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What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Turnabout is fair play. Being hoisted on one's own petard.

I've long been opposed to Zero Tolerance policies in schools when it comes to weapons and drugs. Not because I advocate weapons and drugs in schools. I'm totally against them. Let me be clear on that.

No, I'm against Zero Tolerance policies because they're often enforced without a modicum of common sense.

For example, if a student brings a weapon to school — say, a hunting knife — the weapon will be confiscated and the student will be suspended or expelled, as they should be. If a student brought a six-pack of beer or a bag of pot to school, they would be rightfully expelled.

But administrators often make boneheaded enforcement decisions that any other semi-competent person could see was completely lacking in common sense or sound judgment.

In the past, I have written about students who were suspended for a variety of knuckle-headed reasons. A first grader was suspended for having a knife, which he had gotten from the school cafeteria A high school baseball player was suspended for having a small replica bat in his car, even though the same car had a much more dangerous, full-size actual bat. A high school kid was suspended for disarming another kid who had a gun in school. And an 8-year-old Florida boy was once suspended in 2013 because he made a finger gun.

In all of these cases and more, school administrators grossly overreacted and used a one-size-fits-all punishment that doesn't differentiate between an actual gun and a little kid pointing his fingers, going "Pew! Pew! Pew!"

In an almost-textbook definition of irony, a Michigan school superintendent was suspended for five days without pay for violating the district's no-alcohol-on-school-property policy.

The incident actually happened on the first day of summer 2018, when several administrators gathered at district headquarters for a retirement brunch for two colleagues. Dearborn Heights School District 7 superintendent Jennifer Mast brought a bottle of champagne to the party and they toasted the two retirees.

"We drank literally, half a bottle of champagne and there were 12 adults present," Mast told the Detroit Free Press. "It was completely innocent."

The 12 adults polished off half the bottle between them.

You read that right. They didn't each drink half a bottle, they shared half a bottle. A bottle of champagne is 750 ml or 25 ounces, which means each person drank roughly one ounce.

So what happened to Mast?

Well, nothing for the entire year. And then two weeks ago, Mast was suspended for five days without pay by the Dearborn Heights Board of Education.

Mast was stunned, to say the least. This was certainly more than she expected. She thought there would be some kind of lighter punishment, similar to the kinds of punishments past Zero Tolerance victims have hoped for but never received.

"It's kind of a tough pill to swallow," Mast told WXYZ, Detroit's ABC affiliate. "We have progressive discipline in the school system and everybody follows progressive discipline, and progressive discipline doesn’t start with a five-day unpaid suspension."

Tell that to the kid with the finger guns.

I know, I know, Dearborn Heights had nothing to do with those other incidents, but it's hard not to paint school administrators with the same Zero Tolerance brush students have been painted with for years.

I hope maybe Mast and other school administrators around the country might finally start to see what Zero Tolerance has been like for all those kids who did something that violated the letter of the law, even when it didn't violate its spirit.

Or as Mast said in a statement: "Obviously, interpretation and the intended spirit of the policy is important to consider."

"I have a completely clean discipline record prior to this incident," she told the Detroit Free-Press. "I had hoped that the discipline I received would be reasonable. I never dreamed that I would be suspended for five days without pay. . . I never thought I’d have to miss all of the important things that happen at this time in the school year, like the graduation parade. . . honor roll celebrations and more."

Now, reread that last paragraph, but imagine it was a student saying those things.

Imagine being kicked out of school despite a clean discipline record. Imagine expecting adults to be reasonable and to realize they severely lacked empathy and common sense.

Jennifer Mast missed one week of her $125,000 salary, and thinks she was treated harshly. Plenty of students have had their lives completely altered because of a small incident that warranted nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

The state of Michigan has changed some of their Zero Tolerance rules, but I would hope Mast's own suspension would serve as a reminder that the traps they have set for students are the same traps they themselves could be caught in one day.

Because being hoisted by your own petard can be downright painful.

Photo credit: Jankuss (Pixabay.com, Creative Commons 0)

The 3rd edition of Branding Yourself is now available on Amazon.com and in your local Barnes & Noble bookstore.
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I was 9 or 10 years old when I first discovered the best, most important use of the dictionary: Looking up swear words and giggling like a maniac.

Unfortunately, my school didn't have the good dictionaries. It had the lame student dictionaries, the ones without any fun words in it. You had to go to the library to find the good dictionaries.

There's one dictionary I wish we had when I was a kid, Francis Grose's "A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue."

Nearly 30 years after Samuel Johnson published his wildly successful Dictionary Of The English Language in 1755, Grose decided to live up to his (sort of) namesake publish his own dictionary of potty words and vulgar language.

Grose in name, gross in nature.

According to the British Library's website, "Grose was one of the first lexicographers to collect slang words from all corners of society, not just from the professional underworld of pickpockets and bandits."

