A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Location: Southeastern, Pennsylvania, United States

Friday, June 29, 2007

“…And It’s A Beautiful Day In Fairfax County!”

Recently, I have heard radio spots advertising tourism in Fairfax County, Virginia. As a former resident of Springfield in the southern part of the county, the ads took me back to the early years of my marriage. I loathed my job, but the saving grace of those days was my home life with Anne Marie and our cat, Sydney. The nostalgia is overwhelming, as is the desire to never go back there again.

Despite this, I believe that a short travelogue is in order. To that end, I have borrowed the famous catchphrase used by Pete Womback, who had a radio series about Pennsylvania for many years. His series were minute-long commentaries on various points and events of interest in Pennsylvania. Every report concluded with the words, “This is Pete Womback and it’s a beautiful day in Pennsylvania.” This explains the title above.

Fairfax County is located in the extreme northeast corner of Virginia. The southern part is made up of mostly blue-collar residents, while the northern part has a number of upscale developments and government office buildings. Both sides of the county boast a rich historical heritage.

George Washington’s estate at Mount Vernon encompassed most of the southern part of the county during his lifetime. There is also a local tavern where Washington could’ve spent some of his time. Then in nearby Old Town Alexandria, a tourist might find the apothecary where Washington had his teeth shellacked. They had to be shellacked because he had wooden teeth and...oh, I hate explaining my own jokes. Just forget it.

A little further north and near the bank of the Potomac River, the tourist will find Arlington National Cemetery. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is located within the cemetery grounds and commands a scenic view of the Washington DC skyline. If one is lucky enough to get in before dawn, the sunrise over this view is indeed breath taking.

My own special memories of Fairfax County involve two local music venues – The Birchmere and Wolf Trap. The Birchmere, once housed in a storefront, moved to a converted warehouse about ten years ago. Here many artists from all genres – including country and classic rock – perform. I remember one particularly hot August night when Anne Marie and I saw Junior Brown in concert. The sweat just poured off him while he strummed and picked his guit-steel. He did an excellent show without showing any signs of discomfort. If it were me, I would’ve raised my hand and announced, “Folks, I’m drowning up here. Good night!” Okay, so I wouldn’t be considered professional, and the audience would’ve rightly hooted me off the stage, but I would’ve been dry.

Wolf Trap is an outdoor venue, a wonderful place to see such performers as Mary Chapin Carpenter, Ray Charles, The Mavericks, Hall and Oates and others from the country, soul and jazz fields. The effect is thrilling when the evening is perfect – low humidity and a clear, starlit sky. The county tourist should try to fit in a side trip to either of these venues when they visit.

I must say one more thing about Washington’s teeth. Do you realize that a good coating of shellac will preserve and protect the wood from the moistness of the human mouth, and will discourage gingivitis and termite infestation?


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Short Notes – June 2007

It is the final week of the month and I am compelled to comment on the following news items.

NEWS ITEM #1 – Hotel heiress and general pain-in-the-ass-to-humanity Paris Hilton has been released from jail.


NEWS ITEM #2 – Pants suit dismissed. A judge has dismissed the lawsuit brought by a lawyer against a hard-working Korean dry cleaner for losing the lawyer’s pants. The plaintiff was seeking $54 million.

Oh my God! Oh my God! There is common sense in the world! Oh my God! This is so exciting that I’m feeling tightness in my chest! Give me my nitro pills! Oh my God! I’m hyperventilating! Crank up my CPAP machine to high so I can get a blast of fresh air! I’ve been searching for common sense in the health insurance industry, oh hell, American business in general for nearly twenty years, but I have yet to find any! Good going, your honor! You even saw fit to charge the old shark with all of the legal fees incurred by the dry cleaner! Way to go!

NEWS ITEM #3 – It was revealed recently that Vice President Dick (heh heh heh) Cheney’s office has not been complying with an executive order to report which classified documents they have requested from other government agencies. The Vice President feels that, as President of the Senate, his office should be counted as part of the legislative branch and not the executive branch. Therefore this rule – and perhaps the entire Constitution — doesn’t apply to him. The White House appears to be in agreement with his reasoning. Naturally, Congress is whining a lot about this, but they’re not doing much else.

