Parents: Lung capacity key when choosing inflatable toy

We live less than 15 minutes from our favorite lake. The problem is, it also happens to be everyone else’s favorite lake, which means in order to get a spot within the vicinity of actual water, you have to be there when the gates open at noon and participate in something similar to the Oklahoma Land Rush. It’s not uncommon to see small children strapped to inflatable toys and tossed ahead of the crowd in order to claim prime territory.

As a parent, it’s not a gamble I’m willing to take with my child. Especially since, as a general rule, it only counts if your child is in an upright position once they skid to a stop.

The good news is that once the initial pandemonium is over, things generally settle into a state of peaceful co-existence as, one by one, parents begin passing out while blowing up inflatable toys. Sadly, the evolutionary process has not been able to keep up with the growing demand for larger and larger inflatable animals. Unless you are a pearl diver by trade, chances are your lung capacity is nowhere near what it needs to be in order to fully inflate your child’s favorite water toy.

This has created a generation of children who are routinely disappointed by their parents during the formative “summer vacation” years, when parents are trying to build a foundation of trust and respect — something that’s hard to do when your child sees you pass out facedown between the tail fins of a plastic humpback whale.

I speak from experience. My son’s favorite water toy is an inflatable “Shamu” that, when fully inflated, can be seen from space. Though I consider myself relatively fit (and by that I mean relative to other people standing in line with me at Burger King), I have yet, in a single sitting, been able to inflate my son’s whale beyond the point it stops resembling a decomposing whale carcass. That’s about the time dizziness and suspected cerebral hemorrhage forces me to breath pure oxygen — which, fortunately, is now available to parents in single-use canisters at the snack bar.

Sure, I’ve tried inflating the whale before driving to the lake.


I quickly discovered there wasn’t enough room in our mini van to fit a fully inflated whale and four children. This left me with three options:

1) Bring the whale and leave the kids.
2) Stay home and let the kids drive the whale to the lake themselves.
3) Strap the kids to the top of the van and hope for the best.

I went with our third option, but strapped the whale on top instead of the children when I realized an important point:
Aerodynamically speaking, the whale would give me better gas mileage.

I’m no Boy Scout, but I know how to tie a knot. I stand by that to this day. Just as I did in court, when I argued that it was a single, unexpected 120 mph wind gust — and not defective knot tying — that caused a nine-foot inflatable whale to go tumbling into oncoming traffic. Thankfully, no one was injured, although a family of six on its way back from the local aquarium is still in counseling. Because of that experience, and a court order, we save the “Shamu” inflation process for the lake.

Naturally, the same goes for the deflation process which, in many ways, is even more demoralizing. That’s because in order to get all the air out, I — a grown, 45-year-old man — must roll around on top of a plastic sea mammal while holding onto a tiny air nodule located in a region SOMEONE should have realized was going to look highly inappropriate. Not to mention depleting any respectability I had in the eyes of my children.

However, in the end, ask any father who wants his kids to have fun and he’ll tell you the same thing:

It’s just part of the rising cost of inflation.

Dignity is easier to swallow with hot sauce

Within our lives there are certain moments that inspire a deeper understanding of ourselves. I experienced such an epiphany yesterday morning during a quiet moment of introspection; crouched in the backyard; sprinkling dog poop with hot sauce.

To clarify, I was not attempting to create the world’s most disgusting Cajun appetizer. According to a book on canine behavior, this would train our dog to avoid eating his “leftovers.” It was in that moment, while clutching a bottle of Tabasco and trying not to be seen by my neighbors, I came to realize that somewhere along the way providing our dog with decent manners had become more important than maintaining my personal dignity.

How did this happen?

I’m a 46-year-old man who survived the diaper phases of two children — both of whom were heavy eaters. I’ve had my share of high profile, low-dignity diaper changes, one of which required quick thinking, commando-like precision, and a paper plate. I’ve sat across from my four-year-old son at a busy restaurant in downtown San Francisco, handed him a cheese stick appetizer, and watched him yak up what appeared to be everything he’d consumed since graduating to solid foods. I tried to salvage the situation by waiting for a lull in gastrol activity and then racing him into the men’s room. And let me just say had the rest rooms been clearly marked, we probably would’ve made it.

