December 31, 2004

Year End Mail Call

Today's Musical Selection: "Auld Lang Syne" by Lou Rawls

Hello, everyone! Since it's the last day of the year, I'd like to inaugurate a new tradition here. Henceforth, I want to devote every New Year's Eve post to a discussion with you, The Reader. After all, the lifeblood of this blog is the conversation between my team and you readers. I can't thank you enough for reading and posting such thoughtful responses, and this is my way of acknowledging my debt to you.

Let's start with the responses to my random-things-thrown-together sprinting-out-the-door-to-start-Christmas post, which touched on a lot of this and that. First, loyal reader PG wants me to know that I'm not the only one who's getting old:

I was a little too buried in Jane Austen to be cool when I was in high school, but recent occurrences have made me realize that I must be old.

1) I get carded only half the time. Sometimes I don't get carded even when I'm with people who are older than I am and they're getting carded.
2) High school students also consider me decrepit.

Actually, these probably are indications that I look old, which is even more depressing.

This is the curious thing about me: I actualy look young for my age, by most accounts. I am always carded. People who meet me for the first time tend to subtract a few years from my age. Then after they listen to me talk, they add about a decade.

PG also wishes to clarify my remark that my baseball obsession has driven my girlfriends crazy:

Also, one could be considered driving-girlfriend-crazy sports fan only if one insisted on watching the playoffs while said girlfriend was sick.

And if one prepares homemade chicken soup and mashed potatoes for said girlfriends, attends to said Said daily and cuddles with said Said on those occasions when one does choose to watch the playoffs during the illness of said Said, one could reasonably be said to have discharged one's duties to said Said, no? (Also, if one had the audacity to complain about said Said getting ill during the playoffs, one could be considered crazy. But one would never do that.)

Fellow codger BallWonk wants the world to know that he's even more of a geezer than I am:

Ah, you whippersnapper. The government shutdown of '94? In high school? It was the big news of sophomore and junior year of university for this old geezer. Man, I was in high school when the Berlin Wall came down.

But like you, Fred, I've never not been old. As a kid, the moms of the girls I dated always liked me better than their daughters did. (No, not that way, I just got along better with adults than with my peers. Actually, now that I think about it, when I finally dated a girl who had no mother, we wound up getting married four years later. Maybe there's something to the mom thing.) I didn't get into popular music until high school, after 1989, and then it was late-1970s and early 1980s New Wave, later punk, first- and second-wave ska, and the like. If I'd had older siblings, with good taste, it would have been their music. I never got carded until after I turned 21, and I've always looked better in a suit.

Encountering people who don't remember the world as it was not so very long ago - I mean, there are young adults today who don't remember the Cold War - does make me feel old, sometimes. But the biggest change in the last few years is that I've actually stopped feeling like a sham adult. I've always had this vague feeling that I was just a kid playing at being grown up, and that eventually someone would see through the facade and have me out.

But then a few years ago, the year I lived in Wrigleyville, I volunteered to coach little league for a neighborhood association that didn't have enough dads willing to coach. I was 25 that year, and when I showed up to coach these first and second graders and they believed me when I pretended to know what I was doing, and looked up to me exactly like I looked up to coach Berg back in Wayne, PA, my first summer of little league, well, at that moment I didn't so much feel old as grown up.

I know what you mean, BallWonk. I'm 25 myself, and this is the first year that I've been able to wear a suit and topcoat and not feel like I was playing dress-up. (I've always liked suits and ties, and I'm reliably informed that I look dashing in them. But it always felt a little shammish before now.) I, too, have always tended to do better with adults than with my peer group, and now I finally feel that adults are my peer group.

I agree that having young children look up to you with authority and respect makes you feel like a certified Grown-Up. For me, that happened this year at the Orioles' Little League Day, when I volunteered to help with crowd control and organization. When I told the kids to do something, they did it. I told them to line up, and they did. I led them in a cheer, and they followed. At that moment, I felt like my citizenship application for adulthood had finally been accepted. No longer was I traveling on a visa.

In that same article, I mentioned that I wished Shirley Povich had lived to see baseball return to Washington, which drew this comment from loyal reader Vincent:

I indeed wish Shirley Povich were here to see well as Sam Lacy, Morrie Siegel and Glenn Brenner.

You and me both, Vincent. You and me both.

My post-Christmas commentary also drew a couple remarks. First, from loyal reader Tripp:

Lotta good stuff but I'm busy.

Do you want to know the real "Reason for the season?" Axial tilt!

Oh, and 'holiday' means 'holyday' so put that in your pipe and smoke it!

The essence of Christmas with a large gathering of in-laws and their small children is this simple three word phrase:

"Look at me."

Repeat this over and over and over again with all the possible variations you can think of. Imagine looking here and here and here and here and here and here. Twenty three performers and only one audience member.

For recovery I spent all of yesterday specifically NOT looking at ANYONE.

For some reason, this comment read like a cross between Larry King and Hunter S. Thompson, at least to me. The point about "holyday" is a good one, and highlights the situation we face: Even with dedicated effort, we are never going to be able to erase all traces of religion from our culture. Nor do I think we should try. The trick is to be as respectful about it as possible, and that's where the trouble part comes in.

I'm very sympathetic to your "Look at me" plight. I spent Christmas in the company of my two young cousins, and I too heard about every possible permutation of that phrase several times. Between that and the constant calls for the services of my and my knife... well, let's just say I wasn't terribly broken up about coming home to my empty apartment with no one for company but the squirrels outside my window, whom I believe also say "Look at me!", but in squirrel language, which I can ignore.

My disgusted reaction to the mingling of Christian imagery and commercialism drew hearty agreement from loyal reader arrScott:

Amen on the creepy Christmas messages from businesses. I feel the same way about any commercial establishment (or political candidate) that display more than one U.S. flag at any time. Flying one flag can be a sign of sincere patriotism; flying more than one is never an expression of honest love of country. There is something so cynical as to skirt the borders of evil in a business attempting to sell stuff based on appeals to nationalism or religious sectarianism.

(And, specifically, for most Christians, doing so happens also to be a form of blasphemy and therefore sinful. You don't see Quakers or Mennonites putting up "Follow the SON for Light & Life - Shop at Bob's Hardware" signs. Are there Christian denominations that approve of bringing the money-changers back into the temple? There must be, since that's pretty much what the car dealer you mention was doing, and presumably he has a minister who doesn't mind the billboard. "Great sign, my brother. I've always thought Jesus went overboard that day in Jerusalem; if God didn't want business in the temple, he wouldn't have let the money-changers in there in the first place. Praise Jabez!")

Thanks so much for this excellent comment. I remember from my bookstore days a few years back the popularity of the "Book of Jabez." I was curious, so I skimmed it one day over lunch, and found it to be a sort of Tony-Robbins-meets-Jesus mess that didn't appear to have that much to do with actual religious faith. This particular brand of Christianity is popular, I believe, because it meshes so well with what people want anyway (money, power, and success), and asks very little in return. This particular strain of Christianity is the one that has become fused with the Republican Party, and the GOP has done an excellent job exploiting that by wrapping their platform in religion and "traditional values." Too many people of faith automatically assume that anything promoted as "religious" must be good, and therefore assume the Republican message is the right and holy one (despite the fact that God is not, to the best of my knowledge, a registered Republican).

What's worse is that the Democrats keep falling for it! Secular urban dwellers, who place their faith in capitalism and science, are so turned off by the Republicans embracing religion that they walk right into the trap. They allow the battle to be defined as religion vs. non-religion, and in this country religion wins every time. Are Democrats going to realize this before they finally drive off every person of faith by characterizing religion as ignorant superstition and nothing more? Too many urban Democrats are willing to equate religion with intolerance, narrow-mindedness and backward thinking. And in doing so, they drive a lot of sincere people of faith into the arms of the Republican Party. The ongoing debate on gay marriage is an example. The Republican message on this issue panders to bigotry and fear. And rather than try to lead people to tolerance, the Democrats walk straight into the punch by sneering at religion and implying that anyone who has any sort of problem with gay marriage is an intolerant hick. And then they seem puzzled when they lose elections.

But to get back to your point, arrScott... the fact that a lot of people see no problem in marrying religion and commerce demonstrates the state of religious teaching in our country. I, for one, am less than impressed.

ArrScott also offers his opinion on the art of turkey cooking:

As to the turkey, not even frying solves the basic problem: different parts of the bird need to be cooked to different temperatures. The only way to make a truly good turkey is to cut the thing up and cook the bits for different lengths of time. You can fry, bake, grill, boil, or even solar-oven the meat just so long as you don't try to cook the whole bird for the same length of time at the same temperature. Not even professional chefs can reliably cook a whole turkey properly, not with all the foil shielding in the world.

You're right about this. Personally, I always eat the dark meat and avoid the white, possibly because at my family gatherings, the turkey is always cooked to the point of doneness for dark meat and overdoneness for white meat. Should I ever find myself tasked with the duty of cooking a whole bird, I'll take a tip from you and cut it up.

Finally, just to prove that we're open to the dissenting opinion, I present a comment from a reader who calls himself "Wildweed," who lists Hank Williams III's Web site as his. While I doubt very much that this commenter is actually the grandson of the country legend and son of the "Are You Ready for Some Football?" guy, if this really is Hank III, let me say that I'm honored.

Anyhow, Wildweed takes exception to a throwaway bit in a post I wrote back in August (why do the rippers always show up late to the party?), which read as follows:

...a bumper sticker I saw aboard a Chevy pickup in my neighborhood yesterday. The bumper sticker read "FIGHTING TERRORISM SINCE 1861." Next to this slogan was a Confederate flag. That's a really, um, strong message. I was tempted to leave the fellow a note reminding him who won that "war on terror" in 1861, and that he might wish to rethink the message behind it. But I chose not to, because I'm certain the fellow was packing heat, and I was afraid he might be able to track me.

Wildweed felt this was "drivle" (sic) and posted the following response.

Maybe the reason you were afriad is because yer a pussy. You also know nothing of history. If the South had won the Civil War, slavery would have still ended but state's would have more rights than they do now, and we wouldn't have the IRS, FBI, DEA and BATF chompin on everybody's ass. And just in case you were not aware, Abe Lincoln was a racist and didn't free the slaves. Congress freed the slaves after the war. Lincoln didn't even want to free the slave. Read a freakin history book ya PC idiot!!!

(Ed. note: sic ad infinitum)

Ignoring for the time being the personal insults, there is actually a kernel of a point in here, which I'll do Wildweed the credit of pointing out. The Emancipation Proclamation did not free any slaves. It applied only to the states then in the Union, which did not include the slave states, obviously.

In response to your invitation to read a history book, I have. I've read several. I even took a course on the Civil War in college. And it's true that it's an oversimplification to say that the war was, strictly speaking, about slavery. (I'd also like to point out that I didn't say that.) It is also, however, a gross oversimplification to say that the war was about state's rights, and specifcally the South's desire to have them against the North's desire to deny them.

This idea that the Confederacy was a romantic champion of state's rights has come into vogue these days, particularly among Southern Republicans. (See also Trent Lott's contention that his weak-minded speech of admiration for Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrat days was an endorsement of state's rights.) Besides entrenching GOP support in the South, it also gives Southerners a non-racist excuse for flying the Stars and Bars.

But it simply isn't true. It is true that the South seceded as a perceived response to Northern denial of their culture and rights. But it's also true that Northerners were just as excited about perceived trampling of their own culture and rights by the Southern "slave aristocracy." Hence the rise of the Republican Party, which was formed to give Northerners an outlet to combat the rise of Southern power in Congress. (Oh, the irony!) The appropriate analogy for the battle between North and South is not a grass-roots uprising against a brutal dictatorship. Rather, it is two brothers squabbling in the back seat on a long car trip. Only with firearms. (You know that old adage that history is written by the victors? The Civil War seems to be the exception.)

What would have happened if the South had won the Civil War? Well, I think there would have been a struggle for control of the West between the Union, the Confederacy and Mexico. I'm not sure how long the Confederate economy, which was in shambles, could have persisted, which would have called the country's viability into question. Either way, the South would not have imposed its values on the North. Let us not forget that the South fought for the right to secede, not to conquer the North. And even if the South had imposed its values on the North, this idea that liberty would have had free reign strikes me as implausible.

I'd go on, but I think that's enough. Thanks for writing, Wildweed.

And that wraps up the year. I think I'm going to take a sabbatical for a couple weeks to start the year. I need to recharge my batteries a bit. Thanks to everyone who read and wrote me this year! Happy New Year! See you down the road in 2005!

Posted by Fred at 05:22 PM | Comments (5)

December 30, 2004

Republicans Behaving Badly

Today's Musical Selection: "Ninety-Six Tears" by ? and the Mysterians

Hi, everybody! Hope you like our new contributor; we should be hearing from him sometime in the new year. For now, though, I want to vent my spleen about a couple things I've seen lately that have made me sick to my stomach. As it happens, both of these things involve members of the Republican Party.

Please note, my conservative friends: This is not a partisan rant. I am not attempting to argue that the Democrats are political angels. I'm simply pointing out two things that might damage public faith in the political system, and it happens that Republicans did them both this time. If you know of something similar that a Democrat has done recently, pass it along and I'll rant about it too, okay?

(Yeah, I get tired of writing that disclaimer, too. But our political commentary landscape is so polarized that if a reader detects a partisan slant in an article, too often said reader will ignore said article if he or she does not agree with said slant. And people wonder why political discourse has gone down the commode.)

Our first item comes to us from the always-industrious Republican House leadership, which seems to have been spending every waking moment since the election finding ways to bend the rules to protect Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who's found himself in a couple unfortunate ethical pickles lately. I wrote a couple months ago about the GOP rewriting their caucus ethics rules to prevent DeLay from being bounced from the leadership ranks just because of something silly, like him being indicted by a grand jury. Now, your run-of-the-mill group of sleazy politicians might let it go at that, but the House Republicans are not ones to give up so easily. Now comes word that Speaker Dennis Hastert is weighing the idea of replacing House Ethics Panel Chairman Joel Hefley (R-Colorado). Why? Because he thinks for himself:

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert is leaning toward removing the House ethics committee chairman, who admonished House Majority Leader Tom DeLay this fall and has said he will treat DeLay like any other member, several Republican aides said yesterday.

Although Hastert (Ill.) has not made a decision, the expectation among leadership aides is that the chairman, Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), long at odds with party leaders because of his independence, will be replaced when Congress convenes next week...

Hefley, a conservative, was co-author of an October letter saying that certain DeLay actions "went beyond the bounds of acceptable conduct." A committee report said DeLay broke no House rules.

The chairman told the Denver Post in July and reported in October that he would handle charges against the leader "in the ethics committee like I would handle anything else."

Got that? The Republicans put an independent thinker in charge of the Ethics Committee, largely because it's a post that no one wants. Then a top Republican risks a trip in front of the committee and, suddenly, it's time for Mr. Independent Thinker to go. Hmmm. Funny how that works.

But fear not, friends! Lest the above sequence of events cause you to think that the House GOP lacks integrity, look at the man they're weighing as Helfley's replacement:

The aides said a likely replacement is Rep. Lamar S. Smith, one of DeLay's fellow Texans, who held the job from 1999 to 2001. Smith wrote a check this year to DeLay's defense fund. An aide said Smith was favored for his knowledge of committee procedure.

All right. So Smith hails from the same state as DeLay, undoubtedly owes him a debt for his career in politics (what Republican House member in Texas doesn't?), has given money to DeLay's defense fund, and the Republicans expect us to believe they picked him because he knows the committee procedure?! This is like a Chicago machine boss being tried for embezzlement in front of a judge he appointed to the bench! Knowledge of committee procedure! (Unless that phrase is shorthand for "knows which strings to pull to get his friends off," in which case the statement is entirely correct.)

How stupid do they think we are? Do they assume the public won't notice how crooked this whole business is, or do they just not care? They certainly don't care about the damage they're doing to the public's faith in the political process. "Congressional ethics" is already a punchline, but the Republicans appear determined to remove any doubt that the ethics system is anything other than a process to be manipulated to serve yourself, one of the spoils of victory. They pull stunts like this, and then they wonder why politicians are ranked in public esteem next to used-car salesmen and pornographic film producers.

Item #2 comes to us from the other Washington, the state, boyhood home of my man Frinklin. You may have heard something about the governor's race up there, which has turned into a replay of the 2000 presidential race, only stranger. A brief recap for those who weren't paying attention: the race pitted Democratic Attorney General Christine Gregoire against Republican businessman and ex-State Senator Dino Rossi. The vote went down to the wire, and when all was said and done, Rossi won by 261 votes. This margin, however, was close enough to trigger an automatic machine recount. When this was done, Rossi won by 42 votes. The Democrats then paid for a hand recount, which was their right under the election rules, and Gregoire promised to concede if she lost again. The hand recount, which was done by bipartisan teams, put Gregoire ahead by 10 votes. Then the state Supreme Court ruled that a batch of disputed ballots from King County, a Democratic stronghold, could be counted, and this put Gregoire ahead by over 100 votes.

Faced with defeat after this thorough hand recount, faced with the Secretary of State (a Republican, by the way) about to certify his opponent as the winner, Rossi, not wishing to put the state through any more trauma and confusion over its political future, called Gregoire and graciously conceded.

Ha! Just kidding! No, of course he didn't do that. That would be far too honorable an avenue for modern politics. Typically in the twenty-first-century political rules of engagement, this is the part where both sides say, "See you in court." And the Republicans are indeed exploring their options in this regard. But Dino Rossi is far too creative to settle for a mere legal challenge. Rather, drawing on our common-law tradition from the third grade, Rossi is calling for... a do-over!

The night before Washington's secretary of state was scheduled to certify Democrat Christine Gregoire as the governor-elect, her Republican rival Dino Rossi called for a complete re-do of the longest, closest governor's race in state history.

"The uncertainty surrounding this election process isn't just bad for you and me - it is bad for the entire state. People need to know for sure that the next governor actually won the election," Rossi said Wednesday evening, reading from a letter he sent to Gregoire.

"A revote would be the best solution for the people of our state, and would give us a legitimate governorship," the letter added.

Excuse me? A revote? When did this become the Ukraine? Here we've been sending Jimmy Carter to all these third-world nations, trying to ensure that their elections are on the up and up, and it turns out we should have been sending him to the Pacific Northwest.

Funny. Surely this Dino Rossi, who appears to believe that we should vote as many times as we need to make sure we feel comfortable about who won, isn't the same Dino Rossi who called for an end to all the recount madness when he thought he'd won, is it? Let's take a look:

"We are going to move forward now. We are putting people in place," Rossi said at a news conference after [Secretaryof State Sam] Reed made the tally official. "The reality is that we've won."

While he stopped short of calling on Gregoire to concede, Rossi said, "She has to decide what she wants to do and what she believes is in the best interests of the state of Washington -- not what's in the best interest of her.

"If you count and recount and recount and just keeping recounting until you finally win, what do you really have in the end? An illegitimate governorship, that's what you have in the end."

Wow. Same guy. How about that? Apparently a legitimate election result is only one that has him winning it. (By the way, in case you're wondering, the Democrat-sponsored hand recount did cover the entire state, not just Democratic stronghold counties, as was the case in Florida.)

When asked why he thought such a stupid plan was worth pursuing (not in so many words, presumably), Rossi said he was thinking of... the good of the state!

While noting that he could contest the election, Rossi said Wednesday that a legal challenge could drag on for weeks or months. The better way to clear up the mess, he said, would be to ask lawmakers to pass a bill calling for a special election as soon as the Democrat-controlled state Legislature convenes Jan. 10.

I see. Well, you know what would be an even better way to clear up the mess, Dino? For you to concede and let the state move on without dragging this out.

