Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What Classic Movie Are You?

Translation: You are an over-aged, insane diva who spends far too much time on their own, cannot let go of the past and whose very company will eventually lead others to their death.


How to Survive Your Office’s Holiday Party with Your Dignity Intact, Your Job Still Secure and Your Fool Mouth Shut

1. For the love of God, do not hit the dance floor: With the exception of concerts, people usually dance for one of two reasons: because their significant other asked them to or because they wish not only to bust a move but also put a move on someone, often in the form of rhythmic thrusting. And since most office parties don’t allow you to bring a date and most offices frown on public displays of erection, there really is no reason for you to show your inability to follow even a simple bass line. In fact, all you’re likely to get for your efforts is a little sweaty and a lot of stares. So before you make your way to the dance floor with drink in hand and pride in absentia, think twice. After all, just because the gin is free doesn’t mean flailing like a drowning victim to the tune of “Hey Ya” in front of your entire department won’t come at a steep price.

2. Drink until you have a good buzz but before you have a great idea: Ever noticed how many “brilliant” ideas arise when you’re drinking with friends. Ideas such as, “Hey, hey, hey…shut up! I’m trying to…I’m trying to say something important, guys. Guys? Guys! Will you listen? I just had a great idea. A really great idea. What if we…get this…what if we all quit our jobs and open up an ice cream parlor that serves nothing but vanilla? We can call it ‘Whitey’s’!” And have you ever noticed how the very next morning you thank God no one had the presence of mind to draw up a contract or tell their supervisor to go to hell? In short, what may sound like a statement of pure genius after six vodka tonics will certainly seem less so after eight hours of sleep. So to ensure you don’t go into exhaustive detail with your CEO about your idea to telecommute through Ouija boards—complete with schematics hastily drawn on most of a cocktail napkin and some of the bar top—know your alcohol intake limit. You may not remember who you talked to the next day but there’s a good chance you wrote your name on your boss’ tie so he’d never forget.

3. Make sure you’re seen but not remembered: When attending an office party, it’s important that your supervisor, the vice-presidents and the chairman know you knew to show up. Make the rounds, thank the senior members for arranging the affair (then thank their assistants for actually putting it together), joke with a few coworkers, have a few drinks and appetizers and then get the hell out of there. After all, the point is to make your presence known, not your actions recalled. Better your department head ask, “Did you have fun last night?” than “Did you tie one on last night or what?!?” That’s because while people may have trouble placing names or recognizing faces, they can always point out the person who screamed over the DJ’s speakers “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours!” And they will always, always talk about it. In other words, be the minor footnote of your company’s party, not an entire sad chapter in your company’s history.

4. Nibble for the night, don’t store for the winter: For many younger employees, the holiday office party may be the first time in ages they’ve had a meal that did not come with the instructions “For best results, cook until raman noodles are al dente.” Even the more established coworkers may see the spread and think, “They took 50 hours a week away from me, I’m taking the fucking lobster roll tray away from them!” But this is a professional affair and some social decorum must come into play. While you certainly should help yourself to the buffet table, don’t take so much food that people will wonder if you have family members waiting just outside the exit door or a tapeworm residing somewhere in your intestines. Don’t try to maintain a conversation with senior executives between bites of a chicken/smoked turkey/honey-glazed ham/lasagna/Chilean sea bass/chocolate truffles sandwich. And don’t walk around with two or more plates piled high with hors d’eurves unless you’re planning on making a run for an idling cab. Eat sensibly, maintain a reserved demeanor and never, ever say, “Give me four more just like that” when the cater-waiter cuts you a slice of raspberry cheesecake.

5. Should all else fail, seize the moment: Sometimes despite your best efforts, everything just goes to hell. You stop at one glass of wine, you avoid food with red sauce, you make eye contact with all department managers and still one verbal or physical slip can bring the whole evening crashing down around you. People stare wide-eyed, comments are muttered, supervisors shake their heads in disgust, all while you keep trying to make it known that what you actually said was, “Please pass the peanuts.” When this happens, you have no recourse but to forsake decorum, forfeit shame, forget you still have several boxes of personal belongings in your cubicle and just tear into everyone like a hobo into an unsuspecting dog. Name names. Highlight faults. Reveal secrets. Keep pointing fingers, keep badmouthing, keep uttering one slanderous remark after another until everyone either shares your pain or is calling for your immediate dismissal. You may not have a job to go back to, you may not even have a career to salvage but you will have the memory of that one great day you weren’t afraid to tell it like it is, to finally speak your mind to your so-called superiors and to run out the fire exit, sirens blaring, with dessert cart in tow.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Yes, Virginia, There Is Ted Forth

I take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time my great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of Francesco Explains It All:

Dear Editor—
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Ted Forth. Papa says, “If you see it in Francesco Explains It All, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Ted Forth?

Virginia O’Hanlon

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Ted Forth. He exists as certainly as an Atari VCS and SST Racers (with T-bar zip chords) and round after infuriating round of Mastermind, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Ted Forth! It would be as dreary as if The Magic Garden never had a "Chuckle Patch," Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings had never appeared on Captain Kangaroo and one had not spent countless, countless years wondering if The Point was a real cartoon that ran on ABC one evening or if it had been a frightening fever dream we experienced at the age of four. There would be no childlike faith then, no crumbling igloo walls made of K-Tel Snow Brick Makers, no crying over the sad saga of Jackie Paper and no memories of swinging hard at a Johnny Bench Batter-Up only to watch your aluminum bat sail across the driveway and into your dad's 1977 Buick Riviera (complete with CB radio) to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood--and "Monster Week" on the 4:30 Movie--fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Ted Forth! You might as well not believe in the horrifying six-fingered hand that rose from the swamp to announce a new episode of Chiller Theater. You might get your papa to hire men to watch the WPIX Yule Log to see if it ever burns out only to realize three hours later that the footage consists of nothing more than a seven-minute sequence looped repeatedly, leaving you and your brother Marcello feeling like the biggest idiots on planet Earth. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see...or understand (like Bigfoot on The Six Million Dollar Man). Were you ever able to make a reasonable nose cone for your Lego rocketship before the company finally started manufacturing those upside-down slanty pieces? Of course not, but that didn't stop you from believing you could, even though your every spaceship looked like it sported the grill to a Greyhound bus. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world, including that eight-loop Hot Wheels orange race track (with "death jump" over Don't Break the Ice) you long imagined but never dared see to fruition.

