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The New Pilot

ThisWeakSnoozePostImageA good pilot has many time-tested, well-known and celebrated traits. Among them are good judgment, situational awareness, aircraft systems knowledge, navigation, and keeping your wits in unexpected situations. Then there’s that other trait—the one of actually controlling the aircraft. “He’s a good stick and rudder man,” they say.

There have been many pilots with those skills and more.  Think of General Chuck Yeager, who was a P-51 fighter ace in World War II and who was the first to break the sound barrier; Yuri Gagarin, who was the first to orbit the Earth; Neil Armstrong, who was the first man to walk on the moon (and let’s not forget before that he was the first to manually land on it); and of course the Wright Brothers, who were the first in powered flight.  And recently, there’s “Sully” Sullenberger.  What kind of right stuff must you have to “dead-stick” tons of metal into a river with everyone onboard living to tell the tale?

When I was learning to fly at age 15, I remember a landing I made that is the dream of every pilot—that seamless transition from an elegant air-bound contraption to a clumsy thing on wheels rolling across the ground.  A “greaser” is a landing where the occupants are never aware of that transition.  Afterwards, my instructor said, “Well, that’s the best landing I’ve seen of anyone, anywhere at any time.”  That was cool.  Later, when I was 22 and dying to get the keys to the family plane, I was once again in control under the critical eye of my father, the owner in the seat behind the right-hand controls.  On approach his hands remained firmly in his lap, and he never spoke a word. A greaser.  “Well, I’ll be damned,” is all he said.  I got the keys the next day.

About eight years ago, I had moved to the right seat on a particular flight controlled by another pilot in the left seat.  This new pilot-in-training was nearing an airport.  I was nervously preparing to say, “Okay, there’s the airport; time to contact the tower; let’s slow down, descend and plan your approach.”  Before I could speak, the pilot did all of those things proficiently and in the correct order.  I sat there with my hands in my lap and observed a greaser.  A few years later that student got his wings, and today, June 29, 2016, at age 27, he got his “Airline Transport Pilot” rating, which qualifies him to fly the big, heavy metal full of passengers for SkyWest Airlines.

The next time you’re on one of those “small”, irritating, bumpy, twin-jet commuter airlines without snacks, and suddenly you wonder how you got back on the ground without even feeling it, you might consider thanking the pilot.  I taught him everything he knows. Truthfully, he’s zoomed past me in experience and capabilities, but I did teach the boy how to fly by his wits.  And maybe something about greasers. Congratulations, son.  And please stay out of the Hudson.

Algebra™ May Be Right For You

ThisWeakSnoozePostImage.png   You’re at a time in your Middle School life when you can’t afford to slow down. You’ve worked hard to get here, and now you want to enjoy the good things coming your way.

Sure, it’s been a struggle to master the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra™ for which every non-zero, single-variable, degree-n polynomial has exactly n roots. But if you’re experiencing the fear of unknowns and have lost touch with your roots, taking Algebra™ (algorithmic mathematicus) may be right for you.

Classroom studies prove that taking Algebra™ twice daily increases mathematical function, reduces quadratic uncertainty, decreases word problems, resolves irrational number fears, simplifies free radicals, helps reduce the negative effects of Negative Numbers™, and exponentially improves tolerance of exponents.

Possible Side Effects:

  • A small percentage, fraction, or decimal-equivalent of people taking Algebra™ may experience certain unwanted side effects such as graying square roots, reversion to pre- Algebra™, an increase in unknowns, and an intolerance to homework.
  • Taking Algebra™ may not be appropriate if you experience inequalities, have trouble finding smallest common denominators or combining like-terms, have difficulty solving one-step equations, and have a history of abusing the distributive property.
  • Do not let Algebra™ come into contact with parents or other adults.
  • Tell your teacher if you think you might be pregnant or have irresistible teenaged urges to engage in activities that may lead to pregnancy such as SnapChatting, InstaGramming, FaceTiming, WhatsApping, Sexting, Selfies, Simultaneous Equations, Twerking, and Parking.
  • Do not take Algebra™ if you experience frequent factoring or have difficulty eliminating variables associated with Pythagorea.
  • Stop taking Algebra™ if you experience negative numbers and have slopes lasting more than four hours.
  • Frequent use of Algebra™ may lead to a dependence on Geometry.

