1. Horse Balls! Horse Balls for Extras!

    LET ME TAKE YOU on a trip to the past, to a time long ago, sure, when I was in fourth grade.

    I don’t know who was in the White House, and I wasn’t really listening to music yet so I can’t say what was popular. I think the nation was entertained by the antics of the Fonz on “Happy Days,” though whether it was still on the air or we all were just watching it in syndication, or maybe on Nick at Nite, I don’t remember. No, wait! It might have been “Frasier.” (Regardless, it was some CBS show.) Fashionable clothes were the style; and Kellogg’s had recently introduced, with surprisingly little fanfare, a new flavor of Pop Tart. So that should sort of set the scene and give you an idea of what life was like back then for a happy-go-lucky fourth grader such as myself.

    At school, I guess to generate additional revenue or cut down on wasted food or prevent the lunch ladies from taking home the surplus of each day’s offerings which they probably did (they were mostly Slovak), the lunch program instituted something called “extras” that year. “Extras” were essentially desserts, though why they weren’t just called “desserts” was anyone’s guess.

    Our cafeteria monitor, an overwrought, angry woman (I don’t know why), was stationed at the front of the room with a microphone and barked orders at us constantly. “Sit down!” “Quiet!” “Stop throwing food!” “Don’t run!” “Ted, put your pants back on!” In addition to her duties as grade school lunchroom overseer, she also announced these “extras,” oh, about fifteen minutes into our half-hour lunch period.

    This particular day, the hot lunch selection included apple fritters – which I’d never had before and was excited to try. I want to say they were the main course, though today that seems unlikely. But remember, this was back then, before we knew you’re not supposed to serve apple fritters as an entrée to grade school children for lunch.

    When I sat down at a table with my meal, a classmate – we’ll call him “Hank” – asked me what the things on my tray were. I told him they were apple fritters. “They look like horse balls,” he replied.

    I wasn’t sure whether he meant that they resembled the testicles of a horse (they didn’t really – too small), that they could pass for some sort of deep-fried, batter-dipped horse meat (possibly, but how would he know?) or that they looked like horse manure (they, eh, sort of did). I had been looking forward to these apple fritters, and Hank ruined it for me with his comment – whatever he meant. Now I had to eat them and act like I wasn’t enjoying them as much as I did. Who likes eating horse balls, regardless how delicious they are?

    Soon the monitor-lady began rattling off the “Extras.”  The day’s selections included the usual cookies and Jell-O, and also, yes, apple fritters.

    Hank mimicked her loudly (though not loud enough for her to hear).

    “Horse balls!  Horse balls for extras!” he announced. He’d ruined my meal, sure, but Hank had certainly made up for it by making our entire table including this peppy little fellow erupt into gales of laughter.

    And do you know, to this day, no matter where I am, whenever I hear someone call out, “Horse balls! Horse balls for extras!” I’m immediately transported back in time many years ago to my elementary school cafeteria where apple fritters resembling horse balls were I think served as the main course for lunch at school once when I was in fourth grade, and then available for extras.

    Posted by on September 30, 2011, 9:00 AM.

  2. An Expensive Lesson Learned!

    Well, it’s official: I’m an idiot.

    A year and a half ago, I’m watching some infomercial at three in the morning, and I see something that I can’t live without. Now, to my credit, I didn’t buy it right then and there, though I did jot down the phone number for later. And I did my research – the reviews online were largely positive.

    But everyone I mentioned it to – my wife, our rabbi, my girlfriend, the gardener, my imam, the guy I meet on the DL at the airport Hilton when he’s in town every few months, the housekeeper who barged in on us, my son’s case worker, Bob from Sesame Street, the custodian who came in and helped clean up that time when I vomited during Zumbacise, the fellow who bought my Rollerblades at our yard sale, the woman who styles my hair at the blow dry bar, that asshole from Bible study who always gets to read first – everyone! – they all said the same thing:

    “Don’t buy it now! Wait a year or so until the price drops!”

    But did I listen?  Oh no, I had to have it then!

    So yesterday, I’m in the dollar store – the freaking dollar store! –  and guess what I see there.  Oh yes.  Oh yes.

    Sure it’s 100% Pure Stainless Steel Refined Into A Simple And Convenient To Use, The Use Of Mechanical Theory, Three Solid And Reliable, And Will Never Rust – but will it perform as well as the one I’d already bought?

    I’m going to let you be the judge:

    I deserve it, so go ahead and say it:  You told me so.

    I hope Ron Popeil’s enjoying his new goddamn hot tub.

    Posted by on September 29, 2011, 9:00 AM.

