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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Thursday, November 30, 2006

And you thought "crack kills" was a jokey joke

Butt nekit man high on crack rescued from jaws of gator.

The good old days

So I wrapped up a story today I've been working on about NFL legend, actor, and educator Jim Brown.

To finish things we had a long conversation about the state of the life in the U.S. of A.

I won't give away too much, 'cause when the story runs in a week or so you guys can read the whole thing at The Miami Herald.

But I will say this: at one point in the conversation we began talking about "young folks." It was a little ironic, considering he is 70, and I'm a little less than half that.

But what we did was raise a rhetorical question: Why don't youngsters have any humility anymore?

Big Daddy, I know you're gonna tell me that I'm being too old-fashioned and uptight for even asking, because we were all a little cocky when we were teenagers.

But I'm not talking subservient attitudes. I mean back in the day when we'd be talking smack in a group and a senior citizen would walk by. It was like the gray hair and wrinkles triggered temporary good sense in us and made us bite our tongues until they had passed. Same goes for our posture. We stood up straighter when an old person or a woman walked by, even if it lasted only a second and we slouched again as soon as they had passed. If an adult - the exception being everybody's drunk Uncle Willie - asked us something, we may have been seething and sulking inside but we answered with a straight least until they walked away. Kids are cockier now. And no one's gonna convince me it's 'cause life is worse for 'em than it was for us 20-, 30-, 40-, and 50-somethings. I also don't necessarily believe it's 'cause they have more legitimate reason to be cocky. So your average teenager can set up a set up electronic devices and download cooler ring tones. So what?

I thought about this rhetorical question as I sat and waited for my train ride home this evening. after watching a group of teenagers laugh boisterously at an old man who staggered and nearly fell. The same group was cussin' up a storm as a woman who could've been any one of their mothers approached and stood near them on the platform. You think they piped down or got bashful about their language around her? Not for a second. A janitor trying to sweep the platform asked the boys if they could help him out by letting him sweep where they stood. They stared him down till he hung his head and slinked away.

We messed w/people when I was a teenager. But there was a time. Maybe not always a place. But we knew when to turn off the attitude.

I'm getting old.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

OK, I can speak up now

So my editor just posted my review of the John Legend concert on, and that means I can say what I saw last night - my "other" review.

It was butt to gut in Revolution, the concert venue, last night, and folks were sweating more than a room full of hookers at a revival meeting. All I could smell was behind and perspiration. It was like being in a locker room with a really good sound system. That being said, I love the place. It's small. It's old school. It's what an intimate venue is supposed to look like.

But when you're in a tight space with NO seats, standing room only, common sense says get there early for a good spot. I got there an hour before opening act Robin Thicke - no Yasamin and BC, no relation to Alan Thicke, ha ha - took the stage so I could post up in a good spot to see the stage and take notes. Granted, I am 6'3". But why wait? I could have wound up standing behind a dude who was 7'3".

I stopped counting after five, the number of short women (and one short guy) who arrived halfway through the performance and tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to move so they could see.

One woman tapped me, the woman next to me, the guy in front of me and the woman next to him and asked all four of us to move about one foot to the side so that she could have a tunnel of vision between us to the stage. I was pressed up against a pillar on one side and couldn't move. The others refused to move. She cursed us all and loudly complained to her beefy boyfriend that we were being jerks. He snarled but he knew better than to do anything stupid. I was just as big as him...almost. And I may be proper, but when necessary, I can look crazy with the best of 'em. I've got a practiced grimace that can make real thugs think twice. I am too pretty to go to jail, but I've practiced that look in case I ever found myself in that gated accident or mistaken identity, of course.

Anyway, on to the performances.

First, I have to say that by nature, I am not a hater. I believe in giving credit where it's due. So I have to give Robin Thicke props for putting on a really high energy show.

I also have to say though that he lost points with me when he started trying to talk "hoodlish," and then he performed a rap in the chorus of one of his songs.

But here's the most fascinating thing - and I alluded to this in the review: Both Thicke and headliner John Legend are known for their romantic tunes. And as is tradition for soul/R&B singers those types of songs are often belted out in as sensuous a manner as possible.

Speaking from experience and lots of observation, guys tend to be reallllllllllly uncomfortable at soul/R&B shows for that very reason. It doesn't matter if you're there with your girlfriend or wife. No guy wants to hear a good-looking man on stage essentially serenading his woman. Nor does he want to hear that guy between songs telling women things like "I'll be there for ya babe, when your man isn't." And I can assure you that no guy likes to watch another man on stage thrusting his loins and shaking his hips at the women in the crowd.

It's silly. But it is uncomfortable for many of us.

So here's what I observed: Thicke tried really hard. I commend him for his effort. But I think he may have tried too hard. He was shaking his hips like a stripper with rent due. And whoever said that gangsta rappers grab their nether regions too much has not seen Mr. Thicke perform. He held onto his fellas so much, I thought he was checking to make sure they were still attached.

And as predicted, the women loved it. The guys acted like fish out of water.

When John Legend took the stage though, an interesting thing happened. He too sang romantic, sexy songs. But the guys in the audience sang along. They laughed at his jokes. They clapped. As their girlfriends and wives swayed to the music, the guys danced with 'em.

The guys didn't mind Legend's sensuality. They didn't feel threatened by it or embarrassed to like it.

The big difference? Legend had what one guy called a "coolness factor" that didn't require him to try too hard to share that sensual vibe.

Laugh if you want, but not once during the evening did Legend grab at his nether regions. Sure he danced and swayed and what not. But he didn't have to touch himself in order to convince the women in the audience that he was sexy.

But what do I know? I'm just a humble writer.

So I have no moral lessons today. Just arrive early if you want a good view. And if you're an aspiring love-song singer, let your voice do most of the work.

***CORRECTION*** Apparently Robin Thicke is related to Alan Thicke. An astute colleague said she was told Alan's Robin's dad.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Just a tease

Just got home from reviewing the John Legend concert. I don't wanna say too much about the performances (Robin Thicke opened for Legend) before my review runs. It'll be in Thursday's paper 'cause the show started too late for me to file for Wednesday.

I will say though that some members of the crowd epitomized what's wrong with feelings of entitlement. And I noticed an interesting - fascinating, even - difference in performing style between Legend and Thicke, and it spoke loudly to one man's maturity and self-confidence and the other man's lack thereof.

