Wednesday, May 31, 2006

I Love This Picture!

Have you ever seen this photograph? It’s called Lunch Atop a Skyscraper, 1932, by Charles C. Ebbets. You can tell it was taken in New York City because of the Essex House sign just over the middle guy’s head, the same sign you can see today from just about anywhere in Central Park. This photograph draws me in like no other photograph can — it’s almost like Da Vinci’s Last Supper in that it (a) involves a meal and (b) each character depicted has a distinct personality. I tacked the framed photo onto my office wall yesterday morning and found myself at various points of the day simply stopping and staring at it. I’d love to go back in time and get to know each of those guys, really understand their frames of references. For a good joke, I might even tell them about that wacky future federal agency we call OSHA, just so they can get a chuckle out of what a bunch of pansies blue collar men and women turn out to be with all their silly safety standards.

The family and I were in New Jersey visiting the missus’ relatives over the weekend and decided to hit the Big Apple before returning to Boston, so I picked that photograph up from one of the stands you see along the edge of Central Park. That wasn’t the first time I saw the photo however. The first time I saw it was a couple of years ago when my wife dragged me over to our then-future house to take a tour. Right where we walked in, there it hung. I half-jokingly, half-seriously told her that one of the conditions I’d have to insist on should we buy the house would be that we keep the photograph. She laughed and I said, “I’m not kidding.” I really felt that way about it at the time.

I have, of course, encountered many photographs and paintings during my travels over the years. I remember quite fondly the art history courses I took in college and the hours spent in art museums. I even have this conceit that I possess an innate artistic sensibility that makes me a bit more receptive than average to the images we humans have rendered. Whether that’s true or not, as of right now, I can think of nothing that affects me more profoundly than this particular photo. I just can’t stop looking at it!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Problem with the World

I’ll cut to the chase and tell all of you exactly what problem with the world is: everyone does not think and act just like me. I’ve put up with this all my life. I’ve tried leading by example, I’ve tried patience and kindness, I’ve tried using monosyllabic words in the teen-weeny, cutesy-wutesy baby voice, I’ve tried leading seminars using a Powerpoint presentation I designed myself, I’ve had leaflets dropped from a dirigible, I even once hired Marcel Marceau to act it all out assisted by the Muppets. This is everybody’s last chance. Now listen up:

The toilet paper should hang over the roll, not under it.

Always squeeze from the bottom of the toothpaste tube.

Clean the dishes immediately after dinner is finished.

Traffic patterns on sidewalks should match those of the particular country’s rule for the road. For instance, in the U.S., everyone should walk on the right-hand side of the sidewalk. In the U.K., everyone should walk on the left.

Before opening your car door after parking it on the street, check for cyclists. Don’t “door” them.

Never litter.

Never give anyone the finger in the comfort and safety of your locked and moving automobile. If you need to give someone the finger, do it standing three feet away him.

When crossing the street, hustle. Don’t walk really slow looking cool.

Be polite.

Learn how to not talk loudly on your cell phone.

Do all you can to abolish the DH from the American League. (Please ask me for my free brochure entitled, So You Want to Abolish the DH from the American League.)

Don’t let your grass grow longer than a foot before cutting it.

Walk up the escalator even though it’s already moving up.

Once the movie starts, don’t say a freaking word — I don’t care how witty you think you are.

Quit wearing those baggy pants dragged halfway down your ass to show off your boxer shorts. It looks stupid and I don’t like it.

Don’t waste stuff.

Don’t drive slower than everyone else in the passing lane. And don’t give me that “Well, I’m going the speed limit” crap either, because it doesn’t impress me.

Replace the cap on everything by screwing it back on tightly.

Sorry, only time for a partial list today. Suggestions are welcome.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Crazy Fish Guy

So there I was Wednesday night, navigating the aisles of the supermarket. It was my night to cook and I had a hankering for some seafood. I had already picked up a bag of frozen broccoli florets and had only one more stop before check-out time. I turned the corner, spied who was working the seafood counter, and then muttered under my breath: “Damn! Crazy Fish Guy!”

For more than a year now I’ve been plagued by the good-natured and friendly overtures of Crazy Fish Guy. He took notice of me the winter before last when he observed that, even on the coldest days, I would show up to the store wearing my bike outfit — so it all began one day with him asking how I could stand cycling in such frigid weather and me explaining that I’m probably warmer than everyone else. That might have been the last thing I said for about 15 minutes, for right after that Crazy Fish Guy talked and talked and talked, and when he was done with that he talked some more. He had a mumbly, slurry way of speaking, and it required great mental effort on my part to follow what he was saying, which was uninteresting, disconnected, and seemingly without resolution. I prayed for another customer to show up to place an order, anything to distract him so I could make a quick exit. I had no such luck, and Crazy Fish Guy rattled on and on. And since then, whenever I stray near his department while he’s on duty, he finds a way to buttonhole me and won’t let me go.

Crazy Fish Guy’s age is hard to pinpoint, but I would guess late-thirties, early-forties. He has a slightly “special needs” way about him, something about his constant stare when he talks to you, his imperfect enunciation, and how he does everything at super-slow-mo speed. His body looks putty-soft and boneless, as if he hasn’t done a lick of exercise in 20 years; I’ve never shaken his hand, but I can imagine squeezing its flaccid fleshiness like you would a child’s squishy toy. But I’ll say this about him: he’s not shy.

Last Wednesday, after I placed my order for a pound and a half of the salmon filet, he asked, “Did I do something to piss you off?”

“I don’t think so,” I said with a smile, assuming my patented “light-bantering mode.”

“I waved at you the other day and you looked right at me but didn’t say anything.”

“Gave you the cold shoulder, eh?” I said, still in my light-bantering style.

“So what was up with that?”

“I don’t know. I don’t even remember it,” I lied, knowing full well that on Monday I walked by his department on the way to the produce section acting as if I didn’t notice him, seemingly too engaged in my quest to select just the right green pepper and cucumber. However, I doubt I looked his way, because the plan was to avoid eye contact with him at all costs.

“You didn’t notice me waving?”

I shrugged. “I don’t notice anything. That’s the thing about me.”