There's the long-term good of the political system to think about, Dino. You may remember it. It was the same good of the system you wanted Gregoire to think about back when you were calling on her to give up. Voters want their candidate to win, yes, but they also want to be able to have some degree of faith in the outcome of the process. If every close election winds up in the courts, or in an endless series of revotes, we aren't going to have faith in the outcome of any close election. And given the number of close elections out there these days, we run the risk of having our faith in the electoral system collapse. Bad things happen when we lose faith in our electoral system.

You know the difference between a statesman and a political hack? A hack cares only about winning. A statesman wants to win, but also wants the best thing for the country. I know it's tough to accept defeat know, having won the first two counts. I know it's embarrassing that you've had people call you "governor-elect," and now it's taken away from you. But you need to let go. The state needs to know who the governor is. The last thing anyone should want is for Gregoire to take office and then be removed a couple months later by court order. You think you'll have a fun time governing then?

And the irony of it all, Dino, is that it may be better for you personally if you concede gracefully now rather than fighting on, even if you win. Consider the lesson of Al Gore. Gore never figured out when people were ready for him to step aside. Throughout the process, he seemed fixated on one thing and one thing only: being in the Oval Office. It seemed like he would keep counting for twnety years if that's what it took to put him ahead.

And what did his intransigence do for the country? It left a bunch of Democrats who were hopping mad about what they perceived as a stolen election. And it left a mass of middle-of-the-road voters with a negative impression of Gore and the Democrats as sore losers. Had Gore conceded gracefully in 2000 and worked to build up support for the party afterward, he might have been a viable candidate again in 2004 or 2008. Instead, he fought as long as he could, gave up in a huff when forced to and went into hiding. As a result, when word surfaced that he was thinking of trying again in 2004, the general public response was, "Oh no, not again." I understand that you, Dino, are thinking of running for Senate in 2006. As it stands, you've got a pretty good shot. If you keep up the fight, though, don't be surprised if voters are ready to run when they see you coming in two years.

Right now, the only person who looks good in this whole mess is Secretary of State Reed, who has done his job quietly and respectably and has refused to put public pressure on either side regarding the outcome. He has done an admirable job establishing himself as a neutral arbiter, one whom both sides can trust. Other states, please take note. This man's example is one to emulate.

You know what really bothers me about shenanigans like either of the examples above? There's only two ways you can justify behaving as either Rossi or the House Republicans have. The first is if you really are a selfish bastard who cares only about the success of yourself and your side. (Classical economists take note: Once again, Adam Smith's "invisible hand" fails where the social good is not the sum total of each individual's self-interest. In the real world, individuals cannot be trusted to think beyond their own narrow concerns.) If all you care about is winning, then you have no business in public service. But at least rampant selfishness is to be expected in politics, and can be dealt with if proper safeguards are installed in the system.

The second possibility, however, is much more grave. It's possible that such politicians believe that the other side is so evil that they must be stopped at all costs. Truth be told, I think this mindset is generally less of a concern among politicians than among their supporters. Few politicians could survive the give-and-take of the democratic process if they really believed the other side was evil. But voters can, and do. Those who defend to the death everything their side does while attacking the same faults on the other side, faced with charges of hypocrisy, tend to justify it on the basis that the other side is automatically up to no good. To a point, this is harmless and amusing to a detached observer. But if that belief system really sinks in, if voters really start to believe that the other party is the enemy... well, that's the kind of thinking the got us into the Civil War. And with faith dwindling in the electoral system, many disaffected voters don't believe they can effect change through the system. This leads to people dropping out of the system, yes, but it also leads to a search for alternative outlets for change. That's the part that scares me.

Do I believe we're on the brink of civil war? No, of course not. But I do see signs of the same conditions that lead to the breakdown of the system that allowed the Civil War to take place. Declining support of the parties, growing frustration and anger over the electoral system, a hardening of ideoogical rigidity, the belief that the other side is trying to suppress you and your beliefs and culture... some of the parallels are eerie. While I don't believe we're about to take up arms against each other, I do think the situation bears watching.

That's all for me today. See you tomorrow for the last post of 2004!

Posted by Fred at 01:40 PM | Comments (0)

December 29, 2004

Introducing Our New Contributor

Today's Musical Selection: "Shiloh" by Neil Diamond

Hello, everybody! As promised, today I'm introducing a new member of the Mediocre Fred team. I've been thinking about what this site is missing. Of course, we've got my semi-informed speculation and ramblings about pretty much everything under the sun. And we've got the best romantic advice columnists in cyberspace, at least if quality is measured in quantity of alcohol consumed per column. We've got occasional "contributors" like Hammerin' Hank, who contribute, uh, something. And of course we've got the readers, the most intelligent and informed readership in cyberspace, who contribute at least as much to the quality of the site as I do, and quite possibly more.

But I still felt like we were missing something: some good, old-fashioned, hard-nosed, shoe-leather investigative reporting. True journalism is rarely committed here, and that's a shame. Now, my own schedule doesn't really allow for true reporting, so I bit the bullet and hired myself a reporter.

Naturally, I went out looking for the very best. I contacted top journalists from the Washington Post, New York Times, Slate, Salon, and other big-name publications. A couple even returned my calls. I'd mention their names, but they asked me not to. See, weblogging is an emerging medium, shall we say, that's not quite got complete legitimacy among established old-school journalists yet. Especially not at the salary I was able to offer. (I am not, after all, an international media conglomerate, nor am I independently wealthy.) So I had to sets my sights a little lower. Then a little lower than that. But eventually, I found just the right man for our team.

Danny Goodwin, known as "Deadline Danny" in newsrooms across the country, has been a professional journalist for almost two decades, winning numerous journalism awards and garnering a reputation in the industry as a man with an unerring sense of purpose and dedication to his mission. I'm proud to have Danny on board, and I look forward to seeing the work he produces in the weeks and months to come for us.

I interviewed Deadline Danny over dinner last night at a local restaurant, talking to him about the craft of journalism, his own career and what he hopes to accomplish as a member of the Mediocre Fred team. The transcript of the interview follows.

* * * * *

MEDIOCRE FRED: So, Danny, welcome aboard! When you first got into journalism, I'll bet you never thought you'd find yourself here.

"DEADLINE DANNY" GOODWIN: Oh, boy, you're telling me. How far I've fallen. I've made some bad decisions in my career, and now I'm paying the price for-

MF: Ahem.

DDG: Oh, sorry. I mean, yes, it's certainly a new media universe out there! When I got started, I never could have envisioned something like this. But then, I'm not one much for envisioning. Hell, I thought cellular phones were a flash in the pan. I had the opportunity to invest in one of the first cell-phone companies in the nation, and I passed. You know where that money went instead? Llama farming. Suffice it to say, investments like that are why I'm here now.

MF: Uh, right. So, when were you first bitten by the journalism bug?

DDG: When I was a seven-year-old boy growing up in Hanover, Pennsylvania.

MF: Very nice! Got started off early, did you?

DDG: Most great journalists do. We all have our stories. My father worked in a print shop in Hanover, and for Christmas when I was 7, he gave me one of the old printing presses that the shop was getting rid of. I was hooked. I started my first newspaper the following spring.

MF: What was it called?

DDG: The Queen Street Gazette. I can't even say the name without getting a little flutter in my heart. Every journalist remembers his first paper.

MF: So you were the star reporter, eh?

DDG: Actually, no. I was the publisher.

MF: The publisher?

DDG: Yeah. I had other kids in the neighborhood write the stories. But that experience taught me a valuable journalistic that has served me well ever since.

MF: How to work as a team to put out the paper? How to direct and organize a staff?

DDG: No, how to get people to give me things for free.

MF: Ah. So how long did you publish the Queen Street Gazette?

DDG: Until high school. At that point I joined the staff of the Weekly Wildcat.

MF: Your high school paper?

DDG: Right, Hanover High. Up until that point, journalism was just a hobby for me. But it was in high school when I really became dedicated to it, and started to consider it as a career.

MF: What was your beat for the Weekly Wildcat?

DDG: I was the foreign correspondent.

MF: I'm sorry?

DDG: No, you heard correctly. We were the only high-school paper in the country with a foreign correspondent.

MF: I'm amazed! How did the paper have the money to send you overseas?

DDG: They didn't, actually. I was sort of a locally-based foreign correspondent.

MF: How did you, um, report?

DDG: Well, whenever a foreign student moved into town, I'd do a profile on him.

MF: Interesting idea.

DDG: It won me my first award. I was named a Pioneer of New Student Journalism by the Keystone Press Association.

MF: Nicely done!

DDG: But the best part was that I'd interview the new student at their houses, which usually meant I got a free meal out of it.

MF: I see. And where did you go to college?

DDG: Pennsylvania Tech. I wrote the "Fine Dining" column.

MF: I'll bet that was exciting!

DDG: Not really. There were only 3 decent restaurants within a 50-mile radius of campus.

MF: And you got a column out of this?

DDG: Sure. Every year I'd check out the 3 places and see if they had any new dishes, then I'd spend the rest of the year writing about how bad the dining scene was.

MF: Did you win any awards for that column?

DDG: Actually, yes. My "Desperately Seeking Sushi" column won an award from the National Restaurant Critics Association. I won third place in the Non-Restaurant Restaurant Column category.

MF: Third place?

DDG: The competition was brutal that year.

MF: So did you go straight into journalism out of college?

DDG: I did. I graduated in 1974, just in time for Watergate. Suddenly, young idealists everywhere were trying to emulate Woodward and Bernstein. And I joined the crowd.

MF: Did you head straight to Washington?

DDG: No, I went to Cadiz, Ohio.

MF: Well, you have to start somewhere.

DDG: It was a humble beginning, but it's the experience that counts.

MF: So, were you out covering City Hall, ferreting out corruption and shady dealings?

DDG: No, I was the society columnist.

MF: The society columnist?

DDG: Well, the big event was the Harvest Moon Bingo Ball every October, so naturally I covered that.

MF: And what did you do the rest of the year?

DDG: I pounded the streets, looking for society events. I didn't want to miss anything.

MF: Did you find a lot of clandestine balls and soirees happening?

DDG: Not really. Cadiz is a pretty small town. But hey, I won a Buckeye News Hawk Award as the Best Rural Society Columnist in Ohio.

MF: Congratulations.

DDG: It's nice to be recognized.

MF: So what made you decide to leave Cadiz?

DDG: Well, after a couple years I got bored and decided to strike out for the big time. And Washington was where the action was happening. So I hooked on with an alternative weekly there and moved to D.C.

MF: All right, the real action begins! What did you do in Washington?

DDG: I was the baseball beat writer. This was in '76, and everyone was buzzing about Washington getting an expansion team. President Ford was supposedly intervening on the city's behalf to land a team.

MF: You must have been disappointed when it didn't happen.

DDG: Absolutely. And I was concerned, too. With no team, my position was in jeopardy. I was afraid I'd be told to pack my bags. Fortunately, the editor-in-chief liked my work and kept me around.

MF: It always helps to have a fan in management.

DDG: I know it. Originally, he was going to switch me over to general-assignment reporting, but I talked him into letting me keep my original gig.

MF: As baseball beat writer? But... there was no team.

DDG: Indeed. That would have been a problem for a less creative mind.

MF: So what did you do? Cover the Orioles?

DDG: Oh, no. I wrote stories speculating how things would be if we had a team. Interviewed would-be fans, figured out the hypothetical standings, talked about which free agents the team would be going after if it, you know, existed.

MF: That's an innovative approach.

DDG: It was unprecedented. I didn't win any awards, unfortunately, but I did receive notice from Hunter S. Thompson.

MF: The father of gonzo journalism himself! What did he have to say?

DDG: "Quit hogging all the bourbon."

MF: I see. So how long did that gig last?

DDG: Up until the paper folded in 1982. After that, I moved on to a small daily in New York, where I was hired as a war correspondent.

MF: Did you cover the Falkland Islands?

DDG: No.

MF: Afghanistan?

DDG: No.

MF: Grenada?

DDG: Almost. By the time I got there, the war was over. No, I was reporting from Switzerland.

MF: Switzerland? There was no war in Switzerland!

DDG: No, but I'd heard rumblings, and the paper agreed to send me over to check it out.

MF: Rumblings of war? In Switzerland? The country that officially declares neutrality? That Switzerland?

DDG: Of course. Is there another Switzerland I'm not aware of?

MF: No. But what in God's name did you do as a war correspondent in Switzerland?

DDG: I trained with the Swiss Army.

MF: There is no Swiss Army!

DDG: I learned how to use the knife.

MF: Incredible.

DDG: I'm still the fastest corkscrew on the Eastern Seaboard.

MF: And what did you do when you weren't learning to operate a pocketknife?

DDG: I kept my ear to the ground in case war was about to break out. And I filed occasional dispatches on what wasn't happening.

MF: I'm amazed.

DDG: I won an award for that, too. Amnesty International named my article "All Quiet on the Alpine Front" their Best Non-War Story of 1987. They said I was an inspiration, and they hoped all war correspondents could have beats like mine.

MF: I'll bet they did.

DDG: So anyway, I held that position until 1993, when I decided that the rumblings I'd heard were a false alarm.

MF: It took you eleven years to figure out that an officially neutral country wasn't going to war?

DDG: I never like to draw hasty conclusions.

MF: So what did you do after that?

DDG: Well, I decided that the travel and the hurly-burly daily grind of the news industry was wearing me out. So I took a sabbatical and backpacked across Europe for six months.

MF: Pretty convenient, since you were already there.

DDG: I thought so.

MF: You couldn't have gone backpacking across Europe during the eleven years that you were covering the non-war in Switzerland?

DDG: Yeah, but I knew that the minute I decided things were safe and took a vacation, that would be the minute that war finally broke out. I wasn't taking a chance on being scooped in my own backyard.

MF: Your dedication to task is admirable.

DDG: I've got ink in my veins. Anyhow, during my backpack tour, I realized that I needed to take my life in a new direction. So I retired from daily journalism and entered academia.

MF: Did you head back to your alma mater?

DDG: I did indeed. For the last decade, I've been teaching a course called Principles of Journalism at Penn Tech.

MF: What does that include?

DDG: I use my experience to instruct my students in the basics for journalistic success. Padding expense reports, turning a conversation with some guy in a bar into a "sources suggest" item, receiving free invitations to parties, that sort of thing.

MF: So what made you decide to become a practicing journalist again?

DDG: I missed the excitement, the thrill of the chase, the routine of real reporting. Once you get that in your blood, you can't ever get it out. Also, I figure it will improve my chances of getting invited to society functions. No one hands out freebies to journalism professors.

MF: And what caused you to decide to join the Mediocre Fred team specifically?

DDG: I think the Internet is a facinating new outlet for journalism, and I've wanted to explore its potential. Also, you promised to pay me in cash.

MF: Indeed. And do you have any advice for any aspiring journalists who may wish to follow in your footsteps?

DDG: There are three basic Goodwin's Rules of Journalism. First, stay close to the opinions of the people, by which I mean spend a lot of time in restaurants and bars. Second, if you can't get free perks at an event, it's not news. And finally, a picture may be worth a thousand words, but I'm not getting paid to paint pictures, so use as many words as possible. Column inches are everything!

MF: That's quite an interesting perspective. I look forward to reading your stories in the coming year here at Mediocre Fred.

DDG: Me too. Now, can we talk about an advance?

MF: No.

* * * * *

Deadline Danny Goodwin, ladies and gentlemen. We're currently developing his first assignment, and I'll let you know when we figure something out.

And that's all for me today. See you tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 01:41 PM | Comments (3)

December 28, 2004

Looking for America... Or At Least the Off-Ramp

Today's Musical Selection: "Here's to the Lonely" by Elmo and Patsy

Hi, everybody! As promised, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice are back for another round of romantic chatter. Today's column is something of a rarity, as it was actually conducted face-to-face! After settling their little scrape with the Mexican authorities a couple weeks back, America's sweethearts have resumed their cross-country trek. And yesterday, purely by coincidence, they passed through the Fedroplex. So I took them out to dinner and recorded today's column during the meal. As I write this, they're back on the road toward their next destination, wherever that might be. Uncle Millie vaguely indicated that they might be heading north. So if you live in Maryland or Pennsylvania and you pass a blue Plymouth Duster, be sure to wave! And leave a wide berth, at least if Uncle Millie's driving.

- - - - -

Winding Down Another Year of Love, by Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice

UM: Hello, lads! And greetings from Teocalli Tamale here in... where are we again, lad?

MF: Herndon, Virginia.

UM: Ah, yes, splendid! As the more astute readers might have noticed, this will be our final romantic advice column of the year.

AB: That's right. We're currently finishing up negotiations to bring back this column next year, so you can look forward to more of Uncle Millie and I in 2005!

UM: We were hoping to finish up the year in style, perhaps do something a little special and run a longer-than-usual column. Unfortunately, the letters have not been cooperating.

AB: Yes, our mailbag has been a little fallow lately. If you've been meaning to write in with a question but never seem to get around to it, now is the time. In the meantime, we'll spend today responding to comments on our last column. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but I'm sure most of our readers are anxious for fresh material. And speaking of fresh material, Uncle Millie seems to have taken a shine to the young woman behind the counter...

UM: She's quite a healthy-looking young lass, isn't she? What do you think, lad? Wouldn't you like to roll her a tamale?

MF: I, uh-

AB: Millie, try to behave yourself. We're in polite company for a change. Fred is our boss, you know. Try to act like it.

UM: Relax, my love, I'm not stepping out of line. Fred's a gentleman like myself, and I'm sure he appreciates beautiful things as much as I do. Right, lad?

MF: Um, right. Say, how's the food? This is one of my favorite restaurants. How do you like your fish tacos, Aunt Beatrice?

AB: They're quite delicious! This is a very good restaurant. Wouldn't you say so, Millie?

UM: Yes, the food is very satisfactory. I am, however, a tad disappointed that this establishment does not serve whiskey.

AB: Most people don't drink whiskey with Mexican food, dear.

UM: Fortunately, I always come prepared. Just like the Boy Scouts.

AB: How did you manage to sneak that flask in here? I thought I'd frisked you thoroughly at the door.

UM: I have my ways. But thank you much for the frisking... I quite enjoyed it.

AB: You're impossible.

MF: Why don't we go ahead with the letters?

UM: Yes, a capital idea. What's first on the docket?

MF: It's a comment from loyal reader Ensie on your last column Ensie writes:

Hmmm. So "Elsie" experimented with lesbianism in college. Ensie (me) was a lesbian through her college years and several years beyond, now married to a man, Frinklin. Glad to see you are so open minded Millie and Beatrice. :)

AB: Thanks, Ensie! This is in reference to the letter from Lee, the Christian who was disturbed by his girlfriend's revelation of having slept with women in college. We do try to be . It's harder for people of our generation to accept this than for younger people like yourself. Uncle Millie is 53, and I am of a certain age, let's say.

UM: "A certain age" being 49.

AB: Thank you so much. Dear. I know that I was raised to believe that homosexuality was a sin, and I'm sure it was the same for Uncle Millie.

UM: I'm Catholic, love. I was raised to believe most everything was a sin.

AB: Point taken. Anyhow, as I've gotten older, I've come to understand and appreciate that homosexuals are just like the rest of us, save for their choice of partners. And your choice of partners is a private matter, I believe. God knows I try to keep my choice of Uncle Millie as private as possible.

UM: I think I'll go ask the lass behind the counter for some extra sauce. Then I'll explain how certain cultures believe that if you rub hot sauce on your-

AB: Sit down. Anyhow, in the case of Lee and his girlfriend, I don't see how her past choice of partners is relevant. So she's had prior sexual experience. Most of us have. What difference does it make what gender those prior partners were? Is Lee afraid she'll leave him for a woman? If so, how is that any worse than losing her to another man?

