Gradupromation: A New Ceremony

When I was growing up, you worked hard for twelve grades and then had one graduation to celebrate this accomplishment.  Graduation was the goal at the end of a long and weary road.  The icing on the stale sheet cake of school.  At last you were special, maybe one in a thousand, and you were reminded of this by the announcement of your name along with every one of those thousand names, while your body went numb on a cheap folding chair.  You can’t even scrapbook memories like that.

The graduation ceremony used to be a privilege, a chance for those who had succeeded to be able to sit still through arduous speeches.  This patience demonstrated to the world that you were now a grown-up and would soon be ready to endure State of the Union addresses while changing the channel fewer than fifteen times. 

Nowadays graduation ceremonies are held for pre-school and just about every grade after that.  Call me crazy, but we seem to be changing the bell curve on significance.  If you over-inflate the importance of minor events, then the major ones deflate like yesterday’s helium balloon.

Pretty soon there will be a graduation ceremony for potty training, learning to walk and chew gum at the same time, putting the cap back on the toothpaste, and remembering to turn the light off when you leave the room.

Have one graduation, and do it right. 

Instead of the traditional song, which sounds like a funeral dirge, why not play something like “I Feel Good” by James Brown?  It makes no sense to have the kids walking somberly down the aisle.  Have them show how psyched they really are and bust their best dance moves up and down the aisles.  The parents could also celebrate the end of the Nag and Drag Era – nagging their child to do their homework every night and dragging them out of bed in the morning to catch the school bus. 

Let’s skip over reading every graduate’s name.  It’s not like an awards show, where you’re actually surprised by the announcement.  Obviously every student at the ceremony has graduated, so just yell, “CONGRATULATIONS, CLASS OF___!”  E-mail each family a picture of the principal handing out a diploma, and then have them use Photoshop to insert their child into the scene.

Graduation speeches could be tweaked as well.  A well-educated student will know how to give a great speech, and therein lies the problem.  It’s hot; everyone’s tired.  Even body parts are falling asleep.  Nobody wants to listen to a speech, no matter how good it is. Have the student who barely graduated give the speech.  “Um, like, YEAH!  We’re outta here!  Dude, party at my house.”  The End. 

The cap and gown outfit is a bit outrageous.  Nothing screams “dork” like a mortar board on the head.  I can understand the quagmire, though.  For four years, the students have been roaming the hallways in torn jeans, low enough to display their ratty underwear.  The school would not want to display this crowd at graduation and essentially announce to the world, “Look what we’ve produced! Here is your future!”   

The answer is essentially to create a new ceremony. If you have prom night on the same night as graduation, many problems disappear.  Check out some benefits of Gradupromation:

  • The students are already dressed to the nines and looking fabulous.  Money saved on the cap and gown could help offset the cost of the prom wear.
  • You already have a DJ ready to play any song.  Even if you had the graduation song, he could turn it into the party dance-mix version.
  • A professional photographer is already there to take prom pictures.  The principal could stand ready at the photo session.  Students could have their picture taken with their date, then simply turn to the other side and be photographed receiving their diploma from the principal.
  • Parents would be at the prom and would therefore be instant chaperones.  In fact, the whole ceremony is centered around a dance floor, so parents could dance alongside their children and really embarrass them.  Thanks to the new shorter ceremony, they could still rush home and catch their favorite episode of CSI.  It’s a win-win situation for everyone.
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The Unknown Story Behind the Declaration of Independence

After the French and Indian War, King George III was in dire need of cash, so he put a tax on everything the colonists bought.  The perceptive colonists were more than a little bitter, for they knew that the war could have been easily financed if the king would have just given up his silk Hugo Boss underwear.  So they decided to revolt.

The patriots gathered together to discuss their possible options. 

“I know,” said Harry, an enthusiastic yet dim-witted silversmith.  “Let’s dress up like clowns and dump sugar into the Charles River!”

“How about if we dump everyone with idiotic ideas into the Charles River?” responded Sam Adams.

Everyone else was afraid to present their ideas, so Sam introduced the famous idea of dressing up as Native Americans and throwing tea into the Boston Harbor.  The patriots thought he was brilliant and later named a beer after him. 

