Sunday, March 27, 2005

No funny, no bunny

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I hate to do this, but it's for your own good. I'm about to ruin your Easter.

You may want to summon your children to your knee and prepare them for the bad news. Use that authoritative but tender tone of voice you used when they gave little Rover a peanut butter shampoo. Remind them that talks like this are all part of growing up -- a very sucky part, in fact. Although it's not as sucky as the absolute suckiest part of growing up, which is the moment when you realize a mortgage ends up doubling after interest. Five percent -- bullshit! I should have been a banker.

But anyway, back to my ruining Easter.

Be brave. Look your children in the eye, because they can tell when you're lying. Yes, even about that. Brace yourself with a strong brandy (and them, too -- it makes things easier), for this is bound to break some hearts.

No, Virginia, there is no Easter Bunny.

There is, however, an Easter Chicken.

I understand this may take some getting used to.

But it's so obvious if you think about it. The Easter Chicken has been staring you in the face the entire time.

Easter eggs?

Easter chicks?

Marshmallow Peeps?

Perhaps the most transparent clue of all: Hollow chocolate bunnies? Consider the symbolism.

That feeling you have is called "a moment of clarity." You're welcome.

To describe what the Easter Chicken looks like is somewhat counterproductive, seeing as how few have ever seen it; those who did, mistook it for an enormous rabbit. Considering the obvious physical dissimilarities, it's most likely that the Easter Chicken looks just like a regular chicken, but perhaps may wear a bow tie and/or vest. Also, the Easter Chicken may change colors according to its mood. That would explain the multicolored eggs it lays around your house.

I mean, what's a rabbit know from eggs, anyway? Ridiculous! Rabbits aren't oviparous, for shit’s sake! And if a rabbit does lay anything around your house, you do not want to pick it up. It will not be chocolate.

The Easter Bunny, as a secular holiday icon, has too many plot holes. The Easter Chicken, on the other hand, suffers from no such narrative deficiencies.

Since rabbits do not lay eggs, where does this so-called "Easter Bunny" get them, if not from some chicken friend? More to the point, why would a bunny go to all the trouble of hiding Easter eggs like that, when it's clearly a job better suited to a chicken? And how could a rabbit travel all over the world in one night -- wouldn't it make more sense if he had, say, wings to flap?

The answers to these nagging questions and others? The Easter Chicken is responsible, not a bunny. It's the only explanation that makes a bit of logical sense. A distant cousin of the Goose Who Laid the Golden Eggs (a poorer cousin, naturally), the Easter Chicken sneaks into all our homes early Easter Sunday, wanders into various hidden spots, and lays eggs for us. Sometimes the eggs are hard-boiled. Sometimes they're plastic shells with chocolate inside. It's all pretty random.

If you're in a Portuguese household, the Easter Chicken also checks on the massa dough sitting under a blanket in a basin by the baseboards, nestles on top, and squeezes out a few eggs in there, too.

Then he clucks off to other houses to lay more eggs. After a long, long night of egg-laying, like most birds he flies south -- to the South Pole, in fact. That's where he lives.

There are no elves.

I know what you're thinking: How can a male chicken lay eggs? Hello! Magical chicken?

Now that all the puzzle pieces fit, you may be wondering why humanity has perpetuated this gross falsehood about giant rabbits for hundreds of years. Perhaps a short educational scene would explain that better than I could. Lights, please?


[Scene: Your typical 2nd century ranch in England, which is a suburb of Rome. Mom and Dad watch as a little girl dressed in rags named Sally uncovers a pink pastel-colored egg in a pool of fetid water just two doors down off the living room.]

SALLY. Found one! (Cracks it open) It's got little Reese's Peanut Butter Cups in it!

DAD. Not bad, considering chocolate hasn't been invented yet. Thank you, Easter Chicken, wherever you are!

MOM. Your father and I have a surprise for you, Sallykins.

[They hand Sally a box. She tears it open to find a small yellow chick inside.]


SALLY. (cuddling her chick) My very own Easter Chicken! I'm going to call him Snickerdoodles. This is the bestest Easter ever!


