This is an offshoot of the original Liam & Janet blog. That blog has become overrun by Liam's inability to keep his mouth shut when something annoys him. The serious rants there seemed incongruous with the humor columns. The plan for the humor columns continues to be to post a new one every Friday, plus occasional extras when the mood strikes.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Big D

Y'know, life, many years ago, when I wished for a "big D", depression was not what I was shooting for.

I'm just sayin'.  I suppose I need to learn specificity.

Olympic Curling

Start with bowling.

Add ice.

Remove some of the pulse-pounding high-speed excitement.

And throw in a little housework, for good measure.

Monday, April 02, 2012

An Idiot, A Broad

What a difference a few years makes in the experience of parenting.

I have three children and two step children, and I love them all. This isn't funny, but as I'm going to focus on two of them, I wanted to make sure the others don't seed a grudge which will, over the next 30 years, fester into a hatred that ends up in them being the one around when I stub my toe, telling the doctors "He wouldn't want to live like this. Pull the plug."

My daughter is 16. She's a fairly typical teenaged girl in some ways, and an extraordinary one in others. I say this in an absolutely unbiased fashion, because there's NOTHING to the stereotype that little girls have their daddies wrapped around their little fingers. I will swear to that even after she reads this and demands I make significant changes so as not to not embarrass her, and as I do so while convincing myself that those sections really needed rewriting anyway.

But Katie just came back from a school trip to Italy; a week in Europe with her high school band-mates. She had participated in numerous fund drives all on her own to raise the money for the trip and had even managed to save up a hefty sum for spending money during the trip. Her mother and I had asked if she wanted us to volunteer to chaperone the trip (a cheap excuse to justify paying for a trip to Italy), and she adamantly did not. She is clearly growing up and becoming independent in that wonderful, frustrating way children have.

Then there's my youngest, Liam, who is 6 and lives with me during school days and with his mother on weekends. Liam is a fantastic little boy and a joy to be around, but he's definitely still a child. For instance, he still regularly puts his shoes on the wrong feet. "Ow! Those are much too tight! Put them on YOUR feet!" I'll have to tell him.

And we regularly have conversations about words and what they mean and how to use them. Things like when is it appropriate to use certain words and why is it hurtful to use them at other times, or even "what does that word mean" when I use a particularly large word (not that I have pronounced polysyllabic tendencies or anything).

And so this morning, as we were sitting down eating our breakfast, Liam looks at me and says "Daddy, is Idiot a state or a town?"

Understand that while his vocabulary isn't large, his grasp of syntax is pretty good, so I was curious why he thought "Idiot" was the name of a place, but nevertheless we had a nice conversation about the word "idiot" and what it means and why it isn't a nice thing to call someone. I assured him that "idiot" was not a place.

He looked confused. I'm pretty sure he had heard the term "idiot" before in that context, but thought that maybe "Idiot" was also the name of a place.

So to try to alleviate his confusion, I asked him "Where did you hear that word?"

He said "From you, Dad."

From me? I'm pretty certain I hadn't used the term "idiot" in several days, almost certainly not in front of my son, and at 6 he doesn't usually hang on to things. When I ask him what he did at school that day, he usually "can't remember", so I figured he must have heard the term "idiot" sometime within the memory span of a goldfish, and I was positive I hadn't said it this morning.

"When did you hear me say that, Liam?"

"Just a little while ago. You said 'Katie's home. She's no longer in Idiot.' "

Boy, did that make me feel like an italy!

Copyright © March 26, 2012 by Liam Johnson.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Ah, Shove It Up Yer... Melvin

So, it's that time again.

About eleven years ago, one of the members of my immediate family had to have a tumor removed from a sensitive area of the body, one which we do not like to discuss, but which acts as the body's "laundry chute" and which for the purposes of keeping this essay family friendly, we shall hereinafter refer to as "Melvin". This family member had stage one Melvin cancer.

Now, if you're going to have cancer, particularly in your Melvin, stage one is a fine stage to have, because it means that it's fairly small and localized and generally easy to remove and requires neither the use of chemicals toxic enough to declare your Melvin a SuperFund site, nor sufficient radiation to transform insects into giant hideous mutant monsters (as demonstrated in a series of fine documentaries produced in the 1950s and 1960s). This member of my family is fine, thanks for asking.

However, when someone in your family has Melvin cancer of any form, the doctors begin suggesting that you have some screenings done ("suggesting" in much the same way that if you chug a gallon of water, your bladder "suggests" you might not want to move too far from a toilet for a little while).

So it's time for me to have my "family portraits" done again, although oddly this particular photographer does not refer to the session as a "sitting".

I'll continue telling you about the procedure for having a Melvinoscopy in a short while, but first I want to relay a little interchange that went on between me and one of my coworkers, Chris, largely because A) it made us both laugh very hard, and B) without that interchange, I would probably not have been inspired to write today's essay.

Chris stopped by my office, and we were both lamenting the fact that it's the first Monday after the start of Daylight Savings Time, meaning that we're both dragging worse than a frat boy hauled to church by his parents on Sunday morning after a kegger on Saturday. Chris said "That's not the worst of it, I have a dentist appointment today", and so because we have the sort of relationship in which neither of us can let even the smallest item of our personal lives go unchallenged in an "oh, you think YOU have it bad, check this out…" kind of way, I had to tell him about my impending procedure, scheduled for Friday.

So Chris thinks about this for a while and says "Yeah, I guess I'd rather go to the dentist than that."

To which I responded, in all oblivious innocence, "I guess it depends on whether there are fillings involved." Honestly, as someone who fancies themselves something of a humorist, it shouldn't have taken Chris convulsing like an epileptic and turning all sorts of bright shades of red for me to recognize the greater meaning of what I had just said. I can't really imagine what such a filling would entail, but I have a horrible image of a toilet plunger filled with quick-hardening silvery glop.

Anyway, back to the procedure. Starting on Thursday of this week, once the lunch hour passes, I will be restricted to a "clear liquids" diet. This means I'll be able to drink water and chicken broth (which, if you've never had it, is essentially water with enough salt to pickle an ostrich egg and just enough chicken essence to render it the same pleasing color as a urinalysis specimen, but with a less attractive odor).

Then, starting Thursday evening, I'll have to start drinking copious amounts of a drink that, for legal reasons involving truth in advertising laws, is no longer called "GoLytely". Really, after drinking this, you'll "go lytely" in much the same way that a mosquito "lands gently" on the windshield of your car on the highway on a summer's night. But it certainly does accomplish the job of cleaning you out, which is what you're trying to accomplish, I guess. Plus, you get the added benefit that if you, like me, have an ex-spouse or two lying around, any of whom happen to like to accuse you of being full of, well,
it, then for at least 24 hours you can know definitively that medically, at least, they could not be more wrong.

Really, though, the "going lytely" and the hunger are the worst of the whole experience. And I'm quite sure that members of my reading audience who have not experienced this particular procedure are now saying "Well wait a moment, how can that be? I know there are certain portions of the body which are not designed for entrance by a camera, and I can only imagine that THAT part of the procedure, the 'up the down staircase' part, must be the worst part, right?" But you only say this because you aren't aware of the miraculous substance called "Versed" which they pump into your blood stream along with "Demerol".

Now, Demerol you've probably heard of, as it is a pain reliever that attacks pain in much the same way a rabid wolverine attacks a wounded rabbit. It is also a narcotic and would probably be a lot of fun in other circumstances.

The Versed (pronounced "Verse Said", after the tendency of people on this drug to recite mis-remembered music lyrics) is a drug similar to the Valium which is no longer prescribed to housewives in handfuls large enough to be technically classified as "snack food". Versed will not merely relax you, Versed will make it so that you feel as though you could not, under any circumstances, ever be tense again. Really, if Jack Bauer from the fine television show "24" had been given Versed at any point in the series, the fictional U.S. in that series would long since have been destroyed, and the last words heard in the series would have been Bauer looking at a mushroom cloud and saying "Really, it's kind of pretty."

Versed has another side effect, though, which is that it suppresses the transition of memory from short to long term. By which I mean that my first Melvinoscopy, I recall clearly getting dressed in the paper gown and lying on the gurney. I recall the nurse putting the needle from an IV bag into my arm, and then shortly before the procedure I recall another nurse coming in and inserting a needle into the IV feed. I remember watching interestedly as the differently-colored fluid flowed into my arm… and then I remember being on the phone with a friend, telling her that the procedure was over and having her tell me "Yeah, I know, you already called and told me that."

Now, this might be disconcerting to some, but believe me, it's come in very useful. When I was married, if I'd forget an anniversary, I'd just act as though I thought it was tomorrow, act surprised and say that it must have been a Versed flashback. Honestly, the only negative part to the Versed is that you don't get to remember the Demerol.

