Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A stocking stuffed with Wikileaks

So it's 9 days 'till Christmas and I know I should be wrapping gifts or making sugar plums or getting a tacky sweater out of mothballs, but somehow it seems more festive in my slanted mind to polish off a bottle of cab and try to wrap my weary old head around the whole Julian Assange-Wikileaks thing. So here goes.
  1. I think whistleblowers are brave, necessary people.
  2. I don't think Assange is a whistleblower.
  3. He's rather unlikable for an Aussie. He should wrestle a crocodile or something fun like that.
  4. All the "sex crimes" he's accused of are trumped up, of course.
  5. He looks a little like a young, less interesting version of Andy Warhol.
  6. He thinks he's done something really profound but all the stuff in the secret documents is just "yawn."
Let's dig into the explosive secrets exposed in the diplomatic "cables" (and people are still sending cables? Is this in the parallel universe where people still use fax machines, too?) :
  • Nations spy on each other through the UN. Okay, so? Of course, it's against the rules, and of course, everyone does it. The operative word might be "realpolitik"? Next question.
  • The mean old US and A has contingency plans to invade various countries. Really? This is a revelation? Since we spend 613 septillion dollars on the Pentagon every year, I hope they have plans to invade and conquer every square inch of the planet, from Montenegro to Andorra to Vatican City, for Pete's sake. I want some product for my tax dollar.
  • State Department flunkies file reports on the behavior and habits of world leaders. So the fuck what? Again, this is a revelation? This is news?
  • People are debating and have conflicting views about how we should act in Iraq and Afghanistan, whether to stay or go, and stuff like that. OMG! I never imagined THAT was going on?!
The phrase "tempest in a teapot" comes to mind. It's telling that the story has been "a bunch of documents got leaked" instead of "leaked documents reveal XYZ." The truth is, the leaked documents reveal nothing but the normal course of events in the affairs of state. Compare what's been learned from these leaks to the skullduggery of Watergate, the Gulf of Tonkin bullshit, the Iran-Contra affair - when those dirty doings came to light, it was shocking. The fact that Silvio Berlusconi is a narcissistic dick, or that Mahmoud "Members Only" Ahmadinejad likes pre-pubescent girls in white undies, is not meaningful news, is not a world-changing leak, and is not on par with the drama of the Pentagon Papers, even if Daniel Ellsberg is defending Assange. (Note: While Berlusconi clearly is a narcissistic dick, and while the chances are good that Ahmadinejad does, in fact, like pre-pubescent girls in white undies, I don't know if these facts were revealed by Wikileaks or not. I just like to make things up.)

Truth be told (and is it ever?) I prefer the maximum amount of government transparency at every level. We're all grownups here. And by "all" I mean me and you. But for me, to date, Wikileaks is a pathetic non-story. It's as if your older brother sat you down and said, "Look, I know this is going to be disturbing, but I have proof that mom and dad have been having sex." Pardon me for not being shocked.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Universe overcrowded: Illegal immigrants to blame?


Disclaimer: I suck at science. Chemistry, biology, physics - they all hate me. Sure, I can memorize some shit and pass a test, but any real understanding of why cells divide when it just seems to complicate things, or why protons and electrons continue to hang out together when they clearly have such different points of view, eludes me. Regardless, science intrigues me. It's possible to be fascinated by something while not understanding it at all. Take women, for example. But I digress.

Science is the topic because of a new report in the journal Nature. Turns out there may be three times as many stars in the universe as previously believed. Last I heard, the universe is still expanding, so there's probably plenty of room for all this so you don't really need to clear out the garage.

It's not like there weren't a lot of stars to begin with. Like 400,000,000,000 (400 billion) here in the good old Milky Way, and 1,000,000,000,000 (1 trillion) in some other galaxies, and the old estimate was that the universe had around 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (100 sextillion - and that's a real word, even though I wish I'd made it up.) Now the big brains tell us the actual number may be closer to 300,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (300 sextillion), which is, by any measure, a fuck of a lot of stars.

Considering that most of us use the words "million" and "billion" as if they're roughly the same (thanks to the federal budget folks for that, I think, because they don't seem to know the difference) it's really challenging to get your mind around these big numbers. One of the most useful methods of putting big numbers into context is to correlate them to time. For example:
  • One million seconds = 12 days
  • One billion seconds = 31 years
  • One trillion seconds = 31,689 years
  • Three hundred sextillion seconds = just a really, really long time. Longer than two operas back-to-back maybe.
Logic suggests that with all those stars there must be lots and lots of planets, and some of those planets must be pretty similar to ours, so the likelihood that there is life out there beyond us is increased. That leads directly to a musing on what a revelation it would be if there was, at last, some undeniable discovery, some evidence that we are not alone. How human experience would be forever altered if it was learned that there are billions or trillions more creatures - perhaps not that different from us? - living out there in far-flung galaxies. Imagine the possibilities for the expansion of the human mind and culture, and the pursuit of meaning. Not to mention the potential for retail sales growth!


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sartre brings deviled eggs, carves turkey


Jean-Paul Sarte, the French existentialist philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, literary critic, and atheist, who was also known to make a crazy good stuffing, wrote the famous words "l'enfer, c'est les autres." This phrase seems unintelligible until one realizes it was written in the language called "French." It has been variously translated as "Your gravy, she is lumpy," or "Grandfather, lie on the floor until the feeling passes," but most commonly is said to mean "Hell is other people."

And so, happy Thanksgiving!

A survey on ivillage the other day revealed, to the surprise of absolutely no one, that about two-thirds of people think someone will get on their nerves during Thanksgiving family gatherings. The other third of people are either (a) staying home alone, or (b) doubling up on their meds, or (c) both.

Even now, as millions of Americans are eviscerating small animals, peeling parsnips and other inedible vegetables and fricasseeing pumpkins, the rumble of grinding teeth can be heard over the hum of food processors. What fresh terrors will be visited upon us as part of the horrifying tradition known as "getting together with the family"?

Just as it is the key to a properly deep-fried ox (a traditional favorite for me) preparation is foremost. Prepare yourself for the onslaught to come! To wit:
  • Your mother/mother-in-law/grandmother/aunt WILL overtly or covertly criticize the way you cook everything
  • Your brother/brother-in-law/uncle/cousin WILL show up with a half-finished bottle of Wild Turkey
  • Your sensitive sibling/niece/nephew/cousin WILL throw a pout about sitting at the kid's table - again
  • Your husband/boyfriend/partner WILL fail to help you clean the house, prepare the meal, or wash the dishes, ignore everything and everyone who's not watching the game, and act surprised when you tear him a new one when everyone's gone home
Everyone can be counted on to repeat their martyrdom act, their bragging act, their feats of intoxication, their passive-aggressive put-downs - by God, it's family time! It's tradition!

I wonder if Sartre ever had a really good day and thought, "Sacre bleu, perhaps I should consider that Heaven, also, is other people?" Probably not, he was a real downer. But this inverse is true. And if you have a gathering planned that will give you that feeling, a gathering overflowing with love and joy and kindness and laughter and warmth, give me a call. I will bring the Wild Turkey.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

My problem with Halloween


Preface: This is one of those posts where I will relate bits of my personal history that unveil the workings of my mind, and as such, may be viewed as (a) self indulgent (b) pathetic (c) whiny, or (d) all of the above. I proceed apace, undeterred.

Central thesis: Halloween sucks for me.

Argument: Halloween, for me, is like almost every other holiday - front-loaded with anticipation, and rarely providing a commensurate payoff. And that stems from a series of childhood incidents that left me as unfulfilled as a trick-or-treating kid who sees a toothbrush dropped into his candy bag.