That's all I'll say for now. More tomorrow when I've had some sleep and am thinking clearly.

Peace and hair grease.

Dirty Mitts

I wanted to say something about this last week, but I was bitten by the Political-Correctness-Gone-Amuck bug and for a few days feared it would be mean-spirited of me. But the venom wore off. Now I can say with a certainty that Rosie O'Donnell is nuts!

I don't know if she's always nuts, 'cause I don't watch her show or read her opinions. But she is nuts where the over-hyped tabloid spat between Clay Aiken and Kelly Ripa is concerned.

If you have more of a life than me and were not aware, last week Clay Aiken guest-hosted (filled in for Regis Philbin) on the Live With Regis and Kelly morning show. At one point during an interview with Dancing with the Stars winner Emmitt Smith, Aiken, who reportedly felt that he couldn't get a word/question in edgewise, reached over to Kelly Ripa and covered her mouth with his hand. He didn't hold his hand in front of her mouth. He placed his bare hand on her mouth.

Audience members laughed, and Ripa grinned but got a little salty. She told Clay that hand-on-mouth move was "a no no" because she didn't know where his hands had been.

Anyway, here's where O'Donnell comes in. On her show, The View, O'Donnell said she felt Ripa's anger over the hand-over-mouth incident was homophobic. She said she didn't think Ripa would have been upset if Aiken had been a different guy, "cute," or if Ripa didn't suspect Aiken might be gay.

Ripa responded that the only reason she got upset was that there are germs out there - Amen Kelly! - and she has kids. Stuff can be passed on from touch to touch.

For the record, folks, I don't even like relatives or close friends - straight, gay, bi, or other -touching my mouth, much less a casual acquaintance or a stranger. I don't care if they're wearing surgical gloves and we're in a sterile environment. The exception, of course, is my wife. Unless her hands are soaked in pee or poo she's welcome to touch my mouth.

When I was a kid we used to gauge "how far" you could take a joke (or intimate contact) with someone by whether or not we were "cool like that." If you were "cool like that" with someone you could probably get away with a little more of a joke or a little more intimate contact. If you were not "cool like that" you risked getting knocked the hell out by the offended party.

I think it was a low blow for O'Donnell to bring sexual orientation into the mix. So if Aiken had been a big, buff, manly man...perhaps with dirty hands, Ripa wouldn't have minded him touching her mouth? Nonsense.

The irony is Aiken hasn't come out. He hasn't declared anything publicly about his sexuality. So IF he is actually gay, O'Donnell inadvertently put a spotlight on him that might force the guy to come out before he's ready.

There are real battles of discrimination to be fought. Let's not cheapen those fights by turning a matter of bad manners and germs into a spat over sexual orientation.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Friendly Obligations

Morning folks, and happy post-holiday-first-full-week-back-to-work.

So I got to catch up with an old friend a couple of days ago and she shared some unfortunate news: that her relationship with a man she really cared about had fallen apart.

More importantly, the friend was disturbed that in a recent encounter with the man he behaved erratically and lashed out - not in a physical way - at her and made bizarre comments and accusations to boot.

My friend was concerned that she had never seen this side of the man before.

Here's the sticky part. I have known for some time that the man has what us lay-people might simply describe as "issues" or "problems." Someone more qualified than me might say the man has emotional problems. The truth is many folks in my old circle of friends were aware that the man had issues. So when my old friend told me months back that she had begun dating the man after another mutual friend had introduced them, I assumed that the other mutual friend had also given my friend at least the hint of a warning about the man's emotional state.

There was no warning. So now, playing Monday morning quarterback, I'm left to wonder if I should have tipped off my friend. I didn't think so then, and for the most part, I don't think so now.

I think it was a safe and fair assumption on my part that the friend who introduced the pair would have given a warning.

But I do think someone should have told my friend that her new guy was known to lose it somein bizarre ways.

I suppose I understand why the mutual friend did not offer a warning when the "love birds" were first introduced. The mutual friend probably didn't want to interfere or taint the waters.

But I think that on some level there is an obligation there. I would send a buddy into a dark alley knowing there were unchained hungry wolves at the other end. I'd tell him "There are wolves at the other end of the alley, so walk down it at your own risk!"

Of course, that's easy for me to say after the fact.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Take my word

OK, I won't go on about the Michael Richards situation. By now, we all know what Kramer said, and what has happened since.

But he can be an example for what I want to know: At what point do our words or actions represent who we are?

I guess what I mean is how much, or how often do you have to say something before people believe your words represent who you are? Is it once, twice, a dozen times? Same goes for how often you do something.

Maybe it doesn't have to do with volume. Does it have to do with how enthusiastically you speak certain words or carry out certain actions?

Mel Gibson ranted about Jews but insisted he, unlike his words, is not anti-Semitic. Richards ranted about black folks, but insisted he isn't racist against them. A boxer - Mike Tyson, if I remember correctly - once wrote a book in which he made a controversial statement. Later, when a reporter asked about the statement, he told the reporter he was misquoted. Several dozen guys on Dateline NBC's "To Catch a Predator" insisted their attempts to hook up with a "13"-year-old girl were first time attempts, that they'd never done it before.

Drug users caught by cops say they only took one hit. Hell, we had a president who said he had a drug in his mouth and did not take a hit.

How much, or how "seriously" do we have to say or do something for other people to believe we mean it?

Think about it. When we're saying positive and uplifting things, we need only do it with energy to convince people right away that we mean what we say. So why are people so reluctant to believe we reallllllly mean it when our energetic words or actions are bad?

My mom says it's our natural reluctance to believe the worst in people.

I don't know. Hearing that just makes me even more skeptical.

Back to Reality

There's a hostage situation at the Miami Herald building right now. A gunman, a disgruntled former employee of El Nuevo Herald, the Herald Company's Spanish language daily paper. I'm not in the building, but I am aware of what's going down, thanks to a co-worker keeping me aprised.

So I have no humor for the moment. However, I will be posting later about the extent to which some people get disgruntled in work situations...and why some handle it better than others.

***UPDATE*** Now (1:20 p.m.) they're saying there are no hostages, but dude is still holed up in the El Nuevo Herald part of our building.