[Three weeks later: Snickerdoodles is now a fully grown chicken. Sally is trying to take it out for a walk, but Snickerdoodles keeps pecking at the leash.]

SALLY. Come on, Snickerdoodles! You need your exercise -- you're getting way too plump and juicy.


MOM. Every day, this. That chicken's becoming a pain. Why don't you guys cuddle like you used to?

SALLY. Well... (covering Snickerdoodle's ears, or whatever) He kind of smells funny. Like a barn.

MOM. Maybe it's a phase. Your father smelled like a barn when I met him, and now I hardly notice it.

[Sally tries bravely to hug Snickerdoodles, but the chicken flaps its wings crazily, screeching. There is a mad rush of feathers.]

SALLY. (flailing her arms) Gaah! It's got scratchy claws! (spitting out feathers) Snickerdoodles, stop pecking my face! Aaaah! HELP!

[THE NEXT DAY: Sally, sunken-eyed and covered in bandages, cuddles a soft, fuzzy rabbit. She and Dad sit at the dinner table.]

SALLY. You're ever so much nicer, Flopsydoodles. (grimly) No sharp edges, like that mean old chicken.

DAD. It turned out for the best.

MOM. (enters from the kitchen with two red-and-white striped buckets) Dig in! We've got half original, half extra-crispy.

[A single tear rolls down Sally's cheek as she reaches for a drumstick. The soundtrack swells. It's "The Wind Beneath My Wings"--and we fade out.]

Sunday, March 20, 2005

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's Congress

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Sometimes, people ask me what I'd do if I were president of the United States for a day. My answer is always the same: I would end crime.

But since the president has limited power, I would have to submit my End Of Crime Forever proposal to sympathetic members of Congress. Senators would change it, naturally, add riders and whatnot. Other senators would droolingly consult their lists of pet projects, uncap their pens, and use my bill as scrap paper. Some wouldn't read it and vote against it because I believe in abortion rights. Later, the Senate would debate it for a while and figure out if there's some way that this could be amended to hurt/help the NRA. I'd send fruit baskets to senators on the fence -- except the fruit would be hollowed-out pineapple shells stuffed with money. Also, I'd give my revolutionary crime-ending bill to the House of Representatives, and like a careful taxidermist, it would slice the bill open and stuff it with crap. Both sides would come together and work out their differences in the spirit of compromise -- best two out of three pinfalls. Eventually, seven months after my one-day presidency came to an end and I'm back at my newspaper job in Fall River, the End Of Crime Forever Act would be approved. The act's only measurable effect? The appropriation of $8.2 million for interstate repairs in Nebraska.

Yes, this is the magnificent machine called the Legislative branch of government. There's a lot of paperwork and nobody ends up happy.

Consider this week's hearings on steroid use in baseball. I watched some of that little sitcom, and saw lawmakers confessing their surprise -- nay, Mr. Chairman, their outrage -- that professional athletes would succumb to such an abhorrent practice. Mark McGwire, who can bench-press Jose Canseco and Rafael Palmeiro, calmly shaded from view an obscenely throbbing vein in his temple and replied, "Uh, yeah -- I won't name names."

Take my word for it. There will be a lot of paperwork and nobody will end up happy.

In case you missed any of the hearings, by the way, here's a short transcript:


Scene: The House of Representatives. At first glance, it looks like a House committee is staring across at a mirror -- but no! Those are actually professional athletes sitting at that table: Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Curt Schilling, Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro. They're wearing business suits -- but underneath they've got their uniforms on, in case an emergency baseball game breaks out.

CANSECO. So yeah, I did 'roids. You can read all about it in my new book. [Holds it up to the camera.] I'll be selling and autographing copies after the hearing. Just $29.95 in hardcover.

REP 1. Steroids, Mr. Canseco? Is that what you mean by "roids"? Because I am not familiar with hip-hop terminology!

REP 2. The American people want a clean game! I should know--I'm an American people!

REP 3. Think of the children!

