“Bring Us The Head Of The Velveteen Rabbit” is my collection of humorous and sarcastic essays, and as of today it’s available at Amazon.com! You can purchase the e-book in Kindle format for $3.99, and it contains over 80 essays pulled together from the Infinite Monkeys Publishing site, The Whims of Fairness, and totally new material. Plenty of great photo illustrations with snide captions are included as well. This book can be purchased at this Amazon.com link.

For those of the Nook persuasion, “Bring Us The Head Of The Velveteen Rabbit” will be available electronically at Barnes and Noble within a few days!


Yesterday a lady told me, “I like men who are gentlemen. Until it’s time for them not to be.”

Well crap. I’m confused enough about this gentleman thing without having to figure out when it’s time to stop being one. It’s like saying, “I like freezers that make ice. Until it’s time for them to stop making ice. And I’m not going to tell the freezer when to stop making ice, or what it should start making instead. Maybe the freezer should start making bran muffins. Yeah, let it try that, and then I’ll tell the freezer whether more bran muffins are really what we need around here.”

My parents never told me what it means to be a gentleman. I think they were too busy paying bills and fixing whatever I broke, insulted, or destroyed. So I just watched my dad and figured I was seeing the gentleman thing in action. I carried those nuggets of gentlemanly behavior with me out of childhood, and when I set off on my young man’s life I forgot every one of them. Who needs to be a gentleman when you can drink 160 proof punch, mumble at girls in a language that doesn’t exist, and puke indiscriminately?

When I outgrew all that, I found myself puzzled about gentlemanly behavior. I did some research. No joking. I discovered that a gentleman did things like hold chairs, hold doors, and hold purses for his lady. He would kiss her hand, kiss her forehead, kiss the back of her neck, and kiss her nose. He would be confident, be humble, be polite, and be willing to punch somebody for her. He would dress well, but not better than her. He would never keep her waiting, but he’d be okay if she kept him waiting. He’d never forget anniversaries or birthdays, and of course he’d learn to play the guitar.

There was a lot more like that.

The thing bothered me about these recitations of gentlemanly behaviors was that all of them are directed at the object of the gentleman’s matchless love. It seemed as if being a gentleman, as opposed to being just a man, springs from how a man treats the woman he loves. That seemed unlikely to me. I figured there were about six billion people on the planet. Am I a gentleman because of how I treat one of them, or because of how I treat 5,999,999,999 of them?

I thought about that for a while, and I tried to separate being a man from being a gentleman. A male human can be a man without being a gentleman. I do not cling to any doubts about that. I’ve known a lot of honest, courageous, faithful, and generous men, enough to demolish all the hot wings a large sports bar—but many of them were not gentlemen. (And by the way, when did it become okay to charge seven bucks for a plate of chicken parts that we used to throw away?)

So you can be a man without being a gentleman, but you can’t be a gentleman without being a man. That’s axiomatic. I think maybe Pythagoras even said it, or one of those other ancient smart fellows. And if that’s true, then I can only be a gentleman if I do something extra, something more than the things required to be a man. Something I can do for everyone I meet, and not just for the woman with whom I share saliva.

A list of those things might be pretty long. I could give everyone I meet a puppy, or a popsicle, or a t-shirt that says “Kiss Me If You Have A Strong Immune System.” I could tell them a joke. I could refrain from singing them a song. I could compliment them on one of their entirely unexceptional physical features. I could give them a massage in a way that’s friendly, and not like an unwashed creep with baggy trousers and an under bite. I could do all those things, but what I’m really looking for is a unifying principle for being a gentleman. What is the theme here?

I thought back to my dad and tried to remember if he gave everybody something. It couldn’t have been much, because his Sears credit card was generally charged to the limit. He didn’t tell jokes or give compliments, and he sure as hell didn’t give massages. He gave us a puppy once, which is a point in his favor. It was a toy poodle as dumb as a chunk of excrement and mean as a snake, so I’ll take that point right back.

