Friday, December 31, 2010


Well, this is the last day of 2010 and I'm not dead.  That's what I'm going to celebrate tonight.  But like many New Year's Eve's gone by, I also say a prayer or two that next year will get better.  Well, this coming year is going to be different.  And this is not a resolution.  It's a promise.

This past year, I have had more than my share of people who are simply not who they appear to be.  They're sort of like my friend pictured here;  a wolf in sheep's clothing.  And since this is MY blog and not yours, I get to sound off on this last day of 2010.

I am literally sick and tired of people who pretend to be my friend.  Now I can go on and on and even name names, but if you don't know who you are, you'll soon find out.  You'll be writing e-mails to me that will not get answered.  Also, you're going to get introduced to my answering machine's outgoing message.  Why?  Because I'm sick of you, that's why.  What's almost laughable is that no one that's getting "deleted" this year even reads the stuff that I write.  I know who makes comments on these little stories of mine and I can tell you that you are all safe.

What seems to be sweeping our country like some sort of out of control plague is disingenuousness.  I know that I have taken the George W. Bush tack and made up a word, but that is also my privilege.  Live with it.  I'm talking about people who act all happy to hear from me but never pick up the phone to call.  You know, those one way relationships.  And people who say "I'm always there for you."  Lies.

Our society today seems to accept mediocrity as excellence.  They are more in love with their phones than they are with each other.  You want proof?  Go to your neighborhood bar.  That's right.  The local place where you can get hammered for under 10 bucks.  And see how many people come up to you and speak.  Or count how many neighbors you know BY NAME.  But I'll bet you can recite all 395 facebook friends that you have.  Maybe you don't realize it but social networking ISN'T.

Go ahead and die tomorrow.  And then see how many people make it to your funeral.  And then see how many people will cross one single state line to see you lying there dead.  Most people will simply delete your name from their "friends" on facebook or in their e-mail lists and that will be the sum total of your ceremony of passing for them.  Oh, there will be a few surprises, but deep down, they're using your funeral as an excuse to take some time off of work.  It's true.  You just don't want to admit it.

True friends aren't made on facebook or on any other electronic device.  At least not the way that I define the word "friendship".

So if you take stock this year and see how many friends will really prove by their actions that they are TRULY your friends, you may be surprised.

They'll probably all be able to fit into your car.

So with apologies to Charlie Dickens, my Tiny Tim this year will be saying "God bless us every one, except for (fill in the deserving name here).

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Merry Christmas anyway

One of the true heroes in my life has been Ben Stein.  Yep, that cuddly little Jew that is smarter by accident than most anyone I know.  Years ago, Ben was attributed to what is now called Ben Stein's Christmas Confession.  It's here.  There are longer versions but this one is from Ben himself.

Are you plagued with the question, "So what do you want for Christmas?"  I am.  I tell everyone I want a 2011 Chevrolet Corvette.  Then I watch them back away.  So what do I want?  That's easy.

I want every cell phone and computer to disappear.  Yep.  POOF.  Gone.  That way, it will force all of us to pay closer attention to our driving, spend less time looking at worthless crap on the internet, and find new (or old) ways of communicating with each other.

Take for example, conversation.  The art of talking to another person.  You know, like the one way conversations you have with your dog or cat or snake or piranha fish.  We speak in such glowing tones to our pets but we don't even think to thank the UPS guy for coming out in subzero weather to bring you a box of imported shoelaces from Burma.  When was the last time you spoke to your neighbor?  Do you even know who your neighbor is?

Once again, I have to bring the Mormons in to this.  "Family home evening."  You know why people make fun of the Mormons?  Because they got it RIGHT and the others are jealous.  Spend one day a week at home, no computers, no radio, no TV.  Just spend time with (hold on....wait for it......) each other.  I do believe in my little heart that by spending time with relatives, these folks have discovered the glue that holds a family together.  Sure, go ahead...make fun of their religion.  You know something?  They don't care how much fun you poke at them.  If you get depressed over the Christmas season, watch how many people from your church come to you with counseling and the odd chocolate chip cookie?  I learned on a recent trip to Utah of just how well these good people care of one another.  And you don't even have to go to their church!!

You see, we're all TOO BUSY with our computers and smart 4-G phones.  I honestly don't even know what a "G" is.  And speaking of religion, why in God's name are we so hung up about the "Holiday" season.  Holiday parades, holiday parties, holiday gifts, holiday vacations spending time at the Holiday Inn.  Holiday, schmoliday.  It's Christmas, dammit.  And the key to our celebrations every year are the first six letters in the word Christmas.  We spend so much time knocking down Christ, but then we join marches that allow the Muslims or Buddhists celebrate the birthday of THEIR deity.  Fair is fair.  Complain about the manger scene at the local fire department but watch someone pee on the American flag and they call it "performance art" and get away with that.  (I'd like to show them a two-fisted bit of performance art.)

