Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? Answers, Finally

Photo courtesy of Madison Guy

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Apparently, if you’re six years old, “to get to the other side” is an acceptable and singularly humorous answer to this age-old question which seems to date from a New York magazine article published around 1850.

The answer may also depend upon whom you ask. So, if some well-known personalities were asked “Why did the chicken cross the road?”, they might respond along these lines:

Dick Cheney: It was fleeing from me. I tried to wing it with my AK-47, but took out the KFC sign half a mile down the road instead.

George W. Bush: I don’t know about things like that – Laura doesn’t let me cross the road alone. But I hope the poor chicken doesn’t misunderestimate the traffic.

Al Gore: I invented the chicken.

Ron Paul: That’s none of our concern. Chickens should be free to cross roads without government intervention.

Sarah Palin: Fry baby, fry!

Arnold Schwarzenegger: I don’t know the answer, but I can tell it’s a girlie chicken by the way it walks.

Michael Moore: After being confined, abused, and repressed by capitalistic poultry farmers, the chicken was escaping to freedom, to star in my new movie “Eggo.”

Paris Hilton: Just because I’m, like, umm, gorgeous and an heiress, I still have my own views about chickens and roads. Let me check with my agent to see what I think.

Lindsay Lohan: It crossed? Dang, I must have missed it.

Charlie Sheen: Winging!

David Letterman: And the number one reason the chicken crossed the road – it was fleeing when it saw this week’s CBS ratings.

Dr. Phil: The issue is not why the chicken is crossing, by why we’re enabling it to engage in risky activities.

Samuel L. Jackson: Clearly, this is one dumb mother clucker.

Darth Vader: It was crossing over to the Dark Side. May the sauce be with you.

Bill Gates: In this age, we shouldn’t have to worry about real chickens and potential poultry highway carnage. The next version of Windows will feature an app where a virtual chicken can safely cross simulated roads.

The United Nations: We will send a team of poultry inspectors to the road site in question and determine if a crossing is viable.  Then we will form a committee to determine if the chicken crossing should be internationally sanctioned. This may take 2 or 3 years at which time we will make an unenforceable recommendation.

Woody Allen: I can’t look at chickens. I get the urge to move to Rhode Island.

Superman:  It was my fellow crime fighter Super Chicken, in disguise as Cluck Kent.

Mel Gibson: Bloody chickens! They’re responsible for all the bad eggs in this world.

Martha Stewart: It was trying to escape my crockpot. I wanted it for a recipe I was testing for my new book, “Cooking with Conviction.”

Pat Robertson: Only the good Lord knows. But this is typical of liberal, feminist poultry that are clearly being tempted by the devil to stray from their homes and family. Repent, chicken, or God will appear in the form of a speeding ’86 Buick and strike you down.

Tiger Woods: It was probably scared of me. I used to hit a lot of birdies and eagles.

Kirstie Alley: Because I was chasing it. Why? Three words: Chicken Pot Pie.

William Shatner: “ChicKHAAAAAANNN!!!”

DeForest Kelley: I don’t know, I’m a doctor, not a chicken plucker. Wait! Look out for that car! Oh no… he’s dead, Jim.

Dr. Suess: I do not like chickens on the road I do not like them with a toad I do not like them with green beans I do not like them with collard greens I do not like them in my commode.

Steven Wright: I met this grouchy chicken by the side of the road today. I think it was brooding.

Donald Trump: You’re fried!

Bill O’Reilly: It was walking in my No Spin Zone and I hit it. Stupid chicken! Okay, so the secular, union-loving, veggo, anti-gun totting, pro-choice, global warmer, far left nutjobs have no problem allowing chickens to just wander recklessly across roads. They don’t care what damage it did to my car, ALRIGHT? Oh, so it’s MY fault that the chicken got hit? Get OFF the roads, chickens! And that’s a memo.

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Nick Thomas

Nick Thomas has written for more than 180 magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, and Christian Science Monitor. Nick can be reached at alongtheselines@gmx.com.

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Along These Lines: Handshakes through History

Photo courtesy of Richard Busch


I’ve never been especially fond of shaking hands. As a child, I rated it on the same level of disdain as being kissed by smothering, elderly ladies with more facial hair than a Shih Tzu.

Today, I’m older and wiser, but more germophobic. So the thought of millions of bacteria and viruses hitching a ride on our skin during this human greeting ritual only makes it more hideous.

And when you really think about it, isn’t handshaking a rather odd custom?

