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A Czech by Any Other Name–Or the Case of Consonant Dissonance

22 Apr

by Roger White  

 

It pains me deep-like when those near and dear to me are hurting. And lately, the folks in my oldest sister’s family are having a bit of an identity crisis. You see, sis Kathy married a guy named Bobby Smajstrla right out of high school. Could have been one of those made-for-TV movies. High school cheerleader (Kathy, not Bobby) marries football star running back (Bobby, not Kathy), and somehow they stay married all the way into their geezer years. So, yeah, my sis went from the simple starched whitebread name of Kathy White to Kathy Smajstrla. If you’re reading this aloud, your tongue just had a stroke.

 

“Smajstrla,” as you may or may not know, is a Czechoslovakian name. There were lots of Czech types in my old hometown, just as there are lots of Czech types in this here state. The phone book in the town of West, Texas, for Land of Czechnessexample, (which is nowhere near West Texas) has more consonants in it than any other publication west of the Mississippi. One of my best buds from my high school years, James Rejcek (a Smajstrla kin), taught me in the ways of things such as Czech customs, Czech cuisine, and Czech curse words. Example: If someone of Czech descent says this to you, “Jdi do hajzlu!” well, let’s just say they’re not being friendly at all. However, if someone of Czech descent asks if you would like a kielbasa or kolache, they are being very friendly and are offering you yummy sustenance. Mmm, kielbasa.

 

But I digress. As you may know if you stay apprised of world affairs, the sovereign state of Czechoslovakia angrily divorced itself around 1993, splitting kielbasainto Slovakia and the Czech Republic. I use the term “divorce” intentionally because the breakup was termed by many as the “Velvet Divorce.” Some say the dissolution was brought about by economic reasons; some say it was due to tribal mentalities and long-simmering historical feuds; some say it was because the Slovaks insisted on putting mayonnaise on their jitrnice, which the Czechs viewed as sacrilege. Whatever.

 

Well now, the good folks of the Czech Republic have lately been stewing in their guláš over the very name of their fair land. Some think the name is just too darn long. The citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina beg to differ, but there it is. Apparently, Czech Republickers are unhappy with a name that can’t fit on a t-shirt. So they’re revolting. (Revolting as a verb, not an adjective—although some of Bobby’s cousins are a bit mangy, but never mind.) So far, the leading vote-getter for the rename is Czechia. Hmm. I don’t know. Sounds kinda like a skin disease, if you ask me.

 

This is serious business over there beyond the big pond. Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek said recently that he’s been practically assaulted by angry citizens on both sides of the issue. Frankly, I think if you can czech stoppronounce Lubomír Zaorálek, then you can pronounce Czech Republic with ease, but my opinion apparently carries little weight here. But as long as you’ve asked, how about Kielbasaland? Or maybe Kolachestan or Bobavkia. Think of the marketing, the tourism opportunity here. People with a hankering for Czech food would be drawn to the place simply by the name. “Come to Kielbasaland, where every hamlet carries the aroma of roast pork with dumplings.”

 

Recently, I asked sis Kathy what her family thought of all this dissonance and discord. She replied thusly: “Czechoslovakia split up?” OK, forget the whole thing. Sometimes I just get too worked up. Ooooh, who’s up for some karbanátek with egg?

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a mildly obese dachshund, and a middle-aged cat with Esptein Barr Syndrome. For more of “This Old Spouse,” visit www.oldspouse.wordpress.com.

Andrew Tackles Yak Parts–and a Letter from Ralph

10 Aug

by Roger White

So I’m parked in the den the other day, sprawled on my comfy couch, watching my favorite TV show not shot in black and white or from the 1960s—that being “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern”—when I notice Ralph the dog strolling by with something in his mouth.

I’m in a state of continual amazement, by the way, at the things this guy puts in his mouth—Andrew Zimmern, not Ralph the dog. Have you ever watched this Andrewshow? Andrew’s job, apparently, is to travel the world, find every culture’s most unusual and/or disgusting food, and eat it. He’s ingested everything from pig brains, camel head, and cow rectum to just about any and all arachnids and nightcrawlers known to mankind. He’s also consumed the “man parts” of just about every earth creature on four legs. Yeah.