Really, though, I understand the necessity of this procedure, and I think it's a good thing to have, just in case. Still, I think after this, I'll go back to having my family portraits done at the Olin Mills portrait studio. And it'll be so nice to have my kids IN the portrait with me, rather than having to "drop them off at the pool" first.

Copyright © March 12, 2012 by Liam Johnson.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Tale of Two Liams

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. But mostly, it was just the most boneheaded of times.

Regular readers of mine will no doubt recall that the main recurring theme of my oeuvre can best be described as "What stupid thing has Liam done today?" And generally, the Liam in question is I, your humble scribe, and so what makes today's little missive so special to me is that it BEGINS with something stupid Liam did and ENDS with something stupid Liam did, but only one of the Liams is me!

The first Liam tale begins at the end of a morning commute in to work, perhaps three or four weeks ago. Now, I think we can all agree that when we arrive at work, we rarely are thinking "Yahoo! Let me jump right out of my car and race in to my desk, counter, lab or other workspace". Usually it's something more like "coffee... like coffee... must get coffee... coffee good."

Morning is not a good time for Liam, and it's generally best if he doesn't try to do anything complicated or important before he's reduced the amount of excess blood in his caffeine system(*), and on this particular morning if there were any coherent thoughts in his head as he pulled his car into the parking space, they would have been along the lines of how important it was that he get some coffee stat, before having to do anything important or dangerous, like operating heavy machinery.

It is never a good idea to interrupt an established pattern in life. Such as in the evening when one is showering and dressing for bed, being interrupted by a telephone call can lead to one waking in the morning to discover they've slept all night in a pajama shirt and no pants... and drooling toothpaste foam.

On mornings such as the one we are discussing, such interruptions-of-routine can mean the difference between a good, normal, boring work day and a morning spent frantically trying to figure out whether the engine (which is still running) will run out of gas before the locksmith can arrive to free the keys which are now locked inside the car, thus causing the battery to have to power the radio which is blasting loud enough to be legally classified as "demolition equipment" until that battery is reduced to a smoldering pile of battery parts, unable to generate enough spark to power a wristwatch, to say nothing of an internal combustion engine's starter motor.

And so you see where we're going here when, on successfully halting his car more or less evenly between two white lines on pavement (in much the same sense as wealth in this country is more or less evenly distributed), Liam decided to sit in the car for an extra minute and a half to hear the end of a radio news story which had caught what little pre-coffee attention he had on this particular morning.

Now, understand, this Liam owns a car with a key system which does not, technically, involve a key. It involves something called a "fob", which is basically a little rectangular block that somehow knows whether it is inside or outside of the car, a car which will stubbornly refuse to start unless authorized to do so by this little plastic know-it-all. And this "fob" is equally adept at authorizing the car to start from within Liam's pants pocket, so there's really never any need to take it out, nor any risk of its actually being locked in the car.

And actually, when the radio news story was over, Liam did somehow muster the wherewithal to turn off the car, so walking away leaving it running is not where this particular story is headed, either.

No, in this case, the net result of this break-in-the-routine came in the form of Liam learning what it feels like to be the pellet in a sling shot, as he opened the door and began to exit the car, only to be slammed back into his seat with all the grace of a whale on a bungee jump.

And thus did this Liam learn that seat belts can leave vicious seat welts.

Which brings us to the second Liam who, just this evening, concluded bath night and climbed out of the tub to towel off and begin dressing for bed. He was in the bathroom for some time, and when he finally emerged it was with the words "I'm having trouble."

A nearby casual observer looked up to find this Liam had managed to get his underwear so badly messed up that he was grimacing from some small discomfort, and what had ultimately happened was that he had accidentally put both of his legs into the same leg hole of his underpants. And although something had seemed wrong to him, he just couldn't figure out what, so he'd just kept pulling until the whole undergarment was around his waist, squeezing painfully.

One imagines that this casual observer had to work very hard to look concerned and comforting and not burst out laughing at the sight of a Liam, naked but for a pair of underpants twixt his waist like an overly tight belt, saying in all seriousness "Um, Dad, I'm having trouble."

And so now you've heard the tales of the two Liams, and all that remains is for you to figure out which one was me. But if you do figure it out, please don't tell me, I think the embarrassment might kill me... assuming I survive my ordeal.

Now where did I put those scissors?

(* In fairness, I can't claim ownership of this joke. This is a phrase originally given to me by my ex-wife. The first one. And by the way let me tell you, THERE is a differentiation I really never wanted to have to use.)

Copyright © November 15, 2011 by Liam Johnson.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Blog Index

For a quick introduction to the blog, click here. If you would like to have entries in the blog mailed to you, click here to learn more. I have also begun posting these as audio "podcasts", for those who like all humor squeezed out of their humor essays by hearing them read in a droning monotone, the feed is at:

Index of prior posts, by type. Items marked "NEW" are new within one week of the date this index was last published. (NEW INDEX POLICY: I will try to keep the blog index as the SECOND post, so that a new reader's first introduction to the blog is a column, not the index.)

Most Recent New Column:

Wanted: Dead or Alive (5/30/2010)

Essays Only Available On-Line:

Oracle User Conference series:

  • It's A Small World, But an Expensive One (intro) (5/6/2005, only in the book)
  • IOUG-A Live! 2005 (Day One) (5/2/2005)
  • IOUG-A Live! 2005 (Day One, Continued) (5/2/2005)
  • IOUG-A Live! 2005 (Day Two, Morning) (5/3/2005)
  • IOUG-A Live! 2005 (Day Two, Afternoon) (5/3/2005)
  • IOUG-A Live! 2005 (Day Two, Evening) (5/3/2005)
  • IOUG-A Live! 2005 (Day Three, Morning) (5/4/2005)
  • IOUG-A Live! 2005 (Day Three, Afternoon) (5/4/2005)
  • IOUG-A Live! 2005 (Final Thoughts) (5/4/2005)

  • Hoist the Sales Matey! 'Tis Black Friday! (12/2/2006)
    But Soft, What Brick Through Yonder Window Breaks? (12/9/2006)
    Only the Fifth Day of Christmas? I Can't Take All Twelve! (12/29/2006)
    Across The Atlantic... On Half A Battery (2/28/2007)
    Mmmmmm. Spicy! (3/4/2007)
    Really? So That’s What a "Tranny" Is? (6/14/2008)
    We'll Leave The Light On For Ya... It Makes The Roaches Scatter (6/21/2008)
    Diagnosis: Over 40 (6/30/2008)
    Senators, Out Standing In Their Field (7/7/2008)
    That Surgeon Really Has Gall(bladder) (7/18/2008)
    I’m Not Single, But I Sure Am Swingin’ (8/12/2008)
    The Rope Wasn't Hemp, But I Got High on It Anyway (8/23/2008)
    STUFFED: A Thanksgiving Tale of Weight Loss and Bodily Function (11/28/2008)
    Flightmares (4/2/2009)
    Positively Liam (4/9/2009)
    A Taxing Essay (4/15/2009)
    Yule Never Believe What I Did Today (4/23/2009)
    Well Now, Isn't He Special (4/28/2009, special extra essay)
    When Pigs Fly: Swine Flu (4/30/2009)
    Nailed It! (5/7/2009)
    It's a Car, Not a Crisis! (10/14/2009)
    All Dressed Up and Nowhere to ... Go (10/25/2009)
    On Firetrucks, Floods and Other 'F'-Words (10/31/2009)
    Vacation Vignettes (1/22/2010)
    A Hair of the Dog, or "Take Two WHAT and Call You In The Morning?" (4/12/2010)
    Wanted: Dead or Alive (5/30/2010)
    On Stereotypes (6/14/2010)
    P.S. Daddy, I Love You (6/28/2010)
    Cute Story (not humor) (7/8/2010)
    My Car Doesn't Corner Well (7/17/2010)
    15 Essays in 30 Days (12/6/2010)
    15 Essays in 30 Days (12/13/2010)
    Drink? Yes, Please, But Something Stronger Than Holiday Cheer (12/20/2010)
    Yule Be Happier Staying At Home (12/27/2010)
    Hey, Universe, Stop Throwing Things At Me! (1/3/2011)
    Shingles? But I Have a Metal Roof! (1/10/2011)
    Memory-Rolled (1/17/2011)
    The Germ of An Idea (1/24/2011)
    Visions of Meconium Dancing in My Head (1/31/2011)
    Mr. Love Pickle (2/7/2011)
    Open Mouth, Insert Foot (10/15/2011)
    A Tale of Two Liams (10/16/2011)

    Essays Available in my book, "Cue Ball City":

    Sleep Study Trilogy:

