Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Best in Show

Dog shows are one of the more inane spectacles Man has designed. Animals are supposed to look a certain way, and to accomplish this, dogs are inbred in order to preserve a “pure” blood line. Many of history’s kings were produced from incestuous relations, the result being that a significant percentage of them had mental and/or physical problems. Well, the same happens with dogs. Purebreds are generally not as good-natured as mutts, and they sometimes suffer from maladies such as cherry eye, hip dysplasia, breathing problems or deafness. A lot of work goes into engineering these unwholesome animals, and a lot of money goes into buying them. Form over function. Money over disposition. Vanity over companionship.

A dog that looks a certain way but has no other redeeming qualities is, in my not-so-humble opinion, no more valuable than a short-tempered, anorexic fashion model. Which reminds me, have you seen the runway skeletons that supposedly represent beauty? If they ever breastfeed, they’ll give skim milk.

Mixed breeds tend to make better companions than purebreds. They have lower rates of physical and mental problems because the recessive genes that cause them are kept in check. Additionally, I think mutts are cuter.

Take my dog Bandit. He was a stray that I took into my home. He’s part German shepherd, part God-knows-what. To dog show bitches he is only a cur without “proper breeding”. To me, and to everyone else who has ever met him, he is a gorgeous, gentle, good-natured teddy bear. I’ve gotten many compliments on his beauty, but he’ll never win a dog show because he’s not “pure”. In fact, he wouldn’t even be allowed to enter a dog show because the snots who run these canine beauty pageants are too highbrow for the likes of him. He is a much better dog, in terms of personality, beauty and health, than show dogs are. He cannot be stuffed into a category because he has too many good traits from too many breeds, and this is precisely what makes him such a great animal.

It’s like beer. Yes, beer. I brew beer at home. There are periodic contests where homebrewers can enter their beers in any of several dozen styles. I rarely enter these contests because I don’t brew to style; I brew what I like. Many of my beers defy classification. For example, one of my beers is too malty to be a Pale Ale, too light to be a Scotch Ale, not hoppy enough to be an IPA, and too estery to be a Bock. My friends and I think it tastes great, but it cannot possibly win any beer category even if the judges enjoy the flavor better than that of all the other entries. So to hell with styles. I’ll enjoy my beer privately instead of having strangers critique it according to some arbitrary standard.

The same goes for dogs. If you own a mongrel, there’s a good chance that he/she makes a better companion than even the “perfect” show dog. Give me a mutt any day, and let the weirdos deal with dysfunctional canines from a shallow gene pool.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Dying to Be Ripped Off

Life is expensive. But it doesn’t end there. Death is expensive too. Go price cemetery plots, headstones, caskets and embalming, and you won’t believe what they charge you to dispose of a carcass.

Why is it so expensive? Because people in the “death industry” prey upon us when we are at our weakest. Funeral directors love it when you walk in all upset about the death of a family member, because you are too distraught to think clearly and you can be guilted into paying more than you should for anyone’s final expenses. For example, there’s the casket. Any material that can hold a human body for a few days will suffice. You could use a very large Tupperware container or cardboard box. Hell, you could wrap the body in a tarp for that matter. But there would be little profit in that. Agents of death want you to buy elaborate oak, mahogany or copper caskets that cost thousands of dollars apiece. There are cheaper models made out of pine, but they discourage such “welfare coffins” by making you think that anyone who wouldn’t spend a sizable portion of their retirement money on a casket must not have loved the deceased very much.

Many people have bought into the idea that a lot of money must be spent on a pretty casket, and they actually feel offended if you skimp on it, as though it’s somehow an insult to the deceased. (“How dare you bury Fred in a pine box! What kind of cheap, insensitive bastard are you?”)

Another rationale that funeral directors give for a more expensive casket is that the higher-priced materials preserve the body longer, as though that will do anyone any good. What, it’ll take longer for the body to decompose? Fine, then it’ll suffer longer.