That was enough to satisfy him, and then, for the next 10 minutes, I heard all about his 10-year-old daughter’s behavioral problems at school and how he sees a counselor once a week. On and on and on. Blah, blah, blah. Then he said he couldn’t talk to his wife. Then I heard the store cut back on his hours. Then he told me his vacation plans. Then he informed me of an Internet business he wants to try.

Look, I’m willing to give someone three, four, maybe five minutes tops of my time, but after that I think I have a right to extricate myself and go about my business. Does that make me a bad man? Will I go to hell for that?

Question du jour: how do you get out of these situations?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Movies, Movies, Movies

Last Friday night, Daughter Number 2 and I went to the Loews Cineplex at Boston Common to see Mission: Impossible III (me for the second time). Across the street from the theatre was a crowd of militant Catholics protesting The Da Vinci Code, which opened that same day. All of the demonstrators held placards denouncing the movie as false and evil. In the middle of the group, a layman recited prayers through a bullhorn while priests of different ages, attired in their natty black suits with white clerical collars, stood off to one side looking on. At the very front of the gathering, facing the theatre, were a dozen nuns aligned neatly along the sidewalk curb dressed in traditional black and white habits.

“What are they doing?” asked DN2.

“They’re protesting the movie.”

“What movie?”

“Well, from the look of it,” I replied, “I’d say it was March of the Penguins.”


The missus and I did wind up seeing The Da Vinci Code the following night at the same theatre. Have you seen it? I keep hearing the critics hate it, but I thought it was pretty good. What was funny to me was how much I forgot of the book version of The Da Vinci Code. I read it just a little more than a year ago, but throughout the entire movie I kept going, “Oh yeah! That’s right — I forgot about that.” Evidently my last remaining brain cell is not quite up to task anymore. Toward the end of the movie, the hero, Robert Langdon, has to figure out the answer to a riddle, a simple 5-letter word (the whole story, by the way, is a riddle inside a conundrum inside an enigma inside a brainteaser inside a puzzle). I remember when reading the book I felt sure it was “venus,” only to be proven completely wrong. So what did I do when I watched the movie? I kept guessing it was “venus.” Maybe if I watch it again I’ll be right.


Mission: Impossible III is by far the best Mission: Impossible of them all. It’s smart and it doesn’t rely solely on action (although action, of course, is its raison d’etre, let’s not forget that). At one point the Laurence Fishburne character complains that the super bad guy in the movie (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) is like the invisible man. Then he adds: “Welles, not Ellison” . . . to the delight of myself and possibly two others in the audience. And this time around they didn’t overuse those darn masks. I hated that about the show and especially the second Mission: Impossible — the answer for everything is to impersonate someone by quickly sticking a voice simulator chip to your Adam’s apple, tossing on a mask and wig, and presto! their own mothers couldn’t tell the difference. How cheap. In M:I 3 they actually made the process seem a bit difficult. One agent had to photograph the bad guy from all angles and send the images to a computer. Then a mask was constructed in a kind of mask-making kit that — as a nice touch — looked like it had been used a few times before. Finally, we saw Ving Rhames help Tom Cruise put the thing on (TC was already wearing a fat suit). It was well done and made me think impersonating someone might not really be that easy after all. I appreciated that.


Everyone has heard of the famous director D.W. Griffith and his landmark 1915 film, The Birth of a Nation, right? Pop quiz: how much do you actually know about the movie? What is it about really? I always assumed it was supposed to be some major, patriotically-themed celluloid masterpiece that pushed the limits of filmmaking — which is true as far as that goes, as it was technically patriotic and it did break new cinematic ground. Let me tell you all the good stuff first: the movie, three hours long, was shown in playhouses — not cheap nickelodeons, mind you — and ticket prices ranged from 75 cents on up to a whopping two dollars. The movie was brought from city to city by touring companies who traveled with their own projection equipment and orchestra (a complete score was composed for the movie). In the first two years it ran, The Birth of a Nation grossed 10 million dollars, which, if my calculations are correct, comes out to exactly one billion kerjillion bazillion dollars in today’s money. Modern film editors must certainly get a kick out of how the scenes were strung together (I think they used blunt hatchets back in those days) and historians undoubtedly enjoy the funky tableaus faithfully copied from photographs and paintings, such as the Confederate surrender at the Appomattox Courthouse. The acting is good and, let’s face it, Lillian Gish, who played the heroine, is the cutest little thing you ever did see. It’s an entertaining film.

Here’s the bad part: The Birth of a Nation is, hands down, the most blatantly racist movie I have ever seen. Ever. I restrict myself not to just today’s standards when I say this. Even in 1915 the film was considered outrageous and extremely controversial — and the publicity resulting from that unquestionably accounted for much of the movie’s revenue. I even learned a new word from reading the background material: negrophobic. Based on a play called The Clansman (can you see where this is heading?), the film follows the fortunes of a Northern family and a Southern family from before the Civil War on through its aftermath. During Reconstruction, the viewer is acquainted with how the North rubbed the South’s face in it, sending down scalawags and carpetbaggers to take advantage of the South’s stricken white race by promoting the rise of the Negro — who were portrayed in the movie mainly by white men in blackface. Soon we see that all the Negro wants to do is get drunk, bust up the town, and lecherously pursue white women while the poor, huddling white inhabitants remain in the South at their own peril. What’s a Southern gentleman to do? Obviously, he needs to put on a white sheet and fight back.

Yes, for all of you who might not have known, The Birth of a Nation, the first full-fledged cinematic extravaganza in our country’s history, is a film that glorifies the Ku Klux Klan. It shows how the KKK saved the South from being crushed under the heel of the Black Man. There is a heart-rending scene where a young white girl jumps from a cliff to her death rather than suffer molestation from a black Union soldier. There’s the radical Northern politician who found out too late the evil designs of his mulatto protege, Silas Lynch (interesting name, eh?). And then there’s the heroic founder of the Klan saving Lillian Gish just before a forced marriage to said mulatto. It has it all, folks. Everything, that is, except decency, respect, and the truth.

That being said, you’ve just got see it.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A Letter from 7-Year-Old Schprock to All of Us in the Present Day

May 24, 1963

Dear 2006,

Hello. How are you? I am fine. My name is John. I am 7 years old. I am in first grade. My teacher is Mrs. Fleming. Do you go to school? What’s your school? My school is the Robert A. Cole Elementary School. I am the tallest kid in my class.

