Monthly ArchiveFebruary 2013



Commentary 28 Feb 2013 10:09 pm

Don’t shun the pun

A pun, they say, is the lowest form of humor.

Nonetheless, I like and use them whenever I can, much to the chagrin of family, friends (both of them) and students. With the advent of Twitter, I’ve found a whole new forum for wordplay, tweeting puns to the world at large, where they are appreciated, tolerated or reviled. Mostly reviled.

What follows are my favorite puns, shared under the hashtags #VeryPunny, #punny or some combination of the two. If you’d like to add to the collection, please do.

If you’d like to punch me in the face, please don’t.

***

If a man urinates off a cliff, is it then a precipice?

If all my neighbors had boat docks, so I wanted one too, would that be pier pressure?

If a photographer exits a Ford compact car, is he automatically out of Focus?

If a Goodyear employee leaves his job after 40 years but then returns, is he retired?

If it’s acceptable for the author of “The Raven,” would we say it’s apropos?

Abhor — a man who exercises incessantly to sculpt a perfect six-pack.

“Portent” does not equal “poor tent,” unless you’re an inexperienced camper.

If a king issues an order from atop a float, did he just reign on my parade?

If a woman wears a gown that reveals most of her stomach, is she the belly of the ball?

Mandate: Two guys who go together to the movies or a football game.

That turtle is only a shell of his former self.

Did you hear about the con-artist turtle? He was running a shell game.

Why can’t you hear a pterodactyl urinating? Because the P is silent. (Thanks to an AP student for this.)

If Clark Kent’s boss died, would he have no supervision?

***

The following are riffs on a classic novel by William Golding about British schoolboys who revert to savagery on a tropical island:

Baker: Lord of the Pies.

Agent 007: Lord of the Spies

Sumo wrestler: Lord of the Thighs

Justin Bieber: Lord of the Sighs

Lance Armstrong: Lord of the Lies

Clotheshorse: Lord of the Ties

Airplane pilot: Lord of the Skies

Shakespearean actor: Lord of the Fies

McDonald’s employee: Lord of the Fries

***

Have you met Miss Ann Thrope? She hates everybody.

Ducks at recess: Foul play.

Cowardly cats are a bunch of pussies.

The life of the Ferris wheel inventor had its ups and downs.

Student: Mr. Schillig, are you a beaver? Damn!

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

@cschillig on Twitter

Originally published Feb. 28, 2013, in The Alliance Review.

Commentary & Media 21 Feb 2013 07:30 pm

Can I still drive the Popemobile?

POPE BENEDICT CELEBRATES EVENING PRAYER AT VATICAN

Dear College of Cardinals:

I appreciate your interest in having me assume the mantle of pope in the wake of Benedict XVI’s resignation, but I must decline for the following reasons:

1. I’ve been racking my brains to come up with a “pope-ular” name with no success. Apparently I can’t keep Christopher, patron saint of travelers, because pontiffs must always adopt new names (I’m waiting for Pope Super Bowl XLVII, myself) and because church officials took away Christopher’s feast day when I was a baby, allegedly after they discovered he wasn’t a real man and instead was only a legend.

Now, many people refer to my quasi-legendary status already — my wife is fond of saying I’m a legend in my own mind — but it still smarts to know that the guy your parents named you after has been downgraded. This must be how the Planet Formerly Known as Pluto felt when it was relegated to a mere chunk of interstellar debris.

2. I still owe another year on my 2009 Dodge Journey and don’t want to trade it in for a more expensive Popemobile, even though I hear the Official Car of the 21st Century Papacy™ comes with heated leather seats and bulletproof glass. If you could somehow make it submersible, so I could drive underwater, and paint it black like the Batmobile, I might be willing to reconsider.

3. I would have to change my Twitter account. Granted, cschillig has fewer than 300 followers (and most of those are robots or institutions), but I’ve grown fond of it and wouldn’t want to swap for an official Vatican handle, even if it came with the promise of a million-plus followers.

Furthermore, I doubt the Holy See would be too understanding if Pope Schillig started tweeting about movies and comic books. “God bless Quentin Tarantino” would probably get me brought up on heresy charges at worst or grounded from the Popemobile at best

4. I don’t think I could jog very well in a shoulder-to-ankle vestment. Nuff said.

5. I would have to move to Rome and learn a new language, which would take time away from my graduate studies in Pig Latin.

