Tag Archives: Humor

How to Use a Phone… Possibly

28 Jul

The powerful force that is iPod Nano is having trouble with the intricacies of his or her feature set. I wade in with a cautionary tale about escalating phone service turf wars and possibly, a little practical advice…

iPod Nano –

I’ll have to admit up front that I’m a little unfamiliar with most of these terms. I did pick up “Phone,” “does” and “INTERNET,” but beyond that you might as well have been speaking Esperanto for all the sense it made to me.

I’m constantly amazed by the variety of communication options the youth of today have at their disposal. (Well, not “constantly.” I do take a little time off from my amazement now and then, usually to do “something for me.” “Something” usually entails a nap, a glass of Scotch or a Scotch-related nap.)

When I was younger, we were limited to alternating weekday use of the local party line and some makeshift tin can-and-string phones. The adults (who actually paid the rent on the line) had the line tied up day after day, talking to each other about gout remedies, the new (and unmarried) woman who had moved in down the hall, which percentage of lye would remove stains but not skin or hair, whether or not the Kaiser was “full of it” and so on.

If my friends and I wanted to have a long, private conversation without having to look at each other, we would turn to our old standby, the tin-can-o-phone. This gave us the chance to speak uninterrupted for the most part. Occasionally rival tin-can operators would cut our string or attach one of their own strings to our pre-existing network with the intent to hijack the conversation(s).

We’d retaliate by grafittiing the nearest alleyway with disparaging rumours about their incredibly small coverage area or insinuating that usage of their tin-can system reflected poorly on the “tied-in” individuals and was quite possibly an affront to God. (Most things were in those days, and those who argued this “fact” tended to be labeled “affronts” the fastest.)

As more and more people sought to add their own string to these networks, a greater number of rivals began operating in the area. They would undercut our string system with offers of fatter, more secure string or additional cans placed in convenient and semi-private areas.

Tensions ran high, causing line snappages in major boroughs and wreaking havoc on our semi-private lives. A few kids came across some hemp, which was a major breakthrough thanks to its longevity and potential smokability.

The hemp looked to put most of us out of business but Karen Judson’s parents de-regulated the industry by throwing out every manner of thread, yarn and twine in their garage one afternoon. Small startups tied on to hemp lines, gradually bleeding the system of its precarious exclusivity.

We all raced against the inevitable, devolving into a series of small-time turf wars predicated on “strand thickness” and “can portablility.” The first kid who realized you could transmit of heavy-duty fishing line was a millionaire by age 15. The young entrepreneur who discovered that a tomato paste can could do the same job as a #10 (with no signal degradation or noticeable volume drop) sold out to Jacob Bell’s authoritarian mother for an undisclosed amount of coinage and chewing tobacco.

The rise of private phone ownership soon sank our beloved industry. We began to communicate with each other through a mixture of indecipherable hand gestures and blind ads in the local paper. Our parents enjoyed their newfound freedom, which allowed them to find out the latest on their siblings’ mostly illegitimate children without having to suffer through 20 minutes of corn medication recommendations or a post-potluck recipe exchange.

So, to answer your original question: yes. The internet IS amazing!

Clifton L. Tanager


A History Lesson featuring A.V. Tanager

20 Jul

I’d like to take a break from answering unanswerable (and the occasional shouldn’t-be-answered) questions to introduce you to my grandfather, Artemis Valiant Tanager. While I won’t be introducing you to him literally, mainly due to his having passed on decades ago, I’d like to treat you to one of his wonderful stories about his days in the Spanish-American War, also known (mainly to him) as The War to End All Wars. He also referred to it as the Great Depression and The New Deal occasionally, when not referring to it as The Era of Good Feelings. He did love a good generational label.

Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to locate a photo of Grandpa Artemis, no doubt due to photography still being very much of a “dark art” during his most photogenic years (age 12 and age 31, if I’m not mistaken). However, I did find a rather nice scientific drawing of a Palm Civet Cat, who will be featured prominently in the following tale. Enjoy.

My great-grandfather, Artemis Valiant Tanager, was a veteran of the Spanish-American War. Keeping with the family tradition (which he had just started that afternoon), he would often sit down on quiet nights and regale us with horrendous tales of his proud service of his country (mostly the United States).

He’d dim the lights, often inadvertently, before beginning his story. As an “attention-grabber,” he would sometimes accompany the dimmed lights with a lusty yell and a few muzzle-loaded shots, usually aimed high and wide, thanks to his delirium tremors and failing eyesight.

