Friday, February 20, 2015

Support Group of Misfit Toys

According to Arthur Rankin, the Dolly for Sue's problem was that she was rejected by her girl, Sue, which gave her psychological problems and she believed she was unlovable.

Heather: Thank you all for coming to group today. I know the weather's been rather cold and dreary, and we're all fighting cabin fever. But we're in our safe space, where we can discuss and own our pain without judgment or fear. Who'd like to share first?

(No one answers.)

Heather: Charlie, how about you?

Charlie: Well. . .

Heather: Come on, Charlie. You haven't shared with the group since before Christmas. I'm sure we'd all like to hear from you.

Melvin: Yeah, come on, Charlie. Let's hear your share.

Charlie: Alright. I haven't shared anything because I was sure I was going to get called up this year. But since you-know-who didn't come to the island again — that's 10 years running, you fat jerk! — I just stayed scrunched inside my box. I literally haven't talked to anyone until now.

Dolly: I hear you, Charlie. I haven't left my house since Christmas night.

Charlie: That's not the same thing. You have a house. You can come and go as you please. I just sit in this stupid box until someone cranks the handle.

Heather: Now, Charlie, remember the rules of the group. Every toy has valid feelings.

Charlie: Yeah, but not every toy bears my stupid burden. It's been 10 years, and still no one wants a Charlie in the Box?

Tex: Not too many people want a Jack in the Box either.

Charlie: Why don't you fly your ostrich off a cliff?

Heather: Boys, boys! That's enough. Charlie, would you like to finish your share?

Charlie: Sharing. Just because I'm misnamed doesn't mean I'm misnaming other things. It's not 'a share,' I'm sharing. You know how I feel about that.

Heather: You're right, Charlie. I owe you an amends.

Charlie: *Groan!*

Dolly: Everyone knows how you feel about that, Charlie.

Charlie: Then I would ask everyone to respect my feelings on the matter. Also on the 'amends' thing too.

Heather: Fine, Charlie, I'm sorry. Would you please finish sharing?

Charlie: I've just been angry at all the lies. Moonracer promised us this Christmas would be different. This time, we were all going to be picked up and delivered to children. We weren't going to be misfits anymore. And this year, like every other bloody year, I believed him. He lied to us yet again, and like a sucker, I believed him.

Melvin: You can't be too hard on King Moonracer. He's got a tough job.

Charlie: Well, of course you'd defend him, Melvin. You're his polka-dotted footman. It's your job to defend the winged fraud, but not me. I'm out.

Melvin: But you're our sentry!

Charlie: Not any more, I quit. I'm just tired of it. Tired of the the lies, the raised expectations, and the dashed hopes. I'm even starting to question what I can gain from this group. It's not like we're going to get better. We're never going to get better. We're all misfits, we're all forgotten, and there's no point in getting better, since none of us are ever going to leave here!

(Charlie scrunches down into his box and slams the lid. Melvin pats the box lid in sympathy.)

Heather: Charlie, thank you for your — for sharing. When you're ready to come out, we're ready to listen and support you. Who else would like to share? Dolly?

Dolly: Okay. I tried looking for Sue last week.

Melvin: No, Dolly. You said you weren't going to do that.

Dolly: I know, I know! I feel like a failure. Last month, my stretch was to stop trying to find her, and I was doing so well. I mean, I took up smoking again, just to have something else to crave, but they don't taste as good as they used to. So when I stopped again, the urge to find her came back as strong as ever.

Melvin: But she abandoned you!

Dolly: But maybe she only moved. Maybe she's looking for me, even now.

Melvin: Dolly, you know she didn't. We've talked about this in group for the last 10 years.

Dolly: I know, Melvin. In my head, I know she's gone. But in my heart, I still love her. I can't hold onto a stupid boyfriend, because I don't feel like I can be loved. I can't even hold down a stupid job at a perfume counter. But I can hold onto a hopeless dream for 10 years? Crazy.

Melvin: You know, I've kept Carl the jelly pistol in my cupboard for the last six months. I think he's fermented by now. Let's watch Toy Story 2 and get drunk this weekend.

Heather: Well, it sounds like we've all got things to work on for next week. Tex, I'd love to hear about how you and Olly are doing on your cattle drive. Sheldon, we'll talk about your swimming class for birds. Dolly and Melvin, please don't overdo on the jelly wine. And Charlie, if you can hear me, I'll stick around for a little while if you want to have a process — sorry, process your feelings — afterward. Thanks everyone, have a good week.


The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, February 13, 2015

I've Been Shaving All Wrong


Apparently I've been shaving wrong for the last 33 years.

At least that's what a fancy shaving store saleswoman hinted at when we discussed my shaving habits.

I recently stepped into The Art of Shaving store where they sell different versions of a four-step shaving kit for many, many dollars. Things like scented oils, fancy foams, and brushes made from badger hair.

Plus a perfectly balanced nickel-plated razor handle for $200.

I really, really liked the perfectly balanced nickel-plated razor handle.

The saleswoman said the razor handle is "perfectly balanced" to aid with "blade pull."

Because that's a thing now, apparently.

"How are you this morning, Mr. Deckers?" they'll ask at my coffee shop one morning.

"Not too good, Zach," I'll say. "My blade pull was a little off today."

"Ah, that explains the arterial spray on your shirt."

The saleswoman tried to convince me of the wonder and beauty of their four-step shaving kit, and how it could revolutionize my whole morning routine by turning a five minute chore done with soap and a razor in the shower into a 30-minute drudgery with four expensive ingredients.

Their fancy four step process starts with a shaving oil, then a special shaving cream applied with the badger hair brush, then shaving with the perfectly balanced nickel-plated razor handle, followed by a post-shave oil.

