Cruising to fifty, part five: Lennon, linen and uncooperative pigeons

This is the fifth part of a series of blogs about the cruise the Wife and I went on last October. You can read the others here:
part one | part two | part three | part four

A quick set up:

I turned 50 on October 6, 2012. My wife surprised me about three weeks before, during a particular low spot in my life with a piece of paper. “Happy birthday,” she said. I opened the paper and quickly scanned it.

“We’re going on a cruise?” I said, and my mind kind of shut down with happiness after that. In fact, it wasn’t until several minutes later, as I was refolding the paper, that I saw the word “Greece” and just about shit. This is the story of what happened on that trip, taken almost exclusively from the diary I kept along the way.


Now I am older
The more that I see the less that I know for sure
Now I am older
The future is brighter

Borrowed Time – John Lennon

October 9: John Lennon’s birthday

Sleep in day! Last night, prior to going to bed, Karen said, “We don’t get into Mykonos until later, so I’d rather sleep in. I don’t care if I have breakfast or not.”

This morning, I get up early as usual, grab a quick shower and, with Karen still snoozing, head off to grab some breakfast.

A little while later, I head back and find Karen up. She looks at me, crestfallen and says, “You didn’t bring me back anything?” Turns out that not caring if I have breakfast or not does not include hubby piling a plate high with pastries and bringing it back to the cabin for the wife who may or may not still be sleeping. The stereotypical wife move…don’t listen to what I say, read my mind and understand what I’m thinking at you.

So, off I go again, back up two decks, fight the breakfast crowds and get her a couple of damn pastries. Well, actually, scratch that because, as I’m leaving the cabin, the request for pastries suddenly changes to French Toast. To quote a tour guide…Jesus Christ!

Once I’m back, she’s still getting ready–seriously, for any female readers of this, please answer this question: Why the hell does it take women and teenage boys so damn long to get ready for anything? –so, I get to deliver the French Toast to the woman who didn’t care if she got breakfast or not, then head back out yet again to head down two decks to pick up tender tickets.

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The ship doesn’t actually dock in Mykonos. Instead, the passengers are ferried back and forth from ship to island to ship on small boats. Instead of everyone lining up, they issue tender tickets so you know the rough time you should be ready, and they call your number. We got tender 17.

So, I head back up to our cabin again, vowing never again to listen to my wife or punish myself by actually getting up early ever again. Finally, Karen was ready and fed, then we headed up to the deck to look at Mykonos and wait for our number to be called.

They started calling the tender numbers around 1:20 and, judging by how many boats came to the ship and how long each one took, I guessed we wouldn’t get called before 2:30. Karen guessed it would be before then. So, of course, a bet was wagered. If Karen won, she could buy all the jewelry she wanted in Mykonos, which is dangerous, because God knows Karen loves her jewelry, and Mykonos had been pushed as a great place to buy it. Now, on the other hand, if I won, then she gets absolutely no jewelry whatsoever.

We settled in to enjoy the warm weather and wait. Understand that we were out on a deck. People were all around us. Not necessarily close by, but milling around in the general area. At one point, I felt a bit of…pressure. Okay, so, let’s just be honest here. I dropped a rather raucous fart out on that deck. It was not quiet. I looked over and was rewarded with Karen’s jaw dropping as she smiled that oh no you didn’t smile of utter shock. Yeah. Like she should be shocked…have you met my wife? Anyway, I calmly, clearly and logically explained that I’m fifty now. I can do this now. I’m allowed.

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She didn’t seem amused. But then she cheered up. They called tender 17 at 2:20. Daaaaaaamn.

We took our short boat ride to Mykonos, which is simply beautiful from the ship, but when we got off the boat and hit the main street, it’s solid jewelry stores and restaurants. Nothing else. And the restaurants, which are mostly open air, each have waiters doing everything they can to entice you in, to prevent you from walking ten feet (no, I’m not exaggerating here) to the next restaurant. Annoying at first, it kind of became fun after a while, because you could mess with them. “Oh, sorry, we were thinking of heading over to that one…”

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While on the main drag, I watched a massive flock of pigeons. They would mass on a roof, then one or two would head off into the air, then they’d all take off, fly in a great, main square-circling arc, then all light back on the same roof. They did this about once every two or three minutes.

