Thursday, November 24, 2011


Due to the usual groundswell of indifference, I'm rerunning my "classic" Thanksgiving tale of desperation, helium and madness.

* * * * *

My name is Underdog. You may remember I had a Saturday morning cartoon show back in the '60s. I was big. I was physically small, especially on the TV sets of the time, but I was big in Show Biz terms. Now I'm physically large, but I'm basically a Show Biz has-been. Back then, there were Underdog comic books, Underdog lunch boxes, Underdog watches, you name it.

Eventually, however, the show got canceled. I was devastated. My girlfriend, Sweet Polly Purebred, dumped me and started dating George Of The Jungle. I began hitting the bottle pretty hard, and I wallowed in self-pity for over a year. My agent, Sid Tinsel, finally called me one day with a job offer. I asked him what it was. "As a result of all your queries,” I said, “is it perchance another series?" (I always speak in rhyme. It's part of my Underdog schtick.)

"Well, no," he said.

"Will there be an opening day, the kind you find with a Broadway play?"

"No, it's not a play."

"Tell me it's not controversial: a tampon ad or a beer commercial."

"Not exactly."

"Please enlighten me, but do not frighten me!"

"They want you to be a balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade."

I was aghast.

"A balloon? A balloon? Do you take me for some buffoon?"

"Take it easy, Underdog."

"How would I achieve this feat? Underdog is quite petite!"

"You'll have to bulk up," he said. "You've got plenty of time."

"This requires thought aplenty. Let me call you back in twenty."

Even before I hung up the phone, I knew I had no choice. My back was against the wall and I had to take whatever work I could get. I called Sid and told him to write up the contract.

Over the next several months I ate like a pig. Not literally. I called Porky Pig for some tips, but he told me he ate slop. I didn't want to eat slop. So I ate a lot of pastries, pizzas and Texas Tommys.

I literally, well, ballooned up. I was humongous. You have to remember, this was years before De Niro gained a bunch of weight for his role in Raging Bull. But like Bobby, there's nothing I won't do to for my art.

Finally it was late November, and a meeting was scheduled with the Macy's people. It was two days before Thanksgiving. At the meeting, Sid introduced me to two Macy's executives and one doctor. What was a doctor doing there, I wondered. I found out when he handed me a prescription. I asked him what it was for.

"It's a combination of sodium chloride, sodium bicarbonate and potassium chloride," he said.

"If I am prying please accept my apology, but what is all that in layman's terminology?"

"It's an extremely powerful laxative."

"Why in the name of all that is holy would you give me this? Explain to me slowly."

The doctor explained. "You'll need to completely cleanse your system tomorrow before I perform your balloonoscopy on Thanksgiving morning, Mr. Underdog. The balloonoscopy itself involves blowing you up with helium, of course."

"'Of course'? 'Of course'? Helium pumped in a dog by force?"

Sid chimed in. "The helium is what makes you float, Underdog. How did you think you were going to float?"

I hadn't thought about that, I must admit. How else WOULD I float? Jeez, what had I gotten myself into?

I put the prescription into my cape's inside pocket and signed the contract. I had no other options.

I stopped at the drug store on my way home and got the stuff. It was a huge, plastic, four-litre container with white powder at the bottom, along with four flavor packets to choose from.

The next day I read the instructions and started the process. I added water to the powder and shook it until the powder dissolved. I gulped down my first eight-ounce glass. It was vile. I tried adding a flavor packet. I chose cherry. Bad choice. It tasted worse. I drank another glass every ten minutes until the container was empty. I barely got each glass down without throwing up. Then the real fun began. Let's just say I stayed within close sprinting distance of the bathroom for the rest of the day, and we'll leave it at that. Finally it was over, and I went to sleep, exhausted.

My alarm clock went off at dawn and I kept my appointment with the gastroballoonologist at the hospital. The nurse told me my blood pressure was a little high, but said it was probably just due to balloonoscopy anxiety. She had that right. The anesthesiologist introduced himself and the nurse inserted an IV into my vein. I began counting backwards from 100. The next thing I knew I was waking up and my balloonoscopy was over. I hadn't felt a thing. It's like every Macy's balloon will tell you: it's the prep day before a balloonoscopy that's the ordeal. The balloonoscopy itself is a breeze. Literally.

I was strapped to the table to prevent me from floating to the ceiling. They wheeled me to the start of the parade route and attached tethers to me. A lot of my old friends were in the parade, and it was good to talk with them about happier times.

The parade started, and they put me in front of Popeye The Sailorman, and right behind Linus The Lionhearted. Linus was having a slight problem with flatulence, but that's quite common after a balloonoscopy.

I've been in the parade ever since, and I have to admit I now look forward to it. (Except for prep day.) It pays the rent, and it's good to see my friends every year and see the smiles on the faces of the kids lining the parade route.

And this year I'm hoping to get Betty Boop's phone number.

* * * * *

This story originally appeared in Narrative magazine.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


When pressed if this meant he would not support a four week spending plan, Mr. Boehner replied: "If ands and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas."

