Tuesday, December 31, 2013

10 New Year's Resolutions I Will Definitely Keep

Every single year I make a wide range of New Year's resolutions. Every single year I break most of them before I arrive home from the New Year's Eve party and spend the next month or so feeling weak and guilty. So this year I'm going to do something different -- make resolutions I know I can keep. Ready? Here goes.

I, Tom Dryden, hereby resolve that I will:

1.)  Spend no more than four hours a day (28 hours a week) training for the Iron Man triathlon (senior division).

2.)  Assure my wife at least 10 times over the coming year that I know where my wallet and keys are but that I'd prefer she drive wherever we are going because I'm tired.

3.) Consult a physician if I experience an erection lasting four or more hours.

4.) Not give life in Candy Crush Saga.

5.) Not set foot in a Walmart unless there's a disaster and I or someone I love need food and/or cheap plastic stuff from China.

6.) Not vote to reelect Congressman Trey “I’m Not Going to Resign Despite Pleading Guilty to Cocaine Possession Because I Love Serving The People of Southwest Florida” Radel. 

7.) Fly into such a rage while on the phone with a Comcast representative that my wife will warn me I’m going to have a heart attack if I don’t calm down.

8.) Not twerk.

9.) Be grateful every morning when I'm awoken by the sound of a frosty-faced dachshund's tail thump-thump-thumping against the headboard of my bed.

10.) Not extend to my readers my very best wishes for a 2014 filled with health, joy and blessings. Why?

Because I’m writing this in 2013.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Ask Ronald: Lifestyle advice for McDonald's employees

McDonald’s came under fire recently for an employee website that advised workers the proper amount to tip pool cleaners and housekeepers and to “choose fruits and vegetables” over fast foods, which it deemed unhealthy. Critics say the web site was “tone-deaf” and written by someone who has no idea how McDonald’s workers actually live. Management says the site, which was created and maintained by an outside vendor, was taken out of context but it has been shut down nevertheless.

McDonald’s, clearly, needs a new writer for its employee web site. I, clearly, need something productive and profitable to write instead of this blog. So here’s a sample post I am planning to submit to McDonald’s for consideration. I propose renaming the site “Ask Ronald” and using a Q and A format to keep it simple. One important difference between me and the previous writer: I know how to toe the corporate line.

Whattya think?

Q: A co-worker graciously offered to trade shifts when I was experiencing a family crisis. Any suggestions for what I should do to repay his kindness?

A:  Why not offer to take his place next time he is pulled out of the kitchen and assigned to toilet duty? (Be sure to wash your hands before returning to your work station.) Alternatively, if your schedules permit, you could invite him to lunch at the Harvard Club. 

Q: I was planning to serve Big Macs and fries at my annual New Year’s brunch until I read on the previous employee web site that fast food is unhealthy. Should I rethink my menu?

A: Absolutely not. Consuming fatty foods provides additional insulation against the cold winter weather that, in turn, requires you to spend less on luxury goods like coats, sweaters, boots, fuel oil, etc. Here’s wishing you and your guests a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

Q: It is acceptable to wear pearls when working the fry station?

A: Only if you are a female. If you are concerned that grease might splatter on them, you might want to consider having faux pearls tattooed around your neck. We are always happy to recommend tattoo artists who offer discounts to our valued associates.

Q: When assigned to the drive-thru window, I am often assaulted by a barrage of foul language from customers claiming they can’t understand me when I repeat back their orders. As one who is descended from settlers who arrived on the Mayflower, I assure you I speak impeccable, clear English. Any voice distortion is due to a faulty speaker system. How should I respond to these rude customers?

A: Though it would be human nature to respond, “You are a supersize asshole,” try not to descend to their level. You can say, “If you are going to speak to me in that manner, I suggest you might feel more comfortable going down the street to Burger King.”  

Q: My sister's fiance, the father of several of my nieces and nephews, has a position similar to the one I hold at McDonald's, but at Wendy's. He and the children are staying in our guest house for several months while my sister is away. It makes me uncomfortable when he asks questions about the ingredients we use to make our Big Mac "special sauce." I have, at times, actually entertained the thought that he may be a corporate spy. How can I discourage him from trying to get me to reveal proprietary information?

A: Lay out the ground rules. Explain to him that work is not to be discussed and that, as one who hopes to climb the corporate ladder and someday become a shift supervisor, you will not under any circumstances consider revealing the secrets of our corporate success, including the recipe for our secret sauce.

Q: It bothers me when people who are clearly impoverished – for instance, women carrying last year’s Kate Spade handbag or men with no teeth or shoes  -- order a $3.79 QP Cheese they obviously can’t afford when, for $1.29, they can get a double cheeseburger from the dollar menu that contains almost as much meat. Should I point this out to them?

A: Not if you want to keep your job.  

Q: In the Employee Benefits section of mcdonalds.com, what do the asterisks stand for next to the terms medical insurance* prescription drug coverage,* vision discount,* available dental,* short-term disability,* term life insurance,* 401(k),* paid holidays,* vacation* and educational assistance*?

A: We are out of room for this week’s edition of “Ask Ronald.” Please visit our employee web site again and often.

Monday, December 23, 2013

It's a Wonderful Life. I think.