I understand that some religions still preach that homosexuality is wrong. But I believe that love is love.

UM: Well said, my dear. I believe the lad who wrote in simply wasn't thinking about the issue clearly. He seemed to regard his lady's past experiments as a problem. Instead, he should view them as an opportunity! Lad, do you realize how many men would kill for the chance to date a woman who doesn't mind sharing the bed with another woman? If you can't appreciate the gift you've been given, step aside and let someone else have a shot.

AB: As always, Uncle Millie does his best to make you sorry that you agree with him. I hope you're still glad we're on your side, Ensie.

MF: The next note came from loyal reader Tripp-

AB: The self-declared lecher.

UM: A man in my own image!

AB: It's frightening to think that there are two of you out there.

UM: What does the lad have to say?

MF: He writes:

You guys really crack me up! If you are seriously traveling the country and come near Minnesota you must let me know. Really. But not at this email address - it is a sham.

On to the questions:

Danny with the extremely busy girlfriend. Now, Millie provides the perfect historical solution - mistress. Beatrice provides the idealistic solution - selfless support. Me, I'm going to provide the modern solution - internet pron. Seriously. It is private, free, safe, and victim free! And Danny has the perfect rationilization if caught - "Of course I prefer you, dear, but I just miss you so much when you can't be here." Like Millie says - everybody wins!

Spike in Rochester - considering "settling." This problem is as old as the hills, so there are PLENTY of pithy little sayings all ready to be offered up:

Any port in a storm.
Beggars can't be choosers.
The early bird gets the worm.
Love the one you're with.
Not if you were the last man on Earth.
Friends with benefits.

Okay, enough of that. Did you know that a man is more attractive to women when he is with a woman? I'm just saying.

"Christian" Lee with Lesbo girlfriend - Give her up for someone who appreciates her. I'm deadly serious. If you have a decent bone in your body you'll turn and walk away so she can find the love of her life, and it is not you. Being a Christian myself I'll refrain from calling you names.

UM: Wow. Quite a lot of material here. You're a prolific writer, lad.

AB: We appreciate your offer to stop by if we find ourselves in Minnesota. Uncle Millie is quite keen to take you up on it. The difficulty is that, with Uncle Millie driving, we never know when we're going to wind up in Minnesota. In fact, we may not even realize we're in Minnesota when we're actually there. Such is the joy of riding with Uncle Millie.

UM: If we find ourselves in your fair state, lad, rest assured we'll set aside some time to hoist a few with you.

AB: And knowing Uncle Millie, more than a few.

UM: At any rate, to the meat of your letter. Your suggestion of Internet pornography for the lad with the grad-school girlfriend is one I respect. It's a tidy solution that takes care of business, shall we say, and still allows him to keep his lady friend, though the value in having a lady friend who pays you no mind, unless she's wealthy or carrying your child, is a mystery to me.

AB: The appeal of Internet pornography is a mystery to me. It seems so sad. What's the attraction in a picture of a naked woman?

UM: Please tell me you are not serious.

AB: I am. It's so cold and lonely. Why is it so popular with men?

UM: We are visual creatures, my love. We respond to visual stimuli. It's certainly no match for the real thing, but it's a pragmatic solution for a gentleman whose needs are not being met. It's easy to arrange, can be done from the comfort of home and saves the ugly girlfriend-mistress showdown, which every gentleman strives to avoid.

AB: Most gentlemen avoid it by not taking mistresses. Fred, please explain to Uncle Millie that he does not speak for all men.

UM: Go on, tell her I'm right, lad.

MF: I am staying out of this.

UM: While a mistress is ultimately more satisfying, I believe Tripp's solution is the most problem-free.

AB: Maybe for Danny, but certainly not for you. You've got problems aplenty, buster.

UM: Now, on to Spike with the dry spell. As Tripp points out, the idea of lowering your standards in an emergency is an old and time-honored one. This concept of "friends with benefits," which is a thoroughly modern one, is particularly useful here. In the old days, if you were going to have your biological needs serviced by a woman, you had to pay for the privilege, either in cash or by going through the motions of romantic attachment, which usually ends up costing you cash anyway. Now, you can take care of your needs without even having to fake romantic feelings! Modernity has its advantages, lad.

AB: Strangely, this was never one of the great future innovations they used to talk about at the Epcot Center. I don't know how they missed it.

UM: At any rad, our lad raises another good point regarding a man's attractiveness to women. Men in relationships attract more attention than men without them. It's a proven fact. Women want a man who's in demand. By taking on a relationship that you may not be head over heels about now, you increase your attractiveness, which allows you to "trade up" later on.

AB: Oh, dear Lord. Oink oink.

UM: And since you're not particularly attracted to this lady here, you'll have no problem letting her go when something better comes along. Right, Fred?

MF: Why are you looking at me? I believe I said I was staying out of this.

AB: Once again, you're treating women like cardboard cutouts. How is Spike's friend supposed to feel about being used like that?

UM: What, you think she gets nothing out of it?

AB: It's hard to see what she is getting, yes.

UM: Well, she's attracted to him, correct? She desires a relationship with him, yes? So he's giving her what she wants. Everybody wins!

AB: He's not giving her what she wants. He's giving her a sham of a relationship and the promise of dumping her at any moment. Boy, how can she pass that up?

UM: There are no guarantees in life, my dear.

AB: I'd go on, but explaining the concepts of fidelity and moral duty to Uncle Millie is like explaining astrophysics to a chimpanzee. A chimpanzee with a drinking problem.

UM: Now, on to our friend Lee. As we can see, Tripp has some strong opinions on the subject, and rightfully so. The lad is sitting on a gold mine and complaining that it clashes with the walls. He clearly doesn't deserve the opportunity.

AB: I'd like to make a point to Lee: Tripp demonstrates that you can be a good Christian without being judgmental and narrow-minded. You can reconcile a respect for the basic humanity of others with belief in religious doctrine. In fact, Christianity (at least the Christianity I grew up with) preaches respect for the basic humanity of others. If homosexuality is in fact a sin, God will judge. You should not presume to do God's job for Him.

UM: That's right. Our role on this earth in to revel in the bounty of God's creations. Isn't that right, Fred? Haw haw!

MF: I'm going to refill my root beer now.

UM: Say, fill my glass while you're up, would you, lad? Never mind, I'll fill it myself.

AB: I can't believe you smuggled your own liquor into the restaurant. Fred was nice enough to take us out to dinner -- this is the man who's paying us to write this column, mind you -- and this is how you act? I'm embarrassed for you.

UM: That's not necessary. I'm not embarrased. You don't mind, do you, lad?

MF: Um, I guess not. Will you excuse me for a moment? I need to get something out of my car.

AB: No problem, Fred.

UM: Is he gone?

AB: Why do you ask?

UM: It's not that I'm not grateful to him for buying us dinner and all, but good Lord, couldn't have we gone to a bit classier place?

AB: What's wrong with this restaurant? I like it just fine.

UM: Well, the place is hardly the Ritz Carlton, wouldn't you agree?

AB: Well, no, but it's just...

UM: It's just like him to be so cheap. And I'm sure he's going to try to squeeze us on the contract negotiations again.

AB: I don't know. We aren't exactly rolling in clover with the money we're making, but I think it's a reasonable figure.

UM: He's a cheap bastard. Do you know how much that Hax lass is making over at the Post?

AB: She's nationally syndicated, dear. We're published on a weblog.

UM: Still, we are making starvation wages here. I can barely afford to drink on the salary he pays us.

AB: I'm reasonably sure that's not the salary's fault.

UM: I'm not sure he understands what a valuable property he has in us. I think we should weigh our other offers.

AB: What other offers?

UM: Well, we'll find some. Also, next time we're passing through town, perhaps we should not mention it to Fred.

AB: Why not?

UM: He's a bore, my dear. On and on about DC baseball, as though I gave a whit. The man is a wet blanket through and through. I'm not surprised that he's without a lady friend. I can't imagine that a lady could stand him.

AB: He seems nice.

UM: Are you kidding? He's as exciting as a gray flannel suit. I'm not even sure he'd know what to do with a lady if he had one.

AB: Uh, Millie-

UM: If he was alone in a room with a woman, he'd probably talk her to death.

AB: Millie, the-

UM: A lady could drag him off to the bedroom and jump on top of him and he'd probably still be trying to decide if she was interested.

AB: Millie.

UM: Also, I'll bet he has a commitment. He's a man with the soul of a woman, I tell you-

AB: Millie!

UM: What?

AB: The tape recorder. The one recording today's column? It's running.

UM: Oh, good Christ. You mean-

AB: Yes.

UM: Everything I said-

AB: Yes.

UM: Think quickly, woman! How do you erase tape on this thing? Do you press-

MF: Hi, guys! Ready to wrap up the column?

UM: Uh, well, lad, you know, I don't know if we did the best job on this one, and, er, perhaps we ought to throw this tape away and give it another shot-

MF: Nonsense. I think you did fine. So go ahead and record an ending and we'll be done.

AB: I think Uncle Millie has already recorded his ending.

MF: Really? Sorry I missed. Well, thanks for stopping by. I'll be in touch about the contract negotiations.

AB: We'll see.

MF: Hm?

AB: Oh, nothing. Say good night, Uncle Millie.

UM: Uh, well... Happy hunting, lads.

AB: Happy job hunting, maybe.

- - - - -

There you have it, folks, the final Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice column of 2004. They'll be back again in two weeks. Possibly. Contract negotiations just took an unexpected downturn.

At any rate, I've said my piece. See you tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 11:01 AM | Comments (1)

December 27, 2004

Post-Christmas Observations

Today's Musical Selection: "Christmas in Hollis" by Run-DMC

Hello, everyone! I've returned safely from the Keystone Stone, where a good Christmas time was had by all. I hope that those of you who celebrated the season on the weekend had a good time as well. While I was away, I had a number of thoughts and observations that, despite their having no particular common thread, I felt I should share. Given their lack of connectivity, I will organize them in a numbered list, which is a lazy writer's best friend. I promise to try harder later in the week, when the travel fatigue wears off.

1. If you want to be the most popular person at the Christmas celebration, be the guy who owns the Swiss Army knife. It really is like having superpowers.

2. If you want to nap unmolested during the Christmas celebration, give your Swiss Army knife to someone else.

3. There should be a special circle in Hell for the person who invented those metal twist-ties that bind children's toys to the packaging. Even the Swiss Army knife is no help on those.

4. If you want a canine friend for life, flip him or her chunks of fresh meat from the table.

5. Having a canine friend for life is seriously overrated. Particularly if said friend is one who jumps up on you every time he or she spots you with food.

6. The person who has the most fun at any holiday gathering is the one who entertains the kids and ignores the post-meal small talk.

7. As with Thanksgiving, Christmas Day football games are primarily interesting because they give you the opportunity to nap on the couch.

8. The same is true for Christmas Day basketball games. In fact, the same is true for basketball games generally.

9. Despite what some people tell you, frying is a perfectly good way to cook a turkey. It's not at all greasy, and it's safe if you have the slightest idea what you're doing. (If my uncle can fry a turkey without torching the house, anyone can do it.) Also, it's faster than the oven.

10. Despite with fried-turkey enthusiasts claim, if you were eating a fried turkey and no one told you, you probably couldn't tell the difference.

11. Nothing makes you feel more like a caveman than lofting a turkey drumstick in the air. Particularly if the thigh is still attached. If you express your primal joy by unleashing a few Tim Allen-esque grunts at the dinner table, however, people will look at you strangely.

12. To hell with the food police. There's no better breakfast in this world than bacon, eggs cooked over easy (runny yolks) in the bacon grease, and toast. (This meal doesn't actually have to be prepared by your grandmother, but it helps.) Our society began to run off the rails when we started to deny this simple fact.

13. If people ask you what you want for Christmas and you don't tell them, they won't use their knowledge of you and your likes and dislikes and their native ingenuity to come up with the perfect present, the thing you love and didn't even realize you wanted. Instead, they will get you a gift card.

14. Did you know you can never have too many socks? I do. Now. And they're not even argyle.

15. I understand that Christian groups are getting huffy over the phrase "Happy Holidays" and are boycotting retailers who use the phrase as part of a "Put Christ Back in Christmas" campaign. I'm agnostic on this point, I guess. But it occurs to me that "Happy Holidays" is far less of a perversion of the religious component of Christmas than the rampant commercialism of the season, which far fewer of these same Christians seem to compain about.

16. That goes double for the central Pennsylavania car-dealership chain that sponsors those billboards reading "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" over a picture of a Nativity scene and the name of the dealership. There's a good and holy religious message: "Christ is our Lord and Savior. Come buy a Buick." (There's a different dealership in the same area that displayed a sign over the store at Easter that read, "Christ Died For Your Sins." I found this just plain creepy.)

17. The small towns of Pennsylvania and Maryland all look alike to me. This does not, however, mean they're not charming. Their main streets have a bricky, industrial Dickensian vibe that seems particularly fitting at Christmas.

18. Speaking of Dickens: If you wear a green overcoat with a red scarf at Christmas, people tend to look at you as if you stepped out of "A Christmas Carol." All I was missing was a top hat and a walking stick.

19. If you're sitting next to someone who's playing one of those silly "intelligence test" games and you mock this person for his poor performance, this pretty much guarantees that you will proceed to do even worse on the game when the person you taunted challenges you to try it yourself. Right, Dad?

20. Who decreed that every chain restaurant meal had to come festooned with either roasted squash or coleslaw? Both these side dishes are basically parsley on a larger scale. They're both flavorless but colorful. I suppose the fact that they take up a lot of room on our king-sized plates is what endears them to the chains. But I still hate them. Whoever came up with the roasted veggie/coleslaw brainstorm can join the metal twist-tie guy in that new circle of Hell.

21. On the other hand, any waitress who allows you to substitute a real vegetable for either of the above deserves praise and admiration. Particularly if her reasoning is "I would never force anyone to take coleslaw against their will." Lisa from the Cracker Barrel in York, Pennsylvania, I'd marry you any time.

22. It's a lot easier to dream of a white Christmas if you don't face the prospect of driving in it. I found myself fervently rooting for a green Christmas last week. (Fortunately, my prayers were answered in this regard.)

23. As it turns out, most people who drink egg nog do so because it is a socially acceptable alcohol-intake vehicle, not because they like the taste. This turns out to be important if you buy a gallon of egg nog, expecting someone to help you drink it, and refuse to spike it.

24. Despite what the makers of Time-Life's "Soulful Christmas" CD compilation appear to think, "Back Door Santa" by Clarence Carter is not a Christmas song. Yes, the word "Santa" is in the title, which may throw some people off, but the song is actually about a guy who sleeps with other men's wives. The lyrics are not exactly subtle, either. This is the same Clarence Carter who gave the world "Strokin'," a song that the local oldies station still refuses to play for fear of risking an FCC smackdown. I doubt that many parents would like to explain about "Back Door Santa" to their children, which is another way of saying that it's not appropriate for a family-oriented CD. Capisce?

25. When planning a Christmas road trip and cheerfully loading your car chock-a-block full of Christmas CDs, be sure and remember to include a few non-Christmas CDs for the drive back, which will in all probability occur after Christmas. Otherwise, you'll be stuck trying to pull in far-flung radio stations across the countryside or playing that one Lisa Loeb CD that someone got as a present over and over until someone else in the car threatens homicide.

26. Readers in the Fedroplex area are hereby advised to visit Cacique in Frederick. It's a Spanish/Mexican restaurant on Market Street. And it is head and shoulders above any other Mexican restaurant I've visited. Their salsa is worth selling internal organs for. Their huevos rancheros are heaven on a plate. The service is excellent. And the prices are reasonable. It's worth going out of your way to visit. Don't delay. Go now.

27. I don't care how jaded you are, nothing can prepare you for the news that a 43-year-old man in apparent good health has passed away. Godspeed, Reggie White. You were a giant of a man, in all senses of the word.

28. In a world of chaos and uncertainty, it's always good to know that we have a few things we can count on. Like the fact that the Redskins will always find a way to lose big games. Especially against the Cowboys. It's funny... my dad and I were pretty frustrated with the Skins all game, but when the Cowboys finally scored the game-winning TD, all we could do was laugh. Why? Because we so obviously deserved to lose. The Cowboys, who were thoroughly mediocre throughout, nonetheless outplayed us on offense, defense, special teams, and mental approach. Had we escaped with the victory, it would have been a most undeserved blessing. Besides which, the extra loss can only help our draft position. A win would have earned us nothing. This way, our complete lack of faith in the Redskins remains intact.

29. When the holiday gathering is over and you're back home boxing up the fiber-optic tree alone, it can feel lonely, being so recently removed from family festivity and what not. But it's also profoundly peaceful and relaxing, and that cannot be underrated.

30. You've officially become a Grown Person when you're more interested in seeing what the children are getting for Christmas than what you yourself are getting. One of my old teachers called it "seeing Christmas from the inside." It's a rite of passage when Christmas stops being about you and starts being about the next generation.

Hope you enjoyed that random assemblage of nothing in particular. The rest of the week will be more exciting, I promise. Tomorrow, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice will check in. And on Wednesday, we'll meet our new addition. See you tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 10:35 AM | Comments (3)

December 23, 2004

Happy Holidays

Today's Musical Selection: "White Christmas" by the Drifters

I'm headed out of town for a few days. I'll be spending Christmas with my family up in Pennsylvania. Sorry about yesterday's non-post... my connection's acting up again. I haven't forgotten about our new contributor, even if most of you have; I haven't been able to arrange an interview with him this week between one thing and another, but I promise I'll set something up with him next week. You're going to love him, I promise.

Since I'm leaving early tomorrow, I'm going to have to make this short. I did, however, want to share with you a little anecdote. Last Sunday, thanks to a series of circumstances that I still don't fully comprehend, I found myself giving an interview for an article for my old high-school yearbook. So there I was sitting in Starbucks chatting amicably with a young woman from the yearbook staff. We were discussing the world as it was when I was in high school in the mid-'90s. I made passing reference to the government shutdown as a major issue of the day, and she said, "Boy, I should have paid more attention in history class."

Suddenly, almost as if by instinct, I felt my arthritis flaring up. My temples began to go gray. I was, suddenly, Old. With one sentence, and without meaning to, this perfectly pleasant young woman had made me into a geezer.

When did I get Old? I absolutely fail to recall this happening. I knew ours was a youth-worshipping culture, but I never expected to be over the hill at 25. I mentioned this story to Papa Shaft, and he tried to put a positive spin on it: "Well, in athlete's terms, you're just hitting your prime!" A nice thought, with only two minor difficulties. First, I'm not an athlete. Second, if this is my priome, I'm really in trouble. I'm a journeyman! They've found the hole in my swing. I won't last long at this level.

Everyone has that moment when they first discover that they are Old, and this was mine. For some people, it's the first time they hear themselves called "sir" or "ma'am," but that never had any effect on me, because I was raised to believe that was an appropriate term of respect, and not an insult, as many people in our society seem to think. But when my high school years, which really don't seem that far gone, are suddenly fodder for the history books... well, hell, son, time to hang 'em up and start shopping for Geritol and Depends.

The funny part of it is, I was never really young, even when I was little. I was reading Consumer Reports in elementary school. When all the other kids were into pop music, I was into WMAL, the local news-talk station, and NPR. Later, when I started getting into music, it was '60s and '70s stuff, and later big bands and swing. I've always been naturally middle-aged. I never thought there was any particular value or advantage in being young. At least not until this young woman turned me into my father.

I'd like to invite my readers to share their epiphanies, the moment when they realized they were Old. (Assuming that it has happened already.) I'd like to think I'm not the only senior citizen out there.