Ask your teacher about whether Algebra™ may be right for you. Algebra™ is covered by most lesson plans. You may be eligible for help in paying for Algebra™.

Don't let Middle School slow you down.  Call now for a free pamphlet describing the benefits of Algebra™, and we’ll send you, FREE, a selection of X, Y, and Z variables that you can use anywhere.


Published by     Ribbon-HumorPress-com-3rd   See the piece here.

photo credit: Quadratic Formula by klg via photopin (license)

Living With A Yogi

The great baseball player and Hindu philosopher, Yogi Berra, is known for his whacky word ways. He’s attributed with saying  “It’s déjà vu all over again.”“If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.”;  and “I really didn’t say everything I said.”

I married another Yogi with this talent. Though she doesn’t try to copy the original, my wife really did, well, say everything she said. Using her brand of invented words and mixed metaphors, here are her classics.

Kristine once proclaimed she was ferenzic, which was her way of combining frenzy and frenetic.  It's used to describe wildly frantic court evidence.

Do you need more kick for the word truly? How about adding in reality to form her new creation in truality.

Kristine exclaimed, “I’m adamnant about that!”, not content with merely being adamant. I think having damn in the middle of a word always makes it better.

When fixing to fry bacon she asked, “Do we have a skiddle?” You guessed it—on the fry she had combined skillet and griddle. Who knows why she didn’t say grillet instead.

"You need a thermomostat," she told me while feeling my forehead. I guess she wanted to measure my temperature and then reset it to a more comfortable level. I proudly replied, "I'll have to renumerate on that", which is Kristine's word for ruminating while enumerating.

She also mixes metaphors, which is as easy as (and more fun than) shooting fish in a barrel of monkeys. In Kristine’s world, sometimes things can turn on a nutshell, which I guess is what happens if you didn’t fall far from the acorn as she once said of me. I consider myself fortunate that I did not just fall off the turnip tree like some other bloke she described, for then I would be a weak link and need to be plowed-under. Kristine's brain is packed with nut and edible root references.

Do you want to smooth things over after an argument? In Kristine-speak, that’s called mending bridges, which is much better than burning fences I suppose.

Then there was the time she advised me how I could solve my problems: "You could kill all those stones at one blow!" Yikes! It seems there's an old German fairy tale about a tailor who's preparing to eat some jam just as seven flies land on it, and he manages to kill them all. Right. Even I don’t get it, and I didn't just fall off the turnip tree.

With my added commentary, here are some of her other misappropriated malapropisms:

When you toot your own horn too much, you get egg on your face.

     This is why I don’t eat while driving.

I’m overscheduling my plate.

     The downside of having too much food on your calendar.

We’re living on thin ice here.

     It's better than walking on borrowed time.

You gotta make hay while the getting’s good.

     Then we must get while the sun shines.

(Incredulously, about a TV show): It’s beginning to get near the edge of the valley of no return.

     (I’ve got nothing.  Just.  Nothing.)

If you’re afraid of doing something new, just get the virgin out of it!

     Why men will sometimes, under the right circumstances, make an effort at newness.

When it comes to not wasting water, I’m a conversationist.

     Talking about conserving water speaks louder than actually not wasting it.

He talked your foot off!

     Then he stepped on my ear.

Don’t be putting me in a peg hole with a square knot!

     Awkward misuse of geometrically incompatible resources.

You came through that with shining colors!

     I guess I'm just a flying example of shining colors.

I love your perspection on that subject.

     I have perspective AND reflection on many subjects.

It’s always good to get rid of dead baggage.

     And it's healthier than carrying around extra weight.

He has good language-ing skills.

     Yogi would agree.

Brigham Young was a philandthroper.

     As both a philanthropist and a philanderer, he wasn’t afraid to get the virgin out of it.

Did you leave your tea in the kitchen undrinken?

     Yes, sorry.  I have bad language-ing skills.

We have to live our lives while we’re alive.

     Or be plowed-under early if we're weak links.

They get the bloody seconds.

