Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Max:  Bubba, wake up—wake up.

Bubba:  Huh? Wha . . .?  Snuff. Snort. Is it dinner time?

Max:  No,  we just had breakfast a few minutes ago.

Bubba:  That doesn't mean it couldn't be dinner time. Sometimes they forget.

Max:  Bubba, I'm worried.

Bubba:  That it's not dinner time yet? Mellow out adventure dog. Dad'll spill something soon.

Max:  That's just it. I think Dad's gone round the bend.

Bubba:  Max, relax. He started at "round the bend." What makes you think he's gotten any weirder?

Max:  He's (in a hushed voice) talking to himself.

Bubba:  Are you sure he's talking to himself? Maybe he's talking to Mom and she's ignoring him. Happens a lot, you know.

Max:  No, uh uh. Negatory. He does it even when she's not at home.

Bubba:  Hmmm. This could be serious. What kinds of things is he saying?

Max:  Just the other day I was laying on the couch next to him and he jumped to his feet and bellowed . . .

Bubba:  Bellowed?

Max:  Yeah, real loud. (Clears throat and projects) "And now I remember me. His name is Falstaff. And if that man be lewdly given, he deceiveth me, for I see virtue in his look."

Bubba:  Deceiveth?

Max:   Deceiveth.

Bubba:  Deceiveth. Oh crap. Not good. This is really not good. Not good at all.

Max:  What? What? What?

Bubba:  Have you noticed his face lately?

Max:  (laughs) Oh, yeah. With that big nose and the eyebrows that grow together in the middle and . . .
Bubba: No, I mean the whiskers. He hasn't shaved for a couple of weeks. I think he's growing a beard.

Max:  Don't be silly, why would he grow a beard?

Bubba:  And the other day, when the phone rang, I heard him answer it by saying Hark!

Max:  Hark?  Hark?

Bubba: (glumly) Hark.  There's no getting around it Max. The conclusion is inescapable. Our Dad aka the big thing sprawled on the couch is practicing to be in a play.

Max:  Play? I love to play. Are we going to play toss the stuffed squirrel down the stairs and run go get it?

Bubba:  No. Not playing but performing in a play.  Shakespeare.

Max:  Huh. Wha . . .? Shakes who?

Bubba:  Speare. He wrote a whole bunch of words nobody understands but pretend they do. In his plays, people stand close together and pretend theiy're somebody else and say stuff like "Forsooth" and "Hey nonny nonny" and maybe fight with wooden swords.

Max: Get the woof out of here!!! (He licks his dingle, then looks up) You made that up.

Bubba:  I swear to Lassie, it's the truth. And other people watch them and clap and laugh or sometimes boo and throw fruit.

Max:  What happens then?

Bubba:  After the play is over and the audience leaves,  Dad and the rest of the actors will stand around and say things to each other like (steps forward and wags her tail) Enough about you, let's talk about me.

Max:  Sounds pretty bogus to me. What's Mom think about the whole thing?

Bubba: She says Dad will really chew up the scenery.

Max:  Hey, I could help do that. Is any of it shaped like a squirrel?

Bubba:  Keep thinking Max, that's what you're good at.

Max: Is Mom planning to go watch him perform?

Bubba:  I dunno, but I did see her come home with a bag of really ripe apples. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Butt in or butt out? 