We’d gather around his feet, our little hearts racing and our little hands surreptitiously checking ourselves for bullet wounds, and sit in rapt, near-catatonic attention as he began:

“We were encamped for a few weeks, nestled deep within the lovely rolling hills on the outskirts of southern Manila. Unfortunately, many of us were too dead, too wounded or too scared to enjoy what was left of the scenery and most of these autumnal memories have only returned via gunfire-triggered flashbacks or years of regression therapy.

The Filipinos were somewhat ill at ease as well, what with their country being used as a war-ridden playground for a battle between Spain and America. We indicated through a series of inept hand gestures that their invitations to play “host” for this war must have been lost in the mail, a common occurrence with drunken Pony Express riders and their none-too-sober mounts.

In fact, their invitations had been lost, having been bundled with several thousand care packages on a steamer located up in Cleveland, OH. It had followed a circuitous route through the Great Lakes before emerging in the Atlantic and heading for the Philipines. Unfortunately, a calculated attempt to “stir things up” saw the ship run full-bore onto the nearest Filipino beach, launching itself over a scrub-covered mound and unceremoniously drop its entire load directly between the two peaks that bookended Manila. Obviously it was a huge mess and those at the receiving end were none too pleased.

Anyway, the men and I had received our orders earlier that day via the Filipino version of the Passenger Pigeon: the Palm Civet Cat. The small packet of top-secret information and lifetime supply of cyanide pills was carefully inserted by highly trained couriers into the lower intestine of the cat.

Though known for their ill-tempered clawing and unrestrained bowel movements, they actually could become quite tame given the proper training, although the constant stench was somewhat of an annoyance.

Ike, you can use the facilities when this story is finished. It’s rather rude to keep interrupting.

(An aside: Grandpa was referring to my cousin Ike, who was three years my junior and somewhat of inconvenience to be around, thanks to his constant urination which led directly to his constant dehydration. Spending time with Ike meant rotating between the nearest restroom and nearest sink/water fountain. He was also a poor conversationalist, what with his words being continually drowned out by his water intake or muffled by the door to the men’s room.)

Someone had discovered, most likely due to boredom or being hopped up on the local fortified mango wine, that the beans found in their heaping piles of feces could be used to brew a rather strong cup of joe. Of course, “joe” had not yet become widely used slang for coffee, but instead referred to the eye-wateringly powerful beverage made from a mixture of civet cat feces and the 90-proof mango wine.

We lost a few men to what we now know as “e coli” and a few more to the heart-stopping power of the wine’s most active ingredient: polypropylene glycol. While its many uses around the world render it safe to consume in small quantities, a weeklong-bender’s worth would usually turn a healthy man’s blood into something between high-pressure plastic and memory foam. Shortly thereafter, it would turn their minds into a mush we referred to as “Mango Madness.” Those under the spell of “MM” often rushed headlong into the nearest body of water before emerging briefly to futilely attempt to set themselves on fire.

Ike– again. You can wait. All this urination can’t possibly be good for your remaining kidney. Maris, stop picking at that bullet wound. There’ll be plenty of time for that when the wound becomes infected.

Anyway, the messages would be retrieved from the civet cat droppings along with the precious coffee beans and assorted roughage. After a quick cup of joe and a scan of the illegible map, we were ready to storm whatever the hell it was that to the very blurred north of us.

Long story short, within 24 hours we had reclaimed the capital from the peaceable but proud Manilans and were celebrating with a spiked cup of deadly mango-joe. We sold our coffee secret to Juan Valdez Sr. who promised to take it to his grave as soon as he made a quick fortune.

The rest of us adopted a fair amount of the tamer civet cats as pets, taking them home with us to become coffee makers, guardcats and handy shipping containers for various illegal products and substances.

Ike, as soon as you’re done collapsing in pain, you may use the restroom. Maris: I’d like to take a moment to refer to the release form you signed prior to your visit.”

– Clifton L. Tanager

Name That Tune

30 Jun

Cloudwin has a song stuck in his/her head and needs help extracting it. Using the clues provided, I jump in a help out…

Cloudwin –

That’s an interesting question and it brings back some fond memories from my younger days as a reckless and somewhat awkward teen.

