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12/24/96: The Misfit's Gift.

Angels, we have heard, are high,

Smoking weed up in the sky.

As my parting shot for 1996 (the Misfit will return on January 2, 1997) I leave those courageous and patient readers with a comedy reference, a link to an extremely funny page with its own brand of originality. A good friend suggested this to me last week, and I am still convulsed by its details. It is called the How to Drive Like a Moron (click on the title to go there). The page loads like a new bottle of catsup (Ketchup for those of you from Chicago), because there are a large number of little animated pictures of questionable taste. However, viewing this page may save you a fortune in tickets and traffic school (regular or comedy improv the latest rage among offenders who think that they are the Juan Fangio of the parking lot).

As a corollary, I recommend the W.C Fields movie, If I had a Million from 1932: Fields inherits a fortune and blows it on a bunch of junky cars that he methodically proceeds to crash into perceived roadhogs. W.C. Fields fans may not know that he played Humpty Dumpty in the 1933 version of Alice in Wonderland.

12/23/96: Bah, humbug (whatever that is!).

The Oxford English Dictionary defines humbug as a hoax, deception, or befooling trick. Around 1751 a source reports: " There is a word very much in vogue with people of taste and fashion, which though it has not even the penumbra of meaning, yet makes up for the sum total of the wit sense and judgment of the aforesaid people of taste and fashion!.. I will venture to affirm that this Humbug is neither an English word, nor a derivative from another language. It is indeed a blackguard sound made use of by most people of distinction! It is a fine make-weight in conversation and some great men deceive themselves so egregiously as to think they mean something by it."

There is also the word, humbuggability, to transfer by trickery (with my customary efficiency I immediately started to make a list of all the humbuggable people I know, starting with a 300 lb. French teacher I had in high school who did not appear to be more than a few days ahead of her students in the language but used her 8 word vocabulary with aplomb). Today, of course, humbug and Scrooge are inextricably bound together like peanut butter and jelly: Scrooge=humbug=Christmas is a hoax! I tried to find the name Scrooge in the phonebook without success, but I found a business called Scrooge's, an atmospheric (lots of stinky chips in little glass jars) of Dickensian gift shop that sells the kind of frilly dust catchers endeared by those of advanced age, shelf space and declining taste.

Dickens' choice of this name and the epithet, humbug is really a complete villainous description in two words: it is an unscrupulous businessman who practices deception but is himself essentially deceived. Although Scrooge couldn't open at the Comedy Club, he does possess some sense of humor: More of Gravy than of grave he says of one of the spirits, dismissing spiritual apparitions as the product of indigestion. It is also possible that Scrooge became so grouchy from years of bad cooking, and that his demeanor springs from bad diet (he never mentions salad or fruit). This observation summons up the famous "Twinkie Defense" for the Moscone assassination trial.

You are what you eat! is my parting shot; so, when you are wolfing down fruitcake, ham, plum puddings, mince pie, candy canes, assorted cookies, jellies, and other gooey concoctions, beware what global changes will lead you to perdition.

12/22/96: Santa is Mean.

With visions of the CocaCola Santa Claus floating in our heads we tend to filter out those pathetic bell ringers on the street, department store red suited boozers (who secretly hate children), and slimy sociopaths using the outfit to commit invasion robberies. If a jolly individual in a white fur trimmed red suit with a sack over his back knocks at your door, would you let him in? In this modern world of letter bombs and holiday terrorists must we ask to see a picture ID before taking the plunge. In the world of punk rock there was a song about Santa Claus getting rolled by a gang: his revenge could be to rob unsuspecting dupes, too full of holiday egg nog to think clearly.

We have these pervasive good images in our minds- Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman (I dealt with him in another column), people dressed as ministers or nuns, ice cream vendors, firemen (or is the PC term firepeople, which sounds like a circus act). When I lived in New York City there was a general feeling that firemen would enter an apartment and rob it before putting out the fire. This knowledge ended my naivete about the human race.

Merry Christmas,

Give me the money!

The punk rocker extolls: but that is what the TV ads and department stores are hawking. Maybe we should all make a mental pilgrimage to Bethlehem (but, of course THAT Bethlehem is in one of those little plastic globes that have snow coming down when you turn them over). I don't think it ever snowed in the Middle East; and it's hard to associate Peace on Earth with that place.

12/21/96: O Come All Ye Faithful, and Everyone else, too.

I saw this sign in front of a local church, and my mind began to churn out some ludicrous implications. Leaving aside the literal meaning of the carol, does the wag pastor mean those who faithfully attend the church or those who have faith (as opposed to those who don't). Those who don't would most likely not attend church. Possibly everyone else refers to heathens or people with some inferior religion. Best to relegate this sign to the heap that includes Chanukah Servicios en Español (I imagine afterwards the children try to break open the six-sided piñata of David), Rap Jesus Pageant, Three Kings Sightseeing Tour, and We can arrange for you to die at The Shrine (of Our Lady of Lourdes, France).

