Friday, November 21, 2014

You've Got a Thing Hanging. . .

With all the weird weather going on, Erik is feeling under the weather himself. So we're reprinting a column from 2005 while he curses the winter from his couch. With a juice box.

Quick, check the mirror. You've got something in your teeth.

How many people would tell you that? Not many. You could be eating lunch with a friend and have a huge chunk of your entree stuck between your front teeth, and your so-called friend will just stare at you. You think you're wildly interesting, because she's making great eye contact and hangs on your every word. But in reality, you're going to spend the entire day with a huge piece of green spinach plastered to your front tooth, making you look like Mike Tyson's prom date. And your friend will never tell you.

You can tell who your true friends are, because they're the ones who tell you if you've got a booger hanging from your nose; they want to save you from complete embarrassment later on.

But most people I know say they never point out dangling boogers or tooth spinach because they don't want to embarrass the other person. That's understandable. You wouldn't want to have your carefully crafted persona shattered by being told you have a huge chunk of barbecued rib dangling from the corner of your mouth.

However, these non-tellers never think about the fact that you won't discover your bodily faux pas for three hours when you finally get to a bathroom mirror.

Now how embarrassed are you? Not only did you sit through lunch with your friend, but you had a department meeting, and gave a presentation to your boss, with that booger stalactite hanging from your nostril.

We're not really trying to spare the other person's feelings. We're just embarrassed ourselves. We don't want to be the one to point at the other person, say "Err. . . you've got a. . ." and then wipe our hand under our nose.

However, we feel absolutely no compunction about laughing about it with friends later: "I mean, it was just HANGING there , flapping in and out with every breath! I started to worry it was going to fly into my soup!"

We need to get over ourselves. Life is not always about us (it's about me, actually, but that's a different column), so we shouldn't worry about the shame of saying "You've got a. . . uhh. . ." We're actually doing the other person a favor — the same favor we would want them to do for us.

It's the Golden Nugget Rule: Point out others' boogers as you would have them point out boogers unto you.

Ultimately, the kind of person you are comes down to that one simple question: are you a forthright straight shooter who tells people what they need to hear? Or are you a shy, timid wallflower who would rather be swarmed over by fire ants then tell your best friend of 25 years that their barn door is open?

I would hope you're the former, and that you'll spare a friend total public humiliation and remind her to thoroughly wipe her nose before she leaves the restaurant.

Of course, all of the rules fly out the window when it comes to smells and odors. Even communication and relationship experts agree that telling someone they smell would be the most awkward, uncomfortable thing we could ever do. It's less awkward to tell your best friend you're having an affair with his wife as you carry her out the door for a romantic weekend.

Our smells are one of the most basic things about us — it's our very essence and the way our prehistoric ancestors used to identify each other way back in the 1940s. Even in some cultures today, a person's odor is considered part of who they are, as distinctive as their face and their personality. To experience a person's odor is to experience the person.

Because odors are so primal, people never want to point out that someone else is emitting an unpleasant one. In most cases, it's considered a grave insult. The only exception is when a group of Guys get together and someone shouts the inevitable, "Dude, that was gross! What died inside you?!" immediately after one of them rips one. Then, not only are odors pointed out, they're usually laughed at and celebrated.

So, don't be a fair weather friend. Look out for your friend, co-worker, or new acquaintance and help them save face in what could be an awkward social situation. Stand up, point dramatically at the other person, and declare proudly: "I am your friend, and you've got a large booger hanging from your nose!"

They'll thank you for it.


Photo credit: AWiseAcre (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, November 14, 2014

Danish Researcher Receives Troll Hunting Grant

Despite Denmark's own flagging economy, the Danish Council for Independent Research apparently has too much money lying around. They're giving 2.5 million Kroner ($419,000 US) to a Danish PhD student who wants to determine whether trolls live on Bornholm island.

Anyone who's been to the Norway exhibit at Epcot knows that Scandinavians love their trolls. The knobbly creatures with huge noses and wild hair run rampant through Nordic fairy tales, but are thought to be as real as the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, or a tasty gluten-free brownie.

PhD student Lars Christian Kofoed Rømer was the lucky researcher selected to receive the 2.5 million Kroner grant. He'll spend a year on the island in the Baltic Sea looking for "physical manifestations" of trolls. He's even looking for the Krølle Bølle troll, which has already been determined to be fake, as it was created in 1946 by author Ludwig Mahler.

I don't know what Rømer's methods will be, but if it were me, I would try to spot them on the beach, from a hammock, to see if they would steal my umbrella drinks. In the winter, I would hole up in a cozy log cabin and see if I could entice any trolls inside with a fire, steaks, beer, and hours and hours of Assassins Creed on Xbox.

My research proposal was shredded and returned to me, postage due.

I spoke with noted Danish troll hunter, Bjorn Jorgensen, to ask him about the chances of Rømer finding evidence of the supernatural beings.

"You have to understand that trolls are very shy creatures," said Jorgensen. They usually only live in and around burial mounds. They're also very mischievous, so they may not actually want to be found for the entire year.

"They're notoriously hard to spot, although you can often see evidence that they've been around. They'll hide your keys, put your wallet in your other pants, or send racy text messages to your wife's best friend."

"Sounds like you've got some real experience with trolls," I said.

"Ja, they're real stinkers," he said. "I first became aware of them when my wife was snooping around on my mobile phone. Since then, I've dedicated my life to finding the trolls who would do such a thing."

"Have you had any luck?"