You rip apart a piece of Bubble Yum to see if there are really spider eggs inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, love or a Big Jim Rescue Chopper can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and real working search light beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Ted Forth? Thank God he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood...or recount us with tales of letting out a high-pitched scream every time the pieces popped in Perfection.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Teenager’s Written Account of the Very First Thanksgiving, November 1621

“The feasting has summarily been concluded and I have repaired to my room, far from relatives most fractious and grievances oft repeated to no avail except to sway Aunt Ecclesianne to dip once more into the sherry and regale even the most unseasoned family member what a total arse they be.

“I had stepped not one manfoot into the repast quarters during the time of preparation when I was immediately struck with comments most thunderous about my unkempt head fur and demeanor quite displeasing. Our family being all well recovered in health and having all things in quantities good and plenty had apparently done little to close their fowl holes for even one damnable moment. Rather, they took to the occasion of my verbal lashing yet again with great practice and flourish, once more rekindling my passion for a native onslaught, great blaze or some warbler of alarming size to finally rid me of these blood fellows.

“While I was instructed vigorously on how I was slicing most unwell the almonds for the greens, my valueless sister arrived, short in wanting to assist in our cooking endeavors but long in attributes of a canine feminine. Rather she took the moment to shine but on herself as was her want, introducing her new swain to relatives no doubt astounded that a woman of such girth and cretinous demeanor could land a man without ammunition or rock most sharp. For his part, the man I readily surmised to be no greater possessed of intellect than the nuts I angrily cleaved. Yet within but a moment our feast had miraculously transformed into a celebration not of our great harvest but rather a fete in honor of two people who could not look less like that of God’s image if their hands were cloven.

“Soon the relations not so immediate arrived, complaining of foot traffic unending and sharing long tales whose points even the great native scouts could not manage to uncover. Grandfather himself directly embarked once more into his yarn of how the very idea for the Frobisher Expedition had been vilely stolen from him, only rather than a ‘Northwest Passage’ Grandfather stated he would have explored for ‘tobacco mermaids.’

Meanwhile, several of the nonmaleperson’s arms groaned heavily from the prepared meat they carried into our dwelling, notwithstanding my mother’s pleas that she was well in capacity to prepare the feast. Said nonmalepersons countered that guests oft like a selection—especially more than one lone pie—and not everyone takes to the singular aridness of my mother’s turkey. This put my mother is a humor most abominable, which my Aunt Benefice sought to allay by stating that this is why they really ought to have held the feast at her house instead.

I asked to be excused, fearing being confined with such persons would soon make me disembowel my feces and utter remarks untoward yet unerring, but even such a simple request was furiously denied. Alas, I was harshly instructed to set the manner of the table alone while all manguests sat before the large fireplace, preparing for an afternoon of watching whose pine cone would blaze in great, colorful glory.

“After what seemed to this author an interminable era wherein I tried to make myself scarce whenever chance allowed—only to be utilized repeatedly as the beast of burden unassisted—the food was brought forth to the banquet surface. I had not one hand on a ladle of potatoes mashed when I was scolded for impertinence and told by my mother to proffer thanks. ‘For what?’ came fast my reply, only to receive a slap wholly sharp on the posterior of my head. Knowing that I had no choice in the endeavor and seeing this as my only moment to speak undeterred, I chose to educate my family most disagreeable with the atrocities they have brought upon not only the initial inhabitants of this land but on this very person.

“‘Oh Lord,’ I commenced with great solemnity, giving not a soupcon of what was to come, ‘We thank you for allowing us to defile your earth with contemptible persons who want only for themselves and care not for their fellow man or creature. We thank you for the ammunition with which to blow asunder more animal than Noah himself could board, even if he dismantled and stored them in containers non-perishing for later utilization. We thank you for the arrival of my sister and her manfriend, whose very countenances surely makes His Lord question His own powers. We thank you for the wisdom of our parental folk, who sought to keep me from enjoying but a seventh a fortnight skiing with peers on Plymouth Inclines, rather imprisoning me here to toil at their unkind will while the most contemptible lot of individuals ever gathered not before a barrister or executioner gorged themselves on appetizers and imbibed great quaffs of ale as if the end were near and you Lord would only welcome the plumpest, most pickled, most execrable vermin to skitter into the gutters of thy kingdom. Amen.’

“Sadly, I was not six words into my oration when great cries and several blood pressures rose from the table, seeking to shout me down only to be met with great failure. Great paternal Uncle Cotton was first to damn my good name, swearing that my absence of piety was no doubt grave indication of my maternal side’s deficient breeding. My mother’s father Cotton was swift to take umbrage at this assertion, declaring that Uncle Cotton could take nourishment from his manmember for as long as he sought to suppose such twaddle. That was when my Aunt Cotton, for reasons still unknown, thought it best to bring up the curious displacement of departed Great Grandmother Cotton’s china most fine, mere days before the reading of her will. My mother, locating great offense in this, took the occasion to mention to the gathered that Aunt Cotton’s daughter Impudence had been seen “plowing the field” with the Reverend Increase’s niece not two days ago. Said daughter, turning crimson as the harvest beet, then summarily countered that her brother Barrett had most recently acquired a stamp of ink fully permanent on his reaping arm, fashioned in the visage of a skull immolated. My detestable sister then wailed fiercely that everyone was churning gray clouds on what she took to be her, and hers alone, special day, whereupon I with tremendous skill hurled an acorn squash at her proboscis. Soon all family took to flinging pies at one another with violent force. And it was at that very moment, when the dining hall sky was thick with mincemeat and butternut, that my Aunt Ecclesianne stood up, swigged from the sherry bottle she no doubt stored most secretly in her garments, and bellowed ‘A pox on you all!’ It was then that we learned that she had the devil’s pneumonia and soon, alas, we would as well.