Poor Dick! He wants so much to be God, but that position has been filled. Meanwhile, he and his assistant, the President, keep making blind grabs for more power. I’m finding it very hard to believe that these guys have not committed an impeachable offense by this time. What’s wrong with you people in Congress? We voted you into office to keep the President from meeting the goals of his agenda. Instead, you seem to be only a mild annoyance to Bush! Come on, people! Where are your balls?

(We shall discontinue today’s entry here, as Mr. Gunther appears to be in a very cranky mood.)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Curse of Billy Penn

I just found out recently that Philadelphia has another curse on its sports teams. In the tradition of Chicago with its billy goat curse and Boston with the Bambino curse, we now have a similar bad omen placed over the city. All these curses share the same premise: no professional sports team in their respective cities will ever win a championship until some sort of civic violation is corrected.

In Philly’s case, the violation is one of building height. There was a gentleman’s agreement in place for many years that no building in the City of Brotherly Love could be built higher than the top of William Penn’s statue on top of City Hall. This restriction was lifted about 25 years ago when the city faced the departure of many businesses that could not find enough office space in Center City. Soon, skyscrapers soared above Billy’s cap in the name of commerce. Each new tall building now places a replica of the statue at the top of their structure - as Comcast did this week - to ward off the curse.

I don’t know who laid this curse on Philadelphia sports, although I suspect it could have been the manufacturer of the statue replicas. Yet I can see where other forces might be at work. After all, the teams themselves shouldn’t be blamed for their troubles. Heavens no, the Phillies problems are not the result of “The Curse of the Bullpen that Sucks.” Or that the Eagles and Sixers can blame “The Hex of the Egotistical Prima Donna Jerks” (namely, Terrell Owens and Allen Iverson) for their losing seasons. Or that the Flyers can’t get to the Stanley Cup Finals due to “The Goalie Who Doesn’t Know His Puck from a Hole in the Ground Whammy”. No, let’s blame all of our championship woes on someone who died hundreds of years ago.

Before we can rise to Billy Penn’s defense, we should briefly recount his life and career. The son of a British admiral, Penn became a member of the Quaker religion. It is similar to other religions in that they advocate peace to the point of conscientiously objecting to state sponsored armed conflict (henceforth known as “war”). This is a very admirable trait for Quakers. The Quakers opposition to slavery is also noteworthy. Traditionally, they dress simply as opposed to indulging in life’s extravagances, and they are known for their quiet meetings. In other words, they’re not known to be a rowdy bunch.

Penn is honored atop City Hall because he founded the colony of Pennsylvania. The colony came to be payment of, ironically, a gambling debt against the King of England. Penn and his fellow Quakers left England, much to the King’s delight, and settled in the New World in 1682. From that time the colony flourished, played a large part in the formation of the United States, and prospered as a leader of the industrial revolution before becoming the home to a bunch of losing sports franchises.

Actually, Penn would probably lay a curse on the concept of sports itself. He might argue that such activity is a frivolous work of the devil. He would hang his head in shame knowing that his colony devoted a large part of the Lord’s day to games. He would reason that this day should be devoted to the contemplation of God and all of his wondrous works.

His argument is tempting me to offer a prayer to God. Seriously, I want to express my gratitude to God for giving us Abner Doubleday and whoever else created the great game of baseball. After all, if these men had never existed, then life would be very dull around here on Sundays.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Mutt Actor

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I saw the latest installment of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. Since that time, I rented the second film of the trilogy, “Dead Man’s Chest”, so that I am now all caught up on the series. As I was watching these films, I couldn’t help wondering about the dog with the keys. He appears in all three films, but I couldn’t find any information on this mutt on IMDB.

