Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Faithful Readers

I've been amazed by how many people are now reading my blog: family members, old friends, church members, a few people who hate my guts. Thanks for reading.

In case you haven't yet caught the theme of my blog--"Between Pages"--my blog is about the books I am reading and the writing I am engaged in (written, of course, in a humorous vein).

Still, there have been questions--most of them verbal. So let me answer a few of the more pressing questions you've asked of late.

Did you really write all of your Christmas cards before Thanksgiving?
Yes! My dog licked the stamps.
Do you really have a dog that sleeps on your pillow?
Yes! He also licks my stamps.
Do you really watch Andy Griffith Show reruns with regularity?
Yes! It's either that or have conversation with my wife.
Was your son really sick?
Yes! He is sick even as I write this (really). In fact, I gave him the sickness this time.
Do they speak Spanish in Brazil, or Portuguese?
It's Portuguese, gang. And the book is in Portuguese also. I will inform my mother of this so they won't cut off my thumbs when I visit.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanks, Mom

True story.
Earlier this year I received an unexpected package in the mail. When I opened it, I was surprised to discover that the publisher had sent me some copies of my book, The Best Things in Life Are Free, but in a Spanish edition. The book was being published in Brazil (South America) under the title As melhores coisas da vida sao de graca (which translates, I guess, to The Best Things, etc.). Naturally, I was a bit elated.

I placed one of the books on the coffee table and made sure I was home when my kids arrived from school. I show the book to my daughter, she looks at it and says, "Nice, Dad. Can I have twenty bucks for gas?" My son looks at it and says, "It looks idiotic." (Implying, of course, that I'm an idiot, too.) When Becky comes home from work, she looks at the book and says, "Wonderful come you didn't clean the kitchen?"

So I call my mother--the only women who understands me and loves me unconditionally.
"Mom, I just received word that one of my books is being published in Brazil. That's South America. Isn't that great?"
"I hear they still cut the thumbs off of theives in that country. You aren't planning on signing any books down there are you?"
"No, Mom, listen..."
"But if you're going to be doing any travelling, you'll need clean socks. I hear Goodies has a sale next week."
"No, Mom, I've got socks--"
"--I'll buy you a couple of packs of underwear, too. You can never have too many."
"Mom, listen. About my book--"
"--Are you eating enough vegetables?"
"Mom, listen...I've got to go. Someone died and I have to do a funeral."
"That's nice, dear. Preach a good one!"
"Goodbye, Mom. I love you."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

For the Groom

Some years ago I wrote a regular column for a national bridal magazine. It was probably the best pay I ever received for my writing (at least on a $ per word basis), and the focus of the column was to prepare grooms for marriage.

That's a tall order, of course--getting guys fired up to spend a lifetime with one woman. It was fun writing the column, but eventually I ran out of ideas. I mean, how many ways could I write about how to have a successful marriage? So, in the spirit of trying to recapture the highlights of those columns, here is my nifty list of things a man can do to keep a marriage alive. They've worked for me...I hope they will work for men everywhere.

1. Tell your wife you love her every day. But don't just say it...clean something! Women know you love them if you clean stuff around the house. Don't know why, but it's a feminine fetish.
2. Stay away from her side of the closet...give her space. Women don't like it when we rearrange the closet to make room for another shirt and tie.
3. Buy a hammer and wrench. You don't have to know how to use them...but if you can bang on things around the house from time to time and look busy, they'll think you care. When she's not around, call the plumber. Pay in cash. She can't trace it.

If tested these theories, by the way, on thousands of men. They work. Have a great marriage, guys!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Literary Invention

A few days ago the world received news of the death of Norman Mailer--a writer widely regarded as one of the great American literary giants. Most of Mailer's more acclaimed work was written earlier in his life, but his voice has had long-standing clout in literary circles for the past sixty years. There was also a bit of debate as to whether he, or Truman Capote (author of In Cold Blood) had "invented" the non-fiction novel. Capote liked to claim this distinction, but many of Mailer's novels dealt with historical events and verbatim accounts.

Writers, no matter their distinction, like to claim that they invented something of impact, and that's why I'm claiming that I was the one who invented the "lucky seven exclamation point". For example, here are some sentences I have written as case in point.

Get that dog off the couch!!!!!!!
Honey, I'm Home!!!!!!!
Who ate my sandwich?!!!!!!!
You did what to the car?!!!!!!!
Get that dog out of my soup!!!!!!!
I'll be upstairs for some sweet love as soon as I finish my sermon!!!!!!!
Get the dog off my pillow!!!!!!!

Friday, November 16, 2007


I've enjoyed reading Frank Warren's latest coffee table book, A Lifetime of Secrets...his collection of original postcards that people have created and sent to him, postcards revealing their innermost secrets. Some are funny, others poignant or crazy. Some are incredibly sad and frightening. Mine would be boring.

In case you don't know much about me, here are a few of my secrets that you might find intriguing.

When I am alone, I watch reruns of the Andy Griffith Show. Goober's my hero.
I have eaten an entire package of black licorice while watching a movie.
When I was a kid, I had fleas.
I hate winter.
I am even more boring in person.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Writing Sick Notes

Some years ago, E.L. Doctorow (author of Billy Bathgate, Ragtime, and The Waterworks) noted that writing a sick note to a child's teacher can often be the most challenging test of a writer's skills. It's difficult to say what you mean, and mean what you say, when you have only a few words (kind of like blogging). I felt this way last week when I tried to write a sick note for my son, explaining his absence due to a 24-hour flu bug.