I only remember one thing that my dad gave everybody. He did whatever he needed to do to make everybody around him feel comfortable. Even safe. No matter who he was with, they didn’t need to worry about being embarrassed, or left out, or the point of someone else’s joke. He didn’t try to make them happy. In fact, it’s impossible to make some people happy. But they could feel respected, even if they weren’t too respectable themselves when you got down to it. They might even feel that nothing horrible could happen to them right then, because my dad had banned horrible from the room. As a boy, I felt safe when I heard him snoring in his bedroom. If I heard him snore today, I’m sure everybody around would feel safe too.

A gentleman does whatever he needs to do to help the people around him feel comfortable. That’s my working definition. So when in the name of Gregory Peck is it time to stop being a gentleman? I suppose that would be when it’s time for people to stop feeling comfortable. I can think of two times that would be true.

You don’t want people to feel comfortable when they’re about to hurt somebody, and you don’t want them to feel comfortable when they’re about to hurt themselves. If someone is kicking his dog, or screaming at his spouse, then maybe it’s time for the gentleman in you to take a break. And if someone is throwing back his twelfth Wild Turkey shot, or committing professional suicide by doing something rude in his boss’s desk drawer, the gentleman in you should go outside, smoke a cigarette, and play with his iPad.

“I like men who are gentlemen. Until it’s time for them not to be.” When that lady expressed this astounding observation to me, I asked her how a man was supposed to figure out such a thing. She suggested that I might need a flow chart. Well, this isn’t a damned flow chart, but at least now I have something to go by. And now that I think about it, there may be a third situation in which the time arrives to stop being a gentleman. Sometimes the gentleman in you ought to stop outside the bedroom door while the rest of you goes on inside. Everyone’s better off if he hangs out in the living room and plays Wii for a while. I may run that concept past that lady and see what she says.

Some people have told me my blog isn’t very personal, but I’m not sure that’s true. A lot of the stuff I’ve posted is about what I think and do and experience. But I admit it’s not too immediate. I don’t tend to write about the fact that there’s a cat lying on 15% of my keyboard right now, misspelling words and opening unneeded menus with her ass. She’s keeping my wrists warm though, which is good because I got up stupid-ass early and it feels cold (yes, even here in Texas).

I don’t know if I’m comfortable with blog-immediacy, because that creates intimacy between me and whoever in the whole damn world runs across this blog and wants to read it. My wife likes to say that she’s an open book–what you see is what you get with her. She also says that if she’s an open book then I’m a closed book with straps that lock, and tiny print inside along with maybe some indecipherable drawings, and arcane symbols on the outside, and a general air of “get out of here, you god damn kids” around the whole thing. I used to be worse, but living with her has loosened me up a bit.

So, I’ll give this a try. Yesterday afternoon I was parallel parking, which I’m good at, while telling my wife a story about work. I don’t tell stories all that well while I’m parallel parking. I thought the story showed my fantastic qualities in my job, under insanely crappy circumstances, and I admit I was selfishly looking for some positive reinforcement. I was like a kid bringing my mom a watercolor that might be a horse or might be a Ferris wheel so she could exclaim how great it was and put it on the refrigerator. The main message of my story ended up being, “I didn’t kill anyone yesterday,” and her quite logical response was, “do you want reinforcement for not doing something illegal?” I need to work on my “pathetic plea for attention” technique.

We’d been invited by some friends to a “contra” dance. This kind of dancing is sort of like square dancing, except there’s a lot of spinning and stomping involved. The dancers behave less like  the cast of Hee Haw, and more like cowboys off the trail in Dodge City, although they laugh more and shoot people in the head less. They were really nice. I’ve danced a pretty long time, so I picked up the steps easily enough. The style was harder for me. I danced like a flamingo who knew all the steps. But the night before I’d been a moron, and as I leaned over the side of the bed to kiss my wife I tried to be cute and ended up hyper-extending my knee. Yes, I’m fairly old.

So I danced one dance, sat one dance, danced one dance, etc. for a while, and I got to waltz with my wife (and we realized we need more practice). Then everybody took a break, so we talked with our friends and had a good time. This was three hours of contra dancing, which is really aerobic and just like getting your heart muscle kicked in the nuts. I wanted to dance some with my wife, but as soon as each dance ended somebody else asked her to dance within the time it takes for light to travel from my right nipple to my left nipple. My wife is a lovely and popular dancer. So I kind of hung back and rested my knee. Occasionally I drank water using a hand that shook to a moderate degree, which is something I’m led to believe I’ll be able to enjoy for many years into the future.