Two of the most repulsive things I’ve ever seen Andrew scarf down, however, were something in the Philippines called balut—fertilized duck eggs, complete with half-formed baby duck tendons and feathers and appendages—and a fetid, rotten fish dish in Alaska called stink head. I think I could smell this stuff wafting balut oohup through the television. Stink head is exactly what it sounds like: fermented fish heads dug up after decaying in the ground for weeks and served on a platter with a side of botulism. To quote Mr. Z, “I’m never eating that again as long as I live. That’s really, really harsh. Ammonia, rotted flesh, spoiled onions. All these flavors come to mind.”

But Andrew does get to tour the planet on the show’s dime. And who else can say that they’ve eaten the testicles of the native species of every continent on the globe? OK, let’s leave that one alone for now.

Anyway, not the point. I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I tend to ramble in this forum. But come on, people, that’s my schtick! Just trying to keep the conversation lively.

So I interrupt my watching Andrew tackle fried yak penis in China to reach down and see what Ralph the dog dropped near the couch. It looks like a note.

It is a note, scrawled simply but legibly:

“Deer Dad,

I luv you and Mom like you were actual dogs, and you are extreemly good to me, but some issues I must bring to lite. They are the following:

Ralphie1. I reelly hate it when you get impatient when you take me out to the yard to “do my bizness,” as you so quantely put it. Pooping on command is no picnic—and yelling at me when I go in the house becauz you haven’t taken me out in six hours doesn’t help any eether.

2. Wouldn’t you be fritened of a cat that was bigger than you? Max is si-cotic, man (sp? I don’t have google). Pleez stop telling me to “man up,” whatever that means, and get Max therapewtic help with his anger issues.

3. Pleez refrane from tugging on me to get me to stop smelling something when you take me on my walk. This is my time; this is me reading the sunday paper. Besides, did you no that we dogs possess up to 300 million old-factory recepters in our noses, compared to about six million in you humans? And the part of a dog’s brain that is devoted to analizing smells is, praportionally speaking, 40 times greater than yours. Chew on that.

4. Why yell at me when I bark at the cable or peezza delivery guy? I don’t know these guys. If you have somebody coming over, let me know, will ya?

5. And listen, I have gas just like you, so there’s no call for scolding me when it happens. Yours don’t smell like rozes, eether, ya know. And this whole blaming me when you know you did it routine? Getting purty old.

I love you guys, serioshly, so pleez take this in the spirit intended. And pleez pass this note on to Mom. Luv, Ralph the dog.”

Damn. I didn’t know Ralph could write. His spelling could use some work, however.

 

Roger White is a freelance human living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely spousal human, two precocious offspring humans, a very obese but mannerful dachshund, and a cat with Epstein-Barr. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com. Or not.

 

Faith and Begorrah, They Have Old Dog Homes!

5 Jun

 

by Roger White

 

Well, Faith and Begorrah, you can learn something new every day. Sometimes that—and little chocolate donuts—is the only thing that spurs me to drag my sagging carcass out of the sack most mornings.

LCDAnd speaking of learning something new (and in the true spirit of the stream-of-consciousness rambling rhetoric this forum prides itself on), do you know where the term “Faith and Begorrah” comes from? Or from which it comes, to avoid a prepositionally ended sentence?

From what I’ve been able to gather, “F&B” is a traditional Irish epithet that roughly translates into “By Gosh!” The Irish, of course, being a true Almighty-fearing people, didn’t want to come right out and say “By God!” when exclaiming some revelation or sense of amazement, so “F&B” was used to avoid taking the Supreme Dude’s name in vain and thereby summoning the furious wrath of the All-Knowing One. Kind of like how we say “Jeez!” to show astonishment (or when we smack our thumb with the hammer) to be able to quasi-curse without perturbing the Head Cheese. I believe it was W.C. Fields who used to exclaim, “Well, Godfrey wcfDaniels!” to approximate the G-D swear words. It’s all a bit silly, if you ask me. I mean, do we really think that (a) we’re putting one over on the Omniscient One; and (b) they’re actually keeping a Heavenly Tally?

Me at Pearly Gates: “So, St. P, do I get in the club?”

St. Peter: “Well. You did say ‘Jeez and Crackers’ six-hundred-seventy-two-thousand times. And don’t think we don’t know what that’s about.”

Me: “Aw, Jeez.”

St. Peter: “Ya see? That’s what I’m talking about.”

Me: “Sorry.”

St. Peter: “Oh, go on in. But we’re watching you.”

Aaaaanyway. Original point coming. I opined “F&B” earlier because I received a very kindly response to my recent column about aging pets and comedian Louis C.K.’s “countdown to sorrow” routine about pet ownership. I pondered why we don’t have any old pooch’s homes. And by golly (oop), we do have them!