I also wanted to address a couple comments I received on the baseball post from Monday. First, loyal reader Tripp is impressed by the depth of my devotion:

Wow, Fred, baseball means a lot to you! Be a little careful though, because professional sports can be harsh.

Baseball surely does mean a lot to me. For evidence, you can call any of my ex-girlfriends, all of whom were driven varying degrees of crazy by my obsession. (At least one of them enjoyed singing the "Six Months Out of Every Year" song from Damn Yankees, which I suppose might have been a hint.) There really aren't words to adequately describe my depression when it seemed like the deal had been blown all to hell. I actually compared the MLB-DC standoff to the Cuban Missile Crisis. I thought things about Linda Cropp that really aren't nice to think about anyone, especially during the holidays. If the deal fell through, I was fully prepared to abandon the big-league game and start my own 8-team circuit called the FMLB, operated on a baseball simulator I own, with daily results to be posted on this blog. (And I would have done it, too. I've done similar things before.) It was not nice of the city and the league to toy with my emotions like that.

Believe me, though, I'm well aware of how the game can break your heart. My heart has been broken by it countless times over the years. But sometimes, you're willing to take that risk. There's a Billy Joel song that fits the occasion:

Who knows how much further we'll go on?
Maybe I'll be sorry when you're gone
I'll take my chances
I forgot how nice romance is
I haven't been there for the longest time

Never has it felt so good to have a home team to grouse about.

Also, friend BallWonk wanted to add a few toasts to my list:

On the subject, I'd like to give a shout out to my good friends Little Pink (Washington's own), Jon Langford, Sally Timms, Jolie Holland, Dwight Yoakam, and Merle Haggard for seeing me through the last week. Couldn't have made it without them. Also, the fine craftsmen and -women behind Makers Mark bourbon, also without whom that ledge might have been a-callin'. A little drink I like to call a Sherman's March kept me going - bourbon, the juice of a fresh squeezed lime, rocks, and Coke. And finally to John Landis and Dan Aykroyd for making "The Blues Brothers," the first-time watching of which really turned things around for me Sunday night.

Well said, BallWonk. And incidentally, welcome to the cult of "The Blues Brothers." It's a masterpiece of American cinema. You have a standing invitation to come to my house and see the uncut DVD version, which contains a "making of" video that's actually worth watching. I'll also have to try that Sherman's March sometime... sounds like a great painkiller, and undoubtedly safer than Aleve.

I also wanted to add a toast of my own, one that I inexplicably forgot last time.

- To Shirley Povich, the greatest baseball writer in Washington history, and one of the greatest of all time. He kept the flame going all those years, even when no one else believed. He refused to even consider the Orioles as an alternative. Sadly, Shirley passed away in 1998, having lived a full life, but too soon to see the restoration. His name adorns the stadium of the Bethesda Big Train, a local college-league team. He died not knowing if that was as close as Washington would ever come to having the game back. I know he's up there in heaven now, smiling and telling everyone, "Look at that! Things are finally back to normal." My first toast at RFK, and my first toast at the new park, will be to you, Shirley. Rest in peace.

And with that, I take my leave. See you next week, at a time to be determined. Maybe Monday, maybe not. Anyhow, Happy Holidays! Send me egg nog if you have it. Adieu!

Posted by Fred at 09:38 PM | Comments (3)

December 21, 2004

Nationals to DC: Went Away For A Little While, But Now We're Back

Today's Musical Selection: "Hello Again" by the Cars

Well, how about that, sports fans?

Yes, you can believe it at last. This is really it. There really will be baseball in Washington next year. There really will. Really.

I know, I can't believe it either. I figured there had to be some trap door waiting for us between here and the Opening Day of my dreams, and last week Linda Cropp thoughtfully opened it. For a week, I couldn't sleep, barely felt like eating, couldn't sit still. It was like losing a great girlfriend, or having a death in the family. I've loved baseball as long as I can remember, and I've lived in the Fedroplex all my life. To come so close, and then to see it snatched away before the team could even take the field... well, in the words of B.B. King, how blue can you get?

In the depths of my depression, I left a gloomy comment over on Frinklin's blog to the effect that 2004 was my worst year ever. And at the time, it seemed that way. Pretty much anything I might have wanted was dangled before me just long enough to get my hopes up, then taken away just when I was starting to get used to it. Hell, for 6 hours, I thought John Kerry was going to be our next president, something I certainly couldn't have guessed when I signed the petition to get him on the Virginia ballot back in February. Back then, I figured he was headed for the dustbin of history, just like all my other favorite candidates. But no, somehow he won the primary, then he ran a competitive race, then the exit polls had him ahead... it was about as cruel a defeat as it's possible to have. I lost my job in the summer. The Smart Lady moved away. And then, for icing on the cake, a lifelong dream smashed like a Faberge egg under a steamroller. I'm sure some good things happened this year, but damned if I could think of any.

Then came word that yes, everyone involved realized it was in everyone's best interest to make the Nationals work. Chairwoman Cropp realized that, while her stand for fiscal sanity was admirable and all, being The Woman Who Lost Baseball wouldn't exactly burnish her reputation when it was time to run for mayor. Mayor Williams, after a brief cathartic spell of cursing like a sailor, regained his head and decided to roll up his sleeves and save his legacy, like he ought to have done from the beginning. And MLB, which was determined to bring on nuclear winter if it was necessary to teach that impudent Linda Cropp a lesson, realized that blowing its last shot at the DC market might be pennywise, but it was sure as hell pound foolish. So everyone sat down on Monday and ironed out their differences with the feverish speed of a college kid cramming for a final. Who says government is slow and inefficient? Not yesterday they weren't.

Last night, I attended a rally of DC baseball supporters downtown. Originally, it was designed as a town hall meeting, allowing us to question the mayor and the Council about the state of things and to plead our case. As I walked up to the building, I was handed a bumper sticker reading, "LINDA YOU IGNORANT SLUT!" I chuckled... and then I heard another member of the group admonish the sticker distributor: "Stop handing those out. We won." My eyebrows shot up. Then I got into the hall and discovered that the Mayor and Chairwoman Cropp weren't there. Seems they were working on something. And Mark Sterne and Charlie Brotman, the MCs for the evening, said a joint statement was in the works, scheduled for 6:30. They kept hinting that good news was on the way. Well, now...

As it turned out, the big announcement didn't come during the rally, and Sterne and Brotman did yeoman's work, vamping like crazy, taking questions, reminiscing about the old Senators days, inviting up anyone and everyone with connections to DC baseball to make a speech. Ex-Senators Fred Valentine and Chuck Hinton. Presidents of baseball-oriented youth groups. Documentary filmmaker Aviva Kempner (who got off a great line about DC suffering "The Curse of the Council"). Councilwoman Kathy Patterson. AFL-CIO president John Sweeney. I spotted Thomas Boswell over by the wall, wearing a navy Nats cap.

I sat next to Papa Shaft, and as we were leaving I said to him, "You know what makes me optimistic? Kathy Patterson was here. A good omen."

Papa was dubious. "But she was at the press conference announcing the team, too, and she still voted no."

"That's just the point, though. Whenever the winds are blowing in favor of baseball, she makes sure she's up on stage. If the deal was a no-go, she wouldn't have risked coming."

We took the Metro back home, and found ourselves stumbling around Vienna at 8:30, looking for a place to eat in 16-degree weather.

"They said there'd be an announcement, but it's been two hours and nothing so far," Papa said.

"I wonder if that's good or bad," I said.

"I think so. I'll bet they're trying to iron out every last detail so they can present it at the Council meeting tomorrow."

"Good idea. That way, if something goes wrong, they have a week to fix it if they need to."

You might think that this was unnecessarily pessimistic of me, but if you've paid attention to this whole thing, you understand why.

I got a "DC '05" pin at the rally, and I left it pinned to my overcoat today. I was hoping it was a good-luck charm. Finally, at 2:45 in the afternoon, by a 7-6 margin, the Council completed, at long last, the restoration. (Patterson voted no again, by the way. Nice straddle.)

In September, when we got word that the Expos were coming, a group of us fans repaired to a local watering hole to raise toasts in honor of our heroes (and there were plenty that day). We couldn't stage a repeat performance tonight, so I'll offer a few toasts of my own. Raise 'em high, everyone.

- To Linda Cropp, who managed today's session admirably and proved that, despite the nasty cracks about her intellect after last week's debacle, she's perfectly capable of being an effective leader when she wants to be. Thank you, Linda, for being amenable to discussions, rather than continuing the game of chicken with the sport.

- To Jack Evans, who was the pro-baseball bulldog on the Council throughout this process. Your fire and willingness to get down in the trenches and fight helped keep the deal alive long enough to reach resolution. You weren't as publicly involved in the finale, but believe me, the baseball fans of DC will never forget your role.

- To Anthony Williams, whose vision and boldness made this whole deal happen in the first day. It's Cropp's day today, and you're taking a beating in the press right now, some of it deserved. But when all is said and done, everyone will remember who got MLB to agree to come here in the first place. Personally, I'll always remember and admire you for last Wednesday, the day the deal looked stone dead. You stepped up in front of the cameras and accepted personal responsibility for the deal's failure. You were a profile in courage that day.

- To the parking company whose $100 million private financing offer helped Chairwoman Cropp feel comfortable removing the sunset provision that was a deal-breaker for MLB.

- To Major League Baseball (am I feeling generous or what?). You scared the daylights out of a lot of us when you threatened to pull the team out of DC, but you matched your hard-line rhetoric with a behind-the-scenes willingness to strike a deal, for which you deserve credit. So there it is. Now don't do that to us again, okay?

- To Adrian Fenty, who voiced his opposition to the deal honestly and eloqently. You were a dignified and savvy advocate for your position, and I tip my Nats cap to you. I think you've got a future in this game, kid.

- To Jim Bowden. It never felt so good to be able to grouse about the dumb moves your GM is making.

- To BallWonk, whose clever and witty commentary on the stadium situation helped keep me away from the ledge this week. Thanks, buddy. I owe you one.

- To Nationals fans everywhere. See you at RFK in April!

Egads, I'm exhausted. I'm going to go soak my head in a bucket of ice. See you tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 10:49 PM | Comments (2)

December 20, 2004

Update: We Have A Deal

Local news sources are reporting that Mayor Williams, Chairwoman Cropp, and Major League Baseball have a deal on the stadium legislation. Apparently, the deal involves the opportunity for the District to seek private financing, some sort of cap on cost overruns and penlties for delays in construction. Details are still sketchy, but it sounds like if the Council passes the legislation tomorrow, we'll be seeing Opening Day at RFK in 2005. Pray hard, friends.

Posted by Fred at 11:37 PM | Comments (1)

Cross Your Fingers...

I was at a DC baseball rally this evening, and I received word that the mayor and Linda Cropp were close to a deal. Now I'm home, and they're still close. Could it happen tonight? Stay tuned! I'll be back with more tomorrow.

Posted by Fred at 10:01 PM | Comments (0)

December 17, 2004

I've Got Mail!

Today's Musical Selection: "Put The Yule Log On, Uncle John" by P.D.Q. Bach

Howdy, everyone! There's been a fair bit of quality commentary to chew on lately, so I figured I'd spotlight some of it and continue the dialogue as best I can. (Also, it's Friday and I'm kind of out of material for the week.)

A couple weeks ago I groused about the up-and-down Redskins (who played valiantly and lost narrowly to an Eagles team that seemed more interested in the postgame buffet than the actual contest on the field), which drew a couple comments. First, Ensie sent sympathy (sort of) from sunny San Diego:

Glad you're on the rollercoaster. The Chargers bandwagon is getting full here in San Diego. :)

I want to send my warmest regards to a Chargers, a team I've always felt warmly about. Picked by virtually everyone to finish last, led by a quarterback the team didn't even want and went out of its way to bury, they're sitting pretty at 10-3. Two people in particular deserve to savor this run. One is that quarterback of last resort, Drew Brees. The Chargers sat him behind a sulky wonder child (David Rivers, the replacement for even sulkier wonder child Eli Manning) and America's favorite 41-year-old midget (Doug Flutie). With nothing to lose and his future in football fading before his eyes, he went out there and racked up a terrific season, and now stands ready to collect an enormous paycheck somewhere else while San Diego stocks up on diapers for Rivers and Ben-Gay for Flutie.

The other man who deserves to enjoy this ride is Marty Schottenheimer. That name may have a mildly familiar ring for Redskins fans. The longtime Browns and Chiefs coach came riding into Washington on one of Dan Snyder's spoiled-brat tantrums, the supposed antidote to kindly old Norv Turner. Faced with a depleted and weary roster that hated him, a disspirited and disgusted fan base that hated him, and a sneering media that hated him too, Schottenheimer rallied from an 0-5 start to finish 8-8. In another town, this might have won him public accolades or at least an extension. In Washington, it got him fired, as the boy billionaire Snyder decided to make a big splash and bring in Steve Spurrier. At the time, the public consensus was that Schottenheimer was a cranky old drill sergeant and the game had passed him by. (I shared this opinion, incidentally; I nicknamed him "Sergeant Slaught-enheimer" while he was in DC.)

The big knock on Schottenheimer was that his three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust system was stale and boring. Well, now he's sitting on a playoff berth, and here we've got the Sainted Joe Gibbs running basically the same offense, only worse. Some might call it karma.

Meanwhile, loyal reader Tripp weighed in from the frozen North:

For years I rocked on with the mediocre Bears, who were dismally dismal. Then I moved to Minnesota and hooked up with the Vikings, who love to build up your expectations, up up up, to then have them come crashing down! Repeatedly. Given the two I think I am actually happier with the predictably bad.

So for my emotional health I've put a nice distance between my feelings and the Vikings playing. They will not seduce me again with their tantalizing Moss catches and the elusive dream that this year, please God this year they will win the Super Bowl. Nope. I am aloof.

Incidentally, the "predictably dismal" Bears currently sit at 5-8, a game ahead of the Redskins. I agree that constant misery is actually better than having hope to salt the wound. (As a Brewers fan, I speak from experience.) If you expect nothing, you can't be disappointed. The Redskins of late have specialized in finding some way to convince you to believe again, luring you in just close enough so they can smack you in the teeth with a hammer. This is why my dad and I get together to make fun of the Skins every week; if we didn't, we'd scream.

Last week I launched my annual anti-Christmas-commercialism rant, which drew support from Tripp:

You supply such fertile grounds for comments. Here is my theory about shopping. I strongly believe the hunter/gatherer theory of shopping, and you are typically male.

Don't try to change, dude, just recognize your inner hunter. When you shop, just stalk your prey, kill it, and bring it home. You'll be MUCH happier.

And, you are right, it IS the thought that counts. Sometimes the oddball gifts are the best. They leave the best stories, stories that are remembered long after the Terrain Twister is banished to the land fill.

I am, indeed, typically male. In fact, I hope I am male all the time. And actually, Tripp's advice was terrific. I hit the stores on Thursday afternoon, my quarry in mind, and I came away with almost everything by the time the day was over. And it felt good. And it will continue to do so unless my friends and family all decide they hate what I got them. If that happens, I'll say, "It's the thought that counts." And they'll say, "You thought wrong." Oh, well, c'est la vie.

Actually, the best gift I ever got was very cheap. It was the junior year of high school, and I was bemoaning my romantic futility. I had a running gag with a friend of mine about our imaginary girlfriends. We'd come in with cheerful tales of our imaginary dates. We amused ourselves and a mutual friend named Kim with these tales of (mild) ribaldry. Well, on the run-up to Christmas, my friend asked if the imaginary girlfriend and I had any plans. I said yes, she and I were planning to snuggle and drink eggnog by the glow of my imaginary fireplace. We all had a good chuckle, and I forgot about it.

Except on the day before winter break, I walked into my first-period class and there on my desk was a quart of eggnog and a red rose. A gift from Kim. Best present I ever received. It is the thought that counts.

On Wednesday, of course, I posted my angst-ridden self-debate on DC baseball. Fellow sufferer BallWonk weighed in on whether or not this is the right time to panic:

"This is no time to panic" is an odd cliche. Unlike most cliches, which are cliches because they're true, "This is no time to panic" is almost always exactly wrong. You always hear it when things are going wrong: The iceberg hit the ship below the waterline, the bulkheads didn't close, the rivets are popping, there are only lifeboats for half the passengers, the water is full of pirrhanas, and the nearest land is North Korea. It's at that exact moment that some wiseacre always says, "This is no time to panic!"

Au contraire. That's exactly the time to panic. What, should we panic when everything is going just fine? "Ahh, the sun is shining, I just got a raise, and, oh, look, here's a free steak. PANIC!"

No, in fact [now] IS the time to panic.

On a related note, Tripp had this to say:

Slippery Jim DiGriz says a moment of panic is perfect for responding to a crisis. It gets the juices flowing and the senses, um, sensing.

I suppose the key is regaining control after the moment of panic.

You're both right, gents. This would indeed be the time to panic, as Mayor Williams is demonstrating brilliantly with his comment about the "jackass Council members" who blew up his deal. But right now, it's time to give that "regaining control" thing a try. Linda Cropp says she hasn't spoken to the mayor since Tuesday, which is appalling. Williams needs to get over his snit fit with Cropp and get back to the table. And if he doesn't like it, he needs to remind himself that a better job of politicking before the vote, or any politicking really, would mean we wouldn't be in this mess.

Not that I can blame Williams for being pissed off. Now Cropp wants to go back and renegotiate the whole deal with MLB, and she wants Williams to help her. Oh, in case you forgot, that was Linda Cropp standing up on stage at the press conference announcing the team. This is like going shopping with your wife and picking out a car, negotiating a price with the salesman and having your wife tell you she loves the car, then when you go to the bank she says that she's not spending more than half the price you negotiated on the car, and she wants you to go back and renegotiate the price with the salesman. Nice kneecap job, Linda.

All that said, there's still room to make a deal here, if everyone involved is willing to be rational instead of rearing up and getting all huffy over perceived disrespect. Which is reason enough to be pessimistic.

Anyway, that's enough for this week. To those of you who wrote comments to Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice, they haven't returned my phone calls. Hopefully, we'll hear from them early next week. Also, next week I have an exciting announcement. We have a new addition to the Mediocre Fred team! I'll leave you in suspense for the weekend on that. See you Monday!

Posted by Fred at 07:47 PM | Comments (1)

December 16, 2004

Random Non-Nats Thoughts (As If They Matter)

Today's Musical Selection: "Ana Ng" by They Might Be Giants

Hi, everybody! Well, I'm still talking to myself (see yesterday's post), but one internal monologue is more than enough, I'm sure. Instead, today I'll share with you some of my non-DC-baseball-related musings. In other words, it's potpourri day! And it's not even Friday! Wow!

While I've been off dancing with Fred Malek and Linda Cropp, my beloved Brewers have, fairly quietly, been assembling a solid team. The Crew sent their closer, Danny Kolb, to Atlanta for the Braves' top pitching prospect, Jose Capellan. Then they engineered a mega-deal with the White Sox, acquiring slugging outfielder Carlos Lee in exchange for center fielder Scott Podsednik, reliever Luis Vizcaino and a minor leaguer. And most recently, they shipped infielder Keith Ginter to Oakland for reliever Justin Lehr and stud minor-league outfielder Nelson Cruz.

My analysis of all three deals:

- The Kolb deal is exactly the kind of bold thinking a small-market club needs, and the kind we've seen ever since Doug Melvin became GM. Dean Taylor wouldn't have made this trade. And God knows Sal Bando never would have made it.

