Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Cheap Shot

These are tough economic times. Belt-tightening is definitely in order. But how do you know if you’ve gone a notch or two too far? Your friends or family won’t tell you, but I will. From one coupon-clipper to another, here are some early warning signs that you may be crossing the line from frugal to cheap
  • You buy generic ketchup or cola. I’ll excuse generic flavored drinks like orange or grape, but cola is definitely out of bounds.
  • You shop at a store that requires a deposit on the shopping cart.
  • You complain about the steak … at the Waffle House.
  • You split a dinner … at the Waffle House.
  • You've asked someone, "Are you going to finish that?"
  • You tell the waiter it's your birthday ... just to get the free cake.
  • You paid a bill entirely with pennies.
  • You ask for the senior discount … and you’re not a senior.
  • You cut your own hair.
  • You count free samples at the grocery store as lunch.
  • You ate lunch at your child's school cafeteria ... and you weren't visiting your child.
  • You plan your travel based entirely on which station has the cheapest gas.
  • You listened to a daylong sales pitch for a free night's stay.
  • You negotiate at the dollar store.
  • You’re keeping your skinny '80s ties ... just in case they make a comeback.
  • You were frisked for sugar packets when leaving Cracker Barrel.
  • You gave me the dreaded combination “Christmas/birthday” present.
  • Your precious childhood memories became a little less precious when you discovered ebay.
  • You last went to the movies to see Star Wars … the first one, which is now the fourth one, but I digress.

As you might know from my earlier posts, I’m all about financial responsibility. But take it from a guy who drives a car with 118,000 miles and counting, you can go overboard.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Snuggling up to Stupid Commercials

My son and I have been arguing a lot lately about commercials, the stupidest commercials on television, to be exact.

It's all boiled down to this: Big City Slidder Station vs. Snuggie.

I'm going with Big City Slidder Station. This small burger press is the latest in the museum of absurd products endorsed by infomercial pitchman extraordinaire Billy Mays. Mays may have been onto something with that orange cleaner stuff, but things have really dried up since then, as evidenced by "The Hercules Hook" and "Mighty Puddy."

Now, he's pitching the Big City Slidder Station, a contraption that apparently shapes and cooks Whitecastle-like hamburgers. My favorite part of the commercial is when Billy shows us an old-fashioned hamburger literally flying out of the pan like a greased meteorite. Damned dangerous malformed burgers!

It's a terrible commercial, but my son, Trent, argues that the Snuggie commercial is even worse. The Snuggie is basically a blanket with arm holes, giving cold consumers an amazing combination of warmth and dexterity. After all, you have to be Houdini-like to escape from those strangling traditional blankets.

Additionally, the Snuggie has the terrific side effect of making anyone who wears it look like a Catholic priest or a wizard from Harry Potter. After a recent airing of the commercial, Trent said blithely, "Ever hear of a robe?"

That's the big problem with these commercials. They represent products that solve nonexistent problems. I've somehow gotten by all these years by patting out my own hamburgers. How uncivilized! I don’t dress like a wizard, yet I'm warm.

It makes me wonder who buys these things. I'm thinking only somebody who would pay with those Obama silver dollars.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Shoe Toss Heard Around the World

Why is it more people aren't outraged by an attempted assault on the president of the United States? That's a question I've been asking myself a lot lately in the wake of the shoe toss heard around the world.

Following are some of the comments I've heard, from educated people, no less:

  1. Too bad he didn't hit him
  2. Should've thrown a brick
  3. Stuff that makes the first two comments seem tasteful

The same people who would be begging for police protection if someone hurled even an insult at them, find this incident acceptable -- or even merited. Worse yet, they delight in it, as if Bush finally got what was coming to him.

News coverage of the event seems mostly intent on embarrassing the president.

Over the last several years, I've heard a lot about supposed hate speech bred by right-wing commentators. Apparently, hate speech cuts both ways, as evidenced by the way some people embrace this zealot and his lawlessness.

As I've said already, this wasn't an innocent case of free expression in my book. It was an outright attempt to injure our commander in chief. Wonder how many people would stand for a loved one being attacked with a shoe?

