Friday, July 4, 2008

Requiem for a Clown

Larry Harmon just died.
Larry was not the original Bozo, but with entrepreneurial zeal and orange-tufted hair, Harmon literally made the character his own, buying the rights to the clown’s persona and licensing it to dozens of television stations across the country. These stations subsequently hired their own Bozos. (Just how many of these clowns doubled as weathermen nobody knows; the skill sets being remarkably similar).

Unfortunately we were a Bozo-deprived family. The nearest Bozo belonged to Channel 13 up in Los Angeles, and could only be tuned in by those kids living near the top of our hilly neighborhood. Those of us dwelling on the lower slopes and beyond the reach of KCOP’s signal had to go clown-less; we were forced to make do with a paltry selection of channels that included XETV-6, broadcast (occasionally live) from a transmitter in Mexico. The days before Cable TV and The Internet were grim-- God bless Al Gore for inventing them both.

There’s a famous legend about Bozo that I originally heard from a kid in my third grade class. While this kid was notoriously flighty and a shameless copier of my test answers, his account of the Bozo legend was confirmed by my best friend Ralph, who was reliable and trustworthy. The story, as told at recess and passed on to you today, was that some kid in the Bozo Show’s studio audience had been picked to play The Grand Prize Game, muffed his chance at the loot, but secured a place in the annals of kid history by uttering a profanity to which Bozo reputedly responded, “That’s a Bozo no-no.” Then the kid supposedly compounded (or improved) the situation by blurting, “Cram it, clown.”

To this day nobody knows what happened to the kid. Maybe he was hauled off to FCC Headquarters for re-programming. Maybe he was the young Howard Stern, which would make perfect sense. And maybe it never really happened-- although it certainly seemed credible at the time. The point is that like most kids, I was boundlessly optimistic and willing to believe that anything was possible.

Many years have passed since then and today we celebrate our nation’s independence with a growing sense of unease. Things are looking bleak, especially when it’s time to fill our gas tanks or buy groceries. Our country’s policies are being hotly debated and our self-confidence is eroding. Here is what the president said:

“The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next 5 years will be worse than the past 5 years.”

Those are pretty disheartening words-- except that they were spoken 29 years ago by President Jimmy Carter. As bad as things were in 1979 they eventually got better (right after the 1980 presidential election, as I recall).

According to Larry’s widow Susan Harmon, Larry was “The most optimistic man she ever met; he always saw a bright side.” So in Harmon’s memory, and in the spirit of Bozos everywhere, consider this: In the ten costliest countries to fill’er up, they’re paying TWICE what we're charged for gas today, and the two countries that pay the least for gas (Venezuela and Iran) are both ruled by de facto dictators.

So put that in your gas tank and drive it around some. God bless Bozo, and God bless America!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Be an Incredible Dad, Not a Hulk

Bruce Banner has arrived just in time to remind all dads of the dangers of high blood pressure. When seen last, Banner was going into a self-imposed exile at the end of Ang Lee’s version of The Hulk-- a movie that tanked like Patton’s reputation after he slapped one of his soldiers in an attempt to instill a little fatherly discipline. Like Banner and Patton, our tempers sometimes get the best of us, but we should try to see our kids’ exploits through a lens that also captures our own childhoods and our own misadventures.

For example, my brothers and I found it excessively harsh (and incredibly Hulk-ish) for our father to yell at us for dragging the hose from his air compressor into the deep end of our swimming pool, where he found us one afternoon eight feet under, ballasted by rocks in our pockets, trading hits of greasy air as we grinned at each other and congratulated ourselves for thinking up such a clever diversion from the mundane activity of actually swimming in a swimming pool. We also failed to realize that floating face-down and completely still in an attempt to set the record of Longest Submerged Brother Without Compressed Air might be unsettling to our parents, should they happen to glance out the window. Who knew they wouldn’t prod “the floater” at least a few times before dialing 911?

