Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Get a Leg Up

It’s not often that I pat myself on the back (feel free to insert your own fat joke here) but I do take pride in the fact that I was one of the first people to own a Leg Lamp. Yes, that leg lamp, from "A Christmas Story" - which for the uninitiated, is not the Christmas story with Baby Jesus in the manger,  but the wonderfully retro tale of a young boy's quest for "an official Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and a thing which tells time." Anyway, after buying our first house back in 2003, my next major purchase was a genuine Red Rider Leg Lamp, which I planned to display in the sunroom's full-length window for all the world to see. 

I waited for its arrival with the same anticipation Ralphie had for his Little Orphan Annie decoder pin. When it finally showed up, complete with a “frah gee lay” box, which I promptly threw out (more on that later) I tore it open, placed it on its predetermined place of honor, and plugged it in. It was beautiful! 

It blazed in glory all month. Cars slowed down as they passed. People stopped to take pictures. Neighbors told me how they used it as a landmark: "Turn left after you pass the house with the leg lamp..."

But then the inevitable happened. No, my wife did not "accidentally" smash it and use up all the glue on purpose. New Year's Day came. Time to put away all the holiday decorations. Only when I went to pack up the leg lamp, I realized that I no longer had the original box, You see, when it first arrived, I was still in unpacking mode from the move, so to me, an empty box was something to be thrown out. I didn't occur to me that half the fun of the lamp would be the yearly opening of the box with the straw packing material (excelsior) that protected the Major Award inside. I envisioned my family gathering 'round each year as I hauled the box out of the attic, gasping in awe as I opened it. So I did what any reasonble person would do: I emailed the company, explained my predicament, and they kindly shipped me an empty box (for $16.95!)

Now that we’re in our new house, the lamp no longer takes center stage in the sunroom, but it does have a new home in the window above our garage. Regrettably, the family has yet to gather 'round as I open the box, nor do they seem all that impressed with what's inside.  But it makes me smile to see the "FRAGILE" label on it. And even though the straw tends to get stuck in the fishnet stocking, I feel it was worth the aditional expense. Come to think of it, that straw is the probably the closest thing we have to a religious decoration, since it's usually found in a manger, so maybe my lamp is Christmassy after all! 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Saturday Morning Serial

This could be a very short-lived experiment, but in the coming months, I hope to finish a story I started years ago by forcing myself to come up with weekly installments and publishing them here, It's a comic caper set in the very near future about two guys trying to thwart the United States conversion to the metric system by stealing an important relic. My working title is The Grand Caper. Enjoy

 Since 1901, a single, precious platinum-iridium cylinder, stored in Sèvres, France, has served reliably as the kilogram standard. First defined by the International Committee of Weights and Measures as, “The unit of mass equal to the mass of the international prototype of the kilogram (IPK)," this small lump of metal became the only standard of measure based on a man-made object, rather than a natural constant.  Meaning that if it were to ever become damaged, or stolen, it would be irreplaceable. Even the Nazi's realized the importance of protecting the standard by taking steps to secure it during their occupation of Paris during World War II. In 1969, further security measures were taken by declaring the Pavillon de Breteuil, the site where the kilogram is housed, as international territory - in effect, making it a non-target during war.  In recent years, concerned scientists have called for the replacement of the kilogram standard with a natural constant, citing its high susceptibility to damage or decay, but as of yet, their calls have gone unheard, and the kilogram standard, or Le Grand K as it is known, remains the last SI unit still defined by an artifact.

            Since its inception, the United States and her citizens staunchly opposed any talk of a national conversion to the metric system, becoming the only industrialized country in the world that did not officially use the system. That is until 2016, when newly elected President, Al Gore, with the full-approval of Congress, signed into law the full-scale adoption of the metric system.  Unlike the Metric Conversion Act of 1975, which attempted "to coordinate and plan the increasing use of the metric system in the United States," but lacked any clearly defined mandates or time-tables, the new Act stated that "The metric system will become the only system of weights and measures for United States trade and commerce, with those failing to do so facing fines and penalties as defined in Section Three."

