Friday, March 30, 2007

Now we're talking

Cell phones for children! They are making cell phones for eight-year-olds. And 6.6 million kids between the ages of eight and 12 already have phones, according to the N Y Times.

When I first read this tidbit, I was amused. But the amusement turned to insight as I learned more.

Those kid-phones are perfect for grandparents. Some phones have global positioning which would be handy if we wander off. Some have only a few buttons. BIG buttons. Some are limited to a handful of callers. And all have cool colors with clip-on features for easy connection with white belts and matching shoes.

If the manufacturers were smart, they would market these kiddy devices for the older generations.

Raise your hand if you have proven difficulty with your current cell phone. Grumble, snarl, gripe, complain. I do.

My children have learned not to call my cell unless they are bleeding. And when they do call, they must remember to call twice. Twice? Yes, the first time I lose the signal while fumbling for the phone in the Mystery Woman's purse. Even if I am lucky enough to find the phone in time to make the connection, I usually don't get it right because the buttons are too damned small and I hit the wrong one. That mishap usually connects me to someone in Hong Kong who wants to be my friend.

Messages? Forget it. I've had the phone several years now and still cannot unravel the path to retrieving messages. For all I know, one of those blinking lights is a message from Thomas Edison.

I don't want to take pictures with my phone. Videos? Not for me. I just want to be able to place a call, answer the phone when it rings, and get my messages when the light blinks after my nap.

Enter the phone for children. Sounds like the perfect solution.

And that leads me to wonder what other children's products might work for my generation? Let's see: diapers, soft foods...

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A deal's a deal

Did I tell you Congressman Pickle was a fiscal conservative? Especially with his own money. Tight.

When Pickle first ran for congress, it was only natural his family pitched in to help. At the time, Pop Pickle was mayor of Big Spring but he laid down his gavel and came to Austin to help his son campaign.

And Pop rolled into town wearing a sweaty old Stetson which has served him well for years. And years. Did I mention that Pop was also tight with a buck?

Finally, Jake admonished his father to get a new hat. "After all," he said, "I'm running for the U. S. Congress. Get a new hat, Pop."

So Pop dutifully, albeit reluctantly, trudged off to Scarbrough's Department Store looking for a hat befitting a congressional campaign. But he came back empty-handed and still wearing the sweat-stained Stetson. "The want too much for their hats," he explained. At the time, "too much" was around fifty bucks.

Jake realized he had to maneuver around his father's reluctance to spend money. So Jake called Joseph's Mens Shop and cooked up a "deal" for his father. No matter which hat Pop picked, the Josephs would sell it to him at a "discount" and Jake would return the next day to pay the difference. It was a good plan.

When Pop arrived at the store, of course everybody was in on the benign deception. They were waiting with bigger than usual grins as Pop picked out his hat. Anticipation reigned.

"How much for this one?" Pop asked. As it turned out, he had picked one of the more expensive hats, around $80.

"Good choice, Mr.Pickle. That hat is on sale for only ten dollars."

"Ten dollars?" Pause. "I'll take two."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Radio ramble

Back before I knew better, I used to make speeches around the state. Politics and press, mostly. Not once was I asked for a return engagement. So I brushed off my ego and just flat dropped off the rubber chicken circuit.

Before I hung up my cleats, I was asked to speak to a volunteer fire department out in a small West Texas town. When I rolled into town and began to set up some equipment, one of the guys revealed my talk was going to be broadcast live and in its entirety over the town's only radio station.

"Gosh," I said. "I've got some visual aids to punctuate my talk. Quite a few, infact. That won't play very well on radio."

My host was nonplussed. "No problem, he assured me. "Last month's speaker had a 30-minute slide show."

A slide show. Live. On radio.

At first, I thought that was hilarious. But the more I thought about it, I remembered how much early radio stretched our imaginations. How we became active participants and filled in the blanks from inside our own heads.

I fell in love with Mercedes McCambridge's whiskey voice on "I Love a Mystery" with Jack, Doc and Reggie. My first radio was a crystal set. Nearly fell off the roof hanging the antenna.

Radio just doesn't do it for us anymore. I suppose there are a few local bright spots here and there. But National Public Radio is our last show case of what radio could be. Should be. Satellite radio? Maybe.

You don't know outrageous until you've heard commercials for Crazy Water Crystals. And Wolfman Jack broadcasting from the Rio Grande border. And ...

At least we'll always have ITunes.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Big geezer bucks

Somebody could get rich off this idea. If I knew more about retailing, I would.

Here's the set-up: geezers represent the fastest growing segment of our population, yet business is just now beginning to realize the sterling potential of this market.

