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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

To tip a little, a lot, or not at all

This story ran in the Miami Herald today. Don't worry. It's not another one of mine. But in case you don't feel like clicking the link, here are the top few paragraphs:

Brigitte Rivera, who works at two Sawgrass Mills restaurants, is a forgiving soul. Half of her customers are stingy tippers, giving less than the 15 percent benchmark. And some don't tip at all. But the upbeat, swift-moving waitress knows it's not because the customer is unhappy -- it's because some of her patrons don't know any better.
''Sometimes, I'll get a table that doesn't tip me at all, and they're extremely happy with the service,'' she said. ``They think it's already included in my paycheck or something.''
Servers across the nation are speaking up about pay. But in South Florida in particular, with its influx of international tourists, servers wait on many visitors who are unfamiliar with the 15 percent tipping custom in the United States. Some restaurants, such as those in South Beach, automatically include tips on the bill because of international tourists. Yet other tourist-heavy areas, including Sawgrass Mills in Sunrise, don't automatically include gratuity.
And after years of dealing with paltry tips from international diners, Rivera supports the efforts of an online organization to boost tips. is petitioning for all U.S. restaurants to automatically include a 20 percent tip on the bill. The website was launched in May and has gained 3,000 online supporters.

So the story is about wait staff in restaurants supporting a national movement to automatically add that 20% tip to food tabs. One of the arguments in support of the mandatory tip is that here in South Florida, tourists, particularly those visiting from other countries, aren't familiar with our "American" tipping custom. I say that's BS. I don't care if you're from Mars. You know if someone runs around serving you while you eat you need to leave them extra money when you're done.

In general though, I have mixed feelings about this. I like to tip big - not showin' off big, but showing that I appreciate manual labor big.

It's not like I have much experience waiting tables myself. I lasted one week during my junior year in high school at one of those buffet joints that were so popular in the late '80s. I just happened to get stuck with the tables full of people who were too sedity to eat from the buffet and wanted regular meals served to them. Alas, a couple of dropped trays full of food, and I found myself unemployed...and promptly moved across the street to McDonald's.

Anywho, back to the matter at hand. Waiters and waitresses have it tough, especially in popular places, and I'm amazed at how often I see cheap-arsed people get up after an hour or more of service and leave a buck or two on their tables. That is horrible. It's bad karma. And it will one day bite all of those cheapskates where the sun don't shine.

On the other hand, I've seen quite a few waiters and waitresses give really bad service. I mean bad, as in attitude, bad as in only checking on our table once in a blue moon, bad as in taking orders for this and that and either forgetting or neglecting to bring it, bad as in getting orders wrong and then getting huffy about correcting their mistakes. And while I still believe in giving a minimum of 15% just because, those are the waiters and waitresses who don't deserve a penny more.

So a mandatory 20% sticks in my craw.

For my wife's birthday in January we went out to eat with four friends. The six of us had a blast. But our waitress behaved as though she was in high school and we'd just banished her to her bedroom: major attitude, pouting, ridiculously slow service. In the end our tab was well over $200. As we're all doing the math and figuring out our shares of the bill, one member of our party took a close look at the bill and saw that the tab was that high, because a 20% tip had already been added. That was one of those times I wanted to go find a manager and tell him/her that this waitress didn't even deserve a coke and a smile.

Don't be cheap, but if you're a waiter or waitress don't be lazy. Problem solved.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Free kicks in the teeth!

I am a suspicious person by nature. I don't mean suspect, though some folks might disagree. I mean I am suspicious of some strangers, because I can't figure out what motivates their actions.

And see, that's part of the problem with suspicious folks like me. Sometimes we're unwilling to accept that there is no ulterior motive, that sometimes people are nice, or friendly, or good, just because they are that way.

Those people who feel genuine, who talk good sense to me, those people I know - whether through friendship or mere acquaintanceship, and those people I've had a chance to observe over a reasonable period of time, I trust. I trust that when they do something nice, friendly, etc., it's 'cause they're nice, friendly, etc. And I trust that when they're not so nice they're also just being themselves.

I'd love to blame my suspicious nature on living in Miami. But my old friends will tell you I've always been this way.

The guy who hit me up on the sidewalk for a buck? I was the guy in college who gave him a stamp and an envelope instead and told him to go mail someone a job application. What can I say? I was a part-time jerk. To be fair though, I was young and had not yet fully learned the definition of compassion, as the recipient or the giver. And I was a little bitter, 'cause all through college I worked 50-plus hours per week to pay my tuition and bills. So anyone asking me for even half a penny would've gotten 'tude from me.

Anyway I rambled on about all of that so I could work up the nerve to admit this afternoon I found myself sitting with my laptop in front of a television. And Oprah was on.

It was the start of her show and the camera panned crowd of would-be audience members lined up outside Oprah's studio at the buttcrack of dawn. Suddenly from across the street, this guy showed up offering free hugs to the crowd. He held up a sign that read "Free Hugs." And people hugged him. Please watch - Oprah showed this video to the audience later in the show - and I'll meet you on the other side:

So there you have it. The guy in the crushed velvet blazer told Oprah that he moved back home not so long ago, only to find his friends and family moved away (were they hiding from him?). So to fill the void, he made his sign, posted up in a public place, and began offering hugs.

Am I the only one who thinks this guy is a nutjob? If some guy walked up to me and offered to hug me, I would cross to the other side of the street. And if he persisted, I'd be inclined to clock him like Popeye. And no, that's not homophobia. It's strangerphobia, and nutjobphobia.

I asked my wife later what she thought, and, of course, she thought it was a sweet gesture.

