Words in a Row

Spelling and grammer and all that stuff--supposibly its like, real important!

Spelling and grammer and all that stuff! Supposibly its like real important

Happy Little Bloodbath

Today I’m binge-watch­ing Bob Ross.

No, real­ly.

There’s a free chan­nel sec­tion on our smart TV, and it has an entire chan­nel of noth­ing but Bob Ross’ The Joy of Paint­ing. I stum­bled across it last night and today I’m let­ting it play in back­ground while I’m working.

Bob Ross had the gen­tlest, most sooth­ing voice in the whole wide world. Mis­ter Rogers sound­ed like Axl Rose com­pared to Ross. There was a good rea­son for that: Ross was career mil­i­tary; an Air Force Mas­ter Sergeant at Eiel­son Air Force Base in Alas­ka, where he become fond of snowy moun­tain land­scapes and of shout­ing, a vital skill for Mas­ter Sergeants. When he retired he start­ed paint­ing snowy moun­tain land­scapes, but he also vowed nev­er to raise his voice again.

He would have been a great air traf­fic controller—how could you get stressed with his voice on the radio?

But I think it would be more fun if he did col­or com­men­tary for a sport—UFC, for example:

Joe Rogan: “WOAH! Usman does a SUPLEX! Did you see that? It’s a UFC first! Burns is in trou­ble now and NO, WAIT! BURNS COUNTERS USMAN! USMAN IS IN THE GUARD AFTER THAT KILLER SUPLEX!

Bob Ross: You know, there’s a lot of room in the octa­gon. I love see­ing that wide open space; it’s just like a new can­vas. It’s Gilbert’s world; he can put anyth—

Joe Rogan: I DON’T BELIEVE IT! USMAN’S GOT BURNS IN THE AIR! Usman is LETHAL on the ground, but he’s not gonna set­tle for an arm bar tonight! IT’S A BLOODBATH!

Bob Ross: It’s Usman’s world now. I think he’s going to add a hap­py lit­tle body lock in the cor­ner there. Hey, let’s do some­thing fun here—yeah, break­ing Gilbert’s nose is a great idea. Don’t be afraid to use bold­er col­ors to stand out. Be care­ful though; a lit­tle bit of blood can go a long w—

Joe Rogan: IT’S OVER! THE REF’S CALLING IT! GILBERT’S WINNING STREAK IS HISTORY! IT’S GONE!

Bob Ross: So is his face, but that’s okay. There are no mis­takes; just hap­py acci­dents. It’s your world; you can make it beau­ti­ful any way you like.

My friend Rob and some oth­er friends and I used to play a Bob Ross drink­ing game: The PBS sta­tion in Tope­ka would occa­sion­al­ly show two or three The Joy of Paint­ing reruns at a time late on week­ends. We’d set­tle in with our beer or Scotch or what­ev­er, and game on!

There were four rules:

  1. When­ev­er Bob said, “Hap­py lit­tle,” as in “I’m gonna put a hap­py lit­tle tree over here,” you took a drink.
  2. When­ev­er he said, “Your world,” as in “It’s your world; you can put in any­thing you want,” you took two drinks.
  3. When­ev­er he said, “Hap­py acci­dent,” as in “Oh, I just used the wrong col­or here, but that’s okay. What do we always say? ‘There are no mis­takes, just hap­py acci­dents,’” you stood up, toast­ed every­one else in the room,  said “Here’s to hap­py acci­dents!” and took a drink.
  4. And if Bob said “Crazy,” as in “Should we do some­thing crazy? I’m gonna get crazy and put a bush right here,” you stood up, toast­ed every­one else while scream­ing, “NO! DON’T DO IT, BOB! IT’S CRAZY!” and drained your drink, no mat­ter whether it was almost gone or if you just refilled it.

I don’t think we ever came up with any rules for com­bi­na­tions. If Bob said, “Now I want­ed to get crazy with this hap­py lit­tle bush here; there was a hap­py acci­dent, but that’s okay—it’s your world,” I don’t know how we should have respond­ed. Flam­ing Bac­ar­di 151 shots, maybe?

I don’t know if he ever said any­thing like that any­way; by the end of the first episode we were usu­al­ly too drunk to keep up.

No one else was here today except Pep­per. I love Pep­per, but she’s a lousy drink­ing bud­dy. I need­ed to get some work done any­way. So I didn’t play the Bob Ross drink­ing game while I was binge-watch­ing The Joy of Painting.

Which is good, because I prob­a­bly would have wound up with alco­hol poi­son­ing. But I’ll proud­ly raise my Big Gulp of diet Dr Pep­per to the nicest orange-afroed painter ever.

Here’s to you, Bob. Keep it hap­py and just a lit­tle bit crazy.

Rudolph the Red-Foot Rhino

Left: Not a reindeer. Right: Also not a reindeer.

♬ Rudolph the gore-foot rhino ♬

♬ Had a stu­pid San­ta hat ♬

♬ And if you thought he was a reindeer ♬

♬ You’re a moron, dude; what’s up with that? ♬

 

♬ All of the ack­shul reindeer ♬

♬ Used to laugh and call him names ♬

♬ I say “used to” ‘cuz our hero Rudolph ♬

♬ Stomped out their use­less rein­deer brains! ♬

 

♬ Then one fog­gy Christ­mas eve ♬

♬ San­ta came to say: ♬

♬ “Rudolph with your gory feet ♬

♬ “Let’s find the near­est bar: my treat!” ♬

 

♬ “You’re not mad then?” said our hero Rudolph ♬

♬ “No WAY!” said San­ta heartily! ♬

♬ “Who needs a bunch of elves and reindeer ♬

♬ “When I have a sweat­shop overseas?” ♬

A Churnin’ Urn o’ Burnin’ FUNK!

Back in ’82, I went over to my friend Rob’s house one sum­mer day, and for some rea­son he had a black laun­dry mark­er and a bunch of let­ter sten­cils, and he want­ed to put some slo­gans on some shirts.

For some reason—quite pos­si­bly the same rea­son Rob had a black laun­dry mark­er and a bunch of let­ter stencils—we were wear­ing iden­ti­cal gray tank tops, and this all reeked of por­ten­tous foreshadowings.

Alco­hol may have been involved.

We had one T‑shirt each, so first drafts and revi­sions were out of the ques­tion. Despite alcohol’s pos­si­ble involve­ment, we had to do some adult­ing and set­tle on our shirts’ messages.

So we sat down and watched an Incred­i­ble Hulk rerun titled “Meta­mor­pho­sis,” in which Bruce Ban­ner lands a sound engi­neer posi­tion for a punk rock­er played by MacKen­zie Phillips, because if you need a con­cert sound engi­neer, every­one knows you look for an expert in gam­ma rays and cel­lu­lar biology.

Some­one slips Ban­ner acid, so of course he gets scared, and we get to enjoy the Hulk stag­ger­ing around trip­pin’ balls while MacKen­zie Phillips sings her ear­split­ting hit song “Neck­tie Night­mare” in front of a gigan­tic pair of high-volt­age elec­trodes shoot­ing per­fect­ly safe 50-foot light­ning bolts across the stage, and the also-stoned fans think it’s part of the show, so MacKen­zie Phillips ditch­es her punk bonafides to turn into Amy Grant.1

Mean­while, we got to laugh­ing so hard Rob fell off the couch and I almost wet myself.

After the Hulk was fin­ished with “Neck­tie Night­mare,” and after more con­tem­pla­tion and dis­cus­sion, along with more of the pos­si­bly involved alco­hol, we set­tled upon mes­sages to sten­cil on our shirts, mak­ing them T‑shirts that would have helped Bill and Ted’s music to bring har­mon­ic bal­ance to the uni­verse much ear­li­er if Bill and Ted had been wear­ing shirts with the most total­ly excel­lent and boda­cious sten­cils we created:

Rob’s shirt said PRO.

My shirt said DENTAL FLOSS TYCOON.2

With our new world-chang­ing T‑shirts fin­ished, and after some more pos­si­bly involved alco­hol, we decid­ed we need­ed to get out there and let the world see them. The T‑shirts, that is. Not the impres­sive pile of emp­ty beer bottles.

So we hopped into my car, aka the leg­endary Charles the Deep Breather, and engaged in one of our favorite pas­times: Dri­ving around and drink­ing beer while enjoy­ing music gen­er­at­ed by the vig­or­ous pelvic thrusts of the renowned Pio­neer Super­Tuner and lusti­ly pumped out through the inim­itable Jensen 6x9 Tri­ax­i­als.3

As we cruised up Tope­ka Boule­vard, we saw that the Kansas State Fair was under­way, so we parked and wan­dered around with a cou­ple of warm, over­priced state fair beers rather than the nice cold beers wait­ing for us in Charles the Deep Breather’s back seat.

