"Humor Me" says Robert S. "Bob" Wieder

Thursday, October 27, 2005


This is an actual Associated Press item from today:

"MENTOR, Ohio What's the worst day of the year for an orthodontist? Dr. Kenneth Lawrence says it's the day after Halloween. Every year on that day he gets phone calls from parents whose children have damaged their braces by eating too much chewy Halloween candy. So Lawrence came up with a plan to cut down on those calls. He offers trick-or-treaters $1 a pound for their goodies. He insists the plan he started five years ago has been very successful. Last year, children turned in more than 80 pounds of candy. As he did last year, Lawrence says he'll send the candy to soldiers serving in Iraq. He suspects much of the candy will then be passed on to Iraqi children."

What a fabulous scam! Have you priced candy lately? The only candy you can get for a dollar a pound would have to be made of tile grout. At eighty pounds per haul, he's raking it in! Figuring Halloween candy costs about $2.50 the pound, that's a net of $120. As an orthodontist, he'd have to work...what...about 9 minutes to earn that much. And sending it to our troops? Oh please. Yeah, it'll be passed on to Iraqi children. Female Iraqi children, average age around 17. "Why do you think they call it a Big Hunk, Mushtari?"

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Once again, we approach our annual holiday of horrors and, with it, the spooky weirdness that ensues when decent, ordinary citizens are subjected to the chain-rattling of certain grim specters and frightful bogeymen. I refer to those persons so imbued with liberal or conservative sensitivity that they would impose ideological prohibitions on children’s Halloween costume selection, depriving them and the holiday of that special magic: the freedom and power of a child to shock, repel, revolt and offend.

Actual true background: This nonsense began several years ago, when organizations ranging from the left-leaning Iowa City Affirmative Action Advisory Committee to a Costa Mesa evangelical Christian group called Citizens for Excellence in Education, began officially proscribing various Halloween costumes as offensive to particular ethnic, religious, or otherwise definable demographic groups.

And out of this came a new American holiday tradition: Annual reminders from the Halloween police that certain guises are improper, and to be shunned in favor of universally palatable alternatives.

Among those costumes now designated as politically or spiritually incorrect to at least some discernible voting bloc are--and I’m not making this up--Gypsies, Indians, old people, Africans, devils, witches, hobos, the “differently abled”--which pretty much kills that Captain Hook look--and slaves.

Now...this may just be me, but has anybody out there ever heard of any kid who went trick-or-treating as a slave? Is that the look that a kid on the make really wants? Wouldn’t the shackles dramatically limit your mobility and therefore, your total candy haul? Not to mention getting shortchanged on the handouts because, after all, you’re legally only three-fifths of a trick-or-treater?
In any case...among the costumes officially approved for wear--and again, these are their suggestions, not mine--are animals, food, inanimate objects, famous persons, book characters, people of different eras, and “friendly” monsters.

The idea clearly seems to be to avoid any look that might offend or upset any member of a demographic category known as “the currently living.”

Unfortunately, their attempt to impose rules of acceptable Halloween disguise have simply created a Gordian tangle of contradictions and ambiguities that merely complicate the whole costume issue. For example, witches and devils are impermissible because they carry “religious connotations” which may chafe the faith-based sensibilities of those Christians who take umbrage at costumes that depict their beliefs irreverently, or depict other beliefs at all.

But by the same token, this principle would seem to also rule out angel costumes, which might offend not only certain Christians, but also dedicated Satanists--one crowd you particularly don’t want to rile--as well as cowboy costumes, which cruelly confront devout Hindus with images of the barbaric, blasphemous pagans who herd, brand, and even castrate the cattle they hold sacred. In short, just kiss that John Wayne look goodbye, kid.

Then again, it might be worth donning that Junior Psychiatrist getup just to piss off the Scientologists.

On another front, hobo costumes are discouraged, presumably as visual affronts to transients, although you’d think that this particular social gaffe could easily be avoided by simply advising those kids who've chosen the “vagrant” look to skip their usual trick-or-treating at the local hobo jungle down by the river, at least for this year.