I applaud President Bush for his measured response -- as well as his quick reflexes.

Even if you don't like Bush, our president deserves respect, regardless of whether you voted for him or agree with his party or policies. We'll all be reminded of that soon enough, just not until Obama takes the oath.

Friday, December 12, 2008

They Don't Always Live Happily Ever After

I was pondering my favorite movies the other day when I noticed an alarming trend. If you’re the lead actor in one of my favorite flicks, your days are probably numbered.

From Cool Hand Luke to One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the lead actors in my favorite movies don’t usually make it to the closing credits. I’m one of those guys who wished they had whacked Tony Soprano. Thinking about a sequel? Fughgetaboutit!

I’m not sure what this says about me. Perhaps, I watch movies for an emotional release … and there’s nothing more gut-wrenching than watching the lead pay the ultimate price.

Let me give you an example. There’s a move called In the Line of Fire. In it, Clint Eastwood plays the only Secret Service agent ever to lose a president (JFK). It’s the ultimate tale of redemption as Eastwood sacrifices everything to save the current commander in chief.
Of course, Clint saves the president, gets the girl and lives to fight another day. It’s a decent movie, but it could be better. To me, there was a more challenging – and perhaps more fitting – ending. In my version, Clint takes the bullet … and the Oscar!

Don’t worry. Clint got it right in another movie, Million Dollar Baby.

I don’t know why I don’t enjoy a traditional “happily ever after” ending. It’s probably my mom’s fault. After all, she’s the one who took me to Charlotte’s Web.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

I'm as Cuddly as a Cactus

The Courier-Journal has had a lot of fun with the recent controversy involving Dr. Seuss Enterprises and the City of Louisville. Dr. Seuss Enterprises sent the city a cease and desist letter because it planned to use characters from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” in an annual Christmas celebration.

No word yet on whether the letter was delivered by Thing 1 or Thing 2.

Regardless, according to the C-J, this amounts to Grinch-like activity. If that’s the case, then I’m as cuddly as a cactus, too.

As a writer, I appreciate the value of copyrighted material. I wouldn’t take kindly to someone taking my intellectual property and using it as their own, which is exactly what the city intended to do. (Writer's note: I am, however, available for the right price).

Sure it’s flattering, but flattery don’t pay the bills.

This is no different than illegally downloading music or presenting a play without the playwright’s permission. In fact, the C-J won’t let you reproduce their stories with immunity either. Those guys must have garlic in their souls, too.

While it’s not great public relations, Dr. Seuss Enterprises has to aggressively police its brand. Otherwise, every city in America will be brimming with unauthorized Grinchs. Nobody wants that kind of havoc.

In closing, some might call the whole thing rather Mickey Mouse. Not me. I don’t want to get a letter from the Walt Disney Company.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Rachel Ray: Gone to the Dogs

Rachel Ray is peddling a “super premium” dog food called Nutrish. To me, this symbolizes everything wrong with Ray and her chief benefactor, Oprah Winfrey.

First, there’s the oh-so-cute name -- Nutrish. It reminds me of the way Ray refers to extra virgin olive oil as EVOO. A few other definitions from Rachel Ray’s “Dictionary of the Adorable” include “fav” for favorite and “veggies” for vegetables. For most of us, this stops being cute around age six.

Maybe I’m just an old fuddy-duddy, but I’ve always taken the English language pretty seriously. So this kind of stuff just TMT – turns my tummy.

Secondly, there’s the presumption that Ray knows what dogs should be eating. Call me crazy, but maybe that decision is better left to a veterinarian rather than a perky television talk show host.

What’s next? Kelly Ripa’s tips on animal husbandry.

It shouldn’t surprise me, though. Oprah and her crew have already told us who to vote for, what to read, how to communicate, how to feel, what to eat, what not to eat, what to wear and what not to wear.

Now the doghouse is not even safe from Oprah’s influence.

I don’t know why I’m getting so exercised about this. After all, I don’t even have dogs. But if I did, they’d get nothing but Alpo.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Take This Advice to the Bank

We’ve heard the recent financial crisis blamed on greedy bankers, President Bush and Alan Greenspan, to name some favorite scapegoats.