6. I would have to talk to many people who disagree with my message. As a teacher in civilian life, you’d think I would be used to this, but I’m not. And swapping lessons from “no apostrophe in Presidents Day” and “avoid run-on sentences” to “no condoms in Africa,” “no meat on Fridays” and “no women priests” wouldn’t do much for my self-esteem.

7. The thought of carrying a big, ornate shepherd’s crook is tempting. There are a lot of people I’d like to smite in this world, believe me, but nobody takes you seriously when you smite without a big, ornate stick. (That’s why I’m not allowed back in Rite Aid.) Still, I’m afraid that if I had access to one regularly, I’d smite so many people that it would be scandalous.

8. The headgear. Man, the headgear. I mitre get made fun of when I’m out with the guys.

9. My marriage. I would have to get a divorce and an annulment to become pope, which wouldn’t make me very popular with family and friends. Plus, my wife would get half of everything, so you’d have to draw a line down the middle of Vatican City and give her 50 percent. Since VC is already the smallest sovereign nation, I don’t think its residents would appreciate having their living space divided in two, nor would they like seeing the Pope’s things thrown out a window or stacked on the curb. (If they even have curbs in Italy.)

Thanks again for the consideration. When the white smoke flies, I hope maybe you can make room for me in some other capacity. If the new pope needs a court jester or an official driver (especially for that Popemobile), keep me in mind.

Sincerely,

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

@cschillig on Twitter

Originally published Feb. 21, 2013, in The Alliance Review.

Commentary 15 Feb 2013 08:04 am

Dressing down Lincoln

abraham_lincoln_head_on_shoulders_photo_portrait-431x300

Oscar front-runner “Lincoln” came under scrutiny last week for a historical inaccuracy.

The movie, written by Tony Kushner, depicts Lincoln’s fight to pass the 13th Amendment. In the film, two Connecticut congressmen vote against outlawing slavery, making the slim margin by which the measure passes more dramatic.

The problem is that, in real life, all four Connecticut representatives voted for the amendment.

After checking the facts, modern-day Connecticut lawmaker Joe Courtney cried foul in a letter to director Steven Spielberg. Courtney wants the scene changed before the film’s home video release.

Kushner admits that the scene is inaccurate, that he conjured congressmen and bogus voting records from the Nutmeg State (including imaginary names) as part of the “time-honored and completely legitimate standards for the creation of historical drama,” according to a statement in an Associated Press story. He noted that other characters and dialogue in the movie are also fictional.

Kushner isn’t the first screenwriter to take what some see as egregious and unnecessary license with the truth. In 2007, “The Great Debaters” dramatized the victory of an all-black debate team from Wiley College over a Harvard team in the 1930s. In real life, the team won against the University of Southern California. Harvard, after all, sounds much more prestigious. (Sorry, Trojans.)

At the same time that “Lincoln” received a historical dressing-down, Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood,” the 1966 account of a 1959 quadruple murder, came under fire after newly discovered documents revealed that Capote’s depiction of several key actions by the Kansas Bureau of Investigations is inaccurate, putting the lie to the author’s claim that his book was spotlessly true.

The memoir genre — already held to a lower standard of “truthiness” than other non-fiction writing — has been sullied by any number of stretchers and outright lies. The most famous, or infamous, contemporary case is James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces,” which has more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese in its account of the author’s drug abuse and rehabilitation. The publisher now acknowledges it as “a work of literature.”

Maintaining a sharply demarcated line between truth and fiction, fact and fancy, isn’t as easy as it might appear. The Bible, a source that many take for gospel (pun intended), contains passages that all but the most ardent fundamentalists read as allegory and parable, such as the stories of Adam and Eve and the Tower of Babel. The difference between believers and nonbelievers often boils down to their individual assessments about where the Good Book stops being symbolic and becomes empirically true.

Any assessment of “truth” in a literary work (even one labeled “non-fiction”) should paraphrase a famous statement from the Watergate era: What did the writer know and when did he know it? The assessment should also take into consideration the author’s intent.

