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.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Only the Fifth Day of Christmas? I Can't Take All Twelve!

December 29th. Another Christmas season quickly wanes, another mess of torn wrapping paper and broken toys strewn about the living room, standing in silent testament to the avarice of days so recently past and to the traditional holiday virus which has made its way through our family and made our holiday vacation festive in the way that only multi-colored bodily effluent can.

Never again. Why do we do this every year? We make such big plans, only to bargain them away one after another, like what remains of our ethics when, in a tired haze of shopping, we find the one remaining "Must Have" toy in the store and decide that knocking over the grandmother currently reaching for it is not too large a price to pay to make our own children's holiday a festive, magical experience that they'll remember until lunch time, when all of the chocolate Santas will kick in and each of them will dissolve into an inconsolable pile of tears and tantrums.

How much magic did the Holiday Season hold for us this year? Well, to start with, we didn't actually get our Christmas Tree up until about 7 days before Christmas. Now, I'm well aware that December 25th is the first of the much vaunted "Twelve Days of Christmas" ("a Partridge in a Pear-shaped Dad"), but clearly I'm not a proper warrior defending against the War on Christmas, since I didn't have my tree up by the end of October.

So far, this Christmas (and this essay) have been a bit of a bummer, and I can only chalk that up to the fact that Janet is, as we speak, lying in bed moaning, putting off enough heat to start nuclear fusion. I had to make sure all of the elemental hydrogen was out of the room. On the plus side, our heating bill will definitely go down this month.

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't begrudge my wife the chance to be sick occasionally. It's just that I'm also sick, just not as sick as she is. I have a fever, but she's got a fever and a sore throat. I'm achy, but she's achy and can't stop sneezing. I'm really tired, but she's exhausted and sounds like she's trying to expel at least one major organ simply by coughing. And so there's no one to feel sorry for me in my aches and take care of me in my illness, and to add insult to injury, she seems to feel that I should take care of Liam based solely on the facts that:
  • She's too sick to move without waves of nausea.
  • I'm home on vacation this week.
  • He's genetically my son.

And apparently the little monster has to be fed. And I don't just mean occasionally, I mean three times a day! Who ever heard of such a thing? And why do I have to feed him again and again? Because the LAST food I gave him has leaked out of him, and of course I'm supposed to clean that up TOO.

Now understand, I love my son, I really do. I love ALL of my children. It's just that Andrew & Katie and Dagny & Darby had the extremely good manners to all spend much of the "Illiday" Week with their other biological parent, such that they weren't underfoot and expecting us to be parents. Liam on the other hand, well, apparently he's too young yet to grasp the concept that he should go see his mo... his fath... hmmmm. Well, he should darn well go see SOMEONE when Mommy and Daddy are feeling ill.

Christmas morning, we almost canceled the whole affair. Due to the global warming that isn't conclusively proven yet, there wasn't anything even vaguely approaching icy white powder on the ground outside (unless you count the bottle of baby powder Liam spilled in the driveway), and so in order to have a proper "White Christmas", Janet woke up a color normally reserved for brand new sheets. Lying next to her, I could see just how dingy my t-shirt was getting to be and vowed that this would be the week that I change it. Really, though, I was glad we have curtains, because the daylight reflecting off of her perfect ashen whiteness would likely have blinded me.

Are you getting the sense that this illness in our household isn't new in the last couple of days?

Anyway, we had invited several people over to share our Christmas Dinner, those people being Ray (Dagny & Darby's father) and Mark & Lorena, our friends whom regular readers will have met before, who like us have the great good fortune to have a paucity of nearby relatives that would otherwise expect visits for the season, and so they were free to be strong armed by us into visiting for the season.

Taking a good look at Janet and realizing that she looked even less likely to spring out of bed and begin preparing the roast beef than I was, I had just picked up the telephone to call our guests and wish them a Merry Bah, Humbug, find your own damn Christmas dinner, when Janet decided, in that way only a mother can, that Christmas must go on. And so somehow the meal got prepared, the day got celebrated and the guests got fed, hampered only by the fact that in lieu of a single, store-bought Christmas gift, we provided Ray, Mark and Lorena with millions upon millions of little gifts which they are sure to remember later.

