Category Archives: Posts by Steve Ricci

Me and My Head Trauma

by Steve Ricci

Steve Ricci

The Three Stooges, under whose tutelage I have labored exhaustively, are the undisputed masters of head trauma. In one of my favorite routines, Curly bungles a carpentry job and Moe runs the blade of a saw across his partner’s stubbly scalp. Curly feigns agony, screaming, “OH! OH! OH!” then points at the saw and says, “Look!” Cut to a close-up of the gnarled, twisted saw with its teeth all bent and broken. In another bit, Moe grabs Shemp by the nose and wrenches it around so brutally as to recreate precisely the sound of walnuts being crushed in a meat grinder. No one’s heads ever suffered so much for the sake of laughs.

Perhaps I’ve watched too much of the Stooges (okay, not perhaps, definitely) because it seems that my own head has been trying to eradicate itself in an uncannily comparable stooge-like fashion.

The first instance of head trauma that I can remember took place as a young boy living in New York City. I recall running down the sidewalk, tripping, and somehow executing an acrobatic maneuver so convoluted that the first part of my body to make contact with the pavement was my upper forehead. Other than screaming with sufficient volume to shatter several nearby windshields, all I remember about it is that a nearby adult said, “Boy, you’ve got quite an egg there.” I remember being old enough to know that an actual egg wasn’t growing out of my forehead but I was too young to understand that, when you’re plummeting toward concrete, your eyebrow is a less-than-optimal device for breaking the fall.

Sometime later, slingshots became popular among my age group. Giving slingshots to boys in Manhattan is about as conducive to the safety and well-being of the general populace as giving hand grenades to warring tribes of howler monkeys. Eventually they’ll learn to pull the pins, just as we eventually discovered that you didn’t have to shoot the harmless plastic projectiles that came with the slingshots. With decent-sized rocks in short supply in Greenwich Village, we quickly found an alternative ammunition: marbles.

Immediately upon convincing his parents to purchase the weapon for him, each boy collected and got refunds for as many returnable soda bottles as would buy a bag of glass marbles, and then joined his sadistic cohorts in carpet shelling everything within a one-block radius. We blasted the marbles against fire hydrants, car windshields, the target-friendly buttocks of corpulent pedestrians, store-front plate-glass windows, and an infinite supply of slow-moving pigeons.

Shortly before the neighborhood’s outraged (and deeply bruised) residents, shop owners, motorists, and representatives from the pigeons’ union demanded the confiscation of all slingshots, I was in a park one sunny day admiring a recent acquisition: an extra-large marble with a unique swirl design inside. I wanted to see what the innards were made of so I fired the marble against a high wall about 30 feet away, assuming the impact would detonate the fragile glass projectile. Instead the marble bounced off the wall unharmed and began a flawless return arc, colliding a second later with the outer rim of my eye socket. I was happy to let people think a street gang had savaged me with a tire-iron rather than explain the real reason I had replaced my eyeball with a ripened two-pound strawberry.

Things didn’t go much better with the other traditional boyhood weapon. Long before Ralphie got his Red Ryder in “A Christmas Story,” I was in the yard behind my grandparents’ house in upstate New York and managed to do with a BB gun almost exactly what I’d done with the slingshot. I fired at a glass bottle and watched as the BB exited the muzzle, ricocheted off the target, and hit me in the eye, this time in the inner part. I remember only unrestrained shrieking, swarming adults, several pounds of ice, and frenzied deliberations about Braille, German shepherds, and Patty Duke.

In that same yard in another summer, my brother, cousins, and some neighbor children were playing behind the house. Some teenage boys were watching us from behind the trees and decided it would be fun to pelt the smaller children with large stones. When we heard the rocks start to land around us, we all scattered. My scattering took the form of inserting my face directly into the flight path of a tennis ball-sized igneous missile. The damage was relatively minor; hardly equal to the mummification quantities of gauze my parents were frantically layering around my head. But at this point they had accepted that their son’s skull was the final destination for every airborne object in the western hemisphere. From then on, whenever they heard about an asteroid running loose around Neptune or a space satellite with a decaying orbit they hid me in a basement crawlspace until the danger had passed.

Despite their concerns and precautions, my head continued its unhindered quest for self-destruction.

As a teenager, I was playing touch football one day and went out for a long pass. I was in full stride, flying down the field as fast as I would ever run. I looked back to the quarterback, who saw me get open and hurled a perfect pass that landed squarely in my arms. I tucked it in and, as I turned to run for the touchdown, my head achieved complete molecular fusion with the utility pole that served as our end-zone marker.

