Saturday, September 26, 2009

Just Root, Root, Root, for whomever you want. (Nonsportsmanlike Conduct!)

This afternoon, after I go jogging and after I fix the bed and after I organize the upstairs closet, which has become a disastrous pile of boxes and bins and blankets and other alliterative things that fit in a closet (bastions?), I will go to a sports bar to see the Buffalo Bills play the New Orleans Saints in a game that has been advertised (by me, in an email to coworkers) as "A preview of probably the next 4-5 Super Bowls."

Which raises an important question: Is it "Super Bowl" or "Superbowl"? And which raises another important question, which is this: How do you decide which sports team to root for?

That, in turn, raises a third question: Why would mentioning Lambeau Field in an advertisement get me to buy heating services?

Let's answer those slightly out of order:

1. It's "Super Bowl", two words, which makes sense, I suppose. What didn't make sense was the NFL's effort to trademark the use of the phrase "The Big Game," apparently to cash in on retailers, who were forbidden to use "Super Bowl" in their ads. So you couldn't say "Hey, during the Super Bowl, order our pizza," but you could say "Hey, during the big game this Sunday, order our pizza," leading the NFL to try to trademark The Big Game, too, an application they dropped to lull you into a false sense of security; later this year, they plan to trademark your thought patterns.

That is a really big bowl. You might also say it is
august, capital, chief, commanding, excellent, glorious, grand,
impressive,notable, noteworthy, outstanding, paramount, prominent,
puissant, remarkable, or superior. But don't describe it as super.

2. I don't know why mentioning Lambeau Field, home of the Packers, would get me to buy heating services, but apparently someone in advertising thought it would, as I heard an ad for an HVAC company Friday while driving home, and at the end of the ad they said something like "Lambeau Field is ready for winter. Are you?", a tag line that led me to think a couple of things, which were:

First of all, Lambeau Field is an open-air stadium; are you suggesting I rip my roof off to prepare for the winter?

Second of all, the coldest I have ever been in my entire life was sitting in Lambeau Field as a kid watching the Packers play the Cardinals in a playoff game. I still feel a little chilly when I think about it.

Third of all, I'm supposed to mentally associate your company with Lambeau Field, and the Packers, and then get all emotional and call you up and say "Yeah! Go Pack! And fix my heater!"? Is that the plan?

Because I don't get it, and these things are all related to each other.

Well, some of these things are. The Super Bowl thing is not really related; it just bugged me, the way it bugs me that it's New York but everyone calls it New York City, leading me one day to think Wait a minute, is it actually called New York City? (It's not.)(I think.)(Now I'm not sure again.)

So how do you choose which sports team you're going to root for? That's related to the Lambeau Field heating question, you can see now, because the sports team we root for is deemed to have deep psychological impact: Just saying the name of a team, or something associated with it, or having a past player from that team, is supposed to link our emotions about that team (The Ice Bowl, The Catch, The Drive) to... a more efficient furnace.

But most people didn't, I think, choose their sports teams to root for; they had their sports team foisted off on them through a labrynthine system of rules and arbitrary decisions and billionaire's whims, and they don't even realize it. Most people root for teams that are "theirs" only through happenstance and mercurial fate -- and yet they are so invested in rooting for those teams, teams they adopted because of a combination of factors beyond their control -- that they react almost angrily when I suggest that they root for "their" teams simpy out of chance.

Having thought about this issue for nearly a day and a half, now (not consecutively; I first thought of it Friday, then I took the Babies! to McDonald's. Then I thought of it Saturday again but got distracted by having to keep Mr Bunches from climbing out the window I'd left open, and then I thought of it again this morning), I've derived a rule for how people choose their teams. You won't like it, but this is the actual rule most people apply to choosing a team to root for:

Root for the team that is closest to you, unless the team that is closest to you is located across the border of another state, in which case you must root for the team that is closest to you in your state, unless the team that is closest to you but is across the border claims to be located in your state, in which case you can root for that team anyway, and also, if you have moved since becoming an adult, you must continue to root for the team that was closest to you when you were growing up, following the first 2/3 of this rule to choose that team.

Got all that? That is a scientifically verifiable rule, as proven by my experiment on Friday night, when I asked Sweetie and The Boy:

If you live in Oakland, but work in San Francisco, should you root for Oakland or San Francisco? They both said Oakland.

I then asked:

What if your Oakland team moves to Los Angeles? Should you continue to root for them? They said yes. So I said: What if you move to San Francisco, and then the Oakland team moves back to Oakland? at which point they got frustrated and refused to answer questions anymore.

Ah, science.

You can see my point, there, and there are a lot more points to be made about the foolish way in which we choose teams to root for. A few weeks back, I was in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, and I saw someone with a bunch of Packer stuff on their house.

Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, is about as far west as you can get in Wisconsin and still be in America's Dairyland:

Why, I got to wondering, does this Prairie du chienster like the Packers? Because he lives in Wisconsin? It must be that. It can't be proximity. It's 240 miles from Prairie du Chien to Green Bay, but only 213 miles to Minneapolis, where Favre and his Vikings play. It's only 244 miles to Chicago, making rooting for the Chicago Bears a roughly 1 cheese curd-longer drive. And it's only 385 miles to St. Louis, which is what I meant to put on that map, but I put "Kansas City" instead, and I'm too lazy to change it.

