Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Awww...How Sweet!

This post will be much shorter than the posts you're used to here at Ton-Fifty-ONE, because it's late...but I had to share this. I realize that by the time all of you read this, the day will be past, but I learned today at work that this day, October 30, is National Candy Corn Day! How could I let the day go by without announcing it to my faithful readers? Especially since candy corn was my very most favoritest Halloween candy ever!

I bought a bag of candy corn a couple weeks ago, on an impulse buy, because it was on display in the middle of an aisle, and it was Brach's. And only Brach's candy corn will do. So yeah...I bought a bag, I reminisced, and I wrote a column about it. I'm sure my readers were ecstatic.

And now today I found out that the day before Halloween is a day devoted completely to candy corn.

The National Confectioners Association claims that more than 35 million pounds of candy corn will be produced this year. This equates to approximately the same amount I used to eat each Halloween when I was a kid.

I have to admit that by the time I was half finished with the pound-and-a-half bag I bought recently, I was sick of it. Maybe it's just a kid thing, I don't know. Or maybe sugar isn't quite as important when you reach your (*sigh*) late 30s.

Although according to that Web site, one serving of candy corn contains only about 140 calories. What they don't tell you, though, is that one serving is that tiny white tip of each kernel. When you get down into the orange and yellow sections, you're diving into three- and four-serving territory in a big big hurry.

Anyway, I couldn't help but share the news of National Candy Corn Day. And while it's a day late as you read this, maybe you can think back to some of your own favorite Halloween candies when you were younger...and some you never outgrew.

What candy could you simply not resist?

(see you all on Thursday. which, also by the time you read this, is the same as saying, "see you all tomorrow.")

(here we go.)

"I'll bet living in a nudist colony
takes all the fun out of Halloween."
—Charles Swartz

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Insanity of Apostrophe(')s

Clearly, I'm a dork.
I must be, because I've got myself worked into such a tizzy over nothing. And I don't even have a clue what a tizzy is!

(Webster does, though: a highly excited and distracted state of mind. Yes, yes I believe it's true. I'm officially in a tizzy.)

I was driving home earlier tonight, listening to ESPN Radio. Doug Gottlieb's show, "The Pulse," was on, and he was talking baseball. Makes sense, seeing as how there are some pretty important baseball games on these days.

As filler material in between calls and e-mails, he was tossing around the question of the correct usage of the term "RBI." A single run batted in is an RBI, but how are multiple runs batted in supposed to be abbreviated? If you say RBIs, then you're literally saying, "runs batted ins," right?

For the record, the Associated Press Stylebook says the correct usage is RBI (s.) and RBIs (pl.). I happen to agree with that, but it doesn't chafe my hide either way if people want to say RBI or RBIs when talking about multiple runs batted in.

If you say, "Manny drove in three RBI, but the Sox still lost by four," it doesn't affect me any more or less than if you say, "Jeter's nine RBIs in the last game couldn't save Joe Torre's job, because the Steinbrenners are total assholes."

I say and write "RBIs," simply because I think it flows better, not because the AP Stylebook tells me so. I've put up my dukes against AP style before, and will again in the future, to be sure.

Gottlieb has a cutesy little name for guests on his show that he's known for a while, introducing them as a "Friend of Doug," or an "FOD." Blending this with the RBI query, someone called in and asked if two or more guests were on at once, would they still be "FOD," or would they now be known as "FODs?" Got a chuckle out of me that he was blabbering on and on about RBIs and FODs, and I was enjoying the listeners' responses.

Here comes the tizzy part. After a few listeners called in to voice their opinions, some guy gets on the air and says, "Hey Doug, I've got your RBI answer. I teach English, and if there are more than one, then it's plural, so it needs an apostrophe s."

Gottlieb kind of interrupted him before he was finished with what he was saying, so I looked at my radio to make sure that I didn't just hear what I thought I just heard. But Gottlieb was kind enough to confirm it for me. After a little bit of conversation, he asked the caller, "So you're saying the correct way to say it and write it is 'R-B-I-apostrophe-s.'"

"Exaaaactly," was the English teacher's reply.

I nearly stood up in my driver's seat as I reached to pull out my hair, glaring at my radio's display, and shouting, "Nnnnooooo!!"

Just because this guy said he was an English teacher from Albany, he had Gottlieb convinced that he knew what he was talking about, and that his word was now law. But RBIs are not possessive. They don't own...anything. (I suppose a good example to the contrary could be: "The RBI's effect on the outcome of the game is still being argued by amateur baseball analysts around office water coolers nationwide.")

