Breakfast With Pineapples And Memories

Phil Rosenthal, the Creator/Showrunner of the long-running, award-winning television series Everybody Loves Raymond, has mentioned in various interviews over the years an experience he had before ELR, while working on another hit show making its network millions of dollars at the time.

One day, the show’s staff got a memo saying, “We noticed some of you are coming in in the morning and putting milk on your cereal. The milk is for coffee. The cereal is for snacks. We do not provide breakfast for you.” He decided right then and there if he ever wound up running his own series – which he did with ELR – everyone involved would always have milk for their cereal.

The cost of just about everything in the world went up significantly in 2022. We’ll see how 2023 plays out.

In the meantime, my belated New Year’s Wish for everyone…milk for your cereal.

If we characterize something as silly or goofy, I don’t think it’s much of a leap to say it is also close to entering the realm of immature or even childish. Yet, that’s the very successful vibe the television show Psych was known for giving off during the eight seasons it aired on the USA Network. And even though its original run ended back in 2014, I think in this ever-so-too-serious time we often find ourselves in these days, there isn’t a better time for newbies to join the cult following known as “Psych-O’s.” Psych currently is available on platforms via subscription, and reruns air on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel as well.

The synopsis for the show is fairly straightforward. Shawn Spencer (James Roday Rodriguez) has an uncanny power of observation courtesy of his no-nonsense dad, Henry (Corbin Bernsen). Henry was formerly a police officer on the Santa Barbara police force, and back in the day he taught young Shawn to take in even the tiniest of details from his surroundings. When “adult” Shawn has called in one too many knowledgeable tips to help the police force solve crimes, and they threaten to prosecute him for them, he then manages to convince the cops he’s a psychic. Shawn’s childhood bestie, Burton “Gus” Guster (Dulé Hill), who knows how Shawn’s talent really works, ultimately gets caught up in aiding and abetting his buddy’s psychic detective agency. He reluctantly starts helping Shawn help the police solve crimes.

Roday Rodriguez and Hill form one of the craziest, funniest, wackiest duos ever to operate in the ultra-serious, quite-mature space of crime investigations. Comedy momentum is hard to maintain over a thirty-minute episode, let alone an hour-long format like Psych, but when there are no rules and mayhem is the norm it’s easier to achieve. Pop culture references from the 70s and 80s abound, as well as stand-out, laugh-out-loud physical comedy. Yet, there are on occasion dramatic, intense scenes where the laughter is much more restrained and stakes could not be more serious. The stellar cast ensures when throwing that switch from manic to menacing it feels quite natural to the audience…not forced.

Creator/Showrunner Steve Franks created wonderful characters who have garnered so many fans there already have been three Psych movies since the series concluded. There is little doubt Franks, the cast, and the crew enjoyed making this show. The performers look like they’re having as much fun acting it out as the audience watches it play out. Episodes feel spontaneous not only because of the talent involved, but because the stars clearly had the freedom during filming to make the script theirs to run with. There is a current podcast called The Psychologists Are In hosted by co-stars Maggie Lawson (Detective Juliet “Jules” O’Hara) and Timothy Omundson (Chief Detective Carlton “Lassie” Lassiter) where each week they go in-depth on a rewatch of each episode, sharing behind-the-scenes info and hosting drop-in visits from Franks, cast and crew, and even guest stars (Psych attracted as impressive a list of guest stars as you’ll ever find).  You can hear the genuine excitement and pride from those who made Psych as they riff about the no-limits, creative process of bringing each episode to life.

And then there are those pineapple sightings.

In nearly every episode of Psych, a pineapple is either referenced or in view. That all started with an unscripted line from the pilot episode where Roday Rodriguez picked a pineapple up and asked, “Should I slice this up for the road?” The pineapple was there only as a prop, but the moment resonated with both he and Franks as a fun one, and it became such a hit with fans the USA Network once had a Spot The Pineapple sweepstakes.

USA recognized from the start they had something special in Psych, launching it while their other oddball-detective show – Tony Shalhoub’s award-winning Monk – was at the height of its popularity. They not only aired commercials which advertised both shows at the same time, but scheduled Psych to immediately follow Monk.

It’s a feel-good show which will entertain you and leave a smile on your face whenever called upon, starting with its catchy earworm of an opening theme song. Highly recommended if you’re looking for some silly, goofy, immature, childish, adult-ish fun.

My brain – more specifically memories within it – never ceases to amaze. Every once in a while, words or phrases come out of my mouth I haven’t uttered in ages, and can’t for the life of me ascertain how I came to utter them now. Perhaps on occasion your brain has provided these kind of surprises as well.

My most recent example? A few evenings ago, Mrs. Chess asked me my thoughts on what seemed like three different discussion points simultaneously, and I wanted her to slow down just for a moment so I could thoughtfully consider my response to each…and proceeded to blurt out, “Hold on there, Murgatroyd!”

At which point both of us stared at each other not knowing where THAT response came from.

She then asked me where THAT response came from.

