Saturday, September 30, 2006

Oh Piper, Where Art Thou?

The first time I heard her name, I thought that the Piper aircraft company had come out with a new, improved plane.

Or maybe, I thought, it was one of those places where the U.S. has a large military presence. Some place like Diego Garcia, one of those places that only soldiers and geeks like Tom Clancy can find on a map. I could just imagine some nameless general reporting to Jack Ryan: "Mr. President, we've scrambled a squadron of fighters. They're pulling out of Piper Perabo within the hour."

There was no way that "Piper Perabo" was a name. I'm open-minded and all, but enough is enough. Anyway, when I saw her in Coyote Ugly, I felt a strange, unexplainable attraction. Later, when I watched The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, I understood.

Piper Perabo lookes exactly like Bugs Bunny in drag. With smaller ears.

Although I knew that my attraction to Ms. Perabo was residual confusion resulting from early Looney Tunes exposure, I didn't care. With her big front teeth, she gnawed away at my heart. I was in love.

Then Piper disappeared. That was six years ago, and I have seen neither hide nor hare of her since. Of course, nobody can really disappear in the era of the internet. I looked up Piper on IMDB and discovered, much to my surprise, that she has been making movies over the last few years. I just haven't seen them. Then again, from what I've heard, nobody saw Cheaper By the Dozen 2.

This led me to think about the other actresses that I've loved and lost. I have, I admit, a weak spot for lesser-known female leads. People like Julie Warner, Nancy McKeon, and Samantha Mathis. I decided to look a couple of them up. Here are the results.

Julie Warner, who really nailed the Jeaneane Garofalo "tough girl with tender feelings" role in Doc Hollywood followed with a similar role a few years later in Tommy Boy. I noticed her because she reminded me of all the Catholic girls I went to school with. She was cute, had a sense of humor, and looked like she could kick my ass. Aah, Catholic school...where I learned to associate fear and submission with sex...

Anyway, Julie Warner went on to do a lot of TV. Pity...

Nancy McKeon's big role was as Jo on The Facts of Life. Sometimes I feel like this show was some sort of Rohrshak test. Were you attracted to the sassy, playful Tootie? The warm and sexually desperate Natalie? The shallow, self-absorbed, boy-crazy Blair? Or Jo, the one voted most likely to end up in San Francisco with a house full of cats? God help me, I was drawn to the babydike...

Again, like Julie Warner, Nancy McKeon went on to do a lot of TV.

And we finally come to Samantha Mathis. Okay, it's time for a painful admission...I was completely addicted to Pump Up the Volume. I saw it in the theater. Twice. I wore out the videocassette. Twice. Part of this, I must point out, was Samantha Mathis' performance as Nora Diniro. By turns seductive and dominant, she was like a really sexy Lady Macbeth. With great breasts. Anyway, I started watching for her, which led me to see The Thing Called Love, How to Make an American Quilt, Little Women, and, yes, Super Mario Brothers. Painful admissions...

Anyway, she ended up guessed it...a lot of TV.

So there you are. I've learned a lot more about myself than I really wanted to know. Clearly, I need to watch more TV.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Wussie Nation

Earlier today, we had a little rain here in Southwest Virginia.

Okay, maybe that's an understatement--we had a downpour in Southwest Virginia.

Now, I hate rain about as much as your average housecat, but even I know how to handle a little storm. You put on a raincoat and a hat and carry an umbrella. If there's thunder and lightning, you try to avoid standing under tall trees, near power lines, or in the middle of open fields. Ideally, if you can swing it, you find a warm, toasty place to stay, eat soup, and laugh at all the poor bastards who are outside getting wet. If you play your cards right, a rainstorm can be a lot of fun.

All day, the news has been telling me that there is a SEVERE THUNDER STORM WARNING in effect. I put it in caps to give you an idea of the newsreaders' tones. This warning has gotten the kind of intense coverage that I usually associate with hurricanes, blizzards, or the death of a head of state. Perhaps it is worth mentioning that I live in the mountains of Southwest Virginia. While these aren't the Rockies or the Himalayas, we still live pretty high up, and the chances of the New River overflowing its banks and flooding out the area are, well, nil. This means that the SEVERE THUNDER STORM WARNING really is just telling us that the electricity might go out or that we might get wet.

I'd like to make fun of the media here. I'd like to say that the news stations that are desperate for disasters and need to boost their ratings, and that the average citizen of my town was too smart to be suckered in. Unfortunately, though, I'd be lying. When my wife went to Wal-Mart, the place was filled with people stocking up on toilet paper, milk, and canned goods.

Just in case.

For all its faults, the TV news can hardly be held responsible for the herd of hillbillies and rednecks who ran for the Wal-Mart like a gang of starving third graders after an ice-cream truck. I guess I just missed the memo, but I don't remember when we all became such a huge bunch of wimps.

Since when is a thunderstorm a major meteorological event? And weather isn't the only thing where we seem to have inflated the negative into the disastrous. For example, when did depression become such an all-purpose diagnosis? Many of my friends have been diagnosed with depression; for some of them, this seems totally reasonable, but it often seems like massive "downer inflation." To put it another way, I'm a pretty happy guy, but when I do the little depression tests in magazines, I generally come off as having a darker personality than August Strindberg mourning his dead mother on five bong hits and a half bottle of absinthe.

When is depression real? Personally, I'd draw the line somewhere around "can't get out of bed in the morning." However, "gets depressed when Summer ends" isn't so much a sign of depression as a natural human reaction. It's reasonable to be a little down sometimes--depression is the shit sandwich that makes the Boston Cream Pie of elation that much tastier.

The other day, I saw an advertisement for medication to combat "restless leg syndrome," which sounds a lot like what my grandma used to call "ants in your pants." As far as I can tell, it seems to be an itch or, alternately, a tendency to kick in your sleep. When did we start medicating nighttime kicking? As someone who has occasionally awakened himself with a nighttime kick, I have two general questions:

1. Are the drugs you get for nighttime kicking any good? I mean, if used injudiciously, can they give you hallucinations or cool dreams like that? Would my insurance provider cover them?

2. What kind of pill-pushing, second rate doctor actually prescribes drugs for this sort of disorder? Are we talking someone along the lines of an Elvis Presley/Liza Minelli--Dr. Feelgood kind of doctor? Where do these doctors work? Are there any in Southwest Virginia?

Well, I have to go...I feel a bout of seasonal depression coming on...

Monday, September 25, 2006

Christian Tolerance

Oh the marriage of your spirits here has caused Him to remain
For whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name
There is Love, there is Love.

Okay, I admit that I have somewhat mawkish tastes, but when I was a kid, I loved the song "There Is Love." Unfortunately, though, I didn't know all the lyrics, and tended to fill in the blanks with words of my own:

"Oh the crushing of your enemies and their screams of pain,
For whenever two or more of you are gathered in his name...
There is blood...there is blood."

Yes, I was a man ahead of his absurdist, Catholic proto-goth in Fairfax county, Virginia, circa 1980. Good times...

Still, as much as I made fun of the song, I really liked the tune and the lyrics, and they made sense to me. Christianity was about pure, uncomplicated, and selfless love. In fact, as I grew older, I came to realize that most religions advocated the same concepts of charity and kindness. This, of course, made sense--regardless of the words God used, or the language of His followers, it was reasonable to believe that the message would remain the same. At least, this was what I thought when I was ten or so.

Lately, though, it has started to seem like my parody might have hit pretty close to the truth. Newsweek ran an article last week in which it explored contemporary atheism. The author, Jerry Adler, started by discussing the work of Sam Harris, an atheist, Adler wrote: "If, he reasoned, young men were slaughtering people in the name of religion--something that had been going on since long before 2001, of course--then perhaps the problem was religion itself."

That line made me think about religion, history, and society. Admittedly, the link between religion and violence shouldn't have surprised me too much--I've spent a lot of time reading about the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the violent conversions of the native Americans, etc. Still, I thought that Christianity had grown out of its forced-acceptance phase somewhere around the early 1700s. However, given Bush's religion-based rhetoric regarding America's conflicts in the Middle East, perhaps I was a little optimistic.

I, like most Catholics I know, am lapsed. In my case, this means that I tend to avoid spending time in Catholic Churches, and sometimes joke about the holy water smoking when I touch it to my forehead. Still, I consider myself Catholic, in the same way that I consider myself a smoker--I haven't lit up in a long time, but it's still in my system, and probably always will be.

Perhaps I'm a "recovering Catholic." Do you think they make a patch?

A big part of my current rift with the Catholic church lies in its lack of mercy, understanding, and love toward a wide variety of groups. The Church's attitude toward gays, Muslims, Jews, Democrats, and other outsiders just doesn't seem that "Christian" to me. I focus on Catholicism, because that's the religion of my youth, but the Church of Rome isn't the only culprit in our little worldwide Crusade/Jihad. I've seen this sort of violent, shortsighted, hypocritical idiocy it in pretty much every religion. This idea--that everyone outside of our little religious circles is hellbound--seems to go against the entire purpose of religion. Most of the creeds that I've studied preach tolerance, love, and charity, at least on paper.