The king was incensed when he heard about the Boston Tea Party.  Being the quintessential Anglophile, he expected to be invited to any and all tea parties.  He passed the Stamp Act, which admittedly does seem a fitting response to not being invited to a tea party.  The colonists’ outrage was then perfectly expressed by Thomas Paine in his pamphlet Common Sense, originally published under the working title Duh!, which basically stated that any colonist who did not want to revolt against the king was an egghead.

This time the king’s feathers were really ruffled, and he decided to pass the Not So Bad Acts.  At the behest of his PR manager, he later changed the name to the Intolerable Acts, in order to toughen up his image. 

One fateful night Brown Beauty, Paul Revere’s horse, got into his owner’s leftover Boston baked beans.  Paul was kept up all night by Brown Beauty’s terrible gastrointestinal problems,  so he had to take him out for a midnight run.  Paul was relieved to hear that the Redcoats were coming, so he could actually have a legitimate excuse for waking up the villagers.  

After the skirmishes in Lexington and Concord, the Second Continental Congress met in Independence Hall in Philadelphia.  They chose this building for its fortunate name, deciding against the more ominously titled Treason Tavern down the street.  Congress recognized the need to choose a leader for the colonial troops.  No one really wanted the job, so when George Washington slept in that morning, they elected him.

The war waged on, and Washington proved to be a fearless leader.  He and his troops patiently stood still for hours during several battle scenes to assist artists with their production of famous oil paintings. 

In the meantime, Congress decided to write the Declaration of Independence, since King George refused to meet them for a golf summit to hash out their differences.  Five men were chosen to work on the document, but after several brutal rounds of Rock-Paper-Scissors, the responsibility was left to Thomas Jefferson.  They waited for the hottest days of the year, because they knew that Jefferson’s writing talent really flourished during heat-induced hallucinations.  They locked him in a room for two weeks, and only interrupted to nag him.

“C’mon, Tom.  We have to have this done in time for the Fourth of July fireworks and parade.”

“I think “chase of cheerfulness” sounds better than ‘pursuit of happiness.'”

…and so on.

Congress then had the nerve to debate the document for almost three days, but finally relented because Tom had a quill pen and knew how to use it. 

The Declaration was read aloud on July 8, and the crowds went wild.  They were thrilled with their new independence, but they were also exhausted from waiting four whole days for the fireworks.

The war ended several years later, and the grateful Americans elected Washington as their first President, in order to ensure that future presidents would always have someone to blame for their “inherited” problems. 

Today we should reflect on these events with thankfulness…even if the details do seem a little fuzzy.

Nightmares For Ten Items Or Less

You came in to the store for a gallon of milk, and now your cart is loaded to the brim with enough food to feed a third world country.  That’s because the store put every single item on sale, just so you would buy items you would never actually buy.  Even if it’s only one penny cheaper, it sure looks attractive with all of those nines in the price. Look at this, honey!  Ten pounds of Beef Jerky on sale for 9.99!  I’m a little rusty on my dead languages, but I think sale is Latin for “sucker.”

And just in case you missed something, they throw in the impulse items at the end of every aisle and at every register.  They’re banking on you suddenly realizing that you can’t possibly live without Blistex and a Three Musketeers bar.  My suggestion to real estate agents is to list their houses in these impulse sections.  That way someone might not be able to resist both a Home Depot gift card AND a spacious five bedroom house on a corner lot.   

You are probably really happy with yourself for all of your genius purchases until you are ready to check out and you have to pass by the “10 Items or Less” lanes.  Don’t even start to count; you know you went over.  If you try to sneak in with 11 items, you won’t be able to sleep at night. You might have nightmares of the cashier beating you over the head ten times with a can of Pringles.  Besides, those lanes are for when you have already purchased $500 worth of food, loaded it into the car, and then realize you never bought the gallon of milk you came in for in the first place. 

I usually pass right by the Self-Checkout lane, because that option seems a little rude.   If you think you’re so great, just do it yourself.  That lane beeps at you a lot, as if to pay you back for haughtiness. 