Most of us want to do the right thing. And we like to think, when presented with a situation where the moral high ground is clear, that we’d step up without considering the cost.
Reality check. 
Two episodes that occurred this week proved to me that it (as Gershwin put it) “tain’t neccesarily so.”
The community center where I work out four or five times a week is an egalitarian sort of place. People of all ages, sizes, races, and sexes huff and puff over the torture devices presented as exercise machines. Others take aerobic classes, do crafts, play basketball, shoot pool, and generally recreate. For the most part, it is a friendly, accommodating place with lots of smiles, “good mornings,” and a mellow vibe.
That’s why it was so disturbing, after my post workout shower, shave and fluff dry to listen to a rant by a fellow denizen of the locker room. It began innocently enough with a comment to another man toweling off, asking if he’d heard that several American GI’s had been killed in Germany. I hadn’t heard the news so I found myself listening in on their conversation.
Things soon degenerated into a red-faced rant about the “Kosovo raghead” who fired the shots that killed our soldiers. From there it swung into a slur against our “asshole president” who encourages “all the ragheads” and who is more sympathetic to “Muslim foreigner ragheads” than he is to “our country.” Not long after that I discovered that Mr. Ranter didn’t believe our “asshole president” (he seemed fond of that expression) hadn’t been born in this country, had stolen the election, wanted to take away our guns, give our hard-earned money to people who wanted to leech off the system, and, it seemed to him, was probably the anti-Christ.
Moment of truth.
Do I confront this guy? Obviously he was bigoted, fact-challenged (Obama’s birth certificate is a matter of public record) and frustrated that the world wasn’t the white-guy dominated, evangelical Christian, automatic-weapons-in-every-household Nirvana he thought it should be. I fantasized about showing him the folly of his ways in a calm, matter-of-fact voice, asking him why being a hater made him feel better about himself.
But I didn’t.
Instead, I tuned my ears to my internal blah-blah-blah radio station to drown out his mindless diatribe, finished drying and dressing and hit the exit before I lost it and unloaded on him. My rationale. There’s no way I could have made my points. This guy didn’t rate to be a great listener. Things would have escalated. This is the stuff fistfights are born of.
Here’s my question. Should I have taken him on? Is it our moral imperative to try to cut off this kind of ignorant nonsense, even when we know we’ll accomplish nothing? Changing the hearts and minds of people like that is like trying to convince rain not to fall from the sky? Can’t be done.
What’s your take on it? Butt in or butt out?
          The second incident happened at a thrift store. My wife and I are inveterate second-hand store shoppers and popped in to look around. I found a great Hawaiian shirt and a pair of used blue jeans in great shape that fit perfectly—not as easy as it sounds for a guy who wears a 38 inch waist and a 28 inseam. The store was busy and there were only two check stands open. People stood good-naturedly waiting their turn.
          Things began to unravel when a middle-aged woman, twitchy as a small dog in a room full of flamenco dancers, dumped an armload of clothing on the counter in front of an already harried cashier. The woman sorted through the apparel, firing staccato questions at the clerk, holding the labels up to her face, tossing items back on the stack. She’d select several, hand them over to be scanned, then change her mind, demand them back, and select two or three others.
The beginnings of customer mutiny, a non-verbal wave of shared thought, rippled through the line behind her. The woman was taking more than her share of time, she was a pain in the rear end, she was embarrassing, and she needed to decide and get on with it.
          But the woman jangled and jumped and rambled, her hands in constant motion, her face a writhing den of snakes, her eyes darting back and forth like my memory of Richard Nixon’s. At one point she pulled a dirty wad of assorted bills from a wallet and counted them. Over and over and over again. Then she went back to picking at the clothes, asking the checker to take one blouse off her tab and add another.
The cycle of compulsive repetitive behavior grew and grew and grew until it became the polka-dotted hippopotamus in the room. Impossible to ignore. By now the line had grown to mythical proportions. Supervisors hovered, perplexed looks on their face, trying to decide what to do. They interrupted another employee’s lunch and opened another checkstand. People looked on with stunned and sad expressions.
          The woman was surely mentally ill or on drugs. Or both. I’d seen similar behavior by the tweakers who frequent the convenience store where I used to stop at for coffee at 4 a.m. on my way to perform my morning radio show. Mr. Methamphetamine, how do you like your lovely bride?
          Like everyone else in line, I wondered what I should do. This person, this human being, was a time bomb. Sooner or later she would hurt herself or someone else. What was my responsibility as a citizen—as someone who wants to do what’s right?
          She finally paid for her merchandise and the cashier began ringing up others. Still, the woman stood at the end of the counter, shuffling her feet and mumbling words in the foreign language of a raging brain.
          In the car, we talked about the problems this woman faced and what could be done. When I related the story to a friend, he thought we (or at least someone) should have called 911. But life gets pretty complicated at that point, not just for the woman, but also for witnesses. Was the situation dire enough to involve the police and/or medical emergency personnel?
What are your thoughts? Butt in or butt out? 

