Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Preparing for Doomsday one candle at a time

“Let’s have a family meeting!” I yelled, repeating verbatim what the Salt Lake City father of six bellowed on the television.

“I’m doing homework, Dad,” came the reply from my two daughters.

“NOW!” I said, struggling to keep panic out of my voice. “A biological terror attack is imminent! Forget homework.”

It was the last line that got them downstairs. “What are we doing?” my youngest asked.

“Yeah, what?” my wife said.

“We are prepping for Doomsday,” I said. “I just saw a family on ‘The Today Show’ doing it. I want to drill just like they did. Kids, grab your guns.”

“We don’t have guns,” my wife reminded me. “We have candles.”

“We don’t need candles,” I said. “We need hazmat suits, night-vision goggles, body armor. WE NEED AN UNDERGROUND SHELTER!”

“Sounds cool,” my youngest replied. “Can I watch The Disney Channel down there?”

“I don’t think so.”

“I’d rather die.”

“Why the sudden interest in practicing these end-of-the-world scenarios?” my wife asked.

“Haven’t you seen ‘Doomsday Preppers?’” I replied, referring to the National Geographic Channel show now in its second season and featuring normal everyday individuals (by their standards) who routinely train for natural or manmade disasters. After seeing one episode, I realized the heavy-duty flashlight I keep by the bed would not be enough to thwart an avian flu pandemic or ash from an impending volcanic eruption. Preppers are ready for these occurrences and more.

Incidentally, if you ever see an adult holding a Super Soaker squirt gun, stay away. It may be filled with homemade pepper spray. One prepper, drilling for the breakdown of social order following an economic collapse, filled the toy with his own recipe and then demonstrated his ability to unload a few rounds directly into the eyeballs of any neighbors who decide to help themselves to his cache of supplies.

“The Griffiths would never do that,” said my wife, referring to our next-door neighbors. “Then again, Bill might come over for a Doomsday beverage. Better keep a corkscrew tied to your belt.”

“This isn’t funny,” I said. “I just took the Doomsday Prepper survey on the National Geographic website. Guess what our score is?”

“I don’t know. What?”

“We wouldn’t last a week. Not without some fortification, surveillance equipment and at least 1,000 rounds of ammo per family member.”

“Christmas is coming,” my wife replied.

“And don’t even get me started about bartering. The survey says we should have extra alcohol, tobacco and silver on hand so we can trade it with our fellow survivors.”

“That’s great, providing everybody who survives a disaster is a drunk with a hacking cough and a penchant for jewelry.”

“I don’t think you’re taking this seriously.”

“Look, honey, I appreciate your intentions. And I agree, we probably aren’t as prepared as we should be. But some of this stuff seems a bit, uh, extreme.”

“Besides, Dad, do you really want to live in a world where everybody goes around assaulting each other with hot sauce?” my daughter asked.

“That sounds yucky,” her sister added.

“So what do YOU think we should do?” I asked my wife, a question I inevitably pose whether we’re choosing wallpaper, disciplining the dog and, now, preparing for the end of civilization.

“I think Hurricane Sandy taught us that, even though we live in the Midwest, it wouldn’t hurt to have a case of bottled water, a full gas can, some nonperishable food items and an envelope full of cash nearby. That ought to be enough to keep this family together.”

“What about an underground, battery-powered bunker?”

“We’re not buying a man cave.”

“OK, but if terrorists ever infiltrate our house, remember, I warned you.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll crack their skulls with a candle.”

Originally posted by Tribune Media Services



Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The puck stops here: How to convert your wife to golf

I have a message for National Hockey League owners and players who are currently locked in yet another tussle that threatens to wipe out the entire season:

Take all the time you need. The longer the strike, the more time I have to convert my wife to golf.

I am a hockey husband, married to a woman who clothes herself in pricey Patrick Sharp Chicago Blackhawks jerseys, DVRs every Hawks game including the ones she attends in person, and even tunes her satellite radio to a station that devotes all 24 hours of programming to . . . hockey?

