Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Suburban Man: Video Game Labels

By Rick Kaempfer

Santa and I are not speaking right now. I know he looks like a jolly old fat man, but I’m telling you—this guy is weak and destructive. I can’t pretend to get into his mind to find out exactly what he was thinking when he gave my two oldest boys Nintendo DS Gameboys for Christmas, but I’m betting he finally buckled after years of whining and nagging. He probably looked at the boys’ friends and saw that all of them had Gameboys, and thought to himself; “What the heck. How bad can it be?”

Real Bad.

Someone tell Santa that these games no longer belong to my sons; they now belong to dear old Dad. Dad didn’t confiscate these machines so he could play video games himself. Dad confiscated these machines because they turn normal children into monsters.

I wish I was exaggerating.

Let me describe the process in a little more detail, and you can judge for yourself. The child turns on the Gameboy. A sing-songy music begins, lulling the child and everyone around him into a false sense of security. However, as soon as the adult leaves the room, the child is sucked into the machine by an atomic vacuum. His brain waves are altered by the beasts within the machine, and by the time he is permitted to jump back into society, he has learned to breathe fire.

When the adult returns to the room to tell the child to turn off the machine, the monster emerges. The signs are obvious. The dead glowing eyes. The scaly green skin. The screeching fingernails-on-the-chalkboard voice. But most of all, the fire shooting out of the mouth. That’s hard to miss.

You may find this hard to believe, but at first I wasn’t too worried about this, because after only a few hours, the monster would disappear and the child would return. That made me think that this beast could be managed or tamed. I thought that if I closely monitored their usage I could control it.

I now know the beast only exists to eat my young. Any amount of time at all, from five minutes to an hour, will allow the monster to completely rewire the brains of my boys. When it’s time to turn off the Nintendo Gameboy DS, the fire will emerge, and there isn’t a darn thing that can be done to stop or control it. I can wear protective gear, and it won’t help. The heat of this beastly fire is enough to melt lead.

So, the Gameboys are mine. I still allow the boys to play with them in cases of supreme or impossible achievement (like being nice to their little brother for a whole day), but that’s only because this sort of unattainable behavior must be rewarded in some way. On these rare days, I know I’ll have to pay the price. The skin grafts over 70% of my body are still not fully healed, and I suspect they never will be.

That’s why I’ve started my quest to get warning labels placed on all hand-held videogames. I appreciate that the current rating system is a start (Rated “T”, or “M,” etc.) but that’s only for the games themselves. What about the machine that houses the beast? Why doesn’t that have a warning label for parents and children?

I’m open to suggestions about the exact wording, but I’m partial to the following...

“WARNING: The Surgeon General has determined that turning this machine on or off will release the hounds of hell upon you. DO NOT turn on this machine unless you are willing and able to bathe in a bubbling cauldron of acid and fire.”

There, I feel better.

Now somebody get me some moisturizing cream for my burns. I see that one of the boys has cleaned up his room without being asked.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Half Empty: Christmas Letter Greatest Hits (Part 5)

They say that when you hit your 40s, your life is half over. We prefer to think of it as HALF EMPTY. Our age has finally caught up with our outlook on life. Remember, it is possible to turn that frown upside down...but you might pull a muscle.


By Rick Kaempfer & Dave Stern

Tis the season for Christmas form letters from long-lost friends and family members. We've been big fans of these since childhood, and we've actually acquired quite a collection over the past decade or two. (Send us yours by clicking on the "E-mail me" link on the right.)

Most letters are a little boring and maybe a little too inside for mass consumption, but others are Christmas letters for the ages. We're going to feature a few of those between now and Christmas this year.

We think this one may be the very first Christmas letter, but we're still working on having that verified.

Hello family and friends!

We hope your winter solstice is going well this year.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than thirty years since our boy was born in that manger in Bethlehem. It’s a good thing we invested that frankincense, gold and myrrh wisely, because we haven’t had a moment’s peace since the neighbors started blabbing about the savior living in our house. Luckily, our investments allowed us to buy state-of-the art security camels last spring. Ever since then, those parasitic painters from the Roman tabloids stay a respectable spitting distance away.

As for the boy, he’s doing fairly well, but I’m a little concerned about his friends. He spends a lot of time with unsavory types, and every time he comes home for a visit he brings a houseful of his unwashed friends with him. Last time I said “Jesus! If you think I’ve got enough food to feed these dirty…” and before I finished my sentence there was food on the table. It’s hard to stay mad at him when he does things like that.

As you can imagine, it’s a little frustrating being a mother of a boy with such potential. Joseph and I keep waiting for him to settle down and marry a nice Jewish girl, but it’s always “Just one more miracle, Mom,” or “Just one more sermon on the mount, Mom.” I keep telling him that the orthodontia school won’t hold that space for him forever, but he’s at that difficult age now. He doesn’t listen to his mother anymore.

He doesn’t listen to Joseph either. I know Joe’s only his stepfather, but I can see the look in his eyes when Jesus refuses to help out Joe’s carpentry business. It has to be difficult dealing with general contractors when you know your stepson could set you up for life. I keep telling him, “Now Joseph, let’s be thankful we had one ‘free gold’ night. Most people don’t even get that.”

Well that’s it from Nazareth this year.

I’d love to hear from all of you too. What does the Messiah’s mother have to do to get a letter? (I heard all about your letters to the Corinthians, Paul…I know you can do it.) Would it kill you to include a letter with your birthday cards to Jesus? It would be a nice tradition.

Love to all.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Suburban Man: The Fish Police

By Rick Kaempfer

I’ve always believed that every child should have a pet. It teaches responsibility, the circle of life, and gives the children something they can love unconditionally. Unfortunately, my kids are deathly allergic to animals that have hair or fur. That ruled out the traditional array of dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, mice, rats, ferrets, or farm animals, and left us with only two reasonable choices; reptiles or fish. Since my wife is part of the decision making process, it left us with only one choice. We got the fish. It was our Christmas present to our two oldest boys, who were 4 and 1 ½ at the time.

From the moment I stepped into the fish store I knew that I was getting into something much more intense than I ever imagined. It was like a college entrance exam. First I had to bring the fish guy water samples to make sure that our tank had the proper PH balance. The first three times I didn’t pass the test and he wouldn’t allow me to purchase the fish. I finally passed his rigorous testing on the fourth try, but when I said I wanted to put some decorative plastic plants in the tank with the fish, he gave me a whole new list of instructions before I would be allowed to bring home the fish.

Each time I went into the store, I held my breath that the fish guy would allow me to spend $2 in his store to buy a few fish. It was two days before Christmas when I was finally, and grudgingly deemed “fish worthy.” But before he handed me the baggies filled with fish and water, he looked me in the eye and gave me a stern look.

“Are you going to take care of these fish?” he asked.

“Yeah sure,” I said, praying I wasn’t saying anything to disturb the fish police.

“How do you put them in the tank?” he quizzed.

“I put the whole baggy in the tank, let them adjust to the water, and…..” I was choking under pressure. I couldn’t remember exactly what to do. The fish guy walked out from behind the checkout counter, toward the back of the store, in the direction of the former fish tank home of my fish. He was apologetic, but uncompromising.

“Look, I’m sorry, but you aren’t ready…”

“Wait!” I said. “You get a little bit of water out of your tank, mix it with the water in these baggies, and slowly let them get used to the water.”

“And then how do you put them in the tank?” he asked. He was now holding them over their old tanks, ready to put them back into the water. He looked like he was cursing himself for letting his guard down around such an obviously un-fish-worthy person like me. What was he thinking trusting me with $2 of fish?

“You grab them out with the net?” I answered hopefully.

“Are you sure about that?” he asked. He was shaking his head doubtfully. It looked like he was memorizing my face for the sketch artist and mentally designing a “DO NOT SELL FISH TO THIS MAN” flier to distribute to all the fish stores in the Midwest.

“Yes,” I answered, this time more confidently.

“Would you willing to bet these fish on that?” he asked.

“I would never bet on the lives of fish,” I said. “They are precious to me.”

That’s when I broke him. I even thought I saw an Elvis lip snarl—not really a smile, but as close to one as the fish guy ever got. He motioned for me to follow him back up to the register, hopped back around to the other side of the counter, and began to ring up the $2 sale.