"I've been close," said Jorgensen. "I've tried leaving little traps, like the old stick and box trick. I've found the box tipped over, or the troll has placed a raccoon inside the trap."

"What kind of advice do you have for Mr. Rømer?"

"There are a few things I would tell him if I could, except my wife checks my mobile phone daily. First, trolls only come out at night. There's no use trying to find them during the day. For one thing, their hidey-holes are camouflaged with troll magic, which means you wouldn't even see them if you were standing on top of them."

"But you can see them at night?"

"Oh no, of course not. It's too dark."

"Then how do you know whether you can see them?"

"I have been a troll hunter for 11 years. I know how to spot a troll hole."

"You mean a Krølle Bølle troll hole?"

"Don't be a smartrøv."

"Sorry. What else should Mr. Rømer know?"

"Trolls are able to disguise themselves. They're very cunning and clever that way. Many times, I have captured a troll, but he has cleverly disguised himself as a raccoon or rabbit. Once, a troll disguised himself as a badger, and I had to be taken to hospital. I received 37 stitches in my hands, and a series of painful rabies shots. I was not able to text my wife's— I mean, continue with my troll hunting for weeks."

"Have you ever seen a real troll?"

"Absolutely," said Jorgensen. "I actually held one in my hands. He was only half a meter tall, and I caught him around his middle with both hands. I went to show my wife, but he bit me on the hand. He almost broke the skin! He also poked me in the eye with that big nose of his. I had to drop him, and he scampered off into the woods."

"That's unfortunate," I said.

"Yes, Mr. Rømer will need to be careful. Trolls will also steal people's clothes, if they are not careful. He needs to take care if he is ever doing nocturnal research with his wife's fri—I mean, research assistant."


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, November 07, 2014

Why I Failed Math Story Problems

Writers can weave stories out of the smallest details, but we're very bad at sciencey-mathy things. We can't solve algebraic equations or balance our checkbooks, but we're great at making up new words like "sciencey-mathy."

You would think writers would be good at story problems, but we tend to focus on the story more than the math. An example:

"Jeanette and Stephen are each going to visit their mother in Croton-On-Hudson, New York for Thanksgiving. Jeanette and her family will drive from Stamford, Connecticut, taking highway 9A, which takes 54 minutes. Stephen will take the number 5 subway to Penn Station, and then the train, which will take 1 hour and 54 minutes. If dinner starts at 3:00, what time will Jeanette and Stephen each need to leave to arrive in time for dinner?"

The more important question is why can't Jeanette and Tim, her husband, just give Stephen a ride? If he took the train out to Stamford, he could ride with Jeanette, Tim, and their two kids, Reese and Aubrey, spending quality time with them.

Answer: Because Stephen can't stand the frosty tension between Jeanette and Tim. They constantly snipe at each other, sleep in separate rooms, and haven't been intimate for years. They bicker in front of the kids, who don't notice, because they spend all their time texting with friends.

Tim suspects Jeanette of having an affair with their neighbor, and she's been drowning her feelings of neglect and rage in a bottle of pinot grigio each night. Rather than confront her — Tim hates confrontation — he's been spending more time at the accounting firm he runs with his brother, paying more attention to their marketing coordinator, Allison, than he maybe should.

Their nanny — manny, actually, since Jeanette wouldn't hear of hiring a college girl to flaunt herself in front of Tim — takes the kids to soccer practice, dance recitals, and so on. Jeanette has also been paying a little more attention to Jason the manny than she maybe should.

The kids are busy and disinterested, Tim is always working, and Jeanette is busy with her "interior design business," the go-to business choice for rich stay-at-home moms who received a couple compliments on their kitchen and living room remodel. She's had three clients in two years, including the neighbor she's been sleeping with.

Today's argument was about whether to take I-287 versus NY 9-A to her mother's. GPS says 287 will only take 37 minutes without traffic, but Tim is worried about holiday traffic, which can add 90 minutes. He says that while 9-A is curvier and a longer distance, they can avoid any "potential problems." Jeanette senses he really means "I don't have to spend as much time with you," and her fragile insecurity causes her to polish off the other half bottle of pinot from last night's dinner, which she ate and then purged, while Tim and Allison "discussed a new marketing campaign."

"Cripes, it's barely 12:00," whines Tim, looking at her glass. Jeanette hurls it into the sink, shattering it. The kids barely look up from their iPhones. "Ah, the holidays," they think.

Meanwhile, Stephen lives in Brooklyn, where he is a novelist and creative writing instructor at the New School in Manhattan. He's bringing his girlfriend, Rachel, home to meet the family, knowing she'll raise a few eyebrows. Rachel is African-American, and Stephen's mother is a bit of a racist. So is Tim, a die-hard conservative who doesn't actually know any black people.

Rachel's experiences are more urban, and Stephen knows his mother and Tim will make snide remarks and ignorant statements all day. But he loves Rachel, a professional dancer and actress, and has prepared her for all this. He knows the less time she's around his family, the better. Which rules out riding with Jeanette and Tim in their ostentatious SUV.

Stephen also can't stand his niece and nephew. They're spoiled brats who spend more time texting their friends than actually engaging in human communication. Stephen suspects Reese may be using prescription medication, something he'd had his own experience with, having completed rehab two years ago. He mentioned it to Jeanette once, who screamed at him for 20 minutes.

Stephen will need to leave at 12:00 in order to arrive at 2:00, otherwise the next train would get him to his mother's at 3:15. While he's not looking forward to the extra hour there, it's certainly better than hearing his mother gripe for the rest of the day about his being 15 minutes late.