So the Prairie du Chien Packer fan lives closest to the home of the Vikings, and roughly equidistant from the Packers and the Bears -- but roots for the Packers, presumably because he lives in Wisconsin. But why should that matter?

To see why residence doesn't matter, and location of the team doesn't matter -- or shouldn't -- in choosing a team to root for, let's examine a test case: Me.

Ah, science.

I live in Wisconsin. But I didn't choose to live in Wisconsin. I live in Wisconsin for a couple of reasons. First off, I was born here -- but I had very little to do with that. I was only along for the ride, so to speak. Then I grew up here, but again, not really my choice. I'd have picked "Hawaii" if given the chance, but I didn't get the chance, as a kid.

Then, once I was an adult, I went to school here, because school was cheaper if I attended an in-state college. Then, once I was even more of an adult, I went to law school here -- again, for the same monetary based reasons. Then, once I was about as adult as you can be, I opted to stay in Wisconsin for two reasons: First, I was in love with Sweetie and going to marry her, and she lived here, and second, I could practice law in Wisconsin without taking a bar exam.

So I live in Wisconsin because my parents lived here when I was born, and because our court system decided Hey, we don't have to test these guys before we let them litigate your million-dollar case, and because Sweetie's parents lived here when she was born.

And that's how I'm supposed to choose my team to root for? (For the record, I live 136 miles from Green Bay, and 146 miles from Chicago, and 1,282 miles from Albuquerque, New Mexico, which doesn't have a team, but should, because I'd like to see if newspapers would print the city's name all the time. In fact, I'd like to see Albuquerque have a team and make the team's nickname even harder to spell than Albuquerque, something like the Albuquerque Quetzlcoatls.)

Headline I'd Like To See:
Houshmanzadeh catches winning TD for
Albuquerque Quetzlcoatls in Big Game.

Let's make those typesetters work for their money for a change!

And even if you deem me having chosen to live in Wisconsin now, when I could simply up and move to Hawaii if I could convince Sweetie to do it and find a job there and somehow get all our stuff there because I don't want to leave any of it behind, not even the piano that's out of tune but which I intend to get tuned someday, maybe next week but probably not... even if I've chosen to live in Wisconsin, why does that mean I have to root for the Packers? After all, Wisconsin's own borders were chosen by others and I had nothing to do with that; but for some negotiations back in 1848, it's entirely possible that Green Bay would be in Michigan, and I'd be living in Illinois.

Or that I'd be living in Wisconsin, but Wisconsin would include Minneapolis. The original Wisconsin Territory, created in 1836, included all of present-day Wisconsin (even Eau Claire! Ugh!) all of Iowa, all of Minnesota, and parts of North and South Dakota (or, as they were known then: Boring!)(Seriously: If you watch closely that commercial promoting North Dakota that was on TV this year a lot, you'll notice that they show the family having a "vacation" in North Dakota doing the same three things over and over: biking, watching an Indian dance, and running, presumably away from North Dakota as fast as they can.)

So I'd be faced with a real dilemma if there hadn't been some negotiations between Congress people back in the way-olden days (before 2002), negotiations that probably went something like this:

Legislator one: What say we carve five different states out of that Wisconsin territory?

Legislator two: Why would I do that?

Legislator one: Because this musket is loaded and pointed at your head, and I want to have my state have it's own team someday.

Legislator two: You know, there's a roughly even chance that musket will backfire and kill you.

Legislator one: Then I guess what you've got to ask yourself, punk, is why do we all wear such heavy clothing all the time? God, our era reeks of body odor!

Legislator two: You've convinced me. But if we do this, then Wisconsin gets to have someone build an Octagon House for school kids to tour.

This is what passes for a popular tourist site in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin:
a house with double the usual number of sides.

So because that guy wanted to corner the lucrative Octagon House market, Wisconsinites have to root for the Packers, while Minnesota-ers have to root for the Vikings and North and South Dakotans have to wish they lived someplace decent.

It's even worse for people whose state doesn't have a team. Who, I asked Sweetie and The Boy, are they supposed to root for? To which they responded: We already told you, we're not talking about this anymore. We're bored.

If you've moved to a state without a team, then you have to follow your old team. And if you've moved to a state with a team, you have to follow your old team, judging by my brother Matt, who lives in Tampa but roots for the Packers back "home." But what if you had the misfortune to be born in a Nebraska, or an Iowa, or a Utah? (Note to self: check to see if Utah is still a state, and also if it has a football team.)

I don't know what the rules say, then, about which team you have to root for. You may be a free agent, able to select any team -- except that everyone, everywhere, will assume that you'll root for the team located closest to you. I say that because that's what TV networks will do: They'll assume that you want to see the team closest to you, and if there's one thing TV networks are good at, it's "being representative of what everyone everywhere thinks."

Yes, you all really do like Gary, Unmarried that much, and shame on you for it.

TV Networks in areas without a "local" game on - -"local" meaning "a game featuring the team that happens to have been placed in this haphazard geographical boundary" will opt to show you the game featuring a team that's kind of close to the place where you live. So, this afternoon, viewers in Wisconsin at 3 p.m., when the Packer game is over, will not get any teams from California, or Denver: we're typically given a choice of Pittsburgh, or Indianapolis. The thinking seems to be "If you like Green Bay, you'll probably like Pittsburgh," based, as far as I can tell, on the theory that you'll like things that are closest to you.