Why not? No sizzle, perhaps? Maybe it's because all the marketing people are young themselves? Too young to recognize the population bulge translates into big money. Silver dollars, if you will.

Excuse me, I wandered.

Do you have a Relax The Back store in your area? I'm not familiar with how they got started but I can imagine someone experiencing the Eureka! moment and conjuring up the need to bring all these related products under one roof.

Well, someone needs to follow that chain's business model and set up a similar store stocked with geezer products. Seriously. Right now you can find medical supplies and equipment like walkers and such -- but not a single store has gathered up all the other products, some of them fun, and made them available under one roof. Not that I'm aware of.

Too risky for bricks and mortar? You really don't need a physical store although I think it would work best because older people are slow to gravitate to the Web.

Have you ever read the J. Peterman catalogue? Love it. Over-written, slightly funny.

How about the catalogue for the Duluth Trading Company? It's a blue collar version of the Peterman catalogue. But funnier.

Here's the remarkable thing about these two ventures: Neither has a walk-in store. Both drive sales with print catalogues and on-line catalogues. I don't know where they warehouse the stuff they sell but that's a minor point.

Geezers R Us. Catalogues only.

OK. If any of you young whiz kids have read this far, let's get started. Cut me in for a percentage and I'll tell you more.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The plot thickens

This is getting to be too much.

Now the French are getting into the act! France is the first nation in the world to open government files on UFOs. Happened just yesterday. Seriously. They even have a well-organized website documenting more than 1600 sightings over five decades, according to New news service press release that I found last night.

The French have been keeping records since 1954 and nearly 25% are classified as "type D", or "something we can't explain."

Back up.

Two days ago, I wrote about the paucity of UFO sightings now that everyone has a cell phone capable of taking videos on the spot.

Bam! The very next day, the former governor of Arizona comes out of the closet admitting he did, indeed, see the famed Phoenix Lights some ten years ago. Are you getting the connection? Phoenix Lights. George Phenix.

Just when you think there's nothing more, the French government opens UFO files and makes news world wide.

I'm beginning to get a funny feeling. Remember that great movie, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" when the French scientist said to let the Earthlings through. "Leave them alone. They were invited."

I wonder. Is my invitation in the mail?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Insert eerie music here

Yesterday, I posted some fun remarks about the dearth of UFO sightings (see below) now that everyone has a cell phone that also makes videos.

Today, former Arizona Governor Fife Symington claims he saw the famed Phoenix Lights some ten years ago but pretended he had not in order to avert panic.

I'm not making this up.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Endangered species

Is it just me? Or have you noticed it, too?

Now that everyone has a cell phone capable of taking video, there seem to be fewer UFO sightings.

Next, they'll probably tell us Big Foot is extinct.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Fartiste

My intercom buzzed. "Phenix, come in here. Bring your yellow tablet."

When Congressman Pickle said to bring your yellow tablet, that usually meant something big was happening. It was springtime in Washington and everyone was enjoying the respite from the unusually cold winter. But once in the office, Pickle never rested. He was constantly in motion. Always thinking.

"I want you to go the book store and buy me a book. I want you to go. Don't send one of the secretaries."

"Yes, sir. What's the name of the book?"

"Le Petomaine." And he had to spell it for me. "Ever hear of it?" he asked.

"No, sir."

"Maybe you've heard of its English title, "The Amazing Pujol." He had to spell that one, too.

"No, sir. What's it about?" By this time, I had figured out the subject was French. I was expecting something big, like international intrigue. So I wrote both titles on my yellow tablet. Just to be safe.

"The book is about a French vaudeville actor," Pickle said. "He was tremendous. Drew bigger crowds that Dame Edith Somebody. He was huge. Ever hear of him?"

"No sir, what did he do?"

"He passed gas." Pickle said.

I could scarcely believe my ears. "He did what?"

"He passed gas." Pickle said. "He did drum rolls, bugle calls, duck imitations and for a finale, he blew out a candle from a foot away!"

By this time, I was laughing so hard that tears were running down my cheeks. "You mean I'm in a United States Congressman's office talking about a guy who farted for a living?"

"No, no," Pickle said, mustering as much indignation as he could, considering the topic at hand. "He was a real artist."

True story. And the book was so utterly charming that I gave it for Christmas presents to the adults on my list. Footnote: rent "Blazing Saddles" and watch for a sight gag stenciled on a government door.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Shoo fly

I was only a third grader when I first tasted the fruits of entrepreneurship. My first job was as an independent contractor.

The scene: the only domino parlour in Hamlin, Texas. 1946. I was a likeable tow-head who came by everyday after school to say hidy to the town sages. Came by so often, bugged them so much -- they finally gave me a job. Later in life, I realized it was a defensive move on their part designed to keep me busy, out of their hair.