Its origin is somewhat obscure. One plausible theory dates from Roman times, when men carried daggers and similar weaponry for protection as they traveled the long, lonely, roads.

If they came upon a stranger, it was not uncommon to reach for one’s dagger and brandish it as a warning to a potential assailant. Not a particularly friendly gesture perhaps, and even today not an entirely unknown practice in some urban areas.

However, once it was established that your new acquaintance was not planning to steal all your hard earned shekels, daggers would usually be re-sheathed. Open hands would be extended to demonstrate your benign intent, then gripped together in confirmation of new, best buddy status.

But it seems there could also be a biological component associated with greeting rituals, because they are not restricted to humans. Other primates, such as chimpanzees, greet each other by touching hands too, although they rarely reach for weapons or antiseptic hand wipes.

It turns out that handshaking is actually a somewhat simplistic form of greeting compared to the more elaborate behavior displayed by other animals. In fact, methods of expressing greetings in other species are as varied as the species themselves.

For instance, wild dolphins greet their pals using individual whistle signatures. Each has a unique whistle which the dolphins use to recognize one another. Of course, human males once widely mimicked this method to greet (or at least casually acknowledge the existence of) female members of their species. However, since the 1960s, many female humans have spurned this primitive greeting ritual as being offensive, and regard it as evidence of limited emotional evolution in their male counterparts.

In the case of large cats, such as lions, they generally greet each other by rubbing their heads and bodies against each other. Again, it would probably be unwise for humans to mimic such contact, at least during an initial meeting, since this gesture could possibly be misinterpreted.

Better to remain a little more aloof like domestic cats. They are far less demonstrative than their larger cousins, and merely put their tails straight up in the air when a friendly fellow feline approaches.

Elephants say “hi” by entwining their trunks; giraffes press their necks together; and horses rub noses. Wolves wave their tails and lick each other’s face, while penguins tap their bills together.

Even rats acknowledge their buddies. They will face each other, stand high on their hind legs, and emit a series of squeaks and squeals. Rats are quite smart, actually. They probably learned this form of greeting from humans who behave in much the same fashion when they themselves unexpectedly come upon a rodent in the pantry.

As uncomfortable as handshaking is for some of us humans, it’s certainly preferable to other greeting rituals used in the animal kingdom – canine tailgating obviously comes to mind. In fact, quite a few animal species are clearly in need of etiquette lessons when it comes to salutations.

For instance, lobsters greet by squirting urine on each other. It appears that when two boisterous males meet, their urine carries a record of who’s the boss and this helps to avoid fights. I expect conflict would likely escalate should humans adopt this crustacean welcoming gesture.

Along these lines, even mammals can demonstrate less than hygienic greetings. Hippos display aggressive and territorial characteristics by hurling excrement on rivals when they meet in the herd.

If this practice sounds somewhat familiar, it should. That’s because it is sometimes also observed in human society, particularly during a ritual known as “political campaigning.”

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Nick Thomas

Nick Thomas has written for more than 180 magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, and Christian Science Monitor. Nick can be reached at alongtheselines@gmx.com.

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Along These Lines: How Knot to Right

Photo courtesy of Aaron Brown

Since we are now a few weeks into the new school year, I would like to undress you all today concerning a serious education problem facing this nation – the inability of the younger generators to write properly.

It’s a very disturbing trend, because there is a vast suppository of knowledge lodged in the collective minds of today’s youth who desperately need to espresso themselves better.

As one of our grating vice-presidents, Dan Quayle, appropriatingly mistated:  “Verbosity leads to unclear, inarticulate things.”

I could not depress it any better than that.

So why do students have difficulty writing?

Well, let me play the devil’s avocado for a moment. Perhaps we could place the blame on the country’s broken education cistern and its incontinent teachers. But this just adds a salt to injury, which really stings. Our educators are the finest in the world, so we shouldn’t place the blame at our teachers’ feats.

Students must accept some responsibly. They are often too focused on afterschool extra-vehicular activities such as sports, playing with their X-boxers, and movies.

In fact, we should condemn the film industry’s affluence which emphasizes fantasy and violence, rather than educating an audience. And with their rampant erotic themes, it could be argued that Hollywood had been grossly negligée in this area.

Much of the fault (and it’s not just a pigment of my imagination) also rests with the parents – and you know who you are. If you don’t, modern forensic science can help with the aid of NBA testing.

The simple fact is that today’s parents are often too busy to think about insuring their children’s academic success. Some parents are so stressed, they even resource to drinking. I personally know several who regularly attend Alcoholics Unanimous.

