Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: When the real goal is finding common ground

The U.S. men’s national soccer team warms up before a friendly match against the national team of Uruguay on June 5, 2022, at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas. Photo: Eric Thomas for the Kansas reflector

Sometimes the very best stories seem to come at the end of the year and that’s true of NPR’s report on a Texas hospital—and many others across America—who found patients and their caregivers united in their obsession with… World Cup soccer.

Instead of TVs tuned to the ubiquitous “Blue Bloods,” QVC and Fox, it seemed as if everyone was focused on soccer, cheering for an often newly adopted team through their oxygen masks, groaning from a disputed yellow card more than pain from a healing hip.

The soccer playoffs had an unexpected benefit: Patients saw their doctors as human beings, said Dr. Grace Farris, a hospitalist in Austin.

“You might feel a little pinch…of, wait…. GOOOOOAAAAALLLLL!!!!” Everyone in the hospital, from housekeeping to heart surgeons took a minute. Patients across the nation “scooched” over a little to make room on their beds. The bloodwork was back but that could wait a while. Fives were highed. Conversations were had. All that other stuff? That could wait. Would France beat Morocco? Would Argentina beat France? (Yep and yep.)

As a fan of UNC basketball and Panthers football, I know almost nothing about soccer, but I know a lot about trying to find common ground, particularly in 2022. It was tough out there.

It turns out that soccer, of all things, provided common ground in the most depressing place to be in general, particularly during the holidays. Who’d have thought?

Reading about the spikes of soccer fever spreading through hospital wards across the country, made me recall how the TV in the room could soften the blow –and provide a shared memory with a stranger–when I’ve had occasion to visit family members and dear friends in hospitals, nursing homes, even hospice.

I have talked to doctors about how many days, not weeks, a loved one had left thinking: “I can’t believe we are having this conversation with “Friends” on in the background.” And because I’d rather concentrate on whether Ross and Rachel were on a break or listen to Phoebe sing “Smelly Cat” to exaggerated studio audience laughter than deal with death, I glazed over and looked at the screen. I was listening. But I needed to rest my eyes somewhere safe and familiar.

These days, there are pillow speakers in hospitals, thanks be to God. Before that invention it was possible to emerge from a visit with a pounding headache from the cumulative clamor of the sirens of “Law & Order” and gunfights in “Bonanza.”

I visited the nursing home where my mama died four to five days a week and marveled every time at how “Golden Girls” was on in almost all the rooms. I’d always switch it to “Days of Our Lives” because, well, you have your family traditions; I’ll have mine.

Sometimes, a staffer would comment on the soap, lingering until the commercial break and I knew right away she was a lifer, just like me. Had her granny shushed her and said, “Sit down, honey, it’s time for my stories.” Most likely.

Dr. Farris, who is also a published author and accomplished cartoonist (what a loser, am I right?) produced a series of panels showing ER staff checking the quarterfinals on their phones and patients sharing their stories: “I can’t walk anymore but growing up in Mexico, soccer was in my blood.” The playoffs brought staff together as well, as newbies learned about “offside” and “nil” finding kindred spirits in co-workers all over the hospital.

During this third holiday season with COVID, soccer—a sport often mired in corruption and scandal, admits Farris–provided joy and communion in the most unlikely of settings.

“From where I’m standing,” said Dr. Farris, “the World Cup (was) a slam-dunk, hole-in-one, home run, excellent hospital holiday set piece.”

I’ll have to look up that last one.

Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist. Write her at [email protected].

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: Elon Musk is curious about that bridge you wanna sell him

Elon Musk during the official opening of the new Tesla electric car manufacturing plant on March 22, 2022 near Gruenheide, Germany.  (Photo by Christian Marquardt – Pool/Getty Images)

I write the next paragraph with the full understanding that, as a result, my Twitter account may be dispatched to a place as cold and dark as where Brittney Griner was bustin’ rocks just a couple of weeks ago. Never to be seen again. So be it. #itwasworthit.

Elon Musk is awful, y’all.

For the longest time, I thought he was just odd—a guest host gig on “Saturday Night Live” a while back was fine and he appeared to be a good sport in that sparsely populated club of billionaires who can laugh at themselves but…no more.

