Friday, February 16, 2018

Peace Talks

The Thurber Brigade sent a reporter to the recent peace talks in Paris and filed this report:

Not since 1973 and the notorious Paris Peace Accords have two such bitter rivals met in this city to try to resolve their differences. However, after eons of conflict in the War Between Men and Women, both combatants agreed to begin negotiations to end the acrimonious combat.

The two sides are a diverse group. Bob Blevins is one of the male negotiators, while on the other side sits Shiela Blevins, his wife of 30 years.  Another female diplomat is Sandra Canton the famous Hollywood actress and sitting opposite of her is Howard Eisenthal the mega-blockbuster director.  Also from the arts field is Stan Boles the music producer, opposite of Elly Withers the pop singer/fem fatale. Completing the contingent is politician Richard Tork from Texas who sits opposite the international diplomat Fran Cleaver.
The discussion got off to a rocky start as the two sides could not decide on a table.  The women objected to the long rectangle suggested by the males as they contended it represented a phallic symbol, while the oval advocated by the females was likewise rejected for its female genital similarity. They eventually settled on a series of small desks that each could sit behind separately and set up opposite each other. 

“He constantly watches football games and drinks beer,” Shiela Blevins stated early in the talks.

“She's completely exaggerating,” Bob interjected.  “Plus, all day she watches nothing but soap operas while I slave away putting food on the table.”

The Hollywood pair also got in some early jabs:

“Eisnethal will no longer cast me in parts because he thinks I’m too old Ms. Canton exclaimed.

“Age is a factor for male actors as well as female,” the director countered.  “Audiences want younger actors for younger parts. I just  cast for what will sell tickets. Gender is not a factor.”
“I have the same problem with my music,” Withers chimed in. “This so called music producer won't work on my albums because I gained a little weight,” she said, nodding at Boles.

“Ha! What she doesn't say is that it was her thin body tucked into those revealing Daisy Dukes that sold the million albums.  If her voice had sold them, I’d work with her without hesitation. But now she wants to change the way consumers view her without any effort or change, such as losing the weight she gained due to her success.”

“Tork uses the guns on the military’s tanks as a symbol of his masculinity and to prove how macho he is when confronting problems,” Cleaver chimed in to the fray.

“Well, this so called diplomat believes that for every situation you should sit down with your opponent and talk about your feelings,” Tork fumed, nodding at Cleaver.

The arguing continued for days and just like the Vietnam talks, often would end with no peace treaty only to begin again weeks later.  After the most recent gathering, the two sides gave up again when neither could decide what was appropriate clothing to wear on a date as well as whether women should make an effort to make first contact or whether men should be more willing to discuss feelings.

As of this writing the war continues unabated and just as acrimonious as before.  Inside sources indicate the two sides may meet again in Geneva if they can decide on who should cater the gathering.

 Ahh, Thurber

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


A Thurber Brigade Short Story
Eating ice cream.  Drinking beer.  Shooting hoops.  Watching baseball.  All of these things would be a lot more fun than going to MiddleTown to visit his brother and sister-in-law. 
Sam Unis assured himself that he would be doing all of them this weekend if he hadn’t been talked into making this trip.  But nooooo, he was too softhearted to tell Ronald and Hillary he couldn’t make it and so now he sat on this train heading to sure misery. 

Oh, make no mistake, he loved both of them as well as their kids, Libby and Justin.  In fact, having all of them at his place enjoying the aforementioned activities would please him to no end.  However, going to MiddleTown, which he preferred to call “Plainville,” did not please him.  Especially now.
Ronnie and Hill were one fight away from filing for divorce.