Still, it’s a shame to deny kids the very special childhood joy of getting to go out in public wearing clothing so vile and ratty that it makes their mother’s skin crawl--a moment that every child should experience. Perhaps an acceptable compromise might be to substitute for “hobo” some equally plausible characterization, such as “internet geek,” or “Hurricane Katrina refugee,” or “Russian businessman,” or “freelance humor writer.”

The “food” costume concept offers a world of possibilities, but most of them involve rather more sewing and fitting than the average parent cares to contemplate. Moreover, even this seemingly benign category is not without its potential for political or cultural incorrectness. That cunning pork loin getup could carry unfortunate Abu Ghraib connotations for the Muslim family down the block, even as, say, a corn dog costume might inflict genuine dismay on strict vegetarians, and forget the Oscar Meyer outfit altogether. (Then again, strict veggies usually hand out apples as Halloween treats, so why even bother knocking on their doors?)

One could, of course, select from an array of ever-popular vegetable costumes, such as your time-honored rhubarb, eggplant, and Jerusalem artichoke ensembles. But be wary of fruit costumes, which could be negatively misinterpreted in certain gay, Baptist, or military households. And the less said about the banana, the better.

“Friendly” monsters seems rather oxymoronic, if not downright baffling. In an empirical sense, your definitive friendly monster would be somebody like Ted Bundy, but there’s really no such thing as a clearly identifiable “charming serial killer” look The folks who made up this Acceptable Costumes list probably had in mind such harmlessly freakish characters as Uncle Fester Addams or Pauly Shore, but in fact, the cordial-yet-loathsome concept suggests a whole new field of possible costume subjects: tax auditor, telemarketer, airport solicitor, insurance salesman, Karl Rove.

You can see the problem: trying to impose “correctness” standards on Halloween merely creates a host of vexingly difficult choices. For example, must my little nephew give up his beloved Stephen Hawking portrayal because Hawking is “differently abled,” or is he still allowed it under the “famous persons” qualifier?

Come to think of it, does the “famous person” rule permit trick-or-treaters such roles as, say, Rafael Palmiero, Al Sharpton, Osama bin Laden, Tom DeLay, or O.J. Simpson, any of whom might be construed as offensive? And what, dear God, about Paris Hilton?

Is it okay to dress up as a football player, but not a Washington Redskin or Minnesota Viking, lest one offend Native or Scandinavian Americans? Is that little Ninja assassin getup just button cute, or emblematic of gratuitous violence? Does the Ghandi look honor an historic figure, disrespect a religion, or just recycle an old sheet? Does the admonition against “African” costumes also apply to African-American kids?

What we always considered a harmlessly silly children’s masquerade has been revealed as a minefield of potential insensitivities and difficult, soul-searching decisions. The magic is gone, and thanks a lot. I don’t know who makes up groups like the Iowa City Affirmative Action Advisory Committee or Christian Citizens for Excellence in Education, but I do hope somebody soaps their goddam windows, and that their kids then throw them out thereof.


At the following website, you will, should you be disposed to pursue this, find an item about how Dutch fertility clinics may have to begin screening out French lesbians, who are flocking to the clinics for insemination in such great numbers that the clinics are running short of sperm. For altogether different reasons, mostly having to do with physical decrepitude, I empathize with the clinics, but that's not the point. The point is that a person with less dignity and taste than myself might use this item as an excuse to make some tacky reference involving the phrase "plugging the dyke" or something on that order. Not me, thank you.

Sunday, October 16, 2005


Things Guaranteed to Happen During the World Series:

Before at least three games, the ceremonial “first ball” will be thrown out by someone who has approximately as much to do with baseball as crop rotation, and who literally wouldn’t know a hard slider from a marital aid.