What if some guy walked up to your teenage daughters as they roamed the mall and offered to hug 'em? Or your wife, or girlfriend, or your elderly frail mother? Ladies, same goes for a strange woman offering to hug the men in your life...for "free."

No dice. This is looney.

You got hugs? Unless you're a supermodel, I got restraining orders (or tasers, if necessary).

Besides, even if you are a supermodel you probably only want to hug me so you can slip me a drug and steal my kidney.

Did I mention that I am suspicious? Still, the kidney possibility is on the house. I saw it on Nip/Tuck.

Anyway, if you too are a dude in a crushed velvet blazer with mutton chop sideburns - actually, if you're a dude period, who isn't friend or family - keep your hugs to yourself. And don't even think about holding my hand.

The Cowboy Code (I forget what chapter we're on)

So my guy back in Milwaukee met a nice woman a few weeks ago, and they've been flirting - not just with each other but with the whole idea of the two of them pairing off.

Things appeared to be going well, until he called her a few nights ago, blanked out (he says ;>) when she answered the phone, and responded to her with the wrong name: as in "Sally" answer's "Hello?" And my guy replies "Hey 'Suzie,' this is Fred!"

I say they just met, so the situation is savageable. He has to make light of it, be a little self-deprecating, and tell her something to the effect of "Listen, I was tired. I was nervous. This is still so new to me. And for just a split second my brain failed me. It may be a little early to tell you this, but I really do like you, and the name of a recent acquaintance just popped into my head. Forgive me. It won't happen again."

He doesn't think it's salvageable. He thinks there's no way to explain that screw up. I say it's better than using the wrong name during an intimae moment.

What do you say?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

More shameless self promotion

My articles in today's paper: Heroic dreams: hot new comic book born from Miami fantasies, and Davis has picked unlikely battles. If you don't live in Florida, the second story is probably of no interest to you. It's a profile of the Democratic party's gubernatorial candidate here. And if you're suspicious of politics in general, don't take this profile as an endorsement. It isn't. It's simply an analysis, the third in a series we've done on both candidates. I just happened to be responsible for this particular installment.

Enjoy. More behavioral issues later.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Shameless self promotion

My article on the cover of the Tropical Life Section in today's Miami Herald: For adults, skin is in for Halloween.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Happy Anniversary...Sort of...To Me!

Today marks one year since I moved to Greater Miami from the Upper Midwest.

Literally one year ago today me, my wife, and my dog drove our overloaded Jeep down I-95 and into Miami-Dade County.

And I can honestly say being down here has taught me a lot.

Things I love: the handful of friendly people I've met, especially on and through the blogoshphere, palm trees, winters with temperatures in the mid 70s, living less than a mile from the beach, being able to go to the beach in October (and November, and December, and January, and February), having a virtual National Geographic zone in my yard, what with the poison toads, tree frogs that will leap onto your head from the overhanging branches, wild iguanas, and wild parrots, the huge variety of ethnic food eateries, the rainbow of culture, and - while this may read like sucking up, it isn't - my job. There are no better and few equal towns in which to be a newspaper reporter, 'cause so much nuttiness happens here. Juicy news never ceases to develop here.

Things I don't love so much: Posers, all purpose posers, posers who go hungry so they can buy clothes to wear to the club and pose as wealthy people, posers who can't make rent so they can buy those same clothes, posers who post up in bars and clubs and pretend to talk on the cell phone so as to impress other patrons, posers who lie about their professional status so as to impress people, posers who lie about their accomplishments so as to impress people, posers who try to use big words (and often do so incorrectly) so as to impress people, posers who go hungry and live in grass shacks so as to pour all their money into cars they can't really afford, posers who live in gated communities but pretend to be gangsters, posers, posers, posers, posers, posers, posers, posers, posers, posers, posers, posers, posers, posers, posers, posers, posers, posers, posers, pretentious rich people who flaunt their wealth without tact or taste, posers, pretentious rich people who think wealth equals class, posers, groupies who would push their own grandmothers in traffic in order to get a shot at catching a celebrity's eye, posers, reckless drivers who give you 'tude for being in their way, posers, people who carry their little yappy dogs EVERYWHERE, posers, rude people who revel in their own rudeness, posers, celebrity worship, posers, and finally, posers.

I have, on the up side, developed more patience with traffic in South Florida, and for those (sort of still frequent) times when I have zero patience I've learned about a half dozen new international hand gestures to let the reckless drivers know what I think of them, their mothers, and the figurative horses they rode in on.

And also on the plus side my imagination has gotten a boost, 'cause you just can't make up the wackiness that is South Florida. And that, my friends, has given me new ammo in the novel I've been writing.

All in all, I'd call this a positive experience so far. Sure there are butt loads of posers here, but even they have positive lessons to give, whether they realize it or not: Forget who you want to be. Until you are that person, just be yourself.

Does that make sense? Hope so.

Peace and hair grease. I'm done till tomorrow.

I have seen the future

And it is weird: According to this Internet crystal ball I will die on Saturday, Aug. 4, 2057.

Morbid and bananas, but hey, it is Halloween...soon.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

BS Patrol Pt. 2, the Gibson

Two days in a row, two big pantloads.

Florida State Rep. Ralph Arza owes me for free legal advice.

Arza stepped in it again this week when he allegedly drunk-called a fellow legislator, berated that legislator for filing a complaint against him, and tossed around the N-word to that fellow legislator.

It was the second time in months Arza was accused of using that word. The first time was in reference to Rudy Crew, the black chief of Miami-Dade Public Schools. And, of course, Arza denied talking that way the first time.

This time he was caught on tape, in a manner of speaking, having left his rant on the fellow legislator's voicemail.