I told her I knew “Murgatroyd” had something to do with a cartoon character from my childhood, but I still had to reach out to The Google to confirm which one it actually was. Many moons ago, there was a Hanna-Barbera character named Snagglepuss, who was a pink lion prone to break the fourth wall and address the audience. He most often appeared in a regular segment on The Yogi Bear Show back in the 60’s. Snagglepuss was known in part for quickly departing any scene referencing a stage direction such as “Exit Stage Left.” Or Right, Up, or even Down. Specific to the discussion Mrs. Chess and I now found ourselves in, Snagglepuss was also known for whenever coming across something he couldn’t believe…instead of saying “Heavens to Betsy!” he used his catchphrase “Heavens to Murgatroyd!” Ironically, from my little bit of research the origin of using “Betsy” appears to be just as mysterious as “Murgatroyd.” I also learned the Canadian rock group Rush named their second live album Exit Stage Left in tribute to Snagglepuss. And saving the best discovery for last…there is a brand-new Snagglepuss Hanna-Barbera cartoon series in the works with Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) set to provide his voice.

Once I relayed all this to Mrs. Chess – who wasn’t as familiar with Snagglepuss – she was now not only more aware of my cartoon past, but somewhat reassured I wasn’t having a medical emergency.

I don’t know why my mind brought forth memories of Snagglepuss. We’re talking a cartoon character from sixty years ago…cartoons I hadn’t seen in fifty. Still, I do embrace rediscovering this little piece of my childhood, and who knows what my brain will un-file next? Until then…

Exit Stage Left.

 

Pictures Courtesy Wikimedia Commons/USA Network/National Geographic/Hanna-Barbera

Collections Has Christmas Too

My wife has worked in the world of business-to-business Collections for twenty-five years now. The essence of her job is straight-forward…to collect as much money as possible in as timely a manner as possible.

Being good at doing it? Tough.

Being liked while doing it? Tougher.

I love the reactions when my wife tells new acquaintances she works in Collections. I often feel like their expressions reveal one of two thoughts: “I would not want to do that” or “You must not be well-liked.”

She is good at Collections. That’s not just me saying that. Her employers have always praised her work. As well, I’ve always felt she’s even liked by some of the accounts she collects money from. As for the others, at the very least she’s respected.

Not despised, as you might expect.

She approaches her work professionally, which I believe is the main reason she’s successful. I always assumed customer contacts on the other end of her phone calls and e-mails would react more favorably to someone like her who treats their account with respect. When Covid reassigned both of us to work from home, I actually got to see her doing her job, which confirmed my assumption.

Fear not, for my wife can put the hammer down when need be. She has to collect some big amounts from some large corporations. Corporations that like to play the cash flow game, stretching out payment until the last possible day, before the status of their pending order would be called into question.

It is inevitable over time each customer she collects from slips up in some manner…misplaces invoices…can’t get payments out on a specific day as promised, etc. She has heard it all, and certainly remembers who she can trust more than others. Customers certainly remember how she handled their delays in payment, whether deliberate or not. Firmly, but fairly.

She always gives me just enough rope to “hang myself” at home…and allows the same “courtesy” for her customers.

At Christmas, people who work in Collections often are hit with the cold reality they simply aren’t as well-liked as Customer Service or Sales…or even the Management within their organization. Those departments tend to get all the tokens of appreciation from customers and suppliers during the holidays. Cookies, snacks, etc. are earmarked for them…not for Collections.

Yet, a couple of years ago on the day after Christmas, my wife received a Christmas card (she’s used to getting things late...) from one of her customer contacts. This customer would occasionally be on my wife’s “Naughty List” for bad payment behavior. But, this customer hadn’t needed product recently, were up-to-date in payments, and as a result my wife had not spoken with the contact for a good while.

The note on the inside of the card read…“I miss talking with you!”

A Christmas miracle. A Christmas card for Collections.

Collections has Christmas too.

It’s Still A Dilbert World

The headlines continue to speak towards employment uncertainty in a lot of places. Layoffs are certainly no laughing matter. I was caught up in two of them, and unfortunately for me they were back-to-back in the mid-section of my career, working in manufacturing supply chain roles (planning, purchasing, logistics). In the first instance, my company was acquired and merged with an overseas operation who grossly miscalculated the cost of such an acquisition, and decided to rectify the problem via layoffs. In the second instance, my company decided they would be much better off making a more cost-effective (cheap) product in Mexico, completely shutting down its U.S. location in the process.

The comic strip Dilbert debuted in 1989. For those unfamiliar with it, it’s probably simplest to report Scott Adams’ strip contains all the righteous and outrageous sarcasm about work and the workplace later characterized in both the British (2001) and American (2005) television shows The Office. For those of us who were in office jobs at the time this strip began, it quickly became clear Adams was drawing from his own personal experience – which aligned with our experiences – making the strip even more relatable and timely.

For me, the craziest thing about this 33-year-old comic strip is it is still relevant. The title of Adams’ most recently released compilation is called The Office Is A Beautiful Place When Everyone Else Works From Home. His next comic collection, scheduled for release next month, is titled Not Remotely Working. Depending on your point of view, fortunately or unfortunately companies are still just as stupid as ever, humanity is still not a part of human resources, and co-workers are still…unique…whether we’re dealing with them in the office, remotely, or both.

When I began my self-titled First Retirement at the beginning of June, I really felt at that point like I was just walking off the chessboard (spoiler alert, the name of this blog). I think at certain times in our lives we can feel like we’re just pawns on a chessboard, especially with regards to work. I know after those consecutive layoffs, I felt like I had no control over how life was playing out. I never did get another supply chain role quite like those two positions I held, which also happen to be the best jobs I’ve ever had.

