Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Keeping us Safe From the Sausage Menace

With all of the really big news - the presidential election just one week away, the continuing free-fall in the stock market despite the $700 billion bailout that you will pay for, not to mention your children and your children's children - it would be easy to understand how you may have missed this headline, from the Associated Press Monday night:

"Spicy Pork Sausage Found in 'Soiled Diapers'"

Maybe you have more willpower than I do. Maybe you could read that teaser and just move on to more stories involving the mudslinging between the two guys running for president, both of whom have taken the art of negative campaigning to new depths. But I'm just not that strong. As soon as I read that headline I had to learn more.

You see, I'm something of an expert on diapers. My wife and I raised three children and now I babysit my granddaughter five days a week, so it would not be a stretch to say I've seen more "soiled diapers" than anyone should. Sometimes I think I might be suffering from Post-Traumatic Diaper Disorder, also known as Baby Battle Fatigue. Plus I'm rapidly approaching the age where I'll be back in diapers myself.

So when I read that, shall we say, descriptive headline, my first thought was undoubtedly the same as yours. How much would you have to pay me to dig through some kid's dirty diapers? I have no idea how much money a U.S Customs and Border Protection Agent makes, but I guarantee it's not enough for me to perform that dirty deed.

Reading the story, though, it turns out the diapers weren't actually "soiled," they just looked that way. What appeared to be...well..."baby soiling" was actually chorizo, or spicy sausage! Score one for the forces of Truth, Justice and the American Way. Who knows how much damage could have been done to the fabric of our society had these wily sausage menaces been allowed to waltz into this country?

Don't you wonder about that conversation at the border though? "Do you have anything to declare, ma'am?"

"Why yes. Yes I do. I'd like to declare these soiled diapers."

"Excuse me?"

"I'm declaring my baby's soiled diapers."

"That's a load of crap!"


Wow. I'm afraid we're in deep...well...you know.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Time Has Come to Make a Choice

It is becoming increasingly obvious that we, as Americans, are on the verge of making a choice that is going to affect us for generations. The repercussions of the decision we make will reverberate like the ripples a pebble makes when tossed into the water of a pond - relentless, with consequences potentially unimaginable.

You have listened to each party make its' case. Sometimes they both make sense; sometimes neither. Each one looks palatable, but the fact of the matter is that the time is rapidly approaching when you must choose sides; when you must come down firmly in one camp or the other.

The battle has been brewing for a long time. The stakes are high. I'm talking, of course, about the choice every American is faced with every single day, as we go off to work or to school, or even as we relax after a long and difficult day: Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts?

In a perfect world, the two could coexist peacefully side by side, but of course nothing is so easy. Each one covets the coffee-swilling patrons of the other; each wants to lure the caffeine-addicted souls of America into their camp for the long haul.

As a coffee drinker myself - a coffee addict, I suppose would be a reasonable description - I am faced with this dilemma every single day. I love Dunkin' Donuts, have been a loyal patron for decades. You know how their commercials say they serve something like one hundred million cups of coffee a day? Ten million of those are to me.

But here's the problem - Starbucks patrons seem to look down their noses at those of us who go to good old Dunkins. A co-worker of mine says Dunkin' Donuts coffee tastes like ass. The obvious question would be, "How do you know?" but who wants to hear the answer to that?

So I've made my choice; I made it a long time ago in fact. I hate to be viewed as somehow square or behind the times, but I accept the fact that that will be the case regardless of what kind of coffee I drink. I take solace in the fact that I don't have to try to remember the difference between a "vente" and a "grande" - at DD, they don't do any of that highbrow foreign language nonsense. It's large and medium, just like the coffee gods intended. Even Joe Plumber can understand that.

Where do you fall in this debate? Remember, the future of the world as we know it is hanging in the balance. The choice is yours; the responsibility is awesome and frightening. Good luck.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Why You Should Write That Book

I read an interesting blog post a couple of days ago about how it's really not a great use of your time to write a book. More specifically, this post listed reasons why it's a waste of time trying to get a book deal.