Today, that play has been long forgotten but the impact with which my skull struck the pole has become the stuff of legend. Those who witnessed it described the sound as precisely the noise one might expect to hear when a loaded dump truck rolls over a casaba melon. As one witness said, “When I heard that sound, I just assumed you were dead.”

I didn’t die, I merely lost consciousness for a couple of seconds. I further amazed everyone when I got up and continued playing in the game, not because I was especially tough or determined, but simply because the collision had left me with the unshakable notion that I was at least seven of the apostles, all singing the theme from “The Benny Hill Show” while spiraling lazily around the Space Needle in a winged bathtub.

At this point, my parents considered having my head permanently encased in a titanium bomb-squad helmet filled with packing peanuts. I would do little to convince them this was a bad idea.

Some years later, I was riding my ten-speed bike down the street. I remember this head-trauma incident as being the most embarrassing only because I wasn’t doing anything particularly dangerous at the time. I was bored and simply steering the bike in slow, lazy circles while I tried to think of something to do. When I turned the handlebars just a little too severely, the front wheel stuck on the pavement, the rear wheel lifted off the ground, and the bike capsized along its vertical axis. It happened so slowly that I actually had time to marvel at what was occurring. The marveling stopped when I realized that I was now completely inverted and, once again, in the gravitational embrace of yet another eyebrows-first trajectory toward the pavement. I landed on the crown of my head, right at the hairline, and almost before I was able to stand up, an irate, roiling mass of inflamed blood vessels erupted at the spot of contact. Within a couple of minutes the frothing contusion looked like a mutilated raccoon trying to claw its way out of a pink balloon.

I walked my bike home, fully aware that there was no way my parents could endure another episode of “Fractured Cranium Tales,” so I jammed a baseball cap over my rapidly swelling second head and went to dinner. Of course, they immediately demanded that I remove my hat at the table and I was forced to unveil Bumpzilla. My father leaped off his chair as though it had been electrified, screamed, “Incubus!” and ran to get the holy water. My mother just went to the locker of bandages, ointments, and vascular clamps she had learned to keep on hand for these occasions.

I was routinely interrogated about how I had sustained the injury but, at this point, it really didn’t matter anymore. I could have walked through the door with the fender from a ’62 Chrysler jutting out my left temple and my father would have just said, “Great! Where are you gonna find a hat big enough to cover THAT, mister?” while my mother would have calmly called the Red Cross to see if ice could be ordered in gross tonnage.

The cranial carnage didn’t end with childhood. In college I was playing racquetball and dove to return a low shot. I grotesquely miscalculated the distance between me and the wall and slammed into it with the back of my head. Unfazed by the impact, I made the shot and went to the service line. My opponent, standing behind me, said, “Um, I think you’re bleeding.” I ran my hand across the spot where I’d hit my head and looked at it. It was deep red. I grabbed a towel, wiped my hand off, and said, “Okay, let’s play.” There was no one to play, however, because having seen the spreading blood stain on the back of my shirt, my opponent (a six-foot-six, 285-pound defensive lineman), was running down the hall screaming like a Campfire Girl with a snake in her jumper. Later in the emergency room a doctor stitched the two-inch gash on my scalp and imparted to me the kind of inscrutable advice only 10 years of rigorous medical training can endow: “Running into walls with your head is not a good racquetball strategy.”  I failed his concussion test by answering the question, “Who is the president of the United States?” with the response, “marinara sauce.”

In my early 30s I’d had enough and decided to take up tae kwon do, the “thinking” being that, if I mastered the art of self-defense I could apply those same principles to the defense of my head. Unfortunately, the exact opposite occurred.

Shortly after starting classes, I discovered that sparring was an important part of the curriculum, and that beginning students were frequently paired against sparring partners with much higher belt degrees, so that the novices could benefit from the experience of the experts. And then I learned that scoring a kick to the head was the most prized maneuver you could execute during a match. Being significantly shorter than the rest of the men in the class, this combination of circumstances made my skull the Holy Grail of head shots. How to describe the ensuing butchery? Imagine someone has just taped a winning Powerball ticket to your forehead. Now imagine that Chuck Norris, Bruce Lee, and Mike Tyson are competing against each other to dislodge it. Despite the plump decorative throw pillows I had stuffed inside my head gear, I still drove home after class each night wondering if I was holding the correct steering wheel of the four that hovered in front of me.