Choosing the right checkout lane is like a game of chess.  First, you have to get the big picture.  It’s not enough to look for the shortest lines, because some move faster than others.  Watch out for someone with a wheelbarrow full of coupons. You can peek into other people’s carts to get a feel for how quickly the line will move.  There’s always some animal lover with a thousand cans of cat food (because it was on sale, of course.)  But there is no way to predict the dreaded price check. Checkmate.

If so many people are just standing around in line anyway, it seems like a good opportunity to do something as a community.  How about karaoke or a sing-a-long?  Or how about putting up a big screen television and playing movies?  Well, maybe just the previews, because hopefully the line will never take as long as a full feature film. 

The big decision at the checkout used to be paper or plastic.  It never really made sense to choose flimsy paper bags with no handles to carry heavy groceries.  You might as well ask them to just roll your food out onto the pavement, which is where it would end up eventually. But the more convenient plastic bags, which led to being stalked by some crazy lady accusing you of endangering sea turtles, was enough to make you carry your groceries one by one.  Nowadays people enjoy using their own tote bags.  I say, to each his own, as long as the bagger doesn’t go on break as soon as it’s my turn.

Pirates of the Caribbean in the Cereal Aisle

Do you ever feel overwhelmed when you turn the corner to enter the cereal aisle?  How did we ever go from Corn Flakes and Quaker Oats to five thousand brands and flavors of cereal?  Realistically, they could all be whittled down to two categories:  1.) Vat of Sugar and 2.) Tree bark.  Adults have to pay for this food, yet we end up with kids on a sugar high while we scarf down the shavings of a dogwood. 

The fact that cereal was not in the Garden of Eden should be a major clue.  Adam and Eve were eating fresh fruit, not Fruit Loops.  We are talking about dead food in a box, but apparently it is the centerpiece aisle of the supermarket.

When you walk down the cereal aisle with children, it’s a bit like going for a ride at Disney World.  With all of the flashy colors and marketing, it’s a wonder the supermarkets don’t turn it into a Pirates of the Caribbean adventure.  You could get on a little boat and sail down a darkened aisle, while carousing pirates sing “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life For Me)” and advertise the various cereals. In between bouts of pillaging, they could toss out samples. When you get to the end of the aisle, you could sail down a little waterfall and get off the ride.

I bet you thought supermarkets were all about food.  On the surface, yes, but when you delve into the heart of a supermarket chain, you will find that they have more tricks than the Trix Rabbit himself.  Starting with the prize inside the box.

Decades ago, the prize in a cereal box was a simple toy or a decoder ring.  The other day I noticed that the prize offered was a possible trip to Turks and Caicos.  One in a million people might actually get to go on this trip, but it must increase sales to at least offer the potential of a Caribbean cruise.  More incentive is needed because we all recognize that the older we get, the more our cereal starts to resemble rabbit pellets. Some poor guy who is freezing his tushie off in Vancouver will gladly buy the cereal for the chance to run his fingers through the hot sand.  Realistically, the only thing he will run his fingers through is his collection of decoder rings from the 1950s, while he throws another log on the fire and yearns for Frosted Flakes.

If the pattern holds, in ten years cereal boxes will include a sweepstakes drawing for a trip to the moon.   

The marketing plan seems devious, but it works.  How else are they going to sell the tree bark?   Part of the plan is to give the cereal a name that makes you think you are eating the most healthful foods on the planet, despite the artificial ingredients, sugar, and high fructose corn syrup.  Heart Healthy, Smart Morning, Natural Goodness. 

That’s because you would never buy the following cereals:

Death in a Box

Chemical Overload

Fructose Flakes

Sugar Valley

Unpronounceable Ingredients

Frankenstein’s Tomatoes: The Organic Dilemma

Have you ever sung along to the music in the grocery store?  Maybe you hum quietly to yourself, but when the chorus hits you just can’t hold back.  Something wells up inside of you, and you find yourself singing along with anyone from Justin Bieber to Kermit the Frog.  Songs that would normally repulse you suddenly seem catchy and cute.

