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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Friday, December 29, 2006

New Year's Meme

I've been tagged enough w/these things so I've decided to tag every last one of you who has a blog.

Keep reading. You'll get the details.

First though, I'm limiting my actual resolutions for '07 to five. Having too many is unrealistic.

In order, my five must-do resolutions are:
  1. Get one of my books published (I have two completed novels and a non-fiction work on politics in progress)
  2. Complete a couple of newspaper series I've been researching for months (one on Gen-Xers turning 40, and one on the history of a specific handgun)
  3. Better organize my desk (it's a mess, and while I can find stuff it just doesn't look good)
  4. Get back in "fighting" shape (I can only see four "members" of my former six pack these days)
  5. And care less what people think about me

Now, expanding on this a little, number five is very important to me. It is also the subject of the meme I'm passing on to you. See, while I believe we should care what others think about us - to the extent we're NOT giving them any legitimate reason to dislike us or disrespect us - I also think that sometimes we care to much. So much so that sometimes we cripple ourselves over worry that we don't look right, or sound cool, or act cool, etc.

You might remember that a few weeks back we did a six-weird-things-about-yourself-meme. So in keeping with New Year's resolution number five, I'm offering up five things about myself that I don't like because of irrational fear of what other's think. This is not to say that some of these things don't need improvement. But they don't need to be improved 'cause other folks might not like me. I think part of what helps get over this kind of caring-too-much is having a sense of humor and acknowledging your flaws.

Here are mine. Comment here and post your own on your blogs too:

  1. I am sort of out of shape. I mentioned above only being able to see four cans in the old sixer? Well, if I don't amp up my resistance training routine back to where it used to be I swear I'll end up developing man boobs before '07 is over. And I'm not trying to go out like that.
  2. I've always prided myself on a relatively sharp 'do. But I think my hairline is finally starting to fade. It used to be straight, across the top of my forehead the way a good Caesar cut is supposed to look. Now I notice my hairline is slightly round in the corners. It has receded a little. That scares me.
  3. I do radio on the side of my news writing gig. But I hate the sound of my voice. Ninety percent of the time it's OK. But the other 10 percent, my allergies are bothering me and my voice is nasally.
  4. At 34-years-old I still get self-conscious in night spots if I don't have someone to talk to. I feel like I look goofy standing there alone. There are times I'm working in a bar/club, covering a concert or special event, and there's a lull in the action. I've actually been tempted to call my wife or a buddy on the cell just to have something to do during the interlude.
  5. I have not yet discovered the fine balance between being a little shy and appearing obnoxious about opening up when talking to strangers. Can't help it. I don't want to come off like "me, me me!" But you know what? Maybe I'm worth talking about. There's good pride to be had. Not all of it has to do with arrogance and shameless self-promotion.

So those are my "spin-offs" from resolution number five. Those spin-offs are the content of the meme.

What things about yourself do you worry about too much, where other folks' opinions of you are concerned? Are these things you're going to try to address in the new year?

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

To tip or not to tip - that is still the question

So not so long ago I wrote this post about an article we ran in the Miami Herald about more and more restaurants turning to mandatory tip policies.

I hate those policies. I understand why some places call for them: cheapskates who don't tip or tip too little. But I hate those policies 'cause of that waiter or waitress who does nothing and gives attitude while doing it, all 'cause they know they're getting tipped regardless.

So I thought it was pretty cool when we ate lunch on Hollywood Beach the other day at a sidewalk cafe - sorry, can't remember the name - and when the waitress brought our check it offered options. It basically said under the tab that if we tipped 15% it would amount to such and such dollars, if we tipped 18% it would come to so and so dollars, and if we tipped 20% it would come to yada yada dollars.

That was a very savvy compromise on their part. It wasn't forcing a mandatory tip on us, but it was dropping a gentle hint to us that we had tipping options. And they even did the math on the three options they offered. We ended up going with 15% 'cause in this case the waitress didn't have a whole lot to do for us. Still, if we go back to that place I may opt for the higher tip just 'cause they saved me time by doing the math on different tip amounts.

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Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmakwanzanukkahfestivus and The Pursuit of Happyness

Hope everyone had a good holiDay. Mine has gone swimmingly.

My wife and mother-in-law and I had a good period of reflection on all the spiritual meanings trotted out at this time of year, exchanged some gifts, and just got to relax and enjoy each other's company.

This time of year though is great for more than gifts and spiritual stuff though. There's no better time to watch movies.

We just got home from seeing The Pursuit of Happyness. I thought Will Smith did a great job. I thought Chris Gardner's story was beyond inspirational. But - and I admit I'm a mind-wandering weirdo - one of the things that impressed me most was how people in positions of power seemed to be willing and almost eager to give Gardner a chance to make it.

I have an occasional paranoia that I will come across someone who doesn't want to take me seriously because I'm young and black. Some of you may think it's a silly thing to worry about. But what can I tell you? I'm human. And past experience tells me there are folks who would not think to consider my character, work ethic, etc., before writing me off for my appearance.

So I can't tell you how moved I was when Gardner on top of being a black man struggling in the 1970s and early '80s, with a wild fro' and a Yosemite Sam mustache, and sometimes wearing unkempt, dirty clothes, was given shot after shot.

I won't get all weepy and emotional. But it said something about good people.

There are people out there who in spite of politics and prejudice can look beyond your...look.

I hope that there are more of those people than there were a few years ago. And I hope in the new year that they multiply exponentially.

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Crocodile (make that Alligator) James B.

