The long and short of all that hair

It used to be “go-to” gag gift. When I was in my late ’20s and early 30s, you could never go wrong giving a friend an electric nose-hair trimmer as a birthday gift. The very notion that it would ever actually be used was ridiculous. It was the ultimate absurd accessory.

But then time marched on. And so did nose hair. And suddenly one day that trimmer – also useful for ear hair removal – became a not-so-funny, indispensable grooming device. What used to be silly IS now essential, if uncool.

Hair is pretty much something only found on mammals. You don’t find it on fish – except the little-seen shaggy dolphin (haireus dolphinus).

Hair is defined as filamentous biomaterial – which was the original name of the Broadway musical Hair until someone noticed that Filamentous Biomaterial wasn’t selling many tickets.

Nowadays, I’m yanking nose and ear hairs the way Cisco Morris attacks weeds and moss. After all, if constant vigil is not kept, the ears will lose all hearing through the dense undergrowth. As for the nostrils, what a sad obituary that would be:  LOCAL MAN SUFFOCATES WHEN BATTERIES ON NOSE HAIR TRIMMER GIVE OUT

The most hirsute human I ever saw was Roy Harvey.  In the eighth grade, the guy already looked like a Kodiak bear. Plus, his favorite foods were salmon and honey. (Imagine a rim-shot through these next few sentences.)

He didn’t wear a rug – he was one.

Roy was so hairy that he could have easily survived an Alaskan winter in the nude.

One time he wore a sweater to school, and then discovered that he couldn’t get it off. We called him the Velcro man.

His dream was to be on the high school swim team – but every time he got into the water, he’d sink like a stone – as if he was wearing a gorilla suit.

But when I saw Roy at a class reunion a few years ago, he was decidedly less furry. Most of his head hair was a distant memory.  That which remained had turned “fifty shades of gray.”

He was wearing shorts – and I noticed that his leg hair, like mine, was pretty much gone from the knees down. Where was that hair? In his nose and ears, of course.

It seems that really hairy people want less of it. People with little hair want lots of it. The same goes for hair color. Everybody wants to be a blonde. Except for actual blondes of course.

In old Rome, women dyed their hair blonde using pigeon dung. In Renaissance Venice, they used horse urine. Which would you choose?

Hair removal is big business these days – for both women and men – but apparently the ancient Egyptians were the first to remove unwanted body follicles. King Tut was probably tended to regularly by his royal waxers and appointed pluckers.

The fact is that human hair will grow everywhere except places like the soles of the feet and the lips. I have also read that hair will not grow on the palms of the hands – no matter what.

I wish I had known about this when I was in high school. I’d been given some very bad information.

Better wrap this up. My breathing has become labored. Time to use the trimmer again.

April Fools Day

You’d think we’d see it coming. After all, it is called April Fools Day – and it happens every year. Still, countless humans annually prank countless other humans – from placing Saran Wrap over toilet bowls, to gluing coins to sidewalks. We fool and get fooled alike.

April Fools Day, it is said, originated in the 16th century in France (where they still cannot

get enough of Jerry Lewis). It is also called All Fools Day, which many people prefer because it sounds more inclusive.

I was partly complicit in one of this area’s most notorious April Fools stunts a number of years ago. An April 1st broadcast of the local comedy show Almost Live on KING TV was suddenly interrupted by what appeared to be a breaking news bulletin. A grave-looking news anchor said, “The Space Needle has just fallen over!”

A “live” picture of the great landmark lying on its side further enhanced the story – a photo quite obviously phony when viewed today – but that nonetheless convinced considerable numbers of local viewers that what they were seeing was real.

Hundreds of people began calling emergency and police departments – some in a genuine panic: “My daughter is a waitress at the Space Needle!” Or, “My neighbor runs the elevator!” The furor became national news, and if KING TV had a woodshed, the cast and crew of Almost Live would have been taken to it.

On another April 1st at another TV station where I worked, a guy named Steve had just quit his job to take another and better opportunity in a larger market. He’d sold his house, bought a new one – and sent his family ahead to the new town.

He had just finished cleaning out his desk when the phone rang. He picked it up and the voice on the other end was deeply apologetic. “Steve, I’m afraid we’ve had some sudden budget cuts here – and we’re no longer going to be able to offer you that job.”

Steve’s face turned ashen, he hung up quickly – and with tears in his eyes, raced out of the building so fast no one had time to tell him that the apologetic voice on the other end of the phone was actually a prankster employee calling from the next room.

