Thursday, June 30, 2011

In praise of sugar

I stumbled across a website last week that predicted something that almost broke my heart. The site, called 24/7 Wall St., looked into its crystal ball and predicted the demise of ten brands in the upcoming year. While I recognized a few, the one that lept from the page was the prognostication that the cereal Kellogg's Corn Pops would be discontinued! NO! Citing figures that Corn Pops sales have dropped 18 percent and that the price of corn is making the stuff too expensive, the financial gurus claimed it would be cut by the cereal-maker in 2012. As a lover of cold cereal, I was more than a little distressed by this. I refuse to believe it, but if it did happen, I would still lay the blame on the trend of the late 70s when the word "sugar" was removed from cereal names. Hey, it was Kellogg's Sugar Pops. for years before the word police hushed all the sugar talk and pointed to corn. Sugar became a bad thing at that point when previously it was a selling point.

In 1949, Post put out a product called Sugar Crisp. With it, was a mascot who represented the cereal. He was simply named Sugar Bear. And Sugar Bear was on the cereal boxes and in the commercials. When the name was changed to Super Sugar Crisp in the 60s (because un-super sugar is nowhere near as wonderful as super sugar), Sugar Bear used to sing, "Can't get enough of Super Sugar Crisp." But when the sugar-haters got their way, these sugar-coated puffs of wheat became Super Golden Crisp, and eventually the 'super' was dropped (since super golden isn't all that special). Interestingly, the bear is still in some of the advertising and is still named Sugar Bear. Sugar is good enough for animals, but not for the breakfast table, I guess.

But I'll be honest. When the cereal was called Sugar Crisp, it was 50 percent sugar! That's right, half of it was sugar. It still is 50 percent sugar, as is it's Kellogg's cousin, Honey Smacks. Yes, Honey Smacks used to be Sugar Smacks. Kellogg's and Post need to keep up with one another, you know.

It's a shame that sugar takes such a bad rap. Sure, you don't want to overdose on sugar, but it isn't to be completely avoided. Over the past couple of years, the southern favorite sweet tea has become popular all over the country, even up here in Yankee states. What's so special about sweet tea? Well, there are all kinds of answers, but the correct response is obvious. SUGAR!

Sugar is a carbohydrate, and our bodies need carbohydrates. Sugar is tasty, and as Mary Poppins tried to tell everyone, just a spoonful of the white granular stuff will indeed help the icky-tasting medicine go down. There is a point to using real sugar. Meanwhile, how many sugar substitutes have been blacklisted by well-meaning agencies as being bad for you? I remember cyclamates. I've read about dulcin and P-4000, neither of which could be sold after 1950. And there are all sorts of claims about the problems with saccharin and aspartame and neotame and other stuff that I can't spell. If I'm going to eat something with warning labels, it might as well be the real thing.

So, with an eye on the traditional Independence Day picnic, I won't be sprinkling anything out of a pink, blue or yellow packet onto fresh fruit. I refuse to have a slice of sugar-free pie. And I may just take a black marker to a box of Corn Pops and label the thing correctly.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Criminal Masterminds Aplenty

Back when I was a radio star (meaning: I had at least two fans), I used to do a feature called Stupid Criminal of the Week. During that time, I would highlight the exploits of someone who didn't think that big effort at crime all the way through. You know, like the bank robber who wrote the holdup note on the back of one of his own deposit slips with his name and address printed right there, or the guy who broke into a home and fell asleep on the couch. People like that. They were the highlight of my week.

This was back in the 1980s, when information wasn't nearly as plentiful as now when the Information Superhighway opened for business. So, these stories were occasional, cute and out-of-the-ordinary. Then, I started finding more and more, and most weeks there was not only a winner, but a runner-up, and sometimes an honorable mention in the contest to take the weekly prize. Soon, the award became the Stupid Criminal of the Day. Today, there is information flying around in digital form at breakneck speed, and it is hard to keep up with some of the lame-brained moves of certain people on the other side of the law. So I thought I'd make you feel a little better about yourself today.