"Erik, the correct answer was 2:00 and 1:00. Please take this worksheet home to your parents, have them sign it, and tell them I want to meet with them at their earliest convenience."


Photo credit: Clay Shonkwiler (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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Thursday, November 06, 2014

Sitting on Your. . . Self and other Hazards of Aging

Occasionally I'll accept guest posts from friends and fellow humor writers. This guest humor piece is from my friend, Randy Clark, who writes about the joys and. . . perils of being an older man. At least older than me.

I’d heard about aging men painfully sitting on their scrotum but had never experienced this geriatric phenomenon. This morning I nearly did. As I sat on the toilet, my boy parts exposed to the cold porcelain, my testis rested on the seat as my left thigh and buttocks approached. Only by quickly (OK, I wasn’t that quick) rebalancing myself on my right rump did I avoid squashing my sac. With age come lifestyle adjustments.

Evolution In Action

Do you remember the evolution diagram in your 7th grade science book? I know the boomers do. Anyway, it shows the progression from monkey to man beginning with a knuckle-dragging primate and slowly straightening up to a posture perfect tall standing man. My wife recently commented, after I took several minutes to get up from the couch that I went through every phase. She may be right. My knuckles are scratched.

It Ain’t All Good, And It Ain’t All Bad

My eyesight has digressed (my left eye has the beginning of a cataract.) My reflexes are slower. My hearing isn’t what it used to be. And my memory is shorter. (Now where was I?) But there are things about growing older that I enjoy and appreciate.

It Sure Beats The Alternative. Or Why Growing Older Is A Good Thing

You know the theory about needing 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert? I have a lot of 10,000-hour categories: management, presenting, performing, and more. And by the time you’re in your 60’s you will too.

I’m not seeking the BIG score I sought in my youth. Whether its income, power, or prestige being on top isn’t as important to me as doing what I believe in and enjoy. Most of what I do, I do because it makes me happy. Life is good.

I’ve heard for years if you have your health you have everything, but never embraced this philosophy. However, being fortunate to be in good health at my age—I now subscribe to it. As American composer Eubie Blake said, “If I’d known I was going to live this long I would’ve taken better care of myself.”

I concern myself less with what others think of my actions and beliefs. I probably will always make some concessions, but I find myself caring less if I conform to others opinions. It’s freeing.

Yes, my back may be bowed, my eyes squinted, and my memory has holes in it, but aging doesn’t only bring regression. It is filled with wonders and joys that when embraced can set your soul free. And besides, I haven’t sat on my balls—yet.

About Randy Clark

I was asked to submit a bio, so rather than offer a third person eulogy of my personal achievements and the positions I’ve held I have a question. If you’re paid to do something are you a professional? If so I’m a professional writer who is also a Rock & Roll singer or a professional singer who writes. Either way—I think I’m funny.



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, October 31, 2014

Karl the Curmudgeon Hates Selfies

Karl, scoot over here, I said.

"I'm not really comfortable doing that, Kid."

Don't flatter yourself, old man. I want to take a picture of the two of us. Karl and I were at The Tilted Windmill, our favorite Dutch bar, to watch a game from Dutch Eredivisie Soccer, the Netherlands' professional soccer league — FC Utrecht was beating FC Eindhoven, 2 – 1.

"I know that. That's what I'm not comfortable with."

What? I said. Are you ashamed to be seen with me?

"No more than usual," he said.

I gestured to Nicholaas the bartender for two more beers. Put it on his tab, Nicky, I said. Maybe I can get him drunk enough that he's not ashamed of me anymore.

"Oh, don't be such a baby," growled Karl. "I just don't like selfies"

What? How can you not like selfies?

"You mean besides the fact the word just sounds stupid? That it's one letter away from 'selfish?' Or that it's completely shallow and narcissistic, and shows the world that the picture takers care only about themselves?"

That's harsh, man. I just wanted a photo of us together, since I don't have any. I slumped my shoulders for effect. I mean, you're a good friend, but I don't have anything to remember you by when you finally die.

"That's pretty manipulative, even for you." Karl took a big swig of his beer to wash out the saccharine taste. "Fine, if you want a picture of us, get Nicky to take it. Just don't take it yourself."

After Nicky snapped our photo — where I later discovered Karl had rolled his eyes — I defended the art of the selfie.

It's not a big deal, I said. People have always wanted to photograph themselves, ever since cameras were invented. We just couldn't do it easily. We had to focus, had to hold still, had to leave some extra distance between us and the camera. Even with digital cameras, we could never be sure if we were in the frame or not. Now, with our cell phones, we can see what we're taking a picture of. Rather than getting people to do it, we can do it ourselves.

"But what's the point?"

Because people want to share their experiences and adventures with friends. Instead of handing your phone or camera to a stranger — who could run off with it — and asking them to take a picture of you in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza, you can do it yourself.

"Yeah, but then the photo becomes about you, and not about the experience. You have a collection of photos of you, not places you've been. I'd rather have a photo that shows as much of God's creations or man's constructs as possible and not to have my giant melon in the shot."

You're right about that, I said. You do have a giant melon.

"No bigger than yours, Great Pumpkin." Karl asked Nicky for two more beers and pointed at me. It was my turn to buy. We sat in silence for a few minutes, watching one of the FC Utrecht players fake an injury. After a thoughtful draught, Karl said, "I read an article in the Reno Gazette-Journal recently that said the US Forest Service at Lake Tahoe had to tell people to quit taking selfies with bears they saw in the wild."

Reno, as in Reno, Nevada? We live in Indiana. Why are you reading a newspaper over 2,000 miles away?

