Servicing The Working Man

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My Pop-Pop just turned 85 the other day and do you know how he spent his day? Working, and I don’t mean weeding in the garden, although he did do that too, but only after he finished working. Rendered services. Contributed to America’s bottom line. And although he’s certainly entitled at his age, he spent his birthday — the day meant for celebrating the moment he joined the human race after being squeezed from his mother’s womb 85 years ago — earning a living. My Pop-Pop, to quote Tom Brokaw, is part of America’s greatest generation, the generation that built America as we know it. Back then, the only thing my Pop-Pop, and men like him, did was build — all the time: factories, dams, skyscrapers, fighter jets. He might even have built the place you’re sitting in right now. Are you sitting in a fighter jet parked on top of a skyscraper? If so, he probably did.

My Pop-Pop didn’t stop building until the last flicker of sunlight danced away over the horizon. Back then, a man wasn’t a man unless he was working with his own two hands building something. Something you could feel. Something that had weight and took space where there once was none. Me, I haven’t picked up a hammer in 16 years. I wouldn’t even know what one looked like if you flung one at me. Sure, I’d duck out of its way, but later, after the circumstances causing you to throw a hammer at my head were properly explained and justified, I’d still not fully understand what it was.

It used to be that the man was the job and the job was the man — and a man could take satisfaction in that. But that has changed. Many men just kind of work at some job, some place, somewhere, spending hours, weeks, years of their lives with nothing to show for it at the end except for a filing cabinet full of paper.

Today, we work in a service-based economy full of people doing things for other people: things people don’t want to do themselves. Landscapers. Maids. Nannies. Concierges. Services — you can’t see ’em; you can’t feel ’em. And at the end of the day, all you have is an intangible and some paperwork. When was the last time you met a carpenter? When was the last time you sat down and talked to a farmer? And who among you can honestly recommend a really good machinist in a pinch?

Wedding planners. House sitters. Interior decorators. Real-estate agents. Life coaches — now that’s a scary proposition. If you’ve got a life coach, then there’s a chance you could get benched. Cut from your own life.

Every human need and desire imaginable has a corresponding service for it. Prostitutes. Surrogate mothers. Mail-order brides. Fluffers.

Life too hard? Finding existence time consuming? Involuntary breathing a hassle? You just sit back and relax because you can simply hire somebody else to live your life for you. Personal trainers. Personal shoppers. Personal assistants. Publicists.

That’s what I am, a publicist. I must admit that it’s not exactly the most masculine job in the world. I don’t lift anything particularly heavy. There’s no hauling or riveting in my job description and I don’t tear any carpet or install drywall. Basically, I talk to people eight hours a day every day. I let everyone know about what’s going on at my company. If I do anything, it’s finessing people and putting positive spins on otherwise embarrassing situations for my company. Just the other day, it seems that my company coerced some recently downsized employees, who were let go because they were old, black, gay, or female, into dumping some chemical waste into a protected wetlands area that was home to a rare breed of malamute. Yeah, I know, oops. But like my press release said, “That’s not necessarily a bad thing.” But I digress.

My grandfather spent most of his life as an iron worker. He took cold steel into his bare hands and bent it, mashed it, bullied it into something useful like a supertanker, a fighter jet, or a dessert spoon.

He once told me about the time he was 47 stories above the earth, working on a new building, when he slipped. And as he was falling to his death, hurtling toward a most unsightly demise, he reached out and grabbed on to a girder. There he was, hanging on for dear life by a separated shoulder until help could come. And do you know what he did afterwards? He jammed his shoulder back into its socket, finished his shift, had a round with the boys at Dutch’s, and went home and gave it to my grandmother good — twice! — because he was and still is a man!

And me? I’m a publicist.

He’s got 14 pounds of undigested red meat sitting on his colon. I, on the other hand, had a grilled chicken salad for lunch — with the dressing on the side.

He sleeps on a sloped bed of sharp rocks in the backyard. I just bought a white-noise machine and a new stitched duvet.