Then all your friends will laugh at you for smelling like a high school kid on his first date.

I walked into the fancy store, sporting at least four days of growth, and a goatee that looked more like a goat. It wasn't my intention to upset anyone, but once I saw how fancy the place was, I figured there was no harm in trying.

The saleswoman asked me what my usual shaving cream was

"Lever 2000," I said. "I shave in the shower."

She had been trained not to shriek at clients, so she remained calm. But she did develop a tic in her left eye when I said I only shaved every two or three days.

I started shaving when I was 14, a couple years before I actually needed to. I was so eager that I started as soon as I saw the first hair on my chin. It was probably one of my head hairs that got stuck after eating soup, but that didn't matter. Now I was a man! It was time to prove it by removing all the hair from my face.

Before then, when my dad wasn't home, I would lather up and "shave" with the plastic lid from the shaving cream can, so I wouldn't cut myself, pretending it was a real razor.

It was my stepdad who told me the best way to shave. "Put hot water on your face, as hot as your face can take," he said

I still say it to myself whenever I shave at the sink. "Put hot water on your face, as hot as your—ow, son of a—!"

The problem isn't how hot my face can take. It's that the water burns my fingers and I jump around and flap my hand like I smashed it with a hammer.

Besides that, most shaving advice varies wildly:

- Use a good moisturizer. Don't bother with a moisturizer.

- Shave in the shower. Shave after a shower.

- Use proper shaving cream. Soap is a suitable shaving cream. What are you crazy? Shaving with soap will make you look like the Elephant Man!

- Shave with the grain, and then against the grain. Under no circumstances should you ever shave against the grain! It's like crossing the streams in 'Ghostbusters,' only worse.

According to the advice from my fancy shaving saleswoman, everything I've done up to this point is wrong. I don't use any pre-shave treatments, post-shave treatments, or lather between shaving with and against the grain.

And I don't have a perfectly balanced nickel-plated razor handle, which means my blade pull is all wrong. I might as well be shaving with WD-40 and a rusted sickle.

I'm not a fancy guy. I don't need fancy razors and soaps to make me happy, or even give me a close shave. I've used the same brand of razors, Gillette Fusion, for years, and I use whatever soap is handy.

The whole idea of a four-step scented shaving process to me is a complete waste of time and money, and frankly, a little sissified for a guy like me.

Which is why I only bought the $25 starter kit.

I have a feeling we're going to be very happy together.


Update

After I wrote this column, I actually ended up getting the full kit, not the starter kit. I also got a new Gillette Fusion razor. As much as I joked about the overdoing-it-ness of their four step process, I absolutely have gotten the closest shave I've ever had in 33 years of shaving, and my face is baby butt smooth. I may have teased The Art of Shaving in this piece a bit, but man oh man, this really is awesome!



Photo credit: MagicRobot (Flickr, Creative Commons)

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, February 06, 2015

Life as the Outsider Writer

I was always kind of awkward growing up. I wasn't one of the popular kids, the jocks, or the rich kids. I was the weird kid who did weird things. I played soccer and raced bicycles.

I was an athlete, I just wasn't one of Indiana's preferred athletes: football, basketball, or baseball. Other than playing football my freshman year, I didn't play the Big Three.

In 1980s Indiana, people looked at you funny if you played sports usually played by other people who didn't speak English.

To further cement my awkward outsider status, I was in the band. I was a band geek. I hung out with other band geeks, caused trouble with them, and made music jokes like, "Why did the dumb kid become a bass player? Because his mom told him to stay out of treble."

Compared to the theatre kids, we were awesome.

As a band geek, I was usually on the outside, looking in, but it didn't bother me.

I never liked what was "in," and so on the days I "looked in," I didn't like what I saw. I was more than happy being on the outside. I reveled in my outsider status and sought out the people who were unusual like me.

I drew the line at the choir kids though. I mean, I had standards.

Even now, 30 years later, there are days that being a humor writer makes me feel like I'm on the outside of the Indianapolis literary scene. I know dozens of writers here, maybe over a hundred, and only one of them is a humor writer.


I was just never into the navel gazing writing style of literary fiction, and I don't like the drama and pain of creative nonfiction. My oeuvre — that's fancy writer talk for "collection of works" — is humor. Like fart jokes, dysfunctional families, and the dumb things school administrators do in the name of Zero Tolerance.

Needless to say, humor writers don't get invited to do a lot of writerly things, since we make people laugh. The thought is that if people laugh because of your work, it must not be serious. If it doesn't make you sigh or dab at your eyes, it's not worthy of being called "literature."

Humor writers are not seen as real writers. We're the band geeks of the literary world.

How's that for a kick in the pants? In a community of people who were the outcasts and weirdos in high school, a community that has created its own circles and cliques, the humor writers manage to be on the outside there as well.

But I finally received some validation last week, when I was invited to speak at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in March, as part of a University of Indianapolis literary function. I'm even going to be the featured speaker.

I've never been the featured anything. Even at my own book launch, I got second billing to the cheeseburger sliders. And now, I'm going to be the featured reader at an event at the memorial library of one of my literary heroes.

I realize Kurt won't actually be there himself, but considering he's one of the reasons I became a writer in the first place, it's like I'm getting his nod of approval. That my work is worthy. That nearly 20 years of fart jokes and columns about the Oxford comma were important. I've been over the moon all week.

I'm not sure of the etiquette of the performance though. How long should I read? Should I read one long piece or several short one? Do I allow time for questions? What if no one has any questions? What if no one even comes? Do I have to provide wine? Should I get the audience drunk so I'll seem funnier? Or should I get drunk, so I won't care?

And the most important question, what am I going to read?