Had our father shared with us the rich legacy of his own youth, his tirades would have been easier to endure. For example, when we later learned that he had once fabricated his own diving gear from surplus army equipment (which he strapped to his little sister Jeannie along with several of our grandpa’s tools for ballast) and that Grandpa Stan’s tools were jettisoned by our aunt into the silt of San Diego Bay during her emergency ascent, we all immediately bonded with our dad in the commonality of stupid children everywhere who’ve managed to survive despite their best efforts-- or in our aunt’s case, her brother’s best efforts. Instead of Hulking out, or going Patton-esque, we should resolve to share with our kids the things we did in our youths that were similarly foolish.

I really shouldn’t have yelled at Alexander when he hacked down the wrong tree after we told him to go out and remove the one tree his mother and I had complained about ever since we moved into this house. Instead, I should have nostalgically shared with him the time my dad told me to remove a bottlebrush tree-- which is really a large shrub that is very attractive to bees. My solution was to devise a means of remote tree/shrubbery removal: I found that by tying it to the bumper of our truck, I was able to yank it out quite efficiently, along with the newly installed gas line for our swimming pool’s heater. (My mom hated that pool, now that I think about it).

When Dave and his crazy friend Dan used to get together after school and run around our house like madmen and Dave once accidentally punched his fists (followed by his wrists) right through the glass of our French door without a scratch, and somehow survived that day despite the fact that I was quite willing to kill them both, I should have told them instead about the time my brothers and I were rough-housing and John’s head somehow impacted with the corner of our coffee table. John touched his scalp and brought his hand away bloody, crying hysterically that there was a hole in his head. I knew right away from my first aid training in Boy Scouts that John was in shock, and that while in that state, he would be highly susceptible to suggestions like “I can stop the bleeding if you promise not to tell mom and dad.”

When Christa once choreographed a dance routine that involved swinging from the heating pipes in our basement instead of going ballistic I should have told her about the time my brothers and I “chimney-climbed” the space above our stairwell. (Mom always wondered about those smudges fourteen feet above the landing, and just how they got there- Spiderpig, perhaps?).

So, on this Father’s Day, to my dad:

Grandpa Stan grudgingly allowed you to live when you used his electric razor to shave the nubs from your blue suede shoes after you painted them white, since only white shoes (patent leather or, apparently, Sherwin Williams Suede) were permissible for your high school marching band. Grandpa should have chilled out and congratulated you for your initiative and your imagination, bought himself a new electric razor and then pressed you into a summer of servitude to pay for it, just like you always did with us. Come to think of it, we spent many a summer of servitude under your command, and many times without justification! That’s one family tradition that has gone by the wayside here; Chicago summers are just too hot and we only have a few trees left since Alex went away to college.

If you are wondering where I got the stories of some of your escapades, all I can say is that while tools sink, the truth always floats to the surface like an oxygen-starved little sister, and our family motto still rings true: 'Fac illum, et tracte eventis'. (Do it, and deal with the consequences later).

Love, Gar

Friday, January 18, 2008


(Note: The Latest Marvel comic edition of Spiderman brings the shocking news that Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson are splitting up after twenty-one years of marriage. Supposedly their break-up is part of a deal with the Faustian villain Mephisto to save the life of Peter’s Aunt May-- but the real story behind the break-up of their marriage can only be found here).

Everyone’s shocked that Spiderman’s getting a divorce from MJ. Everyone except of course for your friendly neighborhood Unwrapped Fish. Just study Spidey’s famous theme song and you too will be amazed that MJ put up with Peter Parker for as long as she did.

Spiderman, Spiderman
Does whatever a spider can

This is a blatant declaration of intended arachnid-infidelity: If he can get away with it, he will do it. MJ was left home alone every night, knitting Spiderbaby booties while Peter Parker was ostensibly out pounding the Sandman. But who was he really out pounding? Gwen Stacy, Felicia Hardy and Betty Brant, most likely.

Spins a web, any size
Catches thieves, just like flies

Oh what a web we weave, when first we practice to deceive. No web of lies was too large for Peter Parker if it allowed him to do whatever he could. Let us all hope for MJ’s sake that he was practicing safe spider-sex to avoid catching STDs, since he sure wasn’t out catching thieves every night.

