Ask Dr. Babooner

Dear Dr. Babooner,

I’m not a mean person, and I love animals. I really do. The thing that got to me about our little dog Rockne is that he was, well, obnoxious. His original name was Mr. Fluffs but we re-named him after we realized he was going to be a loud, persistent, yappy pest. Calling him “Rockne” was part of our private joke. We live on a banana plantation in southern Florida and he absolutely loved the fruit. So whenever one of us went into the yard the other invariably said “Go out there and skin one for the yipper.”

I guess you had to be there.

Anyway, Rockne’s vocalizing would come in waves. Sometimes he’d be quiet for almost a day, and then the following week he’d go at it non-stop. What really grated on my nerves was when he would go off while we were in the car. Something about the enclosed space magnified his yip, yip, yip, yip, yip, and it didn’t help that he simply couldn’t abide the site of a jogger. Something in his worldview totally rejected the concept of a human being in a designer sweatsuit, running.

And we saw lots of them. Weird, I know. You’d think people wouldn’t have to lift a finger, much less a foot, to break a sweat in south Florida. But run they did, and Rockne let ’em have it every time we spied someone chugging down the road. The sound inside the car was excruciating. Finally one day I stopped to let the jogger go by before opening the door and telling Rockne to get out and chase her. It was a foolish, spiteful move. I figured he would run for a short distance, wear himself out, think better of his compulsion, and that would be the end of that. No more barking at people along the road. I was counting on the day’s high heat and humidity to drive home the point.

I’ll never forget it – just before he sprang out of the car, Rockne gave me a long, last look. There was something potent in it. Not reproachful, just … accepting and maybe a little judgmental. But it was profound. And then he was gone.

He skittered off after the jogger just as fast as his little legs would carry him, but before he got close enough to catch her he quite suddenly veered into the underbrush and disappeared into what I then realized was The Everglades.

I was kind of heartbroken. I mean, on a certain level I was happy to be rid of him, but on the other hand I realized he probably couldn’t survive out there. I mean, the Everglades has bobcats! Not to mention crocodiles AND alligators! My wife was deeply ticked off – this was six months ago and she still won’t speak to me. And now today I see THIS!

Apparently Burmese Pythons are killing just about everything in the Everglades. My only hope is that Rockne managed, through some unexpected combination of wisdom, yappy persistence and canine guile, to convince the pythons that they were brethren, and rather than lunch he became King of the Released Pet Nation.

Otherwise, I’m feeling really, really guilty right now. But should I?

Remorseful About The Fate I’ll Never Know

I told R.A.T.F.I.N.K. he should absolutely feel remorse. Putting any creature out of the car within shouting distance of the Everglades ought to be a crime, but especially a tempting morsel like Mr. Fluffs (or Rockne, if you must). But I would not comfort myself with the thought that your dog somehow became King of the Pythons. That would not be a good development for you. Just in case, you should stay far, far away from the swamp.

But that’s just one opinion. What do YOU think, Dr. Babooner?

Book Worm

Here’s a note from perennial sophomore Bubby Spamden. And as usual, he needs last minute help with an assignment for some activity he’s in at Wendell Wilkie High School. But I don’t mind the last-minute, panicky attention. I’m flattered that he thought to ask.

Hey Mr. C.,

On Friday we got a assignment from Ms. Filcher – she’s the faculty advisor for our Young Moguls Club.

She gave us until this afternoon after school to come up with a business plan to save the publishing industry, which is going to disappear, if Barnes & Noble goes out of business.
Or so they say.

I remember going into Barnes & Noble when I was a little kid. We would head over to the children’s section and I had a great time pointing at stuff and begging mom and dad to buy me more than they had planned on. I was always able to come away with two or three extra books that I HAD to have – all because the folks thought it would help my education. Who woulda guessed I’d get stuck in 10th grade for, like, 20 years! Maybe it woulda turned out different if I’d read those books I went to so much trouble throwing fits to get, but reading a whole book takes time, and I just liked having ’em. They pile real nice and are a great material for building forts!