Inevitably, he’d have to pick a side.  Most people assumed he’d side with Ronnie because, after all, he was a blood relation.  The majority of the time though Sam preferred hanging with Hill.  She always seemed pleasant.  She liked the outdoors, liked helping people whether they were dirt poor or standard middle-class, liked loud rock music and hitting dive bars.  Ronnie preferred going to military museums, always told the homeless guy on the corner to “get a job,” and usually insisted on going to some high-class formal dinner where he knew half the crowd when Sam just wanted to go grab a beer at a diner.  Ronnie also seemed to always be angry or upset.
How they had managed to stay together this long really puzzled Sam.  They argued all the time.  They would argue about what TV show to watch.  They would argue about which TV to buy.  They’d disagree about the meaning of a movie.  They’d disagree about how much to tip a waitress.  One time Sam even caught them arguing about how to pronounce “potato.”  They didn’t ever argue in front of the children, and Sam guessed that maybe their love of those kids kept them together.  Or maybe they just had great sex together.  Sam never asked them about the latter.
The train slowly rolled into MiddleTown.  What a funny place, Sam thought.  The city capitalized the “T” because they wanted to set themselves apart from other towns with the same name. Sam hadn’t been to any other “Middletowns,” but he imagined they were no different.  They all probably had the same boring suburban neighborhoods, the same small, unglamorous downtowns, same small parks with pre-measured dimensions and set number of trees and playground equipment, same national chain restaurants, same cookie cutout shopping malls, same bowling alleys, theaters and bakeries.  They all had the same.  They were an actual “Middle” town. 
Sam groaned softly to himself.  “Same.”

“Sam, Sam!”  Ronnie yelled, waving from the back of the train platform.

Sam stepped down from the train and headed toward his brother and the smiling Hill.  “Hey, great to see you guys.”

“We are so glad to see you,” Hill said as she gave Sam a friendly hug.

“You do not know how glad,” Ronnie added.

“Well, it’s good to be here,” Sam lied.

“We have so much to catch up on,” Hill said.

Ronnie slapped his younger brother on the back.  “So, I see you still haven’t got your driver’s license back.”

Sam looked askance at his brother.  Was this a start of the usual goading routine they engaged in each time they met?  “Yeah, still not driving.”
A judge took Sam’s license away several years ago because he had accumulated too many tickets.  In passing the sentence, the judge stated that he didn’t want the city to waste any more resources.  Apparently, having a cop write a ticket every now and then was a resource.  Sam didn’t protest the illogic.  After all, the city wasted resources in so many other ways.  However, he knew no one could win against the law.  People in power could interpret the law anyway they chose and those interpretations always seemed to change depending on who held power.  The “little guy” didn’t get to express an opinion.  At least, not and have it affect anything.

The three made small talk as they walked to the car.  It included the usual updates of their various jobs; music concerts or movies they may have hit; the vacations that they forgot to send pictures of; and Sam even managed to get in a dig or two about MiddleTown.  At the car, Sam found the button that began the real conversation.

“So where are the kids?  he asked.

Hill and Ronnie glanced at each other then both gave Sam a half smile.
“Oh, you know kids," Hill said.  "They thought picking up an uncle would be similar to having several teeth removed."

“Even a favorite uncle," Ronnie chimed in.

This last response seemed a little odd to Sam.  Admittedly, in most families this would be an off-hand compliment to a relative.  However, that wasn’t Ronnie's style.

“Okay, what's the real reason?”  Sam asked.  "Did you finally go psycho and turn them into barbecue or something?"

“Oh, funny," Ronnie said, shoving Sam in the shoulder.  "No, they really did say it would be boring..."

"However, um, we wanted to ask a big favor," Hill broke in.  "And it concerns them."

Sam didn't like the sound of this, but ventured forward.  "Big favor?"

“Oh, nothing bad," Ronnie assured.

“Yeah, we would just like you to take them out for the afternoon, early evening.  Maybe take them to the zoo and then for burgers afterwards," Hill added.

Sam looked askance at them as he climbed into the back of their car.  "You want me to babysit them?"

“Um, well..." the two possible combatants said in unison.

“So you asked me to come all the way here to be a babysitter?”  Sam reiterated. 
“No.  We DO want your help in our situation.  Maybe act as a sounding board for ideas.  Right now though we also need your help in a different way.  Which means getting the kids away while we talk this out a bit,” Hill explained.

Sam frowned as the two stared hopefully from the front seat.  "Wouldn't it be better for you to get a real babysitter and the three of us go somewhere to talk?"