As a result, children are neglected: they return home to empty houses, have to blow wave their own TV dinners or eat junk food, then struggle alone to copy homework essays from the Internet. Where are the parents to warn that Cheetos never prosper?

It’s no wonder kids neglect their studies and create mischief at school, even those who come from effluent families.

Students have always had a knack for irrigating their teachers, but today’s kids can be especially disruptive. Just the other day, I read of a child who opened all the faucets in his school’s arrest room. The water damage was so severe, they had to evaporate the school. Honesty, this nautical behavior leaves me with Butterfingers in my stomach.

Students need guidance – emotionally and academically. Teachers and parents have a responsibility to enrage a student’s mind by forcing them to develop communication skills and the ability to repress themselves in writing.

I know teaching the rules of composition often goes down like a lead baboon, but they are essential tools for invective expression.

Let’s examine some writing basics.

Tenses. These often cause trouble, especially if you forget them when camping. But I digress.

Punctuation: No English teacher wants to send home students with conjuctionitis or have to perform a semicolonoscopy on a term paper rife with punctuation errors.

What about grammar, I hear you ask?  Well, the old battle-ax has been living with us for seven years now and refuses to croak, but I digest again.

I think you can see what I’m incinerating here. No student likes to be prepositioned by a teacher.  But developing writing skills can be a huge advantage when competing for employment.

For instance, what kid wouldn’t strive to become an extinguished American libel filmmaker like Michael Smore?  Or a renounced vice-president such as Joe Bidet? Or even a visionary inventor, such as Henry Forward?

So as the summer drawers to a clothes and students return to school, I invite them, their teachers and parents, to work together to make more young Americans legitimate. Let’s stamp out mixed meteors forever, and never spit another infinitive again.

(For impugning his writing skills, the author would like to acknowledge his11th grade English teacher, Miss Marla Props, a graduate of the Norm Crosby College of Electrocution).

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Nick Thomas

Nick Thomas has written for more than 180 magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, and Christian Science Monitor. Nick can be reached at alongtheselines@gmx.com.

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Along These Lines: Ernie Borgnine

For years I had been trying to snag an interview with veteran actor, Ernest Borgnine. But each time I nagged his long-time publicist, Harry Flynn, Harry always had good excuses: “Ernie’s away filming.” “He’s overseas on holiday.” “He’s out of state on business.” “He’s off doing a book tour… Ask me again in a few months.”

My hopes for a chat with the aging Borgnine began to dim. But then, in December of 2011, our paths crossed in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico.

I was sailing on the first Turner Classic Movies film cruise with some 2,000 other passengers, along with several celebrity shipmates, including Borgnine. We got our first glimpse while boarding the ship.

As we stood in line to proceed through security, my wife noticed a motorized scooter pulling alongside us, inching its way to the head of the line. But I didn’t give it much thought. “Look,” my observant wife said to me, “it’s Ernest Borgnine!”

“Everywhere you go now you have to wait,” said a very cheerful Borgnine.

He was wearing a baseball cap and glasses, which I offered as a somewhat feeble explanation for failing to recognize the then 94-year-old Hollywood legend. In his characteristic booming, gravelly, voice, he added with a broad grin, “except when they want to take your money! See you all aboard!”

And see him we did, many times.

Just a few hours later, there was a compulsory safety drill. But the folks demonstrating the emergency procedures had to compete for the crowd’s attention when Borgnine came in and was mobbed by well-wishers. Had the signal to man the lifeboats come through then, I suspect many passengers would have gone down with the ship, still straining to get a glimpse of Ernie (he always preferred fans to call him Ernie).

Hardly a day went by when we didn’t see him moving through the ship, smiling and waving at passengers, pausing for a handshake, posing for a photograph, or giving an autograph or hug to a fan. I can’t imagine too many of today’s self-absorbed stars being so gracious.

During the cruise, TCM arranged for me to sit down one-on-one with Borgnine for a 20 minute interview. He was just a delight – such a gentleman, so graceful, and down to earth.

Although he was clearly a showman and enjoyed interacting with the fans, their admiration seemed to overwhelm him a bit. “It’s one thing to like an actor, but the kind of love people have shown me is amazing. I don’t know why, because I certainly don’t deserve it,” he said humbly. I naturally suggested he was being too modest.

“I don’t see it that way,” he said. “To me, acting is just a job I do for a living. I’m just a working stiff and want to get along with everyone. I don’t go in for all that adulation stuff.”