Melvin has figured out one of Billy Beane's tenets in Oakland: There are few things in baseball more overrated or overpriced than an "experienced closer." At any given time, there are maybe a half-dozen truly bankable closers in baseball. If you have one of those guys, you pay to keep him if you can. But if you don't have one of those half-dozen bankable closers, just go find some guy off the junk heap or elevate a middle reliever. Teams that pay $5 million for middle-echelon closers are insane. It's a waste of money.

And if your team is not a contender and you overpay for the Jose Mesas and the Ugueth Urbinas, you're doubly insane. If you figure to win 75 games or fewer, what difference does it make if your closer has 20 saves or 25? Remember when Bryan Harvey saved 45 games for a 61-win Marlins team in '93? The Marlins kept him instead of dealing him, and two years later he blew out his arm and was out of baseball. What a waste.

Now, for about a full season (the second half of '03 and the first half of '04), Danny Kolb was ungodly good. He posted some of the best stats by a closer in all of baseball. However, in the second half of '04 he showed signs of fatigue and arm trouble and just plain mortality. Melvin took one look at these numbers and at his 68-win team from '04, and wisely decided to sell high. The Braves, who are supposedly one of the smart teams, decided they had to have Kolb, even at the cost of a crown jewel of the farm system. Now, I'll grant, if Kolb's first-half form returns, the Braves have a terrific closer, which as a playoff contender they can actually use. If the second-half Kolb stays around, however, the Braves got hosed. Either way, the Brewers wind up with a player they have a lot more use for than Kolb.

My only concern: The Braves didn't get where they are by trading away great pitching prospects. Almost all the pitchers they've traded away later fizzled. The last great pitcher we acquired from their system was Ruben Quevedo. Remember him? My point exactly.

- I'm still giggling over the Lee trade. This deal made very little splash, but Carlos Lee just might be the best player you've never heard of. Lee is 27 and is a consistent .290-.300 hitter with 25-30 homer power. The man is a stud, and healthy too... ever since his rookie year, he's never played less than 140 games in a season. The guy is steady, and he's a monster. Meanwhile, Podsednik is 30 (yeah, he was a Rookie of the Year candidate last year, but he was an old rookie), he slumped badly last season, and he has zero power. I like the kid, and he's got a ton of speed, but if I have to pick between speed and power, I'll take power. Vizcaino is a decent but very streaky middle reliever, a dime-a-dozen kind of player.

Attention White Sox fans: Weaver's Whammy has struck again! Just when you were on the verge of building a winner, you trade away one of the backbones of your offense. Magglio Ordonez is only marginally better than Lee, plus he's a cripple, and yet everyone thinks Ordonez is a huge prize and ignores Lee. What's the matter with the White Sox, anyway? They share the third-largest market in America with a team that has made a cult art out of losing. They play in the weakest division in the major leagues. By all rights, they should be winning 90 to 95 games a year. But they're fascinated by big names and never bother to hang on to the lesser lights that would win pennant, or develop a consistent theory of team building. ChiSox fans... where's the joy in it for you? Every season is basically a waiting game to see when your GM is going to make the trade that will be the bullet in your brain. (Of course, at least you have a team... wait, I said I wasn't going to talk about that.)

- The Ginter deal is less of an obvious robbery, as Ginter's a useful player with a steady bat. But Lehr is a potentially useful reliever with a plus fastball, and everything I've heard about Cruz makes me drool. Who could have imagined, when Ginter was a late throw-in in the Mark Loretta deal, that Ginter would bring this much return? It's a good trade for depth, which is a welcome new idea around this club.

For once, the Brewers are making real trades, and smart ones, too, not fire-sale trades or speculative gambles. The Lee acquisition proves that the new ownership is actually willing to spend a little cash. It's enough to make a guy giddy. Of course, the whole you-know-what mess is clouding my feelings for Major League Baseball in general, but I'm grateful to see the Brew Crew actually trying.

I suspect that they started this because they heard they might lose me as a fan. You know how people who are dumped by their significant others often lose weight, dress better and generally get their acts in gear? So it is with the Brewers and me. They don't want to lose their one fan with no actual connection to the Milwaukee area. I appreciate the effort, guys. And the way things are going, you and I will be back together in 2005. If I catch you next September sitting on the couch munching potato chips, though, words will be exchanged.

Yesterday, while driving home, I saw one of those great only-in-Washington traffic maneuvers. A gentleman in front of me, driving a luxury car, executed an illegal U-turn. On a red light. From the center lane. In front of a police officer. In a marked car. There are bad and crazy drivers all over this country, but only a Washington driver would have the sheer unmitigated nerve to bang an illegal U from the wrong lane in front of a cop. Like me, the cop was at first too stunned to react. Then, finally, he turned around and went after the guy. That combination of self-importance, disregard for others and complete indifference to the rules of the road... pure Washington, all the way.

Finally, some bad news amongst the blogging community: My man Frinklin gets to observe his Christmas by getting laid off. Go on over to his blog and tell him to hang in there, would you? He's a good guy who deserves better. And I'm sure he'd do the same for you.

Anyway, that's it for me today. See you tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 01:57 PM | Comments (0)

December 15, 2004

Talking to Myself

Today's Musical Selection: "Ball of Confusion" by the Temptations

"It's like coming this close to your dreams, and then watching them brush past you like a stranger in the crowd."
-Dr. Archibald "Moonlight" Graham, "Field of Dreams"

I'm still trying to sort out what went on in the stadium hearings in DC yesterday. I've been having extended arguments with myself over how disturbing a development this is. I was thinking of posting this internal monologue here, but I figured it would only confuse and bore people.

Oh, what the hell. It's my blog.

"All right, break out the champagne! We have a stadium!"
"Are you nuts? We don't have a stadium! And pretty soon, we're not going to have a team."
"You did see the outcome of the hearings, didn't you? Seven votes for a stadium! Point me to the party hats!"
"Not so fast, big boy. The agreement says the city must find 50% private financing for stadium construction. If they don't find that in six months, the whole deal goes kablooey. As in zero funding. Want to explain the guaranteed stadium part again?"
"It's a face-saving technicality. It's even a good thing for the city... less public money going into the stadium."
"And you know what will have even less public money going into the stadium? When they don't build it at all."
"Be serious, man. You don't think businesses will be lining up around the block for a piece of this action? I'll bet they have two dozen financing offers by sundown."
"Not without an equity stake. You may not have noticed, but DC intends to seek private financing while maintaining total ownership of the stadium. Sound like a good deal to you? You want to help me pay for my house?"
"That can be negotiated. But what, you're afraid that MLB won't go for the public-private financing split? Nothing's wrong with it. It's the same stadium either way. The deal doesn't put MLB or the new owner on the hook any more than the old deal did."
"That's not the deal-killer. The killer is the uncertainty. Despite what you seem to think, we don't know that there will be a stadium. Try to understand this. There is no guarantee that a stadium will exist, in 2008 or ever. That's why the deal is doomed."
"And once again, you're worrying about an eventuality that isn't going to happen. The financing will be there. You're telling me that in the entire Washington business community, the one that agreed to the tax that was funding the original deal, no one will kick in $150 million? Hell, I'll bet the new owner would gladly kick in the $150 mil. For the chance to operate in Washington? He'd make it back 100 times over."
"You're missing the point. There is no owner. MLB is brokering the sale. And they know they'll get a lot less money if they're just selling a piece of land, rather than a piece of land with a house on it."
"Well, suppose one of the groups steps up right now and agrees to pay the $150 million. Problem solved."
"No, problem not solved. In fact, that's exactly what MLB doesn't want to happen."
"I'm not following you."
"If, say, Fred Malek's group is paying $150 million for the stadium, that's $150 million that isn't going to MLB. And MLB wants to extract every last possible penny."
"Fine. But the $150 million is still out there. They'll find it."
"What, you have a crystal ball now? There's no way of knowing that the money is there. And you think we're going to get a new stadium bill with the new Council? After three leading stadium supporters were voted out of office? You must be crazy."
"The new Council only comes into play if the private financing doesn't come through. Which it will."
"You need to look at the bill again. The Council has to approve the private financing. If they wanted to, they could kill the plan by voting down any deal that the city finds."
"That's not what the bill says. Show me the text."
"I don't have the text. But the Washington Post reported it that way."
"Did the Post read the text? Reporters have been wrong before, you know."
"True enough. But you're depending on the certainty of a private financing plan which does not exist at this moment."
"I'm telling you, it will come. And if it doesn't, what's MLB going to do? They already voted to move the team to Washington."
"Which was contingent on DC having a stadium in hand by December 31st, which this bill does not provide. The agreement between DC and baseball was very carefully structured, and it requires the stadium to be fully funded by the end of the year. As it stands, that's not happening. And MLB certainly can walk away."
"And do what? Go back to Montreal, where they already sold the turf? Back to San Juan, where they already promised not to play? To Mexico, where the players union would start a riot? There's one city, and one city only, that has a major-league facility right now that's not in use: Washington. Baseball's threatening to shut down its business operations and refund the ticket deposits? It's an empty threat. The wheels are in motion. Baseball can't afford to stop now."
"For 2005, sure. But what about beyond that? RFK might be the only baseball-ready facility available now, but that's not necessarily true down the road."
"And who's going to come up with that? Portland? Las Vegas? There are no viable alternatives of DC's caliber. MLB has to make this work."
"Well, it's certainly true that right now, neither Vegas nor Portland can approach DC as a market, and neither actually has stadium funding in place. But who's to say what might happen in a few years? Open up this window, and if a Vegas or a Portland steps up with an air-tight fully-funded stadium plan, maybe MLB decides that the risk is too great to go to DC."
"What happened to your 'Money is King' argument, smarty? No owner is going to pay the same money to go to Vegas or Portland that he'd pay to go to D.C. The profit potential's not nearly the same."
"Is that still true when you factor in Angelos? He still has to get paid. Are you confident that DC + uncertain stadium funding - Angelos compensation is still greater than Vegas + rock-solid stadium funding + no payoff?"
"Have you seen the population numbers in Vegas? The whole metropolitan area is 1.5 million. D.C.'s over 4 million. Plus, Vegas is surrounded by... desert! Not much hope for regional brand-building."
"Portland's bigger than Vegas."
"Portland's still less than 2.5 million, and the Mariners will want to be paid off."
"What about the elephant in the middle of the room... New Jersey? It could solve a lot of baseball's competitive-balance problems. They weren't a factor this time around because they got a late start, but do you think they couldn't put together a proposal given a year?"
"Are you insane? Three words, buddy: Yankees. Mets. Phillies. It's the Angelos nightmare times three. Try again."
"You seem awfully sure of yourself. But here's three words for you: Thirty. Three. Years. Don't you know the history? Don't you know that the DC baseball effort has been a case study in Murphy's Law?"
"You're letting the past failures scare you unreasonably."
"Given our history, how can you be anything but scared?"
"Because MLB and DC both have skin in the game. They've come too far to fail now."
"It only seems that way because everything's been moving at the speed of light the last few months. But the truth is, there's nothing binding baseball to DC right now. Nothing. No staff, no tickets, no entrenched apparatus. Just a bunch of deposits and some merchandise. And here's what really scares me: this all has to get resolved by the end of the year."
"That's an artificial deadline."
"No, it's very real. You can't leave the stadium funding up to the hew Council. This has to happen by year's end. There's almost no wiggle room. And right now, MLB's so pissed at us that they'd just as soon punt the whole mess. If we had another year, I might feel better about this. But now, there's just too many ways it can go wrong."
"You're forgetting the most important thing: DC is baseball's best option. And baseball is DC's best option, too. Both sides know, in the end, that it's to their best advantage to make it work.Reason wil prevail, because the costs of failure are unacceptable for everyone. Baseball knows DC is a gold mine, and they know this is their last shot. We're in, baby."
"We're screwed."

You see my dilemma. I really don't know how to feel right now. Part of me says, "This is no time to panic," and part of me says, "This is the perfect time to panic!"

Pray for me, friends. Please pray for me.

Posted by Fred at 08:10 PM | Comments (2)

December 14, 2004

Back on Track! (At Least For Now)

Today's Musical Selection: "Blue Christmas" by Porky Pig

Hi, everybody! My home connection is back up and running (if a bit slowly), and so I'm back in the game. Actually, I'm not, but Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice are. They're continuing to wend their way across the country. Today they come to us from... well, I'm notexactly certain. Read the text below to understand why. I'll turn the floor over to Millie and Beatrice now.

- - - - -

Love Is In the Air... Or Perhaps That's Hormones, by Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice

UM: Hello, lads! And greetings from... well, that's a bit of a point of contention between us right now.

AB: Hi, everybody. We're lost.

UM: We are not lost. You are lost.

AB: Funny. You were driving, and it was your "shortcut" that wound up getting us... wherever it is we are now.

UM: I've told you before, I know where we are. I know this town well.

AB: And I've told you before that Winesburg, Ohio is not a real town.

UM: That would surely come as a great shock to the good Winesburgers surrounding us even as we speak.

AB: Millie, listen to me. "Winesburg, Ohio" is a book. Not a real town. In fact, I don't even think we're in Ohio.

UM: Oh, come now, I'm certain we're in Ohio, even if we haven't yet made it to Winesburg.

AB: There is no Winesburg! And it feels unseasonably warm for Ohio.

UM: It's been a warm autumn, my dear.

AB: Still, I'm not sure about this.

UM: Why not? Haven't you enjoyed all the sights we've seen so far on our trip? We saw Yellowstone.

AB: That was not Yellowstone. It was a rock someone had painted yellow.

UM: Well, yes, that's the point.

AB: Yellowstone is a national forest. Not an actual yellow stone. Dear.

UM: Well, we also saw the Grand Canyon.

AB: No, we saw a woman with a large chest. That's not the same as the actual Grand Canyon. Though you looked like you wanted to spend weeks exploring it.

UM: Well, it was a great attraction that people came from miles around to see.

AB: In Uncle Millie's defense, however, we did see a famous national landmark. Up in South Daota.

UM: That's right! And you complain I never take you anywhere.

AB: Was it Mount Rushmore? Or possibly the Black Hills? Or the Badlands? No. It was the Corn Palace.

UM: A palace! Made out of corn! It's the greatest idea ever!

AB: No, really, I don't think so.

UM: All right, possibly second behind the polio vaccine. Maybe tied for second with Jelly Bellys.

AB: We did not, however, stop at Wall Drug.

UM: We were going to, but I missed it.

AB: Never mind that there are signs for hundreds of miles around directing you toward it. Missing Wall Drug will driving through South Dakota is like looking up at the sky on a clear day and not finding the sun.

UM: Well, if you're done ridiculing my navigational abilities, perhaps we can read this week's letters.

AB: Not just yet. I also think our readers should know that you managed to confuse Nevada with Nebraska.

UM: I most certainly did not.

AB: When we entered Nevada, you asked me if we were close to the Kansas border.

UM: It was a reasonable question.

AB: Kansas and Nevada are halfway across the country from each other. It was not a reasonable question. Why don't you admit that you confused Nevada with Nebraska? While we're at it, why don't you admit that you don't know where we are right now?

UM: So I have no sense of direction and might well be driving us to the North Pole for all I know, and yet you continue to let me drive? An impartial observer might ask who the greater fool is here.

AB: While we ponder that, let's take a look at that first letter.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

Here's my problem in a nutshell: I've been dating "Regina" for three years now. Things are going great between us, except for one thing: about three and a half months ago, Regina was accepted into her dream grad school program. We've both been hoping for this for a long time, and I'm happy for her. The problem is that the program is very demanding, and she puts in a lot of hours between the program and the job she works to help pay for expenses. That means there's a lot less "us" time than there used to be. And even when we're physically together, all she wants to do is sleep and lay around the house. She never wants to go out, never wants to do anything exciting, and never wants to share intimate time, if you know what I mean.

Since this program is what she's been dreaming of doing her whole life, I'd feel like a real jerk to complain. But I miss the old Regina! How do I talk to her about this?

Danny in Cambridge

AB: Hi, Danny. I can appreciate the dilemma you're in: she's not giving you what you need right now, but you don't want to stand between her and her dream. I think one of the keys to answering this question is to find out whether this workload can be expected to be continue. In a lot of grad programs, the first year or so is very strenuous, designed to weed out those who can't take it, and it gets easier afterward. If that's the case, I'd advise trying to grin and bear it and ride out the storm. It's not too long to wait if she's special to you, and later on she'll remember that you stuck by her in the difficult times, and your patience will be rewarded.

On the other hand, if this is a very demanding multi-year program, particularly if it leads to a very demanding career... well, then you start having to think about what you can deal with. Sit down with her and have an honest talk about how you feel. Don't be accusatory, but explain that you feel neglected, and see if you can figure out some ways to accomodate each other's needs. Odds are, she's so busy that she doesn't even realize she's ignoring you. But with patience and a willingness to be flexible (you can't expect her to give you the same time and attention as she did before she started a demanding program), you ought to be able to work something out.

If it turns out that she can't give you more than she is now for the foreseeable future... well, you have to decide what to do about that. If you're going to break it off for that reason, though, do her a favor and figure it out as quickly as possible, rather than limping along until you can't stand it any more and blow up in a big argument when she's studying for a crucial exam. Good luck, Danny.

UM: Well, lad, I believe you deserve commendation for supporting your lady's ambitions. It takes a strong man to do that.

AB: And you deserve commendation for saying so, Millie. It takes... well, a more considerate man than you usually are to point it out. For once, you recognize a woman as a human being with her own hopes and personality, rather than just as a target for male lust. I'm impressed. Surprised, but impressed.

UM: Thank you, my dear. And as my lovely wife pointed out, lad, it is a delicate balancing act to support her and take care of yourself. Fortunately, there is a simple solution, lad. This is why God created mistresses!

AB: Oh, no.

UM: If your lady is unable to serve your needs at this time, no problem. Just take care of that on the side, and you can be taking care of without having to let go of this fine and strong woman. Particularly if she's going to become a doctor or a lawyer; you'll be set for life. Everyone wins!

AB: I retract what I said earlier.

UM: What, your advice? Oh, it wasn't bad. You needn't retract it just because mine happens to be better.

AB: No, not that. I meant my suggestion that you're an admirable man.

UM: Well, that goes without saying. All you need do is look at my beltline and you can tell that-

AB: Please, let's not start that again.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

I'm 27, and I've been going through an extended slump in the romance department. I can't even buy a hit these days, never mind a home run, if you know what I'm saying. It's been a long, long time, I'm telling you.

Anyhow, last week I heard through a mutual friend that a girl I know (call her "Judy") is into me. Normally, given the slump I'm in, I'd be on this like a dog on a bone. Problem is, I'm not really into her. She's nice, and she's okay for a friend, but I've never felt a burning in my loins for her, if you catch the drift. Still, with this dry spell, anything's starting to look good to me.

So, should I go for it? Or should I wait for something better to come along? (Judy's not a dog, but she's not exactly eye candy, either, if you know what I mean.) Help a dude out!

Spike in Rochester

UM: Ah, lad, this is an age-old dilemma. And I assure you, lad, there is nothing wrong with lowering one's standards to break out of a slump. Even the greatest of home-run hitters, faced with a dry spell, will revert to "just hitting singles." In your case, that might mean expanding the field of potential date candidates to include those whom you might not typically consider. Ladies who are perfectly fine people, but who might not meet your normal standards for looks, or intelligence, or lack of social diseases.

AB: That's about enough out of you. Uncle Millie's absurdly pretending that he has standards apart from a pulse and female sex organs.

UM: Au contraire. If I had no standards, I wouldn't have found you, would I?

AB: Well... you got lucky.

UM: I surely did.

AB: At any rate, Spike, you absolutely should not take up with this young woman. Try, for a minute, to think of her as a human being (something neither you or Uncle Millie seems to be particularly good at). Put yourself in her shoes. If you were her, would you want a pity date for someone who's just looking for a quick score?