I asked Kaylie, the organizer, what I should read, and she said I could read some of my columns, or I could read one of my books. Considering I write social media marketing books, which are also not literary or dramatic, I don't know how interesting that would actually be.

I posed the question on Facebook, and received a variety of suggestions: Green Eggs And Ham, Kanye West lyrics, the Song of Solomon, or my personal favorite, Everyone Poops.

I'll most likely read some of my humor columns and maybe a short fiction piece or two. Maybe I'll even write a piece in the spirit of another literary hero, Dave Barry.

I'll call it Everyone Picks Their Nose.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, January 30, 2015

Life In America: Comedies Versus Tragedies

It was a defining moment early in my column writing career, when someone sent a complaint letter to my editor, making it my first and only complaint letter. I've had emails and blog comments, but no one has taken the time to write an actual complaint letter before or since.

Seventeen years later, I still remember what the letter actually said:

"Discussion of Pamela Anderson's boobs have no place in a humor column."

I was confused. Where else would you expect discussions of her boobs to be?

Okay, late night talk shows, but the point is — and the Internet. But the point is — yes, and her B-movie career. But you need to realize — well, obviously Baywatch reruns. But what I'm trying to say — yes, more stuff on the Internet.

What I'm trying to say is it made me realize there are two types of people in the world, those who appreciate Pamela Anderson's boobs, and those who don't.

Wait, that's not my point at all.

My point is there are two types of people in the world, those who appreciate humor, and those who don't. Those who think we need to laugh and enjoy life more, and those who think life is meant to be endured, and not enjoyed.

I worked with one group, and worked for the other. Given that I now own my own business, I'll let you guess which is which.

You've seen the old theater masks that symbolize Comedy and Tragedy. You're either happy, or you're not. You laugh about the good in life, or you cry about the bad in life. We know both types, the wise-cracking cut up who laughs at everything, and the melancholy Debbie Downer who finds misery in everything.

Let's call them Comedies and Tragedies.

Tragedies manufacture outrage, while Comedies can't be bothered with life's small difficulties. Tragedies are easily offended by their favorite hot button issues and will look for things to gripe about. Comedies like to poke Tragedies' favorite hot buttons, and then sit back and watch the fun.

I call it Poking The Bear. I like to play it on Facebook by posting articles about the negative effects of helicopter parenting when I know my helicopter parenting friends will read it, after they finish feeding their children organic peanut-free peanut butter sandwiches on gluten-free bread. I like to post pro-gay marriage news articles where my anti-gay marriage friends will see them.

Poke, poke, poke.

Comedies have wrinkles around their eyes from smiling so much, Tragedies have lines around their mouth from frowning. Comedies just smiled to feel their eyes wrinkle. Tragedies said, "I do too smile!"

Tragedies enjoy dramas and sad movies and depressing books. They watch the news every night and share the scariest stories at work the next day, convinced the world is going to hell in a handbasket. They watch Parenthood and The Fosters, loved The American Sniper, and they read The Help. In hardback.

Comedies love, well, comedies — sitcoms, funny movies, and funny books. They watch Big Bang Theory and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. They read Christopher Moore and Douglas Adams books. They get their news from The Daily Show, and are often better informed. And they don't make a grumpy face that makes them look like they haven't pooped in a week.

Comedies will think that last joke was funny, Tragedies will send angry letters saying "the word 'poop' has no place in a humor column." (You would've hated my boobs columns then.)

Comedies watch Scandal to make fun of it, Tragedies watch Mulaney and fail to see the humor in it. (Of course, so did the Comedies, which is why it was canceled.)

Personally, I don't see the need to entertain myself with sad stories — tales of war, bankruptcy, death, lost love, and personal suffering. I'm not saying these stories aren't important or worthy. They are. But the whole point of escapism is to escape real life sadness and pain. I want to laugh, not bathe in other people's miseries.

Comedies tell me that everything is going to be all right in the end. Tragedies tell me I'm one day closer to the sweet, sweet release of death.

In the end, we'll measure our lives by how much we laughed and how much we enjoyed the journey. Ultimately, we'll all measure the joy in our lives in pounds or in teaspoons.

Personally, I'm going to measure it in newspaper complaint letters. Check back next week for my column about gay weddings that serve non-gluten-free cake shaped like boobs.


Photo credit: Tim Green (Flickr, Creative Commons)


The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, January 23, 2015

Karl the Curmudgeon and the Time Capsule

"Hey, Kid. Did you hear about this time capsule they opened up in Boston?"

I heard something about it on the news, I said. Something a couple of the founding fathers hid away to keep the law off their tail, or something like that?

"No, not at all. This was a real historical find."

Look, just because someone stuck a box in a closet 200 years ago doesn't mean it's historical. It just means they didn't do a good job of cleaning up.

We were sitting in The Tilted Windmill, our favorite Dutch bar, watching the Dutch national speed skating championships. I waved at Nicky the bartender for a couple more beers. He brought them over, and set them down. This round's on him, I said, pointing at my friend.

"This isn't any old time capsule, Kid," Karl looked around to see who might be listening, and then leaned in closer. "It's Paul Revere and Sam Adams' time capsule from 1795. It was buried in a cornerstone of an old building, and they recently opened it."

So? I asked. It's not a secret, and it still doesn't sound interesting.

"But think of the history!" he said. "They found some coins, some old newspapers, and a silver plate made by Revere himself. Isn't that cool? Actual objects handled by Revere and Adams. What did you think they would find?"

Mrs. Adams.

"Classy. Don't you care about history at all?"


Sort of, I said. I just don't see what the big deal was. It's not like they buried a secret treasure map. We already know all the cool stuff there is to know about those guys. It's in museums and history books. These guys have been studied and examined so much, the experts know more about them than their own mothers.