I've never called in to any ESPN Radio talk shows, even though I listen to many of them when I'm driving. But before I knew it, I was reaching for my phone, traffic accidents be damned. I had to rush to an English emergency!

*busy signal*

*busy signal*

1-888-SAY ESPN

*busy signal*

(repeat about a dozen more times for effect.)
(actually...I just checked my phone log. I dialed it 18 times before giving up. this was serious stuff! I don't take apostrophe abuse lightly.)

Obviously, Gottlieb's show is over by now, and the urgency with which I needed to reach the host has passed. I haven't sent him an e-mail since I've been home, but I also haven't ruled that possibility out, either. I wanted to come and rant on my blog, first, and release a little of this stress.

So to recap, I don't care if you say RBI or RBIs, but if you ever catch someone writing RBI's, please point them in the direction of this blog entry, and not toward an English classroom in Albany!

I can just feeeel the ulcer starting to fester.
I need some milk.
And perhaps three or four pain-relieving tablet's.

"If the English language made any sense,
a catastrophe would be an
apostrophe with fur."
—Doug Larson

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Juuust A Bit Outside!

Since I started this blog, I haven't done a whole lot of blogging about darts, which is probably for the best, because let's face it...it's not exactly a hangin'-on-the-edge-of-your-seat topic, is it?

But since it's the pastime that actually gave this blog its name, and since I had a chance at that elusive ton-fifty-one a couple nights ago, I figured I'd tell y'all a story.

Tuesday night was my first night of dart league for the year, as I'd skipped the first week for a chance to see one of my new favorite writers who happened to be passing through the state. (talk about a good move! hilarious, popular, engaging writer, or...dart league. what would you pick? I know I made the right choice, and he'll be the subject of a blog post in the next few days.) Anyway...last week our team had a bye, so three weeks into the season, I got my first chance to shoot some darts, after not having picked one up since the season-ending state tournament in Green Bay back in mid-May (where I shot like a second grader, I might add. and that's an insult to second graders! not......a pretty way to end my season.)

I got to the bar a little early, which doesn't happen too often during the season. Usually, I just show up at about the time we're starting, and am ready to roll without any warm-up darts. But I knew there'd be substantial rust to shake off, so I wanted to throw at least a couple dozen before they counted.

And boy was there rust! Every time I tried to shoot a straight, hard dart, it'd fly about two inches above the bullseye, and I couldn't correct it. I resigned myself to the fact that I might be in for a lonnng, embarrassing night.

Thing is...there's something about shooting practice darts vs. shooting darts in a game that counts for league, or in a tournament game. Often times (not always, mind you...or I might be some kind of touring pro by now) I can flip a switch and if the darts count for something, they start to find their way to their intended target with a lot more regularity than when I'm practicing. I think part of it is just because I've been doing it for so long, that when it's time to get serious, it's easy enough to focus and concentrate on upholding my good name as a dart god. (yes, I just wrote that. no, I'm not going to delete it. and no, I'm really not one.)

I must admit here, however, that this psychic, magical power becomes a totally moot point as soon as I cross the county line. I wish I knew why, and how to fix it, but it's been proven over the years. When we were ├╝ber-serious about our darts, we used to shoot a lot of tournaments on weekends. And anywhere in the county, we were good. Really good. Like, "Run for your lives! Tommy and Gregg are here, they're gonna wear out all the bulls and triples on the board and take all our beer money!" (I'm embellishing just a tad.)

When we'd go to Green Bay or Appleton or Oshkosh to shoot, however, my darts took an embarrassing downturn. I'd still shoot...OK...but I have very few tournament titles and very little prize money during my "career" that came from outside the county. Some, but not enough to brag about. Over the years, our league team has shot state tournaments in La Crosse, Milwaukee, Stevens Point, Appleton, Green Bay, Wisconsin Dells...and we'd always shoot well enough on the weekend to make it to the Sunday morning final round, only to bomb out and pout all the way home.

I guess that's why it's just a pastime, eh?

Sorry. Back to Tuesday.

League began, and my darts were hitting the bull quite a bit more often than when I first arrived. Before I knew it, I had a handful of tons and a couple/few hat tricks and a few wins on the stat sheet. Whoo hoo! I didn't totally sully my image of dart godliness on the very first night. That would have been depressing.

As I hinted up above, one of the hat tricks I had was at the beginning of a game, which meant I was left with (ready for it?) a ton-fifty-one for my second round. A perfect game just three darts away. Not an easy three darts...but three darts, nonetheless.

