Latest MFA Rankings Are In

The latest MFA rankings are in, complete with a surprise that caught all the experts off guard.

(I’m referring to my now seven-year-old daughter Mia’s Favorite Animal rankings— not to be confused with other popular MFA rankings, like the Most Fanciest Aardvark, real big in certain parts of the USA.)

Let’s get to it.

It’s no surprise that HORSES, as a result of her new riding lessons, have taken over the top spot, knocking PEACOCKS to number two. The real surprise, the big doozy, the one that caught everyone off guard, is the new animal now holding the three spot.


That’s right folks. No one saw it coming. Some experts say it’s a result of the moth that was in the bathroom for three days that Mia wanted to adopt. Others claim it’s the dark moth that scared her in the garage one recent Saturday morning. There’s even some arguing it might have to do with a moth on the screen door weeks ago…

DOGS and CATS round out the top five, which everyone predicted.

Either way, the new MFA rankings prove one thing without a doubt: the experts aren’t always right.

A Daring Feat of Strenuousness

Tonight, D, my four-year-old was playing with a toy when she should be asleep. “Stop playing with the toy or I take it,” I said from the hallway, where my ass had recently joined D’s two older sisters in Dream Town.

“Close the door,” D responded. I’ve fallen for this before. I close the door and she keeps playing. Fool me once.

“No,” I said.

I will now attempt a daring feat of strenuousness. I will now try to record with accurate punctuation the first twenty ways she said “close the door,” (all of which I ignored).

  1. Close the door.
  2. Close the door.
  3. Cloooose the dooor!
  4. Close, the door.
  5. Close the door!
  6. Close the dooooooooooor!
  8. Close the door.
  9. Close……the… … … door.
  10. Close the door.
  11. Close. The. Door.
  12. Close! The! Doooooooor!
  13. Close the door.
  14. Clooooooooooooooose theeeeeee DOOOOR!
  15. Close the door.
  16. Close the clore.
  17. Close the… … …
  18. Dose the door.
  19. Close the door.

She said another twenty or so, but— especially #34-39— the level of skill required to accurately punctuate the sentences is beyond my meager writing abilities. I only have a BA in journalism, thirty years of reading, and about fifteen years worth of writing.

Rather than the butcher the complicated, experts-only “black hole” punctuation, I’ll simply say that right around a snappy semi-colon in #41 I offered a deal to close the door half-way. The deal was not accepted. I closed it halfway, anyway. A line was crossed: little feet hit the floor. I took the toy away and put it up high in the hall closets with the beach towels. Screams ensued. Everyone woke up, including my ass. Mommy had to come to the rescue.

The real takeaway here is obviously the nuanced language that toddlers are capable of. But a word of caution: only grammarians and scholars should try to correctly punctuate sentences of an over-tired four-year-old that doesn’t want to go to bed.

Oh, and bring a pillow for your tush if you have to sit on a hard wood floor.

From the Toll Roads Class Action Administration Basement

EMPLOYEE A: So whaddya say? One more and then let’s go to lunch. I’m starving.

EMPLOYEE B: Fine by me. It’s been quite the morning.

A: You got the plate number?

B: Yeah, right here. (Reads the license plate number).

A: Got it. Ok, which highway?

B: The 133.

A: (Speaking as he types.) Our records show that you drove on the 133 Toll Road in Southern California. Month?

B: August.

A: Okay. (Types) What else we got?

B: The drone took some pictures of a stop at In-N-Out.

A (Speaking as he types.) Further, our records show that you stopped at In-N-Out. O.K. Anything else? (His tummy rumbles.)

B: Yeah, it says here that they parked crooked and took up two spots, right during the lunch rush.

A: Don’t you hate that? There’s no where to park and some jerk can’t take the time to straighten out. All right, I’ll add that. Is that it?

B: A couple more things. Looks like they ate outside and left napkins, straw wrappers, and ketchup stains all over the table.

A:(Sighs before starting his speaking while typing routine) Our records indicate that you also left behind quite the mess at your In-N-Out patio seating.

B: Quite the mess…mmmm…that doesn’t sound right. It should be more official. Remember, we get paid a percentage based on how many join the class action suit.

A: Yeah, you’re right. I’m just thinking about In-N-Out. Man. I haven’t been there in forever. Not since my wife went vegan. I could eat my hand right now.

B: Well, let’s knock this out and head over to the one over by the mall.