If you guessed Arza's response was "I used a word I shouldn't have and spoke in a racist manner and exhibited a racist attitude," then you would have guessed wrong.

Arza chalked his words up to an anger problem and too much booze.

South Park coined the "Chewbacca Defense," in which a cartoon caricature of the late Johnnie Cochran represented a music exec who sued Chef over song-writing credits. "Cochran" attempted to distract the jury by arguing that it was improbable that giant fur balls like Chewbacca could come from Endor, the same planet as the Ewoks, little fur balls.

I'm calling my new legal theory "The Gibson."

It's very similar to "I misspoke," the similarity being that users of "The Gibson" can attribute their bad acts to an outside influence, rather than just acknowledge that they are flat out wrong about something. Users of The Gibson may say they were wrong, but that acknowledgement will always come with a caveat: that something else made them do it.

courtesy of someone who is a bigger egghead than me and who posted it to, here is "Cochran's" closing argument from that South Park episode:
Cochran: Ladies and gentlemen of this supposed jury, Chef's attorney would certainly want you to believe that his client wrote "Stinky Britches" ten years ago. And they make a good case. Hell, I almost felt pity myself! But, ladies and gentlemen of this supposed jury, I have one final thing I want you to consider. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Chewbacca. Chewbacca is a Wookie from the planet Kashyyyk. But Chewbacca lives on the planet Endor. Now think about it; that does not make sense!
Gerald Broflovski (Kyle's dad and Chef's attorney): Dammit!
Chef: What?
Gerald: He's using the Chewbacca Defense!
Cochran: Why would a Wookie, an eight-foot tall Wookie, want to live on Endor, with a bunch of two-foot tall Ewoks? That does not make sense! But more important, you have to ask yourself "What does this have to do with this case?" Nothing. Ladies and gentlemen, it has nothing to do with this case! It does not make sense! Look at me. I'm a lawyer defending a major record company, and I'm talkin' about Chewbacca! Does that make sense? Ladies and gentlemen, I am not making any sense! None of this makes sense! And so you have to remember, when you're in that jury room deliberatin' and conjugatin' the Emancipation Proclamation, does it make sense? No! Ladies and gentlemen of this supposed jury, it does not make sense! If Chewbacca lives on Endor, you must acquit! The defense rests.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

BS Patrol

From the Washington Post:
The State Department official in charge of public diplomacy for the Middle East apologized Sunday for telling the Arabic language Al-Jazeera television station that the U.S. had displayed "arrogance and stupidity" in Iraq.

Alberto Fernandez, director of public diplomacy in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department, made the remarks in an interview that aired Saturday on the Qatar-based channel, which is carried by satellite and is closely watched in the Arab world.

...As wire service accounts of his remarks began to appear, the state department initially said that Fernandez had been misquoted.

On Sunday, the agency posted a comment from Fernandez on its Web site apologizing for the remarks. "Upon reading the transcript of my appearance on Al-Jazeera, I realized that I seriously misspoke by using the phrase 'there has been arrogance and stupidity' by the U.S. in Iraq," Fernandez said in the statement. "This represents neither my views nor those of the State Department. I apologize."

He misspoke? And his words don't represent his views?

I'm gonna try that one.

From now on, my official "state" policy is that I don't say anything wrong. I misspeak. Think about it. We can all be absolved of every stupid thing that comes out of our mouths or from the tips of our pens.

Sure, I spelled your name wrong, but it wasn't an error. I mis-wrote.

I know I called you Sally, and your name is actually Suzy. I didn't get it wrong though. I misspoke.

The funny thing is I'd have 20X more respect for this guy if he'd just admit that he spoke his mind and that he was apologizing because his comments were contrary to his employer's position on war policy.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Melting Pot and the Salad Bowl

Strangest thing just happened. And by strange I mean just that. Don't read between the lines and take this as criticism of race or religion. It isn't.

This country is changing. Demographically the U.S. looks different. It sounds different. It feels different.

There are more people from non-English speaking countries than ever before moving here. And I'm all for cultural diversity. It's healthy, and makes us more worldly wise.

I disagree with that whole melting pot label though. The U.S. isn't a melting pot. That suggests the great variety of ingredients blend nicely together. And the truth is a lot of folks don't get along, because of their differences. So I'd say this country is more of a tossed salad than anything. The ingredients can be in the same container, but don't necessarily mix well...unfortunately.

Anyway, back to this morning. I was in my back yard weather-proofing the deck, when I heard my doorbell ring. The wife was in the shower so she couldn't get it.

I walked to the front and onto the porch when I saw 'em: two Jehovah's Witnesses. Now, I'm not gonna dog one religion or another. Believe what you want. But strictly in terms of proselytizing and neighborhood ministry, the JWs are relentless like U.S. Marshals. Gotta give 'em an "A" for effort. And they saw me too. So I knew there was no point in me turning around, ducking behind a cabinet and running back to the deck.

I answered the door, and both women, smiling ear to ear and clutching Watchtowers, nodded at me. Then the one in the front extended her hand and said "Buenos días!"

I know enough Spanish to know that was "Good morning!" So I responded in kind.

Then she continued to Spanish. When she paused I smiled ruefully and said truthfully "Yo no hablo español."

She then gave me a shocked look, the look that says "I can't believe what I'm hearing!" And in a slightly exasperated tone she said in broken English "Well, I only speak Spanish." She then shook her head, her annoyance showing through a little more, turned to her companion and gestured that they should go.

And I was left to ponder for a moment this woman getting upset with me because I wasn't able to speak Spanish. It took a second, but I was scratching my head saying to myself "Wait a minute. Why do I feel guilty after this exchange?"