And then I got it. Every instance of head trauma that I had experienced to that point had been the direct result of just one thing: activity. Had I not been running, shooting, throwing, biking, sparring, whatever, I would never have sustained these repeated cranial traumas. Clearly, complete inactivity is the key to an anti-concussive lifestyle: a philosophy I have followed devotedly for the past 10 years. Not once in that time have I suffered a bump, a fracture, or a substantial leakage of brain matter (with the brief exception of some cerebral liquefaction during Bush-Kerry presidential debate).

Of course, this plan for securing the integrity of my head has not come without a price, namely, being so out of shape that the physical exertion required to type this story required several multi-liter intravenous infusions of Gatorade. But it seems like a fair price to pay to keep the planet from battering my head around like a soccer ball at a Brazilian beach party.

Of course, continued exposure to the Three Stooges could trigger the same effect as a ball-peen hammer to the foreskull, but that’s a chance my head is willing to take.

© 2010 by Steve Ricci

Steve Ricci is a writer, editor, and photographer who, for some reason, just can’t get into Lost.



Filed under Celebrities, Entertainment, Humor, Posts by Steve Ricci

Ask Til It Hurts

by Steve Ricci

…and, so, the uvula stands guard, ever vigilant, ever pendulous, ever guttural; our silent sentinel in the throat…

“Wow! Wasn’t that fascinating? Hello, I’m program director Sedgewick Dimsdale, and welcome back to PBS. We hope you’ve been enjoying Uvula: The Heart of Darkness, part six of our ground-breaking 12-part documentary series, Upside Your Head, which explores those lesser-known, yet critical, components inside each of our heads. Personally, I’ve spent many sleepless nights wondering what that quivering little blob of flesh hanging at the back of my throat was. Now, thanks to the magic of public television, we ALL know.

“I hope you also know that, when you support the outstanding programs of PBS, you make it possible for us to continue bringing you such fine educational television offerings. And supporting PBS has never been easier. If you’ve been enjoying Upside Your Head and would like to make it part of your family’s science library, you can own it on 11 DVDs or 36 VHS cassettes for a six-month membership fee of only $875. As a special bonus, if you order with your DISCOVER card within the next 21 minutes, we will include this limited-edition collector’s series booklet, Blemished Cretaceous. This riveting companion publication to the popular PBS documentary series narrated by Regis Philbin attempts to answer a question that has plagued paleontologists for decades: did prehistoric reptiles suffer from chronic acne?

“And, coming up later tonight, we have another compelling installment of our award-winning news magazine, Clarification, which takes a hard-hitting look at the dangerously unsanitary world of inner-city pushcart falafel vending. But it’s not just about science and news at PBS. Here to tell you about some of our superb entertainment programming is our station manager JoEllen Klauf. Take it away, JoEllen.”

“You’re exactly right, Sedgewick; the entertainment abounds on PBS this month and it’s all free, brought right into your living room each night, at no charge, with no obligation from you, and no expectation that you’ll actually have to give us anything for all this totally free stuff we are providing at no cost to you in terms of not actually having to pay anything.

“Starting next week, we are proud to debut an exhilarating and gritty new crime drama, The Lolly Crumpet Mysteries, starring Lynn Redgrave as the inscrutable Mrs. Crumpet, an elderly British detective who scoots about the English countryside in her 1956 Nash Rambler, hunting deranged serial killers with the help of her clairvoyant dachshund, Cornelia.”

“I don’t want to interrupt, JoEllen, but I thought our viewers might like to know that the Lolly Crumpet Mysteries recently received a United Kingdom Bronze Telly Award nomination for best landscaping in a limited-run mini-series.”

“That’s exactly right, Sedgewick. Just another indication of the quality programming available here on PBS. And, speaking of quality programming, following Mrs. Crumpet is another fine episode of our popular live concert series, Unsung Maestros, featuring a never-before-seen musical salute to the Treaty of Ghent by Umbombo Mbwatu, legendary master of the Ugandan tongue flute. But the musical pièce de résistance this month is our exclusive premier of Ken Burns’s latest nine-part epic documentary, Kazoo: An American Instrument. In honor of this historic film event, we are offering our members an exclusive, once-in-a-lifetime offer: free with your two-year renewal fee of only $3,500, you will receive this 14-kt gold-plated kazoo personally signed by Mr. Burns and complete with a certificate of authenticity. Please allow 12 to 18 weeks for mailing.

