February 28, 2005

My Lost weekend, or, NyQuil and Me: An Ode

Today's Musical Selection: "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" by The Beatles

So, I finally came down with What's Going Around, also known as The Death Flu From Hell. I fought it most of the week... the congestion, the dry throat, the headaches, the raspy voice... and then on the weekend, my body finally gave in. I suppose I should be grateful for the fact that my body held up long enough for me to make it through the work week, but it's hard to appreciate this fact when you wind up spending the weekend racked up.

You ever have one of those days when your eyes and nose start running like Niagara Falls and you go through a box of tissues in an afternoon? Saturday was like that for me. Every time I laid down, the waterworks would start flowing. So I'd get up, and I'd start up with the tubercular coughing fits and the muscle stiffness (it felt as though I'd been danced on by the Green Bay Packers' offensive line). Unable to decide which I preferred, I went back and forth for variety. I tried to read, but my eyes were too watery. I tried watching TV, but despite my best effort, I just couldn't get excited about "Fletch Lives" again. I tried to sleep, but I kept dreaming about being rushed to the Flu Emergency Ward, where they wouldn't take my insurance. Faced with this conundrum, I resorted to the ancient and time-honored remedy favored by billions around the world: I called my mother.

I'm not sure why I think instinctively to call my mother when I'm sick. Maybe it's a primal reflex, an instinct to return to the womb for safety and comfort. Or maybe she's the only person I know who will talk to me when I have to stop every third word to hack up a lung. Whatever the reason, I dialed her digits.

I discovered that Mom was sick too. So was Dad. We argued briefly over who has spread the sickness to whom, a debate that ended happily when we were able to pin it on someone else entirely. Then we got down to brass tacks.

"Make me feel better," I wailed.

"What are your symptoms?"

I described them. They seemed familiar to her, since she had them all.

"Are you drinking a lot of fluids?"

"Yes, Mom."

"Are you getting plenty of rest?"

"It's pretty much all I can do." I started to describe the dream about the emergency ward and the insurance, but decided it wasn't germane to the situation.

"Have you taken anything for it?"

"I don't know if I have anything."

"Well, see if you do. Dad's taking Sudafed and I'm taking Coricidin, so if you want either of those, you come over and get them." She then launched into a soliloquy about how Coricidin was a wonder drug and she didn't understand how Dad could take Sudafed when it didn't do a thing for her, but my nose started running and I didn't really catch that part.

We hung up shortly thereafter and I made the foray over to my medicine cabinet. My first observation, upon opening the door, was that I was woefully lacking in cold-n-flu drugs. Ever notice how you always seem to run out of cold-n-flu pills right around the end of cold-n-flu season, so you don't bother to get more, then when the next cold-n-flu season hits you're all out? This happens to me all the time. At any rate, after a little rummaging I determined that I was out of cold-n-flu drugs and I would need to gear up for a drive over to my parents' house.

Then I saw the NyQuil, and I fell into an awe-stricken silence.

I should explain that drugs and I don't tend to get along very well. I always tended toward the Hemingway-macho tough-it-out I-ain't-got-time-to-bleed school of pain management. This tendency only became more pronounced after I had a run-in with some bad meds. Do you recall the big hullabaloo about PPA, the active ingredient in some long-lasting cold medications that caused severe reactions in a few people? Well, I was one of the few. My heart raced, my skin crawled, I hallucinated, the whole gamut. It felt like a bad acid trip. Ever since then, I've been a little hesitant to reach for the pills. Painkillers, sure (I couldn't play ball without them), but other pills? Not so much.

And NyQuil is the most powerful juju in the cold-n-flu kingdom, by all accounts. I'm not sure when or why I picked it up in the first place. I have a vague memory of resorting to it when I was in the clutches of the last Death Flu From Hell, right around the time I heard the Grim Reaper stand deside my bed, impatiently tapping his scythe and checking his watch. The only other thing I remember from that experience was sleeping for the better part of a week.

So it was with a tentative hand that I reached for the NyQuil. I was almost afraid to try it. But it was either this or a miserable drive over my parents' to hear the rest of the Coricidin-vs.-Sudafed debate. So I swallowed the NyQuil tablets.

Shortly thereafter, I started to feel better! My nose and eyes dried up, my headache dulled, the muscle pain lessened, and I could stand without swooning. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, expecting drowsiness to overtake me at any moment, but for the moment I reveled in my decent health.

Papa Shaft popped online at that moment, and I started to talk to him. After about a half-hour or so, I began to feel mildly drowsy, but nothing I couldn't handle. This was what I was so afraid of? I laughed at my fear. I shouldn't fear the meds, I thought, I should embrace them! I began to think in terms of going to dinner with Papa Shaft, maybe watching a little TV afterward.

Then, about twenty minutes later, I began to hit the wall. My eyes were snapping shut like change purses. My head began to droop to my chest. I began to think in terms of ordering in some Chinese.

Ten minutes later, full system shutdown began. Various parts of my brain stopped responding to signals. My head slumped back against my chair. I began to think in terms of whether I could actually make it all the way to my bed, or whether it would be safer to simply collapse in a heap on the floor and spend the night there and maybe crawl to the bedroom in the morning. I actually asked Papa whether or not I was forming coherent answers. He assured me I was. I think he was trying to be nice. Either way, it was taking all of my remaining attention simply to achieve the marginal level of coherence I had.

Suddenly, alarm bells began to go off. No, wait, those weren't alarm bells, that was the phone. I staggered over to answered it, and at the other end found a nice lady who wanted to give me a survey on health care. How ironic. I didn't really feel up to taking a survey, but I also didn't feel up to hanging up the phone, so I mumbled something that she must have taken as consent. So for the next 10 or 15 minutes, the nice lady asked questions and I gave answers. Whether or not my answers actually bore any relation to the questions, I cannot say. I do not remember anything I said. If the nice survey lady informed me that I answered all her questions with Beatles song titles, I'd believe her.

NICE SURVEY LADY: So, how do you feel about the current state of health care coverage in America today?
ME: Help!
NSL: And if you yourself were without coverage, how would you meet your medical expenses?
ME: With a Little Help From My Friends.
NSL: I see. What do you feel is the biggest health-care crisis in America today?
ME: Bang Bang, Maxwell's Silver Hammer.
NSL: I'm sorry?
ME: Why Don't We Do It In the Road?
NSL: Are you okay sir?
ME: Ob-la-di, ob-la-da.
NSL: Would it be better if I called back another time?
ME: A Day in the Life. For the Benefit of Mr. Kite. Happiness Is a Warm Gun, Rocky Raccoon!
NSL: Sir, I don't think-
ME: What's you name, sweetheart? Michelle? Mi-chelle, ma belle...

I have no way of proving this did not happen.

At any rate, eventually she let me go, and I found myself next to my bed, and it seemed like a good time to fall into it. So I did.

Thirty minutes later. More bells. The damned phone again. I pick up. It's someone who wants to write a column for the Fan Club Web site. He's anxious to impress me. I'm anxious to get my words in the right order. He's a serious young man with Post writing credits and a journalism career in the making, and I'm sailing on the Good Ship Narcolepsy. I'm sure I left a fantastic impression. I hope he was too nervous to notice. Again, I don't remember what I said. I may have asked him to marry me. I could not disprove it.

We talk for a while, then he hangs up and I lay back and-

When next I awake, it's 3:30 in the morning. I feel more alert than I have since lunch. I wander out to the living room. All the lights are still burning. The computer is on. The blind is open. I close the blind, turn off the computer and turn out the lights, return to bed.

When next I awake, it's noon. Bells again. Mom on the phone. Wants me to come to lunch. Okay, fine. I get up. Damn, but I'm groggy. And dizzy. I've been asleep more or less continuously for about 16 hours, and yet I'm still sleepy. Shower will wake me up. I stagger to the bathroom. Narrowly manage to avoid getting in the shower with my pajamas still on.

Shower fails to wake me up. I stare into the mirror. I look bloated and unfocused, like a heavy pot smoker. Not good. But parents are waiting, so off I go.

Driving: not good. Find myself focusing far too much on the speedometer needle and not nearly enough on the road. Am lucky to avoid calamity. Arrive at my parent's house. Try to make conversation. Find this is an unexpected challenge. It takes all my energy to focus on what one person is saying. If two people are talking at once, or if asked to do two things at once -- say, talk and read a newspaper article -- it's over. Find myself staring dumbly into space.

Propose to go to new restaurant. In retrospect, perhaps visiting a new restaurant when barely alert enough to realize one is at a restuarant is not the best plan, but so be it. Off we go. Arrive at restaurant. Discover restaurant has TVs around perimeter of room. This is bad. Try to read menu. Find self watching bowling instead. Try to talk to Dad. Find self watching NASCAR.

Food arrives. Ordered a Reuben, which comes out with serious meat deficiency. Meat-to-kraut ratio out of whack. Tastes fine, though. Perhaps taste buds are dulled by catatonic state. Am asked how food is. Fail to respond -- watching bowling again. Don't even like bowling. Am asked again. Explain about meat deficiency, then launch into explanation of what makes ketchup so darned tasty, based on garbled rehash of recent Malcolm Gladwell article on subject. Parents nod and pretend to understand. Eyes drift back to bowling. What makes bowling so hypnotizing?

At any rate, based on the contents of my weekend, I believe that NyQuil should be given the following label: "WARNING: Do not take if you plan to do anything in the next 24 hours more complex than getting out of bed. Seriously. Don't." Upon review, I realize that I spent the entire afternoon with my parents like a stoned teenager, trying desperately to simulate attention through a focus so fierce that there was no room left to actually comprehend what was being said. My parents were nice enough not to comment on my loopy state. Perhaps they surmised the situation on their own.

I have now in front of me the actual NyQuil box, which offers the following warnings:

- Do not take with alcohol.
- Do not take with acetaminophen (that's Tylenol, kids).
- Do not take with MAOIs. I have no idea what these are or do, but I've noticed that pretty much every drug out there says you shouldn't mix with MAOIs. Whatever they are, they must be a drug not to be messed with.
- Ask a doctor if you have glaucoma, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, severe cough, a spare tire, or anything else bad for you.
- "Marked drowsiness may occur." (Really?)
- "Excitability may occur." (Ha! How can you be excitable when you're hibernating?)
- "Be careful when operating a motor vehicle or oeprating machinery." (This is far too mild. How about "Do not come within 100 feet of a motorized vehicle unless it's an ambulance and you're on the way to the hospital"?)

You may well be asking yourself if this little diatribe has a point. And no, really, it doesn't. Except perhaps to say that NyQuil is one of the great legal drugs. And I miss Hunter Thompson, a true connoisseur of mind-altering substances. Hunter, this one's for you.

That's all for now. See you next time.