At the same time, Borgnine admitted that recognition is also a measure of an actor’s success. He recounted an earlier time in his life as a struggling young actor when he emerged from a LA restaurant one day, wondering if people would ever recognize him.

He got his answer, he told me, years later when traveling on another, smaller boat, this time around Easter Island. “I put my head up out of the boat to look for the statues on the island and a woman on the dock nearby saw me. ‘Oh my God, Ernest Borgnine!’ she yelled. And I said to myself, ‘You’ve made it!’”

There’s no doubt that he “made it.” Along these lines in the past decade alone, Borgnine appeared in almost 30 films and many TV shows, a number that could be considered a career for some actors.

I suspect many of us classic movie fans hoped that Borgnine would live and continue to work “forever.” But nature is uncompromising on that subject. He passed away in July, quite unexpectedly, after a lifetime of good health.

Borgnine could play the heavy, as in “From Here to Eternity” or 1973’s “Emperor of the North.” But he was also a great “good guy” on film (“Escape From New York), TV (McHale’s Navy), and in real life (unwavering support for our military). TCM will present a 24-hour memorial tribute on July 26 including 1955’s “Marty,” for which Borgnine won the Best Actor Oscar playing a good-natured but shy butcher.

Clearly, he was proud of his success. “Wow, if mom could see me now!” he told me towards the end of our interview.

Now she can, Ernie.

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Nick Thomas

Nick Thomas has written for more than 180 magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, and Christian Science Monitor. Nick can be reached at alongtheselines@gmx.com.

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Along These Lines: When Fleas Don’t Flee

This has been an especially active year for annoying pests invading American homes. But let’s ignore the presidential candidates that sneak into your house via the TV screen with their irritating campaign commercials, and focus on parasites of the six-legged variety – fleas.

They have been particularly prolific across the country this year due to a warm, moist spring. And if you have dogs or cats, even if they mostly remain inside, fleas still somehow manage to hitch a ride and set up residence in your carpet and furniture.

So what’s an itchy, frustrated homeowner to do?

In extreme cases of infestation, some may explore the easy option first: burn down the house and collect the insurance. But for those with a sense of integrity, or no insurance, chemical treatment of the house or pet may be a better and less felonious alternative.

In the case of pet treatment, this may include the use of flea collars, pills, or monthly medicine applied to the skin. Unfortunately, some of these products are proving to be ineffective this flea season.

Your next line of defense should be bathing. While this generally presents few problems for dogs, cats are an entirely different matter.

Flea issues aside, many people incorrectly believe cats are like self-cleaning ovens and never need a good scrub down. It’s an easy mistake to make. But just because your cousin Earl licks himself clean doesn’t mean your cat will have the same success, even if it can reach places Earl can’t.

So occasional cat bathing is recommended, especially when there is a flea problem. But beware. Cats do have a habit of transforming from cute, fluffy, lovable fur balls into murderous biting-scratching demons when they hit the water.

Along these lines, wasn’t it Einstein who once said, when asked to explain relativity: “Sitting with a pretty girl can make 2 hours seem like 2 minutes; bathing a cat can make 2 minutes seem like 2 hours”? Or words to that affect.

Here’s how a typical attempt at cat bathing is likely to unfold:

Step1: Find cat. This may be challenging, especially if the cat suspects a bath is imminent. Cats can be particularly resourceful when it comes to stealth tactics designed to avoid baths, so check behind the sofa, in the clothes dryer, up the chimney, in your neighbor’s sock drawer, Mars.

Step 2: Place cat in sink. At this point, suddenly realizing you’ve forgotten the shampoo bottle, fetch it and return.

Step 3: Find cat and place in sink, again.

Step 4: Place cotton balls in cat’s ears. This is not to prevent water getting in, but to avoid further frightening the cat from your screams.

Step 5: Pour warm, soapy water over cat.

Step 6: Remove cat from head, and return to sink.  Reach for towel to wipe soap and blood from face (yours).

Step 7: Find cat.

Step 8: Return soapy, wet, howling, scratching cat to sink. Lather, rinse, towel dry and release.

Step 9: Call 911 and request blood transfusion. While waiting for ambulance, disinfect any area where excrement may have been deposited; also check if the cat left any.

Assuming you recover from the ordeal, let me also offer one additional method we have used to reduce rogue fleas in our home.

