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Hayrides (and other Halloween horrors)

24 Oct

Safety expert Paul Van Gorkom. I assume. I never got around to asking for an actual mugshot.

What a great time of year.

With Halloween lurking just around the corner, there are haunted houses, hayrides, corn mazes and so many wonderful activities for kids.

These are are all great fun — if you want your child to die a horrible, gruesome death tha ends up on Fox News.

That’s right! Every one of those activities is a death trap, professional Nervous Nellie and safety expert Paul Van Gorkom tells me in a press release.

Well, that’s a relief. Halloween was getting quiet. Maybe too quiet.

For years, I’ve written about how poisoned Halloween candy is a myth. There was a case in 1974 where a father in Texas murdered his own son by poisoning Halloween candy. He apparently poisoned some other kids’ candy just to give himself an alibis. (Fortunately, none of the other kids ate the tainted treats.)

But that was just one isolated incident, and it only happened because the killer had a long-standing myth to exploit. By and large, Halloween candy is safe.


Hayrides, on the other hand, will kill you.

You can trust Van Gorkom, even though he has the perfect name for a mad scientist. He is the vice president of operations at Allied Barton Security Services, which provides “highly trained security personnel” (I’m thinking ninjas) to countless clients.

These are the kind of people who know how to survive hayrides unscathed and find their way out of corn mazes.

If you are foolish enough to tempt fate and go on a hayride, Van Gorkom pleads, be cautious when loading and unloading. Be sure the hayride is at a complete stop before doing either. If there are steps, they could be slippery.

These same safety precautions could apply to other moving vehicles as well. Personally, I am going to rethink the whole “tuck-and-roll” technique I taught me son for getting out of the car. It never occured to me to stop the car first.

Van Gorkom further stresses you should not walk in front of the hayride — or any moving tractor for that matter. I remember my grandfather Murray “Peg Leg” Henderson telling me the same thing.

Lest you mock Van Gorkom’s concerns, Fox News reports four people were hospitalized and 40 others injured in a hayride accident on Shaw Island in Washington state just last August.

A flatbed trailer carrying about 50 people collided with the tractor that was pulling it, dumping the passengers on the road in what was described as a “horrible but really cool freak accident.”

(OK, so that was my description.)

The driver of the trailer was going down a steep grade, which brings up a tip Van Gorkom overlooked. Don’t go on a hayride driven by an idiot.


Speaking of idiots, if you happen to be one yourself, stay out of corn mazes. Of course, that’s wasted advice. If you’re an idiot, you’re going to go inside anyway.

Van Gorkom suggests bringing a flashlight. This can also come in handy in locating your own butt (provided you also use both hands). He adds you should bring cell phones and stick with your fellow idiots.

That way, people will be able to laugh at you even more when you finally make your way out.

But seriously, folks, could anyone really get lost in a corn maze to the point where it becomes an emergency?

Cue Fox News.

Authorities in Danvers, Mass., tell Fox a family called 911 when they got lost in a seven-acre corn maze — taking advantage of the police department’s motto that says, “We Want To Be Bothered.” The family didn’t realize they were 25 feet away from the street.


Van Gorkom says haunted houses can also pose safety hazards. For instance, he says, you could be plagued by flies.

Or is that “The Amityville Horror”?

Swarms of flies or not, Van Gorkom says be careful. The floors could be slippery. Then again, that could just be the blood. Whatever. Don’t run and down the stairs, he says. This is fine in your own house where you no doubt have carpeting made out of bubble wrap, but a major no-no in a haunted house.

You should also carry a flashlight, he says, so one of the things that goes bump in the night isn’t your skull.

And that, people, is the kind of wisdom that propels a man into upper managment in a company that provides trained ninjas.

My favorite piece of advice? “Avoid smoking while in the maze as dry corn stalk could easily catch fire.”

Yes, that would be a problem. However, I would love  to see some arial footage of that.

Fox News?


Flicka, Ricka and Dicka: A sophisticated literary analysis

13 Oct
Flicka Ricka Dicka

Flicka, Ricka and Dicka are Swedish triplets in a series of children's books. This is not one of those books. Unfortunately. It would have made the series a lot more interesting.