At first, my assignments were simple: sweep the joint and carry out the trash. Soon, ours was the cleanest domino parlour in Texas. But I was a high energy kid and quickly ran out of something to do. That's when one of the elders hit upon the perfect job, one with a higher degree of difficulty.

They expanded my responsibilities: I would swat flies. Furthermore, I would be paid an incentive. A penny a fly. The only rule was simple. No swatting on or near the table-tops where the domino games were underway. Might inadvertently knock some over and reveal who had the double six.

At first, the work was difficult. The walls were dark and so were the flies. Plus, the flies seemed to be drawn to the old men and often landed in places where I knew I was forbidden to swat even though it was not in the rules.

Things were going well and in no time I had murdered enough flies to afford the nine-cent ticket to the Saturday matinee at the local movie house.

But there was trouble in Paradise. I was beginning to amass a small fortune. Enough for two movie tickets, popcorn and candy. That's when the elders put a tail on me. They discovered I was opening the back screen door and letting more flies in.

Naturally, they fired me. Said it was for cause. For a while, I pondered becoming a labor lawyer.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Sharp dressed man

Pay attention. I'm only going to go through this once.

It has to do with the mysteries of aging. Specifically, my meds. I take a gaggle of pills morning and night. Recently, the cardiologist upped the strength on one of the miracle heart drugs. I know because it makes me a little dizzy every morning that I manage to remember to take my pills.

So this morning, right on cue, I began to get a little dizzy. Pavlov would be so proud. A cheap high rolled in about an hour after taking my meds. But when I looked at the pill box with the days in bold letters S M T W T F S, it appeared I had taken M rather than S. Or had I? Last night, I know I got out of sync and fixated on M.

When I asked She Who Knows These Things, She ignored the question and cooly observed that I had syrup on my chin. No mention of the pill problem. Just syrup. Here the mystery deepens. My fresh white T-shirt has three spots on the front. And not a damn one of them matches the syrup.

"Don't forget the barn door," she cooed.

Maybe because I was whining still, She suggested perhaps I could keep track if I would put the pill box on one side of the lavatory before I took the pills and on the other upon completion. Redundant?

Although no further mention was made of the T-shirt stains, I could find only two spots while looking in the mirror. The alleged third spot remained illusive until I realized it was hiding under my chin. Without bifocals, it was barely noticeable.

I remembered the barn door while putting on the natty white belt I bought to go with my shoes.

Damn it all. I thought retirement was supposed to be easy. I blame it on Daylight Saving Time. Makes me want to ululate.
Look it up.

Friday, March 9, 2007

A small gesture

Every now and then, my son Billy and I eat at a local cafeteria. It's a hold-over from when we were both bachelors and in serious veggie deficit.

Standing in line in front of us recently were four military personnel in camouflage uniforms. Three men, one woman. Don't know if they were National Guard or Regular Army. Didn't matter.

Suddenly, I was overcome and could barely talk.

Now I'm a liberal. In fact, the longer I live, the more liberal I get.

But I think we were right to go after the bastards in Afghanistan and I regret the Administration pulled up short before the job was done.

I grieve that my president has sent thousands and thousands of our young men and women into Iraq based on a pack of lies. Yet my opposition to the war in Iraq does not diminish my respect for our troops. I am no less a patriot due to my beliefs.

That gets me back to the cafeteria. Without saying anything to my son, I slipped out of line, went up to the cashier and said I wanted to pick up the lunch tab for those four military personnel. Anonymously.

When I got back in line, my son had figured out what was going on. "Did you do what I think you did?" he asked. He is much more conservative than I and understood my gesture. I think he was proud of his old man.

When we got ready to pay out, Billy picked up all the checks, ours and theirs, and observed that he was not on a fixed income like me. It was my turn to be proud.

Buying lunch? That's nothing compared to the sacrifices our military makes when they stand guard day after day, night after night. But it helped me express my gratitude.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Hiatus R Us

OK. Where were we?

I took a few days of sick leave for gall bladder surgery. Easy surgery, thankfully. Day surgery, actually. In the past, gall bladder operations were a stem-to-stern ordeal which required days of recovery in the hospital. Now, the doc sends you home the same day with some sweet pain killers and good wishes.

Gallstones can bulk up to the size of marbles, so I'm told. And some folks would collect enough spheres to make a necklace. Why I could not say. But that's all over. Homeland Security has declared gallstones to be a bio-hazard and ended that fun. About time.

This will be a mercifully short post. I'm milking my recovery for every minute I can.

"Honey, could I have another cup of coffee?"

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Suggestion Box

Ever have one of those days when your cursor gets stuck in the search mode?