What got me through those times, of course, was knowing, as a parent, I could look forward to eventually becoming an embarrassment to my children once they entered middle school.

However, as I crouched over Stanley’s latest pile with my Tabasco bottle at the ready, one thought kept running through my mind:

You can’t embarrass a dog. Particularly one with questionable intelligence.

This meant I had either (a) matured to the point of not caring what others thought of me based on their own one-dimensional perception, or (b) succumbed to the realization that the last of my dignity had been wrung out into a mop bucket in San Francisco.

In either case, it meant I had moved on to a new phase in my life. A time that will eventually prepare me for my later years, when I’m secure enough in myself that the opinions of others — or even the basic rules of traffic — no longer matter. However, reaching that level of self assuredness is still years away, which is why, after noticing I’d been crouched over the same pile for several minutes, I quickly sprinkled it and moved on.

As far as I can tell, Stanley is no longer interested in his “leftovers.” I know this because he has stopped coming in from outside and standing with his tongue in the water bowl. At the same time, it’s proven to be a trade-off since I can’t put Tabasco on my eggs without getting queasy.

The important thing is that the experience has allowed me to achieve some personal growth thanks to a few moments of introspection about fodderhood.

(You can write to Ned Hickson at, or at the Siuslaw News at P.O. Box 10, Florence, OR 97439.)

Cosmetic surgery—boldly taking us where no one in their right mind has gone before

Today, we will be talking about an important milestone in the field of cosmetic surgery. Why? Because on my desk this morning was a press release with the following headline:

At long Last! Buttocks Enhancement Surgery available in U.S.!

So, as you can see, I really had no choice.

Especially since, as a professional courtesy, one of my fellow journalists had taken the time to write “Urgent!” across the top. (And, yes—these are the kinds of things that regularly cross my desk.)

As you might expect, buttocks enhancement surgery is just like other cosmetic procedures in that the sole purpose is to improve the physical attributes of a person. This is accomplished by either enlarging or reducing the size of said attribute.

Which can be singular or plural.

And we’ll just leave it at that.

In this case, however, we’re talking about enlarging the buttocks. While many people, such as myself, prefer to achieve this naturally through a program of rigorous eating and lack of exercise, there are others who don’t want to wait for the holidays for a larger rear. For these people there is Dr. Mark Jewell, vice-president of the National Aesthetic Society, which is currently offering this procedure here in the U.S.

According to the press release, buttocks enhancement surgery has actually been popular in South America for many years.

Ah, yes—South America! We may not have indoor plumbing, but just look at our butts.

The enhancement process itself can take place three ways. The first is to inject fat directly into the gluteus muscles, which may SOUND gross, but…

Okay, yeah—it’s actually pretty gross.

The second is to go with plastic implants that are inserted directly behind the gluteus muscles. This technique, according to Dr. Jewell, is supposed to look the most natural.

That is, as long as you don’t plan on going swimming. If you do, the natural buoyancy of the plastic implants will add a whole new meaning to the term “bottoms-up.” It’s because of this that you can expect to see an increase in the number of pool injuries, particularly those caused by large children leaping onto what they thought was a wayward floatation device.

The final option is for the surgeon to make an incision directly in the skin surrounding the buttocks, and then stretch it up much like a face lift. The main difference being, of course, that too many of these, and you’ll permanently suffer from the world’s worst wedgie.

This brings us to our next segment: Face transplants.

This is exactly what it sounds like—surgically replacing someone’s entire face all at one time. This is obviously a vast improvement over replacing someone’s face over the course of many years, which, as you know, was first pioneered by Michael Jackson.

