Seven Deadly Phrases – Minnesota State Fair Addition

1. “There is a place on machinery hill near the whirlpool and spas, where, Dear Lord, you can save fifty cents on a pork chops and brats.” (Pamphlet handed out at the front gate.)

2.  “It’s not practical.  It’s fashionable.”  (Walking through the International Bazaar.)

3. “Am I eating gator or ostrich?”  (It was camel.)

4. “Wow this Stratosphere ride is really long.”  (It was broken.)

5. “Did you say wine or swine flu?” (Most definitely both.)

6. “I’m walking.  Do I need to have an idea?”  (Any response on where to go next.)

7. “Yes, Officer, we did leave our baby at home, and no, you may not look in the diaper bag.” (At the Motley Crue-Kiss concert.)


I watched a Blue Ray the other day, but before the credits rolled, a warning:

The copyright proprietor has licensed the optical disc (including its soundtrack) for private home use only.  All other rights are reserved.

It further went on to say:

The definition of home use excludes the use of this optical disc at locations such as clubs, coaches, hospitals, hotels, oil rigs, prisons and schools.

Three things:

First, if you are at a club and the only thing you are doing is watching a movie, you are in the wrong club.

Second, do you think people in prison care if they are breaking the law?

Third, How did oil rigs end up on this list?  How can this warning even be enforced?  Some oil rigs are on platforms in the middle of the ocean staffed with people who either got out of prison or are on their way.  I’d hate to be the person to fly into the Gulf of Mexico to  tell a group of roustabouts or wildcatters that their double feature of Steel Magnolias and Sense and Sensibility has been cancelled because some nitwit in Hollywood put oil rigs on a list.

Marathon and Beyond

Why do people run marathons?  Does anybody realize the original one was job related and involved a person dying?  That’s how it started.  A Greek soldier by the name of Pheidippides was given the assignment of traveling from the town of Marathon to Athens to spread the news of the Greeks’ victory over the Persians.

Since he didn’t have a valid Eurail Pass, Pheidippides ran the whole way, only stopping to drink from nearby wells and to let a trainer work on a troubling charley horse.  He ran for so long he started to drop a couple of P’s and a few I’s from his name.  And when he finally reached Athens and delivered the news, it is legend he immediately dropped dead.

Knowing the above story, I’m glad I’ve never ran a marathon.  The only way I can see participating in one is if the course ran along a major bus route.  I once met a woman at a cocktail party who told me her greatest accomplishment reaching 30 was running a marathon in Hawaii.  I told her my greatest accomplishment reaching 30 was reaching 30.

Life is rough and marathons only provide compound fractures.  Still, I understand the lure.  From an exercise point of view it’s the perfect cardio workout.  A steady run can elevate the heart rate and quickly burn calories.  When I went for a run, I loved how it calmed and cleared my mind.  At the end I felt a mixed sensation of being relaxed and energized.  However, I didn’t like how I couldn’t get out of bed the next day.  This may have been due to poor genetics and a lustful need for contact sports.  Still, running did not help.

Now that I walk I am surprised how much I now see, like falling of leaves from a tree, the stillness of a quiet lake, the playful nature of a neighborhood squirrel, the cranky attitude of passing wood duck.  Then there is the steady stream of joggers passing me on the left and right, getting in their training miles for the next marathon

Running I understand.  Marathons I do not.  The reason?  There are three:

  1. Time.  I don’t subscribe to any activity that takes four hours to complete.  This is why I never bake bread or golf more than nine holes.  The average male runner takes four and a half hours to complete a marathon provided his wife lets him.  That’s a full workday of running if he has to run back to his car after the race.
  2. Mechanics.  I hate to tell you runners but humans are not designed to run long distances.  Unless you are part gazelle or Kenyan, you are not going to look graceful.  For most, running a marathon is a deteriorating slog.  It’s a proven fact that the human body can only store enough burnable carbohydrates for 18 to 20 miles.  After that the body must tap stored fat.  And the last thing the body wants to do during this process is run another six to eight miles.  In running terms this transition is called “hitting the wall.” What your body is saying, “That was fun.  How about we go out for pizza?”
  3. Boring.  Let’s face it.  There is no part of a marathon that is interesting.  All people do in marathons is run.  That’s it.  There is no jumping unless it’s over a pothole or a fallen runner.  There is no tackling unless a crazy fan jumps out of the stands to hug the leader.   And there is no scoring like football or night clubbing.  There is only running and trying to lower your time.  From a spectator point-of-view, you would find lawn bowling more compelling.  If you go to a live marathon, you have about 14 seconds to see your spouse/friend/co-worker run past you.  If you watch it on TV, you can spend most of the time in the kitchen baking bread.  If you miss the whole race, you can catch the highlights on the evening news for there will only be one: the winner breaking through the white tape, bending over and vomiting all over his shoes.

These are big challenges and I think it’s time for runners and organizers to consider what running a marathon really means and figure out ways they can improve their sport.  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Go Old School.  Runners could represent what the marathon originally stood for by selling themselves as couriers.  During their race they could transport packages or legal documents.  They could carry secret messages for organizations who need to convey information but don’t trust the government or big business.  Granted, some of these enterprises might be illegal in nature, but wouldn’t that add some excitement to the run?
  2. Town Crier.  I think it would be great if we had someone to spread the day’s news by running through the streets.  Who doesn’t get nostalgic when they hear from an open window “The British are coming” and “Apple stock is up 15%?”  Granted, any news is now available with the access of a smart phone.  So maybe news spread by marathon runners could be more personal and uplifting like “Mayor Slayton wishes everybody a wonderful Columbus Day and this Friday will be the last pickup for leaf bags.”
  3. Volunteer.  If somebody can run a marathon, what can’t they do?  Why should they limit themselves to only running?  Why can’t they incorporate 26 lonely miles into a noble enterprise?  I know many marathons already have causes, which is great.  After all RACE FOR THE CURE is a better than RUN FROM THE COPS.  Marathons for cancer research is a great idea but why not go one step further and ask the runners to go to the houses and collect the pledges from the sponsors?  Or if this seems like a logistical nightmare, how about having runners pick up trash along a marathon route?  Suddenly it isn’t the person with the lowest time but TIME – TRASH COLLECTED = WINNER.  I know I certainly would come out and cheer the marathon if the runners came down my block.


I Obstruct

Obstruction Permit

I think I finally found the perfect gift for those with finicky tastes.  In a fractured society filled with such varying needs, who wouldn’t want an obstruction permit?

For example, when you are shopping at the grocery store on a busy Saturday pushing a cart the size of a river barge, this obstruction permit will come in handy when you decide to camp in front of the soup section for twenty minutes.   Just snap the permit to the cart and let traffic back up all the way to the cereal aisle.

Live in a large family with only one bathroom and only get ten minutes in the morning?  Not anymore.  Just tape this permit to the door and let the rest of the family use the restroom at the corner gas station.

Want to take full advantage of all-you-can-eat lobster at your favorite buffet?  Now you can.  Just turn this permit into a T-shirt and stand right in front of the lobster tray.  If anybody gives you a hassle, just point to the bolded black lettering.  No other words are needed.

Are you a United States Senator looking to block significant piece of legislation but have no idea how Senate protocol works?  Do not read one word.  Just slap this permit on the bill when it comes into your subcommittee and it will never see the light of day.

And finally, are you like me, a person who likes to go downtown and enjoy a twelve dollar beer, but there is one problem: you don’t want to spend twenty dollars for parking.  Do not plug one parking meter.  Just pull your car right onto the sidewalk, throw this permit on the dashboard and walk right into your favorite establishment.  Pedestrians will gripe, but the police officer walking the beat will take one look at this green piece of paper and tell them to move along.