As we passed all the rigged games, a carny guy look­ing for some­one to blow $80 to get a nasty-smelling import­ed ted­dy bear that was prob­a­bly stuffed with asbestos accost­ed us.

Seri­ous­ly? I mean yes, this is played for laughs on a TV show where every­one was in on the joke. But while teenagers can be abysmal­ly stu­pid (watch any hor­ror movie), no one would think an unshaven mid­dle-aged carny with B.O. that could kill Godzil­la was a nice fel­low teen who want­ed to dis­cuss T‑shirts. Yeesh.

“Hey there, fel­las!” he said.

Rob lit a cig­a­rette and crimped an eye at him. “Yo.”

“Those are nice T‑shirts!” the carny guy said, look­ing as con­vinc­ing as that “Hel­lo fel­low kids!” meme with Steve Busce­mi, no doubt think­ing the fel­low kids said, “Why, there’s that groovy cat with the skate­board (or nasty-smelling ted­dy bear)!” rather than “Here comes Chester the Moles­ter again–run!”

DENTAL FLOSS TYCOON?” he said, point­ing at me. “What does that mean?”

“It means I might be mov­ing to Mon­tana soon,” I replied.

“Oh, cool!” he said, the way you would say “Oh, cool!” to a guy car­ry­ing a chain­saw and wear­ing a space hel­met who told you he was the lovechild of Carl Sagan and an alien from Prox­i­ma Cen­tau­ri V, hop­ing to dis­tract him long enough to make a run for it. “Does th—“

“Just to raise me up a crop of den­tal floss,” I interrupted.

“That’s inter—“

“With a pair of heavy-duty zir­con-encrust­ed tweez­ers!” I inter­rupt­ed again.

He gave up and turned to Rob. Appar­ent­ly he wasn’t a Frank Zap­pa fan.

“What does PRO mean?” he said, sound­ing desperate.

Rob squint­ed at him again, tak­ing anoth­er drag of his cigarette.

“Pros­ti­tute,” he drawled.

The carny guy turned on his heel and stomped away. I don’t know what got his dud­geon up; you’d think some­one who trav­els with a car­ni­val wouldn’t get offend­ed at the word prostitute.

It wasn’t always like that, though. If you’re brac­ing your­self for a sto­ry about how I had to walk 10 miles to school bare­foot, relax. What I mean is that you could buy T‑shirts when I was a kid that these days would make woke peo­ple pass out.

Take this charm­ing, whim­si­cal 1970s T‑shirt ad, for instance. Before Rohyp­nol, Jethro Tull T‑shirts were, alas, the only way a lot of guys could get laid.

The strug­gle is real.

Here’s the text:

Reprise leer­ing­ly invites you to win a T‑shirt that will

DRIVE THE GIRLS WILD WITH DESIRE!

You say you’re not mak­ing it with the local lovelies? That when you make Paul McCart­ney eyes at allur­ing lit­tle hon­eys in vio­let hip-hug­gers they respond by frown­ing and sug­gest­ing, “Jerk off, los­er”? That even the offer of a seat next to you at a Led Zep­pelin con­cert is insuf­fi­cient induce­ment for a far-out nubie to spend part of the evening with you?

Then, fel­la, whatch­oo need is a SUPER-OUTTA-SIGHT-JETHRO-TULL-T-SHIRT of the sort worn by the fullest-hand­ed rakes everywhere.

These eye-catch­ing sar­to­r­i­al groovies, which are guar­an­teed to reduce even the haugh­ti­est of lovelies to a mound of hot pul­sat­ing flesh, are a divine shade of yel­low designed to to flat­ter even the swarthi­est of com­plex­ion, are the three-but­tons-at-the-neck style recent­ly made all the rage by your sharp­er Eng­lish groups, appeal­ing­ly reveal the wearer’s fash­ion­ably skin­ny arms (being short-sleeved) and fea­ture an entic­ing like­ness of sexy Tull leader Ian Ander­son some­where in the vicin­i­ty of the right boob. Avail­able in the splen­did sizes of medi­um and large, they may be worn with equal suc­cess by mem­bers of any sex.

We, in our cus­tom­ar­i­ly fis­cal­ly unsound way, are giv­ing 1,000 of these won­der away. Free!

All you have to do to win one of your very one is: 1) fill our coupons below; and 2) give it back to us com­plete down to the exact play­ing time of the first side of Jethro Tull’s lat­est hys­ter­i­cal­ly acclaimed album (sure­ly you don’t expect us to give you some­thing with­out first try­ing to trick you into buy­ing some­thing first), which infor­ma­tion may be gleaned from the album’s label, which you have to remove the cel­lo­phane to get to.

So why don’t you in a real hur­ry send us the required so that we can rush you a Tull T‑shirt that’s cer­tain to trans­form you overnight into a churn­ing urn of burn­ing funk.

I like Jethro Tull and I do have fash­ion­ably skin­ny arms, but I’m not sure I’d like Ian Ander­son sit­ting on my right boob. Also, do I want to be a churn­ing urn of burn­ing funk? I hon­est­ly don’t know. A churn­ing urn of burn­ing funk might be a slick-talk­ing studly chick magnet.

A churn­ing urn of burn­ing funk could also be an over­flow­ing Por­ta Pot­ty doused with gaso­line and set on fire.

In ’77, when I was in Catholic high school—and I must empha­size that this was a Catholic high school—the math teacher, Sis­ter Rose Celine, called a guy named Bri­an up to do a prob­lem on the chalkboard.

Awww–how adorable!

Now Bri­an had been wear­ing a hoody all day because he was wear­ing a T‑shirt that said “Your Prob­lem Is Obvi­ous” on the back, along with a draw­ing of some­one with his head stuck up his ass. He’d been col­lect­ing snick­ers and gig­gles all day from oth­er students.

But now it was the last class for the day and it was pret­ty warm out, so he shrugged off the hoody and left it draped over his chair.

And when Sis­ter Rose Celine called him up to do a prob­lem, Bri­an for­got about the hoody.

Just as he was about to pass by Sis­ter Rose Celine, he real­ized why the rest of us were sti­fling gig­gles and whis­per­ing “Pssst!” at him, and with­out miss­ing a beat he piv­ot­ed 90 degrees to the right, fac­ing Sis­ter Rose Celine, and sidled up to the board. He filled out the math prob­lem with his left hand, fac­ing Sis­ter Rose Celine all the while.

“Very good, Bri­an,” Sis­ter Rose Celine said. “You may sit down.” Bri­an began slid­ing side­ways back the way he came as the muf­fled snick­ers neared a crescen­do. Sis­ter Rose Celine glanced up at us, then at Bri­an. Being a math teacher, she put 2 and 2 togeth­er and stood up.

And because nuns are ter­ri­fy­ing, Sis­ter Rose Celine didn’t yell or throw things or grab a ruler or any­thing like that. All she did was to qui­et­ly say, “Stop.”

Bri­an froze in place; every­one else stopped gig­gling. We stopped breath­ing, in fact.

“Why are you walk­ing side­ways, Bri­an?” Sis­ter Rose Celine said.

Bri­an said, “…eep?4

“Turn around,” she said.

Bri­an turned and showed her the back of his shirt. She stud­ied it for a moment and said, “Class, you will please work on the rest of the prob­lems in your books until the bell rings and class is over.”

She walked to the class­room door, opened it, and wait­ed. Gulp. This meant Sis­ter Rose Celine and Bri­an were about to vis­it the prin­ci­pal, Father Ax, a vis­it. Dead man walking.

No, that’s not a joke. His last name real­ly was Ax. Father Ax was the prin­ci­pal and the school’s box­ing and wrestling coach.

Clar­i­fi­ca­tion: Father Ax was prin­ci­pal of Hay­den East, which was in down­town Tope­ka, across the street from the state capi­tol. Hay­den East was for 9th and 10th graders.

11th and 12th graders, on the oth­er hand, went to Hay­den West, which was across the street from Gage Park. And the Hay­den West prin­ci­pal was (I’m still not mak­ing any of this up) Father Santa.

I didn’t attend Hay­den after 9th grade, so while I have no direct 411 to share about Father San­ta, I sus­pect he was even scari­er than Father Ax. But let’s get back to Father Ax:

Father Ax was about 5 1/2 feet tall, 3 feet wide, and weighed about 220 pounds, all of it sol­id muscle.

Father Ax was not the kind of guy to have an avun­cu­lar chat with a way­ward stu­dent and invite the way­ward stu­dent to come see him if he ever want­ed to talk.

If Father Ax answered the phone instead of Liam Nee­son in Tak­en, Father Ax would not threat­en to kill the kid­nap­pers. The kid­nap­pers would drop dead the instant Father Ax picked up the phone.

