TYING UP A TELEMARKETER

If you hang up on a telemarketer who ignores your Do Not Call listing he can quickly begin to search for other prey.  It would be better to waste his time, reduce the number of illegal calls he can make that day, and have a little fun while you’re at it.

“Jimminy Chimney Corp.?  Yes, we’ve had good reports on your operation. In fact my wife intended to call you.  Unfortunately she’s in the north wing at the moment and can’t be reached quickly.  I’d send the butler to fetch her, but Basil is on sabbatical now, boning up for his doctoral thesis.  However, I can give you a quick rundown on the type of service we’ll require.

“We have 14 fireplace chimneys, 15 if you count the one in the gardener’s cottage. I’m ashamed to say they’ve been neglected for several years and will need extensive repairs besides your routine cleaning.  I’d guess you’d need a ten-man crew working full time for three months to complete the job.  Of course the expense has to be considered, but we have a sizable infrastructure repair budget.”

I rattled on for 30 minutes until I thought I detected the sound of drooling on the other end.  Then I delivered the coup de grace.

“I hope you don’t find my speaker phone annoying, but it’s difficult to use our regular phone while I’m wearing this awkward straitjacket and the fellow who unties it won’t be here for an hour.  Dreadful chap. He insists on referring to our ancestral mansion as ‘the studio apartment’ “.

“If you accept the job I’d like a full report on the condition of our roofs.  Flying saucers have been landing there regularly and I’m sure there’s damage. Those Martians are so careless.  Hello, hello?”

MY BLURRY CAREER AS A PHOTOG

After all these years of struggle with photography I’m still undeveloped.  I started when I was 8 years old with a Kodak Baby Brownie camera I’d won in a soapbox derby.  My father said he’d pay for the first roll of film and developing, but after that I should be earning enough with the camera to cover expenses.  I don’t blame Dad for that little fib. It was during the Great Depression and 50 cents was a significant amount of money.  It would buy a gallon of milk, five gallons of gas or five loaves of Wonder Bread.

I thought if anything exciting took place in my neighborhood I’d take a few shots to sell to a newspaper and maybe become famous.  The closest thing to an exciting event was when old Mrs. Bockman, a rather stout lady, got wedged in her chicken coop doorway one morning when she went out to gather eggs. She raised a howl and the chickens went berserk.

When I arrived with my Brownie Mrs. Bockman’s frantic struggle had left her house dress a bit askew and she begged me not to take her picture, so I didn’t.  I realized then I’d never make it as a paparazzo, but I’ll bet she would have paid me a whole dollar for the film or the picture would have made the front page with the caption: “Trapped housewife threatened by crazed roosters rescued by a young photog.”

Years later I became a freelance reporter and editors soon learned to limit me to reporting and send  pros to shoot pictures.  Now and then, however, I was handed a reflex camera, given confusing f-stop and shutter speed instructions and told to do my best.  My best wasn’t always up to par.

“Explain this picture!” my editor growled after examining one of my shots.

“It’s plain enough, isn’t it chief?  That’s fire fighters climbing a ladder at the warehouse fire you sent me to.”

“They look like they’re climbing over each other’s backs and the highest man seems to have two heads while the lowest has four legs. I think I’m looking at a double exposure here.”

“That’s okay, Chief. I’ll only charge you for a single.”

GETTING HIS RIGHTS WRONG

The mail boy arrived at the office wearing a colorful T-shirt and it wasn’t a dress down day.  The office manager was beginning to bawl him out when he interrupted.  “Sir, you cannot  deny me my constitutional right.”

“Your constitutional right?”

“Yes, I just heard about it on the TV news last night. The 2nd Amendment gives me the right to bare arms.”

HAMMURABI WASN’T COMPLETELY WRONG

I mostly agree with the 8th Amendment of our Constitution which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment,  but I really don’t understand the ban on unusual punishment if it isn’t cruel.

Say an 18-year old boy is caught shoplifting a couple of neato fishing lures he just couldn’t afford at the time. A kindly judge might give him the law and order lecture and then add, “I could fine you much more than the cost of those lures and you’d have a record, but since this is your first offense and you’re so young, I want you to go into my chambers now and stand in the corner for an hour and think about that. Then we’ll call it even and you can go home.”

Now that’s unusual punishment, but the kid should really appreciate it. Community service sentences are a good idea for light offenses, but if anyone finds out the guy sweeping the courthouse steps isn’t a do-gooder volunteer, he’s branded.

Other types of unusual punishment could be something like the “eye for an eye” kind created almost 4,000 years ago by Hammurabi, a Babylonian king.  The punishment would have some similarity to the offense, but there would be no mutilation involved.

I would join a class action suit against the packaging guy who invented those clear, hard plastic bubble containers that are almost impenetrable.  They might extend the shelf life of merchandise, but they have shortened the tempers and fingernails of millions of consumers.

I don’t know the official name of those annoying packages, but I’ve used a few unprintable ones while experiencing bubble trouble.   I watched my friend Larry try to breach one to get at his new watch band and heard him mutter a few colorful names I hadn’t heard since I got out of the army.