“For this united family to go forward, we have to reach some consensus.  We have to work together to make it work.  So a little alone time would help us,” Ronnie said.
Sam sighed, but knew his fate was cast.  He agreed he'd take the kids out for a while and let his brother and sister-in-law meet in conference to hash out their differences.  Of course, this may not have been the difficult part.  Getting two preteens to leave the comfort zone of their panic rooms—also known as private, messy bedrooms—would be a challenge.  

He decided to use the old tried-and-true method used for generations: bribery.  
The children really did like the company of their favorite uncle (only one, but one prone to showering them with gifts). However, the offer to secretly feed them the food and drinks their folks would never agree to added to the incentive.  So after the usual greetings, banter and friendly teasing on his arrival to the house, Sam, Justin and Libby headed out for the wild.  In this case, the MiddleTown Zoo and local pizzeria.
Of course, since Sam couldn't drive them it meant taking public transportation.  They hiked three blocks to one of MiddleTown's light rail stations.  This was the Congress Avenue Station, one of the larger stations in the city.  It had a few little kiosks selling everything from road maps to toy cars, had clean waiting areas and even piped-in music over the loud speakers.  Sam didn't really notice the music, but almost subconsciously began to hum along with what played.

“What’s that you’re humming?”  Libby asked.
“Oh, I’m just humming along with the Muzak coming from the speaker.  It’s an old Styx song.”

“Who is Styx?” they asked, simultaneously wrinkling their noses at the music.

Sam rolled his eyes.  “Never mind.”

He knew that this was just the usual generational differences, but didn't realize that a much bigger problem loomed ahead:  MiddleTown had only two rail lines, The Red and the Blue.
Sam studied the transit map that hung on the wall separating the two lines.  It looked like a painting of red and blue spaghetti.  Where most cities had maps that showed rail lines going in straight lines to distant destinations, the Red and Blue lines seemed to crisscross repeatedly with a few sections going in far different directions, only to cross once again.  Such as at this station.  The names of each station didn’t indicate city destinations, so he decided the best bet would be to ask for directions. 

As he bought three tickets, he asked the seller how to get to the zoo.  The man didn’t look up at all.  “Take the Blue line to Willow,” he said, continuing to count the coins in front of him.

“And that will get me to the zoo?”  Sam asked.

“Sure,” the ticket agent said unemotionally.

“Oh, boy, we’re going to the zoo!” the kids yelled excitedly as they all clamored aboard the Blue line.
When they got to the Willow station, they left the station only to discover they had wound up at a demonstration in support of stronger environmental laws.  Sam asked one of the protestors on the edge of the mob which way to go for the zoo.

“Oh, you’re nowhere near the zoo,” he said helpfully.  “You shouldn’t go there with children anyway.  Caging wild animals is no way to treat our fellow creatures.”

Sam frowned and herded Libby and Justin back down to the Willow station.  Once there, he saw a policeman who he was sure would know the directions needed.

“Yes, you need to take the Red Line to Lincoln Station.  You can get to the zoo easily from there.”

So the three hopped on the Red Line train, which not surprisingly intersected here with the Blue Line, and headed out once more.  At Lincoln Station, they climbed the stairs out only to discover they had stumbled upon another demonstration.  This one apparently demanding the city government stop excessive spending and reduce property taxes. Again, they were told they were nowhere near the zoo.

The trio retreated back to Lincoln Station dejected that they had yet to encounter any wildlife other then angry citizens of MiddleTown.  As usual, both the Red and Blue lines met at Lincoln.  Sam felt irritated at the situation, but also perplexed.  Why did he keep getting misguided directions?  He was hesitant, but walked up to two transit officials who stood on the platform separating the two lines. 

“Um, do you guys know which train to take to get to the zoo,” Sam asked apprehensively.
The man on the left smiled and nodded.  “Sure, you hop on the Blue Line there,” he said pointing.  “And take it to Dedicated Station.  There you change to the Red Line and head to Livermore Station.  The zoo’s right there.”

“No, no, not that way,” the other man broke in.  “You take the Red line over there to Giddings Station, then take the Blue Line to Musgrove Station.  The zoo’s just blocks away.”

The two officials walked away from Sam and the kids, arguing directions as they went.