  3. A Stunning Realization!

    MY WIFE LINDA AND I took a little trip down to our local IKEA last week. As I’ll bet you figured out by now, our youngest, Susan, is pregnant (again!), so we figured we’d help her out and help furnish the nursery corner of the bedroom she shares with her sister and brother as a sort of early graduation present. (The baby’s not due until next June, when Sue’ll be saying goodbye to middle school and gearing up for at least one year of high school – we hope!)

    As with most grandparents-to-be today (Do we really have to consider ourselves “grandparents” if we convince her to give this one up, too? LOL!) we’re on a budget so IKEA is the perfect solution. We take a pad & paper to jot down furniture names and sizes while considering what pieces might work and where.

    …Then we come home and search for the same pieces on Craigslist and pick them up, used, for about a third of their original cost from idiot college students. I’m not paying IKEA prices. Who do I look like, Pierce Morgan?

    Anyway, we were in the “AS-IS” section of IKEA when as usual, Linda started having another one of her hot flashes – or what we thought was a hot flash.

    As for me, I always seem to become inexplicably  – what do the British call it? – randy when we visit IKEA; so much, in fact, that I’ve specifically been asked not to wear sweatpants when I go there. (I still have the oversized yellow polo shirt they gave me to cover up the first time it happened.) I always presumed it was the glue in all the particle board that gets me going. (As with you, it acts as something as a pheromone to me.)

    Then it dawned on me:

    Cut most of the lights, plug in a couple of fog machines, stack a bunch of pallets into an industrial maze of sorts, a disco ball here, a strobe light there, and of course, a near-naked DJ spinning the hottest bad Euro-techno-pop of 1995, the air filled with the sweet smell of perspiration, White Diamonds, alkyl nitrate, Zima, and a familiar though unplaceable fruity yet musky aroma – and this place becomes The Allen Wrench (though we regulars knew it affectionately as The Allen Raunch) – the hottest couples-only sex rave that dominated the Southern California couples-only sex rave scene of the mid-90s.

    And here is the very wall I, blindfolded, always ended up chained to while Linda and a procession of other gals (I presume!) manhandled me.

    It all adds up now. DJ Billy Bookcase! I didn’t get the name then! That familiar yet mysterious scent? Not the intoxicating stink of genital friction as I’d half-presumed but the lingering odor of Swedish meatballs in lingonberry sauce still hanging in the air from the café! Of course!

    How funny the very place Susan was conceived would, nearly sixteen years later, end up being where we shopped for her kid’s cradle. And we had no idea at the time! But it makes perfect sense now – it’s the ideal space for a rave, and I guess Manny – who used to ferry us over in his ’85 Mitsubishi Montero six at a time from a Pick & Save parking lot a mile away and then lead us in through the loading dock – being careful never to let us know where we were! – probably worked in the warehouse during business hours.

    Ah, memories. You wouldn’t think that a swing made to display their iconic and hideous stuffed heart could support two overweight adults, commingled in sweaty romantic congress. You’d be wrong. But, brother, I’ll never forget how that thing came crashing to the floor once I clambered on and tried to join them.

    Unfortunately, that night there were no dump baskets of ugly plush toys beneath but a display of countertop paper towel holders.

    Thank Christ whatever the hell I was on that night had relaxed my muscles, or I guess dilated at least some of them, and let’s leave it at that.

    By the way, my attorney has asked me to note that I have a terrible memory and of course all of this happened somewhere else, if at all. 

    Posted by on September 28, 2011, 9:00 AM.

  4. Target’s 2011 Halloween Nightmare!

    REMEMBER TWO YEARS AGO when stupid, easily-offended, over-sensiti–    …eh, when thoughtful, concerned people everywhere were up in arms over an amusing if obvious pun that somehow manifested itself into a Halloween costume of an illegal alien? Only the illegal alien wasn’t the good terrestrial kind but an evil, bloodthirsty outer space alien, like ALF or Gazoo or Mork or Chaz? Of course you remember it, and we all had a good laugh over the whole thing. …Eh, that is to say – we were all very upset. Very upset, sure.

    Here’s a link in case you don’t remember, and don’t get your panties in a bunch: Yes, it’s a Fox News story. Hey, this is the most concise version I could find!

    Anyway, Target took a lot of crap for that costume, and rightfully so! Because illegal aliens are good for America – they do the trick-or-treating American kids won’t do!

    Hey, don’t stop and try to make sense of that! Keep reading!

    So look, if you want to be ahead of the curve this year, if you want to know what to boycott Target about this Halloween season, listen up, pal, because here it is! And ho ho, brother, it’s a doozy!

