Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Warning! This program is rated NSFCPP


I have come to the conclusion that all programming, be it movies, television shows or even content coming from our home video cameras, needs a new rating classification. I call it NSFCPP: Not Suitable for Certain Public Places.

This idea first began percolating 10 years ago when I had LASIK surgery, a brief and relatively painless eye procedure that gives patients 20/20 vision providing they don't mind having a total stranger peel back their corneal flap, causing temporary blindness. Try finding that little-known fact on a LASIK website.

When I entered the waiting room, eight other patients sat in a semicircle, anxiously anticipating their turns. Their soon-to-be altered eyes were glued to a lone flat-screen monitor. On the screen, I saw a rapidly twitching eyeball and a surgical instrument hovering next to it. Then I saw the tool pluck an edge of the cornea and actually lift it. I turned away but not before putting two and two together.

The eye belonged to the patient who had just entered the surgical room. All the other patients were witnessing what was about to happen to them. The macabre scene made about as much sense as running a loop of Evel Knievel's Caesars Palace motorcycle crash in a Harley-Davidson showroom.

Two years ago, I was summoned for jury duty. While I didn't get picked to serve on an actual jury, I did spend an entire day in a waiting room where a lone television was showing "The Jerry Springer Show." Many of the potential jurors were gearing up for their duties as deliberators of justice by arguing whether the man on screen was a "scumbucket" or a "dirtbag" for cheating on his wife. I'm sure that made for interesting voir dire proceedings.

"Mr. Johnson , will you be able to render a fair and impartial verdict?"


"Thank you. You are excused."

Just last week, I sat in my broker's office, awaiting his arrival. Glancing at my watch, I vaguely heard somebody discussing bathroom remodeling.

I looked up and saw the discussion was coming from the overhead TV monitor, which was tuned to HGTV, the Home & Garden network. I found that strange considering U.S. financial markets had been open for two hours.

"How come CNBC isn't on?" I asked the receptionist. "Or Bloomberg Television? Or something finance related?"

"We used to have CNBC," she replied. "But it was upsetting the clients."

Bravo, I thought. At least somebody agrees with my NSFCPP concept. In a world where entire countries are teetering on bankruptcy, why let an elderly investor watch his retirement nest egg lose 30 percent of its value in the time it takes his broker to visit the restroom? Better to watch programs where a half hour is spent discussing proper begonia placement.

Whatever happened to Muzak in public facilities? Nowadays, instead of listening to a Captain & Tennille song on an elevator ride, we are forced to watch CNN on a 2-inch television screen. If that day's news contains a story about a high-rise elevator cable that inexplicably snapped, so be it.

The motion picture industry has a rating system that warns me about potentially offensive content. I can install a V-chip in my home television to block programs that I don't want my children to view. But if an airline wants to show "Alive" as its in-flight movie, I have two choices: close my eyes for the flight's duration or endure a film about a plane crash on a snowy mountain and survivors who resort to cannibalism.

So if you work in a public institution and there's a television, LCD monitor or Jumbotron in your midst, give some thought to what should and should not appear on screen. Below is a partial list of public facilities and corresponding programs that should carry my new rating:

Grocery stores: The entire Food Network.

Doctors' offices: "House M.D.," "Grey's Anatomy," anything starring Dr. Oz and all C-SPAN debates where the subject is health insurance.

Gas stations: Any news footage from the Middle East. I don't need to be reminded why I'm paying $4 a gallon

Hardware stores: All home improvement shows. Some of us will NEVER be able to build a patio deck in two hours no matter how easy the host makes it look.

Public schools: All monitors should be removed immediately. Kids today watch too much television.

Wrigley Field: Sports bloopers. Yes, they are entertaining but bear too close a resemblance to what is actually taking place in front of the spectators.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Put up your #dukes and tweet like a man!


I recently drove past my old middle school, stopping to gaze at the faded brick, the worn asphalt and the large grassy playground field, which doubled as an Ultimate Fighting octagon.

The playground was where all disputes were settled. Some quarrels occurred spontaneously; a hurled insult, a return verbal jab and suddenly two bodies were grappling on the turf, surrounded by a crowd of seventh-and eighth-graders shrieking, "FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT!"

Other battles involved lengthy hype and buildup. A first period disagreement lead to a threat of, "meet me on the playground at three." Such challenges spread through the school like wildfire, ensuring a much larger audience when the main event rolled around. I often regret that I wasn't savvy enough to sell tickets for those bouts. I could have made enough to pay for an entire year's worth of school lunches.

The fights themselves rarely lasted more than two or three minutes and always ended in identical fashion: the loser face up on the ground with a knee pressed against his chest and the knee's owner screaming, "Had enough? HAD ENOUGH?"

And with that the two participants went their separate ways. They would frequently be seen eating together in the cafeteria the following day, as if the brawl had never taken place. How simple.

Of course that was before the days of Twitter, where hashtags and @ signs have replaced fists and knees.

