It’s the Story of a Lovely Volcano

“I feel like a person living on the brink of a volcano crater.”  –Agnes Smedley

“I feel like a person living at the base of a live volcano.”   –Jeff’s Plastic Army Man

As back to school season goes into full swing, I feel myself getting that old familiar dread.  Don’t make me go back, Mom!

Not that I have to.  I’m 42 years old and haven’t attended classes for quite a long while.  Every year at this time when the air gets cooler and shopping carts fill with essentials like erasable bond typing paper and Dukes of Hazzard Trapper Keepers, I get a little nostalgic.  Summer is my season and I hate to see it end. 

Like most normal people, I still associate summertime with my early childhood.  You know, doing all the normal things kids like to do– playing hide and go seek until dark, spinning on merry-go-rounds until I couldn’t see straight, and building Brady Bunch inspired volcanoes in my back yard. 

I’m referring to episode #76: “Today I Am a Freshman.”   This show features Peter’s science project volcano spewing “lava” all over his sister and friends.   Here’s a 48 second clip:

Is this great TV or what?  Keep in mind the scene was filmed in 1972, long before computer generated special effects.  Every time I watch it, strong feelings get stirred up deep inside me.  I mean, did you see the smoke?   Did you see the lava?

Did you see the short outfits those girls were wearing? 

Okay, to be honest, I didn’t notice the girls so much when I was a little kid.  Now that I’m older, I have even more appreciation of the clip, but I’m getting off topic.  Where was I?  Oh yeah– the volcano.

I spent hours as a child wondering how it worked.  The volcano was obviously electrical, but what caused the smoke?  Did Peter use dry ice?  Was there some sort of lava pump hidden under the table?  As I looked around my bedroom strewn with Pick-Up Sticks and old Tinker Toys, I knew I’d never be able to replicate the TV volcano exactly.  I didn’t have the proper equipment, but that didn’t stop me from trying.  I had my own ideas.

It’s the story, of a lovely volcano…

Mt. Jeffuvious was a magnificent sight to behold.  (To be more specific, I distinctly remember thinking it looked “keen.”)   It stood about two feet high and was constructed from sticks I poked into the ground in a circular pattern.  The skeleton frame looked like a tipi, except the sticks didn’t meet at the top.  Instead, there was a gaping hole I referred to as “the caldera of destruction.”  The whole thing was covered with a thick layer of mud and dirt and the result was a realistic looking mini-volcano.  I filled the inside with dry grass and leaves.

Mt. Jeffuvious, I speculated, had been dormant for 100,000 years.  After all this time, the magma chamber was filled to the brim and she was about to blow.  It was too bad for the villagers living at the base of the mountain.  They were a peace-loving race of plastic army men that drove to work every day in their Tonka vehicles. 

Interesting fact:  One of the villagers drove a Spiderman car.

Sadly for the unsuspecting citizens, their time on this planet was nearly up. 

Jeff the fire god lit a piece of paper on fire with some matches he found in his dad’s garage and threw it in the caldera.  He laughed maniacally, “Hahahaha!”

Villager #1: Did you hear that?

Villager #2: You mean that weird laughing coming from the heavens?

Villager #3: Legend has it that maniacal laughter from the sky means Jeff the fire god is acting without parental supervision again.  We’re doomed.

Flames erupted briefly and white smoke belched out the top.  The volcano looked, well…keen.  Peter Brady, I thought, eat your heart out. 

Then my dad showed up.  He glared at me and ordered,   “Put that fire out right now, Jeff, before you burn yourself!”

Villager #1: Who was that?

Villager #2: The god of punishment.

Villager #3: We’re saved!  When he cools off, I sure hope he buys Jeff a Dukes of Hazzard General Lee.  One of the wheels fell off the Spiderman car. 

Unfortunately for the mighty Mt. Jeffuvious, irresistible forces of nature such as plate tectonics, erosion, and my dad’s shovel completely leveled the once majestic peak.  It only exists today as a memory– a sweet summertime memory from my youth.  Yeah, there’s no doubt about it: summer vacation is the best time of the year.

Unless, of course, you’re an army man living at the base of an active volcano.

Villager #1: Did you hear that?

Villager #2: It sounded like a school bell.

Villager #3: Music to my tiny plastic ears.

Cow Head Envy

A boy and his cow head.

“If you can’t get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you’d best teach it to dance.” –George Bernard Shaw

“If you can’t get rid of the cow head in your closet, you’d best screw some 60 watt bulbs in its eye sockets and make a light fixture out of it.” Jeff Brown

“Grandpa,” I asked, “Do you have any cow heads around here?”