According to a report in Britain’s The Daily News, plastic surgeon Peter Butler says he plans to carry out a full-face transplant as early as next April. Butler says the experiment will be performed at London’s “Royal Free Hospital” — which is the perfect place since, if something goes wrong, his patient will be royally…

Well — you know.

Butler, however, isn’t the only surgeon vying to perform the first successful face transplant. According to a recent article in the journal Medicine, there are at least three other teams of surgeons around the world working on techniques that will allow facial skin, muscles, blood vessels and nerves to be removed from a corpse and attached to someone other than Ted Koppel.

As you can see, we have a lot to look forward to when it comes to the future of cosmetic surgery. Yet, I’d suggest against going in for buttocks enhancement surgery and a face transplant all at once.

Unless your willing to risk finding out that hindsight really is 20/20.

(You can write to Ned Hickson at, or at the Siuslaw News at P.O. Box 10, Florence, Or. 97439)

The bigger your lips, the sexier you’ll be when it comes to dating a sucker fish

Nothing says “sexy” faster than someone with a pair of giant lips, even if that person’s collagen injections have made their lips so enormously seductive that they can’t actually pronounce the word “sexy,” and must instead settle for calling themselves “shek-shee.” The point is, big lips are no longer just a cosmetic enhancement for people less fortunate than Mick Jagger and Angelina Jolie, whose lips are so large and incredibly sexy that they are prohibited by international law from bearing children together because, quote: “Said children could potentially upset the delicate balance between populations of humans and sucker fish.”

Though we all know that true beauty stems from inside, as any cosmetics surgeon will tell you, no one will notice unless your lips are the size of tractor tires. Which is why a new product called City Lips is being heralded as the newest, easiest and safest way to give you the lips you always wanted, but never dreamed you could have, at least not without surgically implanting tire stems in them and inflating your lips to 350 psi.

Until now, those of us unable to afford expensive collagen injections were forced to live with the embarrassment of having normal, everyday lips. But thanks to City Lips, you can avoid the hassle and expense of collagen injections by using their patented do-it-yourself lip enlargement process!

That’s right! Say goodbye to snobby surgeons telling you how much better you’d look with Julia Roberts lips when their own lips look like Phyllis Diller’s. With each purchase of City Lips you’ll receive one bottle of specially formulated “lip transformer” solution and a patented dual-action applicator. This applicator is a crucial part of City Lips’ groundbreaking, two-step process — which starts by applying the “lip transformer” with one side of the patented applicator and then, after turning the applicator over, whacking your lips with it as many times as possible for 10 minutes.

Okay, I made that last part up. But according to City Lips, their new product has been named “Best Over-the-Counter Lip Plumper” by Good Housekeeping, which, as you know, recently debunked the common misconception that you could increase the size of your lips by spraying them with Pledge (although it will keep them shiny and smelling lemony fresh).

I’d also like to point out that after three large margaritas, trying to say “Best Over-the-Counter Lip Plumper” will at least make your feel like your lips are really huge.

I bring this up because I’m concerned about the mixed message this sends to young women. On one hand, they’re seeing supermodels getting thinner and thinner. On the other hand, they’re seeing those same models trip over their own lips on the runway, with nothing to break their fall except for other stumbling models, who then land in a flailing heap of inflated lips and silicone.

No more. It’s time to quit pouting, pucker up, and accept each other’s lips just the way they are.

Unless pouting makes your lips look fuller, of course.

(You can write to Ned Hickson at, or at the Siuslaw News at P.O. Box 10, Florence, OR. 97439)

Being Canadian for a day could lead to a strained Molson muscle

Today we will be talking about Canada.


Because aside from the many similarities we share with Canadians, such as celebrating our independence day the very same weekend, and our historic bi-lateral agreement banning any future above-ground testing of Michael Jackson’s reproductive system, I have been offered an official Canadian citizenship starting at 12:00 a.m. on July 1.

OK, so my citizenship will only last 24 hours.