Reader Elaine Courtney sent me this:

“Hi, I read your column today, and as I do most weeks, enjoyed it. (Most weeks? Hey.) Dogs are my favorite subject, and I mostly rescue seniors. The reason for that is I don’t want a dog to outlive me. My oldest is Baby, a 14-year-old Shih Tzu. He is now snoring away beside me. I have three other ShihTzus, two Corgis, and one recent find, a 14-year-old Basset-Corgi, whose momma went to assisted living in March. I’ve had to say goodbye to two seniors in the past three years …. It is very difficult to let them go, but they all had several years of a great spoiled life that they might never have had.  It’s usually a circus around here, but I love my dogs, and I am lucky that I work from home.

dog-retirement“Two things: One, there are several senior doggie retirement centers around the country, and it is such a great service. I would love to do that myself. I once thought of opening a pet cemetery, but that ran out of steam.

“The other thing I wanted to mention is your Bubbie, I hope you find a good residence for her. Hopefully, that decision is much further down the road. I do older adult services, helping people with errands and chores so that they can remain in their homes or even just have company, someone to play Scrabble with.

“If you need that kind of assistance for her, if it would make her or your life easier, let me know…. Oh, and cute picture of the labradoodle puppy in your article!!”

Well, that photo was provided by Editor Will. Kudos, Will-man. And thank you, Elaine. You’re a sweetie. Payola’s in the mail.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a cat with Epstein-Barr. For further adventures, visitoldspouse.wordpress.com.

Learning about Love & Loss — from your Labradoodle

27 May

by Roger White

 

Here’s a quote from comedian Louis C.K. I’ve been pondering lately: “It’s true, everything that makes you happy is going to end at some point, and nothing good ends well. It’s like, if you buy a puppy, you’re bringing it home to your family saying, ‘Hey, look, everyone, we’re all gonna cry soon. Look at what I brought home. I brought home us crying in a few years.’ widdul puppyHere we go. Countdown to sorrow with a puppy.”

I’m not sure I completely agree with the “nothing good ends well” bit, but I do understand what Louis is saying about pet ownership. The animals we bring into our lives, the furry little family members we choose to share our homes and our years with, wriggle and wag and romp their way into our hearts—and then they leave us, as they must. Ralph the rotund long-haired dachshund has been a loving and much-loved part of our family going on 13 years now, and though I pray he isn’t leaving us anytime soon, we do see the youthfulness waning from our once-rambunctious puppy, little by little. Especially lately, Ralph’s step isn’t as spry and bouncing as it once was, trips to the vet have become more frequent as aches and pains and digestive upsets pop up more often, and we’re finding more indiscretions around the house—a sure indicator that old dachour usually well-behaved Ralphie can’t hold it and wait for his bathroom breaks like he used to. Basically, it’s a lot like what’s happening to me. In fact, I would guess the old boy is aging a lot better than me, considering in dog years Ralph is going on about 91 now. I’m not yet 60, and my trips to the vet—er, doc—are a heck of a lot more frequent than Ralph’s, for sure.

Another life event our little family is going through presently involves an aging parent. My dear wife’s mom is at that point where we’re having to seriously consider the assisted living option. At 89, Bubbie is still as sharp as ever—smarter and quicker still than I’ll ever be—but physically her life is becoming demanding, challenging, and increasingly more difficult. I can only imagine how hard that step has to be, contemplating giving up one’s independence for the safety of a care facility. But I must say that some of the places we’ve visited in trying to make our determination are actually quite pleasant. Heck, I could live at some of these places right now—good meals, regular card games, pool and hot tub privileges, awesome meds, no daily rush-hour hell. And you can watch TV all you want!

And this got me thinking. Why don’t we have assisted living for pets? You know, an old pooch’s home. It would be complete with miniature pet wheelchairs, senior dog chow in the dining hall, group physical therapy sessions on such things as rudimentary tail-wagging, cat avoidance pup in chairtechniques for the older canine, most effective facial expressions for begging, stuff like that. Ralph would surely dig those Jacuzzi jets on his aging backbone. I may look into starting something along these lines. Call it, oh, the Lazy Days Sunset Retirement Kennel. Or Sam’s Silver Years Senior Shih Tzu Spot. Elroy’s Elderly English Setter Center? I don’t know, I’ll work on it.