 Public opposition to the Act varied from the rational (concerns about whether the cost for replacing highway signs would lead to loss of funding in other areas), to the inane, such as whether or not football fields would be changed from yards to meters.  The question of funding the conversion was answered with unusual candor by the politicians, who admitted that the initial cost would be significant, but that long-term benefits, such as the expansion of exportation and the simplification and standardization of products, would more than offset the one-time expenditure.  The passing of the Act was marked with the expected grumbles and protests, but in the end the public seemed to accept the transition with typical passivity.  Except for two men, who decided to do something about it by stealing Le Grand K. This is their story....

             Dave was joyfully belting out a Beatles tune as he cruised down the nearly empty highway en route (ahem, on the way) to his next meeting. But around mile marker 215, which had yet to be converted, he quickly rolled the window back up, for while revolution was in the air, so was the smell of recently rendered lamb.  Nothing could overpower the rank defilements of the Ralston-Purina plant that stretched it stench for miles along I-70.  He had been driving this same stretch for years, but there was just no getting used to the throat burning eye tearing stomach churning toe numbing breath stopping hair curling stream of stench that emanated from the open air pools of decomposing animal by-products deemed too disgusting to be dog-food.
 It was a smell so bad you might often find yourself wishing skin cancer would ravish your face and remove the very nose that admitted such rancid odors…or at least that’s what Dave did, often making this wish as he made his way to and from work each day.  His only consolation was the thought that at least he wasn't one of the poor bastards who had to work in that slop.  Who could work for such a low wages under those conditions, he wondered.   Moles?  Blind, senseless (he hoped for their sake sense-less) human-sized moles, digging and burrowing their way through life with no direction or purpose.  It is these thoughts that truly attest to the wicked power of the smell, a power so strong it could transform a perfectly nice guy like Dave into someone capable of finding relief in the utter debasement of his fellow human beings. 
            In fact, Dave had recently become a champion to many a fellow man.   As founder, and leader, of the Nationally Organized Group Rebelling Against Metric System (NO GRAMS), he had been beyond busy the past few months.  Ever since it was announced that Gore was considering a full-scale conversion to the metric system, Dave had been working non-stop to see that it didn't.  The organization seemingly sprang up out of nowhere. One day Dave was working alone, calling congressmen, writing letters, speaking out to anyone who would listen, and the next, he was directing tons of others to do the same.  He wasn't looking to start a movement, but people sought him out.  An appearance on a local cable talk show led to the hiring of a secretary just to answer the phones.  A protest outside of the Colorado Capital Building put him on the front page of The Plain Dealer, which led to a page nine photo in The New York Times, which is how he met Ray.
            Ray was crazy, but only "3/5ths crazy," as he liked to say when introducing himself, which was exactly what he said to Dave the day he arrived in Denver after flying in from New York less than twenty-four hours after seeing Dave's picture in the paper.
            "Hi, I'm Ray," he said, holding out his hand.  "I'm crazy, but only three-fifths crazy!"
            Dave just stared at the skinny man standing on his doorstep, a man so full of manic energy he shook and quivered like a bag of microwave popcorn well into its third minute.  Ray was looking back at him with an eager, tempting smile.  His left eye winked with the rapidity of a Tourettic tic, his chin twitching slightly, propelling the rest of his head to bob in a quick nodding manner, as if agreeing yesyesyesyesyesyes.  Ray raised and lowered his eyes back and forth between Dave and his still proffered hand, his smile seeming to say "I know you want to shake my hand, so what are you waiting for?"  Twitch, twitch, wink, wink, nod, nod. Yesyesyesyes!  So Dave shook it, half expecting lightning bolts or sulfuric flames to mark their meeting.
            In the days that followed, Ray proved that not only was he not the devil in disguise, but was in fact, the perfect partner for Dave's growing operation.  Ray had ideas.  If Ray's ideas were grains of rice, he could feed Japan for a year with every waking hour.  If a light bulb truly did appear above his head with every thought, he could replace all the bulbs in Vegas and still have enough left over to decorate every Christmas tree in the country.  The man had ideas, but no one to listen.  Dave learned to listen, and soon, thanks to the combination of Ray's mind and Dave's mouth, many others began listening as well. 
            They set up shop in downtown Denver, a block away from the U.S. Mint, in a small basement office donated by a concerned businessman who wanted to remain nameless.  It was through him that they received most of their initial funding, allowing them to build a strong local base, but it was one of Ray's offhand remarks that led to their national exposure.
            "You know," said Ray, through a mouthful of hot dog, "if they have their way, this'll no longer be known as 'The Mile-High City' and instead it’ll be the '1.6093 Kilometer-High City!'  That's quite a mouthful!"
            "And so's that bite you just took!" said Dave, turning his attention back to the orange he was peeling.  He stopped midway through and looked over at Ray.  
"So, by that rationale, that there foot-long hot-dog would soon become a what...a half-meter hot-dog?"
            ".3048 meter dog, to be precise" replied Ray, regarding the remains of the dog with a thoughtful nod.  Dave knew that look, could almost see the wheels turning in Ray’s head, and waited expectantly for the result.
"You know,” said Ray, “I bet there are a lot of examples like this.” He holds up the hotdog “We should put together a list of all the stupid ways in which the metric system will mess up our way of life.  We've been concentrating so hard on all the big issues...money...accessibility...feasibility...all these terms that most common folk don't really care about or pay much attention to.  But… if we published some sort of...I don't know...guide, that deals with the simple issues...like foot-long hot-dogs...stuff that people are not only familiar with, but might actually care enough about to give a damn.”
            From this conversation came Putting Our .3048's In Our Mouths:  How Metric Conversion Will Affect Daily Life This small book, found alongside "Garfield" comics and "The Far Side" in the comedy section, has sold over 1/2 a million copies.  Originally self-published by Dave and Ray, it quickly became an underground success, and by the time St. Marten's Press came knocking, and begging, for the rights, the two men were happy to sign it over, figuring all those who wanted one probably already had one.  They turned out to be wrong, but the exposure they received was more than money could by.  The public was instantly impressed and intrigued by the little book and its chapters on how the metric system would alter lyrics to popular songs and sayings.
The following is an excerpt from the chapter on Song Lyrics.