There were at least three elementary school Halloween disasters - my Halloween baggage. Being just as "actor-y" at age six as I am today, the selection of a costume was of immense importance. My mother always offered to sew up something, so we would peruse the Butterick patterns at J.C. Penney and I would usually find something super cool that I wanted to be. In disaster number one, I had chosen to be a matador, and mama had put in the hours at the sewing machine to make me the elegant, dashing character I wanted to be. The disaster ensued when I tried on the outfit for the first time, looked in the mirror, and was brutally reminded that I was a rotund little bastard and the word "dashing" was waaaaaayyyyy down there on the list of descriptors. I looked like a 6 year-old, blonde Oliver Hardy. I think I ended up being something else that year - some get up in which my lard was better disguised. And I had a bad taste in my mouth for days. But that may have been the circus peanuts.

Disaster number two came the following year - third grade, I think. Always the excitable boy, I was manic for the coming of the big day and the wonderful Halloween parade at school, which consisted of walking up the street about 200 yards and walking back. The social event of the year. Can't even recall now the costume I had come up with this time, but I remember thinking it was absolutely the best ever, and I would be widely admired. I never got to find out. Instead I was felled by an excitement-induced asthma attack and spent the entire holiday flat on my back trying to breathe. Just like in those commercials, it was like trying to breathe through a straw - and not one of those nice fat 7-11 straws but like one of those little tiny mothers that you stir your coffee with. A boy can't even work up enthusiasm for a Reese's cup in that state.

Disaster three was only 364 days away. That year I had decided to forsake the heroic costumes and go for something in which I would be totally disguised - I would leave everyone guessing for hours. "Who IS that? Is it Jimmy? Is it Frankie? Who can it be???" To achieve this goal, I talked my mom into forking out the cash to rent a gorilla suit, the full-blown, ancient, mangy gorilla suit from the costume rental shop in town. Of course, it smelled like ass (literally) and I sweated like a Swede once the head was screwed on, but I was willing to make any sacrifice for the grand theatre of mystery I was about to present. A major element of my ruse involved not speaking to anyone at the start of the day and sitting at the desk of another kid who was about my size (husky, as we liked to say) when we went into the classroom. He sat parallel to me one row away. I knew everyone would be duped by this brilliant deception. I asked to be dropped off far enough from the school so no one would see my mom's car, and the chubby, smelly, silent gorilla lumbered into the school. My masterful plan worked like a charm! Kids were pointing, talking - "Who is THAT? Who IS it?" I was monk-like in my silence, giving no clues to my identity. But my enjoyment was short-lived. With my vision obscured by the mite-infested gorilla head, I mistakenly sat in my own desk. A chorus of "Oh, it's Barry!" rang out, ending my three minutes of perfect illusion. And then I had to sit around in the stinky gorilla suit all day. An asthma attack never seemed so attractive.

Layered onto this every year was the annual let down of trick-or-treating in my rural neighborhood, which was nothing like Charlie Brown and his pals on TV, but consisted of getting in the car and being shuttled along to houses of far-flung neighbors who gave out mealy apples and inedible popcorn balls. I secretly hoped for something riddled with razor blades just for the excitement.

And to top it off, I don't like to be scared. I don't love zombies, people in Jason's hockey mask jumping out with a chainsaw. I already had an overactive imagination, for God's sake. However, I do have fond memories of the year our enthusiastic neighbor tried to fly himself off his barn on a homemade harness and wire to scare his kids, and ended up plunging into his own bonfire. That was fun.

Summation: Have a great time out there, people. I know Halloween is some folks' favorite holiday, so enjoy the shit out of it. And I will concede that it's become a better celebration since the advent of slutty costumes for women and the realization that it's a grand excuse for getting really hammered.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A cynic and his fairytales are soon parted


My uncle Rodney, the last of the three Martin brothers, died two days ago at 94. He was married for 72 years. It's hard to know if all those years were happy years because he was prototypically the man who wouldn't say shit if he had a mouthful, but I think he was happy. I cite this as a pre-counterpoint - a preterpoint, if you will - to what follows.

I will now wage war with the concept of happy endings. (No, not that kind, you pervert.)

From toddler-hood we are marinated in happy endings. Wicked queens (no, not that kind, you pervert) and ugly stepsisters and predatory wolves in the woods always get what's coming to them. Handsome princes and damsels in distress find true love and always live happily ever after. We learn fast. At about age 5, my daughter whispered to her grandma during a stressful moment in a Disney movie, "Don't worry, they get married in the end." This was a movie this child had never seen before. She was already primed to believe in happy endings.

SPOILER ALERT: BELIEF IN SANTA CLAUS MAY BE VIOLATED IN THE NEXT PARAGRAPH.

Some parents don't like to "perpetuate the Santa myth" with their children. They believe the dashing and dancering of Santa hope that inevitably happens is a scarring event that can be avoided by never buying into the scheme in the first place. Likewise, some scotch the idea of God with their progeny, having had themselves some type of existential letdown, most likely while sucking on a bong in high school. As repugnant as I find that type of painfully realistic thinking, I'm trending toward joining the band and adding the happy ending to the list of things with which we should not infest our children.

Sure, peg me with a tracking device to study the behaviors of the middle-aged cynic! But let's examine the facts, shall we?

Can you quickly name a person who's lived out the fairytale? Someone for whom true love was requited and lasting? Someone nasty who actually suffered their deserved fate? Someone brilliant who was recognized as such before suffering and ignominy?

I propose the fairytale ending in our human affairs is, in fact, "the big lie." Pots of gold don't get found at the ends of rainbows, nice guys really do finish last, and true love blinks in the glare of frailty, pragmatism and self interest.

Funny, but I only have to look as far as my list of all-time favorite movies to find a reasonable truth that makes my point. Ilsa gets on the plane with Victor and Rick is left with only memories - Rhett gives the finger to Scarlet - Charles Foster Kane dies alone and friendless dreaming about his sled, for Christ's sake. THIS, my friends, is the truth of the truth. I love Capra, but he lied.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

One on Zero

The chart above shows that this post has a serious, quasi-academic quality

Way back in 1984, in the Pleistocene era, there was a movie called "The Lonely Guy." I always remember it as an Albert Brooks movie, but it was Charles Grodin who actually played the title character. Sometimes hard to separate one sad sack from another I guess. This was in Grodin's BBSBWCTS (Before Becoming a Smug Bore With a Cable Talk Show) period, when he was funny on screen, and I remember having some laughs and feeling the pathos of the story. Steve Martin was in it, too, so there's that.

Grodin plays Warren Evans, a man who finds his wife in flagrante with another man, gets divorced, becomes lonely and despondent, chokes on a toothpaste tube cap and dies, and is eaten by his cats before his body is discovered. Wait a minute, that's not right - this is a comedy with a Neil Simon screenplay - I think I was imagining it as a Coen Brothers movie or something. Sorry. The actual story has Warren rallying from his loss, becoming rich and famous, and getting a new girl in the end. (Not getting her in the end, literally - I mean, it's PG-13 or something - but you know what I mean.)

Anyway, I haven't seen this movie since it came out, but I remember the cute scenes of Warren sitting alone in the park with a hangdog look and it all being mildly amusing, but knowing the Hollywood ending would make it all right before the ninety minutes ran out. And watching it then, having no real grip on what it's like to be lonely.

After almost two years of living on my own, the last eight months fully alone, I've gained new perspective on the whole thing. Some observations:

  • When you live alone you can get away with all kinds of slobbiness - leaving hairs in the sink, dishes in the sink, (maybe the same sink), sleeping in your clothes with the TV on, sleeping in the sink with the dishes - the world is your oyster.
  • When you live alone you can turn your music up as loud as you want until the Police come, talk back to the radio when they play a stupid song, hang any fucking thing you want on the wall even if it's crooked, sing in the shower at the top of your lungs.
  • When you live alone you can have a brilliant exchange with yourself about how "Star Trek: The Next Generation" is now just as fakey and laughable 20 years later as the original "Star Trek" was 20 years after it came out, and all the while no one knows you've been thinking about "Star Trek" unless you slip up and write about it on your blog. Ooops.
  • When you live alone, you can come home at the end of the day knowing there are no surprises waiting for you. On the other hand, you can come home at the end of the day knowing there are no surprises waiting for you.