That was Monday. Tuesday we pretty much stayed in bed all day. Wednesday too. On Thursday, Janet pointed out that the girls would be returning home the next day, and we'd pretty much wasted the three days we'd planned to spend either in Washington DC or further exploring Boston, and if we wanted to do anything even remotely sociable, we really should make some effort. A gallon or so of Nyquil later, and we were in the car heading down to visit George and Rachel, another married couple who are friends of ours, but who have had the very good sense up until this point to avoid doing anything I felt compelled to mention in one of these essays. I don't have much to say about the trip except this: It is a measure of how addled our fevered brains were that it never occurred to us, not for a single second, that as sick as we'd been (and but for the grace of Nyquil, would be at that moment), that going out for Indian food was perhaps not the most prudent choice.

And so this morning, to round out the week and celebrate the Fifth day of Christmas ("Five Toilet Rings") I made the traditional post-Christmas trip to the District Courthouse of my county to challenge a ticket for failing to come to a stop at a stop sign back in late July. I had planned to offer the excellent and generally successful "But your honor, the officer is mistaken. I distinctly came to a complete stop!" defense that has led so many before me to such success, as measured in fines paid, but unfortunately for me I was thwarted by the local prosecutor, who wished me a Merry Christmas, commented on my lack of priors, and told the Judge he did not wish to press the charges.

Still to come of course, is the traditional New Year's Eve celebration on day Seven ("Swine-flus a-Swarming"), a day on which Janet and I pull out all the stops and really go wild, spiking our egg-nog with a fiber supplement and staying up well past our normal bedtime to collapse fully partied-out around 9:30, only to wake up in the morning like zombies, swearing never to "over-do it" again.

December 29th. Christmas ebbs. The New Year draws nigh. And the Nyquil still tastes just as hideous as ever.

Copyright © December 29, 2006 by Liam Johnson.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

There's Something Different...

"Wait,", you say, "don't tell me. I'll figure it out. Something's different about your blog."

Yep, it's much shorter.

"I ASKED you not to tell me..."


Ladies and Gentlemen (or at least those of you who actually visit the blog, as opposed to just getting new essays e-mailed via subscription), as I mentioned recently, I have collected most of my essays up through about a month ago into a book.

So far, this blog has been wildly successful as a place for me to express my creative side, moderately successful at making readers laugh, not at all successful at heaping fame and glory upon my name and generating a huge readership, and an abject failure at making me any money at all.

Now, I didn't enter in to writing for the money, in much the same way I didn't enter into a technical career for the babes. But inasmuch as I now have enough essays together to actually publish a book, I'm sort of hoping I sell a few copies, and the best way to do that is not to have the entire contents of the book also available free of charge on the Internet.

If you're one of my loyal regular readers (and unfortunately you are so few in number that I know you all) and would particularly like a copy of one of the older columns that you've already read, I'll be happy to e-mail you a copy. But if I can manage to generate any "buzz" about the book, I'd rather not be giving away free milk and wondering why no one will buy my cow.

If you or anyone you know would be interested in a copy of the book, you can buy it at, and soon (probably January or February) on Amazon and other online book sellers.

And thanks for your continued support!


(NOTE: I did not mean to imply that there are no "babes" in science. I meant to imply that, growing up at least, on the list of careers expected to generate wild female interest, science rated somewhere between "door-to-door belly-button-lint salesman" and "Bill Clinton at an NRA meeting". So what I'm saying is, I got into science for the money. I got into writing for the fun. Having found the love of my life, I don't do anything for the babes. My story, and I'm sticking to it.)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

But Soft, What Brick Through Yonder Window Breaks?

This morning, I had occasion to be at Boston's Logan Airport. The reason was that I was dropping my kids off for another of their regular visits with my ex-wife (visits that last generally months at a time, in between the infrequent week long stays at home with me). And the reason for that is that, although this is to be posted somewhat later, I am writing this on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Oh, and the reason I specify that this was Boston's Logan Airport is that at the other end of my kids' journey, they would arrive in Billings Montana at an airport the entirety of which (including runways) could fit inside one of the larger baggage return carousels in Concourse A in Boston, but which for some reason shares the name “Logan”, such that my kids spent many hours today enacting their own version of the 70s movie “The Logans Run”.