Possibly less, depending on how I pronounce the word “Poutine” (which, from what I understand, is a French word meaning “clogged artery”). However, if all goes well, I will get to spend an entire day as a real Canadian, eating nothing but Tim Horton’s Donuts, chewing purple gum that tastes like soap, and stretching my Molson muscle (which I swear only sounds inappropriate for a family newspaper.)

Undoubtedly there are readers in the U.S. who are surprised, possibly even outraged, by my willingness to become a Canadian citizen. Rest assured this decision came after many hours of soul searching, and the realization that with my free Canadian health coverage — and access to a high performance vehicle — I could potentially see more medical specialists in 24 hours than I’ve seen in the past 15 years on my HMO. I could use a different dermatologist for each mole on my body! This is a vast improvement over my current health plan, which only covers moles large enough to be claimed as a dependent.

And even then, only until it reaches age 18.

You may be wondering how the offer of a 24-hour citizenship came aboot (That’s not a typo; it’s Canadian phonetics). As much as I’d like to tell you it’s a direct result of the impact my column has had on the Canadian people, the truth is it has more to do with Rob Gilgan, editor and publisher of the Rimbey Review in Alberta, who offered me this one-day citizenship. This is in exchange for a monthly shipment of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese from the U.S. which, by not being subject to Canada’s “Goods and Services Tax,” will save Rob an estimated $3,000 a year.

At least in U.S. dollars.

I’m not sure what that equals in Canadian currency because it’s measured in millimeters.

Or kilograms.

Or some type of denomination meant to confuse U.S. tourists — thousands of whom are arrested each year for driving 120 mph through downtown Edmonton. These are the same people who arrive in Alberta in late July dressed in polar fleece because they think there’s a 50-degree temperature drop between the U.S. and Canadian border.

To be honest, free medical coverage wasn’t my only motivation for becoming a Canadian citizen. I’m more interested in seeing attractions like the giant Ukrainian Easter egg in Vegreville, Alberta, which stands an amazing nine meters tall! According to my calculations, if this were an actual egg, it would have to be laid by a chicken roughly the size of Rita McNeil.

Or, in standard U.S. measurements, 1-in-5 people leaving McDonald’s.

As you can tell, I’m excited about my 24-hour Canadian citizenship. To make the most of it I plan to see as much of Alberta as possible, beginning with a quick trip through Edmonton, and continuing on to Rimbey and Vegreville.

Of course, that’s assuming I don’t get arrested for speeding, or worse — get hospitalized by a non-French-speaking woman after striking up a conversation about her “Poutine.”

Hey, at least I’ll have health coverage.

(You can write to Ned Hickson at, or at the Siuslaw News at P.O. Box 10, Florence, OR. 97439.)

Okay, maybe fruitcake doesn’t threaten humanity

Journalism can be a dangerous profession, even for those of us who never actually leave our desk unless a “situation” develops, such as the sudden and unprovoked arrival of free donuts. On several occasions, I have found myself in harm’s way as a dozen employees stampeded into the break room (which, according to the Fire Marshal, has a “maximum occupancy level of two, as long as no one is using the commode.”) It is at those times, while being crushed between fellow employees grappling for the last maple bar, that I am reminded of just how dangerous my job can be.

But it doesn’t end there.


Not for those of us with the courage to SPEAK OUT against what is wrong with the world. Or, in my case, what is wrong with fruitcake.

As you may remember (and judging by the number of fruitcakes that have been appearing on my desk, at my home, or through the window of my car, many of you do), it was last year around this time that I drew the wrath of fruitcake lovers everywhere after suggesting that untold numbers of people (source: Dan Rather) suffer from Fruitcake Disposal Anxiety Disorder.

To refresh your memory, FDAD occurs when the recipient of said fruitcake has feelings of anxiety over how to dispose of their gift in a way that is (a) respectful, without (b) inadvertently raising the terrorist threat level. I say this because, unlike its English counterpart, which is said to be moist and delicious, American fruitcake is known — like many U.S. food products — for its durability. This is especially true of commercially produced fruitcakes, which are primarily used to keep decorative tins from getting bent during shipping.

