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:

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:

Sunday, November 19, 2006

SHORE MAGAZINE ARTICLE: Toys for the whole family

From the (current) December/January Issue of Shore Magazine (

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,, $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, (#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 (
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,, $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.