My first dart of my second round found the bullseye, and.........so did my second. One dart left in my hand. One triple-17 left to hit for a perfect game. One very cool way to start my season.

I wish I could tell you here that I paused for a moment, stepped off the line, closed my eyes and got a mental image in my head of my blog title, gathering up all the hopes and dreams of my dozens and dozens of readers (ok, three) inside of me and as I let go of that dart it guided itself into the triple-17, and lights flashed, fireworks exploded, dancing girls...danced. (and that's how it'll be when they make the movie of my life, I can guarantee you that right now.)

Instead, I let out one big exhale, leaned in and aimed...and let 'er fly.

While it's only about eight feet from the line to the board, sometimes you can tell just as soon as the dart leaves your fingertips how badly you've fucked up. And my dart, sticking in the board about two inches north of the triple-17, was evidence that I'll have to wait for another day to proclaim the great news that I got my six-dart out for the season.

But it sure is fun to shoot five bulls in a row, and have that chance.
I'll get one for ya this year. Hell, I'll get one for me this year.
And you'll be the first to read about it.

"Wit is a treacherous dart. It is perhaps
the only weapon with which it is possible
to stab oneself in one's own back."
—Geoffrey Bocca

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Do I Have To Take Your Order??

[OK, one or two more of these blog entries where I cheat and pull stuff from my archives, and then I hope to get back to writing in real time again, rather than copying and pasting. But in keeping with the theme of strangers helping me to write my columns, I wanted to share this one, mostly because of the reaction it got after it was published, which I've included in this entry as an Addendum at the bottom. I have to admit that it made me grin pretty big to know that the story written below was seen by the right eyes. Oh, and the references to the Olympics should make it pretty obvious that this column was pulled from 2004.]

I had originally intended for this week’s column to be an Olympic wrap-up of sorts, touching on some of the big stories of the games.

I thought I’d comment on Paul Hamm’s controversial gold medal (keep it) and the U.S. men’s basketball team and the medal they brought home. (Doesn’t quite match all the bling they wear around their necks, does it?)

But instead, I’ve been inspired to go on a bit of a rant, so join me if you will.

I’d like to use this space to make a plea to fast food establishments everywhere that if you don’t wish to serve food up until the closing time of your posted open hours, then please edit your signage to read as such.

A couple days ago I walked into such a place to buy myself a late dinner. I knew it was getting close to closing, but I looked at the clock and still had a dozen minutes to spare, and I even asked if they were still serving, to which I received a “yes” response.

So I placed my order, overjoyed that I wouldn’t go hungry, or be forced to eat a tube of crackers as a meal.

And then...it began. Tension so thick you could have cut it with an oven mitt. Apparently, what this person really wanted to say when asked if I could still get my dinner was, “Umm, no. If I’m gonna get out of here two seconds after we close, there’s no way you can order anything. Goodbye.”

I stood there quietly and observed as things were not-so-gently flung about, and got the heaviest silent guilt trip laid on me, because I had the audacity to commit such a heinous crime as (stay with me on this one) entering a place of business during its open hours and offering to drop another 15 bucks into its till before it closes that day’s business.

I should be flogged.

The inconvenience I must have caused this person by asking her to do...her...job...had to be monumental.

Now, I’ve never worked fast food before, and I’m sure there’s a closing procedure that gets knocked out of kilter when a Johnny-Come-Lately like me tries to get a bite to eat before things are shut down.

But again...did I show up two minutes after closing and demand that my order be filled? No. I was there 12 minutes before.

This type of customer abuse (I’m scarred for life, by the way) can be prevented if these establishments would only clarify their hours of operation by requesting that all orders be completed 20 minutes before the posted closing time, so that employees can bolt for the door the second the business’s “Closed” sign gets flipped.

And if I did something wrong, I’d appreciate it if someone well-versed in fast food etiquette would point it out to me.

Rather than fanning the fire by refusing my order after it was filled and walking out, or making some sort of formal complaint to management, I simply sat back and took it all in, and thought to myself, “Thanks for the column!”

And by the way...if they add an Olympic customer service event in the Beijing Olympics in 2008, I can guarantee you one American who’ll never even make it to the trials.