“I pray this be the last time we visit this holiday.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving Prep Tips by Chef Ted Forth

* Should you wake up Thanksgiving morning to find your turkey is still frozen, try to mask your uncontrollable sobbing by quickly shoving your face into a bowl of flour. Remain in bowl until family awkwardly steps away.

* The night before Thanksgiving set out all necessary ingredients on the kitchen table and then leave the front door wide open, confident in the belief that if elves can make shoes then they can certainly prepare sausage stuffing.

* Try not to respond to every culinary suggestion with "Or we could just settle this outside."

* If during dinner one of your guests wonders aloud why there isn't any gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables, bread, pumpkin pie or napkins, look at them square in the eye with an accusatory glance and say, "I was just about to ask you the same thing." Keep saying this, louder and louder as you stand taller and taller until they either flee the table or meekly compliment you on your turkey breast sandwiches and Pixie Stix.

* For every food task completed reward yourself with a glass of wine. Continue until you're either the life of the party or you find yourself at your neighbor's house, telling their umbrella stand to go fuck itself.

* Remember, nothing is so tense during holiday food preparation that it can't be upped hundredfold with the comment, "You know I'm a vegan now, right?"

* When in doubt substitute with Oreos.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Mr. Whipple Squeezes His Last Charmin

Charmin's "Mr. Whipple," actor Dick Wilson, died today at age 91.

So in honor to a man who played a single character with the same plot and punchline in over 500 commercials I present the following flashback. Please take special care to note not only how insane housewives were portrayed in the 1970's but also the complete absence of any sound mixing or music whatsoever in the ad. It's as if the director said, "If we don't have this commercial on the air by 5 P.M. Eastern tonight I'm gonna be demoted back to promoting Alba 77 shakes."

And just because I have my favorite decade on my mind yet again, another "hot shot" commercial that not only blatantly traffics in cultural stereotypes but also had many a viewer wondering, "How freaking passive-agressive do you have to be to go and deliberately ruin a family business like that?"

Medium Large Holiday Flashback

The Five Steps to a Happy and Mentally Healthy Thanksgiving with Family

1. Poor yourself a nice tall glass of vodka.
2. Come on now, you can find a taller glass than that.
3. Aww, hell. Just insert a crazy straw in the Ketel One bottle.
4. Find yourself a cozy corner of the sofa, next to the sleeping elderly relatives.
5. Spend the rest of the evening cradling the bottle and repeatedly muttering to it in a drunken slur, "Next year, it's just gonna be you and me, baby. I promise."

The Flashback Music Review Anew Again

Track Three: “Too Shy” by Kajagoogoo

Like an adult trying to describe an episode of Scooby Doo 35 years after the fact--“The Mystery Machine drove by some trees…then the gang came upon a haunted hotel…I think someone was shot, although that might have been in McMillan and Wife …and then Phyllis Diller showed up…man, we five-year-olds loved us some Phyllis Diller in the 70's…”--it’s almost impossible to recount the sheer enjoyment that was “Too Shy.”

Maybe it’s the song’s sheer simplicity, with lyrics that read like a come-hither Dr. Seuss Beginner Book and feature a mere 41 different words, nine less than The Cat in the Hat. Or that a full fifty percent of the song is taken up by a chorus so catchy that hundreds of years from now when the planet has fallen into the hands of apes Dr. Zaius will be sitting at his desk, poring over some scientific scrolls, when out of the blue he’ll find himself muttering “hush hush, eye to eye.” Or that the video for the song stars a woman wearing more make-up than Tim Curry in Legend serving drinks at the only 1940’s U.S.O. show to prominently feature a Casio synthesizer. Or perhaps it’s that the song contains the line “modern medicine falls short of your complaints,” bringing up the possibility that the woman in question is emotionally unstable or at the very least a stalker and thus adding a level of dramatic tension one does not expect to find in a single penned by someone named “Limahl.”

Or maybe, just maybe, the answer is that it’s a simple pop song, and simple pop songs—like poorly animated Saturday morning cartoons, sitcoms built around three-hour boat tours gone horribly awry and candy that actually detonates in your mouth—are pleasures that defy description. They don’t imbue your life with any great significance. They won’t enhance your CV or impress people who foolishly believe it’s their role in life to be impressed. They just are, end of story. Which is great, because otherwise I’d have to spend the rest of this article saying something like, “You see, there’s this woman who likes this guy…but she’s shy…perhaps too shy, if you will…plus she thinks love is to pray…although that might have been ‘Tainted Love’…”

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Flashback Music Review Anew

Track Two: “So Afraid of the Russians” by Made for TV

And so the Cold war-era paranoia continues...

The early to mid-eighties was a period of unease, no better expressed than in the hits of the day. There was the fear of being monitored or followed, superbly conveyed in Men at Work’s “Who Can It Be Now?” and Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me.” There was the fear of personal dislocation, perfectly captured in The Motel’s “Suddenly, Last Summer” and Lindsey Buckingham’s “Holiday Road.” And there was the fear of total human degeneration in the face of technological omnipotence, exquisitely evoked in the ballad “Pac Man Fever.”