His "Vulgar Tongue" became one of the most important slang dictionaries in the English language in the 19th century because it was such a strong influence of other dictionaries of slang words, curse words, and regional dialects.

In other news, people write dictionaries of slang words and curse words, and now I want one. If you ever wondered what to get me for my birthday, put those at the top of your list.

I'm a well-known word nerd, someone who loves learning the etymology of language and phrases. For example, I know the answer to George Carlin's question, "Why do we drive in a parkway and park in a driveway?" I know what an interrobang is. And I know words that rhyme with "purple," "orange," "silver," and "month," words that supposedly have no rhymes.

Plus, my inner 10-year-old still loves giggling over words like "tallywags."

"A Vulgar Tongue" gave us such colorful and fun words like "bum fodder" (toilet paper), "blind cupid" (one's backside), and "fart catcher" (a footman or valet). There are a few others, but this is a family newspaper, so I'll put them on my website at ErikDeckers.com.

That's also where you can find out what "tallywags" means.

But this isn't just a bunch of 234-year-old words that everyone has forgotten. There are some words that have stayed with us over the last nearly-two-and-a-half centuries.

According to a 2015 story on the BBC website, Grose was the first lexicographer to record the phrases "fly-by-night," "birds of a feather," "cat call," "kick the bucket," "screw" (yes, it's what you think), "chatterbox," and "gibberish." These words would have been only been spoken by the ghosts of history if he hadn't written them down. Even "gambs" (thin, ill-shaped legs) still survived into the 1940s and '50s in gangster movies, referring to legs in general.

For "a brother of the quill" (writer) like me, this makes Francis Grose and his assistant, Tom Cocking, heroes of the English language. They may not be the heroes we wanted, but they're certainly the heroes — no, that's wrong. They're the heroes every 12-year-old boy wanted.

Because they gave us terms like "dog booby" (an awkward lout), "betwattled" ( to be surprised, confounded, out of one’s senses), and "looking as if one could not help it" (a simpleton).

If you're a real "whipster" (a sharp or subtle person) and you want to get a sense of how we spoke over 200 years ago, check out "A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue" for yourself. Look for the words and phrases we still use ("Penny wise and pound foolish") and those we don't ("bottle-headed," which means devoid of wit).

You can even find some words we use whose meanings have completely changed, like "fizzle," which Grose defined as "A small windy escape backwards, more obvious to the nose than ears; frequently by old ladies charged on their lap-dogs."

I told you language could be fun!

Finally, if I may be so bold as to insert a personal commercial: I recently completed my first humor novel, Mackinac Island Nation, and it's available on Amazon. I worked on this book for four years, and it's what helped me get my writer's residency at the Kerouac House in 2016. If you've enjoyed my humor columns over the years, then you'll enjoy the novel. If you've hated my columns, then buy the book for your enemies. Or you could really do some damage and give them two copies.

Photo credit: Portrait of Francis Grose, frontispiece to Supplement to The Antiquities of England and Wales (1787) (The British Museum, Creative Commons 4.0)

My new humor novel, Mackinac Island Nation, is finished and available on Amazon. You can get the Kindle version here or the paperback version here.
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These are the different terms I gathered from different news stories about Francis Grose's A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. There are many more, and you can find the book here (affiliate link). You can also leaf through its virtual pages for free here.

  • Admiral of the narrow seas: "One who from drunkenness vomits into the lap of the person sitting opposite him"
  • Betwattled: to be surprised, confounded, out of one's senses
  • Blind cupid: the backside
  • Blue ruin: Gin, the alcohol. Other terms include cobblers punch, frog's wine, heart's ease, moonshine, strip me naked.
  • Bone box: the mouth
  • Bottle-headed: void of wit.
  • Box the Jesuit: To masturbate; a crime, it is said, much practiced by the reverend fathers of that society.
  • Brother of the quill: An author
  • Bum fodder: toilet paper
  • Butcher's dog:someone who 'lies by the beef without touching it; a simile often applicable to married men.'
  • Cake: a foolish man
  • Cascade: to vomit
  • Cackling farts: eggs
  • Captain queernabs: shabby ill-dressed fellow
  • Chimping merry: exhilarated with liquor
  • Comfortable importance: a wife
  • Dicked in the nob: silly, crazed
  • Dismal ditty: The psalm sung by the felons at the gallows, just before they are turned off.
  • Dog booby: an awkward lout
  • Double jugg: a man's bottom
  • Duke of limbs: a tall, awkward, ill-made fellow
  • Eternity box: a coffin
  • Fart catcher: a valet or footman
  • Fizzle: A small windy escape backwards, more obvious to the nose than ears; frequently by old ladies charged on their lap-dogs.
  • Gambs: thin, ill-shaped legs
  • Head rails: teeth
  • Hickey: tipsy, hiccupping
  • Hoggish: rude and filthy
  • Irish apricots: potatoes
  • Jack weight: a fat man
  • Jolly nob: the head. "I'll lump your jolly nob for you": I'll give you a knock on the head.
  • Just-ass: a punning name for a justice [judge] 
  • Kettle drums: a woman's breasts
  • Kick the bucket: die
  • Kittle pitchering: to disrupt the flow of a "troublesome teller of long stories" by constantly questioning and contradicting unimportant details, especially at the start (best done in tandem with others)
  • Knight of the trenches: a great eater
  • Knowledge box: another term for the head.
  • Looking as if one could not help it: a simpleton
  • Mutton-headed: stupid
  • Owl in an ivory bush: someone wearing a frizzy wig
  • Paw paw tricks: forbidden tricks; from the French pas pas
  • Penny wise and pound foolish: saving in small matters, and extravagant in great
  • Pissing pins and needles: to have gonorrhea
  • Polish: to be in jail, in the sense of "polishing the king's iron with one's eyebrows, by looking through the iron grated windows."
  • Screw: to copulate
  • Sugar stick: the virile member
  • Tallywags / Whirligigs: testicles
  • Whipt Syllabub: a flimsy, frothy discourse
  • Whipster: a sharp or subtle fellow