***UPDATE***It's after 5:30, and the situation is over. No hostages. No injuries. It's all good.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A drought

I got nothing, folks.

But that's not a bad thing. Again, channeling Ice Cube, I have to say that Today was a Good Day.

Don't believe me? Consider that:
  • No crazy-a$$ed neighbors blasting music I'd never play on my own stereo, even at a reasonable volume.
  • No lazy-a$$ed neighbors letting their dogs bend biscuits on the swale in front of my house and not picking it up.
  • No rude people elbowing or shoving or seat-stealing in the Einstein Bros. Bagel shop where Mrs. B and I stopped for breakfast this morning. In fact, several of the patrons were smiley and friendly.
  • No questions from my bosses on anything I've written. My Thanksgiving story is still scheduled to run on the front page Thursday morning. Shameless self-promotion? Yes, but I'll link to it anyway tomorrow.
  • No bad drivers. Scratch that. Only one bad driver interrupting my flow - a woman who cut me off on a 45 m.p.h. road and then promptly slowed to 30 m.p.h. for the next mile or so, while traffic in other lanes moved steadily. So I wasn't able to get around her.
  • Nothing broke in or on the house or car.
  • My fish seemed to be healthy and happy in their little hole in the ground. My dog was chill and got a longer walk out of us than usual. My cat didn't try to dig holes in the furniture.
  • Mrs. B and I didn't disagree on anything - except which direction to walk the dog.
  • No wealthy hillbillies filed for divorce. No undeserving jerks hit the lotto jackpot. No rappers got shot for mean-mugging a rival.
  • No politicians got caught for: hitting on children, stealing money, or being otherwise shady, and blamed it on alcohol abuse or being beaten during their own childhood.
  • No one related to me died or fell seriously ill.
  • Generally, no bad news.

So I'm thankful, my friends. Today was a Good Day.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Something to be thankful for

So, like I said in my last post, I'm writing today, getting a holiday story done. But if you have a little time to burn, here's an article I did in Nov. 2001 that changed my perspective on Thanksgiving.

The story was a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but was more about being grateful than it was about terrorism. Just to warn you, though, it is a looong read: Easing the Pain.

More on the way

I have to finish writing my Thanksgiving article, folks. Will post more later today.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Break out the snow shovel, ma. It's a gettin' chilly outside.

Sorry, but having lived for seven years in Wisconsin before moving to South Florida last year, I can't help but poke fun at Florida natives who break out the turtlenecks and boots when the temperatures fall below 80.

I'm probably exaggerating a little with the temps, but not by much. For three days now the weather people down here have been raving about the coming cold front. Today temps have been in the 60s. This is the cold front.

Now, to be fair, I have lost a little bit of my cold tolerance. When it is warm - like 80 or higher 90% of the time, year round - your body gets used to it.

When we moved here last fall and winter came shortly after I was still walking around my neighborhood in shorts and sandals (and a sweatshirt). Today, I admit I am wearing pants with my sweatshirt.

But I will have to be in SoFla for 100 years before you catch me marching around here in tall boots, thick sweaters - I will wear a light sweater or hoodie or whatever, or winter coats.

On principle alone, even if it snowed here tomorrow I don't think I could break out the winter gear.

Kramer Gone Wild!

If you've read this blog for even a day, then you know I'm not a hyper sensitive guy. And I'm not about hyper-political correctness.

But why has Michael Richards lost his mind?

That's rhetorical; don't answer. But if you don't know, Richards is the crazy-haired dude who played Cosmo Kramer for nine seasons on Seinfeld.

According to this story and this video, apparently captured on a cell phone during a standup comedy act Richards was doing last Friday at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles, a couple of black men in the audience were heckling Richards.

He replied by calling the hecklers N-words and telling them to shut up 'cause 50 years earlier those hecklers would have been turned upside down with pitchforks shoved into their behinds.

When one of the hecklers yelled back to Richards that that word "was uncalled for," Richards told him "that's what happens when you interrupt a white man."

One of the hecklers also called Richards a "cracker-a$$" after his rant and got up and walked out. For the record, I don't think that was right either.

So I was driving a round-about route away from an interview this afternoon and heard a regional talk radio pundit yammering about the Richards incident and how he felt that word was despicable and should not be used by anyone BUT that he was troubled by the "double standards" applied to its usage.

I like this particular pundit. I disagree with him a lot but I like his style. So that revelation about the "double standards" annoyed me.

I say baloney. He - along with all the other pundits who raise this issue from time to time - is no more confused by the "double standards" with that word than they are when a gay man calls a friend, a fellow gay man, a certain sexual epithet. Like it or not, some people take words once used against them and turn them into terms of endearment with each other.

Regardless, I still don't think that anyone should use that word.

But some stuff is just common sense. I wouldn't walk up to a white friend or colleague and call them a racial epithet, something that denigrated white people.

So why is this so hard to get?

If you really feel the need to call people names, then do the universally acceptable thing: be shallow like the rest of us and call people names because of their weight, or their low brain power, or their body odor, or their poor fashion sense, or their hair style, or their jacked up teeth - all things that arguably, unlike skin color (unless you're Michael Jackson), they can change.

Tip to Michael Richards: You'd have been OK and in the clear if you'd just called the hecklers A-holes or something like that, something that reflected on their actions and not on an inconsequential trate like their race.

Animal update

I hate sappy posts of puppies and kittens and butterflies, but considering I have gone from a cat hater to a cat-getter-along-with kind of guy, I figured I'd post this pic of our cat's progress. If you were reading this blog four months ago then you saw pictures of Andy when we brought her home at 8 weeks from the animal shelter.

Here's Andy nearly grown:

Crowd control

Mornin' folks. Sorry I posted sparsely over the weekend. I was just beat. Plus I had some semi-work-related stuff to do Sunday.

Specifically, I had to give a short speech introducing veteran journalist and author Jed Horne for his talk and reading at the Miami Book Fair International.

It was a pleasure to meet the guy. His day job is metro editor at the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and he shared a Pulitzer Prize with his colleagues for their coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.You want to read a thorough, gut-wrenching, apolitical account of what happened in N'awlins? Read this man's book: Breach of Faith, Hurricane Katrina and the Near Death of a Great American City.