More people live alone these days. According to the Berkeley Blog:

Around 1900, a few percent of Americans lived by themselves; in 1960, 6% did; and now about 15% do.

These statistics tell us that the incidence of people living alone has risen 250% in 50 years. At this rate, in another 150 years 1,000% of people will be living alone, and at that point I think it will be really hard to find an apartment.

Most of the people who live alone are old, widows and widowers. Younger people waiting longer to get married are another group living alone. And then there are divorced men living alone - but the stats show those lonely guys tend to co-habitate again within a couple of years, due to the guilt they feel for leaving hairs in the sink and needing to be punished.

And so you ask, what have you learned from this experience of living alone? Do you have the insights of a silent monk? An ascetic? Of Thoreau? Sadly, no. The main things I've learned is I've got to like myself more if I'm going to be my roommate, and never buy a really big loaf of bread because the Goddamn thing will be moldy before you can eat half of it.

Another 150 years, I'll have it all figured out.


Friday, August 6, 2010

Atheists at happy hour and other thoughts


If you're young, smart, have a little money and don't believe in God, chances are you're looking forward to the start of your weekend and knocking back a few. In fact, chances are you don't wait for the weekend - according to the latest Gallup survey on drinking habits. Now, you could just follow that link and read the thing for yourself, but I recommend you pour yourself a fresh one and let me lay it all out for you, along with my sparkling observations of the meaning behind the data. Unlike Gallup, I have no science to back up my claims, but that's never stopped me before.

First, let's qualify that first sentence:
  • "Young" in this case means 54 or less (I like that definition of young) because the numbers are the same 18 to 54. In the 55+ range there are fewer drinkers, and I take that to mean at a certain age you either (a) lose your taste for the stuff, or (b) lose you ability to find your car keys so you can't get to the liquor store, or (c) lose your ability to have any aspirations that are then dashed, leading to the drowning of sorrows.
  • "Smart" in this case actually means "educated." The survey shows about 8 of 10 college graduates drink booze compared to about 6 of 10 who have a high-school-or-less education.Kind of counter-intuitive if you tend to think in stereotypes (and come on now, who doesn't?) but perhaps there is a direct relationship between going to college and becoming a drinker. Unless you're at BYU or some Bible College, social life during your higher education floats on rivers of beer and shots and beer and just shots of things you would have spit out if your mom gave it to you for a cold.
  • "Have a little money" means the more you make the more likely you are to drink. Less than half of people with incomes under $20,000 a year use alcohol, while 8 of 10 who make more than $75,000 do, and all the people in between fit neatly on the line between the two. The quick conclusion might be that you have disposable income, and habits require money, so poor people just don't have the money. But the opposite is true of other unnecessary behaviors like smoking and playing the lottery and buying "People" magazine and "Reader's Digest."
  • "Atheist" here means - well, people who don't believe in God. That category in the survey also wraps in agnostics (people who are afraid to say they're atheists, just in case there is a God and he/she is listening) and people who have "no religious identity" (people who are too drunk to care whether there's a God or not.) 8 of 10 non-believers drink, compared to less than 6 of 10 who fit the "Protestant/other non-Catholic Christian" moniker. Catholics hit the bottle at the same rate as atheists, by the way. (Which reminds me of a statement my mother made one time when I was a child, to the effect that "Catholics can do anything they want because they just go in and get forgiven now and then," which sent me a lasting message that our family religion came with permanent judgement. THAT really made me want to go to church.And speaking of going to church, if you do a lot of that you are much less likely to drink, because the only thing worse than sitting through a sermon sober is sitting through a sermon hungover.)
I come to this conclusion - free advice for people in the booze biz:
If you own a bar you should be targeting this "young, smart, affluent, atheist" demographic. Maybe instead of beer signs and sports heroes on the walls there should be shelves of the great books and portraits of Madeline Murray O'Hair. If your place if filling up at 5pm with people who think we're just soulless meat sacks and there is no God, it should be called "Hopeless Hour" instead of "Happy Hour."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mel: Profile in Douchebaggery

Imagine you are rich.
Imagine you are rich enough to hire people to do just about anything you want.
Imagine you are rich and also stupid and perhaps loathsome.
Imagine your stupidity and loathsomeness keeps getting you into trouble.
Imagine you are rich and quasi-powerful and your loathsome stupidity gets you into the kind of trouble that may endanger your capacity to continue being rich and quasi-powerful.

Wouldn't you hire someone to protect you from yourself?

Enter Mel Gibson.


Imagine if charming Mel had had the sort of bodyguard who had the big guy's best interests at heart. Assigned not to keep fans and paparazzi away but to stop charming Mel from (a) driving drunk, leading to verbally abusing cops with anti-Semitic tirades, or (b) conducting repeated go-nuts-and-dial phone conversations with his ex, or (c) punching aforementioned ex, the mother of his child, in the mouth, or (d) making a film version of "Hamlet." Mel's life (and in the case of (d), my life) would be so much better today.

Granted, our petty little non-celebrity lives would be so dreary without the Fatty Arbuckles, the Errol Flynns, the Elizabeth Taylors, the Anna Nicole Smiths, the Paris Hiltons, the Whitney Houstons, the David Hasselhoffs (wow, this list is going on and on so easily) the Britney Spearses, and the Lindsay Lohans. I would hardly be able to get out of bed in the morning if I wasn't sure there would be some other semi-talented, overly-celebrated "star" self destructing on breakfast TV. "You may be rich!" I shout, "but at least I didn't expose my naughty bits to crowds of people last night!" At least I don't think so. Where was I last night? Hmmm...

Anyway (and stop trying to distract me like some substitute teacher) Mel's setting the bar high for future Hollywood fuck ups. He's proven he is some kind of a wacko Opus Dei Jew-hater, an alcoholic, a wife beater who treats women like possessions, and, on film, the kind of actor they used to describe as "chewing the scenery." Trifecta plus one, Mel! The pissant Quadfecta! What can you possibly do for an encore? Run for office?

Schaudenfraude (a word I find so handy I didn't even have to look up how to spell it) is a magical thing. We take pleasure in the foolhardiness of others, particularly the rich and famous, allowing us to say to ourselves "Well, I may not have money, but at least I'm not a wacko Opus Dei Jew-hating, alcoholic, misogynistic, wife-beating ham like that Mel Gibson!" A too-common human instinct - to kick 'em while they're down. And maybe all walking egos who make themselves TMZ-fodder have some kind of disease, a Hollywood-Washington DC-centered virus that wipes out reasonable judgment and common decency. Maybe another round of rehab will set them all straight. Or maybe it takes a psychopath with massive character flaws to succeed in show biz or politics these days.

Either way, it makes you glad to be just one of the little people. And it's damn entertaining.

Got to go, I think "True Hollywood Story" is coming on E!


Monday, July 19, 2010

The Tragedy That Is Nicolas Cage's Acting Career

If you hang around in any profession long enough, you're bound to fuck up somehow. You get a little full of yourself and you bend the rules. (Enron, Madoff, etc) You start to feel bullet-proof and all-powerful and you think you can get away with anything. (Clinton, Tiger, etc) You make a few enemies who feel threatened and they are happy to climb into your closet and trot out all the skeletons. (Gary Hart, every televangelist, every stick-up-the-butt right-wing moralist who turns out to like gay sex in bathrooms and massage parlors, etc) But it seems popular actors have unique possession of the spectacular self-inflicted sell-out fuck up that overshadows any earlier achievement. (Nicolas Cage, etc etc etc)

I feel particularly sad over Nicolas Cage's flaccidity as an actor these days because, damn, the guy coulda been a contender! Unforgettable the impression he made way back when in "Raising Arizona" - then fun stuff like "Moonstruck" and "Red Rock West" and others when he didn't take himself seriously - and then an Oscar-oriented, creditable, sincere effort at seriousness in "Leaving Las Vegas." And then the train derailed. "Con Air." "Face Off." "Snake Eyes." During this period weight training took the place of acting classes. He became a junkie shooting up blockbusters. Trying to maintain credibility, he barfed up movies like "Captain Corelli's Mandolin." (I would tear out my own ear canals if I was ever forced to listen to his ridiculous accent in that one again.) And then, for a moment, he got his shit together and did "Adaptation"and "Matchstick Men" and you thought, damn, Cage has remembered the whole "being-an-actor" thing. But, alas, the sanity was short-lived and along came "Ghost Rider" and "National Treasure" and a dozen other tormentingly horrid wastes of film stock. Today, whenever I see an ad for one his new movies, I snicker. Run around with a gun some more, Nic, that's the ticket.