Posted by Fred at 07:55 PM | Comments (6)

February 24, 2005

Martin Luther King Says, "Read This Post!"

Today's Musical Selection: "Mercy Mercy Me" by Marvin Gaye

Hello, everybody! Today I share with you an item I noticed in this morning's Washington Post. It seems that while I wasn't looking, some sharp-eyed companies have been turning Black History Month into a platform on which to sell commercial goods. (By the way, in case you hadn't noticed, this is Black History Month... only four shopping days left!)

The article leads off with a couple examples that are charming in their staggering ineptness:

The green and yellow flier from the Kmart in Aspen Hill proclaimed, "Celebrate Black History" and then advertised "3 for $1 Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix" and "3 for $10 Tone 6-Bar Soap."

Pretty bad, huh? But that's amateur hour compared to this shining example of commercial synergy:

The makers of Metamucil and Pepto-Bismol ran a full-page ad in this month's Ebony magazine declaring, "Black History Month is a legacy of pride and achievement leading to a healthier tomorrow." The ad continues, "It's the same ideals you turn to when it comes to your GI Health -- a history of digestive solutions."

Despite the obvious and meaningful connections between a celebration of African-American heritage and laxative, it seems that some people are a little cranky about this. Probably these are the same fuddy-duddies who got all up in arms when Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech was used to sell cellular phones.

Here's one prominent fuddy-duddy who's ticked off about the whole thing:

Activist Jesse L. Jackson said that some of the ads are produced by the same companies that "denied access" to blacks and that they trivialize the historic struggle.

"What pains me is that these ads are feel-good sessions about a black general who did this or someone who sang a song or a political figure who worked on this, and 'Aren't there some wonderful black people?' " he said. "Of course that is true, but they don't deal with issues like . . . why black people work as hard and make less, why black people are stressed out and don't live as long."

To Reverend Jackson and others, I say: Welcome to the club.

I've been on this particular kick for years. Around major holidays and landmarks, this sort of thing tends to crop up. (You may remember my anti-Christmas-commercialism rant from December.) Sometimes it's amusing, like the sign down the street from my office that encourages people to stop in for a Valentine's Day oil change (only $14.14... how romantic!). Sometimes it's less amusing.

I remember the first time my sensibilities were offended in this regard. I was about 12, and I was riding in the car with my parents when I heard a radio commercial for a local car dealership. It was around President's Day, and this commercial featured "George Washington" and "Thomas Jefferson" extolling the virtues of this dealership. I recall that "Washington" said, "I cannot tell a lie... these are the best deals you'll find on the East Coast!", and "Jefferson" said, "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that we have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of a great deal on a new Honda."

A loud booing noise filled the car, and eventually my parents noticed it was coming from me. "That stinks!" I said. "Using the Founding Fathers to sell cars... ugh. Is nothing sacred?"

My parents gave me that this-must-be-the-slow-class look and said, "Get used to it. They'll use anything to sell anything in America."

Unmoved, I proceeded to write a scalding editorial about it in my middle-school newspaper, which did not win me a Pulitzer.

My parents' point of view got an airing in this article:

"Eventually any piece of history or American culture gets trivialized by advertisers," said Barbara Lippert, the advertising critic for Adweek magazine. "They just use any opportunity as a platform to sell something. . . . Everything becomes about buying and selling."

And Ms. Lippert (and my parents) are right. As I've learned over the years, there is nothing in America that can't be exploited in the right marketing situation. And it has been ever thus. (The article highlights an interesting historical fact that I did not know: When the Statue of Liberty came to America, a castor-oil company offered to pay for its construction in exchange for being able to drape an advertising banner across the pedestal.)

Given America's tendency to turn everything into one big advertisement, it seems unnecessary for African Americans to be perturbed over the trivialization of Black History Month. It's simply their turn in the barrel.

But maybe this particular outrage can spawn a larger movement. Perhaps we're ready to stand up as a culture and reclaim our history from the wood-chipper of marketing. Maybe the people upset about the cheapening of Black History Month can join forces with the Jesus-is-the-reason-for-the-season people and the President's Day cranks like me, and together we can say enough is enough.

I doubt it, though. If there's a true religion in this country, it's capitalism. That's the altar at which we all worship, the motivating force around which our lives are structured. Even God is selling hot dogs in the Hebrew National commercials. There is nothing that the marketplace can't manipulate to serve its own ends. Nothing. (The minute someone figures out how to use 9/11 as a commercial platform, it will be appropriated too. Some might say that President Bush has already done this.)

I'd welcome your thoughts on this. What do you think about the limitless marketability of everything in America? Does it bother you as it bothers me? Or are you glad that nothing's sacred/ And can anything be done to stem the tide? (Assuming anyone other than purists like me still cares.)

On that note, I take my leave. See you next time!

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

February 23, 2005

Paging R. Lee Ermey

Today's Musical Selection: "Boris the Spider" by The Who

Hi, kids! Sorry I've been absent of late; much hustling and bustling about in connection with my Fan Club gig. Last night, I rubbed elbows (literally; it was very crowded) with the high 'n' mighty at a DC baseball-related fundraising dinner. Key lesson from this event: Just because the schedule says there's a bus to take you where you're going doesn't mean you can find the bus. This becomes important when the alternative is walking 30 city blocks in wingtips (each way), an experience I emphatically do not recommend to anyone. The dinner itself was splendid, though.

Today it's time to respond to the latest batch of your comments. Let's rummage around in the ol' comment bag and see what we can find, shall we?

Let's start with loyal reader PG, who thinks it's good that I almost died. No, wait, that's not exactly what she said. Forgive me, I'm functioning on limited sleep. Here's what she really said:

Near-death experiences are good for concentrating the mind. You figure out who and what is important, as well as what your regrets might be. The whole "did I say 'I love you'" is cheesy and cliched but nonetheless a real concern.

Good points all. I'm not sure what it says about me that, facing the possbility of extinction, I thought of the Fan Club and the waitress. (Let the record reflect that I thought of other things too, things that I did not include in my little narrative.) Does it mean that they are the most important things to me? Or the things that were most pressing on my mind at that moment? I'm not sure.

But it does occur to me that I don't say "I love you" enough these days. Just the way my life is running at the moment. Not sure what to do about it, though. Going up to random people on the street and saying it tends to creep them out. And most of the people I spend time with these days are not people I'd feel comfortable saying it to.

Why am I saying this? For the benefit of those readers out there who may think that near-death experiences automatically produce some sort of epiphany. Mine didn't. Maybe I did it wrong.

(And when did this blog become All About Me? My growing self-absorption is getting on my nerves. I really don't enjoy talking about myself that much. And this blog used to be about pretty much anything but me. Is it a side effect of wiritng a blog for a long time that you become stuck on yourself? Is it the surest sign you're out of material? Or have I just become a self-centered twit?)

(Am I crazy? I think my schedule is making me that way.)

At any rate, I'd like to point out that I do love you. All of you, who take the time to come by and read this blog. You're what makes it worth keeping this up. From far-flung corners of cyberspace, you all gather in my virtual living room to engage in a never-ending conversation. It enriches my life (and your lives too, I hope) more than you'll ever know.

Moving on, loyal reader Carl would like to put my fascination with little Ashley to good use:

If you have a new-found baby jones, you are welcome to come over and babysit sometime.

I'll keep that in mind, Carl. I'm not sure if it's a "baby jones" or not, but if so I'm glad to know I have a willing supplier.

Loyal reader Tripp offers a note of caution:

Careful about the babies - they get bigger. I know, cause I got four of them (three now teenagers!) myself! Yikes!

He then proceeds to take me to task for... well, for a number of things, really:

And what is this "fake it to make it" has not been a mantra for you? Are you an underachiever? Do you only do things you are 'comfortable' with? Anyone who has ever been good at anything has had to start somewhere, sometime, *before* they were good. I absolutely can't believe you have read "Ball Four" (not more than I have, I bet) and have NOT stuck your tongue out. My God, man, that book was practically a manual. I bet you thought it didn't pertain to you, huh?

You need a mentor. Someone who has a way with the ladies that you would like to have. It's best to have a real-life mentor, but even TV or movie characters can work. Study them. Copy them.

Oh, yeah, I can hear you now "But I wouldn't be being myself." Yes, you would. If you restricted yourself to NEVER changing you'd be walking around like some five year old right now. Instead, while you were growing up, without knowing it, you watched the people around you and modeled their behavior. So why not do that deliberately and for a purpose now? It really is no different than learning a sport or musical instrument. It seems very weird and difficult at the start, but eventually you will get better!

Capre Diem!

I must admit that, in all the times I have read Ball Four, it never once occurred to me to use it as a manual. (Just as you suspected.) Perhaps this is, as you say, at the heart of my problem. I'll keep my eyes peeled for a mentor.

By the way, I believe it was "Carpe Diem!" you were searching for. "Capre Diem!", as best I can figure, means "Goat of the Day!"

Loyal reader Brett offers sympathy for my Valentine-less Valentine's Day:

[S]orry to hear about your bad Valentine's Day. But it's nice that a high school memory is able to make it that much more bearable.

It's funny, the things that comfort you, sometimes. I've had a number of enjoyable Valentine's Days in my time, ones spent in the company of that Special Someone. But those don't stick out in my mind quite so much, for whatever reason.

By the way, about the co-worker with the dozen roses on her desk. I handled things as graciously as I could. I stopped by her desk to get a good look and told her the flowers were beautiful. She said it's the only time of year she gets flowers (shame on her husband for that), so she treasures them. For a guy who only buys them once a year, her husband has good taste in flowers. I do, too, but it's been a while.

A hearty round of thanks to everyone who congratulated me on the Fan Club's success! It's been hard work, but it's really paying handsome dividends. It's really exciting to be in on the ground floor of something like this... we're watching a new tradition being born. It's like an Internet start-up without the foosball tables and impending bankruptcy!

It's not often in life that you have a front-row seat for history like this. In the past month, I've done and seen more things and met more people than I'd have ever imagined possible before. The city is coming together around this team, and I'm thrilled to be in the middle of it all.

That's all for today. Something else tomorrow! (Possibly.)

Posted by Fred at 11:53 PM | Comments (2)

February 16, 2005

Cleaning Up the Post-Valentine Debris

Today's Musical Selection: "Love Hangover" by Diana Ross

Hello, everyone! As promised, everyone's favorite lovebirds, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice, are back for another round of their nationally-known romantic advice. Today they're coming to us from Intercourse, Pennsylvania (where else?). I asked Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice if they had a good Valentine's Day, and they told me they did. Aunt Beatrice told me about the carriage ride they went on, and the flowers Uncle Millie got her (red roses, she said, and he was kind enough to remove the thorns and leave a quart of whiskey in the garden he stole them from, unlike in years previous), and other nice romantic moments. Uncle Millie told me about certain other highlight of the day that I can't even begin to reproduce in a family-oriented space such as this. The sum total of it is that they had a wonderful time, which I'm glad about.