“Thank you, sir,” I said as respectfully as possible. “I love fish so much. I just had to spread the joy of fish to my kids.”

That stopped his fingers on the cash register in mid purchase. His right eyebrow cocked suspiciously. “Kids?”


“How old are your kids?” he asked.

“Well they’re grown up now,” I lied.

“How old are you?” he asked, doing the math in his head.

“They’re kids from my wife’s first marriage,” I said, continuing to lie. “28 and 26. Good kids, really. Marine biologists.”

That last lie was a little over the top, but it finally sealed the deal. I was permitted to leave with three little baggies, filled with three little fish, worth less than three little dollars. But the fish guy had gotten into my head. On the ride home I was nervous that the fish police were following me. I was sure they were going to set up some sort of a sting to catch me in the act of endangering the lives of these fish. When I finally arrived home with my precious new family members in my hand, I carried them into the house as if the baggies were filled with nitroglycerine.

My wife tried to hug me when I walked through the door. “Step back!” I urged. “These baggies are filled with fish.”

My dealings with the fish guy had totally altered my plan to unveil the fish on Christmas morning. That would have required a tarp of some kind to cover the tank; something that I’m sure that would have set off the fish guy’s fish alarms. I knew one thing for certain. These fish were fragile creatures that could die at the drop of a hat. I had no choice but to carefully introduce them to their new aquarium and then immediately show the boys their new pets while they were still alive.

I was rehearsing my fish care speech when Tommy (age 4) and Johnny (age 1 1/2) entered the room. Both of their eyes lit up. Tommy smushed his face against the glass, and marveled at the bright colors of the rocks on the aquarium floor. Johnny, on the other hand, reached his hand into the tank and tried to catch the terrified fish as they set 20-gallon-tank speed records to avoid him. He cackled with glee as his splashing left hand produced a giant puddle on the hardwood floor. It happened so fast I was unable to stop him.

“NO!” I screamed.

Johnny didn’t stop splashing. He was having too much fun.

“You’re going to kill the fish!” I said.

Tommy was horrified. “Johnny,” he said, grabbing his brother’s hand out of the tank. “You’re killing the fish.”

It stopped the potential fish-icide just in time. I took a deep breath, but I knew that I was never going to stop him every time. Johnny was an unstoppable force. I couldn’t be there every second; the next time or the time after that. I figured the fish police were going to start their surveillance very soon, and it was only a matter of time before I was hauled off to fish court. At first I tried to avoid the inevitable, but any little let down was taken advantage of by Johnny.

The fish police probably still show the surveillance video of the time Johnny put all fifty of his metal Hot Wheel cars into the tank. They probably had fish paramedics standing by ready to knock down our door the time Johnny used my dirty coffee cup to scoop one of the fish out of the tank. I’m sure their records show that we rarely clean the tank and that we once went on a two week vacation and forgot to have someone come in to feed them. But they can’t press charges against us. We have a perfect alibi.

Those damn fish are still alive. And they’re five years old now.

I think they must be made out of the same material they use for the black boxes in airplane cockpits. I’m pretty sure that if my house burned down, those fish would still be alive, swimming in the water from the fireman’s hose. If Johnny and his little brother Sean (now age 2) didn’t kill them with their various different fish taunting schemes by now, they can’t be killed. They are superhero fish.

I feel a little bit more relaxed these days, but every now and then when I go out to get the newspaper in the morning, I think I see a van from the fish store at the corner. And while I’ve never had the courage to step foot into the fish store again, I’m sure a poster of my face is still hanging behind the cash register, with the snarling headline “THIS MAN IS CRUEL TO FISH.”

I haven’t seen the fish guy now in five years, but if I did, there is something I’d want to say to him: You really should charge a little more than $2 for three fish.

What is the price of immortality?

This article was written as a Suburban Man, but also appeared in Lake Magazine.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Half Empty: Christmas Letter Greatest Hits (Part 4)

They say that when you hit your 40s, your life is half over. We prefer to think of it as HALF EMPTY. Our age has finally caught up with our outlook on life. Remember, it is possible to turn that frown upside down...but you might pull a muscle.


By Rick Kaempfer & Dave Stern

Tis the season for Christmas form letters from long-lost friends and family members. We've been big fans of these since childhood, and we've actually acquired quite a collection over the past decade or two. (Send us yours by clicking on the "E-mail me" link on the right.)

Most letters are a little boring and maybe a little too inside for mass consumption, but others are Christmas letters for the ages. We're going to feature a few of those between now and Christmas this year. This classic comes from Christmas 1964.

Dear Friends and Family,

Remember in February when my husband took me on that cheap cruise to celebrate our 30th anniversary?

Remember how I complained that I don’t like boats and was afraid that the weather might get rough?

Remember how all of you said that it’ll be fine and just suck it up for the short time?

Well I got five words for you: THREE HOUR TOUR MY ASS!

You’ve probably noticed that Thurston and I haven’t been around the club much this year. That’s because the ship took ground on the shore of some uncharted desert isle. We’ve been stranded here ever since.

Just sit back and I’ll tell you the tale of how we spent 1964 with the five most annoying people on earth.

First there’s this imbecile named Gilligan. He likes to be called a mighty sailin’ man, but it’s unbelievable how clumsy he is. He breaks something really important every week. The amount of time we spend propping up this moron’s deflated ego is ridiculous. Perhaps we’ll get lucky and he’ll be hit by a coconut in the coconut.

Then there’s this overweight gentleman that piloted us right into an island. He weighs in the neighborhood of 300 pounds, and somehow hasn’t lost an ounce despite living on a deserted island. He must be eating 600 oranges a day.

Would you believe Ginger Grant is on our island? Oh, you've never heard of her either? We’ve been here ten months and this "movie star" has already produced 5 variety shows. She keeps saying how lucky it was that I brought nine trunks of clothing. She uses my finest dresses as costumes. Can you imagine? This is probably the best she's ever looked in her dismal career.

There’s also another gentleman we call the professor. The others consider him a “genius" because he can make radios out of bamboo and formulas to cure every disease. He can’t figure out how to get us off this island, however.

Finally, there’s this very sweet girl named Mary Ann. She’s so nice that she’s driving me positively batty. She’s always trying to make the best of things despite our lack of electricity and servants. I hate her guts.

We’ll that’s about it on my end. If you get this letter please keep the bottle that it came in. You know how cheap Thurston can be. Oh and by the way, if you see Sherwood Schwartz kick him in the family jewels for me, OK?

Love and Kisses,


Next week: The very first Christmas letter.

If you've missed any of our previous columns, click here: http://halfemptyarchive.blogspot.com

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Suburban Man: The Santa Threat

By Rick Kaempfer

You may not know the name Haven Gillespie, but if you’re a parent, he has given you the gift that keeps on giving. Since 1934, American parents have quoted this wise Kentucky philosopher on a regular basis; especially during the months between September and December. J. Fred Coots may have written the music that makes Gillespie’s words more memorable, but it’s the words themselves that have resonated with parents.

Haven Gillespie wrote the lyrics for “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

While it’s certain that parents used the Santa threat well before Gillespie wrote the lyrics for that song, he gave the threat credibility. I think that’s the secret to the song’s longevity—a reason why it has become a standard; a beloved holiday song. The music may be warm and comforting, but the lyrics are a none-too-subtle threat.

You better watch out,
You better not cry,
You better not pout,
I’m telling you why,
Santa Claus is coming to town

If you’re a parent that hasn’t quoted that song at one time or another, then you’re a saint. The temptation is simply too strong. When the little darlings are acting up, crying, or whining, and it’s during those glorious months between September and December, a simple humming of this song will often stop them in their tracks. It’s the Santa threat.

Sure, Santa brings presents, but he’s a little scary.

You better watch out!

Sure, Santa brings presents, but he hates whiners.

You better not cry
You better not pout

Parents may have told their kids this before 1934, but when the words are in a song, they have gravitas. Keep in mind this song was written during the Great Depression when children already knew they weren’t going to get much. The 1934 Santa had a much smaller bag, and he wasn’t going to bother putting toys in that bag for whiners or complainers. That must have been pretty obvious to kids in 1934, but I’m still glad Gillespie put it in the song. It’s not obvious to my kids. As a matter of fact, between January and September, I tell them not to whine, cry, and pout all the time—and it’s like I’m saying ‘blah, blah, blah.’ But during the autumn months, I simply sing Gillespie’s wonderful lyrics. It gives my words power and meaning, because…

Santa Claus is coming to town.