So if you live in an area without a team of "its own," you'll probably be force-fed a diet of "The team that's kind of near us," and you'll be deemed to like them.

Teams assume that you'll like them if they seem to be close to you, and it seems to work, too. That's the only reason the "New York" Giants and the "New York" Jets have New York in their names -- they play in New Jersey, so if New Yorkers really wanted to root for the "home" team, they'd root for Buffalo, the only team that plays in New York. Ever wonder why it's the New England Patriots*? It's not just because Massachusetts Patriots is harder to say; it's because then people all over New England will root for them.

The Washington Redskins don't play in Washington; they play in Maryland. But people in Maryland don't root for Washington -- God Forbid! -- they root for the Baltimore Ravens, "their" team.

Even though the Baltimore Ravens have only been the Baltimore Ravens since 1996 -- before that, they were the Cleveland Browns, and played in Cleveland. Presumably, people who were Ravens fans on opening day, 1996, were not Cleveland Browns' fans nine months before that when "their" team was finishing up its last season in Cleveland. But the two teams had virtually the same roster -- Vinny Testaverde was the QB for the 1995 Browns, and then opened the 1996 Ravens' season as the QB on that team, which was the same team.

And yet, Baltimore fans did not root for Cleveland the year before.

What of the Houston Oilers, who became the Tennessee Titans? Should Tennesseebees root for the Titans, if they didn't like the Oilers? What if you lived in Tennessee, and didn't have a team, and so you liked, say, the Colts, but then Tennessee got a team? Do you now have to like them?

I think I've made my point. That's why, this afternoon, I'll be at a sports bar watching the Bills -- my First Favorite Team (second being Brett Favre's Vikings, and third being the Packers) play the New Orleans Saints, which are the favorite team of a coworker of mine who grew up in New Orleans and lives here now. (He's following The Rule Of Rooting For A Team. I'm not.) I have to go watch it at a sports bar, because it's not on TV around here, because around "here" "we" all love the Packers, and because the other games on at 3 are played by teams which are geographically closer to Wisconsin. Rather than show a game featuring a 2-0 team that scores a lot of points against a team that lost a close, exciting game in Week 1 and won in week 2, networks here are going with the They'll like what's closest to them theory.

It seemed fun when I first thought of going, but now
I'm kind of regretting it, on account of I hate people.

Which is crazy. It's crazy to like a team just because they're located closest to you. People should choose teams however they want to choose them, and choose them in ways that aren't arbitrary and which make perfect sense. Like how I chose the Vikings -- because Brett Favre went to play there. Or how I chose the Bills -- because I lost money betting on them in four consecutive Superbowls.

I mean, Super Bowls.

Now, on to the The NC! Incredibly Accurate (But Arbitrary) NFL Picks! Last week, I went head-to-head with Ron Jaworski, who people in Pennsylvania loved when he was an Eagle, unless they lived closer to Pittsburgh, PA, in which case they hated the Eagles and loved the Steelers.

Ron based his picks on his lifetime of football knowledge. I based mine on the alphabet. So how'd we do?

Ron went 8-7 -- just over 0.500 -- for the week. So if you relied on Ron, you just-more-than-broke-even.

I went 10-6. 10-6! So if you forget about "experts" and remember The Alphabet Song, you'd be rich and living in Hawaii right now.

This week, I will go head-to-head with another Brain Trust guy, Mark Sclereth. Mark's another former football player turned analyst, and his whole life revolves around knowing about and talking about football. Mark will pick the games this week based on that extensive knowledge of sports.

I, on the other hand, to celebrate and promote the future Albuquerque Quetzlcoatls, will pick teams based on which team's nickname is longer. Let's go with:

The NC! Incredibly Accurate (But Arbitrary) NFL Picks! For Week 2. (My season record: 21-10, 67.7% right.)

Lions@ Redskins: Every expert in the world is picking the Lions to win their first game since Vasco Da Gama discovered the Pontiac River and invented the internal combustion engine. Lions. (Mark: Redskins.)(Every expert except Mark, I guess.)

Packers @ Rams: The abbreviation ESPN uses for "Green Bay" is GNB. How is that better than "GB?" I had to actually think for a moment, when I read that, and wonder "who's GNB?". Rams. (Mark: Packers.)

49ers @ Vikings: The 49ers pose a problem for the Arbitrary (But Still Incredibly Accurate!) Predictions, what with their number-and-letter mix. But it still looks shorter, so 49ers. (Mark: 49ers)

Falcons @ Patriots*: If only the Patriots* had opted to be the Patriot, they'd have this game iced. Plus that'd be kind of new-wave, wouldn't it? The New England Patriot. Nah. On second thought, it sounds like a boring newspaper. Falcons. (Mark: Patriots*)

Titans @ Jets: If you live in New Jersey, do you root for the Giants or Jets, or do you resent them for not being willing to put New Jersey in their name? Jets. (Mark: Titans.)

I can't think of a single reason why you wouldn't
want your professional sports team associated with New Jersey.

Chiefs @ Eagles: The Chiefs play in Kansas City, Missouri. Take that, Kansans. But the system says "your" team will win, anyway. Chiefs. (Mark: Eagles)

Giants @ Buccaneers: The Buccaneers, as everyone knows, play in Tampa BAY. They've opted to try to attract the all-important Merpeople demographic. Giants. (Mark: Giants.)