Until, that is, I mentioned it to Karen and she pulled out the video camera to catch it. Then, they just sat there. I kept telling her to watch for the tell-tale launch of the first couple of birds. Of course, the next time, as though they all got the same memo at once, they took off en masse, with no warning. Karen kept missing it. It was quite amusing to watch.

The best shot we could get of the uncooperative birds. Doesn't come close to doing them justice.

The best shot we could get of the uncooperative birds. Doesn’t come close to doing them justice.

And then there were the cats. Cats everywhere, just like yesterday in Corfu. As a cat lover, I completely dug the Greek cats.

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We broke off the highly commercial main drag and angled over to the general direction of the now-unused windmills. Once off that main drag, the true character of Mykonos came to the fore.

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The windmills, five of them, stood iconic, like the Easter Island faces, out to sea. They had once been used to mill grain, and now two or three had become private residences as the rest fell into disrepair.

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The guy sitting out front here, I believe actually lives in this windmill. When I asked if I could take his picture, he simply ducked his head and stopped moving.

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From the windmills, we took a moment to add some graffiti to the most incredibly dusty car I’d ever seen, then moved on.

I love the two additions here..."I wish my wife was as dirty as this car," and the answer, "My wife is."

I love the two additions here…”I wish my wife was as dirty as this,” and the answer, “My wife is.”

My addition: "Experimental test dirt. DO NOT WASH."

My addition: “Experimental test dirt. DO NOT WASH.”

We headed down into the confusing, but charming back alleys, reminiscent of the Italian city of Polignano we’d visited a couple of days previous, these streets were narrow, sometimes close enough to touch both sides with arms outstretched. Everything was clean with a whitewash that covered virtually every building on the island. Some of the shops here catered to the standard tourist fare and, of course, jewelry, there were also some more interesting shops.

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As we came to a small courtyard in the middle of the maze of the city, I saw a t-shirt that I quite liked hanging outside a particular shop. I went inside to see if they had it in my size, then spied a series of shirts based on the art and music of John Lennon. And this happened today, on what would have been Lennon’s 72nd birthday. On a small island of 5000 people. In Greece. Shirts I’d never seen before. Go figure.

I bought one of each. Happy birthday, John. Happy birthday, Tobin.

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Speaking of the population of 5000, apparently this island sees something like almost a hundred thousand visitors a year. Mykonos is becoming known as a party destination, much like Ibiza. That kind of saddens me, as I know it will eventually impact some of the culture I got to see today.

This is my...okay, I don't know what the hell I'm trying to do here...

This is my…okay, I don’t know what the hell I’m trying to do here…

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We then entered another shop, and it was, quite frankly, surreal. It was filled with shawls, scarves, wraps, sheets and other clothing, all white linen. Now, there was a bit of a language barrier, but from what I understood, all the clothing had been handmade by a pleasantly cheerful old woman sitting at the back of the shop, smiling and nodding at anyone that came in. She had learned the method from her mother and it had been a skill handed down from one generation to the next. Not something you see much of in North America.

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I can’t imagine any North American business person ever considering opening a business in one of these back alleys. A hundred square feet at best, no storage, no access to receive stock, no way to advertise, no place for a massive neon sign…and yet, we see business after successful business making it work here.

And not one franchise to be seen yet on this trip. Nice. I can’t express how refreshing it is to not see a familiar chain store.

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So, no franchises, but they DID have stairs leading nowhere. Bizarre.

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On our way out of Mykonos, back to the boat, we saw a fat old pelican sitting at a public faucet. He appeared quite content for all the attention he received, though I wouldn’t ever want to piss him off. He was big.

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I would have like to have taken a second boat over to the island of Delos, the birthplace of Apollo. No one lives there and it’s the site of an archeological dig. One of the tour guides described the island as quite barren and rocky, like walking on the moon.

Though Karen had won the bet fair and square, she actually couldn’t find any jewelry that caught her attention enough to buy. And yes, I’m well aware of how much of a bullet I dodged there.