Anyhow, now I have to come up with a plan to save the publishing industry. I guess the thing about Barnes and Noble is that they’ve gone in whole hog to the e-book idea, selling their Nook e-reader in the store and trying to stay important in the book business all the way until some future time when there aren’t any, y’know, books.

Like, maybe, five years from now.

Anyway, I was hoping your blog people could tell me which one of my ideas I should present to Ms. Filcher when she asks for our plans. Here they are:

Plan 1: Barnes & Noble should give every high school sophomore in the U.S. a FREE Nook e-reader! Seriously, nobody in our generation is going to shell out money for this thing, ’cause we’ve all got computers and cell phones and our parents are on us to keep the costs down as it is. So give us free Nooks instead and who knows? Maybe we’ll use them. Or maybe we ‘ll sell them to our grandparents. Either way … Barnes & Noble would be helping the youth of today get a foothold in the economy of tomorrow!

Plan 2: Barnes & Noble should come out with a special e-reader for my age group with a name that really connects us to the kind of reading we do. I’m thinking they should call it the “Cram”.

Plan 3: Buy the company, fire everybody, sell the inventory, the fixtures and the stores, and run for president.

I’m pretty sure one of these answers will get me an “A”, but since Ms. Filcher is a lot closer to your age than mine, I was hoping you could help me decide!

I’m about the worst person in the world to ask for help with a business plan, but I have to admit I gave Bubby extra points for #3. So, how should he save the publishing industry?

Choose one of his options, or make up your own!

Let Me Call You Sweetheart

Today’s guest post comes from Beth Ann.

There are an amazing number of performances of “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” to be found on YouTube. Everyone from Alfalfa to Patti Page and from Kate Smith to the Mills Brothers join in on this schmaltziest of schmaltz. Beyond the chorus there are enough different verses for it to qualify as a folk song.

Now the folks at Minnesota Community Sings are asking us to add more versions. They are sponsoring a sing-along in collaboration with Dan Chouinard to benefit Minnesotans United for All Families The group is organizing a No vote on the Marriage Amendment to Minnesota’s constitution.

The lyric writing contest is described as follows:

You are invited to write your own lyrics to the chorus tune of “Let me call you sweetheart.” Make it funny or heartfelt – write words that can be sung at the state capitol or in the Pride parade – lay on the schmaltz or give us your most acerbic wit. Our judges will choose several finalists whose lyrics will be sung by everyone at the Feb. 18 event. Winners will receive the accolades of the crowd and the best lyrics will doubtless be used at rallies and gatherings forevermore.

When I saw the contest it seemed to be right up the baboon alley. I would like to challenge all devotees of schmaltz, acerbic wit, and rhyme here on the trail to write a rainbow version of “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” from this template:

Let me call you sweetheart, I’m in love with you
Let me hear you whisper that you love me too
Keep the lovelight glowing in your eyes so blue
Let me call you sweetheart, I’m in love with you.

Come on baboons! The future of love songs is in your hands.

The Sound of Two Lips Flapping

One of my self-educational hobby projects last year involved recording an audio book. I’ve done a lot of on-microphone reading of silly things I’ve written, but taking on the task of narrating someone else’s book was a job I found both intriguing and intimidating. Could I pull it off? I wasn’t sure, so I had to give it a try.

The opportunity arrived through a website called the Audiobook Creation Exchange, or This is a clearinghouse that connects narrators, producers and publishers.
A friend in the business told me ACX was the place projects go when the original publisher realizes the volume won’t be a big seller as an audio book. Rather than go to the expense of hiring a professional narrator and paying for studio time and editing, they farm it out to some guy between jobs who is arrogant enough to think he can do a passable job on a complicated project simply by setting up a microphone in his closet.

So I set up a microphone in my closet.

One key early decision – I knew I couldn’t do the different voices and the acting necessary to narrate a work of fiction. What I needed was a book that would do well to be read in a calm midwestern style by someone who is steady and not at all flamboyant. There aren’t a lot of books like that, but I auditioned for them and was offered one that lined up perfectly with my interests – “Morning Miracle: Inside the Washington Post – A Great Newspaper Fights For Its Life.”