You know how you’ll focus on something as a way to shut down negative or anxious feelings coming on? A memory, thoughts of a loved one, a quote or saying…anything at all to put whatever you’re dealing with in an easier-to-deal-with mindset and perspective? For me, navigating corporate workplaces in those earlier years was a hell of a lot easier with Dilbert around because if nothing else, it reminded me I was far from alone in the daily, relentless struggle against organizational bad behavior. Back then, I didn’t have nearly as much life experience as I own now. Whether I return to work someday or not, I can easily maintain a healthy sense of humor about anything work-related. I have always believed you shouldn’t dwell or ruminate upon things out of your control – like business decisions, bad bosses, crazy co-workers – and keeping a sense of humor about work helps me stay sane.

Dilbert’s portrayal of layoffs were strikingly similar to mine…

Layoff #1 – After our company was purchased and merged with the overseas organization, oh, we had our suspicions…

Layoff #1 – When our company had to decide whom to layoff, I certainly envisioned some of our departments doing it along these lines…

Layoff #1 – Our company referred to the layoffs as “right-sizing” the organization. Using the word “layoffs” was obviously considered way too realistic. For those “survivors” not in the first round of layoffs, they were pretty much left behind with this scenario…

Layoff #2 – Initially, our company told us we would be teaching the Mexico facility how to make our products so they could help the entire organization out. Our U.S. location had a healthy backlog of orders we could not make in a timely manner, and their facility recently had “acquired” some additional capacity (they lost a major customer…yeah, that usually results in additional capacity…). A few months later, we knew better when…

Layoff #2 – Pretty much the conversation I had with someone in management at our company before the layoffs were announced…

Layoff #2 – As rumors continued to run amok, I just wanted to take off on a Friday and enjoy a three-day weekend…

Thank you, Scott Adams…then and now.

 

Pictures Courtesy Andrews McMeel Syndication

The Grass Is Not Always Green

Currently operating within my recently-developed parameters of First Retirement (no clue if not working will actually take) I have been able to spend more time at my keyboard reading and commenting on other blogs, as well as tending to my own site.

When my computing status changes to Away From Keyboard, one of the reasons why is the weekly endeavor of tending to the lawn…armed with my edger, my blower, and last but not least…my trusty push mower.

You may recall from a prior post I had an unfortunate event with a riding mower at our last residence…

We had a Zero Turning Radius mower. When we bought it, the advice was given to us not to operate it in wet conditions, especially on uneven terrain. After a light rain one afternoon, I insisted to my wife it would be OK to mow. Not agreeing with the decision, she grudgingly came outside to do some gardening. When she got to the large rose bush I had skidded into at the edge of our driveway, I tried my level best to assure her I was OK…even though my face felt like half the skin was gone. She gave me a once-over from head to toe…and calmly stated, “You’ll be fine.” Two years later, she admitted she thought those cuts would never heal.

Our current yard features a fairly steep slope, a bit more severe than our prior home. My wife “strongly suggested when we moved here this lawn not be cared for with a riding mower.

The property here isn’t quite a half-acre, so a push mower really is more than capable of getting the job done. To be honest, using a riding mower on this yard might find me in the backyard of the house behind us…with the mower on top of me.

We have lived at our current residence for about seventeen years. In that time, the yard has seen anything and everything weather in the Northeast US can provide. Thirty inches of snow and ice at one time. Eight inches of rain in an hour. Two months with 90 degree temperatures and no rain. Numerous demented squirrels.

You can find great advice on the Internet about taking care of your lawn and in many cases it is 100% contradictory. The only 100% foolproof advice I have ever gotten for lawn care actually came from my wife. It was the year I accidentally grabbed the nonselective herbicide RoundUp instead of the selective herbicide Ortho Weed Clear and sprayed several dandelions in the front yard with it. Her advice was if I ever did that again, she would round up all of my sports memorabilia and spray RoundUp on it.

One of the things I obsess over a bit is when to execute the very last mow of the year, trying to guess when grass-growing will slow to a crawl, as well as how high to leave the lawn for the off-season. Seven years ago, there was a particularly snowy and icy period one Fall before the yard had a chance to freeze, and with the grass also sitting a bit higher than I’d usually let it go, we had a resulting touch of what is known as snow mold. Snow mold does not do any permanent damage, but it was weird seeing parts of the lawn a shade of pink. At least we were fortunate enough to get the colorful version, as the other shade of snow mold is apparently a very dull gray. However, you might not be surprised a partially pink yard isn’t that visually appealing either, so the goal since that incident is to keep any snow mold from happening so the lawn has a nice, quiet transition into and out of dormancy.

I am a bit sad when the last mow of the year takes place. While the front yard is for the most part level, the lawn on the sides of the house slope down fairly severely through the backyard until it reaches the invisible yet defined property line with the home behind us. Mowing our yard does provide good exercise, and not mowing for a few months means I try to incorporate other activities to replace it. Snowfall removal certainly gets the blood pumping, but that’s sporadic and we don’t get quite as much snow as we used to. It is a good thing I am a “winter person” to begin with, and I do like to get outside no matter what. Hell, I’ve been known to go down to the basketball courts and shoot hoops even in snow flurries.

I’ve also been known to mow even in snow flurries. I’m actually a bit of a celebrity in that regard. One of my neighbors told me after one late-year mow five years ago I had amused both her and her husband.

“Hey honey, come here. Bruce is mowing in the snow.”

Maybe I do try a little too hard to coordinate and calculate the end of the growing season and getting the length of the grass just right. Looking back over the last few years, my last mow of the year has occurred as follows:

2014 – 11/8; 2015 – 10/31; 2016 – 11/19; 2017 – 11/20; 2018 – 11/8; 2019 – 11/1; 2020 – 11/20; 2021 – 11/10

The irony is not lost on me the very fact I have a record of these dates may very well be a sign I take this a bit too seriously.