Anyway, the speech and lecture aside, the Book Fair International is one of my favorite times of year in Miami. I love it. It's like being in a candy store, surrounded by thousands of books on sale for next to nothing.

And it was great to see literally hundreds of parents there with kids in tow. Refreshing. I know I sound like an old man, but so many kids don't give a crap about being literate these days. So it was cool to see kids who wanted to get hooked on something like phonics.

But here's a matter of etiquette I can't figure out: Who moves out of whose way when throngs of people are coming toward each other in a crowd?

My wife and I were joking about this, because she came with me. We got to the fair about an hour early, so we could check things out before my session w/Jed Horne. And we held hands so as not to lose each other in the thick crowds.

At any rate, after about 15 minutes it occurred to both of us that every few seconds we had to let go and separate in order to let another couple pass between us, or to let an individual or maybe even a small cluster of people pass between us. Not once did any other couple, group, or individual step aside to let us pass.

In one case a woman walking toward us even came to a dead stop until we split so she could pass between.

I know why I/we step aside: instinct. My folks way back in the day just sort of hinted that it was courteous to step aside and let someone else pass you. They just said it was a gracious gesture, regardless of who should "get to go" first. But I wonder if there's a rule that applies, 'cause I'll be damned if I have ever (at least since I moved to South Florida) had someone in a crowded setting (especially the mall) move out of my way.

Meanwhile, I'm scratching my head, watching other couples not miss a beat and asking myself "Why didn't I restrain myself and wait for them to move out of my way?"

It all reminds me of that Seinfeld episode where Jerry's suspected phone sex operator girlfriend wouldn't spot Elaine even a single square of TP, when the two women found themselves in adjoining bathroom stalls and Elaine's roll was empty.

Not a square - or in this case, an inch - to spare.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Movie time

The missus and I got home a little while ago from the theater, where we saw Casino Royale, the new James Bond film.

As a longtime James Bond aficionado, I have been looking forward to the film for many months.
And I have to say I wasn't disappointed.

Even though I once thought it was blasphemous of the Bond franchise's producers to cast a blond as 007, Daniel Craig (who also kicked butt as a reluctant high-end drug dealer in Layer Cake) held his own.

Craig did a good job showing the vulnerable Bond, the guy who had normal, human emotions, before he turned into the cold-hearted player. I think he'll do fine as Bond and could end up as good as Sean Connery's Bond.

Overall, a nice outing, though my wife thought the movie was a little too long and a little gorier than past Bond flicks. She also didn't think it had enough of the usual comic relief Bond uses to break tensions.

On the downside, I got my feet stomped on by typical late arrivals, who in spite of the 50 or so empty seats in the joint insisted on sitting right next to me. And I lost count after five or six of the number of cell phones ringing during the film. And the guy next to me had to exclaim throughout the movie. If Bond did something he liked, the guy would blurt out something to the effect of "F---n' A! That was awesome." If he disapproved, it was "Man, that was f----d up!"

I'm not uptight about language. I've uttered a "darn" or two. But we're in a frickin' movie theater, Ebert. Save the commentary till you're watching the movie at home on DVD.

You guys better hope I don't ever end up independently wealthy, 'cause one of the first things I'll do is buy a movie complex. And I'll establish rules meant to enhance everyone's viewing pleasure: Anyone whose phone rings aloud during the film will get fined double the cost of their ticket. And anyone who talks on their phone during the film (and they're not a law enforcement agent or emergency room doctor on call) will get dragged out of the theater by their neck or scrotum, whichever is easier to hang onto. The exception will be if you answer on instinct, and then recover immediately by taking the conversation outside to the hallway. And if you arrive more than 15 minutes after the movie has started, and you weren't late because you were off saving a life or arresting someone from the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list, then you have to sit on the floor to watch the movie...down in front, right up under the screen, practically, where you're so close you're likely to go cross-eyed.

That's all the critique I have in me today. Time to go walk the dog.

Till tomorrow, peace and hair grease.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Cowboy Code Rewind

Got an email from one of my guys telling me he's developing a thing for a mutual friend's ex-girlfriend.

Tsk, tsk. He has forgotten the code already.

This is an issue we addressed in Chapter One of the Cowboy Code.

But for those who don't want to go back and read Chapter One, here's the deal:

You should not want or try to date your buddy's ex or your chick friend's ex guy, just 'cause there are too many fish in the sea to cast the net so close to home. If you're tempted by your buddy's or chick friend's ex just remember that when the friend and the ex were together, you always treated the ex as a sister or brother. Keep thinking of them that way and you won't be tempted to cross that line.

You should not want or try to date your buddy's ex or your chick friend's ex guy if their breakup was recent (I say under six months).

You should not want or try to date your buddy's ex or your chick friend's ex guy, if their breakup was recent and he/she still lives in the same city as you and your buddy/chick friend.

If an appropriate amount of time has passed and you "just happened" to fall for your buddy's/chick friend's ex, and you absolutely have to be with the ex, then do the right thing and tell your buddy/chick friend about your new romance. And tell 'em face to face. Don't be a coward and tell over the phone.

And (you may disagree with me on this one) if you tell your buddy/chick friend and they're still really bummed out over the breakup, you have a responsibility as a friend to not flaunt your new relationship with their ex. Keep it low key until the hard feelings have passed or until enough time has passed that you can say to your friend "Hey buddy, grow up. Get over it. You and I are old friends. You two didn't work out. It just so happens things did work out for us. Wish us well and get over it."

But seriously, if you really need a date look somewhere else. Why walk into unnecessary drama?

Another senseless one

The Miami Herald reported in great detail yesterday memorial services for Bryan Pata, a University of Miami senior student and football player.

Pata, by all accounts a good guy, a nice guy, was shot and killed shortly after returning to his apartment following football practice a week-and-a-half ago.

No suspects are in custody, and police aren't revealing much about possible motives.

But the motive doesn't matter. Every time I hear about another murder that did not appear to be something done in the heat of passion, I speculate.

I have to 'cause it's the only way to make sense of what happened?

Not condoning murder or anything, but I wonder - if not revenge for someone molesting your child, or sexually assaulting other women in your life, or sudden rage over finding out your spouse is cheating - what would compel you to kill?

Money, drugs, a funny look, a scuffed shoe, a fender bender? I know those are possible. I've reported numerous stories involving killers who cited those things as reasons they committed murder.