"I'm well-read," said Karl. "I read three or four newspapers a day."

Oh, bull! You saw it on Facebook. I saw the same article in your news stream.

"That's not important right now. What's important is that when these idiot campers see a bear, they try to take a picture of themselves with it. And turn their back on it. Just so they could say 'hey look, I was near a bear.'"

I can see the safety concerns, but still, it's pretty cool to be that close to a bear.

"Yeah, but why not just take a picture of the bear? It's gotten so bad that some people actually run toward the bear just to get a picture. The Forest Service is worried people are going to be attacked."

At least their loved ones will know how they died.

"But it goes to my point. Some people are so obsessed with getting selfies, they're not only missing the sights, they're putting themselves in danger."

I think you're fighting an uphill battle, Karl. Selfies are here to stay.

"Maybe so, but that doesn't mean I need to be a part of the Selfish Generation," said Karl. "I prefer to contemplate the wonder of nature and the marvels of our creations, rather than shoving my face into everyone else's experience."

I'll remember that the next time I read your autobiography.



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, October 24, 2014

The Bechdel Test: Hollywood's Conversational Rut

What do you talk about during normal conversations? Does it vary between men and women? Do men only talk about sports and sex, while women only talk about clothes and men? Do parents only talk about their kids with other parents? Do you talk about those same topics over and over, or do you discuss different topics?

What about work friends versus personal friends? Or work friends who are also personal friends? When I worked in an office, I found that I would talk to friends at work about personal things, but if we were ever at lunch or dinner, we talked about work.

More importantly, do the movies reflect real life, or are they a cheap, facile imitation?

I recently learned about the Bechdel test in movies, and how it relates to conversations between two women. It's a simple test that determines whether a work of fiction — a movie, book, or TV show — meets three rules at least once. The work has to have 1) two named female characters, 2) who talk to each other, 3) about something besides a man.

Named for Allison Bechdel, creator of the "Dykes to Watch Out For" comic, the test applies to any two women talking about any man. It could be two friends talking about their husbands or boyfriends, two sisters talking about their father, or two female doctors talking about a male patient.

There's even a joke about it: Two women walk into a bar and talk about the Bechdel test.

Of course, it fails if one of them is actually dating a guy named Bechdel Test.

Many cinemaphiles and women's advocates have cited the high number of Bechdel failures as a sign that Hollywood isn't interested in anything where women aren't interested in men or need men to complete them. It fosters the belief that women are merely accessories to men and spend their whole lives trying to win and please them.

You can see which movies pass the Bechdel test at BechdelTest.com. They apply the three rules to every movie, people share their opinions in the comments, and the moderator will declare whether it passes based on the discussion.

A few movies that pass the test are Disney's "Brave" and "The Incredibles," and Dreamworks' "How To Train Your Dragon." "Bridesmaids" passed with flying colors, because the cast was nearly all women who talked about their friendships, the explosive diarrhea at the dress shop, and how much Annie hated Helen.

Er, so I've been told.

Meanwhile, other movies failed because of a lack of female characters. "The Expendables 3" and "Captain America" only had one female character, while "The Avengers" failed because there was only one female character in a scene at any one time.

I wonder if the third rule is too broad. After all, two female doctors talking about a male patient is not the same thing as two women talking about a male love interest. But, no one asked me, so I don't get to have a say.

Could we pass the Bechdel test in real life? If art truly imitated life, you would expect more movies to pass, because our real conversations pass it with ease. I know plenty of women who talk about all sorts of things besides men.

Forget the stupid old jokes about shopping and shoes. They talk about work, family, music, art, food, and the friend who couldn't make it to lunch that day. Once in a great while, they'll talk about their boyfriends, husbands, or that creepy guy eavesdropping on us at the next table, and oh my God! I think he's writing down what we're saying!

It would be interesting to apply the Bechdel test to other situations. For example, can two men talk about something other than sports or sex?

Man #1: Did you see the sportsball game last night?

Man #2: Oh yeah, I loved it when my favorite player did that awesome sportsball move.

Man #1: I couldn't believe the sports official blew that call in the third session.

Man #3: Boobies!

Similarly, I'd love to see parents talk about something other than their children. Whether it's a couple alone, or getting together with friends, young parents should spend an hour without talking about the kids at all. Or at least spare us from that stupid story about the cute thing Jeremy did with the wastebasket again.

We all get into conversational ruts at times. We have people in our lives we discuss the same topics with over and over. We have a wondrous variety of conversations that pass the test with ease. If only Hollywood would figure this out for itself.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm meeting my friend, Bechdel, for lunch. He's having girlfriend problems again.



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, October 17, 2014

School Bans Cake Because They Hate Fun

Hands up, all you kids who love getting cake at school on your birthday.

Not so fast, Burlington, Kentucky.

According to a story in the Cincinnati Enquirer (official motto: "What's the meaning of life?"), Burlington Elementary School revised its wellness policy to make birthdays absolutely no fun.

"We hate children, and we hate birthdays," cackled the principal, stroking her black cat. "We don't think kids should have fun at school, and banning food at birthday parties was a good start."

Okay, that's not true (as if I have to say that), but I do think educators often throw the baby out with the bath water.

The Burlington Elementary PTA really did change their wellness policy to ban birthday cake and ice cream. In fact, they banned food of any kind at birthday celebrations.

"We're finding it's difficult to be the first," Valerie Bailey told the Enquirer. Her son goes to Burlington, and she was on the committee that created the policy. "Parents say it's not fair. But we hope it sends a message to the parents and kids, especially with the obesity rate being so high, and puts a bug in their ear."