When I do have kids I plan on making sure they learn at least one language other than English, because we really do live in a global society. I want them to be able to connect with all sorts of people. I'm trying to learn more Spanish myself.

But if I ever move to a country where English is the second language I swear I won't be presumptuous about my new neighbors' ability to communicate with me on my terms.

And for those of you who find something politically incorrect to gripe about in every opinion that's not yours, this posting is not an indictment of anyone. It is my opinion on my encounter with one person.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Today was a good day

I just saw the lights of the Goodyear Blimp, and it read "James is a Pimp!"

No, really. I'm not channeling Ice Cube. I really did see the blimp. Fine, it didn't say I was a pimp. But I was just sitting in my backyard and it floated by, advertising tires or some such product.

But I admit seeing the blimp did make me think of It Was a Good Day. BTW, if you aren't a fan of hip-hop, don't freeze up, cringe, and change the page. Have a sense of humor. It's just a music video. I guarantee you most of us have seen worse at bachelor and bachelorette parties.

So I got to work later than I wanted this morning, because City of Miami transit workers forgot again to feed the squirrels who run on the conveyer belt that apparently runs the Metro Mover trolley that loops downtown and stops virtually at the front door of The Miami Herald. The M&M broke down halfway from the downtown train station to the Herald. So I had to walk a few blocks to get to work.

Before that, while waiting for the train I ride from Broward County (just north of Miami-Dade County, for you out-of-towners) to Miami a couple of days a week I encountered a guy who plucked one of my biggest pet peeves. On the train platform at the station nearest my house there are about half a dozen benches. I was sitting on one bench. The other five or so were empty.

This guy walked down the platform and sat on my bench... right next to me. I swear he didn't leave three inches between us. There wasn't room to fart.

Why? So many empty seats. Why crowd my space? Why get in my koolaid?

To make matters worse he began to read my newspaper over my shoulder and made no attempt to hide his intrusion.

I let that annoy me until the train arrived. But then the guy started talking to me. He commented on the weather, a story on the front page of the Herald about the elderly man who survived the stingray attack. He smiled and nodded to other passengers. And when we arrived at the transfer station, where we'd switch trains for the second leg to Miami he leapt from his chair bolted to the train's door and without prompting helped a clearly overwhelmed young mother lift her baby stroller to the ground.

Maybe this guy was a little bit of a weirdo for crowding me. But I don't think it was any deeper than that. He was just a friendly guy, who happened to be a little odd.

At any rate, I have gotten so used to bumping into hateful numbnuts in the past year or so that I find myself getting suspicious of even really friendly people.

Hopefully next time I encounter a friendly stranger I'll reciprocate the 'tude.

Today was a good day.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Sky is Blue and Rain is Wet

If I ever write a book about stating the obvious that might be the title.

In the mean time, for obvious we need only turn to the allegation/revelation on right now that says a new tell-all book by O.J. Simpson is just weeks away from publication. The gossip tab reports that O. Juicy McStabber was paid more than $3 million for the book, tentatively titled "If I Did It," and that in it he confesses in great detail how he, with the help of an accomplice, fatally knifed Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.

Tomorrow we will learn from the Weekly World News that the Pope has always been Catholic and Mark Foley likes 'em young.

Rest assured though that knifing your ex-spouse is definitely bad Burnettiquette.

And he'll bite your ears and eat your babies for a fee too...

The last thing wife beaters - the criminals, not the t-shirts - needed was inspiration that it was possible to carry on within the boundaries of the law.

And then former heavyweight boxing champ "Iron" Mike Tyson (and his handlers, most likely) came up with this gem, according to published reports:

Tyson to fight a woman?
Mike Tyson said fans should not expect much of a fight when he steps back into the ring.
But the 40-year-old former heavyweight champ promised an entertaining show Friday night when he launches the ''Mike Tyson's World Tour'' in Youngstown, Ohio.
At a news conference at an Italian restaurant in Strongsville, Ohio, Tyson said he would likely go just four rounds and that future stops on the tour might include bouts with women, possibly professional boxer Ann Wolfe.
Wolfe, from Waco, Texas, is 21-1 with 15 knockouts.
''She's such a prominent, dominant woman in the boxing field,'' Tyson said.
When asked if he was joking about fighting women, Tyson said, ``I'm very serious.''
Russ Young, a promoter for Wolfe, said such a bout will never happen.
''That's the first we've heard of it,'' Young said. ``No state would sanction that. She would be outweighed by 60 to 70 pounds. Ann would never entertain the idea.''
Tyson said the tour was meant to be fun and raise money for charity.
''It's all fun. I'm not Mike Tyson,'' he said, referring to the fierce boxer whose career was upended by a prison term. ``I'm not 20 years old. I'm not going to smash anybody. I'm not going to talk about smashing anybody's brains.''

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

I'm startin' a dirt farm

I realize that we live in an urban area, full of condos and concrete. So if you're someone with "rural" tastes everything you need to decorate may not be readily available.

But I didn't realize until now how much money there was to be made in earthy "design" touches.

We're in a department store (no, not Tar-Zhay) picking up a few things for the house, and what do I see but a barrel of tree branches, knotted up in bundles of three, for $39 a pop.

We move to another store for more gear, and they have a bucket of pine cones for $2.99 apiece.

I have a deal for any of you folks who want your living space to look like Little House on the Prairie: Come to my house, and I'll give you four or five tree branches for just $29 a bundle, and I don't have any pine cones, but you can have tree toads and dead palm fronds for say $5 each.

