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Month: June 2008

The Sad, Slow Decline of the Clown

When I was a kid I feared clowns of all types, even the ones that silently made balloon animals and hats and swords. You couldn’t really see their true faces, they acted strangely and wore bizarre otherworldly clothing. That weird white makeup they wore…yeesh. But they didn’t come from their clown planet to hurt us mere Earthlings – they came to entertain us and make us “laugh”! Squirting flowers, pet monkeys, tiny cars, big shoes, all trademarks of the clown.

So who is this guy? Where is his white makeup? Does he have a pet? What make and model is his tiny car? Why is he trying to be non-frightening and generically non-threatening?

This clown is known as Bello. He works for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Time magazine called him “America’s Best Clown.”

Oh really? Is this what fearsome and horrifying clowns have come to in the 21st century? Wimpified lame-o’s who’s gimmick is that he has tall hair and gets into all sorts of wacky mischief? Take away the hair and turn him into a monkey and he’s Curious George. George even goes to the circus too.

Over the past years Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey has been on the ropes a little bit as people start loving more and more the weird antics of Cirque du Soleil. Is Bello the answer to their problems? Are people going to start coming to the circus to see this guy? Is he that big of a draw? Why do I feel that the answer is “no”?

I’m a dad, so I have to go. Would I go just to see this guy? Well….

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If They’ll Mow My Yard, I’ll Welcome Our Robot Overlords Willingly

In Texas we’re entering that time of year when the mercury regularly reaches the upper stratosphere and the humidity is completely unbearable. Summer (officially) is right around the corner and already we’ve hit the 100 degree mark in Dallas several times. I’d hate to be a weatherman this time of year since your entire routine on the nightly news would be, “Warm tonight, low 80’s, hot tomorrow, high near or above 100.” How many times does the poor guy (or girl) get stopped on the street of Anytown, TX. this time of year and asked if we’re going to get some rain or a cool front anytime soon? And how many times does he have to say, “This is Texas – wait a minute and the weather will change…except during summer.”

And now is the time of year that the yard is finally kicking into high gear. The grass is growing, the flowers are blooming, the ground cover is covering but of course the problem with all of this is that all of these things have upkeep and care involved. If I lived (as my brother does) in Las Vegas I would guess my front yard would be a nice plot of rocks or pebbles or sand with some cactus and other sharp weather-hardy plants there. Not great for the kids but able to survive even the worst heat wave or atomic test. But this isn’t Vegas, it’s Dallas, where we do actually get rain sometimes during the summer, and that means that the grass is still growing, the flowers are still blooming and the ground cover is still covering.

Yard work in that kind of weather is hard, especially without a self-propelled lawnmower, which I don’t have. Yard work for me has always been one of those things that I have to do – I’m the man, I must care for the yard even if I don’t care for the yard, which I don’t, because the only time that mowing the yard is not a risk to your well-being around these parts is in early spring. So about every weekend I’ll go out to the shed, pull out the weed eater and the lawnmower and the blower and drag all of them back to the front yard and then run the weed eater and then the mower and then the blower and by that time I’m completely burning up and ready to lay down and die right there in the front yard. If only Hudson from Aliens had been right. 1“Yeah man, but it’s a DRY heat!

But we’re living in the freaking 21st Century, a time of jet packs and flying cars and nanotechnology and Ubuntu and cool stuff like that. Robots these days are still pretty primitive, at least on the consumer side. We don’t have cool robots yet like R2-D2 or C-3P0 or even HAL. You’ve got that stupid Robosapien and that weird talking Fairy Dora and the even creepier looking Alive Elvis. I saw Alive Elvis at Macy’s before Christmas and he was going for $250. After Christmas? $50. Nobody wants a creepy singing/talking Elvis yet.