It is almost comical to hear those "hockey jocks" as I call them, discuss a sport that doesn't currently exist. A typical exchange goes like this:

"Jacques, if hockey were being played right now, who do you think would be leading the Western Conference in assists?"

"Pierre, that's hard to say. Had the Canucks played the Wild last night, I'm sure Henrik Sedin would have chalked up at least two."

"Jacques, I couldn't hypothetically agree more! Let's take a break and then we'll have an exclusive interview with an unemployed Zamboni driver!"

I feel up to the golf conversion challenge after seeing an ad for the PGA of America that seemingly aired during every Ryder Cup commercial break.

A 40-ish man sat in front of his television. His equally 40-ish wife implored him to get off the couch by tossing a golf ball in his line of vision, adding that she was ready to learn the game. The husband sprang from the cushions as if struck by a lightning bolt.

Cut to the two suddenly avid golfers taking a group lesson, simultaneously practicing their putting strokes and playfully needling each other as they discovered their new passion for the links.

"Could that be us someday?" I wondered, thinking of the girl who tried the game on our third date but was basically done with it by our fourth. Nearly 20 years later she still rolls her eyes when I "shhhh" any and all family members, dog included, who dare to breathe loudly near the TV while Ian Poulter, Phil Mickelson or any of the game's finest stand over a four-footer.

"They can't hear you. You do know that, right?" she reminds me.

"This is for the outright lead," I say.

"It's golf. IT'S JUST GOLF," is her frustrated reply before leaving the room.

I still harbor dreams that we can be that couple in the commercial, spending our golden years discovering America via the public courses that dot this nation. We'll arrive for an early afternoon tee time, sneak a well-aged pinot noir into our cart and uncork a second bottle as we end our day in an outdoor Jacuzzi overlooking the 18th green.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First I have to convince her that WATCHING golf can be exciting. My opening argument was simple:

"Golf is always on TV somewhere. Ever heard of golfers going on strike?" I asked her.

"They should strike," she countered. "They should demand wardrobe consultants."

Ouch. Two minutes for roughing.

"They look fine, except for Rickie Fowler," I said.

"Why was this Ryder Cup thing so great?" she asked.

Ahhh, the opening I needed. A flicker of interest on her part. "It was the ultimate golf challenge," I said. "Those guys weren't even playing for money."

"So which guy won?"

"No guy won. Europe won. They played as a team," I said. "The U.S. was winning after fourballs and foursomes, but Europecaught up in singles."

"Wait, they hit FOUR balls? The entire hockey season doesn't last that long."

"They only hit one ball each," I replied. Quickly. "They play with partners. Lowest score wins in fourballs. In foursomes they alternate shots. In singles they don't have partners. It's just one against one. Low score wins."

"When you were watching it, all I saw was a guy in an ugly striped shirt picking up his ball."

"You mean the American?"

"I guess. Did he quit? Hockey players don't quit. They pull the goalie!"

"He didn't quit. He picked up his ball because he had already lost the hole."

"When we were dating, you got mad when I picked up my ball."

"As I recall, you did it in the second fairway."

"Why were you weeping when the Ryder Cup ended?" she asked.

"Because Europe came back and won 14 1/2 to 13 1/2.

"So you get half a point for quitting?"

"No you get half a point for tying."

"They can tie? There's no tying in hockey. They have shootouts. That's what golf needs."

"What do you suggest? Luke Donald hits a tee shot and Bubba Watson stands in the fairway and tries to catch it?"

"I'd watch that."

"There's still golf on TV through December," I said. Just watch it with me. Please? We'll even drink Pinot."

"OK, hand me the remote."

"That's the spirit honey. Wait, what is this?"

"It's Game Six of the Hawks' Stanley Cup victory in 2010. I never get tired of watching it."