"I'm going to be opening a time capsule in May," said Karl, ignoring my cynicism. "I'm a little worried about it." He rubbed his face with his hands. "When I was 16, in 1965, they buried a time capsule at my high school, and several of us students put some items in it — school books, records, the school paper — to show people of the future what our lives were like."

We know what life was like back then. We can see it on TV and in used trinket stores. Hell, there's people like you to tell us about it. What's to worry about?

"That's not it," said Karl. "I'm worried about what else they'll find." He took another drink of his beer, and plonked it half-heartedly on the bar. This was serious.

"As one of their most famous graduates, they want me to be on hand to emcee the event and explain to the students and their parents what's in there. There's going to be a whole big ceremony in the auditorium and everything."

That's great. Congratulations. I'll bet you never expected that.

"No, I never did. I never thought this day would even come. Which is why, after we buried the time capsule, some of my buddies and I dug it back up, and dropped in an extra item."

Uh-oh. I don't like where this is going. What did you put in there?

"A pair of my underwear." I nearly did a spit-take with my beer.

Well, aren't you the rebellious one, I said.

"Give me a break, Kid. It was 1965, and I was 16. We were naive back then. Our idea of hijinks was filling up McDonald's after a football game and not ordering anything."

You mean when you weren't busy playing with your Flash Gordon radio decoder ring.

"Shut up."

So what are you going to do? I asked. You'll have a lot of explaining to do when they open the box, and there's a pair of tidy-whiteys in there.

"It gets worse. My mom had sewn my name in them. What am I going to do, Kid? They're right there on top of everything else."

If it were me, I'd announce my candidacy for office right then and there, and use their little discovery as my slogan.

"Seriously."

BVD. Better Vote Deckers.

"Come on!"

Just remember to keep your speech brief. Try not to lingerie too long.

"I'm serious!"

Of corset you are. I was laughing so hard, I was crying.

"You're not helping."

Perhapth you could even thing a thong.

"That's it, I'm leaving." He drained his beer and walked toward the door.

Karl, you're just not thinking outside the boxers.

Karl shouted something unintelligible and probably vulgar, and slammed the door. I wiped my eyes and saw Nicky holding the bill.

He said, "You should have given him some more support."

Nobody likes a smartass, Nicky.



Photo credit: MoveTheClouds (Flickr, Creative Commons)

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, January 16, 2015

The Adventures of Letterman (In memory of my mother, Linda Lee Maxwell)


Erik's mother passed away on Tuesday, January 13. So we are reprinting a column he wrote in 1997 about one of his favorite memories of his mother, learning, and cartoons.

As a father, I worry about things I never did as a bachelor, and instead think as a parent: Are the kids healthy? Are we feeding them right? Is that Barney the Purple Dinosaur on TV?

I also worry that my daughters are going to start dating earlier than I want (about 40 years too early), or that she is going to make me known across the world as "the father of the biggest serial killer in the entire world," or worst of all, marry an accountant.

When I was a child, my biggest concern was that I didn't miss Sesame Street or Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. My baby sister and I watched them every day. But we never, ever missed The Electric Company.

My favorite segment was the Adventures of Letterman. Letterman, voiced by Gene Wilder, was a literary superhero whose costume was a leather football helmet and varsity letterman's sweater. And the letter on his sweater would be the very letter featured in the Electric Company episode. I could never get over the serendipity of it all.

Letterman's nemesis was the evil villain, SpellBinder, who looked like Boris from the Bullwinkle show, and was voiced by Zero Mostel. Spellbinder liked to change items into other items by using his magic wand to change a letter or two in the word — light into night, pickle into tickle. Many of these items had captions, telling the viewer what they were.

In one episode, a container of French fries had the word "snack" above it. One unlucky man sat down at the table, ready to enjoy his "snack" of fries. But Spellbinder had other plans. He zapped his magic wand, changing the "snack" into a. . . "SNAKE!"

The snake wrapped itself around the poor man, and he squeaked out a choked "help," as Spellbinder chuckled evilly. (I never figured out Spellbinder's real goal, but he seemed to enjoy himself.) It seemed the victim's cries would go unheard, but wait! One person did hear: Letterman!

"Faster than a rolling O, more powerful than a silent E, able to leap a capital T in a single bound, it's a bird, it's a plan, it's LETTERMAN!" the narrator, Joan Rivers, shouted. Letterman was attending Calvin Klein University this week, because he sported a 'CK' on his varsity sweater.

But Spellbinder was ready for him. Not only was the snake big enough to crush one helpless victim, he wrapped himself around Letterman too.

"Oh no, what will happen to our literary hero?!" my sister would shout. Actually, she made gurgly noises and pooped in her diaper, because she was a year old, but I knew what she meant.

Letterman wasn't the brightest bulb in the box, so it didn't immediately occur to him that his salvation was on his own chest. But soon, inspiration struck, and he acted.

Joan Rivers said, "Tearing the 'CK' from his varsity sweater, and placing it over the 'KE', he changes the snake. . . back into a snack!!"

This was the coolest thing ever, so I told my mom I wanted to be Letterman. She cut out a few letters — two M's, an L, and an O — and taped three of them to the wall, spelling LOM. She taped the other M to my chest.

Spellbinder had changed my mom into a LOM! I didn't know what that was, but it was nasty — purple and green, with tentacles and eyes growing out of its neck. My mother, always willing to play along with my insanity, even did Joan Rivers' part.

I coached her on her lines for several minutes, so when she started shouting, "faster than a rolling O, stronger than a silent E, able to leap capital T in a single bound!" I raced from the kitchen into the living room, chest puffed out to show off the "M" emblazoned on (taped to) my varsity sweater (Kool-Aid stained t-shirt).