These days, Elon Musk has all the stamps on his “crazy as an outhouse rat” punch card and he’s just getting started. It’s obvious buying Twitter for the ridiculous sum of $44 billion made him nuts. I get it. I once paid too much for a “cashmere” throw that turned out to be “cashmiracle” instead and I had terrible buyer’s remorse. It’s the exact same thing.

We snickered a little when he announced on Day 1, he would charge $20 a month to get or keep a verified Twitter account and quickly reduced it to $8 after users complained. Then there was talk of $2 a month. Which tells me if you want to go car-shopping, do NOT let Elon negotiate for you.

“Wait! Is that a rusted out ’70 Camaro over there on the back lot? I’ll give you $30 million for that. What? It’s $850 or best offer? Ohhhh, being cagey, huh? Well you’re taking the $30 million or I walk Mr., er, what was your name, Dan the Dealmaker? Yes, well, please accept this deal and give my best holiday wishes to Mrs. Dealmaker and any spawn you may have.”

To be fair, it’s hard to be likeable when you’re the richest person in the world. That’s why you’ve never heard of most billionaires. They circle the wagons, hang out with just family members dining together nightly on the carcasses of mouthy employees and generally stay out of the limelight except for the occasional museum or big university building dedication. That’s just speculation, of course. It’s fair to say most of what I know about rich people I learned from watching C. Montgomery Burns on “The Simpsons” so it’s possible I’m wrong.

It’s almost as if Elon Musk got tired of his bromance buddy, Ye West, getting all the attention. He fired 5,000 employees, created makeshift “bedrooms” for the remaining staff so they could rest between mega shifts, mercilessly mocked a man who has devoted his entire career to public health (Fauci); and welcomed all manner of QAnon conspiracy craziness back to Twitter.

Musk has plunged from brilliant tech pioneer and celebrated, though eccentric, visionary of the future into an object of near universal derision. He was booed lustily for a solid five minutes at a Dave Chappelle comedy show in San Francisco recently and, according to some audience members, he looked genuinely shocked. Was it a wake-up call? Nah. By the next day, he was tweeting that only about 10 percent of the audience booed him at most, despite video evidence to the contrary. The tech giant forgot about cell phones.

I sincerely hope Musk is better at math than this indicates or else some of those cars aren’t going to be completely safe. Oops. Too late. (“This car has a 90 percent customer satisfaction rating. Or is it 10? Same diff, right Dealmaker?”)

Elon Musk’s stock, both real and metaphorical, has plunged and, this being the holiday season, it may take a crusty old dude named Marley wearing rattling chains attached to ledgers and cash boxes to show him the error of his ways. Here’s hoping.

Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist. Write her at [email protected].

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: S.C. stands for Southern Charm(ing) the candidates

While the rest of y’all have been perfecting your eggnog, buying and wrapping gifts for loved ones, and making peace with the fact all your clothes will smell like ham soon, I’ve been enjoying the prickly whining coming out of Iowa. What’s got the Hawkeyes in a swivet? Well, after 50 years of being the very first state every presidential candidate needed to go steady with, it’s all over. Turns out the caucus was too Caucasian.

Instead of being treated to such sideshow sights as the patrician John Kerry pretending to eat meat on a stick with a tavern full of locals, we’ll get to see…OK, pretty much the same thing only in South Carolina.

The Democratic National Committee recently voted to move the first primary to South Carolina, making the famed Iowa caucus  irrelevant to the party’s nominating process.

As a native of North Carolina, (“a vale of humility ‘tween two mountains of conceit” it has been said, accurately), I’m especially interested to see how this goes.

To be clear, I have nothing against Iowa. It’s hands down one of my favorite rectangular states and I admire its mysterious ability to bring dead baseball players back to life in a cornfield but, South Cackalacky! Who wouldn’t want to kick off a presidential campaign there? Have you SEEN “Southern Charm”? Come for the moss-draped mansions; stay for Shep’s craptastic failure to remain faithful to…anyone. What’s not to love?