We've lived in South Florida over a year now, so we figured it was about time we went to the Everglades and did some swamp tromping.

So that's where we spent the day today - in the woods.

One of my editors at The Miami Herald is a big outdoorsman, so he recommended a place, Billie Swamp Safari, on a Seminole Tribe of Florida reservation.

Now, I have to back up a few years to when I was just a wee lad. Like a lot of boys I had a thing for "real" Native American stuff, or at least what I thought was real. You name it - clothing, living quarters (tepees, etc.), weapons (bows/arrows, etc.), food (corn, etc.).

I assumed back then that nature itself was maintained in large part due to Native American stewardship. I'm sure some of my childhood feelings were driven by fantasy and lore. But some were probably based in reality.

And when boys grow up, we become...bigger boys.

So you can understand my excitement when we approached Billie's joint this morning and saw alligators sunning themselves along the banks of a swampy waterway that ran parallel to the road, and giant geese and blue cranes walking around the parking area.

Things only got better when we got inside and saw all sorts of cool swamp creatures. The highlight of the day for me was the air boat ride that got us up close and personal with gators, crazy prehistoric-looking fish, and even a pack of wild boars and gators chillin' like old friends, the way your dog and cat might hang out at home. I thought I was Mick Dundee for a minute.

It might have been a perfect day, but then the air boat ride ended and we decided to eat at the Swamp Water Café, an "authentic" restaurant at Billie's.

I was almost giddy, remembering my childhood obsession, and had every intention of eating gator nuggets or crane fries or wild boar fingers or prehistoric fish fillet, or endangered lizard steak (sorry, my vegetarian friends). OK, I made up and am kidding about everything but the gator nuggets. I really was looking forward to them.

But the waitress told me the the nuggets wouldn't fill me up, so I opted for the authentic Indian taco, complete with fried flat bread and all the trimmings.

"Indian" and "taco" in the same sentence should have been a dead giveaway, but I was hungry and figured since it had "Indian" in the name it would satisfy my authenticity requirement.

What I got though was a plate of sliced/diced, bread, covered in chili - tasted suspiciously like canned Hormel, something I became familiar with in college - covered in lettuce, cheese and tomatoes.

That's right. My authentic Indian taco turned out to be a canned chili salad.

I drove 60 miles to eat a chili salad. I could have stayed home and walked to Crack Ronald's for an authentic near-the-beach burger.

But in spite of the food, the National Geographic experience we had today made the Everglades worth the trip.

I have to go now and eat a few more authentic roasted almonds before dinner.

Peace and hair grease till tomorrow.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Another bummer

I know it's not very Christmas-like of me to present downers right about now, but Wednesday night another teenager down here was gunned down in a drive-by.

Sixteen-year-old Mike Barjon was killed hanging out with a friend about a block from his mom's home.

Big Daddy, you may want to stop reading here, 'cause you're gonna call me mean. But I was watching a TV report on the shooting last night and the Ken Doll said "this community wants it to stop," in reference to the neighborhood where the shooting took place.

Sorry, I gotta disagree. You know who wants these murders to stop? The families of the victims, and the old folks who bought homes in the neighborhood decades ago and have tried to maintain the place.

The community as a whole does not want these murders to stop. "The" community may not want the murders to happen, but "the" community is not doing anything to make them stop. I know this because someone - many folks, probably - knows who pulled the trigger on this latest killing. And you know what? They won't tell. They will not turn the shooter in.

And it will happen again. And people will stick their heads in the sand and they won't turn the shooter(s) in.

When I covered crime, it never ceased to amaze me that in the most war torn neighborhoods some people would protect violent criminals with the same ferocity that good parents protect their children.

I understand that some of that was about self-preservation: people so scared of the bad guys that they look out for the bad guys in the hopes the bad guys will spare them once the police leave the neighborhood.

But if collectively whole neighborhoods teamed up and turned the bad guys in, who are the bad guys gonna turn on? I say no one. If they know the neighborhood as a single entity isn't scared of them they're not gonna terrorize one person as payback. They'll move on - unfortunately, to another neighborhood where most of the residents are still scared.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Remove Child Before Folding

That is the title of a new book that came across my desk yesterday afternoon.

Actually, the full title is Remove Child Before Folding: The 101 Stupidest, Silliest, and Wackiest Warning Labels ever, by Bob Dorigo Jones.

And I'm not sure whether to laugh, cry, or get annoyed. I admit, the book is hilarious in a sad, sad way.

Among the warning labels Jones tracked down for the book are:
  • "The labels above the public toilets at the Wide World Sports Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., which read 'Recycled flush water, unsafe for drinking'."
  • "The instruction guide for a BernzOmatic propane torch," which warns "Never use when sleeping."
  • "The...label...on a bottle of Milky Way chocolate milk," which reads "Contains milk."
  • "A container of Sure underarm deodorant," which warns "Caution: Do not spray in eyes."
  • And the title warning from Century's TraveLite SPORT baby stroller, "Remove child before folding!"

Man, that's almost depressing. Have we all gotten that stupid?

Or are we so litigation-happy that manufacturers feel like they have do a little extra dumbing-down in order to protect themselves from the stupid few among us?

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

I don't know why I even care

I've been repeating that line since about this time yesterday, when Donald Trump announced that Miss USA would keep her crown, in spite of allegations that she was partying like a real celebrity - meaning drinking underage, drinking too much, and doing hard drugs - and possibly engaged in lesbian activity with another pageant winner.