While the first verse is great for handling simple whining and crying problems, the second verse of the song is positively visionary. This is the verse that lets my kids know that the entire matter is out of my hands. I’d love to help them out, but I’m not the one keeping the list; Santa is. Take it up with the bald fat man at the North Pole. He’s the one that controls the presents, and he’s not around, so you’re wasting your breath begging me. What is the kindly old man doing right now?

He’s making a list,
He’s checking it twice.

I have probably said those words a thousand times in my ten years of parenthood. My oldest son Tommy nods knowingly when I sing it. Don’t question Santa. The man is a stickler for detail. Dad forgets things all the time, but he’s not keeping a list. That Santa character is the real deal. I once heard Tommy explaining to his little brother that Santa has people everywhere—a network of spies that rivals the KGB. You may run, but you can’t hide. Don’t believe me? Listen to the words…

He’s going to find out who’s naughty and nice.

I know I’m speaking for most parents in this country when I say: Thank you Haven Gillespie. Thank you for the crying, thank you for the pouting, thank you for the list, and thank you for making him check it twice, and thank you for not mincing words. It’s the “N” word, kids. It’s naughty. Case closed. You probably just made the list, and Santa isn’t the kind of guy who fools around. He’s a stalker.

He sees you when you’re sleeping,

That’s probably the scariest line in the song. I like to sing it in a sinister voice.

He knows when you’re awake.

I’m betting that not many parents use that line, but I have two boys who share a room. I’ve opened the door on school nights more than a few times to sing that line. It silences the boys instantly—like magic. I love that line, but not as much as I love the refrain. It’s what gives the song a happy ending—a course of action.

He knows if you’ve been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake.

Now that’s just the Santa threat in the most direct terms possible, but it comes with a positive message, even if it’s said through a forced smile. When a child is pouting, or whining, or wailing, or fighting, or doing anything at all other than what Mom and Dad want them to do, the solution is right there.

Be good for goodness sake.

Got it? Good. Now go to your room.

Most kids don’t even know the rest of the song. The next few verses are full of boys and girls having a jubilee, and kiddie cars and curly head dolls…but kids have a very hard time remembering those verses. The message of the first two verses and the refrain are still ringing in their darling little ears.

And for that, we should all thank Haven Gillespie.

If he hadn’t passed away in 1975, we would be calling him right now to commission another song. By ten in the morning on December 25th, if you try the Santa threat again, even if you sing the most powerful holiday song of all time, you will probably get a reaction something like this:

“Santa’s already been here. Look at all these presents! He loves me!”

I know I speak for most parents when I say it’s time for a new song to cover the time from December 25th to September 1st. That’s a long time to parent without such a powerful threat. Consider this a plea to the Haven Gillespie of the 21st century. I don’t want to be greedy, but if the words could say something about video games being taken away forever, that would be great.

Note: This article also appeared in SHORE magazine's 2005 Holiday issue

If you missed any previous Suburban Man columns, click here: http://suburbanmanarchive.blogspot.com

Sunday, December 10, 2006

WJMK Photo Album (1993-2003)

South Side St. Patrick's Day Parade 1997. John Landecker, Rick, baby Tommy Kaempfer, Bridget Kaempfer, and Andi Kuhn.

Rick in the WJMK studios, around 4:00 a.m. I didn't sleep for a decade.

The John Landecker morning show, circa 2000. From Left to Right: Rick, John Landecker, Leslie Keiling, Richard Cantu, Vince Argento.

The John Landecker show on our first day together, 1993. From left to right: Richard Cantu, Lonnie Martin, John Landecker, Rick, Vicki Truax.

Live broadcast: the Dominican Republic, November 2001. Men dressed as women getting a kick out of the uncomfortable German guy.

The Dancing Itos at Lambs Farm: Rick and Vince, circa 1996.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

WPGU Photo Album (1981-1985)

Rick and Dave ran for Homecoming King & Queen in 1985. We received the most laughs and the least votes.

Rick in the WPGU studio, interviewing John Hunter of the Hounds.

We gave away that scooter. I'm the one on the left there.

This is a photo of the WPGU management staff, circa 1983. Among the notables, Fox-TV reporter Dane Placko, WDRV afternoon jock Phil Manicki, and several others who are still in broadcasting throughout the country.

My first press pass: Wrigley Field opening day 1984. My first radio convention: NAB 1984. My first business card: Program Director WPGU 1984.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Half Empty: Christmas Letter Greatest Hits (Part 3)

They say that when you hit your 40s, your life is half over. We prefer to think of it as HALF EMPTY. Our age has finally caught up with our outlook on life. Remember, it is possible to turn that frown upside down...but you might pull a muscle.


By Rick Kaempfer & Dave Stern

Tis the season for Christmas form letters from long-lost friends and family members. We've been big fans of these since childhood, and we've actually acquired quite a collection over the past decade or two. (Send us yours by clicking on the "E-mail me" link on the right.)

Most letters are a little boring and maybe a little too inside for mass consumption, but others are Christmas letters for the ages. We're going to feature a few of those between now and Christmas this year.

This one was sent in by one of our more connected readers. It's a letter from North Korea, and it just came in this week.

Christmas 2006

Dearest Family, Friends and Comrades,

Well, it’s hard to believe that another year has gone by.

Kimmy and I have had another great year. Especially Kimmy. Where should I begin? Let’s start with some of his accomplishments during his free time. In January he composed 32 operas. In February he pulled a nuclear armament train out of a ditch with his teeth and as springtime approached in April, he shot 17 holes in one on his first day out on the links. He would have had 18 but his caddy gave him the wrong club. Let’s just say he won’t be using that guy again (nor will anyone else) HA HA HA.

We had a lovely summer gardening. Kimmy especially enjoyed needling the Bushes throughout the year. We remodeled the palace and added another path from the main house to the swimming pool. Sadly, Kimmy slipped and fell on it. He now calls it the “Evil Access”. He is such a card. For the record, I told him not to wear his flip flops after it rains.

Even though we had time to relax, don’t think Kimmy spent the whole year goofing off. His accomplishments at work included ending all poverty, curing every disease known to man and establishing a utopian state for all his people. He likes to call North Korea the best kept secret in the whole world. In fact, he’s thinking of using that in our next advertising campaign to lure tourists. I suggested “More Bang For Your Buck” but you know how Kimmy is...he usually gets his way.

He just walked in the room so I have to go now. It seems that some of our neighbors have been on the phone complaining about the noise. (KILLJOYS!) By the way, if you’re planning on sending Kimmy any holiday gifts this year, please note that he’s now six foot six and has a swimmers build.



Next week...a Christmas letter from 1964.

If you missed any previous Half Empty columns, click here: http://halfemptyarchive.blogspot.com

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Suburban Man: Opposite World

A short story by Rick and Tommy Kaempfer
(Our first-ever collaboration)

Joey’s father looked him in the eye and repeated the question. “Are you sure you don’t have any homework tonight?”

Joey gulped and nodded. He knew that his father had an extra scent organ that could smell a lie from a thousand feet away. It was uncanny.

“What is your teacher Mrs. Hogan’s nickname again?” his father asked.

“Homework Hogan,” Joey admitted. He summoned up his last burst of dishonesty. “But she said she wanted to give us a break.”

“Are you telling me the truth, Joseph?”

Joey nodded again.

“OK,” his father said. “I guess we’ll just have to live with the consequences.”

Joey began to walk into his bedroom, but stopped outside his door, and faced his father. “What do you mean by consequences?” he asked.

“Opposite world,” his father replied casually, as he walked back down the stairs toward the family room. With his back to Joey, he couldn’t see the confused expression on his 12-year-old’s face. Joey darted to the landing at the top of the stairs, and called after his father.

“What is opposite world?” he asked.

His father calmly explained over his shoulder as he walked away. “That’s where you’ll wake up tomorrow,” he said. “There are only three undeniable truths in the world. 1) Everyone has to pay taxes. 2) The Cubs will never win the World Series. 3) Homework Hogan will assign homework to her gifted math class every single night.”

