Saturday, December 31, 2005

"Happy New Year" is offensive!

It's December 31st. If someone wishes me "Happy New Year" one more time, I'm going to crumble into the floor just like the Wicked Witch of the West when Dorothy threw water on her. You see, "Happy New Year" is horribly offensive to those whose new year begins on a date other than January 1st. The Chinese comprise well over a one-sixth of the world population and their new year doesn't begin until January 29th. We should still be wishing "Happy Holidays!"
I just can't take all this offensive behavior anymore. It's just too much.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Rippin' & Poddin'

I must have been a very good boy this past year because Santy Claus surprised me with a brand new i-Pod. Yay! I've been wanting an i-Pod for quite some time but it's just one of those things that cost quite a bit and for which I could do without. Sort of like Dick Cheney.

So, after the holiday mayhem subsided, I got out my shiney new i-Pod, carefully read the directions, downloaded the software and began loading it up with my CD collection.

Warning: Once you begin, you can't stop. At all. It was already late at night, but I'd keep loading "just one more." It just felt so good to get each CD onto my shiney new toy.

I also realized what a wierd collection of music I'd amassed. First, I loaded on my complete collection of Beethoven Piano Sonatas (ten CD's) then the complete Bach Preludes & Fugues for harpsichord (six CD's) and segued right into the complete works of Janis Joplin.
Yes, Janis Joplin. Then the works of Emerson, Lake & Palmer from the 70's and (now I'm really ashamed) . . . Abba. Mixed in there was Mozart, Schubert, Prokofiev, and (I'm even more ashamed) . . . Enya.

This process got me to thinking about the many modes of music mediums that I've used throughout my forty-plus years.

When I was a toddler, I had a little kiddie record player that had big needles that needed replacing about once a month or so. I just loved that thing and can still remember my Dad replacing the thick needles in the arm of the player for me.

I remember eating fried chicken at the Red Top Cafe in Azle, Texas where each booth had and outlet to the juke box. I was just amazed at how you could put a nickle in, punch some buttons and the juke box on the opposide side of the room would play your selection. Wow!

My high-school aged baby sitters would bring over their little carrying case of 45's to listen to while they ignored my brother and me. I loved Buddy Holly's Everyday and could sing right along with it.

The first time I bought my own music was one of those wonderful 8-track tapes. God! Those were so cool back then. Cutting edge, let me tell you. My first 8-track was Emerson, Lake & Palmer's Brain Salad Surgery. (I've included the album cover here) By the time I was eighteen I had every ELP album along with Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin, and Janis Joplin. Ah, those were the days . . . .

Now, I'm ripping CD's and podding them onto my tiny little i-Pod so that I can listen to Beethoven and Janis Joplin while riding the subway.

Quite a bit different from poking buffalo nickles in the remote jukebox at the Red Top Cafe. . .

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Growing Up Southern Baptist

"My hope is built on nothing less
Than Scofield Notes and Moody Press;

And when I hear a Christmas tune
My tithe will go to Lottie Moon . . ."

I was raised in the bosom of the Southern Baptist church deep in the heart of Texas. Both of my parents were raised the same way and my dad was even a Baptist minister. People might have preconceived notions of what goes on in this denomination, possibly thinking that it's all altar-calls (a term I'd never even heard of in the Baptist church) and that Baptists don't dance. So, here's a humorous inside scoop from someone who grew up being born again . . .

History of Baptists The denomination has its roots in the Reformation by a group of reformists who didn't recognize the redemptive value of infant baptism. A person could only be "saved" by their own free will and acceptance of Christ so they got re-baptized as adults. Having been baptized twice, they were called anabaptists meaning "baptized again." Today, they refer to it as being "born again." The spirit of the Reformation still exists in the Southern Baptist church; to be against anything Roman Catholic pretty much guides a lot of their practices.

Worship Southern Baptists are not "holy rollers." You won't hear anyone speaking in tongues, prancing on the pews or waving their hands in the air. If they do, they might kindly be directed to the nearest Assembly of God congregation. Occasionally, one of the men (never the women) might mutter an "amen" after a particularly emphatic point by the preacher, but it doesn't go any further than that. Real Southern Baptists go to church three times a week: Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday night. They also drive American made cars with at least a V6 engine.

