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.

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.


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