Except they can't have bugs either. Someone might be allergic.

Oh, but it's not all bad! You can still have non-food treats. Fun things like pencils, erasers, and bookmarks. Because the one thing every kid is dying for at a school birthday party is a pencil.

"Yay, this is much better than cake and ice cream and playing party games," said no kid ever.

It's like the Grinch stole Christmas again, and left you a pair of socks.

Parents and teachers were concerned that birthday parties took up too much class time, something they apparently couldn't control. Meanwhile, pencil birthday parties only take 30 seconds, because the last thing you want to do with a No. 2 Disappointment Stick is have a party.

Now the school is finding "fun" and "enjoyable" ways to "celebrate" birthdays. One student brought jump ropes for the class, and they celebrated with a jump rope party.

Next week, they'll celebrate Caitlyn's birthday with a math quiz, because jump ropes and pencils will be banned because of Zero Tolerance weapons policies.

Burlington Elementary joins a growing number of schools concerned with childhood obesity. Kathy Reutman, a Boone County school system spokesperson, said that 37 percent of their children are either at risk for obesity, or are already obese. She's also responsible for making sure the district's wellness policies meet the federal guidelines.

"It's not up to us to tell parents what to do," she told the Enquirer. "But when children are in our care we make sure that nothing gets in the way of them and their learning. Food allergies or too much sugar get in the way of that."

She sounds like one of those educators who say "disrupting the educational process" a lot. Like my teachers said to my parents. A lot.

Here's an idea: if you're worried about childhood obesity, quit eliminating gym class. Make it a part of the school day, not the once or twice a week playground stroll it's become. Physical fitness experts tell us we perform and learn better if we exercise, so let kids play and run around at recess, twice a day. Don't let them sit for six or seven hours a day. We do that as adults, and that's a primary reason we're getting fat.

One reason we didn't have problems with childhood obesity when I was a kid is because we played outside all the time. Now, kids sit inside at school, sit inside at home. They don't spend much time playing or engaging in physical activity at all. And when they do, it's so structured and parent-driven, the kids can't have any fun, and aren't allowed to organize their own play.

Yes, this is a food issue. Yes, schools should set an example and limit the amount of sweets kids get. But any nutritionist will tell you that diet without exercise doesn't do anything. It makes people skinny, but not healthy.

Let the kids have their birthday fun. They're in school on their birthday, which already sucks. But now you've taken away the only thing they have to look forward to and replaced it with pencils, erasers, and bookmarks. Things they already get at school.

Or, just remember the disappointed looks on their faces when they get yet another birthday pencil. It's the same look you'll have when your kid gives you a spatula for Christmas.


Photo credit: Angie Chapman (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, October 10, 2014

I Need A Truck That Runs on Daisies

Erik had a molar removed on Column Day, and was not feeling very funny. When he called, we pretended not to understand him — "Uh kent weh mu colluh" — and made him repeat himself four or five times. He swore at us, we think, and hung up. We're running a reprint from 2005.

I've got a serious confession to make. I'm not proud of what I've done, but I can't shoulder this terrible burden any longer. Even though my liberal friends will gasp in disbelief, and my conservative friends will point their fingers and shout, "See?! See?! Hypocrisy!" I have to say it.

I used to own an SUV.

A gas guzzling, planet wrecking "I'm changing the environment ask me how" SUV.

I feel so guilty, like I've committed an unpardonable sin like stealing from old people, or accepting a prepaid trip from foreign lobbyists.

Me: Hello, my name is Erik, and I'm an SUV owner.

Support Group: Hello, Erik

Me: It's been 12 months since I've owned an SUV. I still lay awake at night, dreaming of the spacious roominess and feelings of supremeÍ power as I bore down on smaller, weaker drivers with 280 horses strapped under me, CRUISING DOWN THE HIGHWAY, KNOWING I COULD HAUL A BOAT, TRAILER, AND SMALL VILLAGE THROUGH THE MOUNTAINS AT A MOMENT'S — uhhh, that is, I feel shame for all the gas I consumed and ozone-killing poison I pumped into the atmosphere.

Actually, it was my wife's SUV, which makes me an enabler. But I still carry the guilt. I used to be a strong environmentalist in my younger days, so I felt appropriately ashamed for all the damage our SUV was doing.

So I assuaged those feelings by driving a full-size Chevy pickup. (Mine looked a lot like the one in the photo, but that's not actually my truck.) Not one of those Nancy-boy-it's-really-just-a-big-car SUVs. And not one of those toy pickups that need a little windup key to get started5. No, my pickup was one of the big ones, it was appropriately dirty, and I could haul 100 two-by-fours without missing a beat.

When I drove, car owners pulled over in fear. SUV owners glared at me in fits of yuppie jealousy. The toy pickup drivers would hang their heads in shame and putt-putt home.

However, the engine wasn't in great shape, and so my gas mileage was — let's just say it was a bit on the thirsty side. It's not that it was inefficient. . . at least not if you measured it in feet instead of miles per gallon. Global oil prices rose and fell, depending on whether I took a road trip. I realized I had a problem when OPEC named me Customer of the Year over Shell and ExxonMobil.

That's when my beloved truck began to conflict with my past environmental activist tendencies, and I began to have serious doubts about whether I should own a pickup, or switch over to a car that ran on solar power and liberal guilt. Unfortunately, Indiana is a conservative state, and it actually causes inefficiencies in the creation of guilt — too many knee-jerk reactions really limit how much guilt can be created by one man — so I decided to stick with a regular gas combustion engine. At least until someone could create an electric car that traveled for more than 20 miles on a single charge and didn't look stupid.

