Monday, November 28, 2011

The Sexiest Man Alive is out there somewhere

Originally posted by Tribune Media Services

The People magazine lay on the kitchen island along with a stack of bills and Christmas catalogues. I glanced quickly at the cover before pushing it into my wife's pile.

"Well, it's official. Bradley Cooper is the 2011 Sexiest Man Alive," I said with a yawn.

"Go ahead," my wife responded. "Start trashing him the same way you do every man who wins the title. I only hope poor Ryan Reynolds (2010), Johnny Depp (2009) and Hugh Jackman (2008) have recovered from your vicious verbal barbs."

"I'm not trashing them. It's the 'alive' reference that bugs me."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that word doesn't pop up in other rankings. When the Cardinals won the World Series, nobody said they were the 'Best Baseball Team Alive.' Forbes magazine annually ranks the world's wealthiest individuals but the editors stopped short of calling Mexican telecom mogul Carlos Slim Helu the 'Richest Guy Alive.' When Dan Shechtman received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry this year, nobody referred to him as the 'Smartest Man Alive.' "

"Maybe he isn't."

"He discovered quasicrystals. Sounds pretty smart to me."

"So what's your point?"

"My point is that there may be somebody out there who is sexier than Bradley Cooper."

"You obviously didn't see The A-Team. Woof woof." She added, "Look, it's just a figure of speech."

"But People magazine is a national news publication. They owe it to the readers to back up their claims, especially when they're splashed all over the cover. I mean, there are over 3 billion living men on the planet. Did this Cooper specimen really beat out 3 BILLION other guys?"

"Some of those 'guys' are wearing diapers and riding around in car seats."

"Yes but how do we know that there isn't some strapping 28-year-old hunk living in the frozen tundra of Alaska who outranks Bradley Boy? I'll bet there is. His name is Branson."

"There is no hunk named Branson living in the Alaskan tundra."

"You don't know that. Neither does People magazine. Until its crack investigative journalism team can prove otherwise, we have to assume he exists. "

"Whatever. I'm sure he's not as sexy as Bradley Cooper."

"Oh, really? The People article says Cooper is a good cook. Big deal. Branson can kill a caribou with a bow and arrow, roast the meat over an open flame, and stitch a ridiculously warm and stylish floor-length coat with the leftover pelt."

"He can't do that," said my wife, whose breathing was rapidly increasing.

"Oh, yes he can. According to People, Cooper rides a motorcycle. What would you rather do? Put your arms around Cooper as he squires you through smoggy LA on his noisy, gas-spewing Harley or snuggle up with Branson while he navigates a dog sled through unspoiled outdoor terrain?"

My wife's eyes had glazed over. I moved in for the kill.

"Then you'll return to one of the several log cabins that Branson owns, thanks to his phenomenal success in the Alaskan real estate market. He will light a scented candle, illuminating the room in a romantic amber glow as he whispers sweet Italian nothings in your ear."

"He speaks Italian?" my wife said dreamily. "Why?"

"You can ask him while he's rubbing your feet with his thickly callused hands. The same hands, I might add, that swing the ax and chop the firewood for those long, cold Alaskan nights. Of course, you won't even feel the cold. You'll be too busy focusing on the caribou coat that he is slowly unbuttoning, revealing an eight-pack of abs..."


"I'm not trying to win," I said. "I'm just saying that Cooper should be careful before he accepts the World's Sexiest Man Alive trophy, if such a thing exists. Better yet, maybe People magazine should have an actual contest, instead of just anointing some celebrity who clearly doesn't need any more publicity."

"Fine. Go ahead and suggest that," she said before leaving the room.

It may have been my imagination but, from the corner of my eye, I think I saw her pull The A-Team DVD from the cabinet and throw it in the trash.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My daughters WILL become actuaries

Originally posted by Tribune Media Services

I crept up behind my daughter as she sat at the kitchen table, slumped over her MacBook.

"What are you doing?" I asked.


I had no idea "Facebook" could be used as a verb. "Why are you on Facebook?"

"Because my homework's finished. That's the rule, right? I can Facebook after homework."

Suddenly "Facebook" had become an action verb. "Well, as long as you're on Facebook, why don't you join the actuarial science newsgroup? And check out the Actuarial Bookstore in Greenland, New Hampshire. It has a Facebook page, too."

"Dad, what are you talking about? What is actuarial science?"

I pulled up The Wall Street Journal on my iPad and thrust it in her face. "Read this article, 'From College Major to Career.'"

"How come?"

"So you won't be sitting around the house Facebooking in seven years."

Using 2010 census data, the world's leading business newspaper explored how various college majors fared in today's frightening job market. Actuarial science, commonly referred to as risk management in insurance and financial circles, received an unemployment rating of zero percent. Still, it was the 150th most popular major. Business management and administration topped the popularity list, in spite of the 6 percent unemployment rate.