We got back to the ship and ate dinner with the same group from last night and an added group of three from Edinborough, Scotland.

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Took a few nighttime pics, then headed off to bed earlier tonight. We’re up at 6:00 tomorrow for Athens.

Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 531See part six here.

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Cruising to Fifty, part four: Corfu cats, Christ and classic rock

This is the fourth part of a series of blogs about the cruise the Wife and I went on last October. You can read the others here:
part one | part two | part three

A quick set up:

I turned 50 on October 6, 2012. My wife surprised me about three weeks before, during a particular low spot in my life with a piece of paper. “Happy birthday,” she said. I opened the paper and quickly scanned it.

“We’re going on a cruise?” I said, and my mind kind of shut down with happiness after that. In fact, it wasn’t until several minutes later, as I was refolding the paper, that I saw the word “Greece” and just about shit. This is the story of what happened on that trip, taken almost exclusively from the diary I kept along the way.


Someone is waiting just for you
spinning wheel is spinning true
Drop all your troubles, by the river side
Catch a painted pony
On the spinning wheel ride

Spinning Wheel – Blood, Sweat & Tears

October 8

Today, we left Italy and landed in Greece. Corfu, to be exact. Beautiful country, beautiful scenery, amazing mountains, cliffs, water.

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We left the ship and clambered on the bus for a trip to two different places in Corfu.

On the bus

On the bus

I had high expectations for our tour guide after Frederica yesterday. Today’s tour guide was an older woman, I’m going to guess 55-60, who seemed to amuse herself long before anyone else. As we drove to our first destination, she took frequent pauses to laugh at her own jokes or anecdotes.

Yeah. She wasn’t funny.

Okay, well, that’s sort of a lie. I’d say she wasn’t consciously funny. She did, however, have this habit of getting pissed if it looked like rain, which it did off and on all through the tour.  So, she’d exclaim “JESUS CHRIST” out of nowhere.  As an example, she might be pointing out a mountain, so the accompanying dialogue would be something like, “And over there is a beautiful mountain and JESUS CHRIST it better not rain!”

I can’t do it justice, but trust me, everyone on the bus chuckled every time she did it. She did it a lot over the four hours we spent with her.

The first place we visited was at the top of a mountain–with one hell of a ride up and down it. There were long, curving sections with honest-to-God hairpin turns…think about that for one second. Take one of those big comfortable buses designed for travel. Now, put it on the side of a mountain. Now, give it a super tight hairpin turn. Repeat. A lot. Now, add in a “JESUS CHRIST!” every time we encounter one.

The entrance to the Achilleon

The entrance to the Achilleon

We eventually made it up this crazy mountain to a half-castle, half-mansion, known as the Achilleon built  by the estranged Empress of Bavaria Elisabeth, better known as Sisi (or Sissi, depending on which spelling you prefer). Apparently she travelled throughout Europe avoiding her husband, eventually finding a home in Corfu.

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Catching ourselves in a mirror

Catching ourselves in a mirror

For anyone local to me that reads this blog, imagine Robert McLaughlin’s Parkwood Estate, but built up on a mountain.

Rubbing for luck...why does every tourist attraction have one of these?

Rubbing for luck…why does every tourist attraction have one of these?

Karen checks out an ass...

Karen checks out an ass…

...and she likes it!

…and she likes it!

We spent a solid hour or so there, and everywhere you turned, there was another beautiful section to discover. Really, the place was absolutely stunning. Then to imagine everything being hauled up this mountain and built with the technology of 1890…it boggles the mind.

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After the Achilleon, we got back in the bus for our next destination. Kissing for luck before we fall off the road and roll down the mountainThis involved a harrowing ride back down the mountain and through all those damn hairpin turns again. There were times when I looked out the window of the bus and could not even see the edge of the road, just a long drop to the ocean below. Got the blood racing, let me tell you. JESUS CHRIST!

Once we were down on more level land, we headed to the northern area of Corfu. The old tour guide droned on. I mean, you can only handle so much of:

“As we pass troo dis cahn-tree, don’ t’ink. Don’ t’ink, juss breede in all in, fill your lungs wit all de byoo-tee aroun’ you. Juss let it fill you and calm you and make you ‘appy.”