Oh, sure, selling out for the big summer movie is a tradition. Get big enough to call the shots, pick the sure-fire popular script, and phone it in all the way to the bank. (Can you say Angelina Jolie? She seemed like an actor once, too.) It's understandable if you're skating on a thin layer of talent to begin with. But it is saddening to see an actor with something unique sucked into the vortex that leads to the dark place, where your cut of the gross means more than doing something good. And oh, sure, I know lots of these stars do the money-maker to finance their own projects, the ones about which they will say "I really believe in this script." That doesn't make it less sad when you drown your light in a sea of dung.

Oh, and by the way - there's a "Ghost Rider" sequel in the works, as well as "National Treasure 3." I feel my lunch coming up.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Idle hands are the bee's knees


Yesterday I heard myself use the phrase "at the end of the day." It's a pretentious phrase that tells the person you're talking to "I have now summed this up for you and there's nothing else to be said+" and one of those verbal crutches that props up the vocabulary in a moment of weakness.

"At the end of the day" went rapidly from clever new expression to cliche - an overused, a ready-made set of words that takes the place of meaningful expression.

You have to be careful when you start paying attention to cliches. You will hear yourself oozing them out, and hear them spurting from the mouths of your friends, and if you care about words you won't like yourself and you won't like your friends.

That said, (there's one) I've got my diminished mind focused on them right now, so maybe I can get it out of my system (there's another one) if I make a list of the cliches that are annoying me the most right now.

  • Zero sum game: every time someone says this I have to stop listening to what they're saying and try to remember what the fuck "zero sum game" means, but usually the pedantic ass who said it goes on to explain it.
  • Been there, done that: And you got the T shirt, too, right? Stop saying this.
  • When push comes to shove: Reminds me of the playground bully. Who needs that? I prefer "when the rubber hits the road" because it sounds cooler.
  • Comparing apples and oranges: Usually used when things are not really comparable, so wouldn't it make more sense to say something like "comparing apples to orangutans" or "comparing apples to Wavy Gravy"?
  • There's no "I" in "team":Rarely heard in professional sports, where the word is now spelled "teaim" I think. Best rejoinder ever to this cliche from a person in sports: "Yes, but there is an "I" in "win."
  • Every dog has his day: Yes, and every day for a dog is just about the same. Eat, bark, shit, chew up something valuable, slobber, eat, bark, pee. I don't see them writing in little diaries about how they really had their day.
  • Avoid like the plague: Let's face it, references to the plague are a few centuries out of date. Maybe when need something more current like "Avoid like the Lifetime Channel" or "Avoid like a Jehovah's Witness."
  • “Yeah. A little TOO quiet.” Always said in a movie right before somebody gets their head cut off or something. Must be in the screenwriter's "Compendium of Hackneyed Dialogue." Just once I'd like to see someone say this in a movie and then have absolutely nothing happen.
  • What's up with that?: As soon as a comedian comes out with this it's time to start heckling.
  • Drinking the Kool Aide: Classic "funny the first time you hear it" cliche but people who like it like it too much. And besides, it's a reference to coerced mass suicide so probably better to just let sleeping dogs - never mind.
  • Unsung heroes: Nobody ever mentions "sung heroes."
  • Outpouring of support: Just flat out boring.
  • Best-kept secret: Almost never true by the time somebody pastes this tag on something because somebody in PR has been telling everyone they can reach about the "best-kept secret."
  • Last-ditch effort: As useless as a "Herculean effort" because nobody really relates to trench warfare all that much these days, and nobody knows who Hercules was.
I'm going to start using some completely new phrases and try to make them into cliches, such as:

  • Button down pants
  • As hot as a tuna on wheat with a nice aioli
  • You can't count your chickens because you don't have any
  • Happy as a big turd
  • Whistling past the Home Depot
  • The pot of soup at the end of the orangutans

Please assist me in introducing these fresh new future cliches into the lexicon. That would make me happy as a man wearing both a striped shirt and striped pants.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Breaking News: Vegas Eats Man's Soul


"Warm bodies, I sense, are not machines that can only make money."
- Ed Kowalczyk

In one of the legendary wild west towns - Deadwood or Dodge City or Tombstone - they had a sign at the city limits that said something like "Now entering (legendary wild west town.) Leave your guns with the Sheriff." Having just returned from Las Vegas, I am thinking there should be a sign there offering a place to deposit your soul during your visit.

Las Vegas can be blamed on Herbert Hoover. It was the building of the dam nearby that created a huge mass of restless, horny men with cash, and wherever such a huge mass is found prostitution and gambling and other vices will grow. Unlike other western towns where cattle, ore and other fast-money propositions led to rampant growth and manly indulgence (like Deadwood, Dodge and Tombstone, and even my hometown of Joplin, Missouri, which was a lead and zinc mining mecca and noted for it's wide-open nature in those days) Las Vegas did not falter when the initial attraction faded. Instead, opportunists like Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky came west and began to manufacture a black hole of hedonism that thrives to this day.

WARNING: Sarcastic and elitist screed ahead.

What is there not to like about Vegas anyway? It celebrates so many of the family values and institutions we Americans hold dear, such as the hope of getting something for nothing, superficiality with pretentiousness, and all-you-can-eat buffets, all swept along on a endless river of beer. What's not to like about having a wide array of choices in the realm of "entertainment that will not make you think"? And consider how many Americans have been afforded the chance to experience the charms of Europe while avoiding bothersome Europeans by spending their time in faux-Paris and faux-Venice on The Strip while enjoying a refreshing 40-ounce Mai Tai in an attractive souvenir cup?

END SCREED

I know that Vegas and I don't get along because of my frequent difficulty with the simple concept of "having fun" in a common way. Spending the day on a lake riding around in a boat, or at the ballpark, or lying on the beach are all pastimes that only seem to push my pleasure button when I am in the right company. And I admit to a relentless need to learn something when I travel, to come home with some new knowledge, at least, if not understanding. But Las Vegas to me is a soul-free zone where the only learning is a lesson in human nature. A town full of damaged people who debase themselves for money and silence their demons with booze and drugs. A town that is 90% id and 10% ego and leave your superego with the Sheriff.

At the end of a three-day parade of the seven deadly sins, our visit to Vegas was capped with a cinematic moment. Riding in an airport shuttle with heartfelt Christian anthems blaring, the driver pulled up behind a paramedic van parked in front of one of the casino-hotels. As the bags and bodies boarded, a gurney was rolled into our view, and on it was a lifeworn woman who had been given a thorough beating. Eye swollen shut, bleeding from cuts, missing teeth. It was 6 a.m. and likely the victim of a classic Vegas night of drinking and gambling and whoring that didn't turn out to be "fun." She produced a weary smile for the paramedics as the radio played a sincere lyric "Jesus, I give my heart to you."

I'm taking it as a message.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

An absolutely necessary post about the World Cup

(Chances are you don't give two shits about the World Cup. But if I let the occasion pass without weighing in I couldn't live with myself, so here goes.)

It doesn't take much to be a guru these days. Not in the literal sense of "religious leader and spiritual teacher," but in the modified modern sense of "a
n advisor or mentor; a leader or expert in a field." You can quite quickly become a guru just by being the first person to buy the latest gadget and investing the time to figure out a third of the crazy shit it will do, and voila! You will be your local iPhone guru or PS3 guru or Zune guru. Ok, never mind the Zune, nobody cares.

