The Usual Gang of Idiots

 

No, this post is not about Congress. (rim shot)

Many of you will recognize¬†the above phrase as the description of the contributing artists and writers in each month’s issue of a favorite indulgence of mine in my youth, MAD Magazine.

I loved MAD Magazine. The satire found in its pages was consistently brilliant. Comedian George Carlin once acknowledged its influence on the development of his own satirical worldview. Though its humor was decidedly less acerbic and adult than the other classic humor magazine of its time, National Lampoon, MAD still landed plenty of hard punches to politicians, show biz types, business big shots, the media, doctors, lawyers, preachers, you name it.

With the ubiquitous, gap-toothed smile of Mr. “What, Me Worry?”, himself, Alfred E. Neuman, greeting you on the cover of every issue, MAD reliably brought the laughs, along with the relevant social commentary. It was an original.

Some of my favorite regular features from MAD were:

  • “The Lighter Side Of (something different every month),” by Dave Berg.
  • “The Shadow Knows,” by Sergio Aragones. (also his clever drawings in the margins)
  • The movie spoof, usually drawn my Mort Drucker.
  • The TV show spoof, usually drawn by Angelo Torres.
  • TV commercial spoofs, by various artists and writers.
  • “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” and the always brilliant “MAD Fold-In,” by Al Jaffee.
  • The classic, wordless “Spy vs. Spy,” by Antonio Prohias.
  • Frank Jacobs’ hilarious poems and song lyrics.
  • And my personal favorite, “MAD’s MADdest artist,” Don Martin. Hysterical. (Fact: The hardest I ever saw either of my brothers laugh was at a Don Martin cartoon.)

These great talents, along with many others, like Bob Clarke, Dick DeBartolo, Paul Coker, Jr. and Jack Davis, were far from idiots; they were smart, razor-sharp and, above all, consistently funny. Every issue had something in it to crack me up, and I greatly enjoyed reading them.

MAD Magazine is 64 years old this year, and while it doesn’t boast the readership it had back in its heyday, it still delivers on humor that is fresh, relevant and incisive.

(And Jaffee, Aragones and six other longtime veterans are still at it! They must be MAD)

But, make no mistake, before there was Spy magazine, before there was Saturday Night Live, before there was Second City Television, or National Lampoon, there was MAD, the granddaddy of satire.

The original “Up yours, the Establishment!” publication.

Happy Birthday, MAD Magazine. A toast to all you idiots.

Looking With a Different Eye

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Okay, kids, here’s a fun little experiment for you to do:

Look at some object in the distance. Focus on it. Then, close one eye, hold up your thumb and position it so that it blocks your view of that object.

Got it? Great! Now, without moving the thumb, close that eye and open the other one.

Holy smokes! What just happened??

The object didn’t move, the thumb didn’t move, everything stayed the same. Only now, that object is right out there in plain view. Cool!

Yeah, I know, it’s nothing you didn’t already know, what else ya got, this was lame, yada, yada, yada…

But, really, how much of your time did that just take up, a few seconds?

And it’s a good reminder of how different the same picture can appear when viewed from a different eye.

 

One of the toughest things in the world to change is…an attitude. Especially the longer you cling to it, and the more comfortable you get with it. To change the way you look at something is risky, but oftentimes necessary.

One of the symptoms of depression, which I’ve had for years, is the tendency to get easily irritated by everyone and everything. All the time. Little things can just drive you nuts.

I’m around certain people, on a regular basis, who say things and do things that aggravate me to no end. Sometimes, I dread even being around them, for that very reason; I know I’m gonna get annoyed. ūüė†

Which is sad, considering they’re family.

I realize, I need to look at them with a different eye. They simply are what they are. The picture will not change; my view has to. Instead of resenting their idiosyncrasies, I need to accept them, to embrace them. I need to remember, these are people I love, that I’m glad I have them in my life, that it’s important to cherish the time we spend together, as long as we have it.

Besides, I know I’m definitely no day at the beach, either.

So, to whom it may concern:

Just a reminder, I love you all dearly. I’m glad you’re here. I will work on getting annoyed by you less and appreciating you more, because you are family, and family is priceless.

I’ll try to be less of a pain, too. Thanks for tolerating me, in the meantime.