Who is your president? Our president is President Kennedy. Is President Kennedy still around? He should teach all the new presidents how to act. One time the Russians made big trouble. They were going to invade our country. They were going to march through my town and boss everyone around. Then President Kennedy told Kruschev to cut it out. Kruschev tried to act all tough but he got scared because he saw President Kennedy meant it. Deep down inside Kruschev is really a big chicken. Do the Russians still cause a lot of trouble? I bet they still do. They’re a bunch of big troublemakers and ought to leave us alone.

What is your favorite TV show? My favorite TV show is The Flintstones. They come on at 8:00 on Tuesday nights. My mother lets me stay up to watch. My second favorite show is The Jackie Gleason Show. Do they still have these shows? Is Jackie Gleason still alive? Do you know who Crazy Guggenheim is? He has a very funny laugh. It will be too bad if you can’t see him because he is very funny. I watched The Outer Limits once. It gave me a bad dream.

My friend Dougy has a color TV. Do you have a color TV? Does everyone have a color TV? I saw Bozo the Clown in color and saw that his costume was really blue. I asked my father if he could do something to our TV so it would be in color too. He said if he could do that, wouldn’t he have done it already? But I meant if he took the back off of it and really tried hard, I bet he could. Use a screwdriver or something. Our TV is crummy. You have to use a pair of pliers to change the channels because the knob broke off. Color TVs are much better.

I was on The Big Brother Show for my birthday. They let me say the Pledge of Allegiance. Afterward Big Brother Bob handed out little flags to all the kids who said the Pledge of Allegiance. I was the only kid who said thank you. Big Brother Bob looks kind of old in person but he’s really nice. He has to use two different glasses, one for reading and the other one for regular seeing. All my friends saw me on TV.

Does everybody’s cars fly where you are? Mine doesn’t. Nobody’s does. We have a white station wagon that keeps breaking down. When we went to West Virginia it broke down. My father said a lot of bad words! You should have heard him! Then we had to wait around a long time for it to get fixed. I wish our car could fly.

When something is really good, what do you say? We say “keen.” Or “keen-o.” Sometimes we say “wicked.”

My best friend is Brian who lives across the street. There’s lots of kids in my neighborhood. They call me Little John because there’s an older kid next door named John too, so he’s Big John, only I’m taller than him. That makes it kind of funny. Brian’s little brother is named Michael and I’m good friends with him too. Then there’s this kid named Howard who tells lots of dirty jokes. One time he told my mother a joke about a musical toilet. I couldn’t believe it! He should be in trouble but he never is.

I’m learning how to ride a two-wheeler. Pretty soon my dad’s going to take off the training wheels. I practically don’t need them anymore.

I know some kids at school who don’t wash their hands after they go to the bathroom. I’m not fooling. Then they eat their snacks right afterward.

Do you have a robot? Boy, I would love to have a robot. I’d treat him nice and have him for my friend. Robots aren’t dangerous if you’re friendly to them. I would take him everywhere and take very good care of him. Let me know if you have a robot. I really want to know that.

That’s about all for now. School will be over pretty soon and then we kids have the summer off. My family’s going to go to West Virginia again and then we’re going to go to Syracuse. Syracuse is New York. That’s where my Swedish grandmother lives. My other grandma and grandpa live in Beckley, West Virginia. We stay in West Virginia longer than we stay in Syracuse because me and my baby brother and my two sisters are too much for my Swedish grandmother. I guess we drive her crazy.

Please write and tell me if you have a robot. Or if you know anyone who does.

Your Friend,

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Old Hundred-Pull Hannah

I got the word last Wednesday: my lawnmower couldn’t be saved. “Mr. Schprock,” the voice on the other end of the line said, “we tried everything, but the compression was just too low. I’m sorry.” The mechanic told me they’d take care of her — I think the word he used was “dispose.” I thanked him and hung up.

Her name was Hundred-Pull Hannah, because it took a hundred pulls to start her up and keep her running. 15 years ago, when she first entered my life, so young and full of spirit, she was Half-Pull Hannah. But the years caught up with her. It hurts to look back at all those hours we spent together, all those billions of grass blades shorn, the thousands of dandelions beheaded — they’re only memories now. No longer will I experience the thrill of finally getting her to turn over, my poor arm aching but my heart rejoicing at the sound of her engine’s majestic roar. She’s gone now. I hope she’s in a better place.

Last night I awoke sobbing. I tried to keep it low, but my wife was nevertheless roused from her sleep. She cradled my head in her arms and made gentle shushing sounds. She told me the small engine repair shop must have sent Hundred-Pull Hannah to Lawnmower Town, where all the good lawnmowers go when they can’t cut grass anymore. I asked her if she thought my father’s old Toro was in Lawnmower Town too. She said it probably was. Then I went back to sleep.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Schprocks

Friday, May 19, 2006

A Clear and Present Danger

The missus and I have an arrangement: I prepare the dinners on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights, and she takes care of the rest of the meals. On the nights I cook, I usually stop off at the supermarket on the way home to pick up whatever ingredients my culinary visions require. It’s good I do this, not only because this practice allows me to put food on the table, but it also gives me a chance to stay up with the news by scanning the huge tabloid headlines that scream out at me as I wait in the checkout line. For instance, I know all about the Brangelina saga and how poor Jennifer Aniston has finally found peace in the arms of Vince Vaughan. I am completely up-to-date on the birth and well-being of Brooke Shields’ baby and the dianetic spawn of Tomkat. I am equally well acquainted with Whitney Houston’s tragic brain tumor scare and Britney’s latest pregnancy. But last Wednesday evening I nearly dropped my eggplant and broccoli when I read this shocker: jealous Nick is in tears because of “Jessica’s Sexy Revenge.”