Browns @ Ravens: As befits a game between two teams that are actually the same team -- the Ravens being the former Browns, and the Browns being the current Browns, the system says: TIE! (Mark: Ravens.)

Jaguars @ Texans: I seriously think that Houston went with Texans for their nickname on the theory that it would get more Texans to root for them. "They may be located in Houston, but they're TEXANS, so sign me up!" It didn't work. Texans. (Mark: Texans.)

Bears @ Seahawks: Two second rule. Bears. (Mark: Bears.)

Saints @ Bills: Once again, the system lets me go with my heart. Or, as I told Sweetie yesterday in explaining why I was choosing the chicken sandwich with the fried onions and Ranch dressing on it over the one that didn't have ranch dressing, "The heart wants what it wants." Bills! (Mark: Saints.)

In this case, the heart wants angioplasty. And soon.

Steelers @ Bengals: Ohio has two teams, Pennsylvania has two teams, Florida has three football teams, and, yet, Arkansas still gets to mispronounce its name. Is that fair? Discuss, using the word hyperbole incorrectly. Bengals. (Mark: Steelers)

Broncos @ Raiders: Two second rule, and also, the second tie game this week. Tie. (Mark: Broncos.)

Dolphins @ Chargers: This may not be the best week for the Arbitrary (But Still Incredibly Accurate!) picks. Then again, if there are three ties this week, I'm going to be the King of the Sports World. Tie. (Mark: Chargers.)

Colts @ Cardinals: The Chicago Cardinals moved to St. Louis, and then to Phoenix, but then changed their name to the Arizona Cardinals. Still feeling loyal to "your" team, Arizona? Colts. (Mark: Cardinals.)

Panthers @ Cowboys: The "Carolina" Panthers chose as a designation a location that doesn't exist. They didn't want to alienate South Carolinans, who are so shallow and narrow-minded that they couldn't possibly root for a team that had North in the name. See what the NFL thinks of you, South Carolinans? Whereas I have nothing but respect for you. Snicker. South Carolinans are dunderheads! (I hope you didn't read that last part.) Cowboys. (Mark: Cowboys.)

For Week 2. (My season record: 11-4, 73.3% right.)

Plus, I think "Speedy McFasterson" is already a popular name.

If you're really fast and you want to get the word out about how fast you are, you have a few options. You could change your name to Usain Bolt and challenge a cheetah to a foot race to be shown live on the Ellen show, Tuesday (check local listings.)

Or you could have a business card that you hand out, naming you "Speedy McFasterson," and listing your title as "Really Fast Guy, In Case The Name Didn't Tell You."

Those all have their benefits and detriments, benefits like "Get to meet a cheetah live in person (and meet Ellen, too)" and detriments like "Have to keep explaining to people that name isn't really Speedy McFasterson."

Then there's the way that Charter has chosen to emphasize how fast they are: By having a Camaro Sweepstakes.

Here's a picture that emphasizes my point:


Neat, huh? Even the picture looks fast. As you know, if you follow Charter on Facebook, or on my blogs, Charter is known for giving away stuff -- most recently, they gave away a laptop a day. People love free stuff, but when it comes to internet, what do they love more even than FREE? They love FAST, and Charter is fast.

To emphasize just how fast, Charter is giving away a 2010 Camaro 2ss, one of the hardest-to-get, hottest, FASTEST cars around.

From now until November 26 you can enter; get the details by visiting Charter's site. Your entry will give you a chance to win that Camaro, but you'll win just by signing up for Charter services, as they're giving away gift cards just for signing up. Get 3 Charter services, and get a $100 gift card good for clothes, accessories, restaurants... lots of stuff, basically.

Then, keep up with all of Charter's great contests by watching Charter on Twitter.


The butler did it! (Sweetie's Hunk of the Week, 33)

Sweetie's 33rd Hunk of the Week is: Wentworth Miller!

Wait'll you see him with his shirt off!

Wait... something's not right here. Sure, Sweetie likes old, saggy, bald guys... she's married to me... but still. That guy doesn't seem hunky. Let me try again...

Sweetie's hunk of the week is... Wentworth Miller!

I guess I just went with what I
assumed a guy named "Wentworth" would look like. The name "Wentworth" doesn't fit so well into a sentence that contains the phrase "Hunk of the Week," unless the sentence is "The Hunk of the Week asked his butler, Wentworth, to fetch some tea."

Although why would the Hunk of the Week drink tea?

You Don't Know Him Without: Wentworth Miller starred in the "hit" "TV show" Prison Break. I have no idea what that was about, and I wish they'd have
chosen a title that gave at least some clue about the show. Wentworth Miller was also this week's second-most ridiculous Law & Order plot twist, when he played some kind of rogue cop who got to beat up victims because he worked in narcotics, not the Special Victims Unit, and then got briefly reassigned to the SVU (and pulled off of all his ongoing investigations which no doubt did not suffer at all from the fact that they were abruptly abandoned) to work SVU.

That would have been the greatest departure from reality that
I saw on Law & Order this week, except that last night, Sweetie watched an episode on which the SVU guys, from their desktop computers, managed to tap into security cameras on the Iraq-Turkey border -- and do so instantly. They just went click, click, click, and they had still photos from Iraqi border cameras right their on their screen.

