Saturday, December 27, 2003

Make your terrorism target list, check it twice

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As if we didn’t have enough to worry about — whether our presents were expensive enough, petrified that the house is going to catch fire because nobody watered the tree, wondering if the chunks in the eggnog we bought on sale are egg or nog or neither — now there’s another fear this holiday season: terrorism.

The federal government has said intelligence officials have heard “chatter” about possible terrorist attacks in the near future. They won’t describe the nature of this chatter, except that it’s pretty serious and we’re now at orange alert level.

So we catch Saddam Hussein, and everybody feels the sweet bliss of relief. Polls show that Americans feel much safer now that Saddam’s gone. A few days later, we go from yellow to orange.

Boy! That safety was sure fun while it lasted.

Go about your business, the government said. But remember: those dirty terrorists could strike at any minute without warning! Al-Qaida is looking into using cargo planes as missiles, because security on cargo planes is slipshod on a good day! They won’t strike the cities — they’re going right after middle America! Have a happy holiday!

I, for one, took the orange alert level seriously, and moved most of the CDs in my car back inside my apartment. You never know.

If it goes up to red alert, I’ll start using the door chain.

Locally, the Fall River police were quoted in a Herald News story as saying city officials have identified “60 to 70” locations in town that could be possible terrorism targets.

I thought the same thing — thanks a lot, but are you sure? No, seriously, man. You really sure? This is Fall River we’re talking about.

The city wouldn’t identify what exactly those 60 to 70 targets are (too many terrorists read The Herald News, presumably).

They did mention Government Center, but give me a break. What’s important in there? And terrorists don’t need any cargo planes to knock it down — a stiff wind will do that job nicely. If anything, we should put a mannequin of Osama bin Laden on the roof, call in one of those air patrols, clear everybody out of the area, and let the federal government raze it for us.

So while stocking up on milk and bread and eggs (because nothing goes better with an emergency like French toast), I used my own peanut-sized brain and a little deductive reasoning to figure out what Fall River’s terrorist targets are.

Don’t share this list with the terrorists, by the way. If any ask you about it, you say, "No!"

1. The equestrian statue of Marquis de Lafayette in Lafayette Park. The terrorists would be taking out Fall River’s cavalry.

2. That miniature replica of the Statue of Liberty in Kennedy Park. It’s an itty-bitty national landmark.

3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12. Dunkin’ Donuts.

13. Terrorists, being extremely superstitious, don’t have a 13th target on their list.

14. Those abandoned train tracks down by the Taunton River in the South End, to disrupt our lines of transportation.

15. That anonymous piece of mystery artillery in Kennedy Park.

16. That confusing and stupid rotary in the North End by the Shaw’s. I don’t think anybody will cry over this one, though.

17. Come to think of it, that rotary at the end of President Avenue is a pain, too.

18. That pole sticking out in the road by the post office on President Avenue. Not the post office — just the pole.

19. The Rolling Rock, to take out Fall River’s entire supply of gigantic boulders.

20. The Advanced Manufacturing and Technology Center, to stop whatever it is that’s going on in there.

21. The overlook at Kennedy Park — just because it's new.

22. That piano store on North Main Street, to reduce our access to pianos once al-Qaida’s ground invasion begins.

23. The cop car that’s been parked at the top of Brayton Avenue for the past 37 years is a prime target.

24. Billy’s Cafe, thus depriving the city of its prime source of amazingly delicious chourico-and-chips sandwiches.

25. Gromada Plaza on South Main Street. A terrorist attack on that patch of barren, cracking concrete would turn it into a barren, cracking, concrete wasteland.

26. That humongous drive-up mailbox across from Government Center. It’s large enough to be spotted from the sky, and it’s a symbol of our postal superiority over the Western World.

27. Britland Park, if they can find it.

28. The Quequechan River. This will require al-Qaida to approach from underneath.

29 to 16,927. Various Biblical figures displayed nicely inside half-buried bathtubs, either lit with spotlights or not, would unfortunately be on al-Qaida’s list.

16,928. My own apartment’s on the list, too. Specifically, the terrorists would be after the block of feta cheese we’ve had in the refrigerator since before late August. If taken out of its Saran Wrap, it would make an excellent biological weapon.

Luckily, I’ve got the door chain — the terrorists aren’t getting it without a fight.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Bush, Blair, Saddam: Collect 'em All!

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What do you get for the American who has everything?