He stopped and looked up at his boy.

“If what you say is true, and Mrs. Hogan has altered one of the three undeniable truths,” Joey’s father said solemnly, “then the whole world will spin on it’s axis overnight, and by the time we wake up in the morning, everything that used to be true will no longer be true. We’ll be living in Opposite World.”

He blew his son a kiss goodnight and walked into the family room. Joey stood at the top of the stairs and smiled. His dad was like that; always making up elaborate stories to teach him a lesson. This time it wasn’t going to work. Joey knew that he still had plenty of time to do his homework on the bus ride to school in the morning.

By the time his head hit the pillow a few moments later, he was no longer giving his father’s ridiculous story a second thought. He quickly drifted off to sleep.

Unfortunately that deep sleep was interrupted just a few hours later by a honking car. Joey rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and looked at the clock. When he saw what time it was he rubbed his eyes again.


The car honked again. Joey got out of bed and moved the curtains to the side to see who was honking a car in his driveway at ten minutes before midnight. There was no mistaking that mini-van. That was definitely his best friend Brian’s car.

“I wonder what his mom or dad or is doing here at this hour?” he thought to himself. Joey hopped out of bed, and made his way down the stairs. When he reached the kitchen, he couldn’t believe his eyes. His two year old brother Phil was making eggs and bacon, his thirteen year old brother Andrew was adjusting his tie and rifling through his briefcase, and his mother and father were mindlessly toiling away at their Gameboys.

“Didn’t you hear that car honking?” Joey asked.

Nobody looked up. Joey wasn’t sure how his father managed to pull this off, but he appreciated the effort.

“OK,” Joey said, “I get it.”

“Get what?” Baby Phil said as he whisked the eggs in the bowl.

Something was very wrong here. Phil could barely speak, let alone fix scrambled eggs.

“Um…” Joey said.

“Can you be a dear and fetch me the milk,” Baby Phil said. “I need a little more for the eggs.”

Now Joey was completely confused. The car in the driveway honked again, but nobody seemed to hear it but Joey.

“Are you telling me that nobody hears that car?” Joey asked.

“OK already,” his father huffed impatiently. “We’re ready, we’re ready.” He put his Gameboy in his backpack and nudged his wife to do the same. They put on their backpacks, their shoes, and headed out the front door.

Joey wasn’t sure why he did it, but he followed them to the driveway. That’s when he saw who was driving the minivan. Brian’s head poked out the driver’s side window and called out to his best friend.

“C’mon Joey,” he said, “Let’s get a move on. We’ll be late for school.”

“But it’s midnight,” Joey said.

“Of course it is,” Brian explained. “When else would we go to school?”

Joey smiled. This was without question the most elaborate scenario his father had ever created to teach him a lesson, but he decided not to give his dad the satisfaction. There was no way Joey’s or Brian’s parents would allow this to go any further. When it came time to actually drive the car, the joke would be over. It had to be. Brian didn’t know how to drive.

Joey opened the sliding door to the back of the mini-van and was shocked at what was waiting for him there. His parents and Brian’s parents were all strapped in to their booster seats in the back.

“No kids in back,” Joey’s father said.

“If that’s the way you want it,” Joey said with a smile, “then that’s fine by me.”

He shut the sliding door and hopped into the front passenger seat next to Brian. “How did they get you to go along with this?” he asked his best friend.

“What do you mean?” Brian asked innocently.

“Fine,” Joey said. He challenged his friend to prove how far he was willing to take this. “Let’s go then. We better get to school.”

“Not until you buckle up,” Brian said.

Joey nodded appreciatively. This was quite a performance. He had to remember to compliment everyone accordingly in a few seconds when they all admitted it was a big joke. He was still chuckling to himself when something truly strange happened. Brian, who could barely reach the gas pedal, put the car into reverse and headed out onto Elm Street.

“What are you doing?” Joey asked, suddenly alarmed. “You’ll get us killed.”

“That’s why I asked you to buckle up,” Brian said.

He reached down with his foot to hit the gas, then looked up to see where he was going, then leaned down to hit the gas again. The trip that normally took ten minutes took nearly a half an hour, but Brian somehow managed to get them to school. Joey kept waiting for his parents or Brian’s parents to say something to stop the madness, but they didn’t say a word. All four of them didn’t even seem to notice what was happening. They were quietly playing their Gameboys in the backseat.

Joey was still recovering from car sickness when he walked into the school. That’s when he knew he had actually entered Opposite World. There was no way his father could have orchestrated this: night was day and day was night, the parents were dressed like kids and the kids were dressed like grown ups, and the principal’s office door now had his name on it.

“I’m the principal?” Joey muttered to himself as he rubbed the nameplate with his fingertips. He tentatively opened the office door, and closed it again almost as quickly. Had he seen that correctly? He opened it again.

His office was a basketball court.

He shut the door again and walked briskly down the main hallway of the school. The bell rang and the grown ups scurried into the classrooms and sat behind the small desks. Joey poked his head in Mrs. Hogan’s room. His friend Brian was teaching the class of grown ups….about Barbies.

“This can’t be happening,” Joey said to himself. He ran away from Brian’s class and checked out the rest of the school. He looked into all of the classrooms, and each of them was being taught by a kid. Lydia was teaching Pokemon in Mr. Orton’s classroom. Butch, the class bully, was teaching sewing to a classroom full of construction workers.

With each passing moment, Joey became more and more disoriented. When he entered the cafeteria and saw the sights there, he staggered in disbelief. The kids were preparing gigantic trays of candy, doughnuts, cookies, and other assorted junk food to serve the grown ups for lunch. One of the kids loudly cleared his throat to let the other “workers” know that they weren’t alone. The room was suddenly totally silent.

“What is going on here?” Joey asked.

“Um, Principal Joey, it’s like this,” his friend Alex began to explain.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a girl sneak something into her pocket.

“What did you just hide?” Joey asked.

“I don’t know what you mean,” the girl replied.

Joey thought he saw what she just hid, and he had to know if he was right or not. If he had witnessed what he thought he just witnessed, this was a world he couldn’t take for one second longer.

“Turn your pocket inside out,” he ordered the girl.

When she turned it inside out, and it only confirmed that she was sneaking a snack of Brussel Sprouts in a room full of candy and sweets, Joey ran out of the cafeteria at top speed, and let out a blood curdling scream in the hallway.


As soon as he heard the scream, and realized it didn’t echo in the empty hallway, Joey knew what had happened. A moment later his suspicions were confirmed. According to the digital clock beside his bed, it was 7:00 in the morning.

His father entered Joey’s room with a concerned expression on his face. He was wearing a suit, obviously ready to leave for work.

“Are you OK, son?” he asked.

Joey’s mind was slowly getting rid of the sleep cobwebs when Baby Phil came running into the room and hopped up onto Joey’s bed, landing on Joey’s stomach with a thud.

“Joey sad?” he asked.

Joey smiled at his little brother despite the pain in his midsection.

“What’s the crybaby crying about now?” his big brother Andrew said from the doorway. He was still wearing his pajamas.

“I think he had a bad dream,” his father said.

“I’m OK,” Joey said.

“He has to get up anyway,” his father said, and leaned in to give Joey a kiss on the forehead.

“I thought he didn’t get up until 7:15,” Andrew said.

“I have to do my homework,” Joey said, giving his father a wink. “Right, Dad?”

Joey’s father smiled. “I guess the world didn’t turn on it’s axis after all,” he said.

“Not unless the Cubs won the World Series,” Joey said.

When both Joey and his father laughed, Andrew turned to leave the room.

“If I live to be a hundred, I’ll never understand those two,” he muttered to himself.

If you missed any previous Suburban Man columns, click here: http://suburbanmanarchive.blogspot.com

Sunday, December 03, 2006

John Landecker Notebook

The John Landecker Show: Rick Kaempfer, John Landecker, Leslie Keiling, Richard Cantu, and Vince Argento

I was the executive producer of the John Landecker show's entire reign at WJMK (1993-2003). I've previously written about the show many times, but I've never singled out some of my favorite memories. This was incredibly difficult to do, but I think I have cut it down to five.