Pursuant to this topic, I have a few helpful hints for choosing a Christmas service: 1) Never attend a service with live animals they always foul the scene, and goats try to eat coat buttons). 2) Any service which has Children's Music is guaranteed to make you wish for the return of the animals (I have no patience with the abrasive and aphasiac squeal of kids' untrained singing voices en masse. It's as though they all tried out for Annie and lost. 3) Candlelight services sound atmospheric and nostalgic, until some old croaker sets your hair on fire, passing the flame. 4) Services where the parishoners turn to each other and shake hands sound nice but are really the major transmitters of flu in winter and depositors of sticky candy from the hand of a child. 5) Lastly, ANY Christmas pageant (shepherds in bathrobes and Cabbage Patch Jesus) in costume is bound to generate uncontrolled hysterical laughter (especially if the play was written by a church member or child). As they say, there won't be a dry seat in the house.

My favorite blooper service occurred about ten years ago, when I had a women's chorus piece performed at a local church. The minister, a Rev. Clay Q. (Cueball) Poole, straight out of central casting and blessed with the slick insincerity of a gravestone salesman, used to like to sing with the choir; and, he was featured in a solo in another work (which was by the baroque composer, Buxtehude). In the middle he got lost and trashed the piece. Afterwards he came up to me, thinking I was Buxtehude, and apologized for his error. I told him that at my age (I would have been about 250 years old), it didn't matter. Maybe it doesn't: At a recent party I was announced as a classical music composer and was immediately told by one young teen that they were all dead. I just don't know when to lie down and give up; those courses I took in law school may come in handy yet.

12/20/96: Performance Mishaps.

As assiduously as the Misfit has avoided musical topics in this column, the time has come to relate a few true incidents in the panic driven and insane world of live (if you f__k up, you're screwed) concerts. We all know about the Mary Lou Retton of Toscas who kept reappearing after jumping from the parapet, courtesy of a badly placed trampoline that kept springing her above the castle wall.

My first incident occurred in 1982, when an old lady passed out after I took a bow at the performance of one of my concertos: it was a Charlie Chan mystery, until someone pointed out to me that in the program I was born in 1843! The typo made me 143 years old and hastened the ancient crone's demise. My favorite misadventure occurred in the spring of 1992, when I was playing a piano recital at the Sala Manuel Ponce and the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City. I arrived a couple of days before the concert and was rehearsing in the hall with the creakiest, wobbliest, squeekiest chair in the piano universe. I tried to communicate with one of the obsequious functionaries about the problem (with no Spanish) and was greeted with much bowing and smiling (always a bad sign). On the day of the concert I arrived in white tie and was treated to much ceremony and was presented with an oblong box, which contained a conductor's baton. Since I never needed a baton before in a solo piano recital, I concluded that the lines of communication had crossed into the 4th dimension. The moment was priceless: it represented the essence of irony.

Yesterday the town of Oakland, Calif. instituted (knee-jerk liberals, take note) Black English as an official language (Jive, to you white wonks). In my lifetime if you spoke like that you were: 1) a multimillionaire rap star or 2) Some poor slob from the ghetto who might earn $5.00 an hr. in the 90's. Human folly= human=folly. I think I will apply for Vulcan citizenship (I wonder if they have a website).

12/19/96:Worship Me, Pigs!

This immortal outcry from Judy Tenuta (of Judyism) ushered in a new kind of religious humor, that tempered to conceal rampant feminism. Now we also have Mistress Michelle from the Church of Feminine Supremacy, and other non-sched religions that are really agitprop humor vehicles as well as real religions of instant gratification that promise that you can have everything you want on earth. I say: extend the concept to include the Church of the Wimps for those unable to cope with the pressures of choice (Chocolate or Vanilla, Hot dog or Burger?), The Church of Infinite Greed for those who wish to perfect their avaricious tendencies, The Church of Unusual Food for reformed vegetarians, and the Church of the XXX movie addicts for the pornographically challenged. It seems like religion is usually not any fun, but to make sure these new ones draw converts we should have special feast days. Church of XXX celebrates Larry Flynt's birthday, as Church of Infinite Greed celebrates Charles Keating's. We need demons, ritual, priests (Maybe Church of XXX could annex that woman who had the disbanded sex church which looked like prostitution). Next, we must have ceremonial robes: maybe the best place to go would be to steal from the costume departments of failed TV adventure and sci fi shows, or cheesy Star Trek outfits from the low budget days. Lastly, we must collect tithes, institute monasteries where monks labor over illuminated manuscripts, and elect a world leader, some hairy and frightening old fool who doesn't talk too much. If these religions stick around long enough, then preposterous myths will emerge, thus conferring elevated status on the various patron saints.