    Can you believe your eyes?! It’s a child’s Halloween costume of an Indian warrior! Yes, you read right – An Indian warrior! Not a peaceful, maize-sowing Native American scout. But a barbaric “Indian warrior!”

    As though the violent “warrior” aspect of this outfit wasn’t disgusting enough, the manufacturers – and by extension, yes!, Target! – openly and brazenly flout the law by referring to the costume as that of an “Indian,” and not the legally-acceptable “Native American!”

    I know you’re as outraged as I am by this despicable costume and the message it sends to children, especially if they’re wearing it and happen to see other children dressed as – God forbid! – cowboys, so look: We’re all getting together for a little pow-wow – to discuss exactly how to attack this problem – in the Yuhaviatam Room at San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino tomorrow morning.

    How!  

    Well, that’s easy: Take the 101 South to the 134, take that to the 210 East for about 35 miles, get off at the Highland Avenue exit, and then a left onto Highland, and take that for almost a mile, and then…

    Posted by on September 26, 2011, 9:00 AM.

  5. A Bowling Alley in Greentown, Connecticut!

    LIKE YOU, I enjoy the old Dick Van Dyke program.  You know, “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

    And as it turns out, these days, thanks to the good folks at Netflix, I’m getting reacquainted with a little show I like to call, yes!, “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” Tonight, I’m happy to say, I got the clunker out of the way. Oh, you know the one: The Twizzle.

    As a socially maladjusted boy, and then teen-aged boy (just as socially maladjusted, just hairier, and with backne), I enjoyed not only watching this program in reruns, but also reading about it in the few books about old TV shows that were available whenever it was, exactly, that I was a boy (and, later, a hirsute, pustule-shouldered teen-aged boy).  Remember, this was back then sometime, before nostalgia demanded a book about every single TV show that ever existed, but also before the internet made them all obsolete.

    So there wasn’t a lot in print about “The Dick Van Dyke Show” back then.  Or maybe there was.  Who knows? I know there’s a particularly good book, a great big thick book it is, about the show, and I seem to think it was written quite some time ago. And I know I have it, but to dig it out at this hour just to find out when it was published…?  And wake up all the silverfish…? The hell with it.

    Anyway, one particular bit of trivia about the show that stuck with me is that creator Carl Reiner made a specific point to avoid fads and slang indicative of the early 1960s so the show wouldn’t become dated in reruns.

    And yet here we have the Twizzle.  The fun starts at the 7:00 minute mark.

    So there you have it. Nice going, Carl. He’s credited as the writer for this episode, too, so no use blaming it on someone else, there, pal.

    Topics For Discussion:

    • Yeah, it’s dated. It’s fifty years old. The whole damned show is dated, but that doesn’t make it any less of a great sitcom. Hell, that’s why you and me, we watch it. And even though this is probably the most regrettable episode they made, it’s still kind of fun, right?

    • The bowling alley is supposed to be in “Greentown, Connecticut” – a town that doesn’t exist! Yet a few episodes prior, they make mention of Stamford, Connecticut – which does exist. Stamford is right next to Greenwich, Connecticut (which is only about a dozen miles from New Rochelle).  I should know – oh, that’s right: I grew up there, maybe, sure.  Were they concerned Greenwich didn’t have a bowling alley?  Well, we did.  What’s more, I used to play Mr. Do! there. Anyway, so I guess I solved that mystery. If that guy re-releases his book, he should totally put this in there.

    • Holy crap, bowling alleys haven’t changed at all in 50 years, have they?  Same checkerboard pattern to the lockers, same fiberglass chairs and benches, same clothes and hairstyles on all the people there. (Except now everyone’s wearing them ironically. Stupid hipsters.) This place doesn’t look like Greenwich Lanes (since closed, sorry Mr. Do! fans) but the bowling alley on Pico and 3rd in Santa Monica. You know, I think maybe they filmed it there. So I’ll go add that to the IMDb listing for “trivia” about this episode. You, you go add it to Wikipedia. If someone there asks you for a source tell them there’s a plaque in the bowling alley attesting to this. It’s not like anyone’s going to actually check.

    …Actually, maybe this episode isn’t as dated as I thought it was. That little fringed number that Mary Tyler Moore wears?  I wore the same outfit to the gym today.

    Posted by on September 22, 2011, 9:00 AM.

  6. Back to Normal at the Supermarket!

    CONGRATULATIONS to the grocery workers at my local Ralphs supermarket for standing strong, not backing down, and seeing it through!

    I know it must have been a hellish time for you, not knowing how long all of this could go on for, but you did it: You managed to act courteous to your customers for, oh, a little over a week. I doff my hat to you, fine supermarket cashiers and stockers, bag boys and cart wranglers! Good job!