And since I have things to do (being a Media Sensation is a lot of work!), I'll turn the column over to Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice.

- - - - -

If Music Be the Food Of Love, Then Get the Radio Cranking, Because I'm Hungry, by Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice

UM: Hello, lads! And a belated Happy Valentine's Day to all our young lovers out there.

AB: I hope your Valentine's Day was as enjoyable as ours! We had a wonderful time, and Uncle Millie was very romantic.

UM: Aren't I always?

AB: Up until he started pouring me a drink he calls "Cupid's Arrow." It consists of corn liquor and Kool-Aid, which Uncle Millie served to me as "punch."

UM: Well, sometimes romance needs a little nudge.

AB: You might be more familiar with this concoction by its original name, "Say Yes to Anything."

UM: Well, as far as that goes, it had its intended purpose. Because you did, my dear. And we did. And, Lord, did we ever-

AB: That will be quite enough of that.

UM: I convinced her to try things she wouldn't even consider sober. For example, there's this position called "Holland Tunnel," in which-

AB: Millie! Can't we let our private life stay private? Particularly if you're interested in having a private life ever again in the future?

UM: You make a persuasive case, my love. Put that way, I see the wisdom in the old proverb, "Silence is golden."

AB: If only you saw the wisdom in it more often.

UM: Well, how about we read our first letter?

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

So I went on a blind date for Valentine's Day. A friend set it up, and I went along, because who wants to be alone on V-Day, you know? Well, she was pretty and not bad company, but I didn't feel a spark, and I don't really want to pursue it any further. Apparently she felt differently, though, and she's been calling and e-mailing all day, trying to pin me down on a second date. But I don't want a second date! And my failing to return her calls has not sent the message, apparently. How do I get her to leave me alone?

Hunter the Hunted in Escondido

UM: Well, lad, when it's over, it's over, and she needs to accept it. If silence doesn't do the trick, you'll need to be direct about it. Perhaps you can send her a bouquet of flowers with a card reading, "Stop calling me."

AB: Classy.

UM: Not roses, though, lest she get the wrong idea. Venus fly traps, perhaps.

AB: Hi, Hunter. As I see it, you have two options: You can contact her yourself, explain politely that you're not interested in pursuing a relationship, and ask her to stop calling. But if she's this persistent, she might take that as a sign you're playing hard to get. So you might want to mention it to the friend who set the two of you up, and ask that your friend bring it up with your date, just to make sure she gets the message.

UM: Alternatively, you can use one of my favorite approaches: When she calls, adopt an accent and say, "He not here. He not live here."

AB: Oh, that's mature.

UM: And I suppose playing the telephone game with the mutual friend is your idea of an adult move?

AB: That's completely different.

UM: Of course it is. Nonetheless, lad, are you sure you've thought this through completely? You mentioned that she was pretty. And she's quite obviously enchanted by you. Methinks that you could at least get a bit of bedroom romping in before calling the whole thing off. You must seize these opportunities, lad!

AB: Ah, somehow I knew we'd come back around to this. There's something almost refreshing about the purity of Uncle Millie's hormonal drives.

UM: I simply believe in striking while the iron is hot!

AB: Or, if necessary, slipping the iron booze until it warms up.

UM: Can't blame a guy for trying.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

What is your opinion of online dating sites? I've hit a bit of a dry spell in dating by conventional means, and I'm thinking of trying the online route. I've heard good stories and bad stories from my friends... some found real winners through online dating, other haven't. I figure that in your line of work, you must hear plenty of stories. So what do you think: yay or nay on online dating?

Richard in Grand Rapids

AB: Hi, Richard. Personally, I'm not really comfortable with the idea of these online dating services. Call me old-fashioned, but I've always believed that you can't really find out whether someone's worth dating without meeting them in person. I know some of these sites have elaborate methods for helping you find the right person -- "compatibility tests" and so on -- but, well, people can lie pretty easily on those sorts of things.

UM: People lie in person too, you know, love.

AB: You being a prime example.

UM: That was unnecessary.

AB: You were asking for it. Anyhow, Richard, as I say, I personally don't think much of the idea. But I'm only one person. And I'm sure Uncle Millie will be happy to explain how you can use these sites to get meaningless sex.

UM: There is no such thing as meaningless sex, my dear. All sex is meaningful.

AB: So all those one-night stands you've had with cocktail waitresses and co-eds, they were all meaningful?

UM: Certainly. They meant I was having one hell of a good time.

AB: You're impossible.

UM: Now, lad, I see no harm in these sites. If you're not catching fish in your pond, you ought to cast your line elsewhere. However, I must say that if you're not attracting women by traditional methods, you're probably not trying hard enough.

AB: How is that?

UM: Think of it, lad: There's someone out there for everyone. Even Michael Jackson was married once or twice. And even if your someone isn't immediately apparent, there are enough close-enoughs out there to take care of your needs.

AB: Oh, you smooth talker, you.

UM: While there's no harm in dipping your quill in the online inkwell, lad, I believe you should first redouble your efforts to attract women by traditional means. Have you been turning down women because they're carrying a few extra pounds, or because they have no discernible intelligence, or because they seem certifiably insane? Stop being so snobbish! As a wise man once said, "There's Miss Right, and there's Miss Right Now."

AB: I have no idea what I see in you sometimes.

UM: That's not what you said on Monday when we were-

AB: I believe we agreed not to talk about that anymore.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

Help! I'm a junior in high school, and I broke up with my girlfriend of four months a couple weeks ago. That stings, but I'm mostly over it. What I'm not over is the factt hat she has already taken up with another guy. I swear, she makes a point of walking by my locker arm-in-arm with her new boyfriend every day. It's driving me crazy! Why does she have to rub it in my face that she's found someone and I haven't? How do I keep from going postal on them?

Jason in Seattle

UM: Oh, lad, women are a cruel and devious lot at times, aren't they? Can't live with them, can't live without them. Well, I suppose you could live without them, but life would be awfully dreary. And your wrist would give out eventually.

AB: Let me step in here. Hi, Jason. I'm sorry about things not working out with your girlfriend. And if she really is paradign her boyfriend by you to make you jealous (which is possible), that's immature and she should be ashamed. On the other hand, it's entirely possible that she's not trying to go out of her way to walk by you, and it's coincidental. Especially if yours is a small high school, it's quite possible your paths cross daily by coincidence. You just happen to notice it because it's a sore subject for you.

UM: Oh, poppycock. She knows exactly what she's doing. She's rubbing it in.

AB: You don't know that.

UM: Yes, I do. I know women and how they operate.

AB: Don't you think that I, an actual woman, might have some insight on this?

UM: That would make sense, in theory, but often a dedicated observer can manage more astute insights about someone than she can about herself.

AB: Naturally. And when people think of you, of course "astute" is the first word that comes to mind.

UM: Never mind that, lad. We're straying from your problem. Fortunately, in high school, this problem yields a fairly straightforward solution. I assume your school has a football team, and this team undoubtedly has a couple of large gentlemen on its offensive or defensive line. Find one of these beefy fellows and befriend him. Offer to do his homework for him. Then point out your former girlfriend's new love and encourage him to set the fellow straight on what is and is not permissible. I'll bet you won't see them carrying on in the halls any more. If you choose your assistant wisely, perhaps lover-boy will abandon your ex entirely out of fear.

AB: Why do so many of your answers involve violence?

UM: I'm a lover, my dear, not a fighter. Sometimes, however, stronger measures are called for. You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar, but you can kill more flies with a hammer than with honey.

AB: Actually, I usually find it's easier to kill flies with a fly-swatter.

UM: You get my point.

AB: I'm sure Ghandi would approve.

UM: If Ghandi had gone to an American high school, I'm sure he'd have done the same thing.

AB: And another column draws mercifully to a close. Please feel free to send in your romantic questions!

UM: And if anyone wants instructions on how to perform the "Holland Tunnel," get in touch with me! I'll send complete instructions, complete with photographic examples.

AB: You did not take pictures.

UM: As far as you knew, no.

AB: Thank you for ruining a wonderfully romantic day.

UM: My work here is done. Happy hunting!

- - - - -

Thank you, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice! We'll hear from them again in two weeks or so.

Meanwhile, I'm off as well. So much to do, so little time. See you later!

Posted by Fred at 11:20 PM | Comments (0)

February 15, 2005

I Guess I'm Famous

Musical Selection: "Pop Muzik" by M

Hello, friends! Boy, what a crazy and exciting day! My work in getting the Fan Club running and getting the word out is starting to pay off. Today, the Club received not one, but two plugs in major media.

The morning rose to reveal a Fan Club article in the Washington Post. I knew this was coming, as Barry Svrluga had come out to our last meeting and he'd been interviewing me earlier. But we got even better exposure than I expected... we received a page to ourselves in the Post's spring-training pull-out section. (Page H4, if you happen to take the Post.) I myself got two quotes (and a quote on the front page of the section), as well as my picture (which did not, alas, appear in the online version). It was a tremendous boost for the Fan Club, and a not-insignificant pleasure for me.

I'll admit that when I went to purchase a copy of the paper at CVS, I said to the clerk, "I figure I should get the paper today, since I'm in it." Naturally, he wanted to know the details, and I opened up the paper and showed him my picture. He was impressed. "Right place, right time, I guess," he said. I enthusiastically agreed.

I was still coming down from that high (and passing word around the office) when I received an e-mail. The e-mail was from WTOP, the local news-radio station. Seems they wanted to do a story of their own. And they wanted to interview me. As soon as possible. They'd send a crew out if possible. I wound up conducting the interview by phone (it was brief), and clips from the interview showed up on an hourly basis throughout the afternoon. Do you know what it's like to be driving home and hear your own voice on the radio? Particularly if you sound like you have a head cold, as I do. Quite a shock to the system.

The wires have been buzzing all day. Fan Club members have been writing to congratulate and thank me. My mom has been e-mailing everyone she knows to tell them there's a celebrity in the family. My dad bought an extra copy of the paper himself, even though they subscribe. (I do not know if he pulled the same stunt with the clerk as I did.) There's a documentary filmmaker who wants an interview. So many things are happening at once. And, oh yes, it's a busy week at my real job, too.

Suffice to say, I'm exhausted. And I realized that this post is self-congratulatory to the point that it can be boiled down to Muhammad Ali's great quote, "Me - wheee!" But I can't help myself. I'm exhausted and frazzled and thrilled to my bones. And I need a rest. So I'll take it. See you down the road!

(By the way, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice will be around tomorrow - I held them back a day so I could share the news.)