  • Modern Medicine: Takes My Breath Away (2/17/2005)
  • Mr. Vader... Paging Mr. Vader (2/19/2005)
  • Who Was That Masked Man? (2/22/2005)

  • Tragedy Strikes Musicians (2/27/2005)More Harmony, Less Hardware (3/4/2005)Guilty? Me? (3/11/2005)Cue Ball City (3/18/2005)Prius? You Don't Even Know Us (3/25/2005)We're All Going To Play Bruise Cruise (4/1/2005)Ahhh!!! I'm Bleeding! (4/8/2005)

    Van from South Carolina series:

  • Vanward Ho! (4/15/2005)
  • Leave the Driving to Us. (4/29/2005)
  • There's No Place Like Home. (5/13/2005)

  • Atonal, Arrhythmic, Aaaaaaaaa! (4/22/2005)

    It's A Small World, But an Expensive One (intro) (5/6/2005)
    Building a Baby. (5/20/2005)Not the Compact Disk I Was Looking For. (5/27/2005)Cell Phone? Or a bottle of Thunderbird. (6/3/2005)What Do You Get For Their Anniversary? Depends... (6/10/2005)Got a Sticky Situation? Buy Something Useless! (6/17/2005)Sure as Death and Taxes. (6/24/2005)A Snowball's Chance in... New Hampshire? (7/1/2005)The Bonds of Holy...MOLY, is that guy HUGE! (7/8/2005)The Plaquo-Terrorist Threat. (7/15/2005)No, Officer. She's just a little Tipsy. (7/22/2005)How Can I Get That Prescription? (7/29/2005)Hairy Situations. (8/5/2005)Liam: Mountain Man (8/12/2005)Caution: Terrorist on Board (8/19/2005)Sleep? It's Overrated (8/26/2005)Labor Day (9/5/2005 (Posted late due to hurricane Katrina))Business Travel Ranting (9/13/2005 (Posted late because I'm a forgetful bonehead))Fashion Plate Barbie and Homeless Ken (9/16/2005)Momma, He's Lazy! (9/30/2005)Field Trips: Not Just For Students Anymore (10/9/2005)Hamming It Up (11/27/2005)Globally Warm This (3/4/2006)Beans Beans... woot (3/10/2006)Underpants and Stolen Jokes (3/29/2006)Ah Uh Goo (4/25/2006)One of Those Days (5/31/2006)1/4 of July, You Can Keep The Other 3 (7/2/2006)So THAT'S Why They Call It 'The Old Country' (11/8/2006)Payback is Hell (11/17/2006)Musing Unconsciously (11/25/2006)

    "Cue Ball City (and other bald musings)" can be purchased directly from the publisher at:

    It will also be available (after mid-January 2007) from,, and other national booksellers.


    Saturday, October 15, 2011

    Open Mouth, Insert Foot

    "Liam, open wide for your vitamins."

    I've been saying this every morning for years now. Which is odd, because my son is only with me some of the time, and I really wonder what it says about me on a Saturday morning as I say these words into the ether. But in the area of reflexes I can't seem to suppress, this one doesn't even register compared to another one.

    Understand, Liam has a few medical issues. Nothing which I need to go into in any graphic detail, but just understand that in order to resolve some of them, he's been prescribed a fairly substantial number of morning supplements. Essentially, each morning Liam has a bowl of vitamin pills with two or three "Kixx" cereal nuggets on the side.

    He also takes several liquid supplements. Unlike Daddy's liquid "supplements" that come with a proof rating, these ones don't seem to noticeably do him any good, but I continue to give them to him anyway.

    But here's an experiment for the reader. First, obtain a liquid, a spoon, a mirror, and a test human. It doesn't particularly matter to me if the human is your grandmother and the liquid is Geritol, or the human is your buddy and the liquid contains enough alcohol to prep him for surgery, or if the human is your ex-spouse and the liquid came from an un-flushed commode. I really don't want to know.

    Pour a reasonable-sized amount of the liquid into the spoon and attempt to feed it to your test subject. JUST as the spoon breaks the plane bounded by their lips, look in the mirror. Your mouth will be open. I promise you that.

    Now, knowing that, repeat the experiment. It happened again, didn't it. And so now you are, like me, thinking "Well, this is stupid. I'm a rational human being. I understand that this reflex is borne out of a need to model behaviors for babies, who will mimic our behaviors and thus open their mouths for the incoming food, but this person to whom I am feeding this liquid is neither a baby nor in fact anyone who will respond in any way except possibly with derision to my gaping mouth, and so I should be able to keep my mouth shut", and are now looking around for a new test subject to try this on, your first one having tired of being force-fed some random unsavory substance as though they were unable to feed themselves (a status which, coincidentally, could result FROM this experiment, depending on what liquid you chose).

    And here's what you'll find when you try the experiment again: You'll find that you CAN successfully prevent your mouth from opening. You'll find that the experience is oddly discomforting, like the moment you realize, in the dead of night, that the seat of the toilet you've just sat down on was up. You'll also find that your concentration will waver, and so every third or fourth time you try it, you'll be standing there mouth agape and feeling like a fool. And if your frustration level with yourself is similar to mine, on at least one occasion you will find that you concentrate so hard on NOT opening your mouth that you pour a goodly portion of clarified cod liver oil down the front of the shirt of your nearly six year old son. Which will probably surprise you inasmuch as until that moment, most of you won't actually have HAD a nearly six year old son, but you will now, which just goes to show the awesome power of the scientific method.

    Now, we can all agree that certain reflexes are important, such as the reflex to close your eyes when you sneeze, so as to prevent having to clean splattered eyeball off of the wall in front of you, or having the oddly disorienting experience of seeing your own face. But I ask you, what biological or evolutionary imperative could POSSIBLY make that open-mouth reflex important? Are we expecting momma bird to show up and regurgitate partially-digested worm directly into our stomachs? Really? This, to you, is a good breakfast?

    There are so many reflexes of parenthood that don't make sense beyond a certain point. My friend Kate points out another one...

    Liam sleeps in my room as often as not. There's a big empty house, and he's at the age when that house holds secret terrors in any room not within direct eyesight of Daddy, and so he prefers to sleep on the loveseat in my bedroom, a situation I plan to allow only as long as it does not require a saw, a double amputation, or Liam taking up yoga in order to comfortably fit.

    But invariably in the night some primitive instinctual urge will awaken me. Rarely, it is the urge to urinate. More frequently, it is the genetic knowledge based on years of human experience that I'm running the very real risk of waking up refreshed and alert in the morning. But when this happens, I nearly always get up, go over to the love seat, and put my hand just below Liam's nose in order to reassure myself that he is still breathing. I learned with my older two children that the urge to do this only stops when sleep breathing begins to have a volume.

    Why do I do this? I don't feel the need to count his fingers and toes to make sure he's got ten of each, like I did when he was an infant. I don't pick him up and burp him after a meal (not since he threw up down my back that one time, anyway). So why do I have this paranoid fear that I'm going to find my son not breathing? And what are the odds that if I DID, it would be a recent enough phenomenon that there'd be anything I could do about it, other than appreciate the lovely shade of blue my son had attained?

    And one final reflex I sorely wish I could break, the reflex to go right on typing, because I can't think of a good "kicker" joke for the essay until I finally resort to something stupid that doesn't relate to the topic at hand.

    Like a nun with no sense of personal hygiene, some habits never change.

    Copyright © October 14, 2011 by Liam Johnson.


    Monday, February 07, 2011

    Mr. Love Pickle

    Y'know, there are some days that I just feel like giving up as a humorist. Days when something comes along that I would never think up that make me laugh harder than anything I've written, and today I was reminded of one such.

    As you all know, I'm a middle-aged bald fat guy. I try to find things that I enjoy in the way of exercise to try to keep the fat part under control, but because I have middle aged knees and am in a weight class that could officially support a satellite (heck, back in college, I had moons on several occasions[*]), my knees don't handle the stress of regular exercises, such as jogging, tennis, walking up a flight of stairs, standing up, etc., and that's why I was really quite happy over the summer to discover a new sport with the absurd sounding name of "Pickleball".

    The basic rules of this game are very close to those of tennis, except where they aren't, and the key point seems to be to make the rules easy enough for people to grasp quickly, with just a few things so very different from anything else that anyone experienced in any other racquet sport will lose whatever advantage they might otherwise have had by regularly violating some esoteric rule or other. There's a section of the court you're not allowed to go into, except when you are and then it's mandatory. This section is called "the kitchen" for no reason that I can find. The ball has to bounce once before you can hit it, until it has gone three times over the net, and then you can wail away on the fly. Serving must be done from below the waist, meaning that over-handed serving is considered under-handed.

