Wednesday, April 20, 2005

When the World is Running Down

These are the signs of the times, folks. Let me be clear: I’m not referring to Apocalyptic harbingers but signals that the world has reached that mental point of no return. It’s checked into Happy Acres, and the prognosis is terminal. However, before I get to humanity’s nosedive off the Cliff Reality, I’ve got a quick side note to share.

The Catholic Church now has a new Pope. I think he’s calling himself Benedict XVI. There is clearly some religious name-change tradition here to which I’m not privy, but I’ve got to say we could use that here in the US with our politicians. Such a pseudonym-adopting process would empower the American electorate to further withdraw itself from any personal liability or responsibility when their favorite son falls from grace. How else can you explain the re-election of Bill Clinton? Follow me here: Given the fact Old Billy was constrained to keep his "elected" name, people who voted him into office for the first term were pride-bound to keep him there. They had to continue backing their adulterous horse and saying, "He’ll do better this time around. He’s learned from his missteps." ("Missteps" is a great euphemism for "completely fouled up the country.") Had William Jefferson Clinton been able to adopt a Presidential Pen Name, the shame-faced, swayed-by-saxophone-playing-on-Arsenio-with-outdated-Raybans, misguided MTVers could have approached the 1996 election completely absolved with the disclosure, "I didn’t vote for that guy." Responsibility becomes a non-issue.

Anyway, back to the Pontiff. His given name is John Ratzinger. When the conclave convened and the talking heads’ tongues started wagging, I kept hearing about this John Ratzinger. I mean no disrespect, but the visual image that I kept getting was "Cliff Clavin" from Cheers (John Ratzenberger). I’d probably change my name, too. Now, with these Papal names, do those closest to the King of the Church call him "Benny", "B16", or "B.S." (Benny Sixteen)? Just curious.

As I was saying, the world has taken its last tiptoe through the tulips of sanity. In Sheboygan, WI, a proposal has been put forth to allow the hunting of feral cats. You read that correctly: feral cats. First off somebody has taken the time to put together a formal proposal to be heard by the Wisconsin Conservation Congress to legalize what many prepubescent boys already do when mom and dad buy them pellet guns and tell them, "Now, you’re only to shoot pop bottles and cans." But no, apparently the Sportsmen’s lobby feels as though it’s being discriminated against because of their age, tendency to have beer guts, and the proclivity to wear silly hats that look only proper on Elmer Fudd. I can hear the low-voiced chatter in the "cat stand" now: "Filbert, I swear that ravenous tabby – the one they call Mittens – has a mean streak in ‘im. It’s kill or be killed, hombre. You know why they call ‘im Mittens? Three of his four paws are covered in white fur, coyly camouflaging claws that could shred taffeta curtains in a matter of seconds. You be careful out there. Here, put some more cat urine on the back of your neck."

Almost equally disturbing about this feral cats issue is that the reason it made the local paper here in Arizona was that someone (or some group) had jumped the gun – no pun intended, really – and gone ahead and killed house cats in their misguided, blood-thirsty rage to rid the world of one of its many banes: feral cats. Let run rampant, these feral felines (the alliteration sounds better, I admit) may throw the milk saucer market into a tailspin or force society to acknowledge their right to the lands stolen from their forefathers. (The latter may be a more difficult point to press due to the grossly lacking genealogical skills possessed by most cats – feral and domestic.)

If all that weren’t enough to prove my theory, on the same page of the "cat" report I found a story of a Mexican conservationist group (do you see a pattern here?) decrying the consumption of sea turtle eggs as a sexual aid – Poseidon's little pick-me-up, if you will. That last sentence speaks volumes for itself. So, at any rate, it causes me to ask the question you're all asking yourselves, "At what point, and under what circumstances, did someone ‘discover’ the libido-enhancing qualities of sea turtle eggs?" All I have to say is you better keep these things away from those feral cats!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Jude the Obscurist

Obscurity. I honestly feel this country was founded upon the ideal of obscurity. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the framers of our constitution and government must have been a bunch of guys with twisted senses of humor. Everything in the US is founded upon the principle of not knowing until it’s too late. Following that, I present to you Bill Clinton. People just weren’t reading the political road signs, or at least they didn’t see them in time.