REP 4. Mr. Schilling, did you see anything funny going on in the locker room? In fact, please describe in close detail what the locker room looks like after a game. The sweat, the steam rising off the muscles. All those players, there can't possibly be enough towels for everyone--

SCHILLING. I never took steroids. Look at me. My gut spills over my belt.

REP 5. What would the Lord say about steroids, Mr. Schilling?

SCHILLING. Probably wouldn't dig it.

REP 6. Steroid use is cheating!

REP 7. It's a drug, and drugs are bad!

REP 8. Cheating is bad!

REP 3. The children are bad! Wait. [shuffles papers, reads one] "Think of the children."

DENNIS KUCINICH. Mr. Sosa. Los steroidos are mucho bad, si?

SOSA. I'll just assume that was supposed to be Spanish. So, yes. Very mucho.

REP 1. You're role models! What ever happened to sportsmanship? Would anyone like to comment?

[Softly, we hear the delicate sound of crickets chirping.]


My point is, it's safe to say nobody wants baseball players to use steroids -- not even many baseball players. Boom. That took two seconds for me to say, and hours of official testimony.

Unless Congress is going to do something real about juiced baseball players -- something more substantial than getting on TV and stating the obvious -- then Congress should butt out.

While the committee members spent hours figuring out that steroids are bad, they were not talking about raising the minimum wage, making health care affordable for everyone, stopping corporate crime, reforming the electoral system, fixing the economy, and stopping companies from sending your job to India.

Even if Congress did decide to crack down on doping in baseball, you know what its fix would look like?

The House and Senate would debate the Stop Steroids Bill for weeks. Subcommittees would take the bill, carve it up like a Christmas goose and slip in extra measures that have nothing to do with drugs -- building bridges or regulating cattle feed or drilling for oil in Alaska. George Steinbrenner would send lawmakers some nice fruit baskets. Everyone would get some time on "Face the Nation."

Months later, Congress would pass the Stop Steroids Bill.

It would give pharmaceutical companies that produce steroids a nice tax break.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Nuts for Nutella

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Let's start off this week with a riddle: What's sweet and thick and mostly nuts?

Yes, I suppose I could fit, wiseguy. Thanks.

I'm talking about Nutella!

Nutella is this stuff my wife and I discovered at Shaw's while we were hanging out one day by the peanut butter. We were reviewing the finer differences between jam, jelly and preserves. I had just thrown our philosophical discussion into chaos by asking where marmalade fit into the equation, when my wife caught sight of a small brown jar with a white European-looking label.

"This looks interesting," my wife said, dropping it into our carriage.

"Is this one of those revolting foreign products that only appeals to people raised where they don't have Pepsi?" I asked. "Like Orangina or shrimp crackers or that coconut-flavored soda in the Spanish aisle?"

"I read about this in a health magazine," she said, and I sulked about it the whole way home.

Later, we opened the Nutella jar. It looked like chocolate. A note on the label read, "Nutella is great on ... just about anything!" So we dipped spoons in and tasted.

It was chocolate.

It was wicked good chocolate.

It was most potent, most chocolatey chocolate I've ever eaten in my life. And we had a whole jar.

I muttered something unintelligible and fainted. When I awoke minutes later, my wife sighed, put the spoon down, and helped me to my feet.

"Egad, woman!" I said, reaching inside the jar with a finger. "I thought you said this was health food!"

In short, Nutella is a thick brown spread made from hazelnuts and cocoa. It's made by the Ferrero company. Originally, it comes from Italy, and now it comes from New Jersey (six of one, half dozen of the other). If you're familiar with those expensive, gold-wrapped Ferrero Rocher chocolates that have a goopy fudge in the middle, picture Nutella as the goopy fudge in the middle.

Since discovering it, I've conducted hours of research about Nutella -- about two jars' worth. It's been enough to put together the following question-and-answer cheat sheet to satisfy any inquiries you might have before you try it yourself:


Q: Why haven't I heard about Nutella before now?

A: Perhaps that's best explained on a Web site I found devoted to all things Italian, "Nutella is a wildly popular food which all Italians eat but no one talks about." The reasoning is, if they don't talk about it, you won't
try to swipe their Nutella.