My favorite relationship in the classic holiday movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, isn’t between people. It’s between George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) and the decorative knob at the bottom of his staircase. It’s broken. Every time he touches it, it comes off in his hand, an allegory for everything broken in his life that he finds frustrating. 

Cut to my wonderful life which, this year as always, is running true to form. Just as we are getting ready for holiday house guests, everything we own is breaking. A chronological diary of my last two and a half days:

Saturday, 4 a.m: Our house’s security system, which is turned off, starts screeching. The dachshunds are hysterical. I jump out of bed, enter the security code on the keypad, which silences the screech, and get back under the covers. I’m almost asleep when the security company calls and asks if everything is OK.

Saturday, 6:30 a.m:  (See Saturday, 4 a.m.)

Saturday 9 a.m: I call the security monitoring company. The technician says the back-up system, located in a case at the very top of a 14-foot tall closet, requires a new battery. Unfortunately, no service personnel are available until Monday. He instructs me to remove the cover of the case. I tell him I have to go to the garage for a ladder. Once I bring it in, set it up and climb to the top, he asks if I see the battery. I say yes. He says to disconnect it and take it to Batteries Plus to buy a new one. He says it will be easy to replace it myself.

Saturday 9:30 a.m: My local Batteries Plus store is out of this particular battery, but there’s one at another store 25 miles away. I drive there. By 11:30 a.m. the battery is replaced.

Saturday noon: When I open the door to the guest room I hear the toilet in the adjacent bathroom running. I just had it fixed. I call the plumber. He says I’ll have to pay an extra $75 for a weekend call. I tell him I’ll fix it myself.

Saturday 1 p.m: My wife announces she can’t open the dishwasher. The handle is broken. I manage to open it but hear plastic cracking.

Saturday 2:30 p.m: I take my car into the dealer’s service department for its scheduled oil change. I like a car dealer with Saturday service hours.

Saturday 2:43 p.m: The dealer’s service advisor walks into the waiting area looking grim and gestures for me to follow him to his office. He reads off a list of things the car needs done. The total comes to just over $2,100. “Is any of this covered under warranty?” I ask. He checks. “Yes, almost all of it, but your warranty expired two days ago.”

I tell him just to change the damn oil so I can go down the street to a dealer who sells reliable cars and buy one.

I don’t do that, however. Once the oil is changed I come home.

Saturday 4 p.m: The alarm system goes off two minutes after I walk through the door. I call the security company. This technician – a different one – says it sounds like the battery leads are corroded. I go to the garage, schlep the ladder back to the closet and climb it. The leads are fine. He suggests unplugging the transformer to reboot the system. I do. The screeching stops. He says to plug it back in and everything should work fine.

Saturday 4:30 p.m: I hop on my bike to take a ride to work off my frustrations. The chain snaps in two halfway up the block.

Saturday 4:45 p.m: I go to the fridge for a Diet Coke. The can is frozen solid. Everything on the top shelf of the fridge – milk, ketchup, jelly, bottled water – is frozen solid. Luckily, we have two smaller fridges, so I move everything into those.

Saturday: 5 p.m: I decide to make peanut brittle. (See blog post directly beneath this one.)

Saturday sometime between 9 and 10 p.m: The screen of my wife’s five-year-old MacBook Pro laptop goes blank. Having owned a company that operated Mac equipment, I know what that means: It has given up the ghost.

Sunday, 1 a.m:  The alarm blasts us out of a deep sleep. This time it won’t turn off when I enter the code. I go back to the garage, haul the ladder into the house, climb to the top of the closet, and pull the leads from the battery. It continues to screech. I unplug the transformer. It shuts up. One of the dogs pees all over the floor – we just spent $500 to have the grout cleaned -- while this is going on.

Sunday 5 a.m: Having been unable to get back to sleep, I google “Kitchenaid dishwasher handle troubleshooting” and find a youtube video in which an appliance repairman explains it’s an easy fix, provided you have part # 9743903. The repair looks simple. I know from experience that I can’t do it myself – I can’t do anything technical – but my son, who has a Masters from Georgia Tech, is arriving today. He’s handy. I’m going to locate that part first thing Monday and have him fix it.

Sunday 1:30 p.m: En route to the airport I stop at Lowes and buy a toilet repair kit. I’ll have him fix that, too.

Sunday 3 p.m: I call the security company to schedule a service call. The technician – I’ve never talked to this one – asks why. I explain. He has me fetch the ladder, climb it, hook up the leads to the battery and plug in the transformer. He says that often the system fixes itself after it has been unplugged for a while. We should be good to go.

Sunday 7:30 p.m: The alarm starts screeching. I call the security company. This technician says it’s a battery problem. I tell him I replaced the f-----g battery. He asks me if I replaced the battery in the brown case or white case. I say, “white case.” He says I should have replaced the one in the brown case. I didn’t know there was one in the brown case. He says to disconnect everything and he’ll have someone to the house by noon Monday but warns they are extremely short-staffed, this being Christmas week, so he might be a few minutes late.

Monday 7:45 a.m: I again watch the youtube video detailing step-by-step instructions for replacing the dishwasher handle. This is going to be a piece of cake.

