Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Keep it in the time capsule

There was a sound in the house. A strange sound? No. I recognized it. I just wasn't willing to believe it.

"Well I think I love you, la la la la la la la la," came from the living room. The "la la las" were actual words, but after my brain recognized the song, it instinctively shut down the part that tries to make sense of the world. I find my brain doing that more and more often.

"Uh, what are you doing?" I asked my wife.

"Singing to our son," she said, smiling in a way that showed she had no idea how close my brain was to sliding out of my head.

"Do you know what you're singing?"

"Sure," she said. "'The Partridge Family' song."

"The Partridge Family" song. I thought that had been outlawed in most states.

"OK," I said, shrugging, trying to hide the nervous tick that comes when I consider my childhood rife with "Three's Company," "The Brady Bunch" and, yes, "The Partridge Family." "I thought we were going to spare our son exposure to any pop culture between 'The Andy Griffith Show' and 'Family Ties.'"

She turned back to the boy.

"Well I think I la la, la la la la la la la la."

There are many things we grew up with our children will never know. My grandparents knew the Depression. My parents knew the Vietnam War. I know Alf. Every parent hopes their kids won't be subject to the problems of their generation, but ...
Good lord, Alf?

Looking into the living room, seeing my son dancing as my wife sang the song of commercialized hippies past, I realized there were things my kid will never know ­ and I think I'm happy:

- Cassette tapes: They were smaller than 8-tracks, fit in your pocket and made the Sony Walkman possible, but a cassette tape is now as popular as the cast of "Facts of Life." I'm glad I didn't save my copy of, "Ratt: Out of the Cellar."

- The Plymouth Reliant K car: It looked like something the Soviet Union would have made if it was a soulless, spirit-crushing society that treated individuality like a crime against the state. Oh, wait, it was. He won't know that, either.

- Mork from Ork: Robin Williams was funny once. I suppose.

- Rat tails: Unless there's a huge resurgence of New Kids on the Block, the rat tail will stay at the state fair where it belongs.
A list that would take up most of this page: The A Team, Jordache jeans, the Clinton administration, "Where's the Beef?" Yummy Mummy cereal, "I've fallen and I can't get up," the movie "Legend," "Highway to Heaven," Bo knows, Kato Kaelin and the XFL.

And I'd hoped that maybe, just maybe, he'd be spared the Partridge Family.

I hate it when I'm wrong.

Copyright 2006 By Jason Offutt

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Fellas, just put up with it

The sound.

It echoed through the once-quiet air of our dining room and hit me like I owed money to the wrong people. The sound came into my house every morning, sometimes during the day, and mostly every night. A noise like a chain smoker training for the Emphysemalympics.

I looked across the breakfast table at my wife. The same pretty, petite lady I married sat across from me, holding a fork full of pancakes dripping with syrup. She smiled a straight, white, cover-of-a-magazine smile.

"Sorry," she said. "I had a little phlegm."

She doesn't smoke, she doesn't have health problems, but she daily hacks up a disaster movie amount of nasal fluids I don't need to know about. And she usually does it while I'm eating eggs.

Back off, guys. She's taken.

Dining wasn't always like this. Oh, no, but things have changed.

I was honest with my wife from the moment we started dating.

"Hi beautiful," I said. "I'm a beer-swilling pig."

I told her I would be a caring, supportive partner, attending festivals, art shows and whatever thing I didn't care about but interested her until football season. Then I'd sit in front of the TV, stick my hand down the front of my pants and only respond in grunts to statements that had something to do with offense, defense, beer, special teams, food, instant replay, "Gilligan's Island," cheerleaders and beer.

I've stuck by my word.

Guys, women don't work like that. Not at all.

Let's see if this sounds familiar.

You meet a nice girl. She smells great. She looks like she just stepped out of a TV commercial. When she walks by it feels like a summer breeze and when you look at her, her eyes are wide, soft and have pupils big enough to hide pirate treasure a sure sign she likes you, or is whacked out of her head on Bennies.

And she doesn't eat enough to sustain a coma victim. Again, it might be the Bennies.

You've dated this girl.

The problem? This way of wooing men is something women steal from romantic comedies that always end in a madcap way with the male and female leads kissing atop a really tall building/on a baseball diamond during a game/surrounded by flesh-eating zombies.

1) People aren't like this in real life.

2) The movies never show the couple six months later.

Ladies, I beg of you, fart. Belch. Pick your nose and wipe it on your shirt. Eat three quarters of a pizza and a pint of ice cream in one sitting. Clog the toilet. Watch MTV instead of PBS. Just be normal.

And, guys, love them when they do.

I know breakfast tomorrow will be loud and phlegmy, but eventually it will be endearing. I'm certain.

Copyright 2006 by Jason Offutt

Monday, October 16, 2006

If it ain't broke, by all means fix it

There's a point when our everyday lives don't need to evolve anymore.

Sure, technological advances and societal attitudes make change necessary and usually welcome, but I don't mean changes for the greater good.

I mean the simple things. For example, how we buy a hamburger.

At one point, buying a hamburger was easy. Things at our faceless hamburger franchise were just fine. The bathrooms were clean, and all the cooks wore hairnets.

The hamburger industry was running so smoothly corporate management had plenty of time to sit back and try to think of ways to make franchises run even more smoothly.

So they changed things.