Posted by Fred at 10:19 PM | Comments (3)

February 14, 2005

Just Call Me Sergeant Pepper

Today's Musical Selection: "Love the One You're With" by Stephen Stills

Hello, friends! And Happy Valentine's Day! I hope it is, anyway... I understand that it's a time of high stress and/or depression for a lot of people, coupled and uncoupled alike. Some people like to rail against this holiday, on the grounds that its primary purpose is to shake down those in established relationships, and shame those not in them. Deep down, I think all of us feel a little like Charlie Brown, waiting by the mailbox for that valentine from the little red-headed girl.

I know it was a fairly gloomy Valentine's Day for me. It was a cold, drizzly, foggy day in the Fedroplex, the kind of day that calls you to crawl back under the covers and hibernate. And for the first time in several years, I had no one to celebrate with. And the lady who sits next to me at work received a beautiful bouquet from her husband, a dozen red roses, which I got to look at all day. I saw other bouquets being shuttled through the office. But I didn't have anyone to send me flowers, no one to call me, no one to send a card. (And I had to work through lunch, so I couldn't even go say hello to my waitress.) I'm not one much for self-pity, but it's hard not to think of it when Valentine's Day is staring you in the face that way.

But even though the holiday is over-commercialized, over-romanticized, and generally overdone, the spirit of the day can shine through sometimes. And in order to snap out of my V-Day funk, I thought back to the time when I learned when the day can really mean, and that love can take many forms.

It was junior year in high school, on a sloppy, drizzly Valentine's Day much like this one. The primary actors in this little drama are myself and my friend Kim, whom some of you may remember at the rose-giving heroine of my Christmas story. For those who don't remember: she was bright, wickedly funny, thoughtful, understanding the human condition... in short, everything you could want out of a female friend. As Valentine's Day dawned, she was dating a senior and I was, again, alone. As was her wont, she was too thoughtful to gush about her boyfriend in front of me, but in response to previous queries, she'd indicated that she was looking forward to Valentine's Day, as she was sure her man had planned something thoughtful and sensitive. I was happy for her.

Came then the day, and there we were in first-period history class, discussing the Civil War. I was sitting next to Kim, and I noticed that something was amiss. Namely, she kept sniffling and dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. I asked her if everything was all right, and she assured me that it was. I had trouble believing this, however, as the sniffling and dabbing was not normal procedure for her, and she hadn't seemed to be harboring a cold the previous day. But I let it be, and when class was out I left to get a drink of water.

And there, leaned up against a locker near the water fountain, I found Kim. Crying copiously. She looked up, and one glance at her tear-streaked face told the story. And so I acted. By instinct, I held out my arms to hear, and she collapsed into my embrace. I leaned against the wall and held her and let her sob for a while.

Finally I asked, "What is it?"

The story emerged between the sobs. "I waited. By my locker. He went by. Didn't even. Look at me. Valentine's Day. And he ignored me."

I said, "I'm sorry. I can't believe he did that."

"We've been fighting. But on Valentine's Day. Didn't say anything." She buried her face in my sweater.

"What an awful thing. I know how you feel. This hasn't been the best Valentine's Day for me either."

I heard her muffled voice against my chest. "Stupid holiday. Just makes people. Feel bad about. Their relationships."

"And it makes them feel bad for not having relationships too." That was the last thing either of us said for a while. I let her cry herself out. She eventually straightened herself up, dried her eyes, and regained her familiar composure. Once again, she showed her brave face to the world. Nonetheless, I walked her to her second-period class, just to make sure the facade held. It did.

Now, by your usual objective standards, Valentine's Day was a failure for us both. Neither of us received any cards or flowers or candy. She was ignored by her beloved, and I was without one. But I rank it as a successful day, and I'll bet Kim would too. But if the true point of Valentine's Day is to be loved and to share your love with the people you care about, we were and we did. And that kind of love may not come attached with a dozen roses or candy hearts with cutesy sayings on them, but it's no less genuine for being unmarketable. Sometimes, through the cloud of Valentine commercialism, real love finds its way through.

Kim and I drifted after high school. We didn't keep in touch, moved around, the usual song and dance. I hear she's married now, which sounds right and proper. But as I sat at my desk looking at my co-worker's flowers, I thought of Kim. And I knew that, if she found me sighing at my desk, she'd return the hug I gave her. That's the sort of person she is. And knowing that, in and of itself, made the day better. So, Kim, thanks for saving my Valentine's Day without knowing it. I think we're even now.

And for you, The Reader, I hope you've had the Valentine's Day you hoped for. If not... well, join the club. On the other hand, I believe everyone should receive roses for Valentine's Day. Therefore, in that spirit, I offer you all a bouquet from me:


Happy Valentine's Day! See you next time.

Posted by Fred at 10:56 PM | Comments (0)

February 11, 2005

Friday Grab Bag

Today's Musical Selection: "American Patrol" by Glenn Miller

Hi, everybody! Today, I return to a long-standing but also long-neglected Friday tradition: the Jumble of Random Crap! Remember those? (And if you're saying, "Well, how's that different from your normal columns?"... well, you really know how to hurt a guy.)

First off, I want to describe the highlights of my day. There were two, which is usually a sign of a good day.

First, in the morning, one of my co-workers brought her children around (apparently the babysitter was sick). She has a 5-year-old boy and a 6-month-old girl. The boy was off doing what little boys do, which is run at several times the speed of light and wreak impossible amounts of havoc, and the baby girls was doing what baby girls do, which is get passed around a circle of cooing women. Said circle had congregated next to my desk, and in time the baby girl was passed into my arms.

When I was younger, I had little use for babies. You can't do much with them, they don't do much that's useful or interesting, all they do is sit around and drool and mess their diapers. And for this, they get a reaction which I'm convinced is hard-wired in females: "Aw, how cuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuute!" I didn't see much that was cute about these slobbering bundles of joy. I didn't have much use for "cute," period. But I always thought babies were one of life's overrated experiences.

But now I'm older, and my opinions have changed. I paused to consider this baby girl clinging to my chest. Ashley. 6 months old, blond hair, blue eyes. There's something astounding about humanity replicated in miniature. Those tiny fingers, tiny mouths, tiny noses, tiny bodies. They seem almost to small to be real, but they are real, living, breathing humans. It really is miraculous.

Ashley's eyes searched my face. There's an astonishing intelligence in the eyes of even little babies. They may not know exactly what they're looking at, but they're doing their best to take it all in. Ashley must have liked what she saw, because her breathing slowed down and she smiled. She even winked at me. (Yeah, I know, they can't really control the winking at that age, but she winked at me nonetheless.)

I held her head up against my face, inhaling that new-baby smell. While I'd been mugging and vamping at her while others were holding her, now that she was with me, I was calmer. I whispered in her ear. "So, what do you think, sweetheart?" I said. "What's going on?" She looked at me, smiled, cradled her head against my shoulder.

I walked her over to the window, faced her out toward the parking lot. An unremarkable scene to most, but her eyes flashed all over the place trying to take it in. It's all new to her, of course. It's always striking to me to watch a child watch the world. What's old hat to us cynical adults is a kingdom of wonder to a little child. The cars, the asphalt, the blue sky, the trees ruffling in the breeze... it was all exciting for Ashley. I watched her watch the parking lot, felt her breathe, whispered into her ear.

Eventually, reluctantly, I returned her to her mother. Work to be done and all that. But I spent the rest of the day with a warm glow in my heart. The miracle of life is really something up close.

Then this evening, I had an experience that qualifies as one of the perks of being Fan Club president. I attended a sports card show across town. I had been planning to skip it, inasmuch as I'd rather have my rest, but I felt I should put in an appearance. One of the members had indicated she'd be there and wanted to meet me. So I went, and browsed sort of aimlessly around the show, looking for people in Washington hats.

It's been a long time since I went to a card show... I used to go frequently when I was a kid. Back then, it seemed like a key to the kingdom... all these cards and memorabilia, stretched as far as the eye could see. I could imagine Heaven being very much like those shows. Now, though, the glory has worn off. The appeal of crowded tables in spartan exhibition halls just isn't what it used to be.

After a while, I stopped by a table that featured Senators merchandise. I was browsing for a couple minutes when the guy behind the table said, "Hey, you're the Fan Club guy, aren't you? I recognize you from the pictures."

"Oh. Well, yes, I am." I was a little surprised to be recognized this way. I'm not accustomed to being a celebrity. (And pictures? What pictures? This is a little eerie.)

He introduced himself, and we chatted for a couple minutes about the Fan Club and our immediate prospects. Then he pointed at a display containing a biography of Walter Johnson, written by his grandson, Henry Thomas. "Have you read that?"

"I have."

"Well, here's the guy who wrote it." He motioned toward a tall, balding gentleman with a friendly face, who extended a hand and said, "Hi, I'm Hank."

There I was shaking hands with the grandson of Walter Johnson! Suffice to say, I was floored. I managed to return the greeting, and say who I was. Once I mentioned the Fan Club, his eyes lit up. "Really, now? How'd a young fellow like you get into this?" I briefly explained my life as a child of the game, waiting for a home team to root for. "Well, now, that's very exciting!" he said. "And the best part is, we have a team to have a Fan Club for!"

We went on talking. Hank is one of the nicest people I've ever met. He talked and joked with me as though he'd known me all he life. He even offered me some of his chocolate-covered cashews (an offer I gratefully accepted, as I hadn't had dinner). I was impressed by the fact that he seemed to have struck a balance regarding his illustrious heritage: he was respectful and interested in his grandfather's career, but he wasn't the least bit egotistical about it. Collecting baseball memorabilia allowed him to stay close to his grandfather's memory.

He was terrific about the Fan Club. Not only did he agree to carry our membership forms at his booth, he even talked the Fan Club up to his customers! He's also an honest businessman... I decided to buy a '69 All-Star Game commemorative plate from him, and he pointed out a small chip I hadn't even noticed. A prince of a guy.

I asked him how he'd gotten into collecting. He explained that his mother had a friend who was a card collector, before the big collecting boom. Whenever he saw a Walter Johnson card available cheap, he picked it up and gave it to Hank's mother. She kept the cards in a box, and in time she passed them to Hank. He started going through the cards, and he became fascinated by them. From there, he started attending shows on his own and picking up merchandise. Eventually, he'd amassed such a collection that it made sense to get a booth and start buying and selling on his own. "I guess I've got the collector's itch," he said. "I've always collected. Old magazine ads, old comic books, old baseball cards. I like everything old."

"Old buildings, old cars, old baseball cards... they're all special to me. You know why? Because back in the old days, one of the things people cared about was pride in craftsmanship. And one aspect of it was the way things looked! People tookt he time to make things beautiful, put in all kinds of intricate details. Now it's all mass-produced garbage! But back then, people cared about beauty."