Almost in tears, Libby and Justin looked up at Sam.  “Uncle Sam, which way do we go?”
Sam let out a deep sigh, frowned and shrugged at his doting niece and nephew who relied on him for guidance.  “I am completely and utterly lost.”

The Thurber Brigade decided that instead of a sidestep, to try a different tack and present a short satirical story (On politics. Did you get that?).  Of course, it also stems from that this story wasn’t accepted at several contests and publications and we got too lazy to keep trying.  However, we hope you enjoy this interlude and we promise to get back to the War between Men and women next time. Maybe.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Stuck in the 80s

At the end of December and into the New Year, you can't avoid countless news stories, personal essays or organizations' reflections upon the year that just ended.  
However, I invariably drift further back.  Back to the 1980s. My favorite decade.

Music was very eclectic ranging from the glam, such as Adam Ant, to the anti-glam of Dexy's Midnight Ramblers (they wore overalls to express their disdain for the previously mentioned glam set).

Films advanced from the 70s films bashing the 60s films (hippies are the evil enemy) to instead focus on personal introspection (why were we doing all those drugs back in the 60-70s?)
I was so 80s oriented, I set several of my books back in the decade. TAX BREAK and WINGS OF HONOR both occur back then largely because I remembered the time so fondly.
The decade began roughly for me.  I was a struggling, starving student (and eventually unemployed college grad).  However, it ended well as eventually I found gainful, satisfying—and long term—employment and stability.

However, I think I am stuck in the 80s because of the women.

My most notable “near misses” happened back then.  For example, I previously blogged about Nancy, who I tell everyone would have been my wife of five kids if my roommate hadn’t ruined matters. 
One other “close encounter” blog dealt with Sue, who never came to relationship fruition due to a missing napkin.  She was yet another 80s woman who may have been destined to birth the hockey team I longed for.  Well, maybe not that many.  To this day, when I see the 80s music video by Semisonic, I dream about her.
Of course, my ultimate 80s crush female was Pat Benatar.  Yes, I blogged about her too because she not only inspired my love of 80s women, but also helped lead to me benching a soccer player.
The 80s women were special. They exuded a special sensuality that lured you in but were also some of the first strong female types that let you know that you better treat her right.
So keep your “last year retrospective” because I’m just going to plug in my “I love the 80s” music video DVD, watch Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long,” and remember back when women were wild and men were crazy.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Thurber Brigade Rerun: The Story of Christmas

A bright star shone above the Earth and three wise men followed it to their destination.  They came a long way because of the knowledge they had of the events.   

They came to meet the Pope, probably around 400 C.E. 

“The pagans are enjoying Saturnalia way too much” the wise men told the Pope.  

“They’re dancing, singing, giving gifts to friends, burning trees.  It’s woefully unbecoming a modern society and a threat to entice our followers to imbibe in the joyful celebration.

“You are right,” the Pope agreed.  “We must do something to ensure that we can maintain our control.”
Pope vs. Pagan Headgear 
Therefore, the Pope and his followers came up with a plan.

They began to promote a celebration of Christ (Christ-Mass) during the same time as Saturnalia.  When asked why have a celebration, they explained that it was to celebrate Christ’s birth. 
The pagans were skeptical at first.  “Didn’t you say Christ was born in the spring?  Around March?”  one asked.  “I heard the Pope say he was born in August,” another chimed in helpfully.

The Pope said he had made a mistake, due to the change in the calendar system to the more modern Julian one.  Christ was indeed born in December, the Pope assured everyone.

The pagans still didn’t like it.


“Saturnalia is fun.  We get gifts, we have this cool tree, there’s dancing and singing,” they said.

“You can still do that,” the Pope professed.  “It’s a birthday party after all, isn’t it?”

So the pagans began to celebrate both holidays, but as more and more were convinced to switch over to Christianity, Saturnalia fell out of favor.  However, those pagans who still celebrated their cherished Saturnalia swore they’d take it back.
It took longer than they expected, but slowly and surely, the pagans have regained control of their celebration.  