A: Really? I thought you only ate salads from Whole Foods.

B: We deserve this.

A: You’re damn right we do. All right, let’s focus…quite a mess…hmm…

B: How about: Our records indicate your trash disposal was less than satisfactory.

A: Brilliant! Man, I knew you were smart, Mr. Magna Cum Laude. We’re done! Let’s eat— I’m going animal style.

B: Wait. There’s one other thing the drone picked up.

A: Uff. Man I miss the days when all we had to write was that our records indicated they drove on a certain highway. But I guess the strategy is working with the last few class action suits through the roof. What do we got?

B: Ketchup stains. Our records indicate a ketchup stain on both the shirt and pants—his rear— from sitting in ketchup. It appears the shirt stain went undetected until the 241.

A: Oh geez. People are slobs. How can we write that so it sounds official? I can’t think with my stomach this empty.

B: Hmm, give me a second.

A: (Stomach growls.)

B: How about, lastly, our records indicate multiple blemishes to both front and rear attire during use of Southern California Toll Roads.

A: Gold! Pure gold! Say it again. (EMPLOYEE A types as EMPLOYEE B repeats the phrase.) Now just to add the closing. (Singing as he types)You May Be Entitled To A Payment From The Two Class Action Settlements. A federal court has authorized this Notice. This is NOT a solicitation from a lawyer. Done! Let’s eat. I’m getting a double and a shake. Cholesterol be damned.

B: Don’t forget— change the font in those last to lines to 2.5. Perfect. I’ll drive.

A: Should we take the toll road?

B: (Freezes in the doorway.)

A: You should’ve seen your face.

(Door closes.)

Parenting Is Like The Sea

Circumstances dictated that I was away from my children the last two weeks. Two weeks without a single “Daddy.” (I’m not counting FaceTime, which the four-year-old dominated with unicorn emojis.) It was strange.

So this weekend, it took a little while to get back in the saddle. Am I proud of my reaction to my four-year-old ignoring my fourth directive to brush her teeth? Not particularly, though it should be noted that the horsey I swiped from her did not actually “go bye-bye.”

There are some other incidents that I could mention, one involving Lincoln Logs and a character I called Overall Paul…but I think it’s sufficient to note that parenting is like the sea. When you’re away from it for a time, be aware that it will take a day, or two, to get your parenting “legs” back underneath you again.

And if you have a strong willed four-year-old, it might take a month. I’ll let you know.

The Golf Ball Also Rises

(If Hemingway Liked Golf)

The tournament on the fourth day was much better. Kitty sat between Orenthal and me along the ropes near the green, and Gordon and Whitaker went up above to the tents. Shelton was the whole show. I do not think Kitty saw any other golfer. No one else did either, except the reporters that had to. It was all Shelton.

He was playing with two other golfers but they did not count. I sat beside Kitty and explained to Kitty what it was all about. I told her about watching the cleek, not the ball, when the blade comes through swift and even, and got her to watching the golfer line up the blade of his cleek so that she saw what it was all about, so that it became something that was going on with a definite end, and less a spectacle with unexplained knicker lengths and patterned socks. I had her watch how Shelton’s caddy took the red flag away from the hole and held it so that it did not flap in the breeze, and how he showed Shelton, smoothly and suavely, the line of the break. She saw how Shelton avoided every brusque movement with his jigger and saved the holes for the last when he wanted them, not whirly around the rim of the cup, but smoothly, into the center. She saw how Shelton worked the ball near the hole, and I pointed to her the tricks other golfers used to make it look as though their ball was also near. She saw why she liked Shelton’s jigger work and why she didn’t like the others.

Shelton never made any contortions, always it was straight and pure and natural in line. The others twisted themselves like corkscrews, their elbows raised, and leaned against the shafts of their cleeks after the ball ran past the hole, to give a faked look of the dangers of three-putting. Afterward, all that was faked turned bad and gave an unpleasant feeling. Shelton’s putting gave real emotion, because he kept the absolute purity of the line in his movements and putts, and always quietly and calmly took the ball from the bottom of the cup. He did not have to emphasize with his fist that his ball had gone into the hole. Kitty saw something that was beautiful done close to the hole that was ridiculous if it were done a little way off. I told her how since Hagen and Jones, all the golfers had been developing a technic that simulated the appearance of bogey danger in order to give a fake emotional feeling, while the par was really safe. Shelton had the old thing, the holding of his purity of line through the maximum exposure to the danger of bogey, while he dominated his competitors by making them realize that his score was unattainable, always accepting his cleek like an assassin preparing for killing.

