On Hiatus

May 1, 2011

“Rubber Chicken Soup” is on indefinite hiatus.  Please feel free to read, re-read and comment on existing columns.

Tom Pender

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Ten Signs That Facebook Is Taking Over Your Life

April 26, 2011

by Thomas M. Pender

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10.)      Whenever someone tells you good news, you immediately stick your thumb in the air and cheer, “Like!”

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9.)        You become frustrated when you realize you don’t immediately know what’s going on in the daily lives of your 350 closest friends.

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8.)        You have no qualms about raiding your friends’ real address books to find new friends.

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7.)        You feel personally slighted when someone tells you they went out to dinner and a show . . . but the “news” is over two days old!

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6.)        When someone shows you pictures of their family members, you can’t resist the urge to comment on each one.

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5.)        While you talk to folks you know, you find yourself glancing to the right a lot, waiting for ads to pop up.

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4.)        You feel a tremendous urge several times a day to announce to everyone you know how you feel, what you think, how you vote, what you did last weekend, what you’re doing next weekend, what foods you like and dislike, and your children’s latest bowel movements and other accomplishments.

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3.)        Discussing the latest activities of your acquaintances seems rather flat without 30 pictures to leaf through.

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2.)        It honestly bothers you when you don’t know your stepbrother’s and paperboy’s favorite bands and political views without actually asking.

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and

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1.)        When filling out official forms, you have to stop yourself from filling in your middle name as “KingOfHisDomain,” “DangerPuppy” or “PartyGurl.”

Two “Heaven”ly Poems From March 1988

April 25, 2011

by Thomas M. Pender

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Some poems come out so short, I just call them “thoughts”:

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Heaven is a hot summer
day with a bottomless
glass of Coke and ice.
-March 1988
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If Heaven
truly is a Paradise,
then my Daddy
is at his Colorado cabin
fishing,
hunting,
and telling anyone who’ll
listen about his wife and kids.
-3/24/88
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written by t. michael pender  3/88
©1988 T. Michael Pender.  All rights reserved.

Hereafter, a.k.a. “Les” Miserable

April 22, 2011

by Thomas M. Pender

I like Matt Damon.  I really do.  I enjoyed him in lighter dramatic fare, such as Good Will Hunting, heavier drama like Saving Private Ryan, and even silly things like Dogma and the infamous duet with Sarah Silverman on Jimmy Kimmel’s show (which I can’t tell you the name of!).  He’s a talented guy.

Yet, as Hollywood history has proven again and again, even the best actor cannot carry a film if the film is unwatchable.  The script, director, producer . . . many components play their parts in making a movie, from concept to finished reel.  Personally, on this project it’s the script that has me stumped.  Who read this and thought it would be well received by an American audience?

To begin with – and I’ll try not to exaggerate – half of the script is in French.  I did not wish to see a foreign film when I rented Hereafter.  Foreign films give me headaches.  You miss the whole show whilst reading subtitles at everyone’s waistline.  Here, interspersed with Damon’s scenes, are scenes of a woman in France and twin boys in England.  Not until you are a full 90 minutes into the 120-minute show do any of these people prove they have anything whatsoever to do with each other.  For 90 minutes, you feel like you’re watching three movies with a spouse who won’t let go of the remote control!  When they do finally interact, it’s so anticlimactic you’ll wish you could demand your money back from the Redbox.

Damon himself is the only box office draw, and it seems a good waste of the producers’ money, since they don’t let him act.  Unless “catatonic” and “unaffected” can be viewed as emotions that are difficult to fake, any box of corn flakes could have acted this part, at a mere fraction of the cost.

I’m surprised that I didn’t eject this one 45 minutes in.  If you’ve ever struggled through a movie, swearing to yourself that there must be some reason people made it and then paid to see it, you’ll understand what it’s like to watch Hereafter.  Hopefully, that will save you some time and money.

Bill and Noah and Albert and Me

April 21, 2011

by Thomas M. Pender

The fact that I could memorize just about anything that interested me became evident at a very early age.  While I couldn’t learn science to save my life (and still can’t!), I could eventually recite half-hour sitcoms with the greatest of ease.  One major accomplishment was that by the age of six, I had committed to memory every skit on my parents’ The Best of Bill Cosby album.  It never occurred to me that I could simply recite the routines, but I did enjoy making friends and family laugh by lip-synching and acting out Mr. Cosby’s stories of Noah’s conversations with his next-door neighbor and God, as well as humorous tales of The Lone Ranger, Fat Albert, and Adam and Eve.