Anyway, I believe Louis C.K.is being a bit harsh, now that I think about it. I wouldn’t call owning a pet a “countdown to sorrow” so much as I would term it a valuable lesson for us owners. Caring for and then letting go of a dearly loved pet, to me, is more a lesson in love and loss. Our pets show us the true meaning of selfless love—and, maybe as importantly, they teach us how to cope with loss. What greater lessons are there?

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a cat with Epstein-Barr. For further adventures, visitoldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

Pondering My Mortal Coil Options: Boxed or Broiled

16 Feb

by Roger White

 

I think it finally hit me how old I am this past weekend. Not so much that the wife and I packed it in and went to bed at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night, and not even because we had both spent that whole day doing little more than picnicking in the sun (including a nap)—and were still exhausted before the prime time TV shows got rolling. No, I believe the realization of my impending decrepitude smacked me upside la cabeza when the wife and I began seriously debating burial versus cremation plans. For our own selves, that is.

Friendly Funeral Fellow

Yes, the big decision: the Perpetual Dirt Nap or the Oversized Oven.

It occurred to me as we pondered the possible fates of our earthbound carcasses that I’d never really given it much thought. But I figure since I’m not leasing out this anatomical apartment anymore by the time they put a twist-tie on my big toe they can pretty much do what they want with the ol’ hide. They can boil me down and pour me into so many jars of Nutella, for all I’m going to care. I may not be a top-selling flavor, but hey. It would be somehow comforting to know that I’m living on as a snack spread and that folks from Nantucket to Nacogdoches have jars of me in their pantry.

me as nutella

Anyway, as Sue and I delved deeper into the topic du terminàl, we came to a bit of a snag. A corpse conundrum. A deceased dilemma. A cadaver quand—OK, I’ll stop. Despite my self-professed indifference regarding the destiny of my mortal coil, I found myself leaning toward the traditional tacklebox treatment. I like the idea of me being gussied up, laid out in my Sunday best inside a cozy carton, and having everybody file by my formaldehyde-stuffed face to tell me what a great guy I was. Some may have to stretch the truth a bit, but what will they care? I’m dead.

Now, Sue, on the other hand, prefers the kiln. She sees herself in a nice vase on someone’s mantel, silently scolding a great granddaughter or two to dust the den for heaven’s sake.

Though I can’t envision the eternal me as a pile of cigar ash, the wife may have a point. Not to wax morbid, but have you laid a loved one to rest lately? Your standard funeral—with the rectangular real estate and the coffin and the headstone and the viewing and services and eulogy and graveside wailings and all—costs more than a brand-new jet ski, nicely equipped. I’m talking over $10k, thats all folksmy friends. Although I did notice that Sea-Doos were on sale the other day for a pretty good discount, but you have to join the credit union. Wait, funerals. Right.

Here’s another thing about the whole burial option: If you go that route, have a trusted compadre accompany you to the funeral home—because if you haven’t endured this before, beware, my pallbearing pal. Funeral parlor people are car salesmen incognito. They may speak softly and smile and nod more compassionately than the guys at Big Al’s Auto Emporium, but they are cut from the very same cloth. The things these people will try to sell you—at a time when they know you are at your most vulnerable—would make Great Aunt Eunice roll over in her “value-added” grave. They’ll insist that if you really loved ol’ Eunice you won’t settle for a run-of-the-mill pine box. You’ll of course want the Cadillac of coffins, lovingly handcrafted from the finest mahogany and appointed with cashmere pillows, tuck-and-roll upholstery, the sincerity-package extra legroom, ivory handles, and whitewalls. Get this, they’ll even tell you that you need to line the coffin with a protective seal that will keep your dearly departed from moisture, rot, or nasty invasive weevils and such. That’s correct, they’ll try to sell you a casket gasket. It’s the height (or depth, I guess) of absurdity. Isn’t the whole point of committing your bod into the ground so that you will be absorbed back into the bosom of Mother Earth?

There’s a host of accessories like this that the smiling mortuary man will gently present to you as a means to show Aunt Eunice how much you truly cared. My advice? Picture yourself at the car salesman’s desk at Big Al’s—that protective seal on your aunt’s casket is nothing more than the rustproof undercoating they want to put on your Buick. Forget it.

tasteful

It’s like Joe Pesci said in Casino just before they played baseball with his noggin—always the dollars, always the dollars. Shee, maybe the wife is onto something. I guess I wouldn’t mind being vacuum-packed into a beer stein perched over the fireplace. As long as I can face the TV.

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a cat with Epstein-Barr. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

Fly High, Young One, But Visit the Ol’ Nest Please

27 Aug

by Roger White

 

“…the eyes of Texas are upon you,

’Til Gabriel blows his horn.”