    You can now drop the professional, pleasant, well-mannered, friendly attitude and go right back to being your normally surly, inattentive, borderline rude selves. Since you won’t be striking, you no longer need the public on your side, so please, once again, completely ignore the fact that you work in the service industry. Treat your customers with the disregard, inattentiveness and disdain to which we’re accustomed from you, as you carry on your taxing, overwhelming careers of dragging my weekly stack of Michelina frozen Dollarsagna™ meals across that scanner while having a public anxiety attack about who gets to take their “fifteen” first.

    Still, for about a week, after what surely must have been a storewide mandate from the union steward, my goodness, I have to say that I felt – if only for those magical seven or eight days – I felt that you cared. I guess I was wrong.

    Now I hope you understand why I urinated in that football-shaped grill in that tailgate party-themed display of Pepsi products and Doritos.

    Posted by on September 20, 2011, 1:22 PM.

  7. A Step Backwards!

    JUST A FEW MONTHS AGO I told you how my local Finast supermarket had Goldfish brand baked snack crackers on sale for just a buck a bag, remember? Sure you do – why, who wouldn’t remember such a thing?

    Well, look, here’s something that doesn’t make much sense to me and now, neither to you. Take a gander at this bag of Pepperidge Farm fish-shaped snacks:

    Like you, I grew up knowing this variety as “Original,” probably.

    Now they’re called “Saltine.”  Isn’t that a step backwards?  I mean, “Saltine” sounds so plain and unappealing, right?  I would have figured they’d been called “Saltine” when they debuted on the market in 1928 (to cash in on the goldfish-swallowing mania then sweeping college campuses) and then later renamed “Original” to give ’em some caché.

    But no, they were called “Original” first, probably, and now they’re called “Saltine.” And, no, sorry – they didn’t debut in 1928 to cash in on the goldfish-swallowing mania; I don’t know where you got that from. The goldfish-swallowing mania (more of a craze, actually) didn’t sweep college campuses until 1939. I have no idea when Goldfish crackers were invented. Let’s say, oh, 1942 – no, 48!  1948! Sounds good.

    Anyway, you know what I love, and now, so do you?  Eating a bunch of Goldfish and in doing so building up all this Goldfish paste up between my cheek and gums and then taking a finger and dragging it along the inside of my mouth and prying off all that delicious thick slurry and then sucking it off my finger. You love it as much as I do, but is it really worth all those cankersores? Maybe if you washed your hands first – God knows where they’ve been.

    UPDATE:
    Well, it turns out they weren’t called “Original” originally, but “Lightly Salted.” At least they were in 1978, back when a bag would only set you back 59¢! This according to some photo I found on Flickr. Do I have time here to tell you how much I both love and hate Flickr – how I love it for the images, but hate it for the people…? Yes? No? What? My producer’s shaking his head no. Okay, I’ll save that one.

    We’ll be right back.

    Posted by on September 19, 2011, 9:00 AM.

  8. Photomosaics, Bah!

    FOUR DAYS AGO, in the wee morning hours of September 11th – purely by accident I assure you! – I wandered onto “The Huffington Post.”

    On their front page was an image of the New York skyline prior to the attacks.

    It was presented as a photomosaic. And it made me think.

    I’d like to reproduce it here but my attorney mentioned that might be poking Ariachna with a stick.  Oh, nevermind – look, I found it elsewhere. Ah, there’s the story behind it too. It’s a good story and an important story, and this particular photomosaic gets a pass from me. I do not have a problem with this photomosaic. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: What kind of monster do you think I am?

    But as to nearly all other photomosaics:

    When photomosaics first came out in the early 1990s, they were interesting to look at specifically because they were comprised of a bunch of photos carefully arranged in such a way that when you looked at it from far enough back, the images blended naturally – yes, organically! – to form a larger image.

    Oh, but then they got popular, and it became too complicated or time-consuming or un-cost-effective, or cost-ineffective I guess is the word, or something to keep doing that; and so what they’ve been doing  – the photomosaic people in the photomosaic industry  (and brother, believe you me, it’s an industry!) – what they’ve been doing since then is they simply take a bunch of little photos, and then drop, I don’t know, some sort of slightly translucent screen over it with the image they want you to see and in the process tinting nearly all the smaller images artificially.

    In other words, it’s cheating!

    Here’s a perfect example, from the box of a Snoopy photomosaic jigsaw puzzle:

    Most of the tiny pictures from this line of Peanuts puzzles are made up of screen grabs from the animated specials. So unless there was one called “You’re in Hell, Charlie Brown,” Snoopy’s dog house is composed of images that have just been colored red.

