Get rich quick schemes

I guess you could say I’ve involved myself in a fair number of barely legal enterprises in hopes of getting rich.

My humanitarian history began in 1983 when I was 8.

The parents had just split for good, sending mom, my 4-year-old brother and I from our pedestrian, middle-class-ish existence to a ramshackle apartment in the “Escape from New York” section of town.

Mom lost her title of “Stay-at-home” and for the first time I was alone.

Soon, I went from a shy, weepy momma’s boy to a shy, weepy hoodlum.

My first heist was modeled after a charity where people went door-to-door with coffee cups collecting for monkey Alzheimer’s or feline lupus or something like that.

With one of mom’s mugs in hand, and a short spiel in the name of a cancer cure rehearsed, the Gohs Candy Fund was in business.

Panhandling for non-existent causes turned to shoplifting at the local party store, because the former was simply too much work.

OK, to be fair, I got a handful of change at one house and I swiped two candy bars at one store.

It was wrong, but a career criminal I was not.

Decades later, I still feel the shame, but at the time it seemed like fairly victimless crimes.

And then, Sampson, the strict military man who would become my father, appeared on the scene and the tomfoolery ended—for awhile.

Soon after moving out of my parents’ house I found a different sort of trouble. Granted, selling overpriced gourmet treats and silver-plated jewelry isn’t the same as lying for donations, but it’s pretty damned close.

In the years following “Cancer Scam,” I hawked everything from vacuums to night crawlers, but my laziness and greed prevented me from seeing one pyramid and multi-level-marketing venture after another for the frauds they were.

I even kept the faith when an unemployed alcoholic and a former Texan drug runner arrived at my mother-in-law’s house in a beat up station wagon with homemade business cards and dog-eared pie charts to convince me I could make millions selling phone service door-to-door. (Please hold your applause until the end of the humiliation.)

I soon found myself back at home.

In between cooking jobs, and desperate to move out of mother’s basement, I wrote a $250 check.

Months passed and loved ones were alienated by desperate sales pitches.

My partners in slime then turned me on to soliciting donations for Vietnam veterans and disabled Americans via telemarketing.

Taking advantage of peoples’ generosity gave me the same sick feeling as eating a gas station burrito, but I pressed on through four hours of people screaming graphic instructions on what I should do with the phone, myself and my mother.

I broke for lunch and never returned.

The scams had such allure that it wasn’t long before I paid $100 for a list of homeowners who supposedly qualified for a refund of their closing costs.

Offering someone their money in return for a fee went over pretty much as you might expect.

I may as well have walked into a stranger’s house, picked up their toaster and offered to sell it to them. (Hold on, I’ve got an idea!)

By 25, my miserable machinations hadn’t produced a penny and I quit, for nearly seven years.

Then I began noticing the occasional odd classified like: “Free manure (horse). Easy to pick up,” and “Breast pump … barely used. $70.”

I wondered what I could sell, but resisted the urge to liquidate household furniture and knickknacks until I spotted an ad from a Christian man seeking a car or money to buy a car—it was all the push I needed to fall off the wagon.

So far, I have zero responses to: “White 32-year-old nonsmoking professional male seeking wealthy surrogate parent. Interests include comic books, video games, cash, muscle cars, Taco Bell and beer. High bidder addressed as ‘mommy’ or ‘daddy’ and will receive finger paintings, hugs and phone calls on major holidays. Platonic interests only need apply.”

I’d like to think this will be my last swindle, but I know me too well.

Oh, and “Christian man seeking car,” if you’re reading this, let me know how it all turned out—the suspense is killing us.

Getting on my nerves

Funny how a week turns into a month.

I’d like to say I was on hiatus in order to focus on my international diplomacy studies but even I don’t believe that, and I’m the one who made it up.

The boss said it was this or I go back on bathroom duty.

Apparently, eating mashed potatoes and watching 6-year-old reruns of Project Runway don’t pay like it used to.

Don’t get me wrong, the break since my last column has not been for lack of rage over life’s foibles. (People can have foibles, but life? OK, I’m stalling.)

Anyway, without further preamble, I give you the week in rage.

Young love—I used to watch Tevye struggle with his maturing daughters in my favorite musical “Fiddler on the Roof” and feel sympathetic to Motel and Tzeitel as they told the aging patriarch they had given each other a pledge to marry.

Any nostalgia I had over the idiocy of young love has grown exponentially smaller as my own daughter nears 18 … and gets further from the convent.

Nowadays I relate more to Spencer Tracy in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

Except, my Katharine Hepburn doesn’t look on, teary-eyed, as I change my mind just before supper.

Try as I might, I feel more like Emperor Palpatine—the evil old man who could shoot lightning from his hands in Return of the Jedi: “Oh, I’m afraid the deflector shields will be quite operational when your boyfriend arrives.”

Gun control—I’ve devised the perfect solution for this debate.

We hold a televised pay-per-view crazy-old-man-off between Wayne LaPierre and Joe Biden.

If Biden wins we all get a double-barrel shotgun.

If LaPierre wins we each get our own Apache Helicopter.

For what it’s worth, I’m rooting for LaPierre.

I’ve got a field mouse problem, and 625-rounds-per-minute with that 30 mm chain gun should be sufficient to tear those meeses to pieces.

We’ll give the proceeds to … I don’t know … midgets with herpes or something.

By the by, what the hell kind of a name for the king of all guns is “LaPierre,” anyway?

John Wayne’s real first name was “Marion” but he had the good sense to change it.

I think ol’ Wayne would hold more sway if he went by “Dirk Smashinger” or “Lex Gunpowder.”

Sequestration conflagration—Like the firemen of “Fahrenheit 451,” our federal representatives are not putting out blazes but starting them.

Instead of incinerating books, these silk-suited thugs are raring to set proverbial fire to the economy.

I’d tell you to contact your political representative but your time would probably be better spent converting what’s left of your 401k to pesos or investing in mustard stocks.

One small step—A big asteroid missed us last week, but only by a few thousand miles.

All the hub-bub over interstellar traffic got me thinking about the fact that we shaved apes spend the bulk of our time and fortune warring on one another, arguing over religion, sexuality, skin color … all the while there’s a rock the size of Yankee Stadium out there waiting to retire us permanent-like a la the dinosaurs.

That reminds me of an old joke: what’s the last thing that goes through a homo sapien’s mind when he’s hit by 100,000 tons of cosmic matter?

Worship me—I watched the apocalyptic action classic “Armageddon” for the too-many-eth time recently and realized I’ll never have the chance—or will or energy or skills or bravery—to save the planet.

Nonetheless, I want a bronze statue of myself erected outside a governmental building.

Assuming middle-aged shut-in does not qualify as a superhero status, I’ve opted to take up a collection.

I figure by the time I raise the $30,000 necessary to commission a sculpture of me in a space suit doing my best Charles Atlas pose, I will have located a municipality willing to host this work of art.

Tune in next time to see if I use my powers for good.

The true story of my first murder

It’s National Newspaper Week again and I know what you’re all thinking: “Who cares?”

Wait, that’s what I was thinking.

I mean, I love doughnuts, but I don’t get all emotional every time the local bakery celebrates National Doughnut Day—it falls on the first Friday of June, by the way.

That said, the observance did get me to thinking about the business in general and what it has meant to me over the last decade or so.

I freelanced for a half-dozen or so publications throughout Northern Michigan, and one in California, for a few years leading up to my first staff writer position up in Charlevoix.

Putting out sports stories, holiday features and the occasional enterprise piece prepared me for the technical aspects of news writing, but nothing could have readied me for the emotional whack-a-mole of covering my first murder.

It was my second day on the job.

I’ll never forget the call from my boss, who was busy getting that week’s paper off to print.

Editor: “Gohs, there’s a 10-77 on the north side of town.”

Me: “What’s a 10-77?”

Editor: “It means the cops found a dead body.”

Me: “Holy &*!@.”

Editor: “You’re damned right, ‘holy &*!@.’”

It was a shooting, and the suspect was unaccounted for.

Sweating, trembling and hyperventilating, I grabbed a steno pad, pens and the good camera and headed for my truck. I was in a hurry.

But, as much as time was the enemy, physics proved to be the real heel.

Hurriedly, I jumped up into the cab, lost my balance and did the splits—one leg on the pavement, one leg in the truck.

Now, if you’ve never seen a fat man with short legs do the splits, let me explain.

You see, gymnasts wear spandex for a reason: it flexes.

Cotton dress slacks, on the other hand, have a tendency to split from, oh, let’s say your belt loop to your inseam.

So as not to disturb the reader, I’m going to pretend I was wearing underwear when this happened.

Needless to say my heart attacks were having heart attacks as I tried to recover from the trauma of having my pants blowout in plain view of city hall. (Did I mention that my office was across the street from city hall?)

I glanced all around in horror, certain someone had seen.

My mind conjured worst case scenarios.

“Dispatch, we’ve got an eleventy-seventy: fat guy with his butt hanging out! Over!”

The street was dead.

My secret was safe.

As luck—or a universe with a wicked sense of humor—would have it, the murder occurred across the street from my house.

I tried to regain my composure as what was left of my dignity flapped in the air-conditioning while I sped toward home and the crime scene.

There were police cars and officers strewn about on either side of the highway.

I took deep gulps of breath as I putted my way through hell’s half-mile, praying to the god of chubby journalists that my nervous and, hence, suspicious behavior would not tempt a deputy—thinking he’d nabbed the ne’erdowell—to haul me out of my vehicle for questioning.

“Well, if it ain’t the Bare Butt Bandit!”

Somehow I managed to slip past the guards and dash into the house undetected.

I made a quick wardrobe change at the homestead and hoofed my way across the highway to the crime scene.

Slowly, I worked my way through police tape and roadblocks, officers and detectives, police dogs and gawkers until I reached the head honcho.

The former sheriff (picture Wilford Brimley with a gun) kindly and patiently fielded my queries as I fumbled my notebook and sputtered through my greenhorn questions.

Police lights, brown uniforms, visions of a deranged gunman popping out from behind the bushes—my head swam and I fought back the urge to vomit.

Upon gathering all necessary information, I photographed the scene and headed back to the office to write my first big story.

The boss looked it over.

He told me to call the sheriff to confirm a couple facts.

“We’d rather be right than first,” he said.

He was right. And, nearly 2,000 stories later I’m still striving to make sure I get this business right.

Happy National Newspaper Week.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I need a doughnut. And, yes, this column was written while wearing boxer shorts … if that makes you feel better.

Celebrate good times but do it somewhere else

Father’s Day—Harrumph!

Well, not “harrumph” to that day in particular but to all observances.

Regardless of the reason, national holidays, personal anniversaries, they all just seem like so much superfluous self-aggrandizement.

Yeah, yeah, I get it: we’re supposed to honor those who blah, blah, blah. I’m still not buying in. But, then, I’ve always had difficulty celebrating accomplishments and milestones.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t begrudge anyone their little celebrations in life.

I guess the realist in me just knows the cake is only going to make me fatter; someone is going to have to sweep up all that confetti; and, what am I really celebrating, anyhow?

I’m another year older?

Goodie gumdrops!

The Grim Reaper just edged a little farther forward in his chair.

I’ve been with my wife for 19 years?

Congratulations for not filing for divorce!

I graduated from school?

Well, yippity doo-daw, I didn’t flunk out!

I’m a father?

Which basically means I didn’t accidentally lose, kill or sell the offspring that I crudely helped to produce. Is there anything else I didn’t screw up that I’d like accolades for?

The wife, on the other hand, is a celebration junkie. Even when it’s just the four of us at home for a kid’s birthday she drags out her steamer trunk full of streamers, kazoos, posters, games and a godawful dance mix CD.

I sometimes wondered how it would have looked for someone to walk in on four people standing around a giant cake in a fully decorated house, techno music blaring.

“Where is everybody?” the stranger would ask. In creepy deadpan unison we would all turn our heads and say: “We are everybody.”

When our lab puppies turned two, the wife put party hats on them and gave them special treats.

Have you ever explained to a dog that this isn’t your idea, while you try to strap a rubber band under its chin and situate a cardboard cone on top of its head?

In the days following, they refused to make eye contact with me. It was like accidentally seeing a relative naked, and we could never look at each other the same again.

So, the celebrations continue and I try to stay out of the way.

Despite my pathological aversion to observances, the wife still makes the effort whenever a birthday or Christmas rolls around.

For the last six months the wife has been using these holidays as excuses to try to get me to buy myself a new chair.

I’ve been resisting spending the $300 it’s going to take to replace my old blue recliner.

“Old blue!” I shout, with a tear in my eye.

But, she does have a point.

The seat is nearly a foot lower than it was 12 years ago.

So, when I’m seated, I look like a giant toddler.

The foot rest, which caved in years ago, no longer extends.

I filled the hole with two old pillows that also prevent the four-inch furniture nails—which now protrude on the right side at knee level—from goring me.

The sides are so weakened that when I try to get out of the chair they spread about an arm’s length on each side.

This leaves me half-standing and pinwheeling while I fight gravity and contort my body backwards in a manner that makes it look like I am doing one hell of a limbo.
Sometimes I get up.

Sometimes I fall back into the chair.

That’s the chance you take with Old Blue.