In any event I am now monitoring the weather forecasts, examining the length of the blades of grass, and trying to time that final mow perfectly to ensure the lawn has the best chance of staying greenish instead of pinkish. Or grayish. I know if it changes colors again, the lawn will eventually be fine, but I really don’t want the yard to be stressed out.

I could just hire a lawn service to keep myself from being stressed out, but can I really put my trust in others…even if they appear to be as competent as I am?

 

Pictures Courtesy Advanced Turf/Great Lakes Landcare/Universal Studios

Aging Pizza

During a workplace lunch just a couple of years ago, we were all talking about the aging process. I was the oldest in our department. A couple of co-workers were about a decade younger than I. The rest were much younger. The question of the day in the lunch room for the three “more experienced” of us was…when did we first feel definitively older than we hoped we were?

My response took little time to formulate.

In March of 1992, I was in Minnetonka MN as part of a business training seminar put on by a high-technology water purification and filtration company named Osmonics. The company I was working for at that time was a distributor of their products, and six of us went out there to get training in their product line so we’d have a better understanding of how to market and sell their products.

I had never been to Minnesota before, and I was very impressed with what I saw traveling from the airport to our hotel. Beautiful countryside and residences, and that time of year provided a chill in the air and a touch of snow on the ground, making a “winter person” like myself quite happy. After arriving at our hotel, we learned that as guests we had complimentary passes to utilize the fitness gym across the street. Since we knew we only had a half day of training one day during the seminar schedule, we all agreed to head over to the gym and get in a workout then.

After product training all Monday and Tuesday morning, Tuesday afternoon found us at the gym. It was gigantic, looked brand-new, and offered plenty of workout options. First class. Three members of my group went off to the weight room, but myself and a couple of the other guys went over to the basketball courts. There was a full-court pick-up game in process, so we sat nearby until it ended so we could get into the next one.

I did feel a twinge of concern as to how I would do playing in a full-court basketball game. Sure, I was in good shape for someone soon to turn 35. My conditioning wasn’t bad as I regularly played half-court hoops. I was looking forward to showing off the fact I still “had game” to my buddies, but was definitely picturing that happening in the smaller footprint.

The game in progress ended a few minutes later, and we hit the court for the next one, pairing up with a few players from the team that just lost. I played well, even though we didn’t pull off a win to guarantee a spot for the next game. That was fine by me – one run was enough for the day. I had accomplished the main goal of getting exercise…while also feeling just a little bit younger by hanging in there and playing a solid, “regular-length” game of basketball.

Back at the hotel, I needed to take a well-deserved shower. Having my own room, I figured I’d just clean up and hang out there before heading to dinner. We were being taken out by Osmonics to a very fancy steakhouse, but there was still a couple of hours before I needed to be in the lobby for the ride out.

It was during the shower I first noticed something was…off.

In 1963, there was an episode of The Dick Van Dyke television show called, “Don’t Trip Over That Mountain.” In it, Rob Petrie (Dick) promises his wife Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) he won’t get hurt during a ski trip with his neighbor Jerry (Jerry Paris), who happens to be an expert skier.

Of course, once on the slopes they proceed to run into each other…two skiers…and a goat.

After seeking medical treatment, Rob reports to Jerry he was given the diagnosis of a “sprained body.” The only thing on Rob’s body that didn’t hurt was the left side of his upper lip.

I thought about that TV episode as I ended my shower.

I had a sprained body. The only good news was my upper lip didn’t hurt at all. The lower lip didn’t either. But everything else did. I went to comb my hair and once I got my arm high enough, a new discovery…

My hair hurt.

Maybe that was just part of the full-on headache experience now underway. Anyway, I shuffled over to the bureau to get some clothes, and about halfway through getting dressed I realized dinner out…was out. I could barely move my arms and legs. My body was off-line.

I phoned around to let my co-workers know I’d be staying in my room for the night, mentioning I was tired and thought I was coming down with something from the plane ride. That actually was a legit excuse because they all knew my 90% deviated septum often lost the good fight with air flight, so they wished me well.

Using the phone hurt.

I figured as far as dinner was concerned, I could use room service…but I had a real craving for pizza. I checked the hotel info out and found there was a Domino’s nearby which would deliver to the hotel. Perfect. I’ll get dinner delivered and not have to leave the room at all.

Placed the order. Got my money together. Laid down to rest.

When the knock on the door came about a half-hour later, I immediately remembered one thing I hadn’t thought about when placing the pizza order.

How would I get to the door?

A good minute or so later, I stood before the delivery person and exchanged money for food. I am quite sure that guy thought something was wrong with me, and if he had asked if I was ok I was fully prepared to tell him I had a sprained body.

Pizza. Soda. Advil. Surprisingly, I didn’t have any trouble sleeping. I attribute that to the fact once I fell asleep, my body had no ability whatsoever to adjust itself.

The next day, not much had changed. Limited, strained movement. Soreness. Pain. I placed another call, letting my group know I would be unable to attend the training that day. I’ll admit I was also egotistical enough to have considered the impact of my co-workers seeing me in such a state. For sure, it would negate all the street cred I earned from my stellar basketball performance. News of how poorly my body handled exercise was way more likely to spread through the office than how well I played.

I laid in bed watching TV for most of the day, and eventually felt a tiny bit more in control of my body when the same Domino’s employee appeared at the door that night with Pizza #2.