    This game is apparently very big among the retirees in Florida, although whether this is because it's good exercise without being too stressful on the knees, or because only someone in the early stages of dementia could possibly make sense of the rules, I'm not sure.

    Either way, though, I'm rather happy that there's a guy in my community who became interested in the game and is trying very hard to get it established locally, and I go out and play regularly. Fred is a wonderful guy with an odd but infectious laugh and a passion for the game, and almost no common-sense, and this is where we come to the "things that I would never think up for an essay" portion of the essay.

    As the sport began to take off here in the community, Fred decided that we needed a web-site for local pickleball activities, to help coordinate things, get messages out to people, sign people up for league play, etc, and that makes perfect sense.

    Fred also, having invested a fair portion of his own money in getting this started up, decided to register a url for the purpose, and that also makes some sense. But let's face it, this game already has a slightly titillating name. One might be forgiven for wondering if after a long game of pickleball, the group will go out for some twigberry wine, or perhaps just stop at the local deli for a weiner, a Hostess Ding Dong and a bottle of root beer. [**]

    I ask you, in the absence of what I've written so far, if I were to ask you what you might find at "", would you in a million years assume that it would be a site you would have no problem at all showing to your 10 year old child?

    Worse than that, how many of you, knowing my sense of humor and predilection for twisting the truth to suit it, just now returned to this essay after firing up another window in your browser to check it out and see if I was making it up... or would have but are afraid that I'm playing some elaborate practical joke designed to infect your computer with spyware and give you an unfortunate new nickname at work, like "Mr. Love Pickle".

    Really, this ranks up there with some of the other great URL blunders such as "" (Experts Exchange is a chat board for programmers to exchange tips and advice), "" (Powergen Italia is an Italian battery company which now uses ""), "" (Pen Island is a company that sells pens) and the ever popular "" (Mole Station Nursery has since given this up in favor of, the original domain now points to a porn site).

    In looking for the specifics of the previous four, which I had already heard of, I also ran into "" (perhaps you need a Therapist?), "" (Who Represents is a service that will give you the contact info of the representation of most celebrities) and a URL I was sure belonged to my brother when he was a teenager, but which actually belongs to a company providing "IP computer software", "".

    To sum up, I think we can all agree on several things:

    1. That "pickleball" is a silly name, even if it is named after the inventor's dog "pickles"
    2. That none of us really wants to risk typing "" into our browser window, and
    3. That "Mr. Love Pickle and the Power Genitalia" would be a pretty good name for an alternative-rock band.

    And once you've fully internalized those three things, you'll finally be ready to play pickleball. Or to move to a rest home in Florida. Just please, stay out of the kitchen.

    (* <rim shot> )
    (** One also wonders if these same people would walk into a vasectomy appointment drinking a Slice.)

    [For those keeping track, this was the 10th humor essay, and the 11th total, of the 15 I was trying to write in 30 days. --Liam]

    Copyright © Jan 4, 2011 by Liam Johnson.


    Monday, January 31, 2011

    Visions of Meconium Dancing in My Head

    [Note: This essay was written over the Christmas break, but as part of the "15 essays in 30 days" didn't get scheduled for posting until nearly the end of January. Just imagine, if it helps, that my children dream visions of sugar plums while waiting for Punxatawny Phil's appearance. There, now we're nice and timely. -- Liam]

    This morning, my mother, my children and I engaged in a time honored Christmas tradition: we made Sugar Plums.

    We've all heard of them, visions of them dancing in the heads of the children on Christmas night, but few of us could probably pick the sticky confections out in a police line-up (sugar plums being notorious petty criminals), and so it occurred to me that it might be a fun family activity to try making them, especially since my youngest son has significant food allergies which make most traditional Christmas treats off limits to him, while Sugar Plums, containing nothing that anyone of any discerning palate would consider "good", are therefore entirely within the confines of his diet.

    We divided the labor in the traditional way. I chopped up the ingredients and mixed them together, my mother got out ingredients for me, mixed some side bits, and generally bustled about keeping her kitchen cleaner while in mid-recipe than mine is after a careful spring-cleaning binge. My children took on the vital task of "going downstairs to the TV room to play Wii", except for my daughter, Caitlyn, who, in typical extremely thoughtful fashion, slept through the entire experience. As a typical teen-aged girl, Katie sleeps later on the average day than Rip Van Winkle bitten by a tsetse fly, with all of the outward signs of animation of a corpse, but somewhat better smelling.

    Mom and I decided that since Sugar Plums are such an old fashioned tradition, that we should make them as authentically as possible, which means we used the Cuisinart, but only on "pulse" mode.

    Sugar plums comprise an ingredient list which is predominantly dried fruits and nuts. The recipe from which we were working called for dates and dried apricots, but I'd found similar recipes which called for prunes, and it seemed appropriate to include them, inasmuch as, as a humor writer, it's only possible to be this full of, well, "it" by having a constant low-grade constipation, which I thought the prunes might help alleviate. Well, that, and since prunes are dried plums, it did seem that some plum ingredients should exist in sugar plums.

    But therein lies the first problem. Dates come chopped. Dried apricots will chop up comparatively nicely in a food processor. Prunes become a thick paste spattered on the walls of the machine, with almost nothing remaining that even partially resembles fruit. It's a lot more like "tar" or the very first poopy diaper a newborn uses to indicate to his first-time parents that although he's cute and generally a blessing, life will also be an endless series of less than savory moments. Prune paste smells about the same, too.

    So you take these three fruits, mix them up with a large batch of chopped pecans, and then, because that whole mess isn't quite sticky enough, you pour in a mixture of honey and spices and stir until you have a sticky, gloppy mess which can stick to almost anything. It sticks to the bowl, the spoon, your fingers, the table top if you spill some. It sticks to the wax paper you're supposed to put it on. What it does NOT stick to is itself, so that when you take handfuls of this glop and attempt to form them into balls, you end up with what can only be described as gloves fashioned from fresh road kill, but nothing even remotely "ball" shaped.

    Still, in the end, I managed to get them formed into something that approximates spherical (in much the same way that I approximate Brad Pitt), after which I dusted them with powdered sugar and then took them straight out to the trash bin, because it was pretty clear from looking at them that my children would turn up their noses at them, and having visions of sugar plums squishing between my fingers, I didn't think I was particularly likely to want to risk touching them again, if I ever manage to get my hands clean.

    Still, I feel rather good about myself, having at least attempted this Yule tradition, good enough that I celebrated afterward by mincing around in a particularly swishy fashion, the traditional the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. It was easy to do, now that I'm thinking about Brad Pitt.

    Copyright © Dec 28, 2010 by Liam Johnson.


    Monday, January 24, 2011

    The Germ of An Idea

    So here we are on day eleven of my thirty days of essays, and for the first time, I'm behind. As you probably recall, initially there was a flurry of activity as I wrote four essays in rapid succession, thus taking care of the first eight days of essays and culminating on the day I apparently decided to see if I really needed to see a plastic surgeon, or whether I could manage a "do it yourself" sort of alteration, by attempting to use gravity and poorly placed heavy objects to see if I could rearrange the bones in my face.

    All that attempt managed was to knock whatever sense of humor I have completely out of my head.

    Actually, the truth is that for much of the ensuing time, I've been sick. And not in the "um, we read your essays, Liam, WE could have told you that" sense, either.

    You see, I've been spending a significant amount of time with my 4 year old son, because after tomorrow, I will never see him again. Oh, he's not going anywhere, he just won't be my 4 year old son any more.

    But one of the things parents of small children will tell you is that they have an astonishing ability to visit plagues and other pestilences upon our houses. Really, you can visit the infectious disease ward of your local hospital, and there's a good chance that you won't come down with even a sniffle, but have a single-digit aged child in your house, and no matter how liberally you slather yourself down with "Purell", no matter how often you scrub them down in the bath tub, you will spend the vast majority of your time ill.

    You can even commission a major prophylactic manufacturer to build a giant, full-body condom and wear it 24x7, breathing through a sophisticated HEPA filter, never allowing even the most basic of human-to-human contact, and somehow you will still end up sick. And looking like a complete dork. Or, um, so I would imagine.

    And the most tragic part of the whole thing is that those same children, those "typhoid Mary" toddlers somehow manage to sneeze twice, whine for the better part of an hour and a half, and then bounce back like nobody's business, while their unsuspecting parents, who take such care NOT to shake each other's hands just moments after admiring on one of the fingers of one of those hands a world-record-setting booger carefully extracted from a nostril, their adult bodies react in much the same fashion as one might react to a close encounter with a speeding semi tractor trailer, but with significantly less visible tread damage.