As a nation, Christmas shopping is getting tougher. We all have our Salad Shooters, correct? The generation that used to get Old Spice every year is quickly dying off. And our nation is sick to death of Chia Pets, because no matter how much cow manure you smear on them, they never grow to the rich Amazonian lushness pictured on the box.

There aren’t even any good toys this season. In years past, The People On Television could be counted on to force-feed a trend to our nation’s children, thus making Christmas shopping a whole lot easier.

Remember when The People On Television told kids that they just had to have a Nintendo GameCube, $299 retail? Now, stores are practically giving them away, using them to hold open doors and crack walnuts.

Remember when The People On Television told us that kids would go bananas for Tickle-Me Elmo? It turned out that it was just a regular Elmo doll with a shaking motor in it — hardly worth the $75 or so we, as a nation, collectively paid for it from that guy selling them on the highway outside the Silver City Galleria when the toy stores ran out of them.

Remember in the late 1990s when The People On Television told us that our kids would be positively suicidal if they didn’t get a Furby that year? And we shelled out the money? And Furby turned out to be an annoying ball of fake fur that our kids hated? And remember that the Furby was supposed to be a robot that had a personality, a robot that learned new things, except all it did was made those damn cooing noises?

And remember how we were supposed to play with our Furby constantly, because if we ignored our Furby, it would remember? And remember how our kids did ignore it, and the Furby became depressed and lonely, making those plaintive cooing noises alone in the dark bedroom, unloved, depressed, eventually suicidal and trying frantically to paw at its own off switch while the kids invented their own game with an old pillowcase and a stick?

There’s no toy like that this year, market analysts say. There’s no must-have gift for adults, either.

Friends, it looks like Christmas is cancelled this year...

But wait! Rushing to fill that crucial void in this holiday season’s must-have list, has created “Captured Saddam” action figures.

Christmas is back on!

It cost us $87 billion and nearly 500 American lives to capture former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. You can get your own personal mitts on Saddam for substantially less — $29.95.

The action figure features a beefed-up Saddam wearing a T-shirt with the ace of spades on it. It also sports Saddam’s groovy new beard.

I’m not making this up.

If you preferred Saddam with that clean-cut Princeton look, Herobuilders also sells versions of the Saddam doll — er, action figure — that depict the dictator when he was much less hairy.

Herobuilders also sells a George W. Bush doll with substantially more muscle definition than the actual president has. It comes in a regular version or a talking version. You press a button and it tells you that tax cuts for the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans will magically create jobs. Silly doll!

No doubt in the works is a talking White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan doll, which will do all of the Bush doll’s talking for him.

On McClellan’s flip side — the Bizarro McClellan, as it were — is Herobuilder’s “Talking Baghdad Bob” action figure. It’s a doll of Saddam’s former Minister of Information Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf. When you press his button, he says, “There are no American infidels in Baghdad — never!”

Completing the Herobuilders set of Iraqi war action figures are two versions of Uday Hussein, one alive, one built to look like his mutilated corpse. It’s about this time that we should be cringing with embarrassment.

There are also dolls of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac (in a pretty French maid’s outfit, naturally).

And of course, everyone’s wondering where Osama bin Laden is. Herobuilders sells Osama dolls, too, so he can hide in the mountainous regions of your sofa. When you press the button on “Babbling Osama the Dirty Terrorist,” he says, among other things, “I was just joking...all jihads go la la la la!”

But good luck finding one of those dolls.

A lot of people have felt sidelined during this whole Iraqi war mess because they’re too old, too young, too female, too gay, too rich, too sane or too crazy for the military. In this case, Herobuilders can actually build an action figure of you. Starting at $450, the company will actually build a toy of your likeness. No lie! G.I. Dan!

Then, depending on your politics, your action figure can pretend to beat up Saddam, Osama, Bush, or any of the other guys. You could sit them all to tea in a Barbie playset and broker peace. Or, if you’re feeling capricious, you could build an uneasy truce between Bush, Saddam and yourself as you team up to defeat Darth Vader, G.I. Joe’s COBRA Commander and Megatron from the Transformers.

My action figure wouldn’t be too interested in fighting. After a few trips to the Easy-Bake Oven to grab some brownies piping hot from the light bulb, Action Figure Dan would hop into a hot pink Corvette convertible, Barbie and Skipper on his arms.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

An open letter to Santa Claus

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Dear Santa Claus:

I’ll be frank with you. I know I say this every year, and every year you give me gifts that are decent enough but not mind-boggling or anything — hey, I know you’re busy with the actual children, whatever — but I’ve been really good in 2003. I mean excellent.