“Your most unhappy customers are
your greatest source of learning.”
—Bill Gates

[Addendum: A couple days after this column appeared in the newspaper, I received a voicemail from the owner of three franchises like the one in which this episode occurred. He was concerned whether this took place in one of his restaurants (it didn't), and he also asked me if I would be opposed to him hanging my column on the wall in the back of his restaurants as a reminder to his employees of how to treat their customers (I wasn't). So I can only assume now that the employees of those three restaurants aren't real big fans of the guy who wrote that column, and they look at my byline and ask, "Who the hell is this asshole?" waiting to for me to come in and buy something so they can run the janitor's mop over my food before serving it to me, or replace my "extra pickles" order with extra dust balls instead. I've tried to avoid such retaliation by using the following line when I go into any of these three establishments: "Hi, I'm Bill! I'd like to place an order, please." So far, it's been working.]

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Good Times...Noodle Salad

[The following column was written four years ago, after spending about five minutes next to a curious, clueless individual at a deli counter.]

There’s an old business maxim that says, “The customer is always right.”

Not a bad rule to promote a successful business. But what if the customer is crazy?

I was waiting in line at the deli counter at an area grocery store the other day, and was lucky enough to observe a girl trying to buy noodle salad who would have tested the sanity of even the most tolerant of those in the customer service business.

First, she wasn’t certain what size container she wanted. The half-pound container was too small, but she didn’t think she wanted the one-pound container completely filled. There’s a fraction in between there somewhere, so she settled on a three-quarter-pound purchase.

The girl even pointed to an imaginary mark exactly where she thought she wanted the noodles in her not-quite-filled one-pound container to reach.

“How much will that cost?” she asked, before the clerk could start scooping.

“It’s a dollar ninety-nine per pound with your savings card,” was the clerk’s reply.

“So that’d be like...Wait, how much was this again?” she asked, grabbing the half-pound container off of the counter.

“That’s the half-pound container that you said was too small,” said the clerk. “That would be a dollar.”

“OK, so this one not quite full would be...a dollar fifty?”

“Is that enough for a meal?” was her next question.

I know customer service people are supposed to have all the answers, but how was she supposed to know the appetite of this girl that was causing her so much grief?

“Umm, I dunno,” was the clerk’s indifferent reply.

After confirming the girl’s request, the clerk disappeared into the back with the empty container to get a mystery salad that wasn’t at the counter.

Miss Picky continued to browse the deli selections, unaware of the people standing near her...namely, me. Soon I felt the awkward closeness of a personal space invader, and tried to lean a bit to make it not quite as obvious.

That just brought her another nudge closer to me. After a few more clicks to the left, I realized that I couldn’t lean at a 45-degree angle without falling over, and I figured one person causing a scene at the deli counter was enough, so I took a small step backwards and out of her way.

That’s all the opening she needed and she moved right in, as she wasn’t going to let a 250-pound roadblock like myself deter her from getting closer to the seafood pasta and mustard potato salad in front of me.

The clerk emerged soon after, and presented a beautifully packed container of noodle salad...not too full, not too empty, and as level on top as you can get without borrowing carpenter’s tools.

“Oh,” was the customer’s first reaction, as she studied her selection. “That looks like a lot. I think...umm...yeah, I think I’m gonna keep looking.”

“So you don’t want it? You want me to put this back in the case?” the clerk asked, as our eyes met briefly and I could tell that we were both sharing the same thought. I only hoped that she knew that I was a single customer at her deli.

“Yeah. Thanks.”

Off went the clerk, back into hiding for as long as it took, I can only assume, for Miss Indecision to move along to Aisle 3.

As I was placing my order, the girl went back to her routine, this time with another clerk who was trying to fill someone else’s order.

“Miss? Miss?” she said, pointing. “Is this any good, this Oriental coleslaw? Is that like Mexican, or what does it taste like?”

“It’s kinda sweet,” said the clerk.

“Ohhh, so it’s like Chinese food,” the girl said with a giggle. Maybe she thought all Chinese food was sweet, or maybe she had just then realized that Oriental coleslaw and Mexican food were on two totally different sides of the plate.

I wasn’t about to crawl inside her brain to try and figure it out. I was having my fun just eavesdropping and taking mental notes. A lot of them! Quickly.

Anyway, that clerk went about her business of filling the order she had originally been working on, and the girl was again left alone to ponder.

I got my order filled...14/37 of a pound of Mexican-flavored Oriental potato salad...and was on my way. I wanted to hang around for the exciting deli conclusion, but that might have made me late for work Monday morning.

And I knew that with what I had witnessed, I had way more than my requisite 600 words for this week’s column.

Another old adage states: “Truth is stranger than fiction.”
Ya think?

“There is only one boss. The customer.
And he can fire everybody in the company
from the chairman on down, simply by
spending his money somewhere else.”
—Sam Walton

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Yes...I Always Do That.