"But, but golf is on. Gimme that!"

Ouch. Five minutes for fighting.

Originally posted by Tribune Media Services



Thou Shalt Not Overlike on Facebook

I have always taught my children to look for the good qualities in everybody. Be nice to people, I say. It’s okay to have lots of friends, I add. If you want others to like you, you need to like them, I conclude.

Facebook, however, disagrees.

Just ask Itheria Hutson-Hollins, a 57-year-old, Dallas-based wedding planner who recently concluded a 30-day Facebook ban for, as she explains it, “over-liking” people.

You can’t find a nicer, more likable person than Hutson-Hollins. Her business, Precious Promises Christian Weddings and Beyond, specializes in “Christ-centered weddings and silk florals.” Her LinkedIn page contains a referral calling her “a talented and creative woman of God.”

A computer novice, Hutson-Hollins has only been using the Internet for five years even though she started her business in 1991. She still uses dial-up Internet access. Yet she was savvy enough to recognize the power of social networking and joined Facebook last spring. After establishing a personal page, she created a business page and asked her church friends to “like” it. Those who obliged, and also had business pages, received a like from her in return.

She expanded her network to include LinkedIn. She joined four LinkedIn discussion groups. Somebody posted a message stating, “Like me on Facebook and I will like you back.” Other group members jumped in with the same offer, as did Hutson-Hollins. She estimates that she “liked” about 60 people.

That’s when Facebook decided Hutson-Hollins was becoming too friendly.

“All of a sudden, Facebook knocked me off,” Hutson-Hollins wrote me in an email. “I actually thought it was my computer acting up. I logged back on. This time they asked me ‘Answer Security’ questions. (I had to answer several including identify(ing) my personal friends. Yes, they flashed photos of my friends. Good thing they were my church members!!!) So, they let me back in.”

Upon returning to Facebook, Hutson-Hollins posted comments on the business pages of those she wished to like. Then things got really ugly.

“As soon as I wrote my comment, and hit the ‘Like’ button, they knocked me off. This time when I logged in, they told me that I was on a 30-day ban for liking too much, and if I continued they would ban me for life.”

A LIFETIME Facebook ban? Seems a bit harsh for a 42-year member of the Westmont Horeb Missionary Baptist Church.

After chatting with Hutson-Hollins, I began scouring the Internet, attempting to find clarification on the “like” rule. Calling Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., is no help as the company does not offer phone assistance. Ironically it does invite callers to “press one for customer support,” before a recorded voice says, in effect, “we’re just kidding.” It’s like placing an order at the McDonald’s drive thru, pulling around to the window and then being told there are no more fries.

“If you can’t find your answers in a forum, you are out of luck,” Hutson-Hollins said.

Facebook does limit the number of business page “likes” to 5,000, a far cry from the 60 that received Hutson- Hollins’ approval. Facebook may also temporarily block users from sending friend requests if too many go unanswered or are considered unwelcome. It’s all part of the social network’s attempts to cut down on spam. But Hutson-Hollins wasn’t begging for friends. Furthermore, anyone with a dial-up Internet connection is probably not interested in spamming. She was simply being the nice Christian person she is by liking other people’s businesses, a gesture that could generate more business for them.

“I don’t want to like anybody I don’t know,” she said.

Now that her ban has been lifted, Hutson-Hollins is back on Facebook but sparingly. She’s currently channeling all her social network energies into Google Plus, Facebook’s chief rival.

“I will leave the page there because it is a business page and I do want business,” she said of her Facebook involvement. “But I’m no longer liking. Now I just write comments.”

Finally, should anyone at Facebook ever pick up the phone, Hutson-Hollins has a message for them:

“If you want to ban me from your Facebook world, fine. You can’t ban me from Jesus.”