The rea­son you hear all those jokes about Chuck Nor­ris being so tough and also about how Bruce Lee killed Chuck Nor­ris in a movie is only because they were both way too smart to even joke about fight­ing with Father Ax.

Father Ax had a large pad­dle in his office made of 3/4‑inch oak. It was labeled “Board of Education.”

Father Ax was a Viet­nam vet, but he was not rumored to have been a Navy SEAL or in Spe­cial Forces or a sniper. Father Ax was rumored to have tak­en the Board of Edu­ca­tion to Viet­nam and sin­gle­hand­ed­ly end­ed the war in less than a week.

Father Ax had no inter­est in, patience for, or mer­cy upon wiseass churnin’ urn o’ burnin’ funk T‑shirts, and even less for the stu­dent wear­ing it.

The next morn­ing, every­one was whis­per­ing about poor Bri­an. No one knew what tran­spired in Father Ax’s office; Bri­an wasn’t talk­ing about it and every­one else was afraid to ask, although we did notice Bri­an winc­ing when­ev­er he sat down, so we assumed Bri­an had had a talk with the Board of Education.

Let’s get back to T‑shirts: Mom and Dad had 4 chil­dren, but I was the only one they sent to Catholic school; First Sis­ter, Thing One and Thing Two stayed in pub­lic schools, while I left pub­lic school after 8th grade, attend­ed Hay­den for 2 years, and returned to pub­lic school for 11th grade, 12th grade and graduation.

Pope Ernie

My friend Rob has a mild­ly unusu­al last name. I’ve wit­nessed him being asked to spell it a few times, and he jokes that it’s spelled just the way it sounds, but with only two W’s.

I’ve nev­er got­ten much humor mileage from my name. Some­times some­one will say “Is that Greg with one or two G’s?” And I’ll joke, “Two G’s: One on each end!”

Now this right here is the dif­fer­ence between a good joke and a meh joke:

“Only two W’s” is pret­ty obvi­ous­ly a wise­crack (unless you’re Welsh or Czech and your name is some­thing like Llan­fair­p­wll­gwyn­gyll­gogerych­wyrn­drob­wl­l­l­lan­tysil­i­o­gogogoch or Nejnedoobhospodařovávatelnější).

On the oth­er hand, if some­one says “Is that Greg with one or two G’s?”, they’re ask­ing you if your name is Greg or Gregg. And “It’s two G’s; one on each end!” isn’t fun­ny; it’s just confusing.

Pope Gre­go­ry the Somethingth.

Mom once told me I was named after Pope Gre­go­ry. When you grow up Catholic, being named after a Pope is con­sid­ered quite an hon­or, and I was their only male child. There has, alas, nev­er been a Pope Thing 1, Pope Thing 2 or Pope First Sis­ter, so Pope Gre­go­ry it was.

I looked the dude up once and dis­cov­ered the dude was dudes: There have been 16 Pope Gre­go­rys (or is that Popes Gre­go­ry?). Some of them were were notably good Popes:

Pope Gre­go­ry I (590–604) was a chill dude who earned the nick­name Gre­go­ry the Great; the Gre­go­ri­an Chant was named after him. The Gre­go­ri­an Cal­en­dar was named after Gre­go­ry XIII (1572–1585).

On the oth­er hand, Gre­go­ry IX (1170–1241) revved up the Inqui­si­tion from the equiv­a­lent of a Con­gres­sion­al inquiry to the Inqui­si­tion we all know and love, with the seiz­ing of prop­er­ty and tor­ture and burn­ing at the stake and all that fun stuff.

I once asked Mom and Dad which Pope Gre­go­ry I’m named after. Pope Gre­go­ry XVI died in 1846, so I assumed I wasn’t named after a Pope in recent mem­o­ry. They were a lit­tle sur­prised that there have been 16 Pope(s) Gregory(s). Mom said she wasn’t sure which one, but they knew he was a most excel­lent and boda­cious Pope and she’d look it up and let me know.

That was 48 years ago, so Mom, if you’re read­ing this, I’m still curious.

If my name was Rock­e­feller or Kennedy, I’d expect to be asked if I had Kennedy or Rock­e­feller kin. Being named after a Pope? Ain’t gonna hap­pen. No one’s ever going to ask me if I’m relat­ed to one of the Pope(s) Gregory(s), or tell me I look just like the Pope.

I’ve been mis­tak­en for oth­er peo­ple, though.

Way back in 1986, my friend Stan and I drove up north of Chica­go for a music fes­ti­val, pick­ing up his friend Blue1 in St. Louis on the way. The fes­ti­val was held on a great big piece of rent­ed farm­land, like Wood­stock, except Cor­ner­stone was a Chris­t­ian music fes­ti­val, so we didn’t have folks run­ning around naked or ignor­ing the warn­ings about the brown acid. As far as I know.

I was wan­der­ing around look­ing at the prod­uct tables of albums and T‑shirts and oth­er music fes­ti­val accou­trements, and some­one tapped me on the shoulder.

I turned to see a pair of excit­ed teen girls. When they saw me their smiles van­ished; one of them said, “Sor­ry!” and they both slunk away.

This hap­pened sev­er­al more times in the next few hours; come din­ner­time, my friend Stan and I were wait­ing in line to get some BBQ ribs before the big main stage con­cert, and some­one tapped on my shoul­der again. I turned to see a young guy hold­ing an album and a Mag­ic Mark­er; his crest instant­ly fell.2

“Sor­ry!” he said as he start­ed to slink away. I said, “Hey, wait a sec. Did you think I was some­one else?”

“Yeah,” he said, “you look like Dar­rell Mansfield.”

We got our ribs and found a place to sit and watch the big main con­cert, and lo, Dar­rell Mans­field entered from stage right.

My friend Stan stared at Dar­rell, then at me, then at Dar­rell, like Dar­rell and I were play­ing tennis.

Turns out Dar­rell Mansfield’s the best har­mon­i­ca play­er3 I’ve ever seen, and he’s a heck of a nice guy.

My friend Stan lat­er sent me a pic­ture of Dar­rell and I when Dar­rell was sign­ing auto­graphs, which I prompt­ly lost, so you’ll have to be con­tent with one of Darrell’s album cov­ers and a blur­ry pho­to of me my friend Stan also took dur­ing the fes­ti­val. As you can see, Darrell’s about 10 years old­er than me, but if you squint you can see how I could sort of look sim­i­lar to Dar­rell if some­one who just lost his glass­es saw my back from 100 feet away at night.

Change my mind.

Which no doubt explains why the peo­ple who want­ed Darrell’s auto­graph looked so dis­ap­point­ed when I turned around and they real­ized I was just some mis­cel­la­neous guy with long hair and the appalling bad man­ners not to be any­where near as tal­ent­ed or good-look­ing as Dar­rell Mansfield.

My Pre­vi­ous Best Half and I went to the same music fes­ti­val a cou­ple years lat­er, and one night we bumped into Dar­rell tak­ing his tube amp and oth­er stuff over to one of the side stages.

He remem­bered me and made an “evil twin” joke when I intro­duced My Pre­vi­ous Best Half, and he invit­ed us in the back door of the cat­tle auc­tion barn where they were play­ing; we got to hang out with the rest of the band and watch the sound­check and enjoy front row cen­ter seats.

Like I said, heck­u­va nice guy. He’s in his 70s now and had to stop per­form­ing a cou­ple years ago due to demen­tia, the same demean­ing, cru­el way my dad was also robbed of his mem­o­ries and cog­ni­tion. But my dad was one of those sweet, gen­tle guys who just got sweet­er as the demen­tia pro­gressed. I bet Darrell’s just the same.

Okay! On that depress­ing note, being mis­tak­en for Dar­rell was my only brush with celebri­ty, so let’s—

Wait; that’s not true. I’d almost for­got­ten this, but The Chow­der just remind­ed me that 15 years ago, she thought I was unbear­ably cool for a cou­ple of days because she thought I was Zaphod Beeblebrox.

Zaphod is far more attrac­tive than me, but he’s also a clue­less doof, so I can under­stand the confusion.

This was for two reasons:

  1. Zaphod Bee­ble­brox was a char­ac­ter in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the film ver­sion of which had just been released, and
  2. Zaphod, played by Sam Rock­well, wore a messy blond wig that also resem­bled my hair if glimpsed from a dis­tance dur­ing a bliz­zard through cracked binoculars.

The Chow­der was only 4 years old, so she still thought I was awe­some (quite right­ly of course, until Fake News dis­avowed her of that belief, for which I will nev­er for­give them).

And now, the moment you haven’t been wait­ing for: It’s way past time for me to explain the title of this post, so let’s talk about My Three Sons.