 

The wife and I recently experienced the hopeful heartbreak of helping our firstborn bird to fly the nest. Somebody should have prepped us for this one. Jokes and tender clichés aside, this was a much more difficult task than we ever imagined. We pitched in as Lindsey gathered necessities and knickknacks from her room—the only room she’s ever called her own in her lifetime—and moved into her dorm at The University of Texas at Austin. Now, it is true that we live in Austin, and it is true that Linz is only about 11 minutes away, but to her emotionally fragile parents, she may as well have enrolled at the University of Guam. Our baby’s gone! The dingoes have eaten our baby! Wait, that’s different.

Linz in her dorm

The days that have passed since our lovely Longhorn’s departure have been filled with little melancholy milestones, and they have come upon us at odd and unexpected times. You veteran parents know what I mean: the first quiet night it hits you that she’s really not around; the first time you start to call her down for supper and realize there’s no need; the first time you walk into her darkened room to empty her wastebasket, only to see that there’s no trash to empty. I don’t think my eyes have been this stubbornly moist since the last time I watched “Brian’s Song.”

 

Funny, but one of the things we found that we miss most is Linz’s morning call, that melodious rumbling din we’ve all become quite accustomed to around our household. Every family member always knew when our oldest offspring was up and at ’em when Linz blew her nose in that unique honk of hers.

 

“Linz, you up? Almost time for school.”

 

“WHAWNNNK!!”

 

“She’s up.”

 

How I miss that whawnnnk.

 

young bird old birdOf course, from our daughter’s point of view, she may be regretting the fact that she didn’t look into the University of Guam. It’s only been a matter of days, and yet the wife and I have found dozens of reasons (excuses) to drop in on our undergrad at the Forty Acres. “Hi, sweetie, I figured you could use some more highlighters.” “I’m at the front desk, Linz, I thought you might need another blanket.” “It’s us again, Linz. We have a rutabaga.” “Linz, the front desk people are giving us dirty looks again.” You get the idea. We lobbied to have our own dorm key made, but the UT people frowned upon that notion.

 

It’s an exciting time for the young bird, full of nervous anticipation, hard work, new people, grand adventure, as she flies on her way. Kind of tough on us old birds, though, back in the old nest. We still have one fledgling not quite ready to take wing. When that baby flies in a couple of years, we may be ready for the old bird asylum.

 

Hook ’em, Linz. We know you’ll do wondrous things. And we hope you remember where the old nest is. We have fresh fruit and Ramen!

 

“…The eyes of your folks are upon you,

So Lindsey blow your horn!”

 

P.S. It was close, but Mr. R.L. Mitchell of Baton Rouge beat Bob Kolar of Austin to win the “Find the Fib Follies” contest from our last episode. They both correctly guessed that the weeeinventor of the “para-shirt” story was about as factual as a three-dollar bill—but R.L. wins the big bucks by beating Bob to the “send” button. A bunch of other folks got it right, too, but they were too slow. You know who you are. I gotta make up better whoppers. Thanks for the kind words, guys. You like me! You really, really like me! Oh!

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

Episode XXIL: In Which I’m Overwhelmed by a Moving Experience

6 Aug

by Roger White                                                                              

 

So last week I was scrabbling along, no major curves along the path, no sudden obstacles, no tremendous forks or other life-altering cutlery in the road. Then PLANG, it happened. (I feel it necessary to interrupt myself here, apologies to my train of thought—that’s quite all right, don’t worry about it—why, thank you—don’t mention it—you’re too kind—get on with it already—that the overused onomatopoetic term “BOOM” is not only overused but doesn’t actually apply to me. I don’t hear BOOM when a seismic event wobbles my world. I hear more of a metallic PLANG, not unlike being smacked in the mug with a long piece of aluminum siding.)

 

So anyway, PLANG, it happened.

PLANG

I was asked to help a friend move.

 

Now, don’t be mistaken—the experience itself was not traumatic. Just tedious. The process of gathering, wrapping, and boxing every single solitary item of your earthly existence and carting the whole mess to another location is unadulterated first-world hell, but that wasn’t what PLANGed me.

Side note: One comes to understand who one’s true compadres are come moving time. Only real buddies will show up to devote an entire weekend helping you tote your box springs, fold-out sectional, appliances, underthings, attic crap, and shot glass collection from hither to yon. The old “a friend in need” adage, yah? Yah. I’m thinking of pitching these nifty sayings to U-Haul for display on their trucks across our fair land:
igotit igotit

A friend moving out is a friend no doubt.