In her stimulating reading of Jean de Brunhoff’s anti-colonialist book, “Babar Steps on a Bunch of Pygmies” (1937), Gertrude Sobolik analyzes the strategies through which colonialism pathologizes the colonized subject.

By excluding that subject from the fruitful self/other dynamics that create subjectivity, colonialism polices “the boundaries of cultural intelligibility.” In so doing, it also determines which individuals attain “full cultural signification” and those who simply get stomped on by an elephant in a green suit.

Through its dissemination of an imperialist power-knowledge, it arbitrates who shall (or shall not) have “unfettered access” to a rich self-identity. If, as psychoanalysis claims, the “I is an Other,” then “otherness constitutes the very entry into subjectivity” and “means you’re gonna get your pygmy ass stomped” (Identification 141-43).

But what happens when, as in the colonized context, this entry is blocked or severely curtailed?

How they hell should I know? This is a review of “Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and Their New Skates.”

Susannah Greenberg, the PR gal for children’s book publishers Albert Whitman & Co., asked me if I wanted a review copy. She explained Flicka, Ricka and Dicka are three blonde Swedish sisters who …

Say no more! Send me a copy immediately!

Wait a minute. Did she say children’s book? Then take your time. I was expecting something completely different — especially given the name of the third sister. (She really ought to think about getting a different nickname before she reaches middle school.)

Flicka, Ricka and Dicka are spinoff characters from a series of books about Snipp, Snapp and Snurr — male Swedish triplets created by author/illustrator Maj Lindman in the 1930s. Their many boring adventures included “Snipp, Snapp and Snurr and the Red Shoes” and “Snipp, Snapp and Snurr and the Big Surprise.”

Trust me. The surprise is not all that big. It involves red shoes.

Still, I would love a review copy of “Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and Their New Skates.” I love reviewing books. Anyone who knows me knows I am as famous for my sophisticated literary criticism as I am for my juggling skills.

In fact, I can’t wait to actually read “Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and Their New Skates” to criticiz it. I will start now.

When you look at Flicka, Ricka and Dicka and Snipp Snapp and Snurr what you end up with is a sentence that uses the word “and” way too many times. You also get three stupid names that rhyme and three names that start with the same consonants and are also quite stupid.

What does this tell us about Maj Lindman? I think it is safe to say that she was high on marijuana (or “reefer” as it was known in the ’30s) when she created these characters.

Notice, too, that all the children have uniformly blue eyes and blonde, curly hair. What is Whitman trying to say here, especially in the context of the ’30s? I think she is saying, “Hey, if you’re a Nazi, you’re going to love these books!”

The books are obviously statements on conformity and homogeny in pre-war Europe. Footwear is also important to Lindman. New skates. Red shoes. The latter is obviously a metaphor for Stalinist Russia while the former alludes to Hitler skating across Europe.

Lindman and her blonde-haired, blue-eyed, chubby-cheeked protagonists hint, subtlety, at Aryan supremacy. Some of her imitators were not so subtle. As Hitler tightened his stranglehold on Europe, writer/illustrator Ludwig Carl Heinrich (a Frenchman) produced “Fritz and Schlitz and the Jew with the Really Big, Crooked Nose.”

Fritz and Schlitz had a brother, but his name was a slang term for excrement, so the Gestapo killed him on page 2.

Above all, it is important to remember that I just made that up. Likewise, I have never read any of Maj Lindman’s work. I am sure it is perfectly charming and absolutely sickening. The fact that the latest edition of “Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and Their New Skates” comes with paper dolls only serves to make me more nauseous.

Then again, 48-year-old men are probably not the target demographic for this book (one would pray to God).

Mental Vegetables: Meatless brains for vegan zombies

4 Oct
zombie calendar

There's just something about vegan zombies that is just such a turn off.


“Brains! Brains!”

Yes, everyone loves eating brains. Especially at Halloween. But all you have to do is listen to talk radio to know the human brain is dangerously high in fat.

