Friday, July 2, 2010

Humor Me: Milk, fireworks and July Fourth

For years, we’ve heard the “Got Milk?” slogan. Either brilliantly or stupidly simple, it’s easy to remember. But now milk is taking it up a notch to show how it is so much more than just a healthy beverage.

This week I saw a commercial that said, “Across America, milk brings families together.”

So, so true. I think right now there is a mother calling her son, who lives a thousand miles away and is unsure whether he should come home for the Fourth of July.
Mom: Johnny, are you going to come home this weekend? Everyone’s going to be here … your brother, sister, even Uncle Louie if his parole officer will let him.

Son: I don’t know, Mom. I’ve got work I need to catch up on, one of the kids isn’t feeling too well, and …

Mom: Well, we’re going to have milk, you know.

Son: Milk? Really? You mean like the kind that I’ve seen in the refrigerator case at the grocery store three blocks from my house? Well, OK then!
The subtle sarcasm might hint at my skepticism of milk’s claim. More likely to bring a family together: a cooler filled with beer or an unlocked liquor cabinet. Especially if Uncle Louie can get some tips from Lindsay Lohan on how to unhinge an ankle monitor bracelet.

So what really brings people together on Independence Day?

Fireworks, of course.

Yes, it’s time for another Fourth of July. It’s the annual day when U.S. citizens head to parks, throw down blankets and celebrate things truly American such as freedom, determination and the right to pay four bucks for one of those glow-in-the-dark tube things that you can wear as a headband.

That’s part of what makes America great. And that’s why, before the fireworks begin, we will proudly stand up and sing patriotic songs such as “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America.” And then by the second verse, we’ll not-so-proudly sit back down when we realize we’re more fluent in the Black Eyed Peas than in the Rev. Samuel F. Smith.

Wait a second. The Rev. Samuel F. Smith? Who is he?

Well, you must not have seen the Jeopardy! episode with the category “Patriotic Potpourri.” But take your best guess:

A. The Rev. Samuel F. Smith was the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence and composed the song, “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”

B. The Rev. Samuel F. Smith, also known as the Minister of Rap, was an 18th-century hip-hop artist who rallied revolutionaries with his hit single, “Taxation Without Representation is Funkadentally Whack.”

C. The Rev. Samuel F. Smith wrote the words to “America,” perhaps the most patriotic song ever to include the commonly used phrase, “‘tis of thee.”

The answer, of course, is that Rev. Smith wrote the lyrics to “America.” I know this because, nearly 30 years ago, a teacher in elementary school taught me that lesson. And also because, nearly 30 years after I got nothing from that lesson because I was making paper footballs and drawing pictures on my desk, I looked it up on the Internet.

I also found the lyrics. Here’s the first verse, which most of us know:

My country, ‘tis of Thee,
Sweet Land of Liberty
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims’ pride,
From every mountainside
Let Freedom ring.

Now on to the second verse. Everybody sing!

My native country, thee,
Land of the noble free,
Thy name I love;
I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills,
My heart with rapture thrills
Like that above.

OK, I heard a lot of humming out there. I guess that’s because most of us know a lot more about rock ‘n roll than “rocks and rills.” But let’s try another patriotic favorite, “America the Beautiful.” It starts with “O beautiful for spacious skies” and then ends with “from sea to shining sea!”

It ends there for most of us, anyway. But there is a second verse:

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern impassioned stress,
A thoroughfare of freedom beat,
Across the wilderness!

Well, at least I can say that I knew there was something about “pilgrim feet” in there. Maybe I remember that from the last Independence Day celebration, or perhaps I have at least one remnant memory from history class at Horizon Elementary School (home of the fightin’ Panthers and disappointing test scores).

But so what if you don’t know all the words to America’s patriotic anthems. And so what if you think that pieces of an animal are the “ramparts” we watched gallantly streaming in “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Memorization isn’t required for patriotism. And neither is an intricate knowledge of history, which is good because surveys show that many Americans don’t even know what country we were declaring our independence from back in 1776. But if you don’t know the exact date when George Washington crossed the Delaware to defeat the Nazis with a nuclear bomb, that doesn’t make you any less of an American.