Christmas is here, but for many of the wrong reasons.  I once got a new car for Christmas.  A Chrysler 300-C with a 5.5 liter Hemi.  It didn't make me happy.  And all of the computers and I-phones and PlayStations and stuffed geese in the world all have one thing in common;  they're temporary.  God is permanent.  Was, is, and always will be.  And He will outlast your Mercedes.

This year, why don't you work on things that are permanent or leave permanent marks that don't hurt?  Like calling someone and wishing them a Merry Christmas or a happy whatever.  It's painless.  And most of you reading this pay a flat rate for long distance anyway, right?  Or how about investing less than twenty bucks by sending someone a nice musical CD instead of a CD/ROM with the video game called "Collecting Heads" or other violent things?

We all see people on TV and on computers or I-pads or 5-G phones saying "Make the holidays special this year."  And we all nod approvingly as we flip on some Internet pornography.  You see, many of us think that we're so special and that we really have the whole Christmas thing down correctly.  We don't.

Maybe we only need to look as far as the family down the street who all wear coats and ties and dresses to church on Sunday and spend one day each week with each other?  You know, if we stop making fun of those Latter Day Saints for just a little while, maybe we can learn something?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Driver's Ed

It's birthday time and your 16 year old only wants one thing;  "I wanna DRIVE."  OK, you knew this was coming because for the past year, this kid has been giving you subtle hints like cutting out pictures of Ferrari's and Maserati's and sticking them on to your bathroom mirror.

But how, do you ask, do I prepare my beloved teenager for the world that awaits him or her?  How do you teach someone to swim before you shove them into the pool?

You take them to the supermarket.  Yep.  If you're from Pittsburgh, you take them to the Giant Eagle on a Thursday or Friday night.  Giant Eagle still uses the old fashioned metal shopping carts.  You know, the ones with the right front wheel that incessantly spins in circles as you drive your cart down the endless aisles of what used to be food.  But now, there are aisles for pencils, drugs, greeting cards, pots and pans, Christmas lights (tis the season) and dog toys.

And so the first thing you do with your budding driver-to-be is hand over the controls of the shopping cart.  Believe me, this is the best training they will ever get.  How, you may ask?  Vell, I'll tell ya.

One of the first rules of the road is that you don't live in Ireland so you keep to the right.  That is, unless some stock person has a pile of pickles that he's replenishing or you have some person with eye trouble trying to read the ingredients on a jar of olives.  Then, the lesson is look ahead and make sure that the road is clear when you pass.

At the ends of the aisles, the supermarket experience teaches one to look in all directions.  It teaches that just because you think you have the right-of-way, you don't.  Other shoppers will dart in front of you from three different directions and so you must learn to keep your head on a swivel.  And make sure that the brake pedal isn't far away.

Then there are the shoppers who will suddenly pull right in front of you AND STOP.  Your budding young driver will learn to keep a safe following distance and expect the unexpected.

Since I was on a rather limited income as a teenager, I learned to drive defensively by purchasing a 50 cc. Honda motorcycle.  On this, it was either learn or die.  And I've been driving two-wheelers ever since and so for the past 45 years, I have been safe.  Even without a helmet in places where that sort of thing is legal.

The supermarket can teach us so many things.  Tolerance for others, whether they are stupid or posses I.Q.'s that would make Albert Einstein jealous.  Vigilance.  Care.  And it teaches us to be patient and perhaps be rewarded with 20 cents off or the greatest gift of all, a "BOGO" which is a buy one, get one free offer.  So you see, there's even rewards in learning to drive at the Giant Eagle.

I've never seen road rage in my life quite like the road rage in Pittsburgh.  Just try flashing your high beams while you're behind a guy going 20 miles per hour in the left lane of the Parkway East.  According to the eleven o'clock news, you may be shot at.  And then if you pass on the right, the person then speeds up and positions themselves 3 inches off your rear bumper and lights up your car with about 100,000 candlepower from his high beam headlights.  And you can just hear him saying "So you want to pass me, eh??....I'll teach you a lesson or two."  Yeah, thanks for that.

My good friends Jay Ungar and Molly Mason sing a song about driving.  You might remember that Jay wrote Ashokan Farewell, the beautiful "theme" to Ken Burns' "The Civil War".  Why don't you stop and listen to it right now?  That is, of course, unless you're driving right now while you're reading this...