Fortunately, the folks at Garden Goodies have a solution. Introducing … Mental Vegetables!

They are the size, shape and texture of brains while being completely meatless. Many vegan zombies — and there is a growing number of them — swear they cannot tell the difference. They often compare them to the McBrains offered by McDonald’s a few years ago (with a side of lady fingers) in an attempt to cater to the zombie market.

They say they taste just like McDonald’s chicken which, in turn, tastes like wet cardboard and school paste.

Garden Goodies, a company I completely made up, is not alone in offering zombies meatless alternatives. There is a real honest-to-god company too. Jennifer Mendelsohn of Formula PR sent me a press release ballyhooing Veggie Patch’s Meatless Meatballs as a Halloween treat.

Poor Jennifer. Imagine her burden. Halloween is coming up. Forget all the candy. We have to get kids psyched about meatless meatballs.

“Can I go over to Jimmy’s house for Halloween? Please! Please! Please! His mom is serving meatless meatballs! They taste just like shredded newspaper!”

I mean, who wants candy when you can just eat the pinata?

Yet Jennifer is nothing if not valiant. She has all sorts of ways to distract kids from the fact they are eating $#@! meatless meatballs.

For instance, you can disguise them as eyeballs. Just serve them over a tomato sauce and top them with a sliced olive. Eewww! That’s disgusting! Hate to break it to you, Jennifer, but most kids would rather eat a real eyeball.

There’s always Bug Bean Salad. Chop black beans, edamame and kidney beans into different sizes. The black beans represent ants, the edamame are grasshoppers and the kidney beans are beetles.

Show of hands, even among vegans. How many of you would eat that instead of a “fun-size” Nestle’s Crunch bar? (Fun-size gets quotes, by the way, because I see nothing partiuclarly fun about a candy bar the size of my pinky toe. Now a four-pound bar? That would be fun. Still, anything beats the hell out of beans.)

“If you’re interested in more Halloween-inspired foods or delicious recipes to make vegetable eating fun, I’d love to connect you with celebrity chef Missy Chase Lapine,” Jennifer says.

Uh, Jenn? First of all, I try very hard in life to avoid women named Missy. Secondly, anyone interested in healthy and/or vegetarian Halloween treats is really unclear on the whole concept of the holiday.

Halloween is supposed to decadent and depraved. Leave “Ozzie and Harriett” for Thanksgiving. It’s time for “The Addams Family.”

Now shut up and pass the brains.

Seven Deadly Sins: Passing your financial dysfunction onto your kids

30 Sep
what an original sin

Wow! What an original sin! Careful. If Adam and Eve, learned anything it's that you can't trust fruit salesmen with snake buttsand the sins of the parents can be visited upon their children. Guess what. This applies to money too.

(NOTE: This was originally written for a financial website, but it was ultimately rejected. I used the $20 kill fee to buy myself something pretty.) 

Warning: Your financial habits could be contagious. You could pass them on to your children.

This can be a good thing. However, financial scholars say it can also visit the sins (and financial miseries) of the parents upon the children.

Consider these Seven Deadly Financial Habits.

1. RELYING ON CREDIT CARDS. People often say they will only use credit cards in case of  emergencies.

But Dr. Deborah Thorne, a finance professor at Ohio University, says what they fail to realize is that credit cards create their own ongoing state of emergency.

“Credit cards are not inherently evil, but they can become that way,” Thorne says. Avoid them if you can. If you can’t, only use them for emergencies. First, she adds, have a talk with your kids.

“Have you really discussed what constitutes an emergency?”

2. MOOCHING. When you run into trouble, do you in turn run to your parents? Or are there other people you count on to bail you out?

Careful. One day, your kids will be coming to you with their hats in their hands. That’s because you never modeled how to make it on your own.

3. LIVING CRISIS TO CRISIS. Some people grew up in dysfunctional homes where they knew nothing but crisis.

Now they can only manage their lives and finances by moving from crisis to crisis. And if the crisis doesn’t exist, they somehow manage to create it. If this is your pattern, recognize it. Get help.