After the dance, we and our friends ate dinner at Chili’s. We chose it for its menu, which provides nearly everyone something they’d like to eat. That really is genius, you know. No wonder the place is always full. I ordered grilled salmon, which was charming and surprising. I’d have expected good grilled salmon at Chili’s just as much as I’d have expected good Beef Wellington at Taco Bell. Just goes to show you. After dinner we went back our house, which was close by. We all sat on the floor in our only room that has no furniture at all, and we played with cats and looked at art books for a while. Two of our friends intended to go back to contra dance for the second three-hour session, which proves that they are tougher men than me. My wife planned to stay home and work a while, so I weaseled another of my friends into going on a mission with me once we dropped the others off.

On the trip back to the Palace of Contra Dance Pain, I called my mom, who is in a rehab hospital. I’d missed visiting her that day  and called to see how she was. She broke her 75 year old femur a month ago, and I’ve been trying pretty hard to help her rehabilitate. Unfortunately, she’s done almost nothing to help herself and thinks that as soon as she gets her cast off everything will be peachy. In the meantime she enjoys whining, groaning, laying in the bed, and looking pathetic. Honestly, she is worse than any 3 year old I have ever seen. I fully believe that she’ll never get out of the bed again and will be dead of pneumonia by Christmas (or shortly thereafter, since people often hang on until after Christmas).

After dropping off our other friends, I revealed the nature of our mission to the friend who was ferrying me around. This was a booze quest. More specifically, this was a quest for the ingredients to make fuzzy navels and pomegranate martinis. The former were for my wife and our friend, and the latter was for myself. I’d had such martinis in restaurant, liked them a whole lot, and wanted to know how to make them myself. I figured it was important to have the ability to make myself these drinks since the majority of my family members are alcoholics. We hit the grocery store for staples such as lemons and pomegranate juice. We laughed a lot about stuff that was really in no way funny. However, I was crestfallen to find that Kroger doesn’t carry a wide selection of pomegranate juice. In fact, they don’t carry any of that shit. They do carry a pomegranate/blueberry juice blend, with some other juices like apple and mango thrown in. My friend was for going to Central Market, but I figured, what the hell, my palate isn’t that sophisticated anyway.

We next hit the liquor store, looking for citrus vodka and peach schnapps. We looked for the cheapest damn liquor we could find, on the shared theory that all of our palates lacked sophistication. There were a few drunks in the store, virtually crawling on the floor to find the cheapest booze on the bottom shelves. I laughed a lot and fit right in, until I realized that my laughter was a little hysterical. I toned it down. We carried our goods to check out, and on the way I picked up shakers that both of us were nearly certain would be ineffective for any task we might ever have. The store closed up about the time we left, which astounded us since it was only 9:00 p.m.

Back at home my wife was wrapping up her work. She organized all her stuff for the next day, since she is the most organized person I have ever met or even heard of. Without her, my life would look like a stagnant bayou floating through variable gravity. My friend watched the digital picture frame in our kitchen, the one I finally set up in July after giving it to my wife for Christmas. Meanwhile, I began mixing drinks. That required an iPhone to reference the measures of ingredients, a knife and cutting board, several measuring spoons, a lemon, an iPad for generally browsing the web to locate miscellaneous information, several bottles of alcohol and juice, a steel chopstick for mixing, glasses, ice, and two useless shakers. As I attacked the drinks, my wife came in to converse with us. This was awkward since I have trouble thinking and talking at the same time. I sort of withdrew from the conversation and didn’t laugh hysterically anymore, which was kind of a relief.

I started with the fuzzy navels. I required about five minutes to make them, which was embarrassing since it turns out they’re easier to make than a glass of Alka-Seltzer. After delivering the fuzzy navels, I started on the pomegranate martini. It had just four ingredients, but it seemed more difficult to mix than a voodoo death potion, including chicken eyeballs. Finally I held half a glass of oddly lavender martini, which tasted pretty damn good to me, although when my wife tasted it she shook her head as if a bug had flown up her nose. Well, it was a bit strong, and I might cut back on the vodka a little when I make it again.