My new humor novel, Mackinac Island Nation, is finished and available on Amazon. You can get the Kindle version here or the paperback version here.
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Why is there a bright side to everything? What even is the bright side? And why is it anything something goes wrong, I have to go look at it?

As in. . .

"I lost my job."

"Look on the bright side, now you can find a job that truly fulfills you."

Or. . .

"My house burned down and I've lost everything."

"Look on the bright side, you get to go shopping for new furniture."

It's like we can't be sad in our lives, even for a little bit. There's always some Merry Sunshine gaslighting everyone else's experiences, because they're uncomfortable with anything that's not a thousand-watt smile.

This may sound weird, but I like to be a little sad once in a while. Not actually down in the dumps, but just a little bit maudlin.

You know, that feeling you get on a cool, gray autumn day when you return to a place you used to live years ago, and you feel a small pang of nostalgic longing for the days when you didn't know so much, and you wish you could go return a time when you were younger and could spend your days here without the weight of the world that you carry on your shoulders now.

But as soon as you express any kind of non-happiness, someone is always there to remind you that things aren't that bad.

Those are the people I find most annoying. The always-sunny people who tell you to count your blessings instead of cursing your burdens.

Like when you just want to grouse about having to mow the lawn when it's 90 degrees out; they tell you to be grateful for having a lawn to mow and the health to do it yourself.

Or when you complain that you're too tired to make dinner, and they tell you to be grateful that you're able to buy food and have a home to cook it in.

You know what, Karen? How about you keep your Pollyanna nonsense to yourself? I just wanted to vent for a minute, not get a mini-sermon about always looking on the bright side of life.

I want to rant at the inequities of life. I want to complain about my job. I want to grouse about my friends. I want to be annoyed with my family. I want to have a good long wallow in whatever "negative" emotion I'm feeling, because it's healthy to do that once in a while.

For example, I'm occasionally asked to give a talk at a conference, and invariably there's always one person in the audience who gives me a low rating, even when everyone else gives me high marks. And that one low rating will stick in my craw for a short while. I'll obsess over that one person, annoyed that they didn't appreciate all the time and effort I put into the talk.

Or I'll host a special event and almost everyone I invited will show up, but a few people won't. And I'll be irritated with the no-shows, even while I appreciate everyone else who made it.

There are some people who no doubt think I'm being a Negative Nellie for failing to appreciate the people who did give me a good rating or the people who did show up.

And I am. For 95 percent of the time, I'm over the moon at my good fortune.

But the remaining five percent of the time, I'm annoyed. I'm irritated. I want to shake those people who dinged me or ditched me. I want to gripe about the injustice of it all and rant and rave and vent my spleen.

Because in a little while, everything will be fine again, and I'll be ecstatic about what I did get. I'll be pleased that everyone else loved my talk or that everyone else came to my event.

I just don't want someone telling me to look on the bright side or say that I should be grateful that I got to give a talk or had friends to invite to the event.

There's nothing wrong with being angry or sad. That's normal. If anything, it's unhealthy to repress those emotions all in the name of appearing bright and sunny, like you're putting on a show for the crowd.

It's like those families who fight and argue the entire way to church, but once they get out of the car, they trowel on some fake smiles and pretend everything is fine and dandy. Those are the people who will tell you to push every negative thought out of their head, and count your blessings.

Except none of us have perfect lives, no matter how hard we try to pretend otherwise. Everyone gets angry, everyone gets sad. We're entitled to those feelings, and it's not up to anyone else to tell us how we should feel or what we should feel grateful for.

So when I'm feeling my special sadness, or I just want to vent about my feelings for a minute, just be quiet and leave me alone for a little while. Don't try to gaslight me and tell me I'm wrong for feeling this way.

Although I guess I should be grateful to have friends who care about me in the first place.