I was nine years old and spending some summer time at my grandparent’s farm in southern Iowa.  Grandpa wore a white t-shirt and it stood out starkly against his dark tan skin.  He grinned and nodded.  “You know what?  I think I do.”

You might think it was an odd question to ask, but I look back on this moment as one of the finest of my youth.  I’d wanted a cow skull for a long time.  Two of my friends had cow skulls, and I was the odd man out, cow head speaking.

I was especially envious of Mike Shoup’s.  His dad had it rigged up with red lightbulbs in its eye sockets.  When it lit up with that eerie glow, I was sure it was the neatest thing I had ever seen in my life.

Yep, I had cow head envy; and I had it bad.

As I look back, I think this might be the first time I ever succumbed to peer pressure.  It seemed all my friends had cow heads; so naturally, I had to have one too.

Later on when Grandpa presented me with the skull he’d retrieved from one of his pastures, I was ecstatic.  It was dirty white and had a single horn sticking out of the top.  There was no lower jaw (darn) but it had all its upper teeth.  For a nine year old boy who was interested in things like dinosaurs, volcanoes, and frogs, it was love at first sight.

When my younger cousin saw it, he immediately recognized its value too.  “Do you have any more cow heads?” he asked.

“Sorry,” said Grandpa, as he adjusted his cap, “but I’m fresh out.”

I remember thinking, “Thank God I asked first.”

I don’t remember what caused the unfortunate demise of that poor cow.  It might have gotten stuck in the mud and drowned.  All I really know is its misfortune was good luck for me.  When I brought it home I was instantly the most popular kid on the block.  Believe me; you’ve never experienced popularity until you’ve been known as “that kid with the cow head.”

Interesting fact:  Curiously enough, I never gave it a name.  I’ve always referred to it affectionately as “the cow head.”

It was soon the basis of many scientific experiments.  My friends and I eagerly peered into the braincase through the spinal cord hole with a flashlight.  The conversations always went something like this:

“Whoa, I can see its brain.”

“Dummy, it doesn’t have a brain anymore.  It’s decompressed.”


I think dogs are way overrated.  Let me tell you this:  There’s nothing in this world stronger than the bond between a boy and his cow head.

As time marched on and my interests evolved, the poor noggin got put into storage.  I suppose you could say I took the cow head for granted.  Sure, I still thought it was neat to have one, but I didn’t have the space to properly display it.

That all changed when I bought my house.  Finally I had a garage– a man cave.  I dusted it off and rigged the old skull up with 60 watt light bulbs.


It was a stylish and economical light fixture.

Another interesting fact: You’ll never find one of these at a Pier 1 Imports outlet store.

My daughter threw a Halloween party when she was in Jr. High and for the first time in all the years I owned it, I finally got around to screwing some red light bulbs into its eye sockets.

And when it lit up with that eerie glow, I was certain it was the neatest thing I had ever seen in my life.

Down and Out

“Boxing is just show business with blood.”                           -Bruno Frank

“Housework is just boxing with dog poop.”                          -Jeff Brown

Announcer:  Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the main event.  In the red corner, sporting a Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner and roll of paper towels is Jeff “Steamin’ Mad at Dirt” Brown.  In the blue corner, weighing 24 pounds and completely covered with white fur, is his wife’s dog, the American Eskimo “I’m too Old to Have Control Over My Intestinal Track” Traveler.

(The bell rings.)

Traveler:  (Wanders into the living room.)

Jeff:  (Turns off vacuum.)  Do you need to go outside, boy?  (Picks Traveler up and takes him out.)

Announcer:  Jeff is off to an explosive start.  He took Traveler completely by surprise with his fancy footwork.  Traveler is in for a tough fight.

Jeff:  Stay here until you’ve done your business.

Traveler:  Where am I?

Jeff:  Don’t come to the door until you’re done.  Do you hear me?

Traveler:  There’s that mumbling again.  What the- how did I get outside?

Announcer:  Although it’s still early, Jeff appears to be dominating the match.  Traveler isn’t keeping up with all of Jeff’s bobbing and weaving.  He’d better wake up soon or he risks going down.

Traveler:  I have to get back inside.  Where’s the house?  (Turns around and paces in the yard.)

Jeff:  (Watching Traveler from the window.)  Good grief, that dog takes forever to do nothing.  I have work to do.  (Resumes vacuuming.)

