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.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Musing Unconsciously

I wish I lived in an alternate reality, the one in which our dreams make sense. If I did, I'd be a much better humor writer. As I write this, it is about 6:45am, and I just woke up after a long series of dreams in which I had a GREAT idea for this weeks' essay. In the dream I'd woken up at 2am inspired by my muse. The ancient Greeks had muses for the various different art forms, such as “Erato”, the muse of correcting typos, and “Calliope”, the muse of musical instruments only heard on old fashioned children's carnival rides. My own muse in charge of waking me up repeatedly with really bad humor ideas is “Bladder”, assisted by another ancient Greek, “Urania”. But I digress.

In my case, so many of my best ideas come at night and in forms which, once I wake up, somehow no longer seem to hold vast comedic vistas, in as much as they no longer bear any particular resemblance to reality. For example, this morning as I woke up, I was just (in the dream) putting the final touches on a hysterical article about how the food vending machine at work had suddenly begun behaving like an electronic version of “” in the sense that it was dispensing dating advice in lieu of various forms of what we're supposed to believe is “food”. Now, I think we can all agree that this is an amusing premise, except in so far as our own “Food Simulator” at work has never behaved in a fashion even REMOTELY similar, and many of the funnier elements of the essay relied on odd quirks of co-workers with whom I do not actually work.

Plus there's the fact that, given the quality of product usually associated with this particular machine, I can only assume it would have fixed me up with a cut rate, stale date somewhat older than I'd prefer and lacking in “freshness”. Also, and if you don't work there you'll have to trust me on this, my own co-workers are not a particularly “hip” or “swinging” lot. Most of us are old, married, and unattractive in the way that only long periods of inactivity bathed in the healthy glow of a CRT monitor can really be. Or perhaps I'm projecting.

This has happened to me before, like the time I awoke brimming full of ideas and ready to sprint to my “Laptop” and unleash the torrent of “humor” into the “bowl” before “flushing”, because the entire premise of the article was that I was one of the stars of the television show “MythBusters,” which I quite clearly am not. MythBusters, for those who have not run into it before, is a wonderful program on the Discovery Channel in which two gentlemen named Jamie and Adam test various popular myths and old wives tales to determine the truth (if any) behind them, generally culminating in an explosion and a large pile of scrap metal where the object they were testing had been only moments before. Jamie and Adam once inflated enough helium balloons to lift a 6 year old child off of the ground, while I successfully inflated... my bladder.

And that, apparently, is the root of the problem. It seems that my unconscious brain confuses “urine” with “humor” and finds great comic potential in base natural urges that DON'T involve asking someone to pull your finger. Really, we guys know a funny bodily function when we see it, and the frequent urge to visit the loo due to what is likely a prostate the size of a Buick with a blocked exhaust line isn't one of them. To us guys, in order for a bodily function to invoke humor, it has to contain at least two of the three classic humor elements:

  1. Odor
  2. Embarrassingly loud noise
  3. A look of disgust and utter disbelief on the face of our partner at the thought that she could have been so terribly wrong about us as she wonders whether it's too late to go back and marry someone mature, like Homer Simpson.

Interestingly, although many forms of humor do involve repetition ad absurdum, somehow repeating the act of waking up containing what is clearly at least a gallon of abdomen-squeezing waste product, dragging our sorry sleeping butts out of bed and across the mine field of dirty clothing that some evil sadist has seen fit to strew across the bedroom floor the night before as we were getting undressed, only to release what can only be described as “about a teaspoon, but somehow less impressive”does not evoke the same peals of laughter as a second audible belch in church or a third unfortunate gastric event blamed falsely on the dog.

And while I'm here, let me add as a piece of advice to my fellow guy readers out there: If you, like us, do not have a dog, do not try the last. It took me quite some time before I figured out how my brilliant wife was so quickly deducing that I was the source of the cloud of odious perfume gently scenting our air. And forget blaming the cat. It is a sad fact of life that while dogs will routinely emit large green clouds foul enough to kill any rodents which happen to have taken up residence within your house, cats have no such tool, which is why they have had to develop over the years the skill of actually catching the mice, killing them, and then leaving them in silent offering to the masters of the house, lovingly laid across our pillows or in the clean laundry basket. Besides, we also don't have a cat. Don't even get me started on hermit crabs.

But we weren't talking about house pets. We were talking about dreams. Or unconscious humor ideas. Or urine. I forget which. It doesn't really matter, inasmuch as by now you've determined that there's nothing even remotely funny here and have probably pointed your browser to a more reliably funny site, one that features Family Circus, the Lockhorns or the Uniform Code of Military Justice. And yet for me, it's been a successful and productive morning, seeing as I now have this column (such as it is) written for posting next week, and I wasn't reduced to writing yet another in the embarrassing series “Stupid Ways in which Liam can injure himself”. Yes, I have another one, it'll probably be the subject of NEXT week's column.

