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Archive for January, 2011

“The Nobel Prize in mathematics was awarded to a California professor who has discovered a new number. The number is bleen, which he claims belongs between 6 and 7.” — George Carlin

 

I need help.

Someone in my marriage has to be told that she is no longer “energetic yet pensive, frequently seeking the answers to life’s big questions.”

And it ain’t gonna be me.

Not that I’m afraid. It’s just, I’m busy with my own problems.

Sadly, the “extroverted” wind beneath my wings, who until recently “enjoyed the company of others and thrived in a constantly changing world,” has been living a lie.

I’ll not have that. Sorry.

The revelation earlier this month that those who know all (because they play connect the dots with the night sky) have discovered a new zodiac sign has truly felt like a kick in the astrological chart for many of us.

It has also resulted in confusing sentence structure.

What it has done for me — because it’s always all about me — is that it reminded me that the zodiac and astrology and horoscopes still exist. And this from the guy who puts the horoscope in your paper every day. Never read it, though.

Nothing personal. I don’t watch professional wrestling and I don’t believe in ghosts, either. I’m more a fan of the plausible.

I digress.

The Minnesota Planetarium Society announced a couple of weeks ago that due to the moon’s gravitational pull on the Earth, the alignment of the stars has been pushed by about a month. Also, there wasn’t much else going on that day at the planetarium.

But, seriously? The Earth moved?

Anyway, since this revelation, humans, me included, have been running into each other and falling down because everything we’ve ever been told about ourselves is apparently a bald-faced lie.

See, I was born a Capricorn — symbolized by the goat. Not sure how the goat fits in. Might have something to do with the place mat at the Chinese restaurant. Never been able to figure it out.

According to everything I’ve been told — and, more immediately, newsfeed.time.com — Capricorn is the epitome of professionalism and traditional values. Capricorns are known to be good managers and hard workers, preferring to stick to practicality and reason in their daily lives.

These are the values to which I have stuck and by which I have lived for all 30-some years of my life. Approximately.

Now, however, according to the new horoscope, my entire life has been a lie. I am now a Sagittarius — a sign of which I have always made fun for the simple reason that the wind beneath my wings was born beneath this sign.

According to the newsfeed.time.com Web site, Sagittarians are energetic yet pensive, frequently seeking the answers to life’s big questions. We (if I am now to include myself in this group of scallywags) are extroverts who enjoy the company of others, and thrive in a constantly changing world.

I’m not one to brag, but if ever there was a description of me that was the polar opposite of the real me, it would be energetic yet pensive, frequently seeking the answers to life’s big questions; an extrovert who enjoys the company of others, and thrives in a constantly changing world.

You have to excuse me for a minute. I’m laughing so hard I can’t see.

If I’m reading the newly aligned stars correctly, the understanding and compassionate among us are actually quiet and shy. The fiery and boisterous are now understanding and compassionate. The flirtatious and outgoing are perhaps more stubborn and dependable. Are the overweight now slender? Can this happen?

This stupid horoscope thing was about to be ignored by me until I got down the list and found out Karen, the woman who puts the smile on my face, the lilt in my step, and the Epsom in my bath, is no longer a Sagittarius. Better (and by “better,” I mean, “worse”) she’s the new long-lost, always-knew-about-it-but-kept-it-under-our-hats-for-no-real-reason-and-decided-to-bring-it-up-now-to-hopefully-generate-interest-in-the-baloney-we’ve-been-selling-to-the-public-and-the-newspaper-industry-since-people-on-hallucinogens-started-staring-into-the-sky-saw-a-bunch-of-stars-and-thought-hey-dude-that-looks-like-a-guy-with-a-bow-and-arrows-and-hey-look-over-there-is-that-a-sheep-because-it-looks-a-lot-like-a-sheep-and-man-am-I-stoned zodiac sign, Ophiucus.

Karen, of whom I speak lovingly because she reads this on occasion, has spent the first 60-some years of her life as a Sagittarius. And if that in and of itself isn’t funny enough, she’s now been shifted under the new sign, Ophiucus, which is a Greek word meaning “easily mispronounced.”

The Ophiucus crew is “known to take charge of any situation with wisdom and knowledge. They command the admiration of their peers and have big dreams for themselves.”