I’ve made my own list, which I will now share with you. You’re not the only overweight guy who can make lists, wiseguy. We’ll only have to check this baby once.

Like, you know how my little problem with putting my clothes in the hamper instead of leaving them on the floor? I did it twice last week.

There was also that time in April when I did the dishes.

And have you heard about that bozo in the Jeep who cut me off on Route 24 yesterday? The one with the pathetic excuse for a goatee and the backwards baseball hat? Despite my better judgment, and even though the jerk had it coming, I did not give him the bird.

Ask my dental hygienist, Ruth, how good I’ve been. She said that, at my most recent visit, my teeth were a little cleaner than last time. The facts speak for themselves.

Other personal references are available upon request.

Just to show you how nice I am, I’ll go ahead and tell you that I’ve occasionally been naughty. Hey, I’m being honest, right? And honesty is good, and good equals presents. You said it, not me.

One time last month, when I was in the Stop & Shop parking lot in Somerset, I saw this old lady waiting for a space. No, Santa, I didn’t steal the space from her. I’m not that naughty. But some other guy did — some little bozo in a Jeep, actually. Anyway, the lady got all flustered, and even though her windows were rolled up, I could read, very distinctly, some bad words on her lips. The naughty part was that I snickered at her.

I guess you had to be there.

And recently, I found a dime on the floor at work and pocketed it without asking around first whose it was.

I also shouted three times, cried once, and pouted twice.

You see, Santa? You see how tame my naughtiness has been this year? Nothing to worry about.

Now that we have gotten this little unpleasantness out of the way, here’s what I’d like:

1. My car is making a funny noise. When I start it up on cold days, it’s got a rattle under the hood somewhere. It goes away after a while, particularly if I heat it up before driving, but who has time for that?

So what I’m saying is, I’d like either a Mini Cooper or a Honda Element. Surprise me!

2. Have you ever had the chourico rolls at New York Bagel, Santa? Trust me, they’re worth the trip. It’s like there’s a whole link of chourico in there. And the bread is a little bit sweet, the chourico not too salty. I could use a couple of those.

Get a few for yourself, while you’re at it.

3. I’m really not sure how tall you are, but you seem short.

I’m not criticizing — I’m short, too. That’s why I grew the beard, so people would stop asking if I was skipping school. That’s probably why you have one, as well.

Let’s say my wife and I want to get a good table at a restaurant, and I have to intimidate the host with my imposing mass. I would need to be tall for that, correct? It would be even more impressive if I could grow larger before his eyes.

I can see why being tall has its disadvantages, though, so I really don’t want to be tall forever. For instance, I can’t fit in the Mini Cooper (see above) if I’m 9-foot-something.

So it seems what I really want is the ability to change my height with the power of my mind. I’m not sure how you would wrap this.

4. I don’t know what channels you get, but down here we have a nice television show called “The Price is Right.” You have to guess the prices of ordinary household objects, and if you do so well enough, you win fantastic prizes like new ranges, dinette sets, foosball tables, sailboats, and cars.

If you could pull some strings (come on — you have strings), I would like to visit this show and meet host Bob Barker.

I would also like to “come on down” and be a contestant. If possible, I’d like to play “Plinko,” which is the show’s most fun game. That’s the one where you slide up to five chips on a board, and depending on which slot they land in, you can win $10,000 each time.

I understand if this is beyond your powers, but if it isn’t, I’d like to win the maximum amount at “Plinko,” which is $50,000.

And when contestants spin the big wheel to see who makes the final round, I’d like to win there, too. Yes, and it would be great if I could win a showcase at the end.

My winning showcase could contain either a Mini Cooper or a Honda Element (see above). Just an idea — I don’t want to tell you how to do your job.

5. This one is going to sound really weird ... but do you have any spare athletic socks? The good kind, preferably white? I have some old socks and some new socks, and I’d really like to get rid of all the old ones. It’s been tough finding time to hit Target and buy them.

You probably don’t get much of this.

That’s all I can think of for now. I’m sure a few other things will spring to mind later, so I’ll just e-mail them over.



P.S.: I have milk but I’m out of cookies. If you could leave some behind — Pepperidge Farms, either the mint Milanos or the chocolate chip ones with the huge chunks of chocolate — that would be super.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Trampled by eight tiny reindeer

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Every year around the Yuletide season, I have the same nightmare:

I’m standing in my living room, wearing my pajamas. In last year’s nightmare, I was wearing a pair of blue feety pajamas, which I swear I don’t own, but that’s another story.