Uncle Kracker has left the building!!

(or...at least moved out of the way, that if you aren't totally sick of looking at him for the past month and a half, you have to scroll down to see him again.)



Dammit, just what I thought. Empty.

— • — • —

As some of you may know, I write a weekly column in the paper for which I work. Kind of along the same lines as this blog, where I can write about whatever strikes me, and whatever I find to ramble about for six or seven hundred words.

Thing is, the big difference between my column and this blog is that if I don't submit a column every week, it won't take too long and I'll lose it. And that space will ultimately get filled with an AP story on luxury taxes for the middle class or a recipe on how best to prepare hog jowls for the holidays.

If I take a step or two away from this blog...and then return eons later...it's still here, waiting for me. Of course, all my readers have vanished, and I'll have to go and purchase new ones now. But the blog, that's still intact.

[Wanted: People who enjoy reading, and who have internet access, to commit to a blog whose author is fully committed to updating at least once a we..uhh...once a mo.......is committed to updating on his own personal whim. Topics of conversation include hot dog gluttony, spam poetry and gospel music. Come one, come all. Next entry to be posted any time before February. Comments always welcome.]

Sometimes coming up with a column topic is about as easy as admitting aloud that I'm a Lions fan. It hurts more than a little. The weekend comes, and I start thinking I better find something to write about, and before I know it it's Sunday afternoon, and Sunday evening, and after obsessing over football scores and highlights, I think, "Uh-oh. Column!!" You can write only so many columns bashing Britney Spears or commenting on unseasonably warm weather before the natives get restless. They want content...good content. Or else they'll sue!! (I made that part up.)

But sometimes...just by going through life and keeping my eyes and ears open, my columns write themselves, with the help of some unknowing citizens. Remember the blog entry (decades ago?) about the drunk woman at the wayside who couldn't find her Saturn? I didn't drive away from that thinking, "What a kook!" The first thing that popped into my head was, "Score! My column's written!"

That's happened to me more than once, and in the interest of easing back into this blogging thing after being gone for a while, I'm going to post a few examples over the next few days in which being in the right place at the right time, and observing, got me a free pass for my column that week. Those are my favorite ones to write, too. The ones that I'm not expecting.

The first one happened a couple months ago, when I walked into a convenience store to buy a few, um, conveniences. A bag of Gummi Bears and a Vitamin Water (the yellow "energy" flavor, if you're interested in trying something that'll immediately turn you into a Vitamin Water addict).

I walked to the cashier in the tiny store, and as I placed my two items on the counter, she looked at me and asked, "Do you always do that?"

With a blank stare, unsure of how to answer her because I had no idea if I did or didn't do whatever it was she was asking, my reply was something like, "......huh?" (a scintillating conversationalist, I am not.)

"Do you always shuffle past the first item and take the second or third one behind it?"

Apparently, she'd been watching me take the Gummi Bears off of the peg. I had scanned the clear front panel of the first few bags and settled on purchasing one a couple bags deep.

"Oh, that," I said. "I was just looking for the bag with the most red and orange Gummis in it, and while I know it's probably not true, this one looked like it had more."

After a short pause, I continued, "But...yeah, come to think of it, I do always do that!"

"I do that with evvvrything," she said. "Everything."

"Well, that first one's just for display. Nobody wants that one, right?"

"Yeah," she said. "Everybody touches that one."

After our brief exchange, I walked out the door, knowing she'd just written about 80 percent of this column, and all I had to do was let it spill out of my brain. But I began to wonder how often I really do bypass the first item for one behind it or below it or next to it or...wherever.

I did it with the Gummi Bears, under the excuse that I was looking for more reds and oranges, and fewer greens and clears.

But I didn't do it with the Vitamin Water. First one in the rack is the one I grabbed.

I do it with newspapers at a newsstand. I never grab the top paper on the stack. Why is that? Better news down below? Less smudging on the newsprint, perhaps? Better coupons?? (which I don't clip anyway.) Doubtful. Just a foolish habit.

I rarely buy a loaf of bread without squeezing at least three of them. Not hard enough to put an imprint in 'em or anything. But for a quick freshness check. Sometimes I go back to the first one I squeezed, but not after I've tested one or two others.

Now that I've revealed what a totally neurotic shopper I am, I hope I don't get bombarded everywhere I go with the same vague, confusing question:

"Do you always do that?"

[coming sooner than you might think: strange ladies at deli counters, and surly fast food employees.]

"You've got bad eating habits if you
use a grocery cart in 7-Eleven, OK?"
—Dennis Miller