I also like the additional of picking out some poor sap to be the reincarnation of some prime mover. More than likely, transcendental truth will emerge from pasted-together folly. Now, where did I put that old turban worn by Foodini to impress Pinhead?

12/18/96: Fu Manchu (where did he get his doctorate?) and all those ersatz doctors.

Through plays, literature, comics, movies, and television we have been inundated by the doctors both good (Dr. Doolittle) and very bad (Dr. No from James Bond,with the rubber hands). I checked my movie file in the collections and found at least one hundred of the creative practicing quacks. You probably know most of them: Dr. Mabuse (myopic, shrinks people), Dr. Fu Manchu (basically evil and enjoys torturing people for their knowledge), Doc Hollywood (wants to assist George Hamilton as an LA plastic surgeon holding the liposuction hose, but winds up in the Squash Capital of the world), all the Carry On doctors (would be pornographers playing doctor) for a starter. How about the serious ones: Arrowsmith, The Citadel, Magnificent Obsession, Men in White, Yellow Jack, Dr. Gillespie (really Lionel Barrymore), Dr. Kildare, Dr. Wassell, Dr. Goldfoot, Dr. Christian, and Dr. Zhivago (really Omar Sharif trying to look smart and write poetry). The mad scientists (in addition to Mabuse): Dr. Frankenstein, The Horrible Dr. Phibes, Dr. Jekyll (covered elswhere in this column), Dr. Strangelove (really Peter Sellers looking like a combination of Dr. Teller and Henry Kissinger), and all those Japanese medicoperverts who study the rubbery monsters in Godzilla and its clones. My question is: we never find out where any of these quacks went to school. At least in A Day at the Races, we know that Hackenbush (Groucho) is a horse doctor. Since I come from a family littered with doctors, this subject has held my interest; and, from childhood have plugged in real doctors I have known into the movie roles. They always seemed more like the mad scientists from Universal Studios than Dr. Ehrlich (Magic Bullet) or Louis Pasteur.

Did you also notice that there are no women in the classic mad doctor list? This means that: 1) If you go to a woman doctor, she is sure to be sane, 2) Political Correctness had not kicked in, 3) Women basically have no interest in monsters, 4) All of the above.

I have two final questions: 1)Did Dr. Fu Manchu belong to the AMA, and was he up to date in his dues? 2)Does he have malpractice insurance? Housecalls? ......Forget it: get an HMO.

12/17/96: Royalty revisited.

Americans are supposed to shun the concept of royalty, but we can't get enough of its surrogates like the Kennedys or the Osmonds (of course in music we have Nat King Cole, Queen Latifah, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Prince: an alien would assume that African Americans were the real royalty). Sci Fi and costume epics are full of titled twaddle: Emperor Ming the Merciless to Richard the Lionhearted. These icons speak with the authority of real historical figures. Did you ever wonder how some of the nobility got their names? Ethelred the Unready probably left his pants back in the tent before battle, Charles the Bald was probably just that, William the Conqueror went around subjugating everyone in his path, Philip the Good (like Good King Wenceslas) was unlikely to ever use bad language, as opposed to Ivan the Terrible whose language was probably obscene (how about an Ivan the Really Terrible, who would do the same in bad clothes?) What if we conferred such epithets on our untitled politicians: Willie the Slick, Gore the Bore, (Pete) Wilson the Wimp. How about giving the same treatment to entertainment celebrities: Lord Leno the Loquacious or Limbaugh the Prince of Darkness. I remember when Milton Berle was called Mr. Television. Some damn fools decided to fork over a million a year to keep this temporary clown in the ring: they should have raised him to Dr. Television, King of Comedy. My question is: does King Kong count as royalty?

12/14: Minotaurz is undergoing a major server upgrade, and no new misfits will appear until Tuesday, December 17. All other pages will be available.

12/13: The Tartuffe Fan Club.

I have always been a fan of Tartuffe, not the play by Moliere, but the character who is this most deliciously slimy of villains. Literary or movie villians seem to enjoy their work so (they are always chuckling and wringing their hands). Heros never laugh and are too earnest for my taste (and are probably all probably closet vegetarians). Real villains like Hitler or Stalin are just big time thugs, but fictional villains relish the THOUGHT of any fate worse than death and are willing to expound upon it at unprofitable length. They always give the plan away to the good guys, while they (the good guys) keep a stiff upper lip. Its as if THEY know that by the last five minutes they will be safe. The villains have all the fun, and they usually relegate the grunt work to some physically challenged crony (Igor). They always lasciviously covet the women and usually abduct them, but they always TALK themselves into peril.