He showed me his newest items, shaking a couple of bottle caps out of a plastic sleeve. "See these? Now, I'm the one who takes care of the business for my grandfather's estate, licensing and all that. And some beer company sent me proofs of this design they wanted to do, putting my grandfather on the caps of their bottles! I looked it over and I said all right, but then I didn't hear anything back from them. Usually, I get free samples once they start making 'em. So I assumed they'd gone out of business. Then one of my friends here at the show comes up to me with these. I said, 'Where'd you get 'em?' He said, 'Some beer company up in Wisconsin is making them.' So this reminds me that I've got to talk to my agent about getting my samples."

The grandson of the greatest right-handed pitcher in history, the keeper of his grandfather's legacy, put the caps back in the sleeve. "This world is something, isn't it?" Isn't it, though.

I was delighted to discover that Hank was such a friendly and down-to-earth guy. So much so that it didn't really hit me until I got in the car. "Oh my God, I shared chocolate-covered cashews with Walter Johnson's grandson!" A nice end to the day.

Now, onto some comments garnered by my recent work. First, some comments on the mailbag. (Comments on comments? How very meta.) Loyal reader Tripp wants to help me succeed with women:

About this question:

Seriously. If I could be as charming to women my own age as to little girls and old ladies, I'd be rolling in clover.

You can.

I recall years ago talking to a shrink friend of mine (theatre sure does bring strange acquantances). I told him married women must be different from single women, because I could talk easily with married women, and not with single women. Being the good shrink he was, he said "Maybe the difference is in how you behave."

I also recall dealing with my late elderly grandmother. She had Alzheimers and no longer knew me. I wanted to be nice to her. I found if I put a smile on my face she'd usually respond nicely. It was as simple as that!

Among other things, I'm an actor. An outside-in actor. That means fake it to make it. Do it even if you don't feel it.

First step to being charming - smile. Simple as that. Not some big goofy grin, just a small pleasant expression.

You know how you behave with your waitress? Do that more. Stand tall. Try it during the day and see what you get.

Regarding funny faces - did you ever read "Ball Four" by Jim Bouton? It's a great book, but probably before your time. He was a pro ballplayer, and one of the tips he learned in the pro's was this: If you see an attractive girl in the stands, catch her eye and stick your tongue out at her. If she laughs, you have a chance.

At the right time and place sticking your tongue out can be an excellent form of flirting. It is silly and quick, childish, harmless.

So, my man, you've got your homework.

Walk tall, smile, and find some time in the next week where you can stick your tongue out at some lass.

Since I am totally living vicariously through you, I expect big things Grasshopper!

Before I address the meat of Tripp's comments, let me say: Have I read "Ball Four"? Hell, yes, I've read "Ball Four!" If I've read it once, I've read it twenty times. It's one of my favorite books. I can quote all of Joe Schultz's best lines (not in polite company, though). So I'm familiar with the practice of "shooting stingers," which is what they call it in the book. I can't say that I've ever found myself in a situation where sticking my tongue out at a woman seemed like a proper flirting move, but perhaps I simply lack imagination.

As to the rest of your advice, I'll give it a try. I'll admit that "fake it to make it" has never been a mantra of mine, but it sounds like it could be helpful, so I'll try it. I will say, however, that if you're living vicariously through me, I'm sorry for you.

Newly loyal reader Brett also weighed in with another unabashedly nice commentm which I will again post shamelessly:

I have been busy for the past few days, and managed to sneak some time today to see if you've updated. To my surprise, I had not one, but two new posts to read.

The first, featuring "Uncle Millie" and "Aunt Beatrice", was very nice. Quite funny, and some good advice at the same time, I hope to hear more from these two.

The second was my favorite, however. Not only the fact that you acknowledged me (as nice as that was), more that you take the time out of your obviously busy day to respond to those that read you. And also to learn that you're much younger than I thought was nice. I have the same problem of getting mistaken for being older. I'm still only sixteen, and I hope to be able to write like you by time I'm your age.

On the topic of the 'mini-crushes', I still think of that post quite often. I've never really taken the time to appreciate them, as I have recently, and it's a great way to brighten up your day and put a smile on your face.

Thank you very much for the kind words, Brett. And you'll find as you settle in here that I do take my commitment to post reader comments and respond to them very seriously. If it weren't for you guys, I'd just be sitting here talking to myself, and I do that enough as it is. Seriously, I value my interaction with the readers. I believe my best posts are the ones that spark conversation. I have as much to learn from you as you do from me.

I'm flattered that you hope to write like me. I've refrained from posting a "tips for writers" guide on here, inasmuch as I didn't think I wrote well enough to merit authoring such a thing, but I just might do it in the near future. I believe you can write like me by the time you're my age, with enough dedication. I'll share my thoughts at greater length in the future.

I'm really glad that my post on mini-crushes helped open your eyes to those experiences. We miss out on too many of life's simple joys, I think, because we're too busy or too inattentive or simply don't value them highly enough. If I've contributed in any way to improving the quality of your days, then I've done my job.

My post on my near-death experience drew a couple comments. First, from loyal reader Frinklin:

You may be the only person I've ever known (well, you know what I mean) that would, in the face of possible impending doom, worry about a fan club and an anonymous waitress.

You know, Frinklin, you're probably right about that. At least in the specifics. But I'd bet that, in similar situations, other people might have similarly random-seeming thoughts. I'll bet that, in a similar situation, you'd be surprised at the things that would cross your mind. Of course, you personally would probably think about your wife, which is not a concern for me.

When faced with a situation of extreme danger, the mind naturally starts concocting escape plans (the "fight or flight" response they made so much of in health class). But what if there's nowhere to escape to? Where does your mind go? We might like to think we'd have a nice logical progression of thoughts, but logic tends to break down in extremis, no? I certainly hope you never find yourself in a situation where your life is in peril. But if you ever are, assuming you survive, I hope you'll report back to me what you were thinking about.

Newly loyal reader (and very prolific commenter) Brett had this to say:

Those are some interesting things to be thinking about when faced with the possibility of death. Although I have to admit that I think some of the same things on occasion.

I have just moved from a town I was only in for about a year. I left some friends behind, and often times wonder if they were too terribly upset about my leaving. Or I think of those people in my class that I only talked to once or twice. Did they miss me? Do they even notice I left?

I've also been in a potentialy dangerous situation and subconsciously hoped for the worst. It is just like you said, too. Hopeing for a chance to start over, not just...end.

Glad to hear you escaped the situation without any injury. And glad to hear the fan club is getting along so well. Maybe after time you won't be a one man show, and can spend more time at that resteraunt of yours. I'm anxious to hear what comes of you and that waitress.

I think, at some level, we all wonder how much people miss us when we're gone, either from the area or from this mortal plane. Ever played the game of wondering who'd show up at your funeral? I think we all want to know just how deeply we impact the people around us. We can't bear to think that, if the earth swallowed us whole tomorrow, that everyone would carry on and not be terribly affected. And yet, I think it's healthy to realize that the world will go on without you. Once you realize that your dying isn't going to cause the world to spin off its axis, it encourages you to go on living even when you don't particularly feel like it. Don't let yourself fall into thinking that "Everyone will realize how much they needed me after I'm gone." Maybe they will and maybe they won't. Is it really worth your life to find out? (Not that you'd be around to see if you were right anyway.)

Everyone wants to know what happens with me and the waitress, huh? Well, I promise I'll keep you posted, either way. Now I feel like I have to do something, since you're all watching me. (Is that, subconsciously, the reason I brought it up? Perhaps.) Anyhow, stay tuned for further details. (And feel free to weigh in with advice, if that's your pleasure.)

At any rate, another week draws to a close, and I must away. See you next week!

Posted by Fred at 11:51 PM | Comments (3)

February 10, 2005

Living on the Edge

Today's Musical Selection: "Stompin' at the Savoy" by Benny Goodman

Hi there, everybody! I have been awfully busy the last few days, but I did want to take a moment to mention something.

Seems that in all the hubbub, I forgot to tell you that I almost died last week.

I'll explain. See, over by my office, they're digging up the earth in the name of Progress, to put in a new warehouse of some sort. Digging up the earth in the name of Progress is a fairly common activity in the Fedroplex these days, and I thought nothing of it as I drove away from my office to visit my waitress and grab some Mexican for lunch. (Note to self: In future, be sure to check for life-imperiling circumstances before going to lunch.)

It was an uneventful lunch. I got my usual burrito, my usual Coke and my usual smile from the cashier. All was proceeding more or less according to plan until I got to the light at which I turn back into the office complex. There, I discovered that they'd blocked off the road.

This was a fairly nettlesome situation, inasmuch as there are only so many ways to get into my office complex. I had three options: I could try to elude the barricade and drive the wrong way up the road to my office. I could bang a U-turn, get on Route 28 and take the long way around. Or I could merge back onto Route 50 and hope they'd let me turn at the next light. Since I didn't feel like chatting with Johnny Law on that particular day, Option #1 was out. And since my lunch break was almost up and I didn't actually know how to get to my office from 28, Option #2 seemed iffy. So I went ahead and got back on 50 (a truck driver was kind enough to let me through), and found myself in a standstill. Great. Now I was going to run over my lunch break.

With nothing better to do, I turned up my Warren Zevon CD and surveyed my surroundings. I quickly noticed an awful lot of fire trucks surrounding the excavation site on the other side of the road. This struck me as out of the ordinary. And then I caught the whiff of gas.

It seems that, in the process of digging up the Earth in the name of Progress, it seems that the interpid crew hit a natural-gas pipeline. This was the reason that the firetrucks were out, and the reason that the road to my office and westbound 50 were shut down. (Some of you Fedroplexers may have heard about this in your radio traffic reports.) They didn't shut down eastbound 50, however, and so there I was, about 15 feet away from the gas leak (which, by the way, was located next door to a gas station) with no particular place to go.

I couldn't move forward, backward or sideways to find an alternate route. And through traffic was very slow, it was moving, so I couldn't just leave my car and walk back to the office. I was stuck. And it slowly dawned on me that, with one flick of a Bic, we could all be blown to kingdom come. And once this revelation had time to sink in, it gave me something to ponder.

I don't usually traffic this close to the edge of mortality, and I'm not really clear on the protocol. I wasn't scared, certainly not the way I imagine I'd be if someone held a gun to my head. In fact, my reaction was more along the lines of the following:

"Aw, come on, not this week. I'm having a good week. I can't die now."

Now, I can't say that I'd always have that same reaction. One of my favorite comedians, Ron White, tells a story about the time he was on a plane for a short flight and the pilot announced they were having engine trouble. White says his response was. "Just make sure you hit something hard. I don't wanna limp away from this wreck." I certainly know the feeling. There have been days when I'd almost have rooted for someone to show up with a flamethrower.