5. Live broadcasts from listener's homes

It's hard to even imagine this now, but for an entire year we did the show from a different listener's home every Wednesday. I don't think it's a coincidence that this was also our best year in the ratings. It started off slow, with John getting to meet the listeners and rifle through their personal belongings on the air, but it soon became larger than life. We met the neighborhood celebrities everywhere we went, and the local politicians suddenly started showing up every week. High school marching bands came to play for us. Soon listeners were competing to win a brand new Ford Thunderbird. My favorite moment, however, happened when John discovered it was girl-scout cookie selling season. He asked to borrow the brownie outfit of one brownie mom, and started selling cookies door to door. (Photo on left: Promotions asst. Joleen, John, Engineer Mark, Promotions asst. Edith, and me.) This brownie outfit became a running bit that culminated in a live broadcast from Union Station. Carl Giamerese of the Buckinghams came with his guitar and performed a Buckinghams song that John and I had rewritten specifically for the occasion. It was released on our third CD, Baby Boomers. Click here to hear Carl's live performance at Union Station. ("Girl Scouts") Sadly, the live broadcasts from listener homes ended abruptly with the downsizing of the station engineering department. With only one engineer remaining on staff, it was decided that broadcasting from listener's homes was no longer feasible.

4. Our annual Christmas broadcast for charity
For several years we did a live Christmas broadcast from Oak Lawn to raise money, toys, and food for the holidays. We raffled off the hottest toys of that particular season, invited celebrities to join us there (Darlene Love came one year, Channel 2 sportscaster Tim Weigel came another), filled the largest ballroom in the largest hotel with listeners, and generally took over Oak Lawn. It got bigger and bigger every year, and we felt great being able to collect toys and money for children, and food for the local food pantries. We'd like to think we helped spread some Christmas cheer. The photo above is from our first Christmas broadcast. That baby John is wearing in a snuggly is my oldest son, Tommy Kaempfer. (Tommy later became a part of the show. Click here to hear the 2-year-old Tommy's contribution to our fourth CD--"Live Long & Perspire": "Little Tommy Kaempfer Sings".) After a few years of these Christmas shows, station management requested that we discontinue the broadcasts because they felt it took away from Dick Biondi's annual toy drive. (Dick did a 24-hour-radiothon in early December every year.) We never did another Christmas show for WJMK, but I still have warm and fuzzy memories of the four shows we did.

3. Lambs Farm
When John and I first came aboard at WJMK we wondered why they never staged free concerts for their listeners. That was a staple of most Oldies stations in America, and most of the acts we played on the air still regularly performed on the summer concert circuit. After our first year on the air, the station decided to take a risk. At our first show at Lambs Farm in Libertyville, we hired the Flying Elvis' from the movie "Honeymoon in Vegas" to perform. The sight of these parachuting Elvis impersonators landing near the stage to perform was a crowd pleaser, and the crowd of more than 30,000 that showed up for the show encouraged Lambs Farm and the radio station to continue the tradition. (The picture was taken at one of the Lambs Farm concerts.) At subsequent shows we got performers like Tommy James, Chubby Checker, and just about every other Oldies act you can name. Hundreds of thousands of listeners showed up--making this annual concert every year a huge fundraiser for Lambs Farm (they got 100% of all concessions). It was also a huge deal for our show, because the opening band every year was Landecker & The Legends. We got a rousing ovation when we first performed a song that has since made me a hero to my three sons. (The station banned us from playing it on the air because it was too naughty, but allowed us to play it live.) John and I wrote the words for this classic: King of *arts

2. Touring with Landecker & The Legends
Landecker & the Legends performed together for seven summers, and we probably played at every summer festival in the Chicago area. One summer we did over twenty gigs (basically two shows every single weekend).
It eventually became a little too much for all of us (remember, we still were doing a morning show every day), but the memories I have of those shows and the great people we met will never leave me. Plus, the band was so much fun to hang out with--Tim, Mark, Steve J., Steve V, Jay, Pete, Dan, Jeff, our associate producer Tom, and the horn players were a riot. One summer we even brought along an accordian player (who was a school principal in Naperville, I believe.) The downside to having an accordian player was that I had to dress up in my German lederhosen, and lead the crowd in the Chicken Dance. I'll never forget the sight of 50,000 people flapping their arms at Lambs Farm that year. The upside to having an accordian player was that it allowed us to play the song we wrote in honor of the Disney movie Pocahantas: The Polkahantas Polka

1. Live Broadcasts from tropical resorts
I've already written about the incredible trip we had to the Dominican Republic (Renewing my vows), but I had just as much fun at our final live tropical broadcast in January of 2003. Bridget had just given birth to Sean, and she couldn't travel yet--so I took my seven year old son Tommy with me instead. Just the two of us--for a whole week in Huatulco, Mexico. Every morning at 4:30 in the morning he got up with me and came down to the broadcast site, and every morning I set up his laptop next to mine so that he could play his video games. He also told a joke on the show every morning. After the shows were over, we would explore the beaches looking for iguanas, and play in the ocean. It's a week that neither Tommy nor I will ever forget.

Where are they now?
In August of 2003 WJMK decided not to renew our contract, and we all went our seperate ways. John is back on the air again every afternoon at 94.7FM (Real Oldies) in Chicago. Leslie Keiling is the traffic reporter every afternoon on WGN Radio (720AM). Richard Cantu is a network news anchor for ABC Radio in New York. Vince Argento is the production director of the Jonathon Brandmeier Show on the Loop (97.9FM) in Chicago, and I'm now fulfilling a life-long dream by becoming a novelist. It's worked out for all of us, but we all remember those days at WJMK fondly.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Half Empty: Christmas Letters Greatest Hits (Part 2)

They say that when you hit your 40s, your life is half over. We prefer to think of it as HALF EMPTY. Our age has finally caught up with our outlook on life. Remember, it is possible to turn that frown upside down...but you might pull a muscle.


By Rick Kaempfer & Dave Stern

Tis the season for Christmas form letters from long-lost friends and family members. We've been big fans of these since childhood, and we've actually acquired quite a collection over the past decade or two. (Send us yours by clicking on the "E-mail me" link on the right.)

Most letters are a little boring and maybe a little too inside for mass consumption, but others are Christmas letters for the ages. We're going to feature a few of those between now and Christmas this year.

This is one is on loan from the British National Archive. It's yellow and brittle, but it's message of Christmas cheer is timeless.

Christmas 1536

Dearest Friends & Relatives,

It is my fondest wish that you and yours enjoy a wonderful Christmas this year.

The King and I welcomed our daughter Elizabeth to the world this year, a moment that we will surely treasure forever. His Majesty is a doting and attentive father. Why, just yesterday he didn’t even say “get thy ugliness and thy bitch child away from me.”

He is surely warming to her.

Dearest Henry has his moments, as all young sleep-deprived fathers do, but we’ve learned not to take him literally. For instance, when he says something like: “If you don’t give me a male heir, I’ll have you beheaded you filthy whore,” he simply means he wants a little brother for our darling Elizabeth. And when he tells anyone who’ll listen that I used witchcraft to get him to marry me, he simply means that he loves me so much, it’s as if I cast spell on him. He’s really sweet that way.

I’ve only been his Queen for two years now, and I’m slowly adjusting. Life in the palace is wonderful, but sometimes it is a little confining. Luckily, a few weeks ago, Henry promised me a trip to a place called Hades. It’s been ages since we traveled, so naturally little Elizabeth and I eagerly await our voyage. It won’t be a long trip (His Majesty promises it will short and swift), but it’s good to get away. My Ladies in Waiting are extremely anxious about this trip, and I’m sure it’s because they simply don’t know what to pack until we find out more about Hades’ climate.

I’m hoping this trip makes 1537 as memorable as 1536. Can you believe 1536 is almost over already? Doesn’t Henry’s ex-communication from the Catholic Church seem like it happened decades ago instead of just last year? My darling husband is really growing into his new role. Lesser men might have buckled from the pressure of running a country and a church, but my Henry is larger than life…he’s nearly 400 pounds now.

So, dear friends and relatives, as you gather round the Christmas fire this year, please pray for my husband, the Supreme Head in Earth of the Church of England, because, in case you don’t remember, it’s high treason not to.

Look for my postcard from Hades.

Lovingly yours,

Ann Boleyn

Next week...a Christmas letter from this Christmas season.

