When something is free people either tend to overuse and abuse it because they want to get their money’s worth while it’s still free, or they figure it’s not worth much and they ignore it altogether.

    If you give a man a fish, he’ll have food for one day (and he’ll stuff himself with a lot more fish at one sitting than he normally would). 

    But if you give him a gift certificate for free fishing lessons from an expert, he’ll assume that learning how to fish isn’t such a big deal, he’ll never bother to schedule the lessons, and he’ll end up starving to death with the gift certificate still sitting in his shirt pocket.

    For one flat monthly fee most home telephone service and an increasing number of cell phone plans now include all of the long distance calls you want to make, or don’t want to make, anywhere in the United States and Canada, and usually to some other part of the world as well.

    Whether you make no calls or have marathon calling sessions all day and all night the cost is the same, so it seems like making a long distance call is free. 

    You can even make three-way calls at no extra cost, except in Kansas and South Carolina, where even a three-way stop sign is considered amoral.

    Free long distance sounds like it would be a good thing.  But it’s at the “overuse and abuse it” end of the “it’s free” behavior spectrum, and thus may be the end of civilized life as we know it: it not only promotes telemarketing, it helps keep families in touch by actually speaking to each other.

    When long distance calling was expensive, you rarely telephoned relatives who lived out of town. 

    In fact, pretty much no one called anyone long distance unless there was some truly momentous news, or you needed money wired to make bail.

    People wrote letters and occasionally traveled to visit, and other than that, people who lived far away were on their own, and everyone else could get on with their lives. 

    This was known as “The American Dream.” 

    Your obnoxious Uncle Ira in Bloomington couldn’t expect you to call at $4.55 a minute just to say hello, and you knew the cheapskate wasn’t about to call at his expense, no matter how anxious he was to tell you he was regular again or that your Aunt Thelma was back in the cooking sherry and making rhubarb crisp twenty-four hours a day and he was about to strangle her with the cord from his enema bag.

    I actually have an Uncle Ira who lives more than a thousand miles away, and every time he remembers a prediction he once made--or never made--that’s come true, he calls to make sure I know about it. 

    I tried hiding behind caller i.d, but Uncle Ira, who I suspect has ties to the cyanide capsule industry, will leave messages every hour on the hour until I pick up the phone or call him back.

    If this were twenty years ago, Uncle Ira would be little more than an occasionally recurring bad dream instead of a weekly nightmare, and would be confined to annoying people within a five mile radius, which means they’d be close enough to retaliate.

    I lived far away from my parents when I was a young man.  We had a scheduled call every Sunday, and because it was expensive, the conversation was limited to necessary items, like a reminder from my mother of how successful my brother was and how often he was able to visit because he hadn’t moved to god-knows-where to follow some ridiculous fantasy instead of going to law school. 

    The entire call would last five minutes at the most, three minutes if my mother had to tend to something in the kitchen and my father could hang up before she returned.

    Last week my mother, who now lives in an assisted aggravation community south of the Mason-Dixon line, called to say she was feeling tired.  That was a twenty minute discussion.

    Half an hour later she called to say she was feeling a little better, and that was another ten minutes.

    She called that evening to say she got my sister’s answering machine when she tried to reach her, and was frantic because she hadn’t heard from her in two days.

    When long distance was expensive, no news was good news. 

    With free long distance, if my mother doesn’t hear from my sister for thirty-six hours, she can call everyone she knows, to alarm, discuss, analyze and accuse, and all it costs her is everyone else’s time and aggravation.

    “Why not?” has become the new national mantra when someone asks, “Should I call Harry in Wabash and let him know?” 

    I’ll tell you why not: you’re driving everyone insane and ruining life as we know it.

    I’d like to say that I’m part of the solution instead of part of the problem, but in this case, I’m like Jimmy Swaggert preaching chastity while he was forcing his prayer stick down some poor young lady’s throat in a cheap motel room:

    Right now, I’m trying to find someone I can telephone in Puerto Rico because I can call there any time for free, and until I start doing it, I don’t feel like I’m getting my money’s worth.