Q: You sound crazy. Can Nutella really be that good?

A: Yes, it is that good. I don't want to oversell it, but Nutella is probably the best edible substance ever. That includes steak and money.

Q: What genius invented Nutella?

A: At the end of World War II, Italian defense contractor Pietro Ferrero created Nutella in an attempt to create a plastic explosive that also tasted delicious when spread on croissants. Ferrero pureed hazelnuts, and gradually he mixed in the most wonderful ingredients in the world: cocoa powder, skim milk, sunshine, the smell of warm puppy dogs -- you name it. Eventually, he gave up trying to make it explode, added partially hydrogenated peanut oil, and called it Nutella.

Q: How did Nutella go from being an Italian product to the worldwide phenomenon it is today?

A: Here's something I found online -- unfortunately, it was written entirely in Italian. translated it for you, with little success.

"The happened one that it derived some to world-wide level was therefore immense that today the Nutella is practically prepared spalmabile made up of cacao and the nocciole more used and known." Does that clear things up?

Q: I'm allergic to both hazelnuts and chocolate. Can I still eat Nutella?

A: Sadly, no. Your life is wasted. Thanks for your letter!

Q: Please settle a bet between myself and my friend, whom I'll call "Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Starship Enterprise." I say Nutella is good on just about anything. My friend says Nutella is good on just about everything. Who gets the backrub?

A.: You're both wrong! Nutella is great on just about anything! I've tried it on fruit, toast, English muffins, my fingers, my wife's fingers and the kitchen counter, and so far I've not been disappointed. Next, I plan to try spreading it on bagels, vegetables, turkey and the end of a pencil.

Q: Isn't it fattening to eat so much Nutella?

A: Next!

Q: Is Nutella more of a breakfast food or a snack food?

A: For this answer, let me turn once again to the Italian Web site I found, translated by Google.

"Its happened one, beyond to the unmistakable taste, is legacy to the conservation facility (does not go put in refrigerator) and of dosage."

Q: Are there any famous Nutella TV commercials? You know -- like the Grey Poupon ones, except they could use Nutella. Wouldn't that be funny?

A: No, that would be awful, thanks anyway. Nutella relies primarily on word of mouth. For instance, by writing the word "Nutella" so often, I have imprinted the brand name in your mind. Soon you shall crave Nutella. Then you will buy Nutella and eat Nutella and love Nutella. When your Nutella is all gone, you shall weep and cry, "I must have more Nutella!" And you shall experience severe depression until you buy more Nutella. This is called "advertising."

Q: I read on the Internet that, in Europe, Nutella has been celebrated "in song and print." What's a typical Nutella song?

A: Usually, people just substitute "You Make Me Feel So Young" for "You Make Me Feel Like Eating Nutella," and "Strangers in the Night" to "Nutella is Good."

Then there are original compositions, like this one. And-a one, and-a two...

I'm such a happy fella,
When I'm eatin' my Nutella
With you,
Everything is swell-a
When I'm spreadin' my Nutella
With you...sweet you.

My heart, it goes ker-twhot,
But, baby, it sure ain't not
From being so near your cocoa-smooth head.
It's so hazelnutty and sweet
I can't just eat it for a treat--
Pardon, lover, but you're hogging the bread...

So if I was locked in the cellar
Wouldn't want nothin' but my Nutellaaaaar--
Oh--and you, dear...also you.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's nothing much!

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Dear millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett:

You just became the first person to fly around the world solo without stopping or refueling, but I don't give a shit.

It was even in the news and everything. Wasn't impressed. Not even a little. Found the crossword puzzle and thought that was much more fascinating than your trip. For instance: Did you know that "ort" is a word? It's true! Look it up.

You're famous for doing all kinds of goofy-ass stunts to impress me, and so far I haven't cared. I remember you as that guy who blew millions of dollars trying to be the first person to fly solo around the world in a balloon. You failed five times before finally succeeding on the sixth attempt, thus proving that when it comes to overseas travel there is a worse experience than leaving through Logan.