     Some movie theaters don’t rate the first-run slasher shows.

That’s not worth a pot to piss in.

     Even if we had one.

It's like the Alaskan outbush in here!

     Or the Australian bushback.

I could have gone off half-cocked. By the way, that’s not a euphemism; it’s just an expression.

     One man’s euphemism is another’s substitution of a more vague expression.

(Regarding the light snowfall):  It hasn't been very precipitous this year.

     Thank God for the lack of steep and dangerous snow depths, huh?

You know, God speaks in metaphors, so I’m in like Flint.

     At the end of my head, I’m still trying to get the day around that one.

I guess now you’re on the other edge of your coin, wise guy.

     Before that I was on the flip-side of my seat.

I tend to over-extenuate myself.

     I tend to under-valueize my less serious circumstances.

That's extrenuous!

     Extraneous AND strenuous!

That's feckle!

     Feckless AND fickled!

Would you please numb-out the TV?

     Yes, if you'd kindly mute my toothache.

When you work for a real estate title company, you get bombasted by everybody!

     Damn those pretentious bombastards!

It's not worth beating our heads against a bush.

     Or in beating them around a wall.

This show really separates the ones who will get through the crisis from the ones who will not get through.

     Not exactly succinct, yet satisfyingly mutually-exclusive.

I don't like to press the envelope.

     And I don't like to push the outside of the issue.

Look at her!  She's a nemesis of her own self!

     Plus, she's like a weird caricature of her many rivals.

We turned over a new lease on life!

     It's better than continuing to rent that old leaf.

My brain doesn't work as well as it used to.  My thinking comes in spits and farts.

     Just yesterday my own drool and flatulence came in fits and starts.

I don't like to purge on TV series.

     And I regret binging on burritos.  It gives me spits and farts.

I'm going to get up now.  If the coffee is ready, that'll be a point in your direction.

     And if you let me sleep-in, that'd be a move in your favor.

I didn't wake up with much vim and vinegar today.

     It's better than waking up with a strong vigor to piss.

If you don't do your Yoga and walking excercises, you're asking for fire!

     So if a Guru lights a candle, is he playing with trouble?

I got a $400 Christmas bonus!  It was an unexpected downfall!

     So would paying taxes be an expected windfall?

I took a page out of your book and ran with it.

     Or you could just get a ball and learn a valuable lesson from it.

If you keep on that way, you'll be cooking like oil!

     As long as I'm not burning with the midnight fire.

You're almost 60.  It's my job to wean you into the next decade.

     Yes, and please also help me ease off the ice cream.

I've got some Hyper-Metaphines you could take for your headache.

     Not yet approved by the FDA, but you can get highly-active Hyper-Metaphines from Mexico off the internet.

You can't take both Cold Pills and Ibuprofen unless they both don't have AnaCetaPhetamine in them.

     Although a dangerous cocktail that can elicit a side effect of grammatical negatives, you can also get AnaCetaPhetamines from the same website.

I don't feel right today.  I think my electrolytes can't even be off by a microscop.

     Take a teeny tiny dose of AnaCetaPhetamine dissolved in Gatorade twice daily.

We could get Streptatosis from that filthy sink!

     Every new disease has to start somewhere.

Let's get some of that good artesian bread.

     Or some of that sub-surface sourdough under its own natural pressure, freshly baked by skilled artisans.

I love my new phone; I can attach those cute emotiums to my texts!

     Yes, but remember that a few emotive words speak louder than 1000 smiley icons.

I think I have some hereditarial defects.

     Well, as long as we're making up words, I'm sure you also have some defectual relatives.  Looks like you didn't fall far from the acorn your own self.

Can you encapsulize that for me?

     No, but let me summulate it in a neat little microscop.

She really let the ball fall apart.

     And on top of that she let the things drop.

This storm's going to be bad because there's so much wind in the air today.

     And the weatherman also said there would be a large chance of scattered water in the rain.

In these Presidential debates the Media is just fanning the fumes.

     And wouldn't we all prefer that the candidates were quickly overcome by the flames!

You'll just have to see if I'm up to the mustard.

     I've also been wondering if you could cut the task.