Management put in debit-card swipers so cashiers wouldn't have to cashier. They moved all the soda machines from behind the counter so the French fry cooks wouldn't have to pour drinks. And they installed ketchup dispensers in the customer area so no one would have to hand customers extra ketchup packets ever.

Corporate management tinkered with their burger joints* until things became so needlessly complicated walking through the doors is now like entering some strange, alternate reality where the robots have taken over.

At a fast-food joint, if I want a hamburger, French fries and a Coke do I say I want a hamburger, French fries and a Coke? No, I order a No. 2. I don't want to order a No. 2. No. 2 means a lot of things, some of which I don't want associated with lunch.

But, Jason, isn't saying, "I'd like a No. 2," less complicated than saying, "I'd like a hamburger, French fries and a Coke?"

In theory, yes, but there's no industry standard. What makes up a No. 2 at one place isn't a No. 2 somewhere else. I might want a hamburger, French fries and a Coke and I'll end up with a fish sandwich, apple slices and bottled water. Pfft. Like any real American would order that.

So, no, No. 2 makes ordering food more complicated.

Such is life in America. Everything has been tampered with to the point you have to think to order a cup of coffee.

Don't you mean a triple mocha-cappa-latte?

No, darn it. I mean coffee. Black, hot and in a cup. The kind truckers drink.

It's human nature to try to improve everything around us. Why? Because we're troublemakers. But there's a time we can't improve the simple things without making them complicated. The time was a decade ago.

Bill Gates, Microsoft Word was a pain in the butt four versions ago. Just stop messing with it, OK?

*Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know McDonald's, Burger King, Hardee's, whatever, are technically restaurants, but to me a restaurant doesn't give the option of eating in your car.

Friday, September 15, 2006

It's easy to pick one out of the crowd

The man behind me at the grocery store smelled like baby powder . but he wasn't a parent.

I could tell because nobody uses baby powder on an actual baby anymore. I think the You're An Unfit Parent If You Do Anything Your Mother Did committee declared baby powder illegal because it's inexpensive and, therefore, bad for America.

This man was probably just a husband who ran out of Testosterone Sport Brick or Tibetan Cave Troll deodorant and had to use his wife's. I know. I've been there. Heck, I smell like baby powder right now.

How can I be so sure this guy wasn't a parent? He wore a baseball cap too straight to have been pulled from a toy box, his shirt was clean, he was buying beer and feminine napkins, and his shoulders weren't stooped from years of picking up small humans over and over until a chiropractor sends him Christmas cards. He paid with cash and walked to a car with two doors, his arms not laden with milk, diapers, or Ding-Dongs.

And the biggest tip-off he didn't have kids? He was in a hurry.

There are signals a parent broadcasts to let you know that, yes, they've looked into the eyes of "the one who soils himself" and they're not afraid to let him sleep in the nursery. These signals are subtle, unintentional and at times confusing, but here they are:

- The person buys shopping cart loads of pizza rolls, Easy Mac and Gatorade, and they are not, I repeat not, college students.

- They always smell like peanut butter.

- Money is some abstract concept that makes them blink rapidly and say things like, "I used to have cable," or "my car is filled with crackers."

- The words, "I'm going to watch the ballgame," usually summon forces beyond parental control to run into the living room and dance in front of the television.

- They've never seen an episode of any program involving doctors, lawyers, cops or dimension-hopping space soldiers but can flawlessly quote all 85 episodes of whatever's on Nickelodeon this month.

- They refer to any uninterrupted conversation with their spouse as a date.

- Handshakes are sticky and they're tired of apologizing for it.

- "You sleep past seven?" comes out like the words of someone who's just escaped life under a communist regime.

- They leave the bathroom door open because they're never used to being in there alone.

- At any sudden movement, they flinch to protect vital organs from the impact of a 25-pound giggling object.

- They have a 4-inch plastic ninja in their pocket and they don't know why.

There. That's the list.

If you're single and see a friend exhibiting any of these 11 behaviors, they're probably a parent. There is no cure and there is no logic behind anything they do. Just remember to be patient, wash your hands before touching anything you value and never, ever, call during nap time.

Copyright 2006 by Jason Offutt

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Pluto is dead – long live Pluto

And now there are eight.

After decades of debate and speculation by astronomers, it's finally happened ¬ one of our planets has been fired.

Anyone born after 1930 grew up knowing there were nine planets in our solar system. (Of course, in the 1950s, every planet was inhabited by brain-sucking aliens dressed in aluminum foil.) And since astronomers didn't start confirming the existence of extra-solar planets until the latter part of the 20th century, nine was a fine number.

Hey, Alpha Centauri, we all thought mockingly. Got more planets than you.

But there was always one planet, one little icy rock way out in the rural area near the Kuiper Belt that fit into the "which of these things does not belong" category. Small, funny shaped and orbiting our sun on a 4.5 billion-year bender, Pluto was like the embarrassing cousin no one invited to weddings.

Until now.

We don't have to worry about Pluto crashing the reception and hitting on Aunt Uranus because the International Astronomical Union no longer officially considers Pluto a planet at all … just because it's different.

The recent decision to bump Pluto from the Planet Club went something like the upcoming Taft Middle School Diversity Awareness Week production of "Not in my neighborhood:"

Our Sun: Pluto, I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to let you go.

Pluto (looking surprised): What do you mean, boss? I come to work on time. Every 249 years, as efficiently as a comet.