    The secret, of course, is that as we age, we become jaded, and as our bodies age, they do as well. When we were children, a germ, bacteria, virus or other big bad nasty would enter our body, and it would immediately snap to attention, marshal all of the various forces and attack the invader, eradicating it from existence in much the same way (and with essentially the same speed) as an anvil dropped onto a common house fly. But as we age, our bodies get tired. "Eh, I'll get it in a minute" they say or "Oh, great, so you went and swam in the sewage treatment vats again, and you expect ME to clean up your mess", and then roll over and return to the nap that, lets face it, we wish we ourselves were taking, such that by the time our bodies get around to marshaling the troops (and let's be honest, we haven't exactly taken good care of those troops, either. Flabby, out of shape, and suffering major attrition, our "immunity army" isn't what it once was), whole sections of the body have been fully taken over by the disease.

    As we speak, my son is almost fully over his disease, his symptoms but a dull memory, except for a bad case of conjunctivitis, which does not appear to be bothering him in the slightest. The white part of his eyes are now the sort of blood red which usually indicates a recently turned member of the undead class, or a college student after a three-day-weekend-long bender merely WISHING he was, but since I woke up this morning with no more holes in my neck than I had when I started, and since he's too short to reach the liquor cabinet, I'm pretty sure it's just "pink eye".

    Meanwhile, my throat is feeling like it's been carefully sanded with #30 coarse-grit sandpaper to remove any of that pesky lining which usually prevents our blood from attaining the freedom which should be the birth right of every American blood cell. I'm having spasms which aren't so much coughs as violent attempts to expel my appendix without surgery. And my voice is a mere whispered rasp, about as pleasing to listen to as a dental drill, but somehow less soothing.

    Day eleven of my thirty days. I've got to write SOMETHING. Just, whatever you do, don't TOUCH it as you read it. I've run out of Purell, and I'm not sure puerile is really an adequate substitute.

    Copyright © Dec 20, 2010 by Liam Johnson.


    Monday, January 17, 2011


    I had a fantastic idea for an essay that I was going to write this evening, but now that I'm sitting down to write, it has gone completely out of my head. This is not uncommon, these days, and I'm finding it ever so frustrating.

    Of course, there's nothing new about memory loss as we age, better humorists than I have fully exploited the comic depths of the topic, and yet the beauty of having attained this age is that I can't really recall any specifics, and so since it's happening to ME now, clearly that's different and not a topic that's been so thoroughly trodden as to make Times Square seem remote by comparison.

    The thing I have the worst trouble recalling is words, which can be a bit of a problem when you're trying to be a whachamacallit... um, oh, yeah, writer. To give you a real example, in the previous paragraph, I'm pretty certain the word 'exploited' was not the word I was looking for. Honestly, there's another word out there that better describes what I was going for (and by the way would have been absolutely hilarious), but I got stuck on it for literally 5 minutes, as I looked in several different on-line thesauruses trying to come up with it before settling on "exploited".

    Earlier today, I couldn't think of the word "risotto". Honestly? Snooty Italian rice? That's what my brain decided to occupy itself with for the better part of an hour? And of course, this wasn't in a vacuum, someone mentioned "arborio rice", and I got the words "Oh, you mean like" out of my mouth before I realized that, much like the one and only time I tried to COOK risotto, the word had formed a sticky glob that utterly refused to come out of the brain-pan.

    And here's the tragic part of the whole thing: there was a time when I was fantastic at remembering things, and as a result, I sort of become obsessed when I can't come up with something I know that I know. The next line in Hamlet's "To Be or Not To Be" speech. The name of the actor who starred in "Crimson Tide" along with Gene Hackman. The exact names, ages and genders of my children. Where I put my keys.

    And so I'll ponder over it, bordering on obsession, until I reach a state of mental vapor-lock, unable to work on anything else or do anything more complicated than blinking until either the item I'm casting about for eventually comes into the forefront of my consciousness or I pass out from extended lack of sleep, and if I'm lucky, in the morning I've forgotten that there was something I'd forgotten.

    It's sort of the memory equivalent of a 'song worm', when someone hums just a little bit of, say, that ghastly song by Rick Astley and for the rest of the day you can't stop hearing "Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down, never gonna run around and desert you..." echoing through the dark recesses of your mind.

    What I can't figure out is what evolutionary purpose this loss of memory can possibly serve, because it's not as if I ever forget anything that I'd LIKE to forget, like the time in second grade when we were supposed to write down our favorite things, and I wrote "My girlfriends, Anne and Daphne", blissfully ignoring the fact that neither Anne nor Daphne had ever shown even the slightest recognition of my presence in their class and completely mortified a day or two later when, after compiling the list, the teacher had us each read our own "favorite thing" out loud. To everyone. Thus teaching me the valuable lesson that there are worse things than not being noticed by the girls in the class. Being noticed, as one notable example.

    I also don't forget things like the fact that I once had a full head of hair, or that there was a time when I could climb a flight of stairs and not worry that I might spend the next day aching after having overextended myself. Or the lyrics to Rick Astley songs.

    I suppose it's possible that from an evolutionary standpoint, memory loss might be a good thing, in that at about the same time of life when you stop being a net provider to the tribe and begin being a drain on the family economy, you also can run out on an errand, forget what you were out there for, and then forget where home is, thus removing a burden from your family without them having to resort to something drastic, like replacing your bug repellent with honey or leaving a rabid weasel on your night stand where your reading glasses should be.

    But still, it seems kind of cruel that I can remember being young and healthy, but not the name of the cute girl I met at the grocery store who seemed interested in me. I can remember how abysmal I've been at sports my whole life, but not the combination to my bike lock, meaning that my bike has been chained to the wall in my garage for the past four summers waiting for me to remember how to free it. I can remember every blessed lyric to the Gilligan's Island theme song, but consistently screw up the lyrics to the songs my barbershop quartet sings, at least whenever we have an audience.

    It's time to finish this up. I know I had something else to do tonight, but even though I can't remember what it is, I can see that you're no longer hearing me over the mental chorus of "...never gonna tell a lie and hurt you", which means my work here is done.

    No need to thank me.

    [This was the sixth essay in the "15 in 30" series, although I'm posting it before the fifth, because the second, which posted fourth, dealt with the same topic as the fifth, which will now post sixth. And I'm complaining that I can't remember anything important.]

    Copyright © Dec 21, 2010 by Liam Johnson.


    Monday, January 10, 2011

    Shingles? But I Have a Metal Roof!

    Here's a tip for you aspiring authors out there: the very best time to challenge yourself to write in unprecedented volumes is at times of peak stress with a shortage of available free time and if at all possible, when various viruses and other microscopic beasties have taken advantage of the lowered immunity stress brings.

    Sometimes, it feels like the infamous Murphy is sitting, watching, just waiting for me to commit to something so that he can step in and work his mischief. Regular readers are already familiar with the initial postponement of "15 in 30" due to circumstances somewhat beyond my control. For those who somehow missed it, the time-line thus far is this:

    Monday Morning, 12/6: Liam decides that Christmas, with all of the associated travel, gift shopping, baking and other extraordinary tasks, is the PERFECT time to saddle himself with extra homework, and further decides that rather than simply entertaining this idea in private, he will further "motivate" himself by announcing to the world his intention to write 15 humor essays in 30 days.

    Tuesday Morning, 12/7: Liam's ex-wife announces that for personal family reasons having NOTHING to do with the surplus of warm, sunny weather in Louisiana as compared to Connecticut at this time of year, she must depart and would he (Liam) please come pick up their son on Wednesday evening for the rest of the week. Sons are great. Spending time with them is great. However...

    Wednesday Morning, 12/8: Liam realizes that sons are NOT conducive to prolific writing, particularly not when those sons are nearing their 5th birthday and think that the world is just perfect if Daddy will spend every waking hour playing on the Wii with them... and don't understand why the world shouldn't be just perfect. The baser part of Liam's nature also recognizes the value of the moment, in that a few years back, if he'd told anyone he planned to spend the day playing with his son's Wii, it would likely have caused him some legal trouble. So Liam announces to the world that he will be postponing the start of "15 in 30" until Friday morning.

    Wednesday Evening, 12/8: Liam drives down to Northampton, MA, where he meets his ex-wife to pick up his son. On the way there, Liam notes a certain painful throbbing in the area of his nasal passages and, not having recently taken up snorting Liquid Plumr, realizes that this is most likely the onset of a winter cold or flu, of the exact sort that will make being the primary care-giver to his son much more of a literal than figurative headache.

    This brings us to today, early in the morning on Saturday. My neck is stiff, I'm feverish, I'm coughing up large blobs of what I can only imagine is some industrial wood putty I accidentally inhaled while trying to snort that Liquid Plumr, and oh, yes, my scalp hurts. Not the sinus headache from a few days ago (although if I stop taking ibuprofen in doses large enough to qualify as agriculture, I'm sure that would return as well), but a surface pain which signals the return of yet another blast from the past: shingles.