Do TV writers know that for someone -- a cop, say-- to view something on the Internet, someone else -- an Iraqi border guard, say -- has to post that thing on the Internet? It's not as if the Internet is a giant Katamari, just conglomerating up all of the information and images in the world.

The Internet! If you've thought it, it's on there,
waiting for Olivia to download it on her surprisingly-high-powered-and-
fast-but-still-government-issued computer.

Thing That Makes You Go HMMMMM About Him: I was totally onto something with that butler crack. Wentworth's full name is Wentworth Earl Miller... wait for it... The THIRD! And he's British. If his parents hadn't moved here when he was one, he'd be carrying a silver tray and saying "Veddy Well, Suh!" even as we speak.

He also sang a capella with the Princeton Tigertones, and here he is singing with them:

Which I'm actually not making fun of. I love that stuff.

Reason I Tell Myself Sweetie Likes Him: Sweetie has absorbed enough Law & Order broadcasts that by now she probably has them imprinted on her mind. I expect that someday, Sweetie will start sculpting little Elliotts and Olivias in her mashed potatoes. That kind of conditioning can only lead to her loving everything about that show, even brief appearances by kind-of-TV-stars.

Actual Reason Sweetie Likes Him: "He's a walking [censored]." Try again; it's a PG-13 blog. "He's a walking [still censored, and now I'm a little shocked.]" Try again. "He's a walking... dream."

Point I'd Like To Make About Sweetie's Actual Reason For Liking Him: Really? This guy?

Butlers do it for you, Sweetie?

I just don't see what the attraction is. I... oh. Never mind:

Sure, he's got all muscles and a great body and chiseled
good looks and a cool career. But you know what? His middle name is
Earl, so...
Yeah. Take that,

The giraffe treats, maybe, could be kept in a special pouch the Marines carry for that purpose.

I only just last year started making sure I wear a tie to the office on almost every day -- Fridays excepted -- because I wanted to look more professional and improve my image in the eyes of clients and the partners at our firm.

And I only just adapted to that recently, getting comfortable with wearing a tie (which I usually wear a little loosened and my sleeves rolled up) when along comes the news that I'm going to have to SHAVE EVERYDAY, too?

What is this, the Marines?

Are Marines known for being well-groomed? I think they are. I see them in their commercials and they look pretty well-groomed in their uniforms and short haircuts. Then again, Marines are the guys who swim through two miles of mine-infested water, to climb out of the water and get onto their trained, sentient giraffes, which they then ride across the plains of the Serengeti to do battle with the laser-armed Maori uprising that threatens to destabilize the fragile peace between men and apes.

Well, they do that in my new novel: Tarzan 3000. Coming soon to bookstores near you!

Anyway, I'm reacting not just to what a fantastic movie that would make starring Jake Gyllenhaal (with a videogame tie-in, hint hint) but also to the news from Gillette Career Advantage that well-groomed men are more likely to be hired, and more likely to be promoted.

That's the news this week: A survey of 500 HR people showed that 84% of them said well-groomed employees move up faster, get more promotions and get them more quickly, than employees like me, who have their tie loosened and that Don Johnson look.

Stubble may have worked in the 80s, apparently, but no longer. It takes more than a pet crocodile and a disdain for razors to hit the top, and the Gillette Resource Center is that more: at the Gillette Resource Center, experts like GQ style correspondent Brett Fahlgren provide advice on how to find a job or get a better job. Through their website you can review expert advice, take a career quiz and even view the "Hire Guide," an in-depth look at what HR Professionals really think.

With my luck, I'll go look at it and they'll tell me I need to start wearing pants, too. Well, you know what, Mr. Hoity-Toity HR Professional? You know who DOESN'T wear pants? Tarzan 3000, that's who. And Marines!

Well, maybe Marines wear pants. Otherwise, where would they keep their giraffe treats?


Thursday, September 24, 2009

1001 Ways To Tune Up The World, Number Forty-One.

42. Think nice things, and then say them.

Today's Way was actually submitted by Sweetie, who suggested it to me because she already does this.

Sweetie compliments everybody, and on more than just their looks. She tells people that they look good, but she also tells them that they're good at their jobs, that they're nice, that they're friendly, and more. Sweetie is not just polite, but complimentary, to everyone.

Last night, then, Sweetie said she thought one of the Ways should be just that: Say nice things to people. She put it this way: "I'm not saying that you have to go around complimenting everybody. But of the seven nice things you think, say two of them."

She also tries to compliment people on more than just their looks, because she believes that focusing on looks is bad for people and bad for society: "It leads people to get plastic surgery and botox" and other things, and she's opposed to that. She said that maybe if someone had ever just told Priscilla Presley that she was a good person, as opposed to just that she was good-looking, then maybe Priscilla would have had some self-esteem and not wrecked herself with plastic surgery.

Sweetie's thoughts on this are also that you make people's days a little better when you compliment them, and "That's what makes the world a better place, right?"

In all the years I've known Sweetie, I've heard her have negative thoughts about others... almost never. And she rarely voices them. But she does compliment people all the time, and now she's suggesting that we all do what she does.

I've modified hers a little, since Sweetie already thinks nice things. The rest of us have to learn to think nice things first, then to say them to people. But try it today, following Sweetie's advice: "Tell someone they're good with their kids, or talented."