Referring back to the big robot in The Day The Earth Stood Still, one of my favorite images, he never said a peep but went straight to his work (like Santa); which is why he scared the crap out of us. The Sheriff of Nottingham, Any vampire or zombie, pirates, bandits, alien monsters, Mafia pistolas, evil rulers (Ming the Merciless types) always steal the show. We love them, because we could never be as dastardly (blackguards, a word reserved only for movie and novel badguys). Churches should be erected to Captain Hook, Richard III, Iago, The Queen of the Borg, or Cruella DeVil. Without them our lives would be a succession of tea parties without the possibility of any intrusion of the Red Queen. Who is ready to join my Tartuffe fan club? My own suspicion is that those heroines in the movies would rather be ravished by Blackbeard (assuming that he is not a brute in the sack) than spend an eternity with some wimp like Dick Tracy.

12/12: Parades.

It seems that at this time of year we become consumed with parades: Macy's balloon and blowfest parade at Thanksgiving, the Hollywood Christmas parade with its Hallmark card Santa, parades for Veteran's Day, and the Mummers' parade in Philadelphia and the Rose Parade in Pasadena at New Years, a lot of marching in silly costumes, beauty contest winners and wanna be politicos in open cars, faux cowboys, horrible high school marching bands, and fire engines upon which lounge obese, drooling dogs and pot bellied, plastered volunteers. Where did all this come from? In the ancient world a parade usually meant that some poor schlemiels had just been conquered and were being publicly displayed by the victors. This muscle flexing turned into parades to display military might; the template was taken over by Goliards and other pseudo-religious satirists to have costume parades in imitation of religious processions. These gave way to the kind of parish parades at Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Rio, which combine the anti-religious with a mockery of a military display (like a threat display).

What possesses us to dress up and march in front of our peers, with guns, cannons, tanks, clowns, balloons, and anything else that rolls. Why would we want to create a model of the Vatican or White House in flowers, or have a giant balloon representing Woody Woodpecker or Oprah Winfrey? People in parades have an aura of omnipotence about them: incredibly brief and suggestive attire that teens would never wear out of embarrassment are acceptable in a parade. Message floats are particularly irksome: We are the world. Let's all live together in harmony. It takes a village to ......(you fill it in). This is grade A agitprop, distilled into a liquor or cloying sweetness and intoxicating guilt alleviation. I and we are not ready for this. In this age of Political Correctness, the mantra of feel-good brotherhood feels wrong. Maybe Spike Lee is right: accept our differences and march to our own beat.

Coda: Hey, how about a parade for Ground Hog Day where we dress up in (fake) furs of endangered species or a parade after election day where we hang the losers in effigy. My eternal questions: 1) Did the caveman have parades? 2) Is it possible to have a virtual parade on the net (I will post your best answer).

12/11: The Perfect Gift.

How often have you received a gift that seemed so outrageously wrong, in such bad taste, and useless to the point that you consider that the sender had revenge in mind. Decorative items that would only fit in the Taj Mahal, clothing accessories from the wardrobe of Pinky Lee, pickles of the month, hot sauce of the month, micro brew of the month (I could extend the concept to include the junk food of the month club, international version). I think that when we receive a gift we are also receiving a clear indication of whether the giver really has a clue about us; a perceived repulsive gift is actually a confirmation of ignorance. Why do we give gifts? Many could be charged to guilt or peer pressure, but most are the result of an attempt to please and surprise the recipient. Also, I don't think people really want to receive gifts they actually need; rather, they like to receive things that they would not buy for themselves for a multitude of reasons. Ergo, the element of surprise. When someone says to me: you shouldn't have done it, I think: right on; I must have been crazy to spend $87.50 for that collection of gourmet sausages.

Plane tickets to faraway places are a good gift for parents (round trip if you like them, one-way if you don't). Homemade items are always fun, even if they are incompetently produced (I never knew what to do with all those ceramics from my aunt, and they wound up as targets when I was learning to shoot rabbits who were invading my vegetable garden: I managed to nail all the clay pots but never hit a rabbit). Given the difficulties in gift giving, I have come up with a Sensible Guide to Safe Gifts.

1. Try to buy gifts that are physically small; that way, if they offend, they can be hidden.

2. Perishable gifts are terrific, because they are consumed and forgotten.

3. Always spend half the amount of money originally planned, and you won't outspend your recipient, who is probably trying to outspend you.

4. If you are incompetent and make the gift yourself, that is an automatic joke gift.

5. Never send a gift that you wouldn't want in you own home.

6. Keep track of past gifts so you don't repeat past faux pas.

7. Don't EVER buy a gift that is even remotely practical (appliances like garbage compactors are not part of the real meaning of Christmas).