Steve drove his Plymouth Duster through the parking lot so fast, no one could catch up to him amidst the blue smoke of his peel out. There were no cell phones back then – and no way to contact him.

Those of us in on the trick imagined all kinds of horrible scenarios, the worst of which was a desperate Steve driving his Duster off the nearest cliff. (Although none of us could think of a single cliff in that particular town.)

When Steve waltzed back in an hour later, his look of triumph was ear to ear. He had reverse tricked the rest of us – immediately recognizing the phone prank, and then putting on an acting performance that should have garnered him an Emmy.

That day, at least, he was no one’s fool.

But there was no shortage of them elsewhere in the building.

A thought for the penny

Standing at the supermarket checkout stand, my great-uncle noticed that his tab had come to $19.99. He handed over a twenty-dollar bill – the cash register opened and closed – and then the female clerk just stood and looked at him.

“Will there be anything else?” she finally said.

“Yes,” Great-uncle replied. “I believe I have some change coming.”

The clerk, with eyes rolling like a pair of marbles, opened the register and produced a penny – which she deposited into my great-uncle’s timeworn, outstretched hand. He smiled and said, “Thank you.”

That incident happened perhaps 50 years ago, but I still remember it. It was a time when – at least to people like my great-uncle – a penny meant something.

In 1913, according to Time magazine, a penny had nearly 25 times the purchasing power it has today. But now it costs more than two cents to produce a penny. I was never much good at math, but that sounds like a bad deal – as if a penny saved is a deficit earned.

Earlier this month, Canada stopped circulating pennies – and there are some who think the U.S. should too. My grandma would have said, “If Canada jumps off a cliff, should the U.S.?”

When I was a kid, there were actually things you could buy for a penny – specifically bubble gum. My friends and I used to stop often at a small grocery store in our neighborhood for that very reason.

But the guy who owned the place hated kids – and resented us coming in to buy single pieces of Bazooka. So he began wrapping the gum – five pieces at a time – in scotch tape, so we’d have to pay a minimum of five cents for gum. He broke us. Look up the word “evil” in my dictionary, and you’ll see the guy’s picture.

Things these days aren’t much better for the nickel, which now costs 10 cents to make. Anybody ever notice that the nickel is twice as big as the dime? Could that possibly be the reason?

The US used to have a $100,000 bill, but stopped printing it since it was so hard to break one at Quizno’s.

If the US eventually eliminates the penny, what are we going to insert into penny loafers?

What’s to become of all those penny slot machines at the Tulalip?

What are we going to use as makeshift screwdrivers?

What will we use in the garden as cheap slug repellants? (Pennies supposedly give slugs a tiny electric shock.)

How much will we have to pay for someone’s thoughts? Seems like a nickel ought to get you five of them – but I know people with only four thoughts, max.

Every time it rains, what will it rain from Heaven?

And what will kids have to place onto railroad tracks for the purposes of flattening?

I don’t have the answers to any of those questions. And even if I did, my opinion wouldn’t be worth a red quarter.

Catting around in the suburbs

Tiger came strolling in the door on Wednesday, acting like he owned the joint. Tiger was the pet cat of my wife’s 95 year-old dad, Bert – until Tiger suddenly became our pet cat when Bert passed away.

Only problem was, Tiger didn’t want to be our pet cat, nor the pet cat of anyone else – and within moments of being brought to our house, he disappeared into the woods – apparently deciding he’d rather be the pet cat of Bigfoot.

We would spot him (Tiger, not Bigfoot) occasionally hiding in a drainpipe or sitting on a tree stump – and that was his life for nearly two years – until he finally came walking into our house two days ago, without announcement or explanation.

Now, he seems to be here to stay. That’s a cat for you.

The remarkable mystery of cats seems to confound everyone, including scientists.

Last week, a story in the New York Times detailed how experts were baffled about a cat named Holly, who managed after two months and around 200 miles, to return to her hometown in Florida.

These stories aren’t unique – just amazing. When he was fourteen years old, my brother Mike couldn’t find his way home from our next-door neighbor’s house. So the idea that an animal like a dog or cat can manage hundreds of miles – without a map or GPS – is stunning.

Years ago, a pet cat of ours named “Big Puffy” (so named because he was big and puffy), jumped out of a window during a visit to a veterinarian. The vet’s place was several miles from our house, so we sadly figured B.P. was gone forever.

But a few weeks later, Big Puffy came walking into our yard – not so big, but even more puffy – and otherwise alive and well. Astonishing.

But a few weeks later, Big Puffy disappeared again. He was gone for months. Then a neighborhood kid spotted him a block away at another family’s house. Big Puff apparently had decided the vibe – and the food was better there.