Monday 8:30 - 9 a.m: I call six appliance parts stores. The sixth, which is 30 miles away, has the part in stock. I drive there to get it. When I come out of the store, the car won’t start. (The guy at the dealer said the battery could fail at any minute but who would have thunk?) I call the roadside assistance number that came with the car. The operator says I’ll have to pay because, according to her computer, my warranty just expired. The clerk at the parts store gives me a jump. I drive to Firestone, not the car dealership, and have a new battery installed.

Monday 11:45 a.m: I arrive home. My wife and son are golfing. I decide that, as long as I have to stay home waiting for the alarm repairman, I’ll fix the dishwasher myself. But I have never seen screws like the ones I’m supposed to remove. I call an appliance repair company and explain the problem. The guy who answers sounds like Boris of the Boris & Natasha cartoon on Bullwinkle, and says he will try to get here before 5 p.m. Christmas Eve but can’t promise. I tell him about the fridge. He asks the brand. I tell him. He says he doesn’t service that brand so I’ll need to contact the manufacturer but warns they are costly to fix.

Monday noon: I turn on the lanai ceiling fan. It’s dead.

Monday 1:15 p.m: I call the security company and ask where they hell they are because I have better things to do than sit around waiting for them to show. The operator says someone was here at 12:15 and rang the doorbell but there was no answer. I check the doorbell. It’s broken.

I really do have a wonderful life … all these material possessions are unimportant in the scheme of things …. and, considering my many blessings, I feel like the richest man in town.

I just hope that, once the holidays are over, I can go to Bailey’s Building & Loan and borrow some money to get all this broken shit fixed.

George will understand, I’m sure of it.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Candy Man can't

Quick. What is this?

A) A rectangular pizza
B) An aerial view of the Naples, Florida, sewage treatment plant
C) My attempt at making peanut brittle

The correct answer: C.

I love peanut brittle. So much that I only eat it once a year – on Christmas Eve. My #1 son and I can go through an entire box in half an hour while watching "It's A Wonderful Life."

I grew up (and into size 40 trousers by the age of 14) on homemade peanut brittle. The store-bought variety tastes fake to me. So this afternoon, having nothing to do, I decided to make some myself.

I googled “peanut brittle in the microwave” … found the same basic recipe on five or six cooking web sites … watched three youtube videos of cheerful people making it  … and decided I couldn’t possibly screw it up.

All the recipes said to measure your ingredients out in advance because they needed to be added and mixed quickly.

The first batch I attempted was ruined when I mistook baking soda for salt and added that at step two instead of at the end. I threw that away but not before burning approximately six layers of skin off my thumb to the point that I’m actually considering going to the emergency room and am writing this post to try and TAKE MY MIND OFF THE PAIN.

The second batch came out looking like this.

After it hardened (approximately two seconds after I poured it out onto the baking sheet), I tried a piece, hoping it merely looked bad but tasted wonderful. But it tastes as disgusting as it looks -- so bad I’ve gargled twice to get the taste out of my mouth but can’t. 

My wife is complaining the house reeks of burned peanuts. One dachshund threw up from the smell. The other ran to the back door, asked to go outside and now won’t come back, even when I try to bribe her with a treat.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Who says it's more blessed to give than to receive?

Today's post was first published December 16, 1999. Nothing has changed in the interim (except there aren't record stores anymore).

For most folks, the holiday season is a time of joy and giving.

For me, it's a time of abject terror.

That's because I hate to shop, and I don't need a shrink to tell me why.

It all goes back to my childhood.

My father owned a general store that sold thousands of items but, to conserve space, only one brand and style of each.

If you wanted a pair of jeans, there was one choice: Lee.

If you needed a pair of shoes, it was Endicott-Johnson or nothing.

My family wasn't allowed to buy anything anywhere else, unless Dryden's Store didn't sell it. And, since we sold most everything, shopping for us was easy.

Because I had no choices as a child, today, when I walk into a department store or -- worse yet -- a mall, I go into sensory overload.

If a store offered, say, one red sweater, no problem. I'd buy it. But when I'm confronted with dozens of choices -- cashmere, wool, cotton, cardigan, crew-neck, v-neck, cowl-neck, et al -- I'm so boggled I can't decide.

And so, nine times out of ten, I leave empty-handed.

Mercifully, my wife, who is an expert shopper, always takes care of buying the kids' Christmas presents and signs my name on the "to/from" cards. I look as forward to Christmas morning as they do, so I can see what video games we'll be playing over the coming year.

And buying for my mother is a snap. She loves biographies. One stop in the non-fiction section of the bookstore (or, better yet, at amazon.com) and she's taken care of.

So the only person I really have to shop for is my wife.

"Now Tom," I can hear you saying. "That shouldn't be too bad."

Au contraire. Sure, Christmas is nine whole days away. But her birthday is today. And our anniversary is December 27th. So I have to cram an entire year's worth of shopping into eleven days during the busiest time of year.

This year I thought I'd gotten off easy.

For the first time ever my wife told me exactly what she wants -- a one-of-a-kind bracelet we admired this summer in a St. Maarten jewelry store. After we left the store, I made up an excuse about leaving my sunglasses on the counter, went back, and had the sales clerk write down the exact description of the item. I told the clerk I'd call in November to order it.