Cool – Crack a Joke

Lunch timeDuring my first job right out of college, I met Ted who was on the back end of his career.  I liked Ted because he always made me laugh. He didn’t tell jokes. He just had the ability to frame the conversation that soon turned hilarious. For example, he constantly referred to the company delivery vehicle as the “sewing machine” for it had that much power. When talking about one of our more hyperactive co-workers, Ted would always say, “William is wired for sound.”

Although he had a dry delivery, Ted was flat-out funny. I think most of his humor came from his age, his experience and how he really hadn’t mellowed throughout the years.

It’s funny how the passage of time can make events that were once casual now look horrific. After all, it wasn’t long ago when parents threw their kids into the back seat of a car instead of strapping them down like ballast to a ship; where smoking in the office was appropriate if the person had a cup of coffee; where bribing a public official was considered – actually, this is still considered good business.

Today everything has changed; is changing. The life Ted had as a youth is a marked difference from what a ten-year old experiences today. For example, when Ted was growing up in the small rural town of Eagle Lake, MN, the town’s mailman would drive his route with a beer in hand. That’s right, a postal employee at work in a moving vehicle drinking on the job. Ted said when the mailman approached an intersection instead of using a blinker he would stick the cold can right out the driver’s side window to indicate a turn.

This practice prevailed when Ted entered the workforce in the 60’s where drinking and employment went together like whiskey and more whiskey. Being 100% Irish Ted didn’t need a second invite. He didn’t much care for beer, so he stuck with Manhattans, which is the difference between having a nice buzz (3 beers) and ending up in the emergency room (3 Manhattans).

Ted was so fused with the drinking culture he knew how many Manhattans he could order on a business flight from Minneapolis to Detroit (2). He wasn’t the only one who participated in the on-the-job Bacchanalia. Two of the other drivers at our company, also in their 70’s, had their share of stories to tell me in the hallways and around the water cooler.

Jim, also 100% Irish, told me he drank so much one night in the town of Buffalo, NY, he woke up the next day in Canada with no idea how he got there. Ernie, who was built like a Peterbilt truck, spent more time in the supper clubs of Hopkins and Edina than the actual office. And once five hit, rarely did he punch the clock and leave the bar stool.

That’s how it went and nobody knew any different. But to his credit, Ted knew he reached his limit when one day he woke up from a night of drinking and found his car in the neighbor’s rose bushes. From that point he decided it not best to drink. And by the time I stared working with him, he had been dry for years. So instead of steak and martinis in a darkened lounge, we would heat up our frozen dinners and eat in the lunchroom. And it was in those hard plastic chairs under the blinking fluorescent lights Ted would sit with a reflective eye and regale me with his past exploits and I would nod and listen and wonder how he ever reached the point of sitting next to me.

One of his stories revolved around his time in Detroit. He took a position with a company to manage a group of gas stations. That’s right. Inner city. Late 60’s. Race riots. It wasn’t the ideal setting for a pale face Irish man. Believe me. I’m half Irish and standing next to Ted I look Mediterranean.

Ted pretty much had to tip toe from gas station to gas station. If a till didn’t balance at the end of a shift, he didn’t raise much of a fuss. If someone didn’t show up for work, it was easier for him to be the sub. Tensions were so tight he had to bury his natural tendency to be a smart ass and concentrate on the task at hand. Then some friends came into town.

Ted and his wife entertained by showing their friends the sights of Motor City. And it was at a shopping center that Ted, his son and the friend dipped in to use the restroom. Immediately, they were shoved to the floor by two men, one wielding a gun the size of a small cannon.

“You’re kidding,” I asked.

“I wish I was.”

It was the scariest moment he ever experienced: to be face down and spread-eagle, feeling his warm breath on the cool tile, smelling week-old bleach and fresh urine, wondering if those short breaths on the tile floor was his last, wishing beyond hope that he would have done the irresponsible thing and left his young son all alone at home.

“What happened next?”

Ted leaned back in the chair. He said one guy rifled through their pockets while the other guy kept the cannon leveled at their heads. Then they bolted out the door.