So perhaps the problem is religion, as Harris suggests. Maybe it's because, just as Coke needs Pepsi and McDonalds needs Burger King, religions need each other to define their messages. Or maybe it's because fear feeds patriotism (not to mention boosting the weekly collections). Maybe something happens when worship becomes a business and churches become a franchise. Or maybe God just doesn't belong indoors. Regardless, I'd like to find a church that doesn't feel obliged to seek the destruction of every other faith. That just doesn't seem very Christian.

Who am I kidding? Even if I found the perfect religion, I'd still be a lapsed Catholic--addictions are hard to break.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Brain Confetti

Okay, I realize this is a little bit cheesy, but I've got a lot of little snippets bouncing around inside my head, and I want to get them out. So here they are...


The other day, I was walking into the mall when I saw a sign that said "Now Hiring Dicks." Looking closer, I realized that the third word was actually a photograph of a "Dick's Sporting Goods" sign. Still, I was impressed at the truth in advertising.


I found out recently that Hilary Duff now has a perfume. First of all, I was surprised to discover that Hilary Duff was a real person. I thought she was a fictional character, like the Olson twins or Lindsay Lohan. After I got over my initial surprise, I wondered who would want to smell like Hilary Duff. I imagine that she is surrounded by the scent of Cherry Lip Smackers and FDS.

Of course, she's only following a trend of celebrity perfumes. Again, though, I have to wonder who buys these things. For example, Carlos Santana has a cologne. I imagine that Carlos Santana smells like a mixture of sardines, cigars, and frijoles refritos.

Or how about Sean "Puffy, Puff Daddy, P-Diddy" John Combs? Is it legal to use coke as a fragrance element?

Paris Hilton, with the refreshing scent of vomit, nonoxynol-9, and syphilis.

Michael Jordan, redolent of sweat and liniment.

Shania Twain--I dunno, what does her brother smell like?

My wife assures me that Brittany Spears' perfumes are outstanding. However, I can't get over their connection to Mrs. Federline. I keep thinking, "I guess that's what mentally retarded, inbred, gives-the-South-a-bad-name" smells like. In a related note, I kind of wish that R. Kelly had a cologne. I think it would smell like candy.


My wife is a magazine junkie--she probably reads ten different magazines every month. In In Style, she found an interesting letter. A reader in Portland, Maine, asked where Reese Witherspoon got a particular necklace. The response included the following: "On her visit to New Orleans to raise awareness about children coping with the effects of Hurricane Katrina, Witherspoon wore a pendant from jewelry designer Me & Ro. Her gold medallion, set with 12 diamonds, represents the mirror of karma [sic], a Buddhist symbol of self-reflection." The article went on to report that the pendant costs $2,610.

Okay, I've got a couple of requests here. First of all, could jewelry designers refrain from referencing Buddhism when making expensive, diamond-laden necklaces? It just seems a bit too ironic. The same goes for wearing expensive symbols of "self-reflection" while visiting homeless children.

Is it me?


Okay, one last thought. Earlier today, I saw a guy wearing a t-shirt that said "If the music's too loud, THEN YOU'RE TOO OLD!" My initial thought was one of nostalgia. I seem to remember similar feelings being expressed by baby boomer nimrods when I was a kid. It was strange to see the same sentiments being worn by some kid who could easily be the child of a boomer.

As I thought about it further, I realized what the t-shirt really meant. It meant that if I find myself stuck at a street light and my car is trying to shake itself apart because some ass-master three lanes over wants to hear the bassline from "Baby Got Back" on a sub-molecular level, then...well...I'm too old.

I immediately started thinking of more honest t-shirts. Then again, I imagine that a shirt reading "If the music's too loud, THEN I'M AN INCONSIDERATE DOUCHEBAG" probably wouldn't be too popular.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Return of an Old Friend

Having lived through the '80's once, I've felt some alarm at their return. I remember the fashions with a mixture of embarassment and dread. Because I went to a private school, most of my clothes consisted of khaki pants and white dress shirts; however, even the draconian rules of the Oblates of St. Francis DeSales could only go so far in curbing my clothing crimes. I must admit that I, too, owned a few pink shirts and acid-wash jeans. I had oversized eyeglass frames and gelled hair. I wore paisleys on everything, except for my hypercolor shirts.

I'm not proud.

However, having felt the self-righteous, ascetic embrace of the 1990's, I can admit with pride that I've made it through eighties rehab. I've reflected upon my fashion sins and done penance. Brothers and sisters, I am healed.

I didn't go through it alone. I can't count the number of friends who hide their mulleted and permed school photos like a guilty secret. We bore our shame together, and we survived together. As a generation, we have soldiered on.

Now that people in their teens and twenties are embracing the embarassing styles of my youth, I find myself cringing. Popped collars. Leggings. Those ruffled skirts that make you look like a prom queen who finished the evening having rough sex in the back seat of a station wagon. It seems to me that everyone increasingly looks like a road-show stage production of Pretty in Pink.

There is, however, one survivor of the eighties that I find myself welcoming. It's an old friend that I abandoned in my haste to distance myself from my childhood. It's someone who was always there for me when I needed him most.

It's good old douchebag.

For me, the eighties was the golden era of douchebag, and that little rubber sack will always symbolize the spirit of that decade. According to various sources, the word was first employed in the late sixties as a slur for unattractive women. However, it soon gained currency as a predominantly male-oriented insult. By 1979, the term was common enough for Saturday Night Live to air "Lord Douchebag," a sketch based on the inventor of the douche. Although I was too young to watch the episode, the term soon filtered down to my age group.

Until then, I'd made do with a solid triumvirate of insults: Asshole, Jerkoff, and Faggot (keep in mind that this was the eighties and I went to Catholic schools, one of which was all-male. "Faggot" was tacitly encouraged by my teachers and priests). All three of these words served me well, and each was moderately satisfying, but there was still something missing. There was still a hole in my life.

That hole was filled by douchebag.

Douchebag was rich and satisifying. While asshole ("AssHOOOOOLE!"), jerkoff ("jerk OFFF!"), and faggot (barked like a clipped Nazi command: "FAGGOT!") were all fun to yell, douchebag gave me so much more. It had a natural rhythm ("DEWSH bag!"), and combined the soft sound of "douche," reminiscent of a water balloon, with the hard, emotionally fulfilling "bag," which ended the word on a complete note.

However, as with the word "wicked," the Valley Girl accent, and John Hughes' oevre, Douchebag was too cutting edge, too stylish to last. It simply became too famous, too fast. Before long, douchebag, like hypercolors and boyfriend jackets, was a shameful reminder of foolish excess. I, like so many others, consigned it to the rubbish-heap of childhood as I seized the trappings of maturity.

Then, in 2004, I saw a ray of hope. A website, "John Kerry Is a Douchebag, but I'm Voting for Him Anyway," gave the word new relevance. Suddenly it had cachet again. Soon I started hearing the word in conversation. Granted, it had to share airtime with the incomplete "douche," the otherworldly "shower pocket," and the unnecessary "D-bag" or "DB," but it is still out there, and it's gaining ground.

Welcome back, old friend.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Omar's Response

After reading my post on Dubai (If You've Seen One A-rab...), my friend Omar sent me a few thoughts, in the hopes that I would pass them on to my former professor. However, since I'm no longer in contact with her, I asked Omar if he would let me post them here. I decided that, as a practicing Moslem and inhabitant of the Middle East, Omar's thoughts were particularly relevant. So, without further ado, and with minimal editing...

1) Female Circumcision
Female circumcision is NOT practiced in mainstream Islamic/Arab culture. In fact, according to the actual text and doctrines of Islam, it is a travesty. Just because some sub-Saharan tribes in the desert practice it DOES NOT make it a general practice of the Arab and Muslim world. Let's look at it this way: some African tribes practice cannibalism. Does that mean that an average Egyptian (who is a part of the african continent) is now a cannibal bastard??? Similarly, some Americans molest their sisters... are all Americans incestuous?? [It is worth noting that Omar went to school in Southwest Virginia]. Some Muslims (such as Bin Laden), some Christians (Such as Timothy McVeigh), and some Jews (Al Goldstein) practice radical extremist measures to make a point. Does that mean all members of the religion are the same??


2) Arab "Hatred" Toward the U.S.
Arabs in general DO NOT hate Americans!

In a survey conducted by a tv channel in the Middle East and gulf region, the majority (90+ %) of Arabs asked (by the way there are Christian and Jewish arabs as well... I wonder if your professor knew that) responded: "We don't hate the American people, just the American government and its policy towards governing the World and the Middle East."

3) Islam and Terrorism
Islam DOES NOT condone acts of terrorism and violence towards any other religion! Just because some nut cases take it to the extreme means that a lot of the essence of the religion is misconstrued and manipulated. I call this process of misinterpretation and brainwashing Holy Crack.

