Steve Dunham’s Trains of Thought
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Derailed trains of thought
“Après moi le déraillement”

Off the Deep End: Classified Information About You

Your Biological Alarm Clock 
Elvis on My Mind 
Problem: The Disk Is Full 
Freedom of the Press 
Classified Information About You 

Your Biological Alarm Clock

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2002

The buzzing sound by my bedside sounds like the alarm clock going off, but I know it’s only a dream. In my sleep, I reach over and shut off this imaginary annoyance.

The next morning it happens again. “Why is the alarm going off?” I wonder. “It’s Saturday!” At least that’s what my biological alarm clock tells me.

Unlike a mechanical or electrical alarm clock, your biological alarm clock knows what’s good for you. For example, it is much more healthful to stay in bed at least until the sun comes up (or later than that in summer) than to get up and go to work. This is why the bedside alarm clock screams at you, “Get up! Go to work!” but your biological alarm clock has an automatic snooze reset.

On the other hand, once you are up and on your way to work, there is no health benefit in riding past your stop on the train, which is why your internal alarm clock wakes you up in time. (If you sleep past your stop, your biological alarm clock may be broken.)

At work, when I start reading boring, badly written reports, my brain’s natural defenses recognize that reading such things is bad for my mental and physical health. If I consume too much of that stuff (TMTS), I am liable to start (LTS) pointlessly putting the initials of everything (IOE) in parentheses (()) and then could potentially commence the process of initiating the writing of extremely long coalescenses of words and other printed and/or published accumulations of verbal detritus that fail to communicate with the reader except to conduct the provision of such facts as somebody’s employer and/or client for some reason pays for the production of such drivel and actually seems to prefer it, including but not limited to the production of PowerPoint slides with several dozens of boxes containing more initials in type that is too tiny to read anyway. Oops! Obviously I am way over my limit in garbage consumption. I did not listen to my biological alarm clock, which was patiently telling me to shut my eyes and catch some sleep, even if it is only 11 a.m.

A stomach growl tells me that it’s time to wake up and eat lunch. Unlike the beeping or ringing of a mechanical or electrical alarm clock, the sounds of your biological alarm clock can’t be ignored.

Lunch is followed by a meeting in which somebody is projecting a PowerPoint presentation with dozens of boxes containing initials in type that is too tiny to read. Worse, the meeting chairman is reading the slides to us. My body and mind are in wholehearted agreement that it is nap time again already. My biological alarm clock does not want me to get fired, just get some rest, so I wake up when I hear papers shuffling and chairs moving as the other nappers head for the door.

The one time I do not want to be asleep at work, aside from lunch hour, is when it’s time to leave. I am wide awake as departure time approaches. Likewise on the bus. On board the train, in spite of several naps today already, it is time for one more nap. It would be unhealthful to wake up in the railroad maintenance facility five miles from my car and seven miles from home, so my biological alarm clock wakes me up before my station.

This illustration of a typical Tuesday shows why you should listen to your biological alarm clock. The next morning, when a clatter by your bedside shouts at you, “Get up! Go to work!” you will know not to pay attention. You can’t fool Mother Nature. It’s really Saturday.

Steve Dunham wakes up in time to go home.

Elvis on My Mind

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2002

“Why Everybody’s Hot for Vin Diesel” was the headline on Replay magazine.* I was happy to see this, because, in one of my introspective moods, I had been asking myself, “Why am I hot for Vin Diesel?” Although the article didn’t fully explain things to my satisfaction, I was relieved to find out that I am not alone. Everybody is hot for him.

More solace came from USA Weekend, which announced on its cover that Elvis is “always on our minds.” So I was not alone in this either. I thought I was demented, or at least different, to always be thinking about Elvis.

My typical thoughts, especially at work, run along these lines: Why does everybody say that Elvis is dead? Don’t they see him too? Long live the King!

The fact is, I have seen Elvis many times. Walking, talking, singing Elvis, and I’m not talking about some impersonator, either. When I was a kid, the local movie theater had a summer program of movies for kids every Tuesday afternoon. For the unbelievable price of 15 cents a movie, we got a set of tickets to reruns supposedly approved by the PTA, although “PTA” might have stood for Prevaricating Theaters Association. A staple of the series was Elvis Presley movies. We sat through Blue Hawaii and Kissin’ Cousins, mildly entertained, although some of the entertainment was provided by the audience, which tended to fling a lot of food around and, legend has it, tossed the manager off the balcony. (I did not participate in this barbarism, and it all took place in a relatively quiet suburb, not some gang-ridden slum.)