Besides politics, "obscurity" is alive and well in the highway maintenance departments across the country. I am under the strong conviction that our gasoline taxes aren’t going to road improvements but to screw up the drivers. I believe, and I’m not alone on this, that there is a small committee of "obscurists" that is in sole charge of all road signs: the nemesis of all modern drivers.

Road signs need to be more specific, larger. They need to replace billboards. Who cares if National Bank has lower rates? Watch TV for such information! We need signs that instead of saying, "DIP", they say "Slam on the Brakes NOW or Kiss it Goodbye." The road signs we have now are about the size of a 3 X 5 card (at least they seem so when you’re traveling at speeds of 60+ mph), and they’re just too vague. Sometimes, they’re vague because they’re too specific. How’s that for a conundrum?

Traveling down the road in Pelham, NY, I came to such a "specifically vague" sign. I was travelling at approximately 35 mph in a residential area (don’t rat me out to the cops), and as I approached the intersection I spied one of those obnoxious red-circle-with-a-slash-through-it signs signifying that to attempt a left turn could result in immediate decapitation. But as I came closer, and the light being green so I could blow the intersection, I noticed the word "EXCEPT" written about the size of the Surgeon General’s warning on cigarette packages. Under it were listed the times and exceptions to this decapitation threat – and they were written even smaller.

Now, aren’t road signs supposed to facilitate the driver and keep traffic moving in a regular fashion? That’s what I thought. So, I called the highway department and asked the very same questions. The woman on the other end, one Kate Persnickety, just couldn’t stop laughing. The laugh still haunts me.

This sign was so specific that it raises doubts in one’s mind. This can be very dangerous when traveling in large, metal heaps at speeds over 10 mph. I can see it now: a line of cars stretched back to Cleveland because the person couldn’t figure out if one of the exceptions was in effect because he/she feared decapitation far more than the wrath of his/her fellow drivers.

This is not the only example of the obscurists’ work. I’ve seen it all over. I once saw a sign at the bottom of a hill that read "HILL", which I guess is supposed to warn you of a possible speed increase. Well, too late. Due to my ignorance and the absence of a sign at the top of the hill, I was already travelling at the speed of sound, and I had a stop sign, which was conveniently obscured by a tree, to stop for in 10 feet.

This all brings me to my point: we need to do something about these people. We can’t just accept these idiocies anymore. So, I propose we hunt down these obscurists, catch them, and hang them from their signs. If we all put our efforts together, we can show that the American people will not be pushed around. We want hassle-free dental appointments, novels with fewer pages in them, and road signs that make more sense than our elected officials.

Hortence's Revenge

Throughout the centuries, names have been of great importance in denoting royalty, signifying origin, and seeing if your parents were highly medicated (or should have been) when the naming chore rolled around. Someone really should be put in charge of giving an OK on names, and this person should have a tremendous sense of humor due to some of the sillier names that linger even after the Clinton administration.

My proposal is to create a bureau of the government (thus increasing an even heavier burden on the American taxpayer) in which once a child is born, the parents have three days to come to the bureau and fill out paperwork "registering" the child’s name. These offices should be conveniently located in 7-11s and Circle Ks. (Side note: if the parents don’t come within the three days, the child’s name will immediately be "registered" as Orville, regardless of gender.) Countless numbers of clerks will shuffle the paperwork to insure the process is long and expensive. Don’t worry, you can get a burrito and a slush while you wait. Finally, it will land on the desk of the Regional Nomenclature Designation Czar (it’s all in the name, of course.) He or she will look over the paperwork, which consists of the child’s name-to-be, the names of the parents (for obvious reasons), and an essay of 50 words or less as to why they want to give their child that particular name. Having quite a sense of humor and a very haunting laugh, he/she reviews the paperwork and decides if the child is worthy of that name. For example, if the parents were trying to name their child, say, Hortence, they would most likely need to include in their essay that she kicked a lot in the womb and the labor was 75 hours long – justification. If approved, he/she simply stamps OK on the application and hands it off to Claire (an unfortunate name, to say the least) or some other clerk. Here’s where the haunting laugh enters the picture (you know, the kind that the guy living in the dorm room next to you in college had and kept you awake at night; the kind that made the nipples on your chest quiver). If the requested name is found to be truly absurd, banal, or just plain stupid, he/she personally walks over to you, throws the application in your face in the form of a paper airplane, and delivers a heart-stopping, nipple-quivering laugh. I suggest that people with pace makers and anxiety have their spouse do the filing.