UM: Possibly so. She might be in a dry spell too, my dear.

AB: Unlike you and your male friends, women are not slaves to their hormones.

UM: Oh, now, I'm not sure I'd say that.

AB: I'm sure you wouldn't. Spike, do the right thing, if that's possible for you, and leave Judy alone. If she's really your friend, you won't go forward with this plan to soothe your runaway libido at the expense of her dignity.

UM: She makes a fair point, lad. There are professionals who, for a nominal fee, will take care of those urges and won't ruin you with your friends if things go south. Perhaps it would be better that way.

AB: That's not what I meant.

UM: Well, it certainly is what I meant.

AB: Unfortunately so.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

I've got a real problem. I've been seeing "Elise" for about five months. We've really hit it off, and I was started to think that we had real long-term potential. Starting to, that is, until a couple weeks ago.

That was when Elise admitted to me that she experimented with lesbianism when she was in college. (We're both in our 30s now.) She swears that it was just a phase and that she hasn't seriously considered it in years. I appreciate the fact that she felt comfortable enough with me and our relationship to make a disclosure of a fact that I'm sure she doesn't go around celebrating.

The problem is that I'm really struggling with this disclosure. Ever since she told me, it's all I can think about. I'm a staunch Christian, and I was raised to believe homosexual behavior is a sin. The fact that Elise even experimented with it deeply troubles me. I'd like to be understanding and forgiving about this, but it goes against everything I was taught.

Elise has noticed that something's bothering me, and I keep putting her off when she asks me what's wrong. But I know I can't keep putting her off. What in the world should I do?

Lee in Birmingham

AB: Hi, Lee. I'm glad you're trying to be understanding about this, rather than just blindly following the dictates of your church or your community. And you must really care about Elise for it to be a problem. If you didn't, I'm sure you'd have been much quicker to let her go over this.

You're looking for a way to be more understanding about this, so here's a start: Remember how much the two of you care about each other, enough for her to tell you this and enough for you to try to make it work. Remember that God's laws are God's laws, and if there's any justice to be doled out for Elise's actions, He will take care of it. Remember that all human beings sin, that none of us is purpose, and that forgiveness is a great Christian virtue.

And I think you and Elise are overdue for a long and frank talk about this. Explain to her honestly where you stand, listen to her responses openly, and see what happens. Good luck, Lee.

UM: Your responses always seem to involve a lot of talking, my dear. Which certainly comes as no surprise to me, since you practice what you preach.

AB: Are you calling me a chatterbox?

UM: I'm saying that you're true to your word. Now, as for you, lad, I must admit I fail to understand your dilemma.

AB: You fail to understand something? What a surprise.

UM: I think you're just not looking at this in the right way, lad. Naturally, a man with your religious background will look at your lady's disclosure and think, "Sin." Others of us look at it and think, "Three-way." Better still, a three-way without the pesky argument over the gender of the third person. This is actually a great opportunity, lad, if you can simply adjust your frame of reference a bit.

AB: Leave it to Uncle Millie to make the least appealing argument for tolerance in the history of mankind.

UM: Well, as you've always known, I am one of a kind.

AB: That's certainly true. Thank God.

UM: Well, that about wraps up today's column.

AB: Now would you mind figuring out where we actually are?

UM: Certainly. I'll ask the Winesburg resident over there. I'm sure he'll be quite put out that you don't think his own exists. Pardon me, sir, could you tell me what town this is?

RESIDENT: No habla ingles, senor.

AB: Oh, no... please don't tell me you managed to drive us into Mexico.

UM: Nonsense. I'll straighten this out. I'm fluent in Spanish. Donde esta los huevos rancheros por la cucaracha?

R: No comprendo.

AB: We could be hear all night. Possibly longer, if the border authorities find us. Fred, send lawyers, guns, and money!

UM: No worries, my love, I'm making progress.

AB: See you in two weeks. If Millie doesn't get us shot.

UM: Happy hunting!

R: No comprendo, senor.

- - - - -

Thank you, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice, for yet another exciting and fun-filled column. Here's hoping they work their way out of wherever they are now without incident.

As for me, I'll be back wit hmy own thoughts tomorrow, assuming the connection holds up. See you then!

Posted by Fred at 10:12 PM | Comments (4)

December 13, 2004

Update: Mediocre Fred Is Not Dead

I am, however, temporarily without Internet service at home, and very busy at work, so don't expect to see much of me for a few days. Regular posting will resume when my service is restored. See you then!

Posted by Fred at 09:25 AM | Comments (0)

December 08, 2004

Feeling Ho-Ho-Hum

Today's Musical Selection: "A Christmas Carol" by Tom Lehrer

Hi, everybody! Today is my annual Grumpy Holiday Post, in which I put on my Scrooge mask and bemoan what's become of the holiday season ever since the halcyon days of my youth, way back in the 1980s. (Note the sarcasm at the end of that sentence, please, and save the letters about my being a callow individual, okay?) I believe I'm entitled to one or two of these posts per year. It's my payback for those incessant Old Navy commercials featuring perfect-skinned models hawking sweaters to the tune of Christmas carols.

Anyhow, a couple nights ago I was in a local chain bookstore, browsing around for gifts for friends and family. I really am lousy at gift shopping. Other people look around in store windows and point and say, "Oh, that would be just perfect for (Jessica/Shawn/Fluffy/Dr. Kevorkian)," but I don't. For one thing, I don't spend much time staring in shop windows. But more generally, I dislike shopping, especially in big stores with big crowds. I always wind up feeling like a refugee, clamoring out of my leaky boat onto a stern and unfamiliar shore teeming with strangers, all of whom rush about from place to place with a sense of purpose and belonging, brushing past me and ignoring me as I stagger and blink my eyes, trying to make sense of the terrain. Eventually, I muddled through, picked out a couple selections and paid for them. (I'd say what they were, but some of the intended recipients read this blog, or at least claim to.)

On the way home, I turned on the radio, and there was a commercial for some mall out in Maryland. The ad aped the call-in show format, with a caller telling the "host" how she never could find any gifts that her friend liked. The "host" wound up suggesting mall gift certificates, saying, "This times, when she says 'It's just what I wanted!'... she'll mean it.'"

When I got home, I turned on the TV to see a commercial featuring a young woman in a leather-punk outfit shopping in a pastel-pantsuit store. Turns out she was trying to spend a gift certificate her grandmother had gotten her. The ad then extols some Visa gift card, which you can spend anywhere.

You'd see these ads, and think they were right up my alley, right? Keeps shopping time to a minimum, and saves me those dazed hours staring at racks of identical-looking merchandise and trying desperately to remember if it was my baseball-playing buddy or my cousin who had mentioned an interest in Immanuel Kant or snow globes or whatever happens to be dancing in front of my fevered eyes at the moment. You'd think I'd be a big booster of these things, right?

Well, I'm not. I hate them because they're yet another manifestation of the worst trends in our self-obsessed instant-gratification culture. I'd rather brave the wilds of the worst shopping-center jungle than go the gift-certificate route.

This is just Fred being an old crab again, right? Well, hear me out before you draw that conclusion.

The premise of these ads, and the lure of the gift certificates, is that you're so unique and special that no one can shop for you like you can shop for yourself. (Kind of like the Republican premise on taxes, that you can make better spending decision with your money than the government can.) By raising the specter of the unwanted gift, the retailer hopes to shame you, the giver, out of buying whatever you think the recipient might want, because he or she will secretly hate it and resent you for it.

If you're really that inept at picking gifts, perhaps a direct cash payment would be the way to go. But a lot of people still consider it gauche to give cash as a gift, especially to people outside of the family. Thus, we have gift certificates, the socially acceptable form of cash. You, the giver, can abdicate gift-picking responsibility without committing a faux pas. What a deal!

What a fraud.

In the case of store or mall gift certificates, it's a win-win for the retailer: the giver has to go to the store or mall to get the certificate, and the recipient must go back to the store or mall to spend it. Two customers for the price of one gift. What a deal, huh? (In Visa's case, I guess they want to get the recipients, some of whom will probably be young, in the habit of using Visa for their spending needs.)

Here's my beef: It's old news that the old chestnut, "It's the thought that counts," has become a punchline. What bothers me is that we've bought so blindly into the commercial ethic of the holidays that we think that the quality and/or price of the gift is a measure of the worth of the giver. We rush to put a price tag on the gift, forgetting that the point is supposed to be to revel in the fact that we have people who care enough to want to give us something. Gift certificates make this process simple by removing the guesswork. The other person's value as a friend or family member is spelled out right there on the front of the damned thing. The scoreboard is there for all to see. "Well, I gave him a $50 gift certificate, but he only gave me a $25 gift certificate. Guess he;s not as good a friend as I thought." Gag me.

If we're going to go downt his road, why bother with the pretenses? Hell, go ahead and give cash. What's the difference? Hell, why even bother with going to the ATM? Just wire the money directly to the other person, and send the person a notice of the transfer. Draw a holy wreath on the bank slip if you're artistically inclined. Happy Holidays!

What's the matter? Something bothering you? My idea a little too... crass, perhaps? Well, go ahead and explain with a straight face the difference between my idea and a little plastic card charged up with $30 of buying power at your local Bed Bath & Beyond.

Whenever the holiday approach, I always wind up singing today's musical selection to myself. Tom Lehrer called the growing commercial trend way back in the '60s. In the introduction to the song, Lehrer says, "It has always seemed to me after all that Christmas, with its spirit of giving, offers us all a wonderful opportunity each year to reflect on what we all most sincerely and deeply believe in. I refer of course to money." He then proceeds to sing his acerbic little carol, which includes this passage:

It doesn’t matter how sincere it Is, nor how heartfelt the spirit, Sentiment will not endear it, What’s important is the price.

God rest ye merry, merchants,
May you make the yuletide pay.
Angels we have heard on high
Tell us to go out and buy!

I only wonder what Lehrer would make of today's commercial holiday orgy.

Let's face it: If you really can't possibly imagine what someone might want as a gift, or can't at least consult with someone who would know, you probably don't know that person well enough to buy him or her something. And conversely, if you're the sort of person who would reject a gift because it's not exactly what you want, you don't deserve to have anything bought for you.

For all my complaints about my shopping aversion, I do wind up picking something out for everyone myself, and I'm proud of it. And my family and friends seem to appreciate the effort, or at lesat have never complained. I think they appreciate the effort. I certainly appreciate the effort they put into picking out things for me. In many cases, it's not something I would have picked for myself... and I love it for that.

Why have be become so tracked into our own little ruts that we're afraid to let anyone else try to expand our horizons? Some of the best books I've read were given to me by friends. Had I seen them on the shelf, I'd never have bought them. But my friends know me, and they do a good job figuring out what I'd like. They introduce me to works I'd otherwise ignore, and I thank them for it.

One year, Papa Shaft gave me a George Foreman grill. Again, I wouldn't have bought that myself. But it's been hugely useful. Given that my apartment outlaws grills, it's the best way for me to prepare steaks. And it does well with pork chops, chicken and fish, too. This is what happens when you have thoughtful people who know you well.

And, sure, I've had my share of lousy gifts over the year. In particular, I have an aunt who doesn't have the knack. She tries, but she's a bit... peculiar. Her gifts are the stuff of legend. One year we all got socks. But these weren't just any socks... they were, as the package proudly proclaimed, made from recycled plastic soda bottles. And they were just as comfortable and attractive as they sound, I assure you. Another year we all got kit bags, the kind you get on international airline flights. (My aunt doesn't work for an airline, so no one knows where they came from.) Last year, she got my dad, who is a dedicated hobbyist photographer with a lot of professional-quality equipment, one of those $5 pinhole point-and-shoot cameras. It had a manual crank for advancing the film. It takes flash cubes!

But even such inept gifts as those, I appreciate. At least she cares enough to try. And you know, the stories about some of those bad gifts have lasted a lot longer than a number of gifts that were more apt.

Even as I'm writing this, there's another commercial on TV, showing a woman opening up a succession of gifts that are either tacky (a purple deer's-head candle-holder from Mom and Dad) or poorly planned (a fishing rod from hubby). Then she says, "And here's my gift to myself," as a BMW convertible is trucked up the driveway. Sigh. The recent theme of show-your-spouse-you-love-her-by-buying-her-a-luxury-car commercials also makes me ill, but that's another rant.

That's all for today. See you tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 10:06 PM | Comments (1)

December 07, 2004

Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice Explain Themselves

Today's Musical Selection: "Can't Explain" by the Who

Hi, everybody! Today I managed to track down Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice in order to get them to respond to the comments on their column. They're coming to us today from a Denny's out by Interstate 84 somewhere in Oregon, having completed their Thanksgiivng observance and now wending their way back east toward... somewhere else. The information on their next stop was a little hazy. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, that information came from Uncle Millie.) But no matter; let me turn over the floor to our dynamic duo. Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice, take it away!

UM: Hello, lads! Greetings from... Exit 209, wherever that is.

AB: I believe the sign said Pendleton.

UM: There was a sign? I didn't see it.

AB: Relax, folks, Uncle Millie isn't doing the driving. At lesat not since that incident in Yakima.

UM: I still say that looked like a rest stop.

AB: Millie, it was a water-treatment plant. And even if it had been a rest stop, what exactly prompted you to think it was okay to drive into the building?

UM: My foot slipped.

AB: Of course it did. At any rate, for those who might be curious, our belated Thanksgiving dinner went well. I ran out and got a turkey at the last minute, and Uncle Millie actually did cook it himself, and he did a good job of preparing it.

UM: The secret is in the sauce.

AB: They don't call that sauce, dear, they call it gravy.

UM: No, the turkey wasn't sauced. But I was.

AB: (sigh) I know.

UM: I had a marvelous time myself. It's wonderful to be a free man again! We had a fine feast fit for royalty, and then I settled down to watch a little football.

AB: Unfortunately, the NFL doesn't schedule games for the Thursday after Thanksgiving.

UM: No matter. I always wind up falling asleep on the couch anyhow, so I just tuned in C-SPAN and bam, out like a light! It was just as I remember it.

AB: I'd also like to thank my sister Tricia for taking us in and sharing our delayed celebration with us.

UM: Yes, indeed. Your sister is a charming woman, my dear. I quite enjoyed meeting her.

AB: I wish she could say the same of you.

UM: What does that mean? She said she enjoyed my company.

AB: Of course she said she did. She was well brought up. But she confided to me that there were certain aspects she enjoyed somewhat less. Particularly the fondling incident.

UM: That was purely an accident. I dropped my napkin, and as I leaned over to get it I accidentally brushed against her.

AB: We were in the middle of Sears at the time.

UM: I'd neglected to remove my napkin from my lap before leaving the house. If you had bothered to point it out, none of that would have happened.

AB: Oh, so it was my fault you groped my sister?

UM: I'm not the one assigning blame, my dear. I was simply making a statement. I was exercising my First Amendment rights.

AB: Why don't you exercise your Fifth Amendment rights and be quiet?

UM: Very well.

AB: Now, let's get to our first comment, from Tripp. He writes:


Welcome back! I share your joy de sister-in-law, but I do feel obliged to mention that my main motto is "all things in moderation." Now most people nod their heads at this and hear the "moderation" part, but like you, I tend to focus on the "all things," if you know what I mean. Still, "moderation" is also in the mix.

And, as we both know, Beatrice must be a very special person!

UM: Ah, lad, once again you prove that we are on the same wavelength! I too believe in "all things in moderation."

AB: Oh, please. You wouldn't know moderation if it was kicking you in the shins at the Thanksgiving table.

UM: Was that you? I thought it was the dog.

AB: You'd better rephrase that statement if you want to walk out of here in one piece.

UM: I, uh... never mind. At, any rate, Tripp, between us gentlemen, I'm sure your well aware of the virtues of a high-quality sister-in-law, and it's an occasion for joy and revelry when you-

WAITER: May I take your orders?

AB: I'll just have coffee, thank you.

UM: I'll have Moons Over My Hammy!

WAITER: Be right up.

AB: We just ate lunch an hour and a half ago. Why do you want all that?

UM: I don't. I just like saying Moons Over My Hammy!

AB: I know. You've been saying it ever since we heard that commercial on the radio. But what do you intend to do with a plate of food you don't want? It's just like you to go out and do something silly and impulsive like that. Why do you think that it's okay to just-

UM: Beatrice, my dear, the column? The line is still hot.

AB: Oh, yes. Sorry.

UM: Oh, and by the way, Tripp, you're quite right that Beatrice is a very special person.

AB: Oh, that's quite convincing. By the way.

UM: Moving along, Tripp continues:

As usual, I'm going to kibitz on your advice, not because the advice was bad, but because it is a fun thing to do, and for some reason I like doing fun things.

Well put, lad, and well you should. In the words of the great Jim Croce: "If you dig it, do it. And if you really dig it, do it twice."

AB: Or again and again and again until it drives everyone around you crazy, as the case may be.

UM: Don't you think Moons Over My Hammy is clever?

AB: Once, sure. Twice or three times, even. But after the hundredth repetition, it starts to lose its charm.

UM: No matter. Tripp continues:

As for Nate and the two year rut - I will simply point out the "Mommy" trap. Sometimes a lover relationship can morphe into a Mommy/Sonny relationship without anybody knowing it. I don't know about you, but I don't want to be married to my Mommy. My friend Dale's Mom, now she was HOT, and I wouldn't mind . . . but I digress.

As Caldwell B. Cladwell in "Urinetown" says, "Don't be the bunny," which I am free to change to "don't be the sonny." Yeah, it's nice to have someone else cook your food and wash your clothes and pick up after you, but don't do it! The cost is too high! You want to be with a Hot Momma, not a Mommy.

AB: I have no idea who Caldwell B. Cladwell is, and I suspect I don't want to know. But I think I catch your drift nonetheless. It's not subtle.

UM: As usual, my friend Tripp gets right to the heart of the matter. By changing partners frequently, you avoid the risk of being mothered. Which is definitely a good thing. You don't want to wind up with Mommy doing all your laundry, Mommy making sure you eat your vegetables, Mommy demanding to know where you're going at night...

AB: Or having to explain to Mommy why you gave her herpes.

UM: And it's particularly problematic for a young man, which I suspect Nate is, to settle down too soon. You don't want to commit to monogamy too fast.

AB: Absolutely true. Uncle Millie's past 50, and he's still not ready for that kind of commitment.

UM: Touche.

AB: To Tripp's next point:

Now Gene, with the old flame. Oooh yeah. I remember a few years back an old 'friend' of my wife's just happened to phone her up. It was all innocent. Yeah, sure. Six months later he was divorced. So let's not fool ourselves that the old flame is innocent. Gene's wife may be innocent, though. Me, I'd tell my wife it bugs me. I wouldn't tell her to knock it off, cause I don't tell her what to do, but I'd tell her it bugs me. And, since Gene lives in Texas, I'd start shooting some things. I mean like cans. In the desert. I'd offer to take the old flame to a rifle range.

Oh, and what did I do when my wife's old flame was after her? I told my wife "he's after you." I went in the basement and lifted weights, and I asked for a punching bag for Christmas.

UM: That's the spirit, lad! I should have told Gene to take the old flame out shooting. That ought to drive the point home quite clearly. Good thinking! I also admire your taking the initiative for self-improvement in the face of competition. There's no better way to make sure your lady appreciates what she has.

AB: If you believe that, then why don't I see you out trying to improve yourself?

UM: What's to improve? Can't improve on perfection.

AB: Oh, don't get me started. I do like Tripp's point about talking to the wife about any concerns. If the situation really bothers Gene, he should sit down and have a talk with his wife, rather than leaving her with the sense that she's done something wrong but doesn't know what.