A friend relocating is a friend ingratiating.

A friend moving furniture is a friend who’s been earnedfersure.

Or something.

 

End of side note.

 

No, what smacked my visage into a flattened cartoon face shaped like a long piece of aluminum siding was the flashback. Travel with me, won’t you, way back to 1973. Your vision’s getting wavy as harp strings carry you away to plaid polyester land. Don’t look down. Damn it, I told you not to look down! YAPR 67es, those are saddle shoes you’re wearing, with heels the size of an 8-track tape player. Take a gander around. Spiro Agnew has just resigned from the Veep’s Office. On TV, William Conrad is nabbing crooks, usually by sitting on them, as Detective Frank Cannon; Tony Orlando and Dawn top the charts with, yech, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon.” And out of nowhere, Mom and Dad have called it quits, meaning that little eighth-grade you must bury all your possessions in cardboard coffins and follow the parental unit of your choosing to every apartment, trailer park, and government-subsidized housing complex this side of Tulsa. And you have to say goodbye to your dog, Cricket, because it’s been determined that she’s too much to care for in all the hubbub.

 

Oh, the horror.

 

Yeah, I recall those times as the Years of Living Transiently (YLT). Never did I feel unloved or hungry or victim of any of the true terrors that so many youngsters must endure. After about the third move in less than a year, however, I learned not to unpack fully but to simply shift my more immediate necessities to the tops of my boxes. I’m sure that kids of military parents share a similar memory of quicksilver logistics. My wife’s gypsy-like youth was comparable. You live like a MASH unit, always on alert for immediate evac.

 

Through all the moves uncounted during my YLT era, though, I also learned that no matter how many times you move, you never get it quite right. Every time you pull up stakes, you say to yourself this is going to be the one where I’m uber-organized. Socks here, books in this box, bowls over there. Then you end up throwing everything anywhere it fits. When you get to your new abode, you open a box and find it has a can of motor oil, floss, and toilet paper. Another box has detergent, silverware, three bags of old Doritos, and your high school copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.

 

Martha The ManSame goes with your moving-in process at the new place. As you’re unpacking, you determine that you will be the epitome of efficiency, the Martha Stewart of domestic organization (except for the jail time). So you organize your cereal boxes by bran content, your CDs alpha by artist, your spices as they appear in the song Scarborough Fair, and so on. And, of course, this all goes out the window the minute you eat your first bowl of Trix.

 

So this, my being PLANGed by a YLT flashback, made me realize this is likely why the wife and I haven’t moved since 1992. My daughters say it’s boring never to have relocated once during their lifetimes—to which I say, “travel with me now waaay back…”

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

 

 

Pondering Life’s Little Scams, Schemes, and Swindles

7 Jul

by Roger White                                                                              

 

So I was standing in the shower attempting to loofah my stretch marks when one of wifey’s standing army of haircare products amassed on the shower shelf caught my eye. It was a shiny, dazzling thing, the color of polished gold. The container’s meant to grab your attention, you see, designed to stand apart from the plethora of shampoos and such that crowd the grocery shelves. Marketers never cease to amuse. Gold equals value, see, so this shampoo must be head and shoulders above the rest. Ouch, that was unintentional. So now that the golden suds caught my eye, I looked closer. I had to laugh—more superlatives and blatant hyperbole were crowded onto this little bottle of bubbles than a Barnum & Bailey circus poster.

photo

“Advanced,” “NEW,” “Total Repair,” “EXTREME,” “Emergency,” “Recovery,” “RAPID FIBER RENEWAL” (whatever that is)…and on and on. It’s as if the company’s advertising guys looked up every glowing adjective in the dictionary and simply pasted them all on the bottle. I snickered again, but then I realized, hey, it worked. It’s in my shower, ain’t it?

 

I pointed out all the grandiose gobbledygook to my wife when I exited the reading room and asked her if it was indeed the best haircare product she’d ever used. “Eh,” she said with a shrug. “It’s not that great.”

 

Ah, yes. This revelation got me pondering all the little cons and exaggerations and out-and-out flimflammery that we deal with on a daily basis. I believe we first got the idea that the scam was on as we moved from adolescence into young adulthood. This was about the time we witnessed the gradual, ever-so-subtle phenomenon known as the incredible shrinking product. Remember? Food staples such as hamburgers and candy bars slowly lost their heft over time, almost like magic.