Now, to the rest of you:

If you find yourself around some family members over the holidays who stir up the same emotions, try your best at looking through a different eye at them. I know, it’ll be tough. Remember, they didn’t get to pick you, either. Family is, or at least, should be, a refuge in the turbulent storms of life. We need each other, now more than ever.

Then maybe, we can summon up the courage to train that different eye on the rest of the world, and see something we never did before.

Who knows what can happen, then?

Oh, yeah…you can put your thumb down, now. ūüėŹ

 

Pass the Antacids

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Thanksgiving Day is approaching, America. ūü¶É ¬†The time of year to reflect on things and people in your life to be thankful for; chief among them, elastic waistbands.

Because, no doubt, you’re gonna be shoveling in a lot of tasty food. If your family is like mine, they make absolutely certain there is no possibility whatsoever of running out of vittles. Even if a hundred guests come over.

I’m reasonably sure Thanksgiving is a holiday that was created by the makers of Rolaids.

Anyways, as you gather this year with the ones you love, (or the ones you don’t, but were forced to be with, anyway) here are a few things on which to ponder:

Exactly who and what am I thankful for?

If they’re people, do I ever tell them I’m thankful for them?

Am I thankful all the time, or just one day a year?

Do I ever give anyone reason to be thankful for me?

Am I sure¬†I’ve got no room for one more slice of pie?

Where has Dak Prescott been all my life? (Go, Cowboys!!)

Seriously, though, I hope all of you get to spend some quality time with people who are special to you, and truly enjoy the pleasure of each other’s company. (Might want to avoid the political discussions this year, though. ūüė¨) If you’re driving somewhere, be careful on the road. If you’re flying somewhere, I sincerely hope you have no baggage to claim. If everybody’s coming to your¬†place, stock up on Charmin.

 

One thing you should NOT be thankful for: retail stores that start their Black Friday on Thanksgiving Day.

All those workers deserve a day home with their families, and to deny them that is to demonstrate just how greedy and heartless these retailers are. I’m not giving any of them my business on Thursday, and I hope you don’t, either.

In fact, why don’t we just eliminate Black Friday, altogether? I mean, nearly every one of them begins with some poor shopper getting trampled to death by a mob in front of a store when it opens its doors. It’s just insane. Honestly, stores, if you’re that¬†dependent on one really big sales day, your prices are obviously too freakin’ high the rest of the year.

Put that on your register and scan it!

 

Well, enough about that, friends. I’d like to wish y’all a Happy (urp) Thanksgiving. ūüôā

Don’t let the grandkids club each other with the turkey legs.ūüćó

And if liquor is part of your celebration, please designate a driver so everyone stays safe.

Bless you all. I’m putting on my stretch pants.

 

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Leonard and Leon

 

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

“Hallelujah”, Leonard Cohen

 

I love you in a place where there’s no space or time
I love you for in my life you are a friend of mine
And when my life is over
Remember when we were together
We were alone and I was singing this song for you

“A Song for You”, Leon Russell

 

Now, I ask you: Have there ever been any lyrics written to surpass the two examples I just presented?

Two songwriting giants no longer roam the earth.

We lost Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell in quick succession, recently. Each lived a life long and full – Cohen died at the age of 82, Russell at 74 – yet it still feels like they both departed too soon. But, boy, were we lucky to have ’em with us for awhile.

This has been a tough year for music fans.

It started with the one-two gut punch of David Bowie and Glenn Frey’s passing, followed by Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire, the loss of country music legend Merle Haggard, the tragic, untimely death of Prince, along with several more of their brilliantly talented fellowship.

And now, these two legendary figures.

If you’re not familiar with the works of Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell, do yourself a big favor, and get acquainted. If you want to learn about songwriting, these gentlemen are the Master Class. You might discover you know more of their songs than you thought; you just never knew these guys wrote them.

Vocally, each of them is, putting it kindly, an acquired taste. Just warning you, in case you’ve never heard them before. But don’t listen to their voices; listen to their words.

And appreciate the two peerless craftsmen who graced us with them.

Rest in peace, gentlemen. Thanks for what you shared with us.

 

P.S. – Russell’s “Tightrope” features one of my all-time favorite lines:

Like a rubbernecked giraffe, you look into my past.

Gotta love it.

 

 

The Road From Here

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I have thought long and hard about what to say regarding the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States.