Announcer:  It looks like Jeff has backed off.  I’m not sure what Jeff’s strategy is, but this might be Traveler’s chance to get back in the fight.

Traveler:  (Bumps into the front step.)  That’s what I’m looking for.  (He climbs up the step and scratches at the front door.)

Jeff:  (Shuts vacuum off and hears a faint scraping.)  Oh, yeah, I almost forgot about the dumb dog.  (Opens the door.)

Traveler:  (Races back into the house and poops on the carpet.)

Announcer:  I can’t believe this folks!  In an amazing turn of events, Traveler counter-punched Jeff and he’s down on the canvas.

Referee:  (Standing over Jeff.)  One…Two…Three…

Announcer: Jeff’s getting up, but he’s clearly dazed by that powerful blow.

Jeff:  You dumb dog!  Why didn’t you poop outside?  (Grabs Traveler and carries him back out the door.)

Announcer:  They’re in a clinch, but the referee ordered them to break.

Jeff:  (Sets the dog down in the grass and lightly swats him on the butt.)  Stay out here and think about what you did!  (Goes back inside.)

Announcer:  Uh-oh, Jeff got warned for hitting Traveler below the belt.

Traveler:  What the- how did I get back outside?

Jeff:  (Tears off half a roll of paper towels and carefully picks up the turds.)  That dog makes me so mad.  I’ll show him who’s the boss.  (Grabs a leash and goes back outside.  He hooks Traveler’s collar.)

Announcer:  Jeff certainly has roared back to life in this barnburner.  Traveler is on the ropes!

Jeff:  (Tugs on the leash.)  Let’s go for a walk, Traveler.

Traveler:  Hold on, big guy, I have to pee first.

Jeff:  Not on the sidewalk!

Traveler:  (Stands in the puddle for a moment, then walks back and forth through it.)

Announcer:  Traveler is raining down a powerful combination of punches on Jeff.  There’s a left jab followed by a right hook.  Jeff’s taking a beating, but somehow holding on.

Jeff:  I can’t believe you, dog.  Come on dummy, let’s go back inside.  (Unhooks the leash.)

Traveler:  I’m hungry.  It’s time for a treat.  (Runs to the kitchen and begins barking by the pantry.)

Jeff:  (Following Traveler.)  No way, dog, you’re not getting any treats from me.  You’ve been a bad boy.

Traveler:  I need a tasty treat.  (Wanders out of the kitchen and down the hall.)

Jeff:  (Begins cleaning the dishes.)  I swear all that dog is good for is making messes.  (Hears a loud thud from the other room.)  Oh, no.

Announcer:  Traveler has turned out to be a real brawler in this fight.  Jeff’s speed and agility are no match for this dog’s raw power.

Jeff:  (Drops a dish and runs down the hall with his hands dripping.)  Oh, no!

Announcer:  Kaboom!  Traveler creamed Jeff’s jaw with a right hook.  It looks like Jeff is going down again.

Traveler:  Here’s my yummy snack.  (He grabs a treat with his teeth and drops it on the carpet.)

Jeff:  Get out of the cat’s litter box you numskull!

Announcer: Jeff has kissed the canvass!

Referee:  One…Two…Three…

Traveler:  (Stumbles and spills litter everywhere.)

Referee:  Four…Five…Six…

Jeff:  (Drops to his knees.)  Why?   (He looks at the ceiling and throws his hands in the air.)  Why?

Announcer: I don’t think Jeff is getting up.

Referee:  Seven…Eight…Nine…Ten.

(Bell Rings.)

Announcer:  There you have it folks.  Jeff is down and out and Traveler is the new champion of the house.

Traveler:  Where am I?

Male Bonding with the Cat

“My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.” – Henry Ford  

“My best friend is the one who cleans out my litter box.” – Waterfall 

Let me start this column by declaring my unconditional love for my cat, Waterfall. Although I never really considered myself to be much of an animal person before Waterfall came along, it’s amazing to me how attached I’ve become to the little cretin over the years. And as in all the other relationships in my life, it’s the little things that matter most to me.

I love the way Waterfall purrs when I rub his tummy. I love the way he hops up on the coffee table and gets in my way when I’m trying to watch TV. I positively loved it this morning when he puked right in front of me on the coffee table as I attempted to eat a bowl of Golden Grahams.

Hairballs are a small price to pay for such a luxurious coat. Waterfall has the longest, shiniest, most beautiful black and white fur you’ve ever seen on a cat. People come up to me all the time and say, “That’s the longest, shiniest, most beautiful black and white fur I’ve ever seen on a cat. What’s his secret?”