But how bad does your life have to be to get to that point, where murder is an acceptable response to someone offending you?

My questions are rhetorical. I don't have answers.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Do you know what month it is?

Hate to say, but it's not anything honorable.

This month, November, marks the 32nd anniversary of the very first Player's Ball, AKA the Pimp Academy Awards, the annual celebration of the most "successful" franchisees of what is supposed to be the world's oldest profession.

I always thought the world's oldest profession was farming, but hey, what do I know?

Anyway, the ball was originally hosted in Chicago, and for a few years even took place in Chi-town's neighbor to the north, Milwaukee, the upper Midwest apparently having been deemed the nexus of the Pimp Universe.

And while we can all agree that pimpin' makes for very bad Burnettiquette (and a crime, and a stain on civil society), if you have a sense of humor at all you also have to agree that pimps make some of the funniest movie characters. They - at least the ones who appear in music videos - come up with some of the best one-liners. And in a twisted sort of way, guys admire 'em the way you admire the bearded lady in the circus - freakish but interesting enough to stare at.

Besides, language has been so hijacked by different cultural trends that "pimp" no longer just means flesh peddler. If you're a dude and you're friends call you "pimpish" they're telling you your clothes and style are nice. If you watch MTV you know that customizing your car is getting your ride "pimped."

So let us all give the old college cheer - Pimp, Pimp, Hooray! - and understand that without pimps we would not have money green suits, gator shoes, or tricked out canes, AKA pimp sticks.

And if you remember, at some point this month spend an afternoon referring to yourself in the third person.

If grammar wasn't your strong suit back in the day, what I mean is don't say "I like kittens." Instead, do say "[Your name here] loves kittens."

And if your grammar and Pimplish are strong, then you wouldn't even say "I" or "[Your name here]." You'd say "My bad self loves kittens."

Try it with me. My bad self is done blogging for the evening. There, that wasn't so hard.

So go in peace, and remember, according to the experts, pimpin' ain't easy.

Coolest thing I've seen all week

I was holding out to see if anything better happened as the week wore on. But it's mid week, and nothing better has leaped out at me. So here it is.

At the beginning of the week I was on the train platform nearest my house, waiting for the southbound into Miami.

The train tracks run parallel to the highway. And so there are entrances and exits to the highway right across from the station platforms. Often when people exit the highway there they run red lights.

Now, in normal parts of the U.S. we've all slipped through a yellow light here and there. We may have even made a break for it when the light was yellow at the start and turned red during our bolt. Not saying it's right. But we've done it.

Here in South Florida, driving badly is a competitive sport. And running red lights - that have been red for a hot minute - is one of the many ways you let other drivers around you know that you are crazier than them and thus more deserving of "road respect," which loosely translates into all the other cars and drivers staying out of your way.

But the thing is no one is ever caught. In fact, in the 18 years I've been driving - and I've driven in 22 states and six countries - I don't think I've ever seen a reckless driver pulled over by law enforcement, primarily 'cause there has never been a cop in sight.

So back to Monday. I was on the platform alternately reading my paper, looking for my train to arrive, and watching the cars exit the highway. At one point, a woman in a giant SUV (no worries, I'm not an SUV hater; I've driven Jeeps half my life) came down the exit ramp. It was clear she was on the phone. Halfway down the ramp her light turned yellow. By the time she came to a complete stop it had been red for a good four or five seconds. She remained stopped for the blink of an eye and then took off through the red light.

A moment later I heard a siren. Apparently a motorcycle cop had been sitting under the highway overpass a few feet away. He took off around the corner and stopped the woman. I hope she got a ticket and a good tasering and a nightstick makeover.

Well, maybe not the tasering, but I was thrilled for once to see a reckless driver get hers.

And that, my friends, was the coolest thing I've seen this far.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

No swimming in the pool

Sorry, I was just sitting here thinking about possible goofy contradictions in public venues. There's asking people to spend money in your restaurant and then telling them they can't eat food while there. There's inviting folks to buy fuel at your gas station and then telling them no gas is allowed on the premises. Go to the park, but keep off the grass.

And then there's the gym about 80 miles north of NYC that has a no grunting policy. A corrections officer and competitive body builder tested that policy recently, when he was squatting 500 lbs and was heard grunting against the strain of the weight. An employee asked him to stop. He, allegedly got belligerent and was asked to leave, he refused and said he was gonna finish his workout, the employee called the cops, and the gym rat was escorted out the door by the men in blue.

Naturally, the gym says it's not about lifting weights. It's about the gym rat's belligerence and a violation of gym policy. The gym, Planet Fitness, believes that lifters who grunt are just trying to draw attention to themselves.

No doubt some muscle heads do that. I can't stand the 'roidal dudes who growl like Kong while they're lifting a weight. If you've gotta "grunt" that hard you should be in the parking lot lifting cars. But if you grunt inadvertently while lifting a heavy load, so be it. It comes with the territory.

I mean, if you're just walking around the gym grunting for the hell of it, then you're probably insane anyway. But if it's while you're hefting a load (and you're not one of those melodramatic 'roid heads) then it's OK. Lighten up Planet Fitness.

If this isn't a cure for smoking I don't know what is

Let me just say that I know some of you smoke, and I will not condemn you for it.

You know the drill: you're grown; it's your body, yada, yada.

Besides, I'd be a hypocrite if I did condemn you, 'cause I have a humidor full of great cigars. And yes, I smoke 'em. Granted, I only smoke one every two months or so. But still, I smoke 'em.

That being said, I stumbled across a surreal scene earlier today when I stepped onto an elevator and caught a glimpse of an elderly man - maybe mid 70s - standing directly across from me and facing me who was mumbling to himself. He was about a foot shorter than me and his head was hung, so I couldn't see his mouth and couldn't hear what he was saying. And I couldn't quite pinpoint why his voice sounded so odd to me.

A second later, I happened to glance up and to my right and noticed a tall, younger man - maybe late 40s/early 50s - with a white Velcro strap around his neck. I thought it was strange but didn't stare.

So a moment later I hear Darth Vader. Not really Vader, but it was the old guy across from me. He had lifted his head and I saw that he had had a tracheotomy and had one of those electrolarynx voice boxes installed. He was smiling and gesturing and talking to the taller younger man, who turned his head and revealed that the white strap was attached to his own electrolarynx.