So in that vein, I have become, to certain people, a soccer guru - wise enough to know that the rest of the world says "football" and means what we call "soccer," but only a pretentious douche will call it "football" if he/she is American - which means I know just a little bit more about the game than the average soccer-hating American. My guru-ness in this regard was well earned. Hundreds of hours out on the field, hundreds more watching the English Premiere League and Serie A and Bundesliga, and by now you can tell by my dropping of obscure names I must know what I'm talking about. At least, I know more than you, so tug your forelock and bow down to my largely worthless knowledge.

Once every four years, for a month, I get to display my exceptional wisdom and explain things like the offside rule and Dutch "total futbol" and compare one Ronaldo to another and tell stories that make me seem even more guru-y than ever. Unfortunately, the average person's eyes glaze over after about one minute of my bloviating and they regret they ever brought it up in the first place. And of course, it's once every four years because that is the frequency of the (reverence, please ) World Cup finals.

Now we are engaged in a great soccer war, testing whether this nation, or any nation, can long endure through to the championship game. And in just a few hours, the US National Team - an ever-changing assortment of 23 players who have collectively killed my soul at least 37 times in the last 20 years - will take the field. Glory and abject failure seem equally possible, as they always do, and here's where the game holds the mirror up to nature.

Sport as a analogy to life? (What a concept! I think I may have discovered a new thought?) But yes, it plays out (pun intended) most beautifully in "the beautiful game." Already we have seen inspired performances by lowly, hopeless but strong-hearted teams that have bested better rivals - already we have seen the mighty brought low when capability is not matched by passion - and already we have seen the French throw their arms in the air shouting "Mon Dieu!" and fall to blaming and infighting. (All that remains is for them to collaborate with the Germans now.)

National teams in the World Cup carry their national pride and hopes and, on the pitch (or "playing field," for the non-pretentious non-douches) display the style of their nation in the way they play the game. For the relatively small but growing number of American soccer nuts, each World Cup match is a test of our national will. It remains the only sport in which we aspire to greatness but have never achieved it. Perhaps it is essentially the modern American experience to always have high hopes but low expectations? For the relatively large but also growing number of soccer nuts in all the other nations, their teams are cast as valiant Davids slinging stones at Goliath - or rightful Goliaths who should slay the unworthy foe and tilt their chins up with pride. Everything is on the line. Make the magic happen now, or slink away and wait four years for another chance.

In sanskrit "gu" means darkness and "ru" means light, says Wikipedia. Over the next two weeks, the World Cup will reveal both the darkness and light in the human spirit, displayed on the mock battleground that is the soccer field. Spirits will be taken to new heights, and hearts will be broken - lifetimes will be lived in the three minutes of added time. In the end, some team gets a trophy and 31 others don't, but it's the getting there that makes the trip worthwhile.

And there will be lots of cool commercials.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Always the worst reason for a decision: "That's the way we've always done it."


It's 4:30 in the morning and outside the air smells like summer for the first time, and I am wondering about things. Things like why every apple has to have a sticker on it that delays my first bite, and why some people are trying to provoke a(nother) war in the Middle East, and why the auto-correction logarithm in my iPhone thinks it's more likely that I'm trying to write the word "lice" than "love." And I'm thinking about the unperfect game.

Every blogger and pundit worth his or her salt has long ago weighed in on this topic, I know. My turn now.

Quick primer for those who don't follow baseball: a perfect game is when a pitcher gets the other team out for all nine innings and no batter reaches base. No hits, no walks, no batters hit by a pitch, no errors that allow a base runner, nothing. Nine innings of three-up-and-three-down. 27 batters come to the plate, 27 batters walk back to the dugout. It's only happened in the big leagues 18 times since 1900, and when you consider the thousands of games that have been played in 110 years, you get some perspective.

Earlier this week, as described in Wikipedia...

On June 2, 2010, Armando Galarraga of the Tigers was charged with a single when Jason Donald of the Cleveland Indians was incorrectly ruled safe on an infield grounder by first-base umpire Jim Joyce. After the game, Joyce acknowledged that he had made a mistake: "I just cost that kid a perfect game. I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay." The New York Times game report by Tyler Kepner called it "easily the most egregious blown call in baseball over the last 25 years."


The unique circumstances here have fostered a lot of talk about the absolute truths and purity of the rules of baseball, the class shown by Galarraga in not throwing the kind of baby fit we've come to expect from professional athletes, the need for instant replay in baseball, and other topics. Some, myself included, think the waste-of-life baseball commission Bud Selig, who has proven to be the most consistently wrong-headed dipshit in the history of the national pastime, has remained silent. He has the authority to right the wrong, but evidently lacks the huevos to do it.

Why make an exception here and review and overrule? Why violate the sanctity of the game for this one situation? For me, the answer is simply because it's the right thing to do.

Most of the mistakes we make in life can't be undone. In day-to-day life, you can't un-say something hurtful - you can't accidentally un-crash into someone's car. On the larger stage, you can't un-bomb the wrong Afghani village or un-shoot a guy you meant to Taser in a BART station. The mistake is made, and you're left with apologizing, paying reparations, going to jail - but the mistake remains uncorrected. In this case, a few words, a stroke of the pen, and justice would be done. Baseball would not be harmed by making it right. When there are so few things in the world over which we have this retroactive control, why pass over this chance to do the right thing? To perpetuate an injustice "because that's the way we've always done it" just doesn't wash for me.

Monday, May 24, 2010

"The state of waiting for inspiration to strike"

My mother used to call out in the morning from the kitchen, "Rise and shine!" It came in a sing-songy voice that was intended to make me jump out of bed smiling, I suppose, but being an angsty teen (what other kind of teen is there?) it made me want to strangle her.

When I look back on it now, it's easy to see how forced was her early-morning cheer. Up every day at 5 a.m. to make breakfast and pack a lunch for my dad, looking ahead to a day full of laborious repetition to make a home and feed the family - I wonder about the origin and the sincerity of the expression. But I know now that the presentation of a sunny demeanor to her piece of the world was as crucial in her daily agenda as the frying of eggs and the sweeping of floors - no matter what quiet despair she might indulge in after the school bus had come and gone.

There is no shortage of persistently pleasant people in the world. You meet them in coffee shops and auto shops and they sell you long distance packages. They deposit your check and ring up your Lean Cuisines and process your airfare with a cheerful confirmation number provided. Some of them - many of them, perhaps - are genuinely cheerful, displaying their true nature. I am happy for them, and envious. Some are just a brave face. But it's the rare being who will show you their melancholy side in the course of everyday human events. It's just not acceptable. And that's the rub.

Scholars of societal deviation propose that indefatigable positivity is a definable characteristic of the prototypical American. Your French, your Russian, they know from despair! Your languid Italian, your desultory Finn, they feel the depth of the soul and its sad isolation. And don't even get me started on the Jews! But we Wonder-Bread-and-mayonnaise-loving white boys - we are not, by birthright, entitled to sadness.

Is it alright to be sad? Am I entitled to my melancholia? I say yes. I say I take it. I make it mine. Melancholia is the home from where I travel abroad, the base camp from where I summit. Am I deserving of it? Can I justify it? Only in the sense that it is everlasting and essential as the air.

Tomorrow I will rise, and maybe I will shine.

Further reading:

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mothers and sons

(My mother at age 18. )

I feel obliged to write about my mother today. "Obliged" is not the way you are supposed to feel on Mother's Day. I always wanted to be the loving son who doted on his mother but for some reason, some psychologically complicated reason, I could not achieve the level of devotion to her that I always thought she deserved. She was a kind, patient, giving, thoughtful woman who never did anything but love me. I loved her, too, and on an objective scale I don't think I was a bad son but I've never felt I was as good to her as I should have been. Maybe someday I will understand my feelings but today's not that day. Today I am thinking of moments...