If you want, you can yank up a few blades of grass and scoop some real live dirt from my back yard while you're at it. It'll only cost you $10 per blade and $1 per speck.

It is my good Burnettiquette that allows me to help you get in touch with nature for so little money.

Monday, October 16, 2006

You Just Can't Make this Stuff Up

Spotted Sunday afternoon, while the wife and I were in Target (remember, that's pronounced Tar-Zhay if you're buying furniture): A woman walking around in a bulletproof vest.

I swear, a bulletproof vest. I have my wife as a witness.

And no, this woman wasn't an undercover cop, 'cause nothing else she was wearing could've concealed a firearm. And if she was undercover, wouldn't she have wanted to be a little less conspicuous? Maybe wear the vest under the shirt?

I don't know. But I made a point to steer a wide birth around this woman.

If your enemies are so hardcore that you feel the need to wear body armor to Target, I don't want to be anywhere near you. A bullet could come whizzing down the linens aisle at any minute.

And here's the kicker: no one else seemed to notice or care that this woman had on a flak jacket.

Only in South Florida.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Another example of the fine line between faith and foolishness

So I had an epiphany earlier this evening. And it was that my former (as of a few hours ago) next door neighbor is a tool.

I had suspected this, but I never thought much about it. And today I got burned by his toolishness.

See, my neighbor got booted by his landlord a few weeks ago, for not paying rent over a six month period. And I'm sorry for him to a degree. Having struggled with dollars and sense (that is not a typo) before, I feel for anyone who finds himself in a bind that isn't the result of willful ignorance. This guy's bind was not hard luck though. It was largely due to the fact that he didn't work and had no regular source of income, and as best I can tell - largely based on conversations with him - this apparently healthy, strapping young man made no effort to find regular work.

Anyway, my neighbor and his family have been moving out all weekend. I came home from running errands, buying waaaay too many books at a local library sale, and kickin' it with my wife Saturday afternoon and I noticed the neighbor had piled a bunch of his castoffs - an old stroller, several large, heavy, soiled dining table chairs, and some patio furniture - behind my back fence.

No big deal you say? In my city, if you have junk behind your house waiting to be picked up by the city you have to notify them by phone, so they can schedule pickup and so you don't get ticketed by city inspectors for having an undocumented safety hazard on/behind your property. You also can't put out more than a few cubic feet of junk for pick up per month. No phone notification and more than the allotted amount of junk and you will get a ticket and fine.

So you can understand my annoyance, when I saw that the neighbor had stacked his junk on top of stuff I'd already put behind my house for pick up. His junk put me over the size limit. He didn't tell me. I know he didn't call the city and give them a heads up. And to add insult to injury he didn't place one piece of his junk behind his own home.

Now, the common sense James would have called him over and said "When you get a minute can you move this stuff over to your side, so I don't get a ticket and a fine over it?"

But the overly compassionate James felt bad, reasoned that the guy was busy enough moving out of his home and probably didn't know the city rule. So compassionate James moved the neighbor's junk over to his side without bothering the guy, and had faith that the neighbor would get the hint and not do it again.

Nice gesture right? You would get the hint if you came outside to discard more stuff and saw that your junk had been moved over to your own yard, right? You'd put two and two together and realize the neighbor was telling you to keep it off his property...for whatever reason, right?

He didn't get it.

When dummy James and dummy James' wife got home this evening - about 30 minutes ago - what do we see? A fresh pile of junk behind our house courtesy of our now former neighbor. The fresh pile included his stankin' butt-smellin' refrigerator.

So what have we learned from this experience, people? When someone demonstrates repeatedly that they are irresponsible, and they show no signs of changing or even wanting to change, do not give that person the benefit of the doubt.

Because I had faith that this clown didn't mean any harm I cleaned up after him. All I did by breaking a sweat and moving this guy's junk for him was give him another out from responsibility, give him more room - on my property, no less - to litter and get me in trouble, and create more work for myself.

My former neighbor exercised Very Bad Burnettiquette. But then so did I by being a sucker.

Friday, October 13, 2006

True or False?

I just finished watching a snippet of Part II of Diane Sawyer's Good Morning America interview w/Mel Gibson.

She told him that a lot of people (me included) feel that booze is truth serum, and anything you say under the influence is a reflection of something you're thinking or feeling sober. The booze just gives you a little liquid courage to bring those repressed/suppressed thoughts to the surface.

He told her she was wrong, that the truth serum premise was "patently false."

I say she's right, but there are obvious exceptions like when you hit on an ugly person in a bar. That action shows desperation and horniness, not necessarily a release of true feelings. No one can convince me that people walk around sober, yearning for an opportunity to pick up Chewbacca and take him or her home.

Of course, if you have an ugly fetish that's a different story. And you probably don't need booze to encourage you to indulge.

What say you?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Can we please be nice to the Guy family?

So last year's Runaway Bride - the Georgia woman, who ran away before her wedding and later said she was kidnapped - is in the news for suing her ex-fiance, the guy who stood by her after she was exposed as an unblinking - seriously, those eyes freak me out - liar.

She says he owes her for money he collected after they sold the broadcast rights to their story.

Her actions were triflin' and crappy at best. And she definitely qualifies as Pantload of the Day for having the gall to sue this man, after virtually standing him up at the altar.

But this bizarre twist in her story made me think of the Guy brothers.

Surely you've heard of S.B. Guy and his brother S. H. Guy?

I'll give you a hint. Not only are they related, but apparently they live next door to one another.

Still unsure? The Runaway Bride said one of the Guy brothers kidnapped and sexually assaulted her.

Still can't guess?