Anyway, in my nightmare, I feel a strong sense of unease. Maybe it’s the four-story-tall Christmas tree. Maybe it’s the thick carpet of pine needles rustling under my feet. Or perhaps it’s the reindeer helping himself to a cup of tea in front of the television — drinking out of my mug, no less. But anyway, something tips me off in the nightmare that Christmas somehow sneaked up on me, and I forgot to buy presents for anybody.

Then my wife appears in a horse-drawn sleigh and wishes me a merry Christmas.

“Uh,” I say.

“I hope you like your presents!” she says.

And suddenly there are all these amazing gifts everywhere. Anything I’ve ever wanted. Books. Movies. Automobiles. All those useless contraptions from Sharper Image. Hickory Farms sausages. Money in cotton sacks labeled with dollar signs. There are kittens everywhere decorated with red and green bows.

“I don’t know how to tell you this, honey,” I say, “but I thought I Christmas was next week.

She looks at me with big, sad eyes and begins to cry. Several kittens spontaneously drop dead.

At this point in the nightmare, my wife opens the one present I gave her. It’s a poorly wrapped jug of windshield wiper fluid. It’s half-full. It appears I just took it out of my car’s trunk and wrapped it with aluminum foil.

My wife starts to weep loudly, dropping the jug of wiper fluid. She storms away.

“I’m sorry!” I say. “I thought I had more time!

She returns with her bags already packed. Clearly she’s been anticipating my ineptitude for weeks. I’m stuck in the middle of all my good presents, my feety pajamas snagged on that piano I’ve always wanted.

This year’s nightmare had a new twist: the reindeer hurled the mug of tea away, rolled up his sleeves (I forgot to mention — the reindeer is wearing my favorite striped shirt) and proceeded to trample me to death under his hooves.

Invariably, I awaken from this nightmare sweaty, startled — and in the mood for some Christmas shopping!

How much have I done so far?

Don’t ask.

I’m never on the ball when it comes to gift-giving, hence the annual nightmare. I start late in December, I spend too much, I worry for weeks that my choices are lousy, and the boxes end up looking like I wrapped them using my feet. This year doesn’t look like it’ll be any different.

I won’t forget people outright or let the whole holiday slip my mind — I’m not that crazy, man — but I always feel like I’m not doing something correctly. Or like I’m halfway to ruining Christmas for people.

I wouldn’t be bursting with so much anxiety if I just went to the stupid mall already. But I’m trying to avoid the mall this year.

More accurately, I’m trying to avoid the shoppers at the mall this year. The stores themselves are always nice. They’re probably decorated with the trees and the bows and the lights. There’s no doubt some pleasantly corny Christmas music playing. Santa Claus will look well fed, as usual, and his elves will appear to be elven, more or less.

But I’m creeped out by the crowds of shoppers who bully their way around the mall, smacking me with their bags, trying to steal my parking space, cutting in front of me in line.

Take the case of the lady bulldozed under a mob of shoppers at a Florida Wal-Mart. The day after Thanksgiving (her first mistake), Patricia VanLester waited in line for the store to open at 6 a.m. so she could buy a $29 DVD player. When the store opened, according to the Associated Press, “the 41-year-old was knocked to the ground by the frenzy of shoppers behind her.”

She was found later, “unconscious on top of a DVD player, surrounded by shoppers seemingly oblivious to her.” She didn’t take the DVD player along in the ambulance (her second mistake), but a Wal-Mart spokesman said the store would “hold one for her.”

I’ve never been trampled, but it’s been close a few times.

A few years back, I became part of a human glacier slowly inching its way to the cash registers at a Target store. I, along with the rest of the nation, was buying a George Foreman grill for somebody. Three hours later, I paid for it, got to my car, and became part of an automobile glacier creeping out of Taunton with the patience of eons.

And last year, I was caught in a riptide of Christmas shoppers and carried against my will into the Bath and Body Works at Providence Place for 20 minutes, even though I had nothing to buy in there. I saw a drowning man scream for help from several young girls carrying gift baskets — either he was graying, or his hair gone stark white with fear. I only escaped myself when the prevailing winds swept a current of fragrant elderly ladies back out the door.

Come to think of it, perhaps this last one is why the reindeer was trampling me in my nightmare.

I’ll manage to survive this holiday season somehow. It may take a trek to the mall, but with the help of Internet retailers and that greatest of Christmas miracles, overnight shipping, it’ll be January before I know it.
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