This was a slow elevator. So for about two minutes these two had a robotic conversation about the pros and cons of various electrolarynx devices, etc. They strained to understand each other. That's a sad fraternity to belong to, I thought. Not sad, as in pathetic. Just sad, as in what a bummer.

All I could think was "This would make a pretty good here's-what-a-lifetime-of-smokin'll-get-ya commercial."

It is possible that neither man was ever a smoker. Maybe they had accidents and their windpipes were crushed. Maybe.

Or maybe they smoked.

Either way the sight of the two of them trying their best to converse also made me think of those corny old anti-drug commercials, featuring the egg in the frying pan: This is your brain; this is your brain on drugs. has that commercial featuring the former smoking cowboy who sings through his electrolarynx next to a campfire in the middle of NYC.

These two guys trumped that.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Weekly self-promotion

No worries, I'm not fishing for comments or compliments. But if you're bored and want something to read, here are my latest two articles:

- A Profile I wrote on a federal judge

- Unbuttoned with James Burnett, my regular weekly interview column

Both ran in today's Miami Herald.

The Brown Sound (Do Not Read If You Are Squeamish)

Every now and then you hear a story so outrageous you assume, you wish, you silently plead for it to be an urban legend....or you experience a combo of hilarity and horror and laugh till you choke, because you know immediately the story isn't true.

I had the latter reaction to the South Park episode in which the boys attend a national recorder (those stupid little flutes we were all forced to play in elementary school) convention and decide to try to discover the "brown sound" or "brown note," the mythical low musical frequency that 'causes involuntary bowel movements.

In turn, I nearly had the same reaction when I was driving Sunday morning and listening to NPR and heard an author talking about having explored the "myth" of random people defecating in clothing store dressing rooms. Seriously.

After a minute I recognized the voice to be that of David Sedaris, one of my favorite writers.

Sedaris, who was discussing a book tour, said that he had looked into this extensively and found to his amazement that when he brought it up to audiences, 97% or so of regular folk had never heard of this phenomenon. But the other 3% - who happened to work in retail or had in the past - confirmed his story.

According to Sedaris, he heard story after story of retail workers of going into dressing rooms to clean up after customers who had been trying on clothes, only to find fresh piles of you know what! What was crazy is he heard this story from very serious retail workers from all over the country.

My immediate reaction to this story was one of horror. Next, I thought the obvious: "Crapping in your dressing room is very, very bad Burnettiquette." Then I laughed, 'cause it was so outrageous it couldn't be anything else but funny. Finally, I got angry.


How sick in the head do you have to be to crap in a department store - not in a department store bathroom, just in the store? Is it a frat initiation prank? Are retail workers finding this only in men's dressing rooms, or is this an equal opportunity psychosis? Is it mentally ill people, or just really, really crass people who feel like they don't have to wait for a real bathroom break? Maybe it's sick people whose churning stomachs couldn't wait to reach a can.

It really does beg the question WHY, like the retired Columbia U. professor who reportedly paid several thousand dollars in the 1970s for Napoleon Bonaparte's penis preserved in a jar.


Some skeptics believe that the prof. doesn't really have Napoleon's little guy. So that begs the question of whose little guy is it? And again, WHY is it in a jar on a shelf in some old guy's house?

But I digress.

Crapping in a dressing room is so low down, I might be willing to get locked up to get a chance to punish an offender. And that says a lot, because I'm too pretty to go to jail.

But seriously, if I was a retail worker and walked into a dressing room that you just came out of and I found that, I think I might have to beat you like a rented mule, or as my Grandma Rosa would say, like you stole something.

Tsk, tsk. Very, very bad Burnettiquette.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Have it your way is just advertising

Only in Miami.

I just saw a fast food commercial that reminded me of an "incident" Friday afternoon.

A colleague and I wanted to eat something cheap and unhealthy. So we walked a couple blocks from The Miami Herald building to a Burger King.

The line at the counter was typical - a bunch of construction workers, a couple of stragglers like us, and a couple of homeless trying to bargain for a free or discounted meal.

A construction worker in front of us placed his order then moved over to wait for his food.

As he waited, a grill worker walked to her post. Not sure where she was coming from, maybe the bathroom, maybe she was just starting her shift. Who knows?

At any rate, the manager loudly berated her, demanded to know if she'd washed her hands first, didn't wait for an answer and ordered her to go wash her hands. She slinked away.

Kudos to the manager, right? I'm not so sure.

See, the entire time he was verbally clobbering the cook, the manager stood there subconsciously rubbing his face - I mean the kind of rubbing you do when you're seriously stressed out or when you're obsessive compulsive. I mean he was rubbing his face the way you rub a piece of meat you're trying to season. A few scratches behind the ear and on the eyebrow and his lecture was done. He promptly turned around, looked at the order screen and reached into the fry holder to scoop out an order.

That's when the construction worker, whom shall henceforth be known as CW, sprang into action.

CW: Yo, homie!
Mgr: Yes, may I help you?
CW: Yes, you may. You can wash your hands!
Mgr: Pardon me?
CW: You heard me. Don't worry about her hands. The only dirty hands I see in the food are yours!
Mgr: What is wrong with you?
CW: You think I'm playin' with you homie? Wash yo' hands! You just stood here rubbin' your face and pickin' your skin!
Mgr: No, I didn't!

Interjection from me: He did. I saw it too.

CW: I watched you. You are lyin'. Wash your hands or get away from the food. I'll come back there and serve it myself!
Mgr: You are stupid! Is that all the education you have?
CW: (shakes his head and mutters "I'm 'bout to whup somebody's a$$, then more loudly) I got enough education to know to wash my hands after I pick my face, before I touch food.

CW, to his credit, bit his tongue from this point on. Mgr, wisely walked away 'cause CW was 3X his size.

I didn't say a word. I worked at CrackRonald's in high school. I know what can happen to food when you piss someone off.

And "Have it your way?" I confirmed on Friday that it really is just a slogan and not a business practice.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Veteran's Day Salute

If you didn't know, today is Veteran's Day, the day we honor American men and women who have served in the U.S. military.

I want to offer kudos to all the brave troops, active and reserve, enlisted and commissioned, volunteer and former draftees, current and retired or deceased.