OK, the Guy brothers are also known as Some Black Guy and Some Hispanic Guy. For some strange reason, though neither has ever been convicted of a crime, much less charged with one, their names always come up when people like the Runaway Bride need a believable, scary scapegoat.

I for one hope I never meet either of the Guy brothers, 'cause those cats are cursed.

If I remember right, even O.J. or someone who vouched for him saw one of the Guy brothers outside Nicole Brown Simpson's house.

I had a high school classmate, who in a desperate attempt to explain her long absence from home and her missing curfew, etc., suggested S.B. Guy had waylaid her.

Forget walking under ladders, opening umbrellas indoors, or breaking mirrors. You want bad luck? Get within 10 feet of a member of the Guy family.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A few rusty pipes to hand out

This has already been a stellar week. So rather than try to explain let's just hand out some pipes:
  • Our first rusty-pipe-up-yours goes to the numbnut on my train this morning who forgot it was 2006 not 1986 and came aboard carrying a boom box on his shoulder blasting Tupac. Now, I like a little Pac as much as the next pretend rebel, but enough already. Buy a set of headphones chowderhead.
  • The second rusty-pipe-up-yours goes to my dog-crap-leavin' neighbor, who I thought had learned his lesson earlier this year when the cops confronted him for letting his dog pinch loaves in front of other peoples' homes and leaving the leavins behind. He and his pit are at it front of my house. Guess I'm gonna have to get photo evidence this time and then leave the "hard" evidence in a burning paper bag on his door step.
  • The second rusty-pipe-up-yours goes to Duane "Dog (the Bounty Hunter)" Chapman, the namesake of the A&E network reality show. I confess I watch the show sometimes, 'cause mullets mesmerize me. Anyway, on tonight's new episode, in a fit of self-righteousness, Chapman yelled at a fugitive to "tell her what you did," in reference to a woman inside the trailer where the fugitive was hiding. Don't get me wrong. The guy jumped bail. The law says he forfeited his freedom. I say lock 'im up. But he hadn't been convicted of anything yet. And there is the whole innocent until proven guilty thing. I'm sure that principle was important to Chapman back in the late '70s shortly before he was convicted for being an accessory to murder (a killing he insists, according to published reports, a companion of his committed) and sentenced to five years in prison.
  • Third, I've been thinking the past few days about the difference in real friends, employees, and opportunists. A real friend has your best interests at heart, regardless. An employee has your best interests at heart maybe because he likes you, but definitely because you pay him. And an opportunist has whatever interests they think you desire at heart, whether those interests are good or bad for you. What made me think of those things was a blog entry my guy Drew referenced about Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens' overdose scare from last week. At his news conference after the pill scandal, Kim Etheridge, Owens' publicist, dismissed what she'd earlier told emergency workers and said Owens wouldn't want to kill himself because he had "25 million reasons" to live. She was talking about his salary. For all the hopeless people out there who have not yet figured out their deadly sadness but know they will never be rich, I give a rusty-pipe-up-yours to Etheridge for suggesting material wealth is enough to make a suicidal person want to live.
  • Finally, a little shameless self-promotion in the form of my latest article. I don't mind constructive critiques - you guys know that. But don't be like the reader who complained to me earlier that the story, which ran on page 1 of the A section, was bad 'cause she felt the subject and his son posed "like rappers" for their photo, thus setting a bad example for young folk. Posed like rappers? Yeah, that's what it was all about.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Is it that big a deal?

I know I'm going to catch grief - at a minimum from Big Daddy - for the prude count on this opinion, but I was disturbed Saturday to open the newspaper and see a
brief (short story w/no writer's name attached) announcing the recent pregnancy of 16-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes and her 19-year-old boyfriend of three years.

Hughes was the star of the 2002 film Whale Rider, in which she played an Aboriginal girl competing to become chief of her tribe. She was the youngest actress ever to receive a Best Actress Oscar nomination.

That's all fine and good. Kudos to her for a stellar performance, etc., etc. But should we really be celebrating this underage, unmarried person preparing to give birth?

She was 13 and her boyfriend 16 (they're now 16 and 19) when they became a "couple."

I'm not saying condemn the girl - 'cause that's what she is, a girl, not a woman. But before such stuff is celebrated in the news we should remember two things: that many young people look up to actors and actresses in spite of so many obvious reasons not to, and we already have too many babies being born to impressionable young women who can't take care of them.

Sure, Castle-Hughes is not your average teenager. She probably has a boat load of money, handlers, and a gaggle of other people who care deeply about her or boat load.

But so what? Since when, for example, has reality ever stopped some broke athletic kid from pinning all his future hopes on becoming the next Michael Jordan?

Somewhere out there, this girl has young adoring fans. And among that group someone right now is thinking "if she can be a mom at 16, so can/should I!"

Friday, October 06, 2006

Foley Follies

I know I'm not the only one who wonders why former Florida Congressman Mark Foley's attorney felt the need to announce that Foley is gay.

Who cares? It isn't relevant to Foley's behavior.

And for the attorney to toss it out there during damage control press conferences suggests that he thinks people need to consider Foley's sexual orientation before they judge him for his sexually-charged IM exchanges with teenagers.

That logic flies in the face of standard non-partisan doctrine that says all men should (in theory) get equal treatment regardless of race, age, religion, gender, orientation, etc.

If you think it was an important point for Foley's attorney to make, just ask yourself how you'd have reacted if an Asian dude had exchanged creepy messages with minors, gotten caught, quit his job, and then his attorney issued a public statement that said "My client wants you to know that he is a Chinese man."

I know how most of you would respond. You'd go nuts - justifiably so, I think - and ask "Who cares?"