Is he strong? Listen, Bud!
He’s got radioactive blood.

All of us are well acquainted with the legendary relationship between Latino blood and machismo, so imagine the insatiable sexual urges of a typical teenage boy whose hormonally infused blood has been infected by the bite of a radioactive spider. The atomic half life of radioactive blood is similar to Plutonium. Spiderman won’t be needing Viagra until roughly the year 3069.

Can he swing from a thread?
Take a look overhead.

Hey there, there goes the Spiderman.
How many residents of New York have turned a blind eye to Spiderman’s nocturnal ramblings over the years? Obviously it’s been common knowledge in the Big Apple that Spidey’s a swinger; but some kind soul should have sent MJ a discreet note, letting her know exactly what her husband was up to overhead.

In the chill of night,
At the scene of a crime
Like a streak of light
He arrives just in time.

Just in time have his picture taken by a conveniently placed camera to provide an alibi for being out in the “chill of night” while his wife was left home alone knitting spider-booties eight at a time.

Spiderman, Spiderman
Friendly neighborhood Spiderman
Wealth and fame, he’s ignored
Action is his reward

Altruism is such a noble thing, but there’s nothing like getting’ a little action on the side to keep that radioactive blood a pumpin, right Spidey?

To him, life is a great big bang-up
Wherever there’s a hang-up
You’ll find a Spiderman!

Summons to Appear
In the State of New York
Mary Jane Parker nee Watson vs. Peter Parker, aka Spiderman

You’ve been found and you’ve been served, Spidey.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Prepare To Explode

From: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President
Islamic Republic of Iran

To: Admiral Ali Sahuni
Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps

Re: Operation "Persian Glory"
Strait of Hormuz

Admiral Sahuni,

Please present yourself in person at your earliest convenience to explain the shameful performance of your fleet against the United States in recent naval maneuvers. Although the crews of our mighty speedboat armada performed flawlessly, their commanding officer ruined a nearly perfect mission with his pathetic warning to the sailors of the great Satan:

“I am coming to you; you will explode after two minutes.”

I must remind you Ali that Persia is the land of the great poet Omar Khayam. Surely our armed forces can summon more chilling and poetic invective than “I am coming to you; you will explode after two minutes.” In fact, your captain’s “threat” was so embarrassing we had to declare the United States Navy’s video recording of the incident a complete and utter fabrication. One of our sailors has forwarded me his own video, which he took from our speedboat ISS Dreadnought. It shows the crew of the great Satan’s ship Port Royal laughing at your captain’s feeble battle cry, looking at their watches, and mouthing the words “In two minutes? You’ve got to be kidding us.”

In the future, all attack invective of the Islamic Republic of Iran will be generated by a committee which has been formed to avoid such humiliations. The “Council of Menace” has already provided these belligerent messages, which our glorious fleet will transmit during future maneuvers:

“Prepare to sink and die without enjoying 40 virgins in paradise.”

“We are coming at you, and we really mean it this time.”

“Damn the tornados! Full speed ahead!”

The eyes of the world are on our great republic Ali. I’m sure you’ll agree that we must not look foolish.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Dear Dan

Dear Dan,

You do not know me but you and your mom met my wife ten years ago when Nancy arranged an assembly at Jefferson Elementary school in Elmhurst. The three of you talked briefly before you thrilled the kids there with your astronaut program. Nancy still remembers how proud your mom was of you. She also remembers talking to you about graduating from high school the same year you did, and that your mom and her mom were both named Rose. Mostly though she remembers how sweet your mom was. We both want you to know how sorry we are for your tragic loss.

I also just lost my mom too. When I received word she had passed away one of my good friends was online. Marc and I have corresponded for over two years via e-mail. We’ve never met in person but when I sent him an e-mail asking for his prayers he immediately called to offer his sympathy. The Internet can be a terrible thing but also a wonderful thing. It can deliver grief with stunning swiftness, but it can also deliver tender condolences from people you’ve never met who want you to know they are with you in spirit. Many thousands of us down here on Earth are praying for you and your family tonight.