There is a passage in the Quoran that reads (I'm paraphrazing):

"Dear Christians and Jews and people of a different religion than Islam.

You have your gods and your beliefs
I have mine
You don't believe in what I do
I don't believe in what you do.

You don't follow my doctrine
I don't follow yours.

You have your religion and I respect that;
I have my religion and you should respect that.

In other words, Islam promotes the recognition and respect of other religions.

4) Treatment of women
An excerpt from the Quor'an says that "heaven is under the feet of all mothers," meaning that women are revered in islam as very important and dignified. Similarly, there is a story that someone asked the prophet Mohammad, or Moses or one of them: who should I love first, my mother or father? The response was: your mother, then your mother, then your mother, then your father. It's one of those complex things; even though, to a westerner, a muslim woman seems repressed, it's much more complicated than it seems. There are always two extremes, with many variations in between. Some people are extremely conservative towards women while others aren't.
Similarly, in the states, there are people who abuse their women and mistreat them, while there are others who love and respect them. In general, there are certain countries (saudi and the gulf countries, with the exception of Dubai) that believe women should do certain things a certain way. Other countries, such as Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Morrocco, and Iraq give women certain liberties. It is a matter of culture mixed with religion.

In Dubai, you will see a woman who is religious and covered up like a ninja because, like a nun in America, this is what she believes. On the other hand, you may see an Arab, Muslim woman wearing a mini skirt, sipping on a vodka tonic and dancing on tables, rejecting guys left and right then going home and giving a blowjob to the biggest asshole in the place (again, just like the US). Between these extremes, you will also see a woman who is Arab, Muslim, not covered up, has a strong faith, but also believes in the right to enjoy her life, live liberally, have freedom of thought and lifestyle...while retaining a sense of dignity and formality when it comes to the things she does. I can count several examples in this group, including my mother, my sister, and every woman in my family. In the case of the third group, they can do whatever they want whenever they want if they choose to, but they have a strong sense of pride and dignity towards their culture and religion and choose a moderate lifestyle that combines certain stereotypically western traits with Arab and Muslim practices.

Feel free to forward my comments to your ex professor. I hold no kind of grudge or hard feeling towards anybody who approaches this issue the way she did; as far as I'm concerned, it's just a lack of information on her part. I strongly urge you to come for a visit to this part of the world and see for yourself. The best way to describe the arab world / muslim world is this: it's like a very complicated stew. It may look horrible and smell funny... some people may have tasted it and hated it and passed the word, but if you're taken to the restaurant and watch them cook it and try it for yourself, you'll understand it and appreciate the flavor.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Cranktoberfest 2006: Going Down With the Ship

After you reach a certain age, birthdays become a little weird...on the one hand, you want to celebrate your continued existence, but you feel a little strange about getting older. Worst of all, you can't count on your parents to take care of it for you.

A few years ago, a lot of friends threw me a party. It was a surprise, and they really went out of their way to make it special. The problem, of course, was the next year, when two friends took me to Dairy Queen, dutch treat. I learned a few key facts:

1. You can't count on your friends to throw you a surprise party every year. If you could, it wouldn't be a surprise.

2. It's a really good idea to have a girlfriend when your birthday rolls around; that way, she can take responsibility for your happiness on an emotionally-laden day.

3. If you really want to celebrate your birthday, you might just have to do it yourself.

The next year, a friend and I threw a party for ourselves. We cooked food, stocked a huge bar, and invited over a few friends. The following year, I did the same thing with another friend. It was a huge success both times. The next year, I decided that I was tired of sharing the spotlight, and decided to just throw a party for myself. I dubbed it "Cranktoberfest." It went really well, and I have thrown myself a birthday celebration every year since then.

I like to cook, so I take this as an opportunity to really go crazy in the kitchen. My friend Tom and I choose a theme, buy all sorts of obscure ingredients, and spend a day cooking for twenty of my nearest and dearest. The first year, we made German food, followed by Mexican (Cranktoberfest 2004: Dia del Cranko) and Eastern European cuisine. This year, we were having a hard time deciding what to make until my aunt bought me a copy of Last Dinner on the Titanic, a book of Titanic recipes. We decided to cook at least one thing from first class, second class, and third class. The final menu was:

Canapes A L'Amiral
Cream of Barley Soup
Punch Romaine
Roast Pork with Sage and Pearl Onions
Turnip Puree
Asparagus Salad with Champagne-Saffron Vinaigrette
Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly
Wine Jelly
Coconut Sandwiches

My friend Maggie decided to come for the weekend, so we set her up in the basement. Tom also had two Irish friends, Paul and Keet (spelled "Keith") visiting from out of town, so we got them to hang out and help. The night before my birthday, we needed to do some shopping and start in on some of the more complex dishes. Instead, we procrastinated until about 10:30, got a little toasty with the help of Paul and Keet, wandered around the grocery section of Wal-Mart for a while, giggled at the holloween costumes and musical stuffed hamsters, bought some food, came home, decided that we weren't really interested in doing any food prep, got really drunk (again, with the help of Paul and Keet--Irish guys are incredibly useful when it comes to getting shitfaced on the eve of one's birthday party), and watched Super Troopers.

The following morning, I woke up at nine, feeling like a piece of belly-button lint (I don't drink too much anymore), called Tom (who sounded worse than I felt), and started in with the prep work. Tom rolled in around 11, and we went back to Wal-Mart to pick up some of the things that we forgot the night before. When we got home, I continued with the prep while Tom drove to Kroger, the wine shop, and the liquor store to get the things that Wal-Mart didn't have.

Okay, at this point, it's worth noting that everyone was supposed to start arriving at 5:30, although I made it clear that people are welcome to show up whenever they damn well felt like it. However, as much as I wanted to keep this whole thing casual, I'm starting to get nervous, as it was now after 12 and I still didn't have all the required ingredients for any of the dishes. Worse yet, two of them involved gelatin and one needed to roast for two hours. It was going to be tight.

By two, when Tom showed up, I had the pork marinating, most of the pearl onions peeled, and all of the onions, peppers, and garlic peeled and chopped. I had also peeled, cleaned, chopped, and mixed the available fruit and made the coconut shortbread for the cookies. In fact, I was almost out of things to do. The next three hours were kind of a blur, as my wife ran out to pick up last minute ingredients, and we seriously got into the cooking. By the time the first guests, Manu and Monica, arrived at 5:00, the pork was roasting, the soup was almost finished, the shrimp butter (for the canapes) was done, and the jellies were sitting in the fridge, where they were definitely not gelling.

We moved the jellies to the freezer, started throwing vinegar and salt into the soup to try to get it to develop a flavor, and set Manu to work chopping asparagus, peeling turnips, and slicing baguettes while Monica (who deserves canonization) started cleaning the massive pile of dishes that had somehow accumulated over the last three hours. Sheila C. and her two daughters arrived soon after and help Manu put together the canapes. He piped shrimp butter on the baguette slices while they arranged parsley, sliced shrimp, and fish roe on top. They then moved on to the coconut cookies, helping Maggie roll them out and arrange them on baking sheets.

By now, we had a whole lot more guests. My wife greeted them and makes sure everybody had a drink (getting into the theme of the evening, we'd put a huge white ice chest in the living room and filled it with cold beer). Manu brought out the canapes. He was pretending to be a waiter, an effect that was slightly thrown off by his "Stop Clubbing Baby Seals" t-shirt. Meanwhile, I worked on the soup. It still had no flavor, but, as Sheila C. pointed out, it was English cuisine. Almost everyone seemed to enjoy it, especially when we piped shrimp butter on top. Tom's girlfriend, Dani, made the asparagus while Tom cooked the turnips and I finished the gravy for the pork. I got Keith to carve the pork (no, not Keet. This was a different Keith. This one was Eva's husband. She was pregnant with twins.). We gave everyone a glass of Punch Romaine (champagne punch) to clear their palates and cool them down, and started in with the main course.

The next problem was that there wasn't any room to put out food in the living room and the kitchen was filled with helpers and assorted supervisors. We gathered people into little parties of two or three, led them through the kitchen, and filled their plates. Pretty soon, everyone had some food and was digging in.

We decided to take a break, grab beers, and mingle. This was one of the best times of the party--Tom and I had been cooking all day, and everybody was enjoying the fruits of our labors. We got to hang out, eat a little bit, and watch the guests have fun. I talked to Joe about Christopher Moore, one of the best authors ever, and Carol asked me about my anti-Dutch post. She tried to convince me that racism is wrong, even when it comes to the Dutch. I, however, know better: racism is wrong except when it comes to the Dutch. Still, we had a nice conversation. Tom's father, who seemed a little uncomfortable earlier, was talking to Sheila R's boyfriend about deer hunting, and was enjoying himself, while Tom's mom was talking to Eva about the impending arrivals. Manu and Monica were cuddled up on the couch, Cara and Phil were exclaiming over the food, Alicia and Jill were reminiscing with my sister, Ella, about High School, and Tom, Dani, Paul, Maggie, Keet, and I were just enjoying the moment.