My Three Sons was a sit­com that aired from 1960 to 1972. The plot was lay­ered and com­plex, so you might want to take some notes:

My Three Sons—bear with me here—was about a guy who had three sons. Got all that?

The youngest of the tit­u­lar sons was named Thomp­son. Ernest Thomp­son. Sus­pi­cious­ly, every­one else’s last name was Dou­glas. Even more sus­pi­cious: Ernie’s broth­ers (Rob­bie and Chip) and their dad (Steven) were all tall, hand­some, tal­ent­ed, and con­fi­dent, and they had studly, cool names while Ernie was a short, clum­sy geek with a clum­sy geek name. It’s almost like Steven Dou­glas wasn’t real­ly Ernie Thompson’s dad at all.

Which of course was the truth: Ernie was adopt­ed. And being around four tall studly guys who were far more hand­some and tal­ent­ed and old­er than Ernie was no doubt an hon­est-to-Tony-Rob­bins con­fi­dence boost.4

And I get that; I real­ly do. I bet every scrawny ado­les­cent geek guy wish­es he had a cool studly name: Steele Hawthorn or Rip­ley Edward Absa­lome (Ripped Abs, for short) or even just Cool Studly McStudlycool.

I was not an Ernie fan as a kid. I was vague­ly aware of the sit­com and the char­ac­ter (played by Bar­ry Liv­ingston, which was itself a cool­er name than mine).

That all changed when I was 15. I was a 9th-grad­er at Hay­den High School, which was extreme­ly Catholic. Dead seri­ous Catholic. To quote Jim Gaffi­gan, it was a Shi­ite Catholic high school.

And like most geeks in Shi­ite Catholic school, I spent most of my time being stuffed into my lock­er, punc­tu­at­ed with the occa­sion­al wedgie or WTSNA.5

I did enjoy going to Cam­pus Life every week, and I enjoyed going to their week-long camp thingy in the sum­mer out in Quak­er Ridge, Col­orado. Most of the oth­er atten­dees were geeks and nerds too, so it wasn’t so awk­ward social­ly. Kind of like it you were 4’ 11” tall but once a year you got to hang out with like-statured peo­ple in a con­ven­tion titled Nobody Over 4‑Eleven.

Any­way, halfway through my fresh­man year, some­thing very strange happened:

All the girls in Cam­pus Life and at school start­ed call­ing me Ernie. I still have no idea why.

You stay out of this!

One day at school, a girl in class said, “Hey, you look like Ernie!”

I wasn’t used to girls talk­ing to me will­ing­ly, so I kept my reply simple:

“Huh? Like on Sesame Street?”

“No, Ernie!” she said. “Ernie, on My Three Sons! Doesn’t he look like Ernie?” she said, elbow­ing anoth­er girl in class, who agreed with alacrity.

By the end of the day, every girl in school was call­ing me Ernie.

I was befud­dled. Hornswog­gled, even. I wasn’t used to being pop­u­lar, or even noticed. I’d worked hard to learn how to be invis­i­ble at school and I liked it that way.

This was in 1977, so instead of Googling My Three Sons and Ernie and Bar­ry Liv­ingston, I went to the library and pored over archived LIFE, Time and TV Guide magazines.

Ernie had thick black hair; I had thin blond hair. Ernie had a Fred­dy Mer­cury-style over­bite; I didn’t. Ernie had a strong jaw with a well-kirkled chin;6 I had a shape­less mooshy chin that looked like an uncooked Pills­bury Dough Boy biscuit.

Left: Ernie. Right: Not even a lit­tle bit Ernie.

Here’s some irrefutable pho­to­graph­ic evi­dence: Pho­tos of me and Bar­ry Liv­ingston at var­i­ous ages.

The “HI ERNIE!” hollers from across the room tapered off, to my relief. But then some­thing even stranger began to happen:

The embar­rass­ing spot­light fad­ed out, replaced with casu­al, but gen­uine kind­ness and affec­tion: So many peo­ple called me Ernie that the teach­ers at Hay­den picked up on it, along with Cam­pus Life staff. I remem­ber hav­ing to ask teach­ers and coach­es to cor­rect report cards or oth­er doc­u­ments refer­ring to me as Ernie.

The sum­mer before my sopho­more year, I went to the Cam­pus Life camp thingy in Col­orado yet again. And on the first day, two or three girls gave me a Cam­pus Life T‑shirt with “ERNIE” ironed on the back.

It revved up the whole “Hey, there’s Ernie whose name isn’t real­ly Ernie but I don’t remem­ber his real name so HI ERNIE!” thing again. But this time I didn’t mind it so much. Pub­lic schools can be tough envi­ron­ments; Shi­ite Catholic schools can be even worse. Geeks and nerds like me learned to be invis­i­ble at school because being the object of atten­tion usu­al­ly means being bullied.

But some­times it doesn’t. Some­times it’s okay to get a fun­ny nick­name or to be teased about one quirk or anoth­er. Not in a mean-spir­it­ed way, but in a wel­come aboard, goof­ball-spir­it­ed way.

I still don’t know which Pope Gre­go­ry I’m named after, and I still have no idea why the girls at school start­ed call­ing me Ernie.

But that’s okay. Just call me Pope Ernie. Or His Holi­ness Ernest the Oneth, if you’re a Shi­ite Catholic. I’ll answer to either of them.

‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,’ by Kurt Vonnegut. Sort Of

Don’t judge. There was a lot of coke-fueled art back in the ’70s.

I cred­it (or blame, as the case my be) my friend Todd and my friend Rob for turn­ing me on to The Hitch­hik­er’s Guide to the GalaxySo let’s talk about Kurt Von­negut.

Von­negut1 was one of those impor­tant authors who make you feel vague­ly guilty, giv­en that you’ve nev­er read any of his stuff except maybe Slaugh­ter­house-Five. And while some of his stuff is dystopi­an or mild­ly sci-fi, where do I get off say­ing he, not Dou­glas Adams,2 is respon­si­ble for a sprawl­ing sci-fi epic like The Hitch­hik­er’s Guide to the Galaxy?

Stay with me here: In 1965, Von­negut pub­lished God Bless You, Mr. Rose­wa­ter, which includ­ed a lengthy excerpt from a fic­tion­al nov­el titled Venus on the Half-Shell, by a fic­tion­al author named Kil­go­re Trout.3

Kil­go­re Trout showed up fre­quent­ly in Von­negut’s work as a lit­er­ary alter ego for Von­negut him­self, but Trout’s name was also a poke at Von­negut’s friend, sci-fi author Theodore Stur­geon:4I think it’s fun­ny to be named after a fish,” were Von­negut’s exact words (he may have been a great writer but appar­ent­ly part of him nev­er left mid­dle school).

Anoth­er sci-fi author, Philip Jose Farmer,5 was so amused he snagged the Venus on the Half-Shell excerpt in God Bless You, Mr. Rose­wa­ter and fluffed it up into an entire book.

And so, in 1975, Venus on the Half-Shell hit the book­stores, just three years before The Hitch­hik­er’s Guide to the Galaxy began on BBC Radio. The byline read Kil­go­re Trout, but the author was real­ly Philip Jose Farmer, using char­ac­ters cre­at­ed by Kurt Vonnegut.

Got all that?

What does this have to do with Dou­glas Adams or Hitch­hik­er’s Guide to the Galaxy? Adams was a huge fan of Von­negut, for one thing. That’s not tan­ta­mount to pla­gia­rism, of course. But if you’ve ever read, lis­tened to or watched Hitch­hik­er’s Guide to the Galaxy, you’ll notice some star­tling parallels:

1. The Everyman Galactic Wanderer

Some­one for­got to explain this to the cov­er artist.

Both sto­ries fol­low the adven­tures of an every­day schlub snatched from his every­day schlub’s life into an inter­galac­tic adven­ture. HHGTTG stars Arthur Dent, who worked in a small radio radio sta­tion before roam­ing the cos­mos in a bathrobe.

VOTHS, on the oth­er hand, stars Simon Wagstaff, a folk musi­cian who likes wear­ing fad­ed jeans and com­fy old sweat­shirts. He has curly dark hair, a big nose and looks a lot like Kurt Vonnegut.

2. The Earth Gets Destroyed by Bureaucrats

When Hitch­hik­er’s Guide begins, Arthur Dent is lying in the mud in front of his house, block­ing the bull­doz­ers that have shown up to demol­ish his house. At the begin­ning of Venus on the Half-Shell, Simon Wagstaff and his girl­friend are hav­ing sex on the head of the Sphinx in Egypt.

Oh. This would be a good place to explain that accord­ing to Von­negut, Kil­go­re Trout was a hack who wrote a lot of thin­ly-dis­guised porn and was pub­lished most­ly in adult magazines.