With that said, parents must think about what they’re naming their child. Who cares if it’s been a tradition to name the first boy in the family Waldo since 1653, or that the name means "smarter than a carpet tack" in Armenian? If it’s a stupid name, don’t saddle your kid with that name. (Don’t even get me started on the made-up names we hear so frequently now.) They’ll go through life thinking they have "Just call me ‘dork’ and laugh at me when you meet me" written on their forehead in fluorescent yellow.

My parents chose to name me Grant. I’m told I got this name from the guy down the street. For all I know, my parents could have picked it out of a phone book or an Elks’ Lodge register – personally, I think my dad lost a bet of some sort. With a name like Grant, my adolescent years weren’t exactly easy. The cute girls (who so enjoyed teasing the little squirts such as myself) would call me names such as "Granty", or they’d all get together (and I swear they had a choreographer help them with this) and do this little swaying sort of jig as they chanted, "Grant, Grant, the big fat ant!" Some thirty years later (and myriad hours of needed therapy), those chilling words still echo in my mind. Can you imagine what it was like live? I’m not even going to go into the things people did, and still do, with my last name Greene.

I have to admit it would be tempting to play with the names of your children. In my younger days, I always thought it would be cool to name my first son "Gang", and if I had a girl, "Salad." It would be interesting to see if "The Bureau" would pass them, but I don’t think my nipples could take it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Watching Waistlines and Borders

Sitting in my hotel room when I’m on the road, I watch a lot of TV. Some would argue that I could make better use of my time (e.g. teaching personal hygiene classes at the local Y, reading to the deaf, herding cats, etc.), and they may have a point. But after reading this, you’ll be glad I wile away the hours glued in front of the boob tube surfing like a maniac. I’ve unearthed a conspiracy that is more vast and pernicious than Dan Rather’s toupee. Indulge me.

In the same night of viewing, I saw a brief news story on CNN detailing the unprecedented rise in obesity rates among illegal aliens. (Apparently one government agency can get close enough to illegal aliens to measure their body mass indexes, but the Border Patrol is completely befuddled by this elusive cadre of sojourners.) Then, two or three minutes later, MSNBC aired a report on a new link being scientifically established between obesity and dementia. My mind started racing upon hearing the details of this second report. I was having visions of thousands of illegal aliens just snapping and taking to the streets. Before I let myself get caught up in the hysteria, I flipped the channel to one of the local news stations.

After returning from a live remote about a dog who could pick out Democratic presidential candidates from a photo array by peeing on them (the photos, of course), the anchor screwed up his face into the most somber, gravely serious look he could muster. He looked straight into the camera, as if he were peering into my soul, and reported that there was a shortage of lard in the U.K. Oh, the humanity! What would the world be like without the culinary buzzkills of English gastronomy? Quickly, I thought of ways to stem this horrible tide of evil. A worldwide benefit concert – Lard Aid – might do it. Or perhaps have elementary school children bring in cans of Crisco to be loaded and shipped off to Britain. However, in the midst of my brainstorming session, I felt the need to continue flipping channels either for a cathartic soothing or a means to find an answer.

Screaming past a movie about a woman in peril (Lifetime, I’m sure) and the blatherings of a middle-aged man over how toile was the bull in the interior decorating china shop (I swear he said that), I stopped at Fox News. I caught the tail end of a story about sea slugs being used for memory enhancement, and that’s when the night’s viewing came full circle. The epiphany figuratively hit me like a crazy, obese Guatamelan man eating a pasty (but not wearing one, thank goodness!): more ruthless than the mafia, more bent on settling scores than the IRA, and more annoying than a car full of four-year olds hopped up on Orange Soda and chicken nuggets asking you how much farther, it’s the French! They’re behind all of this madness!