How could it have come to this? The marriage that was once so perfect they televised it from coast to coast has resulted in bitter anguish and a shockingly sexy revenge. A sassy revenge would have been devastating surely, but there’s just no answer for a sexy revenge. Hasn’t history taught us anything? Were the 1950s so long ago that we’ve forgotten the great national peril created by the Blonde Bombshell, when Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield mercilessly attacked America with their surging, simmering, swirling, sin-filled cisterns of seductively smoldering super-sexy sexiness, causing men’s libidos to spin wildly out of control and turning half the country’s women gay? Have we forgotten that? And let us not forget when, after France launched Bridget Bardot, the United States finally had enough, and, following long negotiations, a famous armistice was signed by President Eisenhower, Hugh Hefner and Maurice Chevalier on the White House lawn. Ike switched from Vargas paint-by-number paintings to safer landscapes after that, and Hefner vowed “never again, never again, will such platinum pyrotechnics invade this country’s shores.” It wasn’t that long ago!

Please join with me in an aggressive letter-writing campaign to stop Jessica Simpson’s cruel and sexy revenge. It’s bad for Nick and it’s bad for the nation. If for some reason you can’t write a letter, please consider sending a cash contribution to either the BRA (Brotherhood of Responsible Americans), or its sister organization, DCUP (Democratic Citizenry United by Patriotism), care of this blog. Together we can stop Jessica’s sexy revenge from ever threatening our land again.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Know Your Character Actors

The other night I watched a movie called The Bad and the Beautiful. Made in 1952, it starred Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Walter Pigeon and Dick Powell. At the time, it was considered the ultimate Hollywood insider’s picture. I won’t bother describe the plot to you; I will say, however, that it was corny as hell, sometimes bad, sometimes beautiful, but very entertaining for me to watch.

I watch a fair amount old movies on the Turner Classic Movie channel — to the point where I’m really beginning to spot the B-list character actors, those invaluable second bananas the movie industry relies so heavily upon. I consider them the baseball equivalent of the long man out of the bullpen who can be used as a spot starter — nothing flashy, not a star by any means, but your team would be in bad shape without him. Anyway, I recognized the guy who played Gaucho, the Latin lover-type movie star in the The Bad and the Beautiful, as the same actor who played an alternately jovial and feisty shrimp fisherman in the James Stewart movie Thunder Bay. It seems I can’t watch an old movie anymore without picking out actors like that.

A while ago I reread David Copperfield. While reading it, the mental image I had of David’s eccentric yet lovable aunt, Miss Betsey Trotwood, was the above character actress, Edna May Oliver, who appeared in roughly a gazillion movies from the silent film era on up to the early forties. As she got older, she seemed to specialize in the comedic spinster or matron roles. With her horse face and exaggerated hauteur, you couldn’t help loving her. I saw her in the Olivier version of Pride and Prejudice playing the role of Lady Catherine de Bourgh (in a surprisingly sympathetic treatment of the character) and thought, next to Greer Garson, she was the best thing in the picture. So I thought she would be perfect for the role of David Copperfield’s aunt. And guess what? On a whim yesterday I decided to look up her filmography and you’d never believe what character she once played: Aunt Betsey Trotwood in David Copperfield! Can I call ’em or what?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Special K

The fabulous Wordnerd offered this little game recently in her blog. After doing it herself, she assigned each willing participant a letter and then instructed them come up with ten words beginning with that letter along with a brief description of what those words mean to them. Good clean fun, right? Here’s mine, the first ten K-words I could think of and not in any particular order.

K: In Little League, this is what we used to shout at the opposition’s batters: K battah K battah come on he’s a whiffah K battah K battah come on SWING!

Kerosene: I worked for a house painter one summer who made me and this other kid walk into the woods near the house we were working on carrying the all dirty brushes, a five gallon can of kerosene, and a wire brush each to clean them with. I would ask, “Isn’t this kinda bad for the environment?” and the other guy would say, “Who gives a shit? Let’s clean these things so we can go home.”

Kandinsky: Reminds me of an art history class I took in a big university lecture hall where I swear they restricted the oxygen supply into the room. I think we all might have been unwitting guinea pigs in some weird oxygen-deprivation experiment. The teacher would shut off the lights, begin projecting images of paintings onto the screen up front, and I’d immediately start getting sleepier and sleepier. Some days I’d arrive at class full of energy and say to myself, “This will be the day I’ll stay awake!” but never could make it all the way through.

Kaleidoscope: I remember the first one I looked through as a kid. “Awww, wow!” I said. “Wicked!”

Kill Bill 2: I thought it was better than Kill Bill 1.

Kentucky: That’s where my Uncle GT lives. That’s where my Aunt Betty lives, too, only Uncle GT doesn’t live with Aunt Betty anymore, he lives with someone else named Ann. There’s a big, juicy story connected with that. And I ain’t tellin’.

Kilimanjaro: Cool name for a mountain, right?

Klondike Bar: Best damn ice cream bar. Ever.

Kelvin: A scale of temperature named after William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin. My question is, if he had a goofy-sounding title, say like 1st Baron Lululupinopolis, would it still be named after him? Could you honestly say “My God, Captain! These readings indicate 21.3 degrees lululupinopolis!” with a straight face?

Killy: As in Jean Claude Killy, the famous French skier. I like saying his name in my wretched French accent by building up to his last name: “Jean . . . Claude . . . Kee-LEE!” Sort of equal parts Maurice Chevalier, Jacques Cousteau, and Inspector Clouseau. Try it yourself — it’s fun.

Well, that’s it. If anyone wants a letter, let me know. I’ve got 26 of ’em.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A Family Moment

Here they are, Schprockie’s Angels. Starting on the left in the flaming pink mohawk is Daughter Number 2 (aka “Pumpkin”), followed by the missus (aka “La Jefa”), and ending with Daughter Number 1 (aka “Princess”). DN2 plays the bass guitar and has more artistic talent than her old man ever had; the missus is the brains of the outfit and always, always gets what she wants; and DN1 is a college sophomore majoring in political science who has a great singing voice and too many guys chasing after her.

As many of you may know, the northeast has gotten whacked with roughly 5 billion inches of rain (for our European friends, that’s approximately 10 trillion centimeters). In Boston, we haven’t seen the sun for about two weeks now. Yesterday, the police caught a bearded guy in a robe attempting to load pairs of animals, male and female, into a stolen waterfront booze cruise boat. This morning I gave up pedaling into work and started rowing. Motorists can’t tell where Storrow Drive ends and the Charles River begins. And Darwin would love this place: half the city’s residents have reported growing gills. Hell, I’m finding it difficult typing this with these darn webs that have sprung up between my fingers.