Alas, last month St. Maarten was struck by Hurricane Lenny, the first November hurricane in more than 100 years.  I read that the beachfront street where the jewelry store was located was inundated by a storm surge. I've tried to rouse the store by both phone and e-mail ever since. I'm afraid that beautiful bracelet may be sleeping with the fishes at the bottom of the Caribbean Sea.

And so, this past Saturday, I found myself at the mall.

Within minutes after arriving, I noticed a store selling Brunswick pool tables.

OK, I know my wife doesn't want a pool table, but I do.

I spent a half-hour discussing the various makes, models, wood trim and felt cover options with the salesman, convincing myself I could talk my wife into letting me turn the dining room, which we never use anyway, into a pool room.

Realizing I had to be home in four hours, I told the salesman I'd be back ... and plunged into Macy's, where Lady Luck was with me.

Over the next two hours I purchased a beautiful cable-knit sweater, a blue blazer that's a perfect match for my wife's eyes, and an elegantly-tailored winter coat.

If I do say so myself, I look terrific in all of them. (Hey, we have parties to go to. I need to look my best.)

But I saw nothing I thought she might like.

Leaving Macy's feeling guilty, I wandered, as I do every year, into Brookstone where I spent a half-hour trying out the $3,999 vibrating massage chairs to relieve my holiday stress. I even filled out an entry for the chance to win one. I hope I do but I bet I won't.

I went into a record store to see if my wife's favorite group had released a new CD. Just as I walked in, the kid behind the counter, wearing three studs through his eyebrows, cranked up Celine Dion singing "O Holy Night" which sounded to me like fingernails being drawn across a chalkboard. I hightailed it out of there.

Running low on time I ducked into another department store where painted sweet-smelling women were competing with one another, trying to lure passing men to their cosmetic counters. "Come over here and I'll throw in a gift-wrapped sampler of our holiday lipsticks and matching nail enamels for just $19.99 with any fragrance purchase," one said, winking at me. I felt like a sailor in the red-light district of Amsterdam. And since my mama always told me to stay away from women who looked like that, I turned and fled.

I arrived home with a bagful of stuff for me, nothing for my wife, and with the knowledge that I will probably wind up, as I do every year, closing down the mall on December 24th.

At sundown Christmas Eve, while the rest of you are making precious memories with your loved ones, I'll still be at the damned mall, begging store managers not to turn out their lights and pull down their steel gates, and making irrational purchases like the "Funeral of Princess Diana" video I gave my wife two years ago.

I told her I thought it was romantic and historic and that it was something she would want to watch over and over.

She thanked me sweetly and took it back the day after Christmas, along with everything else I had bought at the last minute.

As she no doubt will again this year.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Keeping up with the Joneses

This afternoon I decided to ride my bike to the hardware store to buy a new water spigot. I could no more install that spigot myself than perform open heart surgery on one of our dachshunds but I know that someday soon I’ll convince myself otherwise and will give it a try. Within minutes water will be spurting everywhere and I’ll have to run get my next door neighbor, Bob, to make it stop. Bob’s good with plumbing and stuff like that.

As I was wheeling down the driveway I noticed a crowd next door, a group of neighbors gathered around Bob, who had just taken delivery of his latest car – a Lamborghini Aventador. (When you buy a Lamborghini, you don’t drive it off the showroom floor. The dealer brings it to you.)

I stopped and joined in as they oohed, aahed, drooled and all but wept over Bob's latest toy.   

Bob, you see, buys a new high performance sports car every year. This year it’s a Lamborghini. Last year it was a Ferrari. The year before that, a McLaren. He also has a brand new Range Rover and a Rolls Royce.

Bob doesn’t actually drive his sports cars. He doesn’t like to drive. They simply sit in his garage. He goes out every so often, runs his fingers lovingly over the paint, sits in the driver’s seat and, on rare occasions, backs one out and guns the engine, making it sound like a 747 is taking off from the driveway next door.

It would give me perverse pleasure to report that Bob’s an ass but he's not. In fact, he’s one of the nicest guys you can imagine. The kind of guy who, when you ask him where he got his Christmas tree, says he has an extra one then brings it over and puts it up for you. The kind of guy who, as you’re driving your wife home from her colonoscopy, calls to see how she made out and says he was up half the night worrying and praying for her.

Bob grew up poor, made good money and now buys whatever strikes his fancy  – including $400,000 cars.

I'm happy for him – really I am – but it sometimes makes life difficult living next door to a guy with cars like that.

Last month I was in my front yard with a painter who was about to give me an estimate for painting the exterior of the house. He was leaning on the hood of his pick-up, writing numbers on a pad, when Bob’s garage door opened and the Rolls backed out. The painter’s eyebrows shot up. ‘Nice wheels,” he said admiringly. I could see what he was thinking. Ka-ching. If this guy has neighbors who can afford cars like that, I can charge him out the ying-yang and he won't dare question it.

“My neighbor’s a chauffeur, “I replied. “He keeps his boss’s cars in his garage.”

I’m convinced my quick thinking saved me a bundle.