What’s one of the most fattening and addictive foods readily available to young and old illegal aliens alike? French fries. If we’re preoccupied with keeping the streets free and clear of overweight lunatics (illegal, naturalized, and US-born), who’s going to have the time to help Boeing fend off the French government-sponsored Airbus from taking over the aircraft manufacturing industry? (Do we really want to fly in airplanes brought to us by the same country who brought us Le Car?) Sure, our friends the British would be willing to help, but the French have deftly shorted their lard supply. The Brits have their own set of hand-wringing problems now.

I realize all of this seems a stretch, perhaps circumstantial. I was leaning in that direction, I’ll admit, until I saw the last bit on the sea slugs. What other mollusk (of the gastropod genus) is similar to a slug? Do I even have to say it? Yes, it’s the snail. And who tries to sell the world on how posh and debonair it is to eat snails? Yes, the French! They control the mollusk market, and they’re holding it over our heads. Our own government knows it, but it’s all very hush-hush.

If the French were to make sea slugs readily available to the world thus enabling all to have free access to memory enhancement, we would all be able to recall that the food pyramid did not have a base of Ho-Hos, Twinkies, French Fries, and Moon Pies. By remembering these fundamental dietary truths our grade-school teachers spent hours trying to drill into our heads while we ate paste, we would all begin to slim down (illegal aliens included), and obesity-related dementia would be a thing of the past. (However, crazy or not, we would all continue to know that lard-laden English food tastes like the paste we ate in our younger years and avoid it like the French avoid combat.)

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Village Idiot

Story, Indiana is onto something: every year, they "elect" a village idiot. Whoever does the dumbest thing(s) over the course of the year (e.g. unsuccessfully outrun Farmer Calvin’s bull, pee on an electric fence two days in a row, etc.) receives this dubious honor as bestowed by his/her fellow townsfolk. I’m not sure if this person walks around the next year with a large letter "I" emblazoned upon his/her chest, or if the locals are allowed to fling cow manure in his/her direction at whim, but this is a great idea nonetheless.

Here in Queen Creek, AZ, we need such a "title" if not for the sheer fact the specter of being named the "village idiot" would discourage asinine behavior, it would at least help weed out those who choose not to exercise their innate common sense from the rest of us. You can’t tell me the business community wouldn’t embrace this: "Well let me see here, sir, we shouldn’t have any problem approving your loan for a . . . Pacer? Wait a minute, you were the ‘village idiot’ last year, weren’t you? Of course we’re not going to approve such a loan because if we did, our Branch Manager would be named the idiot this year."

Given the fact Queen Creek is actively seeking more businesses to move to this little corner of the Garden of Eden, I thought the "village idiot" program would be the perfect cornerstone for the Chamber of Commerce’s marketing initiative: "Queen Creek, AZ: We’ve Pre-Screened the Idiots for You." So, I called the Chamber (that sounds sort of ominous, doesn’t it) and spoke with Francine Salisbury. By the sound of her voice, Francine had either dated Methuselah in her teen years or she’s a twenty-five year old woman who smokes three cartons a day. Grrrrr.

I brought her up to speed on my idea and asked if I could schedule a meeting with the folks down at the old COC – that’s insider jargon, of course, for Chamber of Commerce. While she didn’t cotton to the idea as a marketing plan, she did say she had an uncle who once tried to marry a mountain goat. I asked her if she mentioned this because she felt her uncle would qualify for the title of "village idiot." While clearing her throat of phlegm, she said, "No. I just think of old Uncle Jasper at odd times. Some say it was a ruse for the IRS, but it was true love. You should have seen the way Clementine would look at Jasper." Just imagine.