I know I’ll never be an iron worker, but I’d settle for just being handy. By “handy,” I mean build-a-deck handy. I want to be one of those guys who wake up in the morning, walk into Home Depot and just indiscriminately buy twenty two-by-fours. I want to become a man who says things like “pop the hood,” or “catalytic converter,” or “bring me the needle-nosed pliers, Goddamnit.” I want to work with my hands and break good, musky sweat all over my sinewy muscles and then come home reeking of testosterone and take my wife right there in the foyer or the pantry or the sunroom.”

So I’m making changes.

I just placed a couple of two-by-fours underneath my computer monitor. I replaced my ergonomic desk chair with a painted wood chair I stole from a one-room-schoolhouse exhibit at the museum. I just traded in my sesame-seed-granola bars for trout heads. And I drove a big axe into the tree stump in my backyard and I ain’t moving it.

I’m making changes to become a working man.

I’m making changes so I can be more like my Pop-Pop.

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The Death Of Irony

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The body of Michael Robert Irony was discovered yesterday morning in a deep ditch near the intersection of Main and Fate Streets, bringing an end to the massive search and rescue effort that had taken place over the last 36 hours. Investigators believe that Irony was struck by an ambulance while jogging.

A preliminary report released by the county medical examiner suggests that Irony survived the initial accident for perhaps as long as a full day while officials and volunteers scoured the area where his remains were eventually discovered. The tracks of one bloodhound used in the search were discovered to have led to within six feet of the body before veering off, apparently in pursuit of a passing squirrel.

Irony was reported missing Sunday night after he failed to appear at a surprise party celebrating the opening of the fifth outlet of his business. Irony was the founder and president of The Invincible Man Inc., a chain of full-service centers offering fitness programs and equipment, nutritional services, survival training, and martial-arts classes.

Police have not yet determined if charges will be pressed against the paramedic driving the ambulance at the time of the accident. The driver and his partner were returning from Safety Week events at City Hall when a bee entered the vehicle’s open window. The driver, who is allergic to bee stings, momentarily took his attention off the road and swerved onto the sidewalk. Neither he nor his partner realized that they had struck anything except the curb.

Michael Robert Irony was 39, exactly half of his predicted life expectancy. A memorial service will be held at the Oak Glen Calvinist Church this Saturday at 10 a.m. Interment will follow in the Irony family crypt.

The crypt was last opened exactly ten years ago for the burial of Michael’s father, police sergeant John Vincent Irony. Sgt. Irony was killed in the line of duty taking a bullet meant for his partner, Detective Striker O’Toole. The veteran sergeant was only three days short of retirement.

The crypt also holds the remains of other notable Irony family members such as William Irony, the Titanic survivor who slipped off the gangplank of the rescue vessel that brought him safely to New York, and Private Henry Irony, killed in the trenches of France, one minute after the armistice ending the First World War was signed.

All are, or were, direct descendents of the man historians consider the patriarch of the Irony clan: Dr. Nathaniel Irony (1715-1776), the English theorist, philosopher, inventor, and writer. Dr. Irony was most famous for his three-volume opus The Theories and Practise of Applicable Certainty, or, How One Might Use the Words of the English Language to Express an Idea That Is Exactly Similar to the Literal Meaning of Those Words, without Contrast, Incongruity, or Unintended Consequences, Be They Humorous or of a Tragic Nature.

A seminal work in its time, Applicable Certainty attracted the attention of many of the world’s greatest intellectuals. The in-depth examination even inspired Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) to begin work on compiling a list of English words and their meanings, an endeavor that grew into his famous Dictionary of the English Language. Irony and Johnson became close colleagues and confidants, writing to each other for the rest of their lives.

In 1776, while studying the word “inflammable,” Irony dropped a match among the many papers strewn upon his desk and caused a great fire that consumed him and his life’s work. Upon hearing the tragic news, Johnson decided to memorialize his friend in his Dictionary and give all royalties and proceeds in perpetuity to the Irony family. On January 3, 1777, he made these entries in his journal:

“To be added to the Dict. At Once: Irony, a noun, the condition of an Exactitude of intention and a Precision of Understanding of a Word, or phrase, or Circumstance, whether literary or otherwise; an unchangeable meaning as if cast in Iron.”