William Shakespeare, for example, takes great liberties with the historical Macbeth. He deviates substantially from the facts of the Scotsman’s life as presented in “Holinshed’s Chronicles,” most significantly in how Macbeth came to the throne. Historically, Macbeth had a legitimate claim to the crown and murdered his rival in battle. In Shakespeare’s play, the title character has no such claim and kills the king while he sleeps.

However, Shakespeare’s intent is not to present his audience with history, but to give them a dramatic, satisfying theatrical experience.

Ultimately, “Lincoln” has a similar goal. However, in a film that takes great pains to recreate the look, feel, dress and speech of a particular era in American history, it is unfortunate that an easily avoided inaccuracy — one that didn’t slip through as a mistake but was knowingly altered — will have so many viewers believing that Connecticut lawmakers were on the wrong side of history.

That’s worth some sort of recognition on the forthcoming Blu-ray and DVD release, maybe a mini-documentary or an audio acknowledgement on the commentary track. But I’d stop just short of wanting to see the scene edited or removed.

After all, the mistake is now part of history, and those who demand absolute fidelity to the truth should want it to remain.

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

@cschillig on Twitter

Originally published Feb. 14, 2013, in The Alliance Review.

Commentary & Family life 08 Feb 2013 10:11 pm

All’s fair in family dinner conversations

norman-rockwell

We have unusual dinner conversations.

If ever a family is the polar opposite of the traditional sit-down-to-eat type of Americana popularized by Norman Rockwell on Saturday Evening Post covers, it is mine. Even for major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is normal for us to gather in blue jeans and sweatshirts, blithely ignore the social norms of which fork to use with what course (even the idea of “courses” is alien, as we usually just throw everything onto the table and dig in), and engage in conversations more suited to the locker room than the dining room.

Admittedly, I’m often the catalyst for these discussions. In recent years, I’ve started holiday dinner table debates about what the shape of many well-known monuments says about the self-esteem and … uh, inadequacies of earlier generations of architects and politicians, and defended my long-held belief that people’s interior organs are not located in fixed positions but rather vary greatly from body to body.

Out of respect for the nature of a family newspaper, I’ll avoid saying anything else about the former and concentrate on the latter.

Somewhere, I once read a quote that said if individual facial features — eyes, ears, nose, and so on — were spaced as differently as interior organs, we’d have a hard time recognizing one another as human. This isn’t to say that some people’s hearts are located where their appendix should be, just that there are certain differences in our interior anatomies that are more extreme than many people might guess.

I have performed no research to back this up, and my Google searches haven’t been very helpful. When you type “How far can my liver move?” into a Web browser, you get some crazy answers, believe me. But it sounds like something that might be true, which is my only litmus test for dinner table conversation, so I threw it out there next to the Easter ham and dinner rolls just to see what people would say.

The three nurses in the family — my wife, sister and brother-in-law — openly mocked me. My mom, who had just passed a plate of yams that looked suspiciously like chopped-up intestines, looked appalled. But none of them could entirely refute my claim, at least not to my satisfaction. (When people started turning green, we changed the topic.)

I vowed to seek out opinions from surgeons and gastroenterologists to prove everybody wrong, but I’ve been too busy playing Words With Friends and reading Donald Duck comics to make any phone calls. Yet.

Another unusual conversation happened last weekend. As my wife, daughter and I enjoyed a restaurant meal, the subject turned to longevity and left-handedness. A study from the ’90s says that left-handed people, on average, die seven years earlier than right-handers, a trend variously attributed to a higher rate of accidents, the stress of living in a right-handed world, and certain diseases more common to those who use the “sinister” hand.

I’m a leftie, and while I’m not accident prone, I remember feeling stressed in various college classes when I was limited to a few left-handed desks shoved in the back of a classroom, and I still get bummed when I drag a shirtsleeve through wet ink. But is this enough to erase seven years? I don’t know.

On the positive side comes news that vegetarians — a tribe I’ve belonged to for 38 days (provided I don’t backslide between the time I write this and the time you read it) — are 32 percent less likely to suffer from heart disease than their meat-eating peers.

