My Depression, and the Grocery Stores that Cause It

A democracy is only as strong as its people are smart.

And that’s why grocery shopping depresses me.

You see, Staci hands me a big list every Sunday and I go and get the things on the list.  I view it as a scavenger hunt, so that part’s not depressing.

The depressing part is the checkout stand.

I don’t know much about retail, but I know that the area immediately adjacent to the register is the most valuable real estate in the store, because that is where people make their impulse buys.  So stores need to fill it with stuff that is sure to sell.

So each week I stare at that space.

And that’s where I get sad.

Because what people are buying is telling them the following:

Jessica Simpson is on the verge of a nervous breakdown because something ate her poodle.

George W. Bush is suicidal.

Whitney is exploding at Oprah.

And a photographer hid in the bushes to catch a dying Patrick Swayze as he left the hospital for the last time.

And those were just the periodicals.

On the right of me was all the food that has caused our current health care crisis.

So the things that sell best are the things that make us fat and the things that make us stupid.

The day I’ll be optimistic will be the day that there are impulse apples on the left of me, and F. Scott Fitzgerald books on the right of me.

Until then, we’ll get the government we deserve.

Love Thy Neighbor, But Don’t Sit Near Them

I’m going to church this morning.

Whenever I go to church, I try to sit in the far back, where nobody else is sitting .

Then I listen for an hour as the priest talks about the importance of loving your neighbor.  I nod my head.

As he talks, people sit near me.  They chat.  So I get up and move.  Then I listen to the importance of loving your neighbor again.

As I try to focus on loving one’s neighbor, another one of these idiot neighbors sits right next to me.  He smells like he bathed in cologne.  So I scoot down the pew.

I listen again.  I nod my head.  A couple with a young kid sits next to me.  The kid pulls the hymn books out of the pew and throws them down.  They laugh.  I move.

By the end of the service, I’m in complete agreement with everything the priest has said.  And I’ve moved seats four times to avoid all of the morons around me.

I see no inconsistency in any of this.

God only says to love one’s neighbor.

He says nothing about having to like them.

A Cartoonish Prank Gone Awry, or, How I Came to Own a Danielle Steel Novel

Went to a bookstore yesterday to sign Pearls books.

I took a stack of books to the counter.  The clerks were busy with other customers.

So I did something I’ve never done before.  I started signing them without asking.

I didn’t have my ID on me, but I figured if someone did ask, I could always point to my photo on the cover of either “Pearls Sells Out” or “The Crass Menagerie.”

But no one asked.  The clerks didn’t care.  Even after they finished with their customers, they said nothing to me.  They just talked to each other.  That was bad.

Bad because it encouraged me.

Because halfway through the stack, I saw that one of the books I grabbed from the shelf was not a Pearls book.  It was a Calvin and Hobbes.

I looked up at the clerks.  They still weren’t paying attention to me.

So I signed the Calvin and Hobbes book.

Wasn’t sure how Watterson liked to sign his books, so I had to use my discretion.  I chose to make him touchy-feely.

“All my love, Bill Watterson,” I wrote.

I had to return to the humor section to get more Pearls books.  As I did, I paused.  What would stop me from signing any book I wanted to?

So as I laid the next stack of Pearls books on the counter, it included one additional book.

A novel by Danielle Steel.

I opened the front cover.  I looked up at the distracted clerks.

And took Sharpee to paper.  With gusto.

“I hope you enjoy this work half as much as I enjoyed writing it…A thousand kisses, Danielle Steel.”  I sketched a huge heart and a big smiley face.

The rush was overwhelming.

I had now signed a book by both a man and a woman.  Neither of whom were me.

But both were still living.  And that provided a bit of protection.  Because I told myself that if I was caught signing the Calvin and Hobbes book, I would claim to be Bill Watterson.  And I told myself that if I was caught signing the Danielle Steel book, I would say she was my aunt, and that she liked me to go around to bookstores doing this.

So I needed a new challenge.

Someone dead.

I grabbed a book by Edgar Allan Poe.

I took it to the counter.  I took out my pen.

I heard a voice.

“Can I help you?”

It was the once-distracted clerk.   He was now undistracted.  He was now staring down at what I had written in the Poe book.  So far it said, “Best Wishes…”

“Yes,” I said, thinking as fast as I could.  “I’d like to purchase this.”

“Is there a reason you’re writing in it?”

Good question, I thought.

“It’s a gift for my niece.  I like to inscribe the books I buy for her.”

To prove my point, I signed my name and added, “P.S.  Happy birthday!”

Fortunately for my alibi, I had not yet signed “All my love, Edgar Allan Poe.”

The clerk then noticed the stack of Pearls books.

“Are you buying these too?”

“No,” I said, “I’m the guy who does that comic strip.  So I signed the books.”

“Oh.  Okay,” he said, thoroughly unimpressed.  Fortunately for me, he didn’t notice the Watterson book sandwiched in between.

“So you just want the Poe book?”

“Yeah,” I said, happy to escape with just having to buy this one book.  Oblivious to the one mistake I had made.  The one mistake that the clerk was now staring at.

“And what about this Danielle Steel book?”