Somebody’s gotta be sitting around somewhere making this stuff up. They certainly didn’t take a poll of the people who have been crammed into this category.

Thankfully — before you throw away your collection of Fifth Dimension and “Hair” 8-tracks — you might still be the person you always have been after all.

Seems leading astrological experts say this monumental, earth-rattling discovery won’t change things a bit. And that’s the bad news. Because the uproar caused by the changes makes for better newspaper copy.

According to the smartness of the Internets, western astrology adheres to the tropical zodiac, which is fixed to seasons. The sidereal zodiac, observed in the East, is the one affixed to constellations, and is the one that would change.

Bet you two bits to one cookie the tropical zodiac crew announces it has discovered a new season; probably try to wedge it in between winter and spring.

Can’t call it bleen, though. Bleen’s been taken.

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Like most children, my relationship with cake started at an early age. Here, mom makes sure I don't break free of my restraints before eating the second cake she ever made me.

I hadn’t realized until the other day — during a conversation with a friend about Martin Luther King Jr. Day — how much I truly miss the delights of a homemade cake.

For this, I blame my mother.

I blame my friend a little bit, for bringing up the subject and reminding me that cake exists. I had forgotten. Put it totally out of my mind.

Even though the conversation happened, as irony would have it, on the eve of my most recent birthday. (Which, I am finding, seems to appear each year with greater frequency and velocity. The older you get, the more quickly your birthday returns. Something incredibly unfair about that.)

My friend was relating a nice, humorous little story involving chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and blah blah blah as soon as those words registered in my pea brain, I completely stopped listening to the rest of her conversation.

Blah blah blah, she went on. All I heard was chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. It was like an oven light bulb clicked on above my head: Cake. I remember cake. I had totally forgotten about cake.

Having waged a lifelong battle with gravitational pull and hearing my doctor tell me a few years ago that I must remove sugar and flour from my diet if I want these rapid-fire birthdays to continue pelting me like buckshot, I would have to eliminate foods that contained desirability, deliciousness and death. Cake being high on that list. Also, suet.

While my friend continued to blather, my mind went frolicking — as if in a breeze-tossed summer frock and a field of daisies — through my mother’s index card box of recipes. Mmmmm … tunnel of fudge … red velvet … mmmmaple walnut.

No, I don’t need a pity party, but I can understand how strongly you feel about throwing me one.

The tunnel of fudge cake was an amazing scientific discovery of the late-1960s and early 1970s. Perhaps it was invented before then, but it didn’t enter my world until then. As I recall, it appeared on the scene around the same time as the bundt pan — which provided America’s obese-in-training with fancy ridges on a circular cake; however, there was no middle layer on which to trowel a second coat of frosting.

(Our bundt pan was avocado green, being a consumer product of the style-challenged ’70s. I’m guessing if yours wasn’t, it was either harvest gold — the color of our fridge and stove — or coppertone — the orange one.)

So, thanks to the foresight, impeccable timing and magnificence of kitchen chemistry, a recipe was developed in which a circular chocolate cake could come out of the oven with a splooge of raw chocolate goo in the center of every slice.

It was like eating a brownie that had a raw brownie tucked inside it. Now that’s just pure genius.

Not that I’ve ever once been tempted to eat an entire batch of raw brownie batter.

With a shovel.

(The whole existence of raw cake, cookie and brownie dough is an entirely different conversation for a different day, however.)

This entire thought train got me back to mom, and her desire to make for each one of us in the family our cake of choice on our birthdays. One year (or maybe more) I requested the tunnel of fudge. Couldn’t be frosted or decorated, but it held candles and contained goo. So, winner.

Dad’s cake of choice was the red velvet — which, sorry, is merely a chocolate cake containing an I.V. bag of red food coloring.

The football cake.

The highlight of mom’s red velvet recipe was the butter cream frosting — straight from “Betty Crocker’s Collection of Artery Hardeners, Vol. VII.” Through the freakish nature of coincidence, butter cream frosting is how I envision what cholesterol looks like, were it to manifest itself in swirls surrounded by trick candles and topped with blue “Happy Birthday” lettering. Cursive. In mom’s hand writing.

The thing with mom was, she was not only good at making the cake taste like more, she was also clever with the presentation. I remember her being especially creative with the designs of my birthday cakes. And not only because she liked me best.