I want to thank my dad for his 21-plus years of active duty service in the U.S. Navy. Kudos to you CPO (ret.) James H. Burnett Jr.

I want to thank my late grandfather James H. Burnett Sr., a Purple Heart recipient, for his service in the U.S. Army in World War II.

I want to thank all of yous, as my good friends in parts of NYC would say, for being willing to lay down your lives in service to your country. And if you have any doubts about that willingness, keep in mind that our military today is all volunteer.

And on an even more personal level I want to thank the few living members of the Tuskegee Airmen, that legendary group of African American aviators who volunteered for military service during World War II, trained as fighter pilots, and flew dozens of successful missions in that war.

Some of you get squirrelly and uncomfortable when I bring up things even remotely related to race and ethnicity.

Here's a bit of reality: While I am grateful to everyone who has ever served honorably in a branch of the military, I have a special love for the men from Tuskegee, because they didn't just volunteer for service and volunteer for a dangerous job. They did it knowing full well that many powerful lawmakers, military commanders, and even their peers doubted their ability, questioned their patriotism, vocally wished them failure (even though their failure would have been to the detriment of the American war effort), and said in so many words that their service wasn't wanted, at least in such a high profile capacity.

On those rare occasions I thrust race at you, it isn't to cause anyone discomfort. It's to give you some clue to my early motivations and to remind us all that even the most apparently polished history has some fractures. And we should learn from the blemishes, not ignore them.

When you are a kid and you see your own father get up day in and day out and put on his crisply starched uniform and go to work, and on those rare but glorious occasions when you got to accompany him and you saw other men snap to and raise their hands to salute him for his rank and respect, and you knew that a crew like the Tuskegee Airman had existed and thrived, those collective images are enough to convince you the little boy that when you are grown you too can contribute and succeed, regardless of what you look like.

Again, kudos to all, and prayers to those currently in military service.And regardless of where you stand on current events, don't get it twisted. Even if you are unhappy with the war - and I really don't care whether you're for it or again' it - don't be unhappy with the troops. They're just doing their jobs.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Don't do what you don't want to

So we just got home a few minutes ago. After work, the missus and I went to a local bookstore for orientation with Volunteer Broward, a local clearinghouse for volunteer/charitable organizations.

We figured since we're not about to give cash that we don't have, maybe we can earn some decency stripes by helping out at one of these places, what with the holidays coming up.

Anyway, while the volunteer coordinator guy was giving his lecture, one guy in the audience griped the entire time...for everyone to hear.

Now, I admit I was ready to jump over the balcony, or cut myself and go soak in a bathtub full of rubbing alcohol, because I was bored to tears. I won't lie. I hate orientations. Unless you are being oriented for your first flight on a space shuttle or your first brain surgery, orientations are 80% useless. Just tell me how to sign up, where to be, and when, and I'm good.

Still, in spite of my angst I bit my tongue and listened...mostly. I did sneak Marley & Me off a nearby shelf and peak at the cover notes till a disapproving nudge made me put it back.

But the griper, a guy sitting about 10 feet away, interrupted the coordinator guy every couple of minutes to ask a "what if."

The thing is he wasn't asking stuff like "What if we're late?" or "What if we don't understand our assignment?"

He was asking like "What if I don't like what I volunteered for?" and "What if I can't get along with the other volunteers?" and "What if I decide you all suck and should go jump off a cliff?" and "What if I get the gout and don't really give a crap about helping strangers?"

OK, I exaggerated the last two things, but this dude spent the entire time asking speculative questions about what he would do when (not if) he encountered a problem.

I have a question for Mr. Curiosity - actually two questions: If we end up in another training class together could you volunteer to shut the hell up, before I volunteer to toss your behind out a window? And, if you're already convinced it's gonna be a bad experience why bother?

A Public Service Announcement

As a general rule I do not look at men. At least I don't look at them in that way.

Like everyone else, I'm sure, I do look at almost everyone I see with a bit of curiosity. Sometimes it's 'cause they just look different. Sometimes it's a pretty woman. And before I get any tsk tsks for saying that, my beautiful wife knows that all men glance from time to time (and if they say they don't they're liars). So there!

One thing I've seen a lot of lately - and this is the second time I've had to write about it - is men wearing pants that don't fit. I can't tell you how many dudes I've seen lately wearing pants that were holding on for dear life, pants that you could almost hear screaming because their stitching was about to burst. The funny thing is the last time I wrote about this I was living in the upper Midwest, and I assumed it was because I was in a place where fashion trends sometimes arrived a year or two after they'd hit the coasts. Not so. I'm seeing the same thing here in Miami, supposedly a fashion Mecca.

Guys for many many years this was something we were able to tease our female friends and relatives about: squeezing themselves into trousers that were made for someone of a different size.

Now, we do it public. It disturbs me.

There are two exceptions: if you're a member of an '80s rock tribute band, you are permitted to wear tight pants of any fabric anytime you want. And if you ride bulls or angry horses in rodeos, you are permitted to wear tight denim jeans. I guess they help produce that whole bow-legged thing.

Anyway, fellas we have a responsibility to demonstrate that we're not fashion brain-dead. So there are a couple of simple rules you must follow:
  • If you don't work on stage or at the rodeo, no tight jeans or leather pants.
  • Even though they're popular these days, flat front slacks are not for all of us.
  • You may wear flat fronts if you're slim from the waist down. Don't try to squeeze into 'em just 'cause you saw a model in a magazine wearing them. We all know that models live on condiment packets lifted from fast food restaurants. One-a-day keeps the calories away.
  • If your thighs and gut are substantial, I hate to tell you, but you should probably be wearing pants with pleats.
  • Sure pleats are very daddish and very 1980s and early '90s, but they are there for a reason: to give thick folks room to breath in the leg/thigh area, and to avoid your pants bunching up down there and creating that swooshing sound when you walk. Besides, pleats aren't just a design touch. They also take attention away from the belly.

I'm not hatin'. I'm just exhorting my friends of all sizes and reminding myself to wear clothes that flatter our bodies.

And ladies the same rules apply to you and low-riders.