Maybe you bust a little dance move while nobody’s watching.  You may even frighten yourself when you realize you just channeled Michael Jackson while reaching for the Hamburger Helper. You need to ask yourself why the stores play music in the first place. It is a cleverly designed ruse, a distraction engineered to put you in a good mood so you’ll buy sugary cereals and baked goods with high fructose corn syrup.  You can tell by the choice of music. 

If they really wanted to get rid of you in a hurry, they would blast the heavy metal.  Then you would run in and out of the store, trying to buy the items on your list before your eardrums rupture.  Instead they lull you with songs like “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”  from The Lion King. Next thing you know you’re thinking about cute, furry lion cubs and loading your cart with superfluous comfort food.

Sing in your car and sing in your shower, but please don’t sing in the aisles.  At least keep it to a low hum.  If you watch the expert shoppers, you will notice they resist the urge to sing along to the greatest hits of Air Supply.  No distractions for these people, for they need their heads clear to make difficult decisions, such as when to buy organic foods.

Throwing organic foods into the mix has really made shopping far more challenging.  It has doubled the amount of time it takes to buy groceries, as your conscience battles the decision between organic versus pesticide-laden foods.  The big decision used to be paper or plastic. Now as you stand there reading labels, it all boils down to poop or poison, take your pick.  Do you want a food that was grown in manure and costs ten times more, or the food that is cheap but kills lab rats in 3.5 seconds? Do we pay the price of a Honda Civic for an apple, or do we buy the apple that might as well have been bathed in the Honda’s exhaust?   

Stores are also now loaded with genetically modified food.  Is the tomato larger than your head? Do you have to ask for assistance to load the tomato into your cart? Does the tomato seem too perfect, the supermodel of the fruit display? 

It’s a little scary that people are playing Dr. Frankenstein with our food.  Imagine the poor little tomato awaiting its fate in a dark laboratory.  In walks Dr. Frankenstein and his hunchback assistant, wheeling a cart full of assorted vials and sharp needles.  Lightning flashes as they hunch over to operate on the fruit.  (I don’t know why there’s always lightning in these situations, but there is a rule somewhere that laboratories have to be creepy.)  Anyway, the light is just enough to reveal tomato juice squirting all over their white lab coats.  The doctor does not fret, however, as he knows he will receive a discount for laundry detergent when he supplies the monster tomatoes to his local Piggly Wiggly.  He screams, “It’s alive!  It’s alive!” as he admires the freaky creation that’s eventually going to end up in your dinner salad.

The food industry has left us with impossible decisions, and you will have to let your conscience be your guide.  But if you happen to see a scary looking dude in a lab coat delivering produce to your store, run for your life.

Tune in next week to experience an unforgettable ride down the cereal aisle…

The Deli Lama

Unsuccessful presidential candidates should work at the deli.  Being denied what they thought was the most powerful position in the world, they would be amazed at how much more power they could wield while wearing a white coat and a hair net.  Who wants to negotiate treaties and entertain foreign ambassadors when they could control the world with three little words?  Take.  A.  Number.

The Deli sounds like such a happy place, doesn’t it?  It’s the beginning of words like delightful and delicious.  But it’s also the start of delirious, which is what you are if you actually enjoy ordering at the deli. 

Your visit to the deli begins with taking the golden ticket.  This little baby will get you access to whatever you want, as long as you are willing to wait longer than it takes to get your license at the DMV.  We are so optimistic when we first arrive at the ticket dispenser, as though somehow, today will be different.  Today I will be the next number called.

When you first take your ticket, you feel pretty righteous about your number, until you look up at the giant number board and see that you have five million people to go before you.  The controller of that number board is The Deli Lama, and he is the most powerful person in the world.

Imagine having everyone hanging on your every word.  You look out into the crowd at the hungry, discouraged masses, and realize everyone is waiting for your next move.  In fact, nobody moves until you announce the next number.  Oh, the look of desperation on their faces. Maybe you could even pause a little for dramatic effect, put some Ryan Seacrest flair into it and tell them that the next number is (pause…pause…feel the power)…coming up after your break.  Maybe you could skip over a number  just to watch them panic.   Why not?  There has never been a Deli Rebellion.  No unruly crowd has ever knocked over the ticket dispenser, charged the counter, and demanded their meat out of numerical order. 

