Thursday, December 28, 2006


I thought about penning a year-in-review column, but anyone can rehash history. Instead I’ve chosen to portend the feature, using the keen insight I’ve developed as a blogger.

Attorney Courtney Cox greets the New Year by filing two new lawsuits against the Springfield Police Department, pending allegations of some sort.

After early polls show him to be a lock for reelection, Mayor Tim “Dear Leader” Davlin issues a proclamation demanding that all campaign contributions be accompanied by panegyrical poems or songs written in his honor. The odes are read by Todd Renfrow in a weekly simulcast that preempts A.M Springfield and the Jim Leach Show.

IKEA releases plans to build a 200,000 sq.-ft. factory outlet store in the middle of the Cobblestone subdivision, displacing dozens of homes. Neighbors, including those forced to relocate, welcome the move, hailing the development as a boon to economic progress that will provide a much-needed boost to neighborhood traffic.

Hundreds of non-smokers “Pick-up the Habit” in the name of freedom and in deviance of the local oxygen Nazis. In related news, residents of Jerome enjoy a sunless summer as the smog emanating from the Barrel Head enshrouds the village.

In a case of art imitating life, a front page story reports on an SHG student who commandeered and disarmed a runaway bus that was rigged to explode if its speed dropped below 50 mph, thus saving the lives of a terrified and ethnically diverse group of commuters. Commenters on the SJ-R’s Web site complain that the story isn’t newsworthy and is just another example of how the private school has a stranglehold on the local media. Others assert that the student was recruited to the school for the sole purpose of performing Hollywood-grade rescues, and that he never had to pay tuition or attend class.

The Illinois Times discontinues Jim Hightower’s column and replaces it with “The View from the Canopy”, a weekly tirade from someone calling himself Monkey Boy.

After further tightening its grip on the underground canasta racket, the Red Hat Society muscles-in on local craft bazaars, demanding protection money and a taste of the action. Knitters of decorative lawn geese clothing are left shaken.

Frightened by an early rush of ticket sales, state fair management cancels a scheduled appearance by John Mellencamp and replaces him on the bill with fair-friendly Montgomery-Gentry, assuring that no crowd control expenses will be incurred.

Ex-aldermen Redpath, McNeil and Yeager form a dissident coalition and attempt to overthrow city government. Their coup is thwarted by Dear Leader’s newly-formed royal guard. The three are exiled to Grandview where they resort to blogging about the city’s inept government. They finish second in the IT’s Best Blogger category, barely losing out to . . .

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Who I'm tipping this holiday season

Because so much of the Christmas tradition involves parting with our hard-earned cash, I thought we set aside the smoking ban issue for a bit and instead discuss what obligations we have to provide gifts ($) to our favorite service providers as a sign of appreciation and good cheer.

Many publications publish helpful tips on tipping during the holiday season so that we can know who has something coming and how much we owe them. Higher class rags will have you gifting everyone from the doorman to the manicurist of the lady who cuts your personal trainer’s hair. Those magazines with a more bucolic sensibility will merely suggest that you leave a little something extra for your favorite waitress down at the diner, say, maybe 15 percent.

My wife and I tend to fall towards the bucolic. If you have served us in some way in the past year, please know that we hold you in the highest esteem, but the chances are good that we won’t be expressing our gratitude monetarily.* Unless, you are one of the following:

The garbage men are always due a gratuity. We pay to have two barrels-full disposed of each week and on those occasions when we go over by an extra bag or so, they can always be counted on to haul away the excess refuse. And even though they knew it was a dirty job when they signed on, I can’t help but feel we contribute excessively to the displeasing nature of their work. We’ve given them seven solid years of damp and soiled diapers to contend with so it’s only good form to acknowledge them on the holidays with something green and crispy.

Anyone carrying on the fine tradition of newspaper carrier deserves a tip as well. I’ve found that trying to eat breakfast without a newspaper to read is quite disorientating, almost to the point of being debilitating. I’m quite certain that if I didn’t have such a reliable carrier who never fails to deliver by the breakfast hour, that I would be wasting away late into the morning, rocking in my chair in a trance-like state while mumbling incoherently into my omelet. That has to be worth a double sawbuck, right?

Our recycling agent received a tip for the first time last year and appeared so grateful that it would be cruel to deny her this year. Her job doesn’t seem as onerous as garbage hauler, but things can get sticky and unpleasant when my wife fails to rinse out the wretchedness from her vile Miller High Life cans.**

Then, of course, there are the gifts to teachers and the babysitter, although they are already the richer, and wiser, for having the good fortune to spend time in the company of my progeny.*** Still, they must be shown our appreciation.