Place a candle in a large dish containing about a half inch of water with a squirt of detergent. Lay the pan on the floor in the room infected with fleas, and light the candle just before going to bed. The fleas, at least some of them, will be attracted to the heat, but fall into the soapy water and drown. Repeat for several nights. It works. Really.

But please note: neither the author nor this publication accepts any responsibility should someone in your house trip over the candle and set the sofa on fire, whilst fleeing from a recently bathed, vindictive cat.

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Nick Thomas

Nick Thomas has written for more than 180 magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, and Christian Science Monitor. Nick can be reached at alongtheselines@gmx.com.

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Along These Lines: Spending a Penny

Photo courtesy of Miguel Chavez

About the only place you can still use a penny these days is a wishing well. Even penny gumball machines have disappeared, now left to decay in dusty corners of antique stores.

So what could a penny buy today?

Not a whole lot – about one sheet of paper, two teaspoons of milk, or enough gasoline for Rush Limbaugh to drive 300 feet to anger management classes.

I can’t think of a single store where you could buy a single item for a single penny.

Except, maybe, on-line auctions.

So in my quest for penny bargains, a “1 cent” listing search on eBay actually revealed numerous products for just a penny, with many going unsold. I figured I might even drop a nickel or two, and stock up on a few early bargains for next Christmas.

First up for consideration were penny goldfish. But not owning a tank, I didn’t like their chances of surviving until December. Besides, they had to be collected in person from the seller ….who lived in Elblag … Poland.

Closer to home, and a little less needy, was an auction for ten green rubber bands. According to the seller, they had “nice quality, durability” and were “economical, very useful” and all for a penny. Mighty strong selling points that almost convinced me to drive across seven states to collect them, since this too was a pick-up only sale.

But then I remembered last Christmas, when I handed out those deluxe, Triple Combo paper clip/thumb tack/rubber band Office Supply kits. I just couldn’t give rubber bands two years in a row.

Another handy item for sale was a brand new toothpick, again for a penny. But I’m good on toothpicks right now. Besides, I recycle – a thorough scrub in hot, soapy water, and mine can usually handle a few more lingering McRib lunches.

Jay & Marie’s One Cent CD and DVD auctions looked strong contenders for potential penny purchasing power. With over a million feedbacks, the Sierra Madre couple are eBay legends selling hundreds of items a day, most at a penny opening bid. While many eventually sell for several dollars, I assumed some must go unsold.

Sure enough, I could have snagged CDs by such memorable artists as Coyote Poets of the Universe, Alien Ant Farm, Ivan Colon, and Kid Loco, not to mention the fabulous Brazilian country duo of Gino & Geno – each for a penny.

But the $3 shipping charge busted my budget.

So were there any unsold, 1-cent auctions with no shipping costs?

Absolutely. Unfortunately, I just didn’t think an anti-fingerprint iPhone screen protector (aka cheap bit of plastic), a gold-plated (ie brass) bag quick-lock, or a GPS adhesive disk (whatever that is) would make good gifts. I do have my stocking stuffer standards.

There was some good news for foodies, however: hundreds of penny recipes for sale, which would be emailed “free” to the winner.

But here again, I didn’t have a craving for Pumpkin Pancakes, Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes, or Tom Yam Goong Soup. One recipe for “Bacon Wrapped Smokies” did sound tempting, although the title alone may have provided enough info for even me to prepare.

Along these lines, other eBay penny entrepreneurs were selling digital images, such as animals, flowers, and scenery, again emailed free to auction winners. Someone even had dozens of listings for a digital image of a red and white, octagonal road STOP sign.

For me, that was a clearly a signal to stop my on-line auction bargain hunt, and save my pennies in these tough economic times.

Nor will I be wasting them on wishing wells. Besides, with inflation, taxation, regulation, and devaluation, I’m not sure a penny carries much weight with the wish-granting gods any more.

Photo courtesy of Miguel Chavez

As I recall, the last time I pitched a penny into a fountain, I was hoping for inspiring presidential candidates who could run positive campaigns and engage in civil political debate.

But you get what you pay for; I should have tossed in a quarter for that wish.

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Nick Thomas

Nick Thomas has written for more than 180 magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, and Christian Science Monitor. Nick can be reached at alongtheselines@gmx.com.

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Rickles Still on the Offensive

Photo courtesy of Jarrod Bates

The headlines were plastered across the web recently: “Don Rickles Shocks Hollywood Crowd with Racial Obama Joke.” Wow, talk about breaking news, a comedian actually insulting a politician! But did he go too far, in this day and age?