If you missed any previous Half Empty columns, click here: http://halfemptyarchive.blogspot.com

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Suburban Man: The Tea-Set

By Rick Kaempfer

My wife Bridget and I celebrated our fifteenth anniversary last week the same way we celebrate every day together: peacefully.

We really don’t argue.

There isn’t a secret to our marital harmony—I think we’re just a good match. We tend to agree on most things, and when we don’t, one of us inevitably buckles before it turns into an argument. Usually I’m the one that buckles. My wife is passionate about everything, and I’m passionate about nothing. That makes it much easier for me to buckle. I have an incredible ability to go with the flow.

Don’t get me wrong, Bridget buckles too. On the rare occasions when I disagree with her AND I actually care, I become intractable. I put my foot down, she senses that I am serious, and she buckles. This happens maybe once a year.

Has there ever been a time when I put my foot down on a subject that Bridget felt too strongly about to concede? Yes, it happened once.

I can tell you everything about that fight because it’s ingrained in my memory banks. It occurred in October of 1997. Tommy was just about to turn 2. The argument began thusly…

Bridget: I got Tommy’s birthday present today.

Rick: What did you get?

Bridget: A tea-set.

Rick: That’s great…um…what did you say?

Bridget: I got him a tea-set.

Rick: You mean like a golf tee set?

Bridget: No.

Rick: You mean like a “pour imaginary cups of tea for your dolls and raise your pinky while you pretend to drink” tea set?

Bridget: Yup. He’ll love it.

Rick: You know he’s a boy, right?

Bridget: This won’t make him gay, Rick.

Rick: Objecting to “girl presents” for your son doesn’t make you homophobic.

Bridget: It’s not a girl present.

Rick: Let me see the box.

(Bridget pulled the pink box out of the bag. A little girl engaged in a doll tea-party was pictured on the front of the package.)

Rick: That’s what I thought. We can give it to one of our nieces.

Bridget: No, we’re giving it to Tommy.

Rick: No, we’re not.

Bridget: Well I’m not returning it. If you want to get him something else, you have to get it yourself.

Bridget wouldn’t buckle, and called all of her friends and sisters for support. They all agreed that I was being sexist and ridiculous.

I wouldn’t buckle, and called all of my friends for support. They all agreed that she was being ridiculous.

Since neither of us could convince anyone on the other side of the sex divide to cross-over and support our argument, we agreed to conduct an experiment to see which one of us was right.

Bridget would still give Tommy the tea-set, but I would give him a more appropriate boy gift (Hot Wheels). We would put both presents on the table in the living room and let Tommy decide which one he preferred. Neither of us would be allowed to talk to him at all, and we couldn’t say or do anything to sway his opinion.

Since Tommy didn’t really talk too much, the winner would be decided by which present Tommy chose first….her tea-set or my Hot Wheels. Winner takes all, loser admits defeat.

That night we brought Tommy into the room and told him the presents on the table were both for him. At first he didn’t say or do anything.

Then it happened…he walked right to the Hot Wheels and asked me to open the package.

He was a little taken aback by my exuberant response and Bridget’s inexplicable muttering, but Tommy had cemented the father-son bond forever by proving me right.

I didn’t dance on Bridget’s grave, and it’s a good thing I didn’t. She was also later proven correct. Tommy did eventually warm to the tea-set, and his two younger brothers also played with the tea-set without sustaining any lasting damage.

The real winner of the argument was our marriage. We both felt really silly and ridiculous after that display, and we haven’t had a real argument since.

It’s much easier to buckle.

If you missed any previous Suburban Man columns, click here: http://suburbanmanarchive.blogspot.com

Sunday, November 26, 2006


Just to show I'm not always joking, I did pen the following article for the Fall 2006 issue of "Get Healthy" Magazine.

By Rick Kaempfer

Once men reach a certain age, prostate problems are a fact of life.

“An enlarged prostate is as inevitable as gray hair,” says Dr. Subba Rao Nagubadi of Urology Associates of N.W Indiana.

Prostate cancer is also the most common form of malignant cancer (other than skin cancer) affecting men today. According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 220,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year.

But for all the bad news about prostate cancer, there is hopeful news as well. Unlike some other cancers, many men with advanced prostate cancer can expect to live for many years. Often, the prostate cancer grows slowly, and there are now some effective treatment options that extend life even further.

Early Detection

Waiting until the symptoms associated with prostate problems occur (frequent urination, a sudden need to urinate, a need to strain or push to empty the bladder, or pain and burning in urination or ejaculation) isn’t enough. In fact, by the time the symptoms occur, prostate cancer may have spread beyond the prostate.

Luckily there are two fairly reliable tests that may catch prostate cancer, even in the “silent” or early stages before any symptoms occur.

A Digital Rectal Exam (DRE) is the common method used by doctors to physically feel the prostate through the rectum, looking for lumps or hard areas. This is usually done in concert with a blood test which looks for elevated PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) levels. Because most men with slightly elevated levels of PSA do not have cancer, and some prostate cancers can’t be detected through digital rectal exams, it’s important to do both tests. Together they have been much more successful in identifying prostate cancer.

“After age 40,” says Dr. Nagubadi, “I recommend you get tested once a year.”


In their book Updated Guidelines for Surviving Prostate Cancer, Dr. E. Roy Berger and Dr. James Lewis Jr. point out that there isn’t one correct way to treat prostate cancer. “The reason for this is that there have not been a significant number of randomized controlled studies to answer all of the questions related to the various treatment modalities.”

That means that the prostate cancer patient has options, and he should investigate all of them thoroughly. There are basically three variations of treatments; surgery, radiation, and closely monitoring the cancer.

Closely monitoring the cancer is called Surveillance (also known as watchful waiting). If the cancer is low-grade and confined to the gland (early stage) especially with older patients who have other serious medical conditions, doctors may be hesitant to pursue more invasive treatments. With the surveillance method, doctors simply keep a close eye on the growth of the cancer through regular examinations. Once it grows and starts to spread, further action is necessary.

Usually that involves surgery called Radical Prostatectomy.

“We recommend the surgery for any patient who is young enough—up to age 70, and strong enough,” says Dr. Nagubadi of Urology Associates of N.W Indiana.

Radical Prostatectomy surgery removes the entire prostate and nearby tissues, and sometimes the lymph nodes in the pelvis.

For patients who aren’t strong enough to undergo the radical prostatectomy, Radiation Therapy is the other treatment choice. The radiation is normally delivered through external beams, but it can also be implanted directly into the prostate with a needle.


Patients usually fully recover from surgery relatively quickly, but there are a few other possibilities to consider. While the radical prostatectomy is done with nerve sparing techniques, it can cause potential side effects.

“Some men lose the ability to achieve an erection,” says Dr. Nagubadi.

Drugs like Viagra and several similar, newer drugs can help patients resume normal sexual function.

As for radiation recovery, the radiation itself is painless. However, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, radiation therapy may cause the following side effects:
• Diarrhea or other disruption of bowel function
• Increased urinary urge or frequency
• Fatigue
• Impotence
• Rectal discomfort, burning, or pain


There are three higher risk groups most likely to get prostate cancer.
=Men over 65
=African-American men
=Men who have a history of prostate cancer in their families (especially those cases diagnosed before the age of 60)
Because the incidence of prostate cancer is lower in Asia, Africa, and South America, some experts think that diets lower in animal fat may help lower the risk. This, unfortunately, has not been proven in any clinical study.
Dr. Nagubadi of Urology Associates of N.W Indiana is skeptical. Asked if there was anything someone could do to help prevent prostate cancer, he replied, “No, not really.”

The combination of age and genetics are still the biggest determinants of who gets prostate cancer, and unfortunately, science and medicine still haven’t figured out a way to overcome either of those factors.

For More Information about Prostate Cancer:

The National Cancer Institute: http://www.cancer.gov/prostate

Prostate Cancer Treatment information: http://www.cancer.gov/cancerinfo/pdg/treatment/prostate/paient/

Know Your Options: Understanding Treatment choices for Prostate Cancer: http://www.cancer.gov/cancerinformation/understand-prostate-cancer-treatment

The Prostate Cancer Foundation

Writing this article caused me to have phantom prostate problems for a week. I even went to the doctor to get it checked. The exam wasn't pleasant, but the prostate is fine.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Guest Blogger: Dave Stern

That's happy Dave on the right there, after the first interleague Cubs-Sox game. Guess who won?