    In my life, I have an appalling record of picking up and retaining minute details while losing sight of the larger picture. I will note a sale on milk and drive 15 miles to buy some, ignoring that with the added gas, the milk could be free and it would not be a bargain. I research the top brands of cleaning products, forgetting that as a bachelor, the last time my house got a thorough cleaning was almost certainly before I purchased it. And in the same vein, I know that one of the best ways to keep winter weather from adversely impacting your life is to put shingles on top... and have apparently forgotten that the end of that sentence is "...of your house" and not "of your skull."

    Shingles, for those who are not aware, in a resurgence of the varicella virus that gave us "chicken pox" when we were children. ("Varicella" comes from a Latin root meaning "Yeah, you only THOUGHT you were done with it after you developed that embarrassing pock-mark scar on the tip of your nose in the 3rd grade")

    The way it works is like this: a child gets "chicken pox" and his parents are forced to keep him inside and calm, a task which any parent will tell you is about as possible as playing a prolonged game of "fetch" with a rottweiler using a t-bone steak. And so after a day or so, the child still confined to the house, has begun bouncing off of the walls like a ping-pong ball in a lottery machine, and so in order to keep the child occupied and out from under foot, the parents engage him in a game of "hide and seek", hoping that their child will display the same level of savvy that purchasers of the "Sham-wow" show and will not quickly recognize that their parent is not living up to their end of the game, in so much as the only thing they are actively seeking is a bit of peace and quiet. The child, more tired than they realize from their disease, ends up falling asleep in the closet and everyone wins, including the "chicken pox" virus, which will turn out to find "hide and seek" to be the virus equivalent of on-line poker.

    And so, as the child begins to regain health, the last few strands of virus decide to start what will now be a life-long edition of this new-found thrilling game, and they hide in the various closets of your body and fall asleep until the parents (antibodies) stop seeking them. Then, just like children, they pop back out at the most inopportune time and want to play with your Wii.

    No, actually, they pop back out and start attacking one of your nerve bundles, generally the one closest to where they've been hiding, and which nerve that is decides where your symptoms will show up. Sort of like a microscopic game of "Whac-a-mole", but it isn't prize tickets which emanate from the game console when it's over.

    And of course, it is apparent that the nerve in my body which has been thoroughly attacked today is the part of my brain responsible for saying "Hey, y'know, signing myself up for 15 essays in 30 days, when I haven't written 15 essays in the last year and a half probably isn't such a good idea when I have about as much free relaxation time as a tap dancer on a very large griddle.

    Mr. Murphy has earned his Christmas bonus this year.

    [This was the second essay in the 15 in 30 series, although since it required some significant polish from its original form, it didn't post until after the fourth. Unfortunately, this puts it very close to the fifth, which also consists of my whining about being sick, so perhaps that one will be postponed as well.]

    Copyright © Dec 11, 2010 by Liam Johnson.


    Tuesday, January 04, 2011

    15 in 30 Update

    Well, I seem to have failed to consider something: My regular case of post-Christmas blues. The combination of daylight hours of shorter duration than your average sneeze and the departure after an all-too-brief visit by my children always puts me into a funk that can last for days... and which isn't particularly conducive to being funny.

    So while I still have 4 more days, I have 5 essays to write in that time, and I'm not sure I'm going to make it.

    I'll try to pick up the slack, but we may end up with only 11 or 12 in 30 days.


    Monday, January 03, 2011

    Hey, Universe! Stop Throwing Things At Me!

    Somewhere, buried deep in the annals of lesser known saints and religious figures, you'll find Saint Claudius the Maladept, patron saint of stupidity and personal embarrassment, more commonly known in recent times as "Saint Clod the Klutz". It is St. Claudius who watches over the clumsy and self-incriminating among us and makes sure that their more embarrassing blunders happen when there are no witnesses, and leaving no permanent scars or other evidence, leaving it as an option to the moron-of-the-moment whether to tell the story (either as a good humorous tale or as the central pillar of a good pity party) or to keep it to themselves and pretend It Never Happened.

    St. Claudius protects people like a friend of mine from work, who is forever telling me about the various trips and falls she takes when wearing heels of any height greater than the thickness of a piece of paper, and how pleased she is that most of these falls take place without anyone in sight, so that she can dust herself off, readjust her clothing to make sure any untoward bits are properly covered, and continue on her way with no one the wiser.

    St. Claudius should not be confused with St. Saleous the Superior (better known as St. Soupy Sales), who ensures that these sorts of boneheaded moves happen in ways which are most amusing to passers-by, random observers, or fellow drinkers in the bar the next night on retelling. Long time readers will remember the time I threw my back out and wrote an essay about it. No, not that one. No, not that one either. The first one. St. Saleous is responsible for ensuring that the rather mundane act of throwing out my back became a wonderful tale for the retelling, by ensuring that no matter the actual cause, the immediate action I was taking as it went "sproing" was reaching for a remote control in order to avoid watching an absorbent cartoon character who oddly chooses to reside in a tropical fruit somewhere on the sea floor.

    It is, however, St. Claudius to whom I apparently have not been making sufficient pleas, as last night, he was nowhere to be found as I dozed off and, too drowsy to reach over to the nightstand NEXT to my bed to put down the book I was reading, sort of half-heartedly put it down, face down on the page I was currently on, on the shelf on my headboard, directly above my head… hanging precariously off of the edge… right next to a large mug of water.

    And so as you have, undoubtedly, figured out, in the middle of the night, the book dislodged, dropping itself, the glass and the remaining contents OF the glass hurtling across the great gulf, directly at my sleeping head. Specifically, my left cheek and eye. And by "great gulf", I mean that that based on the rude awakening I had, I'm quite certain that someone in the night played a prank on me and slowly raised the headboard until the shelf was approximately the height of NBA player and noted geological landmark Manute Bol, because this clearly was not an incidental fall of about 6 inches, I can tell you based on my continuing headache that I'm lucky to have survived the experience.

    And by the way, to go off on a tangent for a moment, let me point out that this occurred about an hour and a half before I generally get up. So to whatever helpful sprite or spirit wanted to make sure I didn't oversleep, let me just say that as it was unusually early, and as I almost never fail to wake up on time for work, generally waking a few minutes before the alarm goes off, there's really no need for the universe to throw things at me, OK? I promise, I'll get up on my own!

    To this point in the story, it kind if sounds like Claudius was on the job, right? This happened in the middle of the night, he'd been working behind the scenes over the last couple of years to systematically erode the underpinnings of my marriage while simultaneously encouraging me to be, well, me, thus ensuring that at the moment this occurred, I would be alone in my bed without a witness nor even the chance of a light sleeper hearing the crash and coming to check on me.

    But he missed one important thing: the sharp corner on the book which gave me a severe laceration on my cheek and burst a blood vessel in my eye, making me look for all the world like a first-stage victim in one of those "designer plague" horror movies that were all the rage a few years back, the ones where the members of a tour group to some exotic locale come down with symptoms that begin with blood seeping from the eyes and end up with all of the bones in their bodies dissolving, until each infected tour group member ends up looking pretty much like a large pile of pudding in a Hawaiian shirt. (They had to have the Hawaiian shirt. Otherwise, it would have been tragic.)

    And worse, based on the location and extent of the bleeding from the cut on my cheek, almost certainly in the next few days I'm going to develop a nice black eye, just in time for Christmas and the family portrait I have scheduled for me and the three of my children who will be with me. I'm not sure whether to hold it up as future evidence of "elder abuse" if my children do not properly respect me in my dotage, or suggest that it's the last physical symptoms remaining from the abuse I took during my divorce.

    But that's a problem for later. Right now, I'm off to petition another Saint. Specifically, Joseph, the patron saint of pain relievers that taste like sweet tarts.

    [And again, for those keeping track, this was the fourth essay written in the "15 in 30" series. The picture doesn't fully convey the truly hideous look of my eye, my cheek, and the "black eye" bruise which is now, some 60 hours later, beginning to develop.]

    Copyright © Dec 14, 2010 by Liam Johnson.


    Monday, December 27, 2010

    Yule Be Happier Staying At Home

    These are the waning hours of Christmas Day, 2010. We are snowed in (unusual for North Carolina), two of my children are sleeping in a Hilton in Chicago, I'm still trying to figure out how to tell my body that no matter how much foreign fluid is in my lungs, there's no sense in trying to eject them wholly from my body, and I am lying in a bed in the main guest room at my parents' house in North Carolina, pondering on how I got here.

    Actually, come to think of it, as I am in my PARENTS' house, I should phrase that differently. I don't know about you, but as I have children, I have some sense of how I got here, and I really would prefer not to ponder that deeply into the mechanics of it all, if it's all the same to you.

