Follow Laughing Stalk by Erik Deckers on Feedspot

Continue with Google
Continue with Facebook

Congratulations on entering this new phase of your life. I'm sure you're very excited and maybe even a bit nervous. I don't blame you. When I was in your shoes, I wanted everything to be perfect, and I worried I was going to make mistakes.

Was I good enough and smart enough? Could I get along with others? And dear God, please don't let me do anything dumb or embarrassing!

Here's some advice for newlyweds heading out to their honeymoon or new college students whose parents just dropped them off at their dorm. Some of this applies to both groups, some of it is only for one of you. I'll let you figure it out yourselves.

There are plenty of new experiences and activities just waiting for you. Don't be afraid. Try something new, experiment a little. Figure out what you like to do, and keep doing that. Stop doing the things that aren't fun or cause you discomfort. This is the time to really enjoy yourself before you're ready to re-enter the world as adults.

Leave your room once in a while. There's plenty of activities to do outside too. If you spend too much time in your room, people will think you're up to something.

Don't try to do everything at once in the first few days. Slow down and pace yourself. You don't want to wear yourself out or damage your health. You've got plenty of time to figure out what you really like to do. Take some time to get into a routine before you take on new activities.

You're going to be judged for your early efforts, but it's okay if you don't do well at first. There's always room for improvement. You'll learn from earlier mistakes, you'll get better, and eventually you will become an expert. Or at least know enough to get the job done.

It's natural to be a little nervous, but just remember, millions of people around the world do this every year. If you're not sure what you're supposed to do, trust your instincts, or ask someone for advice.

You may be the first in your family to get this far. Good for you! It can be difficult if you're the only person who's taken this step. It's even worse if your family didn't want you to be here. But others of you come from a long line of people who have taken the plunge, so look to them for ideas on what to do and not do.

Hopefully your parents had "the talk" with you so you know what to expect. Ask some of your older friends and family members what it was like for them too. They may be able to offer some helpful tips on what you should do and not do to be happy. But if not, you can always read about it on the Internet.

There are also some videos that can be helpful too, but they don't always present a realistic portrayal of how this is supposed to work.

You have probably gotten a lot of unwanted advice from people, especially strangers. They mean well, but don't feel like you have to do everything they suggested. This is your time to try new things, but don't do anything that makes you uncomfortable.

You're going to hear new ideas and encounter new ways of doing things. Arguments will no doubt ensue. The important thing is that you find a peaceful way to settle your differences. And then kiss and make up. (That part is just for the newlyweds.)

Don't overextend yourself. As you find yourself in new surroundings, you'll want to try as many different activities as you can. But if you're not careful you'll wear yourself out by dinnertime and won't enjoy your evenings.

Practice good hygiene. Being away from home and family for the first time often means old habits will slip a bit, and you'll forget to shower or brush your teeth. Believe me, those closest to you will notice, so don't let standards fall just because you're no longer around family.

After a while, the newness will wear off, and you'll finally settle in to a comfortable routine. But don't get into a rut or you'll become bored. Try something new once in a while to keep life exciting. This is your time in life to learn something new, so be sure to have fun.

Remember that decisions have consequences. One wrong choice, one slip up, and you'll have to live with the consequences for the rest of your life.

Finally, call your parents once in a while, because they miss you. But don't feel like you have to share everything on Instagram.

Photo credit: Henri Rousseau (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

The 3rd edition of Branding Yourself is now available on Amazon.com and in your local Barnes & Noble bookstore.
Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
There are just some things you don't admit to in public. Or ever.

Committing murder, for example. Or being a spy. Or weird habits of an intimate nature. Or your extensive collection of Hummel figurines.

And you never, EVER tell people that you don't wash your hands. That's disgusting. You should always wash your hands, especially after you use the bathroom. But if you're one of the filthy few who don't, you should never admit to it.

You especially shouldn't admit to it on TV.

Recently, Fox News host Pete Hegseth told his co-hosts that he enjoyed spreading disease and germs everywhere, especially when he shook hands with people or shared popcorn.

He didn't say exactly that. What he did say is that he did not believe in washing his hands at all ever. Even when he goes to the bathroom. Or sneezes into his hands.

It all started when one of his co-hosts, Jedediah Bila, hassled Hegseth on the air about eating day-old pizza that had been left on the set. Personally, I don't see a big problem with that. There were many times in college that I ate leftover pizza the next morning.