Panicked, I pressed my hand on the top of it, to keep him from opening the front cover.

And then I uttered a string of words I never thought I’d say about a Danielle Steel novel.

“I’d like to buy that too.”

The Importance of Hanging Up Phones

Some people want to know who killed JFK.

I want to know why the standard cell phone message recording includes this line:

“When you’re finished recording, please hang up.”

If you’re at a point in your life when you don’t know to hang up the phone after you’re done with a phone call, you have bigger problems than your phone.

Who are these people that need that level of instruction?  And how did they cope in the days before the warning?

I can only assume it was once like this:

“Hey, Bob, how you doing?  Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t notice you were on the phone.”

“I’m not, really.”

“What are you doing?”

“Just leaving someone a message.”

“But you’re not saying anything.”

“I finished the message.”

“When did you finish?”

“Three days ago.”

I can only assume Bob went on to sue his cell phone company and win millions of dollars.

I assume he is also the reason my stove warns me that stoves can be hot and why my ladder warns me that falling can hurt.

I assume he is also the reason for my favorite of all warnings — the one on the back of the hotel room door that says to NOT panic in case of an emergency.  I’ve always wondered who that helps.

“BOB!  BOB!  THE HOTEL IS ON FIRE!!!  WHAT DO WE DO!!!”

“WE SHOULD F$%#ING PANIC IS WHAT WE SHOULD DO!!!”

“YOU’RE RIGHT.  AUGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHH!!  WE’RE GONNA DIE!!!!”

“Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa.”

“What is it, Bob?”

“Well, baby, you’re not gonna believe this, but I was just reading the back of the hotel room door here, and it says to ‘NOT panic.'”

“NOT panic?”

“Not panic.  Says here it’s not helpful.”

“Then what are we supposed to do?”

“We could use my cell to call someone for help.  But….”

“But what, Bob??”

“That could take a few days.”

Fun with the Yellow Pages

When I was bored as an attorney, I used to pull out the yellow pages and make crank calls.

One of them was to a business named, “Haircuts, Haircuts, Haircuts.”

I told them that I was the owner of “Haircuts, Haircuts, Haircuts, Haircuts” and that their name was causing confusion.  I asked to talk to their owner.

They handed her the phone.

“Yeah, what’s your problem?” she asked.

“Your name.  ‘Haircuts, Haircuts, Haircuts.’  It’s too close to mine,  ‘Haircuts, Haircuts, Haircuts, Haircuts.'”

“I’ve owned this business twenty years,” she said.

“I’ve owned mine twenty-two,” I said.

“So what’s the problem?” she asked.

“You’re confusing customers.  Some of my customers go to your ‘Haircuts, Haircuts, Haircuts’ thinking they’re at ‘Haircuts, Haircuts, Haircuts, Haircuts.’  It’s very confusing.”

“That’s not confusing,” she said, “They’re two different businesses.”

“You don’t think it’s confusing that I’m ‘Haircuts, Haircuts, Haircuts, Haircuts’ with four ‘Haircuts’ and you’re ‘Haircuts, Haircuts, Haircuts’ with three ‘Haircuts’?”

“No, I think it’s ridiculous,” she said.

“You know what I think?” I said. ” I think you should cut down to two ‘Haircuts,’ and just be ‘Haircuts, Haircuts.'”

At that point, I think my goal was simply to say the word “haircuts” as many times as I could in a five-minute span.

“Yeah, well why don’t YOU change YOUR name?!”  she said, her voice rising.

“Forget that,” I said.  “Because I’d have to add a ‘Haircut.’  Then I’d be ‘Haircuts, Haircuts, Haircuts, Haircuts, Haircuts.’  I could cut customers’ hair faster than they could say my name.”

“Yeah, well you’re the one with the problem,” she said.

“Yeah, well it would be much easier for you to go down a ‘Haircut’ then for me to add a ‘Haircut.’  And besides,” I added, “I’m not gonna change my name.  I like the name, ‘Haircuts, Haircuts, Haircuts.'”

“That’s MY business’ name,” she said, on the verge of exploding.  “You just said you were ‘Haircuts, Haircuts, Haircuts, Haircuts.”

“AHA,” I said, “Look at that.”

“‘Look at what?” she asked.

“You’ve confused even me.”

My Wife, the Weirdo.

Bored in the shower this morning, I decided to talk aloud.

“Shut up,” I said to no one in particular.

“No, you shut up,” I responded.

“No, YOU shut up,” I repeated.

“No, YOU shut up,” I answered.

You could tell things were getting heated.

“Did you just tell me to shut up?” I asked.

“What are you gonna do about it?” I answered.

That’s when I heard a third voice.  I was concerned because it wasn’t one of mine.

“Who are you talking to?” asked my wife Staci.

I looked up.  She was staring at me through the shower door.

“I got into an argument,” I said.

“That’s really strange,” she said.

“What’s strange?” I asked.

“To stand in the shower by yourself and raise your voice,” she said.

“Easy for you to say,” I responded, “You didn’t hear the rude things he was saying to me.”

Staci just stood there.  Silent.

Staring at me through the shower door.

What a weirdo.