“But wait, there’s more!

“New and renewing members will also receive a complimentary subscription to our monthly programming guide, What Else is On? which tells you pretty much everything you can already find in any newspaper’s weekly TV supplement but with slightly larger type. I don’t know, Sedgewick, how can you beat that?”

“Boy, I don’t think you can JoEllen. Okay, our time is nearly up and I know how anxious you are to find out more about your head parts, so we are going to return you now to part seven of Upside Your Head, The Frenulum: Hold Your Tongue. But before we do, let me remind you once again how important your support is to maintaining the kind of quality and value you’ve come to expect from PBS.

“Pledge today. Learn tomorrow. Okay, now back to our show…”

… Presentation of Upside Your Head is made possible through the generous support of viewers willing to endure the 25 minutes of obsequious groveling needed to pay for each hour of PBS programming.

© 2009 Steve Ricci

Steve Ricci is a writer, editor, and photographer with no discernible middle name.


Filed under Current events, Entertainment, Humor, Posts by Steve Ricci, Public Television, Television

Run, Sarah, Run: Humorists for Palin

by Steve Ricci

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Steve Ricci

“It’s an emotional day. A lot of us are still mourning the loss of one of America’s most entertaining figures, who left us all too soon. But don’t worry, folks, Sarah Palin will be back. Comedians everywhere are praying.” —Conan O’Brien

I’ve always held that, as social constructs go, religion and politics have damaged humanity more than any others, with the obvious exception of square dancing. And yet I frequently find myself, knees in right-angled supplication, praying fervently that Sarah Palin tosses her Bumpit back into the political ring, and fast.

I’m not some closet conservative or ditto head, nor am I unsympathetic to the plight of the Alaskan wildlife she seems to revel in riddling with high-caliber ammunition while hanging out the door of a Bell Cobra attack chopper. Hey, everyone has as much right to their provincial, repressive political views as they do to their vicious, sadistic hobbies, right? Who am I to judge?

No, I advocate here on behalf of the international brotherhood of humorists, those of us who labor (either for fun, for profit, or for the seedy black-market humorist slave trade) to wring humor from the consistently dismal pageant of despair we call current events. Alas, 2009 has been an especially tough year for our jest-happy brethren.

In the entertainment realm, we lost Michael Jackson, an ever-gushing wellspring of self-parodying hilarity who did for the humor business what the discovery of electricity did for sales of electric blankets. We shall miss him/her/(insert approximate pronoun here). O.J. Simpson sits in a prison cell, barred from any more felonious frolics. Mss. Lohan, Spears, and Hilton rarely haunt the savage landscape of primordial vapidity over which they once ruled like bra-less Tyrannosaurs. Is a blathering Kanye West all we’re going to get to work with this year? Really? Because if I have to come up with one more Jon and Kate meet the Octomom gag, I just might take up a more comical avocation, like ice road trucking or sequoia toppling or any of those dismemberment-intensive jobs the History Channel seems obsessed with chronicling.

Nor does it end there. Our losses in the political world have been far more arduous. In January we bade farewell to a president with the intellectual acuity of a rusted trailer hitch; a man who presided over a financial crisis, a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, and a constitutional catastrophe with all the administrative dexterity one might expect of a squirrel attempting to fly the space shuttle. So dazzlingly inept was our former Sock Puppet in Chief, that members of the Nobel Committee practically trampled each other to be the first to hurl a Peace Prize in the direction of his successor. There is no question in my mind that, had a cocker spaniel ascended to the presidency after Bush, even the dog would have been lauded as a peace-making agent of global change.

What, I ask you, WHAT are we humorists to do without the man who said, “I didn’t grow up in the ocean, as a matter of fact, near the ocean. I grew up in the desert. Therefore, it was a pleasant contrast to see the ocean. And I particularly like it when I’m fishing.”? Or this: “All of us in America want there to be fairness when it comes to justice.” Or this, from a 2001 radio address: “My plan reduces the national debt, and fast. So fast, in fact, that economists worry that we’re going to run out of debt to retire.” (Seriousness spoiler alert: This debt was around $5.7 trillion when President George W. Door Knob made the comment. It was pushing $11 trillion when he left office. But I’ll bet those anxious economists are sleeping easier now.)