8. If you get stuck, the original gifts of the Three Wise Men are always welcome (of course, nobody knows what to do with myrrh).

9. Don't ever dress up as Santa Claus and distribute gifts: that is strictly for clowns.

10. Spell the recipient's name correctly on the card, and write it in your own hand. Also, if the gift is for a child, remember, that the box is probably more interesting and durable than its contents and be prepared for that result.

At the outset of this column, I promised that I would never grace these paragraphs with any useful information; if I have transgressed with these suggestions, I will try to rectify the situation in coming weeks and offer guaranteed twaddle.

12/10: The guests at Reale's Christmas Party.

My limited notoriety in the public world has shown me that society loves a winner. If you win the lottery, you will be treated like royalty for at least 5 minutes on the TV news; and, you may get a few invitations to social gatherings, like the openings of local shopping malls. You get to meet the likes of Bob Eubanks and Vanna White, further competing for most inane comment with the hosts. If you are famous or win something; the losers, however are quickly forgotten; which is why I plan to invite the biggest losers of 1996 to my party. Topping the list would be Bob Dole and his wife (actually, they made the list in early October). They could share a cab with those perennial losers, the Perots. I would not forget B. Kwaku Duran, Pat Buchanan, Pete Wilson, Steve Forbes, and all the other failed nominees who self-destructed on embarrassing issues like immigration, flat tax, and public nudity. Failed TV talk show hosts would follow, accompanied by editors of failed magazines, like Male Chauvinist Magazine.

Members of all losing sports teams would be next, accompanied by Mike Tyson. The following wave would include the producers of action movies that were box office bombs, the guys who made all those boring Stallone fantasies, imitation Michael Crichton thrillers, and ANYONE associated with Waterworld. Executives of cigarette companies would enter next for being the last to find out, their stupidity exceeded only by their greed. They, of course, would be confined to the second-hand smoking section. Any discredited TV evangelists are automatically invited, owing to the double appeal of fraud mixed with religious mumbo jumbo: naturally, we expect their wives (and their plastic surgeons) to be in attendance.

Finally, we come to the guests of honour: those tedious British Royals and their neurotic ex-wives. Two of them arriving at the party will be like three people leaving (I imagine engaging them in polite chitchat about the prurient implications hinted at by the British press over the UK release of Free Willy). My mind flashes to the scene of the party. Mike Tyson is dancing with Lady Di, Jimmy Swaggart and Pat Buchannan are playing doubles ping pong with Michael and Arianna Huffington, The Huffingtons being a last minute replacement for the Dornans, who were still counting ballots. Dinner is served, I cry, as the soylent green and Jekyll-Hyde punch are consumed in carloads. Things being to slow down: I am thinking, it is time to bring out those SPECIAL brownies, (thus releasing the wit of weed to the witless). Good taste prevents me from relating the rest, but when the cops arrived, Pat Buchanan was reliving that famous haircut he received with a blowtorch, using my favorite chafing dish.

12/9: Let Us Cater your Next Party.

In a moment of distraction I started to think on the possibility of using famous food and drink from the movies to serve at a party. I immediately rejected anything from a food movie, like Big Night, Like Water for Chocolate, or Babette's Feast and went for the real culinary gems of the silver screen. I would start out with Pork Potemkin, that ever popular live appetizer (with caviar on the side, of course) and Popeye's spinach dip from the squeezable can. If I serve pasta, I would want the spaghetti sauce recipe from The Godfather. Any side dishes under glass could derive from What Happened to Baby Jane? or the Maharajah's feast from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, plenty of ghoulish gourmet delights. A good side dish, assuming a garden party, might be those flatulent beans from Blazing Saddles, but I would have to offer alternative fare (like the squash from Doc Hollywood for the health conscious). The list of beverages is almost endless: from the bewildering array of potions that turn helpless victims into zombies in all those George Zhucco potboilers to that bubbling stuff from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Spencer Tracy version), which would be a bracing aperitif, but I would have to be ready with pairs of name tags for the guests, and the party would probably get out of hand and attract the police. That elderberry wine from Arsenic and Old Lace or Black Dog's double rum from Treasure Island could be made available to the truly adventuresome. These specialties could be accompanied by canapes of the ever popular Soylent Green. For dessert I would end with a bang, serving the Bomba Surprise from the James Bond thriller, Diamonds are Forever. For a party with slightly illegal overtones I might include the Alice B. Toklas brownies (from Peter Seller's I Love You, ABT), or perhaps some of that spice from Dune. Now, to work on the guest list!

12/8: Hairdresser to the Homeless, one of many dubious titles (A fable).