"It's a bird, it's a plan, IT'S LETTERMAN!"

I did the rest of my narration: "Tearing the 'M' from his varsity sweater, Letterman places it over the 'L', changing the Lom back into Mom!"

I had saved the day, the city, and my house. My mom clapped and cheered, and thanked me profusely, assuring me she was very happy to no longer be a Lom.

Which was good for me, because Lom's don't give cookies to their sons.


The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, January 09, 2015

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones

Erik is out of the office this week, so we're reprinting a column from 2004 to see if the political climate has changed at all in the intervening 11 years. Although the names have changed, the pettiness and whining have not.

It takes a lot to get politicians in an uproar. They're generally pretty easy going, level-headed, and not prone to immature outbursts about silly issues.

Wait, I was thinking of my children.

Politicians, on the other hand, have an overdeveloped sense of righteous indignation that flares up when they think it will serve a purpose. Which is whenever a journalist is nearby

It's happened twice in the past month, and people on both ends of the political spectrum have gotten their panties in a bunch over public comments made by someone on the other side.

A few weeks ago, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called some California Democrats "girlie men," recalling the Hans and Franz skits from "Saturday Night Live."

He blamed state Democrats for delaying the budget, claiming they were catering to special interests.

"If they don't have the guts to come up here in front of you and say, 'I don't want to represent you, I want to represent those special interests, the unions, the trial lawyers' — if they don't have the guts, I call them girlie men," Schwarzenegger said, according to a CNN.com story.

You would have thought Schwarzenegger had kicked a puppy and told a dirty joke to a group of nuns. Women's groups were apoplectic, and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus was livid. Charges of homophobia and misogyny flew like bullets in a Schwarzenegger flick. But following in the tradition of the leaders of his party, the Republican governor didn't apologize for his remarks.

"If they complain too much about this, I guess they're making the governor's point," spokesman Rob Stutzman said to CNN.

The remark also offended actual girlie men around the country, who stamped their little feet and flung their Williams-Sonoma catalogs to the ground.

So with two simple words, Arnold was able to offend two different groups of Californians.

Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of Senator John Kerry, managed a similar feat, although she only offended right-wing journalists.

Earlier this week, after being badgered by Colin McNickle, editorial page editor of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review — a conservative newspaper — she pointed her finger at him and told him to "shove it."

I presume she didn't mean her finger.

Many news analysts and pundits wondered whether she would be a liability to her husband's presidential campaign.

Of course, these are the same pundits who started using the term "red meat" during the Democratic convention this week, so I wouldn't put too much stock into what they say.

Mary Beth Cahill, Kerry's campaign manager, was asked by David Broder of The Washington Post, "Who's in charge of keeping her on message?"

"She just says what she thinks. She's her own person," Cahill replied. "So get bent!"

She really didn't say that last part, but I'm sure she wanted to.

"That's going to be wild if she gets to be first lady," said Rep. Ray LaHood (R-IL.), in a story on HillNews.com.

Republicans were actually pretty quiet about the whole incident, which is not that surprising, given the party's gaffes in the last four years.

In 2000, on the campaign trail, then-Governor Bush leaned over to Dick Cheney and pointed out a reporter from the New York Times. "That's Adam Clymer," said Bush. "He's a major league a**hole." "Oh yeah, big time," Cheney added, his rapier wit working overtime.

The problem was, the dissing duo wasn't aware a microphone was picking up their little exchange. The "a**hole" heard 'round the world haunted them for a couple of weeks afterward.

And who can forget last month when, while on the Senate floor, Vice President Cheney invited Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to have sex with himself.

"Go f*** yourself," was actually what he said.

Needless to say, the Republicans can't really complain about Heinz Kerry's "shove it" statement when the Vice President of the United States goes around encouraging US Senators to commit unnatural and nearly impossible sexual acts.

But it makes me wonder, if I ever decide to run for public office, will my own unpredictability and off-the-cuff remarks prove to be a liability? Will I be lambasted by my opponents and the media because of my potty mouth? Would a remark like that eventually prove to be my undoing?

Who knows? But if anyone wants to make an issue of it, they can bite me!


The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, January 02, 2015

This Curated List of Banned Words is Cray-Cray

"It's that most wonderful time of year / with curmudgeons all yelling / and everyone expelling / bad words with a sneer / it's that most wonderful time of the year!"

At the beginning of each year, if all the word nerds and syntax snobs have been good, Lake Superior State University (LSSU) gives us its List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.

This year was no different. On New Year's Eve 2014, LSSU curated its 39th list of much-hated words, and I'm re-curating it for the ninth year in a row. Or I was until a few minutes ago.


That's because "curated" made the list. It's a snooty, pretentious word for "collected" or "organized." Commonly referring to the job of museum collection organization, it's become the go-to marketing term that means "I copied other people's crap to look like I'm doing something useful." I see it a lot in my day job and I wish I could see less of it.

Maybe it will get buried under this year's polar vortex.

That's the fear-mongering word for "really cold weather," and it got the old ice axe as well. Now that TV meteorologists like needlessly frightening viewers too, "polar vortex" has become the fearsome word to describe when the temperature drops below 20.

According to LSSU, the word was submitted very early last year, when Kenneth Ross said, "Less than a week into the new year, and it's the most overused, meaningless word in the media."

Nice going, news media. You ruined a word in 1/52 of a year. That may be a new record, and you were the ones who gave us "fiscal cliff."

But LSSU got a jump on banning the word before anyone else (bae) when they burned a snowman named Mr. Polar Vortex during their annual Snowman Burning last spring.