Elvis was somewhat past his prime by the time I started seeing his movies, evidenced by the fact that the audience was 10-year-olds and not screaming teenage girls. And I was a long way from entering my prime, such as it turned out to be, so Elvis and I never really got to be friends. I mean, he never bought me a Cadillac, or any sort of car, for instance. I could really use one right now, so I wish I could bump into him just once.

Back to the present, such as it is: sometimes I make the mistake of thinking out loud, and one of my co-workers must have heard me reciting my thoughts about Elvis, because she said, “Elvis has left the building.”

“You make it sound like he’s dead!” was my rejoinder.

“Steve,” she said, “Elvis has left the planet.”

“So that’s what happened! You know, I was once kidnapped by aliens too …” But she was already turning away.

I thought of striking up a new conversation, this time about Vin Diesel. If only he could sing, or even act, I might have had some clever remark to make. No, it was that time again: time for me to leave the building.

* Some of this column is really true.

Steve Dunham is always thinking about Elvis.

Problem: The Disk Is Full

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2001

Don’t bother writing to me. I promise to lose your letter and anything else you send. As Carole King once sang, “Music is playing inside of my head, over and over and over again.” And it kind of drowns out other things.

At the office we got a manuscript in the mail from one of our authors. We had asked for this manuscript. We wanted to print it. I distinctly remember it arriving. And then it disappeared.

No, it wasn’t valuable. But I sure didn’t want to tell the author that we’d promptly lost her manuscript. We don’t just throw manuscripts away—at least not the good ones.

Three of us looked everywhere. And this morning I gave up. I wrote the author a letter confessing that I had no clue as to where her manuscript had gone.

A few hours later one of the staff lawyers called. “Steve, how soon do you need my analysis of that manuscript you gave me?”

“The end of the month will be fine,” I answered. So that’s what I did with it. Only I still don’t remember giving it to anybody.

But the mystery is solved. No, not the mystery of when and how I handed off the manuscript. The mystery of why I can’t remember.

One of the other editors was reading Dave Barry’s Book of Bad Songs.

“What’s this about Neil Diamond’s chair not listening to him?” he asked.

“Oh, I know that,” I answered, and broke into song: “‘I am,’ I said, to no one there, and no one heard at all, not even the chair!”

“And what’s this song by Cream with ‘I’m so glad’ repeated one billion times?”

I gave him my Eric Clapton imitation. (You would not pay to hear it. The company pays for this.) And then it dawned on me: I have a computer brain, and the disk is full. When I hand off a manuscript to a lawyer, I tell the brain, “Remember this, it’s important.”

And an error message pops up—“Problem: the disk is full.” But I disregard it and go on.

And what is the disk full of? Neil Diamond lyrics, and I am not now, and never have been, a Neil Diamond fan. I never owned any of his records, or any of Cream’s, for that matter. I heard the song “I’m So Glad” maybe once, about 25 years ago. But I can’t erase it from my computer brain’s memory.

Then I said, “If you asked me, I could probably give you all the words to ‘Snoopy vs. the Red Baron,’ and I haven’t heard that in 25 years either.” Then, uncontrollably, I started singing, “Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty or more—that bloody Red Baron was rollin’ up a score.…”

Then I reverted to Neil Diamond mode and started singing “Sunday Morning Sunshine.”

This explains a lot. It explains why I can’t remember giving that manuscript to the lawyer. Fortunately, at work I get paid for singing great hits of the sixties. This is probably why the economy is in so much trouble.

And now I am in favor of putting warning labels on tapes and CDs. They should read, “WARNING: These songs may go around and around in your head for the rest of your life.” Unless your disk is already full.

Steve Dunham is a Neil Diamond impersonator.

Freedom of the Press

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2000

The American public is the victim of rampant bias in the media. This is evidenced by the fact that major, even earth-shaking events go unreported in the mainstream, “respectable” press. Their conspiracy would not only have you believe that Elvis is dead, but that all the residents of the White House were born on Planet Earth.

Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth, but you won’t find it out in your hometown newspaper.

Fortunately, there is one bastion of responsible journalism, and it thrives in the free marketplace, if you can call supermarkets “free.”