But I do care a little. Actually, let me say first that these accusations were just that. I don't know if The Donald had any proof that she did this stuff or if it was all made up. Second, I don't care who Tara Conner hooks up with. If she wants to make hay with another beautiful young lady, let them make bales and bales of the stuff.

However, while I appreciated The Donald being compassionate and giving Conner a second change, I couldn't help but be a little cynical and wonder if it was just a PR move. This is a man who has fired people on The Apprentice for not having good personalities or representing their teams well in public. He fired one man - a Miami attorney - who had immunity but as a goodwill, team player gesture offered to put himself on the chopping block with others. The Donald told that man that it was a stupid move to give up his immunity, a stupid move that warranted firing. Maybe it was stupid, but it was genuine. It was old school. It was the captain being willing to go down with the ship.

There's nothing wrong with partying with good sense. But this young woman from Russell Springs, KY, signed contracts saying she'd follow strict behavioral guidelines during her reign. Then at yesterday's press conference she used the oldest BS line in the books. She blamed her recent alleged behavior on being overwhelmed by the craziness of the big city. So New York made her go bananas? I have more wild friends who live in the 'burbs and the countryside than I've ever had in the "big city."

There's an old saying that I heard TV head shrinker Dr. Keith Ablow repeat this morning: "Wherever you go, that's where you are."

I know I shouldn't care. I just can't help it.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

So I won't be doing any play-by-play announcements

I always thought I had a decent speaking voice.

I mean, I'm no Ronald Coleman or Alexander Scourby, or on a lesser scale Morgan Freeman. So, in order, I won't be narrating Shakespeare, the Bible, or Driving Miss Daisy II.

But when I speak I think people can understand what I'm saying. I pronounce. I enunciate. I don't slur my words...before 1 a.m. I make speeches to groups and no one complains.

Don't get me wrong. I've heard myself on the radio and it makes me cringe. If I'm having the slightest allergic fit I can be a little nasally. Otherwise, I'm OK, I think.

Imagine my chagrin, when at the grocery last evening I stopped by the deli and asked for 1/3 of a pound of my favorite turkey and the butcher dude sliced me one and a third pounds. I assumed he either didn't hear me clearly or I hadn't spoken clearly.

So I asked him.

"Oh, I really didn't hear the amount you said," he answered. And I started to feel a little better, till he continued. "But I didn't have to. This is voice activated. It listens so we get orders right."

With that he gestured above his head, and damned if there wasn't a little digital reader board, sort of like they have by the drive-thru cash register at fast food restaurants. Sure enough, it read one and a third pounds.

Has anyone else ever heard of that? Voice-activated order thingies at the grocery store deli?

Anyway, apparently the machine did hear me say the larger amount.

I must sign off now and go do my "how now brown cow" exercises.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Sad and avoidable

I don't wanna turn into my dad too early. I don't have enough gray yet.

But we experienced another juvenile homicide in South Florida last night. A 17-year-old girl sitting in a car was shot and killed in a drive-by at nearly 3 a.m. in the city of North Miami Beach.

It is beyond tragic that another kid was killed, but I couldn't help but think immediately, "What the hell was she doing out at that time?"

Time of day doesn't justify the shooting, in case there are numbnuts out there who think I'm giving the killer a pass.

But, random acts of violence being the exception, so much bad, evil, dangerous behavior could be avoided if we would just steer clear.

It ain't rocket science. Unless you're grown you don't have any business on the street at that time of night. There just isn't a whole lot of sanity going around at 3 a.m. that justifies a kid being outside her home. No matter how innocent your intentions might be somebody else - somebody you may be completely unaware of - is lurking nearby and is up to no good.

Sure, sure there are always extenuating circumstances - tough lives, tough neighborhoods, etc. But some stuff is avoidable.

The victim was a kid. She should have been home and in bed (alone), or if she wanted to be up late 'cause it was a weekend, on the couch watching a late movie or something.

And anyone who thinks I'm being too uptight about this, before you write as much in a comment think hard about how you'd feel if this was your daughter, granddaughter, or niece, or if it had been you at that age.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Random nonsense

This has nothing to do with behavior, good or bad. I was Web surfing a few minutes ago, looking for a distraction that would get my creative juices flowing so I could make some headway on a book project I'm working on, and I stumbled across this beauty in the video for rapper Jay-Z's new single Lost One.

Typically I'm not a fan of the excesses in music videos, because most of the artists don't actually own what they're bragging about. But I am a guy. And I have a weakness for hot cars.

And this one, the new Maybach Excelero, is as hot as it gets - a real life Batmobile (minus the weapons and armor) if there ever was one. I know it sounds like the Canyonero, the fictional SUV featured on an old Simpson's episode. But this car is real. Just one was made apparently, as a concept car, and Maybach/Benz has no intention of making 'em for mass consumption.

Anyway, if you're at all curious about what the Excelero looks like in motion, here's a link to a production/engineering video.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The rules of rebounding: DON'T DO IT!


If you do, you are officially a rebound. You do not want to be a rebound. Rebounds are like new oil or air filters. They are there to catch the crap.

I just heard from a good buddy who has been in love with a woman for years - a woman he became friends with right after her troubled marriage failed, a woman who might easily have lost her job and been on the street if he hadn't been so generous with financial help, a woman he listened to for hours on end, days on end, weeks on end, months on end, as she cried - literally and figuratively - over her naughty ex and the condition he left her and her kids in emotionally and financially, a woman who told him he meant the world to her, but who never quite got around to treating him like anything but a protective sibling.

My buddy just heard from this woman that she has a new boyfriend.