But for now, there are just three things you need to take away from this week's entry. First, if you want to REALLY appreciate my humor, apparently you need to sleep with me. Er, I mean, dream with me. Second, it really is marginally better to starve than to eat food from the “Wheel of Death” at my company. And the third one I can't think of right now. I'm too distracted by an urgent call of nature.

Copyright © November 20, 2006 by Liam Johnson.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Liam Humor Book Now Available!!!

For anyone whose ever read these columns and said "I wish I could get these columns professionally bound into book form", now you can. I've set up an account with, and shortly I'll be adding a "Buy my book" button to the blog page. I'm still tweaking things like book title, design of cover, and I may fix a few formatting issues. Heck, if I can find someone with the talent and the interest to draw a few cartoons to go with a few of the columns, I may add that as well.

But the initial version of the book is already available, for anyone who REALLY wants one. It costs $9.95 plus shipping. Once I have a final version available, it'll be listed on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and may cost a few dollars more.

For now, if you really want an early copy, you're welcome to click through to:

(Yeah, I know, I should have waited to announce this until I was happy with the final product, but I'm just so excited that there's a version available!)


Friday, November 17, 2006

Payback IS Hell

["Wow, Liam," I'm sure you're saying, "two columns in a row!" Well, yeah. This one was written almost a year ago, largely for the benefit of my sister (because posting it would clearly have been to her detriment), and the one thing I asked of her was that she let me know after she either got the job in question or decided not to pursue it any more, so I could share it with my adoring public. That happened a few months back, and I'd forgotten I'd written this, which shows just how much I adore my public back. Ah well, better late than never. I hope you enjoy it! --Liam]

So, tonight I got a telephone call from my sister. She is considering a change in employment, and has in her sights a major secret government agency.

Now, anyone who knows anything about the government knows that secret agencies require background checks on employees and their families. And anyone who knows anything about my political blog may know that I’m not entirely in favor of the current crop of Federal leaders. Perhaps not, I’m generally a very subtle and discreet person, so you may not have picked up on it, but I’m pretty certain that agents of our government, so adept at finding WMDs which don’t even exist, will be able to spot without much difficulty my personal leanings.

And hence, the call from my sister, letting me know that if I’m not ALREADY under scrutiny, that I probably will be (at least cursorily) and asking that I please, for her sake, not write anything blatantly anti-government for a few weeks.

Let’s review a few facts about my sister. First, of the three siblings in my family, she is by far the most personally successful. She’s also the youngest, most attractive, most female and has the largest breasts. Well, since I lost a few pounds, anyway. But being the oldest, least attractive, one of the two most male and having the second largest breasts, to say nothing of being arguably the least successful (although this is only by comparison to the other two), I have some reasons to feel some jealousy towards my little sis.

Now, let’s add in here a quick story. Part of what makes her so successful is that she’s a major grand Poobah Muckity-muck with a large children’s entertainment corporation whose logo is a large rodent. One of the few things that makes ME successful is that I’ve got a steel trap mind for any piece of useless trivia that will never matter to anyone, under any circumstance. Really. Ask me the origin of the phrase “Mind your P’s and Q’s” and I’m all over it. Ask me to list off the ages, genders, grades and even names of my children and I’ll stare at you blankly and say “Um... there are four of them, right?” (My wife, on proof reading, tells me I’m off by one. I forgot the youngest one. Lonny, or something...)

So a few years back, the television show “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” hit it big, and suddenly my useless trivia wasn’t so useless after all. Here was a chance (albeit(*) a small one) for me to go on to some level of success, personal fortune, and the priceless opportunity for which our Founding Fathers fought and died: The chance to make a complete fool out of myself on national television.

I don’t know if you ever watched the show, but the way you auditioned was to call up a toll free number and answer a few questions. If you were successful and under a certain time, someone called you back, screened you, and then invited you down to the next level of contestant vetting.

I made it that far. I got through to the very busy telephone number, answered the questions, and received a call back from a nice older-sounding lady who asked me a few questions. By now I’ve given you all of the information that you need to see where this is going, but in case you haven’t connected the dots...

The Millionaire show was on a network which shares it’s name with an early scholastic subject. Said network was owned by the rodent and his corporate backers, who also employed my sister. So when the kindly lady asked me if any of my immediate family, including parents, spouses, children or siblings worked for the show, the network, or any large companies which might own that network, I found myself disqualified faster than I could say “The most magical place on earth!”