...out in the yard with her when she made pickles in huge stoneware crocks, or watching her pluck a chicken, or do loads of laundry by hand in standing galvanized tubs, running the clothes through the wringer and hanging them on the line.

...her excitement on Election Day when our living room was the precinct polling place, and a couple of dozen neighbors would venture up our dead-end street to fill out a ballot.

...listening to her tell the story of when she fell in love with my father - a story involving a bar, someone flipping a knife into the tabletop, her gashed finger, and my dad trying to take care of her wound but nearly swooning at the sight of the blood.

...feeling sorry for her getting berated by my father time after time for yet another real or imagined failure.

...barely discernible memories of being held on her lap, cradled in her arms, restored from the thousand natural shocks of childhood.

...crying in the night and her coming to me to find out why, and her gentle reassurance when I asked her "What will I do when you're gone?"

It all comes full circle. I know now what unconditional love is, and despite my failings I know she understood all along.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Because life is short and it's important to rack up many achievements, here are some amusing time wasters so you can blow off an hour


I would like to make the case today that reality is overrated.

Reality is chock-a-block with disease, famine, genocide and infomercials. Reality imposes onerous taxation and rules and foisted Geraldo Rivera on the world. Reality has none of the redeeming qualities we seek out in our entertainments - try hard and success will come to you, the triumph of good over evil, true love always wins, bad guys get what they deserve, etc. In fact, reality likes to get right up in your face and make sure you're aware that the sleazy people usually win and have all the money, true love is irrelevant in the face of expediency, and trying hard and success are complete strangers. So in summation, reality can suck it.

Counterpoint: reality, and the real people that cause it, can be damn funny. I offer as evidence two recent additions to the menu of amusing time wasters of which I am an aficionado.

Shit My Dad Says is the brainchild of Justin Halpern, a guy from San Diego who started keeping track of the pointed, hilarious things his 73-year-old father says. He started with Twitter, he's on Facebook, and scored a book deal and a development deal from CBS. Here are some samples:

"Son, no one gives a shit about all the things your cell phone does. You didn't invent it, you just bought it. Anybody can do that."

'You don't know shit, and you're not shit. Don't take that the wrong way, that was meant to cheer you up."

"Sometimes life leaves a hundred dollar bill on your dresser, and you don't realize until later that it's because it fucked you."

"Pressure? Get married when you want. Your wedding's just one more day in my life I can't wear sweat pants."

How could you not love this guy? Sadly, I know this will soon be a sitcom and it will then be ruined forever.

Texts from Last Night is a website/Facebook/everything phenomenon that also resulted in a book deal. It is just what it sounds like it is - people's texts that have been submitted. Samples:

"I hated hipsters before it was mainstream."

"He asked what my name was on facebook chat. IT SAYS RIGHT THERE. i will never be drunk enough for this guy."

"I had a pretty decent weekend -- aside from dropping the baby on her head. That.. That I feel bad about."

"I dont know why people are racist. Both the mexicans and the irish gave us holidays where everyone drinks on a wednesday."

That's all I have time for now. I have to work on the pitch for my new book, which will be a compilation of stories of other people's book deals.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

One is silver and the other gold

Some of my friends know that I was a Girl Scout.

Yes, I know, most of the male persuasion were Boy Scouts. I did some of that - Cub Scouts, Webelos (wtf?) etc - but my more formative time was spent tagging along with my mom when she was a Girl Scout leader for my sister and her friends. I learned all about making campfires and paddling canoes and, of course, lanyards, from the Girl Scouts. And let me tell you, that lanyard knowledge has served me well.

There was a song - a corny song, for sure - that Girl Scouts sang back then, that said "make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold." I have had the simple truth of that brought home to me often of late, and feel the need to acknowledge it.

A couple of months ago I had the chance to visit with C, a friend I've had since Reagan was in office. We spent one summer together and have been buds ever since. We can sit and talk like that summer was yesterday. Today I spent time with P who I've known since - well, Reagan was still in office. Great times, so easy to hang out. And earlier this week I had some quality time with S, who is someone I've only known since the Clinton years, but that's still a goddamn long time. And there's F who I have seen once since high school, but I know if he ever effing came to visit we'd have a great time. All these good times with these good friends, and all my other old friends, make me feel sentimental and thankful and a little curious. How is it that friendship lives and survives and even thrives over great spans of distance and time?

My best answer is that it's one of those unknowables of life - why certain people always maintain a place while others just fade away. Where does that unexplainable connection come from and why does it last? Maybe there's a shared experience aspect - having gone through some kind of passage together, bonded. Maybe it's something to do with karma or pharma or past lives or something else I will never understand. I don't know and I can't know the answer. But today I'm just glad to have those friendships that keep burning. And I'm glad the Girl Scouts' corny song taught me something important all those years ago.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

About funny birds and divinity

I used to watch tons of TV. It was mostly ritual or habitual behavior. Didn't matter much what was on - just a visual chewing gum. Not unlike old people sitting on a bench just watching people go by - something to do, without doing anything.

Lately (and especially since I now live in The Hell That Is Basic Cable) I don't watch so much TV. The set's most valued function is to lull me to sleep at night and murmur softly so I can't hear the silence that reminds me that I am alone. (This system works well until the wee hours when, inevitably, someone or other suddenly pops on shouting about Jesus. More about Jesus later. Bet you can't wait for that.)

But there's one program running right now that has sucked me in - Life on the Discovery Channel. I've watched my share of "nature shows" in the past - dating all the way back to Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom with Marlin Perkins. (I loved that show. It ran on Sunday nights and I loved it mostly because when it appeared it meant thirty minutes until The Wonderful World of Disney, which aired "in living color" in some other people's homes. I also loved it because Marlin would mostly narrate and he always had a sidekick, a younger, strapping fellow, who did all the work. Marlin would say "Jim will now rush in and subdue the rabid hyena while I observe." Jim, to his credit, never once rolled his eyes. On camera.)

Life is a nature show, loaded with anteaters and meerkats (see photo above, which looks exactly like a bunch of guys in a bar saying "I thought this was Ladies' Night?") and snails and penguins and slimy things that live in the ocean, just like nature shows should do. The photography amazes minute upon minute and I watch with my mouth hanging open and sitting so still the snails seem like fidgety meth heads. There's a lot of talk about eggs and sperm and you get to see lots of different weird animals have sex. Which is great for us guys because no matter how lousy you are in bed, after you watch this show you can also say "Well, a least I can last longer than a prairie chicken. Usually."

Tonight they showed a bunch of different funny male birds and all their extreme exertions to demonstrate to the female birds that they are worthy of mating. They do tricks and display various body parts and even build little houses - which may seem primitive but is so much more civilized than online dating. These bird boys of all kinds were just knocking themselves out to lure that female close enough for an intense three seconds of lovemaking. The photographers even caught them after with little cigarettes in their beaks saying "Was it good for you?"

I can't watch animals doing animal things without thinking about the human animal, and how all this doesn't just reflect us, it is us. It is the rare human being who doesn't engage in some kind of fundamental, unspoken, attract-a-mate behavior several times every day. Think about it - women slave away at the gym and in front of the mirror in search of irresistible curves and inviting lips and lustrous hair, and men buy Porsches. But seriously - every time a guy unconsciously sucks in his gut when an attractive woman comes near, isn't he exactly like the funny bird flopping his great huge chestal area blobs all over the place like a scene from Mardi Gras? Just trying to look better to catch her eye. ( She didn't look, maybe I need those calf implants.) And aren't the Rolexes and $500 haircuts and Malo Blahniks just saying the same thing as wedging an especially shiny piece of litter into my mud nest to "make it pop"?