The problem with becoming the rebound is you are unwitting therapy to the recently broken up person. They will work out all the kinks on you, whether they mean to or not. And when they've finally got their heads and hearts right, thanks in large part to your devotion, they will promptly put themselves back on the market leaving you stunned and suddenly realizing that they were never with you, that they had been off the market from the time they broke up with the ex to the time they decided they were "healed." You were a stop gap measure.

To be fair, this woman did not stick a gun to my buddy's head. But she didn't turn him away either.

I feel bad for my buddy. He gave his heart and soul (and wallet) to this woman for years - easily more than five years. He's a grown man. You can argue he should have seen the signs, but we all know that love is blind...and sometimes deaf and mute. He's a good guy, pure heart. But man, I can't emphasize how much this rebound thing was starting to write itself on the wall.

He'll be OK, 'cause he is genuinely good, and in spite of all the clichéd complaints about women only loving bad boys, there are still women out there who appreciate a good, easygoing dude. But for now, this has to hurt.

This is like those anti-drug campaigns. Please do yourselves a favor: DON'T BE A REBOUND.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I'm just curious...

to know what you guys are curious about.

BTW, sorry for the day of non-posts. Again, it's been one of those weeks.

OK, back to my curiosity. I was catching up with a friend earlier and we were talking about an old Web site I used to browse on a weekly basis and how that site inspired some of the news feature articles I decided to research and write.

It's called the Y Forum, AKA The National Forum on People's Differences. It was cool because its purpose was to give people a forum to ask why...about whatever.

The first time I heard of the Y Forum I was a reporter in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the Herald's Leonard Pitts was in town to give a speech at a women's advocacy group's awards banquet. He described the site during his speech and how its operators wanted people to be able to talk about whatever. And they weren't kidding. You could post questions anonymously, as long as you included other specifics about yourself like age, education leve, race, location, etc. I was stunned at first at the nervy questions folks asked, like why certain people have certain body odors, or why certain people talked differently. But what I liked was that the readers answered the questions, not social science "experts." Some of the questions were mean-spirited and probably fake. But for the most part it was stuff people really wanted to know about other folks' differences but were afraid to ask.

Think about all those times when you were a kid or a college student or something and you met a gay person for the first time. Or the black kid who was your roommate in the dorms and you were dying to ask about how he kept that 'fro in place. Maybe the first time you saw a paraplegic with a colostomy bag. It could've been that person with vitiligo (that skin disease Michael Jackson claimed made him turn white). Might've been the little person in the cubicle next to yours at your first job. Admit it, if you could have done it without fear of scorn or being too un-PC you would have asked that person why. It's gross, I know. But I was curious a while back as to whether people really vacated their bowels when they died. I've seen that referenced in books - particularly those weird murder mysteries that involve a lot of grisly killings.

So, again, I am curious. I wouldn't purport to offer the services of the Y Forum, but I'd like to have a social experiment. I would like to know what folks are curious about.

Feel free to answer a question by way of the comments. All I ask is that you keep in mind this blog is PG-13. After all, it is tied to my day job. And I have bills to pay. So that means no blatant sex questions, Matt or 123Valerie ;>)

Just to be safe though, in case we have pranksters, I'm turning comment moderation back on just for this particular post.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Law enforcement rocks when it works, but...

something stinks in my 'hood.

I can call the cops in my fair city about being menaced by a neighbor's unleashed pit bull and get no response, or call them about Sling Blade blasting his stereo over french fried 'taters in his back yard, and get no response, or call them about anything else going down in my hood and get no response, and every time, they tell me it's because officers aren't available for low priority calls.

I think I understand what a high priority call is now. An hour or so ago, I took my dog out for a stroll and a coffee in the heart of downtown, a few blocks from my house, and as we sat and sipped (him from a water bowl), five cops gathered on the corner...downtown, where the worst thing that usually happens is people park at meters without plugging 'em. Those patrol officers stood there shooting the breeze and laughing for half-an-hour, before slowly meandering off in different directions.

Yeah, high priority.

PS. Don't anyone write me about cops having to spend most of their time dealing with the tougher, more violent stuff. I know that. I spent four years as a crime writer before switching to pop culture, and I know it's a tough job. I count lots of cops as personal friends. But I also know that it can't be coincidence that I can't even get a squad to drive by Sling Blade's house or crazy pit bull-owner's apartment, and yet I see the same officers whose patrol zone is my side of the neighborhood always on a park bench or a bar stool (drinking coffee, of course) in the touristy downtown zone a few blocks away.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Too good to be true

Sorry about the postless day, folks. One of those days.

I admit I gripe a lot that there are a lot of people who through and through are just not nice - so much so that when I do meet a random nice person it's a pleasant surprise. And my reaction can be almost goofy 'cause I'm thrilled like I just discovered gold or figured out how to split the atom.

So last evening we were making dinner and toolin' around the house when there was a knock at the front door.

I answered and two young women stood there smiling.

They didn't have anything in their hands - no briefcases, no pamphlets, etc., so I figured they weren't trying to proselytize us or anything. And before I could say anything one of them blurted out "Don't worry; we're not psycho or anything."

Her friend followed up quickly with "Listen, it's holiday time and we're just going around trying to meet 200 nice people. You look nice. So hi! I'm ---, and this is ---."

I won't lie. I smiled back, big. I accepted the hand nice-people-girl offered, and shook her friend's hand, and I got goofy. I thought it was some sort of pay-it-forward thing.

I stammered something about this being really cool, told them to have good evening and good luck on their "mission." And I turned to go back inside and tell my wife about it.