But perhaps the greatest fear was the thought of nuclear Armageddon as a direct result of the Cold War, one that had reached a cultural zenith thanks to the American TV-movie The Day After (in which we learn that Germany will never successfully be united, the new epicenter of the world will be Lawrence, Kansas and the ABC network doesn’t screen its programming for fact-checkers) and the British docudrama Threads (in which we learn that the BBC makes American attempts at socially-conscious programming look like old Morton Downey Jr. transcripts).

Several tunesmiths of the era tried to allay public anxiety by reminding people of the two warring faction’s similarities, rather than their differences. Fishbone expressed both sides’ perspectives in “Party at Ground Zero” with the lines “Johnnie go get your gun, for the commies are in our hemisphere today/ Ivan go fly your MIG, cause the Yankee imperialists have come to play.” Sting sought to remind listeners that our so-called enemies, “The Russians,” were in truth no different than us, singing, “We share the same biology/ Regardless of ideology.” The Smiths hoped to spin the end as the ultimate form of peace in “Ask,” simply stating, “The bomb will bring us together.”

But one group, Made for TV, chose instead to encourage the global disquietude with their song “So Afraid of the Russians,” reminding us of our Soviet counterparts that “They’ve got ships at sea/ Planes in the air/ Tanks on the border of Europe/ And spies everywhere.” Now, some people may point out that the song was actually addressing the culture of fear rather than emphasizing the fear itself. Others may state that, in fact, practically every nation in the world tends to locate their ships in the water, their planes above ground and their spies in countries other than their own. And a few may even state that the song “So Afraid of the Russians” doesn’t even qualify for one-hit status, that it’s almost impossible to even find the lyrics for the song online and it would have been far better to have used this space to talk about the far more memorably nuclear-themed “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes” by Ultravox instead. But I fear that was never meant to be.

And so the unease forever persists…

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Another Satisfied Sally Forth Reader!

From Comics Curmudgeon:

Sally Forth: Ok, let’s get over this whole mom drama already. Let’s get back to strips that at least try to be funny, even if they fail. I want something to make fun of.

Sally Forth: Making Readers Say, "Christ, Enough Already!" Since Mid-October.

The Flashback Music Review

Track One: "99 Luftballoons" by Nena

What does it say about the state of geopolitics when the Germans are the ones pleading for military restraint?

Such was the peculiar case in 1983. President Ronald Reagan had just proposed his “Star Wars” defense plan and declared the Soviet Union “the evil empire,” leading one to suspect that he had become gravely concerned with the security of Endor (whose own precarious situation was to be made abundantly clear that very summer). The Soviet Union had just shot down Korean Air Flight 007 (after mistaking it to be a military craft) and put its entire nuclear forces on full alert (after mistaking a NATO war game exercise to be preparations for a genuine first strike), leading one to believe that few nations govern effectively when the median age of its rulers is “unofficially deceased.” And the very first non-American Disney theme park had just opened in Tokyo, Japan, leading one to conclude that no one, nowhere, was ever to be safe from malevolence again.

And then, just when all hope seemed lost and all reason abandoned (1983, after all, had just been declared “The Year of the Bible” by the United States), a lone voice spoke up to give words to Americans’ deepest fears about inadvertent nuclear annihilation—words that few Americans, alas, could understand because they were sung in German. But thanks to constant airplay—and an English version that translated the original lyrics “If you have some time for me” and “Perhaps you think of me a bit” into “You and I in a little toy shop” and “Back at base, bugs in the software”—two things became abundantly clear. One, the other nations of the world (of which there were some during the Cold War) sincerely believed that both the United States and the Soviet Union were far too belligerent and blundering to be trusted with weapons of mass destruction. And two, William Shatner was destined to never, ever fall off the cultural radar.

True, today the song’s narrative—about 99 red balloons being mistaken for an attack and triggering the end of life as we know it—may seem naïve at best. But you have to remember, this was a far different era. The U.S. President was constantly dividing the world into “Us versus Them.” He was repeatedly calling on American citizens and soldiers to fight an ill-defined sense of “evil.” And he was routinely playing to the beliefs and bigotry of Fundamentalist Christians to further his party’s own self-serving and indefensible agenda.

My, how times have changed.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Not Exactly a Consensus

To Whom It May Concern:

Please STOP already! I've had enough of the "I HATE MY MOTHER!" comic strips lately. Move on! What an absolutely DEPRESSING comic strip that I will now stop reading. When my local newspaper has another "Vote for a comic strip to be removed", yours will be on the top of my list!!!!

I've read more uplifting obituaries!!!!

A former fan!


I am so glad that the Sally Forth strip (Francesco Marciuliano) is dealing with the touchy issue of emotionally abusive mothers! While the strip is, of course, fiction, the artist couldn't have written it without personal experience, direct or indirect. It does help to think that someone else out there goes through the same thing and can understand. Thanks a lot!

Faithful Reader

Subject: Sally Forth

I've just about had it with Sally's mother. She's obnoxious and the pace of the cartoon leaves me with a character I can't stand. PLEASE wrap this up!!!!!!!!!!

(Name Removed)


I love you — but don't worry, I'm not stalking (I'm 76 and a happy grandma). I'm also a writer of books on language and Northwest history, an editor, a book publisher, a teacher of writing, and presenter of adult workshops in self-empowerment.

What I love is your column Sally Forth. I totally agree with the comment about putting this and the other work (Ted's employment problem and Hillary's social relationships) into a book.

In a class yesterday, I suggested to a woman of the "sandwich generation" that she check out your comic strip of the last few weeks, regarding Sally's mother. My student had exactly the same problem and I wanted her to know she was not alone. However, the strip only goes up to October 7. Is there somewhere she can see the strips of the last few weeks?

(Name Removed)

Sally Forth Comic:

Please get the mother out of the house already! The most annoying character I have seen. Any mental health professional would tell Sally & family to stay as far away from this shrew as possible. Throw her under the next bus. Thanks for letting me vent.