Soon we had to go back to the kitchen to get dessert ready. I started whipping together shortening, butter, sugar, coconut, and vanilla to make the filling for the coconut sandwiches, while Tom arranged squares of chartreuse gelatin with apricots. Everybody grabbed some dessert and headed downstairs, where Ella was showing a few short films that she made in art school. Afterward, we talked about the films while cleaning the kitchen. By now, Tom was really digging into the beer (as were we all), and everybody was talking themselves out in the living room. A little later, the few survivors adjourned to the basement to watch some Bill Hicks videos and finish off the beer. I hung out with them for a while before going to bed. It was 2:00 AM.

The next day, I was up at 10, feeling almost obscenely good. Maggie was up, too, and we started making breakfast. Tom, Paul, and Keet stayed over, and were sprawled all over the basement. We started by making some crescent rolls and cinnamon buns that I had in the fridge. Ella woke up and went out to get orange juice, buttermilk, and bacon. Maggie and I went downstairs to wake the Irish guys and Tom. Tom was pasty-faced and looked like death, while Paul and Keet were pretty much walking into walls. Maggie sang some Les Miserables, while I started in with an irish-accented version of "The City of New Orleans." We were total assholes and enjoyed every minute of it.

We went upstairs to down some more caffeine while the Irish guys showered and Tom suffered in the living room. Orange juice, bacon, sausage, buttermilk pancakes, and assorted other starches worked wonders, and everyone was soon ready to get going. As Tom left, he smiled and told me that this was the best Cranktoberfest ever. I had to agree.

I learned two lessons:

1. Not to get too Christmas Carol about it, but friends really make the birthday party.

2. The best birthday parties end with you cooking breakfast for seven people.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Dutch Treat

I recently wrote a post on what I like to call my "nether lands." After I finished it, I realized that I should probably say a word or two about the group that I have chosen to revile: the Dutch.

I think that we all choose, or need to choose, a group to hate. By deciding what we despise, we reestablish our priorities and identity. In other words, if we hate Mexicans, then we define ourselves as all that is not Mexican. When I was growing up, we all hated the Soviets. We knew that they were slavish, subservient, subhuman alcoholics. Of course, now we know that they're funny, mildly egotistical (but who isn't?), friendly alcoholics. Similarly, our hatred of the French (or should we call them the Freedom?) surrender monkeys defines us as aggressive, responsible, and active in the world. Of course, we aren't supposed to hate the French anymore, so I guess that they're back to being obnoxious, highly cultured, semi-allies.

My hatred of the Dutch should have begun when I was a child. Two of my parents' best friends, Merle and Margaret, were stationed in the American embassy in Madrid for a couple of years. When they returned to the DC area, they had befriended a Dutch diplomat, Ben, and his horrid wife, Else (actually, "horrid" doesn't quite cover it. What I really mean to say is "foul, evil, self-indulgent, subhuman, totally disastrous, fucking cuntrag of a wife, Else." However, I'm trying to be nice.). Ben and Else, of course, were stationed in DC, which meant that we had the joy of seeing them every few weeks. After only a couple of visits, we decided that Else's nickname would thereafter be "Or Else," as in "Do it my way or else I pull out the cattle prod." Seriously, she had the kind of personality that Heinrich Himmler gave medals for.

Not to slag on my parents' choice of friends, but Merle and Margaret weren't much of a prize, either. Margaret was constantly trying to one-up my parents, and visits to their house usually ended with my mom feeling like a used vibrator. Personally, I find it hard to believe that M&M really liked Ben and Else; it seems more likely that Margaret kept the two Netherlanders around for their exotic accents and Northern Virginia Yuppie street cred.

Actually, Ben wasn't really that bad. He was a little smug, and had the kind of mellow attitude usually associated with Buddha, stoners, or the severely mentally retarded. Else, on the other hand, was the sort of diplomat that a country might send if it was looking to start a war. She constantly commented on her absolute contempt for every aspect of American culture, and used to regale us with her tales of breaking traffic rules and harassing cops for pulling her over. Frankly, she made the South African diplomat in Lethal Weapon II look like Jeff Daniels.

I stupidly assumed that Ben and Else were merely a snotty pair of assholes (hardly a rare breed in Northern Virginia). A few years later, however, I got a job at William-Sonoma, where I worked with Grete, a Dutch emigree in her sixties. Grete's well-shaved moustache (I only noticed the thick black growth when I got within three feet of her face) and pleasant demeanor led me to think that she was a Nazi war criminal hiding out in drag. She was ultimately fired for stealing from the till.

Flash forward to January 2001, and my first visit to the Netherlands. I've been travelling around Europe for a couple of weeks, and have made friends on every train I've ridden. On the train from Berlin to Amsterdam, I find myself in a compartment with two mannish-looking blond women and a womanish-looking blond man. The man, Ernst, follows me to the dining car, where he buys me a beer. I think that, perhaps, I misjudged him; just because he looks like Truman Capote's faggier younger brother is no reason to be judgmental, and he seems to be a pretty decent guy. Ernst proceeds to tell me his entire history of being a submissive homosexual who likes to be beaten. As I gulp down my beer, it becomes clearer to me that Ernst is looking for a few fresh bruises. When I bluntly tell him that I'm not into men, I realize that he knew this all along, and was hoping to goad me into a little slap and tickle, heavy on the slap. I quickly make my exit.

When I get back to the car, the two mannish women are talking. I should note that these women aren't mannish in an Eastern European, broad-shouldered, Rosie O'Donnel way. They are slight of build, thin, and delicate. They just happen to look exactly like David Bowie. Once I get to Amsterdam, I learn that this is common--all Dutch women over the age of 25 look like David Bowie. Except for the ones who look like Steven Tyler.

Anyway, the ladies are talking. Now, I have memorized a few key Dutch phrases, like "Dank u wel" (thank you), and so on. However, listening to the two sisters, I realize that Dutch isn't pronounced like its spelled. "Dank u wel," for example, is pronounced more or less like the sound of an elephant with a head cold yelling out Hitler's speeches through its trunk. Seriously, it sounds like these two women are telling each other to go fuck a donut, but the smiles on their faces tell me that they're having a pleasant conversation. After about two hours of listening to them talk, I realize that they both speak English, although they apparently don't have the slightest goddamn clue about courtesy.

As I wander around Amsterdam over the next few days, I learn that this utter disregard for the feelings of others is a common Dutch trait, as is extreme cheapness, alcoholism, and an amazing level of condescension. Finally, however, I make a friend. One day I'm hanging out in a coffeehouse when a black guy comes up to me. We talk for a few hours, discussing politics and our respective cultures. I'm excited; I've finally met a Dutchman who isn't an asshole. Then Maurice tells me he's from Suriname, and I realize that some stereotypes exist for a reason.

When I get home to the U.S., I review some Dutch phrases that have entered the English Language:

Dutch Treat: you're paying for your own lunch.

Dutch Uncle: a person who is brutally critical.

Dutch Courage: the bravery that comes from a bottle.

Dutch Oven: pulling the sheet over your partner's head after you fart in bed.

Based on these phrases, one would think that the Dutch are alcoholic, cheap, hypercritical perverts. Based on my visit to Amsterdam, I'd have to agree. A quick review of Dutch history gives me even more reason to hate them. For example, in 1637, they destroyed their economy by speculating on tulips. In succeeding years, they would go on to export slavery from Africa to America, set up the South African government that would later enforce apartheid, surrender to Nazi Germany after approximately four days, arrest Anne Frank, and maintain their colonial empire until 1975. Through this all, they would maintain the smug, wooden-shoe wearing sense of innate superiority that makes them such a fucking pleasure to deal with.

In the meantime, they would produce four artists of note (no, I don't count the Brueghels). Van Gogh, of course, would flee the Netherlands as soon as he could. The question, of course, is why Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Bosch chose to stay. The Dutch have also produced a good beer or two, although the export versions of Heineken and Amstel are pretty awful. In fact, I can think of three positive things about the Netherlands:

1. Prostitution is legal, regulated by the government, and unionized. You might not agree with this, but a visit to the Prostitution Information Center convinced me that it's a pretty good idea.

2. Marijuana is legal. Again, you might disagree with me on this one, but it seems to work out well for the Dutch, and I think it would really help America's current tax shortfall.

3. Wynand Fockink, a distillery in the Netherlands, produces the absolute best liquors I've ever had. Seriously, they're amazing. Still, as with every other good things the Dutch do, they keep it all for themselves. You can't get Fockink Amsterdam (the brand name) outside of the country.

Recently, the Dutch have discussed legalization of a political party that endorses child molestation and have deported many of their Islamic citizens. Based on these actions, I get the feeling that the country is gearing up for a fresh run of obnoxiousness. Pretty soon, a lot of people will have problems with the Netherlands. Kindly remember that I told you about them first.

God, I hate the Dutch.