Hymns Now here is an area where I can really expound. I began accompanying Sunday and Wednesday night services at the age of twelve. Not because I was talented at doing so, but because our pastor had the habit of calling on one of the teen-aged boys to lead the congregation in the opening prayer. I quickly learned that sitting at the piano immuned myself from being called upon to lead the opening prayer. By the time I was twelve, I could pretty much blow away any accompanist that dared an attempt to expunge me from my post behind the piano.

Now, Baptist pianists and organists have a very curious habit of playing everything in keys containing flats, never sharps. If a hymn is written in A major (containing three sharps) the organist will automatically play it in A-flat major. Most Baptist accompanists can't even play in any key containing sharps. I've always wondered about this and never could figure out why until I studied some musicology in college.

It turns out that most Baptist hymns were written in the latter part of the 19th century when people just generally sang better and with a higher vocal range. I saw several old hymnbooks published in the 1860's and most of the hymns were written in higher pitches than they are today. As time went on and people entertained themselves less by singing, (probably with the advent of the radio) folks just couldn't sing with the vocal ranges that they used to. So, back in the 30's and 40's, Baptist musicians would lower the key whenever possible. If a hymn was in D (with two sharps) it could easily be lowered to D-flat (with five flats). Over time, Baptist pianists and organists pretty much lost the ability to play in any key containing sharps, especially if all they played were hymns. Luckily, the organist at the church where I grew up was a very accomplished musician (so was my grandmother who first gave me piano lessons) so we'd just merrily play Holy Holy Holy in the key in which it was written (E major with four, count 'em, four sharps!)

Becoming "Saved" Is done by making a Profession of Faith to God that you are a sinner and you want Jesus Christ to come into your heart. Until you do this, you're going to Hell, so each youngster is highly encouraged to make their Profession of Faith ASAP. This can be done at the end of the worship services when the congregation begins singing the invitational hymn (Just As I Am during the morning worship and Oh Why Not Tonight? for the evening worship). During the Invitational hymn, the preacher exhorts those who've yet to be saved that if you don't "and walk out into the street and get hit by a car without being saved" you're going to Hell. I'll bet every Southern Baptist has heard the "getting hit by a car" scenario countless times. During the Invitational hymn, the person wanting to be saved is moved by the spirit to walk down to the front and whisper to the preacher that they're making their Profession of Faith, etc. Walking down the aisle to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior is really the culmination, the high-point of being a Baptist. I did it in when I was nine years old after many Sundays of prodding by my mom and lots of pats on my hand by the preacher when I failed to do so. You then get introduced to the congregation and everyone walks by to shake your hand while the choir and organist perform "Praise the Lord." After that, you can safely go out and get hit by that ever-present car without a care in the world. You've been saved.

Baptism Takes place the Sunday after you've made your Profession. And no sprinkling either. (That's what Catholics do!) It's full immersion, baby! All your relatives are there. The big baptismal up front is filled with water. The preacher sloshes out to the center, says a prayer and gestures for you to come down. I was only nine years old at the time and practically had to dog-paddle out to him. He puts a hanky over your nose and leans you back all the way under the water, holds you down long enough to say, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost" and raises you up. You slosh out the other side, bewildered and shivering, where nice people are waiting with towels and a change of clothes.

Sunday School Everyone goes to Sunday School, from cradle to grave. It takes place before the morning worship service when you're really sleepy. Each Sunday School class has a name according to the age-group that attends. After you get out of the nursery, you attend Sunbeams until kindergarten. The Sarah Class is comprised of the really really old women. The kids get to sing the songs like Jesus Loves Me, I've Got the Joy Joy Joy Joy, and Do-Lord usually with lots of choreographed hand-motions that the Sunday school teachers are really adamant about. God help you if you make the motions to "deep and wide" when it should have been "wide and deep." Baptists are really big on memorizing verses of the Bible, so you'd be in big trouble if you didn't have your scripture memorized for the day. Also, by the time you're in fifth grade you better be able to rattle off all the books of the Bible just as fast as a frat pledge doing the Greek alphabet with a match in his fingers. (Those minor prophets toward the end of the Old Testament have been a downfall to many a fifth-grader).