Then, I had an idea.  If my best friend Dave laughed so much at my pantomimes, maybe the entire class would like them, too!  With my mom’s and my teacher’s permissions, I took the record to school one day, stood in front of the class, and pretended to tell them stories.  It was a hit!  First-graders were giggling at every desk, and even my teacher laughed.  About a year later, I realized that I had a brand-new audience in the second grade, and I repeated my one-boy show.  By the sixth grade and the end of my elementary school run, I had performed the entire LP of routines a total of seven times (including a repeat performance in the fourth grade, due to a family move to a whole new school districtful of fresh listeners).

In retrospect, I’m not quite sure how I got up in front of those students.  I had awful stage fright throughout my childhood.  I guess it was the fact that someone else really did the performing, and I just went along with him, that relaxed me.  I mean, I couldn’t really forget a line, now, could I?  They were spoken for me.  And as history proved, the routines were pretty much guaranteed to get laughs.  Those first years, I had to sweat through mouthing one “damn” and one “hell,” but no teacher so much as raised an eyebrow, so I relaxed about that.

It’s sort of a shame that I deemed junior high too sophisticated for the Cosby/Pender show, but I know I made the right choice.  In a way, it would have helped me during the seventh grade, during my nervous first weeks of wandering the halls looking for classrooms (which I now had to switch every hour), remembering locker numbers and combinations, and surviving a new crop of bullies.  I did slowly learn that making the bigger, tougher boys laugh was a smart move, and I always attempted to entertain the roughest kids I could find during the early days of each new school year.

It was just a bit tougher, since I had to do it on my own.  Leaving Bill and his characters behind was quite a rite of passage.

The Aroma Of New Life

April 20, 2011

by Thomas M. Pender

Just a few weeks before my first baby was born, my mom surprised and intrigued me with a rather odd tip.  She said, “When you’re with the baby for the first time, smell it.”  I asked why, probably joking that all newborns probably smell like baby powder and pee.   She told me that, in fact, every newborn has its own unique smell.

With Garrett, I don’t remember exactly when I got the chance to do this, but I did remember to try it.  No baby powder or natural functions could be detected on my infant son.  Garrett smelled like . . . sugar cookies!  In fact, for the first few days of his life on Earth, I called him “Sugarboy,” but this quickly evolved into “Honeyboy,” which stuck for the first six or nine months.

Four years later, when I actually got to be alone with newborn John Christian for a couple of hours, one of the things I did – along with tell him about his family, sing to him and thank God for his safe delivery – was to breathe in deep near the soft skin at the top of his head.  Whereas Garrett smelled of something specific, with Johnny it was an overall smell of spices, like I was in a baker’s closet.

Again, I was surprised.  Not because I didn’t believe my mother, but simply because I had never heard of such an individual element in babies.  Maybe it’s just because I’m a guy, and we don’t hear or retain such information.  Most men might not even care, but I think my generation – and now the one after me, which is old enough to be creating another – is peopled by men who allow themselves to show love.   Who kiss their kids in public, who say “I love you” into the phone, and who are not embarrassed to carry stuffed animals or be invited to their daughters’ tea parties.  This is a wonderful thing.

To those who may not have heard of this mystical bonding trick, give it a try.  If you don’t have a newborn of your own, or one on the way soon, remember to smell the forehead of your sister’s baby, or another in your family.  It really is a wonder of Nature!

Can You Hear Us?