It seems that Mr. Warmth, as Johnny Carson christened the veteran comedian many years ago, not-so-subtly linked the current president to a janitor during a June 7 awards ceremony. His comment was edited from the TV Land show when it was broadcast later in the month.

This wasn’t the first time Rickles had walked the racial comedy tightrope.

Appearing on the David Letterman Show many years ago, sitting next to Denzel Washington, Rickles pointed to his fellow guest and commented to Letterman. “Why is he here? Does he have to clean up or something?” Washington and the audience laughed. No one complained, but was it offensive?

Now 86, Rickles has been an equal opportunity offender for over 50 years. Politicians, celebrities, his closest friends, every ethnic and racial group imaginable, and countless audience members have been verbally wacked with his sledgehammer brand of insult comedy.

Of Italians, Rickles says: “I love the Italian people. They eat spaghetti, they swell up and they die fast, and the whole family has a festival.” But the Mafia never goes after him.

Ronald Reagan was another favorite target for Rickles’ barbs, and he addressed the president at his 2nd Inaugural Ball in 1985.

“Good evening Mr. President. It’s a big treat for me to fly all the way from California to be here for this kind of money…. Remember when you were governor and you used to walk over to my table? Now you’re big, and you’re getting on my nerves… Ronnie, am I going too fast for you?”

Probably not the most polite way to address a sitting president, but Reagan laughed and the Secret Service didn’t put a tail on the comedian.

Controversy aside, what’s most remarkable about Rickles is his success at doing what most other comedians could never do: recycle humor from one decade to the next. I don’t think he’s written a new line into his act since 1965. And yet, fans still roar with laughter.

For instance, at the AFI Life Achievement Award ceremony for director Martin Scorsese, in 1997, Rickles said: “I look around the room and, aside from Clint Eastwood, I’m the biggest name here.”

The following year, he spoke at Don Adam’s 75th birthday party. “I see by this turn out, Don, I’m the biggest name here.”

Along these lines, a decade later, when director John Lasseter received his Hollywood Walk of Fame star in 2011, Rickles spoke at the ceremony. “Today as I stand and look around, I see I’m the biggest name here.”

And everyone laughed, genuinely, each time.

If you’re a Rickles’ fan, you probably laugh, too, no matter how many times he claims to be the biggest star in the room, tells a fellow celebrity “your career is over,” or points to some poor schmuck in the audience and yells “you’re beginning to annoy me.”

That’s been Don’s act for half a century, and he does it brilliantly.

I actually had the opportunity to interview Mr. Rickles for the Malibu Times back in 2008 (interview still on their web site). After introducing myself and explaining what the interview would be about, he simply said, “Never heard of you,” and added sarcastically “no, seriously, I’ve been waiting my entire life for this interview.”

Wow, I’d been “Rickled” – insulted by the master himself.

“I don’t do jokes,” Rickles told me. “My shows are a theatrical performance. They’re not mean-spirited, just a form of exaggerating everything about people and life itself.”

And often that takes the form of ethnic or racial humor. As for charges of ethnic and racial comedy offences, some would probably find Rickles guilty.

But from the accounts of those who know him, there isn’t a mean or racist bone in Rickles’ body. Certainly, compared to the vile remarks others make about some in today’s political arena, Rickles’ Obama comment was rather tame. Love him or loath him, it’s all an act, of course.

Maybe America has lost its sense of humor. Or maybe we have just grown up and realize some topics on deep-rooted racial stereotypes are no longer appropriate. Then again, perhaps news outlets are just desperate to find stories where there are none.

Whatever the truth, don’t expect Rickles to change his style any time soon.

However, perhaps he shouldn’t have deviated from what he told Craig Ferguson on The Late, Late Show in 2011: “I don’t do jokes about the president. He’ll get moody and come over to the house.”

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Nick Thomas

Nick Thomas has written for more than 180 magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, and Christian Science Monitor. Nick can be reached at alongtheselines@gmx.com.

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Along These Lines: Foods For Thought

Mmmm... turducken sandwich. Photo courtesy of Christopher Najewicz.

After the Los Angeles School District banned sodas in schools in 2004, then-governor Arnold Schwarzenergger went on to sign sweeping laws to improve the nutrition standards in California schools. Continuing that trend, flavored milk was outlawed in LA schools in 2011.  Now, New York mayor Bloomberg is proposing a ban on sodas larger than 16 ounces at restaurants and sports venues.