Our Sun: Yeah, that's just it. You're too much like a comet. All cold and rocky, orbiting me like you've been snorting hydrogen clouds. And you're not round enough. If we keep you, then we have to let in Charon, Ceres and something called 2003 UB313. A numbered planet? Then where would we be?

Pluto (with an air of smugness): This is discrimination. You can't fire me just because I'm not all big and gassy like Jupiter. (Is escorted from the solar system by Europa dressed like security). I'll see you in court. We all will.

Our Sun (turning toward audience): Pfft. Dwarf planets. They're all alike.

But, you're wondering, what does this galactic decision mean to anyone other than astronomers I'm not going to hang out with anyway?

It means everything.

Think of your kids. My toddler will grow up with eight planets, not nine like his old man. Will today's baby feel inadequate about his place in the universe? Or will the Pluto decision just render people like me senile?

"Oh, no," the future 14-year-old boy will say to his friends. "Dad's rambling about dragging his telescope 10 miles in the snow just to see Pluto. Let's go before he starts talking about the face on Mars."

And, what about astrology?

Since astrology is based on planets, shouldn't this decision throw off the entire astrology matrix.* Without Pluto, how can you trust the daily horoscope to accurately say, "your energy is high today; avoid making business decisions without pants; drive on the left side of the road and say 'cheerio' to strangers," without Pluto?

Then there's the Roman factor. Pluto was named after the Roman god of the underworld. Won't he be a little ticked? Oh, sure, he's still got Pluto the dog in his corner, but we all know about Disney's pact with the devil.

I'm just worried, that's all.

* Here's the Official Jason Astrology Patch. Read your now-incorrect horoscope, multiply any number by .27, substitute the word "lunch" for the word "love," and if you were born on a Tuesday, go to the comics section. Your horoscope is encrypted in the second panel of "Fox Trot."

Monday, July 31, 2006

Please go away; my brain is full today

The e-mail’s subject line was “Jason’s newsletter.”

Great. E-mails called “Jason’s newsletter” usually contained things like, “my wife and I really enjoyed this month’s newsletter,” “congratulations on the new baby,” or “forget that $20 you owe me.” And, even better, I rarely get called an idiot unless the e-mail’s from my family.

I opened it.

“My wife and I really enjoyed this month’s newsletter.”

Good so far, but the e-mail suddenly turned into something like a letter for jury duty ­ I paid just enough attention to know I didn’t want anything to do with it.

“Has anyone ever talked to you about this neat new thing called HTML code?”

HTML code? Yeah, I’d heard of it. It’s a type of language for people who talk to computers instead of getting dates. Using HTML code in my newsletter would make it more attractive and include all sorts of little buttons for readers to click.

What caused my mind to scream “now’s the time to panic” wasn’t that this guy used an acronym I wasn’t comfortable with. What bugged me was the first thing that rushed through my head ­ slamming and locking doors along the way ­ is that I didn’t want to know anything about HTML code.

This fear of the unknown could be attributed to cowardice (possibly), ignorance (quite probably), and maybe even global warming (most certainly).

Or, it could simply be the fact that I’m now 41 years old and that qualifies me as a stodgy old fart who don’t cotton to them new-fangled idears.

Yeah, that was it. HTML code was just something to learn, and I didn’t want to learn anything else. Learning broadens your view of the world and I like my world just fine, thank you.

My son was 6 when Pokémon was big ,and he wanted to be a Pokémon Trainer. He had Pokémon games, Pokémon cards and Pokémon bed sheets.

He was so engulfed in Pokémon, I wanted to share in his interest because my parents, although they sat through “Planet of the Apes” with me, didn’t really appreciate the subtle social commentary of a gorilla shooting a man in the throat.

So, for my son, I learned all there was to know about Pokémon.

Then, one day, he didn’t like Pokémon anymore. He liked something called Yu-Gi-Oh! He put a deck of nightmarish cards in front of me.

“You wanna play?” he asked.

“Wait a second,” I said. “I can finally recite from memory that Charmeleon evolves from Charmander, that Bulbasaur’s major attack is vine whip, and a water type is best to use against a rock type, now you want me to forget all that and learn something else?”

The Boy shrugged.

“Guess so,” he said. “Now are you ready to play?”

“Nope. I can’t learn anymore,” I told him, then stuck my thumbs in my ears and made “na-na-na” noises.

Sitting in front of my computer, looking at the e-mail encouraging me to learn HTML code, I stuck my thumbs in my ears and made “na-na-na” noises.

Is this it for me? Is my head full already?

Friday, July 14, 2006

A less-than-neighborly greeting

July 1973

The corn was tall as Dad drove through the river bottoms looking at crops. That's what farmers call drinking beer all afternoon looking at crops.

We drove past the fields on the Lafayette County side of our ground. The soybeans looked nice, too, he said, but I really didn't know. I just sat on my side of the pickup drinking a Pepsi as we drove around a lake that sat in the middle of the field and Dad talked about how good the soybeans looked.

I liked these trips with Dad. I always got a Pepsi, and a Slim Jim.

Dust poured from the back tires of the pickup like contrails from a jet plane as we drove down the gravel roads. You could always tell when someone was coming toward you on a gravel road, but you had to make sure you rolled up your windows when you passed them.