“Silas [Johnson’s secretary] is gone again and unaccounted for. I must be wary. I could have sworn before God and King I had four farthings in the Pocket of my Scarlet waistcoat, but now I find but Two. Treachery. Also my Golden snuff box is not to be found. Nor is the silver cannister from my bedside wherein I keep the sheaths for the lesser Dr. Johnson so that he may be Protected whilst having Relations with a Woman and not catch the Pox.”

Two months later, Johnson’s secretary Silas Hogan was convicted of theft and transported to the penal colonies in Australia. Meanwhile, Johnson’s new secretary, not yet familiar with his employer’s handwriting, sent Widow Irony the butcher’s bill for Johnson’s meat pies, replaced the Dictionary entry for “irony” with a definition Johnson had quickly drafted as a gag for an acquaintance named John Spooky, and arranged for all royalties and proceeds from the Dictionary to go, in perpetuity, to a man who had once courted Johnson’s sister, a Mr. Simon Luckey-Bastard.

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The Legend Of Billy Smith

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ernstluchs@gmail.com

“It’s your hangin’ day, Billy Smith,” said the sheriff through the bars. “Since you’ve been here, Billy, I’ve learned you ain’t such a bad boy. I was wrong before. We was all wrong, and I think we owe you an apology. I don’t want to see you beg and squeal and scream. I don’t want to see you kickin’ and dancin’ on air. I reckon I’ll just have to close my eyes when the time comes.”

Billy didn’t seem to notice the sheriff. He was standing on his bed, his face level with the window of his cell. The early morning rays of the sun shone in on him, bathing his face with a holy light. He stuck an arm through the bars and held his hand up toward the sky. A beautiful bird landed in the palm of his hand, singing a melody ever so sweet, a song so pure it was like the voice of God in falsetto.

“Them birds love ya’, don’t they, Billy?” said the sheriff with reverence in his voice.

“Yes,” answered Billy, “I should have been an ornithologist. I never dreamed that one day I would be just like a bird in a cage, singing for my supper, wishing I was free.”

“Well, Billy, you won’t have to do no singin’ today. This here bag of sunflower seeds is on the house. I throwed in some bread crumbs, too, and some gravel for your gizzard.”

The sheriff walked over to his cluttered desk and picked something off the top.

“I drawed up this here certificate to present you on the scaffold. It testifies that you, Billy Smith, are the cleanest, most well-behaved prisoner that we’ve ever had the pleasure to hang. In plain words, a model condemned man. And looky here,” said the sheriff, beaming as he held the document up to the bars, “it’s been signed by the governor. He says he’ll personally attend your funeral and see to it that your widow don’t go without, like so many widows do.”

“Let me see that,” said Billy. As the sheriff handed it through the bars, Billy grabbed his arm and yanked him close. Then he grabbed the sheriff by his hair and jerked him around so that his back was against the bars. Using the edge of the certificate like a knife, Billy drew it across the sheriff’s neck, cutting his throat from ear to ear.

“Ow! That smarts. Leggo!” demanded the sheriff.

“You better open this door, sheriff, or I’ll open it with your head.”

“No! No!” cried the sheriff. “You’re gonna hang. You’re gonna hang.” Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang went his head against the bars, and pop went the lock as the door swung free. Billy grabbed a gun first, then he rummaged through the desk, looking for beer nuts and traveler’s checks. As he went along he kept popping little odds and ends into his mouth, until he looked like a chipmunk with overstuffed pouches. In the back of his mind somewhere, Billy asked himself, “Why am I doing this? Pa will kill me this time for sure.” But his introspection lasted only a second. He found a tube of bright red lipstick, tasted it, tried some on, pursed his lips in front of a mirror, and then wiped it off. He tried to stuff a harmonica into his mouth but failed. He broke into a medicine cabinet and rubbed himself down with ammoniated spirits. “Now I truly feel like a polar bear,” he confided to himself as he tried mugging in the mirror again. Then he burst out with a laugh — the kind of raw, husky, liquor-laden laugh that a cowboy makes when he’s just heard an outrageous lie. But it was just one lonely laugh, the sort that keeps to itself, that runs away from home and wanders the streets at night, never to return.