Filled with the pride usually only reserved for the owners of show cats, I smile and say, “Frontline. It works wonders.”

If the cat looks so darned handsome covered with fur, then everything should look terrific covered with the stuff. That’s what I always say. Well, not really, but you’d think so if you ever came over to my house. I have the handsomest couch, carpet, and kitchen counters you’ve ever seen.

Waterfall and I have a give and take relationship. I give him food and shelter, and he takes drinks directly from the kitchen faucet with his tongue. We’re there for each other too—24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Waterfall instinctively knows that if he’s hungry or scared (when I say “hungry or scared” I mean “bored”) that he can come into my bedroom at 2:30 in the morning and meow incessantly until I get up and run some water into the bathroom sink for him. (I recently discovered that he’ll leave me alone if I do this. I don’t know why. I don’t think I want to.)

Imagine this…

It’s early in the morning and you’re awakened by classical music coming from the bathroom radio. You get up, shuffle down the hall, and fling open the bathroom door. You’re shocked to see Waterfall reclining in the sink with a shower cap on. There are soapsuds everywhere and an empty bottle of Frontline: Bubblebath for Cats is lying on its side on the floor. Waterfall shoots you an annoyed look and says, “Do you mind?”

Waterfall is there for me too. Why just the other day when I was carrying in a heavy load of groceries from the car, Waterfall came right over to me and got as close as he could to my feet. It was almost as if he was trying to say, “Do you need any help, Jeff? If you do, I’m right here, right next to your feet, as close as I possibly can get to them. Hey, watch where you’re stepping!”

I wish Waterfall could speak. It gives me goose bumps when I think about all the male bonding we could accomplish.

Jeff: (Gets up off the couch and heads down the hall)

Waterfall: Hey, Jeff. (Hops on the coffee table) While you’re in the bathroom, do you mind if I take a drink directly from your water glass with my tongue?

Jeff: (Voice from down the hall.) No, not at all. Go right ahead buddy.

Waterfall: While I’m at it do you mind if I dip my filthy litter-encrusted toes into your glass? It would be so refreshing.

Jeff: Be my guest.

Waterfall: Oh, would you like a little pet dander in your bowl of popcorn?

Jeff: That would be just dandy!

Waterfall: I love you man.

Jeff: (Comes back into the living room and points at the cat with both hands.) No, no, no. I love you!

The Big Four Oh…

“Age does not diminish the extreme disappointment of having a scoop of ice cream fall from the cone.” – Jim Fiebig 

“Age and possible lactose intolerance don’t diminish the extreme disappointment I have if a scoop of ice cream falls from the cone.”                   – Jeff Brown

So, I turned 40 recently. Yep, the big four oh, I’m getting old. (If you feel sorry for me and would like to send a card or present, it’s not too late.) Somebody asked me if I felt any different after reaching this milestone (translation: do you feel rustier, stiffer, achy, or just plain like crap?). I shook my head and replied in the wisest, most authoritative, most age appropriate 900 year old Yoda-like tone I could muster, “State of mind, age is. Hmmmmmm.”

I suppose if that were really true, I’d be about 10 years old. I still like dinosaurs, the space program, old cars, pizza, and ice cream. Too bad I’ve reached the big four oh, my aching stomach! For the last year or so I’ve been experiencing on and off again intestinal discomfort (I’ll spare you the details). According to my doctor, as we age sometimes people who have never had problems with milk or dairy products (translation: anything that makes me go “yum.”) may suddenly develop lactose intolerance.

I still don’t know if I have it or not, (I’m being tested) but I’m worried this might be the first domino. Lactose intolerance today, the big four oh, pass me another incontinence diaper tomorrow. Speaking of incontinence, I recently saw a TV commercial promoting the fact that Medicare will now pay for up to 200 brand new clean catheters a month. This apparently is great news for a lot of folks and it makes me wonder how far away I am from reaching the big four oh, I’m so excited because I hit the catheter jackpot!

Where was I? Please forgive me if this column meanders and doesn’t make sense. I have a good excuse because I’ve reached the big four oh, I can’t remember what I was talking about. Doctors say this is closely related to the big four oh, I can’t find my car keys and the big four oh, honey, where’s the new tube of Preparation H? 