Unless, of course, the attorney was suggesting the man's race/ethnicity had something to do with why he behaved badly.

WBA nominations

I'm getting a head start this weekend, folks.

Let's have your nominations for the Weekly Behavior Awards, to be posted Sunday evening, or really early Monday.

But let's get the nominations in by Sunday afternoon if possible.


Remember, the categories are Best Behavior and Biggest Bum. And that's bum as in triflin' person, not rear end.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

When to Wipe

Get your minds out of the gutter. Not that kind of wiping.

So this morning I train it to work. No car. What can I say? I protect the environment by taking graffiti-covered, urine-smelling public transportation sometimes.

As I'm riding the first leg of my journey - I have to make one quick switch to a different train to get into downtown Miami - a guy sitting just across the aisle from me in a seat facing my direction looks at me and nods hello.

I nod back but don't speak, because I'm on my cell talking to my wife. We hit a dead spot and our call is dropped. Just as I'm about to take my phone and put it back in its holster the across the aisle leans toward me and says "Pardon me."


"I wonder how much you might charge me to make a quick call on your cell phone."

Pause: Note two things at this point - that I have a real problem with strangers wanting to touch me or my stuff, and this guy was sweating about the head and face.

But he catches me off guard, and with no time to think up a lame excuse as to why he couldn't use my phone I give him a manic smile and through gritted teeth answer "sure!"

He presses my phone to the side of his sweaty head and tries for a minute or so to make the call. But he can't figure out my phone, so he hands it back and asks me to dial for him. I do. He makes his call - true to his word it was quick, hands the phone back to me, and sits there smiling at me for the rest of that ride - about 15 minutes.

Here's the problem: I wanted to call my wife back after that, since we'd gotten cut off. But I'm a very very borderline germophobe - I mean, I'm no Seinfeld or anything, but I have my issues w/grime - and even more than making that call I wanted to wipe the phone off first.

Remember, it had been pressed for more than a minute to the side of this man's fat, sweaty head.

But I worry that I will appear snotty and offend the man if I wipe the phone in plain view. So I have no choice. I say a quick prayer, suck it up, think about pleasant things like puppies, and ice cream, and butterflies, smiled back at him and put the sweaty phone to my ear to make my call.

I survive this ordeal, but I once at work I have to fight the urge to join Van Gogh and rip my ear off of my head. Instead I just give my ear a good wiping.

All things considered, I think I manage to spare the phone borrower's feelings.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Hoof in Mouth

So a good friend of mine, a reporter for my old paper back in Milwaukee, did a recent blog posting about accidental messages, like when you accidentally send an email to someone you're talking about.

It was pretty funny and made me wonder if there is protocol to reacting to such screw-ups.

Human nature being what it is, I can imagine that most of us go to an extreme: either bluster and denial or we shrink under our desks and hope the recipient of the misdirected message doesn't notice.

I've done this at work - been walking with other reporters as we all griped about a particular editor or a particular assignment and just as I was about to wax "poetic" about the person, he or she walked around the corner and I was forced to adjust a la "That rat bas...., that rat bass stole the bait right off my fishing pole this weekend, and ruined everything!"

Once, a few years ago - before I was married or even dating seriously - I met a rep for a major record label, and she invited me to attend a private CD release/listening party for a popular male R&B singer and do a write up. She said it was a casual setting, so I could bring a date or a friend or two. Alas, I was dateless at that time, so on the assumption that there would be women in attendance I invited a couple of buddies.

Well, after talking w/the rep on the phone a few times we finally met in person, and I was stunned. She was very pretty.

So as I'm driving away from my meeting with her I call my buddy to tell him about the face to face. I'm describing things to him, when my other line beeps. So I switch over and it's her calling to say she forgot to give me some vital info. I tell her to hold one minute so I can hang up with the person on the other line. And I switch back over to my buddy and rant and rave like a teenager that the hot record label woman is on the phone. I go on and on and on like I've never seen an attractive woman before, and then I hear "James?" It wasn't my buddy. Voice was too high.

She had heard the whole thing. Talk about embarrassing. Imagine if I'd been ranting about how I hated her appearance or her voice or I thought she was dumb as dirt or something.

Lucky for me she had a sense of humor...and pity, and didn't demand that I explain myself. I suspect that had something to do with all my words - however immature - being complimentary.

So how do you salvage things when the subject of a message accidentally hears it or reads it?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Equal Rights, or Just Plain Mean?

I got a blast from the past this morning when an old buddy from back home in Virginia called me to say hello, catch up, etc.

It was a guy I met one summer - I think my junior year of high school - during a disastrous, short-lived gig with a commercial painting contractor. I say it was disastrous 'cause I probably nearly killed myself and colleagues more than once with my unintentional Three Stooges antics on the job sites. What can I say? I can do blue collar work - remember, I'm a certified aircraft machinist - but I just wasn't cut out for painting/construction, etc.

Anyway, my guy, who I've stayed in touch with off-and-on over the years, ribbed me a little and reminded me of our old boss, who had a reputation as a curmudgeon. And we both recalled one incident in particular.

We were riding with the boss on the way to a job site, and we saw a woman on the side of the highway, standing next to a car. She had waved and was apparently in distress, so we pulled over. As we drew closer we realized she had a flat tire. I still remember, she was relatively young - looked to be in her mid 30s, and she wore a dark business power suit. Her car was in the west-bound lanes, heading toward downtown. I remember wondering if she was on her way to some big biz meeting.

Well, my boss being a southern "gentleman" told us to snap to, 'cause we were gonna change her tire. We snapped to.

And then the boss saw her bumper sticker. It read something to the effect of "Women don't need men to get the job done," or something along those lines.