Sigh. The salad days. Bush churned out malapropisms with such blinding rapidity that Bushism websites, struggling to keep pace with the gaffes, had to outsource the work to India. Ah, well. It’s over. It’s just over, that’s all; and we humorists need to accept that there may never again be a politician on the national scene as blundering, as bungling, as singularly oblivious…

Wait a minute… Who’s that hottie in the updo, winking at us from behind a wall of makeup? Yes! It’s Sarah! The Barracuda’s back, stone cold sober, as a matter of fact! She’s gonna save the humor industry!

Now, I know some of you will say, “But, Steve. C’mon. She’s not in public office anymore and she’s not running for anything. Is it really fair to take potshots? Isn’t that kinda like throwing rocks at the short bus? Fun? Sure. But hardly sporting.” To that I say, “Meh. Double meh.” Check out this quote from her gubernatorial resignation speech. I repeat… RESIGNATION SPEECH: “…it may be tempting and more comfortable to just keep your head down, plod along, and appease those who demand, ‘sit down and shut up,’ but that’s the worthless, easy path; that’s a quitter’s way out.”

You read it right. In a speech in which she’s resigning her office, she claims that continuing to serve in the position to which she was elected is the quitter’s way out. That’s gold, Jerry, GOLD!

As though that tender, glistening morsel of Pavlovian absurdity weren’t enough to spritz the salivary glands of every starving humorist in the country, her very next statement was: “And a problem in our country today is apathy. It would be apathetic to just hunker down and go with the flow. Nah, only dead fish go with the flow.”

Can it be? Is she actually giving us a fish analogy in much the same vein as former President George W. Mulch Pile gave us in his stirring appreciation of ocean water? Can this logic-mangling temptress be the heaven-sent messiah we humorists have been waiting for?

You betcha. That’s why I have formed the Humorists For Palin political action committee. We are not interested in what is politically expedient or beneficial for this country. We don’t care about jobs, deficits, wars, health care, or whether polar bears are chasing tigers through the rain forests. We just need material!

Nor are we discouraged by the polls, which estimate Palin’s odds of winning the presidency as roughly equivalent to that of Gary Coleman starting at center for the Lakers this year. We will sweep her into office on a tsunami of satire so profound it will make Saturday Night Live look like a six-hour seminar on tax code revision (not that it doesn’t already). Our organization’s official logo is a dead fish swirling against the flow of a toilet bowl basin.

If America needs anything right now, it’s laughs. And what better way to clang the chimes of laughter across this mirth-starved nation than with a president who thinks Afghanistan is a neighboring country of the U.S.; who actually thanked a radio talk show prank caller posing as the president of France for complimenting her on a satirical porn video entitled Nailin’ Palin; and who believes that the United States has a Department of Law?

We have the utmost confidence in our chipper candidate because here’s what she herself said about her future plans: “I’m like, okay, God, if there is an open door for me somewhere, this is what I always pray, I’m like, don’t let me miss the open door. Show me where the open door is.”

Here’s your open door, Sarah: Humorists For Palin. It’s your gilded, swinging saloon door to the Oval Office. Don’t let it whap you on the backside as you walk in.

—Steve Ricci is a writer, editor, and photographer who is on Step 7 of a 12-step program designed to help him overcome an addiction to deli mustard.


Filed under Celebrities, Current events, Entertainment, Humor, Politics, Posts by Steve Ricci

Terror at 37,000 Feet

by Steve Ricci

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal investigators are struggling to determine what the crew of a Northwest Airlines jetliner were doing at 37,000 feet as they sped 150 miles past their Minneapolis destination and military jets scrambled to chase them. The pilots — Richard Cole of Salem, Ore., the first officer, and Timothy Cheney of Gig Harbor, Wash., the captain — said in interviews conducted over the weekend that they were not fatigued and didn’t fall asleep.

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First Officer Cole: Let me know if you get tired and I’ll take over.

Captain Cheney: I’m fine. I had a double-shot latte back in Newark.

First Officer Cole: Yes, but you know how quickly caffeine goes through you.

Captain Cheney: I’m FINE. Just let me fly already. Besides, I don’t want you messing with my seat position. I have it just the way I want it.

First Officer Cole: Well, you don’t have to get snippy. Excuse me, Flight Attendant? What’s all that barking I hear back there?

Flight Attendant: It seems Mrs. Cruikshank’s Pomeranian is trying to claw its way out of the pet carrier.

Captain Cheney: You tell her that I said, if she doesn’t shut that mutt up, I’ll send them BOTH to the luggage deck.