Dad hit the brakes and dust billowed over the truck like fog in a vampire movie.

"What's the matter?" I asked, wondering how much dust found its way into my Pepsi.

Dad looked past me and down a dirt road that ran atop a levee. A car was there, a Camaro. A few people wandered around the car, disappearing into the thick bank of green weeds that covered the levee.

"Hippies," he said, turning his wheel and driving onto the levee.

Marijuana grew thick in the river bottoms. Dad always said it grew so much better than corn or soybeans he'd grow it for a cash crop if that was legal ... but it wasn't. Too bad. I might have gone to college free.

Dad pulled his dirty red Chevy pickup next to the Camaro, giving it enough room to leave if the driver wanted to, and got out of the truck. The hippies, in their tie-died shirts, bandanas, little round sunglasses and whatever gunk built up on them between baths, came out of the weed.

"You all lost?" Dad asked.

One of the hippies holding an armload of marijuana plants smiled at him.

"Yeah, man," he said, in a slow, anti-war, college professor voice. "We're all lost."

Dad reached into the truck and pulled his deer rifle off the gun rack then he cocked it.

"Then you'd best find your way," he said. "Now."

There are times when people in your life do amazing things, unexpected things, things that make you almost wet your pants. For me, this was one of those times.

Holy moly, I thought. Dad just pulled a gun on hippies.

The Dad I knew didn't do things like this. He'd threaten to spank one of us and never do it. He'd listen to Mom gripe and just nod his head. But would he pretend he was Clint Eastwood? Never.

The hippies dropped the pot and ran to the Camaro. Dad fired a shot into the air as the Camaro's tires tried to tear into the hard, grassy ground on the levee. The car shot off the levee road and fishtailed on the gravel.

I laughed, but I wasn't sure why. In everyday situations, violence was usually wrong I learned that in church. Hippies were generally timid, sheep-like creatures I learned that from "ABC After School Specials." And gun-toting farmers were just stereotypes I learned that from cartoons. But I couldn't shake the fact that Dad scaring the crap out of a bunch of doped-up kids was just funny.

Did I learn a lesson?

Yeah, that I liked these beer-drinking, Slim Jim-eating, crop-looking trips with Dad. I didn't care how many fields we drove past or how much dust I had to swallow, as long as there was a chance someone other than me was going to wet his pants, I was happy.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Videos from Hell

My daughter pulled a videotape from a box in the basement.

“New Kids on the Block?” she asked, looking at a faded VHS tape cover featuring five kids who looked like they needed better parents.

“It’s not mine,” I said, sounding strangely defensive. “I’d rather own ‘ABBA Sings the Blues.’”

“Whatever,” she said in the way 16 year olds do to show they own the planet. “I bet you danced to this.”

Yeah, and I sing “I Write the Songs” while drinking beer with the guys.

“No, dear,” I said. “There are only two people in this house who were alive during the five-minute New Kids reign, and I was the only one too busy listening to actual music to notice.”

“Sure, Dad,” she said, patting my shoulder. “I’ll just keep digging. I’m sure I’ll find Hanson.”

Oh, or maybe even Nelson.

The lesson here? Go through your video/DVD/audio collection before someone finds something you’re embarrassed to own. Well, unless you have “New Kids on the Block: Hangin’ Tough.” My wife was actually excited to see it again while I was trying to make fun of her.

But if someone finds your copy of Ratt’s “Out of the Cellar,” don’t worry, you’re not alone.

I’m sure Ice-T has “Ice Ice Baby” on his iPod. Dick Cheney probably has Richard Simmons’ “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” on Air Force Two. And I suspect Chuck Norris hops into his jammies and cuddles with a bowl of buttered popcorn to watch “Grease” at least once a month, but I can’t be completely sure because anyone who’s seen him do it is most certainly dead.

My embarrassing recording doesn’t include episodes of the original “Star Trek.” It’s not the last episode of “Cheers” and it’s not the first episode of “The Lone Gunmen.”

I own a copy of “Footloose.”

I don’t know how I got it. I don’t know if I’ve watched it more than once – and if I did it was probably because of a date, a dare, or too much cough syrup. And I don’t recognize anyone in the movie except Kevin Bacon, that bald guy from “Third Rock from the Sun,” and some blond girl I thought was pretty.

My crime is the fact that I’ve never thrown it away.

“What else do you have in here, Dad?” my daughter asked, poking around tapes full of

“The Simpsons” episodes and 10-year-old Kansas City Chiefs games I’ll never watch again. “Something in black and white with ladies water dancing?”

“No,” I said. “All you’ll find in there are movies with Clint Eastwood, Terminator I, II and III and maybe something with talking monkeys.”

She stopped searching through the sea of out-of-date VHS tapes and pulled out a black plastic rectangle of blackmail.

“‘Footloose,’ Dad?” she said, grinning like … well, grinning like she’d just found a copy of ‘Footloose’ in my VHS tapes. “You’ve got ‘Spice World’ in here, too, right?”

I can change the oil in my car, I can fix a toilet and I can belch like a cartoon rabbit, but none of that manly stuff matters when you’ve got “Footloose” in your video collection.

I hang my head, and please, don’t tell Chuck Norris.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Big Brother

The baby waddled into the kitchen, his “I’m too fast for my legs” walk sending him bouncing off a couple of walls like an oddly shot pool ball. He giggled.