Hardly a day goes by when I'm not reading about a "Twitter feud" between celebrities who really should have better things to do with their time and their cellphones. Politicians Twitter feud with students, rap stars feud with country stars and Keith Olbermann feuds with everybody. The most recent feud involved Almost Vice Presidential Daughter Bristol Palin, who tweeted her opposition to gay marriage and immediately found herself taunted at the virtual playground by the likes of "Jersey Shore" star JWoww.

If those two settled their dispute on a playground, I would be first in line for a ticket. Better yet, I would install bleachers.

Why are Twitter feuds so popular? Unlike playground brawls, they don't appear to have winners. The sparring continues until one of three things occur:

Another celebrity enters the fray, prompting one of the original contestants to shift his or her rage.

The opponents runs out of verbal jabs that can be delivered in 140 characters or less.

A participant gets a cellphone bill and realizes that Twitter feuds can be expensive. (After this year's Grammy awards, rap star Chris Brown was feuding simultaneously with singers Miranda Lambert and Michelle Branch, along with "Modern Family" star Eric Stonestreet. He soon may be feuding with his accountant.)

The Biography Channel's website recently asked viewers which celebrity they would most like to Twitter feud with. Mel Gibson came out on top with Glenn Beck, Donald Trump and Charlie Sheen jockeying for second place. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady also garnered votes, yet I can't figure out what he has done to prompt such rage other than he's rich, successful, good looking and married to a supermodel.

Wait, now I'm ticked off. But chances are I will never meet Prince Tom and therefore can't challenge him to put up his well-manicured hands and fight.

Which is precisely why Twitter feuds exist. Twitter remains a quick, easy way to let somebody feel your wrath. True, I can't slug Brady at the playground but I can taunt him via the Patriots' Twitter site. (Brady himself doesn't appear to have a Twitter page.)

"@Patriots No wonder #Brady looks so good. 18 mil a year buys a lot of hair gel"

I feel much better now. In fact, I feel so good that perhaps it's time for me to settle some old scores. True, my feuds will not be followed by millions or pasted into the bodies of national news stories. Some of my opponents may be dead or, like Brady, without Twitter accounts. But if my old high school drama teacher is alive and near a Smart Phone right now, I have a message: You can run but you cannot hide from my tweets.

"Should have cast me in #TheKingandI. #otherguycantsing"

While I'm at it, it's time to get in the face of the opponent who prevented me from qualifying for the Illinois state tennis tournament in 1979.

"Wouldn't you feel better admitting that the ball was CLEARLY in? #liarliarpantsonfire"

Finally, here's one for the David Letterman talent scout who rejected me for a spot on the show 12 years ago:

@Late_Show Pretty please, can I have another chance? #muchfunniernow"

OK, that's not very vicious. But if it doesn't work, I have a message for David Letterman and his entire staff:

Meet me on the playground at three.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Your baby can now get the celebrity treatment!


Last week, as I sat munching the remains of a soccer ball-shaped cake made in honor of my daughter's 10th birthday, I wondered if I had failed as a father.

When she entered the world a decade ago, her arrival and the events leading up to it were met with virtually zero fanfare. Unlike Bill and Giuliana Rancic, I did not let a camera crew film our obstetrician conducting the first ultrasound. Unlike Jessica Simpson, my wife did not pose nude for a magazine during her final trimester. Unlike Beyonce and Jay-Z, I did not announce our child's birth via a rap verse. And unlike Hillary Duff, I did not share exclusive details about our first "date night" after our child was born. For the record, Duff and her husband attended a Coldplay concert. I think my wife and I went to Taco Bell.

How could I have been so selfish?

I have no doubt that my little girl was every bit as cute, special, precious and amazing as Beyonce and Jay-Z's little girl. For a while, I actually felt sorry for their daughter because she didn't appear to have a last name. She was simply "Blue Ivy." Eventually I learned her surname was Carter but by that time I had taken to calling her Blue Ivy Z.

The fact is, babies born to noncelebrity parents like me get the shaft. Paparazzi yawn, Twitter doesn't crash and the only people on the Internet who will leave a comment or share the news are members of our immediate families. Yet, when Simpson gave birth to daughter Maxwell Drew Johnson on May 1, US Magazine called it BREAKING NEWS! More than 10,000 readers "liked" the article on their Facebook walls. Nearly 1,500 tweeted about it including Simpson herself, who also found time to post a birth announcement on her website. I do admire her stamina; when my kids were born, updating a website was the last thing on my wife's mind. First, she would have had to create a website and trust me, there wasn't enough room in the delivery room for my wife, myself, an obstetrics team and a web designer.

Why can't celebrities just quietly have their kids and then shut up about it? Why can't media outlets lump the arrival of a famous son or daughter in with all the other birth announcements? Imagine seeing Blue Ivy's name and photo with a quick blurb about her parents (he's a world-renowned music mogul, she's a world-renowned music mogul) right after the couple from Rockaway, N.J., (he's an insurance salesman, she's a bank teller) announcing the birth of their fourth child.