My flagrant disregard for fruitcake rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Particularly those who were already on edge after waking up from the holidays in a rum-induced fog. I was besieged with e-mails and letters from readers like Lesley Hatcher of Panama City, Fla., and Dale and Yvonne Pretzer of Florence, Ore., who promised to change my mind about fruitcake by sending me homemade samples this year.

I had no reason to suspect this would actually happen, and that I would receive enough fruitcake to finish the retaining wall in my back yard. If I had, I would’ve also flagrantly disregarded beef tenderloin, and any Scotch over 30 years old.

But a promise is a promise. I said I would sample everything with an open mind and, in the event of a sudden fruitcake epiphany, seek immediate medical attention. After which, I would issue a formal apology to the fruitcake lovers of the world.

Just as soon as doctors had me stabilized.

Due to the volume of fruitcake I have been consuming, this process has taken longer than expected since I’ve spent most of the last few weeks hung over and picking candied fruit from my teeth. However, I’m willing to admit I may have overstated things when I called fruitcake a “threat to humanity.” The same goes for what I said about launching fruitcakes into space as a defense against alien invaders.

The truth is, I may have to renounce my title as “Ned Hickson: The Fruitcake Grinch,” as given to me by the Pretzers. I’m not saying I’ll be joining the Society for the Preservation of Fruitcake any time soon. Only that I’d be willing to put myself in harm’s way should we experience an unprovoked fruitcake attack again next year.

Which brings us to our next topic: My flagrant disregard for live-shipped Maine lobster…

(You can write to Ned Hickson at, or at the Siuslaw News at P.O. Box 10, Florence, OR 97439.)

The people have spoken! The world is full of fruitcakes

Every once in a while a column strikes a nerve with readers. These readers then write me to express their displeasure; they are angry, hurt, offended, or breaking in new stationery. Whatever the reason, I appreciate this feedback regardless of the fact that, in many cases, the column they’re talking about wasn’t mine. So you can imagine my shock at getting unhappy letters from people who (a) read my column and (b) actually like fruitcake.

The letters came in response to the column I wrote about Fruitcake Disposal Anxiety Disorder, which was named in a New York Times special investigation as “The fastest-growing mental disorder in the entire world.”

“And we’re pretty sure about that,” the report concluded. “If not, then it’s right up there with ‘Fear of Clowns’ or something.”

After receiving these letters, I looked back over the column and realized that, yes — it was a little insensitive to fruitcake lovers out there. So, in response, I spent time looking into what makes a good fruitcake, compared with the kind of fruitcake the rest of us receive each holiday season. After comparing dozens of recipes and then baking four different fruitcakes of my own, I realized something important — which is that, by using a six-inch bundt pan, my daughter now has a full set of tires for her Barbie Jeep.

Again, I’m not saying that there’s no such thing as a good fruitcake.

I’m just saying that if there’s an R-14, all-weather radial bundt pan out there, I’d like to know about it.

I should point out that over 21 million fruitcakes were sold in the U.S. last year, and not one of them was allowed on any flight in or out of Canada. That’s because fruitcakes have been added to the list of banned carry-on items on all Canadian flights. This is due to the X-ray machine’s inability to penetrate fruitcake, therefore making it impossible for screeners — or even Superman — to verify if they’re safe.

“Well, look at that! A fruitcake from Lex Luthor. How thoughtful!”
“Be careful, Superman.”
“Relax, Lois. What danger could there be in…WAIT! THOSE AREN’T CANDIED GUAVAS!”

Admittedly, there is a huge difference between what passes as fruitcake here in the U.S., and what the English refer to as “plum” cake. While the English version is said to be extremely moist and flavorful due to its high rum content, American fruitcake is known — like many U.S. food products — for its durability. This is particularly true of commercial fruitcakes, which are primarily used for keeping decorative tins from getting bent during shipping.