And then don't-worry-we're-not-psycho girl deftly slipped the pamphlet out of her back pocket and began peddling magazine subscriptions. That's right, they were selling magazines.

The irony is at that point I recognized the con, 'cause I got roped into it in high school back in the late '80s/early '90s. Magazine subscriptions for a front company that purported to be a branch of some national scholastic society. The sales kids - always seemed to be a group of ragamuffins, a bunch of Oliver Twists desperate for porridge - were always told to suggest the magazines would benefit charity. I sold a few subscriptions, but never got paid. None of us did.

I feel bad for these girls that this was the work they had to do. But it would have been really cool
if they really were just going around the neighborhood saying hi.

Seriously, when I get tired my sucker side starts rising to the surface.

At any rate, any shine on this apple faded over the next 30 minutes as two more mag sellers made their way to our door. Fully recovered, I let 'em know their friends had already tried and told 'em to scram.

My favorite saying: Keep an open mind, but not so open that your brain falls out.

Yes, I'm exhausted this evening, but don't try to sell me any bridges. I won't fall for it.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Deck the halls, not the spouses

Don't know what's happening in Bizarro World, but while picking up a few last holiday tidbits in Tar-zhay earlier today two women with giant shiners (black eyes) strolled by me in less than 15 minutes.

That's messed up. I hope that they fell down the stairs or got hit by an errant ball on the tennis court or something.

But if these women didn't suffer unfortunate accidents, and the men in their lives inflicted the wounds I hope those dudes get locked up, loved by their cell mates and beaten like they stole something.

Fellas, none of you should need instructions on this, but if she pisses you off, punch a wall, not a woman.

And if you're one of those rare - but existent - guys whose wife or girlfriend is beating you like you stole something, turn her butt in. She can do time too. Odds are though, most guys would take the beatings rather than admit the thrashings were coming from women. What does that say about us, guys? I ask, 'cause I'm genuinely curious, not 'cause Mrs. B is smacking me around.

Tales from a Mall

So we spent the better part of Saturday wrapping up our Christmas shopping.

And while trudging like an angry child behind my wife as she speed-walked from store to store, I realized something about retail employees: After a while they become like the products they sell.

You know how they say husbands and wives start to look like each other after so many years of marriage? It's sort of like that.

It's also similar to bank teller syndrome, where the tellers give you attitude as though you've asked them to give you their personal money.

Seriously, we went into a couple of low rent stores, and the clerks behaved as though they couldn't care less about the product or selling it. They were like the Clerks. And we went into high end stores - an even worse experience, in my opinion - and the clerks were haughty and, like the bank tellers, acted like we were invading their space and taking from their home wardrobes by trying to buy stuff. And not to be a snot, but I couldn't help but think that the employees at both types of stores were probably in similar financial boats. So why the difference in 'tudes?

Weird phenomenon to me. Maybe it just meant the more valuable the product the more pride the employees took in their jobs. Likewise for the cheaper products and non-existent pride of those employees.

There may be something to this. In high school we were forced starting in my senior year to wear uniforms. Every student protested vehemently. But when were finally in our khakis, blue blazers, and Dead Poets Society neckties I have to admit we stood up straighter, held our heads higher and walked with a little more pep. And though my buddies and I would never have admitted it to the faculty, it was all 'cause we felt more high class ('cause our uniforms were more respectable than our "civilian" threads), silly as that might have been.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

I've been tagged (Six Weird Things). Look out, some of you are next

So Freddie has paid me back for a meme I tagged her with several months ago.

Here it is, as I've copied it from her blog:

Here are the rules: Each player of this game starts with the "6 Weird Things about You." People who get tagged need to write a blog of their own 6 weird things as well as state this rule clearly. In the end, you need to choose 6 people to be tagged and list their names. Don't forget to leave a comment that says 'you are tagged' in their comments and tell them to read your blog!"

  1. I can drink hot chocolate while it is scalding hot, but I have to let my coffee cool to lukewarm before I can drink it.
  2. My fingers are double jointed. I can pop 'em and pose 'em in all sorts of claw-like positions, and I can bend my thumbs so far backward that they touch the base of the top of my wrist.
  3. I'm a borderline germophobe. I'm not quite Seinfeld, but I'm close. I'll shake hands w/folks and take half of a cookie that a co-worker has snapped in two. Anything more - especially if it involves strangers - and I'm ready to climb into a decontamination tank.
  4. I swear I think I might have experienced déjà vu. Seriously, on several occasions, while hanging out with friends and/or lounging w/my wife they have started to describe a particular circumstance or situation or incident they had been recently involved in. And I interrupted them and finished the story, with specific detail...and they hadn't told me these stories before. I know, I know. It sounds crazy. But this is about my weirdness.
  5. My second toe AKA the colonel on my right foot is actually slightly longer than the big toe AKA the brigadier general, on that foot.
  6. I can eat mayonnaise only if it is stirred or mixed into a dish, like tuna salad. But if I try to eat it "straight," just spread atop a sandwich I'll get sick to my stomach.

Man, I feel so vulnerable now. That's OK. In the words of Freddie, "now to target six more potential weirdos:"

Matt, Yas, MKH, BriliantDonkey, Manola, and Vikki, consider yourselves tagged.

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Can't Bite My Tongue

I have a confession to make. I am stubborn. There are times I'd rather bite my tongue than speak up and give "an enemy" a chance to say "I told you so!"