It’s not a cure, but I think I’ve found an effective treatment for the big four oh, my aching back and the big four oh, is it cold in here or is it just me? It’s my seed corn pillow. (As the name implies, it’s a pillow with seed corn in it.) Although it’s not related to dinosaurs and it doesn’t have a creamy filling, I love it because you can heat it up in the microwave and it will stay warm for a long time. I pop mine in for three minutes and take it to bed with me during the winter. I place it on, under, or near whatever body part happens to be aching. What I really need is a seed corn mattress, but I’m not sure how to heat it.

My wife is a little younger than I am. (I’m not going into any more detail because I’d like to live to see my next birthday.) Despite this, I think she’s already reached the big four oh, it’s so late I think I’m going to bed. This happens nearly every evening about 8:30 PM. When I point this out to her, she insists that she’s never really been a night person.

If I was younger, I might use this as an opportunity to tease my wife, but at my age I’m older and wiser and, did I mention older? As Yoda would say, “It is smart to provoke your wife not. Yes, hmmm.”

Besides, after having officially reached 40, I’m too tired to defend myself at 8:30 PM- it’s way past my bedtime.

Note to Temp: 30 Helpful Hints to Live by while I’m Away

“I’ve got two tickets to paradise.” –Eddie Money

“I’ve got two tickets to Graceland and other less notable places too numerous to mention here.” Jeff Brown

You’ve been doing a great job helping my Dad and me in the lawn care business this summer.  Next week, however, I’m going on vacation to Graceland and other less notable places too numerous to mention here, and you’ll have to take up the slack.  Your work to this point has been impressive, but you’re not a Jedi yet.  Here are some little golden nuggets of information that might help.  Good luck!

  1. For fun and entertainment, I like to give my days themes.  For example, there’s Manual Labor Monday, I Got Something in my Eye Tuesday, Man, I drank too much Mountain Dew Wednesday, Cripes it’s hot Thursday, and, if you make it to the end of the week without a heat stroke, you can look forward to Casual Friday.  Yes, leave your suit and tie at home.
  2. Even though it’s Casual Friday, and it might be really hot outside, I strongly encourage you to wear a shirt.  We try to look professional here.
  3. For the umpteenth time, this goes for you too, Dad!
  4. If it’s Man, I Drank too Much Mountain Dew Wednesday, and you urgently need to get to a bathroom, don’t be afraid to tell my dad.  Chances are he has to go too, and, besides, he’s already used to making frequent stops at the local convenience store because, let’s face it, I have to go ALL OF THE TIME.
  5. Be sure to bring a screwdriver or a stick or something to scrape with when you’re mowing Dog Poop Alley.
  6. I don’t call it Dog Poop Alley for nothing.
  7. If the tractor we lovingly refer to as “The Brute” doesn’t want to start, I’ve found it helpful to stroke her hood and whisper in her carburetor, “Wehrenberg.”
  8. That’s just weird.
  9. Hey, it works.
  10. If you break down or run out of gas, you can be sure that it will happen very far away from the truck (i.e. the tools and gas can) every single solitary time without exception.  This is Newton’s Fourth Law of Mowing.
  11. When you’re at Fuss Bucket’s house, be prepared for tons of helpful advice on your mowing pattern and trimming methodology.
  12. I have other hilarious and descriptive nicknames for Fuss Bucket too.
  13. Oh, yeah?
  14. Yeah, but there’s no way I’m writing them here.
  15. Do you have anything else to say to the temp?
  16. Yes I do.  In the immortal words of Sergeant Phil Esterhaus, “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”
  17. Who the heck is that?
  18. You know, that character from the eighties TV show Hill Street Blues.
  19. The temp is seventeen years old.   He isn’t going to get that stupid reference.  He wasn’t even born until 1995.
  20. Now I’m really feeling old.
  21. Any other words of wisdom?  You’re near your 650 word limit.
  22. Who says I have to keep this under 650 words?  It’s not like I have an editor.
  23. This is painfully apparent.
  24. Well, wait a second.  I do have my wife occasionally check for typos and dangling participles and stuff like that.
  25. Okay, I’m waiting for it.
  26. What?
  27. Your dangling participle joke.
  28. After thinking intensely, the punch line escaped me.
  29. Real professional.  Do you at least have a good ending for this column?  You know– something profound that pulls everything together and wraps it up in a nice bow?
  30. Not really.  Did I mention I’m going on vacation?  I’m feeling pretty lazy right now, so I think I’ll just rip off some song lyrics from Eddie Money.

I’ve got two tickets to paradise,

Won’t you pack your bags, we’ll leave tonight,

I’ve got two tickets to Graceland,

And other less notable places too numerous to mention here because I’m way over my word limit!