Maybe even enough for a down payment on that new Kia I’ve had my eye on.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Bowl bound

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) today announced the addition of five new college football bowl games, bringing the total number of post-season games to 192. For the first time, every U.S. college will be making an appearance in a bowl game.

According to a press release, “The NCAA board has decided that, since today’s college students grew up in an era in which children received trophies simply for showing up, it makes sense to give every college football player the opportunity to say he or she has played in a bowl. Selling the title sponsorship rights of these new games also generates revenues the NCAA can use to create awareness of college athletics and to support other important endeavors."

Here are the new bowl games and the teams that will be competing in each:

Chia Pet Bowl (Jan. 11, Lifetime)
University of Northern South Dakota 0-9
University of Southern North Dakota 0-10

Master Bait & Tackle Shop Bowl (Jan 12, Discovery Channel)
Ave Maria School of Law 0-11
Sarah Lawrence 0-12

American Association of Sleep Disorders Bowl (Jan 13, Food Channel)
Alaska Bible College 0-12
San Francisco Conservatory of Music 0-11

Guadalupe’s Cleaning Service Bowl (Jan. 17, ESPN II)
Texas College of Traditional Chinese Medicine 0-10
Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts (No team but will have one by kick-off)

Chair 8 at Midtown Barber Shop (Jim on Tues/Thurs/Sat; Vito on Mon/Wed/Fri, closed Sun) Bowl (Jan. 19, Oxygen)
Wellesley 0-11
Talmudic University of Florida 0-10

Saturday, December 7, 2013

In a word

I’ve visited some of the world’s most renowned museums. El Prado in Madrid. The Louvre in Paris. The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Elvis is Alive in Wright City, Mo.

My hands-down favorite is the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York, located on the grounds of FDR’s family estate overlooking the Hudson. There’s a document displayed there that gives me the chills every time I see it because it speaks to me as a writer, demonstrating the power of a single well-chosen word to describe, inform and provoke.

The document is a draft of one of the most famous presidential addresses in history, the speech FDR gave to Congress seventy-two years ago tomorrow, the day after Pearl Harbor.

Roosevelt didn’t write the speech. He had more pressing matters to attend to. The draft was written by a speechwriter and typed up for FDR’s review.

It begins, “Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 -- a date which will live in world history -- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

FDR crossed out “world history” and, in pencil, wrote above it a single word: infamy.

With that one word, FDR made the speech his own and took a nation to war. 

You can hear the entire speech right here. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Old Glory, Tweets, Texts and the Little Red Hen

My wife and I were in Washington D.C. last week.

One day we went to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History which contains everything from George Washington's camp kit to Julia Child's kitchen to an exhibition detailing the history of the Civil Rights Movement to a collection of dresses worn by First Ladies. (If Hillary wins in 2016, will Bill donate the suit he'll wear to her inaugural ball?)

Three things were of particular interest:

The Star Spangled Banner: I always assumed the flag Francis Scott Key saw waving over Ft. McHenry the morning after that perilous battle with the Brits was the size of the ones you see flying over the post office and other public buildings.

Nope. It was 30 x 34 feet and is displayed in a special climate- and light-controlled room. It is – an overused but appropriate word in this case – awesome. Goosebump City.

Texts and Tweets:  There were a number of school groups visiting the museum – mostly junior high and high school students. They were surrounded by the very best of American history and all they had to do was look at it, not memorize it or take a test about it. What were half of them doing? Starring at their cell phones, looking for tweets and texts from their friends, then writing back. There ought to be a law that anyone under 21 can’t have one of the damned things. The consequences to our culture are going to be severe. I won’t be around to see it but for those who are coming of age now, the future is going to be like living in Dumb and Dumber.

Golden Books: There was a special exhibit of the Little Golden Books on which millions of my fellow Boomers and I were raised. Many of the books imparted messages to young readers about ethics, morals and other character traits. I was pleased to see my favorite, The Little Red Hen.

The story in a nutshell: A little red hen finds some grains of wheat and asks her animal buddies to help her plant it. “Not I,” they say one after another. So she does it herself. When it’s time to harvest the wheat, she again asks for help. “Not I,” they reply. She harvests it alone. They say “no” when she requests assistance milling the wheat into flour and again when she asks for help making bread. But they all eagerly volunteer to eat the bread once she takes it out of the oven. She tells them to kiss her Little Red Ass. 

It’s the perfect allegory to run across in Washington, D.C.

Nobody in Congress or the Administration is willing to work with anyone else toward what is good for America because they’re all too busy indulging in their own interests. And everyone wants something for nothing.

I’d write my Congressman and suggest he use The Little Red Hen as the basis of a speech or press release but he’s in rehab after his cocaine bust and has announced he isn't taking messages.

Don't think they published a Little Golden Book covering that particular situation but I may be wrong.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Why I am a Democrat

My great-great grandfather, Caleb Warren Tate (second from right at bottom),
and 13 of his 17 children, 1873.
My mother’s sister, Betty Jo Tate Rosenberg, died September 27, a few days short of her ninetieth birthday. Aunt Betty was laid to rest next to her husband, Kermit H. Rosenberg, a career army officer who died in 2008, at Arlington Cemetery on Tuesday. A memorial service was held that morning.

Two of Betty’s sons, her granddaughter and I spoke at the service. My brother, Jerry, was the final speaker.