Photo credit: PXHere.com (Creative Commons 0)

My new humor novel, Mackinac Island Nation, is finished and available on Amazon. You can get the Kindle version here or the paperback version here.
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I got a new car last month, and I'm not happy about it.

Don't get me wrong, I love my new car. It's a great car, it runs smoothly, the AC works, it has a nice stereo, and I don't have to worry about it exploding while I'm headed down the highway.

The exploding thing was the reason I needed to replace my last car just a couple weeks ago. I was driving on the highway the day after a monstrous cloud of white smoke belched from the tailpipe, when the car sputtered and threatened to die right there in a construction zone. A few seconds later, it sputtered back to life.

If I had been flying a plane, it was like I had stalled out and then recovered 1,000 feet from the ground.

I limped it back to my mechanic and he gave me the bad news: three of the four cylinders were shot, the head gasket was warped, and oil was leaking into my cooling system.

I purchased this car — a Kia Rio5 with manual transmission — back in 2008, and managed to grind out 242,968 miles before she finally gave up the ghost. I had hoped to reach 300,000, but her little heart couldn't take it anymore.

And that's why I'm not happy.

She was a great little car that could take everything I dished out. Despite her advanced age, I only replaced the fuel pump, water pump, and timing belt once. I replaced the tires five times, but I never had to replace the clutch.

Still, the steering wheel was chipping away, I had worn a hole through the driver's side floor mat, and the AC had a slow leak that took a year, emptying out around August.

I put every mile on that car myself, had driven it back and forth between Florida and Indiana several times, and knew every creak, clatter, and groan she made. I could tell as soon as I started it up whether something was off. I was as in tune with that car as a cowboy is with their horse.

So I was sad to let her go, but it was her time. I drove her to the dealership, feeling like the cowboy riding his horse to the glue factory, worried that she wouldn't last the journey.

When I got to the dealer, we talked about my trade-in and what value it would bring to the sale. Specifically, the sales manager said, "So, you're the guy trying to make me take that Kia?"

Make him? This was a wonderful car. We'd been through many an adventure together. He should be honored by my gift.

"Well. . . yes?" I said. Couldn't he put a price on "sentimental value?"

So he showed me what they were willing to offer me for the trade-in: $100.

"$100?" I said. "Aren't you missing a zero there?"

The look on his face said "zero" had been their original offer.

"But $100? Hell, I've got half a tank of gas in there!"

So he doubled it: "$200."

Eventually, we came to an agreement: I would leave the car there, and she would go live on a farm upstate, where she could run and play with the other cars.

And I drove home in a new Volkswagen — still a manual transmission — and have been amazed at all the new features this car had. I felt like a cowboy who traded in his horse for a horse with rockets for feet.

For one thing, my new car has electric windows and electric locks, something my Kia didn't have. I can't tell you how many times I've avoided yelling at people because it's hard to angrily roll down your window and still maintain your dignity.

The car also has a remote lock and alarm system. I like to press the button and hear the beep that tells me it's secure. Not like those times when I would try to deter thieves by pointing my key at my car and yelling "BEEP!"

It seems to have worked though because no one ever tried to steal it.

Best of all, the AC is strong enough to power a walk-in freezer. I can plug my phone into the USB slot and use voice commands to send messages or call people. And I can even operate a few apps on the touchscreen display, like TuneIn for music, MLB At Bat to listen to baseball, and even Waze for GPS.

Maybe I can use that to find my way to the big car farm upstate and visit my old car. I think she'd like that.

My new humor novel, Mackinac Island Nation, is finally available on Amazon. You can get the Kindle version at https://bit.ly/MINebook or the paperback at https://bit.ly/MackinacIslandNation.
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Is it me, or do today's brides seem to be terribly spoiled about their weddings? It's so bad there's a term and a TV show for it: Bridezillas. That's what we call brides who freak out about their wedding plans and destroy Tokyo.

Look, I know a wedding is a special day and that many little girls grow up dreaming of the beautiful ceremony they're going to have one day. They're the princess in their life's movie, waiting to be swept off their feet and into the palace by their very own Prince Charming.

Except it never goes that way, especially on the TV show. So many people hate-watched it there was even a spin-off called Marriage Boot Camp where several bridezillas and their husbands tried to save their failing marriages.

Color me surprised.

My wife wasn't like that when we got married. I mean, she had planned our wedding and wanted it to be beautiful, but she didn't have a full-on freakout over every little detail going not-quite her way.

Even when I was 30 minutes late because my best man and I had to turn around so I could get a jar of Grey Poupon for the limo ride to the reception.

Yes, that's completely true.

Yes, it was hilarious.

Yes, I'm the only one who thinks so.

My lovable antics aside, it seems like brides are getting angrier and more demanding whenever something goes wrong.

Case in point: A few weeks ago, someone called IgnoredBride posted a rant on Reddit's AITA (Am I The A-hole) discussion board about how a bridesmaid friend, Anna, owed her a $30,000 do-over because Anna had upstaged IB at her own wedding.