And Philip Jose Farmer was the per­fect ghost writer for Trout, giv­en that Farmer’s favorite themes were sex, reli­gion, aliens, sexy reli­gion, alien sex, reli­gious sex, sexy reli­gious aliens, alien reli­gious sex, sex as wor­ship, alien sex wor­ship, wor­ship­ful sex with aliens—you get the idea.

Any­way, Arthur and Simon are both mind­ing their own busi­ness when aliens show up and destroy the Earth: The Vogons blow the Earth out from under Arthur to build a hyper­space bypass, while in Venus on the Half Shell, the Hoonhors decide Earth is too pol­lut­ed and clean things up by trig­ger­ing a world­wide flood, a la Noah. Turns out they cleaned up Earth a few thou­sand years ago already but are unhap­py things are already so dirty again.

Arthur man­ages to snag a ride on a Vogon ship and lat­er winds up roam­ing the galaxy on a ship called Heart of Gold, which was stolen ear­li­er by one Zaphod Bee­ble­brox, looks like a giant run­ning shoe, and is named after a Neil Young song.

Con­verse­ly, Simon leaves Earth on a Chi­nese ship chris­tened Hwang Ho, which looks like a giant chrome penis and is named after the Yel­low Riv­er (remem­ber what I said about Philip Jose Farmer being a religious/alien sex fiend?).

3. Pursuing the Ultimate Question With Neurotic Robots in Stolen Spaceships

So! Now we have a cou­ple of hap­less doo­fus­es roam­ing the galaxy in stolen space­ships after the Earth was destroyed by alien bureaucrats.

Arthur is trav­el­ing with a small hand­ful of human and alien friends, plus a neu­rot­ic robot named Mar­vin, who resents being a low­ly main­te­nance robot when he has a brain the size of a plan­et, and Eddie, a ship­board com­put­er who tries way too hard to be cheerful.

Simon’s on the go with Anu­bis and Athena, his dog and owl, plus a neu­rot­ic robot named Chor­wk­tap, who has free will and far too much intel­li­gence to enjoy being a sex robot (this does­n’t stop her and Simon from hav­ing lots and lots of sex any­way–ref. P.J. Farmer, the sci-fi sex fiend author, again). Tzu Li, the Hwang Ho’s com­put­er, is just a com­put­er, despite Chork­tap spend­ing all her free time try­ing to prove Tzu Li is self-aware but shy.

Our heroes have the fastest space­ships ever made and a uni­verse to explore, so they set out for some answers:

“What’s the ulti­mate answer to, you know–life, the uni­verse and every­thing?” Arthur wants to know.

Simon’s ques­tion is this: “Why were we cre­at­ed only to suf­fer and die?”

4. The Genius Vermin Secretly Running the Show

As they trav­el and enjoy var­i­ous hijinks in pur­suit of the truth, Arthur and Simon dis­cov­er the Vogons and Hoonhors are just what they appeared to be at first glance: Clue­less, care­less and cal­lous bureau­crats. It turns out there are mas­ter­minds behind the scenes who have been run­ning things all along, hyper­in­tel­li­gent beings every­one mis­took for harm­less or annoy­ing ver­min. They don’t real­ly mean Arthur or Simon any harm, but they aren’t exact­ly nice to them either–the ver­min mas­ter­minds, it turns out, are using Arthur and Simon as part of exper­i­ments to answer the same ulti­mate questions.

In HHGTTG, Arthur dis­cov­ers mice are the most intel­li­gent beings on Earth. They’ve been manip­u­lat­ing sci­ence all along while pre­tend­ing to be lab­o­ra­to­ry test sub­jects; in real­i­ty they’re pur­su­ing the answer to life, the uni­verse and everything.

I have to drink beer for all eter­ni­ty with cock­roach­es?

Meh. I’m fine with that as long as we don’t have to share glasses.

Simon, on the oth­er hand, dis­cov­ers a myth­i­cal alien race called the Clerun-Gow­ph, who acci­den­tal­ly pop­u­lat­ed most of the uni­verse with messy sci­en­tif­ic out­posts that dumped waste prod­ucts into the pri­mor­dial soup of the plan­ets they were study­ing. And the Clerun-Gow­ph, Simon is shocked to learn, are cockroaches.

This is a huge blow to the ego: Arthur dis­cov­ers he’s noth­ing but a test sub­ject in an exper­i­ment run by lab­o­ra­to­ry mice, while Simon real­izes all life on Earth is just, as he puts it, the end of a process that start­ed with cock­roach crap.

5. The Planet-Sized Computer

Every seek­er of truth needs an Ora­cle, and our heroes are no excep­tion. In HGTTG, it seems Earth and all life on it were an enor­mous com­put­er built in pur­suit of the answer to life, the uni­verse and every­thing (I know, I know — it was built to specif­i­cal­ly help ask the ques­tion after anoth­er giant com­put­er gave an accu­rate but use­less answer — the point is that the whole plan­et is a computer).

When Simon, on the oth­er hand, final­ly meets the Clerun-Gow­ph, he dis­cov­ers they built a plan­et-sized com­put­er to answer all the ques­tions there are. Hav­ing noth­ing left to dis­cov­er or learn, they decide to quit exploring/fertilizing the galaxy and devote them­selves to drink­ing beer.

6. The Useless answers (spoiler alert!)

At long last, our pro­tag­o­nists are about to learn the ques­tion to their ulti­mate ques­tions. The prob­lem is that in both cas­es, the answer is useless:

  • Arthur’s ques­tion: “What is the ulti­mate answer to life, the uni­verse and everything?”
  • Answer: “42.”
  • Pos­si­ble alter­nate answer: “We apol­o­gize for the inconvenience.”
  • Simon’s ques­tion: “Why are we cre­at­ed only to suf­fer and die?”
  • Answer: “Why not?”

Don’t give me that look. I said they were use­less answers, did­n’t I?

Some Disassembly Required

I know how to prove that men and women are fun­da­men­tal­ly different:

Put a man and a woman into sep­a­rate rooms alone with a new appliance—say, a bread machine—and watch what hap­pens. The woman will make some bread. On the oth­er hand—bear in mind that this is a brand new appli­ance, right out of the box—the man will take the bread machine apart to see how it works.

I’m not sure what dri­ves men to take things apart. Maybe some psy­chi­a­trist has it fig­ured out. If so, I bet the psy­chi­a­trist is a man. Why? For the same rea­son psy­chol­o­gy has tra­di­tion­al­ly been a male pur­suit: Psy­cho­an­a­lyz­ing peo­ple is very much like tak­ing them apart to see how they work.

I think the dri­ve to take things apart is genet­ic, not learned. For instance, I saw a TV show once about Under­writ­ers Lab­o­ra­to­ries. This com­pa­ny takes new prod­ucts, dis­as­sem­bles them down into mol­e­cules to see how they’re designed, and then fig­ures out inge­nious ways to break them.

Under­writ­ers Labs pays the guys in white lab coats you see on TV com­mer­cials who build a robot arm to open and close a refrig­er­a­tor door 38 bil­lion times in two weeks. All guys, mind you—you nev­er see women in the com­mer­cials. These are the men who send cars hurtling into con­crete walls at 90 miles an hour to see what will hap­pen to the dum­mies inside.

I’ve often dreamed about work­ing for one of those com­pa­nies that blow up build­ings so that they col­lapse into their own basements.

Odd­ly enough, their research has con­clu­sive­ly proven over and over again that the dum­mies (sur­prise!) get demol­ished. But for some rea­son, they still find it nec­es­sary to crash an aver­age of 10 cars a week.

Don’t tell me it’s all about safe­ty and research—these guys are hav­ing the time of their lives. I’m not sure why Under­writ­ers Labs even both­ers to pay them; most men would prob­a­bly work there for free. I know I would.

I’ve often dreamed about work­ing for Under­writ­ers Lab­o­ra­to­ries. I’ve also dreamed about work­ing for one of those com­pa­nies that blow up build­ings so that they col­lapse into their own base­ments (c’mon—you have, too, haven’t you? Let’s see a show of hands, guys … I knew it!).

My favorite destruc­tive fan­ta­sy, though, involves work­ing for one of the big auto man­u­fac­tur­ers. Their research depart­ments have teams that secret­ly buy com­peti­tors’ cars. Then they com­plete­ly dis­as­sem­ble the cars and mount all the parts on sheets of ply­wood, which they hang in a warehouse.