Migratory creatures like insects have been studied much more closely than cats. On the other hand, more people keep cats as pets than stink bugs and earwigs. (Too bad, because earwigs are very smart and loyal.)

I have also owned a cat that never traveled anywhere – except straight up a tree. On one occasion, he remained on high for 13 straight days. Later, he broke his personal best record with a stint of 18 days.

I consulted an expert who said not to worry. “Your cat will come down on his own,” he assured me. “After all, you never see cat skeletons in a tree.” He’s right. I’ve looked.

There is an old Disney movie called “The Incredible Journey.” It has to do with a cat and two dogs making their way back to their owners across hundreds of miles. It took months.

Coincidentally, I once wrote a screenplay about a snail and two slugs making their way across nearly 30 feet.

That journey also took months.

Chicken raisers are no dumb clucks

Question: What adjective best describes chickens without beaks?

Answer: Impeccable.

That’s the first joke this columnist can remember writing. It was in the third grade – and was the runner-up in a class “original riddle writing” contest.

The first place entry was this one:

Question: “What kind of pins are found in a soup?”

Answer: “Terrapins.”

I remember bristling with indignation when the winner was announced. My riddle may not have been superior, but it was original. The winning riddle was a rip-off of one The Riddler had spoken in a Batman comic book.

I knew this to be true, because I had that very comic book hidden in my school desk. It left me in the awkward position of exposing the plagiarizing riddle winner – or admitting to the teacher that I’d brought comic books to school.

So I bit my tongue and accepted the consolation prize. It was my first actual taste of a miscarriage of justice.

But I’ve made peace with it. It doesn’t matter anymore. Really. Hardly ever think about it. I’ve moved on.

Speaking of chickens – which I did several sentences ago – my wife and I recently acquired two chickens. Live ones. That cluck. And, yes, peck.

If you live in Bellevue, you can have up to six chickens, as long as the coop is at least 15 feet from your property line. And 50 feet from a KFC.

If you only have six hens, they’re classified as pets. But you will be responsible if they attack mailmen or chase cars. Posting a “Beware of Chickens” sign is a good idea.

Only hens are allowed in Bellevue – no roosters. This ordinance is just another example of the on-going advance of women’s rights.

My grandpa always used to say that a not-too-bright fellow was “dumber than a chicken.” As a new member of the “Poultry Anti-Defamation League,” I’m here to say that if grandpa were still around, he would owe chickens everywhere an apology.

Our two chickens seem nearly as smart as dogs and cats – and perhaps the equal of some of the humans I know – especially a certain cousin whom I will not name.

Plus chickens tend to smell better than Cousin Jerry. Oops.

OK, maybe a chicken isn’t as smart as certain dogs like Lassie.

TIMMY: “Henny Penny! I’ve fallen down a well! Go get help!”

And I’m not saying a chicken would score well in an SAT exam. But maybe high enough to get into broadcast school. Even so, it’d probably take the chicken five years to graduate.

Hens offer a huge bonus as pets: They provide eggs for breakfast. A good layer can crank ’em out once a day.

My wife and I also are custodians of two horses. There is nothing that either of them lays each day that you’d want for breakfast.

So kudos to chickens – who have other talents. For one thing, they can fly. Not as high as eagles – but a lot higher than any dumb terrapin could even dream of.

Sorry. Guess I’m not really over it.

How to win (you hope) and election

In just a couple of weeks or so, it’ll be Election Day – a time when we come together as a people to find out if the polls were accurate.

We expect our candidates to know the issues, to speak well and look presentable. It is not necessarily important that a candidate bathe regularly. This may explain the surprising landslide victory of state representative Felix “Stinky” Muldoon last election. It’s also perhaps why several of the legislature’s meetings were held outdoors last session.

I’ve never run for public office, except when I was elected class president in the 8th grade. Only some overdue library books, cheating on a math test, and a bit of vandalism prevented me from serving out my full term.

If you are a candidate for state or local office, here are some free tips. Take them for what they are worth:

— Get yourself some grizzled campaign advisors – the grizzlier the better. Do whatever they say, unless they ask you to eat more starchy foods.

— If you run any TV ads, you must wear a hard-hat in at least one of them. It would be best if you were standing alongside other people with hard-hats too, such as at a factory or worksite. Or a TV studio that is made to look like a factory or worksite, where the lighting is better.

— Safety goggles are a good idea too – especially cool-looking ones that look like a pair of ultra-hip eyeglasses.