Anna's heinous crime? She had the audacity to show up six months pregnant and with her new husband, who apparently is very good-looking and tall.

IB had planned her wedding for three full years, and wanted her big day to be all about her, which every bride deserves.

But Anna ruined it all because, as IB said, "She was hugely pregnant, and didn't refrain from showing it off. We're both fairly young (25) and in my husband's culture, getting pregnant before late 20s/30s, married or not, is basically a teenage pregnancy and drew ATTENTION."

In other words, Anna was just standing up there, all pregnant and stuff with her sticky-outy belly, letting everyone see how sticky-outy it was.

It didn't end there. Anna then kicked dirt on the smoldering corpse of IB's wedding because, "She also has a vibrant personality and has a way of eclipsing everyone around her. Her husband is also very tall and incredibly attractive, which drew a lot of attention."

In other words, IB invited her charismatic girlfriend to be her bridesmaid, knowing full well that Anna eclipses everyone around her.

Also, in what culture is getting pregnant by age 25 considered a teenage pregnancy? More importantly, why is it Anna's responsibility to avoid getting pregnant so as not to offend a family she has never met and will never see again?

IB said that "all anyone spoke about or of was Anna's pregnancy and her attractive husband. Even in the line, people were asking about that 'electric woman' and of her pregnancy/marriage/life."

Finally, IgnoredBride had had enough. She left halfway through the reception in tears, and even skipped the next morning's brunch. I'm sure IgnoredGroom had fun spending the night doing nothing but consoling his new wife.

(Have fun on Marriage Boot Camp, kids.)

IB concluded, "I can't even look at the pictures without crying and desperately want a do over. It felt like a celebration of Anna's marriage. I honestly feel like Anna owes me a wedding and did all of this as revenge for me offending her years ago. Am I wrong?"

Yes, you're very wrong. This is not Anna's fault, it's all yours, because one of two things probably happened.

One, a couple people mentioned Anna and her tall, attractive husband (TAH) to you, and this wormed its way into your brain when you should have been thinking about your new life together with your own husband.

The fact that you were more worried about them makes me wonder how interested you were in your own wedding.

Or two, you're so bland you couldn't have been more bland if you and your hus-bland wore bland khaki slacks and drove a Dodge Bland Caravan to the Blandness conference in Blanding, Utah.

If a pregnant bridesmaid and her TAH could outshine you, you must have been so unremarkable that even the part where you stood in a gorgeous white dress in front of a roomful of people wasn't enough to divert their attention away from Anna and her sticky-outy belly.

The problem isn't Anna, it's you. You need to take a good long look at your life and see if you're just so incredibly boring or if you're actually being a selfish a-hole.

(Because the consensus on Reddit is that yes, you're the a-hole.)

Although thanks to the global coverage your story is getting, it looks like you're finally getting way more attention than Anna ever got. Mazel tov!

Photo credit: Slobodan Josic (Pexels, Creative Commons 2.0)

I'm going to release my new novel, Mackinac Island Nation, in the next couple months. If you want to receive updates about its release, as well as get this column in your inbox, sign up for my email newsletter.

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The 3rd edition of Branding Yourself is now available on Amazon.com and in your local Barnes & Noble bookstore.
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"Kid, I don't need a new car," my friend, Karl, said to me one evening. We were sitting at Klompen, our favorite Dutch-themed bar, watching the Eredivisie, the Dutch professional soccer league. We were watching Ajax Amsterdam take on PSV Eindhoven, and the score was 1-0.

I never said you did! Are you hearing things again?

"No, not you. Apparently Gert is bad for the environment."

Gert was Karl's old 1950s Ford truck that he said made him look like a farmer. It was part of his man-of-the-people shtick that helped him sell novels.

"And now she's after me to get a more eco-friendly car." He jerked his thumb toward the outside world where 'she' could be found.

He was referring to his youngest daughter, Alexis, the organic vegan anti-chemical evangelist whose Gender Studies degree from a liberal arts college was not helping her job prospects. She was currently the assistant manager at the Pay-What-The-Universe-Invites coffee co-op, but was going back to grad school for an MBA in finance in the fall.

Well, it would help the environment if you got one that didn't use so much gas, I said.

"That's not the point, Kid," said Karl. "The point is I love Gert. We've been through a lot together, I've nursed her through some hard times, and she's carried me through my own."

Like when?

"Like when I drove Alexis to her first day of college. We piled all her stuff into Gert and I dropped her off at the dorm. It was the second hardest day of my life."

Really? What was the hardest?

"The day she moved back in with me."

I walked right into that one, didn't I? I asked. So what does she expect you to get instead?

"She thinks I should get a diesel truck and convert it so it will run on cooking oil."

What, seriously? Those things smell like French fries.

"I know, and I don't want to spend half my time running around trying to track down used cooking oil from every McDonald's in the city."

What about a hybrid truck? Karl's made a rude gesture. So why not just get a regular car? I asked.