    Our Christmas travels began on the evening of Wednesday the 22nd, Liam's birthday. With the threat of impending snow (an event which, I am told, came to little more than a few inches of snow, which in New England is considered about average for a July afternoon, while (this is true) a similar amount here in North Carolina has shut down the airport), Liam and I drove down to stay overnight at a hotel adjacent to the airport for our morning flight on Thursday. Well, when I say "Liam and I drove", of course HE drove, I was much too drunk after celebrating his fifth birthday.

    Our first flight of the day, we sat next to a lovely young college student named Molly, who apparently attends college one town over from the CA town that my Aunt and Uncle live in, and I learned significantly more about her life than I would have thought possible in a two hour flight, largely because she spent the whole trip talking to Liam. Now, it's not that I'm jealous, exactly. As a middle-aged man, I wouldn't really want to have any success with a young woman only a couple of years older than my oldest child. It's just that Liam has only comparatively recently discovered he HAS, er, naughty bits, while mine (being a divorced man) are woefully underutilized, so it is disconcerting to me that, should he turn his mind to it, he could pick up hot babes at the drop of a hat, while for me to accomplish the same thing, I'd have to be babysitting an infant with a fever.

    Our flight had a three hour layover in Charlotte, NC. This is not unusual. Virtually every flight that terminates somewhere in the southeast routes through Charlotte, and the layover is generally either short enough that you arrive at your connecting flight smelling like the locker room after a hot August pre-season NFL football game, or long enough to encompass the rest of the season. And as is not uncommon, there were earlier flights going to our same destination, and so we walked to the departure gate for one of these earlier flights to see if we could "stand by" and get there earlier.

    Now, let me say right off the bat, there are some very fine airlines out there. Even in these days of trying to make up lost revenue by charging an extra fee for everything (one airline is considering a fee to use the rest room on the flight, although as I understand it, cleaning moistened seats is still an included part of the service. It's really up to you!), some airlines are better than others, and we're flying on one of the others. This particular airline, which rhymes with "U. S. Stairways", seems to have decided that it makes good business sense for them to charge a $50 per person "standby" fee to allow you to change flights. Now, understand, the earlier flight was half empty. We had no checked luggage. And the flight we were on was oversold. If they had merely allowed us to fly on the earlier flight, they would not have had to bump someone to another flight, and pay that person $200 for the privilege, but for want of my paying THEM $100 for the opportunity, they lost money. This is not the Einstein of airlines.

    So Liam and I made our way across the terminal (Don't be silly, of course they were at opposite ends of the terminal) to the proper gate for our flight, at which point I committed the first sin of anyone traveling with a small child: I forgot to check every 3.2 seconds to see that the one little bag Liam was carrying (as I hauled the remaining approximately 700lbs of carry on bags behind me) was still, technically, somewhere on his person. It wasn't. Somehow, somewhere, Liam had set down his little cloth lunch box with the blue star on the side of it, carrying his three small toy cars and a snack for the plane, and was now upset with ME because we didn't have it.

    Now, in hindsight, I realize my son was just trying to help us get into the "Christmas Spirit" by reenacting the journeys of the "three wise men" in search of one particularly important thing indicated by a star, but at the time I was rather miffed. Nonetheless, in about the same time it took Balthasar, Melchoir and Casper, the Friendly King to reach Bethlehem, Liam and I retraced our steps back and found, in a Christmas Miracle, the bag, just moments before the TSA swooped in and blew it up, in much the same way that the TSA in Bethlehem would have swooped in and blown up Mary's new baby, had he been left unattended in Concourse D of a major American airport.

    The rest of our trip was uneventful, except for the various maladies each of us is currently suffering, but I shall not spend too much time on those, as there are at least two other recent essays on those topics, and I'm sure you're getting (ahem) sick of that as a topic.

    This is getting longer than I had planned, so I will continue next week with Andrew & Katie's travel travails. This will also give me some time to allow them to come to a full conclusion before I have to write the end of the story. Not that I'm above making something up, I'm just too lazy to do it if I don't have to.

    * * *

    I just want to throw in one last thing here. Sometimes I have a joke that I'm afraid just won't go over very well, because it relies on a word or phrase that is no longer in common or popular use. Still, there is a particular pun which makes me laugh, even though I'm afraid that about 90% of my readers, being people of fine taste and an admirable lack of pedantry, won't get it. So I'll just include it here. An earlier version of this essay included the phrase "In about the same time it took Balthasar, Melchoir and Caspar to reach Bethlehem, I had an epiphany." If you don't get it and really want to, Google the Christian meaning of the word "Epiphany", but I warn you, it's really not worth the effort!

    Copyright © Dec 25, 2010 by Liam Johnson.


    Monday, December 20, 2010

    Drink? Yes Please, But Something Stronger Than Holiday Cheer!

    One of the things I like best about this time of year, as the father of a small child, is that the opportunities to entertain said child are myriad. During most of the year, if you suggest "shopping" to a small child, you'd think you'd told the child you were going to read him the entire U.S. Tax code as a bed time story. For the rest of the year, if a stranger has cookies or candy, you tell your child "we don't take food from strangers" or "it will ruin your dinner", not "well, OK, seeing as you're only vibrating at that low frequency, why not. Have one more."

    And at other times of year, if you suggest to anyone that you plan to have your child sit appallingly close to a complete stranger with a garish, almost cartoon fashion sense you might get a call from Child Protective Services, but during this time of year as long as the gentleman in question is obese and wearing sufficient false facial hair to ensure that under no circumstances could he ever be identified in a police line-up, you are considered mildly neglectful (or, dare I say it, Jewish) if you refuse your children this ritual.

    And so today, dutifully, I bundled Liam up in his warmest clothing and hauled him out to the car to go out in search of the elusive Santa Claus. And it's quite the search, generally at this time of year you can go to five or six shopping centers and not find that the jolly fat man more than five or six times. Really, it does make one start to wonder if Mr. Claus is actually in the employ of the Department of Homeland Security and you have suddenly found yourself on some sort of terrorist watch list, considering how many places to which he seems to follow you.

    Still, though, it's worth the effort, there's nothing quite like the joyful tears in the eyes of a child who knows he is going to get to get to tell Santa his deepest desires for Christmas morning. And they express their gratitude to you so sweetly, usually with some variant on the phrase "but Daddy, I want to play Wii!"

    Liam and I started the day out with a "hey ride", so named because everyone in the horse-drawn carriage said to each other "Hey! These cold metal seats would be much more comfortable if they had some straw or something to sit on." Horse-drawn carriage rides have a certain nostalgic charm in theory, but we must remember that they were invented in a simpler era. A time when Santa wasn't painfully aware that his every move was being taped by 17 different cell phones, such that the slightest hint of an inappropriate glance on his part will result in the confiscation of his false beard and quite possibly his gonads. A time when the Wii had only four or five games available, and they were all variants on "pong", but that was OK because the TV hadn't been invented yet, so there was really no way to play them. A time when there was so spectacularly little to do that nipping off for a drink or seven and then heading out into the cold night with a dozen similarly inebriated people to torture various homeowners with horrendous renditions of Christmas carols was seen as a good night's entertainment.

    Actually, I strongly suspect that Caroling wasn't invented so much a fun activity as it was a self-defense mechanism, because at least if you are drunk and singing at the top of your lungs in 7 different keys you aren't sitting at home, sober and being accosted by the same cacophony often enough that by the time Christmas actually arrives, you can think of no better Christmas gift to find under the tree than a pair of newly sharpened pencils, ready for ramming deep into the ear canal as a protection against any such future assaults.

    Next up in our daily agenda was "story time", rendered by the town librarian, and if you can find a woman who's style and demeanor scream "librarian" (but scream it in a respectfully quiet whisper) more than this woman, I'd like to meet her. She first read a well known story in simple verse about a home invasion on Christmas morning, while the inhabitants are all asleep in the naïve belief that their home is secure against just this sort of intrusion, and then for a change of pace she read "How the Grinch Stole Christmas".

    I joke about "A Visit from St. Nicholas", better known as "Twas the Night Before Christmas", but in all honesty, can you read this story these days and NOT realize just how different times are today? They clearly had MUCH stronger hooch back in those days, who today would consider going to bed in a kerchief or cap, or be so unabashedly sex-starved as to talk about the "breast" of new fallen snow. And the man of the house, presented with this jolly secretive fellow doesn't whip out a cell phone and begin texting photos of the man to his friends and the National Enquirer, and his children, not lying in bed awake thinking greedily about their "haul" in the morning are peacefully dreaming of "sugar plums" and other Christmas goodies.