Francine prattled on some more about a boy she knew in third grade who ate dried cow patties without any water to wash them down. "Now that boy was the village idiot, in my opinion. Doing that nonsense without any water. This is Arizona for heaven’s sake." Before I got myself caught up in a "Twilight Zone" episode trying to explain to Francine that water probably wasn’t the crux of the problem, I politely thanked her for the time and got off the phone. Imagine what people would say about me had I stayed on the phone.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Sappy Holidays

Christmas 2004

You can view this letter as a brief, informative update on the comings and goings of the Greenes, or you can view it as one of those obnoxious cell phone calls you "overhear" because the person standing in the middle of a crowded room with a small one-piece headphone stuck in his ear (and thus looks like he’s talking to himself) decides to speak at the decibel level of a Boeing 737 and announce how happy he is that the doctor has declared him rash-free for ten days now. If you choose the former, we hope it accomplishes that task; the latter, therapy might be in order – along with some Calamine lotion. At any rate, happy holidays!

Sam started pre-school this year over at the local elementary. It’s a district-sponsored program, and come to find out the prerequisite was that one or both parents had to show some type of mental deficit. Although I’m not threatening to join MENSA in the near future, we were still wondering how we qualified for the program. I asked the coordinator if perhaps there was a mistake, and she asked me if I was, in fact, the same Grant Greene who moved his family from bucolic Northern California to the inner circle of the sun. Bemused by the odd, if not accurate, statement of fact rolled into her question, I nodded in the affirmative. But I quickly gathered my senses and asked why that mattered. Her reply was that the school board assumed I must have had a lobotomy at some point to make such a move. Be that as it may, Sam’s loving pre-school and all the new things he’s learning: reading, writing, Morse code, dentistry with small, blunt objects, knitting a sweater out of cat hair, etc. Place your orders now to make sure you get a sweater in the color you want. Calico is going fast.

Our new home is located in what some would classify as a "rural" area. We do have running water, indoor plumbing, and our neighbors have all their teeth, not to worry. However, soon after our move to Hooterville, we were driving past one of the farms when Erin noticed Jack was looking at the animals very intently. At first we couldn’t tell if Jack was bracing for a possible ambush from a highly trained group of attack chickens lurking in the shadows or whether he was trying to determine which horse looked the most like Eleanor Roosevelt. Before we could ask him what was the focus of his attention, he turned to us and said, "I’ve noticed something: cows aren’t very social. They mostly just stand around eating grass and minding their own business." Don’t you wish some of your co-workers were more like these cows? At any rate, Jack is enjoying second grade and working on his new book chronicling the evolution of the can opener. Fascinating!

Erin, we’re sorry to report, has had to seek some pretty serious medical attention as of late. The complete diagnosis is still pending, but we believe she has imbedded somewhere inside her a giant magnet that attracts "party" invitations ad infinitum (that’s Latin for "a boatload") to come and buy every candle, cold cream, jelly jar, beaver trap, and faux-19th-century bidet someone has decided is a must-have item for the home or as a personal accessory. If the diagnosis is correct, they’ll have to perform a "crapola-ectomy". We’re hoping the insurance company won’t balk at the cost. Despite the extensive testing and doctors’ visits, Erin finds enough time to volunteer at school for both Jack’s and Sam’s classes, work at church, and catch and shave neighborhood cats to help Sam in his burgeoning knitting business. She keeps quite busy – and she’s scratch-free.

With the move to Arizona came an increase in geography to cover, so I fly almost every other week. And in my travels, I’ve learned that overhead bins in airplanes, for some reason I have yet to discover, are like funhouse mirrors: they make people think that their larger-than-a-Suburban "carry on" bag is the size of a woman’s clutch purse. So, once when a fellow passenger of mine was trying to lift and cram her bag in the overhead bin (with a line of 75 people behind her, mind you), I told her it might be easier if she climbed up into the overhead bin and pulled it up. She looked at me like the nut job that I am and said, "I won’t fit up there." I looked at her, then at her bag, and then back at her, and said, "But the golf bag will?"

As I close this Christmas card from the edge of reason, I’m reminded of the words of a famous poet: "I am not Chinese." Not that there’s anything wrong with that; I just wouldn’t want to give anyone the wrong impression. And remember, if you don’t use your vowels every day, you could get severely consonated.