I figured if I could just manage to get paid by the word, it was a good start to be assigned a book that has three titles.

It turns out the pay was gauged by the finished hour, and all told the reading is a little over nine hours long. That’s not a Harry Potter sized project, but nine hours is still quite a stretch. Imagine if you started talking and went non-stop until nine hours from now. It’s the closest I’ll ever come to knowing what it feels like to be a U.S. Senator during a filibuster. But of course I didn’t read the book that way. It was start and stop and start and stop and check a name pronunciation and start and stop and take a drink of water and so on and so on and so on. That can be tedious.

But it wasn’t the reading that did me in, it was the editing. My finished nine hours probably took over eighty to record and edit. I’ve never been accused of working quickly.

One thing recording an audio book teaches you – your mouth is disgusting. Really, really repulsive. The variety of grotesque noises that can emerge over the course of a lengthy passage are mortifying. As an act of mercy towards anyone who might listen, I had to edit out all the pops, smacks, gurgles and slurps and then I had to cut out most of the breaths. ACX says removing breaths is not required unless your gasps call undue attention to themselves, and this judgement is somewhat in the ear of the beholder. I considered my breaths to be so wheezy and ugly, they simply had to come out. So I hope nobody downloads this audio book with the thought that they will immerse themselves in it to the point where they breathe in synch with the narrator. I could wind up having a terrible problem in court.

I’m not kidding about the closet, by the way. I padded it with blankets and chunks of foam, and for a screen to soften the way my plosives hit the microphone, I stretched one of my wife’s nylons over a wire clothes hanger. I know that’s not the way they do it in the professional studios in New York, but I’d like to think it gave the project an aura of Midwestern grounded-ness.

What sort of writing do you like to read out loud?

Truth in Labeling

I bought some sliced mushrooms the other day.

I prefer to buy my mushrooms in bulk since I use just a couple at a time in salads or as a pizza topping, but my grocery store only had the pre-packaged kind that day. Even then, I typically buy whole mushrooms, but I was in a hurry and since I knew I’d have to spend a little time brushing dirt of the fungi, I decided to see if any of the factory-packaged mushrooms were also machine washed.

That’s when I saw the answer to a lazy man’s prayers – Giorgio’s Fresh ‘n Clean brand ‘shrooms. Perfect! No buffing needed, just tear open the plastic and eat ’em by the handful, right? At least that’s what I planned to do, until I noticed the fine print.

Though these sliced delicacies were nestled together under a label that boasted they were “Fresh ‘n Clean,” the advisory in much smaller print said “Best to Wash All Produce Before Using.” So … what does “Fresh ‘n Clean” mean? Isn’t that a promise? And if not, what is it? Marketing language? Perhaps the old name, “Fresh and Dirt Caked” just wasn’t resonating with the shoppers at Cub. And now I was questioning the “Fresh” part too.

Soon, the small print had me completely paralyzed. What do they mean that it’s “best” to wash “all” produce? All produce in sight, or just the stuff in this package? And what if I didn’t? The advisory didn’t say it was “Necessary” to wash the mushrooms, or “Important” or even “Suggested”. It’s just … “best”. Maybe that slightly earthy just-off-the-conveyor-belt flavor is good enough.

But wouldn’t you know it … I washed them anyway. Because I always do what I’m told and I always want things to be at their “best”.

Do you obey labels and signs?

State of the Bunion Address

It’s time once again for that annual address by Congressman Loomis Beechly of the 9th District, representing all the water surface area of the State of Minnesota.

Greetings Constituents!

Each year around this time I make a speech where I try my darndest to sound like I’m giving you an honest overview of how things are going in the 9th District. And I’m here to tell you that the district is solid, just the way all water surfaces should be at the end of January!