I mention "bae" because that should have been burned too. It's used to describe your boyfriend or girlfriend. You put them "before anyone else," and use the word to aae — annoy everyone else.

It's so bad that S. Thoms of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan said, "I heard someone refer to their ramen noodles as 'bae'!"

I can understand putting a fettuccine bolognese before anyone else, but ramen? Eww, have some self-respect! No foodie would eat ramen.

At least not anymore, now that "foodie" has been banned. If only we could ban the people who call themselves foodies.

We used to call them gourmands. But now, foodies like to take selfies (banned in 2014) with their winie and beerie friends, two terms coined by Randall Chamberlain of Traverse City, Michigan.

"I crave good sleep too, but that does not make me a sleepie," said Gradeon DeCamp of Elk Rapids, Michigan.

I suppose if you could find new techniques and methods for hacking your sleep, that might make you a sleepie. Except now "hack" is banned. Those things we called "tips" or "shortcuts" are called hacks. Life hacks, travel hacks, food hacks, sleep hacks, video game hacks. You name it, someone's got a hack for it.

Of course you don't need hacks if you have a good skill set to begin with. Which is actually just a term for "skills." Which we need to start using again since "skill set" got whacked.

"Skill set" is the term for people who don't know about plural words, like "skills." They use it to sound all impressive and business-y. But if business people want to be efficient, doubling the number of words to express an idea isn't very efficient.

In fact, it's downright cray-cray.

That's apparently what young people are saying when they mean "crazy." While not officially doubling the number of words, they're just doubling down on the first syllable instead, as in "my bae is cray-cray."

"Cray-cray." It just sounds annoying. Or is that "annoy-annoy?" (For the sake of accuracy, LSSU spelled it "cra-cra," but everyone else spells it "cray-cray," which is just nuts.)

The big takeaway from all this?

One, we're no longer allowed to say "takeaway." The word that means the big idea you learned, the thing that stood out for you has been taken away from us.

The other big takeaway? People aren't happy. We love to complain. I hate that "literally" is slowly changing to mean "figuratively," something LSSU didn't ban. (Come on, you guys!) Other people hate words like "cray-cray" and "bae" and "foodie." We just can't be happy, no matter what.

It's like the country is being covered by a grumpiness vortex.


The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, December 26, 2014

Children's Social Etiquette in Decline

What's the etiquette on loud kids in public these days? Is that still a taboo, or are we now allowing this as a society? Are we letting it slide, like how marijuana isn't a big deal anymore, or you can say the S-word on cable TV after 10:00 pm?

It seems like children are louder and more obnoxious than they were 20 years ago. Or maybe I'm getting more curmudgeonly. Or more likely, both.

I'm getting less tolerant of the increasing number of children who shriek, scream, cry, kick, throw things, and shout "NO!" at parents who do a half-assed job of getting their kid to calm down.

When I was a kid, it was a social taboo for kids to misbehave in public. Nowadays, it seems the grownups who weren't allowed to be brats as kids are delighted to let their own kids be brats.

Meanwhile, people who don't appreciate having their quiet evening out spoiled by obnoxious brats aren't allowed to ask the parents to keep their kids quiet, because we're somehow questioning the parents' abilities.

Actually, we're totally questioning their parenting abilities, because they suck at keeping their kids quiet.

I was recently at a Christmas Eve service at church where four kids, all old enough to know better, were constantly shrieking and crying, demanding their parents' attention. A mom or dad would take the child out for two minutes, bring them back, only to take them out again because of more shrieking and crying.

It was more than distracting, it ruined the mood of the evening. There's nothing like hearing "O Holy Night," when you hear some kid across the sanctuary shriek "I WANT JUICE!"

And apparently, yelling "HEY KID, SHUT THE HELL UP, I'M TRYING TO HEAR ABOUT JESUS!" is distinctly frowned upon.

Or so I've been told.

Is it that the standards of acceptable behavior have changed? Is society allowing children to make an obnoxious spectacle of themselves? Or is there some new philosophy that allows little Caitlyn and little Jayden to loudly express themselves in a safe and nurturing space with helicopter parents who use phrases like "nurturing space?"

When I was a kid, we weren't allowed to run around after dinner. We sat until everyone was finished, which given the thoroughness that my dad chewed his food meant sitting until breakfast.

Even now, at 71, my dad chew each bite of food 50 times. I know this, because I counted, since there was nothing else to do except watch him chew and chew and chew.

And chew and chew and chew.

And chew and chew and chew.

Once, he only chewed his food 45 times, and I said, "what's your hurry?"

If my dad spends 30 minutes at each meal, he's spent roughly 4.45 years chewing his food.

(Seriously. I worked it out on a spreadsheet.)

I mention this to say I understand the drudging weariness every kid feels when they have to sit at the table and wait for everyone else. I know the agony of watching the clock actually move backward as your parents literally and figuratively eat into your only free time for the rest of the day.

I was just as impatient as their kids at that age. But that didn't mean I was allowed to get away with that kind of behavior in public, or at home.

We weren't allowed to leave the table, we weren't allowed to play games, and our parents didn't think it was necessary to keep us entertained every second. We learned to sit politely and wait until everyone was done.

My wife and I had the same expectations for our own kids when they were little. No getting up, no playing, no climbing in the booth. When we went out to eat, they sat quietly and colored before and after they ate.

My favorite part of going out though was when a nearby child would misbehave, and my kids would stare in wide-eyed disbelief at the little miscreant, as if he had just taken his pants off and sat in his dinner.

Maybe I am getting less tolerant as I get older, but I don't see why we can't expect children to behave themselves in public. Or why parents won't remove their loud children from a restaurant, church, or movie theater until the latest outburst is under control again.