While those steps may sound drastic, perhaps other states need to follow these leads since obesity often follows children into adulthood. Studies have shown that this is especially true for folks in the South who seem to be losing the battle of the bulge. For instance, Alabamians and Tennesseans are now amongst the fattest in the nation, waddling in a close equal second behind the folks from Mississippi.

So perhaps we all need to get our heads out of the fridge and our tails off the couch, and re-examine our lifestyles.

We can begin by increasing our weekly exercise. For instance, instead of driving to the supermarket, I now try to walk there. I find carrying home a couple of shopping bags stuffed with glazed donuts, chocolate chip cookies, Rocky Road ice-cream, hot dogs, and frozen pizza burns off plenty of calories.

However, there’s one food item I refuse to bring home: turducken.

Have you heard of this? It’s straight from the American calorific hall of fame, and the mere mention of this dish plunges vegetarians into cardiac arrest.

It consists of a turkey, stuffed with a duck, which is stuffed with a chicken, which is stuffed with sausage. Several Laws of Nature are broken in preparing this monolith of meat.

Credit for inventing the turducken generally goes to (no surprise) a Louisiana chef who obviously wanted to push fellow Cajuns to the top of the Fattest State in the Nation list.  And there are even some cooks intent on cramming more fat into these poultry beasts by deep-frying these mountains of cholesterol. It would be healthier to cook by just basting with high-level nuclear waste.

So how should we improve our eating habits – and our health?  We could look to other nations where traditional diets often consist of more protein and less fat.

This might include tackling a bowl of Chinese cold shredded jellyfish, sampling some Vietnamese burnt sea slug, or digging in to a plate of live Ecuadorian lemon ants (which, if you have a liking for bugs, probably taste better than dung beetles).

Asia is also home to a low-cal treat known as Baalut: fertilized duck or chicken eggs that are buried in the ground for several weeks, then dug up, and eaten “ripe.”  I believe I’d only be handling those babies wearing a Hazmat suit. Although, I might be able to appreciate their delicate flavor after some beers ‒ many, many, many beers.

Along these lines, Australians are turning to local, leaner sources of meat, too, such as plump, juicy, tree-dwelling, witchety grubs. These are huge, chunky, white insect larvae that look like bleached caterpillars on steroids. Nowadays, these healthy treats are served in the finest Aussie restaurants and they taste like ‒ you guessed it ‒ chunky, white insect larvae.

While we probably won’t see bugs or grubs turning up on LA school cafeteria menus in the near future, the California Calorie Cops don’t appear to be going away any time soon. In 2011, they gave school menus a major revision replacing time-honored school cafeteria staples like corn dogs and chicken nuggets with treats such as sushi rolls and spinach tortellini in butternut squash sauce.

Perhaps hungry, soon-to-be-healthier Californian school kids will be tempted by these new dishes, and echo their former governor: “I’ll be back… for seconds.”

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Nick Thomas

Nick Thomas has written for more than 180 magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, and Christian Science Monitor. Nick can be reached at alongtheselines@gmx.com.

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Along These Lines: Dogs Day Out

Photo courtesy of Akane Yamada

They say every dog has his day. This year, that day is Friday, June 22, when the fourteenth national Take Your Dog to Work Day will be held. The event is promoted by Pet Sitters International (see www.takeyourdog.com if you think I’m pulling your paw).

Once again, dog owners throughout North America will be prodding their poodles and pulling their pugs to patronize their place of employment. Studies have suggested that animals can have a therapeutic effect on people in hospitals and retirement homes, so why not at work, too?

Well, if your pup is housetrained, check with your boss (who may or may not be housebroken) to see if you can participate in this year’s Take Your Dog to Work Day.

Needless to say, a few words of caution should be heeded.

Be aware that some people suffer from cynophobia (fear of dogs; also known as cujophobia), so be mindful if you have a large dog and intend to haul your massive mutt to the office.  A nervous Rottweiler hovering around the water-cooler may be unsettling for some co-workers.

Of course, not all big dogs are intimidating. Despite its size, the Saint Bernard is a gentle giant that would cast an imposing figure sitting by the desk, guarding your stapler.  Besides, you never know when their uncanny ability to predict avalanches might come in handy.

Saint Bernard’s also have that convenient little barrel of brandy that comes strapped to their collar for medicinal purposes, which is sure to make the day go more smoothly should you need to tap into it. But please note: if you don’t own a Saint Bernard, hanging a six-pack around your beagle’s neck may not be greeted quite so enthusiastically by your employer.