Basically, the blog author stated the following (I'm paraphrasing her points here):

1) If you think you have a lot of good ideas for a book, you should write a blog instead, because there are very few new ideas.

2) A book is not a good way to gain authority.

3) Books lead to speaking careers, but speaking careers don't necessarily lead anywhere.

4) You'll make more money per hour flipping burgers than writing a book, since the odds against your book becoming a bestseller are "absolutely terrible."

5) When you're feeling lost, a book won't save you.

I cheerfully admit I'm not exactly Albert Einstein, okay? I'm no kind of a genius. But none of those five reasons is even in the same neighborhood as the reasons why I write - Hell, I'm not sure I even understand some of them. Please stay with me as I examine each one individually. Thanks, mom.

1) The post's author seems to be saying that if you have a lot of ideas, none of them would be good for a book, so you should just write a blog.

Has anyone broken this news to Stephen King? He is one of the most prolific authors of this or any other era, and whether you like his style or the genre he writes in, his success is indisputable. How many enjoyable hours would his millions of fans have been deprived of if Stephen King had simply written a blog? The same statement can be made of dozens of authors in every genre. I don't get the point.

2) I don't write to "gain authority," I write to entertain. Period.

I have to laugh when I read the old nugget of wisdom that says, "You should only write what you know." If everyone followed this advice, only serial killers would write about serial killers, you know? And as far as Stephenie Meyer's critically acclaimed vampire series is concerned; well, unless there is some really strange stuff gong on in the Meyer household, those books would never have been written if she followed that advice.

3) Speaking careers? Who the hell writes a book to launch a speaking career?

If a speaking career follows the release of a successful book, that's cool, but most of the people I have met who are successful writers - and I'll grant you it's a pretty small sample, but still - would much rather be pounding away on a keyboard than standing up on a podium talking at people anyway.

4) This might be the best point of all five. In my opinion, it's the only one that even makes any sense. If you're writing a book with the expressed intention of creating a bestseller and gettting rich, it's almost certainly not going to happen. Of course, every single author you know and love had to start out unknown, too, so it could happen.

But even if not one of my novels ever sells, even if I end up making not one red cent off of them, I won't have considered the hundreds of hours I spent writing and rewriting and editing and rewriting to be wasted time. I am happiest when I'm writing - in those magical times when a world I have created is coming to life on a page, and characters are doing things that are extraordinary and surprise even me - no amount of money generated from flipping burgers could ever compete with that, not even if I turned into Dave Tomas and Ray Kroc combined. Especially now, since they're both dead. But I digress.

5) I'm not even sure I get what the point of this one is. It seems to be that writing a book won't give your life direction; but what if the direction your life needs is writing that book? What is so hard to understand about that?

So write that book. No, you probably won't get rich from it; you may not even ever sell it. Perhaps no one but your closest confidants will ever see it. That doesn't make it a waste of your time. Not by a long shot.

Monday, October 13, 2008

If You Don't Worry About a 105 Temperature, When Do You Worry?

To say it's been a while since I've had a baby would be an understatement. My kids are 20, 17 and 15, so you can do the math, right?

But now that my granddaughter is running around this little house (and that's not just a figure of speech, she's twenty months old and just about her favorite thing in the world to do is run), it's all come rushing back - the diapers, the little tiny forks and spoons and dishes, the baby smiles and the baby cries, the toys scattered all over the living room floor.

One thing I had forgotten about having a baby is how difficult it is when the baby is sick. My granddaughter is twenty months old and has some sort of viral infection. Her temperature is spiking close to 105 degrees and she alternates from feeling okay and being close to her normal self to being weak and lethargic and very ill.

The last two days have seen her make two trips to the emergency room and two more trips to the pediatrician's office. The medical professionals say that there's nothing they can do for her and not to worry, that this will pass eventually and she will be fine. I'm no doctor, I don't even play one of TV, but how can you not worry about a temperature of nearly 105? This baby is tiny and that's a dangerously high fever!

Being a grandfather, you would think that I would be removed from most of the worry that goes along with having a very young child. In this case, though, she lives in our house in her mom's room while her mom goes to college. Right now she is at the hospital with her mom (my daughter) and her grandmother (my wife).