Not really, though. I think it's hard for us to really comprehend the true meaning of non-existence. Assuming there is no afterlife and no possibility of reincarnation, I'm not sure how well we can really grasp the concept of ceasing to be. Intellectually, we may understand that there will come a time when it will happen to us, but we can't exactly imagine what it will be like. How can you envision nothingness? It's like being in a pitch-black room, perhaps, only without sounds or smells, without the weight of the atmosphere against your skin, and for that matter, without the ability to perceive what you're not perceiving. Our whole human experience is grounded in perception, and I don't think it's really possible to know what it would be like to be completely without it. It's like trying to count to infinity.

Not that these thoughts, or anything nearly so lofty, were going through my head as I sat there smelling the gas leak. I'm simply pointing out that when we find ourselves entertaining a preference for death, I think what we really want is to be blown out of our current existence into a fresh start. A sort of reset button for life. I think more or us consider the possibility more often than we'd care to admit.

But, all in all, I was pretty happy with my existence as it was, and had no particular desire to start over. Instead, I found myself wondering who would take over the Fan Club if I died, and who would preside over the weekend meeting, and how long is would take my office mates to notice I was gone, and whether they'd connect the dots if they heard the news on the radio, and so on.

Now, no one is irreplaceable in life, I know. Had I died, my co-workers would eventually have noticed. Some of them probably would hav emissed me for awhile. I haven't been there that long, though, so I doubt it would be a devastating loss for any of them. And they'd find someone to replace my work output without too much trouble. My family and friends would miss me, too, and they'd surely take it harder. (Most of them, anyway.) But they'd all carry on; I don't really think there's anything I give them that they couldn't get somewhere else. The Fan Club would probably be the hardest hit, just because it's so new and I've been virtually a one-man organizing committee. It's possible the Fan Club would collapse without me. I doubt it, though; too many want to see it happen, and they'd all pitch in and figure out a way to see it through. It might not exactly correspond to my vision of it, but it would carry on and after a while, no one would know the difference.

So I wasn't concerned so much about my passing dealing a crippling blow to anyone or anything. I was more annoyed at the thought of leaving so many loose ends. I don't like leaving things unfinished, leaving messes for other people to clean up. So this caused my brow to furrow as I drummed on the steering wheel, in time with Warren singing "Poor Poor Pitiful Me," watching the minutes of my lunch break ticking away, smelling the burrito sitting beside me on the seat.

What about my waitress? I wondered. Would she notice if I didn't come in there any more? Would she care? Would it upset her if she found out I died? And how would she even know, since she still doesn't know my name? Must do something about that. Assuming I make it out of here alive and all.

I took a closer look over at the scene. Firemen and police officers strode up and down the road, trying to look casual but failing. They kept looking at each other with expressions that said, "How much longer is this going to go on?" Since there was no actual fire, no actual emergency situation, there was nothing for them to dobut stand around and wait in case something happened. Waiting for calamity is a guaranteed tension-producer, I can assure you.

And I thought about the possbility of a spark to set the whole thing off. What if someone lit a cigarette without thinking about it? Would anyone be that foolish? Or crazy? Or suicidal? I felt it broiling inside the car, even though it wasn't an especially warm day. Something about tension ratchets up the tempature.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity but was more like 15 minutes, I finally had the chance to turn left and get away from the scene. As I pulled into the parking lot of my office, I felt simultaneously that it had been much ado about nothing and that I'd dodged a bullet. An odd reaction, perhaps, but it was an odd situation.

I'm too young to have fully experienced the Cold War, but it must have been very much the same way: not facing a moment of primal danger, but always on edge for what might happen, and being powerless to stop it if it did. I'd argue that a situation like that is more draining than a hot war, which is more like a near-miss collision at an intersection: a brief spike of adrenaline, a sense of immediate danger, and then a quick passing. I think the Cold War is truly fascinating, and worth serious historical study. Unfortunately, we're now entering another period of potentially protracted war, and suddenly it's not considered prudent to take an honest look at a previous war, particularly the degree to which the threat may have been overblown. Just as the Cold War recedes far enough into the distance that dispassionate historical study is possible, we enter a jingoistic period in which honest questioning of your country is tantamount to treason. It's a shame, really.

(And I didn't mean to get political there... the thought just occurred to me.)

At any rate, I'll be back at least one more time this week. See you then!

Posted by Fred at 09:40 PM | Comments (4)

February 05, 2005

Questioning Myself

Today's Musical Selection: "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean"

All right, as promised, today I explain my scarcity over the last few weeks. In order to do so, I will dust off the long-ignored Smart-Alecky FAQ style that I haven't used since my very first post, in which I explained who I was and what I thought I was doing. Enjoy!

So, where the hell have you been, anyway?

Boy, that's a fine how-do-you-do. Not "How have you been?", not "Is everything all right?" You're awfully impatient, aren't you.

Hey, this is supposed to be Frequently Asked Questions, not Frequently Asked Small Talk. So out with it. Where have you been?

Well, I've been helping to launch a dream.

What the hell does that mean? Have you been out desperately trying to convince some poor woman to date you?

No. I am referring to the Nats Fan Club.

The what?

The Nats Fan Club. We have formed a fan club in support of our new baseball team.

And so you're, what, the waterboy?

No, I am the president.

The president? And who's in this fan club? Me, myself and I?

Actually, we're about seventy strong now. The people of Washington are very excited about this team!

When did this come about?

The idea was born on that glorious night of September 29th, when it was announced that, at long last, baseball was back in DC. In the wake of that announcement, and our subsequent celebration, some of us decided that it should be more than a one-time thing. Thus was born the idea of the Fan Club.

It lay dormant over the next couple months, as the ballpark bill made its excruciating journey through City Council. But after the financing finally came through, about half a dozen of us convened to discuss exactly what we'd like to see out of a Fan Club. At the end of that meeting, the rest of the group turned to Papa Shaft and I and said, "You seem like sharp guys. You're running this thing." A couple weeks thereafter, Papa Shaft had to pull out due to an overloaded schedule, and the Club became my baby. And I've been sprinting ever since.

So what's the purpose of this fan club?

Officially, our mission is to support, honor and expand the fan base of the Washington Nationals and spread the excitement of baseball in Washington. We intend to do this in a variety of ways, from holding group outings to the ballpark to spreading the word about the Nationals at local events to making the Nationals feel welcome in their new home.

Have you had any meetings?

Two so far, including one just this afternoon. Attendance was about 25 for the first meeting and 30 for today's meeting, which I'm very pleased about. The excitement is like grabbing hold of a live wire!

And what exactly is it that you do as president?

So far, I've been pretty much a one-man show. I've been hyping the club to people and local groups, talking to the media, scheduling meetings, distributing information about events, exchanging e-mails and phone calls with members, desiging and printing up flyers, etc., etc., etc. At this meeting we seated an officer corps, so hopefully that will take a little bit of the pressure off. But I'm still likely to be very busy.

Did you say the media? Are you actually getting publicity for this?

Indeed we are! We got a mention in a story on MLB.com last week. A number of blogs have been spreading the word about us. Marc Sterne gave us a plug on his show this morning on SportsTalk 980. So yeah, we're getting the word out there.

So what should we expect from you in terms of output on this blog?

I'll do what I can. I hope you'll understand if I'm not posting at my previous five-times-a-week rate for awhile. Something on the order of three or four times a week is more likely. And some of my posts may be shorter than usual (which will probably be a relief to at least some of you). I hope I'm not disappointing too many people, but if I have to choose between blogging and sleep, I've got to go with sleep.

So you're not shutting down the blog?

No, I'm not. I admit I considered the idea while I was on sabbatical, but I enjoy communicating with you, The Reader, and I don't want to give that up. So I'm going to keep it going, just at a bit of a reduced rate for the time being.

Why can't you get any of your guest columnists to fill in when you're away?

Well, the commitments that kept Papa Shaft from running the Fan Club will also keep him from posting here. Considering what I'm already paying Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice to write a column every other week, I shudder to think how much I'd have to pay them to write more regularly. Hammerin' Hank is probably in jail. And "Deadline Danny" Goodwin hasn't been heard from since I authorized his expense account. (He told me he's down in the Caribbean doing "background research.")

So that's it, huh? And we're supposed to be happy about it?

I hope no one will be too unhappy about it. If they are, I'm afraid there's not much I can do. And aren't you a trifle ungrateful?

Hey, you're the one who wanted smart-alecky questions.

Fair point. Anything else?

Yeah, can we go get a beer?

Okay, but you're buying.

I hope that clears everything up. Oh, by the way, you can learn more about the Fan Club at www.natfanatics.com.

Until next time!

Posted by Fred at 10:36 PM | Comments (0)

February 02, 2005

Dusting Off the Mailbag

Today's Musical Selection: "Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen

Hello, everybody! Today I'll finally get around to posting and responding to some of the comments I've garnered during my lengthy period of hiatus or semi-hiatus. Though my posts have been few and far between the last few weeks, you've more than made up with it by making such intriguing and thoughtful comments.

Without further delay, then, let's get down to business.

Loyal reader Tripp sympathizes with my tale of discovering my barber's disturbingly ignorant racial views while sitting in the chair:

I have faced a very similar situation involving a hair stylist.

Our family has all gone to the same 'stylist' who has cut all our hair out of her home for years. She is a little younger than us, her three kids play with our youngest, we exchange Christmas cards.

After 9/11 we became aware that her politics are best described as Rush-Limboesque. Yuck!

We have chosen to avoid the topic as best we can. Definitely the hardest time was when she had Fox News on the entire time of our appointment, and with six of us that was a couple hours! I definitely had to clench my teeth that time.

So we avoid the subject and try to live as an example of what we believe. Is that the right thing to do? Do we lack courage? I dunno. Sometimes you have to pick your battles.

I'm glad I'm not the only one who's faced this situation. (And are barber's college and stylist programs breeding ground for right-wing thought, or what?) And I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels ambivalent on how to respond.

Here's what troubles me. If I saw Senator Blutarsky spouting views like this on television, I'd race to my blog to condemn and/or ridicule them. If a friend of mine made comments to this effect, I'd like to think that I'd try to set him or her straight, or at least register my dissent somewhat forcefully. But something about that whole situation... being in the chair while he was clipping my hair, being a "guest" in his place, knowing that the general tenor of the place was very conservative... I found that I'd lost my voice.

Now, on the one hand, my barber's politics matter not a whit to me as long as he can cut hair. I try very hard not to be one of those people who snobbishly insists on associating only with people who share my political views. I think it's very broadening to spend time with those with whom you disagree.