So you see, far from helping out, now is my chance to FINALLY get back at my sister for stealing this lifelong dream from me. (Well, OK, I’d been dreaming about it for the hour or so I tried calling the number, but still...)

I’ve been dreaming of my revenge since that day. The problem is, I don’t get many opportunities. I mean, I don’t work for a large entertainment company from which she might want something. I work for a company which makes digital maps. What was I going to do, delete her street from the map? Change one of the streets on her way to work to reverse the one-way information so that her in-car navigation system would consistently give her routes she couldn’t use? Yeah, that’d get her.

So now, of course, I finally have my opportunity. All I have to do is risk greater governmental scrutiny to the point that eventually I’m declared an enemy combatant and thrown into Guantanamo Bay detention center without benefit of council or charges being filed, away from my entire family and secretly looking forward to the next time the battery terminals are attached to my nether regions just for the human contact, and I can get her back! I can ruin her chance of getting a job which for all I know she’s not really interested in anyway. (I don’t know that she’s NOT interested, but how great would that be, to spend the rest of my life having government agents play punching bag with my major organs, far from the family that I love, only to find out she didn’t really want that job anyway).

So at this point, I’m torn. I could say “OK, Sis, what’s it worth to you?” and try to get some of the fruits of her success showered upon me as payment for my silence. Or I could just go the revenge route and write some article or other in support of terrorist forces which I otherwise find abhorrent, evil and worthy of total destruction.

Or I can say: Sue, good luck. In all seriousness, if this is a job you want, you deserve it and good luck.

There, that’ll show her.

(* See what I mean? Who knows what albeit means? And who, really, cares?)

Copyright (c) January 4, 2006 by Liam Johnson.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

So THAT'S Why They Call It “The Old Country”

About a month ago, I took my first trip ever off of the North American continent, not including the time when I was six and the undertow of the New Jersey shore pulled me out to sea roughly 75 miles before my Mom got to me and brought me back to shore, having learned three valuable lessons:

1)Undertow can kill you
2)Mom talks really funny when she's panicked
3)Some water isn't worth drinking no matter HOW thirsty you are.

I mention this last point because it will tie in nicely later, and I'm still at that amateur stage of writing where I think my essay is just spiffy if I get to use a “callback” later in the piece.

My trip was a business trip to Europe. Specifically Belgium, although you can't get directly there from here, and so to make the trip requires a car, an airplane, two different trains, a taxi plus assorted moving walkways in the airports. Well, I thought they were moving walkways. Apparently only luggage is supposed to go by that route. On the plus side, though, they were able to give me a clean bill of health, x-ray-wise.

Not being able to get directly from point A to point B turned out to be a major feature of this trip, because it is apparently some sort of condition of joining the European Union that no matter how many times you take a cab from your hotel to your place of business, no two of them may ever take the same route. I was in Belgium for five business days, and by the last day, I'm pretty sure I spotted the Acropolis and the Grand Canyon from my zooming taxicab window.

And by the way, I do mean zooming. As an American citizen, let me tell you, you only THINK you know how to drive. There are several features of Belgian automobile transportation which are fresh and exciting (as measured in heartbeats per minute).

First, the cars are all tiny. The smallest compact car in the U.S. has more space in its trunk than in an entire Belgian vehicle. Really, they talk about how fat Americans have gotten, I just never realized they were talking about the cars.

Second, there does not seem to be any standard speed limit, so everyone zips around at what I can only assume is the top possible speed for a car whose engine compartment can only possibly have room for a tightly wound rubber band driving the wheels.

Third, I'm pretty sure the cars can shrink and expand at will. At least, that's the only way I can explain how we managed to fit into some of the spaces our cab driver neatly squeezed us into. We'd be hurtling along at top speed and we'd come to an intersection with a busier street, where in any sane country there would be a stop sign, and there would be bumper to bumper traffic on the cross street (all traveling mere inches apart at the same too-fast-to-read-the-license-plates speed) and without stopping or even noticeably slowing, the cab driver has neatly turned the corner and inserted the car into a space which, had I been jogging, I would have been concerned about trying to fit my big toe into.