All we need to know is that this is the greatest country in the world. And that we have unparalleled freedoms, incredible opportunities and the right to the credit we deserve — and in some cases, no payments until 2012.

So on this Independence Day, stand tall, Americans. Watch the fireworks, and if some patriotic crooning breaks out, proudly sing the words you know. After that, just kind of hum and move your lips like Justin “Screechy” Bieber or the late, great members of Milli Vanilli. You’ll still feel the togetherness.

And make sure that nobody drives home after having too much, uh, milk.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Humor Me: Soft-serve ice cream and Wal-Mart greeters

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written a humor column. A few months, actually, but you know how it goes. You get busy, you get tired, you get to thinking about everything that needs to be done … and then you get asked by a 2-year-old to play with the trains upstairs.

With three sons, I usually have a lot to write about and little time to write. I’m also committed to finishing a novel this year -- the working title is “Novel to be Rejected by Publishers” -- and I’m still doing promotions for The Great American Staycation, which came out last year. (I’ll be interviewed next week for Fox News’ Strategy Room show. I’ll be the guy wearing a blue shirt and sweating a lot.)

All the promotion is worth it, of course, because of the financial gusher that the book has provided. In fact, a month ago I pushed forward my retirement age from 65 to 64 years, 9 months. Unfortunately, my 7-year-old then told me he would like to attend a college where “it either snows or there is a beach,” which pretty much rules out in-state tuition. So I moved retirement back to age 67.

And now the stock market has become a “Biggest Loser” spinoff. If the swan dive continues, I expect to retire at age 80. I’ll be semi-retired, anyway, because I’ll need to supplement my income by working a couple days each week as a Wal-Mart greeter.

Anyway, let’s get to the main, or at least final, topic of this column:

How to save money this summer by finding free entertainment.

The economy is still reeling, so it’s a timely subject. And with some smart financial decisions now, you’ll reap the benefits later. Most importantly, you’ll be less likely to compete with me for a Wal-Mart greeter position in 2050.

(Don’t bother competing for that job, by the way, because I’ve got it down … “Hello” … “Thanks for shopping with us” ... “Does your little one want a sticker?” … “Firearms are in the back corner, near the liquor” … “Don’t worry about the inventory-control alarm, it always goes off. You paid for that, right?”)

OK, enough with all of that. Here’s the tip for some free fun:

Do-it-yourself ice cream.

I don’t mean for you to create ice cream at home. You’ll definitely want to avoid that. My parents used to make homemade ice cream with my brother, sister and I, and although I appreciate their effort to create a family-bonding moment, it was a gawd-awful mess. Or in my dad’s words, a g-damn mess, g-dammit. The ice cream wasn’t that great, either, and ice cream cones at the nearby Thrifty drug store were about 35 cents. Oh well.

The do-it-yourself ice cream I’m talking about is the free soft-serve dessert that some restaurants now offer. You can get yourself a little treat and then sit back and watch as people attempt to pile half a gallon of ice cream into a small cone or bowl.

It’s really a great show. People try to swirl the ice cream evenly so it can rise six inches above the cone, and when the ice cream starts falling on to their hands or the floor, they give this disgusted look like, “What is wrong with this thing?” And even after the ice cream load is centered, there is work to do. The ice-cream glutton must balance his tower of dessert as he navigates back to his seat. He'll need a steady hand and the burning concentration of a tight-rope walker to keep his ice cream off the floor.

Check it out sometime. You’ll see most people go easy on the ice cream, realizing that it’s intended to be a little topper on the meal, but eventually a person will try to max out. And maybe that person has the right idea. Yes, he will sacrifice his pride by standing at the soft-serve station filling a 20-ounce drink cup with ice cream, but ...

It could be best to seize the opportunity now. After all, who knows how long the ice cream will be available? Times are tough for restaurants, too. They could take the ice cream away at any moment or start charging for it. Forty years from now, we might be talking about how great it was when restaurants offered free ice cream.

Hey, do you remember the good old days? Restaurants gave away ice cream for free, gas was less than three dollars per gallon and kids still respected their elders!

What? You just need a cart? Oh, I’m sorry about going on like that. Thanks for shopping at Wal-Mart.