Friday, December 18, 2009



For 26 years, PNC Wealth Management of Pittsburgh has entertained and educated bankers, brokers, students and shoppers alike with its annual "Christmas Price Index,” a cost assessment of the gifts in the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" if purchased at current prices. According to the latest tabulation, the whole kit and caboodle would run you $87,403 – up $800 from last year.

If you’re like me (translation: as broke as a sailor after three days ashore), there’s no way you could finance even a fraction of that figure, and besides, where ya gonna find a single maid a-milking, let alone eight? And unless those hens are wearing tiny berets and clucking “Frère Jacques,” how can you really be sure they’re French?

There are many less expensive, easier-to-obtain alternatives to the presents listed in the holiday tune. Compare the costs of these substitute gifts to the price tags on their traditional counterparts, and if your true love isn’t overjoyed by your offerings, your wallet will be.

* Traditional gift: A partridge in a pear tree - $159.99
* Cheaper alternative: Green parakeet - $21.99 at Petsmart, plus two pounds of juicy pear Jelly Belly beans from - $15. (Feeding Jelly Bellies to parakeet not recommended.)

* Traditional: Two turtle doves - $55.98
* Alternative: Two Dove Chocolate turtle martinis – After tossing back a couple of these, you won’t care about the cost.

* Traditional: Three French hens - $45
* Alternative: Three French hams - $27 ( Let’s face it, those hens are destined for the soup pot, anyway, so why not buy your food already dead?

* Traditional: Four calling birds - $599.96
* Alternative: Four bird callers - $13.48 ( Not for use during wabbit-huntin’ season.

* Traditional: Five golden rings - $499.95
* Alternative: Five rolls of Butter Rum Lifesavers – offers a 20-roll box for $17.41.

* Traditional: Six geese a-laying - $150
* Alternative: “The Harlem Globetrotters: Six Decades of Magic” on VHS. Features early ‘trotter Reese "Goose" Tatum, possibly doing lay-ups, $1.99 (

* Traditional: Seven swans a-swimming - $52.50
* Alternative: Seven scoops of Schwan's ice cream a-swimming in the syrup of your choice - $5 to $6 per half-gallon at various stores. Bonus: It’s easier to clean up than swan poop.

* Traditional: Eight maids a-milking - $58
* Alternative: “Watersing” by The Singing Milkmaids, $15 at Who can forget such hits as “My Johnny was a Shoemaker” and “Cheese and Curds and Whey”?

* Traditional: Nine ladies dancing - $5,473.07
* Alternative: Numerous ladies dancing at assorted “adult” establishments around town – Cover charge plus dollar bills for G-string-stuffing.

* Traditional: Ten lords a-leaping - $4,413.61
* Alternative: “The Michael Flatley Collection,” three two-sided DVDs featuring “The Lord of the Dance” for the low, low price of $18.99 at

* Traditional: Eleven pipers piping - $2,284.80
* Alternative: Amazon’s entire stock of Zamfir's "Pipe Dreams" - $75.90. Hey, somebody’s gotta buy ‘em.

* Traditional: Twelve drummers drumming - $2,475.20
* Alternative: One out-of-work garage-band drummer – Fifty bucks, all the eggnog he can drink, plus he gets to crash on your couch for two weeks.

Friday, December 04, 2009



In this age of cookie-cutter programming, with hundreds of channels spewing no-resemblance-to-reality shows, Very Special Episodes and so-you-think-you-can-marry-a-dancing-millionaire-cougar contests, there’s little to nothing groundbreaking on the tube.

Shhh! Don’t tell The Powers That Be at CBS, who think they’ve mined comedy gold with the idea to base a show on the popular Twitter account of an out-of-work California writer.

After unemployment forced him to move in with his parents, Justin Halpern created the site to chronicle his 73-year-old father’s insults, tirades and pontifications. Example: “Oh, please, you practically invented lazy. People should have to call you and ask for the rights to lazy before they use it.”

Be warned before you Google the Twitter page: The elder Halpern’s proclamations aren’t usually as tame as the above quote; most are generously laced with profanity. In fact, the title of Halpern’s site includes a four-letter synonym for bodily waste that’s not fit for this family publication. Let’s just call it “Stuff My Dad Says” – “SMDS” for short.

In a victory for basement-dwellers everywhere, Halpern has become an Internet sensation, garnering 700,000 (and counting) followers, scoring a book deal with HarperCollins, and then landing an offer to co-write a sitcom inspired by “SMDS.”

CBS execs are twitterpated over this “new” idea, but they can’t slap a fresh coat of paint on a rundown shack and convince me it’s the Taj Mahal.

The concept of a crotchety geezer who berates and belittles everyone and everything under the sun? Gosh, I loved this show when I was 8 and it was called “All in the Family.”

Long before social networks, TV networks deluged us with dour, disgruntled dads. Here’s a half-dozen of my personal faves:

Archie Bunker, “All in the Family”
Family: Wife Edith, “little girl” Gloria, son-in-law Mike Stivic
Trademarks: Shabby armchair; penchant for slandering and stereotyping those of races, ethnicities, religions, etc., other than his own – and somehow, he made it funny.
Quotes: “Aw, geez!” “Dingbat!” “You are a Meathead!” “Shut … up … you!”

Fred Sanford, “Sanford and Son”
Family: Son Lamont; sister-in-law Aunt Esther, best friends Grady and Bubba
Trademarks: Junkyard; raggedy pickup; ratty beard; suspenders and plaid shirt
Quotes: “Shut up, dummy!” “It’s The Big One! I’m comin’ to join you, Elizabeth!”

Red Forman, “That '70s Show”
Family: Wife Kitty, daughter Laurie, son Eric
Trademarks: Permanently furrowed brow; narrow-eyed scowl
Quote: “Dumbass!”

Martin Crane, “Frasier”
Family: Sons Frasier and Niles, both psychologists; live-in physical therapist Daphne Moon
Trademarks: Threadbare armchair; cane; Jack Russell terrier named Eddie
Quote: “I did … then we had Niles.” – In response to Frasier asking if he believed in second chances.

Frank Costanza, “Seinfeld”
Family: Wife Estelle, son George
Trademarks: Incessant bellowing; man-boobs
Quotes: “You want a piece of me? YOU GOT IT!” “My George isn't clever enough to hatch a scheme like this.”

Al Bundy, “Married … with Children”
Family: Wife Peggy, daughter Kelly, Son Bud
Trademarks: Beleaguered expression; Sans-a-Belt trousers with hand in waistband
Quote: “Peg, kids, get ready to torture me – I'm home.”