— In your second TV ad, feature yourself standing around talking to senior citizens. Appear to be interested in them. However, if you can only afford to do one TV ad, be sure to wear a hard-hat while talking to those seniors. It’s a “two birds with one stone” approach.

— If you’re doing any ads where you attack your opponent, it is best not to show yourself actually attacking him/her – especially with a sharp object. This could make you look unhinged.

— A better approach is to use actual video footage of your opponent, but shown in slow motion, black-and-white – and looking really grainy. This will make him/her look unhinged.

— The slow motion, black-and-white, grainy style does not work as effectively in radio ads, experts say.

— If you use an opponent’s actual spoken words in your ads, it’s important to take those words out of context. Remember, you only have 30 seconds – there’s no time for context.

— If you can’t afford many TV ads, don’t sweat it. If running lots of TV ads were so crucial, the woman in all those Sleep Country commercials would be elected.

— When you are giving campaign speeches, remind your audience that you need their support. Point out that “support” is just another way of saying “money.” If you can get enough voters to give you their support/money, you won’t have to use your own support/money.

— Voters are looking for strong candidates, so you should try to be one. Get a gym membership and start working out regularly. Focus on the upper body primarily – after all, voters can’t see the bottom part of you when you’re standing behind a podium.

— And finally, remember that while some voters call themselves independents – many of them actually have a party preference. And the party they prefer is usually the kind that offers tasty hors d’oeuvres – and free liquor.

— But on election night, if the results show that you have lost your race – be gracious, tolerant and classy in your concession speech.

Then, after you’ve left the stage, grab your grizzled campaign advisors and tear them apart with your bare hands.

Good luck.

Businesses on a mission to find a statement

I was sitting in the lobby of a local business a couple of years ago, waiting to talk one of their “representatives.” My eyes wandered onto the wall where the words “OUR COMPANY MISSION” were displayed in huge letters. Below it was this: “To offer excellance in all that we do.”

Yes, they had misspelled the word ‘excellence.’ So I did what any modern day human would do. I took a picture of it with my phone and put it on Facebook – where it was “liked” by many.

The idea of a “mission statement” is to define a company and its purpose. Examples:

“Acme Maps’ mission is three-fold. Unless the map is larger, and then it is four-fold.”

Or, “Uncle Daffy’s Novelty Toys’ mission is to offer the very best in high-quality, name-brand wax lips, joy buzzers and X-Ray glasses that can see through women’s clothes.“

And, “Marvin’s Sit-and-Grin strives to bring its customers the very finest in porta-potties.”

When I was growing up, my dad had a very successful clothing store. His employees were happy, well paid and dedicated. And all of that, without a mission statement. Hard to believe, I know.

But nowadays, it seems like any self-respecting business has to have a mission statement. Even roadside coffee stands have mission statements: “To offer great service and outstanding coffee – while wearing a bikini.”

Heck, even the Starship Enterprise had a mission statement: “To explore new worlds and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before.” The rest of the statement is usually edited out: “To have Captain Kirk put the moves on every woman – human or not–in the universe.”

You have to wonder what the point of most mission statements is? To motivate employees – or curry favor with customers?

If it’s to curry favor with customers, shouldn’t the statement be:

“To make you deliriously happy. We don’t care if we make a dime. It’s all about YOU.”

If it’s to motivate employees: “Our mission is to make butt-loads of money – and if you don’t help us do that, you’ll be cleaning out your desk this afternoon.”

There are countless websites that offer mission statement templates – so that if a company can’t exactly figure out what theirs is, there are people who can. It begs the question: Why not just decide on your mission – and skip the statement?

A friend of mine works at a place where the company mission statement is written on every wall in the building – so no employee can supposedly miss it. (“Oh, that’s right! I forgot. I’m supposed to be passionate in what I do.”)

My friend also says that following the first day on the job, no one ever looks at the statement again.

Why not write a mission statement that everyone can agree on?

“Our mission is to try and not get canned – until we can get a better gig somewhere else that will pay us better and offer more benefits, free parking and more vacation time.

Oh yea, and also to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Searching for perfection

“No one is perfect … that’s why pencils have an eraser.”

– Author unknown

“When you aim for perfection, you discover it’s a moving target.”

– George Fisher

“You kids are perfect slobs.”

– Mrs. Cashman, long ago to Pat and his brothers.

Dwayne Billadeau (not his real name) was a kid who went to my school. Everybody said he was the perfect kid. He was uncommonly good-looking, consistently polite, a straight A student and the best athlete for his age in town.

And Dickie Cooley (not his real name) hated him for that.