I have to admit, she put me to sleep for a bit.

We headed to a small monastery, also built on a mountain, but nowhere near the crazy trip we just experienced.

Outside the monastery

Outside the monastery

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I’ve decided, having forgotten the real name of the monastery, to rename it the Greek Church of the Holy Felines. Seriously, there was more cats than I’d ever seen collected in a single place, ever. Cats in the hallways. Cats in the gardens. Cats on ledges. Cats in flowerpots. Cats in boxes. Cats just hanging around. Chillin’ cats.

To be honest, I lost interest in the monastery and became completely fascinated with the cats…as you’ll be able to see from the pictures.

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Back on the bus, back down the mountain and tour guide did point out one thing that absolutely fascinated me. We passed a small inlet that had a large outcropping of rock rising from the waves. Apparently this was where Ulysses landed after his experience with both the Trojan War (as chronicled in Homer’s The Iliad) and his adventure-filled return home (as chronicled in The Odyssey). That outcropping of rock? That was supposedly the petrified remains of his ship. It totally captured my imagination and drove home how much history lived in these mountains and valleys.

We had a very quick stop in “old town” then back to the bus one last time and back on the ship.

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Loved that, whoever this guy was, now he was a bird perch.

Loved that, whoever this guy was, now he was a bird perch.

In the end, we got incredibly lucky, passing through at least two major rainstorms, but seeing only sun whenever we got out of the bus.Whether it was Jesus Christ or the Greek Gods smiling down on us, I’ll never know.

Our ship, the Splendour of the Seas

Our ship, the Splendour of the Seas

In front of our ship

In front of our ship

We grabbed a late lunch and then sat out on the balcony and watched as the ship left the Corfu harbour.

The light blue waves are the water stirred up from the ship turnig 180 degrees before leaving port

The light blue waves are the water stirred up from the ship turnig 180 degrees before leaving port

Heading out of port

Heading out of port

Then, once at sea again, had a nap. Hey, I’m old. I’m allowed.

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Woke up and got all dolled up for the first (and, though we didn’t know it yet, last) formal night. We sat with a nice couple from England and an older couple from Ottawa along with their son, which was a cool surprise. Even cooler, the mother knew people from Killaloe, the town not far from Barry’s Bay where I went to high school.

The Ottawa couple were taking their son on a cruise as a celebration for him gaining his MBA from Rotman. Turns out he works for PriceWaterhouseCooper, very close to one of the offices I work out of in Toronto. Even four thousand miles away…

After dinner, we scooted over to the Top Hat bar for a game. Now, I’m the first one to admit I’m not much of a game guy. But when you advertise Classic Rock Trivia, dude, I’m there.

The game consisted of them playing a three-to-four second snippet of a classic rock song, and then we had to provide the title of the song. Oh come on, this is like taking candy from a baby, I thought.

Turns out three-to-four seconds of a song is a stunningly short amount of time. Damn, this wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. And what made it even worse? There was this guy and his wife a couple of seats over that obviously knew the damn songs too. The host would play a snippet, both of them would bop along with it, then immediately go to the sheet and start scribbling. Messed with my mind, I tell you.

Anyway, I got a little jammed on a Led Zeppelin song. I knew it was Led Zep, but I got stuck on remembering only two parts, the “gonna give you my love” part and the “waaaaaaaaay down inside” part. I. Could. Not. Remember. The. Title. JESUS CHRIST!

LedZep

Got a much-needed assist from Karen with another song. I knew it was Blood, Sweat & Tears, and I wrote down What Goes Up. Karen looked at that and said, quietly, bless her soul, “Isn’t that one Spinning Wheel?” When she’s right, she’s right.

He gave us a chance to replay a couple of the riffs, and I had him hit that Led Zep song one more time, and Whole Lotta Love just popped in, just like that.

When it was done, we had to pass our sheets to a neighbouring table to mark. I got a 16 out of 16, with Karen’s assist. Turns out the table that marked ours had a teacher or two, so I had to laugh at the “16/16! Well done!” note at the bottom.