Prior entries:

13. Ban driving any kind of automobile, motorcycle or other personal vehicle within 1-2 miles of downtown in any city with a population of more than 100,000.

12. Abolish gym class; instead, teach kids to play musical instruments.

11. Change copyright laws to allow anyone to use anyone else's creative work provided that the copier pay 60% of the profit to the originator and that the copier not cast the original work in a negative light.

10. Have more sidewalk cafes and outdoor seating.

9. When you have to give someone a gift, ask them what they want, and then get that thing for them.

8. Never interrupt or finish someone's jokes.

7. Periodically, give up something you like for at least a month.

6. Switch to "E-money."

5. Have each person assigned one phone number, and then add an extension for the various phones and faxes that person might be reached at.

4. Abolish Mondays and Tuesdays.

3. Don't listen to interviews with athletes or comedians.

2. Have "personal cashiers" at the grocery store.

1. Don't earn more than $200,000 per year.

3 Good People Are My 3 Good Things (3 Good Things From 9/23/09)

1. Chris, the nice TV repair guy, who was very polite to me when I took the Babies!' TV to him to see if he could fix it after Mr F shoved the TV off its stand. Twice. Chris was not only fun to talk to but also gave me an explanation of just how the TV worked and how he might be able to fix it, using diagrams and magnets. I'm saving the actual explanation for a "Cool Things."

2. The Boy, who rushed home from school on a moment's notice when Sweetie called up to get him out of school so that he could watch Mr Bunches while...

3. Sweetie acted quickly to save Mr F from further pain and suffering as she rushed him to Urgent Care after Mr F decided to try to use a toy barn as a stool to get onto his dresser, resulting in (inevitably) him falling down and cutting his forehead. Sweetie's quick action left Mr F with nothing worse than two small stitches, and the fun of spinning in circles last night while I tried to look at them. (I didn't play any part in the Emergency; my job was to sit in my office and then to leave early to take the TV to the shop.)

Also, my job was to refer to Mr F as "Harry Potter" the rest of the night, on the (flimsy) basis that his two stitches might resemble Harry's lightning-shaped scar.

The Paperboy, 4: Life is like a canyon. (Jobs vs. Life, 4)

Life is what happens when you're not working... and this is part 4 of my ongoing attempt to explain my life by the work I've done. Click here for the Table of Contents.

Looking back from the perspective of nearly three decades, I know one thing for sure: I didn't make Jim kill himself. And looking back from that same perspective, I'm less certain, now, that my dad didn't negotiate away cul de sacs from our route because of jealousy.

There were two little courts that were offshoots from Penbrook Way, and one of those courts didn't really have to be negotiated away. The first one, Canterbury Circle, was a beast of a hill, the second-highest hill in Hartridge, steep and short and with only about ten houses on it, making it not worth our while (I supposed) to have to deliver up and down that street; in exchange for a couple bucks a week, we'd be walking, biking, or driving up and down that hill, and in the winter it would be terrible.

That court, which my dad opted out of my paper route when I was a kid, would become important later on in my teen years, though, when I would briefly date a girl named Lara. Lara lived with her mother in Canterbury Circle, and when I dated her, for a few months, I'd walk, or bike, or drive, up that circle, and each time I did, I'd think about how just a few years earlier I'd blithely ridden my bike past that hill each day, never having to worry about making it up that steep incline. I would only go into Canterbury Circle, as it turns out, about 5 times. The first was on Superbowl Sunday, when I remember watching the game with Lara at her house. The game was the Bengals-vs-49ers football game, and afterwards we watched a show I'd never heard of before, called The Simpsons. I wasn't a fan. I also wasn't a big fan of football, but I was a big fan of having a girlfriend, and wanted to hang out with her.

The last time I went up Canterbury Circle was not long afterwards, when I found out that Lara had cheated on me at a party, and we broke up. I went to drop off some stuff of hers that she'd given me. I don't recall what I dropped off, although I for some reason think that there was a poster in there. I do recall Lara being tearful and telling me she was sorry and that she wanted to talk. But I didn't want to talk and left the stuff and left her house and never went up Canterbury Circle again.

The paper route, and those courts, were maybe inextricably intertwined with lost love and sadness and heartbreak, because I later found out that the other court, Windsor Circle, was home to a family that had a couple of connections to our family. The first connection was that their son, Jimmy, was friends with my brother, Matt, for at least a little while. Jimmy was a funny-looking kid, too short and with a too-big head and weird hair: It was too bushy and too thick and too-bowl-cut, even for the seventies. His hair looked like what the result would be if Nicholas from "Eight Is Enough" had fed his hair steroids and died it black.

Jimmy and Matt were friends for only a short time, but Jimmy's parents were never friends, or not good friends, with our parents, and I only much later found out why: Jimmy's dad, Jack, had been briefly (?) engaged to my mom before my mom was engaged to my dad.

I don't know much about my mom and dad's lives before I came into them, and I don't really know much about their lives after I came into them, either, except for the parts that involved me, which I paid attention to because I was in them. But I never figured that my mom and dad had lives outside of their lives with each other. My understanding, such as it is, of how they came together was that my dad worked in the same place as my mom worked, a bakery, probably, and they got to know each other and then got engaged and then had kids. That was all I needed to know.