One day, Dickie challenged Dwayne to meet him after school for a fight. Dwayne showed up at the appointed time. Five seconds later, Dickie was flat on his back nursing a fat lip and three missing front teeth.

Moral? It’s perfectly stupid to challenge someone perfect to a fight.

Merriam-Webster defines perfection as “being without flaw or defect.” That would pretty much describe the day Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez had last week when he threw a perfect game. That means that not one of the opposing team’s hitters managed to get to first base – either from a walk, a hit – or by cab.

In the century and a half of pro baseball, that hasn’t happened very often.

In fact, a perfect game used to be considered as rare as hen’s teeth. But now, even that comparison has been ruined since scientists managed to actually breed chickens with teeth a few years ago. (True, according to the infallible Internet.)

So why would scientists do that, you may wonder? In order to make a perfectly good expression obsolete, that’s why. (Scientists are now working on a finding something even finer than frog hair.)

But back to the perfect game. Only a baseball pitcher can have one. A basketball player can make every shot, score 150 points – and still not have a perfect game, because he didn’t score 151.

A football quarterback can throw perfect spirals all day, but if his receivers drop them, he looks like a doofus.

Even a baseball hitter can come to the plate five times – hit a grand slam home run every at bat, thus driving in 20 runs – and still not be credited with a perfect game. Only a pitcher can be perfect.

But of course being Mr. Perfecto on one outing might make a pitcher feel lousy if he doesn’t do it the next time. And no one ever has. Maybe Felix can manage it – but if he did, and each subsequent time he pitched, there would come a point when fans would start to yawn. Perfection, after all, can ultimately get boring.

That’s why there will never be a perfect political candidate. It would require someone to admit their mistakes – and if they made mistakes, they’re not perfect.

Incidentally, Dwayne Billadeau showed up for a class reunion a couple of years ago. He’d been married and divorced four times – and had lost a pile of money in the stock market.

Dickie Cooley, on the other hand, while never married, had made it big as a motivational speaker.

His teeth, by the way, appeared perfect.

Pies are flying now that J.P. Patches is in Heaven

Pies are flying now that J.P. Patches is in HeavenFor some of us—after we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil (Shakespeare’s eloquent substitute for the word croaked)—nice words will be spoken, eulogies given and tributes delivered: “Uncle Carl was such a nice guy. And he always gave me candy. I loved him.”

Sweet words, all right. If only Uncle Carl was around to hear them. But usually, by the time they are spoken, the Uncle Carl’s of the world are already down the road.

So imagine how great it must have been to be J.P. Patches (mortal name: Chris Wedes). This was a remarkable person who heard thousands of people tell him how loved he was countless times—day after day—and nobody waited until it was too late.

I would watch the Clown at the many appearances he would make in the last few years—decades since his enormously popular kids’ local TV show went to black—and the phenomenon was always the same. Grown men and women, buckling at the knees, in delighted reverie at the sight of their treasured childhood hero.

Much has been written and said about this remarkable being—and why he, perhaps above all of Seattle’s many broadcast performers, stands on a pedestal of his own.

I don’t think the answer is complicated.

Chris Wedes was real. That might sound odd when talking about a man that dressed in clown’s clothing and makeup. But no amount of artificial cover-up could disguise the very genuine, kind and immeasurably funny human that dwelled beneath.

Kids picked up on that. You can fool an adult, but not a kid. Kids can smell a phony from 10 kilometers. Patches was none of that. He was a good-natured smart aleck—a benign insurrectionist that kids not only found amusing, but also someone they could trust.

Here’s part of an interview I did with Patches last year during one of the many lunches we enjoyed together. At the time, he had announced that he was retiring. He wasn’t feeling all that well and thought it was time to hang up the rubber nose.

This brief excerpt will give you an idea of the witty mind behind the man—a mind that never retired until his body did.

PC: There are rumors that you are retiring, but I thought I’d get the story straight from the horse’s mouth.
JP: “What are you saying: I look like a horse?”

PC: “No! Not at all. By the way, how old are you now?”
(At this point, JP rose from his chair and stomped his left foot on the floor 83 times.)

PC: “Look, J.P., to anyone who grew up around here in the 60’s and 70’s, you’re an icon.”

JP: “Thanks. That how “I conned” you into picking up lunch today.”

I wish I could pick up lunch tomorrow.

I loved that guy.

But I know I’m standing in a very, very long line with everyone else who ever met him.

If there is a Heaven, I know St. Peter is waiting for J.P. Patches eagerly.

But even as he’s swinging open the gate, Old Pete better be ready to get a pie in the face.