And finally, although the cars are tiny, the streets are tinier. I'm assuming most readers have, at some point, visited a large metropolis. You have thus seen large avenues, small streets and are acquainted with sidewalks. In Belgium, the sidewalks are pretty much part of the street. They have to be, the entire street is less wide than the entire sidewalk on a moderately sized NYC street. Really, we walked around quite a bit in the evenings, finding restaurants to dine in. We'd get directions from the concierge at the hotel and we'd set out walking, and we'd have to backtrack three or four times until we identified that the cross street we were looking for was that gap between the buildings which in any American city would be the space left over when the builders accidentally mis-measured their building materials and didn't quite manage to make two adjacent buildings touch. I've seen rolls of duct tape in the U.S. that were wider than these streets. And with no signage what so ever, I can only assume these are two-way streets, although heaven help the poor pedestrian walking down this tightrope if even one car (to say nothing of two in opposite directions) comes barreling along.

But here's the really odd thing: There aren't many cars with visible damage. I'm not kidding. With all of the close quarters, high speed, no signs and zigging and zagging in places where I would be holding, white knuckled on to my steering wheel and hoping against hope that something I was interested in was straight ahead because there was no way I was ever going to turn my vehicle again, somehow the people manage to stay out of each other's way enough to almost never get into accidents. I don't know how they do it.

So finally, down a long narrow street about the width of an index card, we'd find the restaurant we were looking for, which brings its own adventure. You see, I was rather concerned going on this trip, because I do not speak any languages but English, and I leave it to the reader to determine if I speak even my native tongue passably. However, most Belgians speak English, some with a greater fluency than certain U.S. Presidents I could name, and so it's reasonably easy to get by.

You can almost forget that you're in a foreign country (if you could find anywhere in the U.S. that has an honest to goodness Castle right in the middle of the city, buildings which were apparently built before Columbus even made his journey to America, and co-ed bathrooms (more on them later)) once you get used to everyone else speaking English with an accent, until the restaurant hands you a menu. Belgium still has a king (largely ceremonial, I gather), who has apparently in one of his last actual decrees declared that his people might all speak English, but he was going to be damned if his restaurants were going to spend extra money printing out menus for lazy Americans who don't bother to learn the local language before visiting a place. And amazingly, the wait staff is all in on the joke. A man or woman who could speak nearly flawless English while arranging to seat us all at a table suddenly didn't know any of the right words to translate the menu items, meaning that on the nights that none of our Belgian co-workers dined with us, there was always at least one of us gesturing at the menu and indicating that we'd like the “We Proudly Accept Visa and Mastercard”. And make it snappy.

And here's where we get to water. The tap water in Belgium isn't BAD, per se, but it's also not particularly... pure. Perhaps not Jersey shore Atlantic ocean impure, but bad enough. No one orders tap water to drink; if you want water, you buy water. Bottles of water are about three euros (around $4) and contain plenty of water to refill your glass at least twice... if by glass you mean a decorative crystal thimble you happen to be carrying with you for some completely inexplicable reason. Sodas are not much better, size and cost wise.

And yet beer is cheap. On the first day there, I was told by a co-worker that if I was charged more than about a euro and a half for a beer, I was being ripped off, and that seemed to bear out (the only place I paid more was in the bar at the hotel). And each beer, while perhaps not quite a pint in size, was still plentiful to drink. And what beer. I could write an entire column extolling the virtues of Belgian beer. We have beers as good here in the U.S., but generally they're all imported from Belgium. So yes, I really am saying that some of the best beer I've had in my life was significantly cheaper to consume with meals than water. What a country!

And so of course I had to consume several beers with each meal (by the way, watch out: bottled Belgian water has more alcohol in it than most American beers. The beer could give an equal amount of Jack Daniels a run for its money), and I can report to you that Belgian beer requests exit just as quickly and with the same urgency as its watery American cousin, and boy is it odd to use the rest rooms in Belgium. First off, many of them are co-ed. Each individual toilet (for those whose bathroom business is going to involve creating a lap) has its own little closet room, but the urinals are right out in the middle for people of every conceivable gender to view while washing their hands. But if you think that's bad, they actually have at various places along the streets public urinals, which are about as private as an old American phone booth, if you made it with frosted glass. Not big on body modesty, the Belgians.

There's so much more I could tell you about, like how the average tip at a restaurant is less than you'd leave in America for a waiter who visibly spit in your food as he was delivering it, or how odd it was to realize that many of the buildings (indeed much of the older section of the city) probably looked nearly the same 500 years ago, except with less neon signs. I could tell you how the mind sprains trying to wrap itself around a digital display indicating an ATM in a building which looks like it was constructed around the same time Christianity was splitting off from Judaism. I could tell you how impressive the Castle and the main Cathedral were, when you stopped to think that both buildings were that huge, entirely out of stone, and built at a time when there were no power equipment, trucks or cranes.

I could tell you about all of that, but I need to put my energy into figuring out a callback with which to end this essay.

Copyright © November 8, 2006 by Liam Johnson.

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