And what that leads me to is thinking about Jesus. (See, wait around long enough, you get the payoff.) Today is Easter so the subject of divinity comes up, and no, I don't mean that really good desert. Easter is all about defeating death and having an immortal soul that lives in eternity. (If you tithe, as I recall.) And this gets me wondering about man. Is there any more of a spark of divinity in that guy in the Porsche than in the meerkats? And if you think meerkats are cute enough to have a soul, then what about a starfish or a trilobite or a tick? Seems to me either we all have souls of equal value and lives of equal meaning, or none of us have any of either. (I could just go Buddhist right now if Tiger Woods hadn't given it a bad name lately.) The only difference between me and a penguin is my ability to think about something more than "eat a fish, eat a fish, eat a fish, procreate, eat a fish, eat a fish," and that thinking doesn't make an eternal soul.

In summation, I think if you're planning on going to Heaven you'd better be prepared to be in line with clams and wallabies and condors and even guys in Porsches.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Philosophy: It's all fun and games until somebody gets hurt


I've never studied philosophy but I always thought I should. For someone who paid tuition to make smoke powder blow up in flashpots and learn how ladies' gloves were made from the skins of mice in the Elizabethan age, philosophy seemed like the natural next step in a progression toward an all-encompassing knowledge that was simultaneously quite useless. But just because I never studied it doesn't mean I don't consider myself something of an expert on the topic. After all, I have access to Wikipedia. Duh.

Philosophy, then is:
the study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.It is distinguished from other ways of addressing fundamental questions (such as mysticism, myth, or the arts) by its critical, generally systematic approach...The word "Philosophy" comes from the Greek φιλοσοφία [philosophia], which literally means "love of wisdom."

I do love that wisdom. Watching Jeopardy all the time!

So having now given myself a thorough understanding of the topic, I am prepared to hold forth and present my profound thoughts. Ahem.

It seems to me that in developing a perspective on this whole life thing there are two paths from which to choose:

  • Path A: Destiny. Fate. All things happen for a reason whether it can be understood or not. In fact, understanding is not in play - it's a faith-based organization, and maybe, if we're good, we understand the ending as the credits roll.
  • Path B: Random meaninglessness. Chaos. Nothing means anything, nothing matters, we're all just collections of molecules cursed with consciousness.
  • Path C: There is no Path C because I just said there are two paths from which to choose. Why are you even reading Path C? Can't you focus for even a minute?
The whole destiny and fate approach has a number of attractive aspects. A large foyer, for example, and hardwood floors,cathedral ceilings and two-and-half baths and plenty of lawn out back for the dog. A comforting space where there is always the aroma of fresh-baked bread and six or seven glowing sunsets a day.

Random meaningless, meanwhile, is a leaky basement apartment where the radiator bangs and the windows don't close all the way because the walls are crooked. The people who live upstairs from random meaninglessness wake you up in the middle of the night with their loud coupling and you only get mail that is not intended for you.

Destiny and fate has the whole "butterfly effect" thing going for it - every missed bus changes your life.

Random meaninglessness just says "Fuck, I missed the bus" and goes back into the bar for another beer.

Destiny and fate says "There's no point in striving because whatever is going to happen to you is going to happen no matter what you do."

Random meaninglessness says "There's no point in striving because whatever is going to happen to you doesn't matter anyway."

This is starting to get depressing.

So I call for a Path C. (Yes, I know I denied Path C earlier but how about a little forgiveness here, ok? I'm doing my best.)

Path C says there is some absolute truth, and it comes from the heart and not from the head. The heart feels the right and the wrong. Choices matter. Path C says you are, in fact, the captain of your soul and whether or not you miss that bus is really a choice you make, whether you know it or not. Path C says only people who discover that things are going really well are likely to say "this was meant to be" and people who are hosed think nothing makes sense. Path C says everything we do has a motivation, an intention and a meaning - based on choices we make minute by minute. Path C says you own your happiness or lack of it.

Guess it's just as well I didn't take those philosophy classes. Tonight, at least, it all seems sort of simple.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A fat kid's random stale cookies


When I was a kid there were always sweets in the house. Ice cream in the freezer, always. Those great big Hershey bars, the kind about four-by-six inches, stashed in a drawer or "hidden" in an electric fryer that sat unused on top of the fridge. And a cookie jar of some sort, on the kitchen counter, with some low quality and half-stale Fig Newtons or Nilla Wafers or some such. I knew where all the sweets lived because I was both a curious and fat kid. I made it my business to have a basic rolling inventory of everything that was in the cupboards, pantry or refrigerator. I think a "keep it away from the pudge" policy was the reason they were always trying to hide the good stuff. But being a sort of Sherlock Holmes of desserts, I sniffed it all out.

That cookie jar, however, was always my last resort. If there was only one sort of crappy, cheap cookie in there, that might do in a pinch. But there was a tendency for two or three kinds of crappy, cheap cookies to end up in there together, and their smells and flavors would inter-marry, and that was not a palate pleaser even for a fat kid. A sugar cookie should not smell like a ginger snap - a Nutter Butter should not have a coconut flavor - the race mixing of the cookies was morally objectionable.

All of this is by way of saying that a pastiche, a potpourri, and pot of leftovers, is often not all that tasty, and this blog post is exactly that kind of pot of leftovers. You have been duly warned. These are my Random Loose Ends.

Update on New Year's Resolutions

Here it is March already. 2010 is one-sixth over. You're probably wondering how the fat kid is doing with the old resolutions. So here's where I stand: I have been 100% successful in stopping saying I will cut down on drinking, and I have followed through on my pledge to get up every morning and give serious consideration to a strenuous workout. I have also had complete success in giving up eating baby seal meat, and I have totally said no to necrophilia. On the downside, I have not fulfilled my pledge to get a prominent tattoo that says "Be Kind, Rewind." But there's still five-sixths of the year left.

Wearable technology observation

With a small cringe for fear of offending, I would like to quietly suggest that the wearing the earpiece-cell phone thing 24/7 is really 2008 and it's time to let it go. It just didn't catch fire like you thought it would, bunky, so you look like a nimrod. Let's move on, ok? I know, I know, you are saving a lot of time and effort reaching into your pocket, purse or holster to get your phone out all the time, but only television directors and dispatchers and air traffic controllers really need a semi-permanent headset situation. I mean, how many urgent business deals are you making during the recession? And you were never really that important anyway, were you? (At the same time, as soon as they come out with the fully implantable cell phone, cut me open and stick it inside my head. Give me a little set of buttons behind my ear. Hands free, and I'll never have to worry again about watching my fancy phone drown in the toilet.)

The many names for one's thing

They say the Eskimos have a hundred - or a thousand, or a million - words for snow. Snow is very important to them. Frogs, if they had a language, would have a hundred or a million words for flies, I guess. So if there is some thing that has lots of different names, it must be important. That's why, I think, there are are so many different names for the naughty bits. Most people can, without hesitation or a Google search, reel off 10 or 12 terms that equate to penis, and perhaps an equal number for vagina. I find this intriguing, but I can't quit figure out how to get some blog value out of it. Stay tuned. Maybe we'll have a contest. First prize can be a jar full of stale Fig Newtons that smell like Snickerdoodles.

Lastly, two random cheap laugh photos that came my way. I share them because a cheap laugh is still a laugh.


Ok, I don't know who this guy is, where he is, or what the fuck he's thinking, but if Conan the Barbarian got in a time machine and popped up in a park in Milwaukee in July, and then tried to find some clothes to blend in with the locals, it might look a little like this. I can't help but think that even though no one else in the photo is looking at this guy, there all are talking about him. And not admiringly.


I think maybe this picture came with the caption "Excited about the weather?" I wish I could improve on that, but I can't.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Olympics!! The Glory! The Drama! The Utter Irrelevance!!


Every four years I am reminded of how little I care about sports that take place on snow and ice.