There's the guy around Buffalo, New York who was riding around on the Interstate with the upper half of his body sticking out of the sunroof of the car. (I'm assuming he wasn't driving, although the account really doesn't rule that out.) Anyway, when the state police trooper pulled up behind the car and turned on the flashing lights, the dude in the sunroof found he had another problem. He had a bag of pot that he didn't want to be caught holding, so he decided to ditch the drugs by throwing it over his shoulder as the car was pulling over. The baggie of marijuana flew through the air and landed on the hood of the state police cruiser. He was charged with possession of drugs and not wearing a seatbelt. A more intelligent criminal would have kept his upper torso and head inside the car.

Or how about the three guys (note: it took three persons to be this stupid) who walked into a doughnut shop with knifes and hatchets and wanted the money from the store. It didn't take long for one of the trio of geniuses to notice a paper bag with a lump inside sitting in one of the workers' opened purses. The three grabbed the bag and took off, figuring they had just made off with the day's receipts from the cash drawer which was ready to be taken to the bank. Sometime later, they opened the bag to see how much dough they had stolen only to find that it was really dough. Fried dough. Doughnuts, to be precise. Apparently one of the workers was going to take a few crullers home at the end of the day, but the robbers grabbed the goods instead of the loot. Always check your order before you leave -- that works for robberies and for getting food from a drive-through window.

That reminded me of a case where a guy walked into a doughnut shop (doughnut shops obviously attract all kinds of people) and slipped the clerk a note that said he had a gun and a bomb and would use both if he didn't get the cash. Then the robber reached over the counter and grabbed the cash register and took off running out of the shop... only it wasn't the cash register. Mr. Holdup had grabbed a large adding machine that had no cash drawer. Instead of a drawer full of money, he had an outdated piece of office equipment. Sheer brilliance.

Police officers have always told me that criminals are not the smartest bunch in the world, which is fine by them because that quality makes them easier to catch. And with some of these idiots, it's like shooting fish in a barrel.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Live in concert

I'm one of those people who really likes to have a tune playing in the background or the foreground while I work or drive or eat, so music is important to me. It's been that way as long as I remember. I grew up with a limited variety -- mostly whatever was on WOWO radio, but by the time music hit the FM band (that's right, kids, AM used to be the place for music!) there was a little more variety than just “safe” pop songs and the so-called beautiful music versions of “safe” pop songs. In subsequent years I discovered at least 153 different varieties of rock music, as well as country, jazz, blues, big band, electronic, bluegrass, reggae, and a few other genres that escape me at the moment. And for the most part, I can appreciate most any type of music. The orchestral majesty of classical music can truly inspire. The rhythmic poetry of rap can actually get me moving. And the sound of a mariachi band can really make me hungry. Yes, it usually comes back to food!

But I was thinking about all this as I looked through the upcoming performance schedule at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center. This city is blessed to have so many chances to hear good music. Besides the impressive list of talent that will be showing up at that magnificent venue, we are also treated to other shows. Visionary Promotions put on a string of great shows over the past couple of years with some lesser-known, but just-as-talented performers. Local and regional bands take to various stages around the area. It's a wonderful thing to have a musical soundtrack while remaining in this area.

I was reading on the Internet of the memories of some locals who were thinking back on some of the concerts they had seen right here in Van Wert. In 1966, the Kingsmen (”Louie Louie”) and Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon (Palisades Park) each held shows at the Junior Fair Building at the Van Wert County Fairgrounds. That one stunned me. I realize that the music industry has changed a great deal in the past 40-plus years, but that still seems like quite the coup for this little town. I think the modern equivalent might be having a Ke$ha concert (Adults, have a kid explain Ke$ha to you) at the Junior Fair Building. Just can't see it happening!

There have also been plenty of great shows as part of the Van Wert County Fair over the years. I am half-amused and half-saddened when I hear people give their suggestions of who they want to see at the fair. Usually the acts are far too pricey or far too pickey to play in front of the local grandstand, but somehow that thought never occurs to these helpful suggestors. I would like to see the Rolling Stones without having to drive three hours too, but I can't see Mick and the boys playing the fair. Besides, at their ages, the Stones would probably have to wear some sort of air filtration system to keep the racetrack dust from bringing them to their knees.