(Remarking after brain surgery): This extra hole in my skull causes a lot of subterfusion in my head.

     A natural consequence of an expedient and evasive surgical technique that leaves one not quite up to the mustard, subterfuse-wise.

Hey, don't share stuff you write about me.  I don't want to be defaced again.

     Excellent advice: we should all think twice before posting disfiguring words on deFacebook.

Even though I never met the great Berra, I feel like I know him well, that he speaks to me every day, and that I can’t escape his paradoxical influences.  Or as Kristine put it, “It’s a Catch-22 all over again!”

Something Fractious About Sylvia

I’ve noticed something mathematically irritating about my mother-in-law Sylvia.

When I was born, she was 23 years old and I had lived exactly none of the time she had already lived.

10 years later when I was 10 she was 33, and I had already lived 3/10 of the time she had lived.

It only took another 5 years for my 15 years of age to equal 4/10 of Sylvia’s 38 years.

Then after only another 8 years I had become 23 to Sylvia’s 46, and I had lived 5/10 or exaclty one-half of her time.

Twelve years later I celebrated 35 and Sylvia had reached 58, about the age I am today and I am shocked to learn that I had reached 6/10 of her time spent here.

Now even if you don’t really understand fractions I can assure you that this is a disturbing trend because it appears that I’m aging faster than Sylvia.

Now move ahead 17 years to 2009 when I first met Sylvia.  I was all happy-go-lucky at age 52 and Sylvia was 75, and I had lived damn near 7/10 of her age!

I don’t think this is at all fair, and I can report that meeting Sylvia was therefore a disturbing milestone for me.

Today, 5 years after I met Sylvia, it’s 2014, I am 57, and Sylvia celebrates her 80th year.  The math tells me that I’ve firmly passed 7/10 of her age and I can say that I’ve gotten over it, and I’m now okay with her having lived so long.

And 23 years from now when I find myself at the age Sylvia is today, and when she has become 103, my only consolation will be that I still will not have reached 8/10 of her age!

All of this proves why we don’t live forever: we’d all be the same age, and then birthdays (and math) wouldn’t be any fun at all.

Happy birthday to Sylvia on October 18, and for both our sakes I hope our ages never meet.

Teaching Dakshesh

Beginning in the third grade kids love having a substitute teacher. By “having” I mean “biting off parts of the teacher, chewing and swallowing the teacher, partially digesting the teacher, and then regurgitating the teacher back onto his own shoes before his feet are devoured, all while texting friends on banned smartphones.” During this process the substitute’s job is to act like all is normal and that he has full control over the class and his 56 year old bladder, (which was already full 5 hours ago when the first bell rang), all while teaching fractions.

The most important thing a substitute teacher can do is to get control of the class when the bell rings. I attempt this impossible task with rules:

“CLASS! SIT DOWN! QUIET! EYES ON ME! I will tell you my rules, call roll, then give you today’s assignment.”

Eddie Haskell (every class has one) leaps up: “Mr. Woodside, thanks for teaching us today. That’s a sick tie, yo. Where is Mr. Pike?”

“We’re not talking about that right now,” I answer. “Sit down.”



“Rule 1. We will show each other respect. When I’m talking you’re NOT talking. If you want to talk, raise your hand.”

Dakshesh, fidgeting, interpreting my rule literally, immediately raises his hand and says, “Mr. Pike gives us hall passes if we have to go to the bathroom.”

More titters. I glare silently.

“Rule 2. We will be safe. No climbing, running, throwing things or touching others.”

This rule is ignored later when Gwandoya throws a box of raisins at Ibrahim’s eye and then Abdul-Muqaddim, needing a snack, eagerly retrieves the richoched raisins from the sink full of dirty chemistry beakers.

“Rule 3. “You must do your work! I have your assignment after I take roll.”


Koosooma: “Is it homework if we don’t finish?”

“I’ll tell you later. Sit down.”

The students begin to smell my rising fear. In a louder voice I say, “RULE 4: NO DISRUPTIONS PERMITTED!” Hmm, maybe this should have been Rule 1.

I continue with Rule 5, the one everyone’s been wondering about: “NO HALL PASSES!