 

gadzooksThe Big Macs and Hersheys of our youth didn’t merely appear larger back then because we were tykes; they’ve been carefully trimmed over the years. Picture your Hershey bar on a fulcrum, like a teeter-totter of corporate trickery; price goes up, product size goes down. Eventually, I suppose we’ll be shelling out $19.99 for a chocolate nibble the size of an unwell raisin. In that vein, corporate candy minds have already given us the “fun size” bar. Fun size. That’s marketing speak for “you pay us regular-size price, and we’ll give you tiny crumbs in a colorful, exciting package. Yay! Fun!”

 

The Mars Company did some more snipping just recently, shaving the size of its Snickers and Mars bars—merely for health reasons, mind you. “Having taken product reformulation as far as we can for now without compromising the great taste,” a company spokeslizard said, “we have reduced the portion size of Mars and Snickers to bring down the calories.” Right.

 

The soft drink guys did it, too, long ago—under the guise of moving to the metric system. If you’re old enough to recall, family-size cokes once came in one-gallon containers. Touting their shift to the sleek three-liter size bottle as a consumer-friendly move to a more efficient, easier-to-tote container—at the same price!—the cola industry failed to mention that customers were now getting precisely .793 of a gallon of coke for the gallon price. But what’s .207 of a gallon between friends?

 

It isn’t just at the grocery store, though. The scam is everywhere. Corporate lizards abound. If you don’t pay close attention to your wireless service bill, for example, you’ve probably been crammed. We were crammed recently, but thank goodness the wife caught it before it went on too long. In fact, T-Mobile just got slammed by the Federal Trade Commission for cramming. Sounds physically painful, I know, but cramming hits you only in the pocketbook. It’s the practice of stuffing hidden fees into your bill for services you didn’t request—hence the ugly terminology. It’s often difficult to spot the hidden fees because the wireless companies will not itemize them; rather, they’ll show up as “Use Charges” or some other ridiculous, nebulous category.

 

The list goes on. Premium gas, college textbooks, bottled water, anything and everything that movie popcorn manshows up on your hospital bill, automotive cabin air filters, shipping and handling (what the hell is handling, anyway?), hotel taxes, cable activation fees, time shares, movie snacks. It’s a mine field out there, people. It’s a dirty, slimy mine field full of lizards, to mix a metaphor or three.

 

I think I need another shower. Hey, this shampoo looks good…

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

 

 

Suburban Worldsick Blues

27 May

by Roger White

 

With a tip of the hat to a master chronicler of the American age, it must be noted that Bob Dylan never lived in a 3/2/2 with central heat/air and two and a half mortgages during a time when, by all appearances, our society is on the verge of utter decay—all viewable with the click of a mouse or touch of a pad.

 

So I give you “Suburban Worldsick Blues.”

 

Perry’s in the Capitol, railin’ against abortion,

I’m lookin’ at my taxes thinkin’ it’s extortion,

The man in the trench coat shootin’ up the school halls

Says he got bullied so everybody must fall.

 

Look out, dad, the economy is bad,

God knows what we did, but the country’s on the skids.

 

You better duck down, turn page, watch out for road rage,

Another mass swhyhooting, another senseless rampage,

Sterling’s on his cell phone reminiscin’ ’bout slavery,

Miley’s twerkin’ onstage, scandalous behavery.

 

Look out, mom, Gotta stay calm,

Soldiers in Kabul dodging roadside bombs.

 

Get sick, get well, they’re laying off again at Dell,

Are we winnin’ whatever war, it’s gettin’ kinda hard to tell,

Presidenidiotst says our healthcare system’s unfit,

All Congress says is where’s your birth certificate?

 

Well, Hormel, GM organizin’ recalls,

Bad meat, bad brakes, pickets down at town hall,

Daughter’s college fees call for medical sedation,

Building border walls to stifle immigration.

 

Look out, pop, no tellin’ where it stops,

Younger daughter’s boyfriend working at a head shop.

 

Mortgage underwater, excess beer consumption,

Viagra wants to help with that erectile dysfunction,

The factonoworkry just made a Chapter 11 declaration,

School board says it’s gonna teach divine creation.

 

Text tweet online, your selfie looking so fine,

Kids in Bosnia steppin’ on old land mines.

Icebergs meltin’, droughts killin’ all the wheat,

Just global warmin’ lies of the liberal elite.

 

Well, get dressed, get stressed, face the day’s traffic mess,

Oops, your job’s just been outsourced to Bangladesh.