I've attended some great concerts over the years. It started with a Pat Benatar show in Fort Wayne in late 70s, and moved through all sorts of shows, including the good and the bad. My wife of 22 years (today) once refused to attend a John Mellencamp show with me because she wanted to change into “concert clothes,” whatever that means. While I can say I saw Bruce Springsteen, George Strait and Michael Jackson in large arena shows, I also sat through Air Supply and the immensely forgettable Jack Wagner. (The latter two I was actually paid to attend. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

These days, I like seeing musicians of all types sharing their craft with an audience. Be it a Southern Gospel quartet or a guy with a guitar and a fistful of songs, there's nothing like live music. So I encourage local folks to take advantage of the numerous shows around the area this year, even if the music isn't usually your taste. Unless it's Jack Wagner. Then you have my permission to go home and sing yourself to sleep.

Monday, June 13, 2011

An embarrassing job, but someone's gotta do it

As the father of three, it has been my privilege, nay my honor, to in fact fulfill the duties of parenthood. Offering instruction and correction, providing for them, hauling them to various and sundry sporting events and activities -- yes, the previous two decades or so have been packed full of trying to live up to what a father should be. One area where I think I could have been better was in the necessary realm of embarrassing my kids in front of their friends. I just haven't done enough.

I wasn't the parent at the little league games screaming at my boys to “just hit the ball” or the one dragging out baby photos when my son started bringing dates home. I haven't attended school dances only to join in when “Solja Boy” gets played. Quite frankly, I'm a failure in this area. But I have a new hero.

His name is Dale Price. Dale found out this year that his 16-year-old son's bus route had changed at the beginning of the school year, and that each school day, his boy would ride past the house once again. So Dale took action. He decided he would stand outside the house and wave at the bus when it went by. Every day. Oh, but not just that. That wouldn't be embarrassing enough. This is the part that makes Dale my new hero. For each of the 170 days his son rode the bus to school, Dale dressed for the occasion. On the second day, he stood outside in a San Diego Chargers helmet and jersey waving to the bus. On the third day, he donned an Anakin Skywalker helmet. The next day it was swim trunks and a snorkel. You're starting to get the picture now, right? For 170 days, Dale didn't reuse a costume, taking on identities as varied as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz to Ariel of The Little Mermaid. He wore bunny costumes, cowboy gear, an orange prison jumpsuit, and even a lampshade, all in the name of embarrassing his teenage son. Bravo, Sir Dale! Bravo!

I was also amazed that Dale spent less than $50 for the costumes and props. Most were borrowed. He pointed out that it's amazing what your neighbors have in their closets. I'd rather not ask. You can see pictures from each day of the odyssey at if you need some ideas for possibly creating some red faces in your own family.

Have you seen the Toyota commercial where the cool kid is next to the unfortunate kid at a stoplight? The poor embarrassed boy tells his friend, “They've been singing the same song for the last three hours!” Cut to Mom and Dad loudly indulging in another chorus of “Angel of the Morning” as the boy continues to cringe. That's some fine work, right there.

But let's be realistic: Some kids are embarrassed just by the mere existence of parents. They like to think of themselves as independent agents -- in their 20s with their own place and lifestyle, not as dependent on people who are, well, OLD! And the thought that these parents were once kids too, engaged in stuff that would get them in trouble, well, that is almost too much to bear.

I think I have been relatively unembarrassing for my kids. Now, they may well argue that point. I am who I am, but I have resisted the urge to purposely find ways to cause them to slink down in their seats. Perhaps that means I have fallen down in my parental duties. I would have likely been mortified if my friends had to listen to my Dad sing, “I'm an Old Cowhand (From the Rio Grande)” as we rode along, but he was usually considerate along those lines.