    If photomosaics hadn’t been created so precisely and carefully when this technique first debuted, I wouldn’t have a problem with where we are today, photomosaically speaking. But the fact is, they were. The genie’s out of the bottle. We can’t go back, folks. Originally, there was a level of craftsmanship among the early photomosaic artisans. And whether they meant to or not, they’d set a  precedent. The public justifiably had and has a certain level of expectation. When they started doing photomosaics nearly twenty years ago, the larger image may not have been too detailed, but it worked, dammit, and it was real neat to look at on account of the images making it were untouched. Unmanipulated. Pure.  

    But now?  Oh, now just arrange any picture next to any other goddamn picture, repeat this a few thousand times, drop your larger image over the whole mess, dick around with the opacity, and call it a day.

    It disgusts me.

    When did we lose our way, America?

    Posted by on September 15, 2011, 9:00 AM.

  9. Candy & Toys!

    EVERY DAY when I get home from the office, little Howard comes running up to me, hollering, “What did you bring me?! What did you bring me?!”

    Well, as you can imagine, what I’ve usually brought him is a rap in the mouth, but every once in a while I like to surprise him and give him something he’s not expecting.

    I stopped at my local independently owned and operated dollar store after work today (I finally remembered to pick up new underpants – it’s been on my “To Do” list for months now.) and at the end of an aisle, on an “endcap” as they’re known in the retail game, I saw a pegboard of dulces y juguetes, or in our soon-to-be second language, “candy and toys.” Each little packet had an assortment of a few pieces of candy as well as a small toy. Sure – some candy and a toy.

    Well, you know little Howard – he loves candy and toys!

    But which among these many bags – this veritable pegboard of packets, if you will – which one to choose?

    One had a bright blue yo-yo.
    Inside another was a cement mixer truck no bigger than your thumb.
    There was one that had a funny little man on a wind-up horse.
    And in one packet I saw a red rubber ball with a big white star on it.
    A handful of tiny green army men were scattered among the candy in one bag.
    And in another, some plastic zoo animals.

    Why, they were all wonderful. And I just couldn’t make up my mind.

    So I did what any man would do, sure.

    Eeny meeny miny moe…


     Now, some might say I’m spoiling him, but if you had only seen the expression on his face!

    Posted by on September 14, 2011, 9:00 AM.

  10. What Is This, A Freakout?

    WELL, IF YOU’RE HERE TODAY, you probably need a little break from all the 9/11 coverage that’s going on. Or, let’s face it, more likely you’re not here on 9/11 at all, but for some reason known only to you and God, you’re looking at older posts. But if you’re here on 9/11, no, you’re not going to get any 9/11 irreverence from the likes of me, pal. Just what kind of monster do you think I am?

    Instead you’ll get some Cliff Robertson irreverence.

    Yes, we just lost Cliff Robertson. With his passing come all the tributes about his body of work, including his Oscar-winning turn as moron-cum-genius-cum-moron Charlie Gordon in “Charly.” And rightly so. Plus, he seemed like a genuinely nice guy.

    Ahem…

    Despite that, here, courtesy YouTube (and whoever illegally uploaded it to YouTube, probably), is a chunk of the aforementioned movie. But ignore most of it! Ignore the rape scene (which didn’t happen in the book). Ignore the subtitles!  They weren’t in the book, either! I want you to start it at the five minute mark. I’d have embedded it so it starts right there automatically, but frankly I don’t know how to. And the Ted Parsnips Web Design Team now has weekends off – goddamn unions.

    Now keep watching!  Watch it from the 5:00 mark to the 6:25 mark!

    Wasn’t that amazing?!

    I want to applaud the Academy for recognizing Robertson’s work in this film among that year’s best! Specifically this psychedelic montage, where, among other things, “Charly Baby” hops on a motorcycle and seems to be channeling either Marlon Brando in “The Wild One” or Steve McQueen in “The Great Escape” or somehow even Dennis Hopper in “Easy Rider” (a year before that film even came out!) and then does the Monkey and some other 60s dance move that simply defies description.

    Which, curiously, I remember neither from the short story nor the novel version of “Flowers for Algernon.” Huh.

    But what I do remember is watching this with the rest of my classmates during English class back in junior high sch–  Oh, pardon, me “middle school” as it’s now legally known – after we’d read the book, and all of us laughing uproariously – even the stupid kids on whom the glorious absurdity of these scenes one might assume would be lost.

    On whom the glori– Christ all mighty, that’s an awkward sentence. Maybe I was one of the stupid kids.

    Posted by on September 11, 2011, 9:00 AM.

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