If the media aren't willing to tone down baby news, and if celebrity parents continue to grant interviews about colic, naps and poop, then I feel every baby should be given the star treatment. I have taken the liberty of creating a press release, normally reserved for famous mommies and daddies, and am making it available to all parents. Simply fill in the blanks and send it to every media outlet you can think of.

(Name of mother) and (name of father, boyfriend or sperm donor) proudly welcome (Name of baby. NOTE: Use back of form and be prepared to explain if baby has an uncommon name. Coldplay singer Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow needed two pages to state that yes, their daughter is really named "Apple"). (Baby name) entered the world on (date) after (explicit story about fertility treatments or where conception occurred), weighing in at (weight in pounds and ounces. NOTE: Large babies typically result in hurtful comments via the Internet. Proceed with caution).

(Name of baby) will reside in (Insert hometown. Insert two towns if parents have already split). For further information contact (name of nanny).

Incidentally, I just read that Snooki from "Jersey Shore" is expecting. While I have my fingers crossed that she will carry, deliver and raise her child in silence, that seems doubtful considering the headline that appeared in a recent New York newspaper:


Sunday, May 06, 2012

Burying Barbie...and other depressing parental duties


I am a firm believer in the "Death Comes in Threes" adage, not only for celebrities but also for children's toys. It happened again recently.

First to expire was the backyard plastic pool. Nobody could say it didn't have a long, happy life. From its birth in 1998 when my oldest child turned 1, until 2007 when my second daughter mastered freestyle just enough to swim at the park district pool, it was the highlight of summer. Fill it up with a hose and in minutes it provided refreshment for as many as four squealing kids. I sometimes used it to cool off after a particularly rigorous lawn-mowing session. Sure, my legs protruded over the edges, but who cared? It's hard to be uncomfortable when your children howl in delight as they dump buckets of water on your head.

For the past five years, the pool remained in our basement on life-support systems. My wife and I knew we were done having children, yet we couldn't bear to permanently drain it, so to speak. Maybe we could find a neighborhood toddler to invite over on a scorching afternoon. But where are those little tykes? All the kids in our neighborhood are now interested in cars, makeup and members of the opposite sex. This past week, I faced the inevitable and dragged the now-moldy aqua oval to the curb. I said a silent prayer, thanking it for all the happiness it had provided.

While I grieved, death struck again. This time the victim had a name and it was Barbie.

My youngest, during her annual room-cleaning ritual, announced she no longer played with her collection of dolls that ranged from the original, perfectly normal-looking Barbie to the punk-rock Barbie with multicolored hair and a rebellious sneer.

"But what will happen when your friends come over this summer? Don't you want to dress them up and have them talk to each other?" I asked. "What will you do instead?"

She briefly glanced up from her video game, giving me the answer in the process.

Now I had to once again huddle with my wife and make a decision. Gently place the Barbies alongside the pool and wait for the trash collector or hope for a miracle cure via a garage sale or eBay that could breathe new life into their worn-yet-loved plastic parts? It's a dilemma we have yet to solve.

Death paid its third visit last weekend, when I attempted to inflate the water slide purchased at Toys R Us just three years ago. Calling this thing a slide is sort of like calling the Spider-Man float in the Macy's parade a balloon. This was not a slide one could blow up using one's lungs. Instead, it came with an electric air pump and an installation DVD. Apparently the slide manufacturer thinks everybody's backyard has a DVD player nearby.

When fully inflated, the slide rose more than 15 feet into the air, sending water cascading over the sides and soaking the lawn in the process. It weighed nearly 100 pounds and caused my back to scream as I unfurled it in the yard - but once inflated, it provided hours of entertainment. Not once did I sense it would succumb to the "We're too old for this thing" fate.

This year, the ritual began anew. I lugged the slide up from the basement, hosed off the spider webs, secured it with eight (yes, eight) stakes and flipped the air pump's power switch. The slide began to rise.

That's when I noticed the impending signs of death.

The slide ascended to about 11 feet and then tried in vain to go higher. It gasped, attempting to hold more air, but it was no use. It stayed three-quarters high, unable to accommodate two girls already in their bathing suits and watching silently. Finally one spoke.

"What's wrong with it?"

"I think there may be a hole somewhere," I said.

Closer inspection revealed that there were actually many holes. A disease called "overuse by growing (and weightier) kids" had infected the slide's innards. Patches would do no good.

"I can go buy another one and be back in half an hour," I told my daughters.

They looked at each other, making a silent sisterly decision.

"That's OK. I think we've outgrown it," my oldest said.

And with that they went inside, changed out of their bathing suits and called friends. I was left sitting in the backyard on the swing set. It was 14 years old and starting to creak. It also represented the last reminder of childhoods that disappeared far too fast.

I gazed at the wooden structure and spoke.

"Stay a little longer. Please?"