“Hi, Sam,” I said to the baby, my wife and I making a solid effort to start using his name instead of what we usually called him, like Monkey, Moo, Goober and Booger. We’re worried what a stupid name might do to his psyche in kindergarten.

“Anna, Clark, Britain, David and Booger, you can color now,” his kindergarten teacher would say. “And Booger, get that finger out of your nose.”

Heck, that’d stick with him till graduation.

Somewhere between the refrigerator and the kitchen table a light bounced off a shiny patch on his shirt. Unless he just spit up, that shiny patch shouldn’t be there.

“Come here,” I said, these words, of course, meaning to Sam that he should grab a dirty fork off the kitchen counter, squeal and run away.

I grabbed him and slipped the fork out of his hand. The shiny bit was tape holding down a piece of paper that read “Congratulate me.”


“Honey,” I called into the living room. “Why am I congratulating the baby? Did he finally get a job?”

“Turn him around,” my wife said.

OK. I flipped him over and looked at his butt. Cute, but not any less confusing.

“What am I looking for?” I asked. “Does he need a new diaper?”

Sam started giggling.

“His back,” she said. “Look at his back.”

I turned him right-side-up and looked at the back of his shirt. Another sign was taped there. “I’m going to be a big brother.”

A big brother? Eh, good for him, volunteering to take a young, unfortunate lad under his wing …


“Did you read it?” she asked from the living room.

The baby was wiggling, so I set him down on the linoleum, his ever-moving legs bopping him out of the room.

“Yeah, Sam’s going to be a …”

Big brother.

Not the volunteer kind. Not the George Orwell kind. But the “mom’s boobs are off limits for two more years” kind.

“You’re pregnant?” I asked.

My wife walked into the kitchen smiling and I knew I was going to be a dad again. I didn’t really care how she told me. Any way would have been special. Even the “what the #&^@! is this” I heard when we found out she was pregnant with Sam.

I tried to give my wife a hug to show her how happy I was, but she told me everything smelled bad and made her want to throw up, so I backed off.

Later, I went to the store.

"Pick me up some things while you’re out,” she said. “Folic acid, prenatal vitamins, Whoppers and a pepperoni pizza.”

Yeah, I guess she’s not kidding.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Finals week

The sign read “honk if you love beer.”

Down the main street from the college campus, mom-and-dad vans, pickups and the occasional stock trailer were pulled in front of the couch and box-strewn yards of rental homes, ready to bring Junior home for the summer. A mom stormed out of a maroon minivan double parked on a street too narrow for double parking, probably wondering why her little princess was doing a keg stand in a yard filled with shirtless boys.

The driver in front of me honked at the kid in the lawn chair holding up the beer sign, and a crowd of finals-week revelers holding blue, plastic beer cups hooted back at the driver. Anyone who honked for beer was all right with them.

As I drove past, the kid waved the cardboard sign at me. I hit my horn and waved, not seeing any of my students at the yard party, although it was hard to tell through all the sunglasses and exposed tans.

Finals week brings out two emotions in college students – emotion No. 2 separated by the intense desire to pretend you never experienced emotion No. 1.

Emotion No. 1) Panic brought on by the “five minutes before my final” realization you spent the entire semester drinking and playing “Halo 2” instead of attending class and remembering you can read.

Emotion No. 2) A blind Id that takes over your now test-weakened Ego, beating it about the head and face with the word “party,” and running naked in the street making your Superego giggle. This is, of course, followed by an irresistible urge to paint the words “honk if you love beer” on the back of an old vodka box.

Finals week shoves into five days the entire college experience of “mom’s not here” weighed against “what if mom finds out?” Only this time the kids are worried about grades.

“Uh, Mr. Offutt,” one of my students said, walking into my office a half hour before his final exam. “Could I get my grade so I’ll know how much I should study for the test?”

“You know,” I said. “A half hour before the exam’s probably not the best time to show concern for your grade. You got a pet?”
He looked at me like I was older and less senile than I am.


Darn, and I had a great analogy about starving goldfish.

“You’re making 79.44 percent,” I said to the student who may, or may not, have had a grass stain on his forehead.

“Can’t you round it up?” the student asked.

Rounding up a grade is like giving a kid candy to stop acting like a brat – they didn’t earn the candy and haven’t learned they have to.

“Not until you stop starving your goldfish,” I said.

He didn’t get it, but he wasn’t too concerned, there was a party in some guy’s yard after the test. I’m not sure I would have understood the analogy at his age either because emotion No. 2 would have dragged me to the party by the throat and made me wear a funny hat.

A couple of blocks later, a group of college kids were standing in their yard trying to knock over empty beer bottles with a Frisbee. I honked and waved.

Maybe I shouldn’t have encouraged them, but it was finals week, and life would catch up with them soon enough.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Diary of a book signing

Two p.m., March 25, Borders Books, Lee’s Summit, Mo.

1:45 p.m.: Arrive with wife, baby and a box of books. Hope I put on enough deodorant.

1:50 p.m.: Talk to manager about how I get paid, set up display at table, scope out bathrooms.

2 p.m.: Book signing starts. Nobody shows up.

2:05 p.m.: Wife takes baby to children’s section.

2:14 p.m.: Couple pauses at table. Are they interested? Are they going to talk to me? Are they going to buy a book? I’m so lonely. No, they’re looking at a movie display behind my head.