(Name Removed)

Things Not to Say at the Family Thanksgiving Table

“I’ve been thinking—just because you’re born into one religion doesn’t mean you have to stay in that religion, right?”

“I see you stuffed another of God’s magnificent creatures with 4C Bread Crumbs again, Mom.”

“I’m not high!…Oh, wait. No one asked me that, did they?”

“No thanks. I gave up drinking after I saw the toll it took on Aunt Jane over here.”

“Man, does my shrink have your number.”

“That’s the difference between Sis and me. Some people have children. Others have lives.”

“Say, did we ever figure out which one of you stole Grandma’s jewelry?”

“Why do you keep avoiding pronouns when talking about your new significant other?”

“And to think right now I could be skiing…or sleeping.”

“Why would I get married now when I can name five guys off the top of my head I’d like to screw?”

“I didn’t lose my job. I lost my temper. Then they took my job.”

“Remember that $20 you lent me? I need 40 more just like it.”

“Of course I love my sibling. I also love my tequila. But in the end they both make me throw up.”

“You don’t have the same hair color as the rest of the family. You don’t act like the rest of the family. You’re not Asian. When are you finally going to put two and two together?!”

“Mommy No. 1 was prettier.”

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Walking Bird Day Lesson 3: How to Make It through Your Family’s Thanksgiving Dinner without Making Enemies, an Ultimatum or a Complete Ass of Yourself

It’s hard to find fault with the Thanksgiving workweek. Barring any Dickensian employment practices at your office, you can count on spending three days at work and two days far, far away from your cubicle. Not too shabby…until you take into account that most of us will spending those supposed two days of rest and relaxation with our families. But before you break into a nervous rash or deliberately try to ground every U.S. airline to prevent your homecoming, just sit down, take a deep breath and memorize the following tips to help you make the best of Turkey Day.

• Sit at the children’s table: The kids’ dinnertime conversations may be less than engaging, their food will constantly be in mid-air and, let’s face it, children are never in a position to float you a crucial sum of cash. But when was the last time a five-year-old turned to you and said, “Well, well, well. Hung over and a vegetarian to boot on what may very well be your grandmother’s last Thanksgiving meal. My, isn’t that so…now.”

• Bring a friend: Many people invite a friend to their family’s Thanksgiving meal with the belief that their parents are far less likely to critique you in front of someone they don’t readily have dirt on. Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, cutting comments once phrased directly to you will now be delivered as an series of endless Trivial Pursuit questions to your unsuspecting, uncomfortable guest. Questions such as “What do you think of a daughter who never calls?” “How come he can’t come on weekends and help his 72-year-old father with the leaves?” “Did you know when he was little he was terrified of the color yellow and would burst into tears upon seeing a lemon?” While such an interrogation may seem initially mortifying (and ultimately scarring), just keep focusing on the big picture. After all, the next time you find yourself ranting on and on to friends about your meshugenah parents—like the Friday immediately following Thanksgiving—your invited pal will be right behind you the whole time, saying, “Believe me, everything he said is the God’s honest truth.” Of course, the downside is that while you’re looking at all the relatives gathered around the holiday feast thinking, “Jesus, how on earth could I be related to all these nut jobs?” your guest is looking around thinking, “Ah, now it all makes sense.”

• Show up sporting at least one radical cosmetic change: In military camps and NRA-supporter households this is known as the “draw away the line of fire” approach. Rather than leave yourself open to the usual round of family remarks—knocking your career direction, love life, weight loss or gain, lackluster demeanor, questionable social habits, unique attire, poor posture, political leanings, religious doubts, nervous habits, choice of car, skin condition, inability to call, intolerance of racial jokes, inadvertent sighing, indefinite time spent watching the TV rather than talking to family, indefinite time spent in the bathroom rather than talking to family, indefinite time spent puttering around in the garage/yard/crawl space behind the living room wall rather than talking to family, refusal to offer any personal information about yourself, refusal to offer any personal information about your siblings, acute and indefensible sensitivity to questions concerning your self-worth, mistaking “guilt trip” for “caring for one’s child”—immediately draw your parents’ attention to one specific, wholly inescapable topic of conversation on your part…and your body. Like a face tattoo. Or pierced chin. Sure a new hair color may raise eyebrows and breast implants may provoke the most awkward stares in the family’s history but if you really want to avoid talking about anything else in your life this Thanksgiving, you’re going to have to go for broke. You may not necessarily want to spend the rest of your life sporting the word “Sex Toy” spelled out in rhinestone studs on the back of your neck, but do you honestly want to talk to your mom about your bowel movements? In short, sometimes the end—no matter how excessive or unresponsive to corrective surgery—does indeed justify the means.

• Go easy on your folks: Truth is, your parents are just as uncomfortable around you as you are around them. Let’s look at it from a business perspective: Imagine you're walking down the street (or, if you live in the suburbs, walking out of Dunkin Donuts) when you suddenly bump into your boss from a previous job. After exchanging initial pleasantries and professional updates, you both find yourselves with absolutely nothing to say. Why? Because your relationship was never based on the easy conversational give-and-take of an actual friendship. Rather, it was built upon an understanding of a given authoritarian hierarchy that dictated your daily exchanges and interactions. But with no set rules to now guide your conversation, you'd now have better luck chatting up a lilac bush or Bengal tiger. At least the talking points would be crystal clear (“Nice bloom you got there” and “Don’t puncture the aorta! For the love of God, don’t puncture the aorta!!!”). So it goes with parents and their grown children. With no one the obvious leader and no one the follower, no one knows how to act when they get together. So while you hope this year your parents finally give you a break, make sure to cut them a little slack, too. If your folks want to say grace before dinner, close your eyes, clasp your hands and quietly recall “The Simpsons” episode in which Homer gets out of work by saying he’s celebrating “The Feast of Maximum Occupancy.” If they want to go around the table and have each person say what they are thankful for this holiday season, kindly respond with something innocuous such as “Times like these” (rather than just blurt out “Paxil!”). But remember, just because you’re in a giving mood doesn’t mean you should hand over a blank check for your parents to cash in on any insane request they see fit. To put it another way, don’t feel obliged to close out the Thanksgiving feast by entertaining relatives with your once-annual childhood performance of “Turkey in the Straw.” After all, seeking your folks’ attention and/or approval at age five is perfectly normal. Doing so at age 35 is textbook pathological. Keep in mind the difference and you’ll do just fine.