Should I have not done that? Was that bad?

Of course not. Everyone knows that pizza box cardboard is hermetically sealed against germs and works better than a refrigerator.

But delicate flower Jedediah Bila thinks that eating leftover pizza is somehow wrong and that Pete Hegseth was some kind of garbage monster. I can forgive that. That's not terrible. Except then Hegseth admitted to something that's much, much worse.

"My 2019 resolution is to say things on-air that I say off-air," Hegseth said on live television. "I don't think I've washed my hands for 10 years."

What seriously?

Yep, seriously.

Hear that everyone who has ever shaken hands with Hegseth? That guy you said hello to the other day hasn't washed his hands since 2009.

It's like finding out that when you were kids, your little sister used your toothbrush to clean out her nostrils.

"I inoculate myself," he continued, digging the hole a little deeper. "Germs are not a real thing. I can't see them; therefore, they're not real."

Seriously? You can't see germs, which means they're not real? You're basing your entire personal hygiene practice on the fact that you've never seen an actual germ?

Look, I've never seen China, but I believe it exists.

Smart people have told me China exists. There are stories and studies about China. People have taken pictures of China. And plenty of other people have told me they have seen China, so I believe them.

Hegseth's argument falls apart if he's a Christian. Or his faith does.

His proud declaration inspired other people to share their vile practice on social media.

If you don't see what the problem is, or you think splashing your hands under some cold water is enough, think of it this way:

Let's say you order a burger at a restaurant. But before you eat, you shove the burger down your pants and rub it around a little. Then you reassemble the burger and take a nice big bite.

Gross, right? You would never do that, because it's unhygienic, right?

But if you don't wash your hands after you use the bathroom — no matter what you did in there! — that's exactly what you are doing. You're transferring whatever you did in the bathroom onto your food, and then you're eating it.

So if you're not a hand washer, think about that the next time you eat.

Think about your day and everything you touched. Think about every supermarket grocery cart and every public door handle you grabbed. Think about every time you shoved your finger up your nose or sneezed into your hands. Think about every time you scratched where it itches. Think about every time you went to the bathroom and what you wiped or held in there.

The rest of you, just remember that you're shaking hands with those people.

But the stupidest part? It's Hegseth's willful ignorance of centuries of well-established science on this matter.

Dutchman Anton van Leeuwenhoek invented the microscope in 1666, and is considered the Father of Microbiology. He was the first person to document microbes and bacteria. And legions of scientists and microbiologists and medical researchers have spent the last three-and-half centuries working with bacteria and microbes, thanks to his work.

They have shown again and again that washing your hands prevents the spread of disease. That all those things you touch throughout the day have germs on them, and if you don't wash your hands a few times a day, you'll spread them to everyone else. But some TV Tomnoddy just dismisses the work of hundreds of thousands of scientists because he didn't pay attention in science class.

That's not bravery, it's peak idiocy. We're living in the Nitwit Dynasty and Pete Hegseth is the emperor.

I don't know which is worse: the fact that he admitted to not washing his hands after he poops, or that he thinks there's no such thing as germs because none of them have ever come up to shake his hand.

After a confession like that, I don't think anyone ever will again.

Photo credit: Jan Verkoije (Painting of Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

The 3rd edition of Branding Yourself is now available on Amazon.com and in your local Barnes & Noble bookstore.
Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
Dating hasn't changed in the last 500 years. The methods of communication may have changed, but the fundamental principles have remained the same: Be on your best behavior. Maintain proper hygiene. And don't fart in public.

MentalFloss.com recently published an article, "15 Dancing Tips From 1529 Proven to Wow Your Date," that shares some advice from Antonius de Arena on how to behave at courtly dances.

De Arena was a 16th-century French soldier, historian, judge, and poet who wrote The Rules of Dancing (Leges Dansandi). It was a guide that not only advised French aristocrats on how to dance, it told them how to behave when they did it.

It's also the earliest known mention of the Cupid Shuffle — "Thous hast a brand new dance, one must move one's muscle. Newfangled dance, christened the Cupid Shuffle."

The French certainly know a thing or two about dating, because the advice in this book has held up remarkably well for the last 490 years. It's valuable information that I've passed on to my own children as they begin dating.

First, says de Arena, you have to know how to dance. Dancing badly is a "great disgrace." Young men who want to "caress the girls and kiss them long and sweetly must learn the correct way to dance."