2:30 p.m.: I start doodling.

2:45 p.m.: Wife and baby stop by. Wife tells me baby’s fussy so they’re going to Target.

3 p.m.: Manager brings me an iced tea.

3:27 p.m.: Glad I scoped out the bathrooms earlier.

3:50 p.m.: Where is everyone? Did the world end and no one bother to tell me? Oh, wait…

3:51 p.m.: Friends stop by, chat, buy book. Cool.

4 p.m.: Couple I’ve never met stop by just to see me. Their last name’s Offutt, too. Have a nice conversation and sign a book.

4:10 p.m.: I sold another book. Things are rolling now. People are coming in. Feelings of abandonment leaving ...

4:20 p.m.: Wife and baby come back. Baby sits on my lap and grabs at whatever’s in arm’s reach that I’ll have to pay for if he destroys.

4:35 p.m.: Guy I met in a college writing class stops by to buy a book. Hadn’t seen him since the Bronze Age. Good to see you, Dennis.

5 p.m.: Book signing over. Want beer. Go home.

Thanks to everyone for stopping by.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The hazards of home ownership

When you buy a house, the only important things you won't change are the subatomic particles that hold the house together.

"I'd like the couch here, the ceiling fan removed, the living room carpet ripped out and burned, oh, and that hydrogen atom next to the end table ... no, the one with the gimpy orbital. Yeah, could you move its electron a little to the left?"

Everything about your new home is slightly, if not completely, exactly how you wouldn't have done it.

Either the living room is too dark, the kitchen is too small, or every wall is painted just the wrong color puke.

But, unless you're a carpenter, engineer or just surprisingly lucky, while making repairs around your new home there's a terrific chance you'll break more things than you fix.

For example, let's see how much you know about tools.

A hammer is used for:

a) Opening beer bottles.

b) Scratching that hard to reach place on your back.

c) Protection.

d) Driving nails into wood.

The answer is, of course, e) breaking into cars. See, without me, the first thing you'd have done with a hammer is try to put up a shelf. Your beer would still be in the bottle, your back would still itch and you wouldn't have this new car stereo. Shows what you know.
To help you avoid these carpentry gaffes, here's How to Get Out of Doing Home Repairs in Five Easy Steps:

- Convince yourself, your wife and your cat that the house looks great the way it is. This can be accomplished by hypnosis and a heavy dose of barbiturates.

- Bring home so many carpet samples, paint brochures and linoleum strips your wife gets discouraged and decides to do it all herself.

- Talk carpenter friends into helping you, then break your hand with a cinder block and watch them work through a haze of Vicodin.

- Attempt the home repairs yourself. By this time your wife, friends, giggling neighbors and anyone who watches the local news knows you're an idiot and will talk you out of it ... let them.

- Set your house on fire.

There. That's all you need to know about home repair.

What? You actually want to fix up your house?

OK, follow these stupid rules:

- Plumbing and electrical work ¬ unless you actually know what you're doing or aren't afraid of a sudden fiery death, leave this work to professionals.

- Painting ¬ use masking tape to cover the edges of shelves, woodwork, fixtures and other items you don't want to slop paint over. Use old sheets and/or newspapers to cover bigger items. Then remove all the outlet covers. Don't be a moron.

- Installing carpet/linoleum/tile ¬ make sure you sand and clean floors before applying anything sticky. And, just because a room is exactly 10 feet wide on the east end doesn't mean it'll be exactly 10 feet wide on the west end. Measure everything.

- Safety ¬ wear gloves, boots and goggles at all time, No matter how much you laugh at cartoons, a nail gun is not a toy.

- Finish everything you start ¬ such as the room you're painting, the shelf you're installing, the floorboards you're staining, that bottle of Crown Royal, that half-gallon of vanilla ice cream ... you get the idea.

Happy headaches.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

A moving experience

The problem inherent with moving anywhere isn't related to climate, topography, taxes or the number of pizza places per square mile of concrete.

The main problem with moving is moving.

Oh, sure, after settling in you have to deal with the social oppression usually associated with the stupid family next door who doesn't have the common decency to think exactly like you, the occasional vandalism to yard ornaments obviously no one else found cute, and wondering why these complete jerks have never brought over a casserole.

But moving all your junk from the place you live to the place you're going to live is about as fun as The Three Stooges-like power tool injury you're bound to experience during future home repairs.

That's where our friend physics comes in.

Moving, in the scientific sense, involves Basic Newtonian physics, which has something to do with forging someone else's name on your bar bill, then putting your body in motion and keeping it in motion until you've reached escape velocity.

However, moving in the literal sense involves Advanced Newtonian physics. This follows Newton's "inverse loser-friends law" which states that doubling the distance between point A and point B reduces to one-quarter the number of people who actually lift your things and carry them out to the truck. So, my advice is to start off by calling more than four people.

The breakdown takes the following into consideration: 1) The distance between your old home and your new one, 2) the number of friends and/or relatives you haven't tapped out for favors, 3) the amount of pizza and beer needed to coax these people into taking your stuff and moving it to an entirely different city, and 4) the desire to tell everyone to get the hell out of your house because your wife wants to do it with you in the new kitchen.
Not surprisingly, Advanced Newtonian physics is a lot more popular than Basic Newtonian physics.