Dakshesh again, fidgeting wildly now: “What if you have a serious Number-Two type bathroom situation?'”

Lots of sniggers, which I ignore. Ignoring is a powerful substitute tool, which never works. I revise: “NO HALL PASSES UNLESS IT’S AN EMERGENCY! I decide if it’s an emergency, and you’d better be throwing up!” This answer conveniently dove-tails into the students’ innate tendency to regurgitate teachers.

Silence. I’ve gained ground. But I know the cyclone is gathering energy.

“Rule 6: Stay in your assigned seats! No wandering around or visiting!”

“Do you understand the rules? Say YES.”


Next I take roll, which occupies 12 minutes because there are an average of 38 kids in each period, I can’t pronounce most of the names, the 22 kids still learning English can’t understand many words I say, and I slip on raisins and bang my elbow on the counter, demonstrating the ironic gravitas of my own safety rule.

Finally I give the assignment, which is also written on the board. “Read pages 666 through 681 in your Science book. In your notebook write one fact for each paragraph. There are 28 paragraphs. Do you understand the assignment? Say YES.”


“Good. Get to work.”

Elikapeka raises her hand. “I spelling 681 sentences each page, yes?”


The next 20 minutes proceed normally without any learning and lots of students wandering around talking and throwing raisins.

To not regain control, I give an impromptu lesson on gravity, which I think cleverly complements the teacher’s assignment on the climate of Antarctica. I get these pertinent questions:

“How tall are you?”

“Tall. Sit Down.”

“Where is Mr. Pike?”

I improvise: “He was in an accident.”



“Well, where is he?”

I pause and look worried as if I shouldn’t be divulging this. “He’s in Antarctica on a secret gravity mission for the Government. He’ll be back on Monday.”

En masse: “BITCHIN, DUDE!”

I repeat this entire process 7 times. After fourth period I am rewarded with a 22 minute lunch break, which I gleefully spend in the bathroom.

The last bell rings. I’m exhausted, but in a good way, because I know I’ve contributed to the enlightenment of young minds.


I know what you’re wondering: “Why would anyone want to be a substitute teacher?”

We’re not talking about that right now. SIT DOWN!

The Hungry Children (The Afternoon of the Dawn of the Day After the Day of the Living Dead, Around 2:00 pm. The Sequel)

Long ago, in the Land of Monsters, there lived many children. These were not ordinary children. They were unusually terrible, badly-behaved children with rotten teeth and rancid breath. But the children were happy because they could do whatever they wanted to do all day long. Their favorite thing to do was eat adults–all kinds of adults. Sometimes the children cut off the arms and legs of the adults and fried them in the fat of other adults. Sometimes they had boiled adult eyeballs for dinner with heaping mounds of ear wax smothered in ketchup. Sometimes they had Great Uncle intestines stuffed with old Librarian liver and steamed Police Officer brains. Sometimes they had stir-fried Uncle chins with a side of Great Grandmother toes and baked Stepmother knees for dessert. The children ate friendly adults, happy adults and sad adults. They ate rich adults, poor adults, and even adults without arms and legs who barely made a decent meal. These children were always hungry for fresh adults. These children were Zombies.

Everything was fine for many years, and then the children noticed that it was becoming harder and harder to find tasty adults to eat. There just weren’t as many fat Grandfathers with crispy skin. Many of the Grandmothers had become tough and chewy. Even the friendly Underwear Models, not wearing anything else, who normally tasted like ripe, juicy peaches covered in pistachio ice-cream, chocolate syrup, gummy bears and sprinkles, had gone to hide in the wilderness where they ate squirrels which caused them to taste like infected rats covered with worms dipped in the smelly, lumpy poop of old monkeys. Years before, the children had quickly eaten all the delicious Teachers so they wouldn’t have to go to school anymore. And did you ever wonder why there are not many Policemen, Firemen, or Farmers in the world now? Well, it’s because they were the tastiest people of all and so there are very few of them left.

The situation became desperate. The children were so hungry that they began eating the bad-tasting adults like Sewer Workers, Plumbers, Scientists, Lawyers, and Doctors. On really hungry days the children even had to eat the worst tasting adults of all: Congressmen, French People, Realtors, Insurance Salesmen and Bank Executives. No amount of seasoning or Tabasco sauce could improve their taste.