    Anyway, Liam and I finally made our way down to get on line to see the jolly fat guy, were each handed a miniature candy cane by a different sort of "sugar plum" in an elf costume, and then our afternoon was over and we made our way back home for a good, old-fashioned Yule-tide Saturday afternoon. Dad dozing on the couch dreaming of holiday blog entries, Liam playing the games on the Wii he'd been so cruelly denied all afternoon.

    [Note for those playing along at home, this was the third essay written in the "15 in 30" series.]

    Copyright © Dec 11, 2010 by Liam Johnson.


    Monday, December 13, 2010

    The Realization of Years of Teen Aged Fantasies

    [Hopefully, this does not even need to be said. However, on the off chance that any in my reading public is a sensitive, delicate type, rest assured that this particular essay contains a level of factual accuracy which represents a new low, percentage-wise. I mention this only so that the aforementioned sensitive, delicate individual does not find him or herself overcome with emotion at the opening line of my prose and find him or herself unable to continue on.]

    Apparently, my brother was murdered tonight.

    Now, you have to understand, this is my younger brother about whom we are speaking, the one human being alone above all others who, but for the least remembered first two and a half years of it, has been my biggest nemesis and the largest thorn in my side for my entire life. One might expect that this would mean that I would feel a certain... relief, perhaps, or spiteful joy at the news, and yet this does not appear to be the case.

    Alternately, this is also the only brother that I have and along with my lone sister, make up the population that the phrase 'my siblings' comprises. This might lead one to conclude that my feelings at tonight's news would be more feelings of sorrow and loss and perhaps a haunting sense of the ephemeral nature of life and the fleeting time which human beings enjoy in this world. And yet, again, that doesn't seem to match my current emotions, which can best be described as a wry sort of coincidental amusement.

    Of course, there's a very good possibility that part of the reason for my emotions is that the murder did not, technically, occur tonight. In fact, it occurred about a week ago, well before the most recent time that I spoke with him on the phone, although in truth at the time of that phone conversation, neither of us yet realized that he was, in fact, dead, because I had not paid attention the week before, and because the news of his death was still sitting, unwatched until this very evening, on my TiVo. Specifically, this week's episode of the CBS crime drama "The Mentalist".

    Understand that even with a last name as common as ours, we don't seem to run across too many people who share my brother's name, and so it was rather unusual to spend an entire hour of episodic television hearing the stars of the show repeatedly invoke my brother's name while looking for clues as to his murder and/or people who might have had motive.

    My real brother, of course, is quite alive and currently visiting my mother in North Carolina. I know this, because it was the phone call yesterday morning in which he announced his intention to make that trip to which I referred earlier. And while I do not, actually, honestly wish him dead, there is still a lingering part of me that wishes occasionally for the chance to get him back for some of what he put me through during the years that we were growing up together.

    But still, as soon as I learned of the death of his namesake on a television show, I sat down and wrote this essay, and he will not likely learn of it for another several days, after some family member or other reads this essay and shares it with him.

    And THAT, I think, is the appropriate level of revenge at this late stage in our lives. My brother was murdered tonight, and I'm not going to bother to tell him about it. That'll show him.

    [Note: This represents the first of the "15 in 30" series.]

    Copyright © Dec 10, 2010 by Liam Johnson.


    Wednesday, December 08, 2010

    15 In 30 Progress

    This is the progress report on the status of "15 Essays in 30 Days". If I have properly set up the parameters on the mailing list, it shouldn't be e-mailed to everyone every time I update it. If you want to keep track of my writing progress, please check back to the blog.

    Because I am starting on 12/10, the first essay is "due" on 12/11. Each entry will take the following form:

    Essay # - Due date - Completed date - title

    So for instance, if this was one of them, it would look like this:

    1 - 12/8/10 - 12/8/10 - 15 In 30 Progress

    And so, without further ado, the chart:

    1 - 12/11 - 12/10 - The Realization of Years of Teen Aged Fantasies
    2 - 12/13 - 12/11 - Something untitled about the Shingles.
    3 - 12/15 - 12/11 - Drink? Yes Please, But Something Stronger Than Holiday Cheer!
    4 - 12/17 - 12/14 - Hey, Universe! Stop Throwing Things At Me!
    5 - 12/19 - 12/20 - A Germ of An Idea
    6 - 12/21 - 12/20 - Unnamed essay about my failing memory
    7 - 12/23 - 12/22 - Private (not for publication)
    8 - 12/25 - 12/25 - Unnamed Christmas Travel Essay, Part 1
    9 - 12/27 - 12/26 - Unnamed Christmas Travel Essay, Part 2
    10 - 12/29 - 12/28 - Visions of Meconium Dancing in My Head
    11 - 12/31 - 1/4 - Mr. Love Pickle
    12 - 1/2 -
    13 - 1/4 -
    14 - 1/6 -
    15 - 1/8 -


    "The Realization of Years of Teen Aged Fantasies" (unless I can come up with a better title) is scheduled to post on 12/13.

    The second essay is not currently good enough to post. It's got potential, but I got bogged down in facts and got away from humor, so for now, it's not scheduled. UPDATE: This is now called "Shingles? But I Have a Metal Roof!" and is scheduled to post on 1/3 1/10.

    "Drink? Yes Please, But Something Stronger Than Holiday Cheer!" (ditto on the title) is scheduled to post on 12/20.

    "Hey Universe!..." is currently scheduled to post on 12/27 1/3, although I'm thinking of writing something in a Christmas theme, and if so it will make more sense for it to post in the Christmas week and push everything else back a few weeks.

    "A Germ..." is being reviewed by someone I trust. I was pretty tired as I wrote it, and I'm not sure if it's worth posting. UPDATE: Because I do not wish to post two essays about being sick in a row, this is now scheduled to post on 1/17 1/24.

    The one on failing memory is, I think, pretty good, but I need a title. It is currently scheduled to post on 1/10 1/17. Update: It is now called "Memory-Rolled". You'll probably understand why when you read it.

    The private one is just that. It is not humor, but it is an essay, and since the rules don't TECHNICALLY say they have to be humor essays, I'm going to count it. As with some of the introductory ones, if I can finish all 15 as humor essays, I'll drop this one from counting. But it's an essay and I spent several hours on it today, so I'm going to count it, even if no one outside of immediate family will ever see it.

    The Christmas travel essay is now scheduled to post on 12/27, pushing everything back by a week. Likely the second part of it will post on 1/3, pushing everything else back by ANOTHER week, but as it isn't written yet, I don't want to assume part two will turn out good enough to post.

    The second half of the Christmas travel essay was... not good. The first half wasn't my best work, so you can imagine. The second half will not post, unless I at some future point do some serious reworking of it and make it post-worthy.

    The "Visions Of" essay, although it will be sadly out of date by then, is scheduled to post on 1/31.

    "Mr. Love Pickle" is scheduled to post on 2/7.


    15 in 30 update

    Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men...

    Mice, for example, are forever announcing ambitious plans moments before learning that their lives and schedules are going to be turned upside-down for the next few days, and then forgetting to go in and change the scheduled "post time" on that announcement on their blogs, such that the original announcement goes out well after it's become inconvenient or downright impossible to fulfill in their newly hectic mousy lives.

    Not to get too into details, but since I wrote the post early Monday morning and scheduled it to post on Monday evening, I have learned that I am going to be making a 5+ hour round trip to go pick up my son, due to a personal emergency in my ex-wife's life. That's happening today, and I have neither the patience to compose an entire essay using 'text' language typed entirely with my thumbs on a cellular telephone keypad nor the inclination to become intimately familiar with a bridge abutment as I pay particular attention to one tricky turn of phrase and fail to notice the turn of highway.

    I knew I wasn't going to get started on it yesterday, because Tuesday is generally my chorus rehearsal night, which runs from right after work until 10pm, and by the time I get home only a moron would delay sleep and make the following day correspondingly horrible just to write an essay, and while I admit, I am just such a moron, I may be gaining a certain amount of common sense in my old age. Or maybe it's just forgetfulness.

    Either way, 15-in-30 is still on, but I've decided to delay the start until this Friday, 12/10. It's the only fair way for me not to put myself behind from the very start and then feel the need to put out sub-standard "product" in order to keep up my schedule (and since we've all experienced just exactly where my standards ARE, I think we can all agree sub-standard is not a territory we want to explore).

    So 15-in-30 will now run from Friday 12/10 until Saturday, 1/8 (and yes, I actually counted out the days on my fingers to figure out when the 30th day would be. I'd like to see a mouse try THAT!).


    [ Previous 5 Sites | Skip Previous | Previous | Next ]
    Visit HumorLinks!

    This HumorLinks Ring site
    owned by
    Liam\'s Weekly Humor Column

    [ Skip Next | Next 5 Sites | Random Site | List Sites ]
    Website Counter