UM: Well, you know what I say: A little less conversation, a little more action. Gene, lad, the shooting range. That's all I need to say.

AB: If only I could believe that. Continuing on with Tripp's comment:

Moving on to Lloyd . . . as you say, he should see a doctor, mostly cause they would know how to deal with the situation. And Millie, we both know neither of us has to do any bragging about King Henry. Some things speak for themselves. And if that was literally true I'd be making money on the internet.

UM: Ah, here's a lad who understands! After all, it's not bragging if it's true.

AB: Yes, if. And in your case, that's a big if.

UM: Very big indeed. So big it's a threat to surrounding furniture. But no need to brag. You and I know how it is, Tripp me lad.

AB: Moving on.

UM: One time, I was working as a tollbooth operator, and the gate stopped working, so I just unzipped my-

AB: Moving on!

UM: All right, all right.

AB: More from Tripp:

But, Lloyd, um, what is a delicate way to put this . . . do you wake up with early morning stiffness? Have you been getting any dates with Rosie palm and her five sisters? If so then I think the hardware is working fine, which should be a relief. In that case I can't offer more suggestions without knowing more details, which I would gladly accept, including photos, if you have them.

UM: Uh, lad, did you just ask the gentleman for pictures of the King? I thought we were on the same wavelength, but that last comment has given me pause.

AB: This last comment was just gross and crass. If that's your "delicate" way of putting matters, Tripp, I shudder to think what the indelicate way would sound like.

UM: He didn't just- pictures of another man's trouser snake- surely he didn't mean-

AB: Let it go, Millie.

UM: But- but-

AB: At any rate, Tripp concludes:

So welcome back, you two! And remember, save one for later, and always leave them wanting more.

Well, we're glad to be back, Tripp.

UM: Indeed, lad. And I always save at least one for later, if you get my drift.

AB: And he always leaves me wanting more, if you get mine.

UM: I don't know that I like the sound of that.

AB: Next up is a comment from reader PG, who writes:

I'd always assumed (and I think early columns supported this thought) that part of Aunt Beatrice's motivation for staying with Uncle Millie, aside from the sacredness of marriage, was that whatever Uncle Millie's moral, ethical, spiritual, intellectual, chemical, legal and social shortcomings, there was never a loss of consortium issue. But now we find that Uncle Millie is troubled in this area as well. Really, Bea, you can do better.

Well, P - may I call you P? I hope so, since you took the liberty of calling me Bea, which no one does.

UM: You must understand that my beloved is a little sensitive on the subject of her name.

AB: Bea is the old maiden aunt in the Andy Griffith Show. That's not me.

UM: It's best not to provoke her this way.

AB: Anyhow, P, I understand your comment. Not that my marital choice is a matter for public concern. P.

UM: Let it go, dear. It was an honest mistake. She didn't know your feelings about "Bea."

AB: All right. Sorry about that. Normally, I wouldn't speak about our private business in a public forum, but when Uncle Millie chose to brag about his prowess, well, I couldn't help myself.

UM: She was just joshing. We do that sometimes. It keeps the relationship fresh. I assure you I am all man. And I do mean all man.

AB: Mm-hm. Now, why do I stay with Uncle Millie? Well, the marital bond is very important to me, and I don't take it lightly.

UM: That's very true. My Beatrice is a great believer in the sanctimony of marriage.

AB: Sanctity. The sanctity of marriage.

UM: That's what I said.

AB: I- never mind. At any rate, it's certainly true that my husband is only human. Quite human. More human than almost anyone I've ever met.

UM: Thank you.

AB: You're welcome. But there are compensating virtues. They're hard to discern sometimes, but they're there. You've heard the old phrase, "Close your eyes and think of England?" Well, that's my approach to marriage.

UM: But, my dear, I'm not English, I'm Irish.

AB: But- you- You know something, P, perhaps you have a point.

UM: I know I have a point. Want to see it?

AB: As tempting as that is, I'm afraid our order is here.

WAITER: Ma'am, here's your coffee.

AB: Thank you.

WAITER: And sir, I'm afraid we're out of Moons Over My Hammy. Would you like to make another selection?

AB: Actually, that a good thing, because he isn't really-

UM: Yes, I'd like a Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity breakfast!

WAITER: Wrong restaurant, sir.

UM: Well, in that case, we're leaving.

AB: I haven't finished my coffee yet!

UM: Finish it in the car. We've got a Rooty Tooty to go in search of. And so, we take our leave. Happy hunting!

Thank you, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice. Their regular column will return next week.

Kudos to loyal reader PG for bringing this to my attention: As you may recall, yesterday's musical selection was Steve Martin's "King Tut," and I mused that not many readers would have thought of that bit of musical arcana recently. As it turns out, completely unbeknownst to me, Steve Martin himself had written a humorous op-ed about that song the day before. It was easy to miss, however, given that it ran in a poorly-circulated and little-read rag called the, um, New York Times. Oh, well. Read the article, by the way; it's hilarious.

And I'm done for the day. See you tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 10:40 PM | Comments (2)

December 06, 2004

Riding the Redskin Rollercoaster

Today's Musical Selection: "King Tut" by Steve Martin

Oh, my God! We're an unstoppable machine! Start printing playoff tickets now! Surely the Super Bowl can't be far behind! Who do we have to talk to about putting Joe Gibbs' face on the ten-dollar bill? What do we pack for January in Jacksonville? Has you ever seen a better team than this in your whole entire life? Huh? Huh?

Sorry about that. I just got swept up in the local hysteria. Boy, you notch one decisive victory over a helpless, flailing opponent, and the whole Fedroplex goes nuts. The same fans who, three days ago, were talking about setting fire to FedEx Field are now speaking of playoffs. Playoffs! It's almost enough to make you forget that this is still a 4-8 team that has a date with Philadelphia in a week.

If you want to get a glimpse into Washington's sporting culture, the reaction to this game is a good place to start. For years I've defended my city against out-of-towners who deride D.C. as a crummy sports town. They say we're a bunch of front-runners, we're not the least bit loyal, we show up late and spend the whole game yakking on our cell phones, we go to games and root for the other team over our own, and we don't even have the cojones to work up a good passionate hatred for our teams, as Philadelphia does. Basically, the rap on Washington as a sports city is Atlanta with worse weather. And based on the reaction to one stinking win here, I'm starting to wonder if the critics aren't right.

Let's review the facts here for a moment. For several decades now, our sports scene has been defined by the Redskins. We haven't haven't had a baseball team in 33 years (until now!), and the Bullets/Wizards and Capitals only make much of a dent in the public consciousness when they make a run in the playoffs, or they sign some over-the-hill big name playing out the string, which only happens sporadically. And for over a decade, our flagship franchise hasn't been very good. I've previously taken my fellow citizens to task for whining like spoiled children over the fact that the Skins have stumbled of late, and deservedly so. But on the other hand, since 1993 they've only made the playoffs once. Given that the NFL is the land of enforced mediocrity, and given the size of the postseason field, a reasonable observer might conclude that the Little Sisters of the Blind could make the playoffs more than once in a decade. But no, not our Skins. And given the paucity of other sporting excitement to divert our attention, the city has become quite despondent over the state of things. Not enough to stop selling out a 90,000-seat stadium every week, mind you, but enough to lop a couple decades off the season-ticket waiting list.

Sensing that the town was starting to turn on his team, impetuous boy-genius owner Danny Snyder decided to do something really bold and get our attention: he coaxed the Sainted Joe Gibbs out of retirement with a pep talk about restoring the glory and a tall stack of long green. You may have heard something about this. In the Fedroplex, this news chased the Iraq war and the presidential race to the B section. Given that Gibbs, during his previous run as head coach in the '80s and early '90s, was the architect of the majority of our city's meager stock of sporting greatness, you can understand the madness. Imagine, if you will, the Chicago Superfans reacting to the news that Mike Ditka would be returning to coach Da Bears. You get the idea. This was a Big Deal. This was the Second Coming (and the Biblical reference is intentional). Praise be to Gibbs! Glory hallelujah!

Of course, while everyone was out whooping it up, talking confidently of 11-5 records and Super Bowl appearances and treating the playoffs as though they were a given, not too many people bothered to notice that, by and large, the same cast of characters who bumbled and lollygagged their way to a 12-20 record over two years under Steve Spurrier were still around. But no matter, we all figured. Gibbs will coach 'em up! That's what he does! Gibbs can do anything! Gibbs can walk on water! Bring on the playoffs!

But lo and behold, after a mildly impressive Opening Day win over a flat Buccaneers team, the Redskins started performing... a lot like last year. As it turned out, the return of Gibbs was essentially slapping a Rolls Royce grille on the front of a Volkswagen. The record sagged to 3-8. The same pattern kept repeating: an aggressive and stifling defensive performance was wasted by a punchless offense that couldn't play dead. This was particularly vexing to fans, because the offense was Gibbs' direct responsibility. (The defense is run by Gregg Williams.) How could this happen? With the Sainted Joe Gibbs and everything?

You might that that being God would by you a reprieve for a season or two, but not in this town. Fans began booing openly. They were particularly agressive in booing quarterback Mark Brunell, a spry lad of 55, so much so that Gibbs (always known to favor veterans over kids) was forced to bench Brunell before the fans could tar and feather him. All around town, the Redskins were fast becoming yesterday's news. Gibbs was being fitted for a plaque in the Washington Sports Past-Their-Prime Hall of Fame, right next to Michael Jordan and Deion Sanders and Jaromir Jagr. Each week we were treated to the sight of offensive line coach Joe Bugel, who comes off like Jerry Van Dyke with a smack habit, growing increasingly testy in interviews and scolding the fans and the media for being unsupportive. Bugel doesn't understand this town. During his previous tenure here, everything was wine and roses. This was his first taste of the dark side of the D.C. sports experience. Even Gibbs, famously patient and mild-mannered, grew whiny and short in the ever-more-downbeat postgame conferences.

But then came this week. 31 points! A beating handed to an old rival in the playoff race! 19-for-22 passing by Patrick Ramsey! It truly was a revelation. This looked like a different Redskins team than we've been subjected to for the last 11 weeks. The passes were crisp and accurate, and the receivers (for a fun and exciting change) didn't drop them. Clinton Portis, who apparently had a long and productive chat with someone important about the virtues of giving a crap, sliced and diced and juked and jived and ran like the running back we thought we were getting from Denver. The offensive line actually blocked a few people for a change. And the defense continued to be dominated, rebounding from a couple so-so performances against Pittsburgh and Philly to rattle young Eli Manning, shut down Tiki Barber and prevent the Giants from establishing any sort of offensive rhythm. The Skins even kept dumb penalties and mental blunders, their trademark in recent years, to a minimum. All in all, it was a moment to savor in a season that hasn't had many.

But, of course, Washington fans can't just smile, appreciate a happy Sunday and move on. No, this has to be the start of Something Big! Suddenly, we're capable of running the table! Suddenly, the playoffs are a possibility! And once we reach the playoffs, with the Sainted Joe Gibbs to guide us...

Just stop. Okay, fans? Stop it. One win does not make this a good team. One win does not make us contenders. We now have the same record as the Arizona Cardinals, okay? We're not going to run the table, and even if we did, 8-8 is not going to get the job done, not even in the NFC. Relax and take a deep breath. We're still bad.

This is what burns me about this town, and what worries me regarding the Nationals. Washington is not a town that embraces losers. We can't even accept defeat stoically and wait for the next thing. We have to have success, and we have to have it nownowNOW, or else we bail.

Maybe the return of baseball will break the string. Maybe we'll recognize what a long, hard struggle we survived just to get the team back, and we'll appreciate the team even when it's flailing. Or maybe the Nationals will become a summertime institution, and we'll come out win or lose, even if we're coming out to boo and throw rotten vegetables at Vinny Castilla. Perhaps we can defy the stereotype. (After all, we do come out for the Skins, and the Caps crowds, though not always large, are smart and faithful. Also, we're a good basketball town, and perhaps some day we'll get pro basketball back so we can prove it.) Perhaps this time will be different. I have faith that it can be.

Just please God don't let this be another Tampa Bay, where fan support sinks like an anchor once the novelty's gone. Just when I've come to a real appreciation of our city and our sports culture, don't spoil it by being a bunch of fair-weather idiots. Please. That's what I want for Christmas: a sports town I can be proud of.

Aside to Giants fans: Next time you see your team in action, watch Eli Manning carefully. Notice the way he stares at his receivers when they drop passes, even if the passes were bad? It's like he thinks they're quitting on him. This does not bode well for young Eli's future. Besides the fact that it's undoubtedly endearing him to his teammates, the stare indicates that Eli doesn't take responsibility for his own mistakes. That's a terrible flaw in a young quarterback. That's the problem with highly-touted players with famous bloodlines: sometimes they turn out to be great players who seem born to thrive in the pros, and sometimes they turn out to be spoiled jackasses with crippling senses of entitlement who don't know how to handle adversity. If young Eli is warming the bench behind Chris Chandler or Trent Dilfer in three years, don't say I didn't warn you.

Loyal reader BallWonk shares my horror at the collision of white people and hip-hop culture, sharing an anecdote from his own experience:

I well remember my days as a very young, very white movie-theater usher. This was the early 1990s, when I was in high school and Dada had a hit song with the lyric, "I just flipped off President George/I'm going to Disneyland" (except they didn't spell it "Disneyland" for fear of offending The Mouse).

Anyway, it was positive torture, seemingly designed specifically to make a repeated fool of me, when the Damon Wayans epic "Mo Money" came out. White men can too jump, and some of us do have rhythm. (Or at least the ability to hop around like Rudie to ska and rocksteady, which is something at least.) But some white men, this one included, positively cannot pull off hip-hop slang in any form.

I can still feel the mortification each time I had to say, sometimes hundreds of times in a row as I tore tickets, "'Mo Money'is the first theater to your left." I have never in my life felt more like a honkizzle.

Amen, BallWonk. Despite the fact that I am, by some accounts at least, pretty fly for a white guy, I cannot, and for that reason do not attempt to, speak the hip-hop dialect. I sound just as white as I am, and any attempt on my part to speak hip-hop would be truly laughable. I only wish that more people who are as white as I am would accept the facts.

When I was younger, my best neighborhood pal had a younger brother who, as he grew up, fell in love with rap and the hip-hop culture. Given that he was a chunky little pale white kid, this was met with amusement by my buddy and I. To say nothing of others around him. They mocked his dialect, his baggy clothes and 'do rag, and his constant quoting of rap lyrics. They called him "wigger" (short for "white n-----"). At the time, he was a joke. Turns out he was just ahead of the curve.

BallWonk also finds my musical selections eerily intriguing:

BTW, your musical selections are spooky. Uncanny even. For the first time in years, maybe all 20 of them since my mom used to play that Philly soul, yesterday I was thinking about the Spinners. And just the other day my iPod, set to shuffle, played "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" two times in a row - first the Queen original, then the Dwight Yoakam cover. Try getting a song out of your head after THAT happens.

This sort of coincidence happens a lot with your musical selections. It's like synchronicity. Which was a pretty good album in its own right.

I'm glad you enjoy my musical selections. I'm always glad to be in sync with my readers. Hope you enjoy today's musical selection, a wacky little chestnut that's one of my favorites. If it happens that you were just thinking of it, well... (theme from "Twilight Zone") And yes, Synchronicity is a great album.

That's all for today. See you tomorrow.

Posted by Fred at 08:57 PM | Comments (3)

December 03, 2004

Mail Call!

Today's Musical Selection: "Ghetto Child" by the Spinners

Hi, everybody! A couple obversations before I respond to the latest round of comments. First, a big thank you and a couple air kisses (so as not to spread whatever I've got) to loyal reader Ensie:

Feel better Fred!

I'm trying to. I'm doing better today than yesterday and better still than Tuesday, but not as well as Wednesday. I've compared notes with my mother (who is also under the weather), and we think we both got it from my grandfather, who was nursing a cold when we went to see him on Thanksgiving weekend. I'm doing my best to take care of myself, Ensie.

I want to lodge a complaint against the local Top-40 station, HOT! 99.5 FM. As loyal readers may have noticed, I'm really not one for the young people's music (despite being a young person myself, allegedly), but one of my co-workers likes it, and the radio is right next to my desk. So I've been listening to it a lot lately. My tastes tend to run more toward the oldies and classic-rock stations. I've often criticized these stations for displaying a lack of originality in their playlists. It astounds me that these stations have multiples decades of music to pick from, and still you can wind up hearing the same songs two or even three times a day on occasion. I mean, I like "Stairway to Heaven" as much as the next guy, but come on.

Of course, after listening to HOT! 99.5 all week, I will never again complain about that third playing of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." The playlist on HOT! 99.5 turns over more frequently. I mean a lot more frequently. Today I kept track... I listened for that new Eminem song, the one where he talks about liking to dance with little boys or whatever, and I heard it six times in an eight-hour day. Six times. And for all I know, it played once or twice while I was at lunch. You know the only thing worse than hearing the same songs six times in a day? Hearing the same songs you don't like six times a day. This is the sort of thing shooting sprees are made of.

But, perhaps incredibly, this is not the most irritating feature about HOT! 99.5 FM. Oh no, not by a long shot. The more irritating feature is the daily phone in contest they have, for something they call the "Hot Holidizzle Shizzle for Wintizzle." I have no idea what this means. All I know is that at least forty times a day I get to hear their DJs, an alarming number of whom seem to be middle-aged white people, repeating this stupid phrase.

I'm given to understand that this particular style of talking was pioneered by Snoop Dogg, which of course makes it hip and cool. Never mind the fact that it sounds like an even dumber version of Pig Latin. (Come on, can anyone explain with a straight face why this is any less stupid or annoying than Pig Latin?) The fact that anyone over the age of 12 can find this style of speaking cute or amusing I attribute to the mega-celebrity status of Mr. Dogg, who seems to be staring back at me every time I turn on my television. No offense intended to Mr. Dogg, who's a reasonably engaging and charismatic fellow, but when did he become this generation's Bob Hope? If one wishes to find evidence of the mainstreaming of hip-hop culture, one need look no further than the ubiquity of Mr. Dogg. I believe I saw his face on a box of cereal last week. But when it comes to middle-aged white people trying to sound like a black hip-hop star with a drug problem... that's where I draw the line.

Speaking of music, I wanted to draw everyone's attention to today's musical selection. For those who aren't familiar, the Spinners were an R&B group who had a number of hits in the '70s, of which the above-referenced song was one. What always struck me about it was this: The song is supposedly about a young man who had a hardscrabble childhood. But the Spinners were a very elegant Philly soul group; they were so polished and smooth as to make the Temptations sound like a garage band. The song would be suitable for an elevator, or a dentist's office. Listening to the backup singers (pictured on the cover wearing matching red hotel-porter coats) sing "Life ain't so easy when you're a ghetto child" over and over in their cool unruffled tenors, I felt... unconvinced. Being a ghetto child sounded like, at most, a mild downer, something to be reflectively mournful about. I found myself wishing that some hip-hop group would do a cover version of it, or sample it at least. But that would require a sense of humor, which is in woefuly short supply in the hip-hop industry. (I know that Mystikal did a song with the same title, but trust me, it's not the same song.)

Also, I should call attention to King Kaufman's NFL picks column today, which is quite amusing throughout, but deserves special mention for this passage:

The Bears, with one of the worst offenses in the league, will try former Cowboys and NFL Europe non-standout Chad Hutchinson at quarterback. And waiting in the wings is the newly signed Jeff "No! Not Jeff George!" George... A football team signing Jeff George is the equivalent of a sitcom adding a 3-year-old as a major character. It says, "We know, we know, but we're desperate and we've run out of good ideas."