I can’t remember them all, and I still have photographs of many of them, but she put a lot of effort into them.

The cardinal cake, partially obliterated by dad's flashbulb.

Being a lonely, round kid whose best friend often was the lint I pulled off of the living room carpet, one of my favorite activities was watching the birds land on the bird feeders in our back yard. I didn’t have the Internet, the Xbox and the cable TV. I had birds. And lint.

Anyway, one year she made a layer cake, cut it up into chunks, and fashioned it into the shape of a bird. She slathered it with red frosting, black highlights and a yellow beak and — tah dah — it looked like a cardinal.

Also as a youth, I was a huge [insert your own adjective here] football fan. One year she made me a football, covered in brown frosting. She borrowed a cake pan designed in the shape of an Easter egg, and trimmed it down into the shape of a football.

Another year, she made a sheet cake and covered it in green frosting with white stripes. Then she got the football men and goal posts out of my metal plug-it-in-and-watch-all-the-plastic-football-men-shiver-themselves-into-one-corner-of-the-field football game. It looked just like a real field, only delicious.

The year the Miami Dolphins won Super Bowl VII, the game was played on my 13th birthday. I was a Dolphins fan at the time because it was easier to root for a team that was good, as opposed to a team that was geographically closest.

That year, mom made me a cake-flavored replica of the Dolphins’ helmet. It was a two-layer cake covered in white frosting. She cut out where the face would

Yes, I licked the frosting off of the football players' cleats. Like you wouldn't have.

Yes, by the time I was 13, the cakes had started to catch up to me. I see it, too.

stick out, took some tin foil, bent it in a U-shape and placed it where the face mask would go. Then, somehow, she mixed up the right colors of decorative frosting and drew the stripes and even the insignia on the side of the helmet — a smiling dolphin wearing a football helmet with an “M” on it, jumping through a hoop of sunshine.

To this day, I’m still amazed. I think the football helmet was my favorite. It’s certainly one of my favorite childhood birthday memories.

All thanks to my friend, who, on the day before my birthday this week and through no fault of her own, reminded me that there will be no cake for me again this year. I’ve caught my limit.

[Sigh.]

I’ll take that pity party now.

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The new year brings with it a bevy of opportunities to break resolutions as quickly as they are formulated.

Having already cruised the drive-through at Taco Bell, crushed the leftover Christmas goodies, and stocked up for this weekend’s wild card football feast, Resolution No. 1 has been declared dead on arrival.

Resolution No. 2 — being a better husband and nicer to everyone in general — is teetering on the brink, thanks to the discovery Friday morning that the wind beneath my wings has apparently caught a portion of my cold. But the part she got was not part of the cold with which I have been suffering.

When I went to get a smooch before heading out the door to work Friday morning, I learned my dearly betrothed had lost her voice.

I know. I thought the same thing: My birthday isn’t until next week.

Mind you, it hasn’t stopped her from talking. Nothing will do that. It’s just that sounds aren’t coming out when she moves her lips. Thank you, Santa. (Now that’s just wrong.)

Is it only in my head, or can you also hear Munchkins singing: “Ding dong the witch is dead. Which old witch? The wicked witch. Ding dong the wicked witch is dead”? (Terrible. Just … terrible.)

When I learned this it was dark in the house and she had her eyes closed, so there is no proof that this realization gave me cause to dance merrily. (Man, that’s mean.)

I’m working very hard to control the uncontrollable joy of husbandhood.

This, from the same person (me) who has spent close to two weeks nursing a semi-cold situation that is the weirdest one I’ve ever had. More of a burning, stinging cough with very few side effects.

Sinuses have ached, but haven’t been real full. No sore throat. No chest rattle. Mild, continuous headache. And these recurring cough spells that, at times, can last for 30 minutes. My eyes get all watery; my throat feels like there’s a pin being stuck in my voice box. And the cough just won’t go away.

Until it eventually goes away. Then it feels like it was never there. Been choking down the Alka Seltzer (both the gel caps and the fizz pills) and the disgusting Halls “mentho-lyptus.”

I don’t care what flavor they combine with the eucalyptus whoosh (these happen to be black cherry flavored; I’ve also had the honey lemon and, of course, the sinus-rattling original flavor), but eucalyptus is eucalyptus.

It all tastes like a steaming pile of koala dung.