When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut, but I had to give up my dream since my tendency toward airsickness would have washed me out of flight training. The last time I flew with my dad I was 10 years old. Dad had a real hot-rod of a plane, a Thorp T-18, which we flew to a little airport in the California desert where I made the mistake of eating a greasy cheeseburger. Climbing back out of the desert the turbulence was pretty bad, and as we were landing I was frantically estimating how much time it would take dad to taxi off the runway and open the canopy, and whether or not I should try for the weeds or just blow chunks right there on the tarmac.

On final approach I knew I wasn’t going to make it. By then I was looking for anything in the cockpit I could fill with a partially digested cheeseburger. With inspiration born of desperation I whipped off one of my shoes and filled it right to the brim. (I hadn’t told my dad I felt sick; you should have seen the look on his face-- It was a mixture of amazement, pride, and disgust). He landed the plane smoothly despite the fact he was trying hard not to laugh. Or maybe he just wanted to land softly so I didn’t drop my puke-filled shoe. All I knew was it was time to consider another career path.

Many years since then I have landed in your home town of Lombard, Illinois, where all of us are mourning the loss of your mom but feeling proud of you and your achievements, which are a reflection of your mother’s guidance and love. I am thinking now of a book I still have which was signed by Bill Anders of Apollo 8. It has a picture of a spacewalking astronaut on the cover and is a treasured reminder of my childhood dreams.
During their mission, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders all took turns reading from the book of Genesis on Christmas Eve. Here is what Bill Anders said that night:

“For all the people on the Earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you.” Well Dan, we down here have a message we would like to send up to you: May God comfort you in this time of sorrow, and return you home safely to your family.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Thanksgiving Carol

When Standish awoke, it was so dark he could scarcely see the figure sitting at the foot of his bed. The figure seemed insubstantial, as if it was more phantom than man. “I am Myles Standish, militia captain of Plymouth Colony, and I know you not Spirit, so identify yourself!” Myles cried out.

“I am the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, in a story yet to be written by a man named Dickens, where I do a lot of ominous finger-pointing but don’t have any good lines,” the Spirit said. “But my Christmas gig doesn’t start until next week, so I thought I’d drop by and show you a glimpse of a Thanksgiving Eve yet to come.”

“Lead on,” Myles said. “Lead on, for the night is waning fast and tomorrow is our harvest feast, which sounds suspiciously like this Thanksgiving you speak of.”

“You’re much quicker on the uptake than Scrooge, I’ll grant you that,” the Specter said. “Prepare yourself Myles Standish, for I am about to take you hundreds of years into the future, to the morning of the day before Thanksgiving, to show you the many blessings enjoyed by the people of that time.”

Suddenly a town named Danvers, Massachusetts sprang up around them, as if the land had recently and unexpectedly been zoned for commercial use. “This is the year of our Lord 2007, and we are standing only 40 miles from your Plymouth settlement,” the Spirit said.

“What is this vast field we stand within?” Myles asked. “The plots for the crops are well defined by the white stripes, but digging here would be nigh impossible, for the ground is like a sea of rock!”

“This field is called a parking lot, and will soon be filled with small ships that move across the land without the need of wind,” the Ghost predicted. Sure enough, within a few minutes a bright red vessel appeared and docked itself neatly between two of the white lines.

“What magic allows these land-ships to move so freely?” Myles asked.

“A liquid named gasoline, which may be purchased there,” the Spirit said, gesturing with his spectral hand to a strange looking structure with a roof but no walls. “Once the vessel’s pilot has paid for the liquid, it flows through that hollow black rope into a barrel within his land-ship. The vessel then moves until its barrel is empty.”

“How far can the vessel travel on one barrel?” asked Myles.

“Some may go as far as 350 miles, which usually takes about five hours,” the Spirit replied.

“350 miles in five hours?!” Myles cried. “It took us 66 days to travel from England to Plymouth Rock! With one of these fantastic vessels we could have made our journey in less than two days… surely the people of 2007 must be grateful for such a blessing!”