Then I learned that Mom had been engaged to someone else before Dad, and that was a strange thing to think of, that our family almost wasn't, that Mom knew someone well enough to have promised to marry him, and that the someone-Mom-promised-to-marry wasn't Dad. And, that Mom would promise to marry someone and then not marry him.

That was as far as the story got. That was all I ever found out about it, and I've never gone back and asked. The reasons I never went back and asked are pretty simple, and most of them boil down to It wasn't my life and so I didn' t really care about it. It's not like finding out that Mom was engaged sent me into a Wonder-Years like reverie about how people are never who you really think they are or had a cosmic impact on me. I'm suspicious of people who have cosmic-impacting moments, anyway, especially when the cosmic-impact moments are so obvious. It's obvious, isn't it, that finding out something like that should have a cosmic impact on you? Finding out your Mom had a whole life before she knew your dad and that she was actually engaged to someone else, that you might have had a different dad if things had worked out differently, that instead of being a fat kid with a lazy eye running a paper route, you might have been a short kid with a big head who was no good at Little League... that kind of thing should have a cosmic impact and send you reeling and alter your perceptions of life and more.

But that kind of thing, I think, happens only in movies and to overly-dramatic people. People who want to have cosmic-impact moments will look at moments like that and mine them for their significance and lean on them their whole lives: "I was happy, doctor, before I found out that Mom used to be engaged to someone else. From then on, I couldn't escape the idea that perhaps I had been fated to have a different life."

I don't do that, and I didn't do that. The knowledge that Mom used to be engaged to someone else was a momentary surprise that I then put aside and didn't worry about anymore, especially after Matt stopped being friends with Jimmy and it never really came up anymore. I never thought much about it at all, other than periodically to drive by that street (once I was no longer doing the paper route) and wonder if Jimmy's parents still lived there, and then, three decades later, to sit down and start thinking about the paper route and how it afffected my outlook on life and suddenly realize that maybe Dad had decided he didn't want us to deliver papers to that street because he didn't want us delivering papers to Mom's former fiance.

I don't like to think that about my Dad, who I have a great deal of respect for, but over time we get to view our parents in a different light, when we stop paying so much attention to our own lives and start paying, instead, attention to how other people affected our own lives, and then we have a chance to re-assess things, from that different viewpoint. Like looking at the Grand Canyon from the north side, or from halfway down the path, or from the bottom, the same vast expanse can seem different and present different challenges and ideas depending on where you are in life.

That different view point -- me standing on the north side, now, or having climbed out of the Grand Canyon, maybe -- also tells me that I wasn't actually responsible for my friend, Jim, killing himself.

Jim was one of my best friends in grade school. He lived only a few blocks away -- if I took the direct route, through the baseball diamond and past the park, rather than taking the road -- and we shared a lot of the same interests in 8th grade, those interests being mostly Hitchhiker's Guide books and Dungeons & Dragons, and also of being kind of geeky, kind of uncool, kind-of-on-the-outside, kids.

I have a picture, somewhere, of Jim and one of my other friends, Tom, taken at Great America, on a trip we got to take for being "Students of the Quarter" at Hartland Elementary. "Students of the Quarter" got that award for perfect attendance. That was it. If we didn't miss a day of school in the quarter, we got an award, and if you got a couple of those awards you got to go on a year-end trip to Six Flags' Great America amusement park.

Nowadays, the kids just go there anyway, and call it a field trip. Last year, The Boy went with his science class, purportedly to do experiments, although I don't think The Boy even took a worksheet with him. My field trips were always for educational purposes, and almost always involved trips to the Octagon House (a house that was shaped like an octagon, and was built in the way olden days [before 2002] and which taught us the important life lesson that in the old days, pioneers didn't have zoning codes and deed restrictions) and the Milwaukee Public Museum, where we'd walk through "The Streets of Old Milwaukee" and then go see the Cowboys & Indians diorama where you could press a button and make the rattlesnake's rattles go, and then we'd all gather in the cafeteria and have the teachers get our bag lunches out of the coolers where we'd packed them.

The Great America Student of the Quarter trip wasn't like that. It wasn't meant to be educational at all; it was a reward for making it to school every day. (I think that they let us out of school for the day to go on the trip, which makes the whole thing very ironic.)

In the picture, Jim and Tom are standing next to Bugs Bunny, arms around him, smiling. Tom has a windbreaker and slacks on and brought a duffel bag with him. Jim is wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Bugs Bunny has a fancy red-white--and-blue shirt. The picture to me emphasizes just what dorks we all were: at a time when other kids were starting to mess around with girls and listen to Led Zeppelin and otherwise prepare for high school, we were at an amusement park, with duffel bags, taking pictures of each other with Bugs Bunny.

I'd say that we got the last laugh, and went on to great success, but that goes without saying. Everyone knows that the cool kids in high school ended up being the losers in life. Except for my brother Matt, who was a cool kid in high school and now has a very successful career and lives in Florida. And except for his friend Andy, who was a cool kid and who got all the girls and who is now a senior engineer of some sort and probably makes a zillion dollars and...

I'm not even going to go on. All the cool kids from my graduating class are losers, and you know who you are.

Jim and I would get together from time to time and play Dungeons and Dragons, and other games. He had a game I remember loving, "The Attack of the Awful Green Things From Outer Space," a board game that consisted mostly of paper cutouts and other cheap things, but which was incredibly awesome to play, and only Jim had it. We'd play D&D together, and sometimes go to movies, or take trips to Great America because we both had perfect attendance.