Training Union Same thing as Sunday School except it takes place before the evening worship service. It always consisted of "Sword Drills" where the teacher would call out some obscure scripture like Habakkuk 3:12.  All the kids would fling open their Bibles and the first one to find it would leap up and breathlessly scream, "In wrath you bestride the earth, in fury you trample the nations! Habakkuk Three Twelve!!" The kid with the most points at the end of class would get . . . . hmmmm. I never remember any prizes come to think of it. Bummer.

Tithing Baptists are expected to give ten percent of their income to the church. It's in the Bible but I forget where. I received a dollar allowance each week, so a dime went into my offering envelope. Such a good little Baptist.

Prayer Baptists are firm believers in praying aloud "from the heart." Never, ever did we have any written prayers to utter (like the Catholics). Not even the Lord's Prayer. However, even though they were adamant about avoiding scripted prayers, a lot of the same phrases sure came up a lot over and over. For example, during a blessing before a meal there was always "bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies and us to thy service." During Wednesday night prayer meetings you could always hear "and be with those on the road that they may reach their destination safely," which was always rattled off in the same cadence as "and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus." Then up until 1973, one would always hear, "and be with our boys in Viet Nam."

The Bible is the True Word of God without question. And I mean without question. I remember asking my 4th grade Sunday school teacher, "Why is this called Colossians?" He replied, "Because that's the name God gave it." As far as Biblical translations, the Baptists abide by the King James Version from 1611 all the way. After all, "That's how Jesus spoke," and also, "It's the Word of the Lord."
No . . . that's how Charlton Heston spoke.
Strangely enough, I do recall that the Living Bible translation made a pretty big acceptance among Southern Baptists back in the 70's and 80's. After studying lots and lots of graduate Theology and Bible courses, I do have to admit that the Living Bible has got to be the absolute worst translation of the Holy Scriptures that has ever existed. I don't know how it ever got accepted by the Southern Baptist Convention (who are really a highly educated group of theologians). I really don't. Maybe Charlton Heston had something to do with it.

Dancing Baptists are usually identified as being against dancing which really isn't true. You know the joke:
Why don't Baptists make love standing up?
Because someone might think they're dancing.
No, Baptists aren't against dancing per se. My staunch Baptist grandmother could do one hell of a Charleston and even taught me how to dance with a girl. Baptists are against drinking. And what usually goes on at places where you dance? Drinking! Baptists are as much against bowling for the same reason. And horse racing. Roller skating is a questionable activity.
So here's a more accurate joke (my own, thank you).

Why are Baptists against pre-marital sex?
Because it could lead to drinking!

Vacation Bible School Absolutely the worst thing to be inflicted on Southern Baptist kids. Just as regular school let out for the Summer, us Baptist kids would be hit with two weeks of Vacation Bible School. It mainly consisted of Sunday school and church every morning at 8:30 am, but just for the kids. God, I hated it. I'd love to find who originated VCB (probably my great-grandmother) and sent nasty emails to their offspring. There were also lots of arts and crafts, Kool-Aid and marching around to Onward Christian Soldiers. If you ever drive by a Baptist church about 11:00 on a Summer morning, see a couple dozen kids fleeing the church into the street, you can assume that Vacation Bible School had just let out for the day.

The Covered-Dish Supper Usually took place once a month before the Wednesday night prayer meeting service. Go to any Baptist Covered-Dish Supper and I guarantee you'll find:
Fried Chicken
Several offerings of macaroni and cheese
Spaghetti Casserole
Green Bean Casserole
Deviled Eggs, deviled eggs, and more deviled eggs.
Strawberry Jell-o with fruit cocktail in it with marshmallows on top.
Lime Jello with mayonnaise and crushed pineapple in it (We called it "Old Lady Jello")
There was never a barbecue at the Baptist church. Why? Because of what most men do when they barbecue in Texas. They drink.

Royal Ambassadors (RA's) An alternative Boy Scouts. Probably because the Boy Scouts weren't religious enough and because they were open to Catholic boys (gasp!). I really hated RA's. So naturally, I was elected president one year and had to make a presentation in front of the whole church when I was sixteen.

Girl's Auxiliary (GA's) The alternative to Girl Scouts, though only boys could be "Royal."