• Don’t overstay your welcome: Each one of us has found ourselves on the phone with a friend or business associate only to hear them say, “Well, I better let you go,” knowing full well that what they actually mean is “Well, I’ve had enough of this. Bye.” The same logic applies here. When we say, “Don’t overstay your welcome” what we clearly mean is “Leave before it’s a murder-suicide and you’re the one reloading.” In other words, phrase your desperate escape to freedom as a thoughtful concern regarding your parents’ valuable time. For example, “Mom, Dad, this has been terrific. But surely you two want to spend some time alone together.” However, as with all selfish desires disguised as acts of civility, timing is paramount. Don’t blurt out your farewells the moment it comes time to clear the table. Don’t say it immediately after a quick perusal of the desserts finds the selection wanting. And don’t say your good-byes from the cell phone in the car as the rest of the family is still sitting at the table, wondering why it’s taking you so long you to find a second gravy ladle in the kitchen. Be patient. The right moment will present itself, usually in the form of a question like “So, do you want to spend the night on the couch in the basement or on a cot in the room with Grandma? Either way, remember, we’re all up at six tomorrow morning to go shopping!” That’s when you take the coat you had draped over your dinner chair the whole time, bid your fond farewells to parents and relatives alike and quickly run to a waiting taxi, making sure to grab a “to go” turkey leg on the way out. It may not be the most thoughtful exit, but what it lacks in sentiment it will more than make up for in conversational fodder for your parents’ next Thanksgiving—and trust me, that’s the best present you could ever hope to give them this holiday season.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Cooking with Wade

Now that holiday food preparation time is upon us, Chef Adam Wade is here to help you prepare that beloved Thanksgiving Day favorite, toasted tuna sandwiches.

Friday, November 9, 2007

My Comics Coast-to-Coast Interview

The triumvirate of talent that makes up the very popular weekly podcast Comics Coast to Dunaway, Justin Thompson and Tom Racine--graciously let me prattle on and on and on (even allowing me to reveal my undying lust for a certain comic strip character). You can hear the complete interview here.

And make sure to check out their entire archive of interviews with people from all aspects of the comic strip industry. The guys do a terrific job and each podcast is professional, entertaining and very informative.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Walking Bird Day: Lesson the Two

Can you believe that it's almost Thanksgiving? Can you believe that it's almost 2008? Can you believe that in about 70 years we'll all be dead? All of us. Even the toddlers who somehow managed to get on to this site. I won't go into exact details about how I know such things but suffice it to say that I had the fucking crap scared out of me at dinner last night when I opened my fortune cookie. (Oh, and the Chinese word for "bicycle" is "自行車". Use it in a sentence today.)

Of course, this should come as no surprise. Man has always been painfully aware of his brief stay on earth. Consequently, man has always devised some means of grappling with that knowledge for fear of feeling insignificant by his creator or creators. Some people look forward to an afterlife. Others look forward to another spin at the wheel. And a few simply look to make the most of their time here before they only live on in the minds of friends, family and creditors.

I happen to fall squarely into the last category. I believe that we were given life for a reason, and that reason is not to see what's behind Door Number Two. That reason is to experience the thrill of life while we still have the chance and the health insurance. So with that in mind I created a short list of activities I believe everyone should engage in, not only for the amusing anecdotes but also to know what it really means to live, breathe and be. And because I wanted such activities to be well within the means all--not simply the wealthy--I made certain that each of the following life-affirming pursuits would cost no more than five dollars, tops.

How to Feel Truly Alive on a Budget
* Enjoy the hell out of an apple.

* Swim with ducks.

* Get kidnapped by world travelers.

* Pretend your life is a television show. End each half-hour with a lesson.

* Walk barefoot on the grass, to and from work.

* Inquire about rates and amenities at a five-star hotel.

* Fashion a skateboard out of a discarded plank of wood and four similar-sized oranges.

* Pick an enemy. Devise a retaliatory plan of action. Marvel at your cunning brilliance.

* Make own breakfast cereal with your more crunchy--or more water insoluble--leftovers.

* Face your fear of bankruptcy.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Letters, I Get Two Letters...

Letter One:

Dear Francesco,

A couple of weeks ago, my sister-in-law called me in tears, consumed with worry over how to deal with her mom, who manages to cause new grief with every encounter, in spite of the fact that her daughter is happily married, living responsibly, and raising a wonderful child. I sent her the Sally Forth strips for that week, in which Sally's mom perverts every conversation and puts her successful daughter down.

The comic strip has recently been more real, more perceptive, more touching and liberating than ever before. I hope you collect the recent work -- Ted's unemployment, Sally's relationship with her mother, Hillary's social outsider status -- into a little book.

Wanting to thank and compliment you for the recent strips, I searched you on Google -- found your MySpace page -- and learned that you adopted Sally Forth from a previous writer. He did well enough to keep me reading, but you have taken the strip to another level entirely. This is great literature, and undoubtedly great therapy for many readers!

In all sincerity, thank you so much.