And that other couple, the one I was sweating over? 14/16. Yeah, baby! The Canadians kicked ass! Apparently the host had never seen anyone get a perfect score before. So, we scored two Royal Caribbean umbrellas. As the Boy would say, “Dope!”

Victorious, we came back to our room and ended up chatting with our room guy. He’s the one that decorated the room for my birthday and made sure everything was perfect. Great guy, from Romania, where Dracula’s castle is.

One of the towel animals our room guy left for us

One of the towel animals our room guy left for us

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Karen decided to pull down the birthday decorations down. As she’s doing it, she says, “Isn’t it cool how they got the little Royal Caribbean anchors on these streamers?”

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Yes, it was cool, but when I’d said that the night before when I noticed it, she’d looked at me like I had two heads. Typical woman. Ah well, it was good for a laugh.

And then, I finished up another perfect evening writing  the notes for the day out on the balcony with the distant lights of Greece in the distance, along with the running lights of a couple of other ships at sea with us, and enjoying the warm breeze of the Ionian Sea.

Really, does it get any better than this?

See part five here.

Naked vacuuming & other search terms

It’s interesting what people are interested in, what they go online and search for.  Apparently WordPress thinks it is too, because it keep track of all the search terms that have lead someone to my blog.

So far, it’s filtered 499 unique search terms, but of course, many of them get multiple hits, which means there’s been 1772 hits to my blog off those 499 terms.  You start to see quite quickly why tagging your blog is important.

Now, some of the terms are completely expected.  There’s twelve different ways people have searched for me or the blog by name, most of which involve misspelling my name.  For the record, people, it’s T O B I N (like Robin, but with a T) and E L L I O T T (with two L’s and two T’s…must have been a buy-one-get-one free day) and it’s L E F T   T O   W R I T E (not write to left, or right to left or left to right).  All combined, they make up 160 of those hits, or almost 10%.

But the strange thing is the next three big searches.  The word incredulous had 41 hits (2.3%) all on its lonesome…which left me incredulous.

The next one, who’s time, quite frankly, I thought had passed.  Six variations of I love boobies (some with bracelet, or bracelets or wristband, etc. tacked on the end).  This accounts for exactly 100 hits, or just shy of 6% of the hits.  People must really love boobies.  I know I do!

Oh yeah, and for the two people that searched I love ass bracelet?  You’re doing it wrong.

The next one I wouldn’t have guess in a million years.  Six variations on cut grass.  Yup.  54 hits (3%) for  cut the grass; grass cutting; nice cut grass; cutting grass…and three losers who actually searched how to cut grass.  I mean, come on!

Rounding out the top five searches, it was a tie between kenora dinner jacket and bad language, both with 24 hits (1.4%).  Who knew those flannel shirts were so damn popular?

Then we get into a couple of trends.  There’s apparently a lot of you out there with some strange fetishes.  The first one?

Cats.  But not just any cats.

  • cat gives dog crotch massage (nice…real nice…classy, people)
  • cat taking up the ass (see my comment above)
  • cat hitting dog
  • cat kicks dog
  • cats and dogs look at me (paranoid much?)
  • cat getting beat up
  • cat contempt
  • inmates and cats (which kinda fits in with the second bullet point above, but surprisingly, no search for prison tat cat)
  • cats staring
  • tough cat
  • funny psycho cat (cuz nothing says funny like a psycho)
  • dog watches cat
  • cat watching out for dogs
  • adult swim angry kitty in suit on laptop (I…don’t even want to guess…)

After that, Homer Simpson seems so…boring.  And the search terms essentially define all of his life skills.

  • homer simpson drunk
  • homer simpson passed out
  • homer passed out drunk (sensing the trend here yet?)
  • homer simpson picking his nose
  • what goes around homer simpsons mind
  • homer simpson sleeping

The next popular trend?  Nude celebrities, especially Pam Anderson & Tommy Lee.  Please, that was so 1990s!  Get over it!