"Because that's not the point. The point is, Alexis wants me to change what I'm doing to suit her agenda. It's not like I'm one of those rolling-coal morons with the fat diesel exhaust pipes sticking out of their truck beds."

So what's so special about your truck? I mean, I've ridden in it, but it's just an old truck.

"She's more than just an old truck!" Karl plonked his empty beer mug down on the bar and stared off into his past. I gestured at Nicolaas for two more Grolsch beers, and pointed at Karl to put them on his tab.

"My dad had the same kind of truck when I was in high school, and I used to work on it with him, just so he'd teach me how to work on engines. I never worked on any other car, but I knew that one inside and out.

"After he died in 1994, and I had just published my fourth novel, I bought one and restored it as a way to honor him. I've been able to keep her running with parts I buy off the Internet or getting Big Ed at Ed's Garage to fabricate different parts in his machine shop."

But aren't you worried about the environment? What about the emissions?

"Kid, there's just 100 companies in the whole world responsible for nearly 71 percent of the world's air pollution. You think selling poor ol' Gert is going to make a dent in that? Look, she's got 420,000 miles on her. She's on her second transmission, and Big Ed and I just dropped a new engine in her six months ago. Not only is Gert older than Alexis, I think I've had them both the same amount of time. Honestly, if you were to ask me to choose between Gert and Alexis, I'd have to think about it for a minute."

And you'd pick. . . ?

"Well, Alexis, obviously! I'm not completely heartless." Nicolaas set our two beers on the bar. I picked mine up and took a drink.

Look, Karl, I understand how you feel. My car is about ready to die after 11 years, and I feel like I'm losing an old friend.

Karl snorted into his new beer, which blew some froth into his mustache. "What, your little Kia?" He wiped his face. "Kid, I've got shirts older than that."

I know, you're wearing it. Look, just because I'm not driving a car from the Jurassic period doesn't mean I don't understand the loss of losing an old friend. But I also know when it's time to let go of the past and move on to something newer and better.

"Sorry, newer is not better in this case. Today's cars are too complex, you need a PhD just to work on one of them. All I need is a couple of wrenches and a work light, and I can keep Gert purring like a cat."

So what do you need my help for? I thought you wanted me to help you get rid of Gert.

"No, I want you to help me get rid of Alexis. Can she come live with you?"

It was my turn to snort into my beer. I might, if you give me your truck. What do you say?

Karl stared into space for a few seconds. "Can I get back to you on that?"

Photo credit: Lomax58 (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

The 3rd edition of Branding Yourself is now available on Amazon.com and in your local Barnes & Noble bookstore.
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Erik is out of the office this week, so we're reprinting a column from 13 years ago, when he developed a fascination with the sport of curling.

In the past few weeks, I made an astonishing discovery, one that I never thought would ever happen in a million years: Curling is an exciting sport.

That's right, curling.

For those of you who skip the Winter Olympics, curling is that sport where they slide smooth round rocks down a rectangular ice court (called a "rink"). The sport is noted for the precision and skill that makes millions of Canadians scream in delight.

Each rock is aimed at a ring of circles (called the "house"), similar to an archery target. As each player slides ("delivers") a stone, two other players sweep the ice with brooms in front of the moving ("running") stone to help it travel with more speed and momentum ("curl").

The object is to bump out as many of your opponent's rocks while leaving your own rocks in place. Whoever has the most rocks closest to the center of the house (called the "tee") at the end of a round (known as an "end") wins that number of points. The team with the most points at the end of ten "ends" is the winner ("winner").

My own fascination is, unfortunately, not something that I can talk about very easily. There's still a stigma in the United States that curling is not a sport, and is something to be scoffed ("laughed") at. Oh sure, there are fans ("weirdos") of curling in the US, but they all live within 10 miles of the US-Canadian border, which means they're often viewed with suspicion ("dirty Commies").

I was at a business function ("beer write-off") a few days ago where I was talking to a guy about curling. We both agreed that it was a cool sport to watch and that it could be pretty exciting at times.

"Curling?" asked a woman ("non-guy") standing nearby. "How is curling exciting?"

We stammered out an embarrassed explanation ("we watch it for the articles") that completely failed to explain the attraction of the sport. The fact that the US Men's Curling Team won bronze at the 2006 Olympics meant nothing to her. Even the news that team captain ("skip") Pete Fenson also owns a pizzeria ("national hero") also failed to impress her.

Then I stumbled on an explanation that seemed to satisfy her: "It's like chess on ice."

"Oh, chess! That makes sense then. I guess that is pretty cool," she said, as if chess is somehow more intense and exciting than people heaving 44 pound rocks down an ice floor while sweeping madly in front of it. I could tell that she not only thought curling was still stupid, but that chess was actually more exciting.

"How many chess players own pizzerias?" I challenged her.

"Chess isn't even in the Olympics," said the other guy.

The woman admitted defeat ("gave up in exasperation") and quietly departed ("went to find people less weird").