But that’s about it for us. We’ve never tipped the mail carrier; we hardly ever see him or her and so are of the mind that the mail just magically appears in the box six days a week. We don’t have any personal attendants or favorite maitre d's, and although several of my fellow bloggers have provided me a consistent source of entertainment and insight this past year and surely merit my benefaction, most blog anonymously so I don’t know where to send the cash-stuffed Christmas cards. Same goes for the regulars in the comments section. Alas.

And now it is your turn to confess or herald the extent of your largess to those who worked on your behalf this past year. Even though you already paid them at the time of service, did you recently hand over a little something extra in the spirit of the season?

*This somewhat stingy attitude doesn’t apply to charitable giving. I’ve yet to turn down an opportunity this year to add an extra dollar to my grocery bill to benefit the less fortunate.

**If you read the Christmas message I posted here last year, you’ll recall that I wrote about how my wife had just recently kicked the latest in a series of drug addictions. Just to be clear, that was satire. And while she does enjoy an occasional beer, drinking straight from the can most times, I don’t want to imply that our recycling bin is overflowing each week with her empty beer cans. There are, however, always a lot of empty Sudafed boxes in there. She doesn’t have allergies so I’m not sure what she does with it all.

***You might be tempted to read this as satire, but I truly believe it to be true.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Dateline exclusive: Thirst Parlor or Gulag?

This week’s winner for best hyperbolic sentiment in a letter-to-the-editor goes to Glenn Stevens for his portrayal of the smoking ban as a dictator inflicting torture on the destitute. It was a chilling performance, almost Ceausescu-esque in its brutality. I, for one, am ashamed of my support of the smoking ban and my complicity in allowing this reign of violence to terrorize innocent Romanians, I mean smokers.

Let’s set aside the sarcasm and get psychoanalytical for a moment.* This letter, which at first glance appears to be nothing more than the effects of extreme nicotine withdrawal, is actually quite revealing. Despite all of the protestations concerning freedom and property-owner rights, the real reason that some smokers are so incensed over the ban is because it forces them to face the fact that they are hopelessly addicted. Freud might add that they are also exhibiting behavior consistent with a maladaptive oral fixation and that they subconsciously long to be nurtured by a mother figure, which means, if you buy into all of this, that Betty Crocker would probably do better at hawking smokes than the Marlboro Man, although I should add that many of Ziggy’s theories have been debunked over the years.

The situation chronic smokers** face in a post-ban society is analogous to a scene in the movie “The Lost Weekend” where the main character, a binge alcoholic, explains why he needs to have alcohol readily available, even during periods of sobriety:

What you don't understand, all of you, is that I've got to know it's around. That I can have it if I need it. I can't be cut off completely. That's the devil. That's what drives you crazy.

And so it is with hardcore puffers. It’s not necessarily that they can’t physically get through a horseshoe and a pint without lighting up, it’s the distress that is caused by knowing that they can’t reflexively slide a butt between their lips should that urge arise. And I believe the alcohol analogy is an apt one.

If I find out that the wedding reception I’ll be attending will be a dry one, it may temper my enthusiasm a bit, but it wouldn’t keep me from going, although the thought of being made to listen to REO Speedwagon ballads without the buffer of a slight buzz is pretty distressing. An alcoholic, however, would be utterly dismayed and would most likely decline the invitation, especially if that skimpy dress she just bought won’t conceal the necessary flask.

Likewise, hardcore smokers are now turning down invitations to eat and drink in public because of the embarrassing incontinence they would suffer. Without their drug, their eyes turn red and their noses run. They begin to twitch and turn surly, as if an Adam Sandler film festival were playing inside their head. Rather than bear the shame of revealing the depths of their jones, they stay home or travel to villages where it is safe for them to fix in public.

It’s sad really, that they’d rather fight than quit. But it’s their choice to inhale and I wouldn’t deny them that, they just can’t exhale all over the public.

*If this sentence doesn’t immediately send you searching for another blog, you are a faithful BFS reader indeed.
**Notice that I qualify so as to not paint all smokers with the same brush. Some do enjoy whatever pleasure can be derived by introducing smoke into the lungs without suffering from the vapors when in a non-smoking environment.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Who wants to be an alderman?

