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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Swords Drawn—Don’t Eat those Cookies or Candy. They’re for Company

Yesterday we discussed serial killers and the Mueller Sword of Damocles suspended over Trump and his administration. Or not exactly. Spoiler alert if you’ve not read yesterday’s column.

The serial killer turned out to not be a serial killer since he’d only killed two people.  And, I did not discuss Trump. I just meandered into a discussion of fawning and faulty advisors and Trump’s troop sprang into my head unbidden.

But I’m back on track of talking about advisors and advice columnists, faulty and otherwise. As promised, I also will give this post a little holiday and end-of-year spin.

The columnist in our local paper, who shall remain nameless to protect her identity and also because the name she uses may be a pen name, recently addressed a complaint. 

The inquirer seeking advice said her husband eats all the festive, holiday candy she places in decorative candy dishes around her house. (I promised a holiday theme.) The husband’s gastronomic excesses occur even though he knows he isn't supposed to eat these candies.

The writer goes on to complain her husband’s decorative-candy eating occurs despite the fact she has provided him with volumes of healthy snacks in the pantry and freezer.

He eats all of that, as well as full meals, and also all of the potato chips in the house before she has a chance to have a few chips with her measly sandwich. Her husband swallows, practically unchewed, a whole can of nuts before she has a chance to think about eating a nut. And, to add insult to injury he eats all of this without gaining weight.

In response to the writer’s plea for advice on keeping her eating-machine of a husband to at least keep his grubby hands off the Christmas candy, the columnist suggests the writer display decorative candy made of glass.

What a great idea. This strategy should certainly discourage her husband from eating the candy after that first bite. But while her husband’s bad Christmas-candy-eating habit is likely to be broken so are his teeth, all in one swell crack.

He might also be discouraged from eating anything for a while. On the downside, the savings in candy purchases could be offset by the dental bills.

Once again, though, the advice columnist fails to get the question right. What I hear the wife screaming between the lines of her letter is: “How can my husband eat all of the snacks in the pantry, the food in the freezer, every last chip and nut in the house, and then polish off all of the decorative candy--and not gain weight?

Sister, I hear you pain. As does any woman  who has watched her husband consume all manner and quantity of junk food and never seem to gain weight. While if she eats a tiny bite of brownie she gains 5 pounds overnight.

Among many other gender disparities in this world, the ability to eat whatever one wants and not gain weight, unfairly burdens the so-called fairer sex.

As far as I know, there is no cure for this or many other of life’s inherent inequities. That says nothing about the non-inherent inequities. And it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to even the playing field. But that’s for another day. 

For now, we’ll just try to solve the problem of keeping decorative sweets to offer company when your husband is an eating machine. I have learned a few tricks from my foremother and can offer solutions to this timeless question that do not involve glass candy.

First, wait to put the candy on display until just before the guests are to arrive. That means hide the treats until then. It gives errant husbands a much shorter span of time to run in and eat all the candy. It also gives the guests at least a fighting chance at the candy.

Or try the other “trick” my mother used. When I was a child my parents never kept candy or snacks in the house. With one exception. My mother kept one particular type of cookie in our pantry: “Windmill Cookies”, so-called because they looked like little windmills. And maybe also because they were as hard as the material used to make actual windmills.

Guests may have occasionally broken a tooth while trying to eat one. Sort of like trying to eat glass candy.  But technically they were edible and it was not such a litigious society back then. Our family members, on the other hand, never suffered a problem as we knew better than to try a windmill cookie —so no rush trips to the dentist for us.

I once asked my mother why she bought the windmill cookies, our family’s least favorite sweet. My mother's reply was edifying, "I buy them because no one will eat them. That way, I always have cookies to set out for company."

If your husband eats all the decorative, intended-only-for company candy, consider buying technically edible but disagreeable sweets. That way you always have some to put out. After the first bite even the guests likely will leave the candy alone.