First off, apologies for taking so long to write a fresh post. One of the reasons for the delay is that I was researching the dark world of online publishing. My experience with blogs is embarassingly thin, and I find myself wondering about how different people write them, what the rules are regarding conduct, etc. I decided to ask my friend John, who's already offered a nice critique of my posts, if he could suggest some other sites that he felt were particularly well-written, especially creative, or notable in any other way. He sent me a list of a few blogs that he particularly likes.

Before I get too far into this, I have a request: if you have favorite blogs, I'd love to have the urls. Please post them in the "comments" section. Thanks!

Okay, back to the point at hand. I've spent most of my spare time over the last four days reading El Guapo in DC, in which a Guatemalan Washingtonian, El Guapo, documents the events of his life, all of which he deals with in an incredibly cool way. Reading through it, I imagined that it was being narrated by Strong Bad. If you aren't familiar with these sites, be sure to check them out. Particularly Strong Bad. Some of my personal favorites are Dangeresque 3, Dragon , and Japanese Cartoon.

Another one that John suggested was Waiter Rant. Now, to be honest, I don't have an awful lot of sympathy for waiters. More to the point, I have had too many meals ruined by snooty, self-absorbed, condescending tray monkeys with huge-ass pepper mills to feel much affection for them. However, this site is incredibly human, and it makes about waiters. It's a strange sensation for me, and will take a while to handle.

Two of the other sites, Opinionistas, and Clublife highlight an ongoing battle between John and I. You see, John is an on-again/off-again New Yorker, while I've spent the last fifteen years or so in Southwest Virginia. Having lived in the City, John some definite ideas about the proper way to do things. For example, a few years ago, when John came to stay with me, we decided to go to a friend's art opening in a small gallery (Yes, we have both galleries and art openings in Southwest Virginia).

John: You're not going in that, are you?
Me (looking down): What?
John: You're wearing jeans.
Me: Yes. I am wearing jeans.
John: You can only wear jeans if you're the artist, or you're a fellow artist.
Me: Says who?
John: It's just the way it's done.
Me: Where?
John: In New York.
Me: I don't know if you've noticed, but we're not in New York.
John: Trust me, nobody will be wearing jeans...

Not having been to many art openings (Okay, just because we have art openings in Southwest Virginia doesn't meant that I actually go to them), I decided to follow John's lead and changed into a pair of slacks. We went to the opening. Where everyone was wearing jeans.

John and I, in our years of friendship, have had this conversation, or some permutation thereof, dozens of times. I don't blame John, as I have had similar discussions with almost every friend who has moved to New York. It's as if getting an apartment in the city automatically means that you have to devote at least twenty percent of your brain to the accumulation of New York trivia, not to mention the thirty percent that goes to remembering New York etiquette. You have to remember all the acronyms, all the personalities, all the "in" areas to live, all the subway lines...

I don't have a problem with this massing of information. In fact, it seems to me that every city has a similar data dump that its citizens have to absorb in order to function. As a new citizen, you need to learn who makes the best pizza, where to get the best deal on socks, where you should not walk at night, and so on.

My problem with New York is that it seems to be convinced of my need to know this information. Further, because of New York's access to the media, it is in a position to vomit New York trivia upon the rest of the country. Think about it: how much useless New York information is currently clogging your brain. Do you know who Lizzy Grubman is? How about Donald Trump, Michael Bloomberg, Rudy Giuliani, Ed Koch, and Al Sharpton? Do you know what a "Subway Series" is? I do--and I don't even watch baseball! How many New York bridges can you name? Do you know where the "bridge and tunnel" crowd lives? Can you tell me what the area south of Houston street is called? How about the big green space in the middle of the city?

Admittedly, part of the problem may be my own trash-compactor brain, which absorbs the most inane facts and pukes them out at the most inappropropriate times, but if you were able to answer even half of these questions, then part of the problem is New York.

New York is the cultural equivalent of that obnoxious couple sitting at the next table in a restaurant. As much as you'd like to mind your own business and pay attention to your meal, you can't, as they are loudly discussing their divorce, their family, their reproductive health, their feelings about race, their latest colonoscopy, and so on. Before you know it, you've absorbed every detail of their lives, and you're only halfway through your entree.

It's worth pointing out that I like New York. Actually, I really like New York. I like its museums, stores, food, and parks. I like its smells, textures, tastes, and sounds (especially since honking horns has become illegal). I like the people, the conversations, the energy, and the diversity. I like the pragmatism that New York seems to encourage, and the courtesy that it displays at the most surprising moments. My wife and I are planning to move there and, frankly, I'm really looking forward to it (although I'm a little worried that she'll make me read this post again in a year or so just to chap my ass).

A few years ago, Virginia refused to accept a barge of New York trash. The then-mayor, Rudy Giuliani, publicly stated that, as Virginia was the recipient of New York's culture, it should be willing to accept New York's refuse. Giuliani's argument was that we owed New York, and accepting a load of garbage was our way of paying up. Giuliani, by the way, neglected to note that Virginia ships enormous amounts of marijuana, moonshine, and guns to New York. Personally, I think that this evens the score.

I've lived in or near three cities in my life. This (admittedly limited) experience has showed me that every city has on ongoing conversation with itself, as it determines its style, its future, the relationships between its citizens, and so on. In New York's case, though, this is a conversation with eight million participants. As Opinionistas and Clublife show, it's hard for the rest of us to escape the din.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Wanted Dead or Alive

This morning, as I was taking a walk, I thought of the crimes that I (and, by extension, my penis) have been accused of. I imagined my dick on trial. I wondered if his defense attorney would call me to the stand. On the one hand, I would be the perfect witness; I was there when every crime, both real and imagined, was committed. On the other hand, I would have to be honest about all matters and, frankly, my dick has sometimes acted...irresponsibly.

I imagined the wanted poster:


My Dick.

KNOWN ALIASES: The Pork Ninja; Karl Rove; The Crankster's Crank; Mordor, Destroyer of Worlds (My dick played a little Dungeons and Dragons back in the early 1980's).

HEIGHT: Between four and seven and eleven sixteenths inches, depending upon the situation. Less in cold weather. Occasionally more.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: Bears a startling resemblance to Karl Rove. To be more specific, looks like Karl Rove after a brisk run, wearing a magenta Darth Vader helmet.

LAST SEEN: The Pork Ninja, as he likes to be called, is rarely seen in public. He does his best work undercover.

CHARISMA: +30 (Okay, I played a little D&D, too).

At this time, in the interests of clearing the air, I would like to admit to all the crimes, real or imagined, that my dick has committed. At the same time, I will also address all the crimes that he has been accused of but has not committed. I can only hope that my example will inspire others and that mankind, as a whole, can take this as a step toward a more honest and self-reflective future.

Plus, it's a really good opportunity for some immature puns and double entendres.


1. My relationship with Holly R.

My dick holds all responsibility for this relationship. He led me into it, and worked overtime to keep it going far past its expiration date. In fact, if that Navy SEAL hadn't proposed to Holly, my dick might still be at it, and I'd be pretty miserable. While we're at it, my dick is also mostly responsible for my relationships with Jean M., Jenny K., and Sarah M.

2. The end of my friendship with Cecile C.
On the other hand, was our friendship really that strong if a dick could come between us? Still, the responsibility for this one rests firmly upon my dick.

3. Thousands of wasted hours
No, I'm not talking about that. That's point four. I'm talking about all the time I spent fast-forwarding and rewinding movies in search of a little side-boob.

4. The incredible strength in my right arm
Okay, that was a lot of wasted time, too.

5. Some nights that I don't want to remember
Truth be told, I'm pretty socially retarded. However, my dick is determined, and hung in there until I was too drunk to resist.

6. Some really awkward mornings
Does this really require further explanation?

7. Genocide
If we assume that: 1) every potential child has a right to exist, 2) that every spermatozoa is a potential child, and 3) that there are roughly one million spermatozoa per ejaculation, then my dick makes Josef Stalin look like a pansy. Daily. Incidentally, if we are to consider every ejaculation to be only one potential child, then my dick's numbers drop to Asian typhoon levels. Either way you look at it, though, he's a mass-murderer.

Okay, that's about it. Now let's consider the crimes that he didn't commit:

1. My relationship with Angela H.
My dick tried to wave me off, but I dove in anyway. I generally console myself by claiming that it was a "learning experience." The same goes for that girl in the Kroger Deli.

2. George Bush's second term
The resemblance to Karl Rove is only physical--my dick votes a straight Democrat ticket. In fact, unlike a lot of other dicks, he was not suckered in by Ralph Nader. Neither was I; after all, it doesn't really take a dick to recognize an asshole.

3. World Hunger
My dick's more of a giver than a taker.

4. The fact that women make 30% less than men
Okay, this is definitely not my dick's fault. In fact, my dick and I make well under $40,000, which is a lot less than most pussies with a comparable level of education.

5. Racial inequities
My dick didn't start slavery; that was the Dutch, a whole other group of dicks. For that matter, my relatives (and their dicks) fought for the North in the Civil War. My father, and his dick, marched on Washington in the 1960's. My dick and I resent being held responsible for this particular problem.