We sat around the dining table and talked for an hour or so. Mainly my wife and our friend talked. I’m a little slow on the trigger in casual conversation, so I didn’t find too many openings I could jump into. Occasionally I said stuff that made sense, but mainly whatever I’d been thinking had been rendered obsolete by the time a large enough break in the action came along for me to slip in. My thinking wandered away now and then, and I nursed my martini. It was nice to hear my wife talk so excitedly. She likes to converse when everyone talks on top of one another, and I was trained that if you did that then bad things would happen to you. Sometimes I don’t make such an energetic conversationalist for her.

After midnight we decided we’d had the required amount of fun, and our friend began packing up her crap. My wife noticed that one of our cats, not the ass-typing cat, was laying around lethargic for the second day in a row. This sucked because she has an enlarged heart, and for a couple of years the vet has told us she might throw a clot and keel over any minute. A couple of months ago the vet examined her and proclaimed her a miracle cat, with a moderately repaired heart. Why did it repair itself? No one has any god damn idea. But since we thought her death sentence had been lifted, this laying around like she was half-dead was concerning. We talked it over and decided to hold off on a trip to the emergency vet until the next morning, just to see if she got any better in the night.

Our friend left with hugs all around. I wandered to the bathroom to slam down my pills that would fly like pin balls through my brain for the rest of the night. I tucked my wife into bed and hung out in the living room for a bit, communing with the ass-typing cat and her friend the whipping-his-tail-into-your-eye cat. I sat a while in the recliner with my laptop, and before I crept to bed I contemplated a foolish Facebook post in which I mentioned the great job I’d done at work the day before, just in case any of my friends wanted to put the watercolor up on their refrigerator.

Miracle Cat
Ass-Typing Cat
Whipping-His-Tail-Into-Your-Eye Cat

I have an addiction, as dirty as they come, and I expect it will destroy me eventually. This addiction writhes at my left hand every day like a surly viper. It lurks behind my desktop computer, to the left of my secondary monitor, in the shadow of my laptop, and beneath my iPad. In that spot I keep a notebook. I mean the kind with dead trees in it. And, God forgive me, a pen. There’s nothing digital about the damn things. They are as analog as a rock.

This wouldn’t be so bad if I just kept them out of some misplaced sentimentality, like my mother keeps her wind-up Victrola phonograph. But I actually take them out and use them where people can see me. When I show up at a meeting, the others sit focused on their laptops, their faces drawing nearer and nearer as if they plan to French kiss the screen. I glance around holding my notebook thinking about all the emails I don’t currently have to answer. When the meeting starts, my buddies attend 10% of it and spend 90% answering emails, checking auctions, and flaming people on Facebook. I attend 50% of the meeting and spend 50% doodling. I’m five times as effective as those guys and a hell of a lot more relaxed. But I know it’s wrong.

Doodling is becoming a lost art, by the way. A person’s doodles reveal a lot about him, and it’s pretty therapeutic. I like cross-hatch doodling myself, but flower doodles, airplane doodles, and penguin doodles each have their charms. If you try to doodle on a laptop though, you just get smudges and odd looks.

I don’t hate technology. I love it. Around my workplace I’m the guy to go to when any of those Microsoft products is kicking your ass. I can make them sing like Beverly Sills. But I can’t get over one thing, despite my shame. Technology is really, really good at doing stuff with ideas once you get them into the document, or spreadsheet, or whatever. But technology sucks at helping you come up with ideas in the first place. I’m a little afraid to say that, in case Microsoft hears me and changes all the keyboard shortcuts just to make me throw myself off a bridge in despair.

I’ll try to explain what I mean. Last week I asked my assistant, Flex, to solve a hard, creative problem for me while I sat around thinking up ways to intimidate people who annoy me. Flex works hard and is a smart young guy, so I felt confident he’d knock this out in an hour or so. I strolled down the hall to see Flex after an hour and said, “Is your solution perfect yet?”

“Almost,” Flex said, although he was thinking so hard his face was wrinkled like a Shar Pei. “I just need to work out a couple of things…”

I leaned over his shoulder and saw a screen full of bullet points so disorganized that each might have come from a different country, or maybe a different reality.