On Sunday our basement flooded — in some spots, the water stood at about an inch or more. We didn’t have a pump at the time (I’ve since purchased one) and you could tell it would take more than a mop to clean the mess up. In the end, we all pitched in. It turns out a month or so ago the missus purchased a couple of extra-super-scoopy plastic snow shovels on sale at her Mecca, the Christmas Tree Shop. These shovels were ideal for scooping up the water and throwing into a large-capacity plastic tub we had hanging around. As the missus and I poured scoop after scoop of water into the tub, DN1 and DN2 filled pails from it and carried them up the stairs and out of the house to spill at the end of our driveway. We did this for about an hour or so until it was time to switch over to the mops. Sure it was a pain, but, in my mind, the whole process amounted to a wonderful family moment. The girls didn’t complain and we all functioned like a team, very effectively bailing out the basement. I don’t know about you, but I prize moments like these ten times more than any staged, elaborately planned first communion or graduation or wedding or bar mitzvah or what have you. Maybe it’s the spontaneity or the esprit de corps — I don’t know for sure. But it felt good, I can tell you that.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Schprocks

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Random Moment #001

Last night, Daughter Number 2 and I saw Art School Confidential, which is a very funny and sometimes touching movie — it rates right up there on the Schprockometer and I recommend it to all my readers. DN2 and I like to meet at the Loew’s Boston Common Theatre when we see movies together; it’s not far from my office and convenient for my daughter to get to. What I usually do is, I’ll change into my bike commuter clothes before I leave the office, ride the bike to the theatre, lock it up, and after the movie lets out DN2 takes the train to the Warren Street stop about a half mile from our house while I race home on the bicycle, pick up the car, and drive to meet her at the stop. Last night, however, it was raining, so I went to the theatre in my regular street clothes and left my bicycle at the office. The plan after the movie was for me to sprint back to the office, change, grab the bike, and meet her at the train stop; then we’d both walk from there to the house together.

Well, I sprinted back to the office, and I changed and grabbed my bike all right, but go no further than that because it had a flat tire! I wound up calling the missus and had her pick DN2 up at the train stop instead, while I changed back into my regular clothes and took the train home myself. I could have fixed the flat and rode home if I chose to, but my bicycle has these extra tough Specialized Armadillo tires that are a pain in the ass to take off and put back on. I always seem to kink the new inner tube or puncture it somehow and wind up with another flat; so, if possible, I’ll pay a professional to change the inner tube for me, which is why I’m here in the office on this rainy Saturday morning — in a minute or two, I’ll walk the bike down to the shop and let Rich, the bike mechanic, do it for me.

Anyway, here’s the whole reason for this post: Daughter Number 1 drove me to my Saturday morning breakfast spot this morning where I had my standard cheese omelet, home fries, toast and coffee. Then I found myself faced with a mile walk to my office in the pelting rain. I brought a rain poncho with me, which is very effective at keeping me dry from mid-thigh up; however, my pants from mid-thigh down were exposed to the elements, and in a short while they became thoroughly saturated. This was a good thing. Why? Because it gave me a chance to practice a little “mindfulness” and “body awareness.” Haven’t all of us at many points in our lives gotten stuck in the rain with no other option than to brave it out? At first you feel a certain abhorrence to getting wet; if it were possible to dance around raindrops, you’d do it. Your clothes and hair begin to get damp and mentally you sort of say to yourself, Ick! Ick! Ick! Then, as things gradually go from damp to sodden, a wonderful thing happens: you accept being wet! You investigate the feeling of what happens to your body as you get more and more soaked; you follow the caress of the rain’s cold, wet fingers as it seeps in everywhere; you notice how your drenched clothes pull at you as your strong muscles unyieldingly continue to move you along; and you realize what a fine thing it is that a little water can’t harm you and is, in a strange way, refreshing and in no way something to recoil from. So here I sit at my work computer in completely wet pants, feeling relaxed and in a great mood.

I know: very trivial, but I thought I’d share it with you anyway.

Friday, May 12, 2006

A Man-Sized Cold

My esteemed coworker, 80 Hour Man, a person who is neither genteel nor soft-spoken, has a cold. You can tell he has a cold because it sounds like the beat-up old Studebaker Lark 8 I used to own when it struggled to stay running with wet wires. His cold assaults the eardrums like the clatter and rattle an old lawnmower makes when it just won’t turn over after a hundred pulls. He is what I call a Loud Cold Sufferer. Lots of throat clearings, coughing, snorts, honking nose-blows, groans, the whole works.

I am a Complaining Cold Sufferer. When I have a cold, everyone hears about it. I once explained to a female coworker that her little cases of the sniffles were nothing compared to my man-sized colds. If she ever caught one of my colds, the intensive care unit of Mass General Hospital would have another patient on its hands, that’s how intense my colds are. It takes a mighty constitution to handle them.

There are other kinds of cold sufferers. My wife is a Grim Cold Sufferer. She doesn’t complain much, but don’t talk to her if you know what’s good for you. I’ve known some Cheerful Cold Sufferers, the kind who laugh at this pesky little malady that has temporarily taken over their lives. To them, it’s nothing they can’t handle. Personally, I don’t think Cheerful Cold Sufferers are of this planet.

Question du jour: what kind of cold sufferer are you?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Lord Hamlet at the Deli: The Lost Scene

The following is the text of a recently discovered manuscript containing a “lost scene” to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Scholars are unsure of its authenticity, but in complete agreement on why it’s not in the play . . . it stinks!

Act III, scene iv

Hamlet and Horatio arrive at a delicatessen.

HAMLET: What say you to liverwurst on rye, my good Horatio?

HORATIO: Indeed, my lord, I am famished. That invention, so miraculously begot of the Earl of Sandwich, would mostly heartily agree with me at this time.

HAMLET: Aye, so would it with me. Let us approach.

Hamlet and Horatio approach the counter and strike the bell.

DELI MAN: Who rings?

HAMLET: ’Tis I who rings, honest sir.

DELI MAN: Rings and honesty do indeed abide together; yet as rings may bind, so honesty may blind, beware you of that my noble lord.

HAMLET: There is truth to what you say, though I merely ring to summon you, sir.