The following morning was our final day of training, and we’d be heading home thereafter. I was able to gather myself and get to the bus for the short ride over to Osmonics, putting a brave face on and forcing myself to appear normal. I got through the training, the ride out to the airport, and the flight home.

That trip was quite a memorable moment in time, leaving no doubt I definitively felt older than I hoped I was. I could not believe how much my entire body had shut down.

I’m hoping any similar moment in time, while likely inevitable, isn’t for a very long time.

 

Pictures Courtesy TripAdvisor/GoComics

 

Carefree Debris

I saw an article the other day on The Conversation website with the headline, “Mars Is Littered With Space Junk.” The person who wrote it, Cagri Kilic, is a postdoctoral research fellow who has been studying ways to track Mars and Moon rovers. Not that this is Mars-shattering news, but debris on Mars according to Kilic comes from three main sources…discarded hardware, inactive spacecraft, and crashed spacecraft.

Taking the last scenario first, sometimes even while surviving the long journey there, descent to the planet’s surface is where things go horribly wrong. Splat. Trash.

The first scenario describes the planned discharge of parts while descent is taking place like heat shields, foam, netting, and parachutes. Don’t need these anymore. We’re good. Trash.

In the middle scenario, we have all of the spacecraft which have landed successfully, served their tour of duty before running out of juice, and have signed off for the final time. Thank you for your service. Trash.

Kilic has run the numbers and determined there is 15,694 pounds of Earth’s junk on Mars. That’s not so much on the surface (see what I did there?). Then again, that’s really easy for me to say. I don’t live on Mars.

However, while Earthlings never had a plan to do anything other than litter debris across Mars, we have now realized a plan needs to be in place for knowing where all this trash is. As part of its daily activities, NASA’s active rover Perseverance – using its Ingenuity helicopter – is helping engineers document all the junk it comes across. The space agency indicated their Curiosity rover was able to identify some of its own debris during its earlier mission.

There is a concern at NASA some trash might contaminate or skew samples the Perseverance rover is currently collecting. While the risk is judged to be quite low, the rover’s ability to roam at all might even be hindered.

I remember watching Americans walk on the Moon and thinking in my lifetime we would definitely establish a colony there. That was 1969. The last American to walk on the Moon did so three years later.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict we won’t see any Americans living on the Moon in my lifetime.

By the way, there’s an estimated 400,000 pounds of our junk on the Moon.

Mars and the Moon are both better off if we don’t ever try to live on them anyway, since we’ve already done a stellar job of junking up Earth.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with NASA as I have gotten older. While I know space exploration has led to some great innovations and discoveries which have positively impacted other industries, I wonder if we’re still really getting that same return on investment today. I know NASA’s budget is fairly small potatoes in the big picture, but money is money. Resources are resources. The fact we didn’t do more with the Moon once landing there in 1969, and the fact NASA has now indicated they actually want to circle back to the Moon, gives me the impression they are as an organization quite the rudderless spaceship.

In doing due diligence for this post, your space-y reporter was also curious about all space debris in orbit (for now, at least). One interesting tidbit I came across claimed a tiny, ten-centimeter-long piece of spacecraft trash could cause as much damage as twenty-five sticks of dynamite…that even a piece between one and ten centimeters can do damage to most spacecraft.

Between the U.S., Russia, and China, at the beginning of this year there were approximately 15,000 trackable pieces of debris – larger than 10 centimeters across – in space. For the record, most of China’s came from the time they used a “kinetic kill vehicle” to deliberately destroy a defunct weather satellite in an anti-satellite weapons test back in 2007.

Of course, the U.S. simply couldn’t help themselves from doing the exact same thing just a year later, deliberately destroying a non-functioning satellite with a “heavily-modified missile.”

Those events provide us with the definitive, gold standard answer to the question of whether Earthlings care where space junk goes. No.

And…just last month we had NASA’s much-publicized course correction of an asteroid (minding its own business, mind you) courtesy of a “kinetic impactor.”

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said after the allegedly successful asteroid diversion, “All of us have a responsibility to protect our home planet. After all, it’s the only one we have. This mission shows that NASA is trying to be ready for whatever the universe throws at us.”

It seems to me we’re throwing way more at the universe than it’s throwing at us.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

Being Chill

The above greeted me when I walked into our Acme grocery store a couple of days ago.  The gentleman pictured is none other than Jalen Hurts, who is the quarterback for the only undefeated team in the National Football League, our hometown Philadelphia Eagles. Before I entered the store, I had no earthly idea a company named Lemon Perfect even existed, let alone they had a product described as Hydrating Lemon Water.

But I immediately wanted to try it.

Sales and marketing to consumers….some is subtle, some is subliminal, some is a punch in the face. All are designed to separate our money from our wallet. Intellectually, I know this. But emotionally, I also know I sometimes get an immediate desire to acquire based on the advertising alone. Not just for what the product is, but for what feeling I’m supposedly going to experience from using it.

Now, just because Hurts is pictured with a bottle of hydrating water, I’m not instantly inclined to buy it. But of course, it doesn’t hurt.

The primary reason I immediately became fascinated with this product is because of lemons. I love lemons. If I come across something with lemon represented to be in it, there’s a sort of invisible, irresistible magnetic beam which inevitably draws me to it. Even if it’s something I don’t need, ever wanted before now…you get it.

Because I was in a bit of a time crunch at that point, I only had time to procure the milk, bread, and eggs we really needed…but Lemon Perfect Hydrating Lemon Water is now atop the grocery list for the next stop. While I remain highly skeptical of how much more hydrated this product will really make me than plain old H2O…if this tastes like real lemons it could be a “need.”