But as Advanced told Basic to go stuff its gravitational pull in its ear, Quantum Mechanics told Advanced to take a closer look at the whole moving process, then flicked its nose.

Quantum Mechanics put a whole new perspective on the act of moving your stuff into a new house with the Drunken-Loser-Friend Uncertainty Principle.

It goes something like this: The amount of beer the loser-friend has consumed directly influences the subatomic particles of the box/dresser/wife's irreplaceable family heirlooms he's carrying. Since it is impossible to specify the position and the momentum of these particles, the relation of loser-friend's foot to the floor or just how loud the resulting crash will be, the likelihood of you doing anything in the new kitchen with your wife has been reduced to zero.

My wife and I recently moved into our new home and circumvented the entire problem ¬ we hired someone to move our junk for us.

Next week: Home repairs.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Book Review of “On Being Dad”

By Victoria Wilson-Addo

I've never been a father, dealt with giggling emergency room visits, a hyper-sensitive pregnant wife or worried about sending the kids to college, but Jason Offutt's On Being Dad transported me to a world where I was just the opposite of a twenty-something British girl; a forty-something American dad.
This book is an assortment of snapshots taken from life with Offutt's crime-fighting mutant son, vengefully peeing daughter, green poop pooping baby and hush puppy craving wife. It is so absorbing that I blame it for making me miss so many tube [subway] stops each time I read it. Even the introduction, an invention I tend to disagree with (can't books speak for themselves?) is entertaining.
On Being Dad should not be confined to the eyes of floundering fathers, but open to anyone, regardless of which role in the family you most fit. Every story has universally recognisable moments. Except perhaps, the one about t-ball -a game that may be exclusive to the U.S. (maybe explaining the rules of cricket would be a fair exchange). These are funny reminders of family life; the unit society is supposedly based on. Which if true, on reading this book is a startling, but encouraging thought.
These reminiscences are easy to identify with; whether you were the boy who discovered the Tooth fairy secretly uses Superman's baby teeth for bullets to shoot monsters without mouths, a girl who considers The Rolling Stones to be a boy band, a pregnant lioness who prepares for soon-to-be-born cubs by Christmas decorating two months early, or a Dad remembering the cardboard box that made his childhood Christmas' magical.
A warning before opening On Being Dad: be aware of your surroundings and just how many people will look at you strangely before edging away as you erupt with sniggers, cackles, guffaws and belly-laughter.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Buy a house - where do I sign?

Author's note: This is the first of a three-part series dedicated to the insanity that is home buying.

My wife and I recently purchased a home and discovered that it would have probably been a lot less complicated teaching astrophysics to monkeys.
For example, the load of loan paperwork it takes to buy a house is enormous, tedious and is printed in some language that looks like English, is phonetically identical to English, but reads like the words were pulled out of a bag at random. Holisticists have linked the amount of this paperwork to the amount of homework you screwed up as a kid. Sort of a karmic punishment for those of us who goofed off in class.
The general idea is that if you were stupid enough to put a semester's worth of work into a project the night before it was due, you're stupid enough to enter into a 30-year contract that requires you to spend twice as much on a house as it's worth. In the world of finance, this is called interest. In the real world, it's called extortion.
Not entirely fair, but mortgage companies are allowed to get away with it because not many lay people actually know anything about mortgage companies, and those who do are so paranoid nobody takes them seriously.
It isn't, of course, signing the right lines on the right pages that makes buying a house tedious, by which I mean it's not even fun after the appropriate amount of drinks. It's waiting for approval that drives you crazy.
It's kind of like this ...
Picture yourself pregnant. (Guys, imagine the pain of passing a bowling ball through a part of your body a bowling ball won't physically fit through - then double it.) You're waiting in line for a ticket to a movie you've wanted to see for the past year. Then picture yourself at the concession stand, without a watch, realizing the picture's going to start before you sit down because the jerk in front of you wants to pay for her Twix and Twizzlers with a debit card. Then, picture yourself walking into the theater as you hear the opening credits begin when suddenly your water breaks and some pimply-faced attendant has to race you to the hospital.
That's sort of like buying a house - well, without all the screaming, emotional trauma, expensive prescription drugs and dozens of people you don't know looking at your naughty bits. You have a sense of urgency, uncertainty, frustration, dread and anticipation - all at the same time. Oh, and you've got to pee, too.
This feeling is called stress.
To make the house-buying process a lot less stressful, make sure you find a good real estate agent. A nice real estate agent. The kind of real estate agent who's so nice if you had lunch with him you'd actually feel guilty stiffing her with the bill. They're trained to look after you when all that paperwork causes you to gibber like an idiot.
After signing away the next 30 years of our lives, an amount of money we may not be able to earn, and possibly a kidney or two, we had our house. Now all we had to do was move.

Next week: Moving in.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


After asking for an example of a niche magazine while teaching my introduction to mass media class, one of my students said “Cosmopolitan.” A guy asked what Cosmopolitan was. I said it was cranberry juice, Rose’s lime, triple sec and vodka.
Is that wrong?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Somebody reviewed me?