You must under­stand, though—when I say they dis­as­sem­ble a car, I’m talk­ing a lev­el of dis­as­sem­bly rarely seen on this earth. If a butch­er ren­dered a cow the way these guys take on a car, he would need 17 square acres of coun­ter­top. Every sin­gle part in the car is bro­ken down com­plete­ly: The door locks are tak­en apart into piles of tiny springs and wafers. The engine is trans­formed into a heap of pis­tons, rings, bolts, bush­ings, springs, valves and bear­ings. The starter motor is unwound to see how much wire is in the armatures.

Every hook, pin, screw, nut, bolt, gear, spring, bush­ing, sta­ple, clip, clamp, strap and wire in the car is unfas­tened, until the engi­neers have thou­sands of parts to cat­a­logue and mount on the boards. They even unstitch all the uphol­stery, sep­a­rate glued-togeth­er pieces, and cut all the welds apart until they have the orig­i­nal pieces of met­al that make up the body and frame.

They say this is done to help them bet­ter under­stand their com­peti­tors’ designs. But it sounds like a labor of love to me. I bet they draw straws to see who gets to take things apart and who has to do the paperwork.

Yep, I’d be real­ly good at that sort of thing; I’ve always been a cham­pi­on dis­as­sem­bler myself. When I was 8, my par­ents gave me a watch. I pried off the back to see how it worked (and my moth­er has nev­er quite for­giv­en me). Since then, I have dis­as­sem­bled elec­tric razors, toast­ers, an elec­tric knife, radios, car stere­os and tape decks, a vari­able speed drill, an elec­tric gui­tar, a See ‘N Say, and any­thing else I could get my hands on.

Last year I sawed an 8‑foot-wide alu­minum satel­lite dish in half.

When I was 19, I took the engine out of my car and put it back. It was so much fun I did it again a year lat­er. Last year I sawed an 8‑foot-wide alu­minum satel­lite dish in half (don’t ask).

I sup­pose (I said don’t ask!) I can under­stand why, when my par­ents gave me a bicy­cle for my 24th birth­day, my moth­er looked me right in the eye and with a straight face said, “Now don’t go tak­ing this apart to see how it works!” She need­n’t have wor­ried. Bicy­cles were kid stuff; I was in the big leagues by that time.

The all-time high­light of my decon­struc­tion­al­ist career was when I mur­dered a piano. My room­mate, George, had bought an old upright piano for $100. This beast was made by a Ger­man com­pa­ny called Gul­bransen, and it was so heavy it took eight peo­ple to move it into our house. I think mov­ing one of the rocks at Stone­henge would have been eas­i­er. The piano’s wheels left ruts in the wood on our front porch, it was so heavy. In fact, I think the Ger­mans designed that piano to hold pill­box doors shut against ene­my mor­tar fire in World War II. It was that kind of heavy.

Any­way, after we all got her­nias mov­ing this bat­tle­ship anchor of a piano, George dis­cov­ered it had six keys that did­n’t work at all. The remain­ing 82 were so far out of tune they made my dog howl when we struck them. George called a piano tuner, who came over, lis­tened to the piano, and then left, laugh­ing so hard he was drooling.

Need­less to say, George did­n’t want to take the piano along when he got ready to move out a year lat­er. The prob­lem was that he had no way to dis­pose of it, and he was too kind­heart­ed to sell it to some oth­er sucker—I mean, victim.

So while George was at work one evening, I decid­ed to sur­prise him: I took the piano apart and put it in a Dump­ster in a park­ing lot behind our house. I used pli­ers to cut the strings; a crow­bar took care of every­thing else (cham­pi­on dis­as­sem­blers don’t need hun­dreds of tools; that’s for wimps like Tim Allen).

Over the course of an hour or so that night, my friend, Dave, and I stealth­ily car­ried the dis­mem­bered piano to the Dump­ster, arm­load by arm­load. Final­ly, only two pieces were left: the back frame, which was made of huge oak beams, and the harp, a thick steel frame­work over which the strings had been stretched. These pieces weighed sev­er­al hun­dred pounds each and were the only parts that were dif­fi­cult to maneu­ver into the Dumpster.

The Dump­ster squat­ted at the end of the alley like a land mine as George and I glee­ful­ly peered out the upstairs bed­room window.

George near­ly had a heart attack when he got home and found noth­ing but a major dent in the car­pet where his piano had been.

At 5 a.m. the next morn­ing, George woke me excit­ed­ly. One of those trucks that picks up Dump­sters and turns them upside down to emp­ty them was rum­bling up the alley toward the Dump­ster. The Dump­ster squat­ted at the end of the alley like a land mine as George and I glee­ful­ly peered out the upstairs bed­room window.

The dri­ver posi­tioned the load­er’s arms in the slots on the Dump­ster’s sides and turned on the hoist. George and I clutched our sides with laugh­ter as the truck­’s engine roared—and noth­ing hap­pened. The dri­ver scratched his head and put the hoist into a low­er gear. With the truck­’s engine bel­low­ing in protest, its sus­pen­sion groan­ing and the hoist’s gears screech­ing, the Dump­ster slow­ly left the ground.

As we held our breath, the Dump­ster turned over, the lid flipped open and the harp and frame tum­bled out into the truck­’s bed, which—and I knew God loved me when I saw it—was emp­ty. The harp and frame land­ed flat in the truck­’s bed with a resound­ing, thun­der­ous boom. The rest of the pieces slid out on top, crash­ing and rat­tling into a heap atop the frame.

The noise echoed up and down the predawn street; lights began appear­ing in win­dows. The dri­ver and his helper stag­gered out of the truck, hold­ing their ears, and climbed the side of the bed, no doubt think­ing an aster­oid had just land­ed in the truck.

They looked over the side of the bed in aston­ish­ment. I could hear them excit­ed­ly ques­tion­ing each oth­er: “How on God’s green earth did a piano get in there?” the dri­ver said in amazement.

I closed my eyes and sighed wist­ful­ly, know­ing I would prob­a­bly nev­er again expe­ri­ence a moment so sub­lime this side of eternity.

The True Story of the Maximally Flaccid Pud and Your Tax Dollars at Work

I wonder if I overdid this. Nah, it's perfect.

Way back, maybe 30 years ago, My Pre­vi­ous Best Half worked at a state neu­ro­log­i­cal insti­tute tak­ing care of devel­op­men­tal­ly dis­abled patients. They were fac­ing a prob­lem with their patients that I had to deal with work­ing with the men­tal­ly ill: Many psy­chotrop­ics or antipsy­chot­ic med­ica­tions cause impo­tence, and some patients would mas­tur­bate, or try to mas­tur­bate, until they injured them­selves (skin dam­age, usu­al­ly, although some­times the patient had no trou­ble get­ting erect but would sim­ply mas­tur­bate all day every day).

Any­way, My Pre­vi­ous Best Half was in a team meet­ing at which they were dis­cussing how to deal with one such patient: Very low IQ and min­i­mal inde­pen­dent func­tion­al­i­ty, but he was oth­er­wise a healthy guy in his ear­ly 20s who had no trou­ble get­ting it up and sweet eruc­tat­ing Cthul­hu, but he  loved to mas­tur­bate. Let’s call him Dick, because duh.

Dick had been flog­ging the bish­op so much he’d chafed him­self into a bunch of open sores and ingrown hair cysts and oth­er grody things that devel­oped into a nasty UTI; they’d had to catheter­ize him, pump him full of antibi­otics and keep him in a strait­jack­et or bed restraints 24–7 for sev­er­al weeks.

He was near­ly healed, but they knew he’d just start oil­ing the old base­ball glove again as soon as pos­si­ble and were dis­cussing options to try to con­trol it with­out chem­i­cal or phys­i­cal restraints.

(I need to pause for a quick aside: My Pre­vi­ous Best Half was an LPN at the time; there was anoth­er staff nurse present, the MSN in charge of the unit, and an activ­i­ty ther­a­pist, who hap­pened to be the only male in the room.)

Some­one in the room wise­cracked that they should just give Dick some KY Jel­ly so he would­n’t keep hurt­ing him­self. After a brief chuck­le, the MSN—remember, this was a woman with a Mas­ter’s degree in nursing—said thought­ful­ly, “Look, peo­ple mas­tur­bate. Instead of pre­tend­ing we can make him stop maybe we can get him some lubri­cant and a lit­tle bit of instruc­tion so he’s, you know, just doing it more safely.”

All heads swiveled and all eyes fas­tened on the male activ­i­ty ther­a­pist, who was tak­ing min­utes. Let’s call him Willy, because isn’t it obvious?

Willy glanced up and real­ized every­one else was look­ing at him. “What?”

“We’ll need you to help Dick with this,” the MSN said.

“Help him with what? With masturbating?”