  • pam anderson no clothes
  • tommy lee leaked photos
  • paris anderson and tommy lee (note that it’s Paris Anderson…someone’s showing their creative side…or they’re just confused over all the damn sex tapes out there now)
  • scarlett johansson birthday suit (I find it hilarious that when it’s the Anderson’s and the Lee’s, it’s “no clothes” but when it’s Scarlett, suddenly it becomes “birthday suit”…what’s up with that?)
  • alannah myles accident (I’m guessing…hoping actually, that this one isn’t for nakedness.  Probably refers to Alotta Myles’ redo of Black Velvet which was more of a trainwreck than an accident)

Now we’ve come to the part of the blog where I just have to take these terms one by one.  You’ll understand shortly.

First up, throwing up.  Seriously, what need do you have to actually google this?

Man eating clipart leaves me wondering.  Did they want clip art of something that eats men?  Or are they actually looking for man-eating clip art?  I could so write a story about that one!  “Hey, check out the great clip art I found in this YEEEEARRRRRRRGH!”  Oh, the horror!

Staying with the horror motif, how about pictures of cut killer pyshco animals with captions (and yes, the “pyscho” spelling is all theirs).

Closely related to the above comes knee monster which could be related to horror as well…I guess…I mean, geez, knees can be pretty fearsome…if you…you know, trap them in a corner or something…

Okay, I have no freaking clue what a knee monster is.

But now we’re firmly into body parts, right?  So it makes sense to ask why the hell someone would search (or even be interested in) shoulder sniffing.  I’m telling you right now, someone sniffs my shoulder, they’re getting a taste of my knee monster.

Ah!  Now I know what a knee monster is!

A different kind of scary is the search for meat loaf + suzanne vega.  Seriously?

My name is Luka

I live on the second floor

I climbed them like a bat out of hell

I’ll steal your soul and so much more

Making the ol’ knee monster look kinda tame now, isn’t it?

Can someone tell me exactly what captain kirk in punctuation means?  I-just…don’t…understand…and-it…fills-me-with…anxiety.  My-God Spock!  Look-at-that…man-eating…clip-art!”

The next one I understand even less.  Someone searched my mind doesn’t let me be sarcastic.  Wow dude.  Sucks to be you.  My mind doesn’t have a “sarcasm off” switch.

Now, this one doesn’t necessarily fit under the “sucks to be you” label…more like, “sucks to be your friend” I guess.  Or maybe “sucks to be your dog”…  Does someone really mean it when they say i’ve been posting my letters in the dog poop box?

Keeping with the animal theme for a moment…Next up is what kind of dog is toto?  Again, why do you need to look this up when the answer’s so obvious?  What kind of dog is Toto?  Ugly.  Next!

How about it’s my world your just a squirrel?  Is that a put down?  If that’s the best someone can diss someone else, they need help.  I’d totally go for an insect of some sort over a squirrel myself.  Maybe a dung beetle.  On the other hand, I think that’s a great name for a blog.

The next two fit nicely together: my stoned wife and i want to knock my wife up…doesn’t even seem like that much of a challenge, does it?

And then there’s funny schoolboy hitting on teacher.  Yeah, right.  It’s all fun and games until the paternity suit and the statutory rape charges hit.  Just ask Justin Bieber.

How about you got hepatitis c why not a.  And I agree.  Damn underachievers.  At least go for hepatitis b+!

I had a good laugh over collage exams demotivational.  Either someone’s taking their collages much more seriously than they should, or they’re pretty much screwed for their college exams.

Now, I know the next two don’t necessarily go together, but I’m doing the mash up anyway.  Sue me.  The first is truly disgusting, so of course you know it’s something I use on a fairly regular basis myself.  And by that, I mean the term, not the object.  The term?  bacon strips underwear.  Yes, I know, no need to tell me.  The class oozes off me like slime.

And hot on the heels of nasty gitch is naked vacuuming.  Strangely, this has never held any appeal for me.  But I guess it does put a whole new spin on you suck, doesn’t it?  And remember, if you’re going to vacuum naked, practice safe vacuum…use a hepa filter.

Now, if only they could invent something that sucks the bacon strips right off the underwear.  Gotta get my admin to call Fruit of the Loom and Hoover.

And in the end, I’ll leave you with three final thoughts.  Even though you’re just an asshole, it’s still important to say it…dr phil if you know nothing else, know that I love you.

And to end it all?  Actually a bit of good advice: forget the muse and just write.