The lunchroom got quiet.

“I learned an important lesson that day,” Ted added to break the silence.

“What did you learn?”

“The next time I need to use a public restroom, I do something first.”

“What’s that?

“Send my wife in first.”

Just like that, the conversation went from morbid thoughts to outright laughter. Only Ted could make that turn.

Ten Supreme Court Justices

2011 Supreme Court Justices

Ten Supreme Court Justices sitting on the Bench.
One was never appointed, thus summarily dismissed.

Nine Supreme Court Justices sitting on the Bench.
One was discovered to be Canadian.
Then there were eight.

Eight Supreme Court Justices sitting on the Bench.
One admitted to a law degree in the Bahamas.
Then there were seven.

Seven Supreme Court Justices sitting on the Bench.
One wanted to telecommute.
Then there were six.

Six Supreme Court Justices sitting on the Bench.
One was the ex-spouse of the prosecuting attorney.
Then there were five.

Five Supreme Court Justices sitting on the Bench.
One started wearing a wizard hat.
Then there was four.

Four Supreme Court Justices sitting on the Bench.
One started blogging during oral arguments.
Then there was three.

Three Supreme Court Justices sitting on the Bench.
One tried to endorse Nike’s dry-fit justice robe.
Then there were two.

Two Supreme Court Justices sitting on the Bench.
One never woke from a nap.
Then there was one.

One Supreme Court Justice sitting on the Bench.
The Justice looked around.
“Finally consensus.”

Uncool – Lines

LinesThe other day I was thinking Chipolte.  Already, I was in the restaurant’s parking lot.  Along the street was a group of seven pointed in the same direction.

At this point I had a decision.  Did I want to push ahead or hold back?  Holding back would involve being stuck behind this group, but pushing ahead would make me look foolish.  I didn’t want to be the guy who runs to cut someone off.  Plus, no one should ever have to run towards anything resembling fast food.

I didn’t push ahead nor did I hold back.  Instead, I kept my pace and split the difference.  By the time I settled into the long line, I was in the middle of the group.

Right away the two teenage girls in front of me kept darting their eyes towards me.  They were nervous for they were separated from their group, a whole three feet from their group.

“Um, do you want to go ahead of us?”

I nodded and moved ahead.

“You don’t have a group of eight to feed like me, do you?”

I looked back and suddenly the group became a family.  No wonder the two teenage girls didn’t want to be separated from the person paying the bill.

I played the moment beautifully for I didn’t look silly trying to outrun a couple of teenage girls and I didn’t get stuck behind a family that would suck the air out of the room trying to decide which salsa to pick after laboring over the choice of meat.  When it comes to lines, who knows what could happen.

What’s with lines and people’s internal desire to get ahead of the next person?  Actually, I think most people don’t feel a need to get ahead but they do become more than upset if they think someone is cutting in front of them.  For example, take the other night.

I was on the interstate completely stuck in traffic.  An accident had shut down all three lanes so I decided to drive on the shoulder.  The reason I did this was not to get ahead of anyone.  My exit was next.

I thought I was alleviating congestion, but for those I was passing, I may as well been running over a pack of penguins.  I could feel their scathing hatred in each honking tirade.  It became more and more difficult not to think I committed some unforgiveable act.   And as a member of a civil society, I indeed had.  Lines don’t work if people do not accept their sole function.  That’s why I couldn’t understand why this guy kept crowding me.

We’ve all been there, standing in the some insufferable line that starts to sag and turn sloppy.  Most of us remain committed to the line, but there are always a few that look to take advantage by crowding next to, not ahead but right to where a legitimate question can be asked:  Whose next?

That’s where I was, waiting to go through airport security as the guy behind me kept crowding, inching closer and closer.

Being from the Midwest, I am not use to this type of behavior for I like to give people next to me their space.  And it was this type of spacing I gave the airport screener in front of me, which was all the room the guy behind me needed.