How I met W. Bruce Cameron and other Famous People

“I still get excited about meeting celebrities, because I don’t think I’m a celebrity myself.” –Allan Carr

“I still get excited about meeting celebrities, because I don’t think I’m a celebrity myself, mainly because I’m not a celebrity.” Jeff Brown

I’m not usually the kind of guy who does a lot of name dropping, but my wife and I recently hung out with Colin Hay after one of his concerts. If you’re wondering who Colin Hay is, (Who can it be now?) he’s the Scottish-Australian musician who first made his mark during the 1980’s as the lead singer of the Australian band Men at Work. He’s now touring as a solo artist and played at the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center in Cedar Falls, Iowa, a few months ago.

Anyhow, Vickie and I hang out with Colin all the time now. Well, technically not all the time. It was just that one time, but we didn’t have to wait in line very long and I got to snap the neat picture at the top of this story. This experience of rubbing elbows with a famous person has given me confidence that my wife and I will soon be running in the most popular crowds.

Yeah, baby, I’m in with the in crowd and I go where the in crowd goes.

For instance, I once saw the weatherman from Channel Nine in the grocery store. Wow, I thought, that’s the weatherman from Channel Nine. I can’t believe this.

For some strange reason I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.

Oh my God, I kept repeating in my mind, I wonder if he signs autographs. Maybe he gives personal weather forecasts. This is so cool because that guy right over there is the WEATHERMAN FROM CHANNEL NINE.

Okay, I admit I can get a little star struck. I’d probably have a heart attack if I ever ran into the salesman from the late-night used car commercials. This is so cool because that guy right over there is going to get me a great deal on a ’94 Chevy and I’m pre-approved, GUARANTEED.

Last summer when I attended my first writer’s conference in Detroit with the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, I was really excited about seeing W. Bruce Cameron in person. I’d been a fan of his humor column for years and I really enjoyed his book Eight Simple Rules for Dating my Teenage Daughter.

Sure enough, when my wife and I pulled up in front of the hotel where the conference was being held, Bruce was standing out front talking to the concierge. “This is definitely the right place,” I exclaimed to Vickie, “because that guy right over there is W. BRUCE CAMERON. I wonder if he signs autographs. Maybe he gives personal weather forecasts. Wait a second, that doesn’t make sense!”

I finally got the nerve and opportunity to talk to him the next day. “I love your book!” I said, maybe a bit too eagerly. “I could relate because I was a father of a teenaged girl when I read it.”

He looked at me uncomfortably.

My mind raced. Jeff, think of something intelligent to say. Don’t blow this.

“And your humor column– I really like your column a lot.”

As I uttered those words, those seven little words– I really like your column a lot– my mind screamed out, No! I did not just say, “I really like your column a lot.” But, it was true.

To be perfectly clear, in case you weren’t paying attention, I said to the accomplished columnist and novelist W. Bruce Cameron when I met him, “I really like your column a lot.”

He continued to look at me uncomfortably.

As I mentioned earlier, I can get a little star struck.

The conversation dragged on a bit longer. I said to him that I hoped to maybe build a career of sorts writing columns.

Then he looked at me like I was crazy.

Bruce mentioned that it was getting harder for him to come up with column ideas because he’d written so many already. This is why it wasn’t a huge shock to me when I read earlier this year that he was discontinuing his column to devote more time to writing novels.

If I quit writing this little blog, I wonder what the headlines will say. Brown Discontinues Column to Pursue Career Mowing Yards.

I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever be able to make a career out of writing columns. At this point in time, it doesn’t look very likely. One thing is for certain.  If a total stranger ever comes up to me and says he really likes my column a lot, it will absolutely make my day.

Imagine this…

A few years from now a couple of women show up at my first book signing. One says to the other, “Oh my God, I can’t believe this. Do you see that guy sitting right over there signing books?”

“Yeah, that’s the weatherman from Channel Nine.”

“No, I think he mows my yard.”

W. Bruce Cameron’s humor column is still syndicated with Creators and can be found at:

Note to Self:

“These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before. ”  –Introduction from Star Trek

“These are the voyages of the John Deere I like to call Enterprise. Its mission: to boldly mow where no one has mowed before.”  Jeff Brown

Here I am out in the field.  Literally.

Well, technically I’m not in a field, it’s more of a Creeping Charlie and Not-So-Dandy Lion wildlife preserve, but this customer’s yard is so huge it might as well be a field.  Working with Dad in the lawn mowing business sure got an early start this year, and business is blooming.  Hahahaha!