I’ve tried oiling the rocker assembly but cannot seem to find the grunts, groans and high-pitched demon squeaks it produces.

This past Saturday, my daughter thought she would be helpful and suggested we bring up the not-quite-as-old blue recliner from the bar in the basement.

“New blue?”

This piece of furniture is one of the many roadside acquisitions which populate my man cave.

I’ve never actually sat in it but it certainly appears to be in better shape than Old Blue.

The kids brought it up and placed it in the living room for dear old dad.

Other than being a little dusty, the fabric was in decent shape and it appeared to be mechanically sound.

My daughter jumped into it and pulled the lever—the foot rest worked!

Then it was my turn.

I sat down in the chair.

“Not bad,” I beamed.

I pushed up with my tippy toes. “It rocks,” I lauded.

Then it happened.

I made the mistake of scooching back in the chair and giving the floor a good shove with my feet to send me rocking back and forth.

I went back, alright.

What I didn’t know at the time was that this roadside find had been someone else’s Old Blue.

Apparently the bottom assembly had fallen into disrepair and they fixed it by building a new base out of two-by-fours—a base significantly smaller than the original.

Now, basic physics tells us that a tall object with too great of a top weight and too small of a base is destined for hilarity. I fell backward in slow-motion.

My arms clutched at the open air, feet kicking ferociously. (My old swim coach would have been proud.)

I was falling so slowly I had time to scream to my wife: “Where’s Maisy! Where’s Maisy?”

The last thing I saw was the uncontrollable shaking of my wife as she laughed at my plight.

I had visions of landing on our 11-pound Shi Tzu.

“Where’s Maisy! Where’s Maisy?” I screamed over and over.

I even had time to scream “Help me!” a few times … but nobody helped.

I hit the floor with a muffled “thud.”

And, as I lie there in all my ridiculousness—the wife standing over me and convulsing with laughter—I thought about how I had gotten to this particular point in my life.

New Blue now sits next to Old Blue, which is next to the broken piano I paid $100 for, but which is so heavy it will never leave this house. I am now officially in the market for a new recliner.

Perhaps I should buy one to commemorate the Fourth of July.

O Tannenbaum, o tannenbaum … I hate you

By the time you read this I will likely be safely behind bullet-resistant glass, gluing cotton balls to popsicle sticks in some clandestine nuthatch.

The reason for my yuletide madness isn’t birthed from your stereotypical booze-drenched dysfunctional family gathering—though I expect a fair amount of Mr. Beam’s miracle mood enhancer will find its way into the bottom of my rocks glass over the next week or so.

And, while there have been several arguments between the wife and I, they weren’t over what gifts to get the kids, or who has the worse in-laws.

Luckily, both of us have been smited with a set of perfect parents whom we not only love dearly, but who subscribe to this newspaper. (Is “smite” the right word? I’m sure I’ll hear about it five minutes into Christmas dinner.)

No, this year’s “passion of the tinsel” I owe to my desire (the wife calls it a sickness) to get a good deal. Sure, it sometimes ends up costing more to go with the bargain, but in the end it’s worth it. If the wife drank more Jim Beam she might understand that.

The perceived transgression is the result of an attempt to nurse along an artificial Christmas tree I paid $20 for 11 years ago. The wife said we should spring for a real tree this year, but I assured her we could easily squeeze another nine years of life out of the one we have.

After all, it’s not like they go bad.

So, we dusted the overgrown pipe-cleaner off, bent its wire branches back into place and took to decorating.

The wife said it looks pathetic. I think it gives the house that festive Slovakian orphanage, minus the joy, kind of feel.

About three days later—mind you, the tree was erected several days before Thanksgiving—the tree was found on its side, ornaments strewn across the living room floor.

The consensus among the wife and kids is that it offed itself, but I suspect foul play.

You make a lot of enemies in the newspaper business, and none of them are beneath assaulting a man’s Christmas tree.

Not only did the “fall” tweak some of the branches, but one of its built-in stabilizers snapped off.

My son volunteered to fix the tree stand, by which he meant indiscriminately attach eight-or-so board feet of two-by-four via three-and-a-half-inch drywall screws.

It was a valiant effort. Did I say “valiant?” What I meant to say was “Holy Hell, son!” He brought the tree in from the workshop in the garage, stood it precariously in the corner of the living room and re-decorated it.

Later that afternoon, my daughter walked by the tree a little too quickly. I’m no engineer, but this must have caused a breeze of some magnitude because it set off a chain of events that even still have me unnerved.

In slow-motion, I watched as a holiday hell-scape unfolded. As the tree began to tip

I looked over at the wife who was rolling her eyes.

“T-o-l-d y-a s-o,” she said in a deep, slow satanic voice.

With the reflexes of a three-toed sloth I sprang slowly out of my broken easy chair in a vain attempt to catch the falling symbol of glut.

As I pinwheeled and limboed my way up, the tree crashed to the ground, simultaneously launching the ornaments that hadn’t shattered during the first fall.

“Iiiiiincooooomiiiiiiing!” I screamed.

The wife threw her hands up defensively.

I chanted something in Latin.

The dogs stampeded in circles like they were trying to hold off the Apache nation.

Twinkling lights were half-off, the tinsel was lopsided and there were candy canes and broken glass everywhere.

Somewhere in the distance I could swear I heard John Denver singing “Please, daddy, don’t get drunk this Christmas.” It looked like the holidays had gotten sick and barfed all over living room.

Like good little carpenter gnomes, my brother and son marched the tree back into the garage while I sipped my special medicine.

For an hour I could hear sawing, hammering, drilling and swearing … and that was just from the wife’s side of the living room.

Back the tree came, this time with even more wood attached to the bottom.

The tree skirt was no longer large enough to cover the improvised base of pine and steel.

“We can rebuild this tree. We can make it better, stronger—we have the technology.”

The wife protested, but our arrogance knew no bounds. It was a holly-jolly madhouse!

We threw our heads back in maniacal laughter as we used a red tablecloth to cover our shame.

“Hee-hee, her-her, hoo-hoo, huh-ha!”

The madness was complete.

Clearly there was no turning back now.

I had intended to explain how my wife got two pianos for Christmas, but the nice men in white coats say it’s time to take my medication.

New Year’s hesitations

I suppose this list is technically a couple weeks late, but anybody who knows me knows my procrastination knows no bounds.

I’ll take a page out of Gandalf the Gray’s book and say that my work is never early or late but turned in exactly when I intended.

I’ve never been a fan of making resolutions in the new year. However, upon some deep reflecting—the kind one does while writhing in agony after downing one too many slices of strawberry cheesecake—I’ve decided to make some changes in my life.

The following list consists of intentions rather than resolutions.

Swear less—while I shun the notion that there exists a corollary between the use of epithets and a person’s intelligence, I have found that swearing often tends to only escalate any negative feelings I may have at the time. Not to mention that it really upsets my Shih Tzu to the point that she jumps on my shoulder and pats my face with her paw in order to calm me.

Do more angry dancing—why should Kevin Bacon be the only one to blow off steam by dancing angrily in an empty warehouse? After all, this business of dead trees is a stressful one. I think the next time someone calls the newspaper and really rags me out for writing a story about how their dear sweet do-nothing-wrong son was operating a crack dispensary 30 feet from a pre-school, I’m going to head down to the local manufacturing district, march into the first unlocked warehouse I find and cut me one hopping mad rug.

Take up smoking—I gave up my smoky darlings back in 1998 and never looked back … until now. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t crave the nicotine, and my fragile lungs couldn’t handle the smoke. But it really does look cool. And, there are times that it would be nice to puff away dramatically on deadline while pacing in the news room.

Be truly charitable—Do something nice for three people without telling them I did it. I have no idea what or when or where … so look out!

Procrastinate less—Yoda says: “Do or do not … there is no try.” So, I suppose, I don’t have much of a choice in the matter.

Work less, play more—I hate the term work-a-holic, mainly because the suffix is “ic” not “holic.” If anything, I should call myself a workic. The point is I need to spend more time with family and friends … and many of you probably do, too. While it may not be easy for us workics, shopics, sexics and ragics, improving ourselves is something we must do … there is no try.

Wear pants—Before you get too queasy, let me explain: I spend most of my time working from the home office. This affords a rather casual dress code. It may be more difficult to dance angrily in khaki’s and a dress shirt, but I think the wife will appreciate not seeing me in sweatpants five days a week.

Stop screaming at the TV—Someone once told me it’s not my job to tell the world’s jerks they are jerks. Judging by my blood pressure, I have not heeded this sagely advice. However, from now on when Anderson and Shep’, Morning Joe and Bill-O raise my ire I’m going to do what my father-in-law does: clasp my hands together and utter, “Hakuna matata” right before I chuck the remote at the TV.
And, if the cops find that phrase scrawled in blood on my study wall, it will only up the postmortem sales of my memoirs.

Learn to dance—They say you have to walk before you can run. So, before I can get angry dancin’ I’m going to have to get to dancin’.
Luckily, my business partner just happens to be a dance instructor. I wonder if he knows The Robot.

Be nice to telemarketers—I admit it’s a scream to answer in broken English while some poor schmuck tries to sell me aluminum siding or solicit funds for the National Hot Dog Vendors Widows Society, but these folks are just trying to earn a buck like the rest of us. The last thing they need is Captain Clever busting their chops.

No more pre-ambling—I have a bad habit of telling people a story before I ever tell them the story I said I was going to tell them. The wife calls this “pre-ambling.” A decade ago she would just nudge me a little to let me know I was rambling. Now she shouts “pre-ambling” at me like I’m a trained dolphin. Maybe if she threw a trout at me and petted my nose once in a while I’d be better behaved.

Call the men who date the women in my life by their real names—I have this tendency to call my sister’s boyfriend every name but his own. Instead of “Mike” I’d call him “Milton” at Thanksgiving. Then, at July 4 I’d call him “Merlin.” What began as a joke quickly became habit. I’ve found myself doing the same thing with the male child who befriended my daughter.
Apparently “Lizard Boy” isn’t his real name.

Learn a new language—As a great starter-but-not-finisher of projects I have learned how to say “hello” in Mandarin, “The farmer’s daughter is good” in Vulgar Latin, and I can ask “Where the airplane potatoes are?” in German. This year, I would like to learn a complete language. I’m thinking Klingon or Elvish.

Make peace with the bees—I have long had a paralyzing but completely rational fear of bees. I’m not allergic or anything, I just can’t stand the little buggers. I’ve been stung numerous times without provocation but have decided to be the bigger species. Look for coverage of the “Honey Summit” in a future edition of the newspaper. (Yes, I will most likely double-cross the bees when they show up.)

Captains contagious (with apologies to Spencer Tracy)

This may be the last column I pen for, as I write, my white blood cells are rumbling with whatever viral mutation my family left on every square inch of my home.

Granted, as the crown prince of the hypochondriacs, I’ve been known to see doom lurking around every sneeze, sliver and unidentified rash. But, one can never be too careful.

I was healthy enough last Friday when, as planned, my brother and his two young sons arrived on my doorstep.

What I hadn’t prepared myself for was the fact that three times that number of family members would eventually wind up at my house that evening—half of them apparently fresh out of the plague ward.

Four brothers, one sister, two nephews and a son later and the wife daughter and I were playing host to a gorilla cage at ground zero.

Now, let me explain a little about my brood: in a family of nine, none of us got as much attention as we thought we deserved.

The result is seven adult children—myself included—each competing for the attention of whatever room they are in by trying to make everyone laugh.

By midnight, Friday, the living room looked and sounded like monkeys-gone-Vaudeville.

It was a veritable open mic night of celebrity impressions, sound-effects, awkward dance moves, filthy jokes and ear-splitting guffaws.

The quiet and reserved wife just sat in her rocking chair, as she always does when my traveling circus of siblings shows up, and endured the cacophony.

It took me until about 2:30 a.m. to get things calm enough to where we could go to bed.

Four hours later I was awakened to the sounds of stomping feet and cawing from upstairs—the nephews were up.

Knowing that was as quiet as it was going to get, I forced myself out of bed and began making a dozen breakfasts.

By the time everyone had finished eating and clean-up was complete, it was time to make lunch. This continued through dinner time.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my family, and nobody makes me laugh harder.

However, with a wife and daughter who are both very busy with work and school, I’ve grown used to being alone.

I was ill-prepared to take on the Swiss Family Stampede on such short notice.

Unfortunately, there is no 4F exemption when it comes to relatives.

My only glimpse of hope came at around 8 p.m. on Saturday, when I found the Spencer Tracy classic “Captains Courageous” on TV.

I figured it would be fun to watch a movie with an actual story line for once since we usually just watch comedies when the family gets together. (Last time it was a movie about bigfoot that starred Danny Bonaduce.)

The opening credits were met with groans of vulgarity and disapproval, and we no more made it to the part where little Harvey Cheyne gets in trouble for bribery when the heckling began.

Things only worsened when Tracy’s character “Manuel” was introduced.

Now, I love Spencer Tracy. I think “Adam’s Rib” and “Inherit the Wind” are just tops, but even I couldn’t resist joining the catcalls when he wound up that godawful accent. I’m still not sure if he was supposed to be Irish, Spanish or mentally compromised.