If you want to find the real culprit, look in the mirror.

For many of us, commonsense was knocked out by ambition.

You could see this coming like a Hollywood divorce. I used to drive my trusty Buick LaSebare through exclusive neighborhoods and wonder who could afford the million dollar homes there.

As it turns out, nobody could.

That didn’t stop people from living in those swanky homes, driving those expensive cars and taking those exotic vacations.

We’ve become a society that isn’t very good at delaying gratification. With apologies to Queen, we want it all and we want it now. If we can’t afford it now, then we’ll just put it on a credit card and worry about it later.

The only problem with that lifestyle is that it’s not sustainable. The collapse was inevitable. Now it’s time to pay the piper.

If we are going to recover, we’ve got to return to the financial principles of our grandparents. Buy only what you can afford. Save instead of spending. Eat at home instead of a restaurant. Buy a car based on reliability, not status.

Remember, when it comes to this mess, bankers, Bush and Greenspan weren’t alone in making bad decisions.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Life Isn't Always Greener

When I find a good thing, I stick with it.

If I were Katie Couric, for instance, I’d still be hosting The Today Show.

That’s why I watch the careers of football coaches Bobby Petrino (Arkansas) and Rich Rodriguez (Michigan) with such interest. Both coaches left jobs filled with adoration and money for jobs with more adoration and money.

But it hasn’t quite worked out that way – at least not yet.

Petrino left an Orange Bowl champion University of Louisville program for the Atlanta Falcons. He quit before finishing his first NFL season, becoming a punchline in the process. He’s now in his first unremarkable season at the University of Arkansas.

Rodriguez left West Virginia -- his alma mater, of all things -- to become the head coach of the University of Michigan. His new team has become a punching bag, losing to anybody and everybody, including the University of Toledo.

Until this past week, the schools that these two coaches jilted weren’t exactly setting the world on fire either.

It goes to show you that you better think twice before leaving a situation where you're successful, well-liked and well paid. Success is partly about being in the right place with the right people at the right time. The model can’t always be replicated across the country, like a McDonald’s cheeseburger.

But what do I know? If I were Tom Hanks, I would never have won an Oscar. I’d been too busy staring in the stage production of “Bosom Buddies.”

Sunday, October 19, 2008

On Bailouts and Negative Ads

Baron Hill won my vote, but now he’s losing it.

Hill is an incumbent Democrat vying to return to Congress in Indiana’s 9th District. He is running against Republican Mike Sodrel, who previously held the seat. It seems like these guys have been fighting it out since the Nixon administration.

It’s always been a tough call for me.

I once met Hill at a Democratic function. He’s a former Indiana basketball star. This Baron seemed down to earth. I liked him.

My brother-in-law once worked for Sodrel’s trucking company. Sodrel is a self-made man who brought a lot of jobs to southern Indiana. My brother-in-law liked him.

I’m so conflicted that I’ve voted for both guys at different times.

So it was again this year, until Hill voted against the bailout. At that point, I figured Hill was my guy.

But I’m starting to waver again, mostly because of the onslaught of negative ads that are being run against Sodrel. In contrast, Sodrel’s ads (at least at the time of this writing) define himself rather than defaming his opponent, which I find refreshing.

I’m sure Hill would point out that the negative ads are being run by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and not his campaign. That's a technicality. I think any guy courageous enough to stand up against the bailout should be able to pull the plug on negative campaigning.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Must-See TV -- NOT!

I recently read an article about Rachel Maddow, the shrill host of "The Rachel Maddow Show" on MSNBC.

In the article, Maddow says she doesn't own a television. I guess that's a quaint PR story -- the TV host who doesn't watch TV. But I don't believe it for a minute. You can't tell me Maddow doesn’t own a television. Perhaps it’s tucked in a secret compartment behind one of her opera posters.

Either way, I don’t trust people who make a point of telling you that they don’t watch television. What they’re really trying to say is this: “I’m far too intelligent to pay attention to such boorish things.” In other words, they are letting you know that they are smarter than you.