Later in the same day, I saw a TV spot for a product called Honey Lemon Chill Vicks VapoCOOL Severe Cough Drops.

You know where this is going, don’t you? These are already in the medicine cabinet. I don’t have a cough, but I am all for preventive medicine so I’ve already sampled this product. Not bad at all – enjoyed the lemon taste.

What you don’t know yet is the marketing on this product wasn’t just attractive to me because it was represented to be lemon-y, but because of the use of the words “cool” (VapoCOOL!) and “chill.” And this is where I pivot from what’s supposedly in the product…to how it will be received by my sensory receptors. Cool and chill are very much purchase trigger words for me by themselves…more so when used together.

I already use a product because it is “arctic”…

Now, I don’t know exactly where this all began. I’ve liked Winter for as long as I can remember, but when a food or beverage product is marketed as arctic, ice, cool, cold, chill, etc. it creates an emotional response within me which often leads to me buying and trying the product. I have the exact opposite buying emotion when it comes to products marketed with descriptions including words like tropical, sun, warm, hot, heat, etc.

Yeah, it probably IS a Winter thing.

Putting lemon, cool, and chill together in the same description made it just a matter of time before I bought those cough drops. If Vicks had advertised them with the lead ingredient as horseradish instead of honey, I would still have bought a bag.

I will confess neither the Vicks cough drops or the Altoids mints made me feel cool or chill or in the arctic while using them. I remained at 98.6 F. In the instance of the word chill, maybe the sales and marketing folks are just using it like cool kids use it these days?

No matter. It’s cool. I’m chill.

While thinking about ad-driven purchases, I also remembered another item I buy that falls into this brisk category…caramel cold brew coffee. You know by now they had me at “cold” brew, right? Be advised, I also love me some caramel…as much as lemons. If someone ever successfully grows a caramel lemon tree, I’m purchasing it.

While I know there is a defined, unique process to creating cold brew coffee, I really have no idea if my local Dunkin’ strictly adheres to it all the time because they are super-busy all day long. Hell, with the three pumps of caramel I get added to each order for all I know it’s just yesterday’s regular coffee not reheated. Regardless, it helps get me going in the morning. It’s definitely cold…and it’s positively caramel.

It also should be noted here our local Dunkin’ franchises are huge Philadelphia Eagles supporters. (Did I mention the Eagles are undefeated?)

The sales and marketing gurus got me once again yesterday…when I noticed a food article online. It was about a product that won’t even be on store shelves until February, 2023…M&M’s Caramel Cold Brew Candy.

I sprained my wrists getting to the M&M’s website.

I’ll admit to being skeptical these will be colder than other M&M’s. No matter. The website asked if I’d like to be notified when this new item will become available. Yes, please. However, I am taking no chances. Once the calendar flips to 2023, I’ll be pro-actively calling around asking stores ”DID YOU GET THEM YET?”

Sales and marketing pros look to connect with consumers any way they can, not only promoting what their products are all about, but also by creating an expectation of how we will feel using them. This new M&M candy is a perfect example of this. According to M&M’s, the Caramel Cold Brew Candy will be represented by the new Purple M&M, which they note is distinguished by her authenticity, self-awareness, and confidence.

Who wouldn’t feel good buying Caramel Cold Brew Candy from that spokescandy? There’s a legitimate potential when this product comes out…it might just sell out.

Maybe I’ll start calling around in December…

 

Pictures Courtesy Proctor & Gamble/Mars Incorporated

Scream A Little Scream Of Me

It is one of those moments that mark the unofficial start of Fall around these parts. Their brochures arrive like clockwork this time of year in all of the convenience stores. Yes, the Field of Screams in Mountville PA has once again begun their latest chapter in terrorizing young and old alike nightly through the middle of November. It is located about forty miles from where I live, but I have never gotten around to visiting it. This year, I am more intrigued than ever to go spend an evening there.

There are actually four main, separate haunted attractions involved at the Field of Screams which require separate admissions, but the cost structure is designed for attendees to secure a “Scream Pass” which gains you entry to each one.

Here are excerpts from their brochure with some immediate thoughts I have:

NOCTURNAL WASTELAND “As you walk along the narrow, winding paths through the dense overgrown vegetation, you will come face-to-face with the mutant creatures of this fear-filled forest. New for 2022 – You will be forced to make your way through the Deadwood Cemetery and encounter the Tree of Death!”

It sounds like trying to make your way through a very trying jungle. I have never done that, but I suppose it is something like those Black Friday sales I used to go to. I’ve certainly been to cemeteries before, but never at night. Their “Tree of Death” has me wondering how the hell they got ahold of the cherry tree we used to have in the front yard?

HAUNTED HAYRIDE “There is no turning back as the tractor-pulled wagons take you on a horrifying hayride into the depths of our dark and sinister cornfield. Feel the cold night air send shivers down your spine as you are attacked from all angles by the maniacal creatures who call this cornfield home.”

I remember when I was a little kid who hadn’t quite taken possession of common sense yet, a bunch of us hid out in a cornfield the night before Halloween and tossed handfuls of corn at passing cars. Mind you, this was a suburban back street where the top speed was approximately 2 mph, so it wasn’t as heinous as it initially sounds. However, during this Mischief Night adventure when the kernels hit one car, the driver hit the brakes and opened their car door. My friend Mikey may still be running.