The character Manuel referred to Harvey as “fish” but with his ridiculous accent it sounded like “feesh.”

And, that was all it took.

Pretty soon—and for the rest of the weekend—it was “Hey, feesh, go grab my cigarettes.”

And, “Hey, feesh, there’s a line forming out here!”

Judging by the 10-or-so percent of dialogue I actually heard, it seemed like a decent movie.

Eventually, Manuel was cut in half by the rigging after a mast broke during a storm.

With no legs, and losing blood at an alarming rate, he somehow managed to give a seven minute speech, kissed his crucifix and then sank into the briny deep—it was real classy.

My demise would not be so poetic. By midnight on Saturday I could feel the cold forming in my lungs. Visions of siblings dressed as grim reapers danced in my fevered brain.

By Sunday morning they were all feeling better. And, as they packed up the wagon train, I coughed and sniffled.

“Hey, feesh, how’s that communicable disease treating you?”

The house is empty now, the wife is at church. I’m taking fluids and debating on what would be the best and most dramatic last words. So far I’m thinking of going with either “I am slain.” Or, “Finally.”

With my luck there will be no one around but the dogs to hear them anyway. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go find some NyQuil, feesh.

A very bad Buddhist

As one who strives to be calm and peaceful like the Buddhists, I should be shunning hate. But, the truth is, I am not a very good Buddhist. Actually, I’m a quite bad Buddhist.

Oh, sure, I no longer eat meat.

And, I tend to forgive people more quickly than I used to. But, the truth is, I’m still a very angry person.

And, frankly, working in the news business doesn’t help. I’d like to see the Dalai Lama sift through conspiracy theory laden e-mails, listen to the phone calls of perturbed readers and have people stop you in the grocery store to tell you they hate everything that you stand for.

I’m guessing after a few weeks of this, even the most tranquil omni-present super-galactic one-with-himself monk would have an ulcer and a collection of empty scotch bottles.

I thought I’d gotten all of the griping out of my system after some heavy-duty meditation but, hosanna, I endured another seven days of ridiculousness and observances of the irksome.

Don’t get me wrong, I have considered doing some sanguine writing in the past, but let’s be honest: you don’t go to the garbage man to buy flowers.
What follows is a taste of last week’s peeves.

Anger management—I’m now about three weeks into my attempt at bettering myself.

I haven’t given up swearing completely but I am finding myself saying only the first letter of each swear word, which goes a little something like this: “Who ate the last of the F cottage cheese and then put the empty D container in the C fridge?! I’m tired of this S and it better F stop right F now!”
The result? I sound like a Mormon with Tourette’s Syndrome.

Gun Appreciation Day—It gives me no mirth to report that at least five people were injured by gunfire in three separate “accidental” firearms incidents on the Saturday Jan. 19 Gun Appreciation Day events across the country.

The events were intended to push back against those determined to squelch a wide range of gun rights in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting.

Perhaps nobody told these folks that only Bugs Bunny characters can get away with looking down the bangy end of the gun and pulling the trigger to see if it’s loaded.

Forget the background checks. If you’ve ever used a gun as a back scratcher, a hammer, a Frisbee or to try and dig an English muffin out of the toaster, you shouldn’t get to own one.

Corrections—An astute reader wrote to inform me that the term “clip” and “magazine” are not interchangeable. A clip is used to load ammunition into a magazine; the magazine loads ammunition into the chamber of a gun. Thanks for the tip, smarty-pants!

A bunch of garbage—Last Friday, I read that Sweden has had to begin importing garbage from Norway.

You read that right.

While we’re getting fatter and worse at geography, these wile Asians have become hyper efficient at recycling and even figured out a way to turn the rest of their garbage into electricity—so much so that they ran out and had to start buying it from other countries.

Tour de False—Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance … you broke my heart. Actually, I never liked this smug little pedaler.

It doesn’t bother me that his lies and cheating have disgraced a sport beloved by tens and twelves of people all across Frenchland.

What bugs me is the idea that all he has to do is admit to a decade of deceit-and-cheat and he’ll probably get a free pass.

Forget guns, pot and gay marriage, you want to know what’s killing this country?

A lack of accountability; people who behave immorally and are not punished for it.

You’re really sorry?

Go spend a decade doing volunteer work without any endorsement deals and then come ask for forgiveness.

Instant potatoes—For 20 years now I’ve endured instant potatoes, telling myself they don’t taste like cardboard and sadness. I’m done. I decree 2013 “The Year of the Fresh Potato.”

The fifth Stooge—Sly Stallone needs to stop it. He’s over 60 now and he’s in better shape than I was at 18.

Oh, who am I kidding? I was voted most likely to turn out like Curly Joe DeRita.

Scapegoat—When I was 10 years old they started censoring Bugs Bunny to supposedly protect the children.

This was back when cartoons were only aired on Saturday mornings.

Now they’re trying to blame video games and movies for the tens of thousands of shooting deaths that occur in America each year.

Look, banning Bugs Bunny didn’t stop us from dressing in drag and handing out exploding cigars—and stopping kids from playing Halo or Mario isn’t going to prevent little Billy Psychopath from doing what genetics, bad parenting and over-medication have predisposed him to do.

Take my strife, please—I’m finishing this piece on a Monday morning and I couldn’t be happier.

The house is quiet after a long four-day weekend of influenza-induced moans, groans and hate speech.

Little did I know, when I awoke early last Thursday morning, that the flu had turned my wife into Hitler’s third niece. (Yes, I used the “H” word.)

What did I learn over this 96-hour hell-ride of soup, juice and tears?
1. Sprite is not juice!
2. Apparently the boiling point of soup is still not hot enough.
3. I am personally responsible for the cold spots in the house.
4. Chocolate ice-cream is more effective than Prozac.

Words matter—I heard the phrase “vitally important” three times this week, but that’s nothing new.

What really irked me was once again someone misusing Occam’s Razor, which basically means: “When faced with competing theories with similar predictions, the simpler is more attractive.”

Go here to learn more about the proper and improper uses: http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/General/occam.html

I’ll end this screed with a quote from the great Dale Gribble:

“This is the feces produced when shame eats too much stupidity.”

Have yourself a morose little Christmas

Today marks 25 days of Christmas at the Gohs household, and the extended bout with Yule fever has given me time to do some serious thinking.

I cannot figure out why getting into the holiday spirit is like trying to stuff myself into those medium Christmas sweaters my extended family is so fond of sending.

Either they take me for a much thinner man or they find it a hoot to see me stuffed like 10 pounds of sausage into a five-pound wool casing.

The lack of circulation to my brain makes me just woozy enough to hand the wallet over to the wife, who is pathologically convinced the children will grow up to be ax murderers if they don’t get to open six dozen packages on baby Jesus’ birthday.

Then I waddle through hip-deep snow to dens of conspicuous consumption where I am bombarded by marketing ploys thinly veiled as holiday spirit.

“What better way to celebrate peace on Earth than with a new flat screen TV?”

I didn’t need this tool set in October, but now that it comes in a red and green cardboard box with the words “Great gift for dad” on it, I just gotta have it.

After all, I have a regular tool set, but I don’t have a holiday tool set.

And then there’s the candy.

I haven’t the foggiest what I’ll do with a one-pound peppermint candy stick, but I’ll be damned if I’m leaving this store without three of them.

The holiday magic of shopping for the kids as youngsters has turned to a chore. Christmas wish lists have been replaced by Xmas purchase orders: teenager A wants this, this and this; teenager B wants that, that and that—you have until Dec. 25 to fulfill your contractual obligation or face litigation.

“Dear Santa, this is an attempt to collect a debt. Any information obtained will be used for that purpose.”

Now I’m elbowing some old lady who just kidney-punched me to get the last copy of Super Death Brothers Smash-0-Rama for her grandson’s Play Box.

Sure, she hates the little brat, but this’ll keep him too busy to complain about his cousins at the family gathering.

Oh, the gatherings!

The loudmouthed, though ironically hypersensitive, sibling will unknowingly insult each guest a dozen times before leaving the room in tears when someone makes one off-hand comment.

Grandpa’s narcolepsy keeps him pretty well out of the chaos, but he awakens long enough to sample three kinds of pie and down a quart of Cool Whip while Grandma screams “Check your sugar!”

Dad’s dirty jokes clear a room faster than the 13-year-old Labrador with the intestinal problems.

What’s worse is the whiny 6-year-old who’s parents think him gifted because he’s capable of throwing your cell phone in the toilet.

“Did we mention that Portnoy has an IQ of 178?”

“Did I mention that flyswatters don’t leave bruises?”

The head teacher at his daycare said he’s acting out because he’s so bright that he gets bored with normal activities?

You don’t say.

I had no idea malicious destruction of property was a sign of genius.

What I’m really thinking about is taking baby Einstein out behind grandpa’s woodshed with a genuine cowhide belt.

Aw, but how can you stay mad at junior when he’s singing you a chorus of insults to the tune of “Jingle Bells” and pretending to fart on your leg?

That’s generally the cue that it’s time to go share a six-pack with the homophobic family friend who also happens to be terrified of Jews, Asians and any music made after 1966.

No one invited him.

No one wants him there.

But, no one will tell him to leave.

Sure, he’ll break the ice by passing gas and telling a couple “dirty immigrant jokes” but those PBRs are nice and cold … and he hates baby Einstein as much as you do.

He’ll spend the next 45 minutes explaining how them damned illegal aliens are the reason he’s been on the welfare for the last 16 years.

If you’re lucky, you’ll finish your third beer before he tries recruiting you into his latest multi-million-dollar business idea.

The wife—a consummate learned professional—doesn’t have a natural domestic bone in her body, but she smiles and nods as the housewives and girlfriends cluck about their kids’ soccer games and recipes and gossip about whoever didn’t make it to the get-together.

Finally, I find a quiet nook and pick up an acoustic guitar.

I’m too busy to play much these days, and there doesn’t seem a much better time. Pretty soon the brothers have gathered and beer turns to shots.

Shots ultimately turn to singing Alice in Chains and Nirvana tunes and more strumming and more shots.

Then, after everyone else has gone to bed, I pop in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and get a little teary-eyed watching George Bailey give up his life’s dream only to find joy right there at home in Bedford Falls with his wacky family and friends … without any presents, without any giant candy sticks, without the greed and gluttony that so often clutter the true value of the season.

The legend of the ten dollar stove

They say a man’s home is his castle.

Well, I’m not sure who says it but somebody says it.

When you think of “castle” you might imagine a knight in shimmering armor, a beautiful princess and assorted gallantry.

Here in the real world, the castle is under siege by unemployed midgets, unruly beasts and a cook who is always trying to poison the king.

It’s not bad enough that I sleep on the floor and the dogs sleep in bed with the wife, or that they’ve learned to aim between their kennel bars, like fertilizing sharpshooters, while we’re at work.

Brother devil hounds Sam and Tolstoy turned a year old last week and the wife and daughter thought a birthday party with cake and hats was in order.

I want you to take a moment and digest that statement: a birthday party for dogs.

The dogs promptly ate the hats, but there would be no cake because the wife destroyed the stove.

It seems a burner was not plugged in all the way causing electricity to shoot to the ceiling and apparently fry the appliance.

From my office I heard a loud pop followed shortly by the wife’s even louder screams: “Lightning! It shot lightning! Beeeeeeen!”

Oh yeah, did I mention the wife has taken up cooking? And, before you sensitive types recoil at my assessment of the wife’s efforts, know this: I willingly and skillfully cooked every meal during the first 15 years of our marriage.

Common sense, lack of free time—and state fire code—have prevented my wife from cooking since we got together in 1994.

It all happened when I was out for eggs and juice some autumn morning while she made toast and fed our infant son.

I returned to find them blissfully unaware of the coal-black column of smoke rising up the kitchen wall and pooling against the ceiling behind them.

The toaster was aflame and the wall and ceiling were stained a nice charcoal color.

When you can’t cook toast, or at least notice that the toaster is Chernobyling, you’ve pretty much forfeited control over the kitchen.

But, fast-forward a decade or so and, with no more college classes sucking up her nights, she is excited to finally have time to cook for her family every night.

She’s excited.

Aren’t you excited?

I’m so excited I can’t stop crying.

So, for the last couple months it’s been one culinary enigma after another.

Pot roast a la Birkenstock—after six minutes of chewing, I started looking for the buckles and laces. Tuna noodle surprise—Surprise! Guess who hates tuna noodle casserole?

And, quite possibly my favorite BBBTSLRTs—that stands for black bacon, burnt toast, slimy lettuce and rotten tomato sandwiches.

The twins, on the other hand, find the wife’s cooking simply divine. Of course, in their first year on the planet, they have eaten one-half of a severely overpriced leather recliner; four pairs of shoes, a cell phone, a tub of crayons, two television remotes, three nylon dog collars—yes, they remove their collars and eat them—several blankets and pillows, two dead mice, two tubs of margarine, the wife’s back massager, three feet of oak living room baseboard, nine stuffed animals, half a Barbie doll, one beer, approximately 13 pounds of acorns and six bushel baskets of pine cones, sundry flowers, insects, my lemon cookies and my favorite Stephen King book.

Anyway, I checked the home’s electrical system as well as anyone who knows nothing about electricity can do.