In other words, if you don't got the moves, you don't get the love. That really should rhyme, but English can be inelegant at times. I'm sure it sounded much more beautiful in French.

Next, keep your mouth shut. Literally.

"When you are dancing do not keep your mouth open; since the flies have a habit of flying about they could easily fly into your gaping mouth and choke you," he wrote.

I know rich people like to think their poop doesn't stink and that there are no flies on them, but it seems French aristocrats were notorious mouth breathers who consumed flies on a regular basis, even at their fancy-pants dances.

How bad was life at court when swallowing flies was something you regularly had to guard against?

"I say, Francois appears to have swallowed a fly."

"Merveilleux! Let's go dance with his date."

You also shouldn't wear gloves when you dance. We're all familiar with the practice of whipping off your glove and smacking a rival to challenge him to a duel — I just settled a small quarrel in the deli line this way — but "you must hold the damsel with ungloved hands when dancing, (I)f you wear gloves you will very soon find yourself all alone."

Besides, you can better swat at the flies if your gloves are in your hand.

Bodily fluids were a serious problem among French aristos. Not only did de Arena have to advise against spitting — "[R]efrain from spitting before the maidens, because that makes one sick and even revolts the stomach" — he had to tell people to wipe their noses.

"Do not have a dripping nose and do not dribble at the mouth. No woman desires a man with rabies," he warned.

Look, I don't care how rich you are, sitting at a fancy dinner with snot and spittle flying everywhere is not going to get you a second date. At least do the gentlemanly thing and pull out a handkerchief, blow your nose, and put it safely back in your pocket where it belongs.

"If you split or blow your nose or sneeze, remember to turn your head away after the spasm, and remember not to wipe your nose with your fingers: Do it properly with a white handkerchief."

Seriously? Don't wipe your nose with your fingers? Proper etiquette has certainly improved in 500 years. Nowadays, eight-year-old children understand not to do this.

And God help you if, in the midst of cutting a rug, you had to cut a fart. Monsieur de Arena advised so strongly against, one is led to believe the French aristocracy were such chronic public farters, they needed a book to tell them not to do it.

"Never fart when you are dancing: grit your teeth and compel your arse to hold back the fart," he wrote. "[T]ake great care, my friend, not to break wind when you are dancing since if you do so you will be a real pig."

Finally, don't scratch where it itches, especially if the itch is lice. As de Arena told the upper crust of French society, "[K]eep your visage composed. Do not scratch your head in search of lice; surely you do not want to scratch yourself for black lice just then."

Or maybe your farts will drive them away.

Photo credit: Ball at the Court of Henry III of France, circa 1580 (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

The 3rd edition of Branding Yourself is now available on Amazon.com and in your local Barnes & Noble bookstore.
Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
"People who swear only do it because they have a limited vocabulary."

I don't know how many times I heard that from the prim-and-proper pearl clutchers when I was a kid. To them, if you said anything stronger than "aw, shucks," you were a boorish vulgarian who drank whiskey and wore boots in the house.

I heard repeatedly that cussers had limited vocabularies, were less educated, and even less intelligent than the people who vowed that lips that said swears would never touch theirs.

Scientific American calls this the "poverty-of-vocabulary hypothesis." (See, they use big words, and I'll bet they swear a lot!)

I even knew people who disapproved if you said "shucks," "darn," or "heck" because God knew what you meant. They believed that anyone who uttered any sort of interjection, no matter how mild, were doomed to "H-E-uhh, you know. . . the downstairs place."

You could never be upset or angry, even if you whacked your thumb with a hammer. You just had to breathe deeply and whisper "Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy," until the pain went away.

These were people who were promptly in bed by 9:00 PM, especially on a school night, because "nothing good ever happened after midnight." They were never fun to be around, but it got worse when they pursed their lips and gave me a disapproving look because I didn't engage the filter between my brain and my mouth.

Joke's on them though: I never had that filter.

I was always annoyed with the swear-scolds because I had a very extensive vocabulary, even at a young age. And because I knew several swear words, I figured mine was bigger than theirs.

In fact, I know several swear words in Dutch, French, German, and Spanish, which gives me an even more extensive vocabulary than the people who limited themselves to a whispered "darn it to heck" whenever they got upset.

Turns out the Upright Puritan Brigade has been wrong about swearing all along.

Scientists have shown on more than one occasion that swearing is actually a sign that a person has a bigger vocabulary, not smaller. And that cussers have more intelligence, not less.

