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Wednesday, July 26, 2006 01:54 pm

The checklist

It's easy to mark progress, when you lower the bar

As we pass from one life phase to another, it’s not unusual to make resolutions. Two years ago I passed from work to retirement — and I resolved.

It’s time to check up — how’d I do?

Resolution 1: Learn to cook. Resolution: accomplished. I think that the recipe is worth passing on, should you, too, want to live a “full” life. First and foremost, the brand of hot dog you use is not only important, it’s also key to the entire project. It must be Ball Park Franks — other brands (all 36 of ’em) will blow up, completely! The recipe calls for a controlled blast.

Once you’ve got your hot dogs, and this is very important, take them from the wrapper. Next, and this is also very important, put your dogs on a plate. Stick the plate (with the dogs) into microwave after opening microwave door. Set the microwave to two minutes. Press the start button.

My friend, exactly two minutes later you’ll not only have a delicious, mouthwatering plate o’ dogs but those dogs will also be exploded open down the middle, ready and waiting for you to slap an inch-thick run of fire-hot mustard inside each dog’s open seam.

Add homemade chocolate-chip cookies and whole milk, and you have food heaven within your grasp — good for at least one meal a day. I recommend Famous Amos homemade cookies. They’re in the cookie aisle, in the grocery store. They only come in packages of eight, so you’ll need two packages. It’s prudent to use a store employee to help you select the milk, because for some odd reason there’s milk other than whole. Gotta be careful.

Resolution 2: Exercise. Resolution: accomplished. I did a little advance research because it’d been a while since I’d exercised on purpose. The Internet experts recommended starting by incorporating exercise into your everyday routine; for example, use the stairs instead of the elevator or do leg lifts at your work desk a couple of times a day.

I had yet to install an elevator in our one-level home, and because I no longer worked, the workplace leg lifts were out. I had to improvise. Problem solved: No more slip-on loafers for me. I started wearing high-top sneakers — with shoelaces. Bend down, tie shoes — every day! Sometimes twice a day! Day in, day out, bend down, tie shoes! I’m committed to the program.

Resolution 3: Help someone. Resolution: well done! There’s not much traffic in our subdivision. Fifty-year-old trees form a canopy over our roads. We’ve been discovered by walkers. Fine by me — I enjoy watching people pass by. Last month a young family started walking our way every evening: mom, dad, and twins — two little guys, maybe 4 years old, cute as could possibly be. They seemed the perfect family — husband and wife playing with the boys, the boys smiling ear to ear when not laughing out loud. Everyone happy!

Then, last week, they paraded the tykes by in little Chicago Cubs uniforms — so, as any caring and responsible person would do, I reported Mom and Dad to the Department of Children and Family Services. And if Mom and Dad have an iota of decency in ’em, the sick freaks will someday thank me for my intervention.

Resolution 4: Finish writing my book. Resolution: in litigation. I’d been stalled at page 201 of my great American novel for a decade, and even though I hadn’t paid attention to it for years, I knew it was good, an apocalyptic masterpiece, Rabelaisian, belly laughs and insight and Yossarian and Milo and Hungry Joe and Natley’s whore and the soldier in white and Major Major Major Major — a classic, half done, waiting anxiously for its conclusion.

Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 had inspired me before, and even though I’d forgotten every word of it, maybe it could inspire me again. I started reading. What! How! Impossible! Insane! Twilight Zone! Magic! Time travel! Damn! Somehow that rat Heller had plagiarized my words — 45 years before I’d written them. I’m preparing to sue Heller’s estate.

Resolution 5: Learn to draw. Resolution: accomplished. I made the commitment so that I might add drawings to my novel. As I started, I was limited to stick people. Now, after two long and expensive art courses and practicing on Wednesdays till my hand cramped shut, I’m able draw stick animals. You can tell the weasel from the cat because the cat has stick whiskers.

Resolution-6: Quit smoking. Resolution: accomplished — three times.

Resolution 7: Lose weight. Resolution: accomplished. In spite of my well-planned diet and rigorous exercise routine, I gained 22 pounds between the time I made the list and now. Not good — until the dog died! Buster and I were attached as much as dog and man could be. He was part of me. He weighed 32 pounds. As I count it, I lost 10 pounds.

Resolution 8: Live forever. So far, so good!

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