On the other hand, Martin Luther King wouldn't have stood for that kind of talk. I've no doubt that he would have walked right out of the shop and encouraged everyone not to go there. But on the other hand, Curtis wouldn't have said those things if Martin Luther King had been sitting there. Since I'm an average-looking white man, he assumed he had a sympathetic ear. And I know that the most insidious kind of prejudice is the kind that happens when good people tacitly accept inappropriate remarks like that. Maybe if I'd have raised objections, he'd have thought twice before he unloaded that garbage on the next white guy who sat in his chair.

I still don't know how I feel about it. I think you're right, Tripp, that we have to pick our battles. I'm still not sure whether this one was worth picking or not.

More from Tripp, in response to my riff on the Randy Moss affair (talk about old news):

I don't mind Moss. What you don't hear is all the local good things he does, and also, like you said, the other side of the story regarding GB fans mooning.

My point is that the media really wants a professional wrestling style good-guy/bad-guy thing, and since the start they've cast Moss as the bad guy. Granted he had a past, and has done some stuff, but the media consistently pumps way up the bad (like tut-tutting the mooning while showing it over and over) and ignores the good.

We want our villians.

Regarding the hair - there were 3 or 4 Vikings that had corn-rows and decided, after the shameful loss to the Redskins, they would let their hair 'down' to try to change their luck. So it wasn't just Moss, and they *did* beat the Packers, so maybe it worked?

Granted it looked crazy. It was MADE for TV, being so visual, and TV was happy to oblige Moss with plenty of exposure.

As usual, the full story is never quite as interesting as the simple story TV loves to show.

I agree with you, Tripp, that the media are always looking for heroes and villains. I disagree, however, that the full story is less interesting than the media spin. In this case (referring specifically to the mooning incident), I think the real story is more interesting. The full story is often more interesting, and more revealing of human nature, than the sound-bite version. But the full story can't be packaged and sold. So the media have little use for it. They'd much rather cast that little town of football fanatics way-the-hell-and-gone up in Wisconsin as the saintly good guys, and the brash and mercurial Moss as the bad guy. It's an easier story to tell, and sell, even if it's neither true nor especially interesting.

(By the way, how much did it matter that Moss was a black man mooning a stadium full of lily-white Midwesterners? I think the racial angle gets overplayed a lot. But I'm not naive enough to say it didn't matter at all.)

Tripp also enjoyed my post on mini-crushes. He had a lot of interesting things to say on the matter:

I think you are talking about what I call the zing-zing, or at least the zing. With the clerk it is definitely a zing-zing.

Some people have told me they have never had a zing-zing, which is sad. You are right, it is precious. One could argue that human contact is what makes our life meaningful.

What makes a zing-zing? I think it is physiological responses that we may not be aware of. Clearly the smile is a big, obvious response, but I bet you in return stand a little straighter and your pupils dilate. Some research suggests there may be smells involved, which would be sad, because you can't do too much about your natural smell, besides staying clean, of course.

I like the term "zing-zing" and intend to steal it; it describes the experience to a tee. I'd say that my interactions with the clerk are a "zing-zing" for me. I do notice myself standing a little taller when I go in there. Makes me feel more alive. I'm glad to see that others appreciate the power of the zing-zing.

Tripp expounds further on the situation:

Sometimes mini-crushes are best kept as crushes, because they get popped when you know more about the chrushie. Maybe that is why crushes on movie-stars are the best. You never get to know them and they are always displayed in their most attractive.

I'd be remiss if I didn't ask about this waitress vis a vis a possible relationship? It sure sounds like there could be something there, and it would be a shame to miss out on the opportunity.

I wholeheartedly agree about actress crushes. Myself, I've long had a massive crush on Sela Ward, dating back to those Sprint commercials she used to star in. (Before her, Sprint had Candice Bergen as a pitchwoman, and come to think of it, I had a crush on her too. And yet I've never had Sprint as my phone provider. So much for the power of advertising.) It's a harmless source of enjoyment, provided you don't go in for the stalker route, and provided you understand that the actor or actress you adore is an idealized version of reality.

As for the question of a relationship with the waitress... it's hard to say. As I said in the original column, we don't even know each other's names. But I am keeping the possibility in mind.

Tripp then proceeds to upbraid me for my wry remark about only being able to attract women under 5 or over 60:

And what the heck is this deal about 'under 5 over 60' women?? My God, man, you obviously have the tools! You could be just as charming with the group in between 5 and 60. Do you know what is stopping you?

You know, Tripp, I'd always thought that the skill set should be transferrable, but it doesn't seem to work that way in practice. Certainly, the "making funny faces" aspect doesn't seem to work on women in my own age bracket as well as it does with the little ones.

As for what's stopping me... my own explanations ("The buzzards have me") don't translate particularly well into an action plan, so if you have thoughts on this, I'd love to hear them. Seriously. If I could be as charming to women my own age as to little girls and old ladies, I'd be rolling in clover.

I seemed to have gained a new loyal reader named Brett, who's said some very nice things about me that I will shamelessly reprint, because who's going to stop me?

In the midst of doing some homework, I somehow stumbled apon your site.

I had a read of the most recent posts, and I'm very glad I managed to find this.

You write very well.


I've found myself thinking about your last post [on mini-crushes] alot, and it's helped me appreciate alot of things I usualy take for granted.

I hope to become a regular reader.

Brett, I'm blushing. Really. Thank you so much for those nice thoughts. I hope you'll continue to read me, and I hope I'll be able to write more regularly in the weeks to come. I'm glad you took something useful away from something I wrote; I think you'll find that this was a stunning exception from the norm, but I appreciate it nonetheless. The old cliche is true: If you can make even one person see things differently as a result of something you've written, it's a successful piece. Notes like yours make my day, Brett. Keep reading!

Brett also wished me a happy birthday, and did Ensie (hugs and kisses!) and Frinklin, who added the following:

And can I let you know how crushed I was when I found out I'm older than you?

I get that a lot. It's really startling... those who know me online tend to assume I'm several years older than I am, and people who see me in person ask what college I'm going to. (Or worse... when I went back to my high school to see our football team play for the district title, a well-meaning parent asked if I was a senior.) I am the real life Dorian Gray. I definitely do not feel 26.

My plaintive lament that Mercedes had stooped to advertising "four-door coupes," a category that does not, technically, exist, was met with a universal reader reaction. Namely, that I'm shockingly naive in the ways of business.

Ensie put it the most simply:

What you have realize, Fred, is that no company is above doing anything to make money. Ever.

Brett expanded a little:

Eh, that's just how everything goes now-a-days.

Everything / everybody is out to make money. Not by having the better product at a better price, but by advertising. "If you can a better looking model of an existing product, or if you can make the same product and call it something else, you can sell it."

And Tripp capped it off with a longer thought:

I agree with the cynical outlook on businesses, but I still think some products are perceived as "better than the pack" and they can charge a premium for that.

I think the line "Introducing the first four door coupe" referred to this being the first sedan from Mercedes, but they are too cool to call it that, and anybody else sedans don't matter.

Now, if this had been Mercedes' first sedan, I'd understand that. But it isn't. They've been making sedans for decades.

And I know very well that business is all about making money. You can't major in economics and fail to understand that. But it just felt kind of... chintzy. It's not so much that I thought Mercedes couldn't stoop to that level. I just thought they'd never have to.

(I feel the same way about Cadillac. Cadillac is, without question, the best name in the automotive industry. It sounds exactly like what it used to be: the ultimate in luxury, the top of the line, the cream of the crop. The fact that said said nameplate is bolted onto a bunch of Acura-wannabe pieces of crap and advertised with Led Zeppelin [a band I love, but not in that context] depresses and saddens me to no end. Red-blooded American boy that I am, I want to aspire to owning a Cadillac. But I can't, not those godawful things they're putting out now. This has kept me up some nights.)

Finally, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice's triumphant drew this response from their #1 fan, Tripp:

Hmmm, one has to wonder if "Kenny" is spelled F-r-e-d?

Regardless, I went through a very similar situation. True story. It took a good six months to recover to where I was willing to see other women. I had to recover before dating again, so it is definitely possible to recover without dating. About 16 months after the breakup, I was married to the love of my life, and we are going on twenty two years now.

A small part of me would like to see my ex someday, and she'd be a fat hag, but really, what would be the point?

As a matter of policy, I decline to comment on any similarities between my own romantic experiences and those of the people who write to Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice. Any confirmation or denial on my part would set off a rampant guessing game that I want no part of. I'm sure a lot of people can see themselves in the letter-writers. Some experiences are universal, or at least widely spread. Would I trust my romantic queries to the advice of Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice? Absolutely. We'll leave it at that.

About the desire to see your ex as a fat hag: I sympathize with the sentiment, but you're right: There's no point. Living well really is the best revenge.

At any rate, that's all for today. I promise to write at least one more post this week, and in it, I'll explain just what the heck it is that's been keeping me so busy. See you then!

Posted by Fred at 11:53 PM | Comments (2)

February 01, 2005

Guess Who's Back!

Today's Musical Selection: "Tied to the Whipping Post" by the Allman Brothers

Hello, everyone! I hope you all had a good weekend. A few of you have chimed in on my little mini-thought from yesterday, and I'll be addressing those and other recent comments tomorrow. For today, though, I have an announcement, the one you've all been waiting for since at least the start of this paragraph: Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice are back!

In a deep-into-the-night negotiating session of an intensity and seriousness that Bob Goodenow and Gary Bettman can't even dream of, I resolved my differences with our favorite power couple, thereby ensuring their services for the coming year. They drove a hard bargain, but we all behaved thoughtfully and professionally, and in the end, fortified by some adult beverages, we struck a reasonable deal. And when I say we were fortified by adult beverages, I mean it. Boy, did we have plenty. I mean a whole lot. So much that I can't quite remember all the details of the negotiation. In fact, I think I'd better go take another look over the deal, in order to make sure that it's as reasonable as I thought it was.

While I'm pulling out the contract and getting my lawyer on the line, I'll turn things over to Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice. Take it away, guys! Hey, what's this about agreeing to let Uncle Millie use my car when he's in town?....

- - - - -

Blog + Love = Blove, and Other Equations That Don't Add Up, by Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice

UM: Hello, lads! Greetings from beautiful Boston, Massachusetts, where I have been invited to give a lecture on the Romantic Arts at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which explains the mathematical bent of this week's title.

AB: You were not invited to speak at MIT. That was a product of your overactive imagination. You've actually been giving "lectures" on "Good Ways to Get Laid" while standing in line to buy beer at the Store 24. And I think your title stinks.

UM: I'll admit, it is not what I would have chosen. But tell the truth, my dear: You vetoed my first choice.

AB: Oh, you mean "Love + Sex = Pure Bliss; Love - Sex = Marriage"? Yes, I put my foot down on that one. Not down, exactly, but somewhere I thought it might do more good.

UM: That was most unkind, my dear.

AB: Do you need some more ice?