There are few viruses so virulent as family dysfunction.

4. LIVING OUTSIDE YOUR MEANS. You only live once, right? You can plan for the future but get hit by a bus next Tuesday. So live it up. Rent the kind of house you would want to buy. Drive the car you want to drive not the one that fits your budget.

Just be careful about the message you send your children.

“If the parents have trouble controlling spending, children will see it,” says Dr. J. Amanda Adkisson, a professor of finance at Texas A & M. “They will see both the cause and the parents’ response. That should give parents a firm incentive to learn to live within their means.”

5. PRETENDING EVERYTHING IS OK. Many people hide their financial distress, even from their children. They feel children should feel secure and not burdened with financial worries.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard parents say finances are a personal matter,” Thorne says. “Bull***t! It’s not a personal problem. It’s a family problem.”

Talking to kids about money is as important — if not moreso — than talking to them about sex, she says. “It’s a bigger part of your life than sex, and it affects more people.”

6. LIVING FOR THE SALE. If you don’t have the money, you don’t have the money.

The coat you want may be 30 percent off. Heck, it could be 80 percent off. But if you don’t have the money for it, you are not getting a bargain. You are getting in trouble. Adkisson says many people have a warped bargain mentality.

Experts suggest operating on a cash basis when shopping for anything beyond the necessities. Have a finite supply of money on hand and know that when it’s gone, it’s gone. Operating this way with kids breaks them of the we’ll-worry-about-how-we’re-going-to-pay-for-it-later attitude.

7. HAVING QUESTIONABLE ETHICS. When your back is against the wall, when the wolves are your door, it’s tempting to let your personal ethics slip.

You lie to a debt collector. You make pay arrangements you know there is no way you can keep. You ask your kids to answer the phone and say you’re in the shower. You have access to the office’s petty cash fund and, really, no one’s going to miss a few bucks before you secretly put the money back in.

Who is going to know? Unfortunately, it’s your kids.

They get the message from your behavior that the ends justify the means and it’s OK to lie and cheat just a little under the right circumstances. They learn not be rational about finances, but how to rationalize their financial choices.

“My own parents lived through the Great Depression, so they taught me good money habits from the beginning,” says Adkisson. “My parents always lived within their means, were generous with friends, family and worthy causes, but at the same, were dedicated savers and investors.

“Parents who have risen above less favorable economic circumstances may want to just give their kids everything all the time, but they need to step back and teach their children the skills they themselves learned through hardship,” Adkisson adds.

“When they simply indulge their children with gifts, they are actually impoverishing them in spirit. This interior poverty is just as bad as material poverty.”

All I want for Christmas is a disembodied skull, some clay … and a mystery

26 Sep
caesar's head

Ohmigod! That disembodied skull Santa left us is Julius Caesar! Quick! Contact Antiques Roadshow!

Ever since Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by a group of conspirators led by Marcus Brutus in 44 BC, people have been trying to unravel of the mystery of his death.

Now your kids can discover the truth. Give them Caesar’s disembodied skull for Christmas. They can do the rest.

Hold on to you togas, boys and girls. This is eight shades of awesome.

Forget about Barbie’s dream house. With Julius Caeasar’s skull, some modeling clay and basic instruction in forensic reconstruction (there’s booklet), you can painstaking re-create a human face.

“Great Caesar’s ghost!” your parents will hear you scream from from your bedroom. “It’s that dude from the Olive Garden!”

The kit includes  a set of molded pegs (numbered to give flesh depth) modeling clay and molded eyeballs, ears and nose. You can get all this now. Call it a way to get a head in your holiday shopping.


Get it? A “head” in your holiday shopping? Caesar isn’t the only murder victim. I slay myself sometimes.

Seriously, this could help your kid become a forensic scientist. I look forward with glee to Elenco’s inevitable Blood Splatter Pattern Identification Kit.

Salt-sucking monsters everywhere deserve better than this

26 Sep
nancy crater

Look at this face? How can you not love this face? Sure, there was a reason she was passed over for the remake of "Charlie's Angels," but it's better than having to look at Michelle Bachmann. Now that chick is creepy.