I have to say, by the way, that there is almost nothing I enjoy about going to airports, and Logan is one of the worst. From the logical “bowl-of-spaghetti” layout of the various airport roadways to the curt “This job would be really awesome if you idiots wouldn't insist on actually TRAVELING” attitude of the people at the ticket counters, enjoyment-wise the entire experience is comparable to booking your next family vacation to sunny Iraq, but without the pretty fireworks. Plus, dropping off “unaccompanied minors” takes over an hour, meaning that I had to take out a second mortgage on my home to pay the parking fees. Oh, and did I mention that the airport is conveniently separated from all other land area by various different waterways such that you can't get there without taking a bridge or tunnel, packed with traffic and charging yet more money for the privilege of sitting and watching the guy in the next car over pick his nose while talking on his cell phone and (if you're really lucky) engaging in some highly personal grooming activities normally reserved for the privacy of the bedroom, preferably a bedroom in a locked bunker a mile below a mountain in a retired ICBM silo.

But what made this particular trip truly memorable was this: As anyone who has ever been to a modern airport large enough to have its own weather system knows, they have these ingenious little moving walkways (for those who think "Y'know, I'd really like to ride one of those fancy escalator things, but the change in altitude always makes my ears pop painfully!"). These generally have a handrail that no one holds on to, because for some reason that no one can adequately explain, the handrail is always moving at a slight but distinct difference in speed from the one the belt you're standing on is moving, such that if you don't pay attention and shift either your feet or your grip on the railing, by the time you reach the end of the walkway, you are tipped at a 45 degree angle to the ground.

Additionally, these railings are generally held up by large panels of industrial strength glass which looks like it could stop any bullet of caliber smaller than a cannon ball, the same kind of stuff the attendants in city subway systems sit behind, because clearly everyone knows that the true wealth of the nation is stored in masses of $1.25 tokens in those booths.

Anyway, the glass is very strong. It has to be, because there are literally thousands of people lugging tons of luggage across them daily, and statistically some of that luggage has to occasionally get bumped, jostled, dropped or thrown into the railing from time to time. Which is why I simply cannot fathom what might have shattered a pane of this stuff, but that's exactly what had happened, to not just one, but TWO adjacent panes. In the “passenger walkway” between the parking garage and Terminal E (a suspended hallway roughly as long as the Boston Marathon, but without Gatorade breaks), one of the moving walkways OUT of the terminal was shut down. As we passed the end of it, we saw a pile of something we would in hindsight recognize as shards of glass piled up at the end of the currently stationary walkway belt. A bit further on, we could see that the handrail was at a somewhat less horizontal and linear orientation than we were used to, and as we got closer, we noticed that the glass was missing. Just gone.

My theory is that someone's been smuggling wild animals again. You know how every few months you hear one of those “stories of the weird” of someone getting caught trying to smuggle rare birds in their suitcases or exotic lizards in their underpants? (Not the lizards' underpants, they tend to wear thongs and you couldn't really smuggle anything in them). Well, from the shattered glass and the way that the heavy-duty metal on which the moving handrail runs was now bowed significantly towards the floor, I can only assume that someone decided to let their illegally carried rhinoceros out for a moments break, only to have it decide to sit upon the nearest railing. (Believe me, if you'd been smuggling a rhino in your underpants all day, you'd need a break too. Or, um, so I would imagine.)

So, to sum up, not only did we get out of bed at 4am to drive several hours, brave the traffic, risk getting lost in the airport roadways, pay large tolls and the gross national product of a small nation in parking fees, walk enough distance to erode holes in the bottoms of our shoes, and by the way have to say goodbye to two of our children for the foreseeable future, but we had to WALK back to the garage from the terminal because someone, somewhere, had found a way to break a pane of glass that had withstood literally hundreds of thousands of other travelers passing by with nary a scratch. And so you'll never guess what Janet and I thought was just the perfect thing do on our way home.