***Clarification*** You do not have to be thick in the thigh to wear pleated pants, guys. If you like the style wear them. Wear flats. Whatever. But if you are extra thick in the thigh then you probably should wear pleats.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

It really isn't that thin

You know that "fine line between faith and foolishness" I'm always ranting about? Check out its broader, thicker cousin, a line so wide you can lay on it and wrap yourself up in it.

The cradle of life: the trailer park

The trailer park giveth. And the trailer park taketh away. Who are we to question this all-natural check and balance system of the Park?

No way the cosmos was gonna let event #1 happen without countering it with something like event #2.

To forgive is divine. To forget may be stupid.

Thanks for all the kind words - even from you, BD - over my jacked up tooth. It's still with me, partly 'cause the dentist can't fit me in for another day or two, partly 'cause the pills are working, and partly 'cause I'm chicken about having my gums carved up.

I think I'd almost rather have surgery in my nether regions than have knives and needles poking about my mouth. That should tell you something about my dentist fear, 'cause like most guys I cherish the nether region and would even take out a separate life insurance policy on it if I could.

And Rune, you are a sadist...I think. Lemon juice and salt? Still if the pain continues I might try it. Maybe new pain will make me forget the old pain.

At any rate, today is election day. And I've been thinking about the number of political ads I've seen featuring apologetic politicians - surprisingly not here in Florida, but replayed on cable pundit shows from the rest of the country.

I've also been mulling over the hubbub with the Colorado megachurch Pastor Ted Haggard, who admitted to some wrong doing with a male hooker.

And I find myself torn. On one hand, a small part of me is impressed with all these prominent people humbling themselves and apologizing for misdeeds. On the other hand I'm skeptical, 'cause I doubt any of them would have 'fessed up if they hadn't been exposed.

Plus I notice a pattern. None of them - not the politicians apologizing for extramarital affairs, or irregular campaign activity, or improper fundraising, etc., or the clergy apologizing for drug use and extramarital affairs - apologized specifically for what they did wrong.

In court if you confess to something they often make you allocute, or formally admit to and describe your actions, as part of the plea deal.

These folks would never make it in a plea deal. One congressman apologized for "improper" behavior with a woman who wasn't his wife. Haggard, who rabidly opposed homosexuality, apologized for "sexual immorality"...with a man.

I don't think I've ever heard one of these people say "I'm sorry, because I had sex with that person who is not my spouse." "I'm sorry, because I stole money from my campaign fund to support my drug habit (or rehab my vacation home)." "I'm sorry, because I purchased illegal drugs and had every intention of using them."

Even better would be "I'm sorry, because I got caught. But now that I've lost everything, I'll try to improve my character. And hopefully soon I'll be able to say that I'm sorry for what I did."

The evasiveness leads me to conclude that none of 'em are really sorry. And while the whole concept of forgiveness is that you should give it if it's requested, I think "IT" - intentionally vague, just like their confessions - should be held against 'em all until they show they're sincere in their sorrow.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Hold the fort

Sorry for my lack of posting today, friends. I've been on the street all day trying to earn my pay, reporting a few stories.

I just got home and am about to pop a couple of (legal) pills for an inflamed gum surrounding a wisdom tooth I wish I'd gotten pulled years ago.

When the pain killer kicks in and I can quit grumbling bad words under my breath I'll post again. Hopefully this evening, but if not, definitely by morning.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The definition of triflin' vs. prioritizing

Sometimes it is true that a picture - in the following case, a scene - is worth a thousand words.

One of my next door neighbors has enough junk in her backyard to compete with Fred Sanford and enough tall grass to host a season of Survivor.

She doesn't own any lawn care gear. Her yard is maintained only occasionally by a service. Services do cost money.

But I went outside earlier today to clean up a little in my own yard, and who comes running out the next door neighbor's back door? Her pet Chihuahua...wearing a brand new Miami Heat jersey.

You can afford to buy your dog clothes, but you can't pay to get your grass cut?

That, my friends, is triflin'.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The real deal

I'm always griping on this blog about shady people asking for handouts, but I'm also reminded by a lot of you that the good thing about charity is the intention of the giver, regardless of what's going on in the recipient's mind.

So if you get a minute check out this new act of kindness by The Dummy>. Good stuff.

Bet they'll think twice before raising the price of stamps again

From the somber to the silly. <---This guy can explain why postal workers are allegedly angry.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

R.I.P. Chermaine Joseph-Quetel

Joseph-Quetel was a security guard for the Metrorail train in Miami-Dade County, a train I ride to work a couple days per week.

She was shot and killed by a man while working a few nights ago - ironically, while guarding the platform at the station named for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Her husband, also a guard on the rail system was working nearby. He managed to be by her side as she died.

Police haven't found a suspect yet. A man wearing dark clothing was seen running away from the scene. He took nothing, not her valuables, not her gun. And that's it.

I hope that they catch him. I hope, for once - though it's not likely - if he's caught he admits that he was a coward (police said that Joseph-Quetel didn't even have a chance to unholster her own weapon when she was shot) and that he committed the ultimate crime. I hope he voluntarily locks himself away for life or straps himself into the juice box.

I hope this does not turn out to be another case of "I shot her 'cause she looked at me funny." I once covered a homicide at my last newspaper in which a young girl was shot and killed by a stray bullet meant for a 20-something man. When police later caught the shooter, he told them that he fired at the other man, because that man had stepped on his girlfriend's shoes in a nightclub a night or two before and hadn't adequately apologized.

I hope that if he does defend his actions by saying he was beaten as a child, forced to eat gravel and sand for dinner, and generally neglected and abused, every law-abiding, successful person out there who was raised in the same environment comes forward and decries the killer's excuses.

I hope that he gets what he gave - a lack of respect for his life.

I hope that if he gets life and not death he's forced to live with a life-sized picture of the woman he killed on a wall of his prison cell.

I hope that the other (presumably young) men in his clique feel shame, old-fashioned shame and embarrassment.

I hope that those men recognize the horror of their buddy's actions, and make extra efforts to educate themselves and find jobs - anything that qualifies as a productive use of their time.

I hope that people in the neighborhood in which the shooting took place band together and form posses and hunt down the killer and drag him by his testicles to the nearest police station.

I hope that no one in that neighborhood helps the killer or shields him from police.

I hope that when this story fades from the newspaper(s) and TV stations down here in a couple of days - unless the killer is caught before then - Joseph-Quetel did not die in vain.