UM: No, I'm all right. But we stray from our mission. Which is, of course, to help our young lads in romantic difficulty!

AB: Yes, we're glad to be back here for another year of advice giving. I'd like to thank Fred for the generous contract to which he's signed us. And I want to apologize about the negotiating session. I hope you've recovered well.

UM: What are you talking about, love?

AB: Didn't you notice that way poor Fred was starting to turn green at the end there? I don't think he's used to drinking that much. That was an unfortunate mistake.

UM: Ah, that was no mistake, my love. That was a negotiating strategy!

AB: What?

UM: When involved in a negotiation with a neophyte to serious drinking like our friend Fred, it's always a good idea to start the drinks coming early and often. He'll feel compelled by politeness to match your pace, and before long he'll be giving away the keys to the kingdom without even knowing it!

AB: I'm astounded.

UM: And you thought my cast-iron liver would never be good for anything.

AB: Little did I know.

UM: Well, we've got a full mailbag after our hiatus, so let's hop to it, shall we?

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

I'm 24, and all of my relationship follow a similar pattern: I'll meet a girl, we'll go out on a date or two, we'll have a great time, and then I'll try to step it up a notch or two, send her flowers at work and call her house and offer to take care of her if she's sick, and things will just kind of fade away. I'll start hearing from her sporadically, then not at all.

I don't understand the problem. I have a decent job, I treat people well, I have no criminal record, and while I'm not movie-star handsome, I'm not bad-looking. Why don't I have luck with women? Am I doing something wrong?

Jason in Camden

AB: Hi, Jason. Well, it seems to me that you're trying too hard. Things like sending her flowers at work or taking care of her when she's sick... I know you mean well and think they're sweet things to do, but they might seem like too much for her when she's only seen you a couple of times.

UM: Aye, lad, my beloved has the right of it. Romancing a woman is like holding a dove in your hand. Squeeze too tightly and you'll smother it. Squeeze too lightly and it will fly away.

AB: That's a lovely analogy, Millie. I like it.

UM: Lad, you're squeezing that poor bird into a bloody pulp.

AB: Well, it was a lovely analogy, anyway.

UM: I'm surprised you don't feel the bird guts oozing out between your fingers.

AB: That's quite enough. Jason, I think you need to learn to take a step back, and try not to rush things with the women you meet. If you have a good date, that's great. Let it lead to a second date. Try not to anticipate too far ahead. Try not to imagine standing next to her at the altar. One date is one date.

UM: I understand your predicament, lad. You're overswinging. When a baseball player hits a slump, as it appears you have, he'll often try to compensate by swinging as though his life depended on getting a hit on the next pitch. As you might expect, more often than not this approach results in failure. And so it is with you.

I believe my lovely wife has put her finger on the problem. You're thinking too much in advance. And in this, I believe, lies the solution to your problem. If you hear wedding bells every time you look at a pretty young woman, you need to dial it back. Way back. Try to hear, instead, the sound of creaking bedsprings.

AB: Millie!

UM: I'm not finished. If you don't mind. Now, I'm certainly not advocating that you try to drag evrey woman you meet into bed.

AB: Thank goodness.

UM: After all, ballplayers who try to hit a home run every time up tend to strike out a great deal. No, if you can just get her to let you touch her-

AB: All right, that's just enough! Why haven't I realized yet that it's never a good thing when you claim to agree with me? And why do you insist on dragging every discussion into the gutter?

UM: It's all part of my unique charm.

AB: I beg to differ.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

My girlfriend of five years, "Cecilia," broke up with me three months ago, and I'm having a hard time dealing with it. She was the light of my life, and she made every day better just by being around. But she decided that it wasn't for her, and without any warning, one day she decided she'd had enough and walked out of my life.

For about a month, I was completely lost. I couldn't sleep or eat, I didn't want to go out and do anything, and I barely managed to drag myself out of bed some days. I've gotten better about that, but I still can't bring myself to even think about other women.

My friends, who mean well, have been trying to fix me up on blind dates. I went on a couple to make them happy, but they were complete disasters. All I could think about was the ways in which these girls didn't match up to Cecilia.
Since then, I've shot down all my friends' attempts to set me up. They insist that I'll never get over Cecilia unless I start seeing other women. But I just don't feel ready.

Are my friends right? Am I weird for still having this much trouble seeing myself dating someone else? What should I do?

Kenny in Kingston

UM: I'm baffled by this question, but I'm not quite sure why.

AB: There are so many possible responses to this that it's hard to pick one.

UM: I'll let my beloved speak, and then I'll try to explain my confusion.

AB: Hi, Kenny. I'm sorry about your girlfriend leaving. It sounds like it was a bad situation. And I know it's hard to think of it this way right now, but there is a bright side: If Cecilia is the sort of woman who would suddenly abandon you without warning, then she's not a woman you'd want to plan a future with anyhow. I know it'd cold comfort right now, but keep it in mind.

As to your question about it being abnormal: There is no such thing as a "normal" grieving process. And that's what you're doing right now, grieving. We all do it at our own pace and in our own time. Some people bounce right back and are ready to start dating again (or think they are). Some people take longer. You're taking a little longer. And that's okay, particularly given the apparent shock it was for you.

Your friends, though they mean well, need to respect your grief. If your girlfriend had passed away suddenly, would they be in such a rush to send you out on dates? Well, you're going through a grieving period just as if she had died. You should explain this to your friends gently, and if they're truly good friends, they'll understand.

I would add one caveat to this: If you feel like you're ready to start dating but can't seem to do it, or if you yourself feel like you've been grieving for too long, it couldn't hurt to sit down with a counselor and talk things out a little bit. It might be a good idea to seek out a grief counselor anyway, just to help you with the emotions you're feeling.

Now, Millie dear, have you determined the source of your confusion?

UM: I have indeed. It's a simple thing, really. The lad and I are simply different people. We're not speaking different languages, exactly, but different dialects of the same language, which makes it difficult for us to understand each other.

AB: Now I'm confused. What are you talking about?

UM: Put simply, our lad has made a tactical error.

AB: I'm sorry?

UM: You've broken one of Uncle Millie's cardinal rules, lad. Always have a backup plan!

AB: I'm sorry?

UM: Always keep a young woman in reserve, lad. Always!

AB: I'm sorry I asked.

UM: Because of your silly fixation with fidelity, lad, you've gone and left all your emotional eggs in one basket. Now the fox has broken into the henhouse and stolen the egg basket, and is going down to her grandmother's house, only there's a wolf in sheep's clothing. Only it's the black sheep. And once you go black, you never go back.

AB: On the whole, I like your blithering incoherence better. It's less obviously offensive.

UM: If you'd kept yourself a spare girlfriend, lad, you wouldn't be in this quandary. This is why Uncle Millie never allows himself to be caught short. I'd sooner go without a spare tire.

AB: Are we talking about the one in the trunk of the car, or the one around your waist?

UM: In future, lad, you'll remember this harrowing time and keep a young woman or two on ice just in case.

AB: So you have a young woman ready to replace me, then?

UM: Well, I-

AB: What's her name?

UM: I didn't mean-

AB: Can I meet her?

UM: You see, I, uh-

AB: This is fascinating information.

UM: What's that, Fred? You're in a hurry and need us to wrap up soon? All right, if you insist.

AB: Boy, are you lucky.

Dear Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice,

I have a bit of an unusual situation. I had a long-term girlfriend (about three years) whom I'll call "Cathy." A couple years ago, I worked in a grocery store, and had a co-worker (call her "Sandy") with whom I became close. Very close. Perhaps too close. I never actually cheated on my girlfriend with Sandy, but we came close. In particular, we almost kissed one night in the stockroom. I left that job shortly thereafter, and Sandy moved across the country not long after that.

Well, long story short, Cathy and I broke up about six months ago. Since then, I've had a whole lot of nothing. And I've gotten a little lonely. And lately, I've been thinking a lot about Sandy and the kiss we almost had. I did an online search on her name once, but found nothing useful and gave up.

Well, now I hear from an old friend that Sandy's back in town! And as far as the friend knows, she's unattached. Needless to say, this has caused a lot of thinking on my part. So what do you think, guys? Should I take the plunge?

Karl in L.A.

UM: You have to ask, lad? You obviously got on well with the young woman and found her attractive. Your chance at romance was nipped in the bud by some unfortunate prior commitments. Why have you taken the time to ask? You should be in your car on the way to see her even as I speak. Go! Go now!

AB: Not so fast, Karl. I know this particular memory has a sweet romantic glow around it in your mind -- forbidden fruit and all that -- but do you really want to open that can of worms again? Isn't it possible that, since you already knew the relationship couldn't happen, you overlooked things that would have made the two of you incompatible? Come to think of it, if Sandy was so special, why didn't you leave your girlfriend for her?

UM: Sandy was his girlfriend, dear. Candy was the other one.

AB: No, Cathy was his girlfriend. Sandy was the other woman. There was no Candy.

UM: In a grocery store there was no candy? Some store.

AB: Ignore him, Karl. The truth is, if Sandy was really worth pursuing, you would already have gone after her. The fact that you're lonely now may make her seem more appealing, but I'd suggest you stay away.

UM: Where's your sense of adventure? I thought you were the hopeless romantic here. Doesn't this sound like a movie?

AB: That's the problem. They make movies with plots like that because it doesn't happen like that in real life. Better to let the warm memory stay a warm memory.

UM: Bullhockey! Lad, you should absolutely pursue this. It could be a beautiful thing! And even if she turns out to be a poor choice for a long-term relationship, the warm memories alone ought to be enough to get you a little quality time, if you know what I mean, and I know you do.

AB: Millie! What an awful thing to say! Exploiting a memory for cheap sex. Is there any depth to which you won't stoop?

UM: What are you on about, my dear? Are you suggesting that he frequent one of the ladies who charges for the privilege? Every time I give that advice, you hit me with something hard.

AB: I- you-

UM: I sense a double standard.

AB: Double standard! I- you- You're unbelievable.

UM: I know.

AB: Well, as usual, Uncle Millie has left me speechless.

UM: I have that effect on people.

AB: Do you ever. I think we should wrap this up now, before you run out of ice.

UM: Ice? Whatever for?

AB: The same thing you needed it for last time.

UM: To keep the beer cold?

AB: No.

UM: Oh. Well, in that case, I agree that we'd best be getting along. See you in a fortnight! Happy hunting!

- - - - -

Thank you, Uncle Millie and Aunt Beatrice. I'll be calling you later in the week to discuss certain provisions in this contract. I'm pretty sure I don't remember agreeing to fly you guys to Bermuda for "research." And I'm certain I don't remember agreeing to paint your house. My people will be in touch.

At any rate, I'll be moving along as well. Mailbag tomorrow!

Posted by Fred at 10:54 PM | Comments (1)