Also, if I am ever attacked by creatures from all angles my current spine isn’t going to just be feeling the cold night air. That will be nerve damage.

DEN OF DARKNESS “Three stories of sheer terror await as you creep through the dismal passageways and maddening mazes of this 170-year-old original barn. New for 2022 – You will explore the Gory Greenhouse, the Putrid Pantry, and the Rotting Flesh Kitchen.”

I’m thinking if the barn is 170 years old…yes, that would be an original. Three floors? I’m not so much worried about passageways and mazes as much as whether or not the structure will support visitors. I’ll probably be ok with the “Gory Greenhouse” since we had no rain for two months this summer and our gardens provided their fair share of frightening scenes. As for that “Putrid Pantry” and “Rotting Flesh Kitchen,” they sound like dead ringers for when myself and three other guys rented a house for the summer.

FRIGHTMARE ASYLUM “Become a part of the bone-chilling madness as you explore four floors of the demented and the deranged! Feel the fear as you meet the disturbed doctors and nightmarish nurses who have taken up residence here! New for 2022 – You will get to meet the posse of Psycho Clowns as they unleash their vengeance on you.”

Four floors? (please see above “Den of Darkness” concerns about stability) As for their “Psycho Clowns,” that may very well be the most redundant title I’ve ever seen. EVERY clown is a psycho.

So, while pondering the main attractions offered, I noticed one additional section in the bottom right corner of the brochure…

EXTREME BLACKOUT – ONE NIGHT ONLY – NOVEMBER 11TH – LAST NIGHT OF THE SEASON “All four attractions will be darker, more intense, and hands-on! You will be subjected to new methods of torture, physical restraint, and isolation that are not a part of our regular season show. Extreme scare tactics and fear-inducing techniques will be incorporated as part of your Extreme Blackout experience. Not all will survive. Release waivers must be signed in order to participate!”

OK, this does NOT sound OK. Is it really breaking news you have to sign a waiver to participate in this?

I did take note in the fine print there is also a VIP Upgrade available at an additional cost. I can only assume that’s for life insurance.

My wife is not into the horror performance art thing at all. She told me when we first met that in the autumns of her youth, her youth group would always manage each year to find their way to haunted hayrides and houses. She reminded me when I mentioned possibly going here this year she has been sufficiently traumatized for life, thank you.

Me, I’m thinking this could be a bucket list event. I never did anything like this when I was younger and if not now, when? I love a well-done horror movie – providing really good scares – as much as the next guy. But, do I really want to immerse myself in an experience like this?

The “Extreme Blackout” sounds like quite the near-Death experience, but since I’m on the backside of life I probably don’t need to edge any closer to Death, so that’s a hard pass.

It does sound like I could pull off the main attractions…but I do have a concern about the close-proximity performers who might jump out and grab at me while my senses are in a heightened, frightened state. I am legitimately concerned I might instinctively knock them out…then you’ve got real blood mixing with the fake…getting lawyers involved, etc. I think I’d have to recruit at least one other person to accompany me, if for nothing else than to serve as a potential witness for police reports.

If you’ve ever been to something like this, I am curious to know what your experience was. If not, would you dare go there for scares?

 

Picture Courtesy Haunted Pennsylvania

 

The Drop Shot

In honor of the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament returning to New York City this week – one of my all-time favorite sporting events to watch – I thought I’d take this opportunity to post about a significant tennis moment in my life. The “anniversary” of this event is coming up, but it really feels like it only happened yesterday. Unfortunately.

My wife and I have not played tennis since.

The incident if ever recounted, is done so in hushed tones.

The wife and I were playing tennis at least once a week. Never in a competitive way, mind you. We simply went out for an hour or so sticking to the baselines, volleying back and forth.

That is…until “The Drop Shot.”

It was an early weeknight when we took to the court. The temperature was 70F. No wind to speak of. No one playing on the court next to us…although there were a couple of guys playing on the court one removed from where we were, so periodically we had to serve as ball persons for each other’s play. Otherwise, absolutely perfect conditions for twilight tennis on a well-kept, public court.

We were about a half-hour into play when it occurred. Mind you, we always kept score even though our shared goal was to extend points, get some good exercise, and enjoy the outdoors.

My wife, a pretty good field hockey player back in her day, was actually beating me in this particular game. She had just returned my shot from deep in her far corner when I executed “The Drop Shot.”

To this day, my wife insists it was because I was losing and consciously wanted to win the point by hitting my shot to land just over the net. My claim to this day is my competitive mind and muscles simply converged in the moment, and I subconsciously went for a winning shot. It was without a doubt the greatest drop shot I’ve ever hit.

It was also my last.

My wife, reacting to my shortened stroke and immediately setting aside our mutual goal to take things easy, attempted to sprint all the way from the back court in a spectacularly athletic yet predictably futile fashion to reach the ball in time.

Futile intersected with fall.

My wife went down several feet from the net in a full-on, concrete face plant.

I thought she was dead.

Mind you I was gratified to have won the point, but I decided to check on my wife first before retrieving the ball. As I got to her, she was rolling onto her side and making low, unintelligible sounds…which indicated she was, a) alive and, b) able to move.

“You OK? What hurts?

“My hand.”

“Just your hand. Great!”

“Great? No, not great. It hurts. A lot. I think I BROKE it.”

This is when I switched into ultra-positive mode. Knowing my wife as I do, it would be important to assure her she was OK, and that hand of hers would be fine with some rest and TLC. She’s as tough a trooper as I know, but in accident situations with anyone I always feel it is important to deflate any thoughts of potentially more serious injuries. Getting stressed about what may or may be wrong certainly doesn’t make anyone feel any better.