A bit of history for those less passionate about this sort of thing: For 50 years, Iowa has been first. Candidates with a bad showing there have watched helplessly as their campaign was strangled in its crib, long before it could learn to crawl and lie at the same time. But Iowa isn’t exactly the face of America. It’s 84 percent white and arguably it’s harder for non-white candidates to succeed there. A more racially diverse state should be the bellwether, it was decided.

It’s mildly curious that state was South Carolina because it always votes Republican. But no one can ever claim the Dems aren’t particularly gifted at pointing a shotgun at their own big toes.

To no one’s surprise, Iowa Republicans, in particular, are unhappy about losing all that attention (and ad revenue). The state party chair poutily described the move as a big ol’ “middle finger to Iowa.”

That’s a hissy fit worthy of South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham!

While many believe this is a previously agreed upon “thank you”  from President Biden to the state that singlehandedly resuscitated his 2020 campaign with a crucial primary win, I would say simply: “Yep, that sounds about right.”

No matter. Let’s let my sister state enjoy being courted by every presidential hopeful. This is like being named Homecoming Queen, head cheerleader and valedictorian on the same day!

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to a little bit of jealousy. Why not North Carolina? We have twice as many people, 64 percent more square miles plus we’re racially diverse and, politically, we’re trending purple. Also, our barbecue is better. (Not talking to you Rodney Scott; you RULE.)

The people of Iowa are used to receiving a ton of mostly undeserved attention every four years. They love to complain about all the candidates (Hickenlooper? Seriously?) clogging up their coffee shops but I suspect they are flattered when the shower steam clears and, what’s this? Bernie’s already putting the toothpaste on your brush and offering you a towel.

Now South Carolina will find out what it’s like to start the day with New Yorkers Bill DeBlasio and Michael Bloomberg offering them a bagel with a “schmear” and other breakfast abominations. It will be some fun watching these guys eat grits while giving a goofy thumbs-up to the camera. Let the games begin, y’all!

Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist. Write her at [email protected].

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: A few books not to give this Christmas

While I love to give books as holiday gifts, I have a new rule, as Bill Maher might say and it’s this: I will never buy a book written by someone who served in the Trump administration and NOW wants to talk about how awful and destructive he was. For $28.95 plus tax.

Instead of meekly slithering away to live a life of penance on a rutabaga farm, these opportunistic clowns can’t shut up about the horrors of working for 45. They get plenty of airtime to promote their books because, let’s face it, love him or hate him, Trump is the car wreck few can pass without a quick peek to see if he’s sitting on the crumpled hood waiting for AAA while snacking on classified documents. Trump equals ratings, the end.

Unlike those loud, ill-informed parents who think keeping “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank in the middle school library is going to corrupt their lil darlins by giving them, I dunno, EMPATHY, I don’t want these dreadful books banned. But why line the coffers of demonstrably awful people when there are so many great books out there? Don’t give Michael Cohen one cent just because he’s spilling Trump tea on the regular at MSNBC. Cohen puts the con in conniving. He’s no trusted source. The rutabaga farm beckons.

To sell books, we are told there will be “shocking revelations” and “bombshell tell-all’s.” Like what?

Depending on degree of loathsomeness, it might include…

He was dismissive of them and sometimes outright mean!

He was known to throw things when unhappy!

He made fun of my weight

He said his wife was way hotter

He eats with his feet!

Well, maybe not that last. But they can’t SHUT UP about what a rotten time they had working for Trump. He didn’t let them do their jobs. He really did eat with his feet. OK, again not true but man, that sentence is fun to write!

Perhaps they should’ve listened when Trump frequently shared the story of the scorpion and the frog. He managed to mangle it beyond all recognition most of the time, but you could get the gist of it.

In the famous fable, the scorpion cons the frog into letting him ride on his back to safely get to the other side of the pond. Yadda, yadda, yadda, the frog finally agrees (though his gut tells him scorpions can’t be trusted) and guess what, the scorpion hauls off and stings the frog whose last words are something like “Hey, why’d you do that?” and the scorpion says, “Duh, I’m a scorpion.” Trump tells this story at rallies, which I find funny considering he’s clearly the scorpion in the fable and doesn’t seem to understand that’s the bad guy!

Bottom line: These whiners are all frogs with ghostwriters of varying competence and NOW they want to slam the “scorpion” for being true to his own nature. All y’all say “Waaaaahhhhh.”