My dick was also partially responsible for the creation of my daughter, but I don't know if that counts as a crime or not. On the one hand, she's cute; on the other hand, she kept my wife and I up until 2 AM yesterday. The jury's still out.

So there you have it. My dick has commited more crimes than John Paul II's and fewer crimes than Errol Flynn's. But, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I ask that you consider all the good things that dicks have done. Every single one of us owes our existence, at least partially, to a dick. Besides, dicks have kept Tara Reid off welfare.

And for all those who blame my dick for the ills of the world, I have just one thing to say:

Step back; you're standing on my dick.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Letting Sleeping Dogs Lie

Most of the houses on my street are either seventies suburban brick tract homes or 1940's clapboard bungalows. There is, however, one real, honest-to-god trailer. It's white and beige, is missing a couple of windows, and apparently houses roughly thirty people. When we first came to the street, it was a meth lab, but the inhabitants were arrested soon after we moved in. It was vacant for a while, then another family took it over. I'm not sure how many people actually live there, but there really are about a half-dozen camouflage-clad mullet monkeys who move in and out on a regular basis.

While I don't like to be the designated Gladys Kravitz, keeping tabs on the rest of the neighborhood, these people really push me to it. To put it bluntly, they are, in and of themselves, a cultural experience; not watching them would be like not watching a train wreck. Further, there is also the matter of self-preservation. About three months after they moved in, my wife noticed that they often took walks around the neighborhood, pushing a stroller. This, in itself, is kind of nice: the mother, nicely clad in a clean midriff shirt and a pair of Daisy Dukes, arm and arm with the father, wearing freshly-pressed camouflage pants, a faded black AC/DC shirt, a John Deere cap, and the wispy beginnings of a moustache, the wind teasing his glossy mullet...

This would be a nice scene, apart from the fact that the stroller was empty. My wife, who is both wiser and more paranoid than I, immediately assumed that they were planning robberies. I'm not sure that she's right, but one of my friends in the neighborhood was recently accosted while taking a walk at night. Apparently, some things have gone missing, and the mood of the neighborhood is getting a little ugly...

At any rate, my wife and I were driving down the street one day and observed our trailer neighbors shuffling around the front yard. As we passed them, I realized that they were playing croquet, using their house as a backstop. On the one hand, I took this as a lesson to stop underestimating my neighbors. On the other hand, I decided (as did my friend John when I told him about it) that WASPs are a continuum, not a fixed identity.

At any rate, these neighbors are dog owners. I would say "dog lovers," but I'm not sure that's entirely true, as they seem to go through more dogs than South Korea at festival time. In the two years or so that we've shared the neighborhood, they have had at least four dogs. Today I nearly hit the latest one with my car. He was moseying across the street, not paying attention to anything. It is worth noting that three other dogs of theirs have all entered the great pound in the sky with the assistance of moving vehicles.

Part of the problem is the fact that cars go fairly fast on our road. We live right off a rural highway, and it sometimes takes a little while for the speed to drop from 45 to 25 miles per hour. However, this wouldn't really be a problem if my neighbors put leashes on their dogs, fenced them in, or otherwise tried to keep them from wandering into the road. However, they seem to like letting their dogs wander free, and are apparently incapable of drawing a connection between unrestrained dogs, fast cars, and "pressed Fifi."

What's really galling is that the trailer neighbors aren't even the worst pet owners in the neighborhood. My next-door neighbors (yes, the dreaded Linkii), have two dogs; one is a male and the other is a female. The male, a rottweiler, likes to bark, snap, and snarl at anyone who comes within twenty feet of his yard. The other, a beagle, simply sits in her enclosure, baying incessantly. When I first met my neighbor's son, James, the black dog was snarling at me. The boy turned to him and yelled "Sambo, cut it out!" A little shaken, I asked the dog's name.


"Sambo?" I repeated, staring at the black dog.

"Yeah, Sambo. You know, like in the Lion King?"

"You mean SIMBA?"

James smiled. "Yeah, Sambo."

Aaanyway, Sambo is an outdoor dog, which means that he spends all his time walking around a small patch of hard-packed clay, at the end of a ten-foot chain. While this is, generally, one of the most miserable things I've ever seen, it gets particularly difficult when the beagle goes into heat. Sambo is...well...a whole dog, and between the two of them, the sound gets pretty unbearable.

I think the worst pet owner in the area, though, is the neighbor, identity unknown, who always feeds his dog outside. The food attracts a skunk, who eats from the food bowl and sprays the rightful owner. This happens almost every night, through most of the summer, and makes the neighborhood almost unliveable. As bad as the stench is for me, though, I can only imagine how miserable it is for the dog's family.

So my problem is this: why do my neighbors even bother to have dogs? Clearly, they are absolutely uninterested in taking care of their animals, and apparently have no sentimental attachment to them. These aren't hunting or herding dogs, and they don't seem to serve any real purpose. The owners must be keeping them for companionship, yet consistently treat them like prisoners of war.

Now, I'm not obsessive about pet ownership. For example, I use the term "pet," not the phrase "animal companion." For me, the dividing line is shit: if I'm cleaning up Sparky's crap, then he's my pet. When he cleans up mine, then we'll be equals. However, as much as I try to be realistic about animal/human interactions, I can't wrap my mind around the absolute cruelty with which my neighbors treat their dogs. What's worse, Animal Control refuses to do anything about these assholes. Apparently, pitting your dog against a skunk, leaving him out all year, and allowing him to wander into traffic does not constitute poor pet ownership.

Sometimes I want to move to Mars.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Did Scheisse Video Kill the Scheisse Radio Star?

Scanning through the news, I noticed an interesting article that appeared last week in the Cologne Wurmer Zaftig. Helmut Wursthund, the author, was discussing Germany's increasing restrictions on Scheisse videos. In the article, Wursthund began by discussing the history of scheisse media, which, I was surprised to learn, predated the VCR. Apparently, the scheisse, or scheisse essende, genre got its start in the postwar era, initially as comedic radio programs, but gained tremendous popularity as daily romance serials, in the vein of
Days of Our Lives. According to Wursthund, these radio plays, in their heyday, drew every third German to the radio daily, and were even popular in East Germany, where bootleg tapes were passed hand-to-hand through a vast, underground fan network. Wursthund neglected to mention which product sponsored the programs, although I'd guess that it was Ovaltine.

At any rate, scheisse radio continued its grip on the airwaves well into the eighties. While the scheisse genre had minimal impact on TV, it experienced an explosion in popularity with the advent of video. By the mid-1980's, scheisse tapes had completely eclipsed the radio programs, were a fixture in every video store, and could even be found on the shelves of most gas stations. However, this massive growth was nothing compared with the amazing popularity of scheisse video clips on the internet. To put this in context, between 1985 and 1997, the number of scheisse videos produced in Germany rose from roughly 70 per annum to over 250. By 2005, that number exceeded 2000. While a significant part of this number is in the "amateur home video" market, this still represents an amazing rate of growth.

The rising popularity of scheisse video came with a steep price, as Heinrich Schwartzweiner, a former sheisse radio performer, discovered when his program, Mannlicher Nachten was cancelled. Unable to find work in the radio industry, and unwilling to perform in scheisse videos, he drifted through a series of menial jobs and into schnappes addiction. Now a documentarian and semi-professional balloon sculptor, he recalls the days of scheisse radio: "The beauty of scheisse radio was that it left so much to the imagination. While the adults listened to the story, the children would laugh at the funny sounds." When asked about scheisse video, he smiled sadly, "those videos, they are not good for the family. They leave nothing to the imagination. Radio kept the family together. Video tore it apart."

Although initially produced for domestic consumption, within a few years, Germany was sending scheisse all over the world. However, dark days lay ahead for scheisse video. With the growing availability of the clips on the internet, Germany's public image was increasingly tainted by the fetish films. For many Germans, the watershed moment came with the 1999 release of South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, in which Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny stumble across a scheisse video on the internet, prompting Stan to remark that "Germans suck!" While the increasing visibility of scheisse video was a boon to the German film industry, many people were upset at its effect on Germany's worldwide identity. In fact, as Wursthund remarks, "It was as if Germany was transformed overnight from the sophisticated birthplace of Scorpionz to a nation of backward poo-eaters." (Personally, I'm not sure that those two poles are as far apart as Wursthund would like to think.)

In truth, Wursthund notes, it's hard to overestimate the impact of the South Park movie. Compared to scheisse video, other fetish genres stagnated. Latex, or Gummi videos, for example, have only had modest growth since the 1980's. For better or worse, by the early years of the twenty-first century, Germany had become identified in the public imagination with excreta. Today, however, Germany's leaders hope to turn this image around. To begin with, they've begun levying heavy taxes on the sheisse industry, prompting it to move to Thailand, whose government, Wursthund notes, is "far more accepting of sheisse." This follows the 2005 move of most online scheisse sites to the Netherlands, which doesn't place restrictions upon web content and which, Wursthund writes, has been "importing German scheisse for years."