Anyone who's ever been forced to root for a team that has employed George will no doubt approve enthusiastically of the nickname Kaufman has bestowed on him. It certainly describes my reaction every day that George suited up for the Dreadskins.

With that out of the way, onto the reader comments. Loyal reader Frinklin bats leadoff with a response to my sort of meandering-all-over-the-place comment column from Tuesday:

Okay, three things need mentioning...

1-Yes, I like Holiday Spice Pepsi, okay? You and everyone else (including my wife) just need to accept it and move on. Trust me Fred, when Holiday Spice is cruelly taken away from me like Crystal Pepsi was, I'll know who to blame.

Yes, you will indeed know who to blame. Blame the 99% of Americans with functioning taste buds who are able to identify Holiday Spice Pepsi for the swill it is.

2-Your knowledge of bubblegum pop astounds me. It frightens me too, but you live across the country, I figure when you finally snap and start screaming about the love in your tummy to random strangers, I'll be far enough away to enjoy it in an arch, ironic way.

By the way, I was listening to the radio here in San Diego recently (actually, this was some time ago, and I believe I was in Palm Springs, but the point is the same) and the random idiot DJ mentioned bubblegum pop after playing The Left Banke's masterful "Walk Away Renee" (number 220 on the RS Top 500). What kind of moron confuses that song with "Green Tambourine"?

Whatever DJ said that should be shot. The only similarity between "Walk Away Renee" and "Green Tambourine" is that they both feature violins. There is nothing bubblegummy about "Walk Away Renee." There are some people who seem to think that every song released between 1967 and 1971 qualifies as bubblegum. Which is just wrong.

About the snapping... how do you know this has not already happened? I have been known to sing along with the Muzak in the grocery store. People wonder about me, and I don't blame them.

3-Notre Dame had better sign Urban Meyer and do it quick, or this move will backfire on the big. Ty Willingham should end up at Washington, and he'll have them in the Rose Bowl before his first class graduates. I don't think ND fans have any idea how good a coach he is, or how hard it is to deal with recruiting to South Bend.

Well, so much for that, as Utah coach Meyer passed over Notre Dame, his supposed dream job, for the big-time money and hot coeds- er, um, I mean the glorious winning tradition of the University of Florida. Now, the Golden Domers can go out and hire... um, somebody. You nailed it on the head, Frinklin: Notre Dame alumni, many of whom grew up fantasizing about going there, can't understand why modern high-schoolers don't want to go there. Tradition doesn't sell any more. Certainly not enough to overcome the lousy weather and the rigid academic standards. (And yes, I'm appalled that academic standards are a liability for prospective college stars, but that's another rant.) Where once the brightest stars of the Catholic prep schools fantasized about going to Notre Dame virtually from the cradle, now they're just as likely to go to USC, or Miami, or Texas.

Notre Dame had a great program once. So did Fordham, Columbia and Harvard. But times change, and the alumni base hasn't adjusted. The result: A good coach got the gate for no good reason.

Next, loyal reader Tripp weighed in with some musings on candy:

Circus Peanuts taste like oversweet banana to me, and I like them. For one thing, they are one of the few candies I can bring home and still have some the next day, because the kids won't go near them with a ten foot pole. Also, they come 'stale' so they never get any worse.

Come to think of it, maybe that was why my Grampa gave me horehound candy. Now *there* was some awful stuff. He was German, and he also ate brown bread in a bowl of luke warm sour milk. Yuck! I'm tempted to buy the horehound candy over the web just to see if it is still horrible.

I once had an idea for a gooey green candy that would come in a plastic nose. You'd 'pick' the candy out of the nose. The slogan would be "Some call it boogers, but it's not!" Get it? Do you get it? Huh, huh?

Yeah, I get it, Tripp. Har har har. I am glad, however, to see that you and the Spangler Company share the same view of the flavor of Circus Peanuts.

Ensie wanted me to know that I've touched off a domestic dispute at the Frinklin household:

See what you've done Fred? You've turned my husband against me. I really don't have a problem with Holiday Spice Pepsi. Tastes like sugary, carbonated stuff to me--it's all the same. But now I have to hear about it here! And every day. You'd be really surprised how much of our evenings is taken up with discussion of Holiday Spice Pepsi. It's rather sad, actually.

And Fred--I do love you, even if you supported the wrong name for your new baseball team. :)

Sorry to start a row between the two of you. It certainly wasn't my intention to disturb anyone's domestic tranquility. But if you really are spending that much time arguing about Holiday Spice Pepsi... you really need to get out more, you know? (My family spend an awful lot of time decrying its awfulness over Thanksgiving, but we let it drop when the weekend was over.) And I love you too.

Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice also received a couple comments, but as they were having their belated Thanksgiving dinner yesterday I wasn't able to reach them for a reply. So we'll hear from them when I get a hold of them.

As for me, I'm rolling downhill to the weekend. See you down the road!

Quote of the Day
"So many women, so little charm."
- From Donna to Josh on the West Wing. This quote is my new epitaph.

Posted by Fred at 11:13 PM | Comments (2)

December 02, 2004

Ay Caramba...

My illness, which I thought was in remission, has returned with a vengeance tonight. Therefore, I must take a pass. I'll try to make it up on the weekend, if I'm feeling better then. See you later!

Posted by Fred at 10:00 PM | Comments (1)

December 01, 2004

Absence Makes the Heart Grow... Fonder, I Hope

Today's Musical Selection: "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" by Queen

Hello, everyone! I'm marginally better today, thanks for asking. And Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice are rip-roaring and ready to go. Today they come to us from Seattle, Washington, where I understand a celebration is brewing. I'd like to congratulate Uncle Millie on successfully completing his term in Betty Ford. Aunt Beatrice reports that he was walking more steadily and speaking more clearly than she's ever seen from him. This should be something. But enough from me. On with the show!

- - - - -

I Can't Get No Satisfaction... Not At Today's Prices, At Least, by Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice

AB: Hello from Seattle, everybody! Uncle Millie and I are here visiting my sister Tricia and having a late Thanksgiving celebration. Due to Uncle Millie's situation, we weren't able to observe Thanksgiving on the proper day. And since Tricia's husband is serving our country in Iraq right now and since she wasn't able to fly across the country to join the rest of the family in Buffalo, we decided to have our own celebration here a week late. We've split up the cooking duties. Tricia is making her famous cornbread dressing and cranberry, I'm handling the mashed potatoes and the green-bean casserole, and Uncle Millie has promised to handle the turkey. He's out at the store getting it now, actually. Why don't you say hi to everyone, Tricia?

T: Hi, everyone! Beatrice was telling me a little bit about this advice column, which I'd never heard about before. Do you have a lot of readers?

AB: Well, we're not the most popular advice column, but we do have a devoted following. Most of them are Millie's ex-lovers.

T: Yes, your husband is... quite a character, isn't he?

AB: He certainly is. He's mostly harmless, though. (You readers should know that this is the first time Tricia's met Millie.)

T: He's certainly a kidder. When I told him we were having rack of lamb for dinner tonight, he said he was hoping for a different kind of rack. Does he not like lamb?

AB: Oh, that husband of mine. He's one of a kind. Here's a handy tip, Tricia: Ignore 95% of what he says. Strangely enough, it doesn't seem to matter which 5% you pay attention to.

T: He seems like a nice person, though, and rather a gentleman. He is a little... touchy-feely, though.

AB: Yes, he is. I've tried to get him to dial that back, but I think the only way to get him to stop would be to cut off his-

UM: Greetings, ladies! I have returned with the turkey!

AB: You're late. I had to start the column without you.

UM: Sorry about that, my dear. I had to go to several stores to find the right turkey for our meal. And I must say, Tricia, that dress looks simply smashing on you. Is it new?

T: Why, yes it is. Thanks for noticing! I got it on sale!

UM: Well, I'm sold!

T: Hee hee, that's quite -- oh my, you sure do like to... hug a lot, don't you?

UM: I always treat my beloved wife's kin as though they were my own.

T: That's nice. You must be very... close to them.

AB: Down, boy. Leave my sister alone.

UM: But wasn't it you who asked me to be friendly to her?

AB: That's not really what I had in mind.

UM: Very well. At any rate, I have the turkey here with me.

T: Great! Did you pick out a good one!

UM: I pick nothing but the best, Tricia dear. I married Beatrice, didn't I?

T: That's sweet. So, are you planning to fry the turkey? I've heard a lot about that, and I've been wanting to try it.

UM: I'm afraid that's not my plan.

T: That's okay. I like a traditional roasted turkey just fine. How often do you baste it?

UM: I don't.

T: Do you marinate the turkey first?

UM: Well, I...

AB: Why is that bag clinking? Turkeys don't clink.

UM: It's just...

AB: Let me see that bag... you bought booze!

UM: Wild Turkey, my dear. None of my childhood Thanksgivings were complete without it!

AB: I don't know why I trust you to do anything. Did you get an actual bird?

UM: Of course not. Cooking is woman's work.

AB: You're this close to having a soup ladle jammed up your nostril, buster.

T: Beatrice! I wouldn't expect such language from you.

AB: You don't have to live with him.

UM: Oh, and I've invited another friend to our gathering.

AB: Who's that?

UM: My dear old bosom buddy from Scotland, Johnnie Walker!

AB: Didn't your term at Betty Ford teach you anything?

UM: Yes, it taught me not to get caught.

T: Oh dear, I'm not sure we can accomodate another person at the table.

AB: Tricia, Johnnie Walker isn't a-

T: If he's a friend of yours, Millie, I'll certainly try to squeeze him in. But I don't think we have enough chairs.

UM: Not a problem at all, my dear. You can always sit on my lap.

T: I... need to check on my cranberry sauce.

AB: Sit down, you. We have a column to do. Unfortunately.

UM: Well, let me pour a little glass of something inspirational...

AB: You're a hopeless case, you know that?

UM: It's as our friend Tripp says... I'm just not the same without it.

AB: Well, while you're getting inspired, I'm going to read the first letter. By the time your inspiration is finished, I'm sure you won't be able to.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

My girlfriend "Janine" and I have been going out for two years. We love each other very much. When we started dating, we used to go out and do fun things all the time: we'd dance, or go out to museums, or eat at exotic restaurants, or go to see a show. I'm sort of a homebody at heart, but Janine helped pull me out of my shell. And it was great! Lately, though, it seems like almost every night we wind up in front of the TV watching reruns and eating takeout Chinese. This is remarkably similar to my life before I met Janine. Then, I liked it fine. Now, not so much. What happened? How do we get out of our rut?

Nate in Boston

AB: Hi, Nate. This is a classic syndrome of long-running relationships: everything's fun and exciting at first, but as you become more comfortable with each other, a relationship can easily slide into the doldrums. Once you don't feel the need to impress each other all the time, it's easy to stop trying. Next thing you know, it's you and her and General Tso and Mister Ed every night. This is especially likely to happen when you live together, and from your letter, it sounds like you two do.

Here's my suggestion: Rather than treating each other like roommates, why not plan some actual dates? Pick a time and a place. Dress up to impress her. Actually come to pick her up, even if it means ringing the bell at your own house. Bring her flowers or candy. Pretend that you're been together for, say, two weeks instead of two years. You might not have those giddy early-dating butterflies like you used to, but I'll bet you'll see her in a fresh new light.

UM: As usual, my dear Beatrice, your advice is right on target. Or it would be if this were a romance novel. However, in the real world, this sort of make-believe doesn't work as well as my beloved seems to think. Draping a blanket of roses around an old plowhorse's neck doesn't make it Secretariat. And taking the old ball and chain on a play date isn't going to make her the cat's pajamas again.

AB: As usual, Millie, you've simply swept me off my feet. Some readers wondered what I missed the most while Millie was away. Without question, it had to be the romance.

UM: It's all biological, lad. You see, women are programmed to find a good man and cling to him like a barnacle on the hull of a ship and not let go. Once they attract a good provider, their hormones take over and the nesting instinct kicks in. In human females, this takes the form of the urge to redecorate.

AB: Incredibly, Uncle Millie never studied a day of biology in his life. Not even when he was taking it in school.

UM: So, lad, when you started dating, your lady dressed pretty and took you to all kinds of exciting places. This is the equivalent of a lady bird showing off her fancy plumage.

AB: Actually, in most bird species, the male is brightly colored, not the female. Which is not to imply that anything else you've said is remotely credible.

UM: Now that she's got you hooked, lad, she's determined to keep you in the house, lest you get out in society at large and find another fine lady. You may think the fall-off in dates out of the house was a coincidence, but it was really strategy on her part.

AB: Oh, this is too good. Go on.

UM: Now, as a man, lad, you are wired differently. It's your biological duty to spread your seed far and wide. So naturally, all this being cooped up in the house is making you fidgety. Your hormones are commanding you to go out and multiply! Naturally you didn't mind watching TV in your underwear before; it's a natural male behavior. But now, your genes are trying to alert you to the trap your lady has sprung. They're signaling you to run before it's too late. Nature at work!

AB: Once again, Uncle Millie proves why a little Discovery Channel viewing can be a dangerous thing.

UM: Heed your hormones, lad! They're trying to tell you something. Specifically, they're telling you to go seek a change of scenery. What you need, lad, is a new woman.

AB: Somehow, I had a feeling we were headed here all along.

UM: By heeding nature's call, so to speak, you're fulfilling the proper cycle of these. You lady has used her feminine wiles to snare you, and now you need to escape the trap. In fact, to make sure that you don't get trapped this way again, one woman might not be enough. I'd suggest dating several at once. That way, none of them can lay claim to you.

AB: There should be a V-chip to block out those nature documentaries. They've rotted your brain. Nate is in a two-year relationship with a woman he loves, and you're advising him to dump her and run away as fast as he can.

UM: Not necessarily. He could ask her how she feels about group lovemaking.

AB: I thought you'd long since lost the power to disgust me, but no, it's still there.

UM: Thank you.

AB: And the answer is still no.

UM: Don't knock it until you've tried it, my dear.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

I'm 44, and my wife and I have been married for 8 years. Things have always run pretty smooth, at least until last month. That's when my wife's old high-school flame "Phil" announced he was coming through town and wanted to have dinner with her. She asked me for permission, and I said it was fine; I'm not a jealous man and I've never had reason to suspect her of straying.

But ever since they made the arrangement, it's been "Phil this" and "Phil that" and dragging out the old scrapbooks to look at pictures of her and Phil. He calls almost every night and chats with my wife for hours. And the giggling! It's enough to make a sane man mad, and to drive a sober man to drink. I'm starting to have second thoughts about the wisdom of this whole thing. I'm tempted to tell her to call it off. What should I do?

Gene in Lubbock

UM: Ah, lad, the dangers of the old flame! They pop up out of the woodwork, come in gallant and breezy with roses and pecks on the cheek. Out comes the wine and they both sing a few choruses of "The Way We Were" and the next thing you know the sparks are flying and it's just like old times, if you catch my drift, and I'm sure you do. And yet if you try to put your foot down and call the date off, say, or have him killed, you're somehow the bad guy. It's a travesty, lad.

AB: So you told the last writer to toss his girlfriend overboard, and you're telling this one to lock his wife in the basement? Say what you will about Uncle Millie, friends, but he's not one to be hampered by consistency.

UM: Now, since the above options are out, you have to find a subtler approach. Here's my suggestion: The next time Phil calls and your wife's not at home, talk to him a little. Tell him you've heard a lot about him. Ask him if he's heard about you. Ask him if he heard about your hitch in the Army. Ask if he heard about your tour of duty in 'Nam. Ask him if he heard about the post-traumatic stress syndrome that's left you vulnerable to snapping without notice. Casually mention that you sleep with a pistol by your bedside named Betsy. Odds are, he'll get the message and break the date himself.

AB: Hi, Gene. I hope you took the advice I gave in the introduction and ignored most of that. I can understand why your wife's constant chatter about Phil is frustrating, but I really don't think there's anything to be worried about. I mean, think about it: your wife is talking to you openly about all of this. It would be more troubling if she didn't say anything at all. If she still had feelings for him, she'd probably be trying to hide them.

My advice is to grin and bear it, for the most part. The phone calls seem like a little much; maybe Phil still has some old flames burning. You might ask your wife to ask him to limit the calls. Other than that, though, all you need to do is wait. By now, the dinner must be coming up. Once it's happened, you probably won't hear any more about Phil. If by chance your wife does still have a couple flames flickering, the spare tire and receding hairline of middle age should cure that.

UM: In most cases, at least. Some of us maintain our appeal into somewhat advanced ages.

AB: Of course, dear. You just keep telling yourself that.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

I'm 39, married for 8 years, and I have a rather embarrassing problem. About ten months ago, I went through a very stressful time in my life. I was laid off from my job, my father died, and my wife had a serious health scare. It was a difficult time for our household, but we made it through.

Here's the problem: During our difficulties, my wife and I did not have intimate relations. Understandably, neither of us was really in the mood. Ever since the trouble has passed, though, I've been plagued by, well, performance problems. My wife has taken it in good spirits -- she laughs and asks me if I've forgotten how -- but in the last six months we've only reached completion twice. I'm starting to wonder if I really have forgotten how. Do you have any suggestions for my dilemma? I'm too young for Viagra, aren't I?

Lloyd in Richmond

UM: I would love to be able to advise you, lad, but thank the Lord, I've never had to deal with this issue.


UM: In fact, you've seen those commercials for the male enhancement drugs that suggest that 4 hours of stimulation is a matter requiring medical attention? I'd always assumed that was, shall we say, par for the course.


UM: What are you chortling about, woman?

AB: Oh, nothing. I just can't help wondering about the truth of that statement.

UM: What do you mean?

AB: Well, if you've never had performance issues, then who is that man I've been sharing my bed with? Can I trade him for you?

UM: Hrmpf.

AB: Hi, Lloyd. Sorry to hear about your difficulty. And at your age, you're probably right that the problem isn't physical. Unlike Uncle Millie.

UM: I heard that!

AB: You should get checked out by a specialist, though, just in case. Assuming that you're fine physically, your problem is probably psychological. Probably the stress of the hard times made it difficult for you, and once you started having trouble, you became so focused on it that you just couldn't perform. Therefore, your best bet would probably be to sit down with a good therapist and work through the problem together. I'll bet that, with the pressure of running the household on top of everything else, you never had a real chance to feel anything, did you? You need that chance. Good luck.

UM: I want to take a moment here to categorically deny Aunt Beatrice's slanderous charges.

AB: Oh, please. I've spoken to your ex-girlfriends. They've nicknamed you "Minute Man."

UM: Hrmpf. I'm not talking to you.

T: Would anyone like to try my cranberry sauce? I think it's missing something.

UM: Tricia! So glad to see you again, dear.

T: Uh... sure, Millie. Cranberry sauce?

UM: I'd be delighted.... I think it needs a touch of orange juice.

T: Good idea! I'll try that.

UM: Say, Tricia, a question for you, if I might.

T: What is it?

UM: Well, you've met me now, right?

T: I suppose.

UM: Well, then surely you can easily believe that a handsome, strapping middle-aged man such as myself has no trouble achieving tumescence?

T: Um... I don't know that word.

UM: Do you believe I have no problem getting my flag to full mast?

T: I, uh...

UM: If you'd like, I can allow you to inspect the visual evidence.

T: I really need to put my sauce back on.

AB: Well, thank you, Millie. You bought booze for Thanksgiving dinner, you've harassed and frightened my sister, and you've once again embarrassed me and yourself. Congratulations.

UM: Tripp, my friend, Uncle Millie is back!

AB: With a vengeance. We'll see you in two weeks. When we'll have a special guest columnist, my divorce lawyer.

UM: Happy hunting!

- - - - -

Thank you, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice. I think.

I'm going to step away myself now. See you tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 09:09 PM | Comments (2)