Aunt Betty, to put it mildly, was opinionated, one of those people who loved to argue for the sake of arguing. She argued with everybody – her husband, children, mother, sisters, nieces, nephews, store clerks, you name it. She was never malicious or vindictive about it. It was simply her nature.

She may well have gotten her love for verbal sparring from her older sister, my mother Ruby, who was a state high school debate champion in 1930 and doesn’t shy away from a good argument to this very day.

Ruby and Betty, who loved to argue almost much as they loved each other, spoke three or four times a day by phone. Rarely did a conversation take place in which one of them don’t provoke the other into an argument. Politics was a favorite topic.

Betty was a rabid Republican. Ruby is an equally staunch Democrat. Betty often reminded Ruby there was no way she could ever bring herself to vote for a Democrat. Ruby would shoot back that she could never vote for a Republican … and that Betty should be ashamed for being a Republican given what had happened to their great-grandfather.

Jerry touched on that story at the memorial service. It was a story he and I have heard a hundred times but I asked our mother to tell it to me again today so I could write it down and share it with my readers.

Betty and Ruby’s great-grandfather, Caleb Warren Tate, was a farmer in Callaway County, Missouri during the Civil War. Caleb Warren was the father of 17 children.

Missouri, during the Civil War, was in a precarious position. A slave state, its legislature had voted to secede but Lincoln, a Republican from neighboring Illinois, sent Union troops into Missouri to keep it forcibly in the union. Some Missourians favored the Union cause. Others favored the Confederacy. Both Union and Confederate troops roamed the countryside, terrorizing those they suspected of being sympathizers with the other side.

Caleb Warren owned two horses. He needed those horses to plow his fields, so he could feed his family. But both were seized by Union soldiers and taken to the nearby town of Danville.

Caleb Warren was a Democrat but his neighbor, a Mr. Dutton, was a Republican. Thinking the Union officers might be more sympathetic if he showed up with a man who was known to be a member of the party of Lincoln, the commander-in-chief of the Union Army, he entreated Dutton to go with him to ask the solders to return his horses.

“Mr. Tate,” the union officer said after had had heard him out. “Why should I give you your horses back? Don’t you have two sons fighting in the Confederate Army?”

“I do indeed,” my great-great-grandfather replied. “And they may be Confederates but at least they ain’t horse thieves.”

He did not get his horses back.

And, needless to say, he, his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, with the exception of Betty, never voted Republican and blamed the party of Lincoln for the loss of his horses.


It rained as Aunt Betty was laid to rest next to her husband during an impressive ceremony at Arlington.

As I was telling Betty’s son, my cousin Jim, goodbye, I told him I hoped he could find some comfort knowing that his mother was at peace.

“Yes,” he said. “But my father isn’t any more. At least he had five years of it.”

We laughed.

Jim and I hardly ever see each other but it’s good to know our extended family, however far-flung, will go on.

Even if the ones on his side of it are a bunch of damn Republicans.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What I'm grateful for

My wife of 37 years still makes me laugh.

My two sons are intelligent, hard working and kind.

I have a new daughter-in-law I adore.

I’m going to be a grandpa in April.

My 100-year-old mother is sharp as a tack. We talk almost every day.

I have a brother, sister, sister-in-law, seven nieces and nephews and nine great-nieces and nephews and love them all. They love me, too.

I have two elderly dachshunds and a goofy-looking granddog I love far more than I should because I know they’ll break my heart someday.

I am learning to love my grandcat.

I am healthy.

Everyone I love is healthy.

There’s a roof over my head.

I don’t worry about where my next meal will come from.

I have interesting and accomplished friends.

For years I got paid to do something I enjoyed and can now pursue whatever interests me.

I live in a state where it’s perpetual summer.

I am a citizen of a country where everyone is free.

You might call me blessed but the coolest thing of all as we approach Thanksgiving is that Walmart, Kmart, Macy’s, Old Navy, Target, J.C. Penney, Sears, Best Buy, OfficeMax, Staples, Michaels, Toys "R" Us, Kohl's, Dollar General and Dick's Sporting Goods will be open for all or part of the day so I’m going to get on the Internet right now and read all about their special sales so I’ll know which stores to visit first and what aisle to head toward when I arrive.

My cup runneth over.

See you there.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A news flash from Dallas

If someone told my father, Bud Dryden, news he didn’t want to hear, he simply ignored the messenger and continued what he was doing.

I saw it myself on November 22, 1963. I had just turned 12 and was home from school with the mumps.

Dad, who ran a general store in the tiny town of Auxvasse, Missouri, had come home for lunch that day. He and my mother were eating at the kitchen table. I was in the next room, watching television, when Walter Cronkite broke into the programming to announce John F. Kennedy had been shot.

My parents were rabid Democrats. My mother, now 100, still is. They were married in June, 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, a few months after FDR took office. They credited FDR and the Democrats with nothing less than saving America and giving them a chance to make something of themselves. Needless to say, Bud and Ruby Dryden loved Kennedy, the young Democratic president. The night of his election, they held a viewing party and invited friends over to watch the returns. It was the only time I ever remember them hosting a gathering for anyone other than family.