And I have a hunch that Dale's 16-year-old son has come to appreciate his Dad over the past 170 mornings on the bus. Not everyone's parent cares enough to do something, no matter how foolish, for him every school day for a year. And I'm sure the kids on the bus got more than a good chuckle seeing Dale dressed as a pirate or a house painter or a superhero each day. I'm betting the kid got a few chuckles himself as well. So maybe embarrassment isn't such a horrible thing for a teenager. And so perhaps I'll accompany my daughter to her first day of fourth grade next year wearing a hula skirt, singing, “I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.” Do you think she'll mind?

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Celebrating June. All of it.

It's June. Finally. We've lived through five months of this year, turned the corner and turned up the air conditioning. That's right, June. It's the month when summer begins officially (June 20) and unofficially (whenever school lets out). But June is more than just the month when we joyfully finally put those winter coats and hats away half-expecting to have to retrieve them again in a week or so. (This is the midwest, after all!) But there are actual celebrations this month that we certainly should not miss.

According to the never-wrong Internet, June is National Safety Month. Celebrating National Safety Month must surely be boring. I mean, surely we should all be wearing a helmet. No wind blowing through your hair (or in my case, my scalp), put on a helmet and observe all safety instructions. That means check out the warnings on that new hair dryer you just bought so you'll know not to use it while sleeping or while in the shower. If you wish you can try to figure out why someone would think about using a DRYER while they are getting WET. I'll just skip National Safety Month. And I know that's probably a bad idea because June is also Hernia Awareness Month, and maybe if I had been more safety-minded, I wouldn't have that hernia! I'll just wrap myself in bubble wrap. At least that way I'll have something to do since there will always be more bubbles to pop!

June is also National Scleroderma Awareness Month. I'm guessing this is the first time for this celebration or else Headquarters hasn't done much of a job making me aware of scleroderma up to this time. For the record, I looked it up and scleroderma is a chronic connective tissue disease. There. Now we're both somewhat aware.

This month is also National Camping Month and Great Outdoors Month. Now, there's cooperation! Someone was thinking ahead to get them both the same month. Unless of course your idea of camping is using sheets with a thread count of less than 450. Then you're on your own.

Other grand celebrations set for June include National Headache Awareness Week (June 5-11). Personally, when I have a headache, I'm pretty much aware of it. Also National Mosquito Control Awareness Week comes up June 26 - July 1, and if it helps the fight, I'm in! I'm thinking no-pest strips instead of crepe paper streamers. June 21 is Baby Boomers Recognition Day and National Daylight Appreciation Day. Both parties are sure to be long ones since that day is the longest day of the year. Hope the refreshments hold out! The month finishes with National Prevention of Eye Injuries Awareness Week (June 27 - July 4). My nomination for a party activity is to practice the Three Stooges Eye Gouge Block -- you know, place your flattened hand edgewise along your nose so the two-fingered eye poke cannot reach your pupils. That of course ties right in with the National Safety Month Celebration which is already going on. My other suggestion is to somehow use a recording of Ralphie's mother from A Christmas Story saying, "You'll shoot your eye out with that thing!" I'm still working on how to fit that in.

But my two favorite parties this month will be the ones celebrating National Accordion Awareness Month and Goat Trauma Awareness Month. Two two, like all the others I've mentioned, are legitimate observances according to various places on the world wide web. I found out about the accordion month designation by stumbling across the website, named for the most popular song ever played on the accordion (which is a little bit like being the tallest cockroach). At that site I found this impressive claim: "A blue-ribbon panel of experts recently named the accordion as the instrument most likely to put a smile on your face." Somebody needs to repossess those blue ribbons.

The other observance was found at the website belonging to the Childhood Goat Trauma Foundation. That group is hosting a whirlwind tour of several U.S. cities with special programs dealing with avoiding goat trauma and what to do if you are a victim of goat trauma at someplace like a petting zoo. The website states "Counselors will be on hand to help anyone who has already been a victim." I never considered being a goat trauma counselor for a career choice, but I guess there's a call for them.

It's June. Enjoy yourself, however you choose to celebrate.