I shouldn’t name names, but I will, just in case you’re standing at that Costco book display and can’t imagine former Attorney General Bill Barr would ever tell a lie. BWHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

Following other “tell all” former staffers who loved Trump waaaay more than country—Stephanie Grisham, Mark Meadows, John Bolton, Mike Esper, among others–Barr is on a book tour teasing a ton of salacious revelations. Funny enough, during a Sunday morning show he admitted that despite all the terrible things he saw during Trump’s tenure, he’d vote for him again. But of course.

These books, not unlike Trump himself, recall the shameless hucksters at medicine shows in the Old West.

“Hear the true tale of how the scorpion gets his pants steamed WHILE HE’S WEARING THEM!”

Don’t support these biggest losers. They were quiet when it mattered. And it mattered a lot.

Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist. Write her at [email protected].

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: KFC’s cheesy promotion was mighty hard to swallow

Every so often we in the writing biz are reminded the time may come when we will be replaced by a “bot” that has been programmed to efficiently deliver timely, perfectly punctuated stories to editors.

We’re always being told Artificial Intelligence (AI) is getting smarter all the time. AI bots are already writing novels, we’re told. Clunky and derivative and unpublishable novels, maybe, but completed. I’ve had the same eight dusty chapters stuffed in a tattered file folder in my desk drawer for the past nine years. So, there’s that.

Bots are smarter than we are. What could go wrong?

A lot if you’re Yum Brands, the parent company of KFC and you use a bot to keep track of national holidays so the bot can craft a pithy message to tie the brand to the “celebration.”

So far, so good right. It’s marketing, baby.

But, just spitballin’ here, if the day is Kristallnacht, a solemn remembrance of the beginning of the Holocaust, you might not want to merrily invite German customers to celebrate “memorial day for Kristallnacht! Treat yourself with more tender cheese on your crispy chicken now at KFCheese!”

Turns out, Kristallnacht, also known as the night of the broken glass, refers to the pogroms against Jewish people in Germany and Austria carried out by Nazis in November 1938.

Now who wants biggie fries with that?

Ah, yes. Someone forgot to tell the bot not every holiday is a cause for a carb-loaded celebration.What’s next? Mattress sales to “celebrate” Americans killed in war? Oh, wait.

That would be like someone using Martin Luther King’s image and speech to sell Dodge Ram trucks in a Super Bowl ad. Oh, wait again. That really happened back in 2018. Four years later, it still inspires a full-body cringe.

To Yum Brands’ credit, an apology was swift and sincere and, we fervently hope, written by a human. I’m afraid if the bot was doing the apology, it would only make matters worse. (“We are sorry for implying melted cheese can make up for the sustained atrocities against Jewish people in Germany and Austria. We are AI bots with no understanding of fear or grief or similar “emotions.” Free Pepsi with Taco Bell Cravings Box this week only. Use passcode CLUELESS. Happy Birthday America!”)

Yum Brands admitted the notification was “insensitive and unacceptable” and immediately shut down mobile app notifications to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Great. I guess there goes any chance of getting the “Jesus is Dead and I’m Not Feeling So Good Myself Maundy Thursday chicken bowl with corn, gravy and three cheeses. Because, well, trinity.

Even as Yum Brands is getting roasted for the mistake, at least they have a reason for the misstep. AI still has a long way to go, obviously. (And now I somehow feel a lot better about those dusty chapters loitering in my desk drawer). But what’s our excuse? When are we humans going to do better?

Veterans often get irritated–and they absolutely should, I think–when the one day of the year that is set aside to honor their service is routinely hijacked to sell cars at low, low prices. What does a great deal on a new Nissan have to do with war? Absolutely nuthin, say it again, y’all.

It’s heartening that more companies are at least offering freebies to vets only. For example, Starbucks gave away tall iced lattes to veterans this year. I’m not sure but I believe that has a retail value of roughly $78.16, excluding tax and tip.

The point is while we may have gleefully scrambled up on our high horses at the jaw-dropping goof committed by KFC, we might want to consider our very own human-greed inspired “celebration” culture.

And that’s no joke.

Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist. Write her at [email protected].