I opened the breaker boxes and fuse boxes—why we have five of them is a different story—and the breakers and fuses looked fine.

I knew none of the fuses were blown because, the last time I had a blown fuse, I ended up calling the electrician who showed me how to check it out.

He also assured me that, while he was quite happy to come over and change a fuse for $50 a shot, I as a homeowner should be doing so.

If the fuses were good then it must have been the stove. I scanned the countryside for a reasonably priced range.

Now, when I say “scanned the countryside” I mean I drove up and down the back roads looking for an oven on the side of the road in my price range.

By “price range” I mean $25 or less. I don’t know about you folks in the big city, but out here in the country we sell things—anything from cars, clothes, food, livestock and tractors, to stoves, toys, electronics and hot tubs—by putting a cardboard sign on them and setting them by the side of the road.

It wasn’t long before I spotted my prize, a cream colored ’70s model. The wife nearly died of shame when I handed the stranger a $10 bill for the old stove in the front yard.

“Oh my gaaawd,” she said, covering her face. “It’s not going to work.”
It took about 10 minutes to drain the rainwater from the stove before hoisting it into the back of the van.

“It’s not going to work,” the wife jeered again.

My son and little brother—who was still living with us at the time—wrestled the stove inside and plugged it in.

Nothing.

“I told you it wasn’t going to work.”

Well, with no microwave, and too cheap to call an electrician, we splurged on a table-top skillet to get us through.

Have you ever eaten slow cooked spaghetti?

I have. It ain’t pretty. Think paste and tomato sauce and lots of frowny faces.

I don’t demand gourmet. I just want something this side of edible.

After seven days of bachelor fare and fast food, I broke down and made the call.

It cost us another $50 for a real man to come in and change the bad fuse I missed.

“I thought we covered this last time,” the electrician scolded.

“I was afraid of getting zapped,” I admitted.

And then, with $50 worth of labor and $1.19 worth of fuse, we were in business. Viola! The old stove worked. (I know, it’s supposed to be “voila” but I’ve been saying “viola” so long I just gave up.)

The wife was so happy to have the magical cooking box back online she decided to celebrate by cooking Thanksgiving dinner.

Early, yes. But, she’s never done it before and wanted a practice run before the real deal later this month.

Anyone with an empty seat at their dinner table please get a-hold of me.

P.S. It’s been four years and we still have that $10 stove.

I guess it worked.

P.P.S. It caught on fire a year ago New Year’s and we had to buy a new stove, my first-ever new stove.Works great. Cost a small fortune.

All confirmations great and small

It’s been about a goat’s age since I wrote about any of my minor misadventures but, in my defense, I’ve been swamped with the shiny delights of the American Dream.

Between fighting with the hot rod, fighting with the kids, fighting with the dogs, dealing with my son’s confirmation and planning for both a major family get-together and my wife’s upcoming trip to Glacier National Park, I’ve had just enough time each night to down some butterscotch schnapps, cheap beer and raspberry Zingers before crying myself to sleep.

Oh, and did I mention I’ve just started a new diet?

OK, so I’m actually re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-starting the old diet.

I tend to go in spurts: stewed spinach and yogurt for three days, Busch Light and chili dogs the rest of the week.

Then there’s the Gohs-mobile. I’m goin’ out of order here, so bear with me.

First, the damn driver’s side door freezes up on me.

Then, I finally get the old mufflers off so I can install the really loud Cherry Bombs, and karma strikes in the form of the transmission and gas tank simultaneously springing leaks.

Seriously, did I kick puppies in a former life?

By the way, my 17-year-old brother is now living with us so he can finish high school, which basically means I now have two angst-ridden, hormonally charged, unemployed testosterone machines eating my food and squatting in the rooms upstairs.

Could somebody please tell me how five people use 12 bath towels a day?

Let’s not forget that I endured my first-ever church service recently.

It went something like this: Rise; be seated; rise; be seated; rise and sing; be seated; rise; sing; rise; hut, hut, hike!

It was like doing squat-thrusts in football practice but without the coach screaming “You still want seconds on mashed potatoes Mrs. Gohs?!” at me between whistle blasts.

But back to the church service.

What is all the scurrying about?

The kids are sitting in the pew next to us, and then they’re gone.

Then they’re there.

Then gone again.

Rise.

Be seated.

Sing: “What a friend we have in Jesus.”

Sit down.

No, stand up!

Be seated.

Rise.

Then my daughter skulks by with a seven-foot brass torch straight out of Fahrenheit 451.

For God’s sake would someone hide the books!?

Actually, the people at the wife’s church were very nice and, frankly, the only thing out of ordinary was me—there, divorce averted.

For lack of a better segue I’ll say I survived the ordeal just so I could face yet another speed bump on Gohs’ Uneasy Street: Prom night.

Luckily for me my daughter is still too young for school dances.

She’s 13 now, which means I’ve only got about 27 more years before she starts dating.

The boys are another story altogether.

I got Wingus and Dingus all suited up for their big night.

Shower, deodorant and even a good combing. I didn’t mind playing chauffeur while the wife was down state seeing family, but since the hot rod was up on a jack, I had to take the work truck.

I did the cool thing and dropped them off down the street from the event—no use traumatizing them in front of their friends when dad rolls up in a 20-year-old banana yellow Ford.

Eleven o’clock rolled around and the wife—back from visiting—went with me to pick up the boys and a late dinner from Taco Bell. It was the usual good cop/bad cop routine:

The wife: “How was your night?”

Gohs: “Was anybody smoking the reefer? Look at me!”

The wife: “Who did you dance with?”

Gohs: “Did anyone spike the punch? Let me smell your breath!”

The wife: “You both look so handsome.”

Gohs: “I know you were doing something you weren’t supposed to be doing. And, if you tell me right now, I won’t beat you as much!”

And then, in a move which will forever go down as the granddaddy of all shut-you-ups, the boy yells, “We didn’t have sex!”

Ah, the stink of discomfort and awkward silence wafted in from the backseat and settled into the van with all the grace of a fat man falling off stilts.

I dropped my burrito to the floor, cranked the oldies station to the highest setting and whispered to myself: “What a friend we have in Jesus.”

I’ve got the plumber on speed-dial

I’ve got the plumber on speed-dial.

It sort of sounds like the hook line in a bad rap song: “I Got the plumber on speed-dial! I Got the plumber on speed-dial! I Got the plumber on speed-dial!”

Except, instead of the usual chorus consisting of some bling-encrusted hoodlum chattering on about a “G” a “Ho” and a “Nine,” it would just be the sound of me sobbing over digital drums and leaking pipes.

Five days into home ownership and I’m already a mess.

Even the dogs are less ashamed—and I’ve seen where they put their noses.

Before I go on with this cheap and, might I add, ineffective form of print therapy, let me say that the wife and I love the new house.

Even the unemployed midgets living upstairs are happy with their new rooms.

But, in my fragile state, I’m just not sure I can handle playing Mr. Fix-it.

I knew things were going bad when the closing process flowed so smoothly.

My father always used to say, “Every time something good happens, something bad happens.”

As I sat there scribbling my mark, broker and banker on one side, wife and daughter on the other—the boy volunteered to stay back and pack a few miscellaneous items while directing the movers so we could spend the first night in the new house—I thought it was all too good to be true.

After nearly 15 years of slugging it out, making mistakes with our credit and then working to fix it, we were finally getting our own place.

My eyes darted back and forth, stomach bubbling, brow sweating while I waited for the bad thing to come via last-minute phone call.

“I’m sorry Mr. Gohs, it appears that you failed your fourth-grade mathematics exam. We’re going to have to rescind your loan … and remove one of your wife’s ovaries.”

My knee began to bounce uncontrollably, the way it does when I’m feeling anxious. The wife put her hand down on my kneecap hard.

She knows the leg bounce is about three steps before hyperventilation and about five steps before I jump through a closed window a la the Cowardly Lion.

Perhaps a comet would land on us. Maybe a stray bullet from a nearby post office? Earthquake, plague, volcano? I stared at the realtor’s phone, awaiting that awful ring, and fantasizing about every likely, and unlikely, scenario.

“It’s the governor, Mr. Gohs, he said the execution is back on!”

I just wanted to drop to my knees and scream “Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!” (Actually, Khan was Captain Kirk’s foil. I should probably be screaming “Mustaaaaard!”)

We signed paper after paper, form after form, but didn’t read any of the fine print.

Who knows what I actually signed.

“By signing this document, Mr. Gohs, you pledge to vote in the Congolese senatorial race of 2038. If you fail to meet this obligation, we will be forced to take your first-born child’s lower incisors.”

My hand began to cramp.

The wife and I flashed each other a smile. But, with all the sweating and grimacing, our pained grins made us look like we were fighting back the runs.

“This form allows the bank to inspect the property—and the contents of your colon—with 24 hours notice.”

Forget water boarding, there must be a back room in Guantanamo Bay where they hold mock home closings until the terrorists give up their secrets.

“OK, OK, I tell you where bomb is located but, please, no more paperwork and small talk!”

Then, just as suddenly as it had all begun, it was over.

With papers filed, hands shook and pleasantries exchanged, we left the closers and headed to meet the movers.

The arrival time came and went, but no movers. Minutes after grumbling about how I wasn’t paying them to stop off for dinner, I got the call.

“Uh, hello, Mr. Gohs?”

When someone calls you “Mr.” it generally means you are about to be told you have some horrible disease, or they’ve broken something they don’t plan on replacing.

“I’m sorry we’re running late, but there was an accident.”

“Muuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuustaaaaaaaaaaaaard!”

So, let me get this straight, you’re telling me your large semi-truck that can be seen from say, the moon, hit another large semi-type-truck which can also be seen by, say, the blind?

“Nothing seems to be broken, but the other truck took off and we’re waiting for the police to arrive.”

OK, Gohs, stay calm. No need to pop a blood vessel. After all, you’ve got a nice new house to live in.

No more drunken homunculus next door to call the cops on you.

About an hour or so later the movers showed up, promptly unloaded the truck and handed me a slip of paper that made my stomach hurt and my wallet cry.

Suffering from mental, physical and marital exhaustion, the family passed out wherever they finished their dinner of fries and chicken nuggets.

We awakened last Friday in our new home, but the smile on my face soon disappeared when the wife, yelling from the bathroom, alerted me that we were the luckiest family in town because our shower had not one, but two cold water faucets.

“I Got the plumber on speed-dial.”

Not quite ready to spend the day with my own stink, I grabbed a bar of soap on the way out the door.

Following a birdie bath in the newspaper’s water closet, I called our plumber—who just happens to be a close neighbor—and asked him to check out the water heater.

“Gonna needja ta meet me at da house,” he said.

“That’ll work out just fine because I just drove all the way to work which is 20 miles from my house,” I responded.

Apparently, I also had sarcasm on speed-dial.

Once back home, and smelling of Irish Spring and B.O., I maintained my distance while the plumber started the World War II-era boiler.

The wet popping and percolating I was hearing, the plumber explained, was normal for an appliance of its age. I did my best not to black out when I heard the words

“death rattle—soon—money pit.”

I tried to pay attention while he pointed at various valves and switches and pipes, but all I could think about was how living right around the corner from this guy was going to make it pretty awkward after I started writing him a series of bad checks.

No sooner had we rejoiced over having hot water than—and good goo I wish I was kidding—there was an apparent simultaneous breakdown of the kitchen faucet, bathroom sink, upstairs sink, dishwasher and washing machine.

It seems the home inspection did not cover checking to see if the house was built on an ancient Indian burial ground.

“I Got the plumber on speed-dial.”

Evil spirits notwithstanding, I called the plumber.

He said the old metal water pipes had been off so long that a substance resembling kitty litter mixed with creamy peanut butter had clogged many of the fixtures.

After a couple hours and a few parts runs, the plumber was finished and we had a fully operational house.

It’s been three whole days since anything has malfunctioned, and the family is just loving the new house, but I’m withholding my chirps of glee.

My one consolation is that help is merely a phone call, and a half a block, away. Lucky for me my plumber works weekends; lucky for him I just bought a brick of checks.

First degree mortgage, a tale of realestate and insanity

Some women take up jogging or yoga for their New Year’s resolution, and others vow to quit smoking.

My wife has decided to kill me.

The mission to murder all started when she said, “Let’s buy a house.”

Now, as any condemned soul in the sixth or seventh level of hell will tell you, buying a home can be a trying experience.

Now more than a year into house hunting, and a day or so past the date we were supposed to close on the house we originally chose, I am about two nerves away from appearing in my own E! True Hollywood Story.

Oh, how I yearn for a predatory lender; one who would take my word for it on my income and credit history and simply hand me the cash, no questions asked.

But, thanks to the so-called housing crisis, we’ve gone through a vetting gauntlet rivaled only by those experienced by terrorist detainees.

Don’t get me wrong, the first 50 pages of the loan application seemed normal.

Name: No problem

Spouse: I know this one

Occupation: Professional rabble-rouser

Did you spend any part of 1969 in Cambodia?: What? I mean, of course not.

Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party? Well, there was that one mixer … hold on just a minute!

And then came the fees—oh, sweet humanity, the fees. To make the whole trick work, the bank goes over the fees with you line by line, and it really does make the charges seem reasonable.

$8.10 for flood certification fee? OK.