Dave is the other half of the Half Empty column featured every Wednesday on this blog. Dave and I have known each other since college. In fact, we started writing together the day we met, and continue to do so today twenty four years later.

While we like to write humor and comedy together, Dave has always drawn the line on one subject matter: Jews. As a Jew, Dave is allowed to comment. As a German, Rick is not. Ever. Fair enough.

Today Dave gets some of his all-time favorite Jewish bits out of his system.

Jew Musings
By Dave Stern

Are we really that different from everyone else? Until a few years ago I didn’t think so. Then I had this conversation with one of my largest customers:

Cooter: Hey Dave, can you ship me a couple of skids of 19 x 25 60# C1S litho as soon as possible.

Me: Sure. I’ll ship it today and you’ll get it on the Monday after the holiday.

Cooter: Great. Have a good holiday. (Awkard pause) Ummm, do you Jews celebrate Thanksgiving?

Me: What? Of course we do! It’s a very special day for my people since we own most of the turkey farms and cranberry bogs. However, our traditional holiday meal is a little different. Instead of sweet potatoes, we eat the intestines of dogs we’ve stolen from little gentile boys and girls.

OK, the last part wasn’t true. I thought of the pithy retort after I hung up. Nevertheless, this underscores the fact that many people are clueless as to what Jews are really like. So I’m here to give a brief lesson on our Semitic ways. Think of it as a Cliff Notes to Judaism. Or better yet, Saul Notes. Here are 8 fun facts, one for each day of Chanukah.

1) There have only been 3 high school varsity letters given out to Jews. Sandy Koufax got one for baseball, Goldberg for wrestling and Mark Spitz got one for swimming. Until accounting becomes a sanctioned sport, this number will probably stay the same.

2) If you’re a terrorist, bomb Chinese restaurants on Christmas Eve or movies on Christmas. You can wipe out 89% of us in a couple of days. Second thought, spare us the movie theaters. Where are we going to show all the films we’ve produced, directed, written and starred in?

3) We consider someone White Trash if they buy retail and have never had an orthodontist.

4) If you’re a gay Jewish man make sure you bring a tribesman home. You don’t want to hear, “What’s wrong with Sheldon Rosenblatz? He’s hot.”

5) If you’re in a fantasy Jewish baseball league make sure you get the first or second pick. After Shawn Green and Brad Ausmus you’re pretty much screwed.

6) Don’t hire a Jewish mover unless you want to hear about his lumbago.

7) There has never been a Jewish host for a home improvement show.
“Hi and welcome to Moshe’s House. Today we’re going to talk about landscaping. (dials telephone) Hello, Hernandez Lawn care?

8) Many people feel that Charlton Heston portrayed the greatest theatrical Jewish character ever. This is false. When Scott Colomby (as Brian Schwartz in Porky’s) uttered: "Listen, when you're Jewish, you either learn to fight or you take a lotta shit," he made all of us shed a tear.

So that’s basically all you need to know about us. Even though we’re the chosen we’re pretty simple folk. If you haven’t met one of us, chances are you will. Feel free to use any of the above tidbits the next time we’re checking your prostate.

Oh, and for the record I did change my customer’s name so I wouldn’t embarrass him (his name is really Cletus). Plus, I don’t want to make him mad and lose his business. You know how us Jews are.

I was the best man at Dave's wedding, or as he likes to say, "You were an OK Man at best."

Dave and I hosted a radio show together at WPGU in Champaign-Urbana, and we staged a radio stunt by running for Homecoming King & Queen. This ad for our campaign appeared in the Daily Illini. (I convinced Dave he had to be queen because he had a mustache...and he bought it.) We won the most laughs...and the least votes.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Half-Empty: Christmas Letter season begins

They say that when you hit your 40s, your life is half over. We prefer to think of it as HALF EMPTY. Our age has finally caught up with our outlook on life. Remember, it is possible to turn that frown upside down...but you might pull a muscle.


By Rick Kaempfer & Dave Stern

Tis the season for Christmas form letters from long-lost friends and family members. We've been big fans of these since childhood, and we've actually acquired quite a collection over the past decade or two. (Send us yours by clicking on the "E-mail me" link on the right.)

Most letters are a little boring and maybe a little too inside for mass consumption, but others are Christmas letters for the ages. We're going to feature a few of those between now and Christmas this year.

We acquired this first one (completely authentic--it comes with a letter of authenticity signed by famed attorney U.R. Dumass) on E-bay. It's probably worth a great deal more than the $1000 we paid for it.

December 1928

Dear Friends and Relatives,

What a year! I can’t believe Herbie’s really the new president.

We’re just getting settled into our new home (The White House), but it’s been quite the decorating challenge. Herbie has been putting up his gosh-awful paintings of a “chicken in every pot” throughout the house, and every time I asked the Negro help to please take the paintings down, Herbie ordered them back up.

“Confound it, Mrs. Hoover,” he said, “I’m the President now, and when I issue an order, you can’t be undermining my authority.”

He always talks like that. It’s cute. But when I told him that he would have to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom as long as those paintings were on the wall, he realized the error of his ways. He’s darling, he really is.

One thing I will say about Herbie is that he’s neat…not like that sloppy Coolidge clan. The White House carpeting was so full of dust and debris when we moved in, Herbie said he wished someone would invent a device that could suck it all up.

“And when they do,” he said, “it should be called a ‘Coolidge.’”

“Just take another nip of your presidential moonshine,” I joshed.

“You know that alcohol is illegal, Mrs. Hoover,” he said, and winked.

I love him, the little rascal. He has so many big plans for the economy to make America a more prosperous and powerful country. He talks about it day and night.

“Mark my words, Mrs. Hoover,” he says, “People will never forget what we accomplish in 1929.”

I wouldn’t bet against him. Ever since he beat that filthy Catholic to win the election, he’s been on a roll. Everyone loves him. It goes without saying that the ladies find him irresistable, and I'll admit that really bothered me until eight years ago. Now I see those trollups as Herbie does...voters.

You'll be happy to hear that the attention hasn't gone to his head. The presidency will never change my dear lovable Herbie. I’ve only heard the man cuss one time since we came to Washington, and it was so out of character, we still refer to it as “The Hoover Damn.”

Have a wonderful Christmas this year, and as Charles Lindbergh told us at a White House dinner… “Fly straight, keep your spirits up, and you’ll never crash.”

May you follow that wonderful advice in 1929.

Merry Christmas.

Mrs. Hoover

Next week? A Christmas letter from Ann Boleyn.

You won't want to miss it.

If you missed any previous Half Empty columns, click here: http://halfemptyarchive.blogspot.com

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Suburban Man: Suburban Thanks

By Rick Kaempfer

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, Suburban Man has been busy giving suburban thanks. It’s impossible to name everything, but the following is a partial list. This year, I give suburban thanks for...

*My furnace and air conditioner
Yes, they provide us with heat and cool air, but that’s not why I’m giving thanks for them. My furnace and air conditioner are the only things we haven’t had to replace in our home since we moved in—and yes, I’m knocking on wood as I write this.

This unusual gift comes to my home exactly twice a week: On Tuesdays and Thursdays between 12:05 p.m and 2:20 p.m, when my youngest son Sean is in pre-school.

What do I love the most about my neighbors? This is an easy one…their inattentiveness to their lawns. My natural slovenly approach to lawn care would stick out like a sore thumb on any other block.

*The Applebee’s Menu
No, I don’t love the food, but they do have a great kids menu that can satisfy all three of my picky eaters, PLUS they have a great array of alcoholic beverage choices. “No food for me, boys. Daddy’s going to drink his dinner tonight.”

*2 miles north, 2 miles south
Why do we live in the suburbs? Is it the great school system? The answer should be yes, but for us it’s not necessarily the great schools…it’s who lives 2 miles north (my sister), and who lives 2 miles south (my mom). We’ve only had to pay for a babysitter twice in ten years.