Some gloomy negative-thinkers will say that our solidity is just barely there, that there is a lot more open water than usual and silver carp and zebra mussels are gaining ground every year. But I can’t agree with that. Because we all know there are things you don’t want to hear, and it’s up to me to remember NOT say those things out loud, even if I happen to be thinking them. Over-sharing is a terrible social error, and at times I have been accused of providing Too Much Information. This year is no different. I have a whole list of stuff I’m not going to mention to you now. If I sound a little loopy it’s not that I’ve been drinking. It’s just that I’m biting my tongue. A lot.

Some have said there’s a kind of disengagement going on, where people are too focused on their own personal problems at the expense of meeting our shared challenges, and that this widespread self-indulgent pettiness is the cause of many of our current problems. But I know you don’t want to hear about selfishness, especially not your own. And anyway, I don’t think you’re self absorbed at all. And I know it will make you happy to hear that I’ve been thinking about you so much.

One other thing that’s been on my mind pretty much non-stop that I definitely don’t want to talk about is weird thing going on with my right foot. My big toe has turned inwards and is rubbing up against all the other toes. It’s like looking at a line of plump, misshapen dominos. One irritates the other and the other and the other, right on down the line. The doctor says I have a bunion. All I know is this – I used to have toes that lined up nice and worked together. Everybody knew their role. This Little Piggy went to market, this Little Piggy stayed home, and so forth. Now they all want to have roast beef and they’re climbing all over each other and it looks like a rugby scrum inside my shoe.

But I’m not going to talk about that. I’m here to tell you that in spite of the murmurings, everything is fundamentally O.K.. And even though I’m limping a little bit I’m pretty sure that I could beat anyone who challenged me to a footrace, because I have the greatest feet the world has ever known. Even though the big toe thinks the little toes are useless, and the little toes think the big one is a greedy, self important stinker. But really, the brutal truth is that none of them smell too good.

I’ve said too much.

So if anyone should ask, my message to you is that The State of the Bunion is good, and strong, and super-powerful, and a lot of other positive words that may or may not really apply. And if anyone tells you otherwise, and that person is running for office, please tell them to run against me because they obviously have no idea what people want to hear!

Thanks for your attention, and God Bless the 9th District!

I have no idea what that was really about, but it read like a serious speech and it took up a lot of time, so I’ll have to concede that Mr. Beechly appears to be doing his job. But I am a bit worried about that bunion.

How do you feel about your feet?

A Space Weather Sunnet

Aside from an unfortunate scarcity of a few minor items like jobs, money, and political civility, we enjoy a great abundance of just about everything else.

Just think of all the things that surround us in much larger numbers than we could ever need –

Medical Syndromes
Goldilocks Planets
Electronic Devices
Sports Stadiums
Coffee Shops
Things to Worry About

And on the “worries” front, there’s a fresh new ulcer maker in the news today – an unsettling universal calamity, so to speak – Bad Space Weather.

Haven’t checked the Space Weather today? You thought the cold and icy slush close to ground was enough to temper your enthusiasm? There’s more! This morning we’ll experience the effects of a massive solar storm with a tsunami wave of charged solar particles washing over the Earth at around 8 am central time, all the result of a Coronal Mass Ejection that happened on Sunday. Whats in a Coronal Mass Ejection? All sorts of bad, radioactive stuff that will amp up the northern lights but won’t get down to our level, thanks to our planet’s natural defenses.

Which doesn’t mean we can’t go into a tizzy over it, especially since we’re in a lull between incessant coverage of Republican primaries. But in spite of the occasional alarms that go out, Space Weather just doesn’t seem as immediate as stuff that’s closer to the skin. If only the great poets would romanticize it, perhaps Space Weather would seem more real.

With sincere apologies to Shakespeare, and anyone who loves him:

Shall I compare thee to a solar flare?
Thou art more lovely and less violent
Solar winds may tilt Earth’s elastic air,
Gaudy northern lights, while bright, are silent:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion blotched;
And whilst he rises and too soon declines,
He cannot ever be directly watched.
But thy eternal visage may be seen
With all thy bling and fancy articles
By naked eyes alone, without sunscreen
or visors to deflect charged particles.
Looks that thrill direct or in reflections
Outshining Coronal Mass Ejections

Does it make sense to worry about the sun?