As Wursthund states at the end of his article, Germany is caught in the grip of a national identity crisis: "On the one hand, we are the nation of Heidi Klum, Hasselhof, and half of Gisele Bundchen. On the other hand, we have scheisse. The question is, of course, which hand we will extend to the rest of the world."

If You've Seen One A-rab...

Earlier this year, my wife and I decided that it was time to think about moving. Having lived in Southwest Virginia for a few years now, we're ready for something new. More to the point, we are concerned about our daughter's education and socialization. The schools in my area aren't too good, and the fact that she doesn't have any relatives nearby means that she'll have a very small dating pool when the time comes (The fact that we have become able to view incest in such a clear-eyed way is prima facie evidence that we need to leave).

Anyway, one of the first places we looked was Dubai. We both like to travel, and want to expose our daughter to as much of the world as possible. There are a lot of jobs available to westerners in Dubai, and its strong economy and friendly atmosphere made it very attractive. My friend, Omar, lives there, and was able to give me a pretty clear-eyed analysis of the region. Finally, Dubai is attempting to pursue a middle course, wedding Western-style liberalism to Islamic tradition. Given the problems in the Arab world, this seems to be a pretty amazing goal, and one that we wanted to get involved with. We started to look further into options over there.

When I'm considering a radical change, I tend to ask my three personal advisors for their thoughts. These include my Aunt, my Godmother, and one of my former graduate professors. I called or e-mailed all three to get their feedback. My Aunt and Godmother were quick to tell me that it sounded like a good thing to look into, and that it was about time to leave the state (apparently, they were also worried about my daughter's dating pool). Both had heard good things about Dubai; my aunt, in fact, had friends who lived there.

My former professor e-mailed about a week later. She seemed surprised that I was considering moving to a Muslim country, and questioned my decision to consider moving my family to "a place that so overtly detests females."

Because of a family trip, I was able to take a week off to think about my response. I wanted to tread carefully, as this was a good friend and a trusted advisor, not to mention one of the people who had taught me how to think critically. When I came back, I sent her a chatty e-mail about my trip. At the end of the note, I wrote that I was surprised by her letter, and that "I decided to hold off on responding until I had some time to consider my reaction. I decided that I really wanted to know what you were thinking, as that was a startlingly illiberal and patently racist remark."

While I admit that my response was a little harsh, it was also true, and I've started getting a little uncomfortable with couching my thoughts in pretty, easily-digestible words. Perhaps I was also thinking of my friend Omar. At any rate, she fired back the next day: "Any group that practices female circumcision will get my similarly 'racist' reaction, regardless of how much money they'd be willing to pay you. But sexism and female mutilation must not bother you as much as it does me."

Ouch! My first impulse, given my respect for this professor, was to check my facts. However, a quick search of the internet confirmed my earlier understanding--female circumcision is a sub-Saharan phenomenon. To the extent that it exists in Dubai, it is a function of the Sub-Saharan "guest workers" who move there. The same thing, by the way, is true of the United States.

Anyway, I told her about the whole female circumcision thing, and went on to discuss Dubai's supposed sexism. While Dubai's attitude toward women is not as liberal as that of the United States, it is downright radical in the Muslim world. More to the point, my former professor had absorbed an attitude that has become increasingly common in the years since September 11th, 2001. She believed, as do many supposed liberals, that all Arabs are the same, that they all hate women, and that they all are bent on destroying the United States. I guess that I might have the same thoughts if I didn't know a lot of Arabs However, I have Omar, an Arab friend with a fairly liberal family; in fact, his parents maintain a home in the DC area so his sister can go to college. For that matter, my friend Randa's father moved his family from Saudi Arabia to the U.S. so she could get a college education. Having met Randa's parents and siblings, I've realized that Arabs, and their attitudes toward women, are a lot more complex than many Americans are willing to admit. Randa and Omar's families remind me of the loving, if overprotective, families that I grew up with. They want the best for their daughters. Or, to quote JFK, that famous liberal, president, and tenth-degree grand dragon in the Player's club for men, "Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal."

Damn, that man had some good speechwriters!

While my little discussion with my professor was going on, the United States Congress was raising a fuss about George II's decision to put Dubai in charge of America's ports. Their complaint (couched in less-offensive terms) was that Dubai is an Arab country, Arabs are terrorists, so it follows that Dubai is a country of terrorists. Thus, by putting Dubai in charge of the ports, Georgie was giving Al Qaeda the key to our back door (in a non-gay kind of way). Now this is the sort of, well, "illiberal, patently racist" argument that I'd expect of Bush's core group. However, it was made by the Democrats, led by Hilary Clinton.

While I've probably had more interaction with Muslims than the average American, my experience pales in comparison with Senator Clinton's. Consequently, I'm pretty sure that she knows that the stereotypes she was mining for political capital are sweeping, wildly inaccurate, and cruel. However, she used them to gain a a couple of popularity points, which leads me to a few questions about the state of American liberalism. Maybe I'm a pollyanna, but I've always thought that American liberalism was promulgated on the notion that we shouldn't indulge stereotypes, and that we always try to consider the individual person (or country).

Or, as I wrote to my professor, "This attitude that all Muslims are the same, that they all subscribe to the fundamentalism and repressiveness of the Taliban, is troubling. If liberals are no longer willing to consider differences in a culture, then I wonder what actually separates them from the ultra-conservatives."

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Wonders of Wally World

My inner liberal shrivels a little as I write this, but...I love Wal-Mart. I'd like to tell you that my love is hiply ironic, like someone who claims to "love" Robot Monster, but the truth is that I really love the store. Admittedly, part of this--a small part--is the freak-show thrill of checking out my fellow patrons. There is something to be said for sightseeing in the shallow end of the gene pool, but that's merely the frosting on the cake, the free entertainment that I enjoy while I fill my cart.

Why do I love Wal-Mart? The answer is simple: I love it for the same reasons that you do. I love the wide selection, the convenience, the cheap prices, the friendly staff, the effortless returns system, and the impressive customer service ethic. In fact, when it comes right down to it, there are only two things about Wal-Mart that I truly hate:

1. I hate the fact that they provide electric scooters to their patrons. Let's face it, if the customers can make it from the parking lot to the store, then they can waddle their fat asses up and down the aisles. One day, watching a lady ride her scooter around while stuffing a custard donut into her mouth, I realized that shopping at Wal-Mart was probably her only source of exercise. By providing a scooter, Wally had robbed her of one of the few things keeping her from an early grave. It was like the store had loaded her in the car, pointed it at the cliff of oblivion, and hit the gas.

2. A few years ago, Wally briefly stocked an iced coffee, I forget the brand, that came in little blue glass amphora jugs. It was really good iced coffee, and I was quickly hooked. When I came back a few days later, they were out of stock. They've never restocked it. Let me repeat--THEY'VE NEVER RESTOCKED IT!!! It has gained legendary significance in my mind. They later did the same thing with Dulce de Leche milk. Wal-Mart's occasional tendency to get me hooked on a substance then withdraw it borders on the sadistic and, frankly, sours the relationship a little.

3. Okay, this doesn't really fall under the "hate" banner, but the little flying smily faces in the commercials unnerve me a little. Basically, I think my real problem has to do with the soccer mom who's smarmily watching the smily face knock the prices down. I keep hoping that the smily face will hit her, and her clothes will turn into a pair of fishnet stockings, hot pants, and a leather bustier. Maybe it could hit her square-jawed, All-American husband, and he could turn into John Waters. Frankly, I'm a little disappointed that it's never happened.

AAAAnyway, before you judge my Wal-Mart love too harshly, ask yourself one question: why, exactly, are we supposed to hate Wal-Mart? The answers generally fall into one of three categories:

Because they are mean to their employees.

Because they squeeze out "the little guy."

Because they sell a lot of stuff from China. And China is bad.

Let's start with the employees, Wal-Mart supposedly pays them too little, tries to make the weak ones quit, and doesn't give them sufficient health insurance. Well, as much as I'd like to live in a world where everyone has enough health insurance and enjoys a pleasant work environment, we aren't all lucky enough to live in Sweden. Or England. Besides, England and Sweden don't have Wal-Mart, so how good could they really be?

The unpleasant truth is that many jobs just plain suck. Wal-Mart, at least, offers considerable room for advancement and will hire almost anybody. Frankly, it's unfair to compare Wal-Mart with almost any other work. If the majority of Wal-Mart dwellers weren't working there, it's not like they'd be sitting behind a desk. A lot of them would be unemployed, working at Mickey D's, or trying their hand at jobs in the "open-air, agricultural sector." And, as much as the blue vest might suck, it still beats picking lettuce all day.