Wow. I feel kinda somebody today.
While Googling myself -- an egocentric act of self gratification that doesn't involve touching ... and I do it at least twice a week -- I found a review of Challenging Destiny #21, a magazine which includes my short story "Clark Bland Saves the Planet.”
Here's what reviewer Douglas Hoffman thought about my story:
“Clark Bland doesn't have X-ray vision, super speed, mega strength, or the power of flight. He's probably the last normal human on Earth in Jason Offutt's story, “Clark Bland Saves the Planet.” Clark's friends, coworkers, and even his wife have all indulged in Super Power Advantage (SPA) treatments. Much to everyone else's chagrin, Clark just wants to be himself.
“The title telegraphs the ending. We know that Clark will, by dint of being himself, save the day, succeeding where countless superheroes have failed. The act of salvation is silly, but in keeping with the story's light, humorous tone. Better is the conflict between Clark and his wife Gloria, now Wonder Girl, a tale told mostly in interwoven flashbacks. This aspect of “Clark Bland Saves the Planet” is poignant, and leads to a conclusion which is both unexpected and satisfying.”
Well, gee, thanks, Doug.
You can pick up Challenging Destiny #21 at: www.fictionwise.com.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Manure Lesson

My daughter called on her way home from TCBY. She'd just finished her first-ever job interview and it went well.
There's something profound about the fact that a 16-year-old applied for a job. It gives an adult hope that there are teenagers out there who will eventually be able to run things once we're too old to show them how the world works. It's even better when she's your kid. Now, when civilization breaks down and no one knows how to repair the machines, like in (insert random Star Trek episode here), she'll at least be able to make a decent smoothie.
I didn't have an official paycheck job until the summer of my junior year in high school. I was a farm boy and a job for me was pitching hay bales and shoveling hog manure.
Although throwing 50-pound bales of hay onto the back of a moving truck in 95-degree heat wasn't much fun, it was the hog manure that decided my choice of careers. Not that the manure possessed comic book radiation properties that mutated me into a writer rather than a farmer, it was the fact that writing was something I could do that was so far removed from hog manure, I'd never have to go on a date smelling like it again.
My first real job was as a food vendor at Royals Stadium. I started the year after the Kansas City Royals went to their first World Series and quit the year before they went to their second.
My timing sucked.
But walking up and down the concrete stairs hawking nachos or peanuts or Coca-Cola wasn't really a job. It was an excuse to go to the ballpark 81 times a year and flirt with girls. Sure, I got a paycheck and the occasional tip, but baseball and girls turned working there into less of a job and more of an exercise in bucking the system. If I could combine two things I loved and get paid for it, I must be doing something right.
That's something missing from a lot of people's work equation. Most people get a job to earn money so they can do things they enjoy, like eat and have heat in the winter. What most people don't do is figure out something they love and incorporate it into their profession. My daughter likes to read and really wanted to work at a bookstore, but TCBY called her in for an interview first.
Will she be worse off for working at TCBY? No. She'll still learn responsibility and the satisfaction that comes with earning money. Would she have enjoyed working at the bookstore more? Maybe.
But this way, she just might learn my hog manure lesson a little easier, because people get sick of yogurt, too.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

On Being Dad

(Warning: This sounds impersonal because somebody else wrote it.)

Award-winning humorist Jason Offutt's book on parenting, "On Being Dad," is now available.

"On Being Dad" costs $9.95 per book plus $1.30 shipping and handling. To get an autographed copy, go to www.jasonoffutt.com or just send check or money order to: Jason Offutt, P.O. Box 115, Orrick, Mo. 64077. “On Being Dad” will soon be available through barnesandnobel.com and Royal Fireworks Press (http://www.rfwp.com/).

Thanks for reading.


Thursday, January 05, 2006

June 6, 2006: Throw a party, it's Devil Day

Every new year brings hope, the prospect of spending more time with your loved ones and less time with your family - if you're into that sort of thing - and the possibility that world leaders may get something right for once.
But every new year has a darker side. A side that says “shut up and give me your wallet.” A side that lurks under the bed, hides in the back seat of your car and fills minutes on 24-hour cable news shows that should have something better to do with its broadcast time.
Every new year gives us another reason to worry.
In recent years we've had Y2K, the Tribulation that didn't happen in 2004, and the UFO behind the Hale-Bopp comet that was going to swoop a bunch of computer programmers up to heaven, or a 7-Eleven, or someplace like that.
What will we worry about in 2006?
Just wait until June, because by June, people are going to get weird. Hunter S. Thompson weird. Madonna being named a Nobel laureate weird. Yikes.
Why's June so special? How about June 6? How about June 6, 2006? How about 06/06/06? Yeah, 666 - the Devil Day is almost upon us.
Oh, yes, the apocalypse is coming. Start hording ham.
What will actually happen on June 6? Eh, who knows? But I guarantee more people will be in church, write books about the end being near and go on Jerry Springer to get hit with a chair.
The number 666 makes people goofy. I once worked with a person who wouldn't give out the office number because it had three sixes in a row. It's just a number. Until the antichrist shows up and forces us all to get the mark, or a chip implant, or a really boss tattoo, 666 is just the number after 665.
Shopping for a barbecue a few years ago, I saw a package of hamburger for $6.66. I bought it and served The Beast Burgers. Everybody laughed and had devils food cake for dessert.
My advice for June 6? Just sit back and watch the world act silly. It'll be a lot like a family reunion, only with less bloodshed.
Oh, and watch out for the antichrist.
I once met a guy who said he was the antichrist. He tried to sell me insurance, so I threw an empty Jim Beam bottle at him and set fire to his couch.
It was the best Christmas ever.