This is the point where you will no doubt say, "I f---ing knew it!" Yes, yes, you're very clever, and the only one who will have thought of this. It certainly won't be mentioned 387 times on my Facebook feed today.

A 2015 study by psychologists from Marist College (official motto: "We've never heard of you either.") found links between how fluent a person is in English and how fluent they are in swearing.

The researchers asked volunteers to name as many words beginning with a certain letter as they could in one minute. So, if they picked the letter 'C,' researchers would count the number of C-words the volunteer could say in 60 seconds. In the second test, they asked the volunteers to recite as many swear words as they could in a minute.

They found that people who scored high on the first test also scored high on the second test; people who scored low on the first test also scored low on the second test.

In other words, if you're good at swearing, you're also smart.

For one thing, people who are good at swearing can swear in different contexts and for different purposes. We can do it to add impact to a sentence, to show emotion, to convey surprise or pain, or to get a laugh. We can correctly swear at the right place and time, using the words correctly based on the situation.

According to Richard Stephens on ScienceAlert.com, "swearing appears to be a feature of language that an articulate speaker can use in order to communicate with maximum effectiveness."

Swearing also helps us cope with pain better. When I played soccer in college, there were many times when I got kicked or tripped, and found myself writhing on the ground in agony, groaning the F-word or S-word through gritted teeth. After several seconds of growled profanity, I was able to resume playing.

Once again, science bears this out. Richard Stephens is a psychology researcher at Keele University in England. He performed a study where volunteers held their hands in ice water for as long as they could while either swearing over and over or repeating a neutral, non-swear word.

He found that people who swore repeatedly were able to withstand the pain longer and said the experience was less intense than the non-swearers.

We cussers have been lied to. We've been told to hide our true nature, to suppress our natural urges, and be forced to fit into someone else's idea of acceptability. But we don't have to anymore.

We're not the slope-foreheaded mouth breathers they think we are. We don't point, grunt, and swear to express ourselves. My fellow cussers, we don't have to be slandered just because some people are uncomfortable with coarse language, do we?

You're fudgin' right we don't!

Photo credit: Myresa Hurst (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

The 3rd edition of Branding Yourself is now available on Amazon.com and in your local Barnes & Noble bookstore.
Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
"Kid, do you think my house is messy?"

I choked on my beer and coughed a few times. I'm sorry? I said.

"My house. Is it messy?"

Messy is such a loaded word. . .

"Oh, come on, Kid, you won't hurt my feelings," Karl said. We were at First Editions, our favorite literary-themed bar, listening to a friend read from her anthology about how people found their pets.

Well — I racked my brain for the right word — yes.

"What do you mean, 'yes?'" demanded Karl.

I mean, yes, your house is messy, Messy. Karl hunched over his beer. Oh, come on, I said, don't pout, you wanted the truth. What did you expect me to say?

"I thought you'd at least be on my side," said Karl.

How can you have a side when it comes to your—ohhhhh, I said, realization dawning.

"Yep, she's on a rampage."

'She' was Karl's youngest daughter, Alexis, the organic vegan anti-chemical evangelist with a degree in Gender Studies who had been living with him for the last six years. She had been the assistant manager at the Pay-What-The-Universe-Invites coffee co-op until recently when the universe and their landlord had invited them to move out for non-payment of rent.

So she decided to go back for her MBA, and was bingeing Netflix while she waited for the school year to begin. Her latest favorite was "Tidying Up With Marie Kondo," the Japanese decluttering guru who tells people how to get rid of all their crap.

The MariKondo method helps you declutter your house by getting rid of any items that bring you joy. You're supposed to hold each item and ask yourself if the item sparks joy inside you. If it doesn't, then you thank the item for its service, and donate, recycle, or trash it.

So what's she doing? I asked. I gestured to Kurt for two more beers while Karl still pouted, I mouthed 'he's buying,' and Kurt set the beers in front of us. He smiled and tapped the side of his nose.

"She's ruining my house," said Karl. "She's already gotten rid of 12 of my favorite coffee mugs."

How many do you have left?

"Just 23," said Karl.

You had 35 coffee mugs? I nearly shouted. My friend glared at me from the stage and several people nearby shushed us.

"No, 35 favorites. And now she's going after my plates and bowls."

Karl, I've eaten at your house. You have so many plates, you couldn't go through them in a month of Sundays. The two of you could easily survive on a set of eight plates and bowls.