Justice for the salt sucker!

Quirk Books just sent me a review copy of “The Star Trek Book of Opposites,” a book designed to teach children the difference between full and empty, young and old, etc.

Remember Reena Kapec, the android Captain Kirk jumpstarts in the episode “Requiem for Methuselah”? She’s described as nice. Hard to dispute. With electronic devices like that, Circuit City never would have gone out of business.

By contrast, the salt-sucking creature from Planet M113 (in “The Man Trap”)  is described as “mean.”

Really, author David Borgenicht?

Borgenicht supposedly went to his first “Star Trek” convention he as 9. He should know better. The salt sucker (who I shall call Lydia by way of restoring her dignitary) was merely the last of her kind. She was simply trying to survive by killing off the less interesting members of the Enterprise crew.

Like that guy who asked if she was the girl he met on Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet. He deserved to have his salt sucked. (By the way, Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet? What the hell is that? The galaxy’s first gum-themed brothel?)

When Kirk and Company discuss the best way to frag Lydia, she even suggests (while disguised as Dr. McCoy) that they offer her salt without tricks because she’s just trying to survive.

Calling her mean just because she doesn’t want to die and her species to become extinct is just the sort of ignorance and bigotry “Star Trek” was designed to fight. So, no, I cannot recommend this book for your little trekkies.

Besides, what kind of name is Borgeonicht? Note the first syllable. Borg? Guys with the word “Borg” in their names should not be lecturing on children on the goodness and evil of other “Star Trek” aliens.

How did our ancestors ever survive with unlocked toilet seats?

7 Sep
baby on board

Lock your toilet seats. Statistically, babies are much more likely to fall in when left unattended while reading George Will's column. Thank God no one reads newspapers anymore.

September is National Baby Safety Month.

It is also National Blueberry Popsicle Month, National Piano Month, National Courtesy Month and International Square Dancing Month (yeah, like any country but America is lame enough to square dance).

September is also (my favorite) National Fall Hat Month.

However, only one of these observances asks that you lock your toilet. And No, it’s National Blueberry Popsicle Month.

Danielle from Media Practice tells me parents everywhere should remember to lock their toilets because, really, your kid could fall in.

Weird. After he’s been in the bathroom for 30 minutes, I always ask my son if he’s fallen in or watching a “Planet of the Apes” marathon. I had no idea this was a genuine problem. The falling in, that is, not the ape movies.

However, the CSPC reports that two children died from drowning in unlocked toilets in 2002. This is extremely troubling. Why does Center for Sex Postive Culture care about how many kids are drowning in toilets?

Oops. Sorry. My bad. You can’t always go with the first thing that pops up on Google.

That would actually be the Consumer Products Safety Commission. The nine-year-old statistic is the freshest one available, but you can bet your boots that other kids have fallen into toilets since then.

Somehow, I can’t get the image of “Lidsville” out of my head. You remember that show? Butch Patrick from “The Munsters” falls into a giant top hat and ends up in a land ruled by Sid and Marty Kroft where everyone is a hat with arms and legs.

God knows what happens when you fall down a toilet. It would, however, explain all those urban legends I intend to make up about children riding alligators in the New York City sewer system.

I should not joke. Two children died nine years ago. We should all lock our toilets. Or we could keep an eye on our kids. The Consumer Products Safety Commission or the Center for Sex Positive Culture (one of those) reports 90 percent of accidents involving small children could be prevented if parents and caregivers didn’t have the IQs of whale turds.

PR flak Danielle says there are five steps toward baby safety:

1. Lock toilet lids.
2. Inspect your home from baby’s point of view.
3. Eliminate small toys and other objects.
4. Install self-closing outlet covers.
5. Shop for a safe crib. (Dang! But that one with spikes fits in so well with the theme of the nursery!)

Why can’t we boil all this down to, “Be an attentive parent and don’t leave small children unattended”?

I am allowed to ask that question. Sept. 28 is National Ask a Stupid Question Day (the day after National Crush a Can Day).