For that matter, the two friends of mine who worked at Wal-Mart actually had fairly pleasant experiences. One of them generally enjoyed his work, although he found it dull and repititious. The other one got a job at Wally in his final year of college. When he graduated, Wal-Mart coaxed him into joining its management training program. It was the best offer around, so he jumped. Straight out of college, he was making more money than most of his friends. Within six months, he was making more money than all of them. (Some of you are probably shouting that these are not the "average" Wal-Mart stories. Well, I've got a little question for you--how many Wal-Mart employees do you know?)

The second complaint is that Wal-Mart squeezes out "the little guy." Well, I hate to tell you this, but the little guy sucks. Seriously, who, exactly, is Wal-Mart squeezing out? Let's think about this:

Their sewing section takes some business from the small-chain and independent fabric stores. Well, having tried to get served in JoAnn Fabrics, I can tell you that it's refreshing to visit a fabric store that doesn't discriminate against the "uterally challenged." Seriously, almost every time I ask a clerk in a fabric or crafts store for help, you'd think I'd threatened to anally rape a muppet.

Their clothing section takes some business from K-Mart and Sears. Who probably deserve it.

Their drugstore section takes some business from CVS, another huge chain. It may also take some business from the occasional mom and pop drug store. However, in my experience, Mom and Pop drug stores are usually hideously overpriced, and place a pretty low priority on service. Besides, I don't like the idea of Mom and Pop selling drugs. Of course, I'm a member of the "just say no" generation.

Their grocery section takes some business from big chains like Kroger and Food Lion. To be honest, though, I'd still go to Kroger if their produce section was significantly better than Wal-Mart, or if their prices were competitive. Neither, however, is the case, at least in my town.

Finally, their hardware section takes some business from independent hardware stores. Well, most of the independent hardware stores that I've been to are staffed by self-righteous, self-important blowhards. It's like all the obnoxious bastards in the average record store just got too old, so they were given a pair of suspenders and shipped off to sell hammers.

I'm really not sure what the fuss is about. In my area, some stores have managed to compete with Wal-Mart by offering better service or selection. Those that couldn't offer either of these have disappeared. Frankly, though, if you can't compete with Wal-Mart, why should you be in business? Or, to put it another way, why should I subsidize your business? Are you going to pay for my meals if I can't hack it at my job?

It's also worth noting that Wally has given me access to a wide variety of products that other stores in the area never bothered to stock. In short, Wal-Mart has offered me a wider selection of products at better prices. Isn't that what a store is supposed to do?

Finally, Wal-Mart is supposedly guilty of singlehandedly propping up the entire Chinese economy by selling cheap electronic products that are made in China. I have two answers to this:

First off, I've found that Wal-Mart is generally sensitive to the needs of its consumers (except in the case of the whole iced coffee and Dulce de Leche milk thing. Bastards.). Wally tries out numerous products and continues to stock them if they sell well. For example, there has been a recent surge of latinos into my area. This spring, Wal-Mart responded by massively expanding its selection of dried peppers, dried beans, tortillas, queso blanco, and Latin American spices. As these items sold well, the store continued to stock them (By the way, I am neither making this up, nor am I engaging in stereotypes. Latinos eat a lot of chiles and beans. The stereotype exists for a reason; get over it.)

Now, stick with me here: if we, as consumers, really made a point of not buying inexpensive Chinese electronics, then Wal-Mart would stop selling them. Game over. Of course, we'd have to find a competent American manufacturer to produce them, which makes this whole thing an academic exercise.

This brings me to the second point: I don't know if you've noticed lately, but there aren't too many American companies that are actually manufacturing their components in America. In other words, when it comes to electronics, buying American really only means that your are paying the salaries of American CEOs. As far as the workers are concerned, it doesn't make much difference if you buy Sanyo or RCA. Bottom line, if you want to invest in American entertainment, you might try paying your neighbors to leave their blinds open.

I'm not saying that Wal-Mart is perfect; frankly, I'm pretty sure that the store would sell crack if they thought that they could get away with it. But, to be honest, their crack would be cheaper, cleaner, and have a better selection than any other dealer's.

Let's face it--we live in a world where Ben and Jerry sold out; their faces now adorn cartons of ice cream that contain high fructose corn syrup. As far as I'm concerned, my "faith in American industry" cherry has officially been popped. However, don't blame the guy at McDonalds for your huge gut. He's just selling the fries--you're the one buying them. I feel like a big chunk of the American public hates Wal-Mart for the simple fact that it's successful, as if the mere act of making money is enough reason to nail someone to a cross. If you think I'm overstating the case, then ask yourself this: why do you hear about every single one of Wal-Mart's mistakes, but don't see people raising a fuss about Ben and Jerry's decision to sell out their liberal ideals and their trusting patrons?

In Case of Rapture, Don't Forget to Log Out!

In the course of researching the Abby Cadabby post, I came across a reference to the "Rapture Ready Message Board." Apparently, some religious folks were ticked off, not because Abby's girly, but because her magical powers supposedly suggest witchcraft.

I don't really want to comment on that little morsel of stupidity, but I can't help myself; sometimes I have to seize the low-hanging fruit. For all the people out there who think that little kids are learning about witchcraft from Harry Potter and Sesame Street, let's ask one itty bitty question: what kind of idiot would try to learn how to sell his or her soul to the horned beast of Babylon by watching a show sponsored by letters and numbers? Reasonably speaking, isn't it just as likely that they'd learn about bloodsucking from the guy who teaches them to count?

I'm not going to discount the possibility that there are real-life loons out there who think they are in communion with dark forces from the land of brimstone. All I'm saying is that I'm not too worried about a would-be satanist who's taking his cues from the Children's Television Workshop.

And, while we're on the topic, I'd think that these ultra-Christians would be fans of Harry Potter. Just think of it: squadrons of wannabe witches trying to fly on brooms, jumping off carports and balconies. If only a tenth of them meet their everlasting reward, then that's still hundreds of potential pagans who will never reach maturity. From my (admittedly secular) point of view, this is a handy, completely voluntary way to give the gene pool a little scrubbing. Regardless of your perspective, you have to admit that humanity as a whole benefits from people who slavishly and stupidly follow Harry Potter into that great Quidditch field in the sky. I realize that people whose grasp of Christianity comes from that "Footsteps" story might be a little lacking in critical awareness, but can't we get hold of ourselves here?

Anyway, back to the point at hand. I was delighted to discover the fact that a "Rapture Ready Message Board" exists. I've known for quite some time that there's a lot of fundamentalist Christians on the Internet; in fact, they sponsor a few of my favorite sites, like Sporty Christ, which sells inspirational sports statues; Train Up a Child, which sells Biblical action figures; and (of course) all those hilarious George Bush parody sites. Still, there's something special about the Rapture Ready Message Board.

I guess the key element here is imagining the average patron of the RRMB (as those in the know refer to it). Actually, it's not hard to visualize; truth be told, a quick visit to the local Wal-Mart probably brings me into contact with the selected demographic. The main requirement seems to be a slavish, uncritical willingness to swallow anything spouted out by a brylcreemed, old testament prophet-style, scripture-drooling televangelist. In a stunning example of the site's priorities, it specifically tells the viewer that one spot is "The place where Christians go to chat about various things, including issues related to the Word of God, but not the place for debating the validity of His Word or the translated version one uses." Okay, I can understand their unwillingness to question the validity of the Bible, but why can't users debate their version? Might it have something to do with the immodest proposal that the Bible is open to...interpretation?

Moving on...

My favorite part of the site is the "End Times Chat," which the administrator describes as a "Forum for analysis, commentary and discussion about prophesy and current events that aren't news items." In reality, it seems to be a space for the site users to comment on how the majority of mankind is going to hell at warp speed and how current events prove that we only have a little time left before God decides to shut down the whole game. One recent thread asked if "The Lost are getting LostER." Not "more lost," but "LostER." First off, notice the use of capitalization. The Lost, apparently, are a proper noun, a formalized group. This, of course, leads to a few questions:

Who is in "the Lost"?

Where do "the Lost" meet?

Do you need a recommendation to get into "the Lost," or is it open enrollment?

Why wasn't I invited to join "the Lost"?

Another thing the whole "The Lost are getting LostER" thread makes me wonder is why God apparently hates properly constructed modifiers. Does Satan get royalties every time we use the word "more," or is poor grammar just more Christian? While we're on the topic, it's worth noting again that the Biblical action figure site is called "Train Up a Child." Apparently, trainin' a child up don't involve teachin' him to write correctly. Then again, the Bible don't say nothin' about book learnin'.

Who needs grammar check when you've got faith?

I guess that, for me, the kicker is imagining Phil the Pharisee or Irene the Inquisitor sitting at home, in front of the huge velvet painting of Jesus, watching Fox News and looking for proof that God's running down the curtain. With mere days left before the grand finale, do Phil and Irene run out to experience as much of God's creation as possible? Do they sell the house, give the money to the poor, and go to work in a soup kitchen? Do they spend their final moments gathering two of each animal or trying to find ten righteous men? No, their last hours are spent online, bitching about the Lost and whether or not a puppet with a wand will lead people into hell.

I'm not sure this is what God had in mind.