Believe me, I WANT to care about Amund Nordlinngsen and his quest for gold in the ski-awhile-and-shoot-a-gun-awhile event, especially in light of him losing 4 toes and the tip of his penis to frostbite during training. I WANT to care about Wang and Chen and their pursuit of the hexagonal obtuse throw in the ice dancing, especially in light of the fact that Chen's father was persecuted in Tianamen Square and lost the tip of his penis when a tank ran over it. And I especially WANT to hear more about all these people from Bob Costas or Jim Nance or whoever is talking, especially in light of the fact that Bob/Jim/Whoever has lost, or is soon to lose, the tip of his penis to something, based on the theme of this first paragraph. I WANT to care, but alas, I don't.

There was a time when I really cared about the winter Olympics. I remember reverence for some Norwegian speed skater who was just such a perfect specimen and dominant and who won several gold medals - and then there was so-and-so and whats-her-name, and also whozits, my personal favorite. who in the every important years of 19__ to 19 ___ did so much to bring prominence and glory to their otherwise meaningless and fundamentally pointless sports. But that time has passed, largely due to living in places where snow and ice were not fun or sporting, and seeing all that snow and ice on the TV is just distressing. Maybe only people from California and Hawaii can enjoy the winter Olympics without some gnawing anxiety that involves shovels and snowblowers and grandpa having a heart attack in the driveway. I just don't know.

We all have a tendency to get deeply involved and become experts in obscure and stupid sports during the Olympics. We get immersed in the intricacies of curling, platform diving, the biathlon, the pommel horse, dominoes, the hula, making toast and other Olympic sports, and we become, for two weeks, utter experts on these activities. Within 24 hours after the end of the Olympics, we don't give two shits about any of it. It is a quintessential moment of being human - the innate desire to be involved, to know, to care. That, I must say, is a beautiful thing.

So I'm glad that even if I don't care, someone does. Someone cares about the immense amounts of time so many people have spent getting ready to compete, and someone cares about the personal struggles and insurmountable obstacles that athletes have overcome to be there competing, and someone cares about "the human drama" that is more important that the physical races against space and time that create the results and the medals and the winners and the losers.

I glad someone cares, and I'm glad I don't now, nor will I ever again, own a snow shovel.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Hell that is Basic Cable

A little more than a year ago I had approximately 4,347 channels of TV at my disposal. I was a Dish Network man, with the Ultra Supreme Omniscient package I think the called it, plus a little HBO and Showtime or Cinemax (who can tell them apart?) Today, through actions of my own, I must admit, I now dwell in the nether regions in a place called Basic Cable. Or if there's a level below that, that's what I have.

Yes, I chose to leave my formerly comfortable surroundings - 42-inch HD flat screen, leather sectional, Tempur Pedic mattress, stainless steel appliances - for the sofabed, folding chair, and college-dorm type kitchen I now "enjoy." I walked away from comfort for a number of reasons - good reasons - but I never anticipated falling into the seventh level of Hell that is Basic Cable.

Yes, I could buy my way back up into the clouds with Comcast, AT&T, Dish or Direct TV, but as the man sang, "money's too tight to mention" and if any more of my diet consisted of cheap soup I fear a loss of muscle mass. So, for now the price - free - is right.

I know it's gauche to confess a love - a need - for TV, but I would only be lying if I said it's not critical to my existence. I grew up in a house where the TV was always on. Granted, there were only two channels at first, and later (oh joy of joys!) a third channel (some newfangled thing called UHF that called for wizardry with rabbit hears and loop antennas) but by God I watched just about everything offered and I watched it again in reruns. To this I credit my fondness for Walter Cronkite, Captain Kangaroo and Roy Rogers - Superman, Looney Tunes and Johnny Carson - Jeopardy and the weather map and election night news - the Marx Brothers and W.C Fields movies that were shown after midnight - Phil Donahue and Dick Cavett and Tom Snyder - and to this I credit my encyclopedic knowledge of a great many utterly pointless things. TV was my babysitter, my mentor, my friend - in a time before I made a new friend that comes in a bottle.

Imagine my chagrin to now have in essence, about the same number of channels I had when I was 9. Ok sure, I now have some channels in Spanish, public access TV, and PBS. I have WGN and Discovery and Fox. But the list of what I don't have is long, very long. No ESPN. No ESPN2. No EPSN News. No CNN. No MTV or VH1 or Fuse. No Food Network. No Lifetime. (Ok I never watched that but it was comforting to know it was there.) No TBS, no TNT. No Fox Sports Channel. I am bereft.

Let's face it, there is a direct relationship between a man and his number of channels. The equation also encompasses the size of his screen and the configuration and possession of the remote, for sure, but without a wide array of totally unwatchable crap channels, what's the point in having a nice big TV? What, am I going to watch reruns of "Rosanne" with surround sound, with a little school board meeting in the PIP? I have been stripped of my manhood. Shoot me now.

I propose a sort of "Big Sisters Big Brothers" program for men in my situation. Once a week, someone comes and picks me up and takes me to their home where we sit and watch "Emeril" or "TRL" or "The Daily Show" or "Big Love." Some chips and salsa would be nice. Then after awhile, I get taken back home where I sob quietly until another week passes.

You can help for just pennies a day.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Second thoughts on online dating

I've made a couple hundred posts on this blog since I started it, and I think the post about online dating got the most reaction. Did I hit a nerve there? Was I the most honest at that moment 6 months ago, and as a result sparked a lot of replies? Yeah, I think so.

Since then I had a few dates that originated from one of the popular online sites, and I did my share of cruising around the lake casting my bait to see who I might catch. Can't say that I landed any keepers, but it was - interesting. And like a lot of other people I've talked to, eventually you realize you're seeing the same faces on the screen and you're thinking "is she still on here? Must be something really wrong with her" and it's likely they're seeing you the same way - "is that guy still on here? Must be something really wrong with him!" - and so the whole thing stops being interesting real quick, and then it feels kind of desperate and sad and unhealthy, and so you cancel.

Along the way you meet a few people who seem really incredible but, like Seinfeld, you soon discover they have some kind of trait or behavior that turns on the stoplight, and you toss them aside and start trolling again, and you remind yourself that "there are a lot of hopeless losers on these online dating sites" and try to still the voice in your head that says you are one of them.

Along the way you start figuring out that maybe it's not so horrible to spend some time with yourself, and maybe you don't have to be with someone else to have value, and so what if all your friends are coupled up, and so what if no one invites you to their parties because you've become a fifth wheel, because you can just stay home and pop in a DVD, right? And eat soup from a can, and drink the whole bottle yourself, and -- wait, that's starting to sound desperate and sad and unhealthy again. Well, anyway.

Along the way you think maybe life in the monastery wouldn't be all that bad really, or if you just left your car and clothes on the beach somewhere and disappeared that wouldn't be all that bad really, or if you just stopped trying and stopped caring maybe that wouldn't be all that bad really, and some days it all seems bleak, and you feel like you may never laugh again.

But soft! What light through yonder email breaks? It is the east, and something funny is the sun.

So even though I don't subscribe anymore, I still get these emails from online dating sites I signed up for - and ok, sure, I was drunk when I signed up, I'm sure. What the hell, anyway - mostly I just delete them, but once in awhile I look, and once in awhile I am amazed at what I see. For example:


Here are some actual posts of "profile pictures" on an unnamed site. I have obscured the screen names in hopes I will not be sued, harassed or firebombed as a result of this post. But even so, I must simply ask - WTF??

Person 1 on the left - are you telling the world that (a) you have a cat that's really important in your life, or (b) you actually ARE a cat that has learned to use the internet, or (c) you identify with cats more than people and are on your way to becoming a "cat lady" news story, or (d) bottom line you just really don't want any men to contact you at all so this seems like a good tactic to remain alone? Just asking.

Person 2 in the middle - are you telling the world that (a) you actually are Cruella DeVille, or (b) you wish you were Cruella DeVille (which is way scary) or (c) you actually have no pictures of yourself at all and must result to clip art, or (d) bottom line you just really don't want any men to contact you at all so this seems like a good tactic to remain alone? Just asking once again.

Person 3 on the right - Um...never mind, ok? Just don't hurt me.

Moral of our story: All things considered, being alone really isn't all that bad.