Friday, February 25, 2011



Last summer, I penned a column titled “How to Write Gooder,” which offered tips on improving such skills as punctuation, grammar and sentence structure. It drew many positive responses, but some felt a follow-up was needed. “Great tips,” one reader wrote. “But how do I turn those fancied-up sentences into something folks want to read? You make it look easier than taking candy from a baby.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. Taking candy from babies ain’t easy. Their banshee wailing alerts everyone within a five-block radius. Also, writing this column isn’t always a breeze; sometimes the process is painstaking and beset by writer’s block. That’s when I rely on this six-step process:

Step 1 – Visualize the column. Find a quiet space and free your mind of everyday clutter like appointments, unpaid bills and “Why is ‘Two and a Half Men’ still on the air?” I prefer to meditate sitting on the floor, eyes crossed and legs closed. Wait. Strike that. Reverse it.

Be the column. Imagine you’re the words themselves, gamboling across a field of white. Language is your music and you write the songs! If you’ve managed to see this in your mind’s eye, congratulations, you’re bananas – a requirement for being a columnist. Speaking of bananas, this would be a good time for a snack to nourish your brain for Step 2.

Step 2 – Brainstorming: Best done while walking from the computer to the coffeepot. Studies show that the heart palpitations caused by copious amounts of caffeine are worth the mental alertness a good cup (or five) of joe provides. Plus, it keeps you regular.

Write down as many topic ideas as you can without thinking too hard or editing your thoughts. Here’s what I conjured during my stream-of-consciousness brainstorm:

* Phrases that sound dirty but aren’t.

* Why I love coffee.

* Think of a topic, think of a topic, think of a topic!

* Gracias, Juan Valdez: An Ode to Coffee.

* Who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp?


OK, maybe I shouldn’t have had that eighth cup, but you get my gist.

Step 3 – Rejuvenation: Brainstorming is draining! Or maybe I’m just coming down from my caffeine high. Take a break. Or a nap. Also, this would be a good time for a snack.

Step 4 – Rough draft: Take that brilliant idea you came up with in Step 2 and craft a lead-in sentence. For example, “If you’re anything like me, you giggle at words like ‘angina,’ and ‘Uranus.’”

Step 5 – The Rewrite: Several days, naps and snacks later, I reopen the document for editing, changes and fine-tuning: “Titular. Pianist. Pupa. If you just giggled at those words, you’re an idiot like me.”

Step 6 – Final draft: Here goes … hit “Send.” It helps to include a note for your editor: “You might want to read this after your fifth cup of coffee.”

Friday, February 11, 2011



Fact: There is no chin behind Chuck Norris’ beard. There is only another fist.

Fact: Chuck Norris once roundhouse-kicked a $10 bill into 200 nickels.

Fact: Chuck Norris' calendar goes straight from March 31 to April 2 because NO ONE fools Chuck Norris.

It’s been a decade since “Walker, Texas Ranger” wrapped up its eight-year run on CBS, but Chuck Norris is far from “Missing in Action.” In an industry where popularity comes and goes faster than you can say, “Who let the dogs out?” Norris is indestructible. The 70-year-old martial arts master has remained in the public eye via reruns, infomercials and politics, but nowhere does his presence loom larger than on the Internet. In fact, if you search Google for “Chuck Norris getting his butt kicked,” the results will be zero. It just doesn't happen. (And in case you’re wondering who let the dogs out, it was Chuck Norris, of course.)

What started as a recurring gag on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” in 2005 has snowballed into a seemingly endless avalanche of Chuck Norris “facts” – hilariously exaggerated claims that extol Norris’ strength, manliness and all-around awesomeness to epic proportions. An exercise in hyperbole rivaling the tall tales of Paul Bunyan, these far-fetched, fabricated factoids note Norris’ influence in many disciplines:

* Academics: For a perfect SAT score, write “Chuck Norris” for every answer.
* Agriculture: Crop circles are Chuck Norris' way of telling the world that sometimes corn needs to lie down.
* Astronomy: Outer space exists because it's afraid to be on the same planet with Chuck Norris.
* Geography: The Bermuda Triangle was called the Bermuda Square until Chuck Norris roundhouse-kicked one of the corners off.
* Law: There are four legal methods of execution in the U.S.: Lethal injection, gas chamber, electric chair and Chuck Norris.
* Literature: Chuck Norris doesn’t read, he just stares books down until they surrender the information he needs.
* Paranormal Studies: Ghosts are the result of Chuck Norris killing people faster than The Grim Reaper can process them.
* Sports: Chuck Norris doesn't bowl strikes, he just knocks down one pin and the other nine faint.

Why does Norris rate such veneration? Why not fellow stone-faced tough guy Charles Bronson? Why not similarly acting-challenged B-movie martial artists Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal? Heck, why not MacGyver, who could use a pinecone, some string and a bottle cap to build an anti-Chuck Norris machine?!

In a Washington Post article, Norris’ publicist offered his (completely unbiased, of course) opinion, attributing the cult of Chuck to the star’s “consistent persona.” In other words, Norris has played pretty much the same guy for almost 40 years and his fans are OK with that.

The man himself finds the phenomenon amusing for the most part, which is a good thing because who’d want to get on his bad side? After all, there used to be a street named after him, but it was changed because nobody crosses Chuck Norris and lives.