Your balloon ride was no big deal, in my book. Whoop de-doo, you went around the world -- but you flew from Australia back to Australia. Earth is much narrower down there. If I made the rules, an around-the-world flight would be cheating unless you followed the equator. Or if you went north and south over both poles. I'm flexible on this point.

Also, the word "balloon" conjures up images of riding in a big wicker picnic basket with sandbags tied to the sides. Your balloon, millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett, if I remember correctly, was a space capsule-type object that cost more money than I will ever see in my life and contained as much technology as the average Best Buy store.

If it had been a giant picnic basket, you would have had my attention. Since it wasn't: no, thanks anyway.

Now you go on a phony-baloney airplane flight and I'm supposed to be astonished by your adventurous spirit. Not likely, Steve. You want to talk adventurous flights? I once flew to Rome, coach, and had to sit through "Chocolat." A drink was five bucks. An old lady sitting beside my wife kept farting in her sleep. That's a flight, my friend.

Getting back to your hobby. According to an AP story, Steve, you took off from Salina, Kan., in the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer and returned to Salina 67 hours later, having not stopped or refueled the whole time.

That sounds amazing -- until you realize that the GlobalFlyer is (I'm quoting the official GlobalFlyer Web site here) "a single-engine turbofan aircraft specifically designed for non-stop global circumnavigation by a solo pilot with no passengers."

In other words, millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett, you flew a plane that was built for the specific purpose of circling you around the world very fast. The plane was designed by some highly intelligent people to do that and nothing but that. In fact, from what I read, the plane is so expensive, so well-designed, so aerodynamically perfect, that once you get it off the ground the damn thing can't help but fly itself around the world. You just sit in it, and boom, there it goes.

I'm not the kind of person who's easily amazed when a tool works the way it's supposed to. If I see somebody driving a forklift, am I supposed to cheer when the forklift picks things up?

And before you bring it up, this isn't the same as astronauts sitting in a space shuttle. Those people are scientists, and when they go into space they're conducting research that benefits mankind -- not for their own self-aggrandizement, and not so they could have the fun of saying they went on a wicked fast ride.

And, not to be persnickety, but didn't you at least have to dodge anything on this flight? Was somebody trying to shoot you down with lasers? Did you have to pedal to make the engine go? Were you required to spend a certain amount of the time doing a headstand on one of the wings?


So you sat in a cockpit for 67 hours?

I daresay that could be cramped. The AP wrote that you could only take power naps, and "survived on 12 milkshakes and water during the flight." The story helpfully adds, "Fossett used bottles as his bathroom."

Bully for you, but the level of courage necessary to survive that experience isn't breaking my heart. Give me a milkshake and watch me drink the hell out of it. I could go for days like that. I once went almost a week eating nothing but pumpkin pie.

And if you and your partner, "Rebel Billionaire" adventurer Sir Richard Branson, could spend an unholy sum of money buying this airplane capable of zipping around the world nonstop without refueling, couldn't you have had MIT devise some other way of going pee-pee besides using bottles?

Let me come to my point, millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett. I'm sick of being in the newspaper business. Can I be an adventurer, too, if it's so easy? I could be The Rebel Thousandaire Dan Medeiros -- fearless, dashing as hell, and middle-class.

Below is a list of my accomplishments. Let me know if I can be of any help on your team when you attempt whatever stunt you waste millions of dollars on next.


Dan M., adventurer for hire

Dan's adventure resume

Longest amount of time a newspaper columnist has gone without eating a rutabaga:
as of this writing, 28 years, 27 days.

Broken Fall River-to-Boston speed record in a custom-built 2000 Toyota Echo, code-named Quigley: 45 minutes.

Most consecutive snooze-button hits without actually rolling out of bed: 13.

Greatest distance flying and safely landing a specially engineered paper aircraft across the newsroom: 46 feet.

Longest number of hours spent sitting quietly and doing nothing: 9.

Shortest duration of time needed to order take-out from China Star: 19 seconds.

In this latter case, Mr. Fossett, I utilized a special Samsung cellular telephone device, aerodynamically constructed to break the sound barrier by transmitting speech from one place to another. Is that cheating?
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