I'm sitting here with the phone next to me waiting for some word about how she is doing. It's not easy.

Don't get me wrong, I believe the doctors have a handle on what she is going through and that she really is going to be okay, but it's hard to watch your baby suffer, and I have to watch my baby watch her baby suffer. It sucks.

If you're reading this, spare a prayer if that's your thing - or at least a thought, if prayer's not your thing, we're not fussy - for a little tiny girl who doesn't even understand what is happening to her. I'm sure she would appreciate it. I certainly do.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Pass the Nyquil Please

Winter is here.

I know what the calendar says, that we're barely more than two weeks into autumn. I know what the leaves say, the ones that are turning all those beautiful shades of red and brown and yellow, the ones that draw people seemingly by the millions into my state to look at them before they fall to the ground. I know what the temperature says, with probably the nicest weather we will see around here for the next seven months.

I know all that, I just don't care. Take it from me, winter is here. I am deep into my first cold of the winter season, and I have been sniffling, suffering from a sore throat, and hacking like a cat trying to cough up a furball. Therefore, winter is here.

It's only a matter of time before I have to go out in the middle of the night to fire up the snow-blower and clear off the driveway (it's a long one, complete with a hill) in the middle of a raging blizzard because the kids have school and my wife and I have to work in the morning, with the wind whipping snow down my collar, making me sweat and freeze at the same time.

It's only a matter of time before I get out of work at midnight and trudge out to my truck with temperatures pushing zero, scraping the ice off my windshield while my fingers go numb even though I'm wearing gloves and I question why I don't live in Arizona.

It's not that I don't like winter, it's just...well...actually it is that I don't like winter. The older I get the less I like it, in fact. I'm not a skier or a snowboarder or a snowmobiler, so the long winter months don't really hold any appeal at all to me. If you take away winter's obvious charms, things like frozen digits and ice storms and losing your electricity and getting into a car that feels like a walk-in freezer, what are you really left with?

That's right, a cold. A head-pounding, cough-inducing, sniffle-making cold. And I have one. It's going to be a long winter.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Trapped In a Cell

I've often wondered if maybe there wasn't some massive cosmic mixup when I was born, that perhaps I was supposed to have existed a half-century or so before I did.

I say this because there are a lot of things I don't get about life in 2008; things that seem to be of extreme importance to other people but don't matter at all to me. Example: cell phones.

I will be the first to admit I'm not the most social person in the world. That's not to say I'm not friendly when you see me on the street; quite the opposite, in fact, I hope. But by "non-social" I mean given the choice between going to a party on a Saturday night and staying home reading, writing or watching television with my family, I will always pick the latter.

That, combined with the fact that I have three children, means when the phone rings it is rarely for me anyway, so most of the time I simply ignore it - the telephone is nothing more than a necessary evil to me. I carry a cell phone so that if one of my kids runs out of gas, he or she can call me and I can come pick them up; or if the plumbing under the kitchen sink springs a leak, my wife can let me know and I can rush home and crawl under the sink and pretend I know what I'm doing.

This makes it all the more amazing to me when I see people with cell phones pressed to their ears all day. Shopping, walking, driving down the highway, eating dinner - it seems there is a certain portion of the population to which the idea of doing anything without describing that activity while they do it to some disembodied person on the other end of a radio wave is unthinkable.

First off, I can't imagine having that much to say. To anyone, including my wife, who I think would agree my conversation is not so scintillating that listening to me jabber on all day at the other end of a cell phone would be her idea of a good time. Or even bearable.

And secondly, how is it possible even to have that much to say? I like to think I'm reasonably creative and at least marginally intelligent, but most of the time when I'm driving down the road, I'm thinking about...driving down the road! Does anyone really need to hear me talking about it? Giving a play-by-play? "I'm turning on to Route 102 now. It's beautiful day here in New Hampshire, folks, and - Hey! A bird! A bird just flew by!"

Cell phones are a wonderful invention, don't get me wrong. I can't imagine one of my kids being broken down on the side of the road, alone, at night, without being able to contact me or someone else for help. Beyond that, though, who needs it?