April 18, 2011

by Thomas M. Pender

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Do you know how we wonder where you are?
When Mom blames you, do you deny everything?
Are you with me when I listen to Marty Robbins in my car?
Did you read the poems we wrote for you?
Are you aware of our problems, of our triumphs?
Did you know Kristi got a 100 on that test?
Can you see Debi when she teaches her class?
Are you proud of Scott’s grades?
Do you still laugh and mutter “ugly dog”?
Can you see our faces when we gaze at the stars?
Do you think I look like you?
Do you step into our dreams at will?
Were you really coaching me when I was looking for the dipstick?
Do you like the way I cleaned up the basement?
Are you happy your body was buried at sea?
Do you know what your grandchildren will look like?
Are you a star or a little bird now?
Do you smile when we sit around telling stories?
Do you think I solve my problems okay?
Can you read over my shoulder when I write?
Do you know your grandchildren’s names?
Do you know how Trevor’s doing?
What does God look like?
Is He a nice guy?
Do you get to visit Colorado?
Did you sit with Mom and see me graduate?
Do you see Grandpa, Grandma and Joanne often?
Can you see the ladies that Kelli and Kari have become?
Are you proud of your children?
Do you know how we miss you?
Can you hear us?
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written by t. michael pender  4/1/89
©1989 T. Michael Pender.  All rights reserved.

A Beginner’s Guide To Spotting Sucky Movies

April 15, 2011

by Thomas M. Pender

It’s an age-old conundrum: How can I know if a film is worth seeing, without actually seeing the film?  With ticket prices as high as they are today, it makes sense that consumers wish to know – or to at least have a decent amount of probability – that they will enjoy a movie before they see it.  The goal here is to find the great movies, and avoid the godawful flicks.

I can be of some assistance in the latter half of that puzzle.

Assuming the potential ticket buyer either has no access to the film’s trailer, or is not satisfied with the information found there, it’s a good idea to read the reviews.  Still, reviews are opinions, and those of other people, no less.  How can this be helpful?

The key, dear friends, is in how the reviews are written.

First, a lesson in wording and definitions.  The review words “zany,” “wacky” and “madcap,” exclusively used in reviews of comedies, ironically means unfunny.  Not in a dictionarial sense, but in a real-world sense.  These three words come to a reviewer’s mind when a screen writer’s idea of ccmedy involves such tired images as pie throwing, stop-action sped-up chase scenes, and cartoony sound effects whenever someone is hit on the head with a real-life lethal object, such as a sledge hammer.  Unless you are under the age of six, and have time-portalled back to 1972, this is by no means cause for smiling, let alone roaring with laughter.  This is actually cause for peeking at your watch every three minutes and praying for end credits.  For the wiser set, these buzzwords are code for “Do not even think about coming near this film.  Pretty much, ever.”

And second, the excessive use of ellipses.  Ellipses are those three dots you see in movie reviews, placed between one-to-three-word bullet phrases, such as “. . . a must-see . . . brilliant . . .a classic!”  Now, legally, you cannot misrepresent someone’s exact words.  This is called libel.  Therefore, you cannot change someone’s words and keep quote marks around the phrasing, because they did not actually say what you’re writing.

However, there is a loophole.

Let’s say your film gets absolutely trashed by a respected reviewer.  Well, you certainly don’t want to write the awful remarks into your advertisements, but the conspicuous absence of a review by, say, a Roger Ebert might shout “Load of rubbish!” to the money-holding public, as well.  So what do you do?  Well, legally what you can do is quote a person’s words . . . even if you don’t quote all of them!  Take the above made-up review:

“. . . a must-see . . . brilliant . . .a classic!”

Sounds good, right?  But consider that since some words are missing, this could be an accurate partial quote of the sentence “This piece of garbage film will never be A MUST-SEE in my book!  The BRILLIANT thing to do is to avoid this mess of a movie like The Plague.  Only an escaped lunatic would consider this release A CLASSIC!”

Accurately partial-quoted, but somewhat misleading by the marketing squad, wouldn’t you say?  To be safe, don’t trust a review you can’t actually read.

I hope this tiny cinematic lesson has been of some service.  If I save one human being from sitting through one horrid film, I’ll consider my work here justified.

Spring Thaw of the Religious Salesmen

April 14, 2011

by Thomas M. Pender

Lots of things changed in college when the snow melted and the mercury rose.  The clothes people wore got thinner and smaller, the music got louder because the windows got opener, and the once wintry and serene campus became inundated with soldiers from various religious armies.  In particular, the Krishnas and the Gideons wrestled for us students’ attentions and affections, with the occasional evangelistic twentysomething thrown in for flavor.

The Krishnas were for pure entertainment value, near as I could figure.  Humorous hairstyles and wardrobes, matched with unimaginative dance moves and song lyrics.  It seemed to be a bad roadshow musical without a decent manager.  When we’d walk by with our books, we’d hear “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna,” and in the spirit of friendliness, I’d offer, “Merry Christmas to you, too!”  When approached by one particular fellow, I asked, “Have your parents seen a recent photo?”  The chap did not seem in the mood for conversation, so I went about my way . . . which was, of course, what I was doing when he intercepted me in the first place.