"But she's not even giving me time to adjust. Last night, she was grilling me about plate joy or some nonsense, so I finished dinner in my study. When I got up this morning, she had put all the plates in a box in the garage."

What did you do? I asked.

"Put 'em all back."

So is she finished? I asked.

"No, she yelled at me over breakfast for putting my plates back and said she was going to dump them all when she got home tonight."

Well, you do have a lot of stuff. You've lived in your house for 30 years, and you're not one for throwing things away.

"Yeah, but it's all important stuff."

Is it though? I mean, your study is lined with bookshelves and they're all double-stacked with books, plus more books on top of those rows. You've got piles of magazines all over the office, and your stacks of mail look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. Plus you've got two big piles of books near your desk—

"That's my 'to read' pile," said Karl.

I remember when it was just one big pile, I said. I also noticed my book is still in there, by the way.

"I'll get to it," said Karl. "In fact, I'll read it next."

You said that two years ago.

"I've been busy, and people keep recommending books to me."

You said that two years ago too. I finished my the last of my beer. Look, Karl, I said, I don't think decluttering is such a bad thing. I mean, I try to keep my office and my garage fairly organized, I don't collect every single thing that crosses my path, and I only focus on holding onto the essentials. Marie Kondo's method is all about alleviating anxiety by getting rid of things that cause you stress.

"So you think I should kick Alexis out?"

I am NOT saying that at all! People shushed me again, and a woman reading a story about her tortoise stumbled as she got distracted. She wants you to be able to focus on your work, and to not be so miserable or unhappy with all this junk cluttering up your brain. She only wants the best for you because she loves you, Karl.

"She wants me to get rid of half my books this weekend."

Your daughter is a monster, and she must be stopped.

The 3rd edition of Branding Yourself is now available on Amazon.com and in your local Barnes & Noble bookstore.
Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
With apologies to Roger Angell, author of my favorite baseball book, Once More Around The Ballpark, I'm embarking on my own #DisneyParksChallenge this morning.

My goal is to visit all four Walt Disney World Parks — Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and EPCOT — and ride the three best rides in each park, between the hours of 8 AM and 9 PM.

I'll be at the Magic Kingdom in time for the opening at 8 AM, because it takes the longest to get from the parking lot to the front gate, and I don't want to spend 30 minutes of my day just trying to get to the front entrance.

You can follow my progress on Instagram and Twitter (@edeckers).

Of course, I have to make a couple modifications to my itinerary. For one thing, I can't ride Space Mountain because I have osteoarthritis in my neck, and blindly whipping around in the dark causes serious problems. And two, I don't want to wait half a day to ride Pandora: World of Avatar in Animal Kingdom.

So my schedule is as follows:

Magic Kingdom
  1. Haunted Mansion
  2. Thunder Mountain
  3. The WeWay People Mover (Honestly, this is my favorite ride in Magic Kingdom, so I'm doing this instead of Space Mountain.)

Animal Kingdom
  1. Expedition Everest
  2. Dinosaur
  3. Kilimanjaro Safari (I may swap out the Primeval Whirl, because I like that one better. I'm doing this one instead of Pandora.)

Hollywood Studios
  1. Rock and Roller Coaster
  2. Tower of Terror (I absolutely HATE this one! But I have to go since I'm wimping out on Space Mountain.)
  3. Star Tours

  1. Soarin'
  2. Test Track
  3. Mission: Space

Two or three years ago, my final ride in EPCOT would have been the Norway ride, but Disney absolutely ruined it when they replaced it with Frozen. And that, coupled with the loss of all the live performers throughout the various parks, has signaled a significant downturn of what made Disney so great.

Over 25 years ago, when my wife and I got married, she talked me into going to Disney World for our honeymoon. I thought it was dumb, but after about 2 hours, I was hooked. We went back for many years, first by ourselves, then with her family, then with our own kids.

Our love for Disney is what brought us to Orlando in the first place; we could have moved anywhere, but we picked Orlando for Disney World.

And now that magic is gone. Friends of ours have been laid off as their street or live performances have been cut. Good rides are being replaced with Frozen and other movies. EPCOT's World Showcase is nothing more than a large shopping center with a few movies (China, France, Canada), a couple of live performers, and TWO rides, Frozen and Mexico's Three Caballeros. Everything else is just shopping and restaurants.

So this is our last week with our annual passes, and we're letting them go. Instead we got annual passes to Universal, and I'm taking one last look around the parks before we move on. Hopefully I can do it all in one day.