Before I knew it he stepped in front of me.

The guy may have been a complete jerk, but I handled the sleight without reacting.  There was no need to cause an incident.  First, I was in a place where causing an incident usually gets you arrested.  Second, I was in no hurry for I still had plenty of time to get to my gate.  And third, we still had to go through another line, actually lines.  We still had to run our baggage through one of four lines that fed into two screening machines.  The jerk would pick one line and I another, and it was guaranteed I would get through security first, especially after I slipped into his carry-on bag one half-eaten, tinfoil wrapped burrito.

Cool – Three Moves Ahead

Chess BoardI have a younger brother.  His name is Chris and yes, he’s cool.  At least that’s how he signs his name, which took him a while to learn being he has Down’s syndrome.  But he did it and for some reason Chris was never enough.  His signature has to be Chris Cool.

Some days Chris is pretty sluggish.  There are moments when he’ll shut down.  Most of the time he needs to be pointed in a direction; then there are times when a burst of creativity will overcome him and he will light up a room.

One time I went with my mom to pick up Chris at Camp Friendship, a week-long retreat of recreational fun.  Chris has gone to this particular camp for many years with its ups and downs.  He likes to lead the campfire sing-along.  I’ve seen group photos of him at the swimming pool.  Everybody in the photo all smiles, but Chris just stands erect and passionless like a stoic prisoner in a Russian work camp.  Usually, by the end of the week he’s in a pretty good mood.  And by the time he’s ready to be picked up, he has an extra spring to his step.  At least that’s how he bounded out of the cabin door when Mom and I walked up the path.

Actually, he didn’t bound.  He swept.  He moved towards us with composure of a Broadway actor taking a final curtain call.  His hands gently rose into the air.  Then he stopped.

This wasn’t the cool part for anybody could have done this.

He then moved the same distance in reverse, shimmying backwards. But instead of going directly back, he arced along the face of the cabin like he was allowing the next person to make an entrance through the cabin door.

Once Chris reached the edge of the cabin, he again stopped.  With his entrance complete, he sauntered towards us with a big grin. It was smooth.  It was the coolest entrance I’ve ever seen but it wasn’t the coolest thing he’s ever done.

For a time after college I lived with my parents. And for a summer my cousin, Wendy, lived there too. One day we decided on a visit to Dairy Queen.  Since it was only a few blocks away, we decided to walk.

By the time we returned, I had finished my ice cream cone but Wendy still had most of her Blizzard.

As she sat down at the dining room table, Chris grabbed a hold of me and pulled me into the adjacent living room.  For a time this is how we greeted each other: by wresting on the floor.  And if ever a person garnered an advantage, the other person would shout for help.  Since Wendy was the closest, Chris yelled, “Dondy!”

Chris called Wendy “Dondy” for that’s how he heard her name with his less than stellar ears.

Wendy immediately put down her Blizzard and jumped into the pile.  Soon, they turned the tide and I was in danger of losing the edge.

“Lisa, need some help.”

And that’s how it went.  Whoever walked into the room would be called in for reinforcements. Chris called for Chad and I chose Amy.  And by the time Sarah jumped in, it turned into a melee for nobody knew which side they were even on.  Even Wendy became confused and looked around.

“Where’s Chris?”

The guy who started it all was nowhere to be found for he was at the dining room table enjoying the rest of Wendy’s desert.

Cool always has style
Cool knows what to see
Cool is not afraid to mix it up
Cool knows how to get Dairy Queen

Seven Deadly Phrases – Journalism

  1. “And we are here with the Queen…  What’s your first name again?”
  2. “Mr. President, I need to take this call.”
  3. “And we’re back… What do you mean we never left for commercial?”
  4. “And the winning lotto numbers are 9, 14…  Shoot!  No winning ticket for me.”
  5. “Would you rate your answer as somewhat true?”
  6. “I’m reporting to you live in what now appears to be the eye of the tornado.”
  7. “A confidential source I made up this afternoon…”