I’m Not Sue was released in 1948 by the Six Tops, a harmonic vocal group whose “barbershop quartet + 2” stylings were the talk of the town for several months. Their popularity reached its peak shortly after the release of I’m Not Sue, a tongue-in-cheek tale about a misdialed phone and a supposedly private conversation.

Of course, the music scene changed drastically in the next couple of years, which did not bode well for those in the harmonizing genre. Bill Haley and his unkempt Comets invented rock music with their single Rock Around the Clock and things would never be the same.

This onslaught of so-called “rock” music steamrolled the unsuspecting Tops, swiftly depleting their record advance and crippling two of their members. They pressed on despite the odds, touring as a 4-member group, playing local dances, state fairs and book burnings.

Those of us who had enjoyed formative experiences with the accompaniment of songs like I’m Not Sue loyally followed the newly-minted Four Tops all over the Greater Midwest, capturing rudimentary live recordings with our reel-to-reel and compiling a fan magazine in our limited downtime.

Rock and roll turned out to be unstoppable, much in the way the Four Tops were not. Soon they were nothing but dusty LPs and faded memories. I was on my way to Korea and my younger brother (and loyal Tops fan) was headed to high school. He soon gave in to peer pressure and became a rock-and-roller, oiling up his pompadour and fathering two children out of wedlock.

I, on the other hand, was exploring the limits of my endurance, working alternating 24-hour watches and making several attempts to be dishonorably discharged. It turned out they needed warm bodies more than they needed respect or loyalty, and I was stuck there for four long years.

In any event, I still remember a few lyrics from I’m Not Sue, and I’d like to share them with you:

“I’m sorry
I thought you were somebody else
I must have dialed ‘5’ instead of ‘4’
Golly, this is awkward
Especially the part about the intimate nickname”

I guess that doesn’t translate to the page very well, but when the Tops deployed their impeccable 6-part harmony, it was like the embarrassed apologies of angels.


Clifton L. Tanager

How to Watch

23 Jun

An anonymous (aren’t they all?) Netizen inquires as to The Breakfast Club and related observational methodology.

Dear Sir or Madam:

I’m not sure when this Breakfast Club came out, but I’m fairly sure that your local theatre holds the answer. While I may be what some consider “out of the loop” as to today’s technology, I can assure you that there is no finer place to be than a darkened movie theater, preferably watching something in black and white.

Like most of us growing up during the latter stages of the Great Depression, we often found ourselves hoarding pennies and nickels and sneaking off to the matinée to watch men in bad hairpieces pursue women with bad accents. Often an evil German or Asian was involved, but sometimes it was just the white hats versus the black hats in a battle royale over water rights or conjugal visitation.

The movie theater was the greatest place on earth in those days. The screens measured nearly 125 feet across and stood 40 feet tall. Unlike these cracker jack multiplexes, our theater only showed one movie at a time, often for years in a row. My younger brother and I watched Alan Ladd in “Shane” no fewer than 334 times over the course of three years.

We got to the point where not only had we memorized the dialog, but we could pick out each continuity error, like the early scene where Ladd’s shot glass switched from hand to hand no fewer than four times. Or a pivotal later scene that is marred by four seconds of Shane (Ladd) dressed head-to-toe in white, completely subverting the mythology of the character.

This doesn’t even mention the regrettable error in the final scene, where the climax is undercut by Van Heflin’s accent, which goes from Western American to Scottish to Klingon in a three-minute span. And let’s not even bring up the sudden appearance of a laser pistol in a baddie’s hand during the barroom brawl.

I’ve headed far away from my point and most likely taken away a great deal of your precious time. My answer is: with your eyes, at your local theater. If they’re anything like I remember them, Breakfast Club should still be playing.


Clifton L. Tanager

When to Retire

16 Jun

Willfred Mont expresses concern for the future and looks for a chance to “opt out”…

Willfred –

From what I’ve learned in nearly 60 years of thankless labor and tedious repetition is that it’s best to let your company decide whether you should retire or quit.

I have been fortunate enough to be selected for “retirement” by two separate companies. The first, Templeton Box and Glove, made several moves, including the hiring of several people related to the supervisors, to make my position extraneous and thus, easily eliminated.

I fought them every step of the way, using my years of work experience and H.R. loopholes to keep my position. I also fought them the old-fashioned way, turning my staplers and No. 2 pencils into a makeshift weapon and fashioning chainmail out of discarded paperclips.