This is one of those times, but I can't bite my tongue. Wouldn't be right. Recently, I took to task another South Florida Blogger, for making what I felt were broad generalizations about black people. He scolded "the" black community, as though we were all of one mind and one voice, for focusing on the wrong issue in a recent series of fatal police shootings (of five suspects - four black, one white) in Fort Lauderdale. He said that instead of berating police, the families and friends of the suspects should look inside and ask how their young men ended up in face-offs with police, while: driving a car-jacked vehicle, carrying weapons, and allegedly ramming cars and nearly striking officers.

The funny thing is no one asked me my opinion. And that's the problem with broad generalizations. People with differing opinions count for nothing, because they're cast in giant groups, rather than as individuals.

But let's move beyond that. I think the guy I scolded had the right idea, even if he was wrong in how he addressed people.

You want to investigate the police shootings - as is being done now by state and federal authorities, go ahead. There's nothing wrong with a check and balance system to make sure that all the i's were dotted and t's crossed and that these shootings were righteous.

But let's also at least ask how most of these men ended up going down self-destructive paths long before the shootings. One man had a record of drug and assault violations. Had anyone close to him who is lamenting the shootings now encouraged him recently to clean his life up? I'm not saying they didn't. I'm just asking. But I dare anyone to tell me with a straight face that if he had gone down a different path when he was younger he still would have ended up in a stolen, car-jacked vehicle with police in his face. Anything's possible. But the odds are high he wouldn't have been in that situation.

It's not the PC thing to say, but if you don't ride around in cars that have been jacked your chances of ending up in a deadly conflict with police are much lower. If you don't refuse to drop the weapon - that you probably shouldn't be carrying in the first place - your chances of ending up in a deadly conflict with police are much lower. If you place your car in park, rather than continuing to drive after after officers tell you to stop, your chances of ending up in a deadly conflict with police are much lower.

I'm not suggesting anyone deserved to be shot. That's nuts. I'm just saying these guys' troubles did not start with being shot. It's about time people acknowledge that the path we choose (or get put on, or are led down) when we're young can lead to dire consequences later in life.

Here's my attempt at logic: When I was younger, the adults in my life - and not just my parents, for those people who didn't have one or both parents - would have beaten me like I stole something if I...stole something, robbed someone, etc. They would've beaten me like Orphan Annie if they'd found out I had even considered that stuff. Fast-forward to today. Because I was effectively discouraged from criminal behavior when I was younger, the odds are high that I'm gonna try to avoid it today.

This isn't a black thing. It's a home training thing. A personal responsibility thing. A choices thing.

Investigate the shootings. If they were dirty, then make the cops pay. And if they were clean then put that energy into steering impressionable boys in the right direction before they grow up and become troubled or troublesome men.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Ladies, is this true?

I was on the phone briefly yesterday w/a buddy in Texas - a buddy who has been hard to reach lately 'cause he's been in pursuit of love. So we began joking about our back-in-the-day pursuit of women and the measures to which we were willing to go in order to "make friends."

We went over the checklist, from making sure our teeth were brushed when we left the house, to making sure our shirts were creased, and our jeans hung loosely.

One thing we couldn't agree on though was feet. My buddy gave me grief 'cause from the time I was a kid, the women in my life have been drilling into my skull that women care about a man's shoes. He, on the other hand, thought shoes were inconsequential. And that's why I got more dates than him. Kidding. We don't know who had the higher numbers, but I always argued that clean shoes helped my case.

I can honestly say that I never believed this theory early on, but to play it safe I made sure I kept my shoes shined, and when they wore thin as long as I could afford it I'd toss 'em and buy a new pair right away. Seriously, my mother and grandmother, and even my older sister, would remind me regularly to not leave the house in scruffy shoes. I don't count my dad in this debate - not just 'cause he's not one of the family women, but also 'cause he was career military. So keeping shiny shoes was as natural to him as walking and breathing.

Anyway, I became a believer when I was 24. I had just returned to the States from London, where I'd done a short gig at the Financial Times. And I was just starting my first full-time job at an American newspaper. And with my first paycheck I paid first month's rent, bought groceries, and bought a really nice new pair of dress shoes - black Chelsea boots, if I remember right. That first day or two of work I was strolling down the sidewalk around the building, clutching a cup of coffee and getting familiar with the neighborhood. A woman - a little older than me - walking toward me, waved me down. I stopped. She smiled and said just two words: "Nice shoes." And then she smiled again and continued walking.

That day I became a believer and though I had polished faithfully before, I began polishing with vigor.

So I say to my Texas bud and the rest of you dudes: cleaning your shoes = impressing at least a few women (and maybe getting the hook-up).

Of course, when you take care of your shoes, don't neglect that other stuff, like washing your behind daily, changing undies and socks daily, brushing and flossing your chompers (multiple times) daily, and not using lame pickup lines, ever.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

There really is such a thing as too polite

This is why the truth is always stranger than fiction.

Just a quick question

You are taking a walk, or standing still, talking with another person. When is it OK for another person to walk up and interrupt the conversation? For how long is it OK for them to interrupt?

I have a couple of answers. If someone interrupts to say hello and then keeps moving, I'm OK with that.

If it's the boss interrupting and he wants to join the conversation for a sec., I may not be OK with it, but I'll deal.

If it's a buddy - a friend to BOTH parties - who interrupts and wants to join the conversation, I don't mind.

Otherwise, I think all other circumstances may be out of order - like when someone interrupts you mid sentence and begins an entirely new and lengthy conversation with the person you were talking to, and later walks away without so much as a word of acknowledgement to you.

Bad Burnettiquette.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Easy Way Out

I'm tied up trying to finish some things at the office before I bail for the day, so I won't be able to post in depth until I get home this evening.