(Reader's Name Removed for Sake of Privacy)

Letter Two:

Dear Francesco,

None of us at Archie Comics appreciated your strip attached above telling your readers not to purchase Betty & Veronica Double Digest #151. Further, you conveyed the wrong information to your readers. We only changed the look of the Archie characters for one 112 page story which will be serialized in four consecutive issues of B&V Double Digest starting with issue #151. Each one of these Digests contains 192 pages of which only 25 or 28 pages will feature the new look. For years, our readers have asked us how our characters would look if drawn in a slightly more sophicisticated style and with a more sophisticated storyline. Under no circumstances are we planning to change the entire line of our Archie Comics to this new style. There have been many articles and interviews regarding this new venture and we have carefully explained that the new look is not universal. Apparently, you have been misinformed.

Here at Archie Comics, we never take pot shots at other creators and we always wish them the best with their work. We feel that it is not good for us to tell the millions of Archie readers, both in newspapers and comics to boycott another creator's property. Immature actions like that are just bad for our entire industry.

(Archie Comics Publishing, Inc. Chairman/Publisher's Name Removed for Sake of Privacy)

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Francesco Explains It All All-Encompassing Holiday Hymn (Sung to Whatever Tune Is Currently Lodged in Your Head)

Burn little candles, burn, burn, burn
For each of the Seven Principles of Nguzo Saba
Lighting the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path
Unto the Five Pillars of Worship
With the Five Books of Moses
Acknowledging the Oneness of the Universe
To free all those who trust in Him
While committing good acts to break out of the cycle of rebirth
And the Jains don't walk on bugs
They don't walk on bugs
And the Jains never walk on the bugs

Friday, November 2, 2007

Oh, for Fuck's Sake!

Okay, first, it's poor professional conduct for a cartoonist to critique in a public medium another comic strip (I have a rather pointed email from the good folks of Archie Comics stressing just that very fact). Second, from all accounts Tom Batuik is quite the genial individual who I have always found to be a talented and accomplished artist. Third, just this very year I had Ted Forth grapple with his own emotional downturn not unlike those portrayed in Funky Winkerbean. And fourth, I write the comic strip in which said Ted Forth appears, no doubt negating any right I may ever have to critique a fellow cartoonist's work.

That said, when even success begats dismay as in the above strip...Listen, as someone who has experienced his own pronounced and prolonged bouts with depression (much due to shyness)--and is apparently blurring the very line between imaginary people and real people for the objective of this post--I just want to see this strip's characters, hell, even one character, experience a moment of pure joy. I'm not asking for eternal bliss here. I just want to see something occur to cause one of the cast to puts his/her hands in his/her pockets, closes his/her eyes, slightly tilt back his/her head, feel a cool breeze on his/her face and have him/her quietly say, "Ahhhhh."

So, with that in mind, I humbly suggest the following simple yet happy exaltations be uttered in Funky Winkerbean come 2008:

"I can't believe we won both the Daytona 500 and the MacArthur Fellowship! What a Tuesday!"

"The Con Ed explosion destroyed all of Seventh Avenue save Montoni's Pizza, which not only survived unscathed but is now impervious to monster attacks for some reason."

"With this Sword of Isis you shall never have another's day fear! Oh, and take the hilt, too. It promotes luxurious hair."

"Why, that's no ordinary mud puddle, my son! That's the mud puddle that always picks winning stocks!"

"It's easy--I tell Ben what to do, he tells the other rats what I said and before you know it--Viola! We've got ourselves a perpetual motion machine!"

"Hey, Les, that guy from 'Pushing Daisies' just touched your wife. She wants to see you in the kitchen.

Walking Bird Day: Lesson the One

Now that we have officially entered Thanksgiving Season--as heralded by the end of Halloween and the start of innumerable Williams Sonoma catalogs--I'd like to take this opportunity to celebrate and delineate the glory that is the "turducken," a smorgasbord of slaughter that, had a child invented it, would no doubt have been perceived as the first sign of a serial killer.

For those of you not in the know or who never had a lesson in informal etymology, a "turducken" is a deboned chicken stuffed inside a deboned duck, which is then stuffed inside a deboned turkey. Why the turkey is then not stuffed inside a deboned cow and then quickly shoved into an unsuspecting pachyderm or stunned gorilla may have less to do with people realizing when a drinking game has clearly gone too far and more to do with the fact that the standard oven can only contain so much carcass.

Historians of nesting-doll food preparation cite that the layering (or, as it is known in Drakes Cakes circles, "Yodeling") of animals harkens back to the Middle Ages, when farmers often hid livestock inside one another to avoid paying higher husbandry taxes, to conceal potential golden-egg-laying geese from brigands or to give themselves something else to do besides toil, pray and attribute the rising of the sun to a complex system of pulleys operated by the same spirits whose sneezes produced morning dew.

However, legend--not to mention a well-researched "National Geographic" article--traces the origin of the triple-decker dinner to a specialty meats shop in Louisiana, where the inventive provisions staff has also been recognized for installing a combustible engine inside a pig and attaching the hindquarters of an iguana to the body of a possum and the head of a teddy bear, thereby fashioning a chimera well within the price range of even the most parsimonious Christmas shopper. Others, though, attribute the turducken to Paul Prudhomme, a rather gargantuan Cajun chef popular in the 1980's and most notable for scaring doppelganger character actor Dom DeLuise into the occasional weight-loss program.

Alas, as with most things that initially attain a cult status before gaining greater acceptance and then eventually becoming a global irritant, the turducken community has experienced its own schism, with many demanding that the dish instead be labeled a "chuckey," thereby reversing the order of fowl importance but in no way impeding the madness. Violence has quickly spread between the two factions, and as of this writing many have sacrificed their lives in the name of a complex recipe that by all rights should really be called a "dicky."

Please join me next time when I show how to flash-fry a gingerbread house.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Get Ready, Get Stressed

You can hear it in the soft susurration of the wind through the slits in store banners. You can feel it in the palpable excitement of marketers everywhere. You can taste it in Starbucks Cinnamon Holly Egg Nog Gingerbread Frappe. To many it seem may like Halloween just ended--especially any office worker who spent all day yesterday desperately trying to turn 40 manila folders and a necktie into a Spongebob costume--but to retailers everywhere, why, it’s Christmastime!