Don’t follow leaders, take pills for all the cedars,

Find yourself a new position as a Walmart greeter.

 

Look out, mama, you’re dyin’ from the trauma,

Increase yer Prozac dosage, tune in the dalai lama.

 

Well, jump down a manhole, filibuster gun control,

thebardThink I saw a shadow up there beyond the grassy knoll,

Headin’ to the car, another day in the loony ward,

Shakin’ yer head ’cause the vandals keyed yer new Ford.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

143a.

 

Galveston, Oh, Galveston…

14 Apr

by Roger White

 

It was high time recently for a mini-getaway. You know how it is. In the midst of those long weeks, dare I say months, between full-blown vacations, the work stress, kid stress, money stress, in-law stress, and no-football-on-TV stress pile up until your neck and shoulder muscles are clwhat theenched tighter than Joan Rivers’ cheeks. You develop a chronic eyelid twitch, and you suddenly find you have the posture of Marty Feldman’s grandfather. The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel has dimmed to a faint flicker, and that tunnel hangs low and dark and menacing over your head like the belly of an unmarried pregnant velociraptor. Just go with that one, okay?

 

You can always tell when it’s time to cram the family in the trusty sedan and drive away for a few days. At least I can tell when it’s time—when the wife says it’s time, that’s when it’s time. So the other weekend, just as the steam began to vent from wifey’s ears, we piled the tribe into the Honda and headed south. To Galveston, in particular.

 

Now, despite what many of you hoity toity California beach hipsters or Jersey shore traditionalists may think, you can have a terrific time in the Oleander City without suffering any tarballs, mosquito-borne diseases, or attempted muggings. Really. Galveston’s nicknamed the Oleander City, by the way, because of the proliferation of the humongous, color-splashed flowers all over the place. The oleanders are gorgeous, but if you eat them you’ll fall over stone dead, just sayin’. So don’t eat them.

 

Anyway, we had a blast. If you want quiet oceanfront time, which we did mostly, rent a condo on East Beach. This is far from all the public hollering and drinking and shenanigans at Stewart Beach and points west down toward the curio shops, nightlife spots, and all the leather-skinned street people who talk to their hair and smell oddly of vinegar and machinery.

 

If you want action, rent some bikes or drive down Seawall Boulevard toward the lights and CRAB!!the signs featuring gigantic crabs and shrimp made of plaster of paris. There’s some good eatin’ at Gaido’s and The Spot and several other Seawall greasy spoons. Now, if you haven’t been to Galveston in a while, you’re not hallucinating when you spy a kaleidoscopic gaggle of roller coasters and ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds where the old Flagship Hotel used to be. The Flagship’s not on the pier anymore. The old gal finally sank. Ah, remember the crusty Flagship? Your room options weren’t smoking or non-smoking. They were roaches or rats, take yer pick. Yes, those were the days.

 

Nope, the ol’ Flagship has been replaced by the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier. The Landry’s folks bought the place and decided, after Hurricane Ike pretty much creamed it in 2008, that instead of trying to renovate the old fleabag, they’d start over with a small Pleasure Pier!amusement park. And by golly, they did it. As hard as it is to believe that you can stuff an entire amusement park onto that slender shaft jutting out over the water, the Pleasure Pier actually has more than a dozen rides—including a truly terrifying roller coaster—a gauntlet of carnival games, souvenir and sweet shops, and even a restaurant or two. Even our daughters, both of them thrill-ride veterans who can tell if an amusement park is the real deal or just a poseur, had grins plastered on them by the time they were done.

 

What’s even cooler about the Pleasure Pier is that they offer field trips/classes for schools, wherein the kids do coursework in between the rides. They have textbooks and everything, all tying in s141a. to your ritauch disciplines as physics and math to each ride. Here’s a sample question, I kid you not: “For safety purposes, the Carousel’s floor is coated with a nonstick surface that has a coefficient of friction with the average pair of sneakers equal to 0.7. With this coefficient of friction, how fast would the rider have to be moving while standing next to one of the outer-ring horses to be thrown off the ride?”

 

Judging from this and other questions I read, I’m thankful I went to school in the era of Dick and Jane.

 

Anyway, fun was had by all, and we even won a giant inflatable alien the girls nicknamed George Lopez. And the getaway seemed to work. My eyelid twitch is pretty much gone. Posture’s better. The Joan Rivers muscle tone has eased. Now if I can just get these jellyfish lookit the pretty AAAHH!barbs out of my feet. Watch yer step on those moonlight beach strolls, ’kay?

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.