In the meantime, here's a Q&A with Former advertising guru Donnie Deutsch, host of The Big Idea with Donnie Deutsch on CNBC. It ran in my regular Monday space, Unbuttoned with James H. Burnett III. Enjoy...or don't. But read it, if you're curious.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Quick Hits

  • A Public Service Announcement: For the third time in two weeks people waiting at a bus stop in South Florida were plowed into and seriously injured (one was killed) by an out of control driver. This morning it was school kids. Three times. Two weeks. I recommend if you are waiting for a bus down here that you stand in the middle of the road. That's the best chance you have of not getting run over by a car.
  • Too Little Too Late: Britney Spears reportedly bought $3,200 in undies late last week...after getting captured on camera three nights in a row not wearing any. More irony? That evening after buying thousands of $$$ worth of drawers she was photographed again not wearing any. Yes, it was a slow news day for me.
  • Why I Hate Broad Generalizations: Sure, there was a little humor in it - enough to eventually give birth to a Saturday Night Live skit - but the Arizona cop who stopped a car carrying two black men for suspected littering and told them they could rap their way out of a ticket was out of order. Memo to Tempe cops: Not all black people rap. If you stop a car with Asian suspects, you dummies gonna ask 'em to do your kid's math homework? The cop probably didn't mean any harm. And maybe he intended to just demonstrate that he is an easygoing guy. But what he inadvertently demonstrated was why some folks still worry they'll get treated differently - for better or worse - depending on how they look. I'm black as night. But I couldn't rap my way out of a paper bag. I could've given him a Dr. Seuss rhyme, maybe.
  • Finally, Why Hollywood Celebs' Opinions on Anything But Entertaining Count for NOTHING: The latest film star to contract hoof-in-mouth disease is Gwyneth Paltrow. America, as a whole has its problems. We're a big country. We're working on it. But Paltrow, a pillar of brain power, told Portuguese newspaper Diario de Noticias that America bites, etc., etc. Paltrow, an American citizen who lives in Britain, said "I love the English lifestyle, it's not as capitalistic as America. People don't talk about work and money, they talk about interesting things at dinner. I like living here because I don't fit into the bad side of American psychology. The British are much more intelligent and civilized than the Americans." Hmm, Gwyneth doesn't like capitalism? Then why can't we watch her crappy movies for free? Gwyneth, you are entitled to your opinion - one that's shared by a lot of Americans, but don't air your "family's" dirty laundry in front of another family (or country). And if Americans are so dumb and unintelligent, take your films off U.S. screens and air 'em in the UK, where folks'll be more likely to understand your giant intellect.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Quit Backin' Up

I've been noticing a disturbing pattern lately. Actually I've been noticing it for three or four years now, but it seems to have intensified lately.

What I'm seeing is good people retreating. Nice people are going into hiding, and right people are going mute.

I first started noticing this back in Milwaukee. I lived in a neighborhood that was struggling with gentrification. The residents were a mix of young white-collar professionals rehabbing old homes and duplexes, retired teachers maintaining homes they'd rehabbed in the 1960s, grad students renting out the rehabbed duplexes, stupid hippies with part-time jobs sharing rehabbed duplexes (15 to a bedroom), stupid hippies with no jobs crashing in the pads of the stupid hippies with jobs, gutter punks crashing w/each other in one-room efficiencies (20 to a room), artist types trying to make do in apartments and duplexes that hadn't been patched up yet, and all-purpose triflin' folk who weren't interested in doing anything but living, breathing, making other people's lives miserable, and generating more garbage.

It was gradual. People who took pride in their home's curb appeal stopped picking up trash in the yard. Why? They got tired. They got tired of taking care of their stuff and putting in extra work picking up what their lazy-a$$ed neighbor down the block tossed on the sidewalk and let blow into the proud resident's yard.

People who used to enjoy the ambiance of the neighborhood stopped taking casual strolls 'cause they felt intimidated by the obnoxious menacing teenagers on certain blocks who'd yell things at 'em and make 'em feel unwelcome.

City code enforcement workers who used to crack the whip in order to keep the neighborhoods clean stopped issuing tickets to the people leaving dangerous old furniture on the curb and blocking alleys with their cars. It was as if the enforcers just got tired of no one heeding the citations anyway.

Residents who used to sit on their balconies or front porches, soaking up the sounds of the block, quietly went inside their homes and closed the windows tight when their new next door neighbors began inconsiderately blasting their stereos.

And then I moved to South Florida. My disclaimer is I like it here. I chose to live here. But that doesn't mean it's perfect. Anyway, I moved here a little more than a year ago and I found myself slipping into that trap. On the highway an aggressive driver would try to force themselves into my lane at the expense of my safety. And rather than hold my ground, I'd hit my breaks and move out of their the expense of the safety of the car right behind me.

I mentioned in a previous post, my wife and I would walk through the mall and oblivious human bulldozers would barrel between us as though they had every reason to expect us to make way.

The first time I cleaned the rear swale of my house and removed debris from Hurricane Wilma, a neighbor down the block tossed his debris in my space 'cause his space was full. I bit my tongue, telling myself "Maybe it was a one-time deal."

I can't work on my lawn the way I want when I want sometimes 'cause an inconsiderate neighbor has all her friends park at the curb in front of my lawn, nearly on my lawn sometimes, preventing me from mowing or trimming the edges. That curb's a no-parking zone. Do I complain to tax-paid city workers though? Nope. I subconsciously worry that I'll look like the jerk neighbor if I do.