The problem curling faces in the United States as that it's not as dramatic ("violent") as other sports and it doesn't lend itself to the same kind of human interest stories about overcoming adversity ("my broom broke").

Now don't get me wrong, I still love my football. I'll watch a bad football game ("Browns vs. Raiders") before I watch any other so-called sport ("golf"), no matter who's playing.

However, I've found that even after the Olympics are over ("shut up, Scott Hamilton"), I still crave curling. I read about it, I visit curling websites, and I've even tried to find a curling club in Indiana (official motto: "If it ain't basketball, it ain't a sport."). But until I actually have a chance to experience curling, I'll have to content myself with the occasional curling tournament on ESPN 2 ("tennis reruns") and YouTube.

One of my dreams as a humor columnist is to start enjoying the same perks as Dave Barry ("boogers are funny"), who would write about certain people or activities, like opera, fighter planes, and synchronized broom drill teams. He would then be invited ("all expenses paid") to participate in that particular activity, so he could write about it some more ("sell out for cheap laughs").

My ultimate goal is that Pete Fenson will be so impressed by my new found interest ("obsession") with curling that he'll invite me up to Minnesota for a chance to watch him and his team practice for an upcoming tournament. Maybe he'll even let me slide a few rocks with them so I can see what it's like.

I like pepperoni, sausage, and extra cheese, Pete ("shameless pandering").

I'm going to release my new novel, Mackinac Island Nation, in the next couple months. If you want to receive updates about its release, as well as get this column in your inbox, sign up for my email newsletter.

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Whatever happened to basic common courtesy and etiquette, especially at coffee shops?

I'm a well-known frequenter of coffee shops around my city, a veritable barfly of the boiled beans. And I'm found working from various java joints, sometimes more than I actually work at home. I hold meetings in coffee shops, write for my clients in coffee shops, and even wrote a third of my novel in one of my favorite coffee shops in east Orlando.

And I've come to one inescapable conclusion about my coffee shop colleagues.

People are inconsiderate jerks.

Now, I'm no Mister Rogers. I don't have a saint's patience and I'm sure there are a few things I do that some people might consider to be ill-mannered, although I can't think of any right now.

So when I'm faced with the self-entitled rudeness on my fellow coffee shop patrons, I just want to shake them until I rattle some sense into their tiny brains.

Case in point: I visited a new coffee shop a couple weeks ago, when three people who had been sitting together got up and left. They left behind their coffee cups and a layer of pastry crumbs that needed a team of archaeologists to uncover the table underneath.

Here's an etiquette tip for you coffee clods: Coffee shops are not fancy restaurants. They don't have servers and bussers to clear the table for you.

Coffee shops are essentially fast food joints. Many of them have a garbage can and plastic tub so you can throw away your trash and stow your dirty dishes. The baristas don't have time to do it, because they're behind the counter pumping out your espressos. So they hope and pray that each customer will have enough simple human courtesy to return their empty cup to the tub or the counter and sweep their crumbs off the table.

But the self-entitled jack wagons typically leave their cups behind and wander blithely away, undoubtedly looking for homeless people to mock and movies to talk through.

So, courtesy rule #1: Clean up after yourself unless you're at the kind of restaurant where they pay people to do that.

Another common problem: You and your friend are not the only ones in the place, so keep your blaring phone conversations and braying laughter to a minimum. You don't have to whisper, but when a 20-seat coffeehouse sounds like a high school cafeteria, with each table shouting to be heard over everyone else, I'd rather sit someplace quieter, like an artillery testing site.

Courtesy rule #2: Use your indoor voice.

Third, seating is often limited at these places, yet people will sometimes camp at their table for hours, thinking a small regular coffee somehow entitles them to an 8-hour bivouac, which deters actual paying customers from sticking around.

If your coffee shop is crowded, don't be afraid to share your table with other people. In most shops, there are both 2-top and 4-top tables. Ideally, you could get someone in every seat, but if not, common courtesy says lone patrons shouldn't take up a table that makes the most money for the owner. That is, if you're sitting by yourself, don't take a 4-top unless there's nothing else. And if you do, be willing to share with other solo patrons. Invite people to sit with you.

Otherwise, if three or four people come in and see there's no table, because each 4-top has one inconsiderate clod sprawled all over it like the couch in his mom's basement, the owner is out the profit from that party. Your $2 cup of coffee isn't doing them any good — they were hoping for the $20 they were going to make from that table in one hour.

Courtesy rules #3 and 4: Spend $2 – $5 per 90 minutes and share your table with strangers.

The grossest violation of coffee shop etiquette is when people who, once they've claimed their table, will leave their stuff and head out for lunch.

I recently saw someone leave their laptop and books on a table and head a few doors down to lunch. After about an hour, they came back in carrying the remnants of their Panda Express lunch, and proceeded to pick at it for another hour.