Recently, the SJ-R has been reporting on the candidates who have announced the will seek an aldermanic seat. Reading the background information provided for each, I admit to being a bit underwhelmed in most cases. These people don’t seem any more qualified than I am and I certainly wouldn’t expect anyone to vote for me for anything (except maybe Best Blogger in the Illinois Times 2007 Best of Springfield contest that will be upon us again before you know it.)

When I was younger, I assumed that people elected to public office must be ahead of the curve in terms of intelligence. I figured that they must be highly motivated to serve the public, even those who only saw it as a means to power and prestige. Even as I grew more skeptical about their character of some of these office holders, I still thought that you had to have something pretty positive going for you to get people to vote you into office.

As I’ve become more astute in the ways of politics, I’ve come to realize that there isn’t necessarily anything special about politicians. Sure, some are really intelligent, others may drip with Clinton-like charisma, and the occasional one will provide a combination of both. But for the most part, they’re just average Joes and Janes, especially at the local level.

While being an alderman is an important job, it doesn’t seem all that desirable. It doesn’t pay well and you’ll still have to buy your clothes off the rack. It won’t get you into the Sangamo Club and it offers little in the way of graft. And as Chuck Redpath can attest, the job isn’t necessarily a springboard to higher office.

It seems an ideal job for retirees. They no longer have a full-time job to contend with and if they have kids, they’re probably out on their own. This leaves plenty of time to bone-up on the issues and field complaints from people who feel CWLP is acting out on a personal vendetta by denying them electricity. Then there’s that whole with age comes wisdom thing. Of course we wouldn’t want an entire council of retired people or there’d soon be an Old Country Buffet in every neighborhood and designated Rascal paths along every thoroughfare.

But if a candidate isn’t yet retired, does it matter what she does for a living? Is an insurance agent more likely to do a better job than a waitress? Is the business owner running to look after his own interests? Is the state worker campaigning on state time?

I know people who would be good aldermen, but none of them seem inclined to run. But I don’t know any of the people who are running, so how do I know who’s worthy?

Such quandaries call for a litmus test, a single issue on which a candidate’s response will determine their worthiness. For many, the test would involve party affiliation. For others, it might come down to smoking or non-smoking, or deal or no deal when the Sierra Club is at the negotiating table. Or it might involve something trivial such as their zodiac signs or if they wear white after Labor Day. Personally, I think that I can devine all I need to know about a person by their taste in music (Is there or has there ever been any James Blunt in your iPod?).

But I’ll put it to you. If you had one question to ask the candidates who are running in your ward (or any local election), and you had to base your vote solely on how they answer, what would that question be?

Monday, December 04, 2006

(This post doesn't merit a clever headline)

My first story for the SJ-R’s Heartland Magazine ran on Friday. Given the widespread power outages, I’m assuming that a good number of subscribers used it for kindling. So in that respect, I suppose you could say it was a very enlightening story. (Get it? Because it was used to light fires.)

As far as I can tell, the Heartland stories aren’t available online so I’ll reprint the first couple of paragraphs here.

It's 6 p.m. on a Saturday, and the temperature sits just above freezing on this late autumn evening. On the north side of town, they're kicking off the Class 5A state football semifinals. On the south side, the stage is being set for a more visceral competition. It's trivia night - firefighter style.

In the Springfield area, trivia nights are fast becoming a popular alternative to going to the movies or bars on a Saturday night. They’re also popular fundraisers for the schools and organizations that host the events. From fall through spring, a trivia night can be found almost every weekend. Tonight, the action is at the Firefighters Lake Club.

The rest of the article is a gripping, real-time account of the event. I hope in at least some small way, it helped to keep people warm.

Although it pales in comparison to the smoking ban, the proposed ordinance requiring filling stations to adopt a pay first policy is generating some debate locally.

When analyzing issues such as this, I tend to downplay such aspects as constitutionality, business owner’s rights, and the public good, and instead determine its relative merit based on how it will affect me personally. It won’t, so go ahead and pass the ordinance. What do I care.

I pay exclusively at the pump through the magic of the debit card. I don’t drink coffee or 67oz. Mountain Dews so I seldom venture into the convenience store, save for the occasional emergency gallon of milk or six pack. And I never drive off without paying. Since this ordinance will not hamper my fueling habits in any way, it’s beyond me why anyone would oppose it. I love democracy.

Jeff at the Occasional Potato has a feature called Cool Band Names where he post a list of fictional band names. (I’m pretty sure he thinks them up all by himself.) Anyway, there’s always some good ones and I thought it might be fun to provide brief fictional bios to some of the bands. So I did, and it was. You should try it.