The Gideons, on the other hand, were well-dressed, well-groomed gentlemen, all in their early to mid-sixties.  Under rather intense new-spring sun, they stood on every conceivable campus street corner in their three-piece suits – without sweating, mind you! – offering tiny shrunken Bibles to absolutely everyone who passed their post.  Most of my friends ended “Gideon Day” with one carry-along copy, to wave at the other pitchmen to illustrate “Got one, thanks.”  One friend in my dorm, however, saw it as an opportunity to break some sort of imaginary world record.  He collected Gideon Bibles from absolutely every passer-outer he came across that day!  I don’t think this is the goal of the Gideons, as I’m sure the dashing hawkers are aware that each copy reads pretty much the same as every other copy.  Still, I had to admire my friend’s determination and dedication.  To this day, I don’t know what he did with all those Testaments.

Once the Krishna courtyard and Gideon corners were maneuvered, you would run into the occasional stranger with the glassy-eyed frozen smile who would approach you with an already extended hand, saying, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?” before even “Hello.”  Quite an interesting conversation-starter in some circles, I imagine.  Without taking the hand – and thereby implying that I wished a conversation – I’d say, “Yep, thanks,” and keep walking.  It’s terrible when people can make you squirm about something that normally feels good.  Then there were the Campus Evangelists.  Those who stand on short brick walls in open areas, shouting fire and brimstone to a wide open space full of moving targets.  The show I caught involved one energetic lad pointing at as many people as he could find, shouting, “You’re a sinner!  And you’re a sinner, too!”  How instrumental can this tactic be in recruiting folks for whatever army he was representing?  Had I been more interested in controversy than simply making it to class, I would have challenged, “Did you skip over the ‘Judge not, and ye shall not be judged’ passage, there, Brother?”  Sure, it’s an easy leap to assume everyone in sight – who happened to be human – was a sinner, but how rude to scream it to the public, without at least an “I’m a sinner right along with you!” in there somewhere.

I try very hard never to judge people.  I word things carefully, so as not to even appear as though I’m judging.  To this end, I would not say that these sects are peopled with weirdos.  I would say that these sects have . . . unique! . . . ways of bringing people into religion.  Is that nonjudgmental?

Magical Mystery Caffeine

April 13, 2011

by Thomas M. Pender

I’ve often bragged that I’m addicted to absolutely nothing, except my children.  Without giving illegal or dangerous addictions even the respect of a mention, I’ve actually evaded the all-American addiction of caffeine.

This has a good news/bad news effect.  I like the fact that I am not in need of caffeine, and that I can drink as much or as little as I want without any unwanted side effects.  I don’t like the fact that when I do need something in my system to keep me alert, I have nothing to turn to.

I knew once I graduated from college that I would never touch coffee.  I’ve heard that most people start drinking the sludge either in the military or in college, and all for the purpose of staying awake.  Personally, I believe I’m immune to caffeine’s electricity.  On the few desperate occasions that I’ve downed Mountain Dew after Mountain Dew in an effort to stay awake, I’ve never been rewarded with any kind of energy boost.  I can send two liters of Coca-Cola down my gullet, and crawl into bed for a long night’s nap.  While in college in the ‘80s, Jolt Cola was introduced, and I have to believe that college campus sales alone kept the company afloat.

Jolt was basically a gag product.  It said right on the label “All of the sugar and twice the caffeine!”  It was as if the marketing team behind it was laughing at the American consumer, saying, “Go ahead, we dare you.  Buy this in public, so everyone will know that you are a junkie.”  Yet, it sold like spiked hotcakes.

Not like my friends.  Their good news is that the crud is waiting for them every morning, whether at work or home (or on every street corner now!).  Their bad news is that they cannot function without it (and are, thus, addicts).  I know several human beings who advise others not even to say “hello” to them until they’ve had one entire coffee and about 20 minutes for it to work its alchemy on their nerve endings and vocal chords.  It’s rather sad.

Unless you’re me.  Then, it’s rather humorous!  (Insert evil echoey laugh here.)