Something needed to be done! Children all over the world met secretly in clubhouses and basements and in hidey holes and barns. They exchanged emails and texts about what to do. After months of study, the children finally decided they should capture the best tasting adults and put them in large adult farms. And that’s just what the Zombie children did.

The strongest children rounded up the most delicious adults who were still young enough to have new babies, and they put them in comfortable organic farms in the countryside. The adults didn’t like it at first. But then they realized that the Zombie children fed them well and all they had to do was frolic around outside when the weather was nice and stay inside by warm fires in the winter, and eat and eat and get fat. Many adult friendships were formed among strangers, which the children permitted and even encouraged. All of a sudden, after months of this adult interaction, new babies were born everywhere and the Zombie children had to quickly build new hospitals, daycares, and bars and dance clubs.

At first it was difficult for the Zombie children and the adults to adjust to this new way of living. The Zombie children had to learn to build the adult farms and grow vegetables to feed the adults. The Zombie children realized that going to school was important so they could learn how to run the farms and account for all the expenses and do the planning and so many other important things. The adults had to learn to do what they were told, to not cause the Zombie children any trouble, and they began to want to stay healthy and fit with rippling abs and Brazilian waxes so they could have more babies. Adult coffee shops, gym memberships and tanning salons became very popular in the adult farm communities.

After many years of hardship and famine, the Zombie children’s lives got better and they prospered in their adult farming businesses. It was an exciting new world where starvation and hunger were unknown. The new babies grew into normal children who grew into adults who were then humanely slaughtered and eaten by the Zombie children. Many new recipes were developed and many new cookbooks were written by Zombie child-authors specializing in adult cuisine. Everyone was happy, even the people in the adult farms because they were content, had plenty of fresh air and exercise and were allowed to make as many new friends and babies as they could.

It was a new world filled with young, happy, prosperous Zombie children! And none of them were ever hungry again.

A Tale of Christmas Past in Two Cities, by Oliver Twist*

Setting: The English Channel, between Paris and London, at the start of the French Revolution, Saturday around 5:30.

The Americans, having finished their own revolution and a light supper, sail for Paris and the French Revolution, while the French sip lattes at the Café Rue de Les Misérables (“a miserable street deli”).

Doctor Victor Hugo Hackenbush is released from his front row Paris prison theater seat after 17 years of repairing shoes as a hobby. He is deranged and wonders how he will get back to London to start his new life. But while in the care of his servant Ernest “Borgnine” Defarge (“of the farges”) and his wife Madame “Large Bosoms” Defarge, Hackenbush is reunited with his fetching daughter, Lucy, who fetches him to England.

On their voyage to London, Lucy and Hackenbush befriend the nephew of the French Marquis Jean (“Bastille Day”) Valjean. The nephew, Charles (“lite”) Mayonnaise, who renounced his inheritance, was banished from France by the Marquis who with the help of his spy, John “Threeleg” Barstool, secrets in Mayonnaise’s pants a false letter accusing him of spying on England. Unbeknownstingly of this plot, Mayonnaise falls in love with Lucy, who, not knowing about the letter, simply thought he was happy to see her.

Later in London, while Lucy is sleeping, the implicating treasonous letter is found by a whore in Mayonnaise’s pants. The letter was also in there. Constables throw Mayonnaise in jail.

Mayonnaise is tried as an English traitor. He is then rescued by a drunken but brilliant lawyer, Sydney Carte Blanche, an oddly Frenchy name for an Englishman. Sydney falls in love with Lucy too, but she doesn’t give him Carte Blanche as with Mayonnaise. Everyone lets the senile Dr. Hackenbush decide who loves Lucy, and he chooses the real Frenchman, Lite Mayonnaise, not knowing that Mayonnaise is the nephew of the despised Marquis. Soon Mayonnaise and Lucy have a daughter, Little Lucy. Carte Blanche continues to love both Lucys while remaining drunken and lawyerly.