“Yes—I feel that if we can get him some lubri­cant and a bit of instruc­tion we can min­i­mize these injuries. We’d need you to adapt to what­ev­er learn­ing style will work with Dick, whether it’s just demonstrating”—I still can’t believe an edu­cat­ed med­ical pro­fes­sion­al said this with a straight face, even though Archer was­n’t there to yell about phrasing—“or a more hands-on approach.”

Willy stopped tak­ing notes. “You can­not pos­si­bly be serious.”

“What’s the problem?”

Willie said, “Buy Dick all the lube you want. But if you think I’m going to teach him to mas­tur­bate bet­ter you can for­get it. And if you ever sug­gest to me again that I mas­tur­bate in front of a patient to teach him how to mas­tur­bate bet­ter, I’ll report you to the state nurs­ing board.”

The MSN got a lit­tle sniffy. “Willy, I can write you up for insub­or­di­na­tion if you refuse a direct order.”

“Oh, PLEASE do!” Willie said. “I’d love to be there in the super­in­ten­den­t’s office or state board­’s office when you try to explain to them why you thought your job gives you the author­i­ty to order me to mas­tur­bate in front of one of our patients!”

As every­one else in the room stared at one oth­er with “Am I imag­in­ing this?” expres­sions, Willie and the MSN start­ed shout­ing at each oth­er, but then the MSN stood, took a deep breath and said, “Willy, we need to have this dis­cus­sion in my office.” They left and were heard shout­ing at each oth­er in her office for the next 20 min­utes or so.

Willy and the MSN did a lot of stomp­ing around and glar­ing at one anoth­er and address­ing one anoth­er with icy for­mal­i­ty for the next few weeks. My Pre­vi­ous Best Half nev­er found out what hap­pened in the long run—Willy and the MSN would­n’t talk about it although Willie hint­ed they’d been for­bid­den to talk about it, so she sus­pect Willy made good on his threat to inform the superintendent.

But the MSN and Willy both kept their jobs, while Dick spent every spare moment mas­tur­bat­ing and was in and of restraints for the next year or so until My For­mer Best Half went back to col­lege to fin­ish her RN.

Your tax dol­lars at work, folks.

PS: When I worked for the state hos­pi­tal we had one such guy who would go into the bath­room and try to mas­tur­bate for hours at a time, but thanks to his meds he could­n’t get erect. He was an oth­er­wise easy-going guy, a young POC we’ll call Peter, and if I have to remind you why we’re call­ing him Rod I real­ly must ask you to take this arti­cle more seriously.

One day I was on the unit with he oth­er psy­che aid, a hilar­i­ous guy I’ll call Peter,1 who looked and talked a lot like Anto­nio Far­gas from the ’70s bud­dy cop series Starsky and Hutch. We heard shout­ing in the bath­room down the men’s wing, and then some­one exit­ed the bath­room, yelling and threat­en­ing at some­one else in the bathroom.

Peter and I went to check in the bath­room and there sat Rod, for­lorn­ly twid­dling his a max­i­mal­ly flac­cid pud.

“What’s going on, Rod?” I said.

Rod was­n’t the tini­est bit embar­rassed or self-con­scious. “Shit, man,” he said. “I can’t get it up!”

Peter rolled his eyes and said, “Get your pants on and get back out in the day­room. You’re an embar­rass­ment to our race, Rod—only black man I ever seen can’t get it up!”

I don’t remem­ber exact­ly how we han­dled the inci­dent in Rod’s case notes. I do remem­ber feel­ing priv­i­leged to have wit­nessed and doc­u­ment­ed such an awe­some bit of history.

Vote for Willy Wonka and the Oompa-Loompas: Because America Deserves NOTHING!

ANDERSON COOPER: We inter­rupt this pro­gram with a spe­cial report:

After years of tan­ta­liz­ing hints and deli­cious choco­late, but not a gold­en tick­et in sight, CNN can now answer the ques­tion on everyone’s minds:

Willy Won­ka is indeed enter­ing the pres­i­den­tial race, a dark horse indeed this late in the year; he’ll be the Brown Party’s candidate.

We join Dou­glas Fir at the gates of Willy Wonka’s Choco­late Fac­to­ry as OLLM pro­test­ers demand equal­i­ty for the Oom­pa-Loom­pas and Ever­last­ing Gob­stop­pers for all.

DOUGLAS FIR: Thank you, Ander­son. We’re all wait­ing here at the gates of the leg­endary Won­ka Choco­late Fac­to­ry for Won­ka him­self to appear as promised, after more than 50 years of silence. In the mean­time, we’ve been talk­ing to the oth­er can­di­dates to see what they had to say about Willy Wonka:

Willy Won­ka is noto­ri­ous­ly pub­lic­i­ty shy. Have you met him? What’s your impres­sion of him?

DONALD TRUMP: Oh, we talk all the time! Bigly! Yuu­u­uge! Willy is a great, great man and he’s doing fan­tas­tic things. He asked me for a job years ago and he just wasn’t a good fit, but I do love how he keeps his labor costs down; I’m look­ing into his ideas for fed­er­al employ­ee man­age­ment. Willy’s almost as amaz­ing as me! Almost, but not quite!

DOUGLAS FIR: What’s the Brown Party?

KAMALA HARRIS: It’s choco­late, you imbe­cile! Choco­late is brown!

MIKE PENCE: Choco­late is sin­ful. Are there any Oom­pa-Loom­pa females? I don’t want to be alone in a room with any of them.

HILLARY CLINTON: (mut­ter­ing) Of course you don’t, you emas­cu­lat­ed wet dishrag.

DOUGLAS FIR: Wet dashcam?

HILLARY CLINTON: (full vol­ume) Willy is one of my clos­est friends! He offered to let me use one of his servers to help with my e‑mail, but I thought he said “ser­vants,” so those alle­ga­tions about abuse the Oom­pa-Loom­pas alleged­ly suf­fered at my house are—

BILL CLINTON: GODDAMMIT HILLARY! YOU’RE NOT RUNNING! SHUT THE HELL UP!

KAMALA HARRIS: I LOVE Willy Won­ka! It’s ter­ri­ble how those poor Oom­pa-Loom­pas are treat­ed. Willy Won­ka is my hero; the per­son I most want­ed to be until he filed that restrain­ing order. I think—

DOUGLAS FIR: Wait; I thought you said you love Willy Wonka.

KAMALA HARRIS: I do! He’s such a—

DOUGLAS FIR: You’re friend­ly with him even though you think he mis­treats the Oompa-Loompas?

KAMALA HARRIS: IT WAS A DEBATE! (cack­les wild­ly) But I am real­ly very seri­ous­ly con­cerned about the Oom­pa-Loom­pas and I’ll try to get around to releas­ing them from prison as soon as no one’s loo—uh I mean, as soon as I have a minute.

BILL CLINTON: Won­ka flies around in that glass ele­va­tor, right? I’m not sup­posed to talk about any­thing involv­ing pri­vate­ly-owned air­craft, so I have no commen—(the remote cam­era abrupt­ly tilts side­ways with a loud crash while the pic­ture disappears)

HILLARY CLINTON: YOU ASSHOLE! YOU’RE NOT RUNNING EITHER!

DOUGLAS FIR: Bill Clin­ton, Joe Biden and Don­ald Trump have all been accused of sex­u­al harass­ment and oth­er inap­pro­pri­ate acts.

Most of us know very lit­tle about Willy Won­ka, on the oth­er hand. For those of you who say they have met Won­ka: What’s your take on his per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al conduct?

THE OOMPA-LOOMPAS:

Oom­pa-Loom­pa doo­p­i­ty dance
Won­ka can keep his dick in his pants!
Oom­pa-Loom­pa triple-dog dare
Won­ka will nev­er sniff at your hair!

What do you have when you con­stant­ly Tweet?
Or pay some­one off ‘cause you want­ed to cheat?
What if you sleep your way to the top?
Your neck will be the first one they… CHOP!

(Soloist): Good rid­dance to bad ru-huh-bish!

Oom­pa-Loom­pa choke on your polls
You are all a bunch of ass­holes!
Won­ka always tells you the truth
Like the Oom­pa-Loom­pa doo­p­i­ty do! ♬

DOUGLAS FIR: What? Wait; why are the Oom­pa-Loom­pas here?

WILLY WONKA: The Oom­pa-Loom­pas are my vice-pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, that’s why.

DOUGLAS FIR: He’s here! Willy Won­ka is here speak­ing with CNN for his first press appear­ance in more than 50 years!

Mr. Won­ka, I speak for the Amer­i­can peo­ple (minus the deplorables) when I ask:

Why are you enter­ing the race? What can you offer Amer­i­ca that one of the oth­er can­di­dates can’t?

WILLY WONKA: Offer? I’m not offer­ing any­one any­thing. Good day, sir.