Let me begin with a sports analogy:

Many sports fans, I’ve noticed, are willing to overlook a certain player’s behavior for the sake of a few more wins for their team. I mean, so what if he beats women, or gets caught driving drunk, or is charged with possession, etc., as long as he performs when it’s game time.

Sounds a lot like what happened in this election.

 

I didn’t watch the results on Election Day as they happened; I went to bed that night having no idea whatsoever who our next President was. First thing the next morning, I got out of bed to see who won.

My wife would tell me later, she was a little surprised by how calmly I delivered the news to her. I replied, I wasn’t really calm, so much as I was numb.

In fact, I was in a state of utter shock. I could not believe or process what had occurred. How the hell could this happen? I couldn’t make any sense of it at all. Most of the morning, I was a zombie, just going through the motions of my job, but feeling dead on the inside.

Eventually, I experienced feelings of devastation, depression, worry, revulsion, white-hot anger, embarrassment, shame, betrayal, confusion and about every other negative feeling you can name.

I wanted to lash out at all the Trump voters, leaving no doubt about exactly what I thought of them. I wanted them to know what a monumental mistake they made. I felt like calling them some creative names, along with some of the old favorites.

But I didn’t see that serving any useful purpose. Pretty sure those folks give not one solitary damn what I think of them. And all the yelling and screaming I did would not change the fact that Donald Trump is our President. Yours and¬†mine. That’s the reality, much as a lot of us hate it. (And a lot of us – all over the world, I noticed – do hate it.)

By the way, just so you know, electing¬†a businessman to lead your country is like hiring a pastry chef to overhaul your transmission. There’s a certain skill set to each job that does not¬†translate to the other. Politics, like it or not, is better left to politicians. Would you honestly be comfortable putting someone in the cockpit of your aircraft who’s never flown before in his life?

That’s exactly what the Trump voters just did. Unfortunately, we’re all on the plane with them.

 

So, what happens next?

One of the few good things to emerge from this messy, embarrassing, completely forgettable election year, is the spirit of revolution, especially among the younger Americans, who were so inspired by the campaign of Bernie Sanders. (I was, too.) They see the need for change, and are ready, willing and able to work toward making change happen.

We need to encourage them. We need to join them.

Women, blacks, Latin Americans, Muslims, the LGBT+ community, and the middle class all have bullseyes on their backs, now. It’s on us all to stand up for their rights, their dignity, and their safety.

Donald Trump and his Republican Congressional cronies dismiss global warming as a myth, a hoax. We need to stand up for the protection of our planet from those who refuse to see the evidence staring them in the face of its accelerating decline.

These and other issues (Supreme Court appointments, health care, Middle East conflicts) will require our vigilance, our intelligence, and our toughness.

For the next four years.

Yes, we have to accept who our President will be, but we do not have to accept his agenda. We can rise up in organized, disciplined, informed, peaceful opposition, and let our singular voice be heard. Not an angry mob, but a determined, unified coalition of like-minded individuals.

I’m a middle-aged white guy with a blog. I will use those advantages to their fullest potential. This is way too important for me to do anything less.

I hope you will join me.

 

Interesting thing happened Wednesday, The Day After.

I was driving my shuttle van, as always, and the skies were cloudy, gray and gloomy. Much like a large part of America, after what had just occurred.

Late that afternoon, the sun began to break through the clouds.

Corny? Cliche? Yeah, sure, but I was taking my inspiration where I could find it that day.

Clouds only hide the light for so long. But, it always wins.

That’s a mighty good thing to remember.

 

My Favorite Passenger

NOTE: In commemoration of Veterans Day November 11th, I’m pleased to republish this post, which originally appeared in April. A big, heartfelt salute to our men and women in uniform.

 

So, one Saturday, Summer 2014, I go to pick a gentleman up at the airport and drive him home. It turned out to be one of my most unforgettable trips.

Now, usually, unless it happens to be someone famous, or someone I’ve driven before, I don’t know anything about the people I pick up, other than the name and where we’re going. Which can sometimes be problematic, by the way; once, I was picking up a client whose first name was Erin.

His first name.

He walked right up to me and said he was my passenger. For a second, I didn’t believe him. Once he convinced me, and I apologized, he told me it was okay, he was used to it. I drove him a few more times after that, so I guess I didn’t make him mad.

Sure would’ve liked a heads-up before that first time, though!