My Slingblade neighbor three doors down blasts his stereo like clockwork for a couple of hours after work. I'd like to sit on my deck and play a few tunes and sip a cold beverage. Sometimes I can. But other times my low-volume music would get drowned out by Billy Bob's. I'd like to ask him neighbor-to-neighbor to turn his music down. But I don't do it. I worry that I'll look like the A-hole...and that maybe he's a little nuts.

I posted about a buddy who in a nightclub the other day was confronted by a menacing jerk, and a well-intentioned reader suggested my buddy not go to clubs anymore, so as to avoid the jerks.

I used to think giving way was simply civil behavior by the "good" guys. I don't think it is though. I think it's the good guys being wusses. Since when did it become kosher to humble yourself and give way to the mean, the rude, the inconsiderate, etc? Why should we stay home at night to avoid the misbehavers? What happened that they aren't afraid to act up in public places for fear that their bad behavior might get them banned or "excommunicated?"

Sure, there is the half-joke that you can't confront anyone these days, even if you're right 'cause you could get shot over it. But still, if we all made some sort of stand and told the jerks, "Hey, turn your crap down. Other people live around here too," they would back off and maybe start to feel a little shame over their actions. Maybe if we collectively stood our ground and didn't slow down to make room for that bad driver who tried to sneak up the service lane on the highway to bypass traffic, he would get the picture and start driving more responsibly. Maybe if we snapped on the woman in the grocery who cut us off and ran over our toes with her cart 'cause she was yappin' on the cell phone and not paying attention, she would be so mortified that she'd start to watch where she was going. Maybe if enough times we got in the face of the prima donna who lets her rat terrier poop in a public park and doesn't pick it up, she would become so shocked and embarassed she'd start leaving home with a plastic bag in hand.

I'm not suggesting we should try to be heroes, at the expense of personal safety. Use good sense. Don't get shot for being right. If you have a neighbor with a crazy look in his eyes, a nervous twitch, and a three-tiered gunrack in the back of his truck, maybe you should ask the cops to have him turn down his stereo.

But if the opportunity presents itself, speak up. Quit backing up. Quit retreating, because you don't want to be seen as contrary. The more ground we give, the more the knuckleheads are going to grow comfortable with their own behavior and assume that they're "normal," and the meek are the ones who are out of whack.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

When Keepin' It Real Goes Wrong...Again

So my guy was in the club the other evening trying to "spit game" as the kiddies like to say to a couple of attractive young women.

I know him, so I know his line's are lamer than the final stint of a politician with term limits. But I give him an "A" for effort.

He does alright.

At any rate, while walking from the bar back to his lady friends my guy stumbled and bumped into another guy. It was a hard bump, and my guy, to his credit, immediately apologized, patted the other guy on the shoulder and said he didn't mean any harm.

And then my guy started walking away. But the other guy snapped on him and declared himself to be hard and "gangsta" and told my guy he was "a fool" and that he would "put him in the ground."

My guy, a nice, civil, cleancut, well-spoken young man, can be a hothead, but not to the point of stupidity. So he started to walk away again, but Mr. "Gangsta" called out after my guy and began berating my guy's mother.

That's when my guy lost it and clocked Mr. Gangsta like Popeye high on spinach.

Mr. Gangsta went sailing. Bar staff and patrons gave approving nods. My guy apologized to management for losing it on account of Mr. Gangsta, and Mr. Gangsta's sheepish friends helped him to his feet and slinked away.

Mr. Gangsta tried to keep it real. Mr. Gangsta was shown to be the weak-kneed idiot that his ranting had already suggested.

Remember kids, sometimes keepin' it real ain't all it's cracked up to be.

BTW, I don't condone violence. And in keeping with this blog's connection to a family newspaper, my guy should've gone United Nations on Mr. Gangsta and asked him if he was in emotional pain and wanted to talk it out...or, if Mr. Gangsta's a fan of Entourage, hug it out.


Friday, December 01, 2006

Christmas shmistmas

The spirit of Christmas is alive and well, but this has led me to conclude that hip-hop is dead.

It's fuzzy, I know. But if your ears are even a smidgen better than mine you'll hear why I'm fully switching my CD case to jazz and classical.

And BTW, bah humbug!

One more try - Here's the link to the Tancredo piece

Here's that link: response to Tancredo. Again, remember it's supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, not an academic study.

Half-full or Half-empty

A debate on the quality of Miami started last week with an article in Time Magazine that said in so many words that Miami was a dirt ball, glammed over by too many condos, too much traffic, too high a cost of living, and too much traffic.

Some of those complaints are valid.

A few days later Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-Co.) lashed out at Miami calling it a "third world country" and blaming it for the country's illegal immigration problem.

Then George Gittoes, an Australian documentary filmmaker, released a documentary on Miami in which he declares the city is more dangerous than Baghdad.

My eds asked me to write a response. Keep in mind it's tongue-in-cheek. No one who lives in Miami (and who has good sense) thinks this area is problem free. I swear the traffic (and more so the bad drivers) are gonna send me to Rageaholics Anonymous. And property taxes are gonna drive me into the poor house. Folks here know it can get crazy, but it's a choice to live here or not. And for negatives, there are plenty of positives too. I gotta tell you, I'm not complaining, walking around today - in December - in a t-shirt. So I say to the critics, lighten up. And if you can't lighten up, then fully clean your own backyards before starting in on this yard.

Anyway, here's the response I wrote to Time, Tancredo, and Gittoes. It ran in today's Miami Herald.