There are two robots that I could live with right now. The Roomba and the Robomow. Two robots that do things that no one wants to do – vacuum and mow the yard. As you can tell, I could learn to love the Roomba, but man what I wouldn’t give for a Robomow. Being able to just sit up on the porch with the kids and the wife having breakfast on a warm summer morning while that wonderful little robot mows the yard for me. Sure, he doesn’t do weed eating or blowing the excess grass away, but if I didn’t have to mow would I even care? Probably not.

So come on Skynet, materialize from the minds of 21st Century Man. Give me a Robomow and I would gladly let your Terminators rule o’er me. At least in the summer when you robots don’t care if it’s hot.

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Our Tallest and Shortest Presidents

I just finished reading Geoffrey Perret’s book “Lincoln’s War: The Untold Story of America’s Greatest President as Commander in Chief”. It’s a great read, especially for someone like me who was never very interested in anything to do with the Civil War. In it Abraham Lincoln becomes less mythic, as he has become today, and more human, bothered by the struggles with life, the Confederacy and Congress that he must deal with on a 24 hour basis.

But on the lighter side of having the possibility of the Union torn asunder forever, he was the tallest president we’ve had – 6 ft 4 in. [1. He narrowly beats out Lyndon B. Johnson who comes in just under Lincoln at 6 ft 3½ in. Johnson was also known for using the toilet in front of underlings he wanted to intimidate.] He often would talk about how he never had to look up to anybody since he was always the tallest man in the room. On meeting a wounded Union soldier that was taller than him, he remarked, “Hello, comrade. Do you know when your feet get cold?”

James Madison, the president that got us into probably our most pointless war [2. The War of 1812. You remember it – Washington D.C. got burned by the British?] was our shortest president, coming in at just 5 ft 4 in.

And our tallest first lady? Eleanor Roosevelt. She was 6 ft tall. While Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd, was probably our shortest first lady, measuring in at 5 ft 2 in. [3. The info for this piece came from WIkipedia and also from “Lincoln’s War: The Untold Story of America’s Greatest President as Commander in Chief” by Geoffrey Perret.]

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I Can’t Stop Thinking of Ways to Kill Zombies at the Office

I started and stopped reading several times a book called World War Z. It’s a completely serious take of what happened to the world and its population following a zombie apocalypse sometime in the not-to-distant future. It’s creepy and kinda scary in parts but if you make it through the whole book it’s a pretty good “what if” scenario. For the entire population of Earth to suddenly have to face a cataclysm of never before seen proportions and fight back until living humans regained the planet is pretty cool.

And it gets you thinking about surviving something terrifying : could I do it? How would I get my family out alive? Where would we go? What would we do about food and water? Could I trust my fellow living humans? Even my own neighbors? ‘Cause you never know what people will do when faced with the end of modern civilization and we’re suddenly living in the Dark Ages all over again. Everybody, let’s party like it’s 999!

Being Mr. ADD my mind will wander sometimes so when I’m stuck in the break room the other day waiting for the microwave to finish warming my lunch up I look over at the ice machine. Hanging off of it is a pretty hefty ice scoop probably measuring about 12 inches by 5 inches by 5 inches. The thing is big.

So I hefted it off of the scratch-built hook that it hangs off of and raise it up. Could I cleave a skull with this? Would a machete be better in close zombie combat? How would I get out of this breakroom if my office were infested with the undead bodies of the people I work with? Could I differentiate between their living and undead selves?

Somebody came in after that. He was taller than me. What if he was a zombie? He’s pretty tall, could I cut his head off with this thing?

I took my lunch back to my cube and started looking around at more items in my general vicinity. I have a knife but a knife in zombie combat is going to be pretty useless – no point in stabbing them. Could I crush a head with a laptop? My monitor weighs as much as a car so it’s useless too. The cube walls aren’t too tall, I could escape over them if I got pinned down and there’s a pretty hefty door right near my cube. That could my my escape route, but what if there were more zombies behind that hunting for fresh brains?

There’s a guy that sits at the end of my row. I sometimes wish he were a zombie so I could cleave his head with an ice scooper.

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