The 3rd edition of Branding Yourself is now available on Amazon.com and in your local Barnes & Noble bookstore.
Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
Erik is out of the office this week, so we're reprinting a column from 2004.

There's a scene in the movie, "Along Came Polly," where Reuben Feffer (Ben Stiller) warns Polly (Jennifer Aniston) not to eat bar nuts, because "only one out of six people wash their hands after using the bathroom."

This is a little distressing, when you realize that during your normal workday, you may shake hands with at least five other people. If you're a conscientious hand washer, then statistically speaking, you're the only one who washed their hands after their last pit stop. Which means you're now carrying five different sets of Potty Hand Germs.

Unfortunately, I think "one in six" statistic is a little understated. Having been a conscientious hand washer for many years, the more accurate statistic is "no one but me."

(Update: In 2013, a Michigan State University study found that 1 in 10 people don't wash their hands, 1 in 3 don't use soap, and only 5 percent of all people wash their hands long enough to kill bacteria — 20 seconds, or long enough to sing "Happy Birthday" twice.)

To make matters worse, the non-washers leave the bathroom by grabbing the door handle. They clutch it in their sweaty hands, rubbing their Potty Hand Germs all over it. And now I have to use my pristine hands to open it, so I need a plan to leave without actually touching the handle.

The easiest trick is to use a paper towel to open the door and then toss it into the trash can as I walk out. This is getting harder as more bathrooms install those stupid electric hand driers, and restaurant managers get upset when you try to open a door with one of those. (I won't make that mistake again!)

I sometimes pull my sleeve over my hand, but then I have Potty Hand Germs on my sleeve, so I usually only do it with my left one.

My wife and I have even talked about whether I should grab the top or the bottom of the door handle with my pinky, because that's the least germ-infested. She says bottom, because fewer people grab it there.

I say the top, because the germs have farther to travel, and they're fighting gravity.

If the bathroom door pushes out, then I'm golden. I walk out like a freshly-scrubbed surgeon, and I don't have to touch anything.

There's another trick that works, especially in a busy restaurant. I'm sure you've opened the bathroom door and narrowly avoided smacking someone who was leaving. Try it from the other side: stand in the bathroom and wait for the door to open. Then act surprised and leave through the now-open door without ever touching anything.

But Potty Hand Germs aren't only limited to restaurant patrons. I've actually seen restaurant workers use the facilities and then walk out the door.

"Aren't you going to wash your hands?" I asked one guy who looked like a cook.

"They have antibacterial soap in the kitchen," he said.

I wasn't about to argue since I didn't want to look like a bigger clean freak than I already did, but we didn't stick around for dessert.

My obsession with hand cleanliness started when I was ten. My grandmother told me I could get hepatitis from not washing my hands.

I didn't know what hepatitis was, but I knew I didn't want it. At that age, I assumed anything with "itis" in it was probably deadly, transmitted by rabid animals or girls. Thus began my lifelong hand washing odyssey, ensuring I would stay hepatitis-free forever.

But as much as I worry about cleanliness at home, all bets are off when I'm working outside or on a fishing trip. There's something about physical labor or being outdoors that makes me germ free.

I have no problem with grabbing a sandwich while I'm working out in the garage for a few hours. And I have eaten pizza more than once while I'm covered in sawdust or drywall dust.

It's because the sheer act of wiping one's hands on an already dirty shirt has a magical cleansing effect. Of course, if you've been gutting fish, you should rinse your hands off in the lake before wiping them on your shirt.

One does have one's standards, after all.

After the wiping process — up and down three times, front and back — your hands are now clean. You're ready to perform surgery, pass food to a friend, or even eat a sandwich.

Just wash your hands when you're done. You don't know where that sandwich has been.

Photo credit: Burst (Pexels.com, Creative Commons 0)

The 3rd edition of Branding Yourself is now available on Amazon.com and in your local Barnes & Noble bookstore.
Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
Do you remember when the United States and Canada were gripped by Satanic Panic?

That's the name given to the overblown hysteria adults had in the 1980s over heavy metal music, Ouija boards, and Dungeons & Dragons turning teenagers into bloodthirsty, rampaging Satanists.

There were rumors, tall tales, and urban legends about Satanic cults around the world sacrificing animals, stealing babies, and summoning demons in woods and abandoned barns.