$600 for snakebite insurance? Um.

$1,250 for asteroid collision? Alright already.

$320 for ogre indemnity?

And, I’m pretty sure they charged me $50 because I didn’t know what an escrow mitigation insurance appraisal was.

I still say it sounds made up.

I thought we were supposed to close on Dec. 30, but my calculations were in Earth months.

As I write this, my trusty Realtor is working on an extension.

An extension, as if we had dragged this process out unnecessarily and needed more time.

If it wasn’t for our real-estate folks I would have lost my mind completely.

The best part of this whole Clockwork Orange escapade is that the wife, usually an emotional rock, has been driven three shades of “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.” (Those of you under 40 will have to Google it.)

“But, honey, I’m not the one responsible for not getting the ‘OK’ on the house,” I pleaded.

“But ya are, Blanche, ya are!”

Every minor setback has got me hiding the wire hangers (I know, different movie. But, most of you have no goddamn idea what I’m talking about either way.) and cowering under the coffee table.

“But, sweetums, don’t fret. We’ll get that house. Just you wait and see,” I urge.

But all I hear from her side of the bed is: “I buy you nice dresses and you treat them like dishrags!?”

“Run! Run for your life,” the voice in my head screams as I incorrectly perform the sign of the cross.

Let me assure you that her Gollum-esque descent into home ownership has left her quite insane.

I swear I can hear her in the wee hours, perched up on the roof and cursing my name.

“We wants it. We needs it. Stupid husbandses keeping us from our precious.”

It doesn’t help matters that I’m happy where we are.

The rent is cheap, the landlord is cool and only one of my neighbors seems deranged.

Well, to be fair, he called the police and told them I was a maniac after he claims I tried to run him over with my van.

My memory is a bit foggy on this one but, if I had wanted to run the little lush over, he wouldn’t have been able to dial 9-1-1. (OK, I may have tried to run him over.)

“Hee-hee, hoo-hoo, her-her, huh-ha!”

It is this mental tilt-a-whirl which I blame for the wife’s decision, in the midst of all this holiday/home buying chaos, to get pets.

After all, she reasoned, a new home needs new puppies. And, wouldn’t you know it, one of them was mine.

Just when I thought fate had kicked me squarely in the FICO for the last time, I got a Christmas present that cries, bites and poops.

It was junior prom all over again.

So now the ever-shrinking mobile home we currently occupy has the addition of two furry toddlers … who chew on everything from table legs and shoes to guitars, remote controls, electrical cords and fingers.

One is manic and the other can’t stay awake because he suffers from sleep apnea and possibly a mild form of narcolepsy.

I’m not kidding.

He snores really loud and his eyes only close half way, so when he’s sleeping he looks and sounds like an angry zombie dog.

In all fairness, I don’t blame the wife for her episodes.

She figured we would be moving by now and have room for Sam and Tolstoy—I wanted to name them William Shatner and Hulk Hogan, but the wife wouldn’t allow it.

So here I sit with a buyer ready to move into the trailer, munching Tums by the bushel basket and wondering when in the hell, if ever, we’re going to move.

My only consolation is that, if the wife is trying to kill me, the joke is on her because I canceled all my life insurance.

I’d be more thankful if I weren’t so ungrateful

I recently sat down to write a list of all the things for which I’m thankful.

But, as I often do, I got sidetracked by bills and news and life.

All that reality made it difficult to produce the clichéd “Why I’m Thankful” piece I’ve done in years past.

In fact, I’m starting to think gratitude is a bit overrated.

So, without further preamble, I give you my un-thankfulness (wouldn’t “Thankless” have been easier? Shut up, you!) list just in time for Thanksgiving.

I’m not thankful that the wife is nearly finished with her master’s degree.

She was in college when I met her, and she’s gone to school for 18 of the 19-and-a-half years we’ve been together.

Between her work and school schedule, I rarely see her, and I’m just not sure our marriage can survive a sudden increase in so-called quality time.

I’m not thankful that my son is taking driver education.

From my experience, 14-year-old boys are not known for their impulse control or sound decision making skills.

I spent the summer of my fourteenth year reading the girly magazines left in the outhouse behind the town granary and trying to build a bigger coffee can bomb out of roman candle innards with my best pal Kent.

Besides, the last time I gave my son a driving lesson, he mistook the accelerator for the brake—right and left have always been his kryptonite—and he floored my old Cadillac into a snow bank: an event which led to a broken headlight and another six months off my life.

I’m not thankful that the wife and I decided to look into buying a house.

The maze of horrors, false positives and arbitrary rules have given me new respect for the devil and his associates in the real-estate industry.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re partially to blame.

We made the mistake of working over the last couple years to fix our credit.

We now score just well enough to qualify for the Mad Max Beyond Thunder Dome loan program.

“Who run Barter Town?”

“MasterBlaster run Barter Town.”

“Say louder!”

The 50-year-old heating oil tank in the basement that looks like it’s going to blow is fine, but the tear in the screen disqualifies you.

The asbestos in the attic is OK, but the doorway is one inch too narrow.

And, while I’m sure the radon test will come back negative, the spirits from the Indian burial ground under the basement are definitely going to raise my homeowners’ insurance rates.

I’m not thankful the government is taking so long deciding whether to give Detroit auto makers loans or handouts or whatever you want to call it.

While I’m the last one to call for corporate welfare, I’m also not stupid enough to decry free money in my pocket.

And, since I’m looking for a house, I’d like to know now if Michigan’s economy is going to turn around at any time in the next hundred years, or if the wife and I should pack up the Georgie-Boy van camper and hit the open road a la the Wild Thornberries.

Who am I kidding?

Campsites are known hunting grounds for bears and bees, so I hardly think I could deal with being chased by murderous wildlife while the wife films it.

I can almost hear the narration over my screams now: “My assistant Ben has interrupted the courting ritual of the Kodiak bear. That rookie mistake will surely cost him six fingers and a quart of blood.”

I know they say to stay calm and play dead, but my first reaction to peril is to emit high-pitched shrieks and flap my arms in panic.

“By my assistant’s screams, I can tell the bear’s teeth have found bone—yup, that’s going to need amputation.”

On the upside, I wouldn’t have to worry about finding matching socks any more.

Finally, I’m not thankful that the radio stations decided to start playing Christmas music seemingly earlier than usual. It makes it very difficult to convince the wife that there’ll be no gift giving this year (see also: buying a house) when every store and downtown are already full-swing with the Yuletide plague.

If there ever was a war on Christmas, it has failed miserably.

Judging by the TV commercials urging people to get out there and shop, the anti-Xmas army in Bill O’Reilly’s imagination is in full retreat. I imagine Santa is operating POW camps in Candy Cane Bay where captured Humanists, atheists and liberal media types are force-fed eggnog and made to watch propaganda films like “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

Interrogator elves make short work of these enemy combatants who seek court orders to get nativity scenes off public property.

“Vair ah zee injunction paipuz.”

What can I say, my interrogator elves are German.

Meanwhile, some sweaty ACLU lawyer chained to the wall has snapped and just keeps repeating “Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings. Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.”

Well, that’s the list of what I’m not thankful for. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for a list of what I am thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving, and try not to let the in-laws get you down.

Apocalypse on aisle 12: Haunted Supermarket edition

Perhaps I should have heeded the hints: the stack of Watchtower booklets left on my porch every Saturday; the plague of pill bugs hiding under the couch; the phonetically spelled warnings in my alphabet soup.

They say there are no atheists in foxholes, and I can assume that also applies to the apocalypse.

But, for a heathen like me, calling out for a magical being during times of fear is not an option.

What brings about all this talk of the end of days? I don’t want to unnecessarily worry anyone, but I have begun to notice some strange happenings.

Granted, I’ve been known to exaggerate situations out of proportion in the past: I’ve self-diagnosed no fewer than 839 heart attacks, six different kinds of bone cancer, emphysema, asthma, perforated intestine, paralysis, stroke, full-blown diabetes, SARS, typhoid, dysentery, rickets, Epstein-Bar, lupus, toe cancer, itchy eye, and sickle-cell leukemia.

But this time it’s different.

The end of days is near.

And it all started at the grocery store.

Not the stereotypical venue for cataclysm but according to my Old Testament readings, that devil character appears where you least expect him.

I noticed something was wrong when, while looking for a shaving razor, I found a moisturizing hand cream for men.

At first I thought it was placed there by a lazy shopper making a last-minute cut from their shopping roster, but upon closer inspection the label read “For Men.” First it was pastel clothing, then they said we could cry, but a skin hydration system was certainly the devil’s work.

I ran screaming, warning my brothers to stay out of aisle five.

By which I mean I continued shopping, but threw away the wife’s list and bought only gender affirming stuff like red meat, beer and an Auto Trader.

“A generator for a 1967 Buick Riviera? Sweet doggie!”

Passing by the cereal aisle, I glimpsed a toddler speaking in tongues after his mother refused to buy Lucky Charms.

I swear he looked right through me.

Frantic to escape Satan’s Boutique, I cruised to the checkout.

Gridlock!

The shopper-to-cashier ratio was roughly 37:1, and at least one grocery getter was planning to save all the dimes in Northern Michigan by unloading deck after deck of coupons.

My god, it was like a house closing!

“Act casual, Gohs,” I told myself as the cashier squinted to read the fine print on the sweaty circulars.

“Six cents off hemorrhoid cream.” Beep!

“12 cents off creamed calf spleens.” Beep!

“Buy one get one free chicken lips.” Beep!

“Save a dollar on gallon-sized jugs of mustard.” Damn it!

With every item pulled from the cart, coupon woman would shuffle and reshuffle her stacks like a nervous blackjack player.

I couldn’t see her eyes but her posture was cocky.

She was daring the cashier to tell her one of her precious coupons had expired.

And then it would be a six-week hike back to aisle 87 to find a suitable replacement product.

From six carts back, I squinted to read September’s National Enquirer.

“Hmm, Kevin Spacey is gay? A Huskie named Pachee swallowed a fork and lived to bark about it? Brad and Angelina are having trouble—no, not Brangelina!”

I spoke aloud, trying to convince any demons within earshot that I was merely a mild-mannered shopper.

“Can’t let them know you’re on to them, Gohs.”

The line slowly edged forward until I was second. The person in front of me stood there, motionless, with his hands in the air as if to say: “Pay attention to me! I have hands!”

There was no cashier.

Where was the cashier?

Everyone in line began doing that thing you do when you’re forced to communicate with fellow hogs to slaughter.

“There’s no cashier,” I said.

“I know, isn’t that just crazy,” said the elderly woman behind me.

“This is why I usually go to Wal-Mart,” said the man in front of me.

It was unanimous: a cashier would be needed.

I looked up and down the rows of cash registers to see if any other lanes were open. All the way down at the far end there was one empty spot.

Above it was a large square light that read “Self-Serve.”

“Self-serve checkout?” I thought. “What’s next, self-serve dry cleaning; self-serve taxidermy?”

I wanted the hell out of this three-dimensional Escher painting, but I couldn’t make a run for it without tipping off the shopping cart posse that had assembled.

“Steady as she goes,” I slyly thought as I excused myself from line. “I, uh, forgot something.”

“You clever devil, you!”

I took a quick right turn down the nearest aisle and raced straight for the open checkout.

By the time I got there, someone had moved into place.

But, what the heck, it was only one shopper.

The woman ahead of me had a cart full of vegetables and fruit, the most wile of the self-serve items.

You see, you can’t just scan an apple.

You have to punch in the code for “apple” and then weigh the apple and then push more buttons and do the hokie-pokie and turn yourself around.

She just stood there like a monument to 19th Century ignorance.

“It’s seeeelf-serrrrrrrve,” I condescendingly muttered in a sing-song voice.

Apparently she was waiting for a cashier to materialize. Just then a stern looking woman in a grocery store uniform with an overpopulated key ring stepped forward.

“It’s self-serve. There is no cashier,” the warden grunted.

“I toooold yooooou,” I chided in sing-song fashion.

Veggie lady eyed the machine.

It was like watching a chimp’ trying to work an adding machine that was built by another chimp. (They still have adding machines?)

I expected her to start beating the register with a turkey bone and picking lice out of my hair in frustration. (I don’t really have lice.)

She turned to me, her eyes pleaded for help.

Ashamed, I averted my gaze.

Hell, up until that day, I’d never even seen one of these machines.

Like a fellow cow to slaughter, there was nothing I could do.

“Moo,” I said.

Then the machine spoke.

It told her to scan her items and place them on the conveyor belt.

She put an eggplant on the scanner.

Nothing happened.

The machine spoke again.

It said help was on the way, but this time it sounded angry.

I was giddy.

“Help is on the way!” I cackled to the people in the new line forming behind me.

I must have sounded like a mental patient off his meds.

“Help is on the way! Hee-hee, her-her, hoo-hoo, huh-ha!”

“By god why doesn’t this store hire some cashiers?” someone shouted.

The warden reappeared, shook her head in disapproval and then pushed a series of the beast’s buttons.

I could sense the rest of the herd behind me, shifting anxiously. Another nervous “moo” escaped my lips.

I looked back and in an instant veggie lady had disappeared. I imagined that, like a modern-day Edmond Dantes, she had been whisked away to a prison island for angering the machine.