Church Camp A cult activity if there ever was one. You get two-thousand teenagers isolated in the mountains of Oklahoma for two weeks, preach to them for four hours a day about going to hell, and by the end of it you've got a thousand teenage girls crying and hugging a lot over the fact that they've been saved and a thousand teenage boys crying and hugging the girls in order to feel their boobies. The Church-camp people also do their best to keep any hanky-panky from going on. For example, boys and girls are not allowed to swim together and everyone has to wear a bath-robe to and from the pool. Ironically, it was also at church camp that I first learned what "first base" was, got turned on to Black Sabbath, and smelled marijuana for the first time. Not that I did any of those things, but it was there. The worst thing I did was to take part in shaving-cream fights with other boys in my underwear.

Gymnasiums Drive by most Baptist churches in Texas and there'll be a huge spiffy brick gymnasium next to it. Sometimes it's even bigger than the church itself. It's not that these gyms are used that much. Rather, they stand as monumental testaments that the church is provided it's young people (boys) with wholesome activities (sports) so that they won't drink.

The Sweetheart Banquet The Baptist alternative to Prom. After all, what do they do at Prom? They dance! And what goes on with dancing? Drinking! I went to Prom anyway.
And I drank too. . .

. . . It's still a good thing that I grew up Southern Baptist.

Food Channel Pet Peeves

I have to admit it; I love the Food Channel. I watch cooking shows the way football fans have watched super-bowls: "No!! You IDIOT!! Not the cream-of-tarter this soon! . . . Oh! Just give it up!! . . ."

I have a pretty good background in cooking. My mom didn't like cooking at all. Comfort food from my mom consisted of Weenie Stew: Blackened chunks of sliced Oscar Mayer's simmered in tomato sauce and served over Minute Rice. (To this day, I still love Weenie Stew)

Her mom, my grandmother "Budgie" didn't provide much in the way of grandmother-ey cooking either. Budgie loved being around people way too much to be spending time in the kitchen. Before church, she'd just shove a big pan in the oven at 300 degrees that contained a big shoulder of beef, lots of potatoes, onions and carrots. She'd take as many grandchildren that happened to be around to her Sunday School class, followed by Sunday services. Once we'd arrive home, the whole house would be filled with the aroma of Budgie's Sunday Dinner. She would always have it timed perfectly. She'd just plop everything in their cooking pots right on top of the stove and everyone would happily fill their plates. A staunch Southern Baptist she'd always invite any new pastor and his family over for Sunday dinner with the following warning and a laugh: "If you preach too long, you'll get a burnt offering. If your sermon's too short, then there'll be a blood sacrifice!" It never mattered. Budgie could serve anything and the only thing that any dinner guests would ever notice would be how much they enoyed being around Budgie! Exquisite grandmother-ey food was never part of of her existence, nor should it have been.

So, along the way, I learned to cook pretty well, mainly as a means of self-defense from Weenie Stew. So here are my pet peeves toward cooking shows - - -

Fresh Ground Pepper: Yes, fresh ground pepper does taste better, but the amount that comes out after five vigorous turns of any pepper-mill is probably 1/64th of a teaspoon or one-grillionth of a gram. Don't bother!! Please!

Salt & Pepper These are two completely different seasonings. Why do they always have to go in tandem?

Bay Leaves They have absolutely no taste. For once I'd love to see a chef to be able to distinguish a sauce that had a contained a dried bay leaf from one that didn't.

Washing Mushrooms I've always heard that we should NEVER wash mushrooms, but I've never heard why. Ever! I think it has something to do with diluting the flavor of the mushroom with water (But aren't any chopped mushrooms going into a heavy tomato sauce anyway?) Instead, we should brush them off with a mushroom brush. Have you EVER seen any TV cook brush off a pound of mushrooms? And aren't mushrooms spawned in animal dung anyway? Pardon me, but I'd much rather jeopardize the integrity of my mushrooms by thoroughly washing them as opposed to leaving some cow poo in my moo-goo.

Dicing Onions These fancy chefs take themselves waayyy to seriously by cutting an onion in half, laying it on it's side, making several dramatic inward slices, flipping it around, then making some inward slices, then dicing it across. . . . Stop!! God made our onions lots of separations already built in. Just cut in in half, make a few vertical and horizontal slices. Boom! Diced onion. Same goes for shallots.