I finally got rid of my truck when I started a new job that required an hour long daily commute. When I started, some quick calculations showed that I'd be spending my children's inheritance each month just to get to work each day. And that didn't count all the extra trips to the Spotted Owl Skeet Shooting Range on the weekends.

So I sold my truck and got a car that gets 30 miles per gallon, but gets blown off the road whenever I get passed by a semi.

Now I can drive to and from work four times on a full tank of gas, although it struggles to haul anything heavier than a pair of socks. And while the toy pickup guys now point and laugh at me, at least the Nature Conservancy gave me the Most Improved Award for 2004. I proudly display the sticker on the passenger side window, but now the car leans toward that side.

But I think I found a compromise. In the next couple of years, Toyota will come out with all new hybrid vehicles. Not a gas-only engine in their entire line, including their trucks. Their new pickup promises 30 miles per gallon and 290 horsepower. And I'm seriously considering getting one. They're energy efficient, but they're also big, macho, manly machines. WITH ONE OF THOSE MONSTERS, I CAN RULE THE ROAD ONCE AGAIN!

At least if my wife lets me get one.


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, October 03, 2014

Movie Night at the Deckers

"What should we watch tonight?"

"One at a time, please. One at a time. Buddy, what do you want to see?"

"We watched that a couple weeks ago, didn't we?"

"Yes, we did. Plus you watched it twice last weekend."

"I know they're awesome, but that doesn't mean we have to watch the Avengers every week."

"Fine, let's put that in the Maybe column. Sweetie, what's your pick?"

"No."

"I'm just not in the cartoon mood."

"Fine, anime."

"Fine, manga."

"I said it right. How do you say it?"

"Mahn-gah? I'm not calling it that. It's manga. Like mango."

"Because I'm not pretentious. I'm a Hoosier. We pronounce things Hoosier-ly."

"Well, there's warsh. People go'et the store. They say Tuesdee instead of Tuesday."

"I know I don't talk that way, because my parents aren't from here. But that's how people talk in Indiana. And people also say manga."

"Regardless, I'm vetoing that one."

"No, it doesn't even get in the Maybe column. Excuse me, the mah-be column."

"What about you, Honey? Any ideas?"

"I'd rather watch manga."

"It's NOT mahn-gah!"

"No, I'm not watching that."

"Because I don't want to watch some sad movie about two teenagers with cancer."

"I know it was a best-selling book. I didn't read it either."

"Because I'm a grown man and I don't like reading young adult sad stories."

"No dystopian archery fiction either."

"it means the world has gone to pot."

"None. I don't like young adult fiction."

"He's different."

"Because he's a cultural phenomenon. They made eight movies, and his books were global best-sellers. How could I not watch them?"

"That little boy turned out to be an incredible wizard, and I will hear nothing bad said about him or Ms. Rowling!"

"Yes, I know he's from Indianapolis. I'm still not watching The Fault With Our Stars."

"In Our Stars. Whatever."

"Tell you what, if John Green buys one of my books and reviews it on his website, I'll read one of his."

"We still need to finish watching 'Wayne's World.'"

"What are you talking about? It was awesome!"

"You all liked the Bohemian Rhapsody scene, and the part where Garth zapped the guy with the stun gun."

"You haven't even seen the best part where they get Mr. Big to show up at Wayne's place to hear Crucial Taunt."

"It would make more sense if you watched the whole movie."

"Fine, let's watch Return of the Pink Panther."

"Keep talking like that, and you'll be grounded."

"This is Spinal Tap?"

"Dodgeball?"

"Let's just pick one before your mother comes downstairs."

"Because she'll make us — hey, I didn't hear you there."

"I said, uh, we needed to pick a movie before you came down."

"Because you'll make us watch something I don't want to see."

"I do not! I rarely get to pick."

"The last thing I picked was Wayne's World, and we haven't even finished watching that. Meanwhile, we've had suggestions of The Avengers, something manga — manga! — and The Fault With Our Bodies."

"In Our Bodies."

"Stars. Whatever."

"If we can't pick a movie, let's watch something on TV instead. Who wants to watch Brooklyn-Nine-Nine?"

"Absolutely not! I hate zombies."

"No, no anime TV."

"Not The Red Band Society either."

"Because I liked it better when it was called The Fault With Our Hormones."

"In Our Hormones."

"Stars. Whatever."

"Alright, Big Bang Theory. I can live with that. Is that okay with everyone?"

"Excellent. Now, does anyone want a snack before we start?"

"No, I don't want popcorn. How about chips?"



Photo credit: Sharyn Morrow (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, September 26, 2014

Student Punished For Sharing Lunch

A California student was punished for sharing his lunch with a hungry friend this month, because the school district has a policy against students being compassionate and caring.

Kyle Bradford, 13, is an 8th grader at Weaverville Elementary in northern California. At lunch one day, his friend had been served a cheese sandwich, because he may not have been able to afford a full meal. Kyle had gotten the chicken burrito, but he wasn't hungry at the time.

So what do two boys who don't want their lunches typically do? Throw them out and don't eat until dinner.

What did Kyle do? Gave some of his chicken burrito to his friend, so he wouldn't be hungry.

What did the school do? Gave him detention, because school administrators aren't allowed to make common sense decisions.