There was a round barn outside my hometown of Muncie, Indiana that was rumored to have been a favorite location of a local witches' coven. Some friends and I snuck into the barn one summer night and looked for evidence of a dark summoning, like a pentagram drawn on the floor.

We didn't find anything. Not a single drop of blood, sacrificial dagger, or brimstone scorch.

The problem with Satanic Panic?

None of it was real.

It was nothing more than wild rumors spread by frightened parents, panicky church leaders, and overzealous police departments who would warn anyone and everyone about the signs your teenager was a practicing Satanist.

There were no sacrifices, no baby abductions, no murders of blonde white girls. If only Snopes.com had been around then, we could have nipped this right in the Beelze-bud.

I was reminded of Satanic Panic after reading a British news story about what I now call the Grilled Cheese Unease.

The Bristol, England city council is worried that grilled cheese sandwiches — called "cheese toasties" in the UK — will lead to juvenile delinquency in a place called Monk's Park. So they denied a permit to a food truck owner who wanted to sell toasties in the park.

The city, which is about two-and-a-half hours west of London, has previously allowed the unnamed food truck to sell ice cream and coffee for years, but this year, they drew a line in the sand when it came to warm sandwiches.

Their fear? That toasties will cause young people to "terrorize" locals, after several years of peace and calm from the last time they removed an unsavory element from Monk's Park.

Bristol city councillor Claire Hiscott told the Bristol Post that the sandwiches could "lure" nearby students into ducking out of school for a tasty toasty.

"It’s right next to Orchard School, which is a challenging school that sometimes has a problem with keeping kids in school," Hiscott said, who apparently likes saying "school." "The lure of a food concession may encourage kids to take a little walk. The school has made a lot of effort to encourage healthy eating. We have problems with childhood obesity."

School truancy notwithstanding, it sounds like a little walk is what these kids need.

I'll avoid the easy joke that if the schools served better food, they wouldn't be tempted by a truck sandwich. Besides, don't kids like ice cream? Is the ice cream so terrible that they would rather stay in school than eat it? God help Bristol if a fish and chips shop opens up nearby; anarchy and chaos will rule the land.

But truancy isn't the only issue the Bristol city council is worried about. Hiscott and her fellow councillors believe that the cheese sandwiches will lead to teenage alcohol consumption and motorcycle gangs.

Hiscott said, "Historically we had antisocial behavior, not just motorbikes, from young adults gathering with alcohol and causing a disturbance."

Another resident wrote in that "We have had motorcycle problems with youths terrorizing young families."

Translation: Grilled cheese sandwiches cause motorcycle gangs. Next they'll be spray painting graffiti with Cheez Whiz and having West Side Story style gang fights with hot dogs.

In the comments section on the Bristol Post website — which, I have to say, were far more polite than any comments section I've ever seen — one person said, "Anything that prevents littering and idiots riding stolen bikes around without any fear of being punished is a good thing."

Listen, England, I know you have a history of anti-social behavior and violence, what with your soccer hooligans and the whole punk rock scene, but I don't think you quite understand how mayhem works.

Cheese sandwiches don't make people steal motorcycles anymore than a corn dog makes you punch someone in the face.

Except now I'm fixated on the idea of a grilled cheese sandwich becoming a gateway drug to more hardcore truck foods, which will turn Bristol into a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah.

Cheese sandwiches will lead to a meatball sub, which can only lead to freebasing French fries, until your precious baby is strung out on street tacos and pizza-by-the-slice. And they'll listen to the devil's music by bands like Meatloaf, T-Bone Walker, and Phish.

Learn the warning signs to tell whether your child has succumbed to the evils of food truck sandwiches and has been caught up in the great Grilled Cheese Unease that's sweeping the nation.

Photo credit: Maggie Hoffman (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

The 3rd edition of Branding Yourself is now available on Amazon.com and in your local Barnes & Noble bookstore.
Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
It's Christmas for language finger waggers!

Lake Superior State University (official motto: "No, the lake is Superior, we're pretty humble.") has released their annual List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.

This year, LSSU received tens of thousands of nominations from people who have found certain words to be grating, overused, or just plain tiresome. And while I'm never in favor of censorship — unless you're a Nazi; Nazis don't deserve to be heard — these are a few words that I wouldn't mind if people would quit using in the media and on certain social media platforms.

In fact, LSSU has banished platform. It has become a catch-all word that refers to not only different social media channels, it's a metaphor for "people who have something to say." Michael from Alameda, California told LSSU, "Even athletes call a post-game interview a 'platform.'"