Were it not for trips to the grocery store, I would never have known that Hillary Clinton had adopted an alien child, or that the United States has its own flying saucers, which fought in Operation Desert Storm.

There in the checkout line I can follow America’s headline history, which is sadly unreported by the slanted “major” media. How can you rely on them for news if they don’t (or, more precisely, won’t) tell you when a fleet of alien spacecraft is poised to invade the Earth? (Curiously, nothing ever came of that. I watched anxiously for the invaders but never saw a sign of them. What armament or negotiations deterred them from attacking? Another important story unreported. Maybe they were only doing it as a media stunt, and realized that the invasion would go unreported in the so-called “news” media.)

The modern yellow journalists, afraid to report the shocking but true events of life in the beginning of the 21st century, keep harping about the teenage pregnancy rate, while ignoring the scandalously high number of pregnant seven-year-olds, who frequently give birth to aliens, devils, and animals.

But my integrity as a journalist will not let me stop with the bare facts of the slant that is so obvious in “news” reporting. No, I must dig deeper and get the whole story. Why do the daily newspapers and prime-time broadcasters hide the truth from the American people? Are they afraid? Of being sued, perhaps? Not by Elvis—not if he’s really dead, that is. But if he’s alive, and they’ve stolen his fortune, they would have to give it back. Now the facts start to make sense.

And what about the aliens, who have kidnapped countless earthlings? Why should that be kept secret? Why indeed, unless the very ones they kidnapped were news directors and editors-in-chief and anchormen, and the “people” who are now censoring the news are the aliens who have taken the place of


Steve Dunham is a reporter for supermarket tabloids.

Classified Information About You

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2003

Many of America’s newspapers now treat obituaries as paid advertising. This is really true. The Olympian, of Olympia, Washington, for example, advises its readers to speak to the paper’s “Obituary Specialist in the Classified advertising department.” This neatly sorts obituaries by length according to the importance (that is, the wealth) of the person who died.

Famous people (for example, me) will still be news. We will have screaming banner headlines following our death: “Dunham, Beloved Columnist, Tragically Dead at 72” (I hope I live that long so I can pay off the mortgage, one of my life’s goals).

Ordinary people (for example, everybody else) can purchase newspaper space to report their deaths. Affluent people or their heirs are already indicating their relative importance by purchasing newspaper space for their obituaries. You might want to consider this. Since you are paying for the ad, you can create your own life story and dispense with the newspaper’s attempt at objectivity.

If for some reason my death is not headline news but I do somehow acquire wealth, my obituary might read like this: “Mr. Dunham was a pillar of the community. His loss is deeply felt throughout the nation. Millions of people are expected to spontaneously gather in public places to express their grief. The family has asked the President to set aside the National Mall in Washington, D.C., for the funeral to accommodate the crowds of mourners.” And so on.

On the other hand, if my family remains in its present financial condition, they might have to purchase a tiny classified ad and make every letter count: “S. Dunham, b. 1953, d. 2025, fun. Wed. Fred. Va. 10 a.m. St. M.” And they would ask the pastor to move the funeral to 9 a.m. so that the ad could be one character shorter.

Classified ads are only the beginning, however. Once the newspapers start counting the cash coming in from obituaries, it is only a matter of time till the business offices start promoting display ads. Obituaries, now that they are considered advertising, will become more and more commercial and lose their newsy style.

My obituary, for example, might have coupons good at the yard sale when the family gets rid of my stuff they don’t want: “Buy two used Bee Gees albums and get a third one free!”

Big obituaries may require corporate sponsors. Mine might have a Plymouth logo and an endorsement: “Steve got his used cars here!” Virginia Railway Express would pay to have its logo, I’m sure, with the message “No more VRE tomorrow for Steve!”

With corporate sponsors, though, why stop at ads in the paper? I think I would like a full-color insert advertising my death. I will have to tell my insurance agent (another natural corporate sponsor of my obituary) that my insurance coverage should include the costs of hiring an advertising agency. Just as nowadays people sometimes write their epitaphs and pick the music they want at their funerals, in the near future we will be designing obituary advertising supplements for use in our local newspapers. If enough companies sign up to advertise in mine, I might get some extra profit to spend while I’m still alive.

Steve Dunham is saving up for his obituary.

More “Off the Deep End”

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