They should make cough drops out of the stuff in which Buffalo-style chicken wings are coated. Nothing clears my sinus passages faster than the plate of wings delivered to the guy sitting next to me at the bar.

But I digress.

The fact that the love of my life can’t carp at me while I gleefully dance circles around her inability to make vocal sounds is not something in which I take great delight.

Haven’t really given it much thought.

Which means Resolution No. 2 is in no danger of collapse. Probably. Much.

And Resolution No. 3 is in the bag. I promised myself at the beginning of the year that I would pay strict attention to all of the NFL playoff action beginning with the four games this weekend, continuing with the four games next weekend, the two games the weekend after that, and, finally the Super Bowl. And I have no plans to disappoint myself one iota.

There are only 11 games left in the best sports season of the year. A sad realization. I already have the food mapped and the beverages chilling. A tradition like none other.

Every September, when the football season starts, I tell myself that in the blink of an eye, this will all be over. It will be February — the shortest month that takes the longest to pass — all the good sports will be gone. And here we are, almost.

Soon, we’ll be left with car racing and winter golf. And spending time with loved ones, of course.

But not necessarily in that order.

Finally, I’m not sure Resolution No. 4 is so much of a resolution as it is a wish. I wish somewhere on this planet there was a windshield wiper worth its weight in rubber.

We have iPads, iPods, iPhones, iMacs, eReaders, Xboxes, Kmart, The L Word, Q ratings, X-rays, tea bags, sea salt and Bea Arthur, but we can’t form a strip of rubber in such a way that it wipes everything off the windshield — most notably, the very strip of windshield directly in front of my very eyes.

The wiper on the passenger side rarely seems to have this problem. It’s just the driver’s side, right at eye level.

And there’s no quick fix. Pushing the blue squirt button only makes it worse, because it adds lines of blue squirt to the hardened and opaque road splash. Shutting the wipers off, letting the entire windshield get covered with snow and road splash, and turning them back on again only results in the glass above and below the opaque portion being wiped clean.

Pulling up close to the vehicle in front of you to pick up more road splash, with the thinking that maybe if the entire wiper was wet, it would adhere, does not work. Often, it results in another part of the wiper malfunctioning, leaving you with two huge streaks of splooge to look through.

All of which is aggravated when, in the oncoming lane, an 18-wheeler stirring a cloud of road spray that would make Pig Pen blush, bathes your car in gallons of salty, wet sand. It’s like going through the car wash. Only, not.

And forget it if snow and ice start to build up on the edges of the wiper. Might as well sell the car and walk. The old trick of pulling over, getting out of the car, pulling the wiper away from the windshield and letting it slap back into position is as useless as the wiper itself.

Oh, and heaven forbid if this does happen on the passenger’s side. Especially when the passenger is the light of my very being.

“I can’t see.”

“OK. But you really don’t have to. Besides, you’re reading a book.”

“But I need to see so I can be intensely critical of your inept driving abilities. I am a wife, you know. And you drive like an old lady.”

“I thought you lost your voice.”

“You said you were going to be nicer.”

“You said you couldn’t talk.”

… And another new year’s resolution is wiped away.

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Few things are simultaneously more humbling and infuriating than screwing up.

You have to take my word for this. I am pretty good at it. A paid professional, in fact.

And yes, sad as it sounds, that is a bit of a brag. And the only way to keep the sanity in check.

It’s one of the tools I employ when forced to deal with yet another of my errors.

The beauty of the profession in which I have chosen to ride on this one-time journey is that when I make a mistake at work, I can’t hide it, ignore it or otherwise move past it without first sharing it with everyone within the sound of my voice.

Not many of you enjoy this luxury. For the majority of you, when you make a mistake at work, it stays there. It doesn’t get duplicated several thousand times and distributed from one end of the county to the other — for all the adored readership to point at and guffaw over.

It’s an educational benefit of working in the publishing industry in that it teaches you how to cuss.

Allow me to suggest it’s also more than a little frustrating.

One of the many problems with sounding — unintentionally, I might add — holier than thou is when a well-placed error makes the argument sound holier than Swiss cheese.

I got on this rant the other day because of a stupid little mistake in an otherwise innocuous editorial about the overtime situation in the city of Amsterdam. Due to a production error on the part of guess who, the last six words were lopped off the bottom. Idiot.