“Their land vessels are expensive to purchase Myles, and the magical liquid is a precious commodity worth nearly its weight in gold. Truthfully, these people of 2007 complain endlessly about the cost of their gasoline, and I should also tell you that while their land-ships cannot float, the people of this age can FLY from England to the Colonies in airships in only a few hours should they choose to do so, depending on the airline they select.”

“These airlines you speak of sound like the work of the Devil,” Myles said. The Spirit nodded.
“Many of these people say that very same thing, Myles Standish. Now, let me show you ‘The Costco’.”

Myles and the Spirit approached a vast structure. “You’re not a member, are you Myles?” the Ghost asked, with a spectral grin. “But I am Spirit, for I signed the Mayflower Compact!” Standish replied hotly.

“Never mind Myles, I will use a Jedi mind trick I learned from George Lucas on this Costco gatekeeper,” said the Specter. “No need to ask for their Costco I.D., these guys check out,” the Ghost said. “No need to ask for I.D., these guys check out,” repeated the gatekeeper in an strangely parroted reply, blankly waiving the pair into a cavernous building filled to the rafters with all kinds of goods-- food, clothes, tools and many other things Myles couldn’t identify.

“This is a huge structure, Spirit,” Myles observed. “Nearly 500 feet across… You could fit 100 Mayflowers within this space!”

Myles and the Ghost entered The Costco and immediately saw dozens of paintings that moved magically within their frames. “What manner of sorcery is this?” Myles shouted. “Relax, Standish, it’s what people of this age use for entertainment. Look, ‘Survivor’ is on!”The pair stood transfixed as several highly defined and nearly naked people played a game of sorts, attempting to survive in the wilderness on meager rations for a short period of time to win a million dollars.

“What think you of this game they play?” the Ghost asked.

“Well, Spirit, of the 102 of us that landed at Plymouth Rock, half of us died after the first winter including my wife. None of us really have much time for fun right now since we are all trying to ACTUALLY survive-- so I can’t say that I like this form of entertainment very much,” Myles said. “But the picture quality is truly awesome.”

The Spirit pointed toward the Large Appliance area of The Costco. “Here are the devices that the people of 2007 use to keep their food fresh, to cook their food, to clean their dishes and to wash and dry their clothes. “What do you think of these marvelous devices, Myles Standish?” asked the Spirit.“

We had very little food left by the time we landed,” Myles said quietly. “Then we had to hunt and grub for our meals. Thank God for our new friends the Wampanoag Indians, who have showed us how to cultivate simple crops and harvest from the sea. We cook over open fires and wash our dishes and our clothes by hand. Surely the people of 2007 must be very grateful for these wonderful devices that make their lives so much easier!”

“Those who live in this age pretty much take these devices for granted,” the Ghost admitted, slightly embarrassed for the people who were now streaming into The Costco. “But look, Myles, here are the tools of today,” the Spirit exclaimed. “Most of them run on electricity instead of Pilgrim-power!”

“What is this electricity you speak of?” Standish asked

It’s like the magical liquid gasoline, but drier,” the Ghost said. “Electricity makes the picture devices work, it lights the lamps above us and even allows these saws to cut wood with incredible ease. Why, with these saws you could cut down hundreds of trees before lunch and not break a sweat!”

“It seems wrong to fell a tree without working hard,” muttered Standish. “It takes a tree years to grow tall enough to harvest. We honor the blessing God gave us when He provided the trees by breaking a sweat when we cut one of them down.”

“I’m not making much progress with this Pilgrim,” the Spirit thought to himself as they entered the Food Section.

By now The Costco was full of people shopping for their Thanksgiving feast. Myles and the Ghost were surrounded by men and women who jostled each other while they piled their carts high with food and spirits: Turkeys, meat, fish, cheese, pies, cakes, beer and wine. Bigger carts moved about, constantly replenishing the supplies. Myles Standish dropped to his knees and sobbed. “I have never seen so much food in my life,” he whispered to the Spirit. How grateful the people of the year 2007 must be for these incredible blessings!”