“I’ve never seen him do an awkward swing,” Kitty said.

“You won’t until he gets frightened of three-putting,” I said.

“He’ll never be frightened,” Orenthal said. “He’s too damned good with his mashies and niblicks.”

“He knew everything when he started. The others can’t learn what he was born with.”

“And God, what looks,” Kitty said.

Just on the edge of the green, Shelton drew his jigger, rose on his toes, and sighted along the blade. The wind surged as Shelton drew the blade back. Shelton’s left hand dropped the face of the club over the ball, his left shoulder went forward as the blade moved and, for just an instant, he and the ball were one, Shelton went out over the ball, the right arm extended high up to where the hilt of the jigger had gone, high on the hill’s shoulder. Then the figure was broken. There was a little divot as Shelton came clear, and then he was standing, one hand up, facing the crowd, his red tie slipped out from under his jacket, the red blowing in the wind, and the ball, the red tie, his other hand holding the jigger high like a sword, the ball coming to rest by the hole. Then the tie was gone, he was waving, and his legs settling.

“There he goes,” Orenthal said.

Shelton was close enough so the hole, if it had eyes, could see him. His cleek up, he whispered to the ball. He tapped one foot. Then he sighted along the blade of the cleek, his feet firm. He gathered himself in the wind. His caddy held the red flag tight. Then Shelton, standing close over the ball, his head forward, lifted the cleek slowly, the blade held low, then straight through, suddenly, two feet in the air. The ball disappeared and it was over.

Handkerchiefs were waving all along the green. The gallery did not want it ever to be finished. The Club President looked down from his box and waved his handkerchief.

Shelton putted not as he had been forced to, but as he wanted. Boys were running toward him from all parts of the green, making a little circle around him. Others started to dance around the hole. The President whistled and Shelton, running to get ahead of the crowd, grabbed one of the other golfers and cut off his ear. He leaned against the rope and gave Kitty the ear. He nodded and smiled. The crowd were all about him. The caddy released and replaced the red flag.

“You liked it?” Shelton called.

Kitty did not say anything. They looked at each other and smiled. Kitty held the ear in her hand.

“Don’t get bloody,” Shelton said, and grinned. The gallery wanted him. Several golfers shouted at Kitty. Shelton turned and tried to get through the crowd. They were all around him trying to lift him and put him on their shoulders. He fought and twisted away. He did not want to be carried on people’s shoulders. But they held him and lifted him. It was uncomfortable and his legs were spraddled and his body was very sore. They were lifting him and all running toward the clubhouse. He had his hand on somebody’s shoulder. He looked around at us apologetically. The crowd, running, went off the course with him.

We all went back to the hotel. Kitty went upstairs. Orenthal and Gordon joined a large table. Whitaker and I sat and drank iced-tea with lemonade at the bar. The iced-tea and lemonade made everything seem better. I drank it without sugar and it was pleasantly bitter.

After a while Whitaker said, “Well, it was a swell tournament.”

“Yes,” I said. “It’s like a wonderful nightmare.”

“What’s the matter, feel low?”

“Low as hell.”

“Have another iced-tea and lemonade. Drink it slow.”

It was beginning to get dark. The two of us sat at the bar and it seemed as though six people were missing.

My Potential Obit. Part 2

August 26th, 2105

Today, Tim Miller, the world’s oldest man, passed away peacefully at his home. He died on his 127th birthday, just three years short of the record for oldest person ever. The medical examiner did report there was evidence that in his 40’s, an incident involving his children and car seats took four years off his life. If not for the car seat debacle, which according to the toxicologist report, occurred when the family was ALREADY running late, Mr. Miller would have easily surpassed the world’s oldest human. Further evidence of the trauma was in Mr. Miller’s final words, when he uttered an apparent reference to that day: “Fine. We’ll just sit here then.”

My Obit, Potentially

June 7, 2071

Today Tim Miller, beloved grandfather, a former teacher and humor writer, peacefully departed this world while eating a fudgsicle. No cause of death has been provided, though in the medical report there is evidence that fifty years ago, an incident involving his youngest daughter (age 3 at the time) and a bag of BBQ potato chips right before dinner took four years off his life. It is not known how the medical examiner knew the chips in question were BBQ.