We class action people shouldn’t try to pauperize the inventor. He probably meant well and didn’t realize how much frustration and anger he was inflicting on the public.  We could just sue for our attorney fees and one added provision.  Every day for a year the inventor’s dinners would be delivered in one of his bubbles and the only allowable tools would be a butter knife and a spoon.

If they had that kind of troublesome packaging in Hammurabi’s time the inventor would probably have been imbubbled.

 

TOE-TAPPING SIDE EFFECT

I recently bought a newly developed salve to deal with an annoying rash on both elbows. It seems to be working, but it’s going to take time and I’m worried about that because last night I watched the product’s TV commercial. It started with some fellow scratching his abdomen vigorously and his wife looking concerned.

In the next scene he was applying the salve and was soon frolicking on the beach in a bathing suit with no sign of any skin problems.  I found this encouraging, but then they started reporting the possible side effects.  I can deal with a temporary lack of appetite and energy, but then, and I thought they were kidding when they said, “In very rare cases, after prolonged use,  the patient will experience an uncontrollable urge to dance the fandango.”.

I checked their website and there was that same strange warning, and I’d been using the salve for a week. I mentioned this to my friend Larry and he was stunned. “I’ve been putting that stuff on my ankles for two weeks now, and would you believe it, every now and then I think I hear a guitar playing someplace.”  Poor Larry. He’s got two left feet. He’s an Arthur Miller dropout and he won’t be able to do the fandango without falling on his face.

I did some Google research and found this odd symptom is not so far-fetched.  Starting in the 13th century and lasting over 300 years there were widespread epidemics of the dancing plague or choreomania across Europe with hundreds of victims suddenly dancing erratically in the countryside, two-stepping from one town to another until they dropped from exhaustion.  There were some fatalities.

The modern Italian dance, the tarantella, began as a type of choreomania.  The victims blamed their irrepressible urge to trip the light fantastic on perceived tarantula bites that had poisoned their blood and hysterical dancing with trailing musicians was the only antidote.

Larry and I decided to quit using the salve. Fortunately he learned that the kid next door had just started taking guitar lessons, so he’s probably going to be okay. But we’ll stay close and if the worst comes to worst, we’ll do the fandango together.  I’ll have to lead.

MULTIPLE MOMS

As a young boy I approached my father with an important question. “Dad, am I being raised by a single mother?”

“Yes, my son,” he replied, “and you’re very fortunate. In later years you will have double mothers and probably triple. Your life will become much more complicated I’m afraid.”

“I don’t understand, Dad.”

“Well, Son, while you’re very young your life is pretty much in the hands of your mom, your birth mother.  I am your birth father and you can always come to me for advice on important matters like selecting fishing lures and kite flying, and with requests for allowance advances and, much later, for the car keys.  Eventually you will be asking me to explain women to you and I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint you. I am not qualified.

“Then one eventful day, probably the most important day in your life, you will fall in love. If you’re lucky the young lady will have the same tender feelings about you and you will marry and your wife will become your second mother.  Your mom, your birth mother,  will never let go and your wife’s mother will rightly assume she has gained a son.

“This triumvirate will have opinions and give you advice, sometimes conflicting, on many important aspects of your life from then on.  Fortunately,  you will retain complete freedom of action in some areas like selecting fishing lures and kite flying.”

IN PRAISE OF POLES

Every so often I’m unjustly accused of being anti-something or other. The other evening my wife, Barbara, a talented culinary artist, had again managed to set a delicious dinner before the king (okay, before her loyal attendant).  I was about to dig in when I noticed something odd.  “What’s that scattered through the salad?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s kielbasa, ” she replied. “I had some left over and I thought it would liven up the lettuce.”

“I love kielbasa, but I’m not sure I’d like Polish salad.”

“You don’t like the Poles?”

“Are you kidding?  I’ve always admired the Poles, the way they stood up to the Axis invasion in 1939, fighting on despite great casualties and disrupting Hitler’s time table  for his conquest of Europe.  Then there was the heroic battle at the Warsaw ghetto.

“The Poles also broke the German military code and turned over their data to the British which was a tremendous advantage during the war and saved thousands of lives.

“Then of course,  there was Lech Walesa and his Solidarity movement, encouraged by Saint John Paul II, our first Polish pope.  That Polish workers union forced Communist Russia to loosen its grip on the country and was the beginning of the end for the despotic regime.”

“No, I hold the Poles in great regard and if some accomplished Polish-American ran for president I might even volunteer to help with his or her  campaign.”

“And what if your Polish-American became president and asked you to join the administration”, Barbara asked and I replied that sounds far-fetched, but I would be honored.

“Then maybe we’d  be asked to dine at the White House some day,” Barbara said dreamily.

“Wow!  Dinner at the White House with our Polish-American president,  that would be memorable,” I said.  “But you must understand,  I might not eat the salad.”

 

 

WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO CHRISTMAS?

Christmas has changed a lot during my lifetime.  For instance, whatever happened to Christmas clubs?  We used to put a few dollars into our Christmas club at the bank every month, hoping to reach our $100 goal by December.  We often settled for a $50 balance.

