Monthly Archives: December 2012


At the holiday season, I’m giving out gift cards to children to use at our local Barnes and Noble. This is the greatest present I can bestow because in this age of tech toys, nothing is more important than introducing a child to over-used public restrooms such as at Barnes and Noble, and how to survive them.

Our local B&N is my favorite hangout, but even during other times of the year the state of the women’s room could be most kindly described as “messy,” “dirty” or perhaps “decayed.” From reading all the paranoia-inducing news articles about bacteria and viruses invisibly crawling all over the restroom, I’ve developed protective methods to maneuver my way around the various deathtraps, like stall door handles, sink tap handles and worst of all, the handle of the door exiting the restroom.  Similarly, it’s not enough for children to learn to wash their hands after using the toilet. They must be shown how to use their feet to flush the toilet, how to grasp paper towels to turn off the taps, and how to pull down their sweater or coat sleeves to open the door handle of the exit door.

Most difficult of all is showing them—-where insensitive store personnel have not provided a waste basket next to the exit door—- how to hold the exit door open with a foot block (to avoid touching the door handle) while twisting the torso sideways to lay up and shoot the wadded roll of used paper towel into the towel waste dispenser that’s generally 50 feet away. This is a difficult maneuver for all ages and is a diagnosis known to physicians as PTSD [“Paper Towel-induced Shoulder Dislocation”].

Despite these precautions, it’s almost unavoidable when using a restroom, for one to step in small remnants of floor urine. I’ve heard repeatedly I shouldn’t worry about that because, as some annoying person will always insist, “Urine is sterile.” If that’s not comforting, consider that cabbages, tomatoes and other food we eat may have been treated with human urine.

How do I know that? A few years ago researchers at the University of Kuopio, whose most famous discovery was that Kuopio is in Finland, grew cabbages treated with conventional fertilizer, no fertilizer, or human urine. Result: The urine-treated cabbages grew bigger than the other groups and carried fewer germs. The university scientists then made sauerkraut from the cabbages, and while noting differences in flavors among the three groups, they liked all three equally.

You have to ask yourself how Finland, rated by one organization as having the finest education system in the world with all teachers earning masters degrees and 66% of students going on to college, is now best known for proving that human pee grows better crops? How would that be expressed by the Nobel Prize people? I’m quite concerned because pee for crops doesn’t seem to fall under the Nobel Prize for Physics or Medicine or Economic Sciences or Chemistry or Peace. That leaves Finland’s researchers at the University of Kuopio—-a name that emphasizes the “pio” and not long ago changed out of embarrassment to “University of Eastern Finland”—to accept the Nobel Prize for Literature for its contribution to Urine Studies.

I want to believe the Finns are intelligent and well-meaning, even if they want our farmers to urinate on our crops. In truth the only Finn I remember personally was Huckleberry. But my opinion of the Finns skyrocketed when I read how they treated the ice skating defenseman of the Dallas Stars, Stephane Robidas, who went to Finland to play with the Finnish League. Robidas said his playing “wasn’t as good as I would have hoped.” So how did the Finns make their American guest feel better?

“….I ate a lot of local food,” Robidas said. “I had reindeer, and it was unbelievable. They serve it with cranberry sauce, and it was so tender.”

This is the most outstanding contribution by the Finns.  Every year, the tireless, cooperative reindeer fly on Christmas thousands of miles around the world from Lapland, Finland where Santa lives. When the Big Trip is finished, they look forward to being recycled as pot roasts. To be served with potatoes, carrots, lutefisk and a casserole made from “scientifically grown” cabbage.

There’s one Finn I’m personally trying to get in touch with, especially at this holiday season of the crowded stores and squalid restrooms—–Nea Makala, the 6’2 star basketball player from Finland who’s burning up the courts at Northern Michigan University. She’s promised to show me how to sink a jump shot…..using a ball of wadded paper towels while blocking a restroom door with one foot.



‘Tis the season to celebrate, and no one is celebrating as much as the students at Harrison County, West Virginia high schools. Just last week, in a moment of rigidity, the Superintendent banned all high school dances because students were “grinding.”