That’s so funny because instead of “booming,” I used a word more closely associated with plants.

Note to self: I need to cut my caffeine consumption in the mornings.

There’s nothing like starting the day with a pot of coffee and a can of Mountain Dew.  Yes, my brain is in overdrive!

Note to self:  I probably should have gotten a job with a private bathroom.

Be still, my intestinal tract, there’s nowhere to go out here.  Oh well, at least this outdoorsy career keeps me physically fit, although my feet are killing me.

Note to self: Daddy needs a new pair of mowing shoes.

I sure hope today goes better than yesterday.  It was humiliating when that little girl kept yelling at me from her bedroom window, “Get out of my yard or I’m calling the cops.”

Note to Little Cretin:  No, Virginia, there’s no Santa Clause.

This terrain is bumpy!  I must distract my brain from my expanding bladder.

The Twin Paradox is a thought experiment in special relativity in which a John Deere lawn tractor makes a journey into space and returns home to find it has fewer hours on its engine than its identical twin that stayed on earth.   Consider this tractor traveling from Earth to the nearest star outside our solar system 4 light years away at a speed 80 percent the speed of light.

The round trip will take 10 years in Earth time (i.e. everybody on earth (including the twin) will be 10 years older when the tractor returns). The amount of time as measured on the tractor’s clock will be reduced by the factor ε=√1-v2/c2.  In this case, the traveling tractor’s engine will only have 6 years’ worth of wear and tear on it when it gets back to Earth!

THIS ISN’T WORKING AND MY BLADDER IS GOING TO GO SUPERNOVA.  I wonder if anyone would see me if I went over there by that bush.  What’s the worst that could happen?

Note to self:  Probably an indecent exposure charge and a write-up in the local newspaper.

I want to be in the paper, but not that way.  Too bad my column writing career isn’t going as well as the mowing business.  I firmly resolve to get up at 4 AM tomorrow and write a new blog.

Note to self:  Hahahaha!

I suppose I’ll end up mowing yards for the rest of my life.  When I was a kid, there was an old woman in town that mowed yards for a living.  Mean people called her Crazy.  I wonder what the locals will call me in coming years.

There goes Eccentric Jeff.  He used to be respected in this town until he got caught watering somebody’s grass. 

Maybe that newspaper editor I sent sample columns to last week called me back.  I’ll check my phone right now for missed messages.


Note to self: Buy beer on the way home tonight after you visit the shoe store.

Little Cretin:  Officer, you won’t believe what that bad man did to my parent’s bushes!

This is an Important Message for Rodney

“I don’t answer the phone.  I get the feeling whenever I do that there will be someone on the other end.”  –Fred Couples

“I don’t answer the phone.  I get the feeling whenever I do that there will be an androgynous voice on the other end asking for Rodney.” Jeff Brown

Hello Rodney.  How are you?

This column may be recorded for quality assurance purposes.

You don’t know me and I technically don’t know you.  For instance, I don’t know where you live, what kind of car you drive, who’s your daddy, or even what your last name is.  I am, however, painfully aware of your existence in the universe.

Believe me, Mr. Rodney Whatever Your Last Name Is; this isn’t because I ever wanted to be.  Oh, contraire, this knowledge of your beingness was forced upon me shortly after I got my cell phone number. The first not so subtle clue that you exist and are leading a more exciting social life than me came in the middle of the night, and it went like this:

Phone rings.

Jeff: (Fumbles for his glasses.) Where the heck is my stupid phone?   (Races to the living room and finds it stuck between the couch cushions.)  Hello.

Woman’s Voice:  Is Rodney there?

Jeff:  No, you have the wrong number.

Woman’s Voice:  (Giggles.)  Oh, I’m sorry.  (Hangs up.)

Rodney, from the sheer number of late night calls I received and continue to receive since I was issued my phone number several years ago, I gather you have lots of friends.  You must be pretty charismatic to have such following.  Whether its day or night, whether I’m on a ladder, eating dinner, or in the shower, you’re always in demand.  Sometimes it seems everyone in the country wants to reach out and touch you.

So do I, Rodney, so do I.

I have to admit you have a bigger social circle than me, and I was getting jealous.  That was until the second wave of calls started coming in that went like this:

Hi Rodney, how are you today?  Before I proceed further, I need to tell you this is an attempt to collect a debt, and any information obtained will be used for that purpose.

I explained to the debt collector that I was not you.  He took this information very well.  In fact, he liked my explanation so much that he called me a week later to hear it again.  He still calls occasionally, and each time I have to patiently explain to him that I’m not you, or as I often refer to you now– Mr. Popularity.