“This is where we put the ones we’re really ashamed of,” the evil voice echoed in my head.

Then it was my turn. I humbly prostrated myself before the mechanical messiah, determined to get free if only to tell veggie lady’s story.

I scanned my items.

Steak.

Beep!

Beer.

Beep!

Auto trader.

Beep!

“I’ll eat your soul.”

Beep!

Some of you may be thinking automation is not the end of the world, but for my sake; for veggie lady’s sake, I’m seriously considering getting my butt to church.

The standard is there are no standards

A recent off-the-record conversation with a local politician about the frightening rate at which our county is sued got me to thinking about all the things I could do with a few hundred thousand bucks after I frivolously sue my employers.

Granted, we don’t have any air quality issues, and the water is just fine, but the lack of cappuccino maker and pinball machine in the office is contributing to my severe mental distress.

And then there are the little old ladies who come in to tell me how much they hate me.

I’m not kidding.

They seem to be the only ones with the stones to tell me, to my, face how they feel.

The grown men always do it via phone, e-mail and once a guy sent a letter to my home.

A veiled threat?

Perhaps. (I later discovered the letter writer was a disgruntled animal husbandry agent. It seems spending 40 hours a week shoving bull batter elbow deep into a cow’s wazoo left him without much of a sense of humor.)

Knowing my workplace was cruel and unusual, the next step was to find an ambulance chaser with low enough self-esteem to handle my case.

I asked a couple pals at a law firm if my complaint had any merit.

There must have been something wrong with the phones that day because we kept getting disconnected before they had a chance to give me their answer.

Apparently, lawyers aren’t quite as sleazy as I had been led to believe, and hoped, they would be.

Aw, who was I kidding? No judge would find in my favor.

“Your honor, Mr. Gohs is clearly trying to swindle my client. When you asked him if he swore to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth he responded by saying ‘Ka-ching!’”

Besides, have you been to jury duty lately?

I’d sooner face Saddam’s kangaroo court than the carnival of humanity not clever enough to get out of this wheel of misfortune.

Civic obligation or no, the last time I went down there it looked like a casting call for Deliverance II.

And that’s not a crack at normal rednecks because I am from hillbilly stock and possess no fewer than five hick traits: tattoos, pickup, David Alan Coe album, scars from a farming incident and an innate distrust for people with all their teeth.

What was I to do? I needed a fat settlement, and quick. I considered writing my congressman, but he’s running for reelection, and if I had the money to bribe, er, contribute to his campaign, I wouldn’t be in this situation.

Then, while watching the episode of the A-Team when Murdock decides he needs to be more like Face, it hit me: perhaps I should run for office.

I know what you’re thinking, “Gohs should work ‘perhaps’ into his vocabulary more often; it makes him sound scholarly.’”

Perhaps I will.

Perhaps, indeed.

That’s it, I’ll run for office, and not just as a goof to spite my old boss. (For some reason she used to get real peeved when I would tell people I was thinking of running for governor.)

I did a little research and was shocked.

For the good of the nation you’d think there must be a dozen requirements which would preclude someone like me from running, but no.

So long as there were no felonies or animal husbandry incidents on record, I could run for offices from township supervisor to state representative.

Frightening, huh?

We wouldn’t dare put the position of taxi driver, surgeon, teacher, lawyer or soldier up for a vote, but we seem OK to do it with positions which wield infinitely more power.

The man who can take this country to war on a whim—not saying that would ever happen—need not pass the basic skills test one would require of a scientist’s cigarette smoking monkey. (As with so many things in life “butt first” is the preferred method.)

That is not to say all politicians would stick the triangular block into the round hole, but I can certainly see a fist fight breaking out in the testing room when the man in the white coat insists that “Funkytown” is not a geographical location and “misunderestimate” is not a real word.

How could this be? How could my grade school teachers have lied to me so? How could I look at my kids and honestly tell them 51 percent of the voters can tell the rest of the population what to do? And for no other reason than there were more of them.

Six of 10 people in a room could decide they should drink gasoline with dinner; that doesn’t make it right.

More importantly, how could I focus on faking a slip-and-fall accident or stuffing dead rats into the heating ducts at work with the knowledge that our democracy is little more than a popularity contest for some of the most important job titles in existence?

By the time you read this, my bosses will likely have discovered my scheme and put the kibosh to operation “Settle out of Court.”

Maybe it’s all for the best.

After all, I cannot have the dead skunk of frivolous litigation hanging ‘round my neck when I run for governor next cycle. Perhaps you’ll consider giving me your vote.

Perhaps.

Enroute to Disney: the unhappiest place on Earth

Before I begin, let me say that—as much as I dislike people in general—I don’t like being alone.

Being alone allows me time to think and I have a tendency to over-think the slightest issue.

“Will today be the day I am allergic to peanut butter?”

“Is that hangnail going to give me blood poisoning?”

“Is Wilford Brimley right? Do I really need more term life insurance?”

I thought I could use a break from the family, but that quickly changed.

As always, those hyper gimps in the legal department are working to stifle my creative freedom, as if libel were a bad thing.

So, here’s the disclaimer: As far as you know, the following events are true.

Only the expiration dates and name of a major corporation which rhymes with “humble tea” have been changed to protect my dignity and the publisher’s rear.

That being written, I had not been single for over 14 years when this was originally written. (Control your sorrow, ladies.)

So, eight months ago, when the wife decided that she would be taking the kids to Florida for a week, I was psyched.

Fast-forward to last week and they were on their way to the 40-square-miles of evil-theme-park-turned-autonomous-aggressive-gift-shop-and-propaganda-emporium known to communists and terrorists nation-wide as Disney World.

For several thousand dollars you, too, can send your family to a 100-degree sandbox to be reprogrammed by the maniacal masterminds behind such atrocities as Herbie Fully Loaded starring Lindsay Lohan, who played the drug-addled driver of a Volkswagen beetle suffering from gender confusion.

These are the same folks who brought you the 88-minute romp of an Italian woodcarver with a penchant for all things arboretum and an unhealthy desire to live with a young boy.

Plant a tree indeed.

To keep the food budget under a cool grand during their stay, we devised a plan to pack PB&J, chips, cookies and other foodstuffs—the idea being that a cheap breakfast, lunch and snacks would allow them to have fine dinners each night without breaking the proverbial bank and making my wallet squeal.

This seemed fine and/or dandy—or at least OK and mediocre, since the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website didn’t prohibit food in luggage.

Fourth Amendment be damned, the wife was pulled out of line for having too many cans of tuna in her carry-on luggage.

Perhaps I missed the Department of Homeland Security memo: “Kindergarten teachers armed with canned fish determined to attack U.S. theme parks.”

Concerned my wife may in reality be a terrorist, I contacted Brand X Tuna corporate headquarters via e-mail demanding information on any ties they may have to Al Qaeda. (I have yet to receive a response.)

Maybe airport security was right. Maybe they’d unwittingly apprehended Osama Bin Albacore.

I sat home, alone, wondering how I would tell mother the wife was an enemy combatant.

How many years in prison does an American get for joining the other side, anyway?

My mind raced with daymares.

“I’ll wait for you!” I cried out as I fell to my knees.

Would I have to convert to Islam? I was not about to give up my beers no matter how good I looked in a robe and sandals.

I called Handsome Stranger’s house for some cheering up, but he’d apparently skipped town. Probably looking to avoid the impending scandal.

Gone were my dreams of poker with the fellas and beer ‘til dawn. My veritable whirlwind of bachelor debauchery had fallen short of even the lowest expectations while simultaneously exceeding my average crest of self-inflicted discomfort.

(You think it’s tough dealing with me, you should try living in my head for a day.)

I could hear the tour guide on my at-home vacation: “Thank-you for flying Torquemada Airways. Loneliness and depression are located to the left and right of the aisle. As you can see, paranoia is clearly marked at each end of the plane. And, in case of emergency, please feel free to freak out.”

That first night was spent dining on generic tomato soup and saltines in front of “George Lopez” reruns. I get it, your daughter is a tramp and your mother is an awful human being. Can we move on?

Insomnia took hold and did not let go, which is lucky for me because I got to watch “Revenge of the Nerds III” while wondering if that banging noise outside was the Spanish speaking gent from whom I’d been receiving cryptic phone calls daily through winter ‘06.

He would call and talk to me in Spanish for as long as I would stay on the phone—45 minutes one night. I just kept saying “I’m sorry, sir, no habla Espanol.”

He would just laugh and laugh and laugh.

I pulled the covers over my head and prayed for daylight.

Day three: the pizza boxes, cracker wrappers, issues of Mad magazine and dirty dishes which decorated the coffee table in the living room were a desperate cry for help, but no one could hear.

“Scream all you want, there’s no one around for miles!”

By day five I had become more raccoon than man, sprawled on the living room floor, eating instant mashed potatoes and bacon bits from a saucepan while guffawing like a buffoon at “Futurama” cartoons. I was going to die soon, I could feel it. I just hoped I would come back as a wisecracking, beer-guzzling, pipe-bending robot.

By the evening of day six, I was helping Handsome Stranger erect some strange 40-foot monstrosity consisting of eight ropes and various sections of steel pipe held in place by off-brand duct tape.

“It’s for the Scottish keg toss,” he said in his best Scot voice … which also happened to be his worst Scot voice.

Escaping Stranger’s compound without being impaled, I headed home to find the family tan, relaxed and unpacking.

I told the wife of my horrifying week, and she offered a deal. She said she’d never again leave me alone for more than 24 hours, as long as I promised not to publish this story.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Gohs. No habla Espanol,” I exclaimed. “I don’t negotiate with terrorists.”

And then I laughed and laughed and laughed.

The gang’s all grown up … sorta

I found some pictures the other day of when my group of childhood friends used to gather once a year for a reunion of sorts.

I couldn’t help but study a picture of us from 1994. It was taken at my first apartment in a little slum a few dozen miles south of the Mackinaw Bridge.

Having never spent more than a day away from one another back in the old days, it wasn’t long before most of the guys made the couple hundred mile trek from our hometown to the Great White North to see how their “Benny” was doing.

And, that’s how it always was: no matter where we were or how long apart, our close-knit group could always take up right where we left off.

Gone now are the days of partying in the old barn, camping along the river and engaging in general mayhem like impersonating the police or climbing a highway billboard in a gorilla suit just to mess with passing cars.

After a short police chase, that resulted in some serious off-roading and a lost muffler, Johnny Law caught up and called it “distracting to the flow of traffic” but let us off with a warning.

We called it “hilarious.”

And, looking back, I suspect the officer got a chuckle as well because he never did ticket us for trespassing or running from him, either.

I guess life can’t be all Mad Dog 20/20 and fishing the Rifle River, which is exactly why we got together once a year … for awhile anyway.

I laughed when I thought about how long it took for those guys to revert from fathers, husbands and professionals back into 15-year-old hoodlums when we would gather.

I’m sure there are better ways men in their 30s can spend their time. After all, throwing lit firecrackers at each other, peeing in one another’s beverages and using pickles and hotdogs as pornographic props in photos of whoever passed out first was hardly befitting men of our age.

(Those pictures would eventually appear on the following year’s commemorative T-shirts.)

Mostly we spent our brief stays of reality reminiscing about the old times, like the day we got caught in an Air Force training exercise on a bombing range while we searched for unexploded ordinance to take as souvenirs.

Well, the gang was on the range. My cowardly backside was sitting in the car up on the scenic overlook.

I was about to eat an apple when I saw two F-16s come screaming hellfire over the field my buddies had disappeared into.

I remember dropping the apple to exclaim “Ho-lee-fuuuuuuuuuuuuu”—BOOM!

The thunder of jets drowned out my voice.

People use the phrase “running for their lives” all the time. But, unless you’ve actually witnessed it, it is impossible to know how funny people look when they are trying to outrun their own skin.

The first three of them emerged from the bushes, high-stepping, heads back and blowing snots.

Their expressions were a mixture of dubious determination … and terror. What must have been going through their heads?

“Can I outrun a fireball?”

“Did I leave the coffee pot on?”

“Are my underwear stain-proof?”

Shortly after, the last two of our gang waddled into sight. They were galloping sideways, and holding something.

“They’re carrying a bomb!?” I shrieked.

Our ordnance enthusiast friend assured us that it was merely an unexploded practice round he’d lugged up the hill.

We relaxed a bit but I couldn’t help but nervously ponder that word: “Unexploded?”

We gingerly placed it in a cardboard box—the preferred method of explosives experts worldwide—in the trunk and enjoyed a colon clenching two-hour ride home.

It’s been a few years since our last get-together and I don’t expect there will be another.

Bills, families, work have won the tug-of-war. Every once-in-a-while I still dig up that stack of pictures and have a little private reunion of my own.

The newest addition is a mug shot of our ordnance enthusiast. He shot three fellas a few years ago and was later accused of some things I’d rather not get into.

It was ruled self-defense.

But we know better.

Professional wrestling: the brutal ballet

If boxing is the sweet science, then professional wrestling is the brutal ballet—Oh I’m a Hulkamaniac, there’s no denying.

True, the king of my boyhood dreams remains firmly lodged in the drug induced nightmare that is reality TV (SEE ALSO Hogan Knows Best), and most of my favorite wrestlers are either dead or retired, but I couldn’t resist watching WrestleMania 24 last Sunday.