Lemon Zest: Okay, WE KNOW by now. Don't include the white part because it can be bitter. Every time some TV chef grates some lemon zest, they always mention not to include the white part because it can be bitter. WE KNOW. Just get on with it, Pierre.

They don't do what they say: Have you ever noticed how often the chefs put in way more than what they call for? "Now drizzle in two tablespoons of olive oil. . . " glug-glug-glug-glug. In goes half a cup. "Now, add just a splash of white wine. . . " In goes half the bottle.

Touching the food: Here is my biggest pet peeve: Chefs who constantly handle the food with their fingers while arranging it on the plate. If they pawed all over the food like this at tableside in front of the patrons, no one would ever eat it!! Don't they know this? In such fancy cuisine, it's all about the chef, never about the food. When I see food arriving at the table that's arranged all symmetrical and balanced high in the air, my first thought is, "My gosh, just how much did that chef have to manhandle my food?"

My Favorite Chefs:

1. Nigella Lawson - An English woman who has an extensive background as a food writer. Her programs are very appealing to watch because of this experience; her way with words make for extremely entertaining viewing. For example, she was about to flatten some lamb chops: "You can use a meat tenderizer, but I haven't one about so I use this big rolling pin. It works just as well, and let's face it, the comedic potential is much greater this way." She just prattles on like that and it's wonderful. Also, her philosophy is "maximum enjoyment with minimal effort." Her recipes are creative, astonishingly simple, and just about the most tasty things you've ever eaten. At 44 years old, she's drop-dead gorgeous too.

2. Julia Child Need I say more? But here's another reason I find her so amazing. She didn't begin cooking until she was well over forty. Prior to that, she was a spy with the CIA stationed in India where she met her husband. They later moved to China and then to Norway for seven years. (She's fluent in Norwegian by the way). They then moved to Paris where Julia began cooking. She stood 6'2" and her sister, Dort, is 6'5". A reporter once asked what her favorite comfort food was. After thinking a while, she replied, "Red meat and gin."

And Julia never touched the food while arranging on the plate. When once asked what she thought about Nouvelle cuisine, she trilled, "Well, it just doesn't look very food-ey to me!"


"Some Assembly Required"

I recently ordered a nice, new computer desk online. I love to order things online. You just punch a few buttons and they send it to you which is a wonderful thing for urban dwellers that don't own cars. Anyway, this desk is great! It has two sliding file drawers, a keyboard tray, an overhead hutch with lots of cabinets, a CD rack and even a hidden cabinet for the PC tower.

Well, not yet anyway. You see the desk arrived and like the ad said, some assembly was required. However, the ad was misleading; it should have said, "extensive, frustrating, tear-your-hair-out assembly required. "

Keep in mind that I'm actually pretty adept at "some assembly required". When I was eight years old, I had a super-duper sized set of Tinkertoys and built a tower that, when the crank was turned, the restaurant at the top would revolve and an elevator would go up and down. Didn't even need instructions either. When I was thirteen, my friend, Tim, and I built a rideable roller coaster using a big slide, a dog house, and skateboards. However, poor Tim ended up in the emergency room twice during construction and testing. (Twenty five years later at a high school reunion, he reminded me of the incident by showing me the scar on his thumb that had nearly been sawed off). When I was seventeen, I installed an eight-track tape player in my 1976 Honda Civic even though eight-track tape players were actually larger than 1976 Honda Civics.

So, I'm no wimp when encountering assembly.

But this nightmare of a desk arrived in, like, a grillion pieces. Some wooden panels were labeled, some were not. And then you needed some tools (not included) which consisted of a hammer to bash things with, Phillips screwdriver, a screwdriver with septagonal blades, a compass, a sextant, a tool-and-die maker, a transmographer, a calculator with trigonomic functions, a personal ability to perform quadratic equations, and lots of Valium.