It appears that he is one of the hundreds of uncredited extras who appear briefly, do their part, and obediently exit the set when the director yells, “Cut!”. I can hardly believe that he isn’t listed anywhere given his character’s integral part in the story. However, after an exhaustive, ten-minute Internet search for more information, I am happy to say that I was able to write a short biography of our pirate pooch. The following is nearly 1% accurate - more or less. Otherwise I made the rest up.

“Scooter”, as his associates in show business know him, was originally hired as a stunt double for Pluto. After a few years, the powers that be at Disney recognized that his talent could be used in their new entertainment foray, an amusement park called “Disneyland”. Here Scooter gave a live performance everyday in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” boat ride. He received one can of food daily and all the dog biscuits he could chew on for playing the part of the jail guard dog.

Scooter happily played this part for over a decade. Then, in 1967, turmoil engulfed the company and Scooter’s life. The founder, Walt Disney, had just died, and Scooter’s contract was terminated amidst rumors that he was leading a movement to unionize all of the animatronic actors in the park. Several lean years followed. Scooter survived on the occasional local dog food commercial, and guest spots on “My Three Sons” and “The Brady Bunch”. The only steady work he found during the 1970’s was at the Hanna-Barbera Studios, where he was hired as a stunt double for Scooby Doo.

It appeared that Hollywood was passing him by, particularly when he lost the title role of Benji to a younger mongrel. The 1980’s and 1990’s were not much better for him. He fell in with the wrong crowd: many weekends were lost in the company of Spuds McKenzie, the spokesdog for Budweiser. Scooter hit rock bottom in 2000 when the INS caught him smuggling chihuahuas from Mexico.

Well, as we all know by now, Scooter’s fortunes turned around when the “Pirates of the Caribbean” production was announced. His old agent tracked him down in a flea circus somewhere outside of Barstow, cleaned and sobered him up, and mended Scooter’s old differences with the Disney company. Disney is proud to have their longest serving employee back with them, and they are confident that he will appear in more productions as long as he stays a good dog. I for one can hardly wait for his next performance.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Cat and the Field Mouse: A Children’s Story

Someone shot a home video of their cat spending time with a field mouse and somehow news outlets around the country picked it up. It must have been a very slow news day: obviously Paris Hilton hasn’t sobbed to anyone since Monday. Anyway, the images of the mouse standing on its hind legs and touching noses with the cat made for a very heart-warming story of friendship despite the obvious differences in the animal kingdom.

If we could write this as a children’s story, then this scene might be described this way:

MOUSE: Hi, Mr. Cat! Do you think we can be friends?

CAT: I can’t see why not. Would you like to play for awhile, Mr. Mouse?

MOUSE: Oh, yes. That would be nice!

Then, for the next few hours the two new friends chased each other under a sunny blue sky. They played hide and seek. Then the mouse rode on the cat’s back until the cat hunched up and let the mouse tumble down his nice, soft fur.

Then, as reported by the news media, “The two hung out for a few hours when nature took its course..."

MOUSE: This is great! I think we’ll be friends forever and ever!

CAT: Yeah, but you know, something just occurred to me. I’m a cat, and all this playing has made me hungry. Suddenly you don’t look so cute and cuddly so much as you look delicious.

Then the cat licked his new friend’s head until the mouse’s hair was soaked and matted down. The cat continued to lick the mouse’s head until the mouse’s skull softened. Next the cat took his friend’s head between his two paws and squeezed...


Okay, so maybe it wouldn’t make a good children’s story after all, but the lesson to mice should be obvious. Of course if our field mouse had watched Hamas television, then he would’ve been prepared to blow himself and the cat up. (See Terror Mouse, 6/7/07.) So much for heart-warming stories of friendship. God help me, but I suddenly find myself wondering: why haven’t we heard about Paris Hilton in the last forty-eight hours?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Notes to Self

I’m sure we’ve all been in situations that turn out bad, and no matter what we do the result cannot be fixed. It’s times like these when all you can do is try to make something positive out of the experience by promising yourself to avoid situations like this in the future. This is when we all make mental notes to ourselves, which is something I had the opportunity to do several times during last weekend.