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Emotional Content in Calories – What You Won’t Find on a Label

We all know that peeling off pounds means stepping up exercise and trimming empty or unnecessary calories. It means reading package labels, making healthier choices, and cutting back on foods heavy on fat, cholesterol, salt, or sugar.
But labels don’t list emotional content. My theory—and I’m sticking to it—is that sacrificing too many of the foods that provide sustenance for the soul can affect your mood and turn a diet into a psychological death march. The minute you get an opportunity to gorge, you’ll seize it and stuff in the goodies with both hands.
       Before you eliminate favorite foods and comfort foods, peer into the past to determine why those foods are loaded with ECPs (Emotional Content Points).
       For example, I put cashews at the top of the Emotional Content scale.  My grandmother bought them at the candy counter in Woolworth’s. Still warm, they were scooped from their tray into a tiny white paper sack just for me. Cashews = Someone loves me, +100 points
       Hot dogs, however, get minus points. I ate one too quickly at a friend’s birthday party and barfed all over the patio. That embarrassing incident is permanently attached to the aroma of grilling dogs. Hot Dogs = Humiliation, -100 points
       Popcorn was my father’s favorite treat for evenings of watching TV as a family. Popcorn = Togetherness and Fun, +95 points.
       My mother was notorious for buying chocolates, eating more than she should, and asking my father to hide the rest. Let the record show that not once did he hide them well enough. Chocolates = Indulgence, +75 points.
       Beets, Swiss chard, lima beans, and canned corn appeared on our plates in the 50s and early 60s in a regular rotation. I despised them all. But there were rules about portions and plate-cleaning, so I choked them down. Vegetables I don’t like = Lack of control, -50 points.
       Macaroni and cheese made with extra-sharp cheddar and cooked until it was crusty on top and bottom, was my other grandmother’s specialty. A couple of times a year she’d invite me to lunch and the two of us would dig into a huge pan. Mac and cheese = Something just for me, +100 points.
       Spaghetti was my father’s specialty and his chance to be creative. Sometimes he’d slap the side of the cabinet and toss in a little of whatever spice fell out. Spaghetti = Creativity and cutting loose, + 95 points.
       Baked potatoes with butter, sour cream, chives, cheese, and bacon bits were a special part of the eating out we did so rarely when I was a kid. I loved the choices and the decisions involved in ordering. Baked potatoes = I’m in charge, + 80 points.
       My mother often spread sandwiches with cream cheese instead of butter or mayo. To this day, I slather it on onion bagels with green olives and cashews, or on pumpernickel with sweet pickle slices. Cream cheese = Experimenting with taste, + 65 points.
       If I have a day filled with disappointment and rejection, how healthy is it to gnaw on carrots and celery? At most, they pick up 10 ECPS, not enough to restore my spirits. In fact, I might feel emptier.
       If I have a day filled with success and love, will it be easier to ignore the lure of cashews and chocolate and dine on spinach salad with tofu? (About 17 points.)
       If I balance emotion-content calories as well as plain old calories, will the result be a more balanced me? Maybe. But how do I determine that balance? ECPs aren’t on labels provide these numbers and besides, they’re different for each of us.

       And, like the message “you’re full” getting from stomach to brain, there’s a lag time between partaking of emotional-content calories, and the “feeling much better” message reaching its destination. In the meantime, I’ve eaten half a box of cheese snacks. (Cheese Snacks = Summer fun with friends, + 72 points)

       Also, part of satisfying the emotional self is the knowledge that there’s enough—not just for right now, but for later. The Great Depression loomed large in the minds of my grandparents; there were back-up jars in the pantry and candy in the purse. My closets are loaded with temptations.

       A rational approach would be to determine exactly how many cashews it takes to cope with an agent’s rejection, how much chocolate wipes out a tough day at school, how much macaroni and cheese makes me take a flat tire in stride. All I need is a marker pen, a stack of labels, and I lot more self-control than I’ve had up to now.

       How do you rate the ECPs of the foods you love or loathe? Leave a comment and share.