The pagans made their biggest push in the 1950s and 60s by adding massive parades and celebrations to the winter festival.  They also brought in more symbols from other pagans’ beliefs, such as a rotund, bearded man giving gifts, and instead of burning logs as in the days of yore, they added colorful lights to the trees they dance around. 
Through the 70s and 80s they advocated for more consumerism via bigger and better gifts.  Spellbinding advertisements for big, shiny cars and glittery jewels predominate the airwaves.  “Buy more! It will prove your love,” they proclaim.

So today the pagans have taken back the holiday—but have cleverly decided to keep it under the title “Christmas.” 

The celebration keeps getting expanded too, now beginning on the Friday after Thanksgiving (Pagan Black Friday) and continuing through New Year's.  There are competitions to have the biggest tree and brightest light displays.  Children are taught that the best gifts are the most expensive and the ones hardest to acquire.  In addition, of course, there are large gatherings to sing and perform in celebration of the holiday.
It has been a subtle takeover by the pagans, but they have finally reclaimed what was theirs.  So far, the Pope has not responded.

The Thurber Brigade wishes everyone a Happy Holiday—no matter which one you celebrate!

The Thurber Brigade apologizes for using this rerun.  Admit it though, you are already watching a ton of reruns, from "Miracle on 34th Street" to "It's a Wonderful Life" so why not one more?  Besides, The Brigade is busy buying presents and celebrating all the holidays that enjoy drinking and so hasn't had time to come up with some snarky blog about relationships.  We promise that after the New Year (and after all the football games) we'll get back on track.  Until then, enjoy the holidays and your friends.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Tightrope

To start a conversation with a woman, men must walk a precarious tightrope these days. As we walk along that thin thread we dare not look down. Breathing wrong might cause a dangerous movement. Lose focus and you lose balance.

Fall and you end up as a social media pariah, an outcast, or worst case, plunge into a lawsuit.  Navigate that rope and you might end up with a relationship.  Might.

As mentioned before, men must make First Contact.  Well, that is unless the man is rich or a rock star (or both). To make First Contact men face rejection, putdowns, derision and more.  However, to maintain the species we must forge forward.  Okay, that's overly dramatic, but to get anywhere, men must risk it.
In a previous blog, I also talked about men making catcalls.  The gist of that insightful essay (really, you should read it), was that it stems from our primal need to mate and that through the eons, the methods to begin the process have changed.  Some men are idiots, some suave (and everything between).  Taking the first step, making First Contact, is the same.

The #MeToo phenomena has made the walk on the tightrope even more perilous.

Oh, I strongly support women coming out and reporting about sexual assaults.  Women need to keep doing this as well as not letting someone get away with the action when it occurs. 
WARNING: Blogger about to rant in an unpleasant and less than friendly manner.

Men who greet women at the door naked, expose themselves, send dick pix, and other disgusting modes of abuse are slimy lowlife, scumbags who should be strung up by their junk…
Oops, sorry got carried away.  Anyway, there is no place for sexual assault in our society.  However, the pendulum shouldn’t swing too far the other way either.

For example, I’ve already heard several news stories about waitresses, service industry women and others stating they were sexually harassed.  Yet, when they give more details it sounds like flirting.  This harkens back to a number of years ago when extreme feminists declared that anytime a man made a pass at a woman it was an unwarranted sexual assault. 

There has to be a balance.  Women need to understand the difficulty of the process.
My father met my mother eons ago at a lunch counter in a drug store.  He flirted with her and eventually got the courage up to ask her out.  This was—and is—a common occurrence. 
Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger across a crowded room.  Then fly to her arms and make her your own—stop you sexual predator!  For you youngsters, those lines are from “South Pacific” and demonstrate why we need to have a balance.  If just meeting and talking to a stranger is harassment, then do we return to the old days of arranged marriages?

Centuries from now, as we’re exploring the stars and distant galaxies, maybe women will make First Contact.  Overcome their fears and reach out to that alien who caught their eye.  Ask him out to a space bar for a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster (cheap “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” plug).

Until then, women need to understand the difficulties of First Contact.  They need to realize that we guys will likely continue to make that First Contact everywhere we go (we’re always on the prowl).  From the gym and grocery stores to the bars and nightclubs, we men will seek out women.  Women shouldn’t allow perversion or assault, but they need to recognize our attempts—no matter how feeble or crazy or goofy—to get to know them.