First Officer Cole: Oh, yeah. You’re fine, Captain Cranky.  Just fine. Is there an instrument in this cockpit that measures blood pressure? Because yours is about to depressurize the cabin.

Captain Cheney: What do you expect? That psychotic fur ball hasn’t stopped yapping since we took off.

First Officer Cole: Speaking of taking off, did you remember to put the landing gear up?

Captain Cheney: Yes, I remembered to put the gear up. How many times do you plan to ask me if I put the gear up? It’s UP!

First Officer Cole: Okay, okay. I’m just saying… Hey look, that’s the Mall of America down there! Think we can make a quick stop?

Captain Cheney: No.

First Officer Cole: Why not? We’re making good time, aren’t we?

Captain Cheney: We’re not on this trip to go shopping. And why do you have to go to a mall just because it’s ten times bigger than the average mall? All that means is that they have ten times more crap.

First Officer Cole: We never do anything spontaneous anymore. Hey, wait a minute. That can’t be the Mall of America, it’s way too tiny. Are you sure you know where we are?

Captain Cheney: Yes, I’m sure. Uh… I …um…

First Officer Cole: Because I don’t think you know how to operate all these fancy gizmos.

Captain Cheney: Mother of Mercy. I can’t have this conversation again.

First Officer Cole: “Let’s take the nice compact Beechcraft and maybe save a little gas,” I said. But noooo… You had to have the enormous twin-engine Airbus A320 with all the fancy schmancy navigational gear that you don’t know how to operate because the owner’s manual is six hundred and fifty pages long. And now we’re lost.

Captain Cheney: We’re not lost!

First Officer Cole: Then where are we?

Captain Cheney: (Inaudible muttering)

First Officer Cole: I knew it.

Captain Cheney: We’re not LOST, I’m just… I’m… Flight Attendant! What the hell is all that commotion back there?

Flight Attendant: We’ll, it seems that 14A and 16B are having a slap fight over the last pair of headphones.

Captain Cheney: Oh good Christ.

First Officer Cole: I told you we should have gotten a Triptik…

Captain Cheney (opens P.A. system): Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. You people had better cut out the friggin’ nonsense, because if I have to come back there, I WILL crack open some heads. Do you read me? Thank you. Enjoy the rest of your flight.

First Officer Cole: Brilliant, Dr. Phil. Threaten them with violence. That always works.

Captain Cheney: Please. I’m begging you. Stop talking.

First Officer Cole: Where are we now? Is it so hard to just get on the radio and ask directions?

Captain Cheney: WE ARE NOT LOST!

First Officer Cole: I can’t talk to you when you get like this.

Flight Attendant: Excuse me, sir?

Captain Cheney: What is it now?

Flight Attendant: Well, apparently the chemical toilet is malfunctioning and several passengers are complaining that they really, really need to go.

Captain Cheney: Oh, for the love of… I TOLD those people to go during the layover in Pittsburgh!

First Officer Cole: According to Google Earth, we’re somewhere over Montana. You really had better get on that radio.

Captain Cheney (opens P.A. system): Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking again. If you people don’t settle down, I swear, I will turn this plane around RIGHT now and put you all on a Greyhound bus. Ever been on a cross-country bus ride? It’s like being in a terrorist prison camp but with extra torture. This is what we get for giving you enough free snack food to clog a municipal sewer system. Now just pipe down and play with your stupid hand-held electronic devices. We’ll be arriving at our destination shortly. Thank you for flying Northwest. Your business is important to us.

First Officer Cole: Our destination? Ha! I think we’re somewhere over Boise.

Captain Cheney: If you don’t like it, there’s a parachute in the back.

First Officer Cole: Very funny, Mr. “I Know Exactly Where I Am”.  Fine. YOU can explain this to the FAA; I’m not getting involved. I told you to keep your job with Amtrak. “Can’t get lost on a train track,” I said.. But no, you HAD to have a pilot’s license.

Captain Cheney: What is that smell?

Flight Attendant: Uh, well, Mrs. Cruikshank let her dog out of his carrier and he threw up on the beverage cart. It’s pretty noxious back there.

Captain Cheney: Where’s the ejection trigger?

First Officer Cole: Hey, Lucky Lindy? That GPS instrument thingy says we’re 150 miles past our destination! NOW do you want to make a U-turn, or should we just wait until we get shot down for violating Chinese air space?