It did seem like her hand did take the brunt of the impact with the court. This was a good thing, because her head was next in line if that hand had not been extended to break her fall. The question now…was the hand actually BROKEN?

I quickly got her to her feet and into our car so, if nothing else, to reassure those guys playing nearby a hearse would indeed not be required. There was some concern on my part they might have seen my wife’s plunge.

I drove her to a Wawa convenience store (one we don’t normally frequent) to get some much-needed ice for her injury. I left her in the car briefly, returning as quickly as I could with an ice-cold drink for her, ice for her hand…and a TV Guide.

“You thought about the TV Guide during THIS?”

“It’s next week’s edition. I got it early!”

Uh-oh. She’s not laughing anymore.

Moments later, as I was getting her cooled down and set-up in a more comfortable position for the drive home, I was trying to adjust the angle of her seat to make her a bit more comfortable…when I almost made her horizontal as the seat control got away from me.

She actually managed a laugh about that, watching me being flustered getting the seat corrected.

Good sign. Laughter really IS the best medicine.

Until the next day of course, when her hand looked like one of those cartoon character balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.

Off to the doctor. Then the hospital. Multiple X-rays. No break. Bad sprain. Two weeks of rest.

Since then…conversations of “The Drop Shot” usually go like this:

“You know you hit that shot on purpose.”

“I did not. I just reacted in the moment. It was simply instinct. You were so far away, and the shot was there for the taking. I never thought you’d actually try to go get it. I didn’t mean to almost kill you.”

“Well, you almost did.”

“Again, I’m sorry. You know, I really thought you were dead for a second there. I’ll never forget that sight. It was awful.”

“I still can’t believe you bought that TV Guide.”

“I got it early!”

“Idiot.”

🎾

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

Joe Shlabotnik

I love underdogs in sports.

Hell, I even rooted for both the 1988 and 2021 Baltimore Orioles to just win a game when they eventually ended respective losing streaks of 21 and 19 games…even though if they had kept right on losing in either one of those seasons they could have possibly broken the record of the longest losing streak in major league baseball’s modern era…23 games by the Philadelphia Phillies.

I don’t like to see teams get embarrassed because as a fan I know full well what that feels like. I am a product of my environment, living in the suburbs of Philadelphia. All of our professional teams have a long, inglorious history of being quite far removed from championship glory.  Our current ledger looks like this:

Phillies – World Series Champions in 1980 and 2008. (131 seasons)

Eagles – Super Bowl Champions in 2017. NFL Champions in 1948, 1949, and 1960. (89 seasons)

Flyers – Stanley Cup Champions in 1973-74 and 1974-75. (54 seasons)

76ers – NBA Finals Champions in 1954-55 (as the Syracuse Nationals), 1966-67, and 1982-83. (73 seasons)

Which may be why I love Joe Shlabotnik. It’s usually this time of year – in the baseball dog days of August – when I most often think about Joe. For those who have not previously heard of Joe, he is a fictional baseball player featured in Charles M. Schulz’s classic Peanuts comic strip. He was Charlie Brown’s all-time favorite baseball player.

Charlie Brown worked endlessly to hunt down any and all memorabilia associated with Joe Shlabotnik. He once bought 500 one-card packs of baseball cards to try and get one card of Joe’s. While he wasn’t successful, his pal Lucy van Pelt bought only one pack and what-do-you-know…she was the proud owner of a Joe Shlabotnik baseball card. Unfortunately, Lucy then steadfastly refused to trade Joe’s card to Charlie Brown, even though she had no idea who Joe was. Once Charlie Brown exhausted himself trying to entice her to give up Joe’s card…she eventually decided he wasn’t quite as cute as first thought…and tossed the card into the trash.

Charlie Brown also once was under the impression he had a Joe Shlabotnik autographed baseball…which in fact turned out to be a forgery. But, it isn’t just Charlie Brown’s futility trying to get Joe Shlabotnik memorabilia that makes Joe an underdog for us all to root for. It is the “legendary” career of Joe Shlabotnik:

  1. Joe was demoted to the minor leagues after hitting .004 over an entire season. The one hit was a bloop single…with his team comfortably ahead.
  2. Joe once promised to hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. He instead popped out…but circled the bases anyway.
  3. Joe had a knack for making routine fly balls into spectacular catches. He also had a talent for throwing out runners who had fallen between first and second base.
  4. Joe eventually retired as an active player and took a job managing the Waffletown Syrups. He was fired after one game when he called for a squeeze play…with no one on base.

Charlie Brown never got to meet Joe Shlabotnik. He bought tickets to a sports banquet where fans could dine with their favorite athletes…but Joe was the only athlete who didn’t show up. It turned out Joe had marked the wrong event, city AND date on his calendar. Joe was also invited to attend a testimonial dinner for Charlie Brown. He got lost on the way there.

Ironically, this might be one of the best pro sports years we’ve had in a while. The Phillies are competing down the stretch for a wild-card berth. The Eagles should be in the hunt for the post-season. The Sixers should be a lock for their post-season. The Flyers…they will likely have a season similar to the ones Joe Shlabotnik experienced. Not. Good.

In any case, thank you for allowing me to acknowledge Joe as one of my favorite characters in sports. When it feels like the pro athletes representing Philadelphia are performing poorly, I will think of Joe and realize they aren’t that bad.

 

Picture Courtesy United Feature Syndicate