My first note to myself is: when issuing or answering an invitation to dinner, refrain from using the expression, “Aw, go f*** yourself!” The use of this expression is not at all polite nor diplomatic, and is in fact counter-productive, since no one given this invitation will likely show up for dinner. There is a long story behind this revelation, and perhaps someday it will grow into one of those “Someday-we’ll-laugh-at-this-story”, but trust me on this. At this time the back-story is not so much funny ha-ha as funny strange.

Having skipped dinner at my brother’s house, I went to the movies to see “The Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”. The film opens with men, women and children being hanged until they are dead. Unfortunately, there was no title telling me what year the scene takes place. I was forced to surmise that - since civil liberties were being suspended in the scene - that it had to have occurred in Nazi Germany, 1938. Or perhaps it was George W. Bush’s America, 2008.

The film is fast-paced and action filled with much swashbuckling intrigue. However, at one point, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) addresses a collection of his colleagues. He announces that four people in this group have tried to kill him, and one of those people succeeded. Whoa, I’ve missed a few plots along the way. Oh, I remember now. This is the third film in the series and I’ve only seen the first film. Second note to self: rent “Pirates of the Caribbean – The Um...Hmm...The Second Film” so I can figure out what the hell Captain Sparrow is mincing on about.

The climax of the film is a great battle in a maelstrom created by a spooky-looking chick that grows to be seventy feet tall. The special effects are dazzling and so realistic that I felt the ocean water creep up to my kidneys. Then I realized that it probably wasn’t salt-water backing up, but rather I was feeling the effects of drinking liquid refreshment over the course of two-and-a-half hours without a restroom break. Third note to self: when viewing a film that runs beyond two hours and you don’t want to interrupt the viewing to go pee, it is best not to purchase the massive, huge, multiple gallon soda, otherwise known as “The Bladder Buster”!

I returned home from upstate Pennsylvania on Sunday. Unfortunately, I had so much on my mind that I missed my exit from I-80 East. I continued to the next exit hoping to make a simple turnaround back onto I-80 West by using the overpass at Blakesley. This exit was the closest to the Pocono Speedway, and it just happened to be Pocono 500 weekend. The overpass was blocked off and, presumably, all roads were routed towards this swirling vortex known as NASCAR Heaven. Apparently the State Police believe, “Hey, everybody loves NASCAR. Everybody should want to go to the races!”
Fourth note to myself: do not venture anywhere near northeast Pennsylvania during Pocono race weekend. Escape is difficult, but not impossible.

I intend to stash these notes away in the recesses of my mind – what little I have left – for future reference.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Professional Coughers

Last weekend, I attended a seminar in advanced marketing techniques for voice professionals. These are the people who do voice overs for commercials, narration, etc. The sessions were fun and interesting, but they helped revive my thinking about coughing professionally for fun and profit. Yes, you read that correctly: coughing professionally!

This is an idea that I have contemplated for decades.

The human cough is one form of communication that has not been exploited to its full potential. I have felt for many years that people who cough and clear their throats are actually conveying a message that normal words cannot describe. As a post nasal drip sufferer for many years, I have thought that there must be some way that these guttural sounds can be put to good use.

For example, we’ve all seen newsreel footage of a court trial from the 1930’s (ala the Lindbergh kidnapping case) in which we might have heard this bit of dialogue:

Prosecutor: Can you identify the person who stepped out of the bushes that night in this courtroom?

Witness: Yes, I can.

(A cough is heard in the background.)

Prosecutor: Let the record show that the witness is pointing to the defendant.

In this example, the cough broke the tension of the moment in the same way that several measures of organ music would rise up in a radio drama. This cough could not have happened by accident! This is why I believe that many people who cough in situations like this should be considered professionals who deserve compensation for their performance. Granted, they may believe they only do this to temporarily relieve a tickle in their throat, but they don’t realize that they are performing a valuable service for society.