Flex pushed his blond surfer hair out of his eyes and said, “I’m trying to get these dumb boxes to line up and be the same color, and the font looks worse than my prom date.” He squinted and flailed at the mouse like it was a live rodent. “Aw, man! That’s even crappier!”

I sat down beside Flex and leaned over to switch off his monitor’s power. He looked at me as if I’d just given him a lobotomy. I said, “Flex, swear not tell anybody I said this, but the software is in your way. Every time you start thinking about the problem, the software distracts you with details that only it gives a shit about. We don’t care whether the text is red or orange, or whether the font looks like it’s passed through a moose intestine. We just want a good, creative solution. We can address any moose intestine issues later.”

Flex narrowed his eyes and curled his lip at me as much as he could and still seem respectful. I knew what he needed. He needed a hit of the non-digital hard stuff. But I wasn’t sure Flex had ever touched a pen. He might recognize one from an old movie, but then again he might think it was a chopstick.

I stifled a sigh and said, “New assignment, Flex. Tomorrow is my anniversary. Yeah, I’ve been married longer than you’ve been alive, so just shut up. I want you to come up with a love letter for me to give my wife. If you do a good job, you can have the rest of the day off.”

“That’s pretty weird,” Flex said.

“Wait until you’re my age. It’ll seem as tame as ‘See Jane Run.’ Don’t make it sound too romantic. It’s got to sound like an old guy wrote it. You’ve got an hour.” I shoved down the feeling that maybe I’d done something wrong, and I walked back to the Cave of Vengeance and Woe, which is what people call my office.

One hour later Flex poked his head through my office door. He smiled the smile he normally uses when telling me about the latest girl he’d like to sleep with. “Here’s your letter!” he said, and he set his laptop on the corner of my desk. He tossed himself into a chair in that way only fit, young people who’ve never been to the chiropractor can do. The screen read:

  • Significant “I love you” challenge
    –   Previously sounded good
            >   Positive impact on self and others
            >   Extremely high ease of use
            >   Overall satisfaction at highest levels
  • Current “I love you” has diminished in quality
    –   Satisfaction dropping on several dimensions
    –   Root cause of quality problems identified
            >   Partial mitigation achieved, but quality still lacking
    –   “I love you” still operational
            >   Reduced functionality may be acceptable

I leaned back and looked at Flex’s eyes, which were full of mischievous glitter. “You know I like to start with positive feedback,” I said, and Flex nodded. “Well, this is appalling. This is probably the worst love letter in history. I’m sure chimpanzees do better all the time. It’s repugnant to anyone with a brain, and if I were to show it around I think every woman on Earth would want to murder you, and quite rightly so.”

Flex mumbled, “That’s the positive feedback?”

I nodded and said, “Yep. The constructive feedback is that this may be salvageable, and if you want to avoid spending the next three weekends revising labor projections, I’ll give you another chance. I’ll bet you used Powerpoint for this, right?”

Flex nodded.

“I can help you with that,” I said, standing and towering over Flex with the majesty of the Statue of Liberty, if the statue was a little more butch. “Shut off your god damn computer and use this!” I didn’t quite hurl the notebook and pen at Flex, but I think he did get a paper cut on his chin.

He looked like he wanted to question me, or maybe slap me. I stared from my vantage point of confidence and authority that was partly false. I knew I was right, but to the rest of the world I was just a near-extinct organism scratching on stone tablets in the primordial ooze. Then Flex’s shoulders dropped and he stood to drag himself back down the hall. “You have two hours!” I called after him.

Later that day Flex shuffled into my office, and he held out the notebook. He showed all the confidence of a schoolboy handing in a three-page assignment with big letters, lots of spaces, and liberal use of the phrase, “And then the next thing that happened was…” I accepted the notebook and read the page:

My “I love you” is not what it was. It once rang like a polished chime, and yours made a harmony. We split the air, and we laughed at how we sounded, and people smiled when they heard us. I poured myself into the way we sounded, and you held all that music with no strain. No one could convince me that we weren’t the biggest celebration, that I wasn’t the luckiest, that no sound could touch us.