Naturally, I arrived before I left, floating to the land of no opportunities under water, accompanied by the world's tallest dwarf. We took the slow express, which had already departed and came to the Nina Tower. We took the elevator to the penthouse, 100 stories under ground, where the sun was shining through the rain.

The ruler of the place was an extraordinary moron who played the guitar professionally and practiced brain surgery for a hobby. He was extremely helpful and had no information for us. Satisfied, we descended to the surface and took the next boat over the sand, where penguins practiced their volleyball. Their trainer, to whom they fed raw fish, offered us some lunch; but since we were famished, we refused and returned to find ourselves in a different place. Looking at my watch, I had arrived a half hour before departing: I had had a long journey and never left my head.

Above we have an example of language which has meaning on only the level of syntax. If this fable has a significant moral, you should send me your conclusions, which I will be sure to misunderstand.

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright-
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass

12/7: The check is in the mail and Other Fallacies.

So, some geek wonk salesman tells me: It makes you look five years younger or five pounds thinner or five inches taller, and suddenly I find myself confronted by the master of fiction.

There are certain expressions which are guaranteed to be completely false, yet we endure them without complaint.

From any car dealer: This was my own car. or You must hurry to get this deal or I'm really losing money on this one.

From any salesman: We are expecting a new shipment in tomorrow or I recommend our service contract or I use this myself at home.

People in general:I know I had it when I left home or I never heard of ____.

When I was an employment interviewer for New York State, I used to keep track of the bogus excuses given me by applicants as to why they did not show up at a job interview: My ________(relative) died was the most common, and I had to keep a talley on a personnel sheet to keep track of the dying relatives. One poor fellow's mother died three times; amazingly enough, she came in two weeks later looking for a job.

As a teacher I have heard all the missing homework excuses: eaten by dog, burnt up, stolen, fell in toilet, computer crash took it, mailed it to me (really a variation on the check-in-the-mail scam). But the most creative lying I ever heard was from a plagiarizing PhD student on the dissertation oral: I recognized several famous passages lifted verbatim from John Cage and Leonard Meyer. Upon confronting this student with the evidence she retorted: Obviously they attended my lectures at the______day camp. O.J. Simpson had nothing on this grade A prevaricator.

What possesses us to tell a whopper? Perhaps we WANT to get caught and assure our indictment by cooking up the big lie. People fib to save face or keep from hurting someone's feelings or to get out of a nasty confrontation; but the fib is still a one hundred percent concoction without substance. Lying is also a kind of badge of being a grown up; and, unfortunately it may be the key to survival in society. I find that I am incapable of telling a lie, not that I would not like to: I am just terrible at it. So, I tell the absolute truth, much to the annoyance or everyone else, but I must admit that it is fun to tell Prof. X that he is a jerk or Mrs. Y that she is a complete fool. I visited an old colleague near the end of her life, and what she remembered was the first faculty meeting I attended At which Associate Dean H. was holding forth: I interrupted with, Everyone knows that that is just a bunch of bullsh_t. 30 years later she was chuckling on her deathbed about my social faux pas, which happened to be the absolute truth. My remarks were indiscreet and unbecoming an adult, but they initiated a lifelong friendship.

12/6: To see ourselves as others see us-American Movies and Italian Titles.

Among the curiosities I acquired the last time I was in Italy, was a list from a video store of recent American films available for rent. The translations of the titles tell us some perceptive things about the way Italians view our films. Il Giustiziere della Notte, Justice in the Night, has a much more direct relationship to the plot of this Charles Bronson classic (Death Wish), while Disney's Alice nel Paese delle Meraviglia. literally, Alice in the Country of Miracles, is much more precise in identfying the unique charm of Wonderland. Il Silenzio degli Innocenti, The Silence of the Innocents, makes the direct connection between the Jodie Foster character and the paradigm than The Silence of the Lambs. In an attempt to be literal, sometimes the Italians spill all the beans: Eddie Murphy's Il Principe Cerca Moglie, The Prince Looks for a Wife, completely avoids the focus of the comedy, Coming to America and plows right in to the nitty gritty. Similarly L'Isola dei Pirati ignores the glittering object of Treasure Island. My favorite in the list is Ghostbaster, a phony Italian word that looks like the plot involves ghosts basting turkeys; I saw Ghostbusters at Lourdes in France, and there it was called S.O.S. Fantome. To those who do not speak Italian, I leave you with some others to figure out on your own:

La Piccola Bottega degli Orrori.

Guerre Stellari.

Il Planeta delle Scimmie, (hint: try to pronounce the titles out loud).

As for me, I think I'll go out and rent Clint Eastwood's classic Il Texano dagli Occhi de Ghiaccio (literally, the Texan with eyes of Ice: High Plains Drifter.