*CBS Radio
The media giant not only gave me most of the money I used to buy my house, they also did me a tremendous favor in September of 2003 when they didn’t renew my contract. Since I left radio, my high blood pressure has disappeared, I regularly get six to eight hours of sleep a night (after not sleeping for a decade), and the bags under my eyes have finally been reduced from “Do you want paper or plastic, or will you just be bringing home the groceries in the bags under your eyes.”

*The Library
We check out hundreds and hundreds of books every year. It’s five minutes away, my kids absolutely love going there, and here’s the biggie…it’s free. Plus, the library in my home town bought my first book. I still get a kick out of seeing if anyone has checked it out.

*Orange, Green & White
My prize possession is my grandmother’s old lamp from the sixties. It has one green plastic shade, one orange plastic shade, and one white plastic shade. My wife thinks it’s obnoxious and has relegated it to the basement. If I found out my house was on fire, this lamp is the only possession I would bother saving.

*It takes a village
I got a call the other day from one of the parents in the neighborhood. She called to say that she yelled at Tommy because he was walking home from school on the curb instead of the sidewalk, unnecessarily risking his life near the convoy of whizzing minivans. That is about the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.

*7 p.m. weeknights
I always have dinner ready for her when she walks in the door, but that’s the least I can do for my wife. When she comes home from work, she is ready to take over the house—something I was never ready to do when I worked. I’m just about the luckiest guy in the world.

Those are just some of the things I’m giving suburban thanks for this Thanksgiving.

If you'd like to share some of your suburban thanks, click on the "e-mail me" link above on the right, and I'll share them with the rest of the class on Friday.

Happy suburban Thanksgiving.

If you missed any previous Suburban Man columns, click here: http://suburbanmanarchive.blogspot.com

Sunday, November 19, 2006

SHORE MAGAZINE ARTICLE: Toys for the whole family

From the (current) December/January Issue of Shore Magazine (http://visitshoremagazine.com)

By Rick Kaempfer

It should be a rule that every member of the family gets at least one toy for the holidays. There’s something about receiving a toy that brings out the child in everyone.

Unfortunately, keeping up with the “toy” market is a full-time job, especially for people who don’t normally receive them. It’s usually easier to just settle for a tie, or a sweater, or a pair of wooly socks.

Not this year. Not with this handy guide. No need to thank us. The smiles on the faces of your family members are all the thanks we need.

Toys for Dad

Dad appreciates his ever-expanding tie collection, but he also likes toys just as much as anyone else…especially if the toys have something to do with golf.

The Applauding Automatic Return Putting Cup, Hammacher-Schlemmer (#CP-73372), $39.95
Putting inside the home or office can be fun, but that ten foot walk to retrieve balls can be exhausting, and without a cheering section to validate Dad’s putting prowess, it can leave him feeling alone and unappreciated. Both of those problems are solved with this product-- a cordless portable indoor putting device that provides polite golf applause before automatically returning successful putts. Sadly, if Dad misses, he’ll still have to do the ten foot walk of shame.

The Potty Putter, Wonderfullywacky.com, $19.95
This is just what it sounds like—something for Dad to do at his favorite hangout. It includes a putting green, a putter, two golf balls, a flagstick, and a “Do Not Disturb” sign for the door.

The RadarGolf System, Sharper Image (#RG001), $249.95
Yes, the price tag is a little daunting. However, with this system, your father may never have to buy golf balls again. With a tiny implanted microchip in the core of the RadarGolf ball and a handheld beeping device to let him know when he is getting closer to his ball, he will never lose a ball again. On the other hand, you might advise him not to use this ball on the water holes. (The kit comes with a dozen radargolf balls, a handheld device, and specially lined pouches to keep spare balls from affecting the search).

The Remote Control Golf Ball, Hammacher-Schlemmer (#CP-72460), $39.95

This product looks and feels like a real golf ball, but it can also be controlled by a tiny remote control device. Watch Dad’s friends and co-workers ooh and ah as he putts the ball waaaaay too hard, only to see it zig and zag back into the hole.

Toys for Mom

Of all the members of the family, Mom is least likely to want a toy…at least not in the traditional sense. With that in mind, we’ve slightly expanded Mom’s definition of “toy” to provide the kind of gifts that she would really appreciate—but would never buy for herself.

Locate 1, Sharper Image (#MT200), $499.95
It’s pricey, but Mom’s worth it. What does she spend most of her time doing every day? Worrying. And isn’t five hundred bucks a small price to pay to slow down the emergence of Mom’s gray hair? With this wireless GPS that can be hidden in a backpack or the trunk of a car, Mom can keep tabs on the kids at all times. Locate 1 can even be programmed to automatically send a message to Mom when the car is going too fast. A child’s nightmare. A mother’s dream.

Extra Strength Denial Pills, Wackyplanet.com (#TOY-ARB-DENIAL-PILLS), $4.99 for one bottle, $12 for three
So you don’t have an extra $500 lying around for Mom this year, eh? Don’t fear. This gift is the next best thing for a mother of teenagers. The pills are placebos (actually candy), but they remind Mom to stop asking so many questions about what is really going on at Troy’s house. Aaah, ignorance is bliss.

The Full-Bottle Wine Glass, Hammacher-Schlemmer (#CP-70375), $24.95
Have you noticed that Mom needs a little stress relief? That first glass of wine in the evening calms her down, but the second, third, and fourth glasses often leave her feeling a little guilty. Not any more. This two-liter wine glass can hold an entire bottle of wine so Mom can limit herself to one glass a night. No guilt, no shame, and lots of stress relief. (Be sure to hide the car keys, however.)

Toys for Teens

Let’s face it. American teens have too many toys already. By the time a child reaches his or her teen years, parents have shelled out thousands of dollars for the latest must-have gadget or toy. With that in mind, we offer only one suggestion this year…and it’s technically not a toy.

Black Scottevest fleece jacket, Brookstone, $140

Your teen already has an I-Pod, a cellular photo phone, a PDA, and a Gameboy, but probably doesn’t have an efficient way of carrying them all at once. This fleece jacket comes with 12 pockets specifically designed to carry all of those gadgets and more. It includes a routing system that threads earbuds, and magnetic closures to keep all gadgets safe, plus it’s been specifically designed to evenly distribute the weight. Granted, it will officially end all face to face communication…but at least when you text message your child, you’ll know he hasn’t misplaced his phone.

Toys for the little ones

We researched the young toy market with certain important restrictions in mind: Toys must not be loud, and they must not be easily transformed into a weapon. Consider the following ideas a gift for both parents and child.

Small World Living Kitchen, Smarti Pantz Toyz in Highland, Indiana (www.smartipantztoyz.com)
Ask any pre-school teacher or day care provider about the most popular toys for both girls and boys, and they’ll tell you that kids love to play “kitchen.” Ours is not to question why, it is merely to encourage. Converting a child that likes to play in the kitchen into a helpful member of the family at dinner-time is actually an attainable goal. The more realistic the toys, the more helpful they can be. The Small World Living line is particularly good …
Small World Living Sink & Stove, $180
Small World Living Refrigerator, $160
Small World Living Fun-With-Fruit, $16
Small World Living Build-A-Burger, $9

Toys for Grandparents

As we age, we get grumpier. It’s a fact of life. As we age, we also get more politically intractable. That’s a fact of life too. We kept that in mind as we searched for grandparent toys, and we may have found the perfect gift.

The Talking Ann Coulter Action Figure, Stupid.com, $29.99

Press Ann Coulter’s belly and she will spout anti-liberal invective. This doll does it too. It’s the perfect gift for the crotchety conservative grandpa who loves “Annie.” Watch him cackle with glee as he makes the doll spout her wisdom at his good-for-nothing liberal son-in-law. With an extra purchase of a few voodoo pins, it’s also the perfect gift for the crotchety liberal grandpa who hates “that woman.” Whenever he sees the real Ann on TV, he can take out his aggression in a healthy non-threatening way…which makes it a present for Grandma too—because she is getting sick of hearing his bellyaching.

That covers everyone, right?

Not exactly, but there’s a reason why we didn’t feature toys for children between 4 and 13 years old. Let’s face it. Those kids aren’t exactly subtle about telling you what they want. They want toys, and they’ll tell you exactly which make and model. Any deviation will not be tolerated or appreciated.

Maybe this year, with the help of our guide, everyone else will be just as happy for once.