Platforms should be things you stand on and shoes for people who want to look taller, so I'm with LSSU on this: Platform has to go.

Another word LSSU would like us to eschew is eschew. "Nobody ever actually says this word out loud," said Mary from Toronto, Canada, "they just write it for filler."

She's got me there. I don't say it out loud because I don't actually know how to pronounce it.

Is it "es-shew," like the thing you wear on your foot, or "ess-chew," like a sneeze? I can't stop using it until I know which pronunciation I'm giving up.

One word I will gladly eschew is yeet, which means to show excitement or to express victory. Or as UrbanDictonary.com says, "to give your full power and soul to an action you're doing." I had never heard it until I saw it on the list, and then I had to have my son explain it to me.

Honestly, this is the first time LSSU has banished a word I've never heard. And now that I have, I hope I never hear it again. It makes me feel old.

Maybe we should be ghosting the word, except LSSU wants to exorcise ghosting.

Ghosting is the act of ducking out on a relationship by never calling or texting the other person. It's done by gutless cowards who don't have the maturity to be an adult and say, "Look, this isn't working out."

But what do I know? I've only been married for 25 years, so I guess I don't know how successful relationships work. They're just not in my wheelhouse.

Wheelhouse is getting the boot this year. It means "area of expertise," and it's actually a word I've used for many years. But Kevin from Portland, Oregon told LSSU, "It's an awkward word to use in the 21st century. Most people have never seen a wheelhouse."

Not so fast there, Kevin. Many people have never seen a videotape, but we still "tape" things on our DVR. We also say difficult situations are a "tough row to hoe," even though most people don't garden. And we still "dial" a phone, even though everyone uses smartphones and touch screens. So don't go casting off a word just because you don't know what it is.

In fact, a wheelhouse is the little shelter on a boat to protect the person at the wheel, and we still have plenty of those, so I think the word needs to stay.

Personally, I like to say something is "in my bailiwick" instead, because it sounds a little dirty.

But some people aren't happy unless they're attacking perfectly normal words. They can't wrap their head around the idea that some words actually deserve a place in our everyday lexicon.

Except now wrap my head around is on the list and I can't even, well, fathom that idea. The head-wrapping haters said wrapping your head around something is "impossible to do" because they've apparently never heard of a metaphor and live their lives literally and unpoetically.

Collusion also made LSSU's list, but only because people are getting tired of hearing the word over and over. But I don't think the word is overused, unless you count Donald Trump rage-tweeting "NO COLLUSION!" every three days.

Besides, I think we're going to hear it a lot this year. It doesn't matter whether we think there was any collusion between Russia and Trump's election campaign, this word is here to stay. We're also going to hear terms like "unindicted co-conspirator," "mounting legal troubles," and "impeachment" for many weeks and months, at least until the problem goes away.

Optics is one term I'm happy to see going away. It's nothing more than a jargon-y way to say "appearance," as in "I worry about the optics of a financial planning conference in Vegas."

Just say appearance. Optics is the scientific study of sight and light behavior, such as lasers and the human eye. It's not another linguistic welcome mat for Silicon Valley code bros and PR flacks to wipe their feet on. People who use optics this way make me want to poke them in their own optics.

I always look forward to LSSU's list each year. It helps us think about the words we use every day and makes us more thoughtful about what language is becoming. As a word nerd, I find that very exciting.


Photo credit: Joe Mabel (Wikimedia Commons, GNU Free Documentation License)

The 3rd edition of Branding Yourself is now available on Amazon.com and in your local Barnes & Noble bookstore.
Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
I tweeted a quick photo of my bookshelf yesterday, and one of my favorite authors, Christopher Fowler (@Peculiar), asked for a high-res version of the photo so he could read the titles. I think he mostly wanted to count how many of his books I own (5, plus 2 on my Kindle).

I have two rows of books per shelf, and the bottom shelf (front row) are all the books I have to read or finish. My goal is to finish at least half of it this year. If you click the photo, you can see the high-res photo and see if your book (or your favorite) is on the shelves.

The 3rd edition of Branding Yourself is now available on Amazon.com and in your local Barnes & Noble bookstore.
Read Full Article

Read for later

Articles marked as Favorite are saved for later viewing.
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Separate tags by commas
To access this feature, please upgrade your account.
Start your free month
Free Preview