Captain Cheney: That can’t be right. Damn foreign-made gauges…

First Officer Cole: Sigh. Now I’m going to be late meeting my mother at the gate. She BEGGED me to be first officer on a Norwegian Cruise luxury liner, but no…

Captain Cheney: (Inaudible muttering)

First Officer Cole: Oh my god! There’s an F-14 fighter pilot tailgating us! I think he’s trying to pull us over. WILL YOU SLOW DOWN!!

Captain Cheney: Holy Crap ’n Crisco. Okay, okay, don’t panic. Just shut up and let me do the talking.

First Officer Cole: He’s sending us a text message on my iPhone!

Captain Cheney: What? What’s he saying?

First Officer Cole: He says the landing gear is down.

Steve Ricci is a writer, editor, and photographer who has never once donated money to an organization that sent him decorative return-address labels; although he uses them all the time.

© 2009 Steve Ricci


Filed under Current events, Entertainment, Humor, Posts by Steve Ricci

Sometimes I think of stuff that probably I shouldn’t…

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by Steve Ricci

Top Ten First Drafts of Famous Poems

10. Whose woods these are I think I know/He peed his name into the snow

9. I must go down to the seas again/I left my wallet on the goddamn beach

8. Tiger, tiger burning bright/smells so bad but, oh, the light

7. How do I love thee? No, really, how? C’mon, I’ve never done this before.

6. She walks in beauty like the night/If the night were a wolverine with a hammertoe

5. Laugh and the world laughs with you/Weep and you’ll just blow embarrassing snot bubbles

4. Listen my children and you shall hear/The midnight slide of tacos and beer

3. Do not go gentle into that good night/But rage against that bastard who ran the red light

2. Because I could not stop for Death/I’ve wrecked the quarter panel on my Dodge

1. Of all the words of tongue or pen/… um …

Top Ten Rejected Literary Titles

10. Something Sticky This Way Comes

9. Catcher in the Jägermeister

8. Huckleberry Moskowitz

7. New Tires for Algernon

6. The Kumquats of Wrath

5. Fear and Loathing in Sheboygan

4. Romeo and Bruce

3. A Brief History of Last Thursday Afternoon at about 3:37

2. Interview with the Umpire

1. The Haircut of Ivan Ilyich

Steve Ricci has been known to write, edit, and photograph things. Please don’t encourage him.

© 2009 Steven Ricci


Filed under Entertainment, Humor, Posts by Steve Ricci

A Baptism of Fire

by Steve Ricci

In 2003, I was working at a marketing agency that was celebrating its 20th year in business. They asked their employees to create something in honor of the number 20. I resurrect it in honor of The Refugees:

Stood there boldly

Sweating in the sun

Felt like a million

Felt like number one

The height of summer

I’d never felt that strong

Like a rock

I’d spent the first half of that August day in 1983 meeting co-workers and filling out forms at the bustling headquarters of Catskill, New York’s, venerable newspaper, The Daily Mail. Introductions and deductions completed, I reported to the satellite office in Coxsackie, a tiny village about 10 miles north that would be my regular beat. Here, as a staff writer for the company’s weekly sister paper and a correspondent for the daily, I would begin my first professional job since graduating from college the year before, and in the interim, shampooing at least a thousand rugs for a one-van cleaning company. It was a month before my 23rd birthday.

Barbara—who answered the phones, took classified ads, typed copy, wrote a regular column and knew virtually the entire town on a first-name basis— welcomed me to the world of small-town journalism with a 30-second tour of the newsroom: three desks, one computerized typesetting machine, one police scanner, and a bathroom in the back. Unsure what to do next, I sat at my desk and began sorting accoutrements: a reporter’s pad, a pen, a phone, a typewriter, a dictionary.

My hands were steady

My eyes were clear and bright

My walk had purpose

My steps were quick and light

And I held firmly

To what I felt was right

Like a rock

The scanner went off about 10 minutes later. Volunteer firefighters were being called to a hay fire at a nearby farm. I listened to the dispatcher call out trucks and give the location.

“That’s interesting,” I told Barbara, who shot me a look one might give a puppy with its head stuck in a boot.

“Well, go get it!”

“Huh? I don’t even know where it is.”

“Turn right at the light and stop when you see flames.”

“But I don’t have a camera yet.”

“You won’t need one. It will be out by the time you get there.”