Lesley Hatcher of Panama City, Fla., who wrote in promising to change my mind about fruitcake by shipping me a homemade sample next year, is obviously very passionate about fruitcake.

Frighteningly, she’s not alone. As a member of the Society for the Protection and Preservation of Fruitcake (, she is “one of thousands” who are “spreading the gospel about fruitcake.”

(Note: After looking long and hard, I’m happy to report there’s no reference in either testament to The Gospel According to Fruitcake.)

According to Lesley, the fastest way to get someone to stop making jokes about fruitcake is to give them a piece. I’m not sure if that’s supposed to change their mind or keep them from speaking, but whatever the case, I promise to keep an open mind until next year.

Who knows? I may end up eating my words.

Then again, I may end up with a spare for my daughter’s Jeep.

(You can write to Ned Hickson at, or at the Siuslaw News at P.O. Box 10, Florence, OR. 97439)

Say what you want, but fruitcake could be our last defense against alien invaders

Recent studies show that mild depression after the holidays is not only common but, in many cases, is the result of FDAD—Fruitcake Disposal Anxiety Disorder. On one hand, your fruitcake was a gift and therefore deserving of some measure of appreciation. On the other hand, it has already become a chew toy for the neighbor’s pit bull. This often leads to feelings of anxiety long after the holidays have ended, particularly when you see “Buster,” still intoxicated with rum, struggling to dislodge the sugar loaf from his tightly-clenched jaws.

So, as a service to our readers, we assembled a group of psychiatrists to help provide insight into dealing with FDAD. At a cost of more than $200 an hour, we held an informative, three-minute discussion to create the following self-help guide:

I’m OK—You’re OK. But Give Me a Fruitcake and I’ll Kill You.

According to our experts, the first step in dealing with this anxiety is understanding where it comes from. To do that, we must go back to the very first fruitcake, which historians agree was baked by Dick Clark in 1609. Subsequently, this same cake was dropped from a tall building each New Year’s Eve until 1972, when, after 364 years, it developed a crack and, as a safety precaution, was launched into space.

This was done despite protests from scientists, who warned that the loaf could eventually crash back to earth and lead to mass extinction.

Or, at the very least, cause the next several generations of humans to ask, “Is it just me, or does everything STILL smell like #@$% fruitcake?!”

Experts say this has led to a new generation of people who not only distrust fruitcake, but see it as a genuine threat to humanity. For these people, we offer the following four-step guide to controlling their fruitcake anxiety.

Step one: Make a list of your fruitcake’s good qualities. The key is to start with what makes fruitcake unique. For example: Its indestructibility. You may not like fruitcake, but you have to respect the fact that cockroaches will be eating it long after humans are being imported to other galaxies on alien party platters.

Step two: Incorporate fruitcake into your daily activities. This is easy once you stop thinking of fruitcake as food. In the same way that Tofurkey is slowly gaining acceptance as an environmentally safe adhesive, fruitcake doesn’t seem so bad once you’ve started using it to block open the garage door. Or as a counterweight on the gas peddle while your car warms up each morning. The point is, if it’s good enough to serve as a “bunker buster” for our military, it’s good enough to serve as a doorstop in your family’s home.

Step three: Consider turning your fruitcake into a treasured heirloom by getting it engraved and then giving it to someone. Just add your name and date, and you can pass this special keepsake on to someone else at the next available birthday party, wedding, house warming, Earth Day celebration, etc.

And finally, if after following these first three steps you’re still unable to control your symptoms, go directly to step four: Investing in a ticket to Mantiou Springs, Colo., for the annual Great Fruitcake Toss. Each January, this event draws hundreds of people from around the world for the sole purpose of showing off their fruitcakes and then catapulting them as far as possible.

Sure, this may sound stupid.

But some day this might be our last defense against invading aliens.

(You can write to Ned Hickson at, or at the Siuslaw News at P.O. Box 10, Florence, OR. 97439)