DELI MAN: So you ring to wring from me?

HAMLET: Having rung, I offer no wrong. My ring is a thing with no offense in ’t.

DELI MAN: A ring wrongly rung runs rings ’round righteously wrought rings — as you must know, my lord.

HAMLET: Well said, deli man, though I leave it to time and experience to instruct your meaning to me better.

HORATIO: Good deli man, let us state matters plainly: we wish to purchase from you a meal.

DELI MAN: A meal of what kind?

HAMLET: Two liverwurst on rye, if it please you.

HORATIO: Attended each by pickles sour.

HAMLET: And Cokes diet.

DELI MAN: Most wryly put, sirs; liver, being the seat of all desire, is the worst; for is it not so that when one wants, one wants badly?

HAMLET: ’Tis true, deli man, and this liverwurst on rye I most potently want in the worst way.

GHOST: Forget not the mustard, my son; for thy will, dull’d in purpose, needs spice!

HORATIO: My lord! The ghost, your father, appears before us, and entreats you!

HAMLET: O my prophetic soul! It is my father, come to spur me on to my slow revenge!

GHOST: Hamlet! Choose not the yellow mustard! Bland it is, with a sickly hue. Spicy brown… Spicy brown…

HORATIO: Look! It moves away! It wishes you to come with it. But don’t go, my lord!

HAMLET: So I shall go, Horatio! Father, I am coming! O deli man, impart to no one what you have seen here this day. And wrap our meals to go!

DELI MAN: Aye, my good lord. And something for your father? A nice knish?

HAMLET: Come, Horatio! Forget not the napkins and sporks!


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Daughter Number 1’s New Boyfriend: Special Agent Bob

Last Saturday afternoon, Daughter Number 1 announced to Mrs. Schprock and I that she had a new beau. “I know you’ll just love him,” she said, “His name is Bob and he’s the nicest guy in the world — but look out: he can be a bit intense at times.”

“Well, Princess,” I said, “your mother and I will certainly look forward to meeting your new young man. He sounds interesting.”

“Good,” DN1 said, “I’m glad you feel that way. He’ll be here at exactly 6:30 tonight. We’re going out for dinner.”

“Marvelous!” I said.

6:30 came and sure enough, just as my daughter predicted, the doorbell rang right on time. “Dad, can you get it?” DN1 called down to me from upstairs. “If it’s Bob, tell him I’ll be there in a minute.”

“Sure thing, Princess!” I called back. Then I opened the front door.

Bob stood in the doorway; or rather, the doorway just barely contained Bob. He stood at about six and a half feet and wore a blue serge suit that in no way concealed his hulking, linebacker’s build. Bob’s neck alone was as thick as my thigh. He had a face chiseled in granite, accented by dark sunglasses and topped by a blonde buzzcut. He held out a hand the size of a baseball glove. “Mr. Schprock?” he said.

I grasped it and immediately felt about 40 bones of my hand break. “Bob?” I said in a squeaky voice.

Bob released his grip and whipped the sunglasses off his face. “Nice place you’ve got here, Schprock,” he remarked, stepping past me. “Ah, and this must be Mrs. Schprock . . . or are you Princess’ older sister?”

“Oh, Bob!” tittered my wife. “Flattery will get you everywhere.” Then she said, “Why don’t you step into the living room and wait for Princess there?”

“Actually,” Bob said, striding into the TV room, “the eastern exposure this room affords is more suitable.” Then he pulled out an electronic wand and began waving it over the drapes and various sections of wall. “And it appears free of listening devices. Excellent!”

The missus and I exchanged a look just as DN1 came down the stairs. “Hi, Bob!” she said.

I glanced at my daughter and then did a double-take. “Princess!” I exclaimed. “What’s with the hair?” She was wearing a platinum blonde, beehive-style wig.

“Oh, right, Schprock — that’s my idea,” Bob quickly said. “For her protection.”

“Protection? Protection from what?” I asked.

“Sorry,” said Bob, tapping his head with his forefinger, “need to know only. Pardon me one moment, I have to put in a call.” He withdrew a cell phone from his jacket and speed dialed a number. “Brenda? How are those reservations coming?” A pause. “What? Dammit! All right, we’ll have to improvise then. Upload a schematic of the restaurant to my PDA.” Then he said to us in a confidential tone, “Bad intel — IHOP doesn’t take reservations.”

From another pocket he produced a silvery personal digital assistant. “Okay, good Brenda, I see it now. This is what we’ll do. Call out a field unit to secure the table on the north wall of the building closest to the heating vent. Send Curtis, he’s a good man. Our ETA is 7:00, so he better move. Do you copy?” A slight pause. “Good, one other thing: I’ll need live satellite photos uploaded to my PDA at 30 second intervals of the route we’ll drive to get to the restaurant. Got that? Let me know if anything comes up.” Then he clapped the phone shut.

“Bob,” I said, “what’s all this?”

“Schprock, did your daughter tell you what it is I do?”

“Well, no…”

“I’m a . . . florist, Schprock. We make a lot of deliveries, so I’m used to being in touch with my support team.”

“A florist scans a room for bugs?”

Bob sighed. “You’re on to me, I know. You’d make a hell of an interrogator, Schprock, you know that? Let me ask you something: can I trust you?”

“Um, sure, Bob.”

“Have you heard of the CIA?”

“Well, yes…”

“How about the FBI?”

“Of course, Bob…”

“I’m part of a shadow organization that does the dirty work for both those agencies.”

“Oh, really? What’s it called?”

“U.N.C.L.E.,” Bob replied.

“You mean . . . you’re the ‘Man from U.N.C.L.E.,’ like in the sixties TV show?”

“That sixties TV show was somebody’s lucky guess, Schprock. Or maybe not. Some of us think MI6 was behind it, to embarrass us. Those limey bastards are always — GET DOWN!”

Bob grabbed the missus and I and roughly pulled us down to the floor. Daughter Number 1 dove into the living room, executed a perfect tuck and roll, and came up flattened against the wall next to a window.

“I think just saw someone I recognized!” Bob said in a hoarse whisper. He pulled out his cell and speed dialed it again. “Brenda, I need an ID on a bogie just east of Destination Q NOW!”