It was a double-whammy of discourtesy. Not only did they waste a table for an hour, but this coffee shop actually serves lunch. So the owner not only didn't get the sale for that empty hour, the insensitive clod rubbed his nose in it by bringing in someone else's food.

Sometime later, the store implemented a "No outside food or drink" rule, as well as asking guests to buy something every couple hours.

Courtesy rule #5 Don't claim a table if you don't spend anything, and don't bring outside food or drink in to do it.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Life be not so short but that there is always time for courtesy." So just remember to follow a few basic coffee shop etiquette rules — clean up after yourself, don't camp for several hours on one cup of coffee, and use your indoor voice.

Because otherwise I'm going to say something rude and ruin the spirit of this entire column.

Photo credit: Erik Deckers (that's me!)

I'm going to release my new novel, Mackinac Island Nation, in the next couple months. If you want to receive updates about its release, as well as get this column in your inbox, sign up for my email newsletter.

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When exactly do you become an adult? When do you stop thinking like a child, acting like a child, and set aside childish things.

According to my wife and kids, it's "Dear God, I hope that happens soon."

But according to the law, you're an adult when you're 18 years old. You're allowed to sign contracts and join the military. You can get married, buy a car, and sign a lease.

Of course, you're not allowed to drink until your 21, which seems to put the age of adulthood at 21, but you can't rent a car until you're 25. You also can't run for Congress until you're 25, your Senate run has to wait until you're 30, and you can't launch your Presidential campaign until you're 35.

Others believe that you're emotionally not an adult until you've lost your virginity, gotten married, or had kids, not necessarily in that order.

Or it doesn't happen until you bought your first car. Or have a mortgage. Or have a job that doesn't involve handing food to people in their cars.

British scientists recently concluded that we don't become fully formed adults until we hit our thirties. And just like ages vary for all those other adulthood milestones, scientists say "in your early thirties" is about as specific as they can get.

According to 2018 article in British medical journal, Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, our "childhood" lasts until we reach 18 because our brains are still going through developmental changes, even into our 20s.

That may explain why college kids make such idiotic decisions, especially after they've poured alcohol and drugs into their brains with a bunch of other idiotic college kids. Or so I've heard. I was a good student who never drank or did anything risky and stupid on weekends.

Okay, that's not true, but I guess I don't need to lie about it, since it's not like my kids actually read my columns anyway.

And if childhood lasts for 18 years, adolescence seems to last for another 15 or so. Recently, Professor Peter Jones of Cambridge University (official motto: "No, the British Cambridge") told reporters, "Who are you? How did you get in here?"

What he really said was, "What we're really saying is that to have a definition of when you move from childhood to adulthood looks increasingly absurd. It's a much more nuanced transition that takes place over three decades."

In other words, in terms of brain development, you're not fully capable of making adult-like decisions until you're in your 30s. To other neuroscientists, our brains at least stop developing in our mid-20s, which still explains the whole idiotic college kid thing.

Learning that it takes 30+ years to become an adult is bit of a downer, because adulthood is boring. Or at least, the other adults are boring. I still act like a 12-year-old, I'm just able to buy all the crap I wanted when I was 12.

Dr. Jones may have a point though. While early adolescence was rather terrible with its raging hormones and awkward sweating, later adolescence was rather fun once we were old enough to drink and run for Congress.

But once we hit our 30s, we start complaining about kids these days, caring about how many of them were on our lawns, and tucking tissues into the sleeves of our sweaters, which we wear whenever it gets colder than 76 degrees.

It gets worse. This is the age you start hearing 30-somethings say, "I think I'm turning into my mother/father." And they're not wrong.

According to a British study, more than half of the women surveyed found that they act more like their mothers around age 33, instead of continuing to rebel as they had done when they were younger and cooler and bought good booze and went to all the good parties.

Dr. Julian De Silva, a surgeon, interviewed 2,000 men and women as part of his study and found that many women start using the same sayings, having the same hobbies, and even watching the same television shows as their mother.

Men also start acting more like their fathers around 34, including adopting their political views, complaining about the heating bill, and yelling at their kids to shut off their damn bedroom lights. I think we also start turning into our grandfathers around age 45, when we wear socks and sandals and absent-mindedly pick at hairs growing out of our ears.

In many ways, scientists have seem to done younger adults a big favor, giving them permission to be fun a little while longer.

But everyone in their 30s just got hit with a cold bucket of water, telling them they're about to start complaining about how they can't understand today's music and they're cold, is it cold in here, where's my sweater?

Bottom line, we finally reach adulthood when we're somewhere in our thirties, but for many of us, we stopped having fun long before then. And some of us are going to keep having fun years after it's actually healthy for us. We all reach the same finish line, it's just that some of us are going to have a better time getting there.

Photo credit: SolarScott (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

I'm going to release my new novel, Mackinac Island Nation, in the next couple months. If you want to receive updates about its release, as well as get this column in your inbox, sign up for my email newsletter.

Subscribe to my mailing list

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