Metric Effect on Popular Song Lyrics

“Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford                                                                                                                         
            “You load 16258.8 kilograms and what do you get? 
Another day older and deeper in debt.”

“500 Miles” by The Proclaimers
            “And I would walk 804.65 kilometers
            And I would walk 804.65 more
            Just to be the man who walked
            1609.35 kilometers and fell down at your door”

“I Can’t Drive 55” by Sammy Hagar
            “Go ahead and wrote me up for $125
            Post my picture wanted dead or alive
Take my license and all that jive
I…can’t drive…88.5115!”

“40 oz. to Freedom” by Sublime
A 1182.93 milliliters to freedom is the only chance I have
To feel good even though I feel bad”

            The book really caught the public's attention, leading to countless talk-show appearances and interviews...they even landed on Letterman, who invited them to read the nights Top Ten List, Ten More Reasons to Hate the Metric System, which ended with
#3.  No more 1/4 pounders at McDonalds!
 #2.  The gap in Dave’s teeth just got wider! 
And the Number One reason to hate the metric system....
#1. It's French!

            After the Letterman show, Ray brought Dave, his partner, not the talk-show host, to see his old neighborhood in Greenpoint.

To be continued...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Putting the Turd in Saturday

Let me start by saying it makes me feel crappy pushing my book on people. I know it's part of the process, but I really do feel guilty about it. To counter that, I often undersell my abilities and make self-deprecating jokes while being completely transparent about my agenda. I've said from the start that the intention of this blog was to spur interest in my novel. The way I see it, as a first time author, I’m not selling people on my book so much as myself. I figured that if I could provide some entertaining topics to make you laugh, or think, or ideally laugh and think, maybe you’d be so inclined to go out and buy the book  - yes I said buy.  Screw the library, bunch of freeloading hippies!