And frankly, I couldn’t be happier. That’s because I like to look ahead. I'm a “big picture” person. Visionary, if you will. While others care only to study what’s right before--or coming right at--them, I prefer to stare off into the horizon, hands in pockets, gently rocking back and forth on my heels while I softly whistle a tune. Maybe it’s “Fantasy” by Earth, Wind and Fire. Maybe it’s “Shining Star,” also by Earth, Wind and Fire. Or maybe I’ll just turn that mother out and beat box to “Boogie Wonderland” by Earth, Wind and Fire. You never know with us “big picture” people. You never do. Can’t pin us down but you can always count on us to bring home the funk.

Anyway, Christmas. To help get you in the mood I’ve put together a short holiday prep list so that when the season actually does roll around you won’t be caught off guard like the grasshopper in that fable. You know the one I'm talking about. While the ant toils away to get ready for the long winter months ahead the grasshopper frolics and fritters, completely unaware that the ant is in actuality the very serial killer that’s responsible for a string homicides in the vegetable garden. Then one day the grasshopper returns home only to find his roommate hacked to pieces and a message on his bathroom mirror scrawled in blood that reads, “You’re next.” The grasshopper tries to tell the police what happened but they’re of no help. So he must take matters into his own hands. Ultimately ant and grasshopper face off on the ledge of a partially constructed high-rise. We see the flash of a knife. We hear the peel of a gunshot. We see a limp corpse drop 40 stories. We are horrified but learn a valuable lesson and are all the better for it.

Anyway, the list:

The Francesco Explains It All Holiday Prep List

Eight Weeks before Xmas: Panic. The next few weeks are going to get very busy very quickly so best to get the inevitable breakdown out of the way now. Snap at friends. Snarl at strangers. Sucker punch acquaintances. Sob hysterically and howl incessantly on the drop of a hat or every leaf. Then get right to work.

Seven Weeks before Xmas: Play God--Wrathful Edition. Decide who will and who won't get presents this year. Recall caustic remarks, casual slights, age-old vendettas, stutters that might have masked an aspersio or even dubious advice. Remember, the more ill will you harbor for friends and loved ones the more money you'll have to spend on yourself this season.

Six Weeks before Xmas: Go batshit looking for a Wii. Pester managers. Bribe store clerks. Blow "Game Stop" employees. Invest more time and energy into finding a video game system than you did your marriage, your career or your attempt at resuscitating Grandpa. Success is your only option. Suicide your only alternative.

Five Weeks before Xmas: Stop what you're doing. You completely forgot about Thanksgiving, didn't you? You forgot to buy a turkey, right? You forgot to make sides, right? Well, no time for cooking now! Just quickly determine how many people a kindergarten "hand outline" turkey drawing and 16 cans of 4C Bread Crumbs can feed if you get everyone drunk enough early enough.

Four Weeks before Xmas: Get decorations and supplies out of storage two weeks ago...You did already do that, right?...RIGHT?!?...Oh, for...What the hell are you waiting for, merry elves or striking television writers to get your house ready for the holidays? Perhaps you thought if you played a jaunty carol all the supplies would come marching down the stairs from the attic and assume their rightful positions on the tree, hmm? Jesus! People like you make me want to--no, no, not gonna let you do this to me. Time of joy, time of peace. Just T.P. the inside of your own house in lieu of streamers or tinsel. But for the love of God make sure it's at least two-ply or quilted toilet paper. Anything else and you might as well be celebrating Winter Solstice.

Three Weeks before Xmas: Freeze holiday food and snacks you should have already made. Oh, you didn't make any meals yet? Well, here's a little holiday tip--guests don't like to starve! What the fuck have you been doing with your days, dancing a merry jig? Explaining to visitors why there's a big bow of Charmin on your mantelpiece? Getting drunk, yet again, in front of the kids, as if THAT won't affect their self-esteem or future relationships in any way whatsoever?! GOD! At least open a freaking jar of mixed nuts! Can you do that?! Huh?! Can you?!?

Two Weeks before Xmas: Mail the cards you no doubt probably haven't even thought to address or even buy. Man...let me ask you a question--Why do you even bother getting out of bed if you're only going to destroy everyone's Christmas with your astounding indifference and incompetence?! No one likes to be forgotten on the holidays! No one! That includes your kids whose names you probably can't even slur correctly after your eighth whisky sour. I got an idea, and it's one you can do as you decide between neat or on the rocks. Just tell your wee ones that Mommy and/or Daddy simply couldn't be bothered to make this season a happy one for their children. Just tell them Mommy and/or Daddy were never equipped to be parents. Just tell them Mommy and/or Daddy will eventually prove to be nothing but two dead albatrosses hanging from the freaking necks of their grown, emotionally crippled offspring for their entire goddamn adult lives! Go on...TELL THEM! I'll still be here with more helpful advice when you get back.

Last Week before Xmas: Ruin everything for everyone. After all, why stop a ten-year streak now? Surely they hand out medals for such astounding accomplishments, medals you'll no doubt pawn for more booze and the bite-size Snickers bars your kids have come to call "brunch." Sigh...Well, I tried to help you get ready for Christmas. I really, realy did. But you didn't want a list. You didn't want a guide. You wanted your own staff to do everything for you while you danced that jig, waited for decorations to climb down the stairs and on to the tree and hoped elves would show up with a Dyson, Tilex and Glenfiddich. And now here you are, with nothing to eat, no tree or gifts for the kids and no one to blame but yourself. You make me feel so very, very sick and so very, very superior.

Well, that's all the time I have for now. Please join me tomorrow when I stress that there are only seven short months before swimsuit season.