Funny part is, there is no funny part. Ironic part is, the words that went missing were: “common sense here has gone missing.” Idiot.

Pretty hard to convey a point marinated in superiority when you have a stain on your tie and a piece of your sandwich stuck in your beard.

That, and the fact that a sentence that has no end seems more than

How much is gone? What are we missing? How does the movie end? Who’s the idiot?

Anyway, falling prey to the confines of my own inattentiveness ticks me off, no end. It didn’t much help when the publisher here at the Daily Tattler suggested we reprint the entire editorial in the next day’s paper, which we did, and I learned on Day 2 of this marathon of opinionating that there was a typo in the original. And, no, the typo wasn’t caught the second time around.

Don’t you people have proofreaders? Well, not really, no. But if you’re not doing anything and have a strong desire to volunteer, my e-mail address appears at the end here.

One of the problems with being human is the prevalence of aroma. Another is that the advantages of having fingers and thumbs are not always what they’re cracked up to be.

At least, not in this profession.

Looking stupid as an art form has, thankfully, never really caught on with the masses. (Every TV and radio talk show aside.) It doesn’t keep me, however, on occasion, try as I might, from making sentences, as you can tell, that contain, for my personal tastes, anyway, way too many commas.

It also hasn’t kept me from stumbling blindly through life with egg on my face. I figure, if I mess up on occasion, then the rest of humanity can have a break from ridicule that day. My errors are here to serve the greater good. Oh, no; thank you.

As I’ve mentioned before, talking about it here is therapy for me. And it is, as always, all about me.

Thinking this way helps me through it. I’ve had plenty of time to think. And an equal amount of practice. (Several years ago, the headline atop the recipe for “hot crab dip,” in which the “b” in “crab” was erroneously replaced by a “p,” is a favorite around these parts. And by “favorite,” I don’t mean to suggest that others around here think mistakes in the newspaper are to be celebrated with great hilarity and wagging fingers. But that one sure was. I love my co-workers.)

My personal best was a little ditty I like to call the most stupid and regrettable learning experience I have yet encountered. I have relayed this story on numerous occasions, including once in this very space, back in the 1990s. It is a teaching tool I occasionally break out and hone upon the jagged younger set as they pass through these hallowed halls on their way to newspaper stardom. Or Wendy’s.

In the summer of 1986, while serving as the editor of the Courier-Standard-Enterprise in Fort Plain, I had the privilege (and by “the privilege” I mean “no choice but”) to work with young Rick Vertucci of Amsterdam. Rick, a budding writer, spent a summer under my tutelage as he attempted to rocket his way to stardom as the next great writer.

He was assigned to interview and write a story about a Hungarian who was visiting family in Fort Plain. After the story was written, Rick and I sat down to go through it. In trying to decipher one of the paragraphs, I typed the phrase “happy as pigs in s—” — without the dashes — in place of what Rick had originally written. And those words made it all the way to the newsstand.

It suffices to say, the ensuing efforts to reprint and redistribute that issue of the paper, once the error was found, were epic for those involved and historic for those who stood around laughing and pointing at me.

The lesson I learned that day — outside of what it must feel like to stand naked in the village square — is that we don’t type things onto our computer screens if we don’t intend them to be seen by everyone.

I believed at the time that, at 26 years of age, I had already committed the biggest error I would ever commit and that all other errors afterward would pale in comparison. Which they have. I never realized at the time, however, that there would be so much with which to compare.

And, it kept humanity from exposure to much more of Rick’s writing. I’m not suggesting you should thank me for that. And the reason I say that is Rick and I still keep tabs and he has muscles.

The fact that I can sit here today and spill all this onto your good bath robe is intended to be therapeutic and helpful as you tear through each edition of the Daily Tattler, looking for what those idiots at the newspaper have done now.

Helping you, gentle reader, forget your mistakes on a daily basis by hoping you’ll purchase and search for ours is a sad, realistic view of the career path I have chosen.

It’s also the opening line on my resume.

Mistakes happen. We’re working on fixing the problem. But it might take a little

 

 

KEVIN MATTISON is executive editor of the Recorder and,

in his progressing years, has become an attentive listener.

You can e-mail him at kmattison@recordernews.com.

Catch his blog — featuring columns both old and new —

at https://mattisonsavenue.wordpress.com.

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