“You mean Mrs. Ferguson?” I asked, rubbing my forehead where it hit the coffee table on the way down.

“Hold on a sec, Brenda,” Bob said. “Who’s Mrs. Ferguson, Schprock?”

“The retired school teacher who lives next door.”

“Are you sure?”


“Negatory on that, Brenda,” Bob said into the phone. “Keep on standby.” Then: “Sorry, Schprock, Mrs. Schprock. Your ‘Mrs. Ferguson’ bears an uncanny resemblance to a one Rita del Marco.”

“Oh, really? Is that bad, Bob?” I asked.

“That’s very bad, Schprock. How long have you known Mrs. Ferguson?”

“Well, we moved into the neighborhood about three years ago. That long, I guess.”

“Uh huh,” said Bob pensively. We all three stood back up. “That’s no good. I’ve got to plan a new exit strategy. Does your house have a rear door?”

“Through the kitchen.”

Bob turned to my daughter. “Okay, Princess, we’ll have to head out the back. Schprock, I need to ask you to do one thing for me. I wouldn’t ask this unless it was absolutely necessary.”

“What would you like me to do?”

“Exchange clothing with me.”

“What?” I exclaimed indignantly.

“Dad!” interposed my daughter. “Do what Bob says!” Then, in a smaller voice, she added, “You’re embarrassing me!”

“Better do as Bob asks,” put in my wife.

I looked Bob up and down. “Look, Bob, even if I agree to this, it’s pretty obvious you won’t fit into my clothes.”

“Let me worry about that, Schprock. We need to hurry!” he said, and immediately started loosening his tie and unbuttoning his shirt collar.

So right in the middle of the TV room, Bob and I stripped. At one point, I looked up and gasped at a long, livid, red scar that ran from Bob’s collar bone done to his navel.

“What the hell’s that?” I asked, pointing to it.

“Nicaragua,” Bob replied tersely.

Then he turned to reveal three large purple burn marks on his broad back.

“And that?” I asked, horrified.

“Bosnia,” he said. Then: “Schprock, your pants! We’re running out of time!”

“Your pants, your pants!” urged my wife.

“Hurry, Dad!” my daughter pleaded.

I stepped out of my pants and handed them over to Bob. He shoved one tree trunk of a leg into them accompanied by the unmistakable sound of shredding fabric. “The agency will reimburse you,” he said as he prepared to step in with his other leg.

Finally, Bob and Daughter Number 1 were ready to go off on their date. Bob disguised himself as a poor Guatemalan coffee bean picker to explain the tattered clothing. My wife found a straw sombrero for him to wear and I supplied the black Sharpie he used to draw a mustache above his upper lip.

“Have a good evening, Mr. and Mrs. Schprock,” Bob said, leaving with my smiling daughter at his side, her beehive wig slightly askew. “And don’t worry — I’ll have your daughter home safe and sound.”

“I believe you will, Bob,” I replied waving to them, standing there in my boxer-briefs. “I believe you will.”

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

United 93

I usually don’t do movie reviews, but United 93 is so atypical a movie, it hardly feels my rule (if I really have such a rule) is being broken. I saw it with Daughter Number 2 last Friday night, and the images and events I witnessed made so deep an impression on me that, despite my having gone to bed well past midnight, I woke up a little past 6:00 Saturday morning with a vague yet palpable anxiety, and couldn’t get back to sleep. I kept replaying the film in my mind until I gave up on sleep entirely and got up at around 7:15. The only other movie that has ever had that kind of impact on me was The Passion of the Christ, when I found myself, at 1:30 in the morning, reading the World Book Encyclopedia article on Jesus and afterward rummaging around downstairs for the Bible. The movie was that intense. From beginning to end my stomach was in a knot. I’ll only state a few of my impressions and quickly mention here that I haven’t, as yet, read any reviews.

United 93 moves along more or less in real time. The dialogue is extremely real. My guess is the actors with speaking roles had a basic script to follow, but were well-drilled in the circumstances and backgrounds of each character and were allowed great latitude with ad libbing. For instance, actors playing air traffic controllers must have been given some kind of on-the-job experience, and you could tell that settings such as control towers, military command centers and so on had been scrupulously recreated to resemble the real thing. I even noticed at the end, when they rolled the credits, that quite a few real-life players in the drama that day played themselves. Everything was very, very believable. The cinematography was mainly done with hand-held cameras, and the director often let one camera roll for a long time in between cuts, which helped enhance the feeling of immediacy. As a spectator, sitting there in my comfortable chair and knowing what was going to happen, I felt like a powerless, mute ghost who could only helplessly watch these ordinary, hardworking, good people find out things little by little.

Here is what I think is the most effective element of United 93: it is uncritical. It only means to show, to recreate. Certainly no one knows for sure what happened on that flight — after all, there are only the black box recordings and recounted phone conversations that loved ones had with the victims who were trapped on that doomed jetliner to go by. Yet somehow it doesn’t matter, because you walk away believing the essence of the terrible drama that took place that day was accurately captured. The terrorists in the film are portrayed as human beings, just like their victims — there is nothing Hollywood about them at all. You can see how they screwed themselves up to the sticking point, having worked themselves to a state of mind that admitted of no other options than their single-minded, deadly purpose. The leader is portrayed as a man you could imagine having a pleasant, philosophical debate with over a decanter of wine. He is young, pensive, educated, and at times seems to be of two minds about this incredible thing he’s set out to do, while the others with him, less intellectual, are more firm of purpose. The passengers and crew are exactly like all other passengers and crew you’ve flown with before. Everyone in the film, from those in the air to those on the ground, acted precisely like everyone acts in real life when confronted with the fantastic and the ridiculously out of scale: irresolute, emotional, strong, weak, and heroic. Honest to God, after watching that movie, you feel as if you were there. Certainly not for everyone, but I recommend it. Consider it a Schprock Lock.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Schprocks: True Tales of the Schprock Family

Friday, May 05, 2006

Time Portals

I think we all have the ability to travel back in time, and it doesn’t require fiddling with the space/time continuum or enrolling in mystic school to do it either. For a lot of people, all it takes is a certain song or a peculiar smell. A friend of mine claims a song from the sixties (I forget which one) can immediately transport him back to a warm summer’s day in the Navy hanging out at the PX. The song was piped through the PA system that day, and, for some reason, it stuck with him all these years. For me, the only song that has that effect is Back On the Chain Gang by The Pretenders. When I hear that, I instantly travel back in time to when I returned to college after a prolonged hiatus at the grand old age of 26. I remember exactly how I felt, just ending a long-standing relationship with my girlfriend, changing my life completely by heading down this strange and different track, and placing myself in an environment where I was older than most of my peers. That song was really popular at the time — you couldn’t turn on a radio without hearing it — and I’ve always associated it with that transitional phase.