I was heartened by this research, and by a 2011 study that says happy people die earlier than unhappy people. I wouldn’t call myself unhappy, but I’m certainly not the Pollyannaish, foppish type who thinks everything is wonderful! wonderful! wonderful! either.

I’d call it a wash — the seven years I lose for left handedness is made up by the time I gain from cynicism and a healthy heart, even if said heart is located closer to where my appendix should be.

I can’t wait to bring all this up around the dinner table the next time everybody gets together for a holiday meal. No matter what they think of my theory of interior organs, I bet they will prefer it to more photos of the Washington Monument.

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

@cschillig on Twitter

Originally published Feb. 7, 2013, in The Alliance Review.

Commentary 01 Feb 2013 01:46 pm

Not-so-Super Bowl

At least one local restaurant is closing early on Super Bowl Sunday.

The sign on the door didn’t indicate why — maybe they’re hosting a private party — but my guess is so employees may enjoy the Super Bowl with their families, a riff on similar wording used for holidays.

Super Bowl Sunday might as well be a national holiday; it has most of the characteristics. On that day, people hold soirees that would put Jay Gatsby to shame, fall off the diet wagon, drink too much, stay up too late and call off sick from work the next day. Just like Christmas.

Retailers advertise weeks in advance, construct special displays of soft drinks, beer and snack foods, and offer insane discounts on electronics, especially behemoth big-screen televisions so that viewers may enjoy up-close-and-personal views of the coaches’ nose hairs.

That sounds charming, yet in my usually curmudgeonly way, I don’t know if I’ll watch this year.

I don’t hate professional sports, but I am indifferent to them. Most people don’t see the distinction. If you’re a man who can’t rattle off at least half a dozen useless facts about a player’s yardage, passing percentages, hamstring injury and imaginary girlfriend, people tend to view you with suspicion, probably categorizing you as a closet tree-hugger, communist, or classical music aficionado instead of a red-blooded, camo-wearing, Bible-thumping American.

I learned this during my years in sales, where it was detrimental to my bottom line to see customers on a Monday morning without some knowledge of what went down on the national gridiron the day before. My usual procedure was to lie (hey, it WAS sales, after all), either by claiming I had family obligations that kept me from watching — I had a lot of sick grandmothers who needed visiting — or by rattling off one or two key plays that I saw on the morning sports wrap-up.

The latter was dangerous, as any follow-up question would reveal my complete ignorance of professional sports. In all honesty, beyond the Ohio- and Pennsylvania-based franchises, I doubt I can name more than a handful of teams in all professional sports, and even then, I can’t distinguish between baseball, football and hockey. It’s just not my forte.

That said, I have watched a few Super Bowls, sometimes for the inventive commercials and the halftime entertainment, but mostly because it’s kind of neat to recognize that, in a nation of 314 million people (give or take a few hundred thousand), so many are engaged in doing the same thing, at the same time.

Such universal entertainment used to occur more commonly, back in the days before DVRs, Hulu, Netflix and the fracturing of the popular-entertainment audience. With only three networks from which to choose and no easy way to watch a program missed, viewers engaged in communal experiences via television in percentages that are difficult to imagine today.

For example, the final episode of “M*A*S*H” was watched by over 60 percent of households with TVs in 1983, good for about 106 million viewers, still the top-rated, non-sports broadcast. Even the almighty NFL couldn’t beat that until 2010, when Super Bowl XLIV topped the record by about half a million more viewers.

Outside the Super Bowl and major breaking news covered by all networks simultaneously, it’s hard to conceive what sort of event these days might draw so many eyeballs at the same time.

Even so, I probably won’t watch this year. Too many news stories about the dangers of concussions in the NFL, too many players dead before their time, and too many athletes behaving badly on and off the field have tainted what little enjoyment (emphasis on “little”) I derive from the sport.

If the game is on at all in my house, it will be pure background noise, something to glance up at from time to time from whatever book I’m reading or set of papers I’m grading.

But I’m glad some local restaurant workers will be able to enjoy the game with their families and friends. Nobody should have to work on a holiday.

chris.schillig@yahoo.com

@cschillig on Twitter

Originally published on Jan. 31, 2013, in The Alliance Review.