12/5: Not for the Squeamish- Product labels.

Looking at a diet soda pop can recently I saw all my favorite adulterants- phosphoric acid, phenylketonurics, potassium benzoate- and felt reassured that the environmentalists were still merely knocking at the door. After all the hullabaloo, product labels remain miniature chemical inventories: a gelatin dessert may have acesulfame, potassium polysorbate 60 (prevents scorching, I am told), and calcium carrageenan. Or frosted mini-wheats might conceal pyridoxine hydrochloride (which may or may not be a vitamin) and zinc oxide. Reading the labels of household cleaning agents, I find some of the same things as in the so called food products, but this is nothing new. The really good news is that some of these products have warnings like: This product may explode when coming into contact with concentrated sulphuric acid... etc. I ask myself: who would have these foul and fulminating liquors in the kitchen and what would they be used for (sulphuric acid would clean by dissolving everything in its path.)? My favorite warning: use of this product in conjunction with alcohol may induce nausea, rash, hallucinations, headache, and an inability to drive an automobile. The aforementioned product is used by infants; so, if toddlers begin to mix themselves martinis and try to drive themselves home, they are in big trouble.

We live in a world in whch cat food is likely to explode when brought near turpentine, breakfast cereal might release poison gas if mixed with cleanser, but we are informed that all this stuff has BHT in it to preserve freshness. Somehow I am not reassured by this information. I think back when I was living in Plainfield, NJ in the forties. The man from Dugan bakery would go door to door, selling chocolate covered doughnuts (I once ordered four dozen, much to the annoyance of my parents). Were these confections laced with all those chemical goodies? It seems to me that progress really means that are all given a chance to become organic chemists, using ourselves as guinea pigs for strange concoctions [National Enquirer Headline: I ate Drano and cured my acne]. We enjoy and welcome this opportunity, because compulsive nihilistic self destruction is such a part of our nature. It may be our primary hobby: After all, almost forty percent of us still smoke cigarettes, worldwide. 'Ya got a light, buddy?

12/4: Mickey Mouse is Jewish.

With Chanukah fast upon us, Judaica stores are trotting out particularly trendy ware this year. I was struck by a sign in one store: Disney Menorahs. What could that possibly mean? I summoned up images of candles made in the likenesses of Snow White and the seven dwarfs, each immolated in turn as the days wore on. Or perhaps all those querulous ducks, from the voluble Donald to the niggardly Scrooge Mc D. could be observed melting day by day. I imagined extending the concept to having the store make available a selection from the nine Supreme Court Justices. One could roast most of them or select many clones of a single one, say Clarence Thomas, and roast him anew each night.

Recoiling in horror, I realized that the store was encouraging children to burn the Disney icons in effigy: Ye gods, Snow White burned at the stake. Then I realized that the local Thrifty Drug was selling Santa Claus candles, and we were sending him up in smoke as well. In a desperate attempt to explain all of this I reasoned that it was a throwback to ancient tribes offering sacrifice to the gods with small effigies. All of a sudden, the holidays of December took on a primitive patina that I never saw before. Maybe Halloween really isn't so bad after all. I think I'll go out and rent Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas.

12/3: Real and Fake.

Having been reminded of the forced realism of Spielberg's Jurassic Park from a recent network airing on TV, I started to think why I hated this movie so much and why I had fond memories of the likes of the rubbery Creature for the Black Lagoon, Monster Zero, Earth vs. the Smog Monster, Rodan the Flying Monster, and the ever popular Godzilla and his progeny. The whole point is that they WERE fake, laughable caricatures that reinforced the superiority of us smaller and weaker types (remember: The Blob almost devoured Steve McQueen and Godzilla came close to crushing the ample Raymond Burr, larger than life figures). Rodan could fit in your pocket was obviously suspended by a badly concealed string, Godzilla had an ordinary Hollywood extra inside, Zontar, the Thing from Venus was really the prop thing from Burbank, and the Brain fom Planet Arous was cauliflower attached to a sausage, just a fugitive from the supermarket.

The latter day Schlockmeisters who fill our leisure time have missed the whole point: we fill in the realistic details in our heads. I think that the attempt is to shock rather than move us. We a moved by the demise of the Creature (from the B.L.) or the death of King Kong or Might Joe Young. We couldn't care less about the Spielbergian Tyrano chimeras. When the robot headed dinosaur in X from Outer Space collapses into a mass of shaving cream and jello, we immediately begin missing him and his lumbering slow gate (why is it these monsters always lumber?). The creatures are really costume jewelry for the mind: they are tawdry, cheap, effectively memorable, and not ever to be confused with anything real, nor do they take the place of anything real.