I ran into the kitchen. “Walter Cronkite says the president has been shot.”

My mother clasped both hands over her mouth.

“You didn’t hear that,” my father said dismissively, as if I’d announced space aliens had landed in uptown Auxvasse.

My mother was as horrified by my father’s reaction as she was by the news. “Bud,” she said slowly, like a mother trying to reason with an out-of-sorts child. “It has to be true. Why would the boy make that up?”

“I have no idea,” he responded, spearing another pork chop.

He finished his meal and went back to the store.

Funny what one does and doesn’t remember about the biggest events of one's lifetime. I’m almost sure mom and I watched TV the rest of the afternoon. I’m almost certain she called him once it was official to tell him the president had died. I don’t remember for sure but I'll never forget how my father reacted to that awful news from Dallas.

I wish I could have sat down with him as an adult and asked him about it but I never got the opportunity He died a little more than two years later.

I've spent 50 years trying to figure it out and I suppose I never will but I do, in a strange way, understand.

Friday, November 15, 2013

People who should shut their stupid mouths and go away

Wouldn’t it be great if the following people would shut up and go away once and for all?

Sarah Palin: The latest declaration from Palin, who is desperate to stay in the news so she can appear relevant and keep raking in personal appearance fees, is that Pope Francis is too liberal for her tastes. This bitch isn’t even Catholic. STFU please.

Al Sharpton: His career is based on accusing individuals and the justice system of racism when, in fact, he’s a racist. Put a sock on it.

Miley Cyrus: If she weren’t the daughter of Billy “Achy Breaky Heart” Ray she’d be asking, “Would you like fries with that?” at a Burger King drive-thru window but as a winner of the lucky sperm club she was handed her own TV show by Disney along with a recording contract. Instead of doing something good with what fell into her lap, she twerks and smokes dope on TV -- a great role model for girls who want to grow up to be drug-addicted whores. Just go away.

Tom Cruise: In a deposition he apparently compared the rigors he faces as a thespian (my favorite word) to the rigors American soldiers face in Afghanistan. I can’t believe even he is that stupid but if he really said it, I hope he runs into a group of marines in a dark alley who will set him straight.

Nancy Pelosi: Heavy doses of Botox supposedly make it impossible to smile or frown. Pelosi is proof it doesn’t make one’s mouth immovable because idiotic remarks keep escaping from hers. She should shut up. Nobody believes anything she says anyway.

The Kardashians: If I read one more headline about a tweet from one of those twits I’ll puke.

Dan Rather: Is apparently upset CBS didn’t ask him to return for its coverage of the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination. Good. I was upset for 24 years when CBS allowed that asshole to sit in the anchor chair. More than anyone, Rather, who has said there’s nothing wrong with reporters interjecting their personal political views into news stories, has destroyed broadcast journalism as we knew it. After being fired for attempting to influence the outcome of the 2004 presidential election, he now reports the news on something called AXS-TV. It’s a safe bet tomdryden.com has more readers than ole Dan has viewers. Go away once and for all, OK?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Reason #5364 to hate big banks

Reason #5364 to hate big banks: Wells Fargo is now charging customers for making deposits.

That's not a misprint. 

The blood sucking parasites bankers at Wells Fargo, America’s fourth-largest bank, have started charging some small business customers 30 cents for every $100 in cash they deposit in excess of $5000 a month.

It had always been my impression that banks considered it a good thing when customers deposited money.

Silly me.

I discovered this today while reviewing the October statement for my business checking account. For the first (and only) time in all the years I’ve had that account, I made a large cash deposit in October – money I withdrew from my personal Wells Fargo account to cover a bill that needed to be paid through the business.

I noticed on the statement, in addition to the monthly $15 fee Wells Fargo charges to maintain the account, a debit for something noted as a “Cash Deposit Fee.”

I called Wells Fargo’s 800 number and reached a customer service representative named Dixie. She informed me the Cash Deposit Fee is a charge that is now imposed on certain small business accounts including, apparently, mine, in any given month in which cash deposits exceed $5000.

I said that was crazy. Since when does a bank charge customers for making deposits? 

Dixie took care not to agree with me – our call was being recorded for training purposes after all –- and diplomatically replied she understood why I might be upset. It occurred to me as she was talking that any bank callous enough to charge customers for depositing money probably wouldn’t hesitate to waterboard any employee its phone monitors overheard agreeing with a customer who questioned its fees.

I told Dixie I write a blog and was going to write about Wells Fargo’s new fee. She put me on hold and, a minute later, came back on the line to report she had been able to reverse not only the $15 monthly fee but the Cash Deposit Fee as well. She cautioned, however, that if I deposit more than $5000 cash in any given month, I’ll incur the fee again.

This afternoon I went to my local Wells Fargo branch and asked to speak with an officer. “What is the rationale for this Cash Deposit Fee?" I asked. The banker couldn't answer the question but did say she’s powerless to do anything about it and that Citibank is charging a similar fee.

The Cash Deposit Fee is but one more example of how small businesses are getting the shaft thanks to the Ponzi scheme that is the American financial system. The Federal Reserve is creating money out of thin air, and lending it at zero percent interest to the big banks – Wells Fargo, Citibank, Bank of America, Chase, etc. – ostensibly so they can make loans to small businesses and individuals. But the banks, rather than lending the money they’re getting for free, are using it instead to buy US Government debt which requires less effort and administrative staff.