Those of you unfamiliar with, or unimpressed by, sports-entertainment may wonder why a grown man would pay $54.95 to watch sweaty behemoths paw each other in a contest with a (Spoiler alert!) preordained outcome.

My fascination with large men in tights goes back to the early 1980s. Me on the living room floor and grandpa in his rocking chair, we watched stars of the National Wrestling Alliance like Larry Zbyszko and Ric Flair battle for supremacy along with guys like Lex Luger and Dusty Rhodes.

With six boys in my family, we didn’t just appreciate the pageantry of the squared circle, our entire lives revolved around it.

One of my best Christmas memories was the year I got Rowdy Roddy Piper and Nikolai Volkoff action figures and an official WWF wrestling ring. My brother Hammy got Big John Studd and Hillbilly Jim figures.

Saturday mornings were spent watching WWF (now the WWE) matches from the makeshift ring on our living room floor—blankets became canvas, couch cushions became turnbuckles. Then, in the mid ‘80s, we discovered Saturday Night’s Main Event.

It was the ultimate fix for our wrestling jones.

The mere fact that it began at 11:30 at night and preempted Saturday Night Live reruns every couple months or so made it special. Being 11 and 7 respectively, brother Hammy and I were the only kids allowed to stay up that late.

And, poor as we were, mom always managed to scrape together enough change or pop bottles so the two of us could get some chips and soda for the special event.

I remember the feeling of glee when good guy Junkyard Dog chased bad guy Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart under the ring and tore his pants off revealing boxer shorts covered with a heart pattern.

“They can’t do that on TV!” we shouted. (This was decades before Jersey Shore.) Oh how we squealed with delight!

I also remember watching with sweaty palms and racing pulse the night Hulk Hogan was savagely beaten by the evil King Kong Bundy, who interfered with Hogan’s match against Don Muraco.

In tears, and pounding on the floor, I screamed at the TV as Bundy repeatedly performed his signature move “The Avalanche” on Hogan.

I’m not sure how many ribs the Hulkster broke, but he got his revenge at Wrestlemania II in a steel cage for what could be one of my all time favorite matches.

For me, those were the golden days of wrestling. Nowadays one is forced to sift through female porn stars clad in lingerie passing themselves off as wrestlers.

And I dare you to figure out who is good and who is bad. Modern wrestling is full to bursting with antiheroes—the good guys are all bad guys and the bad guys aren’t really that bad.

Whereas Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and his family of ne’er-do-wells, which included scoundrels like Ravishing Rick Rude and Paul Orndorff, always managed to get my blood boiling, there aren’t really any heels of substance these days.

The closest thing to a villain I’ve seen is the guy who, a couple weeks ago, beat down the illegitimate Irish midget son of his former friend.

On a sad note, the more than 30-year career of “Nature Boy” Ric Flair likely ended for real last Sunday. I’ve seen a lot of “Career Threatening” matches in my time, but I’ve never seen one where the loser was in tears and took the time to hug and kiss his family at ringside before heading backstage.

They may pull punches and rehearse matches, but the impact wrestling has had on my life is very real. Maybe it’s childhood nostalgia that keeps me tuned in, but when the Hulkster told me that, by drinking my milk and eating my vitamins, I would never go wrong, I believed him—brother!

It’s about Easter and guns. Sorry

I was reading “The Higher Law” by Edward S. Corwin last week in preparation to expound on yet another Second Amendment battle raging in Washington, D.C.

Friends and foes of firearm ownership are desperate to learn if the nation’s capital will repeal or retain a 1976 law which outlaws handguns. D.C. remains the murder capital of America, though gun prohibitionists say the murder rate would be higher without the ban.

Corwin quoted ancient Athenian orator Demosthenes but, just as I was about to read it, the Wife told me she wanted a traditional Seder dinner on Easter Sunday.

Forget I personally don’t celebrate Easter and we’re not Jewish and forget Passover was a month away, I was working here!

Demosthenes said, “Every law is a discovery, a gift of god—a precept of wise men.”

I took issue with his words, not only because of the myriad dumb laws in existence that would easily prove no all-powerful, all-knowing deity created them, but because he used a big word like “precept” and I was forced to get out of my chair and reach for a dictionary. (This was pre-smartphone, thank-you very much)

“Precept: rules, writs, warrants, laws intended to guide behavior,” I mumbled to myself as I read. “A regular barrel of authoritarian laughs.”

All laws are arbitrary in nature. I mean, men create them for all sorts of reasons: safety, health, greed, stupidity. Then I remembered the 10 big laws the Jesus fans are supposed to follow, and wondered if Moses hadn’t cooked the whole thing up.

I only say that because of the little known 11th Commandment: “Zipporah shalt stop reminding me, I mean Moses, that she could have married a wealthy sheep herder instead of waiting by that pit for seven years.”

But, who am I to argue with King James?

Besides, the wife was hounding me about ratatouille, unleavened bread, Haroset and lamb chops with mint jelly.

Not only would the meal cost a small fortune in silver pieces, I really didn’t want to spend all day in the kitchen when I should have been working on this column.

“We don’t have to,” she said—in her ever cheery manner—knowing full well I haven’t said “no” to a request, no matter how strange, in over 14 years.

I bartered for a few more minutes of research before shopping, and reread the article of concern: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

It seemed pretty plain to me that we were supposed to get the guns—well, muskets—in order to form a militia when necessary to fight off invaders.

But, alas, this was written before machine guns, carbines and cartridges. So the war of semantics was likely to rage on.

But, it would have to wait until I returned from the grocery store.

Lucky for us they had all the ingredients needed to complete our Middle-eastern experiment.

“Watcha makin’?” asked the perky young cashier.

“A case for my divorce attorney,” I grumbled.

“Huh?”

“Shalom!” I said and marched away with my bags.

Home, and with wallet $94 lighter, I searched online for a recipe for unleavened bread, which conveniently doubled as chimney patch.

Instructions:
1. Mix unspecified amounts of flower and water
2. Roll thin and prick with fork
3. Bake until crisp
4. Pretend to enjoy
5. Save broken teeth as Passover souvenirs, use them to make an Easter necklace, or throw them at family members when they complain about how awful it tastes.

With the Haroset fermenting and the house reeking of eggplant and garlic, I returned to Corwin, who quoted Calvin Coolidge as saying men don’t make, but discover, laws.

So, big G wanted us to have guns, but we weren’t supposed to be killing one another—I was confused and I wasn’t alone.

Apparently, 2,300 years after M-dog descended the mountain with his tablet of “shalt nots,” the Chinese invented gunpowder.

It took about 15 minutes for some Asiatic McGuyver to fashion the world’s first gun out of bamboo before shooting his best friend in the face over a game of mahjong gone bad.

We’ve been shooting one another ever since, which is why the Supreme Court may soon decide whether guns are a right of individuals or militias.

No doubt the law will be interpreted as all superfluous edicts are: from the prejudices and experiences of the justices reviewing the case.

Good old-timey common sense dictates that, since murder is already a crime, there’s nary a need for extra gun laws, but the courts have not traditionally sided with common sense.

But then, what do you expect from someone who wears pajamas to work and bangs a hammer whenever he’s unhappy?

Criminals will always exist because laws are only good for two things: keeping honest people honest, and punishing those caught breaking them.

A man willing to take another’s life isn’t going to let a little thing like a seven-day waiting period stop him, but I should digress before I am accused of being one of those wacky NRA types who thinks the answer to every ill is “more guns.”

Speaking of punishment, the Ratatouille tasted as bad as I expect anything with “rat” in the title should taste, though, with a little mustard, the Haroset and lamb were edible.

Let’s face it, danger will always be a reality, and taking away the ability of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves will not diminish that danger.

By the way, history says Demosthenes used a pen full of poison, not a gun, to kill himself, but he could’ve just as easily slit his wrists with a Seder biscuit.

More stupid laws

I’d planned to write about the impending switch to Digital TV, but then it hit me: I’m not running an information hotline. This is The Crying Towel, not the Kind-hearted Helpful Towel.

Then, I was all set to expound on the mating rituals of the Himalayan yak when I get this e-mail from those devil worshipers over at the American Humanist Association saying they want to follow England’s cue and repeal blasphemy laws.

It seems England had a hard time wagging the finger of shame at Sudan for arresting a teacher who broke blasphemy laws by allowing her students to name their mascot “Mohammed,” the equivalent of your kid’s teacher naming the class guinea pig “Jesus Christ,” while the limeys simultaneously had similar laws.

American talking heads, including my favorite charlatan Bill O’Reilly, got in on the act, decrying those evil Muslim extremists for their inhumane ways.

The irony of which being that there are still states, including Massachusetts, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Wyoming, which have said laws on their books.

According to Michigan penal code, “Any person who shall willfully blaspheme the holy name of God, by cursing or contumeliously [sic] reproaching God, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor,” and “Any person who has arrived at the age of discretion, who shall profanely curse or damn or swear by the name of God, Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”

As far as I could tell, a fellow media professional could get away with naming his microphones after the Muslim prophet and I was still OK to curse Shiva, Zeus and Scrappy Doo, but “Holy $#!*!*% God,” I screamed for no good reason, “As often as I curse deities, they’ll never let me out of jail.”

Wondering what other strange laws there might be for the breaking, I began intense research, by which I mean listening to Supertramp albums and dropping pizza crumbs in the keyboard.

Though more unconventional than strange, it was with glee I read of the Australian teacher found not-guilty of abuse after jet slapping an unruly 8-year-old student.

It seems “correction, discipline, management or control” is OK down-under, which may explain why they have far fewer school shootings than do we.

Then I found a website which specializes in weird rules, but our legal department says watching episodes of Matlock does not make me a lawyer, no matter how many times I use the words “juris” or “habeas,” so you might want to double-check accuracy of the following.

According to http://www.dumblaws.com, Michiganders may not: be drunk on a train, seduce an unmarried girl or sell a car on Sunday, which pretty much kills my plans for this weekend.

You may not cut your hair without your husband’s permission and, since those evil gays are prohibited from the practice of obtaining ownership over each other via governmental certificate ceremony, this one is for the dames only.

Michiganian farmers may not sleep with their pigs, sheep, goats, cows or chickens; though it is perfectly legal to get freaky with animals in Washington State, so long as you do not harm them in the process—puts a whole new spin on the term “puppy love.”

Look for the Evergreen State’s new slogans: “A chicken in every pot, a dress on every goat” and “Single farmers, worried livestock.”

Speaking of animal cruelty, Act 339 of 1919 states, “An animal control officer or other person killing a dog or other animal … shall not use a high altitude decompression chamber … for that killing.”

Just what the hell was going on in 1918?

And, since what happens in the barn stays in the barn, we’ll never know if 339 was passed to prevent bachelor farmers from hiding the evidence of their forbidden love.

While it’s probably too late to save my job after lampooning beastiality and child abuse, you can learn everything you never wanted to know about digital TV by visiting: http://www.dtv.gov.

Getting my balls (and strikes) back

So I’m flipping through the latest copy of “O” (that’s The Oprah Magazine to all you godless heathens) and I come across a piece by Dr. Phil.

You know, that bald chick with the mustache who dispenses painfully obvious advice to the fat and the married.

In this month’s article he tells a woman the reason hubby says nasty things to her is because he hasn’t reconciled her doing the hunka-chunka with a coworker.

As if she needed both hands and a flashlight to find that one.

Then, reading Phil’s response to the 58-year-old obese woman who couldn’t understand why overeating made her fat, I had to ask myself just what in the Funk & Wagnalls I was doing.

How did it come that this once relatively manly man was reduced to spending his day off browsing a magazine for bored housewives?

I wasn’t raised in a tutu or forced to draw my feelings as a youngster.

I did have a Raggedy Ann doll until I was 8 years old but I skinned my first coyote when I was 9.

I grew up shooting frogs, burning bugs and playing tackle football. I built forts in the woods and once shot a man for snoring.

OK, so, maybe the snoring part is a bit of a stretch.

What could have possibly happened to decrease my testosterone levels so?
Baseball!

I blame the baseball strike of 1994. Getting paid to do what you love seemed blessing enough, but not for these guys. As so many unbelievable things do, it happened.

I was 19 the year we had no World Series, and so angry I sold my card collection and vowed never to watch the game again.

So began my descent into the bowels of metro-sexuality.

Long gone were boyhood summer days spent in the outfield shielding my face from the sun with my Phil Rizzuto shortstop mitt that was far too big for my hand.

Gone was the sweet smell of old leather and scrounging quarters to buy packs of Topps from the lonely display case so out of place at the neighborhood hardware store.

Gone were the nights spent flipping through price guides and trying to calculate how much a boy of 14 was worth. I sold a Darryl Strawberry for $1.50.

For Jose Cansenco I got $3.

Trading, selling and bartering for baseball cards was like the kid equivalent to the New York Stock Exchange.

Gone were the afternoons with Alan Trammell and Kirk Gibson, both badly dog-eared from one too many Saturdays spent sorting them in front of the black and white TV with the tinfoil antenna, while the boys of summer did their thing.

I did a fine job of abiding my oath all these years.