A Christmas club nowadays might be something you swing wildly on Black Friday to clear a path to the amazing  deals at the electronics counter.

“Every day of the year should be Christmas” has been sung and proclaimed in many yuletide plays and movies.  I think we’re getting there. Christmas sales now begin right after Labor Day and end with a post-holiday door-buster event just before Saint
Valentine’s Day.

Have you noticed? The further we get from the real meaning of Christmas, the more hectic it gets as we get mauled in the malls and go to noisy  parties.  As some wag remarked, “Holiday office parties are a great chance to meet people you haven’t seen for almost a half hour.”  Comedian Phyllis Diller said the thing she didn’t like about the company Christmas party was looking for a job the next day.  An over-spiked wassail bowl can be as dangerous as a whirlpool or a tsunami.  Loosened lips can result in pink slips.

What helps is trying to remember your Christmas moments, like the first time you sat on that welcoming lap and looked up into the smiling eyes of Santa Claus, hoping you’d come out okay on his naughty and nice list. He was always willing  to forgive and forget.

I remember as a young boy, helping to assemble a life-size nativity scene in front of our church.  At one point I was left in the rustic shelter while the others went to usher in the historic  visitors.  For a short while I stood in the fading light of a wintry afternoon, looking down into the manger with Mary and Joseph.  The Baby Jesus was smiling up at us and I realized this was a Christmas moment.  I’d reached the stable before the shepherds and the Magi.

AN OLD FASHIONED CHRISTMAS, POSSIBLY NEOLITHIC

Last year I decided for the first time to get my Christmas tree the old-fashioned way. For over 75 years I’d made the all-weather Yuletide treks around town, beginning as my father’s helper, searching for a Christmas tree dealer who would charge what we considered a reasonable price for a respectable tree.  They are quite rare.

Dad and I would be haggling with a tree guy as snowflakes or sleet piled up on our mackinaws.  “You’re kidding, right?” Dad would say.  “That can’t be the right price for this poor excuse for a balsam.”  Neither of us knew a balsam from a sequoia, but we tried to sound like savvy tree shoppers.

“That’s a bargain at this price,” the tree guy would argue. “Yes, there is one narrow stunted side, but this is just the right tree for a corner of a dimly lit room.  And I’ll also throw in a few branches you can easily attach to the trunk to fill  in”

By then Dad and I were shivering and showing signs of frostbite so we paid the four dollars. {This was 1943) and watched as the tree guy tied up the balsam  (or whatever) and carried it to  our car, leaving a brilliant trail of green needles and muttering Christmas carols all the while. Well, he was muttering something .

I’ve had to endure this entire painful scenario every year since and last year I decided instead, to go into the forest and find my own perfect tree the way our ancestors did, hundreds or  maybe thousands of years ago.  It wasn’t all that easy, the searching, the chopping, the constant looking over my shoulder for a challenging  land owner or forest ranger, but eventually I emerged  with a beautiful specimen and only minor cuts and bruises.

On Christmas eve I sat before my prize, attractively decorated and illuminated with my family basking  in its glow.  “That’s a great looking tree, Dad,” my son said.  “It’s so sturdy with such strong branches.  What kind of tree is it?”

“It’s hard to tell without the leaves,” I said, “but I think it’s an oak.”

 

 

 

 

AN OLD-FASHIONED CHRISTMAS, POSSIBLY NEOLITHIC

Last year I decided for the first time to get my Christmas tree the old-fashioned way. For over 75 years I’d made the all-weather Yuletide treks around town, beginning as my father’s helper, searching for a Christmas tree dealer who would charge what we considered a reasonable price for a respectable tree. They were quite rate.

Dad and I would be haggling with a tree guy as snowflakes and sleet piled up on our mackinaws.  “You’re kidding, right?” Dad would say. “That can’t be the right price for this poor excuse for a balsam.” Neither of us knew a balsam from a sequoia, but  we tried to sound like savvy tree shoppers.,

“That’s a bargain at this price,” the tree guy would argue. “Yes, there is one narrow stunted side, but this is just the right tree to be going  into the corner of a dimly lit room. Besides, I’ll also throw in a few branches that you can easily attach to the trunk to fill in.”

By then Dad and I were shivering uncontrollably and showing signs of frostbite, so we paid the four dollars (This was 1943) and watched as the tree guy lifted the balsam (or whatever) and carried it to our car, leaving a brilliant green trail of needles while muttering Christmas carols . Well, he was muttering something or other.

I’ve had to endure this painful scenario every year since and last year I decided instead to go into the forest and find my own tree the way our ancient  ancestors did.  I admit, it was not all that easy, the searching, the chopping, the constant looking over my shoulder for an anxious landowner or an accusative forest ranger, but I finally emerged with a beautiful specimen and only minor cuts and bruises.

On Christmas eve I sat before my prize, beautifully decorated and illuminated while my family  basked in its glow.  “That’s a great tree, Dad,” my son said. “It’s so sturdy. with such strong branches.  What kind of a tree is it?”

“It’s  hard to tell without the leaves,  ” I said, ” but I think it’s an oak..”