Back in France the evil Marquis, sensing things are going awry, rides into Paris in a carriage pulled by a horse that runs over the street urchin Oliver Twist, who was a real little dickens, but not a very artful dodger. Paralyzed by the horse in one leg (left front), Oliver rides on the shoulders of his uncle Ebenezer Scrooge, while the horse manages to get by with a limp and eye patch.

Then the Marquis is murdered just as the Americans arrive in Paris for the Revolution. Mayonnaise decides to go back to Paris to investigate, and he is promptly arrested in Paris and charged by the mob as the former big-shot nephew who fled France. He is thrown into La Force (“the force”) Prison where he is forced (LOL) to watch “I Love Lucy” reruns.

Hearing of the impending trial, the Lucy’s, Dr. Hackenbush and their friends, the Mertzes, use their frequent carriage miles to travel back to Paris. Speaking at the trial in defense of his son-in-law Mayonnaise, the Doctor wins Mayonnaise’s freedom.

At the party celebrating Mayonnaise’s acquittal, Madame Defarge produces a letter from her bosoms that Hackenbush had written years ago in the Bastille Theater. It explains why he was imprisoned and ends with a curse on the Marquis, his descendents and their horses: years earlier Hackenbush went to the Marquis’ country estate to treat a horse. In a rage, the Marquis’ brother shot the horse, not realizing that horse’s descendent would later trample Oliver Twist, the brother of Madame Defarge! Thoroughly confused about whom they should support, the partiers change sides and denounced Mayonnaise on the advice of the letter written by Defarge’s bosoms.

The Finale: Carte Blanche, willingly taking the place of Mayonnaise, is transferred to prison by guards who think he is the newly-accused Mayonnaise. At the last minute, the real Mayonnaise (har!), Hackenbush and the Lucy’s escape to London in a submersible carriage, while the innocent Oliver agrees to stand-in for the person who everyone thinks is the real Mayonnaise (but who really is Carte Blanche)! Sydney slips out the back and later stars as Captain Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music”.

The play ends when Oliver, lured by a Christmas pudding, ascends to the guillotine proclaiming, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, and God bless us, every one”. The curtain falls on the neck of the Marquis’ horse, which spends the rest of its life in a wheelchair.

*Another edition in the irritating series “Play Synopses for Modern Readers Ignorant of the Classics”. You may also enjoy “Rigoletto Comes to Utah” by the same author.

Happy New 14th B’ak’tun!

If you’re reading this, the Mayan Long Count Calendar reset on December 21, 2012 and the prophesied end-of-world disasters didn’t happen. Or maybe they did happen, and another version of you is here in one of those theorized infinite number of almost-identical multiple universes, except now you have two left thumbs and everyone is Mormon. Either way, welcome to the start of the new Mayan epoch known as the 14th B’ak’tun.

That’s right, the 13th B’ak’tun has ended. This excerpt from Wikipedia makes it all clear:

A full Long Count date not only includes the five digits of the Long Count, but the 2-character Tzolk’in and the two-character Haab’ dates as well. The five digit Long Count can therefore be confirmed with the other four characters (the “calendar round date”). One can check whether this date is correct by the following calculation: The Tzolk’in date is counted forward from 4 Ajaw. To calculate the numerical portion of the Tzolk’in date, add 4 to the total number of days given by the date, and then divide total number of days by 13.

I note that in the above calculation it may be easier to find out how many days there are since 4 Ajaw 8 Kumk’u, and show how the date 5 Kib’ 14 Yaxk’in is derived. Don’t forget to carry the K’ank’in.

Since my recent induction as a substitute teacher and the creation of my own personal apocalypse, several Junior High School students have seriously asked me if I think the world would end on December 21st. Seeing this as an opportunity to discuss the differences between religious belief and scientific theory, I responded, “Well, many people believe it will end, but in the USA we teach science.” Then their bright little eyes glimmer with the hope that I, as the scientist they know me to be, will say that there is no scientific evidence that the world will end on the 21st. And I do say that, and then I also say, “But we also know that the earth could end for other scientifically valid reasons at any minute, like a huge asteroid crashing into us or a huge volcanic eruption that will block out all sunlight and we will die painfully from starvation if not from fire. “So, yes class,” I continue, “the world will no doubt end—probably not on December 21—but it could happen within a very few months.” Their eyes get huge and they suddenly ask for a bathroom hall pass, which I joyfully withhold.