Then they try to add extras in order to suck more lifeblood out of you. Did you know that you can buy a casket that has a warranty? Yes, a friggin’ warranty! They’ll guarantee that the casket will remain intact for 50, 75, even 100 years. Okay, assuming for a moment that prolonging the decomposition of the box is the least bit desirable, how would you know whether it remained intact for the life of the warranty? Who is going to dig it up every year to check?

There are soft, pillowy pads that you can buy to rest your deceased relative on for his “eternal comfort” in the coffin. Am I the only one who realizes that the person is dead, that he is not conscious, and that you could throw him on a compost heap and it wouldn’t matter?

The funeral racket thrives because people don’t want to face death. They hold onto the ludicrous idea that the lifeless carcass that used to be their kin must be treated as though it were still alive. Which brings us to another form of expense: embalming. The cadaver’s blood is drained and replaced with a fluid that slows decomposition. The corpse is then dressed in “burial clothes”, its hair is combed and make-up is applied so that people can view it at the funeral home and say, “Doesn’t Fred look nice?” What a crock.

When I die, I don’t want anyone going through the trouble of providing a typical funeral with an ornate casket and a service where everyone feels obligated to remain quiet. I want people to party and dance around my mortal coil and say things like “Ben was a great guy” and “He sure owed me a lot of money.”

The preceding was an excerpt from my book, Money Can Make You Rich. Look for it on http://www.bn.com and http://www.amazon.com. Or e-mail me at fitandfun@yahoo.com to order a signed, discount copy.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Becoming a Family Man

In the 20th century I was a typical bachelor living in a typical bachelor pad, which is defined as “an enclosed space that looks like a federal prison cell, except not as pretty”. I had no sense of decor. My walls were covered with rock band posters, food particles, and dirt from the Pleistocene era. The furniture layout could be best described as Early American Goodwill, and no two pieces matched. When I let my dog in he would put a paw over his eyes. The house was so dirty that I had to wipe my feet before I went outside. My car was no better. It had so many rust holes that it whistled on the highway. As I drove I could actually hear the theme from Sanford and Son.

I had always said that I would never get married, raise kids, or buy a minivan. Well, that prediction turned out to be about as accurate as Enron’s financial reports. I met a cute, intelligent woman by the name of Cathi, who captured my heart with her sense of humor and creative pursuits such as dancing in the hallway wearing nothing but a shower cap and singing at the top of her lungs. A year later she and her two wonderful sons, Joseph and Adam, moved in with me, despite the fact that my house was so ugly it could make an onion cry. We also acquired another dog, and the six of us somehow managed to live for a year in a one-bathroom house that was so small, the roaches fled to the nearest phone booth. We envied sardines.

Well, enough was enough. Lack of breathing room, plus the fact that the local middle school was so dangerous that the school newspaper had an obituary column, convinced us to seek living quarters elsewhere. So we enlisted the help of a real estate agent. Every place this woman showed us was, according to her, “just perfect” and a “great deal” because she had only “our best interests” in mind and didn’t care one bit about her “commission”. The places in our price range were inhabited by people who had more arrests than college degrees, and the only way we could have qualified for a loan in any of the nicer areas would have been to put the kids up as collateral.

Then we found an affordable house. Okay, it wasn’t really affordable, what with the Stock Market crashing and my portfolio being reduced to the value of a lottery ticket, except without the possibility of winning. But the price wasn’t out of reach. The house was a vast improvement over our last place, with ample room and indoor plumbing, and the neighborhood was (and still is) very pretty and well-kept, so we were sold immediately. We made a bid that day, and within a month we moved in. We met the folks in our cul-de-sac, and we were delighted to find that we were in our element, whereas at our old house, every neighbor routinely used words like “y’all” and “po-leece”.

A year later I bought a minivan, and a year after that Cathi and I tied the noose -- I mean knot, thereby completing my transformation from a footloose bachelor whose very appearance made women clutch their purses, to a middle-class suburbanite dad with mortgage and car payments so huge that in order to obtain food I have to go to Kentucky Fried Chicken and lick other people’s fingers. It was difficult at first to lose my old identity, but I’m glad to say that I made it through the tough times, thanks to an understanding wife, patient children, professional therapy, and beer.