Jim was also on my team in football every day. We played football, at Hartland Elementary, every single day that we had outside recess. It was typically a three-on-three game. On one side were Mark and Glenn and a third guy I can never recall. On our side were me and Jim and Kevin, the kid with no thumb. We typically lost, because I was a fat kid with a lazy eye, Kevin was fast but little and had no thumb, and Jim was just an average kid. Mark, on the other hand was big and strong and Glenn was fast and strong and they beat us all the time. But we always divided up the teams that way.

EDIT: UPDATE: My old, and great, friend Fred Grabow pointed out to me that he was the sixth man. Look Fred up here, and thank him for serving his country on your behalf.

The last time I saw Jim on the day he killed himself is etched in my memory far more clearly than those football games. I ran into him on my paper route. I was turning the corner from Oxford onto Penbrook, about to walk up the hill and start on the final leg of my route. Jim was coming down Penbrook, having finished his paper route for the day and having a two-block walk back to his house.

"Hey," he said to me. I remember that he stood the way he always did, arms at his sides, kind of limp. Jim never seemed very energetic, and that day was no different.

"Hi," I said.

"What's going on?" he said.

"Nothing," I told him. I didn't ask him what was going on with him, but he told me anyway, after a second or two.

"My parents are getting divorced," he said.

I didn't know what to say about that. I didn't know any kids whose parents had divorced at that time. Most kids hadn't had their parents divorce. Some kids in my neighborhood had weird families. There was the other Jim, Jim Hug, just two doors down, who had just his mom and his grandfather in his house,. I didn't know what happened to his dad, but I did know that my parents thought Jim's grandfather had illegally mowed his yard further and further back into the field behind all our houses, effectively enlarging his yard all the way back to the Hickory Nut Tree that served as the boundary to The Canyon, the other boundary being The Pine Tree. Fred, our next door neighbor, had two parents but we never saw his dad because his dad was blind. Glenn, who lived not far from Jim, had his grandparents living in the other side of their duplex, and that was weird, too. But I didn't know anyone, at the time, whose parents were divorced (although mine had threatened it a couple of times.)

"Oh," I said.

We stood there a second longer.

Jim said "Want to come over later?"

I didn't feel like it, so I lied to him: "No. I can't," I told him, without specifying why I couldn't.

"Okay," he said.

"See you tomorrow," I said and he waved. I turned right and walked up the hill, he turned right and walked towards his house and I went on with my paper route.

That night, while I was sitting in our family room in the orange chair back away from the TV, reading comic books, my mom answered the phone and made those kinds of noises that parents make when the news they've got is shocking and disturbing.

I don't remember, now, how, exactly, they broke the news to me. I just know that somehow, somebody told me that Jim had gone home that night, put a shotgun in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

1001 Ways To Tune Up The World, Number Forty-One.

41. Get the cheapest toothpaste possible, then use the money you save to do some good in the world.

All that hippie stuff from the 60s, combined with those "You can feed a kid for the cost of a cup of coffee ads" abound, and yet nobody thinks to ever simply reduce spending on something we all use and we all overspend on.

In 2008, the "global oral hygiene market," (that's dental floss, denture care, mouthwash, toothpaste and toothbrushes) saw $25 billion in revenues. 58.9% of that was spent on toothpaste. Doing some quick math (carry the one... ) means that $14,725,000,000
was spent on toothpaste, globally, in 2008.

Or, should I say, overspent, since it turns out that in testing, the best of 41 toothpastes was the cheapest one.

Yep. Out of 41 products tested, "Ultrabrite," at $0.28 per ounce, was the best stain remover. All of the toothpastes tested had an acceptable level of fluoride. And, noted the testers, "for plaque removal, how you brush matters more than which toothpaste you use."

The $0.28 per ounce was about 1/10 the most expensive brand. So if we assume (with no real basis for assuming that whatsover, but I'll assume it anyway) that on average, Ultrabrite is 1/2 the cost of all the competition, and if everyone in the world switched to Ultrabrite, then worldwide, we'd have a $7,362,500,000 surplus.

Note: This isn't an ad for Ultrabrite. I don't even use that brand. But I'm gonna' start, once my current tube of "Batman" toothpaste is done. I'm fighting crime AND plaque!

Prior entries:

13. Ban driving any kind of automobile, motorcycle or other personal vehicle within 1-2 miles of downtown in any city with a population of more than 100,000.

12. Abolish gym class; instead, teach kids to play musical instruments.

11. Change copyright laws to allow anyone to use anyone else's creative work provided that the copier pay 60% of the profit to the originator and that the copier not cast the original work in a negative light.

10. Have more sidewalk cafes and outdoor seating.

9. When you have to give someone a gift, ask them what they want, and then get that thing for them.

8. Never interrupt or finish someone's jokes.

7. Periodically, give up something you like for at least a month.

6. Switch to "E-money."

5. Have each person assigned one phone number, and then add an extension for the various phones and faxes that person might be reached at.

4. Abolish Mondays and Tuesdays.

3. Don't listen to interviews with athletes or comedians.

2. Have "personal cashiers" at the grocery store.

1. Don't earn more than $200,000 per year.