Just Me?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a report this week and it’s not good. Despite the pandemic and fewer cars on the road, accidents and fatalities are up. I won’t go into the gory details, only that the report blames the increase on drivers taking more risks.

For example, I know I’m not the only one that pulls up to a red light, glances to the left to see a line of cars, and guns it into a right turn. I can’t be the only one that looks back in my rearview at all those cars sitting back and pretends that the cars are all coming to get me. Bad guys. That I have a head start on a daring escape. Then I floor it and scream out my window, you’ll never take me alive! And I see the light change and they’re coming, they’re coming to get me. But I’m not gonna let ’em catch me no, not gonna let ’em catch the Midnight Rider…

Or maybe it is just me. Either way, based on the National Highway Report, we all need to drive a little safer, which I assume includes imaginary chases.

Constructive Criticism For My Neighbor’s Please-Move-Your-Car Note

Constructive criticism, by definition, acknowledges both the positives and where there is room for improvement. Instead. Of? Just. Focusing on the negatives. See how grammar and sentence flow really make a difference? Let’s get to it.

The opening line has some obvious strengths. 1) It’s direct and to the point; no beating around the bush with pleasantries or nonsense and gobbledegook that never arrive anywhere near the actual direction of a point, much less a point of view, and just rambles on and on and on, quickly losing the reader. See how that can be annoying? But a lot of people do it. So good! 2) The other positive is that the opening sentence contains none other than the MAGIC WORD. Please! You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar, as the saying goes. To summarize, the opening line is both direct and polite, two very strong qualities in a move-your-car note.

There is, however, a glaring weakness, which belies the overall weakness of the note: ambiguity (specifically, in the relationship between author and reader). You can’t have it both ways, folks. The opening, as written, is an interrogative sentence. Which means it should end with a…that’s right! A question mark. By using a period instead, this small but critical error falls short of two different 3rd Grade ELA-Literacy Common Core Writing Standards: (3.4) produce writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task and purpose and (3.3A) establish a situation.

Easy fix, though. Can you please park your car in another location? Now, the purpose and the situation are established, clearly and effectively, with the proper punctuation. This is not a declarative sentence, or even further from the truth, an imperative. The intended audience of the note is on level ground with the author, and therefore has a choice, in this case, whether or not to move the vehicle. It’s amazing how much punctuation matters. Otherwise you risk alienating— or even insulting— your audience.

Though there’s more we could look at with the opening, let’s not get bogged down and keep moving.

Unfortunately, despite the admirable intentions and use of persuasive logic, the second line also contains a significant flaw. I’ll let you go ahead and reread the line and see if you can spot it. Go ahead. It’s rather blatant. Did you get it?

The error of the second line is one middle school and high school english teachers are all too familiar with: superfluous words. In fact, an entire phrase that doesn’t belong. By writing “I realize that…” the writer is in fact weakening his position, rather than strengthening. I’m talking about the soul of wit, the hallmark of all good Please-Move-Your Car notes. Brevity. Listen to how much stronger line two would sound without the I realize: “I’m hoping not to have a car parked in front of my house for a couple of days.” Tight. Direct. Honest. And brief. Now that is a great move-your-car sentence because it’s revealing, without any fluff. Often times just deleting an extra phrase can really make a move-your-car note shine.

Now let’s clean up a couple of nit-picky errors and glean further instruction from line two. Notice that the word “of” is in cursive. It’s important to stay in one font, or, in this case, style of handwriting. A random switch can take the reader right out of a move-your-car note. Finally, diretly or dirctly is missing a letter. Spelling mistakes can draw the ire of any reader because it shows a lack of care. When you proofread, you show respect for your reader, whether you are requesting that reader to move an automobile or not.

Another common error for beginning move-your-car note writers is redundancy, which is what we see in the third line. “I appreciate your understanding and thank you.” Choose one; less is more. “I appreciate your understanding.” Or, “Thank you.” Either one is sufficient and meets 3rd grade Common Core ELA Writing Standard W.3.2.D provide a concluding statement. Notice the standard doesn’t say, provide two concluding statements.

Writing is hard work. First drafts need careful revision. Yet, with a little practice and some constructive criticism, any novice can write clear, strong, move-your-car notes to leave under the windshield wipers with pride and confidence.

Finally, in closing, it’s considered good form to sign your note. Otherwise you’re just a wuss.