First try: "Dear Teach...please excuse my son's absence due to the Hong Kong flu..."
Second try: "Actually, I'm not sure it was Hong Kong, it could have been that rancid Kentucky bug that's going around..."
Third try: "Dear Teacher, I am painfully sorry to inform you that my son will be unable to take your quiz today: Review of American History from 1770-1945 and Memories of Ike, he claims to be ill."
Fourth try on back of used envelope with bird stamp: "To Whom It May Concern: During my son's recent illness, I stayed by his bedside all night and we reviewed all fourteen chapters of his social studies assignments while he threw up, periodically, in a bucket. He'll be back in your class tomorrow eager to retake his test."
Final version: "If you get this note, give me a call. I'll explain everything."

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Writing Christmas Cards

Of all the material I feel compelled to write every year, Christmas cards are the worst. What do I say to people who are on our family mailing "list", but I haven't seen in twenty-five years? How about all the cretins, all the parents out there whose children are much more intelligent than my own? Do I weave together a Christmas greeting revamping a year filled with space exploration, vacations in the Alps, etc., or do I just tell the uninspiring truth about how boring and incredibly average our family really is?

I finished writing my cards yesterday and told my wife, "Got 'er done!"
"What did you write?" she wanted to know.
"The truth," I said. She looked worried.

I can't wait for her parents to get my card. When they do, they are going to realize (at last) that I saved their daughter from a horrible life, that they are lucky to have a son-in-law like me who has impacted the world of molecular physics, who knows how to roast a turkey, and regularly changes his socks. They are going to realize how important their grand-children are and that my kids have broken all of the school records and have really taken after their old man, who is, after all, a real winner!

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Reading the Phone Book

Sometimes, when I need to grab a quick book for the bathroom, I just pick up the phone book. It's fascinating reading. For example, did you know that in the Indianapolis white pages there are more than 50 prophets listed, including a Monty & Betty Proffit--who obviously don't know how to spell, a Carol Satre (she must have little tiny wings) and at least twenty Angels? There's also a Messiah listed (but he can't spell correctly either "Messiha"?), but no Devils.

My mind races with the possiblities. I mean, if I had a last name like one of these, instead of some innocuous name like "Outcalt", I could be using some good pick up lines with my wife like:

"Hi, baby . . . I'm a prophet. Want me to tell your future tonight?"
"Want to go to heaven, sweetheart? I'm an angel you know."

But what have I got? Nothing. About all I can manage are lines like:

"I've been reading the phone book and wondered if you were tired tonight?"
"After I get through reading the "L" section, perhaps we could discuss some romantic options."
"Have you seen the yellow pages?"

By the way, my family doesn't touch the phone books anymore.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Attacking Sponge Bob

About a year ago I wrote a satirical piece for The Wittenburg Door magazine (a religious satire mag that I've submitted to for over twenty years) attacking SpongeBob Squarepants as a tool of the devil. The satire was intended to poke fun at folks like Jerry Falwell, who had then recently mentioned that the purple Tellitubbie was gay and was harmful to children, and others who were espousing that Harry Potter was leading tens of millions of children into witchcraft.

What followed was one of the largest influx of letters to the editor in The Door's history--and I was glad to be a part of it. These letters came from as far away as India and most were sent in to show support for the little yellow sponge. The editors attempted to remind people that the piece was satirical (humor with an edge) but they would hear nothing of it. They were certain that the author--ME!--was completely off his rocker.

Well, let me clear the air. I love Spongebob. He's not the anti-christ. He's not evil. He's a drawing. A cartoon.

Actually, I'd love to live in Bikini Bottom. Patrick would be my best friend. I'd drive a boat. Eat Crabbie Patties. Live in a pineapple. Are you ready kids?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Danger! Danger!

This past summer I purchased a book that I thought my fourteen-year-old son and I could read together. It's a best-seller: The Dangerous Book For Boys--written by two British brothers. But, alas, since my son can't read, and he doesn't like danger, I ended up reading it by myself. It's a book that reveals all of the boyhood secrets I wanted to know about when I was his age: how to make stink bombs, how to build a tree house, how to do a set of good magic tricks, how to juggle, amazing baseball facts.

But I was most interested in the practical jokes. That was my youthful passion, and I was good at them. Especially at school. Which leads me to sharing the following secrets which worked very well for me.

1. Put a tape recorder in a school locker with periodic sound bites of someone yelling, "Let me out of here!!!" Gets the teachers every time.
2. Before the teacher gets into the classroom, place the chalk (or dry erase markers) and erasers on top of the intercom. I was the only white boy in my high school who could jump that high (and, come to think of it, the only boy who wasn't drunk or high when he got to school) and my classmates egged me on. I liked doing this stunt for the cheerleaders (and it's how I won over Becky's heart, too). She still likes to see me jump.
3. Spray paint the principal's name all over . . . (no, wait, that one got me expelled! Don't do this, boys!)
3 1/2. Take all the toilet paper out of the bathroom stalls and put it in the school trophy case in the shape of an Egyptian pyramid. (I got an "A" in social studies for this project.)

I'm always glad to share my secrets with the younger generation and hope these dangerous secrets dont' get into the wrong hands. Keep reading and have fun!