It wasn’t until 2006, when my “Bless You Boys” made it all the way to the World Series. Sitting alone, (the wife has never known me as a “sports guy” and I know how she looks at men who are hooked on NASCAR and golf, so it was best kept secret.) I watched every winning game with glee, and the last games of the series in agony as they tallied loss after loss.

Even though they didn’t make it in the end, watching the Tigers back in action awakened something inside me, and the following season I found myself sneaking part of a game here and there.

Then came the steroid scandals, talk of adding disclaimers and asterisks to the records of athletes found guilty of nothing and now the government inquests into what private citizens do with their respective bodies.

America’s pastime may not have had any dignity left to lose, but I was not going to let another one of its self-inflicted black eyes stop me from watching the game I love.

I justified the alleged actions of some in MLB with the theory that, while steroids can make a person stronger, pills and serums are no substitute for dedication, training, sacrifice or talent.

Players who take drugs do so often at great risk and at the very least they should receive the accolades they’ve earned without fear of municipal witch hunts. (Is he advocating drug use?) Besides, we all take steroids, it’s just a matter of to what degree.

The U.S. Olympic team must take its own food to China this year because Chinese meat is so loaded with growth hormones, our athletes would test positive for steroids if they ingested it.

Though perhaps to a lesser degree, American livestock and produce are also on the juice: One-pound chicken breasts and bulletproof tomatoes are not natural.

Whether it’s the World’s Strongest Man competitors, pro wrestlers or even baseball players, I just don’t care what they put in their bodies.

I made the mistake of giving up a lifelong love (and a portion of my manhood) over dubious behavior once but I’m not going to let it happen again.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, the Tigers are already in spring training and I have to get started rebuilding my card collection from scratch.

Be my Valentine … or not—I don’t care

If you’re knee-deep in Whitman’s Samplers, Kmart lingerie and dead flowers, you are not alone—the nation weeps over gutted wallets and lost greenbacks.

I caved to the emotional extortion after holding out for 14 years.

The last time I took the wife on a date was 1994, to see Jack Nicholson’s “Wolf.”

Before I further expound on the scarcity of celebrating our love, I should probably mention the events which led to this matrimonial mire.

It all started 15 years ago when I tried to date my (now) sister-in-law Rachel.

She resisted Gohs’ charm, but thought me a match for her younger sister.

She pleaded for me to take her sibling on a date.

I refused.

She begged.

I conceded, with one stipulation: It would cost her a case of Busch Light beer.

A bargain was struck, one thing led to another and I eventually married the younger sister.

Fast forward to last week.

The wife didn’t push the issue leading up to Valentine’s Day, but it was obvious she wanted acknowledgment our marriage was more than a business losing more money than it makes—I blame my kids, who’ve yet to land a Nickelodeon TV series or endorsement deal with Oscar Meyer.

Once again I conceded and narrowed her gift ideas to a fishing pole, a stuffed gorilla and a trip to the movies. I chose the latter—Hey, it got me through the first 14.

A box of goobers, a medium Diet Coke, 90 minutes of Hayden Christensen teleporting to and from Egypt and the wife was elated.

I was sweaty and nervous.

Despite being the only two in the theater, I have an aversion to cavernous spaces and, with the rash of shooting sprees in past years, I am convinced I will someday be the target for a disgruntled mailman or distraught teen whose daddy didn’t hug him enough—or hugged him too much. (This was written before mass public shootings had become an every-goddamned-day occurrence. Fuck, I hate humanity.)

I spent the entire movie creating a jail yard shank out of an ink pen and my empty Dots box while considering every hostage scenario imaginable.

Steven Segal I’m not, but after six months of Tae Kwon Do, these stubby legs can execute enough awkward side kicks to leave any would-be assailant winded with laughter, thusly eliciting our hasty departure.

With the movie finished and my blood pressure out of the danger zone, the wife thanked me and said, “Who are you and what have you done with my husband?” I politely laughed (She’s on to you Gohs, better alert the Supreme Ruler about this) and then asked what she got me for Valentine’s Day.

“Seriously, where the hell’s my gift?”

Despite being 0-2 for both B-day and V-Day, the wife said she would make it up by planning a trip for her and the kids to Disneyland in August.

Don’t get me wrong, she wanted me to go, but knows I’ll sooner gnaw off my big toe than board a flight (see also: Sweaty and nervous).

I got a little misty just thinking about a week without the three of them, but protested such extravagance.

She reasoned the children would grow into maladjusted adults if such deprivation occurred.

It wasn’t the money or that my kids would be indoctrinated by an evil corporation’s propaganda that made me nauseated, and it wasn’t that they would be exposed to a soul-less rat with a falsetto, a duck with a speech impediment who refuses to wear pants, a pair of criminally insane chipmunks and a baby elephant so whacked out on crystal meth he thinks he can fly.

OK, it was the money.

But, in my defense, I could not justify spending thousands of dollars on something in which I had no interest.

In the wife’s defense, she never once mentioned how I spend that much annually on an ever-growing car collection.

After days of deliberation, and not wanting to invite yet another karmic paddling for my misdeeds, I agreed to the trip.

The wife explained that she wasn’t asking my permission, but thanked me for the blessing.

Later, with a migraine, palpitations and pondering how this once mighty king got dethroned, I remembered I never even got the beer I was promised.

So Rachel, if you’re reading this, I’m considering suing for breach of contract and getting out while I still have my boyish good looks.

I only hope your Valentine’s Day was as swell as mine.

Going to sing sing when you shouldn’t shouldn’t

My name is Gohs, and I make bad decisions.

This is where you say, “Hello, Gohs.”

I know the shock you must be feeling: “You mean the rotund guy with too many tattoos and the arteries of a 90-year-old pastry chef makes poor choices?”

This latest bumble involves performing a song at the local library’s open mic night.

I know my way around a guitar but sing only well enough to get myself in trouble.

Though, that has never kept me from obliging when the mood commands.

I convince myself the experience is not for my own edification but because my 13-year-old son and budding guitar hero deserves some recognition for all those hours of practice. He says, “Let’s play Crazy Train.” I say, “Let’s not.”

We settle on Tommy Tutone’s classic 867-5309 (Jenny).

“Hey, what a great idea!” shouts the part of my brain—known by scientists as the Belushi Zone—in charge of craving doughnuts and beer, making homemade fireworks and using a cooler lid as a sled pulled by an inebriated gent on a riding lawnmower.

“But sire, you cannot sing,” pleads the part of my brain that looks like Professor Julius Kelp and generally prevents me from, say, investing in South American Alpaca farms.

We tune the guitars and run through it for practice.

“So, how does my voice sound?” I ask the wife.

Kelp senses her hesitation but, before he can warn me, Belushi brains him with a croquet mallet.

“You sound like a freakin’ canary,” Belushi says as he polishes crimson sauce off the hammer with a shirtsleeve and elbow. “Now get out there, superstar.”

The first act, consisting of a pretty girl and her slacker boyfriend, plays perfectly for the crowd of 20. My dinner tries its level best to abandon ship.

A short little poet about the size of two garden gnomes gets up. He’s Jack Kerouac meets Danny DeVito.

“Railroad cars shifting buttermilk; birds gurgling acid; white feet … kicking; always kicking.”

Then it’s the boy and I.

The crowd’s anticipation is palpable.

My feet feel heavy and my tongue thickens.

Suddenly I’m Roy Schieder on Amity Island.

Off in the distance some guy is yelling for his dog Pippen.

The camera does a dolly zoom (look it up) nice and close on my face.

Kelp awakens and delivers a roundhouse kick knocking Belushi unconscious.

“What in holy hell am I doing?!?”

I joke with the crowd, “We won’t be using a microphone. You’ll be thankful.”

Ain’t I clever?

The crowd laughs a little, probably assuming I’m some humble artist who is better than he lets on.

Little do they know.

My son plays the intro while hot and cold running terror shoot through my torso.

Kelp is yelling and pulling at levers.

“Run, damn you, run!” he shouts.

I sit, motionless.

I’m sensing something—kind of like when you’ve got a greeber on the end of your nose, or yesterday’s underpants inexplicably hanging out a pant leg and nobody wants to tell you.

“Jenny, Jenny,” My voice squeaks and groans. Every third note is in a key heard only by snails, mice and dogs with Down Syndrome.

Off in the distance a mildly retarded basset hound answers my call. (“Jesus, god, did he just use the ‘R’ word?” Yes, he did.)

Kelp faints.

The crowd’s reaction is one of horror, then disbelief and finally sadness when they realize it isn’t going to stop.

Regaining consciousness, Kelp raises a megaphone: “Warning: The tortured wails of a dying beast emanating from performer are intentional! Go quickly to the nearest exit! Folks, this is not a drill!”

“Jenny, Jenny, who can …” I forget the next line and play the chord progression backwards.

In one of the all-time great mercy killings, Kelp pulls the plug; I stop singing.

I stop playing.

Pride and dignity puddle at my feet, or is that something else?

Kelp is jumping and waiving his arms as though being chased by a giant bumblebee.

“What have you done? What have you done?”

Nick finishes the song and the crowd claps heartily.

“Lies, all lies!”

A tearful woman, seated in the front row and holding a rosary, collapses in relief.

Even the weird little poet shakes his head in disgust.

I consider jumping out a window, skipping town and living out my days as a low-level government stooge in Uruguay under the name Pablo McDermott. (Too specific?)

On the ride home the wife tells me, in the nicest way possible, that I’ll never get past the first round of American Idol.

Just then Belushi comes to: “You just weren’t singin’ loud enough, doll.”

He’s right.

Next time I’ll dazzle ‘em with my heavy metal rendition of Ave Maria.

Job insecurity: I love my job, I love my job, I love my job

“I love my job, I love my job, I love my job.” It was my mantra through more than a dozen crummy careers.

Now, I should preface the following by pointing out that I am not a cheery fellow to begin with.

Oh sure, there was a time when I was, dare I say (“Dare, dare,” Cleavon Little whispers.) a happy-go-lucky individual, but then I turned 7, and have been in one sort of funk or another ever since.

The shrink blames my fatalistic father, while I prefer to think it’s because life is all a big accidental nothing playing out on a dying rock hurling through space, but that’s a paranoid delusion for another time.

Mix my maligned mental state with a smear of craptastic careers and I’m surprised I haven’t climbed a clock tower by now—(SEE ALSO Joke material to avoid: Mental illness, assassinations and hating one’s job et al.) And for those of you thinking it’s this line of work, this news business, which has made me such a miserable SOB, who asked you?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t fantasize about pulling the heads off kittens or pushing the wheelchair-bound down steep hills (the IRS does not appreciate competition.) but I have had my fair share of angst and increased stresses recently.

Last week began as usual: Five calls and a half-dozen e-mails reminding me that I am a poor writer, I’m not as clever as I thought I was and at any given time I am one or more of the following: Racist, bigot, anti-Semitic, conservative, liberal, gay, homophobic, capitalist swine, socialist pig.

I even got an e-mail from one Dr. Jasper Bruner who, peddling herbal supplements, wrote, “Your chick does not admire to do it with you for reason of your male device size. Don’t miss this good possibility to solve the problem.”

I had had enough.

Not only was Dr. Bruner accusing me of having a less than admirable device, it was going to be up to eight weeks before the pills arrived.

I stared at my 1912 Royal typewriter, pre-loaded with the piece of paper upon which I may someday write my resignation letter from this business in general.

It stared back, daring me to make the first move.

I began to brainstorm, by which I mean the six-and-a-half cells not affected by Krylon paint fumes or Anheuser-Busch (SEE ALSO: dumb teenager) began doing gray matter squat thrusts which caused intense pain and a mild nosebleed.

I had to whip up a scenario the wife would believe.

“You see honey, I had to quit because the office is full of communists.”

She’d never buy it. She knows I have a soft spot for Gorbachev.

“But dear, I’m being sexually harassed by my boss.”

Who was I kidding, the last time anyone but my wife gave me so much as an amorous glance was 1992 when Homer, the family St. Bernard, was in heat.

It was no use.

She would see right through my schemes.

And, let’s face it, I had grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle afforded me by the liberal media.

I wasn’t about to go back to living like a peasant in fly-over country.

Then I got this e-mail with “DO YOU HATE YOUR JOB?” in the subject line.

It read: “Purchase a rectal thermometer made by Johnson & Johnson.

When you get home, lock your doors, draw the curtains and disconnect the phone so you will not be disturbed.

Take out the literature from the box and read it carefully. ‘Every rectal thermometer made by Johnson & Johnson is personally tested and then sanitized.’”

The glee I felt in knowing that somewhere, some poor schmuck was getting the cold glass shaft 40 hours a week dissolved when, after curiosity overcame, I sneaked down the health and beauty aisle at the local supermarket.

It seems the device (Johnson & Johnson’s, not mine) is not personally tested, but the point was taken. There are jobs out there that are a true pain in the … well, you get the idea.

I’m sure I could be doing much worse things like cleaning kennels again, working the gut table at a slaughterhouse or working as a fluffer in the animal husbandry industry.

If you don’t know what a “fluffer” is, and you’re over 18, I suggest you Google it.

If you’re under 18, I suggest you Google it when your parents aren’t around.

Either way, all I can say is: “I love my job. I love my job. I love my job.”