No. I'm not talking dirty. Rather, I'm trying to unstick thoughts that keep fluttering just out of range. Goes something like this ... blogs are just the beginning.

The rise of the Citizen Journalist? In some cases, yes. But most of the 50 million blogs are similar to this one. Musings on a theme. Very little breaking news. And that's OK.

Mainstream media is under threat by changing times,institutional arrogance, and, in many instances, by bloggers breaking news. Equally threating is the lost of classified ad revenue to Craig's List. And yet journalism schools continue to teach the old way. So far.

Back to blogs. Some blogs challenge readability. Thankfully Blogger and Technorati and other enablers have given some thought to things like line length, type size, color, etc. But somebody needs to give some thought to those pesky advertisements that blink and move and otherwise impede reading the blogger's material. Some colorized backgrounds work better than others. Speaking of type, serif or sans? And don't you need a bit larger type since readers are already a day older?

Most bloggers have never heard of Rudolph Flesch and his magical readability formula. Make haste directly to Wikipedia. Do not pass Go. These old fashioned rules can help your writing.

Which gets us to reading. Not easy, reading is, on the Web. For one thing, readers scroll up and down rather than turn pages, but you've figured that out already. Some geek somewhere needs to examine what makes the electronic product easier on the eye. Why? Baby Boomers are going to need help.

For hundreds of years, reading has been made up of eyeballing blocks of gray type surrounded by white space. Enter the Blog complete with video, photos, and type that flashes. Computer logic overrides reading logic. The page gets busy. And I usually get a headache cured only by white wine in Texas and red in Minnesota.

Note to geeks everywhere -- fix it and you'll be doing yourself a favor. Trust me.


(Note: gallbladder surgery is scheduled Monday. Excused absence.)

Saturday, March 3, 2007


Two of my favorite real-life characters happen to have two of the best names: Fleetwood Richards and Jigger Alexander.

Fleetwood is a droll gentleman farmer. I say he is a gentleman farmer because his idea of farming is to drive his Lincoln Continental perpendicular over the plowed field to reach the guy on the tractor and ask, "How's it going?" He made millions doing that. Well, near-millions. Fleet is a junior. His father with the same name had been the state senator from their home town.

Jigger died a few years ago. He was a taciturn man from the old west. I knew Jigger two years before he ever spoke to me. He never told me, but others did, that he was a world champion rodeo star. Yes sir, a roper. Had the buckle on his belt that said so.

These guys were straight out of Steinbeck if he had written Cannery Row with a Texas accent.

Both men liked to nip a little. OK, they liked to nip a lot. But they were both well known throughout Central Texas and they didn't want people to know who they were when they got drunk in case they did something stupid. The solution was pure genius. When the boys reached the red line of drinking, they gave false names: Jigger X and Fleetwood X.

Here's to them: clink!

Don't get me started about their buddy named Gator.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Fascinating rhythm

I love good wine and good classical music. Usually in that order.

But I'm not too fond of the stuffed shirts who like to impress you with how much they know about each. I've always suspected that snobs must not get much action. Unless, of course, they first lay on the wine.

Classical musicians are a bit more randy than their audiences.

A recent story in the UK Tribune has painted a hot image of the orchestra. Turns out that classical musicians are like band members the world over. A survey (I'm not making this up) reveals viola players are more likely to have sex on the first date, most likely to have had sex three or more times in the last week, and most likely to have had sex with 10 or more partners.

No surprise here -- guitarists were found to be the most likely to have had a one night stand.

Cellists make the best lovers. No word on pianists. But the mind does wonder when thinking of drummers.

Changes the way you think of classicial music, doesn't it?

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Caution: Blue Material

I'm cool. And I have proof.

Because I have a pacemaker and a defibrillator, I side-step the security devices at the airport and endure the mandatory manual pat-down. Otherwise, the security devices might jiggle the electronics in my chest.

Pause. Do not, I repeat, do not feel sorry for me because of the pacemaker/defibrillator. I feel good. I still ride my bicycle but I doubt I'll manage any more 70 mile trips. Ten miles do nicely. There.

Back up a bit. Minneapolis is enriched by many immigrants from nations that might surprise you. The Hmong from Cambodia. Somalians from Africa. Often we are surrounded with wonderful accents from our new neighbors. Like the original immigrants from the Scandinavian countries whose accents still lilt throughout the Twin Cities.

We were going through early morning security at the Minneapolis airport when this black security agent with what sounded like a Jamaican accent started saying: "Mon, you let the dogs out."

I'm hip. I had heard that music before. Hip hop, was it? So I snapped my fingers and repeated back to him: "Who, who, who let the dogs out."

The look on his face!

"No, mon, your pants are unzipped. You're letting the dogs out."

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