“You better get up Myles or they’ll run you down like a squirrel in the road,” advised the Ghost. “It’s time to check out now, Pilgrim.” On their way to the check-out, Myles and the Spirit passed many artificial Christmas trees and Christmas displays and all manner of Christmas-oriented merchandise.

Why are these Christmas things being sold before the people have given thanks for their blessings?” asked Standish.

"Beats me bub,” said the Specter, glancing at his watch. The lines at the check-out were long and the people there had the lethargic look of hogs that had eaten too much slop, Myles thought. The Costco’s cashiers frantically tallied cart after cart, barely keeping up with the crowd. Beyond the check-out, several people were eating and drinking in a food court, apparently exhausted by their shopping efforts.

“Spirit, return me to my own time,” Standish begged. “These people have much, I grant you, but they still seem unsatisfied. Please take me back to Plymouth, so I can celebrate a humble day of thanksgiving with my brothers and sisters and our new friends the Wampanoags, where we all are grateful for having just enough.”

The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come finished the hot dog he had just purchased in the food court and snapped his fingers. Myles Standish was instantly returned to his bed in Plymouth, where he awoke the next day, counted his blessings, and promptly gave the most sincere thanks of his life.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Just Say "Non!"

We should pause today and observe a moment of silence to honor the great Marcel Marceau, a man whose fame was based on not saying anything. In remembering him we should acknowledge not only his achievements as a mime, but also this strange irony: Sometimes the quietest people still say the most important things.

In the too infrequent words of Marcel Marceau, “Do not the most moving moments of our lives find us without words?”

Had Marceau talked more, we might have learned sooner that he was a French Jew who narrowly escaped the genocidal madness of the Holocaust, and that his father Charles, who gave to his son a love of theater and music, was murdered at Auschwitz along with more than a million other human beings.

Marceau didn’t say much about his father’s death. Here is what he did say though about the children who were killed at Auschwitz: "Among those kids was maybe an Einstein, a Mozart, somebody who (would have) found a cancer drug," he told reporters in 2000."That is why we have a great responsibility. Let us love one another."

“Let us love one another.” When, if ever, do we hear those words spoken by our celebrities, our politicians, or even amongst ourselves? Those five simple words should pass our lips every day to counter the malicious intent of those who have dedicated themselves to hatred and intolerance.

Marcel Marceau worked with the French Resistance during World War II to help protect Jewish children. Later he was recruited to work as a liaison officer with Gen. George S. Patton’s army because he (Marceau, not Patton) spoke passable English. When he was offstage though, Marceau loved to chat: “Never get a mime talking. He won’t stop.”

(Patton probably replied “Shut up, Marceau-- and quit miming Eisenhower, you know how I hate that).

As a child, Marceau loved the films of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and the Marx Brothers. One would guess that his favorite Marx brother was probably Harpo, who only spoke in the language of music. Many years later, Marcel said that “Music conveys moods and images. Even in opera, where plots deal with the structure of destiny, it’s music, not words, that provides power.”

In many ways, our world now resembles a Marx Brothers production: Increasingly noisy, frantically paced, and crazy. We should all remember the advice of that famously silent man, Marcel Marceau: “It’s good to shut up sometimes.” If Groucho and Chico could occasionally be quiet, we can too.

Sometimes, though, it is not so good to shut up. In the paraphrased words attributed to many, including Pastor Martin Niemoller (Who refused to shut up and was imprisoned at both the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps) here are some very good words about silence, and the ramifications of silence, which are inscribed at the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me- and there was no one left to speak for me.

In Mel Brooks’ classic “Silent Movie,” only one word was spoken, and it was uttered by the great Marceau. It was the single word “Non!” which is the very best word for courageous people to use when confronted by social injustice, religious intolerance and bigotry. Think of it as a kind of spiritual weed-killer to use against hatred.

If you and I will just say “Non,” the bright red flower that blossomed from the hat of the world’s greatest mime will live forever.