Really, you'll never guess, because although I know you've read most of my adventures in the past and have heard me tell you the extent to which I am a moron (and the patience with which Janet puts up with my ideas, knowing how they generally turn out), I know you're also very nice people, both too polite and too believing of the good in people to honestly realize how stupid one man can be, and so I will just tell you: We stopped at the Manchester, NH airport.

There is, of course, a good reason for this, beyond the fact that I am clinically insane with a legal mandate to register with my community as a compulsive masochist. No, the reason was that my parents were going to be in the airport for an hour and a half, and we thought it'd be nice to stop in and visit with them and have a cup of coffee or something, before they got onto their flight and we finished our trip back home.

But of course those of you who live in or near New Hampshire realize that Manchester Airport is small enough not to have most of the problems of Boston's Logan Airport, meaning of course that there aren't terribly many flights that connect through there. So how did my parents, who live in North Carolina, come to be in the Manchester Airport? Well, they were there because THEY'D JUST SPENT MOST OF THE PRECEDING WEEK INCLUDING THANKSGIVING DAY WITH US. That's right, I'm apparently such a Momma's boy that spending a week with my parents isn't good enough. No, I have to spend MORE money on parking and wander through yet ANOTHER airport, just so that I can spend another few minutes with my Mommy and Daddy before they leave and go back to their home, secure in the knowledge that they've fulfilled their familial obligation to their obsessive son for at least another 6 months and can return to North Carolina where there is very little chance they'll have to deal with me in any form more threatening than e-mail for the foreseeable future.

Which means that in the process of writing this, I've learned several things. First, that my life is not an easy one. Second, that the difficulties in my life are largely of my own making. And third, there's GOT to be a better place to hold this rhinoceros, or at least some way to keep it from chafing.

Copyright © November 25, 2006 by Liam Johnson.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Hoist the Sales Matey! 'Tis Black Friday!

I'm sure we're all quite familiar with the Thanksgiving holiday, and if we aren't, we can all go back and read last year's Thanksgiving essay. I don't want to re-tread old ground (although don't think I won't, if you push me! Don't make me stop this essay, kids!).

Of course, things are different, year upon year. For example, after last year's ham proved to us that this whole global warming fiasco could have been avoided if we'd just aerosolized smoked pork products and replaced the Freon in our air conditioning units, this year we returned to the traditional turkey dinner, complete with stuffing.

On a side note, for all of you who call it “dressing”, please take a good look at your turkey. Does it look even REMOTELY dressed? Not only are we not content with the poor bird's naked body on display for all to see, we feel obliged to strip off it's natural covering. It's like if you went to a funeral, and not only was the deceased starkers, but someone had felt it necessary to shave off all of their bodily hair. Perhaps not such a bad thing for certain corpses (here I'm thinking of Angelina Jolie), but for every one of those, there are hundreds of Roseannes, Rosie O'Donnells and, frankly, people like me, people who have clearly already made several too many trips back to dine on the poor embarrassed turkey and should not now be viewed (living or dead) in less material than is used in your average corporate summer picnic tent. And who, come to think of it, contain enough bodily hair to entirely consume what meager estate we may have paying for depilatory service.

However, I didn't start this to talk about bald, dead fat people. That's just a perk. What I wanted to talk about this year is something that's become something of a new tradition for me: The Black Friday early morning sales.

Black Friday, for those who don't obsessively keep up on the latest media nomenclature for events we've all known about since we heard mom swearing about them through her uterine wall, is what popular culture has taken to referring to the day after Thanksgiving as, on the grounds it is the heaviest shopping day of the year. Recent studies have indicated that it is not actually true, but the problem is that the studies based their findings on numbers of transactions and volumes of sales receipts. You must understand that when they say “heaviest shopping day of the year”, they mean in metric tonnage of patrons, still digesting truly enormous quantities consumed the day before and out shopping (between picking up initial Christmas presents) for a new wardrobe, or at least some underwear in a size large enough not to be completely lost in the various cracks and crevices in what we tell ourselves were our formerly svelte bodies.