Billy went over to the open cell where the sheriff lay. Using two six-shooters, he blasted holes into the floor around the body. The noise was deafening. “Dance, damn you, dance!” shouted Billy through the smoke. The body was motionless. A little songbird flitted in through the window. It landed on the sheriff’s head and went hungrily for the eyes.

Billy reloaded and ran out into the street, brandishing his weapons. “Look at that big chipmunk!” exclaimed an elderly woman. Billy shot at her. He started to fire wildly in all directions. The town got angry. Blam. Blam. Blam. Kapow. Kapow. Kapow. Bullets flew every which way like a storm raging in Hell. The blazing sun bore down, relentless, seeming to curse the name Billy Smith.

“We hate you, Billy Smith,” yelled everyone at once. Click, click, click was his reply. Out of bullets. He stood up from his crouching position and turned to run. Blam. Blam. Blam. Kapow. Kapow. Ack ack ack ack ack. They shot him in the back with everything they had. He turned to face them once more, caught a bullet in his teeth and collapsed to the ground where the dust ran red. His riddled body quivered like jelly as they continued to fire – muskets, Gatling guns and cannons spewing flames, echoing like thunder in a mad symphony of death.

“Give up, Billy Smith,” blared a loudspeaker. A German biplane strafed him mercilessly for several hours and then dropped a bomb. The carnage went on for three days and three nights with searchlights swiveling, hand grenades exploding and red-hot barrels bending like licorice. Finally, they stopped. “Come out with your hands up,” warned the loudspeaker.

When the smoke cleared nine days later, nothing was left but a radioactive crater filled with molten lead.

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Proper Grooming Tips

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Trim your toe- and fingernails immediately after a shower, when your cuticles and nails are at their most tender. Performing toe grooming at other times will cause your toes to snap off suddenly in a brittle explosion of bone and skin shards.

Sir Lies-a-Lot didn’t actually like your new haircut. That’s not even his real name.

For future reference, wearing black tends to have a slimming effect. Watching you shovel up four helpings of pasta at the restaurant last night, conversely, tended to have an I-think-I-want-to-break-up-with-you effect.

Don’t comb your hair on a regular basis. Combs and brushes tend to damage hair over the long term by breaking it off or pulling it out, causing your tail to become sparse and thin. Instead, remove tangles by “combing” through your tail with your teeth. Also be careful to remove rocks and dirt from your hooves where, if left unchecked, bacteria can build. Also, be a horse.

When trimming nasal hair, remember that you have a lot of it, and that you look hilarious.

For a refreshing change, why not try devoting less time to grooming your 17 cats and get out of that filthy tracksuit, you fat mound of stool.

Though this may be coming a little late to be useful, be sure to take care of your tooth.

Proper toweling technique after a shower can be instrumental in removing dead skin and dander. Viciously scrub your skin while examining yourself in the mirror, not stopping until you achieve that “removed-skin” look so popular in the teen medical journals.

Remember: lather, rinse, gargle, pass out, regain consciousness in shower, repeat.

Soap is not a toy. It will do more good when applied with generous amounts of water to your skin than buried in your colon while you stand on a footstool and jam the shower nozzle in your anus.

Smoking in the shower: usually this is a don’t. But try tying a garbage bag tightly around your head and upper torso. Look out, world — here comes Smoky Showerton: Ace Shower Smoker!

Don’t bathe with your dog. Honestly, I’m telling you for the last time.

Try combining many grooming activities at once in the shower. You’ll find the shower a time-saving place for many different chores: brushing your teeth, shaving, combing your hair, ironing your clothes, and electrocuting yourself in a shower of sparks and shrieking.

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