Not what it was. I clash sometimes, and you make sour notes, on occasion. Where is that harmony that felt like the best holiday, that was the most fun, and the one that would last forever? We’ve made music that no one ever makes if they can avoid it, although everyone plays it before the end. It was hard, but at least it wasn’t silence. We held hands and said no to silence. My “I love you” is not what it was, but it’s my chime against the stillness. It rings if you listen hard, and you make a harmony sometimes. We laugh at how we sound, and once in a great while people smile when they hear us.

I looked hard at Flex and said, “Holy shit! This is just what I need. Good job, man!” Flex offered a crust of a smile. “Do you see what you can do when you think about the ideas instead of the software and all its formatting and bullet points and crap?”

He breathed, probably for the first time in two hours, and he gave me a bigger smile. “Yeah, that helped,” he said.

“This will work great,” I said. “Take Friday afternoon off, son. And by the way, where’d you find this? Some romance site? Google+? What? I want to tell my wife where it came from.”

Flex looked surprised and said, “You said write you a letter. Do you mean I could have just copied something off the internet?” Flex turned a little red under his tan. “Well, at least if you do this kind of junk at Christmas I know I can just rip off a song or the Bible or something.”

“You wrote this, Flex? Damn, you’re like the Muhammad Ali of romance.” He stared at me, and I realized he had no idea who Muhammad Ali is. “Take all day Friday off. Back to work for now though.”

Flex grinned at that, and he bounced out of his chair. That’s when I did it. I know it was wrong, but I did it anyway. I said, “Hey, keep writing love letters, and I bet every girl in town will want to sleep with you.”

Flex paused, and then he smiled as if I’d given him a chocolate Corvette full of bourbon and Superbowl tickets. He walked out of the Cave, swaggering a little, and I thought, “That’s right, son, it’s like crack. The first hit is free.”


I do not worship at the altar of logic. I refuse to bring it frankincense and goats. I’ve employed deductive reasoning in my work for years, and I’ve read its instruction manual. So when I tell people that logic isn’t always the best way to know the world around us, they look at me as if I’ve been replaced by a dancing pixie from the Land of Dreams and Candy Corn.

A friend taught me a crackerjack quote from our buddy, Albert Einstein: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

Don’t misunderstand me—I love logic in its proper place. In the world of things that can be measured, logic rules with a mighty fist. Will my car not start? Logic is my ally. Do I want to build a helicopter? Logic stands ready as my sword and shield. Do I want to tie a Windsor knot? Logic throws me a party in Monte Carlo with dancing girls and baccarat.

But if my wife asks me how much I love her, logic is a tiger shark eating my damned leg off. If I fire up my spreadsheet to answer her question, I will be dragged below the surface and never seen again. To illustrate my point, try to assess these statements logically:

  1. When your 16 year old son wants to borrow the Jaguar and you deny him, he will calmly understand this if you provide him a matrix showing the probability of him slaughtering half the city, including the dogs and cats.
  2. When two groups of people massacre each other because their common ancestors moved to different neighborhoods 2,000 years ago, giving them a Venn diagram that shows they’re one big family will solve the problem right away.

Please hand in your answers at the end of class, and be sure to show your work.

Years ago my job included helping people jointly make decisions when they hated each other. I had a nifty, logical tool for the job. Everybody loved it. It involved giving ratings and assessments to various factors. It used actual math, and the option that got the highest score at the end was the logical one to choose. Not once—ever—did a group select the option with the highest score. Yet they always agreed unanimously on a different choice. They all walked away happy. They all stuck by their decision, although otherwise they remained bile-spitting enemies.

When people aren’t building pyramids and fixing faucets, they are not logical. They live by intuition, and applying logic to people problems leads to misery and death. Or at least, to unpleasantness and failure.

But people should be logical, right? Isn’t that the problem? I agree that it is. People should be logical in the same way that tanning should be a fat burning activity and trees should be covered in lollipops. People just are not logical when it comes to people-related stuff. If you spend time trying to make people logical, you should also spend time trying to make a toaster cry when it hears La Traviata.

So what is the answer? We can’t abandon logic. It’s too darn useful, like that TV remote that does nothing except activate slow motion, but you keep it because none of your 7 other remotes does that. I suggest that we just embrace intuition when we’re dealing with the illogical dominant species on our planet. And when our wives ask how much we love them, we’ll all know that the correct answer is, “I cleaned the litter box before you got home.”