I promise not to create my own spectacle by hollering at those parents and their miscreant children. But believe me, when I get home, I will write a strongly worded newspaper column about it! That'll show 'em.


Photo credit: Emran Kassim (Flickr, Creative Commons)

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, December 19, 2014

Seven Secrets to Successful Marriage

Last week, my wife and I celebrated 21 years of marriage. Twenty-one years of ups and downs, good times and hard times. If our marriage were a person, it would be old enough to drink.

If it had been through what we've been through, it would want to.

Don't get me wrong, it's been a great marriage. I couldn't be happier. Not without a large influx of cash. Life is difficult sometimes, but we've managed to weather the storms.

In fact, our marriage has lasted 20.5 years longer than some people thought. Several of them expressed their concerns (butted in) that we (I) weren't right for each other (her), and that something sinister (my secular upbringing) could cause difficulties (send her sobbing back home to her parents).

But we've persevered, thrived, and supported each other as we raised a family and pursued our dreams. Unlike our holier-than-thou detractors, however, we haven't had to deal with extramarital affairs, addiction to pornography, or embezzlement. (And I was the one they were worried about!)

Not that I'm still bitter, 21 years later.

I was recently asked how we've managed to stay together this long. I thought about that, and came up with our seven secrets to a successful marriage.

Tip #1: Say "I love you" every day. My wife and I say it at least once a day, and usually several times. We say it when part ways each morning, and again when we go to bed at night. It grosses out our kids that we're always this mushy, so we like to squeeze in a couple gooshy "I wuv ewes" at dinner. Their pained groans make it totally worth it.

Combine this with Tip #2, always tell each other good-bye. A nice hug and kiss with an "I love you" for good measure. Never leave the house without saying good-bye. And don't shout it upstairs either, as you're on the way out the door.

Our unspoken fear is that one of us won't make it back from wherever we're going, and we don't want the last thing we said to be "don't forget the ointment for the dog's butt!"

Now that I think about it, "At least I remembered the dog's butt ointment" would make an awesome gravestone epitaph.

Tip #3: Hug and kiss each other once a day. This is easier to do when you're younger, because you can't keep your hands off each other. The trick is to keep doing it when it gets a little easier to keep your hands to yourself.

It's also fun when kids get icked out by parents showing public displays of affection. The more you do it, the louder they groan, which means you should do it more. Because grossing out the kids is all parents ever really want out of life; mashing our faces together to do it is an added bonus.

Tip #4: Never fight about money. Easier said than done, right? After all, the number one thing married couples fight about is money. But we have found a fair and equitable solution. Since I'm so terrible with money — and math — my wife is in charge of family finances. She tells me when I can't buy stuff anymore.

Then I do it a little more until she tells me that I absolutely cannot, without risking death at her hand, spend any money whatsoever. Then I hold off until payday, when I assume everything's okay, until she tells me otherwise again. It's worked for the last 21 years, and I'm sure her sleepless nights a few days before every payday are completely unrelated.

Tip #5: Decide whether you want to be happy or right. I have learned, through much trial and error, that you can't be both. If you're in an argument, you can go and go and go until you're right, but you won't be happy in the end. Or you can just apologize, even if it's not your fault, end the argument, and be happy.

Is it fair and just? No. But if you're happy, you don't care. If you're right, I hope that brings you more comfort than the couch does.

If you're one of those people who is only happy when they're right, get used to being alone, because those people tend not to be in relationships very long.

Tip #6: Argue. No, seriously, argue. I knew a couple who swore up and down that they never argued. Not once. They were two of the most miserable people I'd ever met.

Healthy couples argue occasionally. They have fair exchanges, they vent their emotions, and when they're done, they make up. They fight fair, give each other a chance to speak, never ridicule, insult, or bully. They wrestle with an issue until they resolve it, and then get on with their lives.

Unhealthy couples bicker and argue all the time, or they never get upset with each other. In either case, seek counseling.

Tip #7: Something about listening or some such thing. I don't know, the game's on.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, December 12, 2014

Fine, Have a Passive-Aggressive Christmas!

A recent blog post on ScaryMommy.com, "Passive Aggressive Gifts For Kids of Parents You Hate," got me to thinking about the holidays. Christmas is a time of love, family, peace on earth, good will toward men (and women), except for those we really don't like.

Of course, we're not supposed to say things like that, but that doesn't mean many of us aren't perpetually annoyed at certain people in our lives. Like the "friends" who pretend they're overjoyed to see us, but when we're out of earshot, trash us to anyone who cares to listen.

They're the ones who insult us in a way that we're not really sure if we should punch them or thank them — "Have you been losing weight? It's about time, I was beginning to worry about you. Your pants finally fit well."

These are the people we're supposed to be kind to, because it's Christmas. We don't want to, we really just want to drink too much egg nog and tell them what we really think, but they're family, so we can't. Instead we fret over family gatherings and friends' parties, which can ruin the holidays.

This is where being passive-aggressive helps: you get to stick it to the people you don't quite like without actually coming to blows.

In keeping with the Christmas spirit, let me give you a few pointers to help you abide by the spirit of Christmas, or at least the letter of the law. Follow these carefully, and you'll get the one thing you really need: plausible deniability. As in, "what do you mean, milk chocolate isn't vegan? It's made from chocolate!"

1) Give their kids gifts that make a lot of noise or leave a big mess. ScaryMommy.com recommends toys like an electronic voice changer. The fun will last until the battery dies, or his parents snap and smash the thing with the minivan. Glitter and Moon Dough (a never-drying knockoff of Play-Doh) are great for messes that will never truly go away.

2) Give a basic starter kit to a much larger activity. For example, give a Thomas the Tank Engine train to a three-year-old boy, and his parents will curse you for the next seven years as they buy every toy, clothing item, accessory, and DVD about the little British steam engine and his pals.