Apparently this confusion over our identities has extended to the government because I’ve been receiving messages from an androgynous robot voice that works for the Iowa Department of Revenue.

This is an important message for Rodney.  Please call us back at…

I tried to ignore the weird calls at first, but they came every day for two weeks straight.  Finally, I wore down and replied.

All of our agents are busy.  Please hold.

You’ve got to be kidding.  First they harass me incessantly, then they make ME call THEM, and then they have the nerve to put me on hold.       

How may I help you?

Your androgynous attack dog told me to call.

Is this Rodney?

No, my name is Jeff.  Please remove my phone number from your list.

Sorry for the inconvenience, Sir.

I’ve had this conversation with the Iowa Department of Revenue four times in the past twelve months.

Anyhow, Mr. Rodney, since I have no other way of contacting you, I have an important message for you here right here in this column:

The library really wants you to return those overdue books.

A Pretend Picnic Packed for Two

“There is a flower within my heart, Daisy, Daisy.” Harry Dacre

“There is a flower within my heart, Hailey Baby.” Jeff Brown

Hailey, Baby, give me your answer, do,

I’m half crazy, all for the love of you.

My 17-month old granddaughter, Hailey, shoved a plastic spoon laden with imaginary food (I liked to think it was a scrumptious bite of lasagna, but I suspect it was strained peas) in my mouth.  “Yum, num, num.” I said, smacking my lips loudly.

“Hee, hee,” she exclaimed.

Then it was my turn to feed her.  I took another plastic spoon, scooped up some imaginary Hamburger Helper, and pretended to feed it to her.  “Over the lips, past the gums, look out tummy, here it comes!”

She bit the spoon.  “Mmmmm.”  Then she smacked her lips.  “Apple?”

“Yes,” I said.  It’s certainly not Hamburger Helper; it’s 100% pure organic applesauce.”


I was on my knees and we were playing with a toy kitchenette, complete with plastic plates, plastic pots and pans, plastic fruits and vegetables, and yes, a tiny cardboard box of Hamburger Helper.  (Cheeseburger Macaroni, if I remember right.)  She grabbed a plastic French fry and shoved it down a tiny plastic ketchup bottle.  Her eyes got real big.  “Uh oh.”

“Oh no!” I exclaimed.  “What are we going to do now?”  She handed it to me.  “Okay,” I said, “I’ll try to get it out.”

It won’t be a lunch that tastes fantastic-

Because it’s made of plastic,

The yellow crinkly fry was really stuck in there, and my fingers were way too big to fit down the neck of the pretend bottle, so I turned it upside down and shook it.  The fry popped out just enough for me to grab with my fingertips.  I pulled it out.  “Here you go, Hailey Baby,” I said, as I gave her back the wayward fry and bottle.

She smiled at me appreciatively, which made me feel like I was king of the world.  Then she shoved the fry back inside.  “Uh oh!”

Soon we were filling a picnic basket.  “Here’s a nice plastic hardboiled egg,” I said.  We had our basket packed with other nutritious plastic items too like plastic hamburgers, plastic hotdogs, and about a dozen or so plastic potato chips.

Interesting fact: Junk food, even in plastic form, is still more attractive and tasty than the healthier plastic alternatives.

I noticed some of the fruits and vegetables were cut in half.  Well, they weren’t actually cut; rather they were vacuum formed in halves with Velcro taped to the side them.

Another interesting fact: Most children won’t eat the Velcro, although that’s where all the vitamins are.

The Velcro gave me an idea.  I found two plastic onion halves and Velcroed them together.  Then I found a plastic butter knife.  “Check this out, Hailey.”  On the floor, I cut it in half with the knife.  The ripping sound the Velcro made was surprisingly realistic and I handed the knife over to her. “Now it’s your turn.”

I put the onion back together and held it steady.  With her diaper sticking out of the top of her blue jeans, Hailey hunched over the plastic vegetable.  She pushed and pushed with both hands and the Velcro went rip, rip, until she cut it all the way through.

“Yay, Hailey,” I exclaimed, “You did it!”

She raised her arms in victory.  “Yay!”

Then I gave her a hug.

FYI:  I don’t normally teach babies how to use knives, but in this particular instance, it seemed perfectly appropriate.

Besides, I was really craving some freshly sliced plastic onion for my plastic hamburger.

But you’d look sweet, right next to me

On a pretend picnic packed for two!