As you prepare your dog for the trip to work, it might also be judicious to teach him a cute trick so he will be more readily accepted by your fellow workers. For instance, training your dog to growl and snarl at the mention of your boss’s name will definitely break the ice when you and your dog arrive on the job. But use discretion (meaning, when you demonstrate, make sure your boss is “accidently” locked in the storage closet or restroom).

Since dogs love to chew, you must also keep a close eye on him at work to ensure he doesn’t run off with stuff.  Just because you steal stationary supplies from the office, doesn’t mean your dog should.

While dogs visiting most offices shouldn’t pose any major problems, there are some businesses that are inappropriate for pets. Food retailers come to mind. I realize your Dalmatian could probably prepare orders faster and more accurately than some people who work in the fast food industry, but customers do tend to frown on hair and fang marks in their cheeseburgers.

Alone these lines, if you are employed in the funeral trade, leave your dog at home. There are just some items you don’t want your dog digging up and dragging back to proudly show you. And for heaven’s sake, don’t take your dog to work if you’re in the boomerang testing business – you’ll drive the poor animal nuts.

Finally, keep in mind that other people may also be bringing their dogs to work, so it’s important that yours can socialize with fellow canines. Your boss won’t appreciate the place looking like the Battle of Britain at the end of the day.

On the other hand, you don’t want your dog to be too well-behaved. Should the boss ever realize that your dog fetches things more quickly than you and comes running immediately when whistled, Rover may be promoted to your position while you’re demoted to the office dog house.

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Nick Thomas

Nick Thomas has written for more than 180 magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, and Christian Science Monitor. Nick can be reached at alongtheselines@gmx.com.

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Along These Lines: Creating a Racket on the Tennis Court

Maria Sharapova holds the current noise record and has been measured at 105 decibels. Photo courtesy of Colby Vickers.

Fans of professional tennis will be glued to their TV sets from May 27 to June 10 to watch the French Open. But if you plan on viewing some of women’s matches, just go ahead and plunge a screwdriver through your eardrums right now. You’ll thank me later.

That’s because nowadays, some of these matches are almost unbearable to watch – or at least listen to – since many of the top female tennis players can’t hit a ball without screeching and squawking their way through every ear-shattering point.

Their relentless auditory assault on tennis fans makes the wails of midnight neighborhood cat fights seem positively melodic by comparison. The worst offenders include top players Maria Sharapova and current world number one, Victoria Azarenka.

In fact, Sharapova holds the current noise record and has been measured at 105 decibels. A pneumatic drill is 130. It makes you wonder about her vocal outburst in other pursuits. I mean, could anyone ever play chess with this woman? You’d probably keel over from a heart attack if she ever castled.

As for the Azarenka yelp, her “aye-whooo-aye-whooo-aye-whooo” has to be heard to be believed. She claims it’s “a natural part of her breathing system,” but it sounds more like a struggling, asthmatic dolphin trapped in a fish net.

Serena Williams is another tennis scream queen. She was runner-up in the 2011 US Open, but was remarkably quiet compared to her past on-court trilling. However, she upped her annoyance factor by throwing a massive temper tantrum last year (not the first) when a call didn’t go her way (and was later fined $2,000 for verbal umpire abuse). I suspect even many Americans were glad that classy (and quiet) Aussie Samantha Stosur nailed Williams in last year’s US Open.

Of course, some of the men grunt and groan with each shot too, but it is rarely the loud, ear-piercing, annoying shrill that the women force upon us. But not all the women have earplug-worthy battle cries. Former world number one player Caroline Wozniacki has a rather subdued grunt, like a high pitched hiccup, although she can crank up the decibels when a match gets tough.

Along these lines, let’s not forget charismatic Italian player Francesca Schiavone. While not necessarily shrill, her tennis shriek is incredibly annoying and sounds like someone is performing the Heimlich Maneuver on her every few seconds.


I live in hope that the US Tennis Association will one day do something about this situation. But I’m not holding my breath. They make a living off these tennis players, and aren’t likely to rile them any time soon. In the meantime, I still plan on watching the televised French Open matches with my finger poised on the remote mute button.

Perhaps former Grand Slam champion Martina Navratilova said it best: “They are making sounds like they are lifting 300 pounds…. the ball is not that heavy.”

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Nick Thomas

Nick Thomas has written for more than 180 magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, and Christian Science Monitor. Nick can be reached at alongtheselines@gmx.com.

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