Years ago my dentist accused me of “grinding.”  Then he made me a hard plastic mouth guard to prevent damage from grinding. That’s what those students need. Stopping a dance won’t prevent them from grinding. It’s possible students will still be grinding in classrooms, even in the presence of teachers and especially when they’re taking exams! But at least they’ll have protection from permanent dental injury.

I’ve been told that when students are grinding at a dance, they can be found slapping their pelvises repeatedly up against each other. Or one person’s pelvis collides with the back end of another (the “pelvee”) in suggestive ways. And young men experience a rigidity unrelated to school superintendents. These eyebrow-raising actions are purely the consequence of being a stressed-out, frustrated teenager.  Many grind at night in bed. At least a school dance affords the opportunity for students to grind in public, so they can share the experience and know they’re not alone.

The good news for the Harrison County high school students is that the Superintendant lifted the ban after realizing that grinding won’t stop just because students can’t dance. The Superintendant’s action does raise a critical question: In this day and age when the United States places 17th in the developed world for education, behind Estonia and Poland, what is more important to a student’s future—–math, physics, chemistry, or dancing? Yes, after years of educational neglect, dancing has finally been recognized as the key to a student’s socio-anthro-politico-psycho success.

Unfortunately, for decades “dancing” describes people on the dance floor standing separate from each other and bouncing, jumping, jerking, kicking, turning, twisting, kneeling, bending, but most important pretending they know how to dance. At Obama’s inauguration next month, Barack and Michelle, who will attend at least 10 official inaugural balls in one night, are having difficulty once again finding people to invite who—for the sake of international coverage—- can appear to dance together with arms enfolded around each other.

If you do not receive an invitation to the Obama inauguration, it’s because the 2010 census, which you probably refused to take, asked how many households know how to ballroom dance. It also asked if any members of the household have a problem with grinding.

Fortunately I learned to ballroom dance in the 8th grade. Our grade school, Duniway Elementary in Portland, Oregon, was blessed with a principal—M. Dale Schofield—who reputedly had been a dance instructor before developing a mental impairment and going into teaching. Every 8th grader attended his Friday night ballroom dancing class. We met in the school’s gym. Girls wore dresses, boys wore excessive perspiration.  After Mr. Schofield paired everyone up, we formed a large circle and, with Mr. Schofield in the center, we’d attempt to imitate his actions.

The first dance we learned was the Box Step, which is like writing an invisible square on the ground with your feet. I’d never heard anyone bragging about doing the “Box Step,” but Mr. Schofield said it was the basic step to learn other dances.  All of us newly-created partners practiced it repeatedly, our legs often tripping or blocking each other. Across the room a vinyl record player provided musical accompaniment with this song:

“Ricky Ticky Tay Ticky Tay”
“Ricky Ticky Tay Ticky Tay”
“Ricky Ticky Tay Ticky Tay”

Fortunately, there was another verse:

“Ricky Ticky Tay Ticky Tay”
“Ricky Ticky Tay Ticky Tay”
“Ricky Ticky Tay Ticky Tay”

In the weeks ahead I learned the waltz, foxtrot, tango and the swing. Eventually Mr. Schofield demonstrated the Latin American dances—-the samba, cha-cha, and rumba—for which we affably swung our hips while sultry music crooned on the phonograph:

“Ricky Ticky Tay Ticky Tay”
“Ricky Ticky Tay Ticky Tay”
“Ricky Ticky Tay Ticky Tay”

To ensure a variety of partners, Mr. Schofield introduced us to people-swapping devices like the Snowball. I was always happy to dance with the taller boys since I towered over a lot of my female classmates.  I didn’t like holding my arms down to partially engulf shorter boys especially since their heads barely cleared my relatively new chest.

When I finally could reasonably dance in the arms of my favorite lofty boys, I began to notice a peculiar rock-hard sensation against my thigh. I’d subtly glance down at our legs to see if my partner’s denims were particularly lumpy with rivets. Finding no explanation, I’d try to ignore this stony protrusion.  I’d never noticed that several of the boys’ denims had the same bulging design.

In retrospect, I believe my unfortunate teenage dance partners at the time, coping with acne, sweaty palms and b.o., were grinding. Even those who wore bite plates and headgear were gnashing their teeth and holding me, well, stiffly. If Mr. Schofield was aware of this phenomenon, he didn’t let on. And being the wise man he was, he sure didn’t cancel any dances.