My last week at Templeton was quite the experience. Besides the skirmishes with mystified supervisors (who seemed ill-prepared to handle a man armed with a stapler and dressed in paperclip-mail), there were also long battles with H.R. representatives, who seemed stymied when presented with large, randomly chosen paragraphs from the 485-page employee manual.

It was all for naught. Shortly after the security guards were summoned, I was forced to declare a truce. If I had had the foresight to swing by the supply closet before cloistering myself in the crawlspace, I would have had enough staples to hold them off for at least another 8 hours.

Still, there were no hard feelings. They threw a retirement party in my honor, according to the photos they mailed me. I was also served with a 500-foot restraining order and must clear any office supply purchase with the local sheriff’s office.

The other retirement went much easier. I arrived as usual at 8 am to find a retirement party in full swing. When I inquired who it was for, a cheerily overweight coworker informed me that “It’s for you, ya old coot!” As he laughed in amusement, I punched him right in the throat.

Lucky for him, I had not yet had my morning coffee, which was usually sprinkled heavily with much-needed cane sugar and PCP. With a full cup, I might have severed his head.

Two hours later, I was back in my Oldsmobile, being waved goodbye to by a set of burly security guards and a bleeding CEO.

So in my estimation: let the retirement time find you. It always has for me.


Clifton L. Tanager

When to Get Hitched

9 Jun

Atefeh looks for some help on the best age for marriage, using a leading question and some remarkably low numbers…

Atefeh –

You’ve asked an important question, one which has stumped experts for years. If the current divorce statistics are any indication, any answer is a wrong answer.

I married my first wife when I was nineteen. We had known each other throughout high school and had worked closely together on everything from the Homecoming gym decoration committee to the “Remembering Our Homecoming King and Queen” tribute dinner the following week, which memorialized Johnny and Sarah’s last moments in life which they spent fighting off circling sharks in San Diego Bay. (The other lesson here, if there is one, is that drinking and Truth or Dare do not mix. On the other hand, drinking and skeet shooting do, which is yet another mystery of life.)

After dropping out of high school to raise our first child, my wife and I began a long and torturous road to happiness, occasionally catching vicarious glimpses of the “best years of our lives.” Just when things seemed like they couldn’t get any worse, we had a breakthrough brought on by my draft number being called.

Soon I was off to Korea to rid the world of Communism and she was home, working just as hard to rid the kitchen of field mice. We both had unanswered questions, such as would this long-distance relationship work? and how the hell did field mice make their way six miles into the city?

As I honed my skills in the Armed Forces and my wife practiced her trap-setting, our marriage went on nearly unattended. I found myself often unable to write due to various illnesses, infections and uncomfortable rashes. My wife apparently was short on time as well, as I received letters sporadically, detailing the escalating “war at home” and various recruits who had stopped by the house to lend a hand with the field mice.

It seemed unlikely that the marriage would hold together. We were too different. Even in high school, we were polar opposites. She was voted Most Likely To Drop Out of School and Combat Field Mice and I had been voted Most Likely To Travel and Get Shot At. We were like Romeo and Juliet, if Romeo was an Army line cook with a bum, but not bum enough knee and Juliet was surrounded by contemptuous mice rather than warring families.

But in the end, it all worked out. I returned from the war somewhat worse for wear and began to start our life over again. There were some bumps in road (and mice in the cupboards) but like any journey, it started with a single step. 31 years later we were still married and bracing ourselves for oncoming grandchildren. The mice had moved on as well, consolidating their forces and heading towards the new housing developments springing up like identical weeds all around us.

So, in the end, I don’t think it matters what age you embark on this lifelong journey. What matters most is that there is a single event inextricably tying you together and field mice to join forces against. There’s no “me” in team and only one “i” in divorce. Do the math.

Clifton L. Tanager

On Pipes

5 Jun

While many of you out there (and I especially mean those precocious “tweens”) have expressed an interest in smoking, I’d like to take a short moment to “clear the air” about pipe selection.

There are a large variety of pipes and tobaccos out there. Don’t limit yourself to just one, as you may find yourself miles away from your favorite at a time when you need the comfort of endlessly filling, tamping and relighting your pipe.

I have no particular favorite, but I do tend to stray towards basic blacks and browns while steering clear of ostentatious whites or reds.

I would, however, advise you to steer clear of the corncob pipe. While its rakish “down home” looks may be visually appealing, the actual delivery system makes it taste as if you’re smoking Orville Redenbacher’s ashes.

Warmest regards,
Clifton L. Tanager