(click on pic for larger view)

The first step was to tap in 19 little dowels into the holes on the sides of some panels. I didn't recall seeing any dowels anywhere, so I checked and re-checked. No dowels. At all. None. So I hopped onto the manufacturer's website to order replacement dowels to receive a notice that "that part number does not exist." Dang! And I was only on Step One of 32. So I called the toll-free number to receive a recorded message that the customer service line was only open between 12:07 and 12:14 pm on Tuesdays, except for all holidays including Arbor Day. (Arbor Day?). Fine. Well, I fearlessly ventured on to Step 2. During Step 2-f , I found the dowels in a plastic bag with all the other parts. Turns out that the dowels were made of black plastic just like the other bazillion parts. Okay, I can understand making them out of plastic, but why couldn't they have at least made them dowel-colored?

I should have this thing put together by the time I retire or end up in a psychiatric ward. Whichever comes first.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Perfect Holiday Gift

Here's the perfect holiday gift for pet owners. It's called "Poop-Freeze." I'm not making this up!
When you're walking your dog who leaves a big, steaming pile on a downtown sidewalk you can spray this on the offensive emission and voila! it's now frozen, ready to be scooped up neatly. Either that or kicked under a car. And here's the best part: It's non-flammable! That's a good thing, too, otherwise I can just see this scenario at the emergency room:

Doctor: How did these burns occur?
Patient: Well, I was attempting to freeze some dog-poo while smoking a cigarette and it blew up in my face.
Doctor: Oh, you should have ordered the non-flammable Poop Freeze.

I wonder what would happen if you sprayed it on a live pigeon?

Anyway, you can get it from Here's the product description:

POOP-FREEZE™ is a specially formulated aerosol freeze spray that, upon contact, forms a frosty film on dog poop (or cat poop) to harden the surface for easy pick-up. POOP-FREEZE is a great companion to a pooper scooper for clean fast dog poop or cat poop disposal.
POOP-FREEZE is non-flammable, contains no CFC’s and is perfect for both outside and indoor use. Totally safe for both humans and pets when used as directed. Great product testimonials have been given to POOP-FREEZE for dog poop and cat poop removal. POOP-FREEZE, a pooper scooper and dog poop waste bags are the perfect solutions to fast and easy dog poop and cat poop removal.

But wait! Here's a companion gift for Poop Freeze. It's the Poopsadaisy doggie backpack for toting the droppings to the nearest drop-off facility. After all, Fido made the disgusting mess, so why not make him carry it home?

Poopsadaisy can be ordered at

Here's the product description:

When you and your companion are “on the road” the PoopsadaisyTM is ideal for toting necessary outing items so you don’t have to.

Free Shipping Order Now!
PoopsadaisyTM can be used to carry dog poop pick up bags and act as a safe and sanitary way to carry dog poop. Just pick up dog poop with a bag stored in the convenient outside front pocket and place into pouch for secure keeping until you are able to place in the garbage.
As an alternative - is also great for carrying your pooches’ possessions while out and about including dog treats, balls for playtime and other dog toys.
Great to use when out for a walk or run, playing in the park or while hiking or camping.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Top Supermodel Seeks Hand Reduction Surgery

New York, NY America's top supermodel, Xander Pilar, having grown increasingly displeased with the size of her hands has enlisted a team of reconstructive surgeons and orthopedic specialists in order to undergo a rare hand-reduction procedure.

"I just can't stand the sight of my large hands," reports Pilar. "They just seem to be growing larger every day and so I've had to take drastic measures in order to protect my career."

Although her orthopedic specialist, Dr. Everett Scott, has seen no evidence of her hands actually growing larger, he concurs with Ms. Pilar's wishes to undergo this radical procedure.

"Ms. Pilar's hand certainly do appear to be disproportionally large for her frame. I'm completely at a loss as to why her hands seem to be growing larger. However, knowing the physical demands that her profession places on her, I wholehearteldly support her endeavor to reduce the size and appearance of her hands."

Pilar's team of reconstructive surgeons have expressed their concern's regarding this radical procedure. Dr. Louis Reinstein, head of the surgical team explains:

"Reduction of the hands is an extremely extensive and risky procedure. It requires removing sections of all ten of the metacarpii and at least sixteen phalanges, bone grafting, in addition to hours of nerve and tendon reconstructions."

Dr. Reinstein continues. "We've cautioned Ms. Pilar regarding the extensive recovery period, not to mention the excruciating pain that will inevitably follow. However, she's adament about reducing the size of her hands. I have many patients who are in the modeling profession and while I've advised them against this procedure, I have admire Ms. Pilar's dedication to her profession.