But, now that folks are so much more inclined to run to the courthouse over small incidents, you might want to warn them about possible broken teeth. Or is that like the serial killer next door? Is it caveat emptor when it comes to killers and candy? Discuss and analyze amongst yourselves.

Here's hoping your “company” cookies and candy last well into the new year and that 2018 brings joy and blessings to you, dear reader, and all of God's creatures.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Sword of Damocles and Advice Columns

In preparation for a new year perhaps we should examine the advice being doled out by professional advisors.

No, not what you think. I’m not going to berate Trump advisors. They have their hands more than full trying to keep the small-handed Trump from spewing forth rambling delusions to wandering reporters.

Not to mention the Mueller Sword of Damocles hanging heavily over Trump and his merry band of reverse Robin Hoods. In the dark of night do any of the not-yet-indicted Trump family, friends, and advisors wake up to contemplate the smell or feel of a prison cell? 

The Damocles Sword analogy is so apropos to Trump and his advisors. For those not familiar or who have forgotten the tale, a short summary. As a result of Damocles’ pandering to King Dionysius, Damocles finds himself “King for a Day” in the lap of luxury. But it turns out not to be such a great gig since a huge sword, barely held in place, hangs over his head the entire time. 

Some say the tale is a reminder that with great power comes great danger. Or a reminder that pandering has its own peculiar punishments.

Feel free to draw your own conclusions. I said, I’m not going to discuss Trump and his advisors. And I'm sticking to that.

Instead, I’m turning to something more benign—serial killers next door and the preservation of hard candy. Since this essay has continued to expand, much like some things do, I’ll split it into two, with a promise to tie it all neatly with a left-over Christmas bow in time for New Years Eve.

The New York Times ethic columnist recently dealt with whether a homeowner selling his house should disclose to prospective buyers that the owner next door is a serial killer. Gee, I suppose that’s in the category of something I’d want to know but never thought to ask.

The inquirer described the next-door neighbor as someone who had killed two people when he was a young man and, after serving 25 years, had recently been released and returned to the family home, which happened to be next door to the person who suddenly wanted to sell his house. For other reasons. Ha. That’s a good one.

The columnist discussed at great length various ethical and legal considerations, real estate disclosure issues, and how particular legal issues vary from state to state while, at the same time, not really answering any of those questions.

I can see this question on a future law school or realtor exam: Discuss and analyze constraints and requirements of disclosure when selling a house next door to a serial killer. Use your own discretion weighing liability issues with questions of ethics, morality, and common sense. Use all pages of the blue book and write in the margins as necessary to fully explore all sides of the issues.

The ethicist concluded by observing that societal interests were served by the would-be seller not disclosing that his next-door neighbor was a serial killer. Which also would seem to improve the odds for the would-be seller becoming an actual seller. The ethicist observed that the convicted killer, after all, had served his time and paid his debt to society and that one journalist’s study suggested a killer who has served his time is not all that likely to be a recidivist.

Plus, according to the ethicist, if the convicted killer is at all rational, he should know he would be the first suspect if a body is discovered nearby.

I don’t find this final conclusion particularly reassuring. First, the fact my future neighbor would be the first person the police would talk to if my body were discovered in the nearby woods does not give me a lot of comfort. But maybe that’s just me.

Second, assuming the next-door serial killer is rational, he likely would decide to dump my body as far away from his home as possible. Don’t TV shows always make the serial killer particularly crafty and less likely to leave clues right out in the open—like not dumping their victims’ bodies nearby.

Finally, though, speaking of TV shows portrayals of serial killers I have to comment on the stunning omission from the ethicist’s remarks. Why does the ethicist leave unchallenged the assumption that someone who has murdered only two people is a serial killer? As anyone who has watched even a smattering of crime shows knows, the FBI does not consider a murderer to be a serial killer until there are at least three similar killings.