Of course, the truth is you don’t have to dumb it down to watch television. You can watch Brooke Hogan, if you want. But you can also watch plenty of highbrow stuff on The History Channel, PBS and HBO.

I like to watch both.

But I am going to cutback … at least whenever Maddow’s show is on.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Turning a Weakness into a Strength

So I’m watching the debate last night when I see Joe Biden pull the oldest trick in the book. When asked to identify his weaknesses, Biden says, with a straight face, that he’s excessively passionate.

Come again? Too passionate?

What other weaknesses does Joe have? Too giving? Too caring? Too studious? Too experienced? Too sexy for that suit?

Anyone who has ever prepared for an interview knows this ole parlor trick. When asked about a weakness, you cite strength instead.

Of course, we all have shortcomings and we shouldn’t be too pompous to admit them. It’s humanizing to own up to a few flaws.

But what do I know? I’m just a guy who loves his work too damn much.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Hairy Truth About Politics

The results are in. Barack Obama won in a landslide.

The Illinois senator won't get any delegates, however. This election took place at my son’s elementary school. Just like Puerto Rico, the votes from Mrs. Keeton’s class won’t count in November.

Nevertheless, the kindergarteners could tell us something about the art of impression management.

John McCain's negatives start right at the top – of his head. According to my 6-year-old pundit, the majority of kindergartners in southern Indiana are simply uncomfortable voting for a bald candidate.

This could be a hairy situation. As you know, Indiana is a battleground state.

Once word leaks out, it won’t be long before CNN polls the electorate about the relative positives and negatives of wearing a ball cap.

Of course, I’m just having a little fun. But before you completely dismiss this election’s significance, you should see the latest numbers from Scribner Middle School regarding Sarah Palin’s glasses.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Now That's a Dangerous Hunt

Sarah Palin has nothing on my friends in south central Indiana. She hunts moose. They hunt mushrooms. If you ask me, mushroom hunting is more dangerous.

After all, when I was growing up, my mom warned me to never eat a toadstool from the yard. They'll kill you, she said.

So you can imagine my surprise when I moved to south central Indiana and met people who not only hunt wild mushrooms, but eat them, too.

Apparently, this is pretty common there. So common, that people take vacations from work to go mushroom hunting. They even forecast the best days for mushroom hunting, based on changes in the climate.

Sometimes when the hunt is especially successful, generous mushroom hunters even bring their bounty of morels to work to share. I had to remind myself that they were trying to be friendly, and not secretly plotting to kill me.

I'm not kidding. The wrong mushroom can kill you, and only experienced mushroom hunters know the difference between yummy and deadly.

This explains why even today, when the climate is just right and my belly is rumbling for something special, I hunt for ... a jar of Green Giant.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Fine Wine

As a PR guy, I am an astute observer of human behavior, including my own. Lately, I've found myself wondering about the fate of the Meijer wine guy.

Meijer is a retail chain with a store near my home. I receive the Meijer circular at my home every Sunday in The Courier-Journal. The circular has a section highlighting wines. In the past, this section included a picture of Meijer's presumed wine expert, along with his weekly recommendation.

Meijer still publishes the circular. It still has wine recommendations. But the wine guy himself is no where to be found.

I'm not happy about it either. Even though I never met the wine guy, I guess I built a relationship with him. Now that he's gone, I've become skeptical of the recommendations from this nameless, faceless, corporate entity.

I also wonder what happened to the wine guy. Did he retire to the paradise of his own little vineyard? Was there a disfiguring cork accident?

I guess we'll never know until the wine guy resurfaces, perhaps at Costco or Wal-mart. In the meantime, I have just one question: Can anyone recommend something under $10 that goes well with pasta?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fit To Print?

It’s no secret reporters are being asked to do more with less. It’s affecting their morale, but is it affecting the news product? Based on my recent experiences with the Louisville Courier-Journal, I’d say that it is.