Smells, I think, are the most potent time portals. Whenever I smell Clearasil, for instance (which isn’t often I must add), I think of my first girlfriend in junior high. I remember catching the lovely scent of her Clearasil during our first kiss, and how I tried to be all cool and nonchalant about kissing her but wound up shaking like a wet Chihuahua on a block of ice. And, whenever I smell a car burning oil, I am instantly reunited with my first car, a maroon, 1964, “unsafe at any speed” Chevy Corvair Monza (how I loved that piece of junk!). Yes, for my money, smells are the most effective way to put yourself into a hopelessly nostalgic time warp.

For me, here’s the best-time traveling smell of all: a box of crayons. I take one whiff of a package of Crayolas and boom! I’m right back in Mrs. Fleming’s first grade class again. There I am, my first day of school, a kindergarten graduate coming off summer recess, feeling like a ballplayer from the minor leagues finally making it to The Show. I’m wearing the new shirt my mother bought the day before that’s all stiff and itchy and redolent of unmistakable new shirt smell. Everybody gets assigned their desk that day, and after seating ourselves Mrs. Fleming has us go over the articles placed inside them: the wooden ruler with the strangely enchanting urethane odor, a pad of yellow paper with wide rules, two soft-leaded pencils, a big pink eraser, and an eight-pack of fat crayons, the kind that lose their points in less than two seconds of use. Ah, the aroma of those crayons! They seemed to hold so much promise! I was truly in the land of milk and honey.

Question du jour: what’s your favorite time portal?

Thursday, May 04, 2006


Last Sunday I went on a bike tour through some beautiful Massachusetts towns not very far from Boston. I joined a cycling club recently, and for the past two or three months I’ve been riding with them every weekend. I have to say when you’re out there pedaling away in the fresh air and sunshine, you really do kind of pack up your troubles and stow them off in a nice, safe corner where they’ll keep for you until you’re done. And riding with a group of people from all walks of life reminds me oddly of when we were all innocent children, before each of us had a chance to register professional successes or disappointments, or be pegged into specific socio-economic classes. Whether you’re a doctor, lawyer, Indian chief, beggar man, or thief, everybody looks the same out there on a bike, just like we all had matching desks, chairs, rulers, and eight-packs of fat crayons on the first day of kindergarten. On these rides, we’re just a bunch of big kids making the bicycle wheels go around and around. It’s wonderful that way. And on top of the good feeling that gets me, last Sunday the weather was beautiful and I was trying out out my new, official bike-riding sunglasses and footwear for the first time. I was stylin’, man. I was like the Fonz out there.

During the tour, I caught up to this guy who was riding an older road bike, the kind with the shifters on the frame instead of on the handlebars. He was wearing ordinary sneakers in toe clips, just like what I wore until that very day (I still use toe clips, but my new shoes are quite an advance over ordinary sneakers — stiffer soles, better leverage, all that stuff). I noticed as I continued to approach from the back that he rode sort of slumped over on the handlebars. Then I saw the hand he used to do the shifting was one of those prosthetic, double-hooked hands, and a further examination revealed his entire right arm was a prothesis. And then a few seconds after that, I realized both of his arms were.

I had a nice chat with him while studiously not alluding to his handicap during the entire conversation. I saw he had a funky handlebar that curved up with big rubber knobs on each side to help him with his grip. There was a brake lever near the hub of his rear wheel which he worked with the heel of his shoe to slow his bike down. His helmet was kind of old-fashioned looking and a bit beat up, and he used an old Gatorade bottle as a water bottle. If we were counting style points, I suppose I looked like Lance Armstrong compared to him. But, let’s face it, the one to admire was this guy. I felt a little humbled afterward.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Schprocks: True Tales of the Schprock Family

First in a series of occasional cartoons.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

All Is Right in Mudville!

I strongly identify with Tim Wakefield. Tim Wakefield is a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, the longest-standing, active member of a fraternity known for shaky loyalties from the front office all the way down to the benchwarming utility players. He is humble, steady, reliable, not flashy, and, most importantly, gets the job done. He's the type of guy you want on your club. He throws a bizarre pitch called a knuckleball, a kind of pitch that, when it leaves the hand, no one — not the pitcher, nor the catcher, nor the batter, nor the umpire — knows where it will end up. He’s had very good success with this unpredictable pitch and the Red Sox have, since 1995, used him in a variety of roles: starter, middle relief, closer, you name it. Just hand him the ball and — while he won’t dazzle you — he’ll do his best . . . just like yours truly, good old Mr. Schprock.

Over the past few years, Doug Mirabelli has been his personal catcher, as catching a knuckleball is incredibly hard to do and Doug Mirabelli is the best human being on the planet catching it. Hell, Mirabelli can even do something most catchers these days can’t: throw out would-be base stealers. However, during the off-season, the Red Sox did a very silly thing: they traded Doug Mirabelli away for an infielder. Of course, they thoughtfully provided steady, reliable Tim Wakefield with a new personal catcher — only, as it turns out, this new guy couldn’t catch a bear in a telephone booth as we like to say. The last time out, he committed four passed balls that lead to three unearned runs.

Okay, here’s what I love about living in Boston and being a Red Sox fan: yesterday, the Sox got Mirabelli back from the San Diego Padres. They put him on a private plane and flew him back to Boston. Mirabelli landed at Logan Airport at 6:48pm, where he was picked by a car with his uniform waiting for him inside. As the car sped toward Fenway Park behind a police escort, Mirabelli changed into his uniform, sprinted into the ballpark when the car arrived, and just barely got to home plate before Wakefield’s first pitch against the hated Yankees (whom we beat)! Ah, yes, all is right with the world!