Anyway, I go to meet this fellow at the airport, and I wait for him at the baggage claim with my sign bearing his name. He comes up to greet me; he’s a younger man, in a t-shirt, shorts, sunglasses and backwards cap.

Since he’s in shorts, I can see he’s got a prosthetic right leg below the knee. His left leg, arm and hand are badly disfigured. The sunglasses are pretty large, and I wonder if they cover any additional scars around the eyes. (They don’t, it turns out.)

I assume he must have sustained these wounds in war. I don’t ask.

We get his baggage, go out to the car, and head for his house. We talk about the heat (naturally) and other mundane subjects. He tells me he’s back in town for a Wounded Warriors event the next day. He tells me about the time he served over in Iraq, explaining his physical condition by simply saying, “Obviously, I had a bad day at work.”

I’m suddenly clueless on how to respond in¬†that moment. I mean, what can you say? I simply muster a half-hearted, “Yeah.” I don’t ask for details, and he doesn’t volunteer any; I figure, if he wants to talk about it, he will. Maybe that’s wrong; I really don’t know.

We move on to other subjects: the anticipation of football season, which college teams we think will do well, the current state of the Dallas Cowboys, the gratitude and relief that Jerry Jones didn’t draft Johnny Manziel. (And has that¬†man’s life turned into a tragic tale?)

Finally, we reach his house. I let him out of the car and get his baggage. He gives me a tip and says,”Thanks for driving me.”

“It was my honor, sir,” I said. “Thank you for your service and your sacrifice.”

And you know what he says to me then?

“Hey, man, you’re worth it.”

 

That stayed with me the rest of that day, and it stays with me still. I couldn’t stop thinking about what he told me.

I’m worth his leg getting blown off? I’m worth all the other wounds he sustained?¬†I’m worth all the pain he’s gone through, physically, mentally and emotionally since that “bad day at work”?

I’m worth it?

That was, without a doubt, one of the most humbling experiences of my life. I guarantee you, I won’t ever forget it.

It really is astonishing, the way life sometimes works. Had I not lost my machinist job, I’d probably never have become a chauffeur, and never met this outstanding soldier, this outstanding man.

And I would not have that remarkable encounter, which so impacted my life from that day forward.

Sometimes, the thought comes to my mind: while we’re busy running around, doing our jobs, socializing with friends, playing with the kids, planning and taking trips, etc., there are men and women in uniform, actively defending our country. They have volunteered to put themselves in harm’s way to protect you and me. They do extensive, multiple tours of duty due to the troops being stretched so thin. They return home; some wounded, some suicidal, some in flag-draped caskets.

And many come home to this: No job, neglected medical needs, homelessness, untreated psychological trauma, uncomfortable stares from passers-by.

How often do they make it into your thoughts?

However you may feel about war, and those who wage it, and the reasons they do so, you cannot ignore the dedicated service and immeasurable sacrifice of the soldiers, the sailors, the airmen who go and engage in the battles the rest of us are unable or unwilling to fight.

I salute them all. Bless you, you incredibly brave men and women, and come home safely, soon.

And may your home country pledge anew to take care of you when you return; medically, vocationally, and any other way you need.

You absolutely deserve it.

Note: If you want to read more about this remarkable man I met that Saturday, and what he’s doing now to help fellow veterans, his name is Corporal Jacob Schick, USMC (Ret.). Read his story, or hear him tell it on YouTube, and be truly inspired. (Also, check out http://www.honorcouragecommitment.org)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Do This

People ask me all the time: “Stan, why do you write?”

To which I always reply: “My name’s not Stan.” (Where do they get that, anyway?)

Also, nobody asks me that, to be truthful. But, as a public service, I’ll tell you, anyway.

I’m obviously not in it for the money, since I don’t make any from this.

I don’t do it for the love of writing, even though I do kind of enjoy it.

I don’t do it to gain a following, though that’s certainly a nice benefit, and I’m grateful to you folks who do follow me; I hope you enjoy some¬†of what I write, anyway.

I do it because I’m much better at it than talking.

 

Conversation has never been my strong suit. Still isn’t. Especially when it’s just me and one other person. I simply can’t think of how to initiate, or continue, a dialogue.

I usually think one of two things: What I want to talk about is so trivial, it’s just not worth even mentioning, or it’s so personal, I might say something I really didn’t want anyone to know. So, either way, I just stay quiet.