Well, the boss, who was definitely not a fan of any women's rights arguments, turned to the woman and asked if she really believed the sticker's message.

She turned up her chin and answered in the affirmative. So he responded something to the effect of "If you really believe in equal rights change your own tire! C'mon boys!"

He made us get back in the truck and we left.

My buddy and I can laugh about it now, not 'cause it was funny that we left that woman stranded, but because that exchange was bizarre.

Gender does not matter to me - with the exception of my wife, of course; I did require her to be a woman - as long as you can pull your weight and do what you do and do it well. I know 50X the male bums than I know female bums.

But a small part of me understands my old-school employer's frustration. Here was a woman on the side of the road trying to flag down help for a bit of manual labor. And she was sporting a bumper sticker saying she didn't need help (from men) with anything. In his generation that sticker was the equivalent of a slap in the face.

Still, in the end I say we should have helped her. She may have been a better tire-changer than either me, my boss, or my buddy. But maybe she just didn't want to get her nice business suit dirty. I'm not being facetious. Seriously, if I was on the way into a white collar gig and wearing nice clothes I'd call AAA to change my tire before I risked getting my gear dirty.

Your thoughts?

Monday, October 02, 2006

The absence of a single word

One of my favorite Mark Twain isms is "The difference in the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter - it's the difference between the difference the lightning bug and the lightning."

Once again I find myself reluctantly defending hip-hop culture from a broadly generalized assault.

I say reluctant, 'cause as an old school hip-hop head who grew up on the deep rhymes of KRS-One, and Public Enemy, the cool guy tunes of L.L. Cool J, and the fun party songs of Run D.M.C., I am sorely disappointed at where rap music has gone today. Ninety percent of new material dumped on the public comes from inarticulate guys bragging about cars they don't own, houses they don't live in, women they don't have, drugs they've never used, and crimes they may or may not have witnessed or committed in recent years. So much of the music is bad these days...but not all of it.

So I have to defend it, when I hear people attribute the woes of society on rap music. It's the same thing folks did back in the day when rock music was becoming popular. People complained that all of it was the Devil's music and that it was causing young people to act up.

Anyway, I was watching MSNBC over the weekend and marveling to myself at how they get away with constantly replaying the same old crap on "MSNBC Investigates" week in and week out. Don't the advertisers care that every Friday, and Saturday and Sunday night the network replays the same episodes featuring inside looks at prisons that it has been airing for months (maybe a year or more)? Well, to my temporarily pleasant surprise I flipped to another channel and then turned back in time for a different episode, a replay of a recent Dateline, in which Matt Lauer interviewed Debra LaFave, one of the young, blond, female child molester teachers.

Lauer prefaced a question to LaFave by telling her that the writing was on the wall and that prior to her getting busted people around her were concerned that she was becoming a hellion. He pointed out to her that folks thought she was rebelling, because, among other things, she started dressing provocatively and "listening to rap music."

You may think it's a small thing, but that type of broad generalization is the reason so many younger people think some news folk are full of you know what.

I was disappointed, 'cause I thought Matt Lauer had more sense than that. LaFave is a woman in her mid 20s. She grew up in a generation whose collective CD rack probably contains an even balance of rock, alternative/folk, and hip-hop and R&B tunes. If he wanted to make a point he could have asked LaFave about a newfound interest in gangsta rap or crunk or trap music, or whatever. But by not being more specific about the type of rap, Lauer just showed that he's bought into the hype that a genre of music is a sign that the bogeyman has arrived. He gave LaFave an out, some musical scary thing to blame some of her outrageous behavior on.

Bad clothes and bad music are not signs of anything but bad taste.

I think that TV news hosts and news magazine contributors are clueless. Wait, scratch that. I think that the clueless ones are, well, clueless. Don't want to lump them in with those who actually make sense.

Weekly Behavior Awards - 10-2-06

Examples of extremely good and bad behavior are never at a shortage...except in the Weekly Behavior Awards. But hey, some is better than none.

So without further ado, here are your nominees (and by default your winners):

Best Behavior:
  • From
  • Bronchitikat - "There's the lass who, spotting me struggling with a heavy trolley coming home one day last week, offered to help me up the steps of the railway bridge."
  • From LLH - "My nominations for the best behaved this week goes to two young men, about ages 15-16. I was helping a woman in a wheel chair out of the store, they were coming in. Without thought, each took a door and held it open until we could get outside. Not something you see often. They also asked if they could be of any further help. Kudo's to their parents, who by the way were no where in sight."

Biggest Bum:

  • From Bronchitikat - "The shopping trolley company: - who made such a useful trolley - big carrier for stuff, flat bed ABOVE the wheels for carrying wide stuff, etc, then fitted it with naff plastic wheels. So the 'spokes' on one broke on the way home & I had to carry it, & my sewing machine! Sore arms or what!"
  • From LLH - "I would like to nominate the jerk who tried to kill his supervisor at UM with mercury. A racist fool to be sure (the poisoner, not the poisoner) and less than a total moron. Maybe someone should put something nasty in his jail cell, like what a dog leaves on the street. If you didn't like your boss bud, then get another job, and if this was based on his race then get a clue. Also, James, I need to find the article again and have had a hard time with archives, can you help me out. Thanks."

Finally, LLH, here's a link to that article: Worker charged with trying to poison his boss.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Weekly Behavior Awards - More Nominations, Please

We've gotten a few nods for the WBAs - Best Behavior and Biggest Bum for new folks who don't know the categories.

But how's about a few more. We'll extend the nominating period through Monday morning and then post 'em.

Thanks LLH for the nominations.