But looking back on my first month of blogging (and book sales), I’m not so sure how well my plan is working.  On the plus side, I’ve picked up forty-five followers, many of whom I have never met, which is great. And it’s been fun interacting with everyone.  But I’ve only sold one book – technically I didn’t sell it, Amazon did, but you get the point. I’m sure writing about my big toe and mixed nuts didn’t help my cause, but neither does Amazon’s retail price of $14.95 (plus shipping and handling, which brings it damn near to $20!) Add to that my sad need for validation, and we have a real problem.

You see, even though I make more money selling books for $10 at signings and fairs, I get more satisfaction from a single anonymous on-line sale than I do from a dozen in-person ones. I know that contradicts what I said earlier, but when a book does sell on its own…whooo hoooo! It’s a rush. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the people who buy directly from me, of course I do. But there’s always this nagging feeling that they’re just being nice. They don’t really want to read the book, they just want to make me happy.  The same way I buy crappy wrapping paper from the neighborhood kid, or over-priced cookies from a Girl Scout. 

So, to help me get over that feeling - and more importantly, to get back to my real goal of getting the book out into the world - I’ve decided to start offering direct sales via mail. For only $12 (which includes personalization and shipping, but not handling, since I have no idea what that is) you can have your very own copy of Alchemy.  It also makes a great holiday gift for that special someone, as well as that person you really don’t know all that well!

My father-in-law would kill me if I gave out my address here, so if you’re interested, e-mail me at mikewood_3@yahoo.com. And as an added incentive, anyone who orders between now and December 31st will receive a lovely gold-toned manatee lapel pin, absolutely free! Or, to put it another way, you can buy a beautiful pin for only $12 and I'll throw in a crappy book for free!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Canned Laughter

I came home rather late last night, at least for a Wednesday, and realizing I had nothing ready to post for today's entry, figured I could either go to bed and just run one of my emergency back-up pieces, or stay up and tipsily try to wing it. I'll leave it to you to decide what I did...

Lately I've been thinking about Mixed Nuts, which is strange since I'm not particularly fond of nuts. Sure,  I enjoy the occasional cashew, and almonds are rather tasty, but for the most part, nuts rank pretty low on my snack food scale. But, I'm honestly interested about the intended purpose of Mixed Nuts. Are they meant to be eaten by the random handful, or individually? Are they a cost saving measure, where rather than buying a can of peanuts, jar of cashews, bag of walnuts, and basket of filberts (whatever the eff they are!) one could buy one can and please everyone? Or maybe they're just cleverly packaged leftovers, a sort of halfway home for all the remaining nuts that weren't enough to fill another individual jar. And then you have Fancy Mixed Nuts, the gated community of legumes, with cans proudly proclaiming that they contain less than 50% peanuts. Who decides which nuts make the cut and which don't?

So, as you can see, I have many questions. The obvious response would be to tell me I'm nuts, but before dismissing me like that, consider that this could all be an elaborate metaphor meant to provoke thoughtful questions about our own society. Or it could just be that I'm half-drunk! Either way, today's post is officially in the can!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Midlife Crashes

I recently ditched my burly cross-country bike in favor of the sleek street bicycle pictured above. I figured since it had been years since I actually did any riding in the woods, the extra weight and money that went into maintaining a bike built for off-road use, while only using it on the road, no longer made sense. So the last time I brought it in for repairs, I told the saleskid to keep it and give me something more appropriate for how I ride.  He was more than happy to oblige and set me up with a nice commuter bike.

I love my new bike. Its lightweight design, streamlined tires, and extra gears have actually shaved nearly ten minutes off my daily ride. Plus it’s much more comfortable to ride and easier to maintain. I couldn’t figure out why it took me so long to ditch the old dinosaur I had been lumbering to work on. It had no sentimental value, or even much cash value for that matter. It weighed a ton, required constant repairs, and forced me to work much harder to get where I was going.  Buying a new bike seemed like the reasonable and responsible thing to do. So I did.

But I soon I realized that buying that bike was also symbolic of where I am in life. I’ll be forty next month, and apparently at the age where things like comfort and stability override recklessness and daring.  My new bike shows that I‘m readying myself for the quiet years where I won’t feel the need for adventure or risk taking.  I’ll be choosing paths that get me where I’m going safely and smoothly with minimal effort.  My new bike will remind me that life is bumpy enough without seeking out obstacles to overcome. My new bike says that I'm going to be forty and its time to grow up.