Today we have sugar, butter, steel, wool substitutes which fool us in their deception: likewise our on screen fantasies must satisfy the same criteria. In a world where even the President of the US is a manufactured and scripted action toy, our search for truth and reality has become an even greater challenge.

12/2: Stalled in Traffic.

As a bicyclist I often get a privileged view of bizarre activity undertaken by the drivers of automobiles, especially if they are gridlocked in traffic. Most drivers ressemble department store dummies with blank looks on their faces: they seem to move like Barbie and Ken, except for those few terrified green teenagers and old ladies who hunch forward and clutch the wheel like Captain Ahab. Other drivers appear to have a stuffed cabbage patch doll look or the countenance of an inflatable schmoo: this distortion usually indicates that they are trying to do at least two other activities involving personal hygiene or recreation.

The illusion of isolation afforded in a car seems to give license to behavior that borders on the socially unacceptable: the imagination reels at the plethora of nose and ear picking techniques, not to mention other medical procedures that are beyond the marginal good taste of this column.

At any given time almost 30% of drivers have cell phones permanently attached to their ears. I imagine that invaders from another galaxy have attached this fiendish control devices to pulverize the minds of the feckless automotive puppets. The ultimate evil conquest plan being to block all the roads in the world and turn commuters and shoppers into helpless automatons, while the aliens land and secure territory. The monsters would then dispatch the driver-robots to converge on fast food restaurants and bring back culinary samples for chemical testing. I keep thinking of The Day the Earth Stood Still of Robert Wise. When the alien stopped all energy, people were freaked: the giant robot seemed all powerful and an unsympathetic listener at best. While all he did was melt a few tanks, in the theater as a kid of the cold war, I was converted into a believer in disarmament.

There are at least a few women applying makeup in automobiles while reading, a consummate demonstration of coordination; but the real masters are those acrobats who pork out on multi-course meals which are arrayed on the dashboard and seat. These escoffiers of the expressway manage to set a lavish repast, and the ultimate road feast would be a Chinese dinner, complete with egg rolls and soup. If the soup is served in one of those cups that looks like a stack of a nuclear power plant, I am less impressed. Real china and silverware are also more impressive than cardboard and plastic. I would imagine that next to soup, eating spaghetti in the car would require the highest degree of skill, unless, of course, the gourmand mere vacuumed up each string of pasta (red sauce would be a greater challenge than pesto; lasagne would require minor carving skills). Suddenly I imagine national contests of commuter-diners, their goal to dine al fresco in the most creative way, while not hitting anything on the road. Maybe merit badges could be appended to the licenses of the lucky winners, to be used as credit against any future traffic citations.

I'm kind of glad that I don't own a car and have only distant memories of a 1961 Hillman-Minx convertible that I bought for $100 because it had no top. Even now I feel that this machine stiffened my resistence to foul weather and gave me the stamina to complete large orchestral works. No, I never tried to eat or conduct medical exams in this machine: hell, I can't even drive with one hand.

12/1: How to tell if you are a Christmas Criminal.

This is the second of the essential personality tests to prepare you misfit readers for your New Year's resolutions:

1. You reuse last year's Christmas cards and send them out under your own name (5 points).
2. You steal light bulbs from you neighbor's outdoor display to replenish your own supply (5 points, 10 if neighbor's whole light sets or lighted Santa goes out).
3. You have dressed a dog or cat as Santa Claus, elf helper, or reindeer (10 points for each; if you dressed an endangered species, 5 extra points).
4. You put out last year's stale candy canes for children (1 point for each piece of sticky candy). If you put out a chocolate or marzipan Santa also, add 10 points.
5. You enclose a shoddy and inferior gift from Target, Walmart, or K Mart in a Bloomingdale's or other prestige box to impress your friends (5 points for each infraction).
6. You make collect long distance phone calls to your family on Christmas day (5 points, 10 if from a cell phone), claiming you are stuck in a phone booth..
7. At the office Christmas party, you horde huge stockpiles of goodies for later consumption at home (5 points; 15 points if you use this stuff for your own party).
8. You steal the wreath from a parked car to use on your own ( Southern California only, others ignore: 5 points- nobody but Angelenos are dumb enough to dress a car).
9. After an invitation to a friend's house, you bring a commercially produced fruitcake and try to pass it off as home made (5 points; 15 points if the fruitcake is from last year).
10. Any stealing from the Toys-for-Tots collection bins is a definite no-no (20 points).

Evaluate your score on the "Grinch Scale" from 20 to 100.

20-30: You are just a cheeseball.
30-50: You are an apprentice in Yuletide larceny and are probably wanted by the police for overdue parking tickets.
50-100: Grinch, move over. The Meyer Lansky of Christmas crime has arrived.

Updated daily. Copyright © Paul Reale, 1996. All Rights reserved.