The cough could be used on the job as a secret code between coworkers when their boss might be lurking nearby. If memory serves me correctly, this idea was used in an episode of Get Smart.

An even better example could be found in a political speech, when a political operative planted in the audience could transmit audience reaction to the politician even as the candidate delivers their speech.

A polite clearing of the throat could mean: “You’re doing good. Keep to your text.”

A louder throat sound could tell the candidate: “Quicken your pace. We need to get your sound bite across before the evening news.

A loud, raspy cough complete with the hand gesture in front of the mouth could signal: “You’re dying out here! Go to your funny anecdote.”

Repeated coughing, followed by hacking and the sound of a deep intake of snot up into the nasal passages could mean: “I’m dying out here! Call an ambulance for me!”

We are barely scratching the surface about the opportunities available to the professional cougher. Of course it will only be a matter of time before these coughers realize the power they have over public discourse and band together to form their own industry in the communications field. They may even unionize: Professional Cough, Upper Respiratory Congestion, and Phlegm Workers at your service! This is a field that is crying out for more research: here’s a free suggestion for someone looking to do a master’s thesis if I ever heard one.

So, in conclusion, let us cough about ideas, but not wheeze about people. We should always strive to politely clear our throats at a low volume, but not raise our mucus in anger. After all, we are a civilized people who keep our snot to ourselves. Above all, we must remember: “Cough, hack, snort, cough, hworf!”

I think all of us who understand cough language know what I mean.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Terror Mouse

A video clip from the Mideast caused some controversy recently. The clip showed a children’s television show produced by the Hamas terrorist organization that was advocating violence against the biggest enemy in the Arab world, Israel. The most bizarre feature of the show was that it employed a large mouse that looks very familiar to children all over the world. In the clip, the mouse did most of the talking about killing the enemy.

The good news is that the Palestinian leadership ordered that the show be pulled off the air. As a human being, I applaud his courage to stand up against Hamas. As a liberal, I’m appalled that his country does not guarantee free speech like we enjoy here in America. If the show had been produced here, it would most likely show up on Fox News, or perhaps as a segment on The O’Reilly Factor.

I know in a perfect world we wouldn’t have any need to protect anyone’s right to free speech. I realize that this applies to the equally disgusting neo-Nazis and Klu Klux Klan, but this is what living in a free society is all about. In case you haven’t noticed, you are watching a liberal wrestling with his conscience. This is a rare event, almost as rare as a conservative wrestling with his or her conscience, and I would advise anyone reading this to enjoy this sight. It may not happen again in our lifetime!

Anyway, the mouse featured in the show facially resembled (dare I say the name without fear of a lawsuit) Mickey Mouse. I am horrified at this development. I know things weren’t going well for His Mouseness in France, and that he was thwarted in his attempts to bring his brand of happiness to the suburbs of northern Virginia some years ago, but this! I can’t believe he has sunk this low.

Okay, seriously I doubt that his people sanctioned this use of their trademark. Still, it begs the question, where are the Disney lawyers in all this? I haven’t heard one word from them regarding this television show. What’s the matter, guys? You used to eat violators like this for breakfast. I’m sure one of your typical mornings was considered unproductive if you didn’t issue dozens of cease and desist orders before noon.

I realize that taking legal action against a known terrorist organization does present a unique set of challenges for a lawyer. After all, you show up at their place of residence with a summons or a subpoena, and they answer your knock by blowing themselves and you up. Or, let’s say you’re successful in serving the legal papers and when it comes time for their court appearance, they come in and blow themselves up taking you and the courthouse with them. I know there is no way to negotiate with some people, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying.

Come on counselors for Disney, get with it! To borrow an old cliché, “Are you mice or are you men?” The answer of course is, no you’re not mice, but you are men representing a huge mouse. This mouse demands and deserves the satisfaction that his image will not be used for immoral or inhumane purposes. Of course, no action should be taken if this terror mouse shows up on The O’Reilly Factor. In this case, the mouse and the show deserve each other.