Faced with such knowledge and insight, there was only one reasonable thing I could do…

Yes that was me, last Sunday on my new mountain bike, going off a jump and hitting a tree. If life really is downhill from here, I might as well have a bike designed to handle it!

NOTE: Video footage courtesy of Greg D's helmet cam. He cleverly titled the clip "Mike (meets) Wood"

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Subliminal Saturday, Part II

True Story:

Becky was a girl who moved into our neighborhood and
Usurped the other girls position as the hot
Young thing on the block (and in my heart)

Me, being a bit immature (compared to
Your typical twelve-year old today) knew I was not

Boyfriend material, so I devised
Other ways of getting her attention
One of which became the
Key scene in my book, Alchemy

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Blogapalosers...and winner!

Happy Veterans’ Day! I know I should be posting a serious piece on the service and sacrifice exhibited by all of our brave men and women, but I've decided that since next year it will be on 11/11/11 (a great visual to remember all the “ones” who have served our country) I should save it until then.  So today I will (ab)use the freedoms that they fought so hard for and continue with the silliness by giving out some prizes...
First, I'm happy to announce that the winner of our first ever Blogapalooza is... 

 Congratulations! A lovely gift basket will soon be heading your way, just in time for regifting for the holidays!  As for the rest of you blogapalosers, there's still a second chance to take home  the best prize in the pack – all you need to do is click here and enter the required info and you are guaranteed a copy of my book.  How do you like them apples? By the way, the common phrase among all eight bloggers was “no rhyme or reason.” We tried throwing in a couple of red herrings (literally, some of us used the phrase red herring) but no one was tricked.  Nice work people!

Finally, stay tuned for some rather unusual upcoming events. I have several potentially embarrassing (for me) things in the works, all aimed at promoting the book. The first is scheduled for Jan. 10th, where I will be performing a one-man show (with the help of two other men) at the Huntington Street Café. It’s based on a short story that I wrote (available here). There will be two performances: 6:00-7:30 and 8:00-9:30. Tickets are $5 and there will be a cash bar (beer and wine.)

Have a great day, and be sure to thank a veteran

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Best Laid Plans

It all started when my wife and I decided to just pay a professional to have the kids’ rooms painted, otherwise they would never get done. Plus the prep work involved scraping wall paper, and who wants to do that? So we hired John (from Big Green Painting, check him out!), who came right away and started prepping and priming baby Eli’s room.

Freed up from work and the stench of stripping chemicals and paint splatters, we decided to take advantage of the opportunity and go out for some drinks and appetizers later that night. Which meant taking advantage of our 15-year old and enlisting her to babysit her little brother.

She reluctantly agreed, so long as she could have a friend over and we stuck around long enough to put the baby to bed before leaving so all she had to do was listen for him in case he started crying. We accepted her reasonable demands, and waited patiently for the boy to grow sleepy. But by bedtime, we realized his room was still too noxious with paint fumes for him to sleep in there, so we quickly devised a plan to put his port-o-crib in our room and set up the video baby monitor so that his sister and her friend could keep tabs on him from her room.

Before leaving, I turned the volume on the monitor way up, knowing two teen-age girls can make quite a bit of noise with both the voices and their accoutrement of electronic devices, and didn't want any potential problems from the baby to go unheard.

Everything went according to plan. The wife and I went out, had a wonderful time, several nice glasses of wine, and came home to find freshly painted rooms and soundly sleeping children. We toasted our success with another glass of wine and then went to bed for some further celebrating. Things were going great (if I do say so myself) until Sarah gasped (not in that way) and said, “Oh my God, (again, not in that way)  “Where’s the baby monitor?”

The mood quickly changed, as did I (into some clothes) to slink off in search of the handheld unit that was broadcasting all the sights and sounds that the camera had been dutifully recording from our room. I'm not a religious man, but I believe I said a few prayers that the battery on the monitor had died, or that the girls had left it in the living room. Anything would be better than the alternative.  I was already adding up the therapy bills in my head, and rehearsing what we would say to the scarred friend's parents, when I found the monitor sitting unnoticed on the kitchen counter. 