Also, there’s this to consider:

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.

The above quote, attributed at various times to Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln, among others, has been my own personal mantra since before I ever even heard it.

By far, my biggest insecurity about myself is about how smart (or stupid) other people perceive me to be. As I’ve explained before, this goes a long way back.

I just know¬†that when I open my mouth and say something, the person I’m saying it to is internally rolling his or her eyes, thinking, “Geez, what kind of idiot am I talking to?” So, if I have opinions, I generally keep them to myself, for my own protection.

But, when I write, there’s nobody standing right in front of me, waiting for me to say something, or to react immediately to what I say, so I’m in a sort of Safe Zone here with my tablet. Whatever you may think of what I say, at least you won’t be telling me directly to my face.

I suppose that sounds cowardly, and perhaps, it is.

I’d love to be able to say what I feel out loud more often, but in the meantime, this little blog will have to do.

Again, I appreciate all my followers out there. Please keep reading, and I will do my best to present you with something worth your time.

Later, y’all.

Living With ED (Electoral Dysfunction)

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Well, my fellow Americans, the big day is almost here, and the excitement is building to a fever pitch, whatever the Sam Hill that is. Does anybody even know? Didn’t think so. But, I digress.

The point is, Election Day is almost upon us. (Only 5 more shopping days!!) All the citizens who have had all this time to vote early, and still put it off, will march right down to their friendly neighborhood polling station, spend thirty minutes trying to figure out the electronic voting machine, and cast their all-important vote for the candidate of their choice.

Now, whether the machine records the vote correctly, well…

we all know the¬†whole thing is rigged, anyway. Right, Donnie? Anyway…

Once the votes are all counted, a winner will officially be declared.

On January 6th.

 

Wait, what?

Whaddya mean, January 6th? This some kind of joke?

Welcome to Electoral College 101, class. If you’ve never learned this or, like me, learned and long since forgotten, this is for you. Pay, I say, pay close attention, now.

You keep hearing about electoral votes, how it will take 270 of those for one candidate to win. But, what does that mean, exactly?

Okay, the Electoral College is comprised of a designated number of voters from each state, as determined by the number of senators plus representatives in that state. (The District of Columbia gets three electoral votes, in case you were worried.) You have the same number of Republican and Democratic Electors in each state, so whichever candidate wins the popular vote in, let’s say, Texas, wins all the electoral votes from Texas in his or her party.

Hey, WAKE UP!!! That’s better. Now, where was I?

Nebraska and Maine are exceptions to this formula, but nobody knows or cares what happens there, anyway. Just kidding, all you nutty Nebraskans and you…uh…Maine-iacs.

Whoever gets 270 or more of the available 538 electoral¬†votes nationwide is the winner.¬†So, all of you out there who think your vote doesn’t count, consider: it could make a difference in your candidate winning or losing your state.

Why do we have this system, you ask? Glad you asked. If we just relied on the popular vote to decide the election, heavily populated states like California and Texas would have too much influence over the outcome. The Electoral College balances the voting power a little better.

So, each¬†state’s block of electors (members of the winning candidate’s party) assembles in their respective state capitol on December 19th. At this assembly, the electors sign the “Certificate of Vote,” which is sealed and delivered to the Office of the President of the United States Senate.

A special joint session of the U.S. Congress convenes January 6th. At this meeting, the President of the Senate reads the Certificates of Vote and declares the official winner.

All nice, neat and tidy, right? Except…

(dramatic organ music, played on a dramatic organ)

Here’s where ED, Electoral Dysfunction, sometimes shows up. Occasionally, someone becomes a faithless elector, someone who votes for a candidate other than the one he or she pledged to elect. It’s a rare occurrence, but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see it happen this election, as crazy as this campaign has been. So, that could make things interesting.

The punishment for a faithless elector is left up to the state in which it occurs, but usually, the guilty person is mercilessly flogged in the public square. Ha, ha! No, that’s not true. The guilty person has to watch replays of all this year’s debates.

I would definitely opt for the flogging. Just saying.

All right, there’s your little Electoral College lesson, students. I see many of you have fallen asleep (again) by now, so I’m confident this lesson has sunk in.

You’re very welcome.

Now, back to Chess With the Stars. And, coming up later, Celebrity Bingo Smackdown.