"We have a policy that prohibits students from exchanging meals," cackled superintendent Tom Barnett, rubbing his hands together. "Of course if students are concerned about other students not having enough to eat we would definitely want to consider that, but because of safety and liability we cannot allow students to actually exchange meals."

Consider it they did. They could have done any number of things: expelled Kyle; made him write "I will not help others" 5,000 times; force fed him chicken burritos every day; or, shoved him in a closet full of rats. Instead they "only" gave him detention.

Nicely done, Weaverville. Your generosity and intelligence has not gone unnoticed.

In fact, it's been so noticed that Weaverville has been forced to shut down its Facebook page, because many other people were similarly "impressed" by their "generosity."

Whatever happened to the days of trading lunches? Swapping your cookies for a bag of potato chips? Or giving that weird kid your pimiento loaf sandwiches because your mom never understood how much you hated them?

I would hope kids today know what they're allergic to and what to avoid. I would hope every cafeteria is taking steps to ensure they don't use allergen-contaminated foods. I would especially hope cafeterias use the best ingredients to create lunches that are healthy and kids will enjoy.

In this column's 19 year history, that last sentence may be the funniest thing I've ever written.

Kyle's mom, Sandy, didn't believe her child should be punished for showing compassion. She thinks Kyle did the right thing.

"By all means the school can teach them math and the arithmetic and physical education, but when it comes to morals and manners and compassion, I believe it needs to start at home with the parent," she told KRCR TV.

I think schools should also be a place to reinforce manners and compassion. When I was a kid, school wasn't just a place where we learned math and history. We were taught the importance of fair play and honesty. We were taught about community, citizenship, and why we should help others.

In northern California, kids are being taught that adherence to the rules is vastly more important and honorable than helping someone in need.

It's lessons like this that create people who "were only following orders," a dark and sinister phrase if there ever was one.

This past school year, my friend, Ryan, learned of some kids at an Indianapolis elementary school who weren't eating lunch because their families were on the delinquent lunch accounts list, and couldn't afford to catch up.

Ryan paid every kids' lunch account so they could eat again.

The response was so overwhelming, he did it at another school, and then another, and friends started helping, and now he's starting a nonprofit called Feed The Kids at KidsLunches.org.

What Ryan is doing is helping kids eat. But what if the schools had policies that other people weren't allowed to pay for lunches? What if they were so inflexible as to not allow a good Samaritan to help those who needed it?

You can imagine the outcry if a school were to point to the policy manual and refuse to let Ryan and his group feed hungry kids. It's no different from what Kyle did, although, admittedly, people don't have allergies to money. Ryan's great work is rightfully rewarded, but Weaverville Elementary has punished Kyle Bradford for the same generous spirit.

Kyle has served his detention, but he's unrepentant. He said that he'll gladly do it again, just to make sure that a friend doesn't go hungry. Maybe, after this outcry, and more of Kyle's compassionate civil disobedience, the school will realize their cold-heartedness is teaching their students a very important lesson.

That blind obedience to stupid, arbitrary rules set by dictatorial authorities should be completely ignored for the sake of humanity.


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, September 19, 2014

Some Thoughts On My 1,000th Column

This is a major milestone for me. This column, this one right here, is my one thousandth newspaper humor column. Exactly 1,000 weeks or 19.25 years ago, a small town newspaper publisher took a chance on me, and agreed to publish what I now laughingly call a humor column.

Not laughingly because they were good. Laughingly as in "it's so cute that you think you're funny." My first columns are so awful that I can't even read them. If you have any copies of those papers from the second half of 1995, please set fire to them.

I first met my publisher, Al Nich, at a meeting of the Kosciusko County Democrats. I asked if he was looking for any columnists for his paper. I had written a couple of funny essays earlier that year, after trying to write a complaint letter to Fresh Air With Terry Gross. It ended up being nothing but jokes because I don't like direct confrontation. I prefer a more passive-aggressive approach, like secretly signing people up for bedwetting mailing lists. After that letter, I thought I showed some promise, and wanted to keep going.

Al asked for some samples, and said to stop by his office in a couple weeks. When I showed up, he asked me one question: "Are you a Democrat?"

I said, "Well, yeah, we met at the Democrats meeting two weeks ago."

"Then welcome aboard!"

To celebrate, Al and his wife took me to lunch, and we talked about the small town newspaper business. Of course, being a small town newspaper, they couldn't pay me anything, but I was so grateful for the chance, I was willing to do it for free. We agreed that I would get paid if they ever raked in the big bucks.

Nineteen and a quarter years later, and we're all still waiting.

I'm not complaining though. Without that break, I wouldn't be where I am today. So I gladly churn out this column every week. Also, because I don't know what I'd do if my Thursday nights suddenly freed up.

If you want to be a stickler about it, this isn't the 1,000th column I've written; it's the 1,000th column I've published. I occasionally run reprints if I'm traveling for work, on vacation, or sick. But I've never missed a deadline in all that time.

But the Wakarusa Tribune and Mishawaka Enterprise still publish my work, week after week, and I'm just as grateful today as I was back then.

Because they gave me a chance to experiment and learn. They didn't say anything when a piece had a typo, and I had to rush over a correction. They didn't say anything when I tried telling stories with only one punchline at the end. They didn't say anything when I fancied myself a great first draft writer, only to discover I was a horrible first draft writer two months later.

Which makes me wonder if they read these things at all.

Being a beginning humor writer in the early days of the Internet also helped me hone my skills. I joined an email discussion list called The NetWits in 1999, and we're still going strong. I started my own website, and submitted guest articles to friends' sites. I was even listed on a web page of funny writers, only to be removed six months later.