I got the sledgehammer hint, grabbed the pad and pen, and ran to my car, a crumbling Volkswagen Rabbit that was two parts rust and one part automobile. I tore down the road; my heart fibrillating and my mind leafing through Pulitzer-worthy incendiary adjectives: blazing, blistering, fulminating, smoke-choked. Two minutes later I arrived at the scene expecting to see fearless firefighters hauling heavy hoses (quite alliteratively) into the cataclysmic inferno that threatened the utter immolation of our fair village. I saw, instead, a wispy column of thin smoke curling pathetically above a dry field, where two volunteers were rolling up a dribbling hose.

Barbara had been right. The volunteers had already been there, doused the fire, and were reloading the truck. Convinced I’d missed my first story, I now conjured exactly the right incendiary words: “You’re fired.” Except they would not be mine, they would be my editor’s. I quickly grabbed an older man whose helmet had the word “chief” on it.

“So what happened?”

“Dunno,” he shrugged. “Probably kids smoking.”

I scribbled on the first page of the freshly opened pad, “Probably kids smoking.”

At a loss for another question, I stood in the stifling midday heat and watched the chief sweating through his insulated coat, imagining myself ankle-deep in suds-covered carpeting well into my retirement years. I had to think of something.

“Um … Was it hard to put out?”

He gave me the puppy-in-the-boot scowl, shook his head, and got back in the truck, which was pulling away as I realized I’d forgotten to get his name. Back at the office, a brief description to Barbara netted me the chief’s name. I wrote up my story and sent it down to the main office, neglecting to write a headline; an oversight I’d soon regret.

The next day, the one-paragraph item ran deep inside the paper under the headline, “Coxsackie Firemen Had Hay Fire,” as though the event were staged with the help of a planning committee. But I didn’t care. I’d had my literal and symbolic baptism of fire and written my first real news story. Though I’d covered high school baseball in my senior year of high school, turned out numerous assignments for college journalism classes, and written several freelance articles (free being the operative word) for advertising flyers, this was the first thing I’d ever written as a true professional. I was a journalist.

And I stood arrow straight

Unencumbered by the weight

Of all these hustlers and their schemes

I stood proud, I stood tall

High above it all

I still believed in my dreams

In the next three years, I covered much more serious fires, as well as floods, shootings, explosions, and traffic accidents, and saw how tragedy can punish capriciously and with dazzling speed.

I sat through sleepy school board meetings, riotous town council meetings, well organized union protests, and frenzied election night tallies, and observed people reveling in their right to govern themselves.

I rode in police cars, covered trials, and snapped pictures at “perp walks,” and learned that true justice is an elusive ideal, one that requires constant vigilance.

I interviewed farmers, parents, shop owners, laborers, students, and prison inmates, as well as mayors, governors, senators, and presidential candidates, and discovered that everyone’s opinion matters.

I wept at my father’s funeral and, just a few months later, attended the funeral of a 21-year-old colleague, a brilliant photographer and friend, and I came to understand that grief can cripple and strengthen at the same time.

As I mastered the profession of journalism, the art of interviewing, and the craft of writing, I amazed myself with my own abilities. I reported facts, wrote editorials, edited copy, took photos, developed film, printed pictures, laid out pages, wrote a regular humor column, and drew a weekly cartoon strip, all in the same five-day week in which I now find it difficult to complete 10 push-ups. I even won a few awards, accepting the rewarding psychological boost as compensation for the near poverty-level salary.

But I was young, impatient and bored by what I perceived as the going-nowhere tedium of small-town journalism. Infatuated by wanderlust and dreams of things bigger and better, I fled the dreadful upstate New York winters for exciting, sultry South Florida. Only the perspective gained through the gift of many birthdays would show that I had learned more in those three years than I would in the 17 that followed.

Now, as I face down the encroaching middle years and settle into their attendant comforts, I’m consistently remembering the haunting lyrics of Bob Seger’s wistful reflection, Like a Rock:

Twenty years now

Where’d they go?

Twenty years

I don’t know

I sit and I wonder sometimes

Where they’ve gone

And sometimes late at night,

When I’m bathed by the firelight

The moon comes calling, a ghostly white

And I recall. I recall.

Perhaps it’s because the song has, sadly, become a jingle to sell pickup trucks that it so often comes back to me. More likely, it is because it is such an easy metaphor for someone I miss dearly: the eager green reporter unaware of what lay ahead yet racing toward that burning field, fully engulfed in the thrill of the moment, consumed by a brilliant new passion, disappointed by the gap between the facts and the fantasy, but ready to follow the next siren into another adventure.

And I recall.

© 2009 Steven Ricci


Filed under Journalism, Posts by Steve Ricci