So, the response should have been--obviously, there is no serial killer next door. He’s just someone who killed a couple of people, and maybe the victims annoyed the killer. So, the future home buyer need only be warned to stay on the good side of his neighbors. Listen carefully to the answers you receive next time you ask about future neighbors.

My next column will answer--how are serial killers like hard candy or windmill cookies. Cheers!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Have Aliens Landed Or is that Just My Dog Barking?

Why is it on days when I don't get enough sleep and my brain is foggy a lot of funny ideas come streaming into my mind? There's probably some good neurological or scientific data to explain this. Or maybe it’s just that most of the filters in my brain temporarily are shut down due to lack of sleep—napping as I wish the rest of my brain were. In a vacuum without filters, funny thoughts bubble up. That's the theory I'm going with. Or maybe aliens have taken over my brain.


Last night was one of those nights without much sleep.  I had neglected to pick up Blazer’s, our collie dog, full food bowl when I went to bed. As a result, I've been extremely foggy all day.


You see, Blazer loves to have a post-midnight snack. So, around 1 o'clock last night he went into the laundry room where his food and water bowls reside. He proceeded to eat everything.


Do you remember the movie, “Gremlins”? The first rule was: “Don’t feed the gremlin after midnight”. Whoever came up with the concept of Gremlins must have owned a collie dog. After our 5-year-old-but-still-a-puppy collie eats, he has an immediate blood sugar spike. Which is fine most of the time. We play with him, take him for a walk or chase him around the house as he herds imaginary sheep and our furniture. 


But if he eats after we’ve gone to bed he still gets that blood sugar spike. He gets frisky, wants to play, or just goes to the back door and barks. This is not nearly as much fun at 1 or 3 AM as it is at 1 or 3 PM in the afternoon. At least for non-collie-dog residents of the house, the people who are trying to sleep.


I've fallen for our dog’s middle-of-the night barking tricks in the past and, thinking he needed to relieve himself, let him outside, only to have to repeat this multiple times. I’ve discovered by watching him out the window, he does nothing that would merit a trip to the backyard.  Unless you consider standing on the deck and surveying his backyard domain as a top priority.


So last night when he started barking sometime between 1 and 3 AM (I was too sleepy to look at the clock) I went to get him where he was barking near the back door.  He greeted me with a big tail wag, sloppy grin, and playful antics. It was clear he wanted to play: herd imaginary, indoor sheep or chase a stuffed animal or ball. Any rough and tumble game would suffice for him.


Instead of returning his play proposals, I strongly encouraged him to go lie down and go to sleep. By taking him by the collar, leading him to his bed and saying as firmly as possible, “Go lay down go to sleep."


Even though they don’t teach that command at dog training class, it worked for about an hour. Then he barked uproariously again. This time my husband got up. Our dog didn't even pretend to want to go outside this time. Instead he simply laid down in our family room with that well-known collie look of, "What?  It wasn't me who barked."


This morning when the sunlight started peeking through our windows, always-on-the-alert Blazer again started barking furiously. This time the ruckus was coming from the bathroom.  When we went to check to see what monsters or spooks might be worthy of such an uproar we found Blazer furiously ready to attack a small space heater.


I had bought said heater a few days earlier, thinking it would be nice to chase away the chill when I step out of the shower on a cold day. In fairness to our collie, the heater does look a bit like a satellite dish ET might use to phone home. Our dog appeared certain aliens had landed in the bathroom.


By that point, I didn’t care if aliens had landed in our bathroom as long as they would let me sleep a little longer. I rolled over and tried to go to sleep. I hoped any aliens in the bathroom would be the type willing to play with our collie.


Tonight, I hope to get more sleep than the previous night. I can assure you, when I go to bed I’m not leaving out food for our dog, aliens, or even Santa. They all will have to fend for themselves. And I’m going to try to remember what rule two was about Gremlins—oh, don’t get them wet--or they multiply. And one collie “pup” sure is enough for us.