Our government, in turn, uses the money it gets for selling bonds to banks to pay interest on older bonds owned by investors in China, Japan and other countries. Small businesses, if they can get any money at all, are having to borrow it from small banks which don’t have it to lend because they have to now pay much more for FDIC insurance than they did pre-2008 in order to protect customer deposits at the mega-banks which will almost certainly fail one of these days because they are running on Monopoly money and everyone in Washington knows it but nobody will stop it because if they did, the jig would be up -- the American economy would go down the toilet and the Chinese Renminbi would become the world’s currency.

Did someone say small businesses could use some help? Who cares?

Well I do. I’ve run one for 33 years. My father ran one. His father ran one. Small business – not big business -- is the engine that powers America’s economy.

A small business that handles cash in its daily operations, such as a restaurant, supermarket or dry cleaner, is already operating on razor-thin margins. And how does Wells Fargo help that business?

By charging it for depositing money, the vast majority of which is already earmarked to pay vendors, employees, employee benefits, rent, utilities and, of course, income taxes.

I pointed out to the bank officer that I’ve banked with what is now Wells Fargo for 30 years. I opened an account at First Union in 1983. First Union became First Fidelity which became something I’ve forgotten which became Wachovia which is now Wells Fargo. I also happen to have a lot of cash – the proceeds from the sale of a house  – in the bank right now.

I told my Wells Fargo banker that as someone who believes in small business, I’m going to take every penny of it out within the next week. And I am. As soon as I can find a local bank that doesn’t charge for deposits of any type, I’m moving my money there.

And when I do? 

Wells Fargo can kiss my assets goodbye.

Not that they give a shit but if enough small business owners closed their accounts, maybe -- just maybe -- they would.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Great songs from old TV commercials

Yesterday the devil dropped a quarter into the Jukebox Inside My Head and a random song started playing.

Sometimes my jukebox plays classic rock. Other times it plays theme songs from 40-year-old TV shows. This time it played a song from one of my favorite musical genres – jingles from old TV commercials. Specifically:

            Never borrow money needlessly,
            Just when you must.
            Then borrow from the oldest company,
            From folks you trust.

Do you know the next line?

If you aren’t old enough to remember where you were on November 22, 1963, you don’t. But if you do recall where you were, and if you also watched The Honeymooners, which was sponsored by this company, it probably rolled right off your tongue:

Borrow con-fid-ent-ly
From H.F.C.

Up until the late ‘80s or early ‘90s, commercials were often comprised almost entirely of music – songs with catchy lyrics advertisers spent massive amounts of money to have written, orchestrated and performed.

I can’t think of a single all-musical commercial that's running these days -- yet one more example of the ways we are evolving into a completely visually-oriented society. People watch TV, they don’t listen to it. Listening to the lyrics of a commercial requires connecting the dots – something that’s hard to do while watching TV, texting, cruising the Internet and playing video games simultaneously.

Here are five of what I consider the best classic commercials that feature songs readers “of a certain age” are likely to remember. You may not remember your children’s middle names or the maiden name of your first wife but you’ll remember these. 

United Airlines

This commercial, from the mid 1970s, features my favorite iteration of the song used in United’s long-running “friendly skies” campaign. The lyrics are great. And the upbeat, carefully orchestrated music, which starts off simply and becomes more complex as the commercial unfolds, is extraordinary. This is American – I mean, United -- advertising at its best.


This song helped make Chevy America’s #1 car brand during the fifties and sixties. Though dozens of versions were produced, the most famous rendition was the one Dinah Shore always sang at the end of her show. A pop quiz question before you watch the commercial: What did Ms. Shore do when she finished the song?

(a) Swung an imaginary golf club
(b) Tugged at her earlobe
(c) Threw a kiss
(d) Bit the head off a bat

Burger King

This jingle, from the mid '70s, gave Burger King what we ad people call a “USP” – Unique Selling Proposition. The USP, in this case, is that Burger King, unlike that other rigid fast food chain, will happily make your burger to order. If you’ve already started humming “Have it Your Way,” you’re wrong. This spot features an even catchier song you probably haven’t thought about for years. But once you hear it again you will be singing it over and over until your head explodes. Brilliant. But not brilliant enough to make Burger King's made-to-order flame-broiled Whopper taste better than an assembly-line made Big Mac. 

Country Cornflakes 

Introduced in the early sixties, Country Cornflakes had a catchy song but failed to catch on with the public and disappeared from shelves. Perhaps it's because they were made with rice. Fifty years later the song hasn’t disappeared – at least from the Jukebox Inside My Head. 

Movie concession stand 

OK, this song wasn’t written for a TV commercial. It was for a trailer that ran before the feature presentation at thousands of movie theaters across the country, including the Liberty Theater in Mexico, Mo. (RIP). I still half expect to hear it every time the lights go down at my local theater.

What commercial songs are playing on the Jukebox Inside Your Head?

Let me know. It’ll be payback for these five songs I’ve implanted in your brain that you won’t be able to stop singing for days to come.