Dear Major Ashpole,

   As the senior Senator from Kansas, I would state for the record that there are numerous three way stop signs in our state, and abstinence is the only way that teenagers can keep from getting pregnant.

   Well, I haven’t actually checked to see if there are any three way stop signs in our state, and abstinence programs have actually increased teen pregnancy rates, but I’m not going to start worrying about facts at this point in my career. 

Sen. Sam Brownback (R, Kansas)

Washington, DC

P.S. I wish I had had the chance to have sex when I was a teenager, and because I didn’t, now I’m going to make everyone else pay for it, so just feel lucky I don’t have repressed feelings about nuclear weapons.

Dear Senator Brownback,

   I hope you’ll forgive your daughters for having sex at a younger age than you did.

Dear Major Ashpole,

   A fish can actually provide food for several days if it is cooked and stored properly.

   And if it’s a big fish, like a tuna, you can make moccasins from the skin and skinning knives from the bones, not necessarily in that order.

   So there.

Mary Stunning Feathers

Asst. Chief, Nutrition History

Chipaputt Nation (and Casino Spa/Golf Resort and Tax-Free Cigarette Outpost)

Dear Major Ashpole,

   Like, what is it with you people who hate telephones. 

   My cell is, like, my best friend, and, what’s wrong with, like, calling people, or texting, or, and what’s an enema bag, anyway?

   I speak for our, like, whole class, so, WTF, okay?

Cheree Cilfone

Sophomore Class President

Five Lakes High School

Dear Major Ashpole,

   I wish my sons would call me every Sunday, or at all.  Either one of them. 

   Even George W.

Barbara Bush

America’s Queen Mother


Dear Major Ashpole,

   There is nothing funny about domestic violence, unless you stick to pies in the face, but don’t do it violently, which means never throw the pan with the pie, and you should always get your spouse’s permission first.

   Also: You may think that a threat of strangling a spouse with an enema cord is good for a few chortles, but if you’ve ever been on the other end, as it were, of a threat, it really isn’t very funny at all.

   And never throw telephones.

Russell Crowe

Acting Like An Adult As Much As Possible

P.S. Down under, you can’t use an enema bag because everything flows the other way.

P.P.S. Ha-ha!  Actually, I just made that up! (or down...get it?)

Dear Major Ashpole,

   Actually, there is no “cyanide capsule industry” as such.  It’s pretty much of a “do it yourself” business, as I understand it.

   I looked on Amazon and I called the White House and I got to meet a couple of Secret Service guys, right in my own condo, which was pretty cool, but while there are companies that do make cyanide, they don’t make capsules.

   Anyway, maybe your uncle has ties to the corn lobby and he’s just trying to get you frustrated so you’ll eat lot of processed foods packed with high fructose corn syrup.

   Show me where I’m wrong.

Bill O’Reilly

Still Knocking ‘Em Dead In Prime Time

(get the pun with cyanide? not a pun, really, but funny, right?)

Dear Major Ashpole,

   Re: “Should I call Harry in Wabash and let him know?”

   In the first place, Harry moved from Wabash about thirty years ago.

   Second: Wabash is a real place, and we’re tired of people acting as if it means “in the middle of nowhere.”  

   The fact is: Wabash is a county seat, and is just 50 miles from Fort Wayne.

   So the next time you want to make a joke about somewhere that’s nowhere, I suggest La Fontaine, which is a little closer to the interstate than we are, but a good three miles farther from Fort Wayne, and it ain’t no county seat, neither.

Buford Boondock

Wabash Chamber of Commerce

P.S. What’s more fun than a barrel of enema cords?

   I can answer that one: nothing. 

   You are a funny guy. 

   You should speak at one of our meetings, but all of our speakers have to provide enough pigs in blankets for everyone, so once you’ve confirmed a date, I’ll send you the blanket size for each pig what will be attending.


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