The low ranking for the actuarial profession didn't surprise me. I've met, for lack of a better phrase, actual actuaries and there is truth to the joke: How do you tell an introverted actuary from an extroverted actuary? Answer? The extroverted actuary looks at YOUR shoes when he talks to you.

Other majors that assured instant employment included geophysical engineering and astrophysics, according to the article.

"Pick one," I said.

"Dad, I'm 14. Haven't you said that if I work hard enough, I can be whatever I want to be?"

"Yes, as long as it doesn't involve library science or clinical psychology," I said, pointing to the respective 15 and 19.5 percent unemployment rates for those majors. The clinical psychology statistics make no sense. Surely our nation has a demand for experts to counsel recent college grads who spent four years and thousands of dollars preparing for a career in military technologies, only to realize the profession has a 10.9 percent unemployment rating and their first job application may come from Starbucks instead of the State Department.

My daughter grabbed the iPad and began scrolling. "I guess Miscellaneous Fine Arts (16.2 percent) is out?"

"Absolutely. Who is going to hire somebody that walks into an interview and says, 'I'm really good at doing miscellaneous stuff, particularly if it's art-related.'"

"Didn't you want to be an astronomer when you grew up?"

"Yes and I should have gone with my gut. Look here. Zero percent of astronomers are unemployed."

"Where does stand-up comedian fall on this list?" she said, referring to the vocation I have held for the past 22 years.

"Comedians are self-employed. If you choose a career on this list, you'll be working for somebody."

"So maybe I should start my own business. Then we wouldn't be having this conversation."

"Great idea! You could be a self-employed actuary. The best of both worlds!"

"Dad, isn't it a little early for you to be steering me towards a particular career? I mean, mom just had 'The Talk' with me two years ago."

"How did that go?"

"She got most of it right."

"Honey, I just don't want you to major in something that isn't going to bear fruit once you're out of college. You don't want to be like that kid down the street who graduated last year and still can't find a job. What was his major?"

"Medieval history."

"Right. Who's going to hire him? Harry Potter?"

"Here's one with a zero percent unemployment rate. School student counseling."

"Now that's perfect! You'd be good at that. Think how rewarding it would be to give advice to students. What's the first thing you would tell them?"

"When your Dad approaches you with an iPad, run."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

I desperately need to talk turkey

Originally posted by Tribune Media Services

Now that the Halloween decorations are back in storage and my Kit Kat hangover has subsided, I can turn my attention to a fantasy that has been swirling in my brain and won't go away.

I want to man the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line.

Why, you ask, would I want to spend Thanksgiving Day fielding phone calls from perplexed chefs thrust into the role of preparing this . . . thing that sits, half frozen, in a lukewarm, reddening pool of sink water? The answer is simple: I'm not cooking the turkey this year.

Yes, after years of struggling with obstinate birds (Question for Butterball: How can something dead be so uncooperative?), other relatives are taking on the challenge. This Thanksgiving, my wife and I will show up with the obligatory green bean/crunchy onion concoction. While our kids eat too much dip, we will sip chardonnay and listen to screams, tears and threats emanating from the kitchen. Glass in hand, I will wander in and say, "Can I help?" about 30 minutes after that question should have been asked.

Just thinking about this makes me happy. But I want to be REALLY happy. That's why I want to become a turkey hotline temp. According to the Butterball website, the line is staffed by "more than 50 professionally-trained, college-educated home economists and nutritionists." I don't have a background in nutrition or home economics, but I am college educated. And I have plenty of advice to give, gleaned from years of relatives such as Aunt Trudy (not her real name since she's still alive) hovering over me and offering "tips" such as "it looks a tad pink to me," "next year, tie the legs tighter" and "you're out of vodka." Mind you, all of these conversations occurred while I was holding a monstrous carving knife. Such is the beauty of Thanksgiving.

I just need to answer one phone call. When I hang up, I'm confident I will be laughing hysterically and eternally filled with joy, even if it's at the expense of some poor, first-time caller. Butterball, please consider the following dialogue my audition:

"Butterball Turkey Talk-Line. This is Greg. May I help you?"

"Hi, this is Emily from Seattle...

"Is it raining right now in Seattle?"

"Yes, but that's not why I'm calling. My turkey. . ."

"So it's raining and you botched up your turkey? Wow, I thought I was depressed."

"I didn't botch it up. At least I don't think I did. But it's been roasting for eight hours and it still doesn't look done."

"Eight hours? Hmm, let me check the manual. (LOUD RUSTLING OF PAGES) Oh, my God, Emily, GET OUT OF THE HOUSE NOW! AND GET YOUR AFFAIRS IN ORDER!!!

