back. He just kept on truckin'.

Why can't we let nature solve the problem by introducing a predator to the mix? This is what's supposed to happen, isn't it? If there is an overabundance of a food source, then a predator is supposed to appear on the scene to help to even the scales. A full-sized Canada goose is about the size of a decent Thanksgiving turkey, and the flock is so stupid they probably wouldn't notice if a fox or a cougar was milling around for a while picking them off one by one over the course of a month.

Geese are more of an annoyance than a true danger, though, so I don't think we'll be seeing any salivating pumas in our cul de sac anytime soon. Certainly not as dangerous as deer, but that's for another time.