Relieved at the unexpected happy ending (wink, wink) to this story, I rejoined my wife in bed. We laughed nervously at what could have been, and decided that if our walls could talk, then maybe we should have them painted too!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Subliminal Saturday

Okay, since making Saturday "Self Promotion Day" there's been an elephant in the room that we might as well just talk about. His name is Alchemy. I've raised Alchemy since birth, and brought him into this world all by my self And while I love Alchemy and enjoy having him around, I know I'm guilty of pushing him off on people. Part of it is for selfish reasons, but mostly it's because I know that if Alchemy is to grow and thrive, he needs to spend time with other people. In the past year, I've gotten just about everyone I know to spend some time with Alchemy.  He's not that hard to deal with, and most claim to like him and enjoy spending a week or two with him. Problem is, I'm running out people to pawn him off on, and have to turn the general public to find new takers. It's not easy convincing people that they'll actually like taking care of a 366 page, I mean pound, elephant, so I'm looking to you to help me persuade them. So if you've already spent some time with Alchemy, could you help me out by spreading the word that he's not that hard to take care of?

And if YOU want to take Alchemy home, just click here: Adopt an Elephant or here: Adopt an Elephant for Less

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It's Blogapalooza!

"It's Blogapalooza! A chance for you to meet some exciting new writers AND score some exciting prizes. All you have to do is read my post below, and then visit the 7 bloggers listed at the end and read their entries, while trying to find the common phrase used in all eight. NOTE: It WILL be a phrase (ex. "raining cats and dogs") so single words like "the" or "and" don't count! Once you think you have it, email it to mikewood_3@yahoo.com and you will be put into the running for a great gift "basket" comprised of prizes personally selected by the eight bloggers. A random drawing from all correct entries will be conducted one week from today, with special preference given to those who choose to follow all eight of us! Good luck and have fun!"

So the other day I was driving home when a motorcycle carrying two leather clad men pulled out in front of me. I ended up following them for a few miles, which gave me time to marvel at how determined the guy in the back was to not hold on to the guy in front. Rather than wrapping his arms around him or holding onto his shoulders, he settled for precariously grasping the rack behind him. The road was pretty bumpy, and there were several times he came close to falling off, but still he refused to clutch on to his buddy. I was tempted to pull alongside them at the next light and say, "Listen dude, you're already riding bitch, you might as well be safe doing it. I mean look at you! Your legs are wrapped around your friend's thighs. You're sitting ass to crotch. Does it really make a difference that your hands aren't touching him?"

Of course, I said nothing, which is why I am still alive to write about it, but it got me thinking about all the stupid things people do to look cool. I'm not talking about Fonzie cool, I mean the guy who's "too cool" to carry an umbrella in a rainstorm. Does he really think spending the rest of the day soaking wet is any cooler?   He's not cool, he's cold. Or the pretty girl who's "too cool" to catch the food flung at her by the hibachi chef. Does she really think being a cold bitch is cool? Not only is she not cool, her hotness starts to fade a bit as well. I can understand not wanting to look foolish, but if the act of not looking foolish makes you look foolish, well that's just foolish!

And there's no rhyme or reason to it. We've all seen guys who are too cool to dance at weddings, which is fine. Don't dance. That's cool. But when they sit there like stumps all night, only to jump up to do the Macafreakinrena, what message do they think they're sending? They turn their noses up at us pogoing to "Mony Mony" but give a thumbs up to line dancing to cheesy Spaniards? I don't get it. Which is why I guess I will never be cool. But  then again, you'll never catch me riding bitch either! How you like them apples?

Now head on to the blogs below and find the mystery phrase:

Have fun

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Writer's Blog

In all honesty, I am not suffering from writer's block - but - rather than subject you to a double dose of me, I'd like to redirect you to a healthier single helping of moi  - just click on the link (that would be the words in different colors, Mom!) to visit Erica and Christy's blog, two midwesterners who were kind enough to interview me. And while you're there, check out what else they have to offer - they're pretty funny for a couple of Cheeseheads!