JOE BIDEN: Willy Won­ka? He makes choco­late, right? Is he that Her­shey Nestlé guy? Where are we on that? Is this Penn­syl­va­nia? C’mon, man!

DOUGLAS FIR: But sure­ly you feel Amer­i­ca deserves an answer—

WILLY WONKA: Deserves? You want to talk about what Amer­i­ca deserves? I’ll tell you what Amer­i­ca deserves: NOTHING! You get NOTHING! You LOSE! I said good DAY, sir!

DOUGLAS FIR: Um, okay; I see. What do you fore­see in America’s future?

WILLY WONKA:

There’s no earth­ly way of know­ing
Which direc­tion we are going!
Not a speck of light is show­ing
So the dan­ger must be grow­ing!
For the row­ers keep on row­ing!
And they’re cer­tain­ly not show­ing
ANY SIGNS THAT THEY ARE SLOWING!
YAAAAEEHHHAAAAAHHHH!

DOUGLAS FIR: Well, a sim­ple “I’m not sure” would have been fine, but okay. Can you elab­o­rate on your state­ment that—

MISTER ROGERS: “Elab­o­rate.” That’s a big word, isn’t it? Do you know what “elab­o­rate” means?

(ANDERSON COOPER, DOUGLAS FIR, DONALD TRUMP, MIKE PENCE, HILLARY CLINTON, BILL CLINTON, KAMALA HARRIS, THE OOMPA-LOOMPAS, and WILLY WONKA instant­ly gen­u­flect as all the angels in heav­en and on Earth sing):

♬♬ Mis­ter Roooooogers! ♬♬

JOE BIDEN: Roger that! Loud and clear! Um, you go first; I don’t—

DOUGLAS FIR: (shov­ing Joe Biden out of the way) Mis­ter Rogers is here, Amer­i­ca! He’s right here! What do you want to talk about today, Mis­ter Rogers?

MISTER ROGERS:

Oh, I have so many ideas for you!
And you have things you want to talk about
I do, too!

DOUGLAS FIR: (try­ing not to cry) Thank you, Mis­ter Rogers. If I may ask, do you have any thoughts about—

MISTER ROGERS: It’s nice when some­one when some­one wants to talk and share, isn’t it? Would you like to share today, Dou­glas? I enjoy mak­ing new friends, don’t you?

ANDERSON COOPER: (shoves Dou­glas Fir aside) Mis­ter Rogers! I’d like to get your opin­ion on…

MISTER ROGERS: Oh, my friend Dou­glas had to leave. Does that make you sad? It makes me sad some­times when a friend has to leave. But I think we’ll see Dou­glas again, because he wasn’t angry; he just had many things to do.

ANDERSON COOPER: Mis­ter Rogers! Can you tell us why you want to run for Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States?

MISTER ROGERS: Oh, I don’t real­ly enjoy run­ning. I do go swim­ming every morn­ing, though. Do you like to swim, Anderson?

ANDERSON COOPER: Um—not real­ly, but I’d like to ask your posi­tion on immigration.

MISTER ROGERS: Won’t you be my neighbor?

ANDERSON COOPER: There are many issues con­nect­ed to for­eign pol­i­cy that the US has to—

MISTER ROGERS: Won’t you be my neighbor?

ANDERSON COOPER: I’m not talk­ing about domes­tic pol­i­cy when it comes to—

MISTER ROGERS: I have always want­ed to have a neigh­bor just like you!

ANDERSON COOPER: Yes, fine, but I’m not talk­ing about peo­ple on your block; I want to—

DONALD TRUMP: Block? Which block? My dad gave me a small loan of $1,000,000 to get started—

MISTER ROGERS: I’ve always want­ed to live in a neigh­bor­hood with you!

DONALD TRUMP: No way, los­er. You’ll drag prop­er­ty val­ues down and—

MISTER ROGERS: Won’t you be my neighbor?

KAMALA HARRIS: So you’re propo­si­tion­ing ME to—

MISTER ROGERS: I have always want­ed to have a neigh­bor just like you.

MIKE PENCE: Yes, but can you guar­an­tee there won’t be any fun­ny busi­ness with—

HILLARY CLINTON: And here we go with the vast right-wing con­spir­a­cy again! Last time—

MISTER ROGERS: Let’s make the most of this beau­ti­ful day!

ANDERSON COOPER: Yes, fine, but I’m try­ing to get you to—

DONALD TRUMP: Okay, yes, every­thing is beau­ti­ful in its own way, fine! But what—

MISTER ROGERS: Please won’t you be my neighbor?

JOE BIDEN: Wait, do you live in Scranton?

DONALD TRUMP: Live in Scran­ton? I OWN Scranton!

JOE BIDEN: I was born in Scran­ton, but we have no bananas in Scran­ton, PA!

KAMALA HARRIS: Stay in your lane, Grampaw!

MISTER ROGERS: I have always want­ed to live in a neigh­bor­hood with you!

KAMALA HARRIS: Who told you my addre—

MISTER ROGERS: Oh won’t you please?

ANDERSON COOPER: If you think you can get my address by—

JOE BIDEN: Address? What was that thing Wash­ing­ton did at the gut­ters; no, the burglar—

MIKE PENCE: That’s GETTYSBURG, you idiot!

KAMALA HARRIS: Look, I know THIS IS A DEBATE! but I think we all deserve to hear—

MISTER ROGERS: Won’t you be my neighbor?

DONALD TRUMP: Not unless you have some gold paint and…

MISTER ROGERS: Won’t you be my neighbor?

KAMALA HARRIS: “My” neigh­bor? So you think you own your neigh­bors and you’re rein­forc­ing the whole master/slave dynam­ic that…

MISTER ROGERS: Please won’t you be my neighbor?

EVERYONE: YES! OKAY? YES, I’LL BE YOUR FUCKING NEIGHBOR!

MISTER ROGERS: Hel­lo, neighbor!

 

The Helicopter Song

I love the smell of The Surfaris first thing in the morning!

When I was 4 or 5 my par­ents had some friends over for a bar­be­cue. Every­one was milling around in fine bar­be­cue fash­ion, and then the radio played a song I’d nev­er heard before. It was amaz­ing! There was some­body laugh­ing and then heli­copter sounds, but it did­n’t have any lyrics.

I planned to ask Mom and Dad what the song was, but they were busy doing things and I forgot.

A cou­ple of days lat­er Mom was putting some­thing on the record play­er, and I remem­bered the bar­be­cue and said, “Play The Heli­copter Song!”

“The what?” Mom said.

“The Heli­copter Song! There was a guy laugh­ing and heli­copters! And there weren’t any words!” Mom had no idea what I meant. I did, but I could­n’t describe it well enough. I gave up, frustrated.

A cou­ple days lat­er we were dri­ving some­where and the heli­copter song came on the radio.

“That’s The Heli­copter Song! That’s The Heli­copter Song!” I yelled.

“That’s the song you meant?” Mom asked.

“Yeah! It’s The Heli­copter Song!”

And it turned out that the heli­copter song was… (drum roll])1

“Wipe­out,” by The Surfaris.

Lemme ‘splain: When I was a kid in the ear­ly 1960s, we lived in Tope­ka, KS, about 7 miles north of Forbes Air Force Base. Air­craft often flew right over us com­ing to and from Forbes; usu­al­ly heav­ier car­go air­craft; once every­one in Tope­ka got to watch a brand-new Air Force One land at Forbes for the first stop in its inau­gur­al test flight, fuel up, and take off again.

This was much ear­li­er, though; maybe 1967 or ’68. The war in Viet­nam was rag­ing along full blast, and we often heard large chop­pers fly­ing thump­ing along over­head: long-range spe­cial-ops copters like the Siko­rsky MH-53, aka the Jol­ly Green Giant, or Boe­ing CH-47 Chi­nook dual-rotor heavy car­go helicopters.

It hap­pened often enough that I didn’t con­scious­ly lis­ten to them, but they still made a hell of a lot of noise.

And so it hap­pened that when I heard “Wipe­out,” the long drum breaks, heavy on the bass and toms, remind­ed me of all the big chop­pers fly­ing overhead.

I didn’t know how to explain this when I was so young. So years lat­er, when I was in my ear­ly 20s, a friend of mine was show­ing me how to play “Wipe­out” on gui­tar, and I sud­den­ly remem­bered: THE HELICOPTER SONG!

I told Mom and Dad about it, but they did­n’t remem­ber any of this.

So either I’m hal­lu­ci­nat­ing or The Sur­faris tricked me.

Feelings

If you’ve ever watched peo­ple argue online, you know the argu­ments is over the instant some­one posts a chart. You can’t argue with charts!

So if you need to dis­cuss emo­tions with some­one and don’t know where to start, this handy chart will set­tle any confusion!

Click to embiggenate!