Now that I really have the students’ attention, I neglect the teacher’s lesson plan on the geography of Antarctica, and instead we discuss the Mayans. I explain that they had wars simply to take prisoners whom they could sacrifice to the gods, usually by decapitation and sometimes by cutting out the beating heart. The class can relate to this because over the millennia Sir Charles Edison Graham-Bell’s scientific theory of the Natural Selection of Principals has caused 7th graders to often eat substitute teachers alive after the tardy bell rings.

Just at the start of my explanation about Ixtab, the Mayan Goddess of Suicide, one geeky kid raises his hand and says, “Mr. Woodside, could the Moon’s and Sun’s gravity add together to make the space rock crash into the Earth faster and kill everyone in a week instead of a few months?”

I reply, “Very good, Norman. That is correct because, as we have learned, the Earth has a magnetic field that literally pulls stuff, even light, closer to us according to the Wright Brothers’ Theory of Gravity”. As Norman considers this another kid hits him in the ear, deservedly, with a spit ball.

Steering the topic back to the Mayans, I have just enough class time to resume explaining that one time in a 5th grade class Ixtab was running in the hall with Kish, the God of the Stingray Spine, and they both tripped and Kish speared Mr. Yum Kaax, the God of Corn, through the heart, who was that day substituting for Mr. Hun Batz, God of the Howler Monkey. The school went into lockdown and eventually all Substitutes were allowed to bring concealed low-caliber skull-piercing darts to school.

If your world did end, and if you now find yourself in a new universe as a Mormon substitute teacher with two left thumbs, may your classes contain only Advanced Placement High School science students. And may you have a very happy 14th B’ak’tun.

Mispellings (sic!)

Why can some people correctly spell a word they’ve never used and other people sometimes spell their own name wrong?

There are at least two theories of spelling.  One theory holds that spelling is accomplished phonetically.  One constructs a word by hearing the groups of sounds in the word.  But hold the homophone!  Since English spelling has many exceptions to the rules, this method can get you in trouble.  Some words have the same pronunciation but different meanings and sometimes different spellings.  These words are called homophones.  One word that always fouls me up is “palate” whose pronunciation works for three different words: ‘p-a-l-a-t-e’, meaning “the roof of the mouth”, ‘p-a-l-e-t-t-e’, as in “a painter’s palette of colors”, and ‘p-a-l-l-e-t’, which can mean “a portable platform for carrying freight”.

The theory of spelling that I use is the “sight method”.   As I spell a word I compare it to the picture of the word in my mind.  This method requires that you have seen the word sometime before, even if you’ve never used it, and it requires a good memory.  The sight method is not flawless, however.  I always mispell the word “misspell” by using only one “s”.  See?  I did it again.  This word must have been mispelled the first time I saw it.

Some people, like my brother, use a statistical method.  One time he was told by a grocery cashier that ‘f-o-u-r-t-y’ on his check was misspelled.  He replied, “I alternate ‘f-o-u-r-t-y’ and  ‘f-o-r-t-y’ so that I’m guaranteed of getting it right half the time.”

Every day at work I walked past an irritating sign.  It said, “Caution!  When the red light is flashing, X-rays are emmitted.”  “Emmitted” should, of course, only have one ‘m’.  For years I wondered who “Emmit” was.

Good spellers always notice spelling errors.  On roadtrips my mother would frequently point to signs with misspelled words.  She’d say, “Look! ’M-a-s-a-c-h-u-s-e-t-t-s’ is spelled wrong.”  We always found this odd because we were driving in Virginia.  I bet that even people who live in Massachusetts don’t know how to spell it.  They’ll say things like, “Oh, I’m from Boston”.  The joke’s on them because there’d be no actual spelling involved anyway if they were saying, “I’m from Massachusetts”.

So if you’re a naturally good speller, congratulations; you’ll have an easy life.  If you can’t hit the broad side of a spelling bee, though, never mind.  Just look-up your troublesome words in the dictionary.  Of course, you’ll have to know how to spell them first.