You never hear on the news that some woman in Poughkeepsie elbowed her way to the front of the crowd, took The Deli Lama hostage and held him over the carving machine until someone gave her a 1/2 pound of Genoa salami.  No, when it comes to deli ordering, we follow the rules like sheep.

Don’t get me wrong; there are people who make waves at the deli.  Some people, when asked if the meat is cut thin enough, will actually say, “no” while a hush falls over the crowd.  The hush is the other people silently revering the One who had the nerve to rebel at the deli.  Everyone secretly desires it, but few live the dream.  Most of us just go along with the cut because the other person is standing at a meat carving machine and therefore must have more power.  We take “Is this thin enough?” as some sort of mob-like threat, so we just gulp and answer “yes” meekly.

The deli was designed to serve the people, but the power trip has gotten out of control.  Our Founding Fathers would be rolling over in their graves…if only they knew what a deli was, of course.  This is just the sort of thing that would have outraged Benjamin Franklin, who believed that a pound of meat in time saved nine.  Or something like that.

Some suggestions for putting the power back in the hands of the people where it belongs…

Gather the other deli patrons in line and:

  1. Demand to be served in alphabetical order.
  2. Demand that your meat be carved into animal shapes.
  3. Ask for your meat in uncommon fractions.   (7/8 pounds, 3 oz. of turkey)
  4. Use the metric system while ordering.  (5 kilograms of ham)
  5. Group your meat orders and give the sum total. (50 pounds of bologna, 100 pounds of cheese, etc…)
  6. Even the fainthearted can refuse to put the used ticket in the basket after ordering. 

Tune in next week to learn, among other things, when to buy organic…

How To Pretend To Pick The Perfect Melon

You survived the parking lot trauma, and now you have entered far more dangerous waters: the inside of the supermarket.  Once you have come this far, there is no turning back.  Because then you would be trying to exit out the entrance door, and you could get seriously injured.

Now is probably a good time to question your fashion choices of the morning.  You must understand how this works.  If you are wearing a flattering new outfit and you just had your hair professionally coiffed,  you will not see anyone you know.  Not even the mailman.  If you just rolled out of bed and you look completely disheveled, wearing clothes you normally wouldn’t be caught dead in, you will bump into every person you haven’t seen in the past ten years.  Your choice. 

Keep in mind that supermarkets highlight your appearance with fluorescent lighting, which seems cruel since they are already taking your hard-earned money.   If they are going to bankrupt you, they could at least make you look good during the process. Maybe we should start a campaign for candlelit shopping.  We would be surrounded by flattering ambient lighting, and the stores would profit because thanks to the dim lighting, we would barely notice any flaws in the produce.  It would be a winning situation for everyone involved.  

Once you enter the supermarket, you will need your shopping list.  If you can’t find it, it’s back at your house.  Don’t worry, it will be exactly where you left it, so you will be sure to confirm all of the things you forgot at the store as soon as you arrive home.  If you do manage to bring the list, the challenge will be to actually stick to only the items written on it.  Yeah, right. The real purpose of the shopping list is to confirm what you were really supposed to buy. 

Try not to be intimidated by the pros.  You know, the professional female shoppers who move with such precision and skill that everyone else scuttles like crabs out of their way and secretly watches in awe.  These women do not even use lists.  They laugh at lists as they zoom past you in the produce section.  They don’t even break into a sweat while trying to find the perfect melon.

By the way, if you have always wondered how to find the perfect melon, I will let you in on a little secret.  Nobody really knows.  Sure, people will give you tips here and there, but it’s all an act.  It’s all about the face.  If you watch people who seem to know what they’re doing, they’re just making a face to convince you. 

You must first pick a melon that looks halfway decent.  Try to avoid the rotten ones with flies pouring out of the holes.  Then you turn the melon every which way, gently squeezing it as you set your face like stone.  I’m not sure why, but apparently melon selection is a very serious business with no smiling allowed whatsoever.

The following faces are acceptable for feigning melon expertise:

  1. Passing a kidney stone.
  2. Understanding quantum physics.
  3. Finding the square root of a six digit number.
  4. Surviving an IRS audit. 

Tune in next week to learn, among other things, how to survive the deli…