Originally posted by Tribune Media Services

Learning to say good-bye to Honey Boo Boo

Ahhhh, another day is complete. Time to flop down in my easy chair and exercise my mind a bit before going to sleep. What materials should I use tonight? My local newspaper? A magazine specializing in international affairs? A whitepaper written by a prominent scholar and downloaded directly to my iPad?

No, tonight I’m going to make it easy on my eyes, allowing my brain to work harder. Picking up the remote, I scroll through the cable offerings until I arrive at The Learning Channel, also known as TLC. Certainly a TV network with “learning” in the title should provide content that expands my intellect, right? Maybe I’ll be treated to a documentary that explores Italian Renaissance paintings and the artists who created them. Or a professionally staged re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg and a debate between two Civil War historians discussing what might have happened had the South prevailed.

Instead, horrified, I discover The LEARNING Channel delivers Southern culture courtesy of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.”

Suddenly I’ve lost my desire to learn. All I want to do is shield my eyes from everything I see unfolding in front of me. This . . . this . . . thing that passes for a television program, seemingly occupies at least a quarter of The LEARNING Channel’s schedule. Missed Honey Boo Boo at 8 p.m.? Don’t worry, she’s on again at 8:30. And 9. And 9:30. A 6-year old from Georgia and her family have rendered DVRs unnecessary.

“Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” which debuted this summer and, on Aug. 30, garnered more viewers than an insignificant little program called “The Republican National Convention,” follows the exploits of Alana, aka Honey Boo Boo, and her family, headed by “Mama” June as they perform educational (remember, it’s the LEARNING Channel) tasks such as participating in a thrift-store auction and celebrating an anniversary at a cafeteria. During one episode — the only one I could stomach — I learned how to spit tobacco courtesy of June’s significant other, Sugar Bear, and how to toilet-paper a house. That was more than I could take. I switched off the TV for fear that continued viewing would eventually cause me to become too stupid to balance my checkbook, operate a computer or dress myself correctly.

Still, like a bad car accident, I couldn’t avert my eyes. I scrolled to The LEARNING Channel On Demand to find another studious offering entitled “Toddlers & Tiaras,” the show where Alana was discovered. I had heard about “T&T” but, like a colonoscopy, kept avoiding actually partaking in it. Until now.

“Toddlers & Tiaras” focuses on parents who enter their kids in beauty pageants and take credit for their success. It is educational if you have always wanted to learn how to apply spray tan to your child using an air compressor, as one father dutifully did with his wife’s blessing. All the kids in the pageants are referred to as “Miss” or “Mister” and apparently every contest includes at least one kid named Chloe.

I watched long enough to see 6-year-old Miss Jayla crowned “Ultimate Grand Supreme,” which sounds more like a breakfast entree at Denny’s. That was enough. I switched off the TV, grabbed a notepad and began my own educational exercise, namely to sketch out programming for a new network called “The Un-Learning Channel.” Its sole purpose is to make everybody forget what they just watched on The Learning Channel, sort of like the neuralyzer contraption in the “Men in Black” movies.

The first program? “There Goes Honey Boo Boo.” The pilot episode features little Alana being sent off to boarding school and not returning until she is 17. Occasionally the cameras will film her doing schoolwork and receiving instruction on the proper use of toilet paper. An added bonus lets viewers vote on what courses Alana should take each year. Except for English, which is always required. Watch one episode of Miss Boo Boo’s current show and you will see why.

Next up? “Toddlers & Their Tiaras Turn The Tables.” Each week focuses on former pageant kids who enter their parents in a contest designed to reveal which participant has the lowest self-esteem. A panel of psychiatrists act as judges, running the moms and dads through a series of challenges, highlighted by the “How Do YOU Like Being In a Swimsuit?” competition. The children, incidentally, are nowhere to be found. While the parents compete, they go to a secluded playground and learn how to act like normal kids.

Anybody have any other programming ideas? Feel free to email me suggestions. I promise to answer all of them.

Right after I watch “Strange Sex” on, you guessed it, The Learning Channel.