In recent years, however, the various retail outlets have decided that if they can get a significant fraction of that tonnage through their doors on Friday, using crowbars, they can guarantee a prosperous holiday season. And you only think I'm kidding about the crowbars. Take a good look at the door of your favorite retail establishment as you go shopping over the next few weeks and you'll find a white, greasy residue. That's not the result of someone over zealously lubing the electric sliding doors nor some freak accident involving a jar of Crisco, a fire cracker and a very surprised night watchman. No, that is the unfortunate mixture of residual lard liberally spread to help ease the passage of customers mixed with copious amounts of turkey fat and gravy exuding from the pores of the most portly among us. Really. It's a horribly disgusting display of our avarice in this country, plus it tastes really great on crackers. Don't ask me how I learned this.

But here's the deal: Each year, the stores open earlier and earlier in the morning, the sale items get more and more extreme, and the shoppers start lining up more and more ahead of opening time. Things like entire computer systems for pocket lint and a wad of freshly chewed Dentine Classic, for which people begin lining up in the sub freezing air at midnight the night before in preparation for a 5am opening. One day I fully expect to read that someone is offering an entire sub-continent to the first shopper willing to part with a few molecules of belly-button lint, and people will start lining up for a 3am opening as early as 1950.

Not the military time, the year.


The reason people line up so early is that you may have noticed that most sales at most stores involve what is known as “profitable” items offered at heavily marked down prices, but not as heavily as they were previously marked UP, so the customers walk away feeling like they've gotten a heck of a bargain, the retailer snickers all the way to the bank, and everyone is happy. In these instances, generally when the retailer runs out of the item in question, he or she is willing to put on an act about how selling things at this price is killing his business and, with much faux-bellyaching, write out a “rain check” good for the sale price on the item, handing it to the customer knowing full well that 9 out of 10 customers will forget they have said rain-check until the day after it expires.

Not so with Black Friday sales. Black Friday sale items consist largely of what is called in the retail world “loss leaders”, which means that “The retailer is going to lose record amounts of money this season, and the losses they take on these items will lead the way for continued losses later”. As a result, you've probably noticed the tiny print in the sale ads that say “While supplies last” or “Limited to stock on hand” or “Good luck finding any in stock, sucker!” and the even smaller print that says “Guaranteed to have a minimum of two available in your timezone, unless for some reason you don't live in Alaska”.

That's right, the retailers of America have decided that the best way to get us all to purchase the majority of our holiday gifts at their establishments is to lie to us, recognizing that in the stupor of turkey-induced near coma, we'll get to the store, be momentarily annoyed to find that the advertised full central air conditioning unit (including installation) for $7.95 has sold out, and then immediately say “Oh well, it was nice of them to cheer me up with the ad implying that I could actually purchase such a thing, I think I shall reward them by buying large quantities of expensive electronics at exorbitant prices for every person on my list plus a few random politicians to thank them for spending ever more of my tax dollars on important travel to the Caribbean. Plus 'Franking', whatever that is.”

I don't know why they think we're so stupid that we won't through see their game. I certainly was not fooled, I only went over to get on line an hour early for opening time because I'd been unable to sleep the night before, because I'd spent the night being afraid I wouldn't wake up in time to be an hour early to get on line for opening.

This was, I should point out, really smart of me. My children from my first marriage only come out to visit me on those rare occasions during the school year when they have sufficient vacation time from school to make the trip worthwhile, and so the day after Thanksgiving is usually my last day with them before they fly back to their mother's house, and some years this represents the last time I'll see them until they've grown at least another two inches, or the start of summer, whichever comes first. (Don't ask about Christmas. My divorce lawyer apparently got his legal training via smoke signals on a windy day and never thought to include Christmas in the official list of vacations during which I should get to see the children). And so, of course, after spending well over a thousand dollars to fly them out for 7 days time, there's no better way to spend the last of those 7 days than dozing off every 15 minutes or so due to not having any any appreciable sleep in about 36 hours.

At least there's a good reason for it. The computer system I'd seen advertised sold out a mere 30 people ahead of me in line (I was 35th).

Copyright © November 25, 2006 by Liam Johnson.

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