Similarly, give adults a beginning jewelry kit, home brewing kit, or the first book of a 24-book series. Better yet, make it the seventh book, so they're forced to go back in both directions.

3) When extended family visits, serve everyone the same foods you give to that one diet-restricted person in your immediate family. If you or your child is lactose intolerant, only serve soy egg nog and almond milk hot chocolate.

But don't offer these same arrangements if someone in their family has a diet restriction. Ask them to bring their own food to accommodate their stupid kid's stupid potato allergy.

The same is true for those relatives who insist their precious snowflakes can only eat organic, free-range, grass fed foods. Serve mac-and-cheese with cut-up hot dogs as a side dish. Put the mac-and-cheese in Christmas tree shaped dishes, and use the hot dogs as Christmas balls. Then, no one can complain about the food, because they would be complaining about Christmas.

4) Buy clothes that are too large. Not grossly large, but a couple sizes too big. You can say, "I thought this would look nice on you" but the underlying message is "We all think you're this big." Don't get something too big, like an XXXL bathrobe for your petite sister-in-law. She'll recognize what you're doing, and call you out on it. This defeats the purpose of plausible deniability.

5) This one is a double-reverse. Many people with a November or January birthday learned to hate their birthday, because of cheap relatives who would give a single gift to cover both days.

Don't do that. That's not true passive-aggression.

If you want to be really zing someone, give those people two gifts, one for each special day. This makes you look like the cool, awesome friend or relative, and embarrasses the people who cheap out and only buy one. And that's what we really want this season, right?

Ultimately, Christmas is about giving, not receiving; sharing, not greed; love, not hatred. If you're going to be passive-aggressive, try to do it with a little love and kindness so you look like you're actually a kind person. Or can at least claim to be.

Especially when you're picking my Christmas gifts. Just don't get me Starbucks gift cards. Especially the $25 ones.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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Friday, December 05, 2014

House Hunter Haters

Announcer: Welcome to another episode of House Hunters, the show where two spoiled brats search for the "Perfect Dream Home of their Dreams" in a new city with a surprising budget beyond the reach of normal, reasonable people.

This week, Angie and Dylan Baxter want to find a home in uber-expensive Santa Barbara, California. He's a part-time freelance web designer and she's a kindergarten teaching assistant. They have a budget of $750,000, and want to find a spacious home and yard that reminds them of the farmhouses in rural Kansas. Our realtor, Barbara, is on the case.

Barbara (to camera): I specialize in making people's dreams come true, which, despite what the haters say, is a real thing. I've worked in this town for 27 years as a Realtor (notice how I capitalized it there; that means it's important), and I can help the Baxters. Their budget is $750,000, which is the bare minimum you need to break into the Santa Barbara market.

Angie (to camera): I grew up with a big family. So I—

Dylan: —We—

Angie: Right, we want a big house, just like I grew up in. I, I mean, we want to get something with at least five bedrooms and a big back yard, if we ever have a child.

Barbara stares blankly at the camera.

Dylan (sitting in a "meeting" with Barbara and Angie): We got married three years ago and are ready to start the next chapter in our lives. We love exercising and we came out to California, because frankly we're too pretty to stay in Kansas. We have impossibly saved up $750,000, and want to spend our days eating organic vegetables and doing hot yoga in the basement, which we would turn into a yoga studio so Angie could give private lessons.

(Commercial break for luxury items you don't actually need.)

Barbara (to camera): We've looked at 32 different houses, but we haven't found what the Baxters were looking for. He wants something close to his work, which I don't even think is a real job. And she finds something wrong with every single #&@& house! God help me, I don't know how much more of this I can take!

(Cut to the three walking up the driveway of another house.)

Barbara: This house is a 2,400 square foot Arts and Crafts style bungalow. It's the only home ever designed by I.M. Pei, it sits on its own private cul-de-sac, which is right next to the beach. The kitchen was remodeled six months ago, and comes with its own robot chef. The last couple who lived here found gold in the back yard, but had to move before they found it all. And best of all, it's only $10,000.

Angie (said with enough "creaky voice" to register on the Richter scale.): But the fourth bedroom is too sma-a-a-a-ll. And it looks all 50s-ish. Bo-ring. The 50s were big, you know, three years ago, but now they're out.

Barbara: Actually mid-century modern architecture is still very popular.

Angie: Well, not where we're from.

Dylan: On the plus side, I like the mahogany workbench in the garage, and the view is gorgeous. Plus the robot chef can even make kale smoothies. Angie loves—

Angie: —We love—

Dylan: Uh, yeah, we love kale smoothies.

Angie: I think we'd like to see some other houses before we decide.

Dylan: But babe, this one is perfect. And for $10,000? We'd be idiots to pass it up.

Angie: I don't know. I just didn't like the color of the walls in the closet. Plus there was some mildew on the shower curtain, and I didn't like the washer and dryer.

Dylan: Okay, babe. I trust your judgment.

Angie: We want to see some more houses over the next five weeks before we decide.

Barbara: I have to tell you, in my 27 years of being a Realtor (did you hear me capitalize it again?), I've never seen a house go for so little. Not without being a serial killer's house or exceedingly haunted. This is the most sought after house on the market, and I'm amazed there's not a riot of people trying to buy it.

Angie: I think I know a little something about home buying too. I became an interior designer after I helped my mom paint her living room. Plus I read some realtor blogs last night.

Barbara: That's Realtor!

Announcer: When we return, we'll see whether Angie and Dylan choose the Arts and Crafts bungalow, or if Barbara straight up murdered them.



Photo credit: Randen Pederson (Flickr, Creative Commons)

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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