In a brief, praise-laden ceremony, an aged Hall of Famer who died during the season will be memorialized with a hagiographic, sentimental tribute despite the fact that his few surviving contemporary colleagues clearly recall him as an arrogant, surly, self-centered, bigoted prick.

Someone will sing the National Anthem so poorly or annoyingly that an indignant American viewing aucience will actually forget about Janet Jackson for almost thirty minutes.

One of the Series' s batting heroes will be a marginal backup player whose hitting so thoroughly sucked during the regular season that he was nearly traded for a whirlpool bath. The player, who hit no more than four home runs during the season, will hit at least one to win a game, which will get him not only laid, but onto the Letterman show.

At least one big-ticket TV commercial broadcast repeatedly during the games will star a player whose widely-favored team, to the surprise of everyone and the dismay of the sponsor, was humiliatingly beaten in the Playoffs.

A hitter whose bat was so hot in September that you could get a tan from it will not only record fewer hits than Yo Yo Ma, but will hereafter be nicknamed “Double Play.”

If the Angels are in the Series, during the telecasts from L.A. the camera will spend more time on TV and film celebrities in the stands that it will on the dugout.

A young pitcher so new to the bigs that he’s still recovering from minor league food will match off against a marquee hurler whose salary would bail out Haiti, and beat him.

At least five post-game interviews with an outstanding player of that game will require the use of interpreters: three Spanish, one Japanese, and one from southern Mississippi.

One night, a slumping veteran outfielder will drink straight bourbons until 4 a.m., at which time he will be found in the hotel lobby trying to place cellphone calls on a cordless razor. The next day, although half paralyzed with a hangover that can actually be heard from three feet away, he will stagger to the plate to pinch hit in the final inning and take a hanging curve into another zip code to win a game.

An otherwise mediocre player will run wild in one game, making several defensive plays of highlight reel caliber and driving in a hatful of runs. He will subsequently test negative for illicit drugs, because the major leagues do not test for veterinary medications.

President Bush will call the winning team's manager and say, “Congratulations, but I wish you were the Rangers.” The manager will think, but not actually reply, “Thank you, Mister President, but I wish you were John Kerry.”

Sports Illustrated’s cover will show a dozen winning team players hugging, high-fiving and champagning one another and singing “We Are Family”.” By next spring, two will be traded away, three more will leave as free agents, and one will be under indictment for domestic abuse.

Thursday, October 06, 2005


In today's news, a woman who was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the images of Bush, Cheney, and Condie Rice and the legend "Meet The Fockers" was told by a Southwest Airlines crew that she and her husband would have to leave the plane halfway through their flight from L.A. to Seattle because other passengers, it seems, did not like the message on the t-shirt. Fortunately, the plane was on the ground at the time, having stopped off in Reno enroute. The mind fairly swims at this. First, given the financial condition that Southwest individually and the airline industry collectively are in, they are in no position to turn away anyone. If I were the head of Southwest--and, given the airline's balance sheet, you'd think that I was--you would have to be wearing a garment made of the flesh of orphaned children before I would refuse to take your money. The airline's stated position was to the effect that she was causing a disturbance. My stated position is No, she was wearing a goddam shirt. Right-wing cranks were causing the disturbance, if by "disturbance" you mean insisting that other passengers conform to their ideological dress code. I understand the right-wingers' point of view, of course, but my solution would be to schedule them on special flights. Alas, the scheduled flights I have in mind all took place on 9/11. That is a rather harsh sentiment, I know, but this is America and I have a right to express it. Well, unless I happen to be flying on Southwest Airlines. By the way, I gather that Southwest is owned by and part of US Airways. Yes, US Airways. Metaphor makers, start your engines.

On a different, tangentially related subject, Kurt Vonnegut has another book out, "A Man Without A Country," and while I've only read reviews of it, the book continues Vonnegut's lifelong pattern of writing sentences, phrases, and comments that I dearly wish I had come up with, the latest being his comparison of his experiences soldiering in WWII with the misadventure in Iraq, where he notes that American troops are 'being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas." Hammer, nail, bang.