When I emailed the owner about it, he said, "I just don't think you're that funny." I was so mad that I practiced, studied, and read everything I could find about writing, so I could become funnier than anyone else on his list. Then, when he would beg me to rejoin his list, I was going to write something so witty about how he could go have sex with himself.

Eighteen years later, and he still hasn't written. Also, his humor website is long gone. Also I don't remember his name. So I get the last laugh, because I get to commemorate his short-sightedness in my 1,000th column, while he's lost to a sea of anonymity, where I hope he's nibbled to death by buck-toothed lampreys.

Not that I'm still bitter.

This column even helped me realize I was really a writer. That's an important moment in most writers' lives, because many writers don't like to call themselves that. We're afraid a little man with a clipboard will tell us there's been a terrible mistake, and we're supposed to be claims adjusters, so we keep quiet about it.

It was around 2000 that I finally told someone I was a writer. The little man never showed up, and no one laughed at me, so I kept saying it until I finally believed it myself.

Because of this column.

I became a book author. I have co-authored three books on social media and personal branding, ghost co-authored a fourth, helped write two books that have never seen the light of day, and am currently working on another book, plus a super-secret writing project.

Because of this column.

I own my own writing business, give talks at different marketing and writing conferences, and people hire me to help with their own writing projects. I have written radio plays, stage plays, and magazine articles. All told, I've written over three million words in my career.

Because of this column.

So, when I celebrate this milestone, I'm not just commemorating 1,000 deadlines, or 1,000 fart jokes (more like 3,487 if you want to be a stickler about it). I'm using this time and this space to celebrate the man and the newspapers that gave me the break that led to a nearly 20 year span filled with words, sentences, paragraphs, pages, chapters, books, and a career.

All because I was a Democrat who couldn't write a complaint letter to Terry Gross without cracking jokes. Now I'm looking forward to the next 1,000 columns over the next 19.25 years.

I'm also thinking another lunch may be in order.



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, September 12, 2014

Stop Fearing Your Food

Yet another of my friends is feeling the crushing weight of his age and belly on his knees and lower back. Yet another of my friends has realized his lifetime of cheeseburgers and carb-rich beer may not have been the healthiest of lifestyles.

I, like so many of my friends, have realized too late that we're not as young as we used to be, and the 20-year-old's metabolism, gained from a 20-year-old's lifestyle of riding a bike to class and playing soccer every day, is no longer functional 25 years later.

And all of us were especially surprised to learn that others have noticed we've been carrying a small ottoman down the front of our shirts for the last 10 years.

To be fair, we didn't notice it until eight years ago, and we've been trying to hide it by leaving our shirts untucked. Apparently, this has not fooled anyone.

"You know, all you need to do is eat less and exercise more," our annoying skinny friends say whenever anyone posts a Facebook update about the extra weight they're carrying.

Really? Eat less and exercise more? I'm so glad you said that. Apparently, I've been mistakenly eating more and exercising less. If you hadn't given the same advice everyone else has said for the last 300 years, I might have lived a full life without ever knowing that those five simple words were the key to my success. Thank you for fixing a lifetime of habits with a bumper sticker.

We're not stupid. Every man or woman who's lugging around extra pounds knows what the problem is. And some spinach-and-carrot-birthday-cake-eating fitness guru telling us to eat less and exercise more isn't the solution.

The problem is nearly all of us in this country have an unhealthy attitude toward food. All of us, even the food fanatics.

We treat food like medicine. We think if we eat the right foods, we'll prevent this, and we'll cure that. Eat more of this green thing to reduce your blood pressure, eat a bunch of orange stuff to reduce your cancer risk. Drink red wine to lower your cholesterol. Don't drink too much red wine though, or you'll damage your liver. If we keep treating food this way, the pharmaceutical companies start selling it for $500 a pop.

We also fear our food. I know people who won't touch food if it's not organic, like it was rolled in dog poop before it ever reached their table. They spend way more money on organic food than is necessary, convinced it will wipe away all their health problems, as if they went skinny dipping in Ponce de León's Fountain of Kale Smoothies.

I know people who will only ever buy brown eggs, because they believe brown eggs are "healthier." Know the difference between a brown egg and a white egg?

About $1.20 per dozen.

Having spent several years in the poultry industry, I can tell you that brown eggs are laid by brown chickens, and white eggs are laid by white chickens. Brown chickens are not healthier, their eggs aren't lower in cholesterol, and they won't make you look 10 years younger if you boil them in a quart of bottled spring water.

The French have a good attitude toward food. They treat it like a pleasure, not fuel. They savor it, not fear it. They experience their meals, they don't post Facebook pictures of them. They eat what they enjoy, not what will fix them. Dinner is a time to sit down with family and friends, taking an hour or two. We get celebrity PSAs that tell us families should eat together once a week.

Even our language reflects our attitude toward toward food. There's the "sinful" chocolate cake that we "indulge" in. It's so "decadent," it's "better than sex." Of course, you could make the "sacrifice" and stick with the "guilt free" diet alternatives, so you don't "pay the price" later on.

If the food is good, we use negative words to make us feel guilty. And even the most healthier-than-thou eaters recognize that the awesomeness of "bad" food, because they drone on and on about the "sacrifices" they're making.

This is not a healthy attitude. Our food may not be healthy in itself, but if we could just stop treating it like a reward and/or a dangerous beast, we could be healthier as people. Or at the very least, we could be happier with who we are.

And who we're with. Because if your food is better than sex, you're doing it wrong.



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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