-- The Wall Street Journal

House Speaker John Boehner recently held a special press conference for a group of very young reporters from various children's magazines. Coffee and doughnuts were replaced by cookies and milk, and a spirited Q&A ensued.

An 11-year old reporter from the educational classroom magazine Weekly Reader kicked things off with a hypothetical question regarding spending cuts for the rest of the fiscal year.

Mr. Boehner replied, "If ands and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas."

When the girl called that a very silly answer, the Ohio Republican responded, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Ironically, he was crying as he spoke.

A 9-year old boy representing Highlights asked a question about agricultural subsidy.

"Young man," said Mr. Boehner, his lower lip quivering, "let me put it in terms your readers can understand: Goofus takes the last apple. Gallant shares his orange."

"I don't get it," said the boy.

"You'll understand it when you're in 5th grade."

"You're a real Slippery Sam, Mr. Speaker."

The Representative bit his lip and took in a series of short breaths, convulsing slightly. "I'm rubber and you're glue," he said. " Whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you."

When a girl from Junior Scholastic prefaced a question about the Middle East with a reference to the Secretary of State, the Speaker interrupted with, "I spy London, I spy France. I spy Hillary Clinton's underpants!"

"But what do you think about the chances for peace there?" pressed the young journalist.

"Israel and Palestine up in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G!"

The political columnist from Humpty Dumpty magazine, a 6-year old, said that her mother had called the Republicans a bad name.

Mr. Boehner took on a soothing tone and advised the child that on her walk back to Humpty Dumpty's editorial offices she should be especially careful not to step on any cracks in the sidewalk, as this would cause her mother's spinal column to shatter into a million pieces, causing great pain and permanent paralysis. The little girl began crying hysterically and had to be escorted from the room.

"You're a bad man!" yelled a Boys' Life reporter from the back of the room.

"I know you are, but what am I?" asked Mr. Boehner rhetorically. A tear fell from his cheek onto his lectern, just missing his oatmeal cookie.

"Ew, this microphone has cooties!" he said to no one in particular. And indeed, the foam rubber wind screen on his mic appeared to be caked with a combination of milk, cookie crumbs and tears.

Tensions in the room were running pretty high, and the Speaker announced that the press conference was at an end. He thanked the youthful crowd and asked, "So, what do you think of Washington, kids?"

A boy from Jack and Jill shouted back, "I think it stinks!"

"If you smelt it, you dealt it!" Mr. Boehner replied, tearing up again.

"I'm leaving," he said finally, his voice quavering. "I hate you all!"

He was not the only person weeping as he ran out of the room, knocking over a few folding chairs. One by one the children collected themselves and their notes and went off to file their stories. A 12-year old from Fun for Kids magazine summed up her first taste of political reporting with a sigh. "I think I'll become an astronaut," she said.


This story originally appeared in Funny Times.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


I've always tended to compartmentalize my life. A lot of people do this, but I admit that maybe I take it to extremes.

I like to keep my social life separate from my work life. I like to keep my work life separate from my romantic life.

I like to keep my friends separate from each other. Or, if it's already a group of friends, I like to keep this group of friends separate from that group of friends.

I like to keep my friends separate from my girlfriend. And I certainly like to keep my girlfriend separate from my wife.

I like to keep my children separate from each other. I prefer to hang out with them one on one. I like to keep the cat away from the dog. My son has a hamster and a turtle who have never even seen each other.

I like keeping my mother separate from my father. They seem fine with this.

At work, I've moved my desk from the communal work area into the janitor's storage closet, though I never associate with the janitor. And I will not do conference calls. Just let me know what it was about and I'll call up everybody individually.

I've even compartmentalized my brain. It was a risky, experimental surgery, and I had to go to Mexico to get it. My mind is now divided into seven color-coded sections. The green section is for anything involving money: work, gambling, pyramid schemes, etc. The red section is for love. The pink section is for sex. It's very important to keep these last two sections separate, of course. The orange area is for all things bright and sunny. This section is usually empty. Blue is for my dark side, where I store my suicidal tendencies. The yellow section is for health and personal hygiene. The brown section is for miscellaneous crap, like dry cleaning.

Up until recently this system worked well for me. A place for everything and everyone, and everything and everyone in their respective places.

Then I got a new secretary named Ursula. Within a week she was my new girlfriend, and the next thing I knew I was in love with her. That's three separate compartments - work, love and sex - compromised right off the bat. And while she brings sunshine to my life, I'm also sad about messing up my system. That mixes my orange and blue compartments. That's five. And as far as health and personal hygiene are concerned, I've developed a mysterious rash. So, that's all six major compartments spilling all over each other.

Plus, she recently asked me to pick up her dry cleaning!

They say my surgery is reversible. Maybe I should go back to Mexico and have it undone, and just be happy to have a sloppy, uncompartmentalized life. Other people do it. Control can be a burden. And as I've learned, ultimately it doesn't work.

My parents will just have to learn to get along. Obviously, they did once.

My wife and my girlfriend; that's another story. I guess I'll have to choose.

And what harm can a hamster and a turtle inflict on one another?

No more harm than I've inflicted on myself with my foolish, foolish ways.


This story originally appeared in Narrative magazine.

Monday, November 14, 2011