"Excuse me?"

"Just kidding. That makes everybody laugh around here. Marge in the next cubicle almost did a spit-take. Hey, can you check the football score for me? Butterball doesn't have TVs in this room."

"Um, it's 17-14, Cowboys."

"Excellent. Romo's on my fantasy team."

"Who cares? I need help. My relatives are starving and I don't know what to do."

"That's why you have side dishes, Emily. Want me to transfer you to the Green Bean/Crunchy Onion Hotline? Or the closest Domino's?"

"No, no, no! Look, the thermometer says 165. Is that sufficient?"

"Depends. Are we talking Fahrenheit or Celsius?"

"Fahrenheit! Why would I use a Celsius thermometer?"

"Maybe you have European relatives. The turkey's done, Emily. Take it out."

"OK, but now I need help carving. What kind of knife should I use?"

"Knife? Who uses knives? A simple karate chop should do. I once saw a guy on 'America's Got Talent' break three bricks with his head."

"Karate chop the turkey? You can't be serious."

"Of course I'm serious, Emily. I have a degree."

"All right. Hold on." (LOUD THUMP FOLLOWED BY SHRIEK OF PAIN) "That didn't work."

"You must have hit the stuffing."

"Can I speak to your supervisor?"

"Hold on. (PAUSE) Trudy, pick up on line two."

Thursday, November 03, 2011

More towels sir? We already knew that!

Originally posted by Tribune Media Services

The headline caught my eye as I sat in my Orlando hotel room, futilely struggling to open the complimentary coffee packet: "HOTEL STAFF 'READS' GUESTS' NEEDS."

The article was from a major national newspaper. Curiosity piqued, I elected to forgo morning java. Instead, I began reading and discovered that Affinia, an upscale hotel chain with properties in New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., recently hired a "body-language expert." This announcement only strengthened my theory that if you are unemployed, simply invent a title for yourself and corporate America will hire you. At a recent company cocktail party, I met a "Director of Continuous Improvement," "Specialty Organics Manager" and "Social Network Evangelist." Not having the slightest clue what any of these people did, I greeted each with my standard opening line: "How 'bout them Bears?"

The Affinia body-language guru is responsible for training employees to spot guests' needs or wants simply by looking at them. A guest who constantly touches his face at the reception desk, the article states, could be anxious after a long day of meetings and require extra pampering.

Or a skin doctor. Or a psychiatrist.

I regularly travel more than 100,000 business miles per year. In the process, I have stayed everywhere from five star oceanfront resorts to fleabag motels that offer hourly rates and free high-speed Internet. Somebody needs to tell the fleabag motel desk clerks that any guest paying by the hour is not interested in surfing the Web, despite the 100 percent discount.

I have pulled back bedspreads to find cockroaches, checked into rooms with unflushed toilets, and discovered black, muddy substances seeping from my room's bathtub drain. The last incident occurred in a swank New York City hotel with a French name. When I contacted the front desk, the manager apologized and said he would send up a fruit plate for my inconvenience.

I told him that unless the dining staff could produce a banana shaped like a drain snake, he could keep the fruit.

According to Smith Travel Research, hotel-occupancy rates are on the rise and, in some destinations, even approaching pre-recession levels. The American public is traveling again, in spite of hotels' determination to mimic the airline industry with those extra, sometimes-exorbitant fees. Seriously, $5 for a can of minibar Diet Coke? I paid less for a case of the same stuff at Costco. Then again, how can I watch a $13.99 in-room movie without some liquid libation?

So, bravo to any hotel chain that offsets this price gouging by anticipating its guests' thoughts and desires. But there's no need to hire experts to scrutinize us. Just look for the following characteristics and know the meanings behind them:

Slurred speech and slight odor of Scotch - Guest prefers a room near the ice machine.

Carrying no suitcases - Guest just had lengthy argument with airline's lost-luggage personnel.

Carrying more than three suitcases - Guest just had lengthy argument with wife.

Accompanied by multiple children - Guest could be Brad Pitt. You never know.

Wearing bell-bottoms or other 1970s attire - Guest was recently released from prison.

Trouble keeping balance while walking - Guest is hiding at least three hotel towels in carry-on garment bag.

Angry tone and finger pointing - Guest insists he did not rent Debbie Does Dallas at 2:30 a.m.

Profuse sweating coupled with guilt-ridden expression - Guest eventually admits he did rent aforementioned movie and needs assurance that the charge will not appear on his company expense report. (That won't sit well with the Director of Continuous Improvement.)

Clad only in underwear - Guest stepped into hallway to retrieve complimentary newspaper without room key.

Gnarled fingers and bloody knuckles - Guest still can't open the #@$%* coffee packet.