My friend, Todd Tucker, recently published his first novel. Todd was born and raised in New Albany, just across the bridge from the Courier-Journal. Additionally, his book, Over and Under, is set entirely in the newspaper’s coverage area. Oh, did I mention that Todd’s mother retired from the Courier-Journal.

For all I know, they all have Courier-Journal umbrellas, too.

My point is that the C-J has every reason to cover Todd’s book. So why won’t anybody return my calls or e-mails?

Book editor? No dice. Features editor? Not a chance. Indiana editor? Forget about.

The C-J is a Gannett paper. Gannett is cutting jobs. Even before that, some positions in Louisville weren’t being backfilled.

What does this have to do with Todd’s book? Maybe the Courier-Journal’s staff is so overloaded that reporters lack the time, interest and desire to pursue, discuss or even return e-mails about anything remotely outside their daily scope.

Of course, then again, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they’ve carefully vetted Todd’s book and it just doesn’t meet their litmus test.

I’d like to talk to the C-J’s ombudsmen to find out, but she won’t return calls either. You see, her position was among those eliminated.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Just Cause?

So you figure people who subject themselves to tear gas, plastic handcuffs and a night in jail must have something important to say.

Not necessarily.

While attending the Republican National Convention, I talked to several people who were arrested on everything from misdemeanor unlawful assembly to felony rioting following a clash with police along the Mississippi River in St. Paul.

Their message? I'm not sure ... and neither were they.

The first guy, who was released with no charges after eight hours in the company of the city, said he "got caught up with the wrong crowd." When I pressed for details, he said he was "just trying to eat a sandwich" when police came.

Shortly after this conversation, I encountered two other protestors. One was charged with a misdemeanor; the other with a felony. With so much at risk, they could certainly enlighten me on the urgency of their civil disobedience.

"We were just trying to get to the concert," one explained.

Oh, well. I guess dissent was alive and well at the RNC, even if only for dinner and a show.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

One Flexible Guy

I just got back from the Democratic and Republican national conventions where I was working on a bike-sharing program with Humana. I met a lot of interesting folks: mayors, councilmen and women, Congressmen and women, media representatives and Twister Man.

That's right. Twister Man.

Twister Man showed up at our Freewheelin booth at the DNC late one evening sporting a multicolored afro, Twister boxer shorts and a Twister game board as a cape. Despite his girth, he bragged of great flexibility.

Twister Man expressed an interest in riding one of our bikes until I told him it would require a driver's license and a credit card.

"Twister man has bad credit," he explained.

Thankfully, it doesn't take a good credit score to fight crime.

Stay safe Twister Man.

And good luck repairing that bad credit.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Going Green at the DNC

Having just returned from the DNC, I can attest that all things green were eagerly embraced, including hotel card keys.

These "green" card keys were made from what appeared to be balsa wood, like an old school model airplane. I guess wooden card keys decompose faster than plastic, which would have been great, if they had actually worked.

Instead, I returned to my room on three separate occasions following 15-hour days only to be denied entry. I felt like a guy playing a slot machine, slipping my key into the card reader, hoping for three bars.

Alas, the house won all three times and I slunk away.

To resolve this problem, the hotel replaced my card with an environmentally offending plastic card. I'm as green as the next guy, but not enough to sleep in the hall. Apparently, balsa wood isn't ready to cross over from model airplanes just yet.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


I'm a writer. I have lots of opinions.

Yet, somewhat inexplicably, I haven't joined the blogger world. I somehow missed out on the opportunity to foist my opinions on countless other in cyberspace.

Today, I rectify that shortcoming.

That's why I jokingly called my blog "The Last Blog in America" because that's the way it feels to me. I'm late to the party, but eager to make up for lost time.

Perhaps I'm feeling this way because I just returned from the Democratic National Convention. There was a tent there called "The Big Tent" that was filled with bloggers. They drank energy drinks and carried backpacks stuffed with notepads and tiny cameras. They seemed important.

Bigwigs like Katie Couric even dropped by